Maximum Ordination Age

Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Zhen Li » Wed Apr 10, 2013 10:18 pm

This question is for Ch'an practitioners, particularly monastics within the Ch'an tradition. Is there a maximum age at which one can go forth in the Ch'an tradition? I am sure this likely differs from monastery to monastery, it would be nice if someone could refer me to some resources or inform me from direct knowledge.

Thanks
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Indrajala » Thu Apr 11, 2013 2:54 am

As per the Vinaya, you can become a novice between 60~70, but not full bhiksu. After 71 you're not supposed to ordain in any capacity.

Master Sheng Yen's 戒律學綱要 in Chinese is a good modern resource for information on precepts in East Asia (specifically Chinese Buddhism in general). See here http://ddc.shengyen.org/pc.htm.

It has been translated into English and will hopefully get published within the next few years.

Keep in mind that ordination in a lot of contemporary Chinese Buddhism is a privilege, not a right. That means the powers that be have the right to decide whether or not they'll let you become a full monk. In the big organizations they insist on training all their ordinands in seminaries that take several years, not unlike the Catholics in many respects, and in the process weed out the unsuitable candidates. Unwavering obedience to the organization is paramount. Given the amount of time and money they put into their ordinands, they want a return, so generally they hope for applicants under the age of 35, though they do accept older people at times.
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 4:47 am

Ben Yuan wrote:This question is for Ch'an practitioners, particularly monastics within the Ch'an tradition. Is there a maximum age at which one can go forth in the Ch'an tradition? I am sure this likely differs from monastery to monastery, it would be nice if someone could refer me to some resources or inform me from direct knowledge.

Thanks


Depends on the organization. "Going forth" as tonsure and / or sramanera/ika ordination can take place from 7 years on up. Though very few if any places now take such young ordination, and maybe around 13-18 would be the youngest. Ordination as in the triple platform ordination (sramanera/ika, bhiksu/ni, and bodhisattva) needs to be at least 20, and a lot of places don't want to take very old ordinands. Reason being that most monasteries don't want to be treated as buddhist retirement homes, where an ordination just ends up being work for others to look after them. (This is the basic position from India onwards...)

Lot of variation though. Not all places--whether large or small--have seminary training; and those that do have seminaries do not always require long term study there. Not all places vet out potential candidates; some will take on almost anyone, with the right guanxi. Though note that in Chinese Buddhism it is not considered good form to either ordain, disrobe, ordain, disrobe back and forth. Some go from one monastery to another under the direction of their shifu, and that is usually considered well and good. Some may change shifu to study with someone else without going back, not uncommon or necessarily bad.

In the end, comes down to who you are, what you want to do, where you are going to do it, and with who. A lot of potential variation, so you may want to talk about specific details.

This is my own experience or direct knowledge. Post here or PM me if you want to discuss.

~~ Huifeng
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Zhen Li » Thu Apr 11, 2013 5:39 am

Once again, thank you both Huseng and Huifeng, you are both great sources of information.
In the end, comes down to who you are, what you want to do, where you are going to do it, and with who. A lot of potential variation, so you may want to talk about specific details.

Without giving specifics as to my own person, the question arises from a desire to consider my options in life with regards to the dharma and know when such options would close. Since it's more or less a decision which changes one's life completely, utmost care should be put into such considerations. The human life is precious and may end at any time so if conditions change I may reconsider the timing, but then again, I am a pure-land practitioner too.

Right now I am a young adult, and so the question pertains a time over 15 to 20 years from now. So as to who I am and what I want to do, I have no idea where I will be at that time, or if I will even still be alive. But 'roughly' speaking Huifeng, would you reckon that Huseng's figure of around 35 would apply in your own organisation? I understand if this question is too broad to be answered reasonably, of course.
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 5:50 am

Don't worry about any sort of arbitrary or artificial Chan vs Pure Land difference. While much of the Western take on Chinese Buddhism is heavily colored by a Japanese lens which says that these are two distinctly different schools, the vast majority of Chinese Buddhism doesn't separate them anywhere near as much. Most places practice both, and more besides.

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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 5:54 am

The stated policy for entrance into the Buddhist College is 18-35, but that is just the College, and is also subject to individual circumstances. 35 is definitely not the upper age limit for full ordination, or sramanera ordination, however.

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Last edited by Huifeng on Thu Apr 11, 2013 5:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Indrajala » Thu Apr 11, 2013 5:56 am

Huifeng wrote: Reason being that most monasteries don't want to be treated as buddhist retirement homes, where an ordination just ends up being work for others to look after them. (This is the basic position from India onwards...)


Wouldn't you say, though, that if someone wants to be a monk, it is their right even if they are viewing it as a retirement option?

If someone is of solid mind and body, what right does a sangha have to refuse someone just because they want to live cosy as a monk in their late years? It is their right to ordain, and even if you don't want to look after them, they have the right to beg for a roof to sleep under and meal.

Doesn't bhiksu mean beggar after all?
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 6:06 am

Is ordination a right? Interesting question. Whatever the case, ordination requires a preceptor, etc. And the preceptor is to train that person for 5 years at least, after ordination. So is it their duty to ordain anyone who comes to them? I think that the issue of it being a right or not, must also be considered together with whether or not the preceptor has the reciprocal duty. You've answered above from the position that ordination is a right, but I don't know whether or not that is so established at this point.

How does the universal declaration on human rights go vis-a-vis religion?

Article 18
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

It seems to come from the position of not obstructing others. But what we are referring to here is that others are obliged / it is their duty, to assist them.

And again, the issue of ordination is different from providing a home or refuge, "a roof to sleep under and meal", to one who is already ordained. Or, just to provide "a roof to sleep under and meal" to practice, but not necessarily ordain.

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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 6:06 am

Huseng wrote:Doesn't bhiksu mean beggar after all?



Yes, bhiksu does mean "beggar" is a sense. But becoming a beggar doesn't imply that others have a duty or obligation to give to that beggar.

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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Indrajala » Thu Apr 11, 2013 6:32 am

Huifeng wrote: So is it their duty to ordain anyone who comes to them? I think that the issue of it being a right or not, must also be considered together with whether or not the preceptor has the reciprocal duty.


Do we still have the master-apprentice system going on? In Taiwan it is largely seminary programs where while there might be a preceptor, the ordinands are trained in a school with multiple instructors. In the big organizations they have colleges where the organization, not a single individual preceptor, looks after the ordinands.

Elsewhere in the Buddhist world it is often just a matter of showing up to an ordination ceremony and getting your precepts. At that point you're free to request basic accommodation and food in various monasteries. It might not be much, but it'll be something.

It seems to come from the position of not obstructing others. But what we are referring to here is that others are obliged / it is their duty, to assist them.


So, where does compassion and charity factor into all this?

It doesn't obstruct others. In Taiwan you have enough money to build an enormous stupa and shopping mall with a Starbucks inside, so what would a few dozen old people cost in comparison to that? A bit of food, a basic room and maybe some medicine. They can do their practice as a monk or nun in whatever capacity they are able, and hopefully die content and ready for the next life. This is far better than them sitting out in front of train stations selling lotus flowers.

They might not give much in return (a lost investment in commercial speak), but if someone wants to die as a monk or nun, then let them. Chances are people who have no family and are otherwise alone would be the only people showing up requesting such things. Rather desperate people really. These are the people you need to really care for because chances are they've had a rough life and want to die in peace. If you get a few bums who just want a free lunch, then so be it. Toss them a bone and show them some pity, and maybe ask them to help out to generate merit.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights is irrelevant. We're talking about kindness towards fellow sentient beings.

Yes, bhiksu does mean "beggar" is a sense. But becoming a beggar doesn't imply that others have a duty or obligation to give to that beggar.


It pains me to hear that from you. Where's your Mahāyāna spirit? How about bodhisattva compassion? What you're saying here sounds rather elitist and inconsiderate. If you have a rich Buddhist organization (and not just Chinese as many other organizations are fantastically wealthy), what's wrong with looking after a few elderly people who come begging for a bit of help and the dignity of retiring in robes?

In India and Nepal a lot of the monasteries, which are relatively poor in many cases, act as welfare services in a society whose government does not provide much help to the poor and downtrodden. If they can manage to give some dal, rice and a bed to a lonely old man, why couldn't a rich Buddhist organization do the same thing?
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 7:11 am

Okay, great, now we're talking about compassion. Indeed, as Buddhists we should do all that we can to help other beings on their path.

As for large organizations with massive stupas, why, it almost sounds like you're talking about Fo Guang Shan! haha. While I haven't been party to all discussions about who is accepted for ordination or not, but as I already mentioned above, FGS certainly does not restrict the ordination age to 35; nor does it require that all postulates study at the Buddhist College / Seminary. I know of some who were ordained in maybe their 50s or 60s, for example. I don't really think that there are many who are older who are looking to ordain there. And we also have a number of provisions for those who are already ordained but for whatever reason have difficulty looking after themselves, to provide a place within the sangha for them. And in addition to this, there are other provisions for the elderly and needy who don't necessarily want to ordain, but still have this refuge.

So, you are right, there is nothing wrong with this at all. And some organizations, including FGS, do in fact do this. At least, as far as I know, though it's a large organization so I don't know everything about it.

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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Indrajala » Thu Apr 11, 2013 7:17 am

Huifeng wrote:So, you are right, there is nothing wrong with this at all. And some organizations, including FGS, do in fact do this. At least, as far as I know, though it's a large organization so I don't know everything about it.
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Well, good, then there's no need to push ideas like this:


So is it their duty to ordain anyone who comes to them? I think that the issue of it being a right or not, must also be considered together with whether or not the preceptor has the reciprocal duty.



It isn't a question of procedure, but one of compassion and charity.
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 7:23 am

Well, I'm saying it from the point of view of one seeking ordination. That is to say, I would never demand that someone must ordain me simply because I have the right to be ordained. Or, demand that someone must provide shelter and almsfood for me simply because I have the right to be ordained.

From the other point of view, I would agree that we should always provide--as best we can--the means for others to practice the path. These means include not only the short term, but also the long term. And we must also consider whether or not providing certain resources for some may mean less resources for others. Not to mention that our own resources are limited.

It's not a matter of do good or not do good, but of the many goods that we can, which ones are the best in the end. Of course, for such things, we may often have differences of opinion on the best allocation of such resources. So, each to their own.

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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Indrajala » Thu Apr 11, 2013 7:29 am

Right, but for many Buddhist organizations, the amount of money needed to look after some elderly unproductive people won't be an issue.

This is why such sentiments like these are unwarranted:

...and a lot of places don't want to take very old ordinands. Reason being that most monasteries don't want to be treated as buddhist retirement homes, where an ordination just ends up being work for others to look after them.


As long as they can feed themselves and go to the toilet unattended, why deter people from becoming a monk or nun?
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Zhen Li » Thu Apr 11, 2013 9:14 am

:focus: Interesting, thanks for the info. By referring to being a Pure-land practitioner, I meant monasticism isn't a be all and end all for me, but it would be awful nice to practice Ch'an while I am still in this life to my fullest - while at the same time, the last thing I would want is to become an unnecessary burden to fulfilling the needs of more potential monastics than myself.
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 9:50 am

Don't stress it, it's a big bus. :smile:

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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby BuddhaSoup » Thu Apr 11, 2013 12:36 pm

My thought on the subject would be that yes, if any elderly man or woman came to the temple seeking food and shelter, it should be given. If this person sought to go forth, then at least some inquiry as to their intention would be important. If a man (or woman) asked to be ordained at the age of 70 in order to live out their days in the holy life, to work at the temple, to study and to teach, and to administer to the laity, then the abbot should consider ordaining them. If the person came seeking only a place to eat, to sleep and to live out their days, then that person's intention to ordain could be said to be lacking. I suppose it is the job of the abbot to determine the proper intent of the proposed ordinand. As in other traditions, the process of ordaining is in stages, over years (anagarika, samanera, bhikkhu)...this allows the proposed ordinand to demonstrate to some degree the sincerity of their intention going forth, and their capacity for practice as a monk or priest.

I reiterate, it should always be the mission of a Buddhist temple to feed and shelter those in need, to the best of their ability.
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Re: Maximum Ordination Age

Postby Jikan » Thu Apr 11, 2013 2:05 pm

This is a difficult issue. It may be worthwhile to reflect more specifically on the way particular organizations have handled it, in context. Here is one example.

http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=69&t=6152
Need help getting on retreat? Want to support others in practice? Pay the Dana for Dharma forum a visit...

viewtopic.php?f=114&t=13727
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