The gong sounded. The preceptor said, “Before you Shramaneras [novices] receive the Ten Precepts, give thanks to your parents for giving you life, raising you, and educating you.” My heart sang with joy. What a wonderful way to begin my first birthday—my first year of life as a Shramanerika—a gift to my parents.
The first question asked when one leaves the home-life is why. I came to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in 1985 to be a teacher and to study Buddhism. Everyday, seeing the flash of a yellow robe being awakened by the morning boards, and hearing the Venerable Master speak the Dharma, I thought, there is something I must do. On that icy day of December 22, 2003, I did it. My hair fell to the floor and was swept away. An alms bowl was handed to me. As I received it, I recalled holding the same bowl long ago, walking down a dusty road in the Ganges Valley. I felt cool and clear—like the morning air.
The fog lifted, the clouds drifted away.
The sky was swept clean.
My hair fell to the floor.
Over a decade ago, in 1983, I visited CTTB for the first time, saw the Bhikshunuis circumambulate in the Buddha Hall and vowed to follow them, to go forth as they had. But most of all, I left the home-life out of duty to the Venerable Master and to my parents. They were the vehicles for me doing so. Leaving home is just paying the fare.
Now I'm in training at Tung Yuan Vinaya Academy at the City of the Dharma Realm (CDR) in Sacramento. The first day here my precept teacher, Heng Gwei Shr, said, “Your work here is to help establish an elementary school and open a vegetarian restaurant, teach English, be my English-speaking assistant, and do the landscaping.”
“Never a dull moment in DRBA,” I said to myself, excited and overwhelmed at the same time. “Will I still be able to write Buddhist books for children?”
“But, of course,” said Heng Gwei Shr. “The Venerable Master said that everyone can realize their dream in doing the Buddha's work at CDR. My dream is to have all the Master's tapes on the Vinaya translated into beautiful English. You can help me.”
Heng Shr Shr smiled and said, “It sounds like too much work. But don't worry. This will all take time. First you must learn how to be a left-home person—that is to live in harmony with the Sangha.”
After being in training as a novice for almost a year, I have been poked so much that my back is like Swiss cheese. “Go left, go right.”“Straighten your sash and stand up straight.” “It's your turn to hit the fish.” “Quick! There's an American here who wants to learn some Buddhism.” In each hole, a lesson—a lesson in yielding and taking responsibility for my own training, making the best of everything. It's like when a palm leaf falls from a tree at CDR, a nun picks it up and sweeps the parking lot. My sister says that my posture has improved since I became a nun, and that's saying something for Swiss cheese!
In the winter, the wind blows hard at CDR. The tall palm trees swing and sway wildly but do not topple over, their roots snug in the ground. The teachers and students here are like the palms, the great trees in Buddhism. They work and study hard, spreading their branches, maintaining the Way Place and saving living beings, with hearts vast and great. All week they sweep the many courtyards and corridors, lay wooden floors, repair roofs and toilets, pull weeds and grass, and pull more weeds and grass, as vigorously as the grass and weeds grow back. On Sundays, they host two Dharma Assemblies, one in Chinese and one in English, for the benefit of all, flying the Dharma banner over Sacramento. My only hope, as a novice, is to follow in their footsteps. That is to go left when I'm told; and go right when I'm told.