Buddhist monk 'takes her temple with her'
For weeks, the world has watched as Buddhist monks and nuns have engaged in a series of standoffs with the Chinese government over the liberation of Tibet. Several have been killed.
As a resident of Alliance, Ohio, Jan Carli lives a world away from the turmoil, but as a Buddhist monk, she shares a deep connection with her fellow adherents.
Carli, who has been a practicing Buddhist for more than two decades, leads the Golden Wisdom Zen Study Group of Canton and Akron.
“I certainly didn’t set out to do that,” she said of becoming a monk, “But I’ve been into Buddhism ever since college.”
Though she grew up in Christian home, Carli said she found what she needed in Buddhism.
“I tried hard to make it work, but it never spoke to me,” she said of Christianity. “Buddhism teachings speak to me about alleviating the suffering of others. It’s such a generous practice that way. It’s not for our benefit; it’s for all beings. It becomes intensified when we put on our robes.”
People wishing to become monks must undertake a series of vows known as the “Ten Precepts,” starting with lay vows, which is the equivalent of joining a church.
A candidate first undergoes “postulant” training. Once completed, he or she becomes “Shramanera,” or novice monk. A fully ordained monk is a “Bhikkhu,” and is able to lead a Buddhist service.
Carli took her lay and novice vows in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Her Buddhist name and title is the “Venerable Shih Zhong-Xin.”
“In Buddhist tradition, there is a very strong student-teacher (component)” she said. “It takes skill to guide people into deeper levels and greater awareness. ... You’re not ordained until your teacher says so.”
Carli’s chief teacher and mentor has been the Venerable Shih Ying-Fa, abbot of CloudWater Zendo in Cleveland.
“A Buddhist monk’s main responsibility is the cultivation of awareness for the benefit of all sentient beings,” he said. “This means that one utilizes all of one’s energy, sincerity and patience to perceive the true nature of existence (wisdom) in order that all beings may be liberated from suffering and the causes of suffering (compassion).”
Ying-Fa added that the most important qualities a monk must possess are “compassion, wisdom and loving kindness.”
Though all monks wear the familiar saffron or henna-colored robes in the permanence of their various duties, there are several different orders, ranging from monastics who live in complete isolation and poverty, to monks such as Carli, who noted that at least half the monks in her particular order are women. Many, like herself, are married.
Carli said misconceptions about Buddhism abound, and that it’s not unusual for people who attend a meditation session or study session not to return.
“They think we sit on cushions and ‘bliss out,’” she said. “A lot of people think Buddhist practice is ‘seeing the void;’ that we think it’s (life) all illusion, but it’s not nothing; it’s just not what we think it is.
“We’re always trying to change our experience. The ego-mind acts to keep our whole system of illusion going. We want to see things the way we want to see them, instead of letting things drop away, and seeing things for what they are. ... If you ask some people why they come, they’ll say to learn how to relax. It’s difficult to confront the mess you’ve made of your mind.”
Some, she said, find it difficult to understand the nature of Buddhism.
“Some people can’t get past the notion that Buddhism is a nontheistic religion,” she said. “The Buddha is not God. We revere the Buddha, we don’t worship him. He was the same as us; just a guy. His effort to attain complete enlightenment says ‘You can, too.’”
Still others, Carli said, are more enamored with the objects associated with Buddhism than the actual practice.
“You can go into a Target and buy a Buddha,” she said, “Everybody knows the Dali Lama as a kind man.”
As a monk, Carli said she’s required to be in a constant meditative state.
However, that doesn’t mean nonfunctional. A former teacher, she enjoys serving as a high school basketball scorekeeper.
“Meditation is no good if you can’t take your temple with you,” she said.
For information, contact Carli at (330) 936-52745 or e-mail email@example.com