El·e·na [el-uh-nuh, uh-ley-nuh; It. e-le-nah] /ˈɛlənə, əˈleɪnə; It. ɛˈlɛnɑ/ –noun a female given name, form of Helen // A proud student of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche // Personal assistant with a BSc (Hons) Psych from Uni of Warwick // These are snapshots of my life, in words and pictures

Pastor ordination and all that comes with it

October 21, 2013 1

“When you wake up, make sure the first thing you think of is how to benefit others. I found that when I followed Rinpoche’s advice on this, everything became better for me and I became happier.”

~ Pastor Kok Yek Yee explaining to the pastors the essence of their responsibilities

So what am I now, many people have asked me over the last two days? Am I a nun? No, not yet. Am I a pastor? Yes, I am. What is a pastor? In 2011, Rinpoche created a new role at Kechara House, the role of the pastor. Combining the responsibilities of the ordained and the appearance of a layperson, pastors are the connection between the sangha and the everyday practitioner.

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Group photo, pre-ordination

When Rinpoche did this, there was opposition. Some argued we should not use the term ‘pastor’ because it’s commonly associated with the Christian faith; we told them it is just a word and well, if they’re unhappy with the term ‘pastor’ because of its Christian connotations, then Buddhists shouldn’t use the word “abbot” either to describe the head of a monastery because Christians also have abbots.

Some also argued we should not make up new roles in the monastic order; we told them that pastors are not monks, and that pastorship roles were necessary in this day and age when many do not want to become monks and nuns, but still want to take some responsibility for spreading Buddha’s teachings and benefiting others.

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Group photo, post-ordination. The people in white are upasaka and upasika vow-holders who wish to receive full ordination in the near future

There are many reasons why we should become pastors:

  1. Even if you already abstain from the activities described in the vows, take the vows anyway because holding them as vows helps you to create merit…and since you already abstain from it, you’ll be creating merit easily and naturally
  2. Take responsibility for your spiritual practice by taking responsibility for others. If you’re serious about your practice, then put it into action by taking vows to benefit others, which is the essence of Buddhism (the wish to alleviate others’ suffering)
  3. The fear of vows arises from two key issues: (1) the fear of breaking the vows (2) the wish to hang on to your daily pleasures. In both cases, they are all the more reason why we should take the vows. First, we need get over our fear of failure which is the ego that blocks our path to enlightenment; Buddha himself said that the merit of holding the monk vows for just one day generates immeasurable merit. Second, as Buddhists, we should train using whatever means possible to leave behind the attitudes that harm ourselves and others.
  4. Wearing the uniform will give you a sense of pride for your practice. Buddhists get a bad rep for being passive and superstitious. Instead of becoming upset when people label us sacrilegious, idol-worshippers, etc., wear the uniform and show by example that Buddhists are not.
  5. You want to help people (yes, it really is as simple as that!)

So be proud to become a pastor!

On 19 October 2013, seven of us received our pastorship and upasaka / upasika vows. On Rinpoche’s request, Pastor Yek Yee bestowed the vows upon us, having held them so well herself for the last two years. A few days before the ordination, Rinpoche explained that the reason why Rinpoche wishes for Pastor Yek Yee to bestow the vows is to demonstrate that it is not your nationality that makes you holy, but the fact that you hold the vows that makes you a qualified vow-giver. Therefore Malaysians are every bit as capable as Tibetans of bestowing vows and practices on others, as long as we keep our commitments.

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Before we donned our white uniform, Pastor Yek Yee (our preceptor) cut our hair as a symbol of our commitment to become monks and nuns

For the first time ever, all of this year’s pastors have also requested to become monks and nuns so Pastor Yek Yee also bestowed the upasaka and upasika vows on us. She gave her opening speech then led us to recite the vows and prayers before cutting some of our hair, as a symbol of our commitment to eventually take on the robes of an ordained person. After our hair was cut, we did a quick switcheroo into our white uniform then reemerged as vow-holders.

So how do I feel now I’ve taken this first step towards my eventual full ordination?

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With Rinpoche’s blessings, Pastor Yek Yee gave us the vows

The first couple of days after my ordination, I was working in Kechara Forest Retreat (KFR), a nice, safe environment where everyone knows why I am in white and no one gives it a second thought. I put a huge emphasis on the ‘safe’ bit because it really is true – KFR, like any other comfort zone, can be a bubble if you choose to never emerge into the world to test and add to your knowledge and practice.

So today I went out in public for the first time wearing my new white robes (although how long it’ll remain white is another story!). It didn’t help things that I went out during the office lunch hour when there were loads of people anyway, and wow did I get stared at. Maybe people were wondering who died because in Chinese customs, it is traditional for people to wear white when they’re in mourning! Needless to say, I was slightly unnerved by the number of people watching my every move, as though they were all on the lookout to catch me when I slip.

Whatever – I chose to hold my head high and my white uniform is awesome.

So I would say I am a little nervous, not because of the vows but because there are so many new things for me to get used to, in particular how to fit in with the local perception of what a nun should be. Malaysians are used to sangha members who aren’t very outwardly expressive, who keep their opinions to themselves, don’t fling their hands about when they are talking, don’t laugh loudly, don’t make jokes…all of the things I am not! But I’m sure I’ll find my feet so watch this space for more updates on life as a pastor :)

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Beautiful Wisdom Hall where we received our vows

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Shopping in the gift shop before the ceremony

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Guests queue to offer a khata and pay their respects to the Dharma that Rinpoche’s throne and portrait represent

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Datuk May giving her opening speech as the President of Kechara House

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Praying for my lama’s blessings that I may be an effective vow-holder

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Trying very hard to tone down my smile hahaha

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Datuk May, Kechara’s big mama, congratulating me hehehe

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Thanking Rinpoche for giving me the opportunity to do uphold, preserve and promote Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition in our region

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With my sister and brother in Dukkar Apartments after the ceremony

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With Uncle Henry, Aunty Angel, Beatrix and Edward after the ceremony

Becoming a Nun

One Comment → “Pastor ordination and all that comes with it”

  1. Losang Tenpa 5 years ago   Reply

    Absolutely inspiring! YES!
    I rejoice!

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