During a recent visit to the Foguang Shan Buddhist Monastery in southern Taiwan, the Ven. Miao Tan shared her story of entering the monastery. After “having doubts about life”, she came from Singapore to live and practice Buddhism, and learn “the value of life.” After becoming disillusioned with working in the hotel industry, she started asking herself questions, like: “Why am I here?” and “Do I really want to work this way?” She attended a gathering with guest speakers from Taiwan, and decided to enter the monastery to learn about Buddhism.
This is how the Ven. Miao Tan describes a typical day for her at the monastery:
8:30 – 11:30 work – in public relations, in her case. Ven. Miao Tan says that 12 groups of Mainland Chinese visitors now tour the monastery every day. “They used to ask crazy questions,” she said, everything from “Do you have a relationship?” to “How much do you get paid?” (In China religious ‘officials’ are remunerated).
12-1pm: Lunch break, then rest and read. That day she ate with us the vegetarian buffet at the monastery’s restaurant, which certainly had the best and most creatively prepared vegetarian food I’ve ever had.
1pm – 5:40pm: work in an office, ‘guestmaster’ meeting with guests, translation work
5:40pm: close office
6:30-7:30pm: free time
7:30 – 9:30 pm: self-cultivation, which could be three things: 1) calligraphy, copying sutras 2)recitation or self-directed study; or 3) meditation.
10pm: lights off for everybody, ‘so as not to disturb others’
Ven. Miao Tan says of her experience there, “It’s like a military life. Life is very strict. I came with only a small suitcase, only the bare necessities.” She spoke of her struggle to adjust to such an ascetic existence at first, with questions like: “Why do I have to put soap and brush in my basin, in this way?” She wondered — What does this have to do with suffering? So she posted this question on a bulletin board, which is monitored by teachers, and was given the response, “If you cannot manage even this small area, how can you live your life?”
Today the Ven. Miao Tan enjoys this simple life. She’s contented with her new life, finding it “full of meaning, and feeling for others.” Once when participating in relief work in Taiwan, she wondered why it was that some people were never satisfied with the assistance they received, but others, say those at the top of a hill who were relatively unscathed by a natural disaster, could be more concerned that others received help before them.
Empathizing is the key to peace between each of us, and key to peace in this world, she concluded.