It was Elle‘s big day and pivotal point in her life!
I caught a flight to Alor Setar, Kedah in the wee hours of the morning (before the sun came up) and joined two of Elle’s other friends, Grace and Ewen. They picked me up from the aiport before we went to the temple where Elle was about to be ordained as a Bhikkuni (or Buddhist nun).
This might come as a surprise to some of those who know Elle but she’s been interested in Buddhism since her late teenage years; it was only in the recent years that she took greater action in her faith.
I didn’t believe the first time she told me about becoming a nun a few months prior. She invited me to come to her ordainment day and I agreed in spite of my own reservations and concerns for her, not because of the gifts of high merits as believed by the Theravada Buddhism. (But then, I’ve been taught to be an excellent receiver so I should just accept it, haha!)
There were many other people gathered at the gazebo outside the temple, all of whom will be monks and nuns walking the path. Thus the ceremony began with a group prayer led by a few monks.
I’ve not witnessed an elaborate Buddhist prayer and ceremony before so I watched with curiosity.
(FYI I was born into a Buddhist family and that was the way it was for me the first 12 years of my life though I have little recollection on how we prayed in Buddhist faith… that was until my mother converted to Catholicism in 1999 and naturally my sister and I followed.)
The monks then sprinkled holy water on the crowd of soon-to-be ordained monks and nuns. The monks then snapped a piece of hair from each of the soon-to-be ordains, and the piece to be wrapped in the lotus leaf they each have.
Next Elle’s friends and I took part in cutting her hair before it was completely shaved. In this ritual practice, I have to make a wish that I really, really want deep within me while snapping each strands of hair, all the while exclaiming the Sanskrit verses “Putang, Tangkang, Sangkang“.
And yep, completely shaved. This includes her eye brows too!
After a shower and donning the clean white robes, Elle is one more prayer ceremony away from being officially ordained as a…
Now I cannot address her by name anymore; I have to call her “Meichi” (which means Mei = Mother, Chi = Nun; so ‘mother nun’).
No body or physical contact is permitted.
And she has to treat me and any of her friends / family members as equals – meaning no favoritism whatsoever.
She will be meditating, praying and serving in this temple in Kedah for the next 8 days, and after that she will be traveling to Myanmar and other places to do charity works for the next one month.
So why did Elle want to become a nun in the first place? She’s shared quite a fair bit of her side of her story months leading up to her big day today. Fortunately she’ll be doing this for only a month (phew!) Initially I thought she wanted to become a nun… permanently! Haha! I would do anything to talk her out of it. 🙂
I stayed up until the last evening prayers for the day and bid the new “Meichi” farewell. (Remember… I cannot call her by her name for now!)
I hope she finds the inner peace and rediscover herself through this personal journey, albeit somewhat unusual and unexpected!