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
62%
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
7
7%
I don't think they are necessary, because the dharma can be transmitted without monastics
14
15%
I just don't think that Westerners are interested in supporting monasticism financially
12
13%
 
Total votes : 94

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

Postby kirtu » Mon Sep 16, 2013 10:26 pm

JKhedrup wrote:And in terms of northern Europe here in the Netherlands for example, as well as in parts of Germany and Switzerland there are significant pockets of Catholicism. Exclusively Protestant countries are rather rare, actually- perhaps Scandinavia etc.


However Catholic monks in Holland and German speaking countries have a tradition of self-support and community assistance. They brewed beer to save the population from cholera for example. There hasn't been that much support by the local population for Catholic monks since a relatively short time after Luther. It's true that the population is in effect taxes to support the Lutheran or Catholic church but this is largely not truly voluntary support and there has been pushback in recent decades on this.

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

Postby anjali » Mon Sep 16, 2013 10:55 pm

Malcolm wrote:
anjali wrote: I think when most people think of the Buddhist tradition they are thinking of the Buddhism with Shakyamuni Buddha as the founder.


Buddhadharma has no founder. It has no historical origin. That is what you discover when you read Buddhist sūtras carefully, even the so called "early" ones.


"Founder" is colloquial usage. Shakyamuni Buddha turned the dharma wheel once again after the buddha-dharma was forgotten in this world. Some people wish to follow his life model as a monastic. And people have done so throughout the centuries. If Shakyamuni Buddha hadn't lived a monastic lifestyle and founded a monastic order, I doubt any of us would be discussing the prospects of Buddhist monasticism in the West.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby rory » Tue Sep 17, 2013 12:39 am

As a Nichiren Buddhist I fully support lay buddhism, frankly I find it more impressive when people who are married, have jobs, kids, all the distractions etc practice, study and are devoted to the Dharma. My own sensei is a married Japanese priest who is an airline pilot, he teaches because he wants to not because it's an inherited job. I've made donations so he can print and give out sutra books to help people practice. He's done so in Cambodia and India. Great.

I find it positively weird when people want to insist on forms that are 'traditional' when Buddhism is all about change. Usually the past tradition is highly sexist and hierarchical. So I voted monastics aren't necessary for the Dharma.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Sep 17, 2013 12:40 am

In Theravada, the Ajahn Chah Thai forest tradition has had pretty good success opening up several predominantly Western monasteries in Australia, Europe, and the U.S.

As far as Western monastics vs. Asian monastics; it is like anything, there are good and bad in both ethnic backgrounds. I have met some really good monks and nuns from Western backgrounds and from Asian backgrounds. And I have met some really bad monks from Western backgrounds and Asian backgrounds.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby tidathep » Tue Sep 17, 2013 1:02 am

David N. Snyder wrote:In Theravada, the Ajahn Chah Thai forest tradition has had pretty good success opening up several predominantly Western monasteries in Australia, Europe, and the U.S.

As far as Western monastics vs. Asian monastics; it is like anything, there are good and bad in both ethnic backgrounds. I have met some really good monks and nuns from Western backgrounds and from Asian backgrounds. And I have met some really bad monks from Western backgrounds and Asian backgrounds.


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

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:03 am

anjali wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
anjali wrote: I think when most people think of the Buddhist tradition they are thinking of the Buddhism with Shakyamuni Buddha as the founder.


Buddhadharma has no founder. It has no historical origin. That is what you discover when you read Buddhist sūtras carefully, even the so called "early" ones.


"Founder" is colloquial usage. Shakyamuni Buddha turned the dharma wheel once again after the buddha-dharma was forgotten in this world. Some people wish to follow his life model as a monastic. And people have done so throughout the centuries. If Shakyamuni Buddha hadn't lived a monastic lifestyle and founded a monastic order, I doubt any of us would be discussing the prospects of Buddhist monasticism in the West.


It all depends on who you think really turns the wheel of dharma, i.e., nirmanakāya emanations or the sambhoghakāya.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby anjali » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:55 am

Malcolm wrote:
anjali wrote:"Founder" is colloquial usage. Shakyamuni Buddha turned the dharma wheel once again after the buddha-dharma was forgotten in this world. Some people wish to follow his life model as a monastic. And people have done so throughout the centuries. If Shakyamuni Buddha hadn't lived a monastic lifestyle and founded a monastic order, I doubt any of us would be discussing the prospects of Buddhist monasticism in the West.


It all depends on who you think really turns the wheel of dharma, i.e., nirmanakāya emanations or the sambhoghakāya.


Does it have to be either/or? Surely you would acknowledge the fundamental role of Shakyamuni Buddha in reestablishing the buddha-dharma in this world? I think most Buddhists would acknowledge Shakyamuni Buddha as the historical root teacher. And as such, the Buddhist monastic tradition originated with him. There will always be people who have a predisposition to turning their backs on the householder's life to become "left homes." The Buddha recognized that, and, out of compassion, he formed a monastic tradition to offer a supportive community for dedicated practitioners. Some people, including Westerners, find that tradition relevant today. In my opinion, it would be a beneficial to offer that tradition to Westerners in a Western setting.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:20 am

Qing Tian wrote: The time of cloistered monastic orders is ending, slowly but surely.


Interestingly, in Malaysia the Buddhists find it difficult to build proper temples, so they often convert houses into temples with a monk or two living in it. It is small-scale, decentralized and functional. It seems to work.

In fact I rather prefer that model because it lends itself to adaptability and freedom. Decentralized organization also means less resources are spend on institutional management (i.e., politics).

Having large monasteries isn't the only way for monks to live. I personally find monasteries to be gilded cages in many respects. You get food, shelter and clothing, but you need to surrender your freedom to the sangha authorities and follow all manner of petty rules, though this isn't the case everywhere. It isn't a community of free men and women.

Even if western countries had sizable Buddhist monasteries that were well-funded, I wonder what the turnover of residents would look like. Unlike elsewhere, as a monk you can leave and go back to ordinary life fairly easily (you'll probably have had work experience and an education before ordaining), whereas in India or even Taiwan, disrobing entails problems both economically and socially.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:28 am

anjali wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
anjali wrote:"Founder" is colloquial usage. Shakyamuni Buddha turned the dharma wheel once again after the buddha-dharma was forgotten in this world. Some people wish to follow his life model as a monastic. And people have done so throughout the centuries. If Shakyamuni Buddha hadn't lived a monastic lifestyle and founded a monastic order, I doubt any of us would be discussing the prospects of Buddhist monasticism in the West.


It all depends on who you think really turns the wheel of dharma, i.e., nirmanakāya emanations or the sambhoghakāya.


Does it have to be either/or? Surely you would acknowledge the fundamental role of Shakyamuni Buddha in reestablishing the buddha-dharma in this world? I think most Buddhists would acknowledge Shakyamuni Buddha as the historical root teacher.


Shakyamuni is a historical teacher, and for my tradition, one of thirteen quasi-historical nirmanakāya teachers of great importance. But while important, he is not the most important teacher in my tradition.

That distinction belongs to a character known as "Garab Dorje" who hailed from Oḍḍiyāna. He was not a monk, had no Sangha, and a very small number of successors. He may in fact be entirely a Tibetan fiction, but no matter. For me he is more important than Shakyamuni Buddha.

Even so, even more important than he is the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra, of which he is but an emanation.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Lindama » Tue Sep 17, 2013 6:35 am

It is irrelevant what I think.

I know one of each. They are following a calling.

Their function and purpose is none of my business, and can't be known.

Personally, I feel that monastics hold a sacred space in the world for all of us. It has nothing to do with sustainability of dharma or any other thing.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby rory » Tue Sep 17, 2013 7:12 am

In Japan there was an interesting development of lay monastics, men and women who would shave their hair, take vows and live at home. I think that's great. I also think if you want to be a monastic in a monastic setting that's fine too, but don't count on Western buddhists to support you. As Ven. Indrajala pointed out recent scholarship shows that quite early Buddhist monks and nuns had property and money, jewels, willed it etc. (see Gregory Schopen et al.) So I'd say for monastics to be viable in the US in a monastery they'd have to work, whether it's making gourmet cuisine (like the Soto nuns) or teaching retreats for laypeople or something else. How does Shasta Abbey keep going? These are the kinds of models that would work .
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Sep 17, 2013 8:18 am

One of the stereotypes that I think we have to deal with is that monks and nuns "don't work". The situation with which I am most familiar in terms of Western monasticism, FPMT, is that with the exception of a handful of monks and nuns studying full time in India, most are engaged in some type of "work". But as for this Protestant idea that studying the teachings and cultivating is not work, scrubbing the floor is work, I would like to see how many Westerners could last in an intensive scholastic environment like those of the large Tibetan Gelug monasteries as well as Nyingmas Shedras like Namdroling. I don't think many would have the mental fortitude and effort to make it very far (ignoring obvious obstacles like visas and people telling one to "get a job") http://mandala.fpmt.org/archives/mandal ... rik-chung/.

Most of us FPMT Sangha types are involved in work. Many of my friends have administrative positions in the dharma centres, and live on a portion of the expenses that a layperson would require. Some of us are translators, others (those who have finished the 6-7 year Master's Program) fill vital roles as teachers. Some of us work in publishing, translating transcripts and other jobs. Many live on retirement or investment income, and still others hold outside jobs in order to make ends meet (not encouraged, but accepted out of necessity- lamas generally advise people to work in Care and other fields related to benefitting others).

Rather than making assumptions, I wish that people would ask us what we do. It reminds me of a funny story when I had to translate outside at a centre where I had not worked before. As I entered the room two women gave me a bit of cut eye. I heard one of them whisper to the other "great, I bet you he isn't going to pay... just watch". Normally I would not say anything, I bite my tongue frequently in such situations. In this case, I turned around and (in as cheerful a voice as I could muster) said "If it is a burden to have me here I can of course leave, as I don't have enough money to pay for the course- but you might be hard pressed to find another translator in time".
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Sep 17, 2013 8:37 am

As a Nichiren Buddhist I fully support lay buddhism, frankly I find it more impressive when people who are married, have jobs, kids, all the distractions etc practice, study and are devoted to the Dharma. My own sensei is a married Japanese priest who is an airline pilot, he teaches because he wants to not because it's an inherited job. I've made donations so he can print and give out sutra books to help people practice. He's done so in Cambodia and India. Great.


Fantastic, and probably very suited to the American lifestyle-but why does this have to be the only way?. But I find it hard to believe that people that it is not at all useful to have people in situations where they can work single pointedly for Buddhism and apply themselves in focused cultivation. Realization takes work and to have some people engaged in that full time (whether monastic or lay), is a very worthwhile pursuit in a society where a person's value is determined by the paycheque they bring in. http://www.wisebread.com/how-to-find-ha ... -watterson

I actually don't think the Japanese model is a good one to follow or aspire to- Japan, more than any other traditionally Buddhist country, has seen the decline of Buddhist practice and influence, with priests making cocktails, for example:
http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php ... jgEtb1Tj4g

Bozu's owner, Yoshinobu Fujioka, a Buddhist priest who can also mix a decent cocktail for those in search of a quicker path to nirvana, says that Japan's mainstream sects must shed their conservative image to broaden their appeal. "There was a time when people would go to their local temple for advice on all sorts of problems, not just spiritual matters," said Fujioka, 31, who belongs to the Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land) sect. "This bar is just the same, a place where people can come and talk freely about their problems."


Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshinobu Fujioka enjoys bringing his congregation together, one cocktail at a time.

Fujioka owns the 23-seat “Vowz Bar” in central Tokyo, where Buddhist chants replace karaoke songs and the shaven-headed bartenders serve up sermons and homilies along with the drinks.



Vowz Bar has been going strong for 13 years and the cocktail list includes the vodka and cognac-based “Perfect Bliss” as well as “Infinite Hell” – a vodka, raspberry liqueur and cranberry juice concoction with a splash of tonic water.

The special is called “Enslavery to Love and Lust” and costs around 800 yen (5.59 pounds).

“Every day, my heart gets tainted by dirt in the secular world, so I come here to repurify it over some drinks and fun,” said regular patron Noriko Urai, a 42-year-old businesswoman.
- See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbu ... dV4YH.dpuf
Is this really something people think is desireable?

Also, we can see from the example of Japan that Lay Buddhism does not mean less poltical Buddhism. On this board the Tibetan monastic establishment has been broadly criticized (in many cases rightly), for political intrigue. But the largest Nichiren denomination in Japan, Soka Gakkai, has a political party with some scandals called Komeito (now New Komeito) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Komeito_Party so I would argue that lay Buddhism does nothing to get rid of cronyism or corruption. The only thing that can do that on the ultimate level is getting rid of the afflictions, on the conventional level having legislation to separate religion and politics.

If Buddhism in Japan was working I would be very willing to look at those models. But a cursory observation reveals it simply isn't, and while the Dharma is declining in most if not all the traditionally Buddhist countries in Asia, the decline in Japan is particularly rapid and pronounced.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Sep 17, 2013 8:50 am

In Theravada, the Ajahn Chah Thai forest tradition has had pretty good success opening up several predominantly Western monasteries in Australia, Europe, and the U.S.


The one light at the end of the tunnel. But is it the case that the Ajahn Chah monasteries are still mostly supported from Thailand?

With the who bhikkhuni debacle my fear is that what will happen is Westerners will lose interest, in an institution that does not seem to be supporting women. If they depend on Thai donors for their livelihhod, this issue cannot be resolved. But at the same time, if Westerners lose interest, why bother having temples in the West?

Ajahns Brahm and Sujato, though, seem to have established successful Western monastic communities with Western lay support so I am very interested in their stories.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby jeeprs » Tue Sep 17, 2013 9:27 am

I think there was a major issue with Ajahn Brahm being sanctioned for giving an unauthorised ordination ceremony to Bikkunis in Australia. This happened a few years back. I'm not sure of all the detail.

I had always assumed that the monastic vocation was central to Buddhism but I have always felt it would be a difficult life unless you had the right attributes for it.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 17, 2013 9:50 am

jeeprs wrote:I had always assumed that the monastic vocation was central to Buddhism but I have always felt it would be a difficult life unless you had the right attributes for it.


Statistically most western monks and nuns don't last more than a few years.

I'm well aware the odds are against me.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby jeeprs » Tue Sep 17, 2013 10:03 am

I admire your fortitude! (And your scholarship.)

I haven't known many 'western monastics'. There is a Tibetan nun of Australian heritage, Ven. Robina Courtin, whom I have seen interviewed a few times and who seems (in the Australian vernacular) totally fair dinkum. The monks at Sunnataram Forest Monastery where I did my last short retreat were cool, but then they weren't of Western origin. (Actually one of them had returned after having spent time in a Zen monastery, which was said to be 'too tough, they hit you with sticks'.)

I reckon I would last a week. I have grown up with far too many attachments and luxuries, unfortunately. :(
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 17, 2013 12:08 pm

As a monk you don't have to live in a monastery.

Not living in such arrangements is probably a recipe for long-term success.

As a grown adult I won't tolerate people telling me how to make my bed or hitting me with a stick.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 17, 2013 1:18 pm

jeeprs wrote:
I had always assumed that the monastic vocation...


Is actually very political. When you are not in it for sex, power becomes a primary pursuit.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Sep 17, 2013 1:31 pm

True in very few cases maybe but quite cynical.

Especially in TB you are pretty near the botton of the totem pole as a Western monastic in some cases.

Also, wearing the robes in general society is sometimes no problem but at others makes one an object of ridicule (Geshe la and I were ching-chonged near Amsterdam Centraal Station last week). Sometimes misunderstanding (I get Hare Krishna a lot, which doesn't bother me at all), but very rarely power.

I can think of a lot of easier ways to grab at power rather than donning the robes. Most of the directors of Dharma Centres and organizations in the West are laypeople. It is only in traditional Asian countries that rising up the monastic ladder can lead to power in any sort of real sense.
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