Malcolm wrote:As for the first, [though you simply wont agree even when presented with a vast amount of evidence] in this day and age, the Sangha of Bhikṣus has basically come to the point where it is basically badge wearing and politics, and is completely irrelevant in the world we live in, outside of offering pastoral service to ethnic Buddhists (in ever declining numbers).
Yes and no. I agree that the bhikṣu lifestyle based on strict adherence to the Vinaya is archaic and obsolete in a lot of countries, but then it was designed and implemented during the shift towards landed monasticism where a primary concern was maintaining an image of purity in front of benefactors. This is contrast to the early sangha which was less organized and largely made up of wandering mendicants. Vinaya literature is from a relatively later period of time in Buddhism's development as Bronkhorst has demonstrated. It tends to reflect highbrow Indian notions of purity, like the severe prohibition on garlic. The Sarvāstivādavinaya Saṃgraha
If treating [an illness] with garlic, neither the sangha bedding nor lavatory should be used. One does not enter in among the sangha. One does not prostrate to the Buddha or circumambulate caityas. If a laymember comes, one does not teach the Dharma. Even if requested one should not go. One should reside in a room on the periphery [of the monastery]. When the treatment of medicine is completed, one remains settled for a further seven days to wait for the odor to disperse. Washing the body and clothes making them pure, the place one stayed in is to be purified by smearing it with cow dung.”
This is complete nonsense of course. If you read the main Vinaya texts as well you see baffling rules, adjudication cases and sneaky ways of getting around the rules. The Dharmagupta Vinaya's report of a monk raping a female monkey is clearly fiction, as is a lot of the literature. Some of it was a cultural memory of events that happened in the Buddha's day (like the democratic karma proceedings).
However, reforms, which are generally not appreciated by a lot of more traditional bhikṣus themselves, have been made. Any attempt at updating or revising the Vinaya is often met with firm opposition, especially by bhikṣu institutions which stand to lose their authority if people bypass them and go straight into renunciation without their consent and formal ordination procedures (self-ordained monks were a problem in China and Japan). Early on you see power struggles which suggest worldly politics -- like the stated belief a lay arhat dies within a day if they don't join the sangha. That gave the formal sangha a monopoly on living arhats.
Still, the Japanese organically developed monastic systems suitable to their environment and social circumstances, which is why they dropped the Indian Vinaya in favour of their own models. Saichō didn't entirely drop the Vinaya, but he clearly saw it as unnecessary and prescribed a formal Dharmagupta ordination only as a bureaucratic necessity. Otherwise, following the Brahma Net Sūtra
includes the basic śramaṇa lifestyle: celibacy, non-violence, moral living (no theft, killing, stealing, etc.) and mental training. You don't need to water down your orange juice in the afternoon to make it kosher or smear your room with cow dung after having consumed garlic. You just need to be a good person and remain celibate and single. That's the essence of the four main bhikṣu precepts, and the Buddha himself gave consent for his disciples to drop away the "minor rules".
In recent years Thich Nhat Hanh has developed his own system of precepts suitable to the modern day:http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/order_of_interbeing.php
So, adhering to archaic Indian models of discipline and purity is irrelevant to the modern day, yes. I agree. However, the śramaṇa lifestyle is still useful. If you live in a temple, celibacy makes sense because having a family is not convenient. If you're practising dhyāna, then celibacy makes even more sense because you are attempting to transcend the desire realm initially. Not having to deal with relationships and accidental pregnancies is wise if you would like to devote your life to contemplation and practice. An ordinary joe in his house could do this, sure, but as a monk you don't need to worry so much about paying the rent.
So the śramaṇa lifestyle is still quite applicable and useful. I say śramaṇa here and not bhikṣu because the latter entails living as a beggar, which outside of Theravada countries is seldom to be seen, even amongst Chinese monks who preach the Vinaya as key yet overlook a lot of the key points (medicine meal is an example). A śramaṇa is still a renunciate, just with the flexibility to adapt to circumstances. So, when you say...
...the Sangha of Bhikṣus has basically come to the point where it is basically badge wearing and politics, and is completely irrelevant in the world we live in, outside of offering pastoral service to ethnic Buddhists (in ever declining numbers)
I'm inclined to agree and suggest changes should be made to make it relevant. However, as we know, Vinaya fundamentalists are adamantly opposed to making changes and updating things. Some of Thich Nhat Hanh's nuns lament that they're not actually recognized as legitimate nuns by other organizations.
And of course there are numerous tantras that declare the path of renunciation of desire objects is no longer effective.
It is still effective for me and many of my renunciate friends.