Andrew Cohen: Rinpoche, many people in the West are becoming interested in the Buddha-dharma. You're a monk. And the Buddha himself was a monk. What are the virtues of monkhood for the spiritual aspirant?
PENOR RINPOCHE: In sutra, the Buddha taught that being a renunciate and becoming a monk will help one follow the spiritual path in a better way. First, one receives ordination and vows, and then one renounces the world and becomes a monk. With that as the basis for one's moral conduct, one will have a deeper and more firm understanding. One will have more power in the practice of the spiritual path. Being a renunciate monk is more powerful than just being a lay practitioner.
AC: The great nineteenth-century Tibetan Nyingma yogi Shabkar said, when speaking about the worldly life,
Meat, liquor, sense pleasures, worldly enjoyments—the best things of samsara are temporarily beguiling. Young brides in the full bloom of youth and beauty are expert at leading one astray. Therefore, even if you have as your companion a young daughter of the gods, have no attachment, have no desire. Why? Speaking generally, because all things of this world are without essence, impermanent, unreliable, and by their very nature lead to suffering. In particular, because domestic life is like a pit of fire, a cannibal island, a nest of poisonous snakes. Enjoying the entire array of samsaric perfections, wealth, and pleasures is like eating food mixed with poison, like licking honey on a razor blade, like the jewel on a snake's head: a single touch destroys.
Rinpoche, could you speak a little bit about the dangers of the worldly life and its pitfalls for the spiritual aspirant?
PR: It is said that if someone is attached to a minor pleasure or happiness, there is no way that person can attain a greater spiritual happiness or pleasure. In samsaric life, one is mainly influenced by the five afflicted minds of desire, hatred, anger, jealousy, and pride. And wherever there is affliction, whoever is influenced by those afflictions will naturally take rebirth in samsara endlessly. You see, there is no limit to samsara, even though there is also no essence to it.
and later in the same article:
AC: The Buddha said, "The blue-necked peacock which flies through the air never approaches the speed of the swan. Similarly, the householder can never resemble the monk who is endowed with the qualities of the sage, who meditates aloof in the jungle." Yet, an influential American Buddhist meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, says in his new bestselling book, "The sacrifices of family are like those of any demanding monastery, offering exactly the same training in renunciation, patience, steadiness, and generosity." Could that really be true?
PR: It is not true. When you are in a household, in the worldly life, even if you have spiritual training, there is always more attachment. Being a householder and wanting to have liberation from the afflictions of mind is good. But that is very difficult within those kinds of conditions. Yet even if you are in a monastery, you still need all the training so that you can get rid of those defilements. But of course it still does not mean that only by entering a monastery you can be liberated.