What is an “Aspirant”?

To aspire means to aspire to something. There should be a kind of deep desire that pushes you to go in that direction. That desire makes up the vitality of the person.

Each of us needs to have enough vitality, joy, an aspiration, a deep desire. So it is good to sit down and look deeply to recognize the deepest desire in us. Without this, a person is not very much alive.

We will have an ordination ceremony for the aspirants in Plum Village France and Thailand on the 14th of December 2017.

When we speak of an “aspirant”, we think of the will that is there in the person. If that person is determined to go in that direction, it is because there is a force that is pushing them. That force is the deepest desire that we can find in us.

If your aspiration is strong, even if you have not yet been ordained as a monk or nun, your presence in the Sangha is already something very positive because you are contributing to the beauty of the Sangha by your aspiration. Because you have that aspiration, that is why we call you an aspirant.

Aspiration is a source of nutrition

In the teaching of the Buddha, aspiration is a kind of food. We learn in the “Sutra on the Four Kinds of Nutriments” that “volition”, aspiration, is a source of nutriment. There are desires that can bring suffering. But there are other kinds of desires that can bring a lot of happiness.

There are people who do not understand the teachings of the Buddha. They think that the path of the Buddha is to destroy all kinds of desire. This is not true. When you are motivated by the desire to practice in order to transform your suffering, to have peace and understanding in you so you can help other people, that is the kind of desire that will not cause suffering. That can only bring happiness.

In Buddhism, we speak of the “mind of love”, the “mind of enlightenment”, “bodhicitta”. This means you have the determination and the willingness to become enlightened, liberated, to love. It is what each of us should have. Every one of us has this seed of bodhicitta in us.

Great Aspiration

To be an aspirant in order to be ordained as a monk or nun does not come from the desire to live a quiet life without much disturbance. That is not a strong desire.

Siddhartha Gotama did not have that small desire. He had a great desire to go forth, to look for the path to transform himself in order to help the world.

The Sangha is made of individuals who have great aspiration. When we come to the Sangha and meet these people, suddenly, we feel that our deep desire is watered and we can identify it. Sometimes we feel a lot of vitality in us.

Thy was only 16 when he decided to become a monk. At that age, you do not know very much about Buddhism or Dharma, but there was a deep desire. He did not know the path of practice. He did not know exactly what he would do when he becomes a monk. Yet, he had the conviction that when he becomes a monk, he can do many things: he can be of help to his country, his society, and so on.

That seed may have been transmitted to him by many generations of ancestors. There was a deep desire. So strong that you think if you cannot become a monk, you cannot be a happy person.

Becoming a monk does not just mean shaving your head and living the life of a monk. No, it’s much more than that. You want to do something for the world. You know that the path might not be easy, that there will be obstacles; but you are not afraid because your aspiration is so strong.

Bodhisattvas in the world

Great aspiration is not limited to monks and nuns. We see many bodhisattvas alive who are doing their best to help the world. Most of these bodhisattvas are lay people.

In order to be a bodhisattva, we should be endowed with a strong aspiration. The seed of our aspiration is there. We should be able to expose it to the watering of the Sangha.

When you are inhabited by that aspiration, your eyes shine. You walk with determination on your path. You know what to do, where to go. You have one direction.

The most important thing for bodhisattvas is to preserve that deep desire, so that they will never give up, even if there are many obstacles in front of them.

A good environment preserves our aspiration

We need a kind of environment that maintains that aspiration: a kind of collective energy, consciousness food that has the capacity to nourish our aspiration.

People who have strong aspirations produce together a collective energy. If you are embraced by that energy, if you live among people who have a strong intention to practice and help people, your aspiration will never fade away.

That is why the second source of nutriment in spiritual life is collective consciousness, the collective energy generated by a group of people. This source of nutriment upholds and preserves the first source of nutriment.

If we live among people who only think of consuming, who are full of hate and anger, that kind of collective energy is not good for us. We will lose our bodhicitta after a certain time. We should not continue to be in that environment. We have to go away as soon as possible.

Our children who live in such an environment will also suffer. We should look for an environment where we can receive wholesome energy in order for our aspiration to be nourished. And once we have found a good environment, stick to it. If that environment is being threatened by new conditions of society, try our best to protect and preserve that environment.

Watering the seed of aspiration

Sometimes a person does not look like he has any aspiration. But to say that she does not have the seed of aspiration is not true. The seed is always in him, in her. It has been buried for a long time under many layers of suffering and has not had a chance to manifest.

If you are put in contact with a good environment, if you meet a person who can touch that seed of deep desire, or meet with great beings that have great aspiration, you might have a chance for that seed in you to be watered. Suddenly, you find yourself with a lot of energy, a lot of force.

Handing out Five Mindfulness Trainings certificates after the transmission ceremony.

Five Mindfulness Trainings

Many lay practitioners request to receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Receiving the Five Mindfulness Trainings means that you want to become a bodhisattva, a great being practicing great understanding, great love, in order to be of help to the world. It is no small event. That is why in the ceremony of transmission, there is a formal request.

When we study the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we see that this is the path of the Buddha, of bodhisattvas. When we make the vow to receive these five trainings, we want really to become a bodhisattva, a great being. Therefore, we need time to reflect on that, to make the determination.

Dharma teachers and others who are helping lay practitioners should make it very clear that taking the Five Mindfulness Trainings is a very big event in our life.

The moment when you touch the earth in front of the Three Jewels and receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings is a great moment of change in your life. This is because, you receive that strength, that determination, to live in such a way that you can change you life and you change the world.

To receive the trainings is not to become a Buddhist, but to become a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is someone who has very powerful spiritual strength in him or her. If you can have that strength inside, you can become very alive, very strong.

Wholesome consumption

If we already have spiritual strength, then it is very easy for us to refuse the consumption of things that will bring suffering to us. The novels we read, the magazines we consume, the films we watch, the music we listen to; they are sense impressions.  If they are a wholesome source of nutriment, we can preserve the health of our body and mind.

We have to practice mindfulness of consumption so that everything we consume will only bring peace and wellbeing to our body and mind.

For people who do not have a strong aspiration, who are not protected by a collective energy of spirituality, this is difficult. But for those of us who have a strong aspiration, who are with a good sangha, practicing this becomes very easy.

We are easily able to release the desire to consume things that bring craving, violence, despair etc. into our body. We do not need that kind of consumption anymore because we have very good things to consume every day. We prefer walking meditation instead of consuming a kind of music or entertainment that does not bring wellness to our body and mind.

Doing walking meditation is also a kind of consumption. Every step can bring you solidity and freedom. Every step can help you touch the wonders of life, refreshing and healing. That is also consumption. It belongs to the third category of nutriments – sense impressions.

Then we come to the fourth source of nutriments – edible food. When you have that kind of strong aspiration, live with such a sangha, know how to consume only the things that are good for your body and mind, then it is very easy for you to be a vegetarian. You do not feel that you need to drink alcohol or eat meat to be happy. It is very easy for you to live in such a way that can help to preserve our planet.

~ Based on Thay’s teaching on November 5th, 2009 at the Loving Kindness Temple, Plum Village France

This post is the second in a series around the theme of aspiration and entering monastic life, celebrating the upcoming novice ordination in Plum Village France December 14.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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