The International Buddhist Society describes Buddhism, at its depths, as “a grand philosophy of life.” According to its teachings, the nirvana, or the ultimate state of enlightenment, can only be reached if the individual frees himself from all desires or everyday distractions.
In their book called Buddhism, Huston Smith and Philip Novak describe the Buddha’s own journey towards enlightenment like this: “Long, long ago the Buddha embarked on a search for a way to live life fully and vibrantly while facing unflinchingly the inexorable axioms of aging, sickness and death.” Smith, an American scholar of Religious Studies, and Novak, an American professor of Philosophy and Religion, say that the Buddha eventually found a way to realize his idea of life. This, the authors say, “has transformed the lives of the millions who have followed him.”
Just like Jian Jue, most people who decided to become monks or nuns and follow the Buddha’s teachings did so because they wanted to escape death. Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu, a Canadian monk who publishes weekly broadcasts on “Monk Radio”, says that he started to question the purpose of life when he was only 8 years old. He asked himself: ‘Why do we all have to die?’ ‘How can I find a life that is more meaningful than just living for the sake of living, or just to get by?’
Other people have faced the same internal struggle before they became Buddhist nuns.
Ani Rinchen, an Australian born nun, and Ani Thubten Chodron, a Polish nun living in Australia, shared their stories of becoming nuns on the Buddhist Education and Information Network buddhanet.
Both of them started questioning the meaning of life at an early age. Ani Rinchen even says that her life “has always had a spiritual twist,” and she also believed in fairies and angels.
Like other women who became Buddhist nuns, they eventually found some answers in the Buddha’s teachings and decided to become ordained.
But just like Jian Jue’s, their path to Buddhism was not a direct one.
After her mother had gone to live in a nunnery in Malaysia, Jian Jue still wasn’t entirely convinced that Buddhism was right for her. Even though she considered choosing a similar path, she felt that it wasn’t quite the right time for her.
“I wasn’t ready to become a nun yet,” she says. “I wanted to continue with my studies.”
But there was also the question about the purpose of life still lingering in the back of her mind.
At the end of January 2006, the temple in Indonesia where Jian Jue was staying held festivities for the Chinese New Year.
“There was a big wishing tree,” she says. On its branches hung dozens of ‘red pockets’ – red envelopes that are handed out during the New Year celebrations and usually contain money.
The pockets had been filled with notes and other things Jian Jue’s shifu had collected on her travels.
She chose one of the envelopes and opened it. When she looked inside, she found 10 Hong Kong dollars.
Jian Jue remembers looking at the note, thinking: “What should I do with this? I’ll never be able to use it! I should have gotten some Singapore dollars or U.S. dollars instead.”
About half a year later, when Jian Jue was 27, one of her shifus told her about Chi Lin nunnery in Hong Kong. She immediately thought back to the red pocket.
“I thought there had to be some kind of connection.”
The reason the nun suggested the nunnery to Jian Jue was that she would be able to go on with her studies while being a nun.
Jian Jue was intrigued. She wanted to go live in Chi Lin.
When she told her family that she would like to become a nun, they did not seem surprised.
“They never confined my freedom to choose,” she says.
And contrary to her mother, Jian Jue had always made her interest in Buddhism quite obvious.
“I always used to chant at home,” she recalls. Her frequent visits to the temple and the absence of more hobbies might have been other indicators.
“I think my father always felt: ‘This daughter is different from other teenagers. No boyfriend, always in the temple,’” she says, laughing.
So when she asked her father for permission to devote her life to Buddhism, he simply said that she was free to go if her brother agreed. Jian Jue reckons that, since her mother had to ask her husband for his blessing, Jian Jue also had to get someone’s permission. And since she had no boyfriend, she was closest to her brother and sister at the time.
Both of them didn’t object Jian Jue’s decision to go live as a nun.
And so she went.