What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Discuss your personal experience with the Dharma here. How has it enriched your life? What challenges does it present?

What do you really think of monks and nuns in the West (an anonymous survey)

I think they are crucial for the establishment of the Buddhadharma here, and have had good experiences
58
60%
I think they are crucial for the establishment of the Buddhadharma here, even though I have had mostly bad experiences
3
3%
I don't have an opinion one way or the other
8
8%
I don't think they are necessary, because the dharma can be transmitted without monastics
15
16%
I just don't think that Westerners are interested in supporting monasticism financially
12
13%
 
Total votes : 96

Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Sep 25, 2013 10:08 pm

No Yan Kong it is not only your feeling. Many monks and nuns I have met from both the Buddhist and Catholic tradition commented that this atheist flavour to modern French society was a real challenge for people living as religious practitioners. At the same time, France is home to a number of large and flourishing Buddhist centres. It is a very diverse country with pockets of pretty much everything.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby tobes » Thu Sep 26, 2013 12:18 am

Simon E. wrote:Do you mean is it enough, or do you mean should it be enough, Tobes ?

I suspect the answer will be ' probably ' to the latter and ' no ' to the former.
There are processes and changes afoot.
Meritoriousness is but one ingredient in a bubbling pot.
Not to mention the fact that the meritorious nature of the Sangha is far from being universally recognised.


Well the fact that we're having this conversation on a Buddhist forum means that it cannot be an "is". But yes, I think it should be.

I think the issue is not whether the meritorious nature of the Sangha is universally recognised, but simply that it is recognised by Buddhists.

If one gives away the notions of merit and virtues and their connection to precepts and vows, one gives away a very central element of what Buddhist ethics are.

If one gives away this very central element of what Buddhist ethics are, one gives away a very central element of what Buddhism is. Maybe in this 'bubbling pot' this could deemed necessary or good - but I would like to see a moral argument which establishes that. i.e. something of the nature that notions of merit and virtue are not connected in any way to the path to awakening.

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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Tom » Thu Sep 26, 2013 3:24 am

tobes wrote: but I would like to see a moral argument which establishes that. i.e. something of the nature that notions of merit and virtue are not connected in any way to the path to awakening.


But there is such an argument - a strong reading of the transcendency thesis which relegates merit and its fruit to the mundane. I am not going to argue for this but others have.

In any case, there are many ways of creating merit, particularly for Mahāyānists, and so I'm not sure where the argument is going here, unless it is simply that we should respect monastics for being serious dharma practitioners or for simply carrying on an ancient tradition. This respect however should extend to all serious practitioners and then we do not get to the necessity of lay practitioners supporting monastics here in the west.

Personally, I'd love to see a huge modern Nalanda-esque type institute in the West where anyone could go and study the dharma and do retreats, and which also could support a community of monastics. However, these days even the monastic institutions in India are themselves struggling to fill their classrooms with local Tibetans and so we have to wonder how such institutions might work in the West. But I guess trial and error is part and parcel of these things. How long did Samye last the first time around? 60 years?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby greentara » Thu Sep 26, 2013 4:04 am

I don't really agree with some of the comments. Why shouldn't there be Western monks and nuns....the timeless message of the Buddha encapsulated in the lives of the monastics comes to life and shows it can still be done.The meritorious nature of the Sangha is of course not universally recognised, as a large slice of the population is only dimly aware of Buddhism. Most people do not attend a retreat or visit Buddhist monks/ sites nor are they particularly interested in merit and virtue. I strongly suspect that many people seek mental relief and a very few liberation from their chattering minds and life style when they are drawn to Buddhism and meditation. A number of people may gravitate to be part of a 'sympatico' group which also helps people cope in a fragmented society and alleviates loneliness.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby tobes » Thu Sep 26, 2013 4:21 am

Tom wrote:
tobes wrote: but I would like to see a moral argument which establishes that. i.e. something of the nature that notions of merit and virtue are not connected in any way to the path to awakening.


But there is such an argument - a strong reading of the transcendency thesis which relegates merit and its fruit to the mundane. I am not going to argue for this but others have.



Yes, of course such an argument exists. I'm just saying that the issue might well boil down to that, and that if people are holding what you call the transcendency thesis as their basis for denying any real value in monastics, then, let them make the argument in those terms.

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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby tobes » Thu Sep 26, 2013 4:29 am

Tom wrote:
tobes wrote: but I would like to see a moral argument which establishes that. i.e. something of the nature that notions of merit and virtue are not connected in any way to the path to awakening.


In any case, there are many ways of creating merit, particularly for Mahāyānists, and so I'm not sure where the argument is going here, unless it is simply that we should respect monastics for being serious dharma practitioners or for simply carrying on an ancient tradition. This respect however should extend to all serious practitioners and then we do not get to the necessity of lay practitioners supporting monastics here in the west.



What's wrong with respect on all sides!

I'm not arguing that there is a necessity to support, or that monks/nuns ought to be held in higher esteem than serious lay practitioners. I'm just saying: we should appreciate what monks and nuns are doing.

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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Sep 26, 2013 8:15 am

Superior or inferior is not at issue. The wearing of robes does not necessarily make one a superior practitioner- I don't think anyone would argue that.

The point is, does the container of the monastic form have value to cultivation? Also, does the monastic community perform a valuable service to the lay community?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then it would seem valuable to support at least a limited monastic community. I feel the sad thing is that it is not until the monastic community is extinct that people will feel its absence and long for the "old days".
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby mutsuk » Thu Sep 26, 2013 8:46 am

I will pop in the discussion with my own experience with Tibetan Bonpo monks.

JKhedrup wrote:Superior or inferior is not at issue. The wearing of robes does not necessarily make one a superior practitioner- I don't think anyone would argue that.

99 per cent of the tibetan monks I have met feel this way (i.e. superior to lay people), in particular when compared to women. It is true that 99 per cent of the western Bonpo sangha is totally uneducated bon-wise (including the few bon western monks), which may explain the situation.

The point is, does the container of the monastic form have value to cultivation? Also, does the monastic community perform a valuable service to the lay community?

Most of the time, at least in France, the lay community is the spectator or audience to rituals that are performed by the tibetan monks (with the western monks mostly silent and unable to perform ritual acts) and tibetan monks are very rarely willing to share that ritual training. I caught two of them discussing the matter and not knowing I knew Tibetan, saying : "these people are impure, so what can you expect? We can't pour the lioness' milk into dirty vessels, right?".
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby plwk » Thu Sep 26, 2013 8:51 am

Superior or inferior is not at issue. The wearing of robes does not necessarily make one a superior practitioner- I don't think anyone would argue that.
Oh boy. I remember when I highlighted the same thing in some places in my part of the world, I was either berated or given snarky looks. But I guess when a Venerable says this... sad but true...
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Sep 26, 2013 9:00 am

"these people are impure, so what can you expect? We can't pour the lioness' milk into dirty vessels, right?".


It is really disappointing what one hears at times. And probably they took home some good offerings too. Some simply see us as vassals, and not altogether worthy ones at that.

At times like that I wish I didn't understand Tibetan. Fortunately, not all think this way.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Simon E. » Thu Sep 26, 2013 9:12 am

tobes wrote:
Simon E. wrote:Do you mean is it enough, or do you mean should it be enough, Tobes ?

I suspect the answer will be ' probably ' to the latter and ' no ' to the former.
There are processes and changes afoot.
Meritoriousness is but one ingredient in a bubbling pot.
Not to mention the fact that the meritorious nature of the Sangha is far from being universally recognised.


Well the fact that we're having this conversation on a Buddhist forum means that it cannot be an "is". But yes, I think it should be.

I think the issue is not whether the meritorious nature of the Sangha is universally recognised, but simply that it is recognised by Buddhists.

If one gives away the notions of merit and virtues and their connection to precepts and vows, one gives away a very central element of what Buddhist ethics are.

If one gives away this very central element of what Buddhist ethics are, one gives away a very central element of what Buddhism is. Maybe in this 'bubbling pot' this could deemed necessary or good - but I would like to see a moral argument which establishes that. i.e. something of the nature that notions of merit and virtue are not connected in any way to the path to awakening.

:anjali:

I was not clear enough. I meant that the meritorious nature of the Sangha per se is no longer universally recognised within Buddhism. This is simply a statement of fact.
And the bubbling pot is not fuelled simply by what is necessary or good, but also in large part by anicca. This is the Kali Yuga.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 26, 2013 9:16 am

plwk wrote:
Superior or inferior is not at issue. The wearing of robes does not necessarily make one a superior practitioner- I don't think anyone would argue that.
Oh boy. I remember when I highlighted the same thing in some places in my part of the world, I was either berated or given snarky looks. But I guess when a Venerable says this... sad but true...


That's because people are emotionally invested in the idea of robed clergy being a field of merit and a component to their own future salvation.

It doesn't feel right when your field of merit has one too many weeds.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby tobes » Thu Sep 26, 2013 9:40 am

Simon E. wrote:
tobes wrote:
Simon E. wrote:Do you mean is it enough, or do you mean should it be enough, Tobes ?

I suspect the answer will be ' probably ' to the latter and ' no ' to the former.
There are processes and changes afoot.
Meritoriousness is but one ingredient in a bubbling pot.
Not to mention the fact that the meritorious nature of the Sangha is far from being universally recognised.


Well the fact that we're having this conversation on a Buddhist forum means that it cannot be an "is". But yes, I think it should be.

I think the issue is not whether the meritorious nature of the Sangha is universally recognised, but simply that it is recognised by Buddhists.

If one gives away the notions of merit and virtues and their connection to precepts and vows, one gives away a very central element of what Buddhist ethics are.

If one gives away this very central element of what Buddhist ethics are, one gives away a very central element of what Buddhism is. Maybe in this 'bubbling pot' this could deemed necessary or good - but I would like to see a moral argument which establishes that. i.e. something of the nature that notions of merit and virtue are not connected in any way to the path to awakening.

:anjali:

I was not clear enough. I meant that the meritorious nature of the Sangha per se is no longer universally recognised within Buddhism. This is simply a statement of fact.
And the bubbling pot is not fuelled simply by what is necessary or good, but also in large part by anicca. This is the Kali Yuga.


Ah, okay, so a cosmological argument. Something of the kind: these are particularly degenerate times, thus, the only skillful methods are those appropriate to those times? No time for this stuff about merit, accumulation, vows, ordinations! Must practice highest, quickest, most direct path....

Is that close to what you mean?

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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Simon E. » Thu Sep 26, 2013 9:49 am

What I am saying does is not posited on a cosmological argument.
Lets forget the Kali Yuga bit for the sake of this discussion..
I am making three basic points.
1) The Sangha is no longer universally seen as meritorious per se among Buddhists.
2) Simple entropy and the reality of Anicca is enough to explain its partial or complete demise.
3) The fact that the Sangha is in decline and that it is likely to be a terminal decline can be seen in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Tibet in exile, Korea, Japan etc.
The fact that a tiny minority of westerners have adopted the lifestyle of the ordained Sangha notwithstanding.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Alfredo » Thu Sep 26, 2013 11:43 am

Perhaps the idea of karmic "merit" is itself one that Westerners tend not to take very seriously. (Especially when "earned" by purely formal or ritualistic acts that seem to lack an ethical dimension.)

There's the "ideal" sangha which is the object of refuge, and then there are the real human beings who take robes. The latter have always had their scandals and excesses, just as the priesthoods of other religions have. But even if not very many Westerners take robes, or keep them on, the institution is (for better or worse) still strong in a number of traditionally Buddhist countries, so talk of a "terminal decline" seems misplaced. If you mean a moral decline, then this is harder to judge, but complaints were heard in earlier eras.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Simon E. » Thu Sep 26, 2013 11:51 am

I am not referring to a moral decline. That is another issue than the one I am addressing.
I am referring to a dramatic decline in numbers. And to the fact that the Sangha no longer has the authority it once had...of course to some degree this might be associated with moral issues.
But I think its largely that the monastic paradigm has less and less relevance to our culture/s.
I have no problems with this.
As already stated, Dharma will find other channels. It always has.
The emergence of the D.C. is one such channel.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 26, 2013 1:19 pm

Simon E. wrote:I am referring to a dramatic decline in numbers. And to the fact that the Sangha no longer has the authority it once had...of course to some degree this might be associated with moral issues.


In most Asian countries secularism has meant the sangha is not to wield any authority or be directly supported by the state (indirectly it still happens).

On top of that, it is not in the interests of secularists to let the sangha possess much cultural capital as it would jeopardize their own base of power.

In the late 19th century Europeans were aware that Buddhism was probably the largest identifiable religion in the world. However, over the course of the 20th century the number of Buddhists was rapidly diminished. Communism, secularism and numerous other factors has seen the vast decline of Buddhist sangha members.

However, the function of Buddhism has changed. In many places the state now takes care of social welfare, whereas in the past it was largely done by Buddhist institutions (like in Japan). You still see such functions carried out amongst Tibetan monasteries in India and Nepal.

Also, popular culture has meant that younger generations often see little value in Buddhism. In Singapore and Korea, for instance, Christianity is new, strong, western and associated with professionals.

Humanistic Buddhism out of Taiwan attempts to portray itself as educated and professional, though it doesn't have the occidental appeal.

Monastic discipline I reckon isn't really a big deal. In fact I'd argue that too much discipline alienates sangha from people rather than inspiring them. Laziness, sloth and a few screwups here and there are all part of a living and sustainable spiritual tradition.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Simon E. » Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:13 pm

I take your point, or rather points.
There is of course a parallel process in the west where Christianity is in decline and the new is represented by Buddhism..not among professionals to any great degree but among the artistic and ' alternative ' community. How much of this is transitory and how much a genuine shift remains to be seen.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Derek » Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:15 pm

Malcolm wrote:Put your money where your mouth is. That is my challenge to all you advocates of monasticism in the west. If you want a monastic Sangha in the West, then pay for it.


That's just the point, isn't it?

In Asia, communities are willing to fund local monasteries, made up of their own children and nephews and cousins and neighbors and so on.

In the West, there isn't that community cohesiveness. All people are willing to pay for is a fee-for-services.

In neither case are people willing to pay for strangers thousands and thousands of miles away, except perhaps as an act of charity. And there are lots and lots of charities competing for your donation dollars.

The fee-for-service model has other impacts, of course. It means the dharma becomes a disposable-income thing for those who have already satisfied their basic needs (Maslow).
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Sherlock » Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:38 pm

Indrajala wrote:Also, popular culture has meant that younger generations often see little value in Buddhism. In Singapore and Korea, for instance, Christianity is new, strong, western and associated with professionals.


Maybe true only for a subset of the population. Most of the non-Abrahamic population don't think very highly of Christianity as it exists in Singapore.
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