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 Malcolm » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:09 pm

JKhedrup wrote:
I can think of a lot of easier ways to grab at power rather than donning the robes.


Its the only way a non-aristocrat who is not a tulku can rise up in Tibetan society, apart from being merchant.

Ecclesiastical hierarchies often balanced and off-set the power of aristocratic hierarchies. but this phenomena does not exist in the West anymore.

Really, what I am pointing out here is that people need to intelligently about what the social implications of a monastic Sangha is in the west, Who is is for, how is it being paid for. While it is easy to understand why ethnic Buddhists such as Cambodians and so on have an interest in having a Vihara in their neighborhood, my experience tells me that second and third generation Asias in the USA are not really that interested in the religion of their forbears.

The point I am making is that in Tibet, for example, Monasteries served a valuable social role; they stored grain, they provided medical services, education and so on. The role they played in Tibet for example was a vital one. But what are monasteries going to do for people here? Evangelize so they can sell their services to a client population that does not really believe in the power of prayer(or if they do, they are probably already Christian).

I personally believe that people are in this headspace of thinking "What are we supposed to do for monastics", but I rarely see anyone asking the question "What real value will supporting a monastic population do for Western Buddhists (who are generally yogis)?" Yes, there is the merit argument, but frankly, this is rather weak.

The monastic sangha is facing a crisis of relevance in western countries. We are already, many of us, just as well educated as any Geshe (with different skill sets of course), and often more so.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Tsongkhapafan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:25 pm

So why did Prince Siddhartha ordain himself as a monk?

Why did he set up a monastic order?

Why did he ordain people?

If you can answer these questions you will understand why ordained Sangha are essential for the continuation of Buddha's teachings in this world. Nothing has changed.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:27 pm

Well I mean I think I touched on that several times in the thread. Monastics can make very real and valuable contributions to the Western dharma community- in translation, management, teaching, chaplaincy and meditation roles. If they are serving a community then actually they are less of a burden on that community than a layperson with similar roles- because, we don't have a wife/husband, kids, car payments and mortgages.

I do think that if monasticism survives in the West it will be a service oriented monasticism.

Its the only way a non-aristocrat who is not a tulku can rise up in Tibetan society, apart from being merchant.


I would argue though that it doesn't work for Westerners. Those who are in the institutions in Asia due to their being from "away" are only very rarely placed in positions of actual authority. If one wants influence at a dharma centre and close proximity to the lama, an easier route would probably be as a lay person with some money to donate to various projects (sorry if that sounds cynical but I have seen it time and time again).

While it is easy to understand why ethnic Buddhists such as Cambodians and so on have an interest in having a Vihara in their neighborhood, my experience tells me that second and third generation Asias in the USA are not really that interested in the religion of their forbears.


This is an area where Western monastics can serve. Not Western in the racial sense necessarily, but Western born. Several Viet Namese temples have invited Ven. Kusala from LA to teach, for example, because 2nd and 3rd generation kids might not speak Viet Namese fluently and connect better culturally with someone who grew up in America. Kusala is very involved in his community and I think is a great example of the kind of engaged monastic that will work in the West: http://www.urbandharma.org/kusalainfo/


The monastic sangha is facing a crisis of relevance in western countries. We are already, many of us, just as well educated as any Geshe (with different skill sets of course), and often more so.


Yes just as well educated, but not as well studied in Buddhism. I think if one were to look at Tibetan scholastic qualifications alone (not taking into account practice, charisma and adaptability) you need a well-trained Geshe lharampa to teach Westerners who are doing deep studies. The Lharampas have proven their worth, not just put in the time (ie 18 years of study), but they have excelled in their field. Very few Westerners have that level of immersion in Buddhism. We are still at a stage where for philosophical topics we are better off relying on Tibetan Geshes (or Western Geshes, but we produce so few).

Lama Tzongkhapa Institute in Italy has seen through experience it takes a well learned Geshe to teach the difficult topics on the Master's Program, for example. But for the slightly less intensive but still very challenging basic program, a mixture of Western scholars like Gavin Kilty and Tibetan Geshes is used. This creates a dynamic approach where students are exposed to raw Tibetan scholasticism as well as the digested approach of Westerners with a similar cultural background.

I don't think my BA, even though it is from a good university, takes me even close to the level of scholarship required of a Geshe lharampa. A PhD might.

The botton line too is that many of the Geshes are not just scholars, but true practitioners and well-cultivated. Because they started their formation earlier in life when it works out, the result is a well cultivated and inspiring teacher. Because studying Buddhism in Tibetan culture doesn't make you a Mr. Special Pants, there is often a little more humility than you get with Western scholars (though of course there are exceptions on both sides).

Western Buddhists (who are generally yogis)?"


This term yogi has always confused me. If Yogi indicates some sort of level of attainment, I would say only a few would be worthy of that title. If it just means a lay practitioner, I guess it makes sense.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:32 pm

If you can answer these questions you will understand why ordained Sangha are essential for the continuation of Buddha's teachings in this world. Nothing has changed.


Yes but they must be ordained according to the guidelines of the Buddha, especially if you are arguing for monasticism based on using him as an example.

Monks and nuns can work in dharma-related fields or study/practice full time, but I do feel taking a job is only for situations of desperation, and for short periods. If the new form of Western monasticism is people who work at an office or any other type of job but then make a costume change I don't think it is so beneficial. This is a really half half attitude, and organizations that ordain people owe them more than that. If there aren't resources for anything else then I would argue it is better to have the person be a lay full precept-holder.

Monasticism is meaningful and acts as the basis for the teachings to continue only if its spirit is unadulterated. If it becomes just celibacy and robes, but without proper training, guidance and protection for those who keep the vows, it cannot act as a basis for anything.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Astus » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:35 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Well it depends. I mean, if one trains as a translator, of teachings or texts, can contribute to the running of the centre, becomes a qualified teacher, or serves the lay community, there can be very great benefit.

1)If there is any hope whatsoever or I should just throw in the towel, following this as my individual path and accepting that it just isn't going to happen in the West.

2)People are meeting a lot of Western monks and nuns who are not qualified or behave badly, but if the standards improved they might be interested in assisting sincere practitioners who have an affinity for the path of ordination.


Religion is not a matter of financial resources. Even poor communities can afford to build magnificent religious monuments and temples, plus support a strong clergy. (And then things turn and they blame the clergy for being greedy and oppressive.) What makes a religion stay alive and thriving is how well various people (classes) accept its message.

As long as Buddhism is either a hobby for relaxation, an inner quest or an intellectual curiosity - i.e. only the liberal-spiritual middle class follows it - it is a somewhat weak trend. And there is a competition for the same areas by other systems (New Age, psychology, other Eastern religions, Christianity). As I see it, Buddhism is gaining strength, many translations are published, a large number of universities have Buddhist Studies among its courses, new monasteries are established, and more and more Westerners become teachers and renunciates. It is only a matter of time to achieve bases among the larger population (or fail and disappear).

I don't see how improving behavioural standards among monastics have any relevance. In every religion there are various problems among its clergy, and Buddhism is not an exception. It is normal to struggle for perfection but that is something never reached. What is to be recognised is that the acceptance and popularity of any system or organisation depends on the social situation. As long as a tradition can change (without losing its identity) it can stay alive, but I have yet to see any example where such a change was a fully conscious event.

I believe that monasticism is important because it provides the ideal environment to train people in the Dharma. Although lay people may be able to reach a similar level of knowledge and experience, only those within the proper social situation can do that. A monastic life is open to both poor and rich. At the same time, the monastic tradition exists because there are people who want to live like that, and there are others who see them as holy individuals. That monastics are fields of merit is not a reason to establish an institution like that but an explanation for why it exists.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:42 pm

JKhedrup wrote:We are still at a stage where for philosophical topics we are better off relying on Tibetan Geshes (or Western Geshes, but we produce so few).


This might be true if you are only interested in a very narrow scope of Gelugpa studies.

I don't think my BA, even though it is from a good university, takes me even close to the level of scholarship required of a Geshe lharampa. A PhD might.


The difference between our system of education and the Tibetan system is that we are trained to self-educate. Tibetans were not. Curiosity is largely discouraged.

Degrees are not a measure of education. Literacy is. The education gap between the average Tibetan and a Geshe, or a Khenpo is huge. The education gap between a Geshe/Khenpo and your average college educated westerner is not so large.

Also, the useful aspect of Buddhism, what is actually needed for liberation is not found in the reams of polemical yig cha that Geshes and Khenpos specialize in. For most people, studying the niceties of the differences in opinion between scholars of dead Indian Buddhist traditions is just not that important. It is a great thing to do, but most people in the West are really not that interested in it.


This term yogi has always confused me. If Yogi indicates some sort of level of attainment, I would say only a few would be worthy of that title. If it just means a lay practitioner, I guess it makes sense.


A yogi is someone who practices yoga i.e. tries to discover their real state through various means. Most Westerners actively engaged in Buddhism and Buddhist studies are yogis i.e. they practice Zen, Vipassana, Creation Stage yogas, Completion Stage yogas, etc.
Last edited by Malcolm on Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:45 pm

Malcolm wrote:The monastic sangha is facing a crisis of relevance in western countries. We are already, many of us, just as well educated as any Geshe (with different skill sets of course), and often more so.


This is quite true.

I feel that rather than having monasteries with dozens of monks/nuns present, decentralized and largely autonomous clergy might serve more flexible and adaptable roles. That means they live largely on their own and do their own thing, like teaching meditation, academic work, counseling and so on. Of course that begs the question where do they obtain funding from if they can't work. That's a community specific matter, I suppose, though it might be the case that unless you have the means to support yourself some way or another, then being ordained isn't feasible, as it largely is nowadays.

Actually, I've discussed this with others, but I think Buddhist monks/nuns in the west will have to learn from past examples and see to their own income. If it means producing cheese or honey on a communal farm arrangement, then so be it.

There's also the option of operating a hostel. Meaning you provide rooms and meals to travelers and/or students. Being an innkeeper isn't so bad. That's a function temples fulfilled in China and Japan for many centuries actually.

I don't anticipate we will have large monastic colleges anytime soon.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:59 pm

Indrajala wrote:
Actually, I've discussed this with others, but I think Buddhist monks/nuns in the west will have to learn from past examples and see to their own income. If it means producing cheese or honey on a communal farm arrangement, then so be it.


Ok, so you have a group of people, who decide to wear special colored clothing, and adhere to a moral code and make stuff together. Not the Sangha I imagine Shakyamuni had in mind. But it is ok AFAIC. Chinese travelers reported (with some attitude) of the existence of married Mahāyāna "monks" who farmed for a living in India.

The point I was making above is that temples were positive contributors to the Tibetan economy. That is why the temple system functioned in Tibet (leave aside of course that Lang Darma was assassinated for deciding to tax Tibetan monasteries during the Asian economic crisis of the 840's -- that was a powerful message to Tibetan aristocrats by the newly powerful monastic establishment).
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:06 pm

Malcolm wrote:The difference between our system of education and the Tibetan system is that we are trained to self-educate. Tibetans were not. Curiosity is largely discouraged.


Our education is also less homogenized. How often will a Tibetan Geshe or Khenpo venture out and seriously study something like Hellenic philosophy, Daoism or western history? Even within the field of Buddhist Studies, I've seen Tibetans study Sanskrit, but never Pali, Classical Chinese or Japanese. It is also largely western or Japanese scholars who study obscure stuff like Tangut, Manchurian, Gandhari and Khotanese.

A lot of top western academics can read Tibetan, Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese and sometimes have also studied Gandhari, Mongolian and several European languages on top of that, plus possess a background steeped in western science, history, philosophy, and political science. I've never heard of a Tibetan having such a comprehensive education and background.

One might ask how all that extra knowledge contributes to Buddhism, but then if you have to ask that question, you're already missing the point.

In much of Asia, as well, monk scholars often don't understand the difference between exegesis and analysis (basically, secular scholarship). This is why the western academic world doesn't take Buddhist colleges so seriously. I've actually never met a monk in Asia who displayed much knowledge of greater Eurasian history. They would probably consider Persian and Western history to all be irrelevant to the study of Buddhism.

I personally feel western scholarship has a lot of superior merits. There's also the fact we're rapidly acquiring whole Buddhist canons from multiple languages and time periods into English.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:23 pm

Our education is also less homogenized. How often will a Tibetan Geshe or Khenpo venture out and seriously study something like Hellenic philosophy, Daoism or western history?


Maybe not those particular fields but there are several initiatives to introduce a broader curriculum into the important monastic institutions:
http://www.scienceformonks.org/
http://shambhalasun.com/news/?p=48400
http://www.serajey.org/news/373-interna ... -buddhism-


We are pleased to announce “Tibetan Buddhist Leaders Science Network” a 3-year project made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton Foundation. The project will involve 75 monastic graduates - geshes and equivalent degree holders (25 per year). Each year, the program will consist of a 4-week intensive introductory science course and conclude with a 3-day public program that positions the monastic participants into dialogue and critical conversations with Indian and Western scientist. The monastic graduates will also team-up with more junior monastic science leaders that are leading science education initiatives, and help shape the future of science learning at their respective monasteries and nunneries.



For those who understand Tibetan:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJ8mDinG8JE
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:49 pm

A Hindu tradition temple that has found a balance between lay and monastic, so that the two communities nourish eachother:

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

Postby Matt J » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:09 pm

The biggest threat to Buddhism, in my mind, is not the presence or absence of a monastic sangha, but a culture of entertainment and generalized spiritual apathy. Buddhism can't compete with ipods, iphones, the internet, TV, movies, and a million other options for the addled mind. In my own experience, I am almost always the youngest person in the sangha room and I'm not too far from 40. Most of the monks I have met are older--- the younger ones are almost always from non-Western Asian countries.

What I think is valuable about monks is that their main job is to offer the dharma. I can't put on a three month retreat, for example. I can't do a lot of things because I need to live in the world. According to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour theorem, it takes 10,000 hours to really become an expert. Monks can become experts far more quickly than lay people, and offer personal help and insight.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby plwk » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:13 pm

Well, JKhedrup, if it's of any 'comfort' to you, after all the yadayada of 4 pages, the polls still show Option 1 as in the lead... there's still hope :mrgreen:
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:19 pm

I have to admit PLWK I am surprised, and it is a comfort.

If the lay community doesn't want monastics around there will be no Sangha- there cannot be a monastic Sangha without the support and trust of laypeople. From my side I do really see that we can make a valuable contribution to Buddhism, but I also wouldn't insist on expanding a form that caused aversion in people. I guess we will have to let this play out over the next few years.

For me on the personal level, though, being a monk has been a tremendous gift and I wish I could better communicate some of the joy it gives me.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:28 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Maybe not those particular fields but there are several initiatives to introduce a broader curriculum into the important monastic institutions:


Right, but that's all coming from the top down. Monks and nuns will study these subjects because they're told to.

This is different from original and innovative research, and broad studies of the humanities and languages that you find with Buddhology experts in the west.

There's not much stopping monks of any stripe from diverse studies, especially with the internet available to them. They just don't do it for various reasons.

I mean, also, the Tibetan monks might have a better ability to deal with their situation by understanding geopolitics and political science. This would be far more helpful than protests and would enable them to dialogue with key figures on the required level.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Jikan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:34 pm

kirtu wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
JKhedrup wrote:Thanks- so it would seem that Secularism could be said to be the dominant force in Scandinavia?
This is interesting.



Its the dominant force in America too, in the Blue States at any rate.


Don't fool yourself - secularism is the dominant force in the US as well including the so-called Red States. People have adopted Ayn Randism wholesale and this is anti-religious from any perspective. People may mouth Christianity but by and large they are Rand acolytes.

Kirt


which is to say that it's not any kind of doctrine that is the dominant force in any of these situations. We're talking about capital and capitalist social relations.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:35 pm

Malcolm wrote:The point I was making above is that temples were positive contributors to the Tibetan economy. That is why the temple system functioned in Tibet (leave aside of course that Lang Darma was assassinated for deciding to tax Tibetan monasteries during the Asian economic crisis of the 840's -- that was a powerful message to Tibetan aristocrats by the newly powerful monastic establishment).


In China the temples often functioned as hostels for travelers. In Japan likewise they had similar functions, but also offered education to common people.

You're right that Buddhist temples will ensure their survival by becoming relevant to the economy or society. That's why I think having temple lodges in the west might work to some degree.

In Kathmandu a lot of Buddhist organizations run guesthouses to generate revenue.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby KonchokZoepa » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:39 pm

i skipped the last few pages of conversation cause i didnt want to read it..

anyway, i think that we should establish as many monasteries that we can in the west based on the statement that i heard somewhere that the buddhadharma will cease to exist when there is no more monastic community. for the preservation of BuddhaDharma it would be beneficial to have a good amount of monks and monasteries, and try to effect people positively. i think it would be good to have as many monasteries in the west that there were in tibet before the destruction. anyway, as to how to accomplish this is only possible through lay buddhist who are extremely rich and willing to build a worldwide monastic community to this world. all though i dont know if even that would change the course of this world.

but i think monks are good for the westerners. for me they inspire me to practice more and put more time into the Dharma. so theyre very presence is beneficial.

and even though malcolm you said that the merit making concept is not applicable to the west. i disagree since if you sponsor a monk who is keeping his vow's purely and doing a lot of practice, you gain part of his merits.
If the thought of demons
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You need not fear the demon hosts around you.
It is most important to tame your mind within....

In so far as the Ultimate, or the true nature of being is concerned,
there are neither buddhas or demons.
He who frees himself from fear and hope, evil and virtue,
will realize the insubstantial and groundless nature of confusion.
Samsara will then appear as the mahamudra itself….

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

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:44 pm

KonchokZoepa wrote:anyway, i think that we should establish as many monasteries that we can in the west...


And where will we get the money to do this?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby KonchokZoepa » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:56 pm

like i said, people who are extremely rich. :D im sorry if im not very mature on this topic but i just came up with my visions and thoughts of what i would see beneficial.

we need more people like richard gere
If the thought of demons
Never rises in your mind,
You need not fear the demon hosts around you.
It is most important to tame your mind within....

In so far as the Ultimate, or the true nature of being is concerned,
there are neither buddhas or demons.
He who frees himself from fear and hope, evil and virtue,
will realize the insubstantial and groundless nature of confusion.
Samsara will then appear as the mahamudra itself….

-Milarepa

OMMANIPADMEHUNG

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls6P9tOYmdo
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