I have been planning on continuing with a post and audio related to Chinese liturgy, and the Four Bodhisattva Vows seem like the next section to explore. However, that will have to be the next post, as I want to describe a bit of what took place here at Dharma Drum this weekend. I’m back up on the Mountain for the next few weeks, as my next Chinese class doesn’t begin until September 26th. I’m grateful to be here for this time.

This morning, Sunday, at Dharma Drum we had an ordination ceremony (剃度 tìdù, which literally means being “tonsured” as a novice) for about 25 new novices: about 20 women and four men (I’m not sure of the exact numbers.) They all have been living at DDM for over a year, and are just about to start their second year in Dharma Drum’s excellent and unique training environment for new monastics, Sangha University. I was fortunate to be here for this weekend, as it was full of ceremonies, teachings, and profound events for these (mostly) young people in their call to the monastic life.

I don’t know if how DDM performs these ceremonies is typical in Chinese Buddhism, but I imagine that this is the case. Last night, the soon-to-be novices were tonsured (their heads were shaved), and then they were ordained this morning in a long and very beautiful ceremony. Though they were shaved last night, there was a small spot of hair in the front of the head that was left, to be shaved off at the actual ordination ceremony. The shaving last night was a very public event, with family, friends, monastics, and guests all witnessing the cutting and shaving of the hair (representing the willingness to relinquish a worldly mind.) It is hard to describe what this ceremony was like: it was at the same time solemn, joyful, and even a bit rambunctious at times, with a million people scrambling to take pictures and videos of different stages of the shaving. I, of course, did not have a camera with me, which I now regret. All in all, it was mostly a happy and moving experience watching the transformation of these sincere people from near-lay people to near-novices; though there were many tears shed, both by sad family members and by people deeply touched by the events.

This morning, then, was the ordination ceremony. It was a beautifully choreographed display of piety, solemn vows, and an enthusiastic entering into the monastic life. Again, it is difficult to explain the ceremony; you probably have to see one to understand its process and purpose. For any who have seen an ordination either at Shasta Abbey, who may have come to my samanera ordination at MABA last December, or who have seen another Buddhist ordination at some point, there were very similar and familiar elements in today’s ceremony; just that here at DDM, it was much, much bigger and much more precisely executed. Everyone was quite professional and sincere.

Here are some photos of an ordination at DDM back in 2009 to give you a sense of what took place today.

The soon-to-be novices bow to their parents and family before the actual ordination. It is both a gesture of gratitude and a saying of "good-bye."

Just prior to having the last bit of hair shaved by the Venerables presiding over the ceremony. You can see the shaving equipment on the red trays.

Being offered part of their new monastic attire: "Sangha shoes" (僧鞋)

The new novices put on their five-stripped kesa for the first time; this brown outer robe represents the commitment to keep and live by the precepts as a monastic. It is the refuge and the robe of a monk.

To prepare for today’s ordination, Dharma Drum held two Great Compassion Repentance ceremonies (大悲懺法會 dà bēi chàn fǎ huì): one on Friday evening and one on Saturday afternoon (here’s a bit more information on the ceremony; and here’s a nice take on it from a young Buddhist). This is a very old repentance ceremony in Chinese Buddhism that I would very much like to discuss someday on this blog, but it will take me some time to understand it well enough to attempt to do so. Dharma Drum holds this ceremony once a month, but it is rare to do two in two days. To help more fully prepare and purify the minds of the new monastics, as well as purify the “Great Assembly” witnessing the ordination, two repentance services were held this weekend.

This ceremony lasts over two hours, and is a formal and moving display of contrition for past wrong doing, vowing to better oneself and help others through making vows, and invoking Great Compassion (personified in Guan Shi Yin Pusa, or Avalokitesvara) for assistance in our practice. The ceremony has lots of bowing, offering of flowers and incense, chanting, and vows. At one point, we chant the Great Compassion mantra fourteen times. Hence the name, 大悲懺, or Great Compassion Repentance ceremony, emphasizing the refuge always found in and through Great Compassion, rather than continuing to wallow in our own suffering. Here’s an audio clip of Friday evening’s ceremony which I recorded, with about a minute of the recitation of the Great Compassion Mantra.

Poster for a Great Compassion Repentance ceremony from Dharma Drum.

It may not be the case for all monastics, but for most of us, when we attend an ordination like today’s, we are, in effect, reliving and re-committing to our own ordinations. Becoming a monk is a strange, wonderful, and very rare thing; and the ordination itself is one of the most important events in a person’s life who is called (or driven) to becoming a monk. So, I feel very privileged and grateful to have been here for this weekend’s ceremonies.

There is much more I could say about the last few days, but will leave it at this.

Four Bodhisattva Vows, next post. I hope.

We are expecting a typhoon to hit Taiwan tonight and through tomorrow. Lots of rain and wind; hopefully not too much damage. I enjoy this type of weather. Though, it makes it a bit challenging to wear long, flowing robes with much dignity.

As always, thanks for reading. I hope this finds you very well.

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