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4/18/2014

The Private Confessions of a Mad Nun


           Dear Father, forgive me, for I have sinned.
I continue to sin, simmering in anger, blame and hatred.
I continue to sin, being unable to forgive long enough to survive the next bout of provocation.
I continue to sin, being haunted by a dream, and what may very well have been a dream.

One dream is that of a dark dungeon. In its dusty rotunda with creaky floors and walls that must hold many ominous tales at bay, people are in motion but eerily quiet. I look about as I stand there, lost for a moment. Suddenly, someone comes from behind me and slides a razor-thin slice of glass into my neck. Bloodless and undetected, I became one of the many zombie-like figures around – deathly and mute. . .
If you recall, Father, it has been about 17 years since I last attempted a confession of sorts. That Buddhist confession did not turn out so well. Ensnared unaware in a storm of political infighting, renditions of my confession were made public in a way that made me the target of mockery, humiliation, and hostility. For the last decade I swore to myself that I will never reveal anything again to anyone in that religious institution, or perhaps, to anyone at all.
I come to you again, Father, because I am troubled -- troubled that the cuts to the neck and other parts of me continue despite my eviction from my former Buddhist order nearly five years ago. As you see in the documents I have preserved, I was chided for a list of faults that range from not wearing a nun's booties to not smiling enough, from missing meditation to having a female neighbor enter my room. In essence, I was told that I was unfit for their community. Compromises such as stays at subsidiary branches and short-term absences were rejected outright. Forced out within two hours, I grabbed what little I could of my belongings and stepped onto the next flight, for which my family purchased the ticket. What else was I to assume other than a complete severance of my relationship with that Association?
What I consider to be trouble did not stop though. Unless I am insane, it is sometimes too obvious to me that strangers and strangers I wish to befriend would deliver to me demeaning messages, cravings in memes, and morbid wishes. I feel powerless about not being able to communicate directly, in normal uncoded language so that meaning is not left to interpretation and re-interpretation. I want to tell those behind-the-scenes puppet-manipulators to knock it off! How arrogant of them to play themselves as if they were God, omnipotent and omnipresent! How cowardly of them to be hiding behind a veil, leaving me with no opportunity to respond -- or to strangle them (oh sorry)! Is this what so-called religious “leaders” must do -- repeatedly throw unspoken accusations at you as if to brainwash you until you become their insults? I refuse to adopt even their labels, not to mention responding to them.
Dear Father, I recognize my weaknesses, imperfections and neuroses, but it is too cheap and contrived to explain toying with someone's mind as lessons in Buddhist koans (meditation riddles) or tests. It is particularly dangerous, as has been shown in cases past and present, when standards vary because of an individual's status, positional power, gender, potential as a threat etc., not to mention there are cases of gross misbehavior on the part of the religious who are never addressed, and certainly those alleged are never slapped with the big stick of expulsion.
For someone who has never been through an ousting of any sort, this experience was and continues to be unpleasant. One of the major challenges is my shakened faith. I now question religious authority and the facade of those so-called “leaders”. Too often they are shrewd politicians more concerned about getting their way and demonstrating their truths in front of people. Especially in cloisters, abuses often occur under the guise of compassion. One senior nun whom I admired very much wrote a letter to this Buddhist Association before she departed about how she was tired of being a two-face and seeing two-faced individuals. There is always an image that they have to prop up for outsiders.
I also remember, for example, how I had Bells’ palsy about eight or nine years ago while in the monastery. Since I was unable to get immediate and regular medical treatment, permanent damage was done to one side of my face. The medical instruction I did receive was to avoid strong winds, but that proscription was dismissed and I was told to brave it. I hear those making excuses for my eviction about how it may have been because I was sick. I cringe at the thought that my judges thought to cure me by inducing extreme stress.
Though I have yet to experience uninterrupted respite, I continue to take things one day at a time and to take advantage of opportunities that I otherwise would not have encountered. For instance, I was able to affirm and organize activities in support of the Charter for Compassion, co-found Women of Spirit and Faith, lead group and online teachings, and serve as an ambassador at the most recent Parliament of World's Religions. I found joy and satisfaction in giving of myself with those past involvements.
I am an optimist after all and I am taking my time to reevaluate my faith and maybe in time reassemble it. I continue to be a devout Buddhist and I am certain I will remain a life-long nun unless I'm physically removed of my robes.

Meanwhile, dear Father, forgive me, and please help me forgive. Please help me rebuild faith in other people and in their inherent goodness. Do not let any figurative ice pricks and dampers make me hard-hearted. Let me take things one step at a time, one breath at a time. May I meet more people who are good through and through, and together, may we live the dream of encouraging one another and more. May we become wise and compassionate for the world. 

2 comments:

  1. I'm very sorry to hear about your negative experiences, but please allow me to tell you that they are absolutely typical: that's what you get for supporting people who don't practice what they preach, and your former order obviously got hijacked by unscrupulous characters a long time ago.
    Anyway, Americans just don't believe in communal living: ashrams, convents, communal farms, monasteries, nunneries, kibbutzes, etc. just don't work in this country. Those that were around in earlier periods have been dying out and disappearing for decades. Conversely, the bigger a group gets, the more likely it is to splinter. Now if you went back to your old ashram, you might find that half the people you knew there are gone, and that most of the current residents are newcomers—who are also fated to leave within a few years.
    It's really impossible for groups of unrelated individuals with no social ties to each other—but only some avowed lofty ideals they don't even practice--to live together in harmony outside of the conventionally established norms. In this country, most of these types are considered marginal, social misfits, and this is particularly true for foreigners who, maladjusted to their native societies, come to the US only to find that they can't function here either. These immigrants, desperate for the food and shelter the ashram provides, are forced to conform to its dictates. However, even homeless Americans rarely subject themselves to such conditions.
    What surprises me is that a highly educated person such as yourself was not aware of this. Your big mistake was to have faith in that congregation you were dealing with, whereas no one else believes in them, and they clearly don't even believe in their own professed principles, much less in each other. Perhaps you mistook their sycophants' donations and outward forms of reverence for real respect, but these just amount to fawning and pandering by so-called worshipers who want to get something or assuage their guilty consciences.
    There's a whole field of “cultology” that researches how groups and orders are apparently held together by factors such as claims to being co-disciples of some long-dead Master (whom they never knew or understood), or by sworn allegiance to creeds they don't actually follow. However, when one delves deeper into these cases, a lot of illicit and unwholesome relationships and activities are shown to actually keep the operation running in a businesslike manner.
    On the Buddhist front, the Platform Sutra and Lotus Sutra also touch on such issues, and we should take care not to mistake the Buddhists for the Buddha.
    So, if this is any consolation, it seems that a person with your intellectual abilities and resources would feel relieved to no longer be fruitlessly embroiled in a hypocritical religious order. Sometimes we are pushed in the direction we need to go in whether we like it or not. But “when one door closes, another one opens.” Om Shanti!

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  2. Om Shanti! Thank you for your reply.

    I did not have faith in my former congregation. I had faith in Master Hsuan Hua due to some inexplicable experiences.

    I do not wish to slander Buddhism, however, there are numerous dark undercurrents beneath the formality of an organized monastic order. While the power of collective chanting allowed me to experience mindstates, I know that there is no harmony to speak of in that Association.

    I do believe in communal practice and wish to try to develop a Sangha that does not strive for surface harmony, rather deep acceptance of one another.

    Wish me luck!

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