Spiritual awakening

By Patricia Jiayi Ho, Whittier Daily News, June 6, 2006

Buddhist monastery ordains Tran as its first nun

Rosemead, CA (USA) -- The Rosemead Buddhist Monastery held its first-ever ordination ceremony for a nun Tuesday morning. Sandie Tran, 43, became Venerable Hui Cheng following an elaborate 90-minute ceremony officiated by senior monastic officials and attended by about 50 people.

"I'm very happy," Cheng said. "It's hard to express with words. Since I was young I admired the peacefulness of monks and nuns, and wanted to be near them."

Cheng had been preparing for this moment for the past decade, serving as a lay minister at the temple and studying Buddha's teachings. As a nun, Cheng renounces her earthly possessions and pledges to lead an austere life.

She also gives up ties to her family, as now everyone is considered family. Ordination ceremonies are a rare event in the United States. The Rosemead monastery has ordained four monks and one nun since its founding in the early 1980s.

"It's even more meaningful for us to have monastics ordained here in the West," said Venerable Hui Hsuen, a monk at the temple. "It means that Buddhism is becoming more established here in the U.S."

The ceremony consists of chanting and reading from scriptures, and is replete with symbolism. At the beginning, Cheng's head is shaved, leaving a tuft of hair that her teacher and the temple's abbot, Venerable Bhante Chao Chu, cuts off.

He makes three cuts in the hair symbolizing three rules: To refrain from all evil, to do all good, and to strive for enlightenment.

Incense is burned to symbolize the purity of a soul, while flowers allude to the beauty in life, and also its impermanence.

Also in attendance were representatives from Catholic, Episcopal and Protestant churches.

"All these religions are trying to help somehow in the community," Chu said. "When they have events, I go there. Without any religious discrimination or bias, we work together."

Chu founded the temple in Highland Park in 1981 and opened it to the public a few years later. It was moved to Monterey Park in 1985 before settling in Rosemead in 1989.

Chu himself chose to join a temple as a child around age 7 or 8 in Sri Lanka. As a novice nun, Cheng has taken the first step in her monastic career. There are two more "high ordinations" in the Chinese Buddhist tradition.

"There is a lot to learn," she said.