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Lions Roar : July 2016
that dictate when and how ordained practitioners move in the world. Nuns never go out alone, for example, even to go shop- ping—they’re always with at least one other nun. For someone used to independence, the lack of solitude was a difficult change. “I had to practice getting used to not being in a room by myself,” says Sister Peace. Ordained members are also expected to exemplify the practice of mindfulness, taking care with their every action. When asked about her greatest chal- lenge on entering Plum Village, she immediately replies, “I had to slow down my walking.” Despite the limitations placed upon her, she says she hasn’t made sacrifices: “I would say that the things I’ve done without have become points of practice. Yes, there are things we give up, but it’s because we feel we’re getting back something so much greater.” Celibacy, too, is a way of being “more available to everyone, not just a nuclear family. Not that one path is better than the other,” she adds quickly, “it’s just different. People’s choice to remain a layperson doesn’t mean that their practice cannot go deep. Each of us gets what we need out of the lifestyle we’ve chosen.” Since 2004, Leinster has lived at Amaravati Monastery in southeast England, where she serves as the trust secretary. She handles donors, insurance, immigration, health and safety, and building regulations—“all the bureaucracy you need,” as she puts it. Leinster says that entering full-time dharma practice was “the culmination of a long path for me. It helps me be happy. It keeps me focused on what’s real. I don’t perceive any other interesting possibilities.” While she lives full-time at a Buddhist monastery, Leinster is not a nun. Before Amaravati, she spent time with the com- munity of siladhara, or nuns, at a monastery called Partridge, and if she’d stayed, she says that “going forth” as a nun might have happened very naturally. She admits, however, that she’s “never been a great joiner.” So when the opportunity came to live at Amaravati and “embed myself in the teachings and attend meditation twice a day, I didn’t feel the pull so much to become a nun.” Amaravati is a Theravada monastery with its roots in Thai- land, where the distinction between lay and ordained is per- fectly unambiguous. For Leinster, the divide between lay and ordained is not as clear as the tradition might have it. “Most people who are on a lay path have intimate, sexual, personal relationships as part of that, so I almost believe that the differences between celibacy and non-celibacy are an orientation, more than whether or not one has gone forth as a monastic.” In her case, Leinster voluntarily entered a life of celibacy at around age forty. “I always found sexuality and sexual relations, when I had them, brought great joy, but also very, very extreme pain. So I was greatly relieved when I realized, okay, you’re finished with that. That’s not what you’re going to be doing in this life.” The lines are blurred in another important way: how she is supported. Like the monks and nuns at Amaravati, she is dependent on the goodwill of monastery supporters. That, more than anything, has made her choice difficult for acquaintances on the outside to understand. “I get some of the same negative reactions that monastics get—that “Sexual relations brought great joy, but also extreme pain. So I was greatly relieved when I realized, okay, you’re finished with that.” – CAROLINE LEINSTER HEN CAROLINE LEINSTER attended a friend’s Buddhist wedding blessing in the late eighties, a simple exchange changed her life: one of the monks asked her if she was going to stay for lunch. “The way he asked me, in terms of the simplicity and the sincer- ity of the question, was just very straightforward,” she remembers. “I’d been actively searching for a spiritual path, and if I had to pin- point one day that made the difference, it was that one.” W LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 68