What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

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

What do you really think of monks and nuns in the West (an anonymous survey)

I think they are crucial for the establishment of the Buddhadharma here, and have had good experiences
58
60%
I think they are crucial for the establishment of the Buddhadharma here, even though I have had mostly bad experiences
3
3%
I don't have an opinion one way or the other
8
8%
I don't think they are necessary, because the dharma can be transmitted without monastics
15
16%
I just don't think that Westerners are interested in supporting monasticism financially
12
13%
 
Total votes : 96

Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Simon E. » Thu Oct 24, 2013 8:09 am

I agree that we can learn from each other. I actually have an Icon of Merton on my wall.
The issue is the longer term viability of the ordained Vajra Sangha, and we will have to agree to disagree about its likely future.

:namaste:
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Oct 24, 2013 8:14 am

I can understand why some might feel that the monastic model cannot work within modern secular capitalist structures. However to posit, as some have, that monasticism is an "obstacle" to the dharma seems silly as there are countless scriptural supports as to why the monastic sangha is valuable. Also to dismiss monasticism because Guru Rinpoche was a Mahasiddha seems a particularly weak argument, one which Kyabje Penor Rinpoche rounded refuted in a plea to respect monasticism which was once available on the web and now frustratingly I cannot find.

The great monasteries of the Nyingma tradition acted as treasuries for countless practice lineages, oral and textual traditions, and ritual systems. The lay yogis often went to such monasteries in order to receive transmissions, study in the libraries, and make offerings to the Sangha. This is well documented in Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's "Blazing Splendour" for example. In the Nyingma tradition the "red and white" practitioners work together in most cases, it is not as if the "red" ones were superfluous.
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A wise man keeps them secret within.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Simon E. » Thu Oct 24, 2013 8:35 am

Well with ( genuine ) respect...you would say that wouldn't you ?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Adi » Thu Oct 24, 2013 8:37 am

Simon E. wrote:...
The issue is the longer term viability of the ordained Vajra Sangha, and we will have to agree to disagree about its likely future.

:namaste:


I'm not even sure if it is a disagreement. :smile: We are both doing our best, I think, to speculate on the future yet who can really say what will happen? It certainly seems good to talk about & see what people "really think" of this subject.

I can only imagine what the Tibetans of long ago thought of all the wise men from India and their ideas about Sangha. Must have made for some very interesting discussions!

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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Simon E. » Thu Oct 24, 2013 8:46 am

No doubt. :D
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Karma Dorje » Thu Oct 24, 2013 12:19 pm

Simon E. wrote:Well with ( genuine ) respect...you would say that wouldn't you ?


That begs the question of why you are saying it. How can you see other people practicing dharma sincerely as an obstacle, regardless of what vows they have taken?

Is this just a matter of some personal antipathy to monasticism or is there a reasoned argument behind it?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Oct 24, 2013 12:39 pm

I am not sure what to think. Obviously any possible argument I make could be construed as biased because I am a monk.

Though I might not agree with or even be disturbed by some of the things said in this thread, I am still glad they are being said because if we never have an open discussion even the tiny itsy bitsy sliver of hope I have for monasticism (and it really is a sliver, equal in weight to a teaspoon full of dandelion fluff) would be unwarranted.

There is some type of emotion AGAINST monasticism in Simon B.'s post rather than the indifference from many Westerners (which comes from our cultural conditioning and is impersonal). I would guess either he has had some sort of rotten experience with monastics in the past or feels that monks think they are "better" than lay practitioners, and is offended by the premise, though that is just a guess.

For the record (again-perhaps the 3rd time altogether- I think it needs repeating as people seem to be super-sensitive about this point), I have no problem admitting that there are probably many laypeople with a more stable practice and sounder understanding of the teachings than I have.

At the same time, in my experience with the exception of one lay master (Khamtrul Rinpoche (the elderly one) in Dharamsala) all the lamas in my life are monks and they have been shaped by their training in a way that inspires. So if monasticism is lost something truly unique will be lost- and that is a pity because the broader the selection of methods available the more beings cross the ocean of samsara.

A big part of HHDL's cultivation and impact is his monastic training and aspect as a monk. As an enlightened master, he must take the aspect of a monk because he realizes it is more beneficial than that of a layperson. Perhaps he understands his impact to benefit others would not be as vast if he was wearing Calvin Klein jeans.
A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
A wise man keeps them secret within.
A straw floats on the surface of water,
But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
-Sakya Pandita
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 29, 2013 3:33 am

JKhedrup wrote:I can understand why some might feel that the monastic model cannot work within modern secular capitalist structures.


I think the issue is that many westerners are willing to financially support the Asian sangha, but not a western sangha.

I would say this is largely due to romantic orientalism.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Oct 29, 2013 3:49 am

Indrajala wrote:
JKhedrup wrote:I can understand why some might feel that the monastic model cannot work within modern secular capitalist structures.


I think the issue is that many westerners are willing to financially support the Asian sangha, but not a western sangha.

I would say this is largely due to romantic orientalism.


I think the real reason is much more pragmatic: It costs a fraction of what it would cost to fully support a monk in Western countries to support a Tibetan monk living in an Indian, Nepali or Bhutanese monastery. Most of the people that I know that give to support monks are supporting them in retreat for not really much money... as little as $40-50 a month for everything.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:02 am

Karma Dorje wrote:I think the real reason is much more pragmatic: It costs a fraction of what it would cost to fully support a monk in Western countries to support a Tibetan monk living in an Indian, Nepali or Bhutanese monastery. Most of the people that I know that give to support monks are supporting them in retreat for not really much money... as little as $40-50 a month for everything.



Still, it begs the question ... why not support a monk in your own local community who you have immediate access to?

There's merit to be had in both cases, but in general I think the perception is that western monks/nuns are just fooling around and not serious, whereas, say, Tibetan monks are serious (this is likewise problematic).
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:33 am

Indrajala wrote:
Karma Dorje wrote:I think the real reason is much more pragmatic: It costs a fraction of what it would cost to fully support a monk in Western countries to support a Tibetan monk living in an Indian, Nepali or Bhutanese monastery. Most of the people that I know that give to support monks are supporting them in retreat for not really much money... as little as $40-50 a month for everything.



Still, it begs the question ... why not support a monk in your own local community who you have immediate access to?

There's merit to be had in both cases, but in general I think the perception is that western monks/nuns are just fooling around and not serious, whereas, say, Tibetan monks are serious (this is likewise problematic).


I'm not so sure. It's the same thing as supporting children through WorldVision or some such program. For $40/month you can provide all of the needs for the child. You could say, "Well why don't you support poor children in your own area?" It's not as simple as there is not an easy infrastructure in place to give through like there is with WorldVision and various Tibetan monasteries. You can also make a correspondingly larger impact. Forty bucks takes care of a month of needs for a child in India or Haiti for example, whereas it buys almost nothing here in Canada. I have honestly never encountered anyone who thinks that Western monks and nuns are fooling around, nor that Tibetans in general are more serious. There are far more Tibetans in long-term retreat now than Westerners but there may come a time when the reverse is true.

I think we need to innovate communities to support monastic opportunities. I am not sure that decrying a presumed Orientalism is all that helpful in that pursuit. If self-sustaining or nearly self-sustaining communities were founded here that increases the leverage of dollars spent, I am positive that it would be well-supported by the Western laity.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Simon E. » Tue Oct 29, 2013 10:00 am

JKhedrup wrote:I am not sure what to think. Obviously any possible argument I make could be construed as biased because I am a monk.

Though I might not agree with or even be disturbed by some of the things said in this thread, I am still glad they are being said because if we never have an open discussion even the tiny itsy bitsy sliver of hope I have for monasticism (and it really is a sliver, equal in weight to a teaspoon full of dandelion fluff) would be unwarranted.

There is some type of emotion AGAINST monasticism in Simon B.'s post rather than the indifference from many Westerners (which comes from our cultural conditioning and is impersonal). I would guess either he has had some sort of rotten experience with monastics in the past or feels that monks think they are "better" than lay practitioners, and is offended by the premise, though that is just a guess.

For the record (again-perhaps the 3rd time altogether- I think it needs repeating as people seem to be super-sensitive about this point), I have no problem admitting that there are probably many laypeople with a more stable practice and sounder understanding of the teachings than I have.

At the same time, in my experience with the exception of one lay master (Khamtrul Rinpoche (the elderly one) in Dharamsala) all the lamas in my life are monks and they have been shaped by their training in a way that inspires. So if monasticism is lost something truly unique will be lost- and that is a pity because the broader the selection of methods available the more beings cross the ocean of samsara.

A big part of HHDL's cultivation and impact is his monastic training and aspect as a monk. As an enlightened master, he must take the aspect of a monk because he realizes it is more beneficial than that of a layperson. Perhaps he understands his impact to benefit others would not be as vast if he was wearing Calvin Klein jeans.


I have had no negative experiences with the ordained Sangha. Quite the reverse.I met HHDL I met the 16th Karmapa. I met Ajahn Chah. I have no negative emotional residue.
I also have no reasoned argument.
My ' argument ' is of the same order as my observations when I look out of the window and see the Autumn foliage.
I think that the Ordained Sangha is in the Autumn of its life collectively..which does not mean that it will not continue to produce women and men of real stature..but it will continue to dwindle.
Call it the Kali Yuga, or simply a different age needing different solutions, but my strong suspicion is that it is in slow terminal decline. This fact is obscured slightly by the transient phenomena of westerners becoming ordained.
Time will tell. If my thoughts are not acceptable..ignore them.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 29, 2013 10:14 am

Arguably the sangha is in fact in decline. In most countries this seems to be the case. In Japan I know statistically (they have had reliable stats for decades) there are a lot less clergy now than before. The same probably applies to Korea, China, Taiwan and SE Asian countries as well.

I have heard from various sources that in Tibetan Buddhist communities, even Ladakh in India, there is far less interest in monasticism, at least as far as personally signing up or sending your children into them.

I reckon the real cause behind this decline is secularism coupled with consumerism. Happiness for a young man in Nepal is a smartphone and a motorcycle with a pretty girl on the back, not being a puja machine or studying Abhidharma in an ancient language in an unheated monastery where the food is dal and rice every single day.

There's also the apparent discord between the promises of Buddhism and the realities of life in the 21st century.

Imagine going into a monastery and figuratively being given the keys to cosmos only to find out western science has crushed a lot of archaic knowledge while building all this desirable technology. The greatest Buddhist teachers fly in airplanes and make use of western medicine, both of which the apparent keys to the cosmos are unable to produce.

This is why Buddhism in general in Asia is becoming a mere component to ethnic identities and nationalism. It often doesn't serve much of any other function, especially if the state provides welfare services (in particular to children).

In the west, though, Buddhism is employed to remedy stress and solve existential issues amongst first world residents. However, you don't need a monastery for this sort of thing, which is why I understand the reluctance to invest money in such things. In due time perhaps families will feel it worthwhile having something more solid and age defying than dharma centers in their community, so they might decide monasteries make sense.

Who knows though.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Simon E. » Tue Oct 29, 2013 10:56 am

If this is the Kali Yuga then consumerism and secularism are , I assume, outward signs of that, and are likely to worsen. But perhaps Spring might come in ways unexpected.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Oct 29, 2013 11:01 am

Time will tell. If my thoughts are not acceptable..ignore them.


No, I want everyone's honest thoughts. That is why I started the thread. If I disagree I will say so but if I am disturbed by people's opinions that is simply something in my mind I need to work on :tongue:
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 29, 2013 2:58 pm

Simon E. wrote:If this is the Kali Yuga then consumerism and secularism are , I assume, outward signs of that, and are likely to worsen. But perhaps Spring might come in ways unexpected.


Economic collapse due to resource limitations would ensure a sharp end to a lot of service industries.

Might happen sooner rather than later...

Image

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limits_to_Growth
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Aemilius » Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:05 pm

Your are being unduly pessimistic. This attitude may be merely the underlying tendency of Your own mind, that You then see manifested in Your imagined world catastrophe.
Others predict the future of the world differently. How would You feel if doesn't turn out like You imagine? Would You be disappointed? What do You want for the future the world? Why do You fear the population growth?

Alternative projections for growth of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_world_population
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:39 pm

Aemilius wrote:Your are being unduly pessimistic.


No, because the study was based on realistic projections of resource availability and consumption. As the graph shows, they study in the 70s managed to predict things uncomfortably well.

It is also quite realistic to assume resources are finite and we might have reached the limits to growth, which will presumably mean a plateau followed by a decline in resource availability. Our present model of industrial civilization will become unsustainable and populations will decline out of necessity. This would also likely necessitate the sharp reduction of tertiary industries which consumerism is tied to.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby greentara » Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:30 am

Aemelius, You say "Why do You fear the population growth?"
You can't be serious? It's like the Titanic, the ship is sinking and the band continues to play to quieten the fear of the passengers!
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Karma Dorje » Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:43 am

greentara wrote:Aemelius, You say "Why do You fear the population growth?"
You can't be serious? It's like the Titanic, the ship is sinking and the band continues to play to quieten the fear of the passengers!


The problem is rarely about population growth. It's about ridiculously unfair wealth distribution. There is plenty of food to go around if a small minority weren't consuming the resources needed to feed, clothe, shelter and educate the vast majority. Sooner or later, one hopes that we reach a tipping point and evolve beyond our current winner takes all mentality.
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