"The Broken Buddha" by Ven.Dhammika and other scandals

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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manas
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by manas » Thu Jun 16, 2011 4:11 am

When I first read the 'Broken Buddha' it shook up my (rather weak) faith at that time. In retrospect, i'm grateful that I read it, because it resulted in me going deeper into the Pali Tipitaka itself for guidance (which ven. Dhammika recommends, by the way), and in a roundabout way, actually strengthened my faith. Yes, the Drum sounds a little out of tune. So we have to reconstruct the Drum, to the best of our ability, using the available materials. Enough of those (the Pali Tipitaka) seem to have survived the ravages of Time.
Knowing this body is like a clay jar,
securing this mind like a fort,
attack Mara with the spear of discernment,
then guard what's won without settling there,
without laying claim.

- Dhp 40

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Jhana4 » Thu Jun 16, 2011 6:04 pm

THE BROKEN BUDDHA
Critical Reflections on Theravada and a Plea for a New Buddhism
by the Venerable S. Dhammika

I finally finished this book. I found two versions on the internet, one 60 pages and one 80 pages. The title above links to a PDF of the longer version.

In a nutshell, the book is by a western born monk and is about criticisms of Theravada Buddhism as he saw it practiced in Asia ( Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma primarily). Venerable S Dhammika is still a monk. His book includes two articles by Sri Lankans with similar criticisms, as well as many notes to other authors who had similar observations. The book also includes Venerable Dhammika's suggestions for a reformed Buddhism, some of which, he claims are being implemented by Mahayana influenced groups such as the "Western Buddhist Order" and "Friends of the Western Buddhist Order". Interestingly, Venerable Dhammika had praise for the IMS, Spirit Rock, a western group of Ajan Cha followers and S.N. Goenka's meditation centers.

Anyone thinking of ordaining would do themselves a favor by reading this book and reading it in its entirety. Doing so will prepare them for a strong culture shock and alert them to problems they will need to navigate around to get what they want out of being ordained.

A good overview of the message of the book can be had by reading 2 short articles in the appendix by other authors with similar criticisms.

This book deserves a thorough review, but I will only mention some top points of what the author had to say. I can't emphasize enough that actually reading the entire book is very thought provoking.

According to the Venerable S. Dhammika the Asian Theravada laity is only concerned with making merit. That is, ensuring a good rebirth for themselves by making donations to the monks. They grow up being taught that the maximum amount of merit is to be had by giving to monks, so few make donations or do volunteer work for others. The rest of the time, outside of holidays the laity is unconcerned about Buddhism. They do not read the suttas. They do not meditate. They are discouraged from doing so by the monks. They believe both things are not for ordinary people, but only for monks.

Many monks are also unfamiliar with the suttas and do not meditate. In fact if a monk chooses to meditate they will not get any encouragement and even some discouragement as it makes other monks look bad. Many monks go into the Sangha as children, out of poverty and leave after they get a college education paid for by dana from the laity. The ones who stay experience a life time of being waited on hand and foot by the community. The monks become spoiled and narcissitic, caring only about their whims to use dana money to put up buildings and statues that people don't need and often when there is a lot of poverty in the surrounding area. The monks often get big egos demanding huge amounts of respect and demanding to be catered to. Often the Buddhist community in Asia will sacrifice on essentials to their own families to give dana to monks who already have an excess of what they need or could want. This happens because of the aforementioned belief in merit making. For monks the most important thing is following the vinaya, and most could care less about the dhamma, even if they knew about it.

Venerable S Dhammika does not fault the monks or laity for these problems. He mentioned that exceptional people have tried to turn things around, even if only for themselves, but both groups will reinforce the status quo out of fear of upsetting the other group. Venerable S Dhammika responds to the listing of names of exceptional people by stating that is exactly the point. There are so few people trying to be true to dhamma instead of the status quo that people *can* remember their names.

As a brief aside I was shocked to learn that there is a caste system in Sri Lanka and this extends to Buddhism. While westerners can join most orders, if you are Sri Lankan there are some orders you can't join if you are not a member of that caste. I also learned that Sri Lankan monks owned slaves. Slavery was abolished there in the late 19th century as it was in the U.S., but people born into slavery had to remain slaves. Some people continued to be slaves in Sri Lanka and in monasteries until the early 1900s.

One of the most interesting and I think the most important points Venerable S. Dhammika had to make was that he thinks Asian Theravada is in danger of dying out. The dhamma isn't taught to most Asians, they don't get any spirituality or inspiration out of it. What they get is a religion to keep during the holidays and to make merit in as they begin to worry about future lives. The relationship between the people and the monks appears to be one way, with all of the giving coming from the people. In the meantime Christianity is gaining in Asia quickly, much faster than Theravada is spreading in the west. Christian missionaries are doing charitable works for the people ( something the Buddhists monks don't do ) in addition to offering them the spirituality they aren't getting from the monks.

That really hit home with me. I left the religion of my family as a teenager to become an atheist. The "clergy" I interfaced with cared only about tradition for tradition's sake, with no concern for meaning, let alone meaning relevant to contemporary life. They offered no spirituality, no inspiration and only made demands. Having had that experience, I agree with the author that Theravada could be threatened by that situation.

In any event. I think the book is worth reading and in its entirety. What I wrote isn't my opinion, I was explaining the opinions of the author.

On the downsides of the book, it was published about 10 years ago so I have no idea if some of its points are out of date or not. The author does not back up his points with statistics ( I don't think it would be possible ), only anecdotal accounts. His views could only be his own as the result of an uncommonly bad experience. The reader, unless s/he lived in Asia for a long time would have no way of knowing how accurate his points are. That and there was some obvious writing errors which he didn't proof read out.

All in all a very powerful, education and thought provoking book.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Sanghamitta » Thu Jun 16, 2011 6:18 pm

Ah how unlike the more sophisticated laity in the west who spend their time on Buddhist forums.....
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by beeblebrox » Thu Jun 16, 2011 6:38 pm

Good review, Jhana. I just want to point out one thing... the comparison between a Christian missionary and a Buddhist monk isn't really fair. I think that a Christian monk would be closer... and AFAIK they also don't really cater to the public, or even less so when compared to the average Buddhist monk (I could be wrong).

I think the real problem here is that the layperson part of the Sangha is also neglected... it's not just the monks. (Also, where do the monks come from?) One of the failings of Theravada (in my opinion), is viewing their own Sangha as just monks. I think only the Noble Sangha is valid, and worthy of respect... (still my opinion).

:anjali:

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by daverupa » Thu Jun 16, 2011 6:46 pm

beeblebrox wrote:Good review, Jhana. I just want to point out one thing... the comparison between a Christian missionary and a Buddhist monk isn't really fair. I think that a Christian monk would be closer... and AFAIK they also don't really cater to the public, or even less so when compared to the average Buddhist monk (I could be wrong).
Mostly correct. The best comparison is between a Buddhist monastic and a Catholic friar.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Jhana4 » Thu Jun 16, 2011 7:09 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Ah how unlike the more sophisticated laity in the west who spend their time on Buddhist forums.....
You are here posting in this thread too Valerie :). I do think that most DWers probably know more about the dhamma and meditate more than a number of people in those countries, if the situation is as how Venerable Dhammasika describes it. Have you read the book? Do you any opinion about it?
Last edited by Jhana4 on Thu Jun 16, 2011 7:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Jhana4 » Thu Jun 16, 2011 7:15 pm

beeblebrox wrote:Good review, Jhana. I just want to point out one thing... the comparison between a Christian missionary and a Buddhist monk isn't really fair. I think that a Christian monk would be closer... and AFAIK they also don't really cater to the public, or even less so when compared to the average Buddhist monk (I could be wrong).
That is true about Christian monks, but I think Ven Dhammika's criticisms of Buddhist monks is fair as they also fill/are supposed to fill the role that Christian clergy do of transmitting the dhamma to the community. Christian monks never had that role. From what I read in the book, Christian monks don't make the same demands upon the community that Buddhist monks do either.
I think the real problem here is that the layperson part of the Sangha is also neglected... it's not just the monks. (Also, where do the monks come from?)
One of the points that stuck at to me was that Venerable Dhammika didn't hold either the laypeople or the Sangha ( in the book this was used to denote the monks only, at least by context ) solely responsible. He wrote that the problems of both were due to lack of proper education and fear of reprisals for going against the status quo.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by mikenz66 » Thu Jun 16, 2011 7:54 pm

Jhana4 wrote:
Sanghamitta wrote:Ah how unlike the more sophisticated laity in the west who spend their time on Buddhist forums.....
You are here posting in thread too Valerie :). I do think that most DWers probably know more about the dhamma and meditate more than a number of people in those countries if the situation is as how Venerable Dhammasika describes. Have you read the book? Do you any opinion about it?
Anyone who has spent any time at monasteries in the West or Asia would not be surprised that the vast majority who turn up on holidays appear to be only going through some motions and a significant proportion of the Sangha appear to in the same position. Clearly this is a worry if this translates into a decline.

I think what Sanghamitta is getting at is that it is very easy to overlook that some of those people that might easily be dismissed as "just making merit" are quietly living their lives according to the precepts, turning up early in the morning to feed the sangha, and doing low-key meditation practice.

For Buddhism to become truly established in the West it's my suspicion that "growing" more western people like that is more important than "knowing more about the Dhamma and meditating more". The Dhamma taught by the Buddha is a way of life, not just a collection of techniques. For it to survive I think there is a need a strong, large, laity to support the Sangha (and the laity who do have the good fortune to be able to put a lot of time into meditation or study).

I have a lot of admiration for the the Ajahn Chah western monasteries, so I'm not surprised they get a positive mention. They have been fortunate in being able to tap into ethnic support from Thai and Sri Lankan communities, and at the same time be attractive and welcoming to westerners (it helps having English-speaking Sangha!). Significantly, they have done that by taking a very traditional, back to basics, approach that doesn't alienate the support base.

:anjali:
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Jhana4 » Thu Jun 16, 2011 8:08 pm

mikenz66 wrote: I think what Sanghamitta is getting at is that it is very easy to overlook that some of those people that might easily be dismissed as "just making merit" are quietly living their lives according to the precepts, turning up early in the morning to feed the sangha, and doing low-key meditation practice.
I don't see how you got that otherwise interesting point from her message. Getting back to the book, the author Venerable Dhammika who has lived in Asia and who spent time with Asians is of the view that most Buddhist lay people are not like that. They do not meditate, have told people like him that it is the province of monks and that they have been taught that by monks.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by mikenz66 » Thu Jun 16, 2011 9:09 pm

Jhana4 wrote:
mikenz66 wrote: I think what Sanghamitta is getting at is that it is very easy to overlook that some of those people that might easily be dismissed as "just making merit" are quietly living their lives according to the precepts, turning up early in the morning to feed the sangha, and doing low-key meditation practice.
I don't see how you got that otherwise interesting point from her message. Getting back to the book, the author Venerable Dhammika who has lived in Asia and who spent time with Asians is of the view that most Buddhist lay people are not like that. They do not meditate, have told people like him that it is the province of monks and that they have been taught that by monks.
Yes, I'm not really contradicting that. My comments are based on the Asian lay people and bhikkhus that I know, here and in Thailand. As, I presume, are Sanghamitta's. There are certainly a significant number (quite possible the majority) of lay people and bhikhus who have completely lost the plot. However, there are a significant number who I think are essential to the future who are easily confused with the "lost the plot" group. A group who do a good job of practising dana, generosity, and occasional meditation according to the Dhamma. That group is essential to those who aspire to "serious practice" because they provide the support and example without which the Sangha and the "serious practitioners" would have no place to live or practice intensively. As Ven Dhammika says (P67 of http://www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-b ... dhanew.pdf)
Another potentially more serious problem is that all the Ajahn Chah monasteries in the West are largely dependant on funds from Thailand. If this money stops for some reason the movement may be unable to maintain itself.
(This may be inaccurate --- I'm not sure how much support comes from Thailand vs. local Thai and Sri Lankan communities).

In any case Ven Dhammika is quite right, the health of the Dhamma is dependent on sorting out issues with both lay people and ordained Sangha. This is not going to be easy. And I think that it's important not to misjudge the range of lay practitioners who are actually practising very well by using specific meditation practices as the only yardstick.

:anjali:
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Sanghamitta » Thu Jun 16, 2011 9:14 pm

I think Jnana4 that people have all sorts of ways of working through their doubts and fears and confusions, and thats OK. It wont go any faster than it will go.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Jhana4 » Thu Jun 16, 2011 10:26 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:I think Jnana4 that people have all sorts of ways of working through their doubts and fears and confusions, and thats OK. It wont go any faster than it will go.
No disrespect, but I don't understand your comment, nor how it relates to your earlier comment or my replies to it. My enthusiasm is for discussing this book so please accept my apology for not continuing with this subthread past this point.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by BlackBird » Thu Jun 16, 2011 11:23 pm

Jhana4 wrote:
According to the Venerable S. Dhammika the Asian Theravada laity is only concerned with making merit. That is, ensuring a good rebirth for themselves by making donations to the monks. They grow up being taught that the maximum amount of merit is to be had by giving to monks, so few make donations or do volunteer work for others. The rest of the time, outside of holidays the laity is unconcerned about Buddhism. They do not read the suttas. They do not meditate. They are discouraged from doing so by the monks. They believe both things are not for ordinary people, but only for monks.
From my experience this is mostly true. The prevailing view in Sri Lanka that I witnessed was that lay people felt that meditation was for monks. A lay person's practice was almost entirely concerned with making merit. There are lay people in Sri Lanka that meditate and take an interest in learning about the Buddha's teachings, and fortunately in recent years this demographic is increasing.

Regarding the sect that only allows the highest caste (and white folks) to ordain - The Siam Nikaya - They do not have a good reputation amongst the educated laity. That's not to say that all Siam Nikaya monks are bad eggs, but that a high standard of vinaya is not followed and meditation is practiced by very few. It's no great loss for those Sri Lankans not of the highest caste because those who are serious about Dhamma would probably seek out monasteries with good reputations. Monasteries with good reputations for meditation and learning in Sri Lanka are almost exclusively of the Ramanna and Amarapura Nikayas.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by retrofuturist » Thu Jun 16, 2011 11:28 pm

Greetings,

There is a big difference between making merit so that "I" may have a good rebirth (in fact, this isn't much different to Christianity - being rewarded in the afterlife for good done in this life - combined with the fear of punishment of being prodded by flaming pitchforks in hell) and making merit as part of an integrated program of sila, bhavana and panna... in other words, making merit as part of, and support for, the fulfilment of the Noble Eightfold Path.

I have no idea which is more prevalent amongst Asian laity, so I won't speculate.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by DNS » Thu Jun 16, 2011 11:39 pm

BlackBird wrote: Regarding the sect that only allows the highest caste (and white folks) to ordain - The Siam Nikaya - They do not have a good reputation amongst the educated laity. That's not to say that all Siam Nikaya monks are bad eggs, but that a high standard of vinaya is not followed and meditation is practiced by very few.
Speaking of the Siam Nikaya, the North American leader is Bhante Gunaratana. He has an interesting autobiography:

http://www.bhavanasociety.org/resource/ ... _bhante_g/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Image

In his autobiography [spoiler alert] he mentions how he was addicted to betel nuts (a mild stimulant) as were most monks back then and also had migraines. When he mentioned that he was going to try and practice meditation to help alleviate his migraines, other monks thought he was nuts (they did not meditate so saw no value in it). So this autobiography raises some of the issues found in Broken Buddha, too. He of course, did overcome betel nuts and the migraines and became a scholar and practice-oriented famous monk.

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