In the Footsteps of the Buddha - A Chinese Bhikshunis Journey into Nunhood
by Venerable Guo Zhi
International Buddhist College
Venerable Guo Zhi, a bhikshuni from China, welcomes your feedback. Comments can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Many people, including my teachers, schoolmates, my relatives and friends, neighbours and strangers often stared at me peculiarly when I became a Buddhist nun. They had never heard about Buddhism, what it was and what it meant. To them, to have belief in Buddhism was totally absurd. They often asked me why I became a Buddhist nun, because nobody in my home town wanted to be a Buddhist monk or nun at that time. It was especially difficult for a young female to be a Buddhist nun. Some regarded all Buddhist monks and nuns as oddball characters, but I didn't care what they thought of me. As for why I chose to become a Buddhist nun, I often avoided answering the question then, because Buddhism was wrongly construed as a superstition by the overwhelming majority of people in my home town at that time.
Many people thought that some people became Buddhist monks and nuns to devote themselves to Buddhism because their families were very poor or suffered an unexpected setback and great misfortune. In actual fact, there were several main reasons why I chose to become a Buddhist nun.
I remember one Sunday afternoon when nobody was at home except me. I was doing my homework. Suddenly, an old granny walked into my room when I was pondering an arithmetic problem. I didn't know that old granny at all and her purpose in coming because I had never seen her before. At that time I was only nine, and that old granny looked like about eighty years old. She wore her hair in a bun and wore a set of grey patched clothes. She sat on my bed and said to me with a kind and pleasant countenance, "My lovely little girl, I want to tell you something. Chengdu city is the provincial capital of Sichuan province. There is a female Buddhist temple in urban the district of Chengdu. A famous Buddhist nun lives in that temple; her Buddhist name is Longlian. She is sixty-eight now and she is an extraordinary person in Buddhist circles. She is of noble character and high prestige. Her knowledge and cultivation are excellent. she will be in the care of Chinese government and Chinese Buddhists Association. I wish you can accede to me a request, you must become a Buddhist nun and you should try hard to learn from Longlian in the future."That strange old granny neglected to mention 'Venerable' and the name of the Buddhist temple where Venerable Longlian lived. I didn't ask that old granny's age and name, so I still didn't know her real age and her name. I have not seen her again. At that time that old granny insisted that I grant her the demand. In fact, I did not fully understand that old granny's remarks because I was still very young at that time. That old granny was sincere and firm in making the demand. In order to not cause her grief, I gave her my promise and acceded to her request. I then developed a profound interest in Venerable Longlian and wanted to be acquainted with her. I kept this episode my own secret and hadn't told it to anyone before I became a student in Sichuan Buddhist Institute of Nuns. Even my parents did not know about it. This was one of reasons why I chose to become a Buddhist nun.
My mother was the earliest Buddhist in my family. She had never been to school, but she had a good memory and could recite some Buddhist sutras. She believed deeply in Buddhism. Although my mother had studied Buddha's teaching for just over ten years, she persisted in reciting Buddhist scriptures and worshipping Buddhas everyday until she passed away in 2001. My mother was a devout Buddhist. My mother's teaching by her personal example as well as verbal instruction had a definite impact on my decision to follow the Buddha's path.
My eldest sister's life was marked by a series of serious illnesses. She never really regained her health. There was much suffering in the family. My mother thought that only Buddha's teaching could help all human beings get rid of their sufferings. For the sake of my true peace and happiness, my mother advised me to take the Buddhist road. What she said made a lot of sense to me; moreover, I didn't want to act against my mother's wishes. This was another reason why I chose to become a Buddhist nun.
I went to a temple in Mount Tiantai in Guangyuan. It happened that Venerable Jingtian was giving Dhamma teachings to many followers. By chance, I listened to his teachings on lay Buddhist Bodhisattva. Some lay people couldn't understand what Venerable Jingtian said, but I understood his Dharma talk well. Then I heard Buddhist chanting of Venerable Kuanling, Kuanxiao and others. Both Venerable Kuanling and Kuanxiao were two young Buddhist nuns from Shaanxi∩╝êΘÕòΦÑ┐∩╝Ê province. Their chanting was beautiful. In those days, I got special treatment from some Buddhist monks and nuns. They asked about me, and let me have my meals and shared time with them. They gave me three books on Mahayana Buddhism: Di Zang Pu Sa Ben Yuan Jing, Jue Hai Ci Hang and Yu Lin Guo Shi. In addition, they often encouraged me to be a Buddhist nun like them. I was curious about all these young Buddhist monks and nuns. I had some good opinions of them. Gradually, the idea of becoming Buddhist nun grew in me.
One day on July, 1990, after getting permission from my mother, two lay women, Ms. Liu and Ms. Zhao took me from Guangyuan to Chengdu by train. As soon as we arrived in Chengdu, we went to see Venerable Jishan in Baoguang Temple in Xindu. He was an old Buddhist monk more than seventy years in age. I had known him before and had followed his teachings on some simple Buddhist disciplines. Venerable Jishan was very merciful. He wished me to be a Buddhist nun in Aidao Tang (Mahapajapati College) a long time ago. He and the two lay women led me to Chengdu Aidao Tang immediately. A nun named Venerable Changjing received us in the guest chamber. Venerable Changjing was advanced in age, eighty-one at that time, but her mind faculty was sharp. She was the nun in charge of reception in the monastery. At that time, Venerable Longlian was highly prestigious in Buddhist circles. Under normal conditions, it was not easy to meet with her because she was very busy. That day, I didn't get to see Venerable Longlian because she had gone to Tiexiang Temple. I got Venerable Changjing's consent to stay temporarily in Aidao Tang.
Against all expectations, I was soon introduced to Venerable Shengyu by Venerable Changjing. In the first three or so months of my staying in Aidao Tang, Venerable Longlian seemed to be within my sight but beyond my reach. One day, many devotees and I together listened to Venerable Longlian's Dharma talk in the Hall of Sakyamuni. When I left the hall to relieve myself, the lay woman, Ms Zeng browsed through my notes on Venerable Jingtian's and Venerable Longlian's Dharma talks. She was greatly surprised and considered my notes to be better than many students' in Aidao Buddhist Training Class. Ms Zeng informed her sister, Venerable Changjing about the quality of my notes. Venerable Changjing then passed the comment on to Venerable Longlian. Venerable Longlian decided to take a look at my notes. Venerable Fagao, a sixty year-old nun and also Venerable Longlian's attendant at that time, summoned me to see Venerable Longlian. After Venerable Longlian looked through my notes, she was satisfied and commented to me, "Your notes have not a single error in the written character, but also contain the essential points. If you can become a Buddhist nun in Aidao Tang, I wish you would exert yourself to study, cultivate, and strive to become a pillar of Buddhism and much more." Although that was the first time I met Venerable Longlian in person, it was as though I had just awakened from a dream, and that I seemed to have met her before. At that moment I recollected what that old granny said to me when I was a little girl. What the old granny was perfectly right, and she didn't deceive me at all. Because of that old granny's introduction, I had an initial cognition of Venerable Longlian.
After I met her, I gradually deepened my understanding of her. She was not only graced with both virtues and talents, but also she was indifferent to fame and profit. Her knowledge or cultivation deeply touched my heart. She had her own view on research on Buddhist philosophy. She paid attention to Buddhist education. I respected and admired Venerable Longlian more and more. I learnt much and acquired more Buddhist knowledge from Venerable Longlian's teaching. I recognized that only Buddhist teaching could help all living beings break away from all worldly vexations and sufferings and liberate themselves from the samsara of life and death.
Venerable Longlian's Buddhist life outlook completely transformed me; she made me recognize Buddhism anew, and led me from ignorance to understanding Buddhism. This was one of the most important reasons why I chose to become a Buddhist nun. From that unfamiliar old granny to Venerable Longlian, the series of principal and secondary causes led me on to the Buddha's path and to grow as a daughter of Shakyamuni on the path as a bhikshuni.
In October, 1990, I went back to my family for only one month and asked my parents' consent once more to enter nunhood. In mid-November of that same year, I arrived at Aidao Tang for the second time with the strong resolve to enter monastic life. In September 15∩╝ênineteenth of the eighth month of the lunar calendar), 1992, I formally took Venerable Shengyu as my tonsure's master and became a Buddhist novice. By September, 1993, I began studying at the Sichuan Buddhist Institute of Nuns. In November of that same year, when I turned twenty-four, I was initiated into nunhood by the Great Master Kuanlin in Chengdu Manjusri Temple. Finally, I had fulfilled my wish and others' wish to become a regular Buddhist nun.
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