Artikelen © Diana Vernooij 2009
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Why I am here in Songdhammakalyani Temple

written in Nakhon Pathom, 12 april 2009 bij samaneri Dhammalanchika

Why, actually, am I going to Thailand for a (short term) ordination? This I asked myself, after I bought an airplane-ticket. I have a good job, a good husband, I write articles about Buddhism in a magazine, I am a priest in a ecumenical church in Amsterdam, Holland. This I all combine with becoming a Buddhist and having my Buddhist practice. I have no wishes for a longterm stay in a monastery nor to become a fulltime samaneri. So why did I come?

My life is a compilation of social activities and spiritual practice. Having no children and having a husband who cooks and cleans the house as much as I do, I have full possibility to give my time to work, education, social action, spiritual practice. Brought up as a Christian I met Buddhism after my mother died, 25 years ago. I looked for spirituality, tried to find answers on questions my mother left me. She had lost her faith. I did too when I was 15 years old. At her funeral the ceremony and the words of the priest touched me deeply and I started looking for spiritual path again. I was 27 years old.

I looked in Christian churches and in Buddhism. In Holland one can get courses in meditation, for beginners and advanced. It is not necessary to be involved in a sangha. When you are looking for a retreat, there is a big choice in Zen, Tibetan, Vipassana, and even all sorts of meditation from other countries and traditions. Most of them are mainly based on meditation.

A Christian nun had brought Zen Buddhism from Japan to Holland and I participated in retreats, 6 to 8 hours meditation a day, complete silence, Japanese style. At the same time I found a church in which Christianity was practised in a liberal way, with chosen priests (male and female) and an ecumenical approach (people from different Christian churches and open to texts from other religions like Buddhism). Sixteen years ago I was chosen to be one of the priests and I still am. I do ceremonies on Sunday and sometimes a funeral or marriage.
Although I practiced Zen meditation for years I looked for something else. Zen was not what I looked for. I read books, studied philosophy and theology at university – and to make a living I studied management and work as a manager. First I looked within Tibetan Buddhism, but when I found Vipassana meditation I found what I was looking for. This helped me to examine my mind, my thought, my deeds and feelings. Sister Jotika, a former Christian nun and now living with the eight precepts, became my teacher. We do not do so much chanting, and the Vipassana retreat is also very severe. Complete silence, no eye-contact, and from 5 in the morning until 9 in the evening sitting and walking meditation.

This is my practice: before breakfast I do yoga and meditate for at least 30 minutes. Several times a year I support a retreat. But the main thing is that in my daily life I try to live the eight fold path. Stop hurting myself and others. Reflection on my emotions and deeds helps me to do the right things and have the right view on my life.

Why then, did I come to Thailand? Holland is my country, my heritage – not Thailand. Yet I choose for Theravada Buddhism, I support the women’s movement, and I learn a lot from the lessons that Venerable Dhammananda gave us.
First of all: my great respect and admiration for Venerable Dhammananda brought me here. I took refuge in Holland last year, when she was with us for a retreat. What I admire is the combination of genuine dedication to the Buddha and the Dhamma and the social activity of trying to make society more rich and open by founding the possibility for all women to study and become bhikkhunis. What we do is always for ourselves and for everybody else.
Second I came for practice, for being a bhikkhuni to open my heart and free my mind. The highest achievement in life is my final goal – for myself and for society. Yesterday Venerable Dhammananda said right: Dutch people explore the world, like Diana in Wat Songdhammakalyani. It is true, I came to explore ordination by stepping in, doing what I was meant to do and letting the ordination do its job. The rules to behave and the way people look at you and treat you is one of the things that I am more aware of now. The Venerable said: every time someone bows for you, you are obliged to ask yourself if you are worthy to bow for. I am much more aware now of my behaviour and the messages of my body.

Once I was on retreat in a monastery in Holland. There by entering the temple everybody bowed for the Buddha but in leaving the temple nobody bowed. I asked why. This was the answer: There is no difference between life outside the temple or inside. So we never really get out of the temple. But we forget, so we have to remember ourselves every time we come in and that is why we bow.

There is no difference between my life as a manager or wife or priest or writer, and my life as a student in Buddhism, as a samaneri. Only I tend to forget that every time. That is why I am here.

Diana Vernooij