How I Became a Monk

Venue: TIMS

When I was a child, I remember feeling rather excited when I came to know of children who went for short-term monkhood programmes, such as from a newspaper article. I thought it would be great to experience a monk’s life with other kids, though I had absolutely no idea how it would be like. Somehow it just felt like a great idea. I do remember telling my mother about it, but it never happened.

When I became a teenager, I had many questions about the meaning and purpose of life. What’s the point of studying (particularly calculus and trigonometry)? To pass exams, of course. But what’s the point of that then. So that I can advance to higher studies. Great. So what then? So that I can graduate and get a good job, get a good car, get a good wife (maybe), a house and its fittings, and work like hell to upkeep all that; then have children (with no way making sure that they would be good), support them, pay for their education, their higher education (which can cost quite a bomb now, and would most likely cost a bigger bomb in future); then I grow old (if I have the chance) and die.

So, what’s the point of that all?

No one I knew seemed to be particularly interested in these questions of mine. Some friends considered my thinking to be weird and even said that I shouldn’t be thinking like that at all. So, with no solution to my “weird questions”, I drifted along, just like everybody else.

As I was gradually losing interest in my studies, it naturally deteriorated. Yet I somehow managed to barely make it to university, which was where I was first seriously exposed to Buddhism.

I was invited by Buddhist friends to a one-week meditation retreat at Santisukharama Hermitage, Kota Tinggi. It was an eye-opener. While the first few days were quite a torture, during the later part of the week, I realized that this was the missing thing in my life. My faith in the Dhamma took a big leap! I became very enthusiastic about Buddhism and began to read a lot about it. I began to see and consider a lot of things from a Buddhist perspective.

At the same time, I also began to drift away from a very close girl friend of mine who happened to be a devout Christian. (I’m not sure if it I could properly call her my ‘girlfriend’, as in one word with that special meaning. Though we both did earlier acknowledge our feelings towards each other, our relationship was outwardly quite platonic.) It wasn’t that I tried to distance myself from her, but I just stopped making effort to stay close and we naturally drifted apart.

In 1997 when I was in my final year as an education student, I read a career guidance article that suggested the reader to ask himself this question: “Imagine yourself coming to the end of your life, and you begin to review how you have spent your life. Now ask yourself how you wish you would have lived your life instead.” Naturally, I thought, “I would wish that I’ve lived as a monk and strove for liberation.”

It’s like all of a sudden, everything became crystal clear to me and I felt joyful, peaceful and happy. That was exactly how I wished I would have lived my life. Nothing else could even come near enough for any comparison. They didn’t make sense. Becoming a monk was the only sensible thing to do. If I had lived my life any other way, it would have been such a waste and I would have regretted it.

I then sought the opinions of a few monks, namely Ven Nagasena (a Vietnamese monk) and Ven Sujiva. The later said, “Don’t think. Just go,” but both of them advised me to continue and complete my course first.

I then faced a hurdle on my path towards monkhood: my parents. Before I came to tell any of them, my father insisted that I work for him after graduation. I didn’t want to but out of filial piety agreed to do so for a few months. When I first revealed it to my mother, she was shocked into silence. She tried to dissuade me by saying that I could still practise as a layman. I agreed on that point but told her that I wouldn’t be satisfied with that. When she realised that she couldn’t talk me out of it, she cried. Then when my father got to know about it, he scolded me for making mum cry. I suggested that we let the issue rest, and we did.

While we carried on our lives pretending that nothing happened, I steadfastly kept my goal in sight, and whenever an opportunity arose I would drop hints about it. It was important that my parents consented to my wish to go forth as monks are not allowed to ordain a person without his parents permission.

About one and a half years later, I had a chance to bring up the issue again to my mother. It seemed like she was ready at that time, and other circumstances seemed right too. I just had to take the chance to word it right. I told her that if I were to remain in lay life for the rest of my life, I would regret not having lived the way that I wanted. She finally agreed though with a heavy heart. As before, Dad came to know about it later, and he didn’t object either. I took that as his consent, and proceeded to tie up the loose ends of my life as a layman.

I was finally ordained a samanera by Sayadaw U Revata in Subang Jaya Buddhist Association in March 1999. My whole family attended my ordination and so did and a lot of friends.

It has been 6 years since I donned the robes. Am I happy as a monk? Let me put it this way. If I were not, there is always the option of disrobing. I have yet to do so. For now, I am content. I do not see anything in lay life that is worth giving up my monkhood for.

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