Why academics value Buddhism?

Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby plwk » Sun Oct 28, 2012 7:30 am

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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby PorkChop » Thu Nov 01, 2012 1:35 am

These videos you're posting are great.
Keep it up please! :)

In another thread about why it seems Tibetan Buddhism's taking off; I mentioned that my experiences in the past in dealing with Chinese culture was a certain amount of protectiveness and disregard for outsiders.
After seeing a few of this guy's videos and some talks by Heng Sure; I think there are some huge opportunities for growth of Chinese Buddhism in the West.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby JKhedrup » Fri Nov 02, 2012 6:03 pm

Ven.Heng Sure is one of the few Western monastics in the Chinese tradition who has really "made it" in terms of presence and reaching out to the broader community. CTTB also has Ven. Heng Ch'ih- she is a little bit lower profile but has an official teaching position as a professor at an Austalian university as well as the job of supervising CTTB's branch temple there. Unfortunately, not many Westerners seem to be drawn to the monastic training at CTTB. This is quite unfortunate as in my mind for those wishing to ordain in the Mahayana tradition you couldn't do better in the West. Plus, no worries about visas for Americans. The lifestyle is austere and they are extremely conservative on social issues, though.

Ven. Hui Feng, who posts sometimes, is an academic and monastic from New Zealand who teaches at Fo Guang Shan's university in Taiwan does some great translation work. It's too bad he isn't in the West. Huseng, the moderator here, also does high quality translations from the Chinese.

DDM has one Western monk who leads retreats in the late Master Sheng Yen's lineage at their retreat centre in New York state.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 4:05 am

JKhedrup wrote:Unfortunately, not many Westerners seem to be drawn to the monastic training at CTTB.


I think the lack of interest in orthodox monasticism on the part of most westerners is that such Buddhists normally are liberal and easygoing, so unwavering obedience to authority and a vast array of written and unwritten rules will just be a grinding experience. They might like the idea of robes, but they want the freedom to spend most of their time as they please, not being kept busy for the sake of being kept busy.

Chinese monastic training is like bootcamp. Here in Taiwan there is a high dropout rate in the seminaries, especially among the males it seems, which makes for even fewer monks than nuns. This might seem justified in the eyes of the authorities because the dropouts just weren't suited to life as a monk. Easing things up and providing autonomy to free thinking adults (novices are not children anymore) might go a long ways in retaining people.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Nov 03, 2012 6:15 pm

I agree. I remember one Chinese monastic (not at CTTB) describing the mentality like this:

"We smash the old "self" to a thousand pieces and then build a monk who serves the dharma out of it. Obedience is the path to cultivation so a monastic is simple minded
and follows orders."

In a way I can see the point, though as you say such an extreme mentality will likely never be popular with foreigners.

I am interested about the monastic training at Fa Gu Shan (Dharma Drum Mountain). I have met one American monk who leads retreats in New York state. Are there any other Westerners? And does the organization give a little bit of room for cultural differences?

I am always looking for places to recommend to Westerners looking for a classical Mahayana monastic training program.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 6:41 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I agree. I remember one Chinese monastic (not at CTTB) describing the mentality like this:

"We smash the old "self" to a thousand pieces and then build a monk who serves the dharma out of it. Obedience is the path to cultivation so a monastic is simple minded
and follows orders."

In a way I can see the point, though as you say such an extreme mentality will likely never be popular with foreigners.


It might have worked in previous times, but nowadays when people renounce as adults and already have an education, they'll probably not be so receptive to such treatment ... east or west. This helps to explain why there are so few monks in Chinese Buddhism nowadays.

The prescriptions for novice behaviour and observances as recorded in some literature generally assumes an adolescent male. Discipline at that age is good, but similar treatment directed at adult men is not going to work in most cases.

I am interested about the monastic training at Fa Gu Shan (Dharma Drum Mountain). I have met one American monk who leads retreats in New York state. Are there any other Westerners? And does the organization give a little bit of room for cultural differences?


I think DDM has two American monks now. There are accommodations made. For instance, nobody expects a white guy to memorize the whole liturgy in Chinese, which is otherwise expected of all the Chinese ordinands, though you still have to attend the liturgy services and as a monk you're not allowed to bring the book with you.

In general though the seminary is set up for Chinese, either Taiwanese or from elsewhere like Malaysia or Hong Kong, and it demands you master Mandarin and behave like everyone else. In Chinese Buddhist seminaries you are well taken care of materially (you'll never have to worry about visas, money or food), though in exchange for that you surrender all personal autonomy and the sangha authorities get to decide your future for you. Some people actually find this liberating because they don't need to worry about making decisions anymore and feel content serving a greater cause, though I suspect many others cannot tolerate such a loss of personal liberty and hence the dropout rate.

I was asked once about how to go about making an international track ordination program and my conclusion was to run it in America, in English and don't force anyone to learn Chinese.

Personally I don't see Taiwanese Buddhist monasticism as viable in any western country as it stands.


I am always looking for places to recommend to Westerners looking for a classical Mahayana monastic training program.


Most Taiwanese Buddhist organizations will readily accept western applicants to their seminaries, though very few ever apply. The language barrier is the first hurdle, but the expectations and loss of personal autonomy are probably going to deter the few who would take an interest. I've heard this from other people, too, who might have an interest but see what it entails and then say, "No way!"
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Nov 03, 2012 6:52 pm

Ah it is a far cry from the old days of "cloud and water" when monks could wander from monastery to monastery, checking into a Vinaya academy to learn conduct and then spending a year on doctrines at a Tian Tai place, followed up by a Chan retreat. Indeed it seems that in the past a Chinese monk had less affiliation/identification with his monastery than those in the Tibetan tradition.
These days it seems to be the opposite, with the Chinese Buddhist organizations demanding a level of institutional loyalty unprecedented in Chinese Buddhism, and for life. In many monasteries I have heard when you qiu jia (leave home/tonsure) you must promise to stay in that same institution and obey orders until death. There is no such promise made during ordination in the Tibetan or Theravada ordinations.
I would love to never worry about money/visas. But it is not worth offering my autonomy for. I can offer my loyalty to teachers, but not to institutions. A group of senior monastics who I don't have a student/teacher relationship with deciding my future is a terrifying thought.

Any way, back to OT.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 7:11 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Ah it is a far cry from the old days of "cloud and water" when monks could wander from monastery to monastery, checking into a Vinaya academy to learn conduct and then spending a year on doctrines at a Tian Tai place, followed up by a Chan retreat. Indeed it seems that in the past a Chinese monk had less affiliation/identification with his monastery than those in the Tibetan tradition.


That used to be the way of things. Monks would wander from place to place. It had many downsides. For example you could break your precepts and get booted out of one place and then go elsewhere as an unknown and continue living as a full monastic despite having done something that should have resulted in permanent disrobing. However, I think that wasn't really a big issue.




These days it seems to be the opposite, with the Chinese Buddhist organizations demanding a level of institutional loyalty unprecedented in Chinese Buddhism, and for life. In many monasteries I have heard when you qiu jia (leave home/tonsure) you must promise to stay in that same institution and obey orders until death. There is no such promise made during ordination in the Tibetan or Theravada ordinations.


Yeah, curiously sectarianism has appeared. It seems this occurred maybe starting in the 60s or 70s, but before that you didn't have such sectarianism.

I suspect this came to be as a result of forming institutions with strong identities and charters, much like western not-for-profit organizations and the Catholic Church. In the old days when it was temples each with their own autonomy, it was perfectly fine to go visit other teachers and travel around. In fact a lot of the old Chinese literature suggests this was the norm, if not encouraged. Being a wanderer was part of the profession, at least for some monks.



I would love to never worry about money/visas. But it is not worth offering my autonomy for. I can offer my loyalty to teachers, but not to institutions. A group of senior monastics who I don't have a student/teacher relationship with deciding my future is a terrifying thought.


This is why you have a number of western monks and nuns in Tibetan Buddhism who are willing to struggle endlessly with visas and money, yet almost nobody comes to Chinese Buddhism to sign up as a monk or nun from the west. There are a few, but it is incomparable with Tibetan Buddhism at present.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Sat Nov 03, 2012 7:32 pm

Talking about monasticism and academics, for instance Robert E. Buswell is both a scholar and ex-monk. He also wrote a book "The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea". Even today, the general system in Korea is that monks and nuns stay in a monastery for 2×3 months and then wander for 2×3 months.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Kaji » Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:23 am

This is interesting. According to Self-Determination Theory (SDT), an environment that supports autonomy is crucial to keeping a person motivated when it comes to tasks that are not inherently interesting or enjoyable.

To a lay person like myself, living with hundreds of precepts does not sound easy. Additional external regulations, which may also lead to reducing autonomy, may reduce a practitioner's level of motivation. Some monks and nuns are probably able to internalise such regulations to be part of their identity and keep themselves motivated this way. However the process is not automatic and takes time and perseverance.

I guess the Chinese monasteries are concerned about their monks and nuns maintaining 威儀 weiyi, or dignified form. However, if the rules and regulations means lower numbers of monks and nuns, should they be changed? I cannot answer that as a lay practitioner without the knowledge and wisdom, but if the decision makers of the monastic orders can look at that it'd be great.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:53 am

Kaji wrote:This is interesting. According to Self-Determination Theory (SDT), an environment that supports autonomy is crucial to keeping a person motivated when it comes to tasks that are not inherently interesting or enjoyable.


This is why becoming a monk and having the rest of your life largely decided for you is not going to roll over well with most individuals born and raised in cultures which value and directly foster individuality and self-determinism.

In much of Asia it isn't quite like this. In Taiwan and Japan, for example, students are routinely taught to follow the flock and work as a team. It creates model citizens who obey the law and are easy to organize into work units, but it stunts creativity. Deference to authority is seen as a virtue rather than as a hindrance. In a religious context this is amplified because individuality would likely be perceived as selfish. Tibetan Buddhism seems to have less of this, probably because of a lack of state sanctioned universal education (i.e., a lack of social engineering).

Their system works well for them, but if you're not part of that club, you'll probably struggle. Most westerners who ordain as monks or nuns in Asia inevitably fail it seems.


I guess the Chinese monasteries are concerned about their monks and nuns maintaining 威儀 weiyi, or dignified form. However, if the rules and regulations means lower numbers of monks and nuns, should they be changed? I cannot answer that as a lay practitioner without the knowledge and wisdom, but if the decision makers of the monastic orders can look at that it'd be great.


There are so few monks in Chinese Buddhism nowadays, though they still take center stage as bhiksus are charged with many of the formal tasks associated with large rituals such as conferring precepts and so on. In some monasteries in the evening the left side of the hall is filled to the brim with nun sisters while you get a few rows of monks on the right.

If they want to have a balanced gender mix, they'll probably need to make changes, though we'll see if that happens.

I suspect a lot of young men who might take an interest in monasticism might be turned off by seeing so few monks in monasteries. If it is mostly all nuns, as a young male you might not feel so inclined to sign up.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:08 am

It is an interesting paradox because in many Buddhist countries to this day there are far more opportunities for monks than nuns. But from what I saw in Taiwan, it seems the opposite may be true. Because the genders are segregated and there are many more nuns, there is a greater variety of classes and training programs available to them, as well as a greater variety of work assignments available once the training period is over.

We may see this change in Tibetan Buddhism over the next generation, though. The geshe degree is now available to nuns. And I know that in Nepal there are far more nuns at Kopan nunnery than monks at Kopan monastery these days. Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the late Lama Lhundrup ensured there were qualified teachers available at the nunnery and the number of nuns just skyrocketed. Despite excellent living conditions, classes and care at Kopan Monastery they are having problems filling all the spaces for monks.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Kaji » Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:29 am

Ven Chin Kung once said, in the old days the numbers of accomplished Buddhist practitioners were in the order of: monks, nuns, male laities, female laities; and nowadays the order has completed reversed.

A lay Chinese Buddhist who regularly goes to temples in Hong Kong recently told me that monks there actually face huge obstacles to their Buddhist practice, precisely because there are fewer of them; they are often given high positions and powers in the sangha, which may get into the way of their daily practice.

Huseng, it is interesting how you brought up the issue of groupthink in Asian sangha. I wonder what it takes to solve the problem - perhaps monks/nuns who happen to have management skills and experience?
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Nov 07, 2012 2:41 pm

Kaji wrote:Ven Chin Kung once said, in the old days the numbers of accomplished Buddhist practitioners were in the order of: monks, nuns, male laities, female laities; and nowadays the order has completed reversed.


Things have definitely changed. Some say this is a quality of the Dharma Ending Age 末法: that we'll have many more nuns than monks. Still, that's really just specific to the Chinese speaking world. Elsewhere it is mostly males who run Buddhist institutions.



A lay Chinese Buddhist who regularly goes to temples in Hong Kong recently told me that monks there actually face huge obstacles to their Buddhist practice, precisely because there are fewer of them; they are often given high positions and powers in the sangha, which may get into the way of their daily practice.


I don't hear very much about Chinese monks going into extended retreats like they used to (going into retreat for several years). They're too busy and have a lot of work to do. With so few monks and a formal requirement that monks be the masters of various rites, they're not really at liberty to go into closed retreat.


Huseng, it is interesting how you brought up the issue of groupthink in Asian sangha. I wonder what it takes to solve the problem - perhaps monks/nuns who happen to have management skills and experience?


The education systems in Asia produce model citizens which defer to authority and lack critical thinking skills. Moreover, the education systems produce citizens who are afraid to challenge authority and simply say, "No! And I don't gotta take #### from you!" Peer pressure and the flock mentality (你不合群!) crushes creativity. The system economically and socially punishes those who don't tow the line. This is why Asian companies don't develop game changing products like iPhones, Facebook and World of Warcraft. Good entrepreneurs recognize that "yes men" undermine your operations. They can appreciate mavericks. In Asia mavericks are normally shot down and stomped out. Meritocracy is not really appreciated. Authority is usually by virtue of seniority. Japanese companies really exemplify this, but then you see it elsewhere in Asia as well.

It isn't that Asian cultures are naturally like this, but just that their education systems, largely based on archaic European ideas from the early 20th century, produce tame workers and not much else. Before the advent of standardized state enforced education Asian cultures were very creative and appreciated mavericks. They had self-confidence and didn't just adopt whatever the West was doing. The adoption of western ethnic clothing by all of East Asia really says something about how crippled their cultures became in the face of westernization. If they had strength and self-confidence they'd have continued wearing their original garb and worn it with pride.

In the Buddhist context, Asian cultures used to have plenty of wandering monks. Some were poets, others were yogis and artists. Institutional authority was there, but you were by no means attached for life anywhere. You could just get up and leave, and plenty of monks did it seems.

In the absence of universal education people, especially men, are very hard to control. Modern education systems, which we hail as being such a good thing, really just mould people into prefabricated citizens capable of running an industrial economy (in the 19th century this was the whole point of universal education).

How this translates into a religious setting is another matter.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Queequeg » Wed Nov 07, 2012 6:18 pm

Very interesting discussion.

There was a time in my life where I considered a monastic career. It would have made my mother very happy - she is one of those people who would rather see her children become monastics or other religious functionaries, than give her grandchildren. It would be for her, a great offering to the Buddhadharma. I compare her to mothers of great teachers - Vasubhandu and Asanga, Kumarajiva, Saicho - according to legend they all had devout mothers who actively supported their son's religious activities. Alas, I have disappointed.

Regarding the limited number of monks in general, I think it may come down to a question that many might not want to acknowledge. When a young man or woman looks at the prospects of a monastic career, their first question is likely to be, "What's in it for me?" (There will be exceptions - those who have had an awakening of such profundity that a monastic career seems to be the most rational choice. These are special people who have achieved a spiritual insight that makes them qualitatively different from most of the population. I'm going to leave these people aside from the discussion.) Does the monastic career path offer promise of something people want?

I think there may be a few interrelated problems. In no particular order -

1. Does a monastic career carry appeal? Are there role models that young people can look to and have a desire to emulate?

In my view, the lack of role models is a failure of contemporary monastics. I think each societal context will warrant separate analysis on this point. The Taiwanese/Chinese context Huseng describes sounds thoroughly stifling. I don't think its simply a matter of laxity in modern society - contrary to what seems to be an assumption here in this thread, that modern people are too lazy or whatever, I don't know what world you guys exist in, but me and my peers work very long, very hard hours. Its not the overwhelming amount of work that turns people off. But if you are going to undertake such strenuous work, do you get to be the kind of person you want to be? Does the monastic path offer a sufficient reward for its compromises?

In Japan, a context I am much more familiar with, I would suggest that the failure is due to the destruction of Buddhist institutions at the end of the Momoyama period and strict government control during the Tokugawa period that squeezed the vitality out of Japanese Buddhism. I also think government and aristocratic patronage had a destructive effect. The end result is a rote career path in which charisma and vitality are unwelcome. Who the heck wants to grow up to be a soul deadened ritual functionary? The reality is that many of us grow up to compromised career paths, but that is a function of necessity and circumstance as much as personal choices. I know of monks who inherited their father's temple, but when they were young, they had dreams to be other things. It was only after those dreams were surrendered that they returned to the fold to take up the family business. Not conducive to inspiring young people to the path. (On the other hand, Yamabushi and other kinds of orders that hold promise for real, experiential spiritual challenge seem to be gaining in popularity, though still very small in terms of numbers).

Breaking this down to a more primordial, existential level - What makes a kid look at a fireman, or a doctor, a lawyer, or heck, a punk rocker with a spiked orange mohawk, and want to grow up and be one? I suggest its something that the child has an instinctual affinity for as something they want to emulate, that they want to BE. What sounds like personality destroying training of the Chinese monasteries, or the family business nature of Japanese Buddhism, I would suggest there is not much to find appealing there.

2. As Bob Thurman describes it - the monastic order is about "Free Lunch". Monastic institutions are places to get a free meals and a place to sleep. The deal is, you have to abide by the rules. Ideally, you will feel a desire to dedicate your time and effort to practice, too. In socially and economically limited societies, you get a lot of people into the monastic orders. Its better than plowing fields, for sure. And you can get away with working in the kitchen and cleaning the precincts (think Hanshan and Shide). It sounds like the Taiwanese deal is oppressive. Honestly, if I want to dedicate myself to practice, I'm signing up with a Tibetan or S.E. Asian order. Or a Japanese order - From what I know, many Japanese orders will offer similar levels of support with more autonomy. I imagine that young men and women contemplating a monastic career take this into account - "Can I picture myself living this life?" Not many of us want to trade in our brains just for some rice gruel and a hard bed.

Thurman compares Buddhist monastics to graduate students on full fellowship rides. These are brilliant people for the most part who could do anything they wanted - could go and work on Wall St. and make boatloads of money. But they choose to forego those opportunities for the relative hardship that goes with a life of the mind. The question is, does the monastic lifestyle with its Free Lunch, offer an attractive career path? The life of the mind requires an inborn discipline and an instinctual priority placed on learning and illumination which one find more pleasurable than working for a wage. There are very few who would go for this - especially if you take away sex.

3. Here's another matter that I think is critical. In feudal societies, the monastic order is one of the few paths where you can advance by merit rather than birth. In market economies, this is not the case. Merit (or at least the ability to maximize the monetary value of your work) can lead to social and economic advancement. This opportunity is still a viable and attractive option in Tibetan communities that are just emerging from feudalism, compounded by poverty of the refugee; the monastic institution is one of the only ways out. I made friends with a monk while in Dharamsala. He discouraged me from becoming a monk and confessed he wished he could move to the US where he could work and make money. He was a nice and simple man, and while he really enjoyed being a monk, there were other concerns for him beyond Dharma. For the most part, the monastic career path does not hold the same promise of social advancement that it once did, and I would argue this is much more critical than most Buddhists would probably like to admit.

4. Last argument - all Buddhists, but monastics in particular, have failed to educate people on the benefits of Buddhist practice. Part of this may have been simply that most people have lacked the capacity to understand the real goals of Buddhist practice. It doesn't help that Buddhadharma has been buried under magic and mythology for centuries. Buddhism needs to come out of its ancient and medieval shells and embrace and engage the world as it is, imho. Rather than harping for some ideal past that never was, we ought to be striving for wisdom and means of making the Buddhadharma intelligible and accessible to our contemporaries. I will go even further to suggest that if Buddhist discourse does not translate into modern vocabulary of words and ideas, we will see increasing tendencies to fundamentalism in our community, and the continued decline of Buddhism as a vital movement - which will benefit no one. I am not suggesting that the tendencies in the West to milktoast Buddhism is ideal. We need great adepts who are fluent in Buddhism and modernity to explain Buddhadharma to present people and set examples of Buddhist practice in the midst of this modern world. The retreat to anachronistic enclaves is nice on some level, but to me is no different that going to Disney Land - an escape from reality. That's the feeling I get when I visited ShoalinShi and Wutaishan in China. That's the feeling I get at some sites in Japan (although there are also vital institutions as well). It further exacerbates the retreating tendency of many contemporary strains of Buddhism and what I am concerned is that Buddhism retreats so far it becomes irrelevant, as it once did to itself in India.

Hope that contributes to the conversation.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Queequeg » Wed Nov 07, 2012 6:37 pm

Just to add to my point 2 above. In the old days, when monks actually begged for their own sustenance, they had autonomy. They didn't rely on the institution for their food - they relied on the generosity of lay people. Hence, they were incentivized to serve a direct role to lay people. This seems to be strong in SE Asian monastic orders where monks still go on daily begging rounds - even as the donations are commercially packaged. It also gave them autonomy from the institution, and therefore engenders a democratic association amongst the sangha - there aren't boss monks doling out the food and bed rolls to whom one needs to show fealty. The institutional nature of monastic support tends to loyalty to the institution rather than any other competing interest - most critically, DHARMA. Maybe someday, if I become a wealthy person, I will establish an endowment to support a monk or nun through their education and their career so that they can move freely from temple to temple as their search for enlightenment takes them. I will only ask that he/she visit me once a year, or as circumstances provide, to lecture on the dharma.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby GarcherLancelot » Wed Nov 07, 2012 7:01 pm

Huseng wrote:
JKhedrup wrote:Unfortunately, not many Westerners seem to be drawn to the monastic training at CTTB.


I think the lack of interest in orthodox monasticism on the part of most westerners is that such Buddhists normally are liberal and easygoing, so unwavering obedience to authority and a vast array of written and unwritten rules will just be a grinding experience. They might like the idea of robes, but they want the freedom to spend most of their time as they please, not being kept busy for the sake of being kept busy.

Chinese monastic training is like bootcamp. Here in Taiwan there is a high dropout rate in the seminaries, especially among the males it seems, which makes for even fewer monks than nuns. This might seem justified in the eyes of the authorities because the dropouts just weren't suited to life as a monk. Easing things up and providing autonomy to free thinking adults (novices are not children anymore) might go a long ways in retaining people.


Why are there more male dropouts?.. .
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Nov 07, 2012 11:23 pm

Two reasons:
Less educational opportunities for monks.
Strong family pressure to disrobe as there is still the traditional idea that a Son can carry forward the family line. As families are smaller now there is often only one son, so for him to become a monk means the family legacy is finished according to the traditional view.
I also think this is the reason that many Taiwanese monastic institutions maintain what I consider an unhealthy emphasis on not really communicating with parents, especially during the training period. Simply, they are afraid families will pressure their children to leave the monastery.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Nov 08, 2012 1:49 pm

GarcherLancelot wrote:Why are there more male dropouts?.. .


I don't know if the proportion is statistically higher than with the female ordinands, though I suspect it is.

I haven't really asked too much about this.

Living as a monastic isn't always so easy, and in modern Chinese Buddhism you'll probably be very busy from dawn till dusk. Unless you're really set on it and feel quite connected to your dharma brothers and the institution, then it might not seem so appealing once you've had a taste of the busy monastic lifestyle.

In the old days becoming a monk was often the optimal course of action. In rural communities where the eldest son would inherit most of the land and property, the younger brothers were not left with much. Without land they were limited in their future options. Monasticism was definitely an option and one that most communities respected.

Most monks in previous times took the tonsure in their childhood or teenage years, and hence were locked into that lifestyle, so to speak, for the rest of their lives. If you're trained to be clergy, it wouldn't be realistic to up and leave and take up a trade, especially in pre-modern times. So, they spent the rest of their lives as monks. There were few practical alternatives.

Now adult men who are given the option of becoming monks have ample opportunities available to them. If you're educated and healthy, the world is open to you. This is quite different from when in the old days when novices were mostly children and had skills tailored specifically for the temple setting, so doing anything else in life was impractical.

Becoming a monk in Chinese culture also has had a negative image. It was, and perhaps still is, often thought that adult men who become monks do so because they've failed at life. Maybe they're financially ruined or failed at romance, and as an alternative to killing themselves they go become monks instead. Master Sheng Yen writes about this negative stereotype in his work.
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Re: Why academics value Buddhism?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Nov 08, 2012 2:23 pm

Queequeg wrote:1. Does a monastic career carry appeal? Are there role models that young people can look to and have a desire to emulate?


In Chinese Buddhism they don't have any problems recruiting nuns. They lack monks, however, and I think with so few monks it is hard to recruit young ones. While I have the utmost respect for nun sisters, as a male I can't really relate to them on the same level as I can with a fellow male. I think this is generally the case with most men, too, especially given how males socialize and teach one another.


Its not the overwhelming amount of work that turns people off. But if you are going to undertake such strenuous work, do you get to be the kind of person you want to be? Does the monastic path offer a sufficient reward for its compromises?


This is a modern development unlike how it worked in the past. In the past pre-capitalist era of East Asia, farmers and monastics alike didn't work as much. Work hours were substantially less than they are now. There was plenty of time to sit around and drink tea while having dharma talks or painting pictures.

Personally, I wouldn't want to be a monk working ten or more hours a day everyday without rest for years at a stretch. I don't mind working such hours if there is an immediate need, but I'd rather spend my time in quiet solitude reading and meditating. A few hours a day of chores and tasks is fine, but the contemplative lifestyle should be made up mostly of time for silent contemplation, no?

If you insist on having your monastics working very long hours continually, it might seem overwhelming. Especially if this is how the rest of your life will be like.

That's one reason why I haven't become a monk in Taiwan. The option is on the table and I've even discussed it with some people before, though having come to know what it entails I'm reluctant to sign up. Elsewhere in the world like India where it is far more relaxed, albeit materially deprived at times, monks seem to have a lot more free time which they can use as they wish. I'd prefer that kind of arrangement so I could focus chiefly on meditation and reading.




Breaking this down to a more primordial, existential level - What makes a kid look at a fireman, or a doctor, a lawyer, or heck, a punk rocker with a spiked orange mohawk, and want to grow up and be one? I suggest its something that the child has an instinctual affinity for as something they want to emulate, that they want to BE. What sounds like personality destroying training of the Chinese monasteries, or the family business nature of Japanese Buddhism, I would suggest there is not much to find appealing there.



That's important. Younger generations nowadays arn't exposed to monastics like they might have been where every town had a monastery which you'd visit with your Mum when going to market. You still see this in places like Nepal, where temples are part of the community, and more importantly a center for socializing. Like in Boudha in Kathmandu the people circle the stupa in the evening to gossip and see each other, but they're also offering incense and butter lamps while making prayers. There is exposure to the monastics and rituals, making it part of daily routines. It is emotionally and socially rewarding. Monks and nuns also get to see a lot of different people and hang out.
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