Generally trainees come firstly as paying guests so that they can see how well suited they are to the life of the house and the Order. This is a two way test. The community wants to see what the new person is like and the person him or herself wants to know what it feels like to be part of the community. Although you can read this article there is no substitute for trying it out.
A trainee joins in all the activities of the core community including religious services, educational activities, domestic work, desk work if it is allocated, social activities, socially engaged projects. It is a full, varied and all-consuming life. There is the religious liturgical life that provides the backbone of the community and there is the practical work of keeping the community in being and taking care of visitors, servicing events and socially engaged work. A trainee is in a position of poverty, sobriety and obedience. Their needs are few. Initially their responsibility is limited to following the programme and acting as instructed. Gradually this changes as they become more and more integrated into the life of faith that pervades every aspect of the community.
The first hurdle for a new trainee is the result of moving from being a guest, who is looked after, to being one of the group who are doing the caring. The second hurdle is whether the trainee is sufficiently enthusiastic to enjoy having such a large part of their time taken up in this way. Then there is the question of willingness to turn one's hand to whatever is needed. Some of the work is elevating and some mundane, some is challenging intellectually, some physically, some is solitary and some involves sociable interaction with others. One has to learn to work easily in situations where others tell one what to do and also in due course to handle having authority over others.
If a person continues as a trainee they are allocated progressively more sophisticated tasks. They learn leadership. They acquire an enhanced ability to care for others, to work with others and to support both other members of the sangha and strangers. Trainees learn to take responsibility, to work as part of a team, and to think in a collective, not merely individual way. The transition to living as part of a group can be challenging to some people.
Being a trainee is unlike having a job. It is a complete lifestyle. It is not something that one can go home from. It is one's new home. Not everybody can take to this different kind of life. The rewards of doing so are as high as the challenges involved. Being a trainee is a full time commitment, a vocation. It is not right for everybody and there are other ways to be involved in Amida work, as a volunteer or student or guest. For those who are in a position to commit in a total way, however, there is nothing better than to be a trainee and in due course to seek ordination. Along the way, however, it is normal for some crises to be encountered as the way of life is very different from that of an independent individual in contemporary society.
As a trainee, probably one has very little money and very little free time. One is told what to do and has relatively little private space. Many modern people find these aspects hard. Also, the all-absorbing nature of the life does not allow for outside interests and commitments to any great extent. A trainee must ask permission to go and visit relatives or take part in any activity that is not part of the house schedule. This will generally be granted, but it will always be considered in the light of the trainee's spiritual training and also in that of the needs of the sangha group. This will only work for the trainee who is confident that the community leadership really does have compassionate mind and the best interests of all concerned at heart and if he or she really is committed. If the centre of gravity of one's life is elsewhere then one will probably not succeed. However, if one is able to enter into the spirit of the life of faith fully there is no better way to reach one's heart's contentment.
The usual progression is that a person who becomes a trainee spends about one year to eighteen months as a postulant before initial ordination. During that time they will do a Hundred Thousand Nembutsu Retreat and various other practices preparatory to ordination. At initial ordination the trainee takes vows (which can be found on the Main Page of this site at the bottom of the right column) and becomes a novice. Novitiate lasts three years before the trainee confirms their vows and becomes an amitarya. Some trainees might opt to become chaplains, taking a smaller number of vows and choosing a less communal lifestyle and others again might not ordain but might still become lay members of the order.
As a novice one lives the full life of an amitarya. One may be sent abroad or given projects to work on that serve the needs of the sangha and its work of compassion. One will participate in the life of a community based on love and faith and experience these qualities translated into action as one lives together with other similarly committed people. One will realise that the relinquishment of some aspects of 'modern life' that one has made and that one's sangha brothers and sisters have made has freed one to have an amazingly fulfilling life. One will certainly grow, change and mature through the process and gain a wide variety of skills and experience that will increase one's confidence and equip one to be a full and useful member in the service of Amida's great work of universal transformation.