Reflections on Monastic Seniority – Sravasti Abbey


Full Ordination in Taiwan

My misery continued when I went to Taiwan for full ordination in 2017. I remember that I felt irritated and resentful over the seniority issue for quite a while. All the negative thoughts kept popping up in my mind: Who came up with the rule that allows the junior monks to stand or sit in front of the senior nuns? The Buddha or the ancient masters? Why do the nuns have to walk behind the monks?

It was unfair that all the junior monks became senior to me overnight because they did not have to go through the dual sangha to receive full ordination. Fortunately, I was able to let go of my nagging complaints and rumination over that issue because I had to finally accept the philosophy that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I had a great laugh at myself when recalling my initial motivation—I came to Taiwan to receive training for full ordination and not to protest over the seniority or gender inequality issue!

Only a Convention

Next, you might wonder why I struggled against the meaning and notion of seniority in my early monastic life that triggered anger, jealousy, pride, competition, arrogance, irritation, and resentment. Let’s examine, explore, and investigate what the real trouble maker is. Indeed, what I call “seniority” is merely a convention.

When I ordain, I am told my seniority or position in the ordination order. After being in that position for a while, I start to think that my seniority—called “most junior,” “newly ordained,” “novice,” “training nun,” and eventually “bhikshuni”—actually exists.

Furthermore, I identify with my seniority and all that pertains to it—status, privilege, authority, title, role, and responsibility as something I possess or something that is actually who I am: I am more senior than you, I am behind this monk, I am ahead of this nun, I am a chant leader, I am a Pratimoksha reciter, this spot is mine, I am number 11 in the ordination order, and so on.

Upon very close examination and reflective investigation, I realize that seniority is not who and what I am. Indeed, the sense of self and self-obsession are the real troublemakers. Because I am unable to recognize this perception of self, I keep wrapping myself up in that feeling or perception of self, giving weight to it, believing in it and worst of all, buying into the I-making, my-making habit.

As a result, I carry a useless burden with my increased attachment to my seniority along with an unrealistic expectation about its fixed and unchanging nature. I completely ignore the fact that I might move up or down in the ordination order in different situations at any time.

I am very happy that my mental misery related to seniority issue gradually becomes less troublesome over the years.


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