All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, and all Good Knowing Advisors. Amitabha!
Tonight shramanerika Qin Yi, Jin Jian would like share with everyone my experience since leaving the home-life over a year ago. If I say anything that is not in accordance with the Dharma, please be compassionate and correct me.
Recently, I received an email informing us that there will be a leaving home ceremony here on March 20th. As I read the email, I smiled as I recalled the joyful and elated I felt when I left the home-life over a year ago. As the saying goes, "How time flies when you are having fun." But I think in our case, it is more appropriate to say, "How time flies when you are happy." It's been over a year. Really? Where did the time go? I paused to reflect on my journey thus far.
Over the past year, I have learned that bad habits die hard. Growing up in the United States and being educated here, it almost goes without saying, "Rules are meant to be broken, authorities are meant to be challenged, and knowledge is power." All through high school and college, I pretty much found that my teachers and professors had accepted the fact that their students would challenge them any chance they get. Even in writing our reports and essays, I got accustomed to the fact that I was free to express my views, hypotheses, theories, and beliefs. The only caveat was that I was able to provide evidence or support to defend my views. It was perfectly acceptable to disagree with the teacher or professor as long as I had enough evidence to support my perspective. The purpose was perhaps to encourage students to be creative and think outside of the box. They didn't want to squelch or stifle our creativity and development. Facebook is a perfect example of this type of creativity. Given that premise, it quite obviously clashes with my current strict and disciplined monastic way of life.
My other struggle has been my nonchalant attitude and propensity for procrastination. Is it from living in a surfer town for too many years or it is just ubiquitous in the culture here? I remember hearing someone once said, "Why do today what you can do tomorrow?" At that time, I couldn't have agreed more. I remember in graduate school, they had decided that students were procrastinating and not studying for the examines until the last minute. I think they had done some study or research and found that cramming was ineffective in terms of long term memory retention. Our school wanted to make sure their students would retain the information that was taught to them and to utilize it in their practice. After the first year into my program, they had implemented a new exam policy. There would be only one mid-term and one final for each class per semester, no other quizzes and tests. We normally had several quizzes and about 2 tests in addition to the mid-term and final for each class per semester. The purpose of the new exam policy was to encourage students to study on regular basis instead of just cramming from one exam to the next. It ended up that we had 2 really stressful weeks each semester, which were the mid-terms week and the finals week. Since there was only one mid-term and one final per class, if you did poorly on either test, you would most likely fail the class. To add insult to injure, the class was offered only once a year. Therefore, if you failed a class, you would have to stay back a whole year. They really put the pressure on us to stop us from cramming for the exams. Other than that, we didn't have to worry about any other tests or quizzes. Unfortunately though, the new policy didn't motive students to study more regularly. It only challenged us to cram even more. For ultimate procrastinators like my friends and me, the new policy was great. We utilized the extra time to perfect our hook shoot in bowling and how to run the table in billiards instead of studying. Mid-terms and finals week was like being in a pressure cooker but that didn't stop us from procrastinating until the last minute. This totally defeated the purpose for the new exam policy.
As I have learned in my Buddhist Ethics class here, habitual energies are deeply rooted. Some of our habits we carry from not just this lifetime but maybe even from our previous lives. In order to change them, we need to have patience and diligently work through them. Most importantly is to not add fuel to the fire and over time, the habitual energies will weaken and we will be able to change them.
In being here at CTTB and cultivating with everyone, I realize the ingenuity of the daily schedule that the Venerable Master has established for us. As novices, we are required to attend all the sessions in the Buddha Hall and in doing so, I have found that it has slowly helped me to regulate both my body and mind. It has helped me to some of the bad habits that I have developed over the years. Although the change has been subtle, I now have a new found appreciation in attending the daily schedule. Especially at the end of each night, when we would recite Universal Worthy Bodhisattva's Verse of Exhortation, "The day is already done. Our lives are that much less. We're like fish in a shrinking pond. What joy is there in this? Great Assembly! We should be diligent and vigorous, as if our own heads were at stake. Only be mindful of impermanence and be careful not to be lax." Reciting this verse really does remind me to be more vigorous and transform myself knowing that impermanence can strike at any moment.
What I appreciate most after leaving the home-life is the fact that we have a teacher who oversees the novices. We have someone who we can go to for instructions, advice, confession, repentance, and just about everything. Without the guidance and support of a teacher during our critical period of novice training, we would be completely lost and most likely retreat from our Bodhi resolve. Our teacher is like the rails on the path who guides us to walk along the proper path.