Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Discuss your personal experience with the Dharma here. How has it enriched your life? What challenges does it present?

Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:36 am

Ven. Hui Feng,

Certainly. I want to sit down and give it some thought. At the moment I am in Bangalore to pick up some Malaysian friends who are coming to Sera, but you will hear from me soon, likely by PM.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:38 am

Perhaps a key point to clarify would be the distinction between activities viz Western participants in the Asian context, or in the Western context, eg. those going to Taiwan to practice / study, or those doing so at branches in Western countries.

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Apr 17, 2014 7:25 am

Okay,

Since I was in a Canadian branch centre as well as HQ I do have a bit of an idea on both fronts.

It could work in Taiwan. For example at Sera Jey there is a house for Westerners with a Dutch director. Taking into consideration the extra challenges for Westerners, the admin has lighter work and puja requirements for that house.

Due to not living in the khangtsen, the residents do sometimes not have the greatest colloquial Tibetan. However, several have excelled in the Geshe studies program, despite all the extra challenges of being foreigners. One is nearly finished the geshe studies, and several are about halfway through the 18 year program. Some already teach to the Indian English speaking community in Bangalore and are very popular.

For those less inclined to rigorous debate, there are options like yhe Translator program I completed. Imagine FGS wiyh a cohort of trained translators available for service at overseas temples. Useful for overseas born Chinese ypung people as well whose lack of fluency prevents them from participating more.

So many possibilities really.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 17, 2014 7:33 am

JKhedrup wrote:It could work in Taiwan. For example at Sera Jey there is a house for Westerners with a Dutch director. Taking into consideration the extra challenges for Westerners, the admin has lighter work and puja requirements for that house.



If I may quickly respond to this point, at least. At present, for the past 2 yrs or so, behind the Samantabhadra Shrine there is now an International House (NB: not "Western", but international). The Ven. in charge is Ven. Huiju, formerly Malaysian Chinese who spent his teens and twenties in Melbourne Australia (he's an Australian citizen, etc.). Perhaps Zhen Li can comment on this, no doubt knowing more about it than I do.

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Apr 17, 2014 7:40 am

Could foreign monks not fluent in Chinese form a community within the community there, rathet than living at the men's college?
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:00 am

JKhedrup wrote:Could foreign monks not fluent in Chinese form a community within the community there, rathet than living at the men's college?


I think that would be one of its functions.

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:13 am

Could some of the monks from Congo be placed thrte to see if it works? (Unless they don't want to move of course)
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Zhen Li » Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:20 am

JKhedrup wrote:I don't remember swearing or making ad homs. Though ZL stated the story from the Ladakhi nuns could be untrue, I have no reason to doubt their honesty, they have nothing to gain by lying to me. These are senior ordained nuns, fluent in Chinese, English, Tibetan and Hindi. Educated kind and thoughtful people- i spent the better part of a week with them.The suggestion (not made by you) that they may have lied, as well as the serious issue of cultural chauvanism, are why I became heated. It feels like blaming the victim, and the easy dismissal if anyone's bad experiences is part of the reason progress cannot be made.

As I stated above, what saddens me most is these problems are solvable. But as ZL stated above, maybe the potential solutions are considered high-maintenance. Still, I am willing to try and speak with anyone interested. And I will not deny certainly my own personal faults are part of the equation here. But there are enough people with similar experiences to confirm to me they weren't the only factor.

All I am saying is that I don't think generalisations about western ordination should be made based upon Ladakhis, whose experience may or may not be typical, and may or may not have multiple versions that we simply haven't heard, and probably will never hear. Speaking for the western experience, I think we can say that while little has been done to adapt the existing structure to western needs, there also hasn't been an actual programme of western ordination in any capacity either. We really don't have any right to claim the right to FGS' accommodation of unfamiliar and culturally alien foreigners. If they want to use their potential for spreading the Dharma in the west, based upon whatever assessments that move is based on, they will. As westerners who may be interested in and like Chinese Buddhism, we can hope this happens, but we mustn't be entitled.
Indrajala wrote:You're implying that several senior nuns who are highly educated and committed to Dharma for life are basically lying. I also know a senior monk in Bodhgaya who told me a number of things about his interactions with FGS and Xingyun, a lot of which was shocking.

Well, my reply as regards whether or not these entities whom I have never met nor know the reputation of, who are essentially literary figures as far as I am concerned at this point, is the same as that I gave to JKhedrup. You really can't expect someone to be convinced of the inherent evil of FGS based upon hearsay on an internet forum. Well, you can't expect me to be. I probably would have been convinced if you told me that when I was 14 years old. But now, I know the world is more complex than X says Y is not good (and of course, every X must be of "good repute").

As regards VM Hsingyun (I shan't give into this ridiculous tendency to use the communist P'in-yin system like Peking wants us to), I've heard all sorts of things like X said something shocking about him, Y said something unbelievable, Z said that he did something so bad I can't utterly reveal it. You really can't convince anyone with that sort of claptrap. You'll find these sorts of statements about anyone, HHDL, Master Hsuan Hua, the Karmapas, etc. To such things my response is more or less that this is sensationalism of the tabloid variety, and that people who expect others to be swayed by such hearsay really have a poor grasp of human judgement. So if you're going to make a claim, please make it. Don't tease others with it's potential to be made.

You can and should make criticism and suggestions for improvement, but when it's meaningless attempts to sway others into hatred with things like hearsay, it's a waste of time. You're not going to win anyone over who isn't already convinced. As for the BMC, certainly your critique might sway some more puritan westerners, but I personally find they misunderstand the nature of Mahayana, upaya, stupas and relics. I'm not being purposefully obtuse. You simply haven't made a very good argument for why FGS isn't a good vehicle for western Buddhism by relying on these sorts of tactics to me. Can you convince other westerners? Maybe. But insiders to FGS aren't going to be, especially if they've seen a benevolent side to it on the large part. After all, people are there for a reason. People like it. Laity like it. Otherwise it wouldn't be the largest Taiwanese/Chinese Buddhist organization. As for foreigners, yes, many find their ways odd, but like Ven HF says, specific critiques and specific suggestions are more helpful than this sort of stuff.
Huifeng wrote:If I may quickly respond to this point, at least. At present, for the past 2 yrs or so, behind the Samantabhadra Shrine there is now an International House (NB: not "Western", but international). The Ven. in charge is Ven. Huiju, formerly Malaysian Chinese who spent his teens and twenties in Melbourne Australia (he's an Australian citizen, etc.). Perhaps Zhen Li can comment on this, no doubt knowing more about it than I do.

Yes, the place is very nice, stocked with an English library and amenities. Currently it's being used for international lay visitors. I can certainly see a place like that being the ideal sort of building for training western monastics. I also think Ven. Khedrup's suggestions are very good, and of course these are suggestions that I have also made myself. A corps of western monastics, by no means of intrusive size, whose job is more or less to translate can indeed be nicely incorporated into the present schema without disrupting things too much. As far as the actual function of the house goes, Venerable Huiju does a very good job. However, he doesn't have the sort of pressure one would if one were tasked with teaching Chinese and providing monastic training to western shramaneras.
JKhedrup wrote:Could foreign monks not fluent in Chinese form a community within the community there, rathet than living at the men's college?

The current community at the house is not a monastic community, it is a community of lay volunteers who mostly work on proofing translations, and occasional visitors.

Ven HF can correct me if I am wrong, but, the monastics who live at the college are shramaneras, whereas the ones in the monastic compound are full bhikshus. If you are suggesting foreign shramaneras live at the house, that is not currently possible, since that would require a discipline master to be present. If you are suggesting they train there instead of the college, that is also not currently possible. But I can see such a building, one like it, perhaps annexed to the college, being a convenient place for such things. The house is also quite far away from the monastic compound and college, which would make things less convenient for managing it. It would probably make more sense to incorporate it into the present college, since we're not going to be talking about more than one monastic or none at a time right now. Of course, if it became more populated, then a specific training centre might make more sense. Ven HF and I both tended to like the idea of a North American training monastery - then monastics will not have to adjust to a foreign lifestyle alongside learning Chinese, dharma and vinaya. Of course, I think we should keep things small, only one step at a time. Maybe starting by renting a small house or building a small compound on cheap countryside land (since it's not to be geared to lay devotees), gradually expanding. Keeping operating costs low might make this a more attractive to the executives. Perhaps somewhere in rural California not too far from Hsi Lai, but also not in the city where property values are sky high. Just look at the spiritual supermarket of religious orgs that just buy a compound in rural California, it can't be too expensive.

If you are speaking of current fully ordained bhikshus living at the house. That's entirely feasible, and makes more sense to me than lodging them in the Bamboo Garden Lodge, which is where they currently are. The disadvantage to this, is once again the location. The house is quite far away from the main monastery and the bus station, so most visiting monastics would probably prefer the Bamboo Garden Lodge.
JKhedrup wrote:Could some of the monks from Congo be placed thrte to see if it works? (Unless they don't want to move of course)

They're fully assimilated to Chinese culture and are fluent speakers of Chinese, so they probably would see it as pointless and if they're trainees, the issues are the same as above. Currently though, the house is geared to laity. Venerable Hueshou (Austrian) mentioned that he was offered the opportunity to work there in addition to his current job of touring foreigners, but declined because it's too far away and Venerable Huiju more or less doesn't ever seem to have his plate full - the task of managing the house for laity isn't really onerous, since volunteers who work in that area of the monastery take care of most the stuff.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:43 am

JKhedrup wrote:Could some of the monks from Congo be placed thrte to see if it works? (Unless they don't want to move of course)


They've been quite happy at the College from what I see. I usually take a little time to talk with them whenever I'm there, though lately it's been a few months. They're doing okay, helps to have a fellow compatriot, I am sure.

WRT ZL's comment above, I would not say "fully assimilated", though, as that is something that takes many, many years when the cultural difference is so vast. And believe me, Central Africa to China, it's a long way (I have many Tanzanian and Malawian Dharma brothers, and have seen this for myself).

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:44 am

This is part of the problem. Relating some critical nformation is immediately construed as "trying to portray FGS as evil." At no point did I use such language. This strong and immediate defensiveness is what will make it harder to address the issues.

As for the issue of entitlement, I stated it would be worth considering if FGS did not have localization as a stated key goal. And how it was explained to me was very different than how you understand it.

This is an important question. What is the definition of localization for FGS and how do they measure its success ir failure?

As to your last point, I already stated that for Western laypeople I would have no problem recommending practice and study at FGS. But for potential monastics, other than those of Chinese heritage, I cannot, for reasons I have outlined very extensively above.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Seishin » Thu Apr 17, 2014 12:56 pm

Topic locked for review, sorry for any inconvenience.

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Apr 18, 2014 7:58 pm

Thread now unlocked, please try to keep things civil, and as always, address arguments rather than perceptions of people's personalities, etc.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Zhen Li » Fri Apr 18, 2014 11:21 pm

JKhedrup wrote:This is part of the problem. Relating some critical nformation is immediately construed as "trying to portray FGS as evil." At no point did I use such language. This strong and immediate defensiveness is what will make it harder to address the issues.

That is correct. I was referring to Indrajala's views, while replying to Indrajala. I think that if one views someone or a group as irredeemable and sinister beyond any further consideration, that would be a correct description of his view on that group. I just point that out so he can hopefully reconsider taking such a strong position.
JKhedrup wrote:As for the issue of entitlement, I stated it would be worth considering if FGS did not have localization as a stated key goal. And how it was explained to me was very different than how you understand it.

This is an important question. What is the definition of localization for FGS and how do they measure its success ir failure?

As I understand it is not an official project or key goal. As it is used today is not the same as it was when it was introduced.

Master Hsing Yun introduced the idea in the 1990s, suggesting that local monks and nuns should take over foreign temples, since this is what Indian masters did in China in the past, rather than making Indian monasteries in China. There are four facets to localization: 1. language (speak and use local language), 2. custom and culture (use local customs and sentiments), 3. habits and way of life (etiquette, cuisine, greeting etc.), 4. education (adapting to the local history and culture). With all due respect to the efforts of administrators since then, the opposite is what has occurred, more like a Chinese colonization. That being said, this notion of localization goes further than any other school of Buddhism in the west, and what you had in mind was probably a bit more moderate, e.g. more second language training, rather than entirely handing over temples to locals.

Today it is pretty mild. I was told by someone with administrative leverage last year that the notion of localization essentially doesn't imply anything like adapting or changing the monasteries to be the local style or staff, but rather simply to hand over the management of the local lay organisation (BLIA) to the children of the current administrators of it. I think for now we can expect monastics with a poor grasp of English to keep coming, for nothing to be properly translated, for everything to still be 100% Chinese style, and for most everything to continue being a shock to westerners, even if the temple is around the corner. I personally don't mind, because I like Chinese/Taiwanese Buddhism, but I think it should stay in China and Taiwan. Not only should local Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants assimilate more, but the temples should too - this is really what Master was talking about, and his fundamental motivation is to help spread the Dharma by being respectful to foreign cultures in their own countries, which frankly hasn't happened.
JKhedrup wrote:As to your last point, I already stated that for Western laypeople I would have no problem recommending practice and study at FGS. But for potential monastics, other than those of Chinese heritage, I cannot, for reasons I have outlined very extensively above.

Of course, I would agree. Though if someone likes Chinese/Taiwanese Buddhism and culture, and knows the language, then I think it's a dandy idea.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Sat Apr 19, 2014 2:16 am

Recently I have been taking the material that Zhen Li refers to and explicitly raising the matter with some of the abbots and abbesses in Western branch temples, ie. the four facets of localization. There is also some other material too which (ironically) is only in Chinese, statements that Ven. Master has made in the past.

Also, while such statements are indeed there, it would be an exaggeration to say that these are "key goals". However, for a young and enthusiastic westerner encountering FGS, they may hear more about this and feel it is more "key" than the actual situation.

One of my own dilemmas at the moment is where to base myself in this whole situation, in the geographical sense. I've mentioned Nan Tien south of Sydney, Aus, and also Hsi Lai in east LA. What are the other possibilities? Now, asking most of you on this thread will be tough, because you've only been to a small number of centers. I'm thinking in terms of what efforts have already been made; facilities--those these are often fairly standard; local population and its requirements. In the last few years, I've been across a few places, but am mainly based at FGU. But, its now time to move out west as a base.

Any thoughts on this last point?

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Apr 19, 2014 7:08 am

Ven Huifeng

Wherever in the west you could get an associate professor or research position giving you a presence in the local academic community, but also time to help with traoning programs for Westerners, would seem to be ideal.

Bhikshuni Dharma Master Heng Chih from DRBA seems to be doing something like this at Gold Coast university.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Sat Apr 19, 2014 9:51 am

Ven. Khedrup,

Yes, this is definitely one approach I've had in mind. Though more likely "assistant prof" than "associate prof" at this point. :tongue: Though, full time teaching / research takes up a huge amount of time, and would leave very little to develop "training programs". So, even some kind of part time / adjunct role. (The modern issue of services for adjuncts is somewhat less of a problem in my own case, and even this may only apply to the US or north America.) I have thought about this for Nan Tien Institute and University of the West though, which would be an easier option, but not necessarily the best option. Am always on the look out, hehe. :smile:

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Will » Sat Apr 19, 2014 5:28 pm

Ven Huifeng, I suppose you have considered some of the DRBA centers on West Coast USA?
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Zhen Li » Sun Apr 20, 2014 7:01 am

I think that perhaps before setting up a program, which probably won't draw many applicants at first, one might do best to start off by having at least one trustworthy and qualified international or western ordinand ready. It might do best to focus the creation of such a program around this ordinand - which would help to answer questions as to where to set this program up. Then you also don't need to worry about anticipating all potential requirements, since you can develop them as you go. This would mean more personalisation given to that ordinand than to Taiwanese ones, but that's going to be necessary at first.

The reason I suggest this is if one were to imagine building a whole facility either adjacent to or independent of one of the existing monasteries, then I think one is liable to make a number of errors. The first might be anticipating a set of requirements that aren't suited to the task at hand, a one size fits all approach, that might not be easy to adjust after initial implementation since one has tailored the glove before measuring the hand. Another foreseeable issue is with the quality of potential applicants. If one has a facility that is empty, as it certainly will be initially, then one might have the tendency to "recruit." Then one will be happy to get anyone, rather than welcoming those who initially had an intention to ordain anyway. One would then end up being incapable of assessing the character of ordinands properly. An approach similar to the way the current approach with the college works may be ideal: i.e. ordinands must go through a year or more of probation, in which they have committed to ordain as a shramanera but need to be evaluated and adjusted first.

Of course, in this case, if it is a westerner, then the problems associated with culture shock of putting them in the monastic college might mean that a novel approach is required. Possibly some kind of gradual probation starting at their home life, then living with an English speaking monastic (need not be a western monastic 'at first') and possibly taking classes at one of the tertiary institutions, and gradually observing (but not taking) the precepts.

More or less, the whole strategy here is not to throw western applicants into the homogeneous melting pot, since it would have a tendency to scald them more easily than a Taiwanese applicant - rather, they should be placed in a pot that looks closer to what they're already familiar with, where the water is very slowly and gradually heated. Unless they request to go straight to the college at HQ, then maybe their request might be respected, but in that case I think we must be careful not to give them ultimatums, but to be open about their options and abilities to train elsewhere. One must also be careful not to patronize experienced Buddhist practitioners, taking into account what their retreat and precept taking experience is, what their personal character and discipline is, what their education and professional experience is, and what their language abilities are, are important here. While you did mention this was an issue with ordaining people over 35, this may have to be adapted to, and a one-size fits all approach certainly won't be very welcome to most individualistic westerners.

This, more or less, is just my suggestion for the first few western monastics. When there's about 5, then perhaps an actual western monastic training annex to the college or a monastery, or a building in the west, might be suitable. But I think one should probably deal with what one has at hand: right now, there are only a couple elder western monks, and no western ordinands. So it's step zero. Step one is reached once one has a western ordinand. Step two is training focused that one western ordinand. Step three is doing the same a few more times. Step four is setting something up specifically for western monastics with the help of the new western monastics. But obviously I've never done monastic training, and I've never trained a monastic, so I could be going in an entirely mistaken direction. Only time can tell.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Wed Apr 23, 2014 2:27 am

Zhen Li wrote:All I am saying is that I don't think generalisations about western ordination should be made based upon Ladakhis, whose experience may or may not be typical, and may or may not have multiple versions that we simply haven't heard, and probably will never hear. Speaking for the western experience, I think we can say that while little has been done to adapt the existing structure to western needs, there also hasn't been an actual programme of western ordination in any capacity either. We really don't have any right to claim the right to FGS' accommodation of unfamiliar and culturally alien foreigners. If they want to use their potential for spreading the Dharma in the west, based upon whatever assessments that move is based on, they will. As westerners who may be interested in and like Chinese Buddhism, we can hope this happens, but we mustn't be entitled.

...
...


Hi Zhen Li,

We should chat some time, not this typing stuff. :smile:

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Wed Apr 23, 2014 2:31 am

Will wrote:Ven Huifeng, I suppose you have considered some of the DRBA centers on West Coast USA?


Hi Will :hi:

I have, and do have the occasional contact with them. Though my last few times on that side of the Pacific I've been in LA, and haven't made it up to the Bay. Unfortunately, while FGS has several spots around the Bay, their localization state is rather abysmal. I was hoping to see Rev. Heng Sure in Sydney in a couple of weeks to talk, but he's out of the country. The move from one monastic based system to another is sometimes not all that straight forward, but maybe I'm over thinking it.

By the way, thanks for helping find support for Ven. Dharmamitra on that other thread. Can't wait for his next batch of publications!!

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