If you are interested in becoming a monk or nun, then Cittaviveka is a place to check out first as a guest. In fact, it’s good to come a few times, and extend your stay for weeks at a time both to get a feel for the rhythms and changes of the monastic life, and also to acknowledge how the lifestyle affects you. Obviously, perhaps, it’s not all easy. Certainly things, or the absence of things, will be irritating at times. You need to know in yourself how you can handle the ups and downs of inspiration and negativity – this is the work of strengthening and purifying the mind.
The following are a few main areas which you will need to consider over a period of time:
How do the training precepts, the sense restraint and attention to details of behaviour affect me?
Do I enjoy solitude and community?
Where are the difficulties? Do I value spiritual friendship?
How do I feel about others supervising my training?
How am I with being part of a tradition and following its customs?
Do I appreciate and benefit from the teachings that are given in this place? Or would another monastery be more suitable?
These are not questions that have immediate answers (in fact, beware of any immediate answers; but staying for periods of time at Cittaviveka may help you to see what they are pointing at. Then most likely it’s a matter of taking one step at a time while being aware of how this affects and responses change within you.
After some time as a guest (it’s also recommended to visit other monasteries) you may decide that you’d like to make a year’s commitment to training in the community as an anagarika – literally ‘a homeless one.’ This involves shaving one's head, training within the Eight Precepts and putting aside concerns outside the monastery for a year. You can communicate your interest in making this commitment to the Guest Monk or Nun, and the Sangha can consider your request.
If the community does consider that, at this time, training in this monastery is something that they can help you with, you will have some time to finish off, or shelve, any domestic business and in due course take anagarika precepts with a teacher.
After a year or so, you may feel that you’d like to continue the training and request ‘ordination’ as a monk or nun. Again this is something that the Sangha, and specifically a teacher, has to feel is suitable, as they have to take on the responsibility of guiding you through potentially rocky patches as well as laying down a course of practice. In this tradition, there is no ‘Going Forth’ as a monk or nun without a teacher, so it is important that you feel you have access to someone you can trust, respect and confide in.
For men, ordination as a monk is in two stages: ‘Going Forth’ (pabbajja) as a novice (samanera) – whereupon you relinquish money and wear monk’s robes – and ‘Acceptance’ (upasampada) as a bhikkhu. Acceptance is a stage that you may enter or not, depending on your capacity and interest. You have to train for at least a year as a samanera first; and even then it is up to the Sangha of bhikkhus to decide whether you are ready for Acceptance. This is because bhikkhu life entails a very full training in precepts and observances and also carries a responsibility to the lineage, to the Sangha as a whole, and to the lay community.
For women, these two stages are covered by a more extended ‘Going Forth’ as a siladhara - which may occur after two or more years of training as an anagarika. As the Going Forth of women is still re-establishing itself within the tradition, the Nuns’ Communities at Cittaviveka and Amaravati work co-operatively. In undertaking the training both as an anagarika and as a siladhara you will be part of that larger sense of community, spending time training in both monasteries.
Both the bhikkhu and siladhara ordinations require an initial commitment of five years of training under a teacher in the monasteries of this lineage. These are serious commitments as each monk or nun is receiving offerings from faithful lay people whose trust deserves the greatest respect. Also, in this lineage each monk or nun is benefiting from a succession of masters who have given their lives to discovering truth and sharing it with others. To be an heir to such treasures is a privilege that should not be taken lightly….But to live that privilege joyfully, and without pretence…that’s what takes the time and deepening!
If you are interested in what is outlined here, you may come and stay for a while, and talk things over with a senior monk or nun.