Below is a letter sent by my friend Mike. He's writing to communicate his approach (and struggle) in the ordination process of the TBC. I think he achieves clarity.
I've always been impressed with Mike's ability to medititate, he's got good posture, doesn't move. I wiggle and fidget, struggle with posture. So to see him meditate is awesome, inspiring. He's traveled around a bit, and see the movement outside the USA. He's also a very authentic and honest man, and this letter is yet another example of his forthrightness. The more I think about responding to this, the less I want to--I think it's grown on me, and I think it needs no response from me. I think it's pretty awesome.
Reflections on my Ordination and Ordination in General
For many years now I have been reflecting on, brooding over, and clarifying: why I want to be ordained? And what are all of my reservations and resistance to ordination all about? This compilation of reflections is not complete or definitive in that not much of anything is complete or definitive, but they are some of the key questions and points of clarification in this process for me as of late.
While most everything that ordination is said to stand for I feel whole heartedly behind in principle, I have had serious concerns about the spiritual benefits of having a label or a mark threshold that one crosses and then becomes what we call effectively going for refuge. One of the potential pit falls of marking peoples effectivity with this label is that people can begin to rely on others to tell them what effective practice would look like, rather than having the individual study, meditate, and engage in dialog with others about what effective practice would look like in there lives. I am not saying that people are not necessarily taking personal responsibility to some degree for sorting out what effective practice looks like in there own lives, but creating this system where you develop your practice and wait for someone to give you the stamp of approval can put too much of the emphasis on looking to other people to tell you what you should be doing. I am sure that this can feel just as awkward for the prospective order member as it is for the order members involved in making the decision about someone readiness for ordination. Over the years of going on GFR retreats I have seen a lot of people become too focused on what they need to do to get ordained rather than focusing on what they need to do to develop a more effective practice.
The human tendency to attempt to reefy an identity while being blown around by the worldly winds is indeed very strong. I feel that ordination can become just another way to firm up our sense of self and appropriate the dharma in a way that completely contradicts the teaching on see through a fixed sense of self. While it seemed like I saw this type of spiritual materialism happening around me I was unaware that it was indeed having an effect on me as well until I had my first kula meeting two years ago. Most of all the feed back that I got at this meeting was very encouraging, but there was a bit of a concern about the stability of my highs and lows in practice and I was not given the stamp of approval of being seen as ready for ordination. A very painful psychic storm of the worldly winds fallowed this meeting.
The strong emotional reactions that I had after this meeting made it very clear that I was not exempt from having some degree of spiritual materialism behind my intention to be ordained. That as much as I wanted my ordination to not be about seeking some validation for who I was as an individual it was a part of what was happening. This sent me into a long period of questioning whether or not it would be beneficial or not to be ordained. Pretty quickly I decided it would be best to put the whole issue of whether or not I had crossed this threshold of effective practice aside and just focus more clearly on what I needed to do to develop spiritually. This turned into a very productive time of developing confidence in my own commitment to the three jewels and clarifying my own intentions in practice. It is arguable that witnessing my own spiritual materialism through the ordination process lead me into this place of developing confidence in my own commitment, but it is hard to say if this was not just bound to happen of its own accord. I think there was also a certain cost involved in not being validated as effectively going for refuge sooner in that until your spiritual friends give you this validation to some degree this is a passive vote of no confidence. These are the unescapable stakes of setting up the ordination process the way it has been, and I believe that these issues will be important to keep in mind when considering some ones readiness for ordination. For me personally it has not felt helpful to get encouraging or critical feedback with someone standing over me with a stamp of approval.
Having recently reread Sangharakshita's definition of what effectively going for refuge is: I found that he essentially defines it with the word commitment, which I find to be a much more clear and inspiring way of looking at ones spiritual development. I am however unsure about how possible it is to accurately say when someone has crossed this threshold of commitment to spiritual practice. The conditions that are at play in ones life are vast and unfathomable and for some one else or one self to be able to clearly weigh these conditions and access whether they have crossed the threshold, it seems unlike that this could be done all that accurately. Commitment to spiritual practices is of course something that is only done in real time, and all we can do is develop a growing understanding of the actions that we take of body, speech and mind that are committed and which are not. I believe this would be a more helpful and beneficial way of framing the discussion around commitment to practice.
Probably the part of ordination that I am most apprehensive about is potentially putting myself in a place where I have to access someone else's readiness for Ordination. That said, I do think that it is possible to go through the Ordination process with more of the light and shadow aspects in view, and that a bit more emphasis on some of the potential shadow aspects that might crop up for people could be quiet helpful. It does seem that some people are able to navigate this process without overtly glorify or idealizing ordination, seeing the benefits without thinking that they have staked some claim to some type of attainment. More open discussion about how much these issues may be at play for people in the ordination process may be enough to rectify some of these issues. Continuing to down play the focus of the ordination process being about ordination I think would also be helpful. This has happened some what over the last few years and it has made me feel more comfortable about the process.
Now for some of the more positive reflection that I have had about ordination. Ordination has the potential to be a beneficial act of the imagination through building up a connection between associations of lived spiritual commitment to the well fare of all beings, with this symbolic ritual act of being ordained. But it is important for people to be clear that ordination has no inherent value and is only significant to the extent that it is significant in the mind of the person being ordained, and only as powerful as ones capacity to link their clarity of intention about what is valuable, with there lived experience through ones imagination. My initial desire behind wanting to be ordained was set in motion by my response to hearing the stories about the life of the buddha. The resonance with the Buddha's example was clearly then, as it is now, the most valuable thing that can be done with ones life energy. It is an act of imagination how I turn this resonance into another living example of what the buddha discovered and taught. Greedy, hatred, and delusion; generosity, love and wisdom this is the playing field of the conditions of my contingent self. Am I committed? probably but no one can know for sure. These are my associations with the significants of the private ordination.
Though I have had my doubts about how beneficial certain courses of action within the order and by order members have been. I have undoubtedly benefited great from the examples of some order members and through the friendships and communication that I have shared. I intend to have my public ordination mark my solidarity with all of the fruitful interaction that have been, with all the fruitful interactions that now are, and with all the fruitful interactions that could be. This is not to say that I intended to turn a blind eye to actions within the order that appear to me to be potentially harmful, but that I intend to focus most of my energy on ways of engaging that I believe to be most helpful and beneficial. Unless I feel like I have some constructive criticism that would be helpful I intend to not worry about actions that are taken within the order that I disagree with. I hope to be able to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are engaging with practice in a way that makes the most sense to them given their conditions. I hope to be able to skillfully offer my opinion and leave people to make the decision that seems appropriate to them.
My final practical reason behind why I want to be ordained is because I want to be involved in the ongoing discussion about how to most effectively establish the dharma in our modern day context, and that I intend to play some part in sharing my understanding of the dharma with others in some form. Being ordained I feel will help facilitate an engagement with the other people within the order which I hope will benefit myself and others.
The clarity that has emerged around what I believe to be the value and potential hazards of ordination are the conditions that now allow me to more comfortably say that I am ready to be ordained. Seeing the form of ordination like the forms of all things to be empty and the potential for the form of ordination to be an expression of the impermanent dynamic flow that is its emptiness, is as important as seeing the form of self to be empty without negating the value of that form. This is the view that has given me peace of mind around the tension that I have held about the form of ordination. It is a degree of insight that I hope to continue to apply to all the forms around me to further develop and strength my own peace of mind and the peace of mind of all beings.