Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby maybay » Fri Aug 16, 2013 5:43 pm

A general distinction is made in the East between lay and monastic. You're in a family or you're outside of it. In the West we think in terms of adults and juveniles. If you're not interested in cars, houses, partnerships and responsibilities, then you simply haven't grown up. I don't need to say you won't find much sympathy for renunciates in the West outside a Buddhist community, but its helpful to know why that is. The Western fascination with youth and the invention of childhood, and the destruction of community through secular and capitalist forces makes any attempt at ordination appear reckless and retarded. How are you going to convince other citizens that you're making 'progress'? Nevermind that they should support you in your endeavour.
Arguably the most successful monk in West is also the most spectacular. Are you prepared to draw such attention to yourself?
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Fri Aug 16, 2013 6:08 pm

maybay wrote: How are you going to convince other citizens that you're making 'progress'? Nevermind that they should support you in your endeavour.


Yes, that's an issue: the obsession with economic growth and commercial value of all our activities. The idea of enriching society and being a confidant and counsellor, all free of charge, to people isn't seen as worth it by the greater society. The lack of belief in merit also means minimal support for monastics as a way of generating good karma for oneself and family.


Arguably the most successful monk in West is also the most spectacular. Are you prepared to draw such attention to yourself?


I think if monasticism is going to be successful in the west, monastics will have to support themselves in the long-term, especially when support from Asia dries up. That goes for the ethnic-oriented monasteries as well.

That means tilling the soil, selling some kind of product(s) and/or owning properties which generate income.

It might require some calculated disregard for orthodox practices, but hard times call for creative solutions.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby kirtu » Fri Aug 16, 2013 6:31 pm

Indrajala wrote:That means tilling the soil, selling some kind of product(s) and/or owning properties which generate income.


This is the general Zen monastic solution in Japan, China and Korea (well, growing food is and to some extent making temples a focal point for money making activities, including paid retreats).

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby maybay » Fri Aug 16, 2013 6:43 pm

Indrajala wrote:I think if monasticism is going to be successful in the west, monastics will have to support themselves in the long-term, especially when support from Asia dries up. That goes for the ethnic-oriented monasteries as well.

That means tilling the soil, selling some kind of product(s) and/or owning properties which generate income.

The Christians made this critical mistake. Monk and priests were a separate institution from the beginning—Coptic Christian monks choosing to live further up the Nile in working communities. They made rope, sent it down stream, and had it traded for grain. The priesthood in Alexandria weren't beholden to the impartial judgement of true renunciates. The lay people couldn't expect it from them in any case, since the monks chose to live utterly apart from lay people. Those Christian monks didn't just renounce worldly life, they rejected that it had any merit whatsoever. In their pride, they denied the world the possibility of supporting them.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby maybay » Fri Aug 16, 2013 6:52 pm

kirtu wrote:
Indrajala wrote:That means tilling the soil, selling some kind of product(s) and/or owning properties which generate income.


This is the general Zen monastic solution in Japan, China and Korea (well, growing food is and to some extent making temples a focal point for money making activities, including paid retreats).

Kirt

Success was it's own problem in China:

Whatever the real reasons behind the waves of repression (and these were no doubt many), the official reason was always the same: a need to restore the money supply. The monasteries were becoming so large, and so rich, administrators insisted, that China was simply running out of metal:

The great repressions of Buddhism under the Chou emperor Wu between 574 and 577, under Wu-tsung in 842-845, and finally in 955, presented themselves primarily as measures of economic recovery: each of them provided an opportunity for the imperial government to procure the necessary copper for the minting of new coins.

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby greentara » Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:56 am

maybay, I found your post very interesting but what do you mean by 'and the invention of childhood?'
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Sat Aug 17, 2013 2:22 am

maybay wrote:Tell me what is the point of a monk that works?


In a communal arrangement the monks can work a few hours a day on a collective income-generating project and devote the rest of the time to practice. In the absence of widespread support, this is simply a necessity. No work, no eating.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby justsit » Sat Aug 17, 2013 3:37 am

Ora et Labora - pray and work - St. Benedict. Earn one's keep by the sweat of one's brow as the Apostles did. Hands to work and hearts to God and all that. Many cloistered contemplative Christian monastics integrate prayer and work with the Liturgy of the Hours and physical labor. They support their communities by farming, baking, woodworking, etc., while also praying for the world. Individual "enlightenment" is not emphasized; one offers oneself as a sacrifice.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Sat Aug 17, 2013 3:57 am

One alternative, perhaps, is urban temples in busy districts. Perhaps around universities. You have regular classes, lectures and meditation sessions, making it available to the wider public. Have yoga classes and anything else that makes the facility useful to the greater society. On top of that maybe have some kind of tea room or something. A quiet place to sit and study, open to the public like any cafe.

In Asia you often see temples which are public places to hang out. In Delhi at my place, for example, you sometimes have students sit in the shrine room studying. It is quiet and safe. Here in Singapore there are a lot of places that are open to everyone during the day, so people come inside, do some prayers, maybe sit for a bit. There's usually some tea available somewhere.

All this encourages people's support because it is a part of their lives and community. It also generates passive income. If you have a lot of daily casual visitors, then inevitably donations flow into the donation box.

The Dharma center model just doesn't cut it. Having a place isolated from the public with the doors locked outside official hours is no way of having widespread public support. Such an exclusive model discourages casual visitors who may just want a quiet place to sit and contemplate. They don't want to attend classes or meditate with everyone.

If I was to build something in the west, I'd have the shrine room open to the public every single day and maybe, if feasible, operate a small hippy cafe inside it, too. Tea and coffee plus the usual samosas and organic muffins. That sort of thing. Maybe rent the space to a capable entrepreneur for that express purpose so the temple doesn't have to manage it directly.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby kirtu » Sat Aug 17, 2013 3:58 am

maybay wrote:
kirtu wrote:
Indrajala wrote:That means tilling the soil, selling some kind of product(s) and/or owning properties which generate income.


This is the general Zen monastic solution in Japan, China and Korea (well, growing food is and to some extent making temples a focal point for money making activities, including paid retreats).

Kirt

Success was it's own problem in China:

Whatever the real reasons behind the waves of repression (and these were no doubt many), the official reason was always the same: a need to restore the money supply. The monasteries were becoming so large, and so rich, administrators insisted, that China was simply running out of metal:

The great repressions of Buddhism under the Chou emperor Wu between 574 and 577, under Wu-tsung in 842-845, and finally in 955, presented themselves primarily as measures of economic recovery: each of them provided an opportunity for the imperial government to procure the necessary copper for the minting of new coins.

Debt: The First 5000 Years - David Graeber


It would be immoral to become that rich. The solution was obvious and was in fact what Shabkar did repeatedly in his autobiography: sponsor projects and/or give everything away, esp. to the poor.

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby maybay » Sat Aug 17, 2013 11:34 am

greentara wrote:maybay, I found your post very interesting but what do you mean by 'and the invention of childhood?'


Children play, experiment, learn and should have the good manners to apologise for the mistakes it is expected they will make.
Adults on the other hand have a contractual obligation to work, are expected to know everything, have sex like its a chore, and aren't allowed to make mistakes. (Is it any wonder ethics is so difficult for modern adults?)
Children shouldn't have sex, drink, or vote for political parties. But these are the same expectations we have of monks and nuns.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche was fielding questions after one of his talks. A Western man was complaining to Rinpoche about the routine of young monks. He was concerned that they weren't "having a childhood", that they would look back on their time in the monastery and decry their lost youth.
It seems he was voicing his own fears: feeling like an adult who has lived out his alotted youth.

The division between childhood and adulthood wasn't always so well recognized. Medieval societies, like exiled Tibetan communities, didn't think of children in the same way we do. The modern world may imbue children with all their cherished hopes, as a medieval community would do with their renunciates. The attitude to children however, is that they are always under the guidance of, and beholden to, their guardians: adults, whom they are destined one day to become.
This understanding doesn't work with monks. Its the other way around. Monks are there to guide the lay people. Lay people are destined to become monks. The result is that lay people try to control monks, and consistently underestimate their experience, and their ability to empathise with lay people. Its just like you wouldn't go to a 14 yr-old and tell them about all your problems at work. When we meet Tibetan monks, who come from an agrarian feudal society with no understanding of the complexities of modern life, and without the vocabulary to express the little they do know, we feel validated. We think: they mean well, but they're just children. This is a difficult perception to encounter as a monks looking for support. How do you change how people think about you? The tendency is just to ignore insulting western lay people, or, to let them treat you like a child—fancy technology gifts, trips to luxurious restaurants—this only reifies the lay person's perverted sense of being an adult.

Some history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childhood#History
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby maybay » Sat Aug 17, 2013 11:51 am

Indrajala wrote:
maybay wrote:Tell me what is the point of a monk that works?


In a communal arrangement the monks can work a few hours a day on a collective income-generating project and devote the rest of the time to practice. In the absence of widespread support, this is simply a necessity. No work, no eating.

What use are you to lay people then? You're doing work like the rest of us, but you're indemnified of tax. That's not fair!
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby maybay » Sat Aug 17, 2013 12:21 pm

justsit wrote:Ora et Labora - pray and work - St. Benedict. Earn one's keep by the sweat of one's brow as the Apostles did. Hands to work and hearts to God and all that. Many cloistered contemplative Christian monastics integrate prayer and work with the Liturgy of the Hours and physical labor. They support their communities by farming, baking, woodworking, etc., while also praying for the world. Individual "enlightenment" is not emphasized; one offers oneself as a sacrifice.

Sacrifice of one's life, rather than self, is simply martyrdom—an honourable destiny for a Benedictine monk, and perfectly congruent with the life of Jesus.
Transposing one's sense of self to a group is what happens in religious cults and bee hives. Its the sense that Jesus can suffer 'for our sins'. The sense of fraternity in the Catholic Church is its biggest problem, because it hasn't identified the true enemy: the notion of self.

The Buddhist monk is always alone, even in an assembly. Particularly in an assembly. If he is really going to give up the self, then he must renounce what is most cherished: job security and a sense of independence. Give up the esteemed sense of self and worldly pride of being able to support oneself. A genuine Buddhist monk is ipso facto entitled to food. The moment he picks up a spade—in the same way that a working man's wife will insult him by going out and getting a job—he shows a lack of faith in his role as a monk and in the community's ability to support him.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby shaunc » Sat Aug 17, 2013 12:34 pm

Indrajala wrote:
maybay wrote:Tell me what is the point of a monk that works?


In a communal arrangement the monks can work a few hours a day on a collective income-generating project and devote the rest of the time to practice. In the absence of widespread support, this is simply a necessity. No work, no eating.


Personally I think it's not a bad idea. If for example you had a dozen or so monks/nuns working part-time, lets say 6 hours/day it would generate an income for the temple & also ensure that there was always a monastic available to a member of the lay community if needed.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby greentara » Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:41 pm

maybay, You have an unusual and interesting way of expressing yourself "genuine Buddhist monk is ipso facto entitled to food. The moment he picks up a spade—in the same way that a working man's wife will insult him by going out and getting a job—he shows a lack of faith in his role as a monk and in the community's ability to support him"
So what do you expect? The layman wants wisdom and insight from the monk and if he is childlike ...well all the better. Indeed the taking of monks to restaurants and buying them electronic gifts obviously causes an imbalance in the 'relationship'
In addition I have met Coptic monks years ago and found them to be modest and humble.... I don't know how they manage to scrabble together a living in the midst of an often hostile Islamic world?
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:44 pm

maybay wrote:What use are you to lay people then? You're doing work like the rest of us, but you're indemnified of tax. That's not fair!


Ah well. Life ain't fair.

Until native westerners are willing to financially support the sangha (food, shelter, clothing, medicine and other necessary expenses like books, travel and so forth), then native western monasticism will not thrive or even be able to widely exist.

What do you want monks to do? Our options are limited.

I know one monk who more or less stays in Asia because going back to the UK isn't feasible. He'd have to get a paying job just to get by.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby maybay » Sat Aug 17, 2013 2:33 pm

When the Buddha attained enlightenment, he became a monk. His ordination and his realisation were simultaneous—the spontaneous ordination of a Buddha or a Pratyekabuddha. What followed was the Vinaya and the ordination of monks. In those parts of the world without a Sangha, realisations must come first.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby kirtu » Sat Aug 17, 2013 4:08 pm

Another solution for monastics (and I would hope committed laypeople in the future) is the traditional solution of patronage. Patrons sponsor specific monks for an some period to life.

This can also take different forms. One thing that you (Indrajala and other monks) might explore is to make a unique podcast of specific pilgrimages or events similar to "Rest of Everest" video podcast and get subscribers through that. The Buddhist world is virtually unexplored for most people and this provides opportunities for at least 100 years (for real) for these explorations. For example, most people will never be able to go to Wu Tai Shan. You might be able to get a permit and film there intimately.

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby maybay » Sat Aug 17, 2013 7:37 pm

Indrajala wrote:
maybay wrote:Until native westerners are willing to financially support the sangha (food, shelter, clothing, medicine and other necessary expenses like books, travel and so forth), then native western monasticism will not thrive or even be able to widely exist.

Personally I find it very difficult to give to a monks individually. I don't feel up to it. Supporting an institution as a whole is less risky I guess.

What do you want monks to do? Our options are limited.

Do whatever you have to do.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby maybay » Sat Aug 17, 2013 8:19 pm

If a lay person has no community, he's unlikely to empathise with a renunciate Sangha. If he doesn't believe in his government, he would not see the benefit of organised religion and an extended bureaucracy of monasteries.
What seems to have happened in Tibetan Buddhism is that monks find their place around a Lama. Its the Lama the lay people come for, and his projects they support. The monks just fit into the system. Lone Tibetan monks are very rare, and yet the Western monks I've met are almost always heroically going it alone. I feel more critical of them for it, and I'm skeptical that their journey as a monk is any more conducive to realisation than what a lay person might experience.
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