Romantization of the modern and historical Monastic Sangha

Discussion of ordination, the Vinaya and monastic life. How and where to ordain? Bhikkhuni ordination etc.
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Chanh Dao
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Romantization of the modern and historical Monastic Sangha

Post by Chanh Dao » Sat Jul 27, 2019 12:21 pm

I won't say whether this is good or bad I only bring the topic up to facilitate some kind of discussion about this phenomena.

I personally ordained close to a year ago now and have visited a variety of temples in different countries and have spent time with litterally hundreds upon hundreds of monks.

I'm curious about what members of the community here think of in regards to an overly prestigious and lofty idea of modern day monks and historical monks for that matter.

My impression and experience in the Monastic Community is that many many people ordain simply out of necessity. Whether they are poor or sick or otherwise needing some kind of support including education. Many monks do not have a background in study, Meditation, or other such traditionally associated practices regarding what a Monastic does or doesn't do.

Many monks use technology frequently, do not meditate, smoke, even drink from what I've heard.

Now I am not in anyway meaning to encouraging disdain or disrespect towards these monks. Only to bring up the point that these are in fact real Buddhist monks ordained under the closest traditions that we have going back to the Buddha's time.

On the other side of things we have deep practices of monks existing as the highest social class where the practice of *looking like* and *acting like* a monk puts one into the realm of royalty. A system in which a monk is inherently a holy individual. I think there are also issues in a system like this.


Anyway as a young monk I just wanted to bring these points up for discussion as I've come across many people bewildered by the fact that monks even use technology, let alone are regularly recieving money, not meditating, and not studying.

All the while according to the vinaya and the Pali Canon. These are Buddhist monks.

So. That's what I'll say about that. Looking forward to the following discussion. I'll preface the end of this by saying I'm not in anyway trying to discriminate or cause division between any monks or lay people apart of the Sangha.

Only to open the discussion up regarding these personal experiences. That may or may not be valid.

Oh I also wanted to add I've heard that historically the practice of accepting almost anyone regardless of their social status or understanding of the Dharma was a deep and fundamental practice at the beginning of the Monastic Sangha as we know it. From the poorest to the richest. The holiest to the devilish.

To the point of the Buddha allowing a serial killers to be among his closest bhikkus.

So, Depending on my own sense faculties here.🙏🙏🙏😊

-Namaste

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Sam Vara
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Re: Romantization of the modern and historical Monastic Sangha

Post by Sam Vara » Sat Jul 27, 2019 1:51 pm

I've seen both extremes. Extremely dedicated and austere monastics who were very impressive individuals in their own right, and some more lax ones. A couple of years ago I was living in a town here in the UK which is famous and beautiful and has lots of tourists and students. Some of the young Thai monks who I met seemed to be enjoying a "gap year" abroad. Nearly every meal was taken in a Thai restaurant (owners invited them at mid-day before the paying customers arrived) and most days they would be taken out by lay supporters to visit tourist sites and have coffee and sweets. They all had mobile phones. I vividly remember walking with an Ajahn through a shopping centre and we saw a group of young monks taking selfies with some giggling young women. The Ajahn jokingly growled that he would tell their Abbot (he was from a different lineage) but I could tell he was quite upset.

Of course, I have no idea about the rest of their practice. But I was shocked, because prior to this I was mainly used to extremely austere monks in the Forest tradition who live near me. They still use cloths for accepting gifts and are scrupulous about female company, money, food, etc.

Despite the mild feeling of unease, I personally try to treat all monks with equal reverence. They are, after all, monks, and I have no way of telling what is going on behind the scenes. I trust that my attempts to show due reverence will benefit me, regardless of questions of whether people "deserve it". I once attended a meeting with S. N. Goenka, and was very impressed with how scrupulously he expressed his reverence for anyone at all in robes.

binocular
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Re: Romantization of the modern and historical Monastic Sangha

Post by binocular » Sat Jul 27, 2019 2:24 pm

When the members of a Buddhist community have not yet attained sufficient certainty about the Teaching (ie. they have not yet attained stream entry), what keeps them together, as a functioning Buddhist community, seems to be an attachment to rituals, and that includes the veneration of monks, regardless of how those monks actually conduct themselves.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

santa100
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Re: Romantization of the modern and historical Monastic Sangha

Post by santa100 » Sat Jul 27, 2019 2:54 pm

One of the biggest issues with modern day monasticism is the absence of Sila monitoring or any kind of checks and balances. Even in worldly places like big business corporations, there're tons of rules and regulations in place to watch out for naughty behaviors. Adding to those, there're tons of training on business ethics, sexual harassment, conflict of interests, insider trading crimes, etc... and if one gets caught breaking the rules, the consequences could lead to job loss or even prison terms! It seems there're no similar measures in the monastics world. Some monk could break some rule, and still get a much better chance of getting away with it than a corporate employee!

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Bhikkhu_Jayasara
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Re: Romantization of the modern and historical Monastic Sangha

Post by Bhikkhu_Jayasara » Sat Jul 27, 2019 7:33 pm

I think this is a common thing for many westerners/convert Buddhists who want to become monastics, they have a very idealized version of what monasticism is, and the more they experience it, the more they see the reality. This has been my experience as well as many others i've had contact with.


The interesting thing however, is that when reading the Suttas and Vinaya, you can already see that at the time of the Buddha, or shortly there after, there are city monks and forest monks, you can see examples of monastics becoming famous and not even having much practice under their belt. Or the Buddha encouraging monastics to be forest dwellers (why would he need to encourage if they already were?) or Maha Kassapa asking why there were more forest dwellers in the early days of the dispensation as compared to now.

When asked why the Buddha still continues to go out into the woods and dwell in forests even though his job is done, he says he does it to set an example for future generations.

It is my impression then that there was a wide variety of practitioners then as there are now. As for people becoming monastics for a variety of reasons, there are vinaya rules that are put in place to stop people from trying to use the robes as a security from the world, like monastics who wanted to become monks because the best doctor (jivaka) at the time spent his days working on all the issues and diseases of the monastics, so they figured they would become monks to not have to wait so long for a specialist lol(this is why you can't be ordained if you have certain medical conditions). The monastic life is certainly not meant to be a place for people to escape their worldy problems, but it does end up that way sometimes.

What you are seeing today in many ways is not very different, or new, other then they have become established and inter-meshed with culture. You also have to take into account the not so modern conception in Buddhist countries that we are in the dhamma-ending-age( a phenomenon to me, akin to the people of my former religion who are always waiting on the apocalypse and Jesus's return) and the dhamma is so corrupted that you cannot become awakened anymore, so why meditate? what are you stupid? jut do good merit and become awakened under the next Buddha.

This is why to me, it's best to not put too much hopes in trying to find "the perfect teacher" or get too wrapped up in the whole " my teacher's an arahant" thing.. just a heads up.. no they are/were probably not. I have a handful of monastics(most of which I don't live with, some of whom i've never met) whom I look up to and try to emulate for their various positive aspects (i've not met one single person who embodies all aspects of the perfect monk in one person, I think that is a fools search), but the senior monastics I most revere and try to emulate have been dead nearly 2500 years, Maha Kassapa, Moggallana, Sariputta, etc.

If you have a strong knowledge and understanding of the Dhamma and Vinaya, and have a few good advisors, then all you need to do is practice, and as a monk that means you don't get too worried about what other monks do, as the Buddha says , pay attention to what YOU have done, and left undone. You can observe the behavior of other monastics and see as much what NOT to do as what TO do. Until you are an awakened being you have no real ability to judge others, but you can be the example others may follow in the future.


That being said, I do agree that both monastics and laity should be more willing to call out or deal with bad behavior. If you see a monastic doing very bad things, don't support them, don't give them meals. You can respect them, respect the robes, but not enable their behaviors. The Buddha gave all of these options in the sutta and vinaya, laity not supporting bad monks, monastics trying to help said bad monks act better, etc. It is simply just culture and tradition that is in the way of this being done, not vinaya.

One thing I will say though is this :

They still use cloths for accepting gifts
Thats not Vinaya, that is culture. So I would not judge a monastic on whether they do that. Living as a monk in the world is not easy , and unless you live in a very secluded place that is 100% supported(very rare outside of asia), it is extremely hard, even if you want to, to follow all of the thousands(yes.. thousands) of rules perfectly. So I would be careful of, if judging to see if a monastic is being bad, that you keep a perspective on what is important, and what is nitpicking.

monastics are human beings, and they should not be put on pedestals. You should see a monastic as a fellow person on the path, one prone to failure and faulty action just like you, but a human being who is attempting something rarely done fully, and very hard, that is the complete letting go of suffering, so just for that I would give respect, as a monastic, to any other monastic.
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mikenz66
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Re: Romantization of the modern and historical Monastic Sangha

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Jul 27, 2019 9:49 pm

Thanks Bhante,
Bhikkhu_Jayasara wrote:
Sat Jul 27, 2019 7:33 pm
I think this is a common thing for many westerners/convert Buddhists who want to become monastics, they have a very idealized version of what monasticism is, and the more they experience it, the more they see the reality. This has been my experience as well as many others i've had contact with.
...
Yes, it still amazes me that a number of people have been surprised enough about reality to actually write books and articles complaining about it. A short time in a Buddhist country, or visiting a few Monasteries should soon sort them out. As with any other other loose collection of people, there is tremendous variety. However, if you pay attention, and don't get too confused by initial impressions, it's possible to find some really good people to interact with...
Bhikkhu_Jayasara wrote:
Sat Jul 27, 2019 7:33 pm
They still use cloths for accepting gifts
Thats not Vinaya, that is culture. So I would not judge a monastic on whether they do that. Living as a monk in the world is not easy , and unless you live in a very secluded place that is 100% supported(very rare outside of asia), it is extremely hard, even if you want to, to follow all of the thousands(yes.. thousands) of rules perfectly. So I would be careful of, if judging to see if a monastic is being bad, that you keep a perspective on what is important, and what is nitpicking.
Yes, it's a Thai custom (which only applies to Bhikkhus and women, not Bhikkhus and men), not a Sri Lankan one. I've heard humorous stories from Bhikkhus trying to navigate a group of mixed Thai-Sri Lankan lay women without insulting the Sri Lankans by using a cloth, or shocking the Thais by not... :tongue:
Bhikkhu_Jayasara wrote:
Sat Jul 27, 2019 7:33 pm
monastics are human beings, and they should not be put on pedestals. You should see a monastic as a fellow person on the path, one prone to failure and faulty action just like you, but a human being who is attempting something rarely done fully, and very hard, that is the complete letting go of suffering, so just for that I would give respect, as a monastic, to any other monastic.
Well put.

:anjali:
Mike

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Bhikkhu_Jayasara
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Re: Romantization of the modern and historical Monastic Sangha

Post by Bhikkhu_Jayasara » Sat Jul 27, 2019 10:05 pm

Yes, it's a Thai custom (which only applies to Bhikkhus and women, not Bhikkhus and men), not a Sri Lankan one. I've heard humorous stories from Bhikkhus trying to navigate a group of mixed Thai-Sri Lankan lay women without insulting the Sri Lankans by using a cloth, or shocking the Thais by not... :tongue:
that is hilarious! It does remind me of how I am expected to act and be around various groups of people. When teaching or around people from Buddhist countries, I try to conform to their expectations of how a monk should be and act. I'm a bit more open/light-heated around westerners. Navigating these things is part of monasticism
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Srilankaputra
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Re: Romantization of the modern and historical Monastic Sangha

Post by Srilankaputra » Sun Jul 28, 2019 4:28 am

A monk I like very much said(paraphrasing), Now is a age of individual effort. The age of Arahants training others to be Arahants is over. But as long as the unbroken lineage of upasampada bikkhus are present the spirit of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha is alive and the way to the deathless is still open. He said not to pollute our own minds by finding faults in individual monks but to see the Sangha as the Sangha.
O seeing one,we for refuge go to thee!
O mighty sage do thou our teacher be!

Paccuppannañca yo dhammaṃ,
Tattha tattha vipassati

“Yato yato mano nivāraye,
Na dukkhameti naṃ tato tato;
Sa sabbato mano nivāraye,
Sa sabbato dukkhā pamuccatī”ti.

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