I met Phuong in 2015 when we were both employed at UCSC Extension in Santa Clara, California. Phuong and I worked closely together in the same department for several years. I was always curious about Phuong’s vegetarian lifestyle and her Buddhist beliefs. I also, on occasion, joined the Mindful Meditation https://thongtritemple.org/gallery] group meetings that were created by Phuong and led during our lunch hour. These meetings soon became a popular extra-curricular activity within our stressful Silicon Valley workplace and were attended by many of our colleagues. In June 2019, I left California to move to Colorado but kept in touch when Phuong became a Buddhist nun and converted her home into a temple with the help of her ex-husband. Several months later, I started working with Phuong along with several others to build content for the website. Many friends had questions about Phuong’s decision to become a Buddhist nun and the steps that she had taken in order to make this transformation in her life. Phuong and I decided to sit down together for a few minutes to explore these questions. Here is Phuong’s statement on the day of her Renunciation ceremony.
Today, August 15, 2019, in the solemn atmosphere of the Ullambana Festival Day and the day that my mother and I renounce to be Buddhist nuns, we respectfully pay homage to the revered monks and nuns. A dear friend once told me, "A narrow path of life is filled with people ... the path of religion is wide and yet not too many people seek for it!”
Respectful monks and nuns, many years have passed, and the dream of renouncing to become a Buddhist nun has become a fulfillment of the truth. At this moment, now and here, I am in front of the image of the Sangha, wearing the yellow robe, the color of liberation that encompasses my mind. I am very happy and at peace!
For a long time, I knew that renunciation is a vast road, the beginning of liberation, and only renunciation can repay and honor our parents and thank them for all they have done for me. I am now walking away on the path to liberation, wholeheartedly serving the Three Jewels to repay the Buddhas and loving everyone towards immeasurable compassion.
Therefore, every step is a concept of liberation. I have made continuous efforts to save the noblest actions for today, but there is more to do in the remaining days because the path of great understanding and love, and compassion requires great practice. Following the virtues of the Bodhisattva is an exercise that can nourish my mind to develop many virtuous actions in the Dharma of the Tathagata. Over the years, I have been consistently participating in retreat centers and temples such as Kim Son Monastery, Tinh Xa Ngoc Hoa, Loc Uyen Monastery, An Lac Temple, Duc Vien Temple, Tinh Xa Thong Tri I. I want to learn, understand, and practice the Dharma from the Awakened One to purify myself so that I can share what I have learned and be a service to others.
When I was young, I was a lucky and blissful person. I received support and guidance from my Mother so that I could be close to the Three Jewels (The Buddha, The Dharma, and the Sangha). My Father also went on the path of renunciation and has always encouraged me on this same path. Additionally, I was blessed to meet my most beautiful life friend, Trong Hieu. Before we met, Trong Hieu had been a Franciscan Friar (OFM) of the Saint Barbara Province for nine years. Although we have different spiritual paths, he has always supported me in my spiritual path to practice Buddhism and to renounce today. Trong Hieu has been my protector and advocate. He has a boundless heart for his path of cultivation. At the same time, my two children Felix and Christopher have also been extremely supportive of me.
When Trong Hieu learned that I wanted to renounce as a Buddhist Nun, he did not hesitate to donate this house, which we had built as home together, and turn it into a temple and a place for me and my mom to practice as Buddhist nuns. The Renunciation ceremony is taking place during the grand opening of Thong Tri Temple II, our home that was converted into a temple. This is a project we have been working on for over a year.
The following is the transcript of my interview with Phuong:
WHEN did you know that you wanted to become a Buddhist nun?
When I was a young girl around 6 or 7 years old, I loved to go to the temple with my mom, to listen to the monks chanting. I listened to the monks giving Dharma Discourses about the Buddha’s Teachings. The monks taught the precepts to practice in order to purify oneself, to achieve wisdom to be liberated, to live in harmony, and compassion. My mind was very peaceful and happy. From that point forward, it has always been a dream of mine to become a Buddhist nun.
As I grew older, I never lost sight of my dream to live a Buddhist life, even after my family escaped from Vietnam when I was 13 years old. The experience actually strengthened my resolve and determination to live a Buddhist nun’s life.
My whole family fled together in a small boat including my father, mother, and five siblings, one of whom was still in my mother’s belly. The boat, which was only large enough for 100 people, carried over 200 people. We traveled on it for 2 days and 2 nights before the captain found a hole in the boat that needed to be fixed; then traveled another 5 days and 6 nights. It was an extremely harrowing journey.
I saw the suffering of so many young and old people when we left our home country in search of freedom. There were so many who lost their loved ones through death and separation. Many family members were left behind in Vietnam. Many boats did not make it to the island, because they either sank or were overtaken by pirates. I saw the suffering of mankind all around due to war, hunger, displacement, and fear. Thereafter, I knew and was determined to find a peaceful mind and to be free.
What do you mean when you say, “Only renunciation can repay and honor our parents and thank them for all they have done for me?”
In order to repay and honor your parents and ancestors, one must study, understand, and live the Buddha’s Teachings and practice the requirement precepts. Subsequently, one may be able to help others to understand Buddha’s Teachings and to live the required precepts in order to liberate themselves from suffering and to achieve Nirvana, which is the stage of full enlightenment including peace and happiness. Words cannot describe Nirvana. It is a permanent state of mind that is free from negativity, experiencing peace, happiness, immortality, and compassion.
WHAT are the steps that one needs to take in order to reach renunciation?
Step 1: The very first step is the determination of the “MIND.” I asked myself, do I really want to live a Buddhist life and follow the Buddha’s teachings (also called the Middle-Path)? My answer was always YES.
Step 2: With this strong and determined mind, I sought to obtain the blessing and support of my now ex-husband, Trong Hieu, and my two children, Felix and Christopher. About 14 years into our marriage, when I first informed Trong Hieu that I would want to live as a Buddhist nun, he said, “I love you very much, and when you love a person, you will allow them to follow their dreams.” From that moment, we had waited for 10 years in order for my children to graduate from High School so that I could start the process to follow my dream of becoming a professed Buddhist nun.
Step 3: I waited until my youngest child turned 18 years old. In the event that you are not married; you must obtain permission from your parents/guardians and you must be 20 years of age or older. You cannot choose to enter this life without a clear understanding of the decision you are about to make.
Step 4: While waiting for my youngest child to turn 18 years of age, I was able to freely attend to and practice Buddha’s Teachings. Trong Hieu supported my practice in our everyday lives. He is an educator with a wide-open heart and a deep understanding of the religion. This allowed him to support me 100%. He allowed me to take part in monastic retreats, while he cared for our children. I attended many Dharma Discourses, retreats, Vipassana meditations at temples, and retreat/meditation centers to prepare myself for this new chapter of my life. [for more information, visit https://thongtritemple.org/history]
For liberation: One must study and understand the Buddha’s teachings. Then, one must apply all that they have learned into the practice of their daily life. To reach full liberation or enlightenment, quick or slow, all depends on oneself.
There are four stages in the process of becoming a fully ordained monk/nun.
I. First, a candidate receives the novice’s renunciation.
II. Second, a candidate receives the robe during the novice ordination ceremony. (Candidates receive the first ten precepts of a novice.)
III. Third, a candidate receives the precepts of a probationary nun. The purpose of the two-year probationary stage is to ensure that candidates for Bhikshuni (probationary nun) ordination are not pregnant and allows time to provide the candidates with thorough training. The two-year probationary period is not required for monks.
IV. Fourth and the final stage in the process of becoming a fully ordained nun, a candidate receives Bhikshuni precepts for a second time from the Bhikshu Sangha. Each time a candidate receives precepts, he/she must be tested on the precepts, Buddhist scriptures, and other topics in accordance with Buddhist teachings.
Renunciation for a Buddhist monk and nun is the process of relinquishing ties to the physical world. We relinquish from our household, material goods, live a life of chastity, and live without attachments.
WHAT is the difference between being a Buddhist Monk or Nun and being Buddha’s disciple (Lay-friends)?
In the simplest terms, the requirement for Monks, Nuns, and Buddha’s disciple (Lay-friends) is to practice the precepts.
The Precepts for a Monk are 250.
The Precepts for a Nun are 348.
The Precepts for a Buddhist are 5.
The most important matter is to live Buddha’s Teachings in one’s daily life through words and deeds.
On a deeper level, the only difference between being a monk/nun and being Buddha’s disciple is in our MIND.
When your mind wants to enter Buddhist Life, you will succeed if you have a strong and determined mind even if your physical body does not want it. You can overcome your physical body with your strong and determined mind. If the mind is strong; it can overcome your physical body. For example, in meditation, if your mind doesn’t want to, it wanders. The body can sit still, but the mind wanders.
WHAT are the three jewels and what are their special meanings?
The chief tenet to living a Buddhist Life is to give up our attachment to basic security. It is a total personal commitment to oneself, which stems from our great love of humanity. Buddhists take refuge in the Three Jewels (also known as the Triple Gem, the Three Treasures, or the Three Refuges). We commit ourselves to the path that was designed and strategized by Buddha and the followers of his teachings more than 2,500 years ago. There is already a discipline and a tradition. Taking refuge in the Three Jewels brings us to the core of why we practice and how to live in harmony with higher principles.
I take refuge in the Buddha. (The Buddha is "the Fully Enlightened one or Fully Awakened one" and sees things as they truly are. It is a title that is applied to those who have perfect wisdom and universal compassion.)
I take refuge in the Dharma. (The “cosmic law and order,” refers to the nature of reality regarded as a universal truth taught by the Buddha.)
I take refuge in the Sangha. (The “community” and the ordained monastics of Buddhism who practice Dharma.)
Although this interview was very enlightening, I still have more questions that I’d like to ask Phuong! Please send me your thoughts, comments, feedback, and any questions that you have about Buddhist Life and Renunciation. Please click the lotus button below to follow the link to the Interview Questions from Lay-friends. We hope that this information helps you with your journey as much as it helped us with ours.
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SANGHA BHIKSHU BUDDHIST