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 Karma Dorje » Thu Oct 17, 2013 6:19 pm

lama tsewang wrote:Contrary to Malcolm , a big contrary , big contrary , if you want lots of half baked teachers , you will not support the establisment of a strong monastic order in the west.
If you wants lots of god teachers , and also lots of good western teachers who can preserve and perpetuate here in this partb of the world in western languages to western people , for western people , then you MUST MUST MUST support a WESTERN SANGHA run by western people , trained by WEstern monastics


Repeating something multiple times for emphasis and a sticky caps lock don't replace the need for an actual reasoned argument. I personally hope that we are able to establish monastic sanghas in the West. However, for the purpose of discussion here it may help if you explain why you believe it is a necessity rather than just promote your website.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Adi » Thu Oct 17, 2013 7:02 pm

Hello Aemilius: Thank you for what I think is a thoughtful reply.

Aemilius wrote:As Thrangu Rimpoche has pointed out, it is the vows that make one a Bhikshu or a Bhikshuni, and not the one's clothes.


Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche has also expressed a similar view several years ago on his first visit to the United States when he said something like "What is a monk? A monk is a promise."

In India the buddhist laity used wear white clothes, which is little known now adays, but this tradition continues to some extent in certain buddhist countries. For example, Milarepa's white cotton clothes may have been a symbol of his lay status, and as such part of the new tradition that Marpa had brought from India.


That is fairly popular in the US, too, as a lot of lay practitioners (not just ngakpas) adopt white clothes. I assume it's a continuation of the Red and White Sangha tradition in Tibetan Buddhism.

What do You think of the buddhist Pastors at Tsem Tulku's institute, and about their clothes?


I'm not at all familiar with them, but having just looked at that page, it seems to make sense. Some kind of uniform dress, in an ordinary style, seems to me a good way to go about things and if that is helpful to people in Singapore then that also seems good to me.

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

Postby Adi » Thu Oct 17, 2013 7:23 pm

Karma Dorje wrote:
lama tsewang wrote:


Repeating something multiple times for emphasis and a sticky caps lock don't replace the need for an actual reasoned argument. I personally hope that we are able to establish monastic sanghas in the West. However, for the purpose of discussion here it may help if you explain why you believe it is a necessity rather than just promote your website.


He did provide a lot of good reasons in his previous post, but as English is apparently not his first or most comfortable language, kindly allow me to expand on them and offer my own reading.

lama tsewang wrote:well i am not good at typing . please indulge me and forgive me for typos .
First of all , I am a Bhikshu , so thatestablishes some context for any contributions i will make to this discussion.

If western people ( and probably most of the people saying this are from western Vajrayna style centers.)see lots of neurotic monks. Its because these monks and nuns , have not been traained , because there are very very few places for them to train .


The lack of formal training in the west is producing people with the aspirations to take vows, those who do take vows, but who do not have the opportunities to received the proper education to live in those vows, to understand those vows, and who must attempt to keep those vows without benefit of cloister or even retreat. Our western habits are very strong & unless you come from a Catholic or Orthodox background and are familiar with (or have experience with) something like the Benedictine orders the whole way of monastic life will be not only strange but also very difficult without proper training. It is not the monastic life that is the problem, it is the lack of training in it that is the problem.

And secondly , in light of this , their position is almost untenable ,they become a focus of lay peoples attention and criticism , with very little support, from said persons. Also very very little support, respect, or training from many tibetan s who come here to teach .


Again, the western habit of individualism is vey strong and extends to monastics who are regarded as separate, removed and more than a little bit strange, even within the aforementioned Catholic traditions. We simply don't have the habit of this kind of life, don't generally respect this kind of life, and sadly many Tibetans coming to the west don't like all these "White Crows". However, since everything changes, I think the cultural turbulence of East meeting West will, eventually, produce a Western tradition of Buddhist monastics (and especially nuns) who will continue the intensive study, dedication and effort needed to overcome thousands of years of non-Dharma habits. The results may be quite spectacular.

Contrary to Malcolm , a big contrary , big contrary , if you want lots of half baked teachers , you will not support the establisment of a strong monastic order in the west.


Again, our western habits are strong. We give doctorates to people who've studied a subject for as little as three years. And those are subjects with we are all familiar. Imagine the years of study needed to overcome thousands of years of eternalist and nihilist thoughts! We have a lot of half-baked teachers precisely because they have not studied long enough and are repeating the habit we have of being declared expert after a few years of study. The good thing is that this situation is entirely fixable -- monastic training and years of study are one solution.

If you wants lots of god teachers , and also lots of good western teachers who can preserve and perpetuate here in this partb of the world in western languages to western people , for western people , then you MUST MUST MUST support a WESTERN SANGHA run by western people , trained by WEstern monastics


This is a fairly strong and solid argument from tradition, a tradition that works. A monastic sangha has been essential to the establishment of Buddhism in all countries where it has arrived. Again, though, we're still in the first generation of lamas and teachers coming to the West so it is all in the earliest of stages. Give it a few more centuries and, if we have such merit, things may be quite different. :smile:

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

Postby lama tsewang » Thu Oct 17, 2013 8:08 pm

in fact , i must add this , if you want good Dharma Teachers and Dharma teaching in the west , for youselves and future generations , then it is important for a Western Sangha to be strengtehend here. If you want high quality instruvction , and Also , high quality centers for intense study and retreats for yourselves and future generations it is vital to have a western Sangha . Having a Western Sangha , is not just to support an elite corps of monks , it is the best way to create good quality Dharma centers , that are not run as businesses .
Now if you think my remarks are not backed up by good arguments.... well its hard to really back up what i say . You have to really seee a monastic temple in action . You have to see it for yourselves . In my area there are several , theres one nearby from the OBC , theres one called Chan Nguyen monastery nearby.

To put it bluntly , if you dont have this , youve got half baked teachers and half baked centers Low quality centers..
And , truly if you think im wrong, just look , many of the centers around , do rely on monastics , yes they import them from Asia , yes , all of us can see that most of the teachers of Vajrayana here, are monastics , or trained in environments that were monastic . If they arent monks now , they were in the past. Do we always want to rely on imports???


We need to create those environments here, they work ,and are working for other Buddhist traditions here ,.
Lets ask why these Tibetan derived traditions are weak in this respect here. and lets look to correct this.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Karma Dorje » Thu Oct 17, 2013 8:58 pm

lama tsewang wrote:in fact , i must add this , if you want good Dharma Teachers and Dharma teaching in the west , for youselves and future generations , then it is important for a Western Sangha to be strengtehend here.


Sangha yes, but not necessarily ordained as monks. The Kagyud lineages only became monastic in orientation with Gampopa, Nyingma lamas are not necessarily monks, etc. What really must be strengthened is the opportunity for everyone to practice according to their inclination, whether as monastics or laity.

lama tsewang wrote:If you want high quality instruvction , and Also , high quality centers for intense study and retreats for yourselves and future generations it is vital to have a western Sangha . Having a Western Sangha , is not just to support an elite corps of monks , it is the best way to create good quality Dharma centers , that are not run as businesses .


This does not follow. Look at the current Karma Kamtsang; there are millions of dollars in holdings. It's a very big business. Now it does a lot of good things so I am not faulting that, but there is not an argument to be made that large monastic orders are not run as businesses. They most emphatically are, and probably need to be.

lama tsewang wrote:To put it bluntly , if you dont have this , youve got half baked teachers and half baked centers Low quality centers..


So Dudjom Rinpoche, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, Chagdud Rinpoche or Chatral Rinpoche are half baked teachers with low quality centers? I think you will find most people disagree with you on this. There are many Western teachers who are not monastics, like Sangye Khandro, Sarah Harding, Lama Palden, etc. that have completed the requisite retreat, been authorized to teach and established centers that are not at all half-baked. The issue is whether they have warmth of experience, the ability to benefit others and authorization to teach in the lineage.

lama tsewang wrote:And , truly if you think im wrong, just look , many of the centers around , do rely on monastics , yes they import them from Asia , yes , all of us can see that most of the teachers of Vajrayana here, are monastics , or trained in environments that were monastic . If they arent monks now , they were in the past. Do we always want to rely on imports???


I can't speak for you, but I don't pay much attention to the ethnicity of the master I study with. If shot with an arrow, do you insist that the doctor that removes it is Canadian? I emphatically agree that we must support Western teachers and opportunities for practice here, but not out of some misplaced sense of national identity.

lama tsewang wrote: Lets ask why these Tibetan derived traditions are weak in this respect here. and lets look to correct this.


The reasons why it is weak here are no mystery: much derives from the general Protestant atmosphere of distrust of celibate clergy, much else from the distrust of clergy in general by recovering Catholics, and lastly a general malaise with providing financial support to others amongst those drawn to Tibetan Buddhism (which probably also derives from a Calvinist view of work). There are many good reasons for establishing opportunities for full-time sangha in the West, but I am not sure calling any teacher that does not have monastic ordination half-baked makes a very good case for it.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Oct 18, 2013 12:54 am

Adi wrote: It is not the monastic life that is the problem, it is the lack of training in it that is the problem.


Not really.

There are plenty of monks in Asia who are trained for decades in monastic life and know the ropes and manual quite well, yet there still remains plenty of dodgy behavior. Moreover, many from the third world don't take their role as monks very seriously and would happily get to America, claim asylum and disrobe.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Alfredo » Fri Oct 18, 2013 1:17 am

The reasons why it is weak here are no mystery: much derives from the general Protestant atmosphere of distrust of celibate clergy


Um, upwards of one-third of white American dharma practitioners have Jewish backgrounds (though Jews too lack a celibate clergy). Of the rest, the ratio between ex-Protestants and ex-Catholics does not seem noticeably skewed.

I think it boils down to money. Many people are willing to put a few dollars in the collection plate, but Buddhism can't survive on that--you need generous donors (like the Asian groups) and/or centuries of accumulated capital. Many are willing to buy tickets to Buddhist events, much as we do for concerts, but this model doesn't work so well for long-term projects with little exotic appeal. Supporting monks or nuns is simply too expensive. What would you think of a fellow dharma center customer who expected everybody else to pay for his tickets, all the time? How long would you oblige him? Now add on his room, board, and health insurance. Because that's basically what a Western monk is.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Karma Dorje » Fri Oct 18, 2013 1:42 am

Alfredo wrote:
The reasons why it is weak here are no mystery: much derives from the general Protestant atmosphere of distrust of celibate clergy


Um, upwards of one-third of white American dharma practitioners have Jewish backgrounds (though Jews too lack a celibate clergy). Of the rest, the ratio between ex-Protestants and ex-Catholics does not seem noticeably skewed.


Source for this statistic, please? You also ignored the second part of my point which spoke to Catholics.


Alfredo wrote:I think it boils down to money. Many people are willing to put a few dollars in the collection plate, but Buddhism can't survive on that--you need generous donors (like the Asian groups) and/or centuries of accumulated social capital. Many are willing to buy tickets to Buddhist events, much as we do for concerts, but this model doesn't work so well for long-term projects with little exotic appeal. Supporting monks or nuns is simply too expensive. What would you think of a fellow dharma center customer who expected everybody else to pay for his tickets, all the time? How long would you oblige him? Because that's basically what a Western monk is.


You are asking the wrong person. I contribute gladly to both projects and to monastics. I also gladly contribute to people who can't afford tickets to training events, because I don't see them as fellow "customers" as you put it, but as fellow travelers and friends. Part of my worldview (and I hope it is not so uncommon) is that any result that I am experiencing now is wasted if not used to help others attain enlightenment. YMMV. I feel that If Western practitioners paid as much attention to karma and its results as they did to collecting initiations, there would be plenty to support full-time scholars and practitioners. I also tend to find that those who are most penurious about offering support with no strings attached are those that never seem to have any money anyway. I am not sure why they care about the largesse of others.

What you are espousing is exactly the Calvinist ethic I was referring to. One does not have to be Calvinist oneself to imbibe the general cultural value of work in the West (most notably in the USA) which derives from this worldview. I profoundly disagree that holding vows, practicing and studying full-time, translating texts, etc. is not worthwhile to invest in. I find this culture of mindless work and equally mindless accumulation and consumption very sad.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Adi » Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:01 am

Indrajala wrote:
Adi wrote: It is not the monastic life that is the problem, it is the lack of training in it that is the problem.


Not really.

There are plenty of monks in Asia who are trained for decades in monastic life and know the ropes and manual quite well, yet there still remains plenty of dodgy behavior. Moreover, many from the third world don't take their role as monks very seriously and would happily get to America, claim asylum and disrobe.


I think you've taken me out of context. We are talking about the West in particular where we don't have thousands of monastics and a tradition of it being a kind of "job" that young (mostly) men are taken into at a very young age and a good percentage often later regret.

In addition, of course one can become "dodgy" even with the right training or perhaps even because of it -- individual causes and conditions are vast. However, in the west we don't generally have the cultural habit or many opportunities to get the right training. The only thing comparable is the contemplative traditions within the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

For instance, the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance, or the OCSO or Trappists, has a daily living structure that is quite similar to the way Tibetan Buddhist monasteries function. Brother Thomas Merton, OCSO, got along famously well with HH Chatral Rinpoche and the first Kalu Rinpoche. The former called him a natural buddha and the latter spontaneously invited him to go on three-year retreat. I mention this famous example because it points to something in humanity that I think is important: the dedication and devotion of one's life to religious study and how that is a common aspiration among many. I think the west would greatly benefit from adapting this 2,500 year-old monastic tradition of Buddhism to its cultural habits or at least the ones that would serve everyone well.

Whether or not that happens is a question I have no capacity to answer. :smile:

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

Postby Indrajala » Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:14 am

Adi wrote:I think you've taken me out of context. We are talking about the West in particular where we don't have thousands of monastics and a tradition of it being a kind of "job" that young (mostly) men are taken into at a very young age and a good percentage often later regret.


You're saying people need training. Well, training doesn't really ensure anything, east or west. For all the training that goes on in Asia, you sure see a lot of dodgy behavior. I don't think the west would be any different. If, as an autonomous adult, you decide to renounce and go forth, then what training do you need? On how to make your bed? That's all quite unnecessary. Celibacy isn't something you train to endure. You need to have the right mindset.

A lot of monastic training in any case is a waste of time. How to iron your clothes, make your bed or take a dump in the orthodox fashion is rather meaningless and just ensures conformity and obedience to authority, neither of which are particularly reflective of the path.

I personally don't see the need for large monasteries to be honest. I think small scale, decentralized temples where a master and his/her few disciples live is far more preferable to highly organized and capital intensive monastic institutions. The former requires minimal internal policing, and less resources squandered on organizational management (i.e., politics). It is better to have quality rather than quantity in my estimation.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby lama tsewang » Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:41 am

hmm karma dorje you prove my point in the way tyou respond to a sensible discussion With rude assertions.
Oh yes and some of the persons you mention to back up your arguments, well i know them personally.

You see i did the same three year retreat with my colleague Lama Palden from 1982-85.

I still stand by what I said in my post,before

I was the only person in my retreat who was a monk before the retreat , i was a monk for 5 years before the retreat.

The first things that novices learn in East Asian monasteries , is called noble manners ,its a bout etiquette , etc.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Adi » Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:50 am

Indrajala wrote:You're saying people need training.

Yes.

Well, training doesn't really ensure anything, east or west.

No one is saying it does.

For all the training that goes on in Asia, you sure see a lot of dodgy behavior.

Of course, as it is back to all the individual causes and conditions, the conditions at any one time at any particular monastery, etc.

I don't think the west would be any different.

Maybe, maybe not. But no one will know unless the west is given the chance. I say we should have that chance to be just as dodgy or sublime as our friends in Asia. :smile:

I personally don't see the need for large monasteries to be honest.

I don't recall anyone arguing that a large place is necessary. I agree (because I am disposed towards it) that "small scale, decentralized temples where a master and his/her few disciples live" is an excellent way to go about things. Big dharma centers (regardless of monastics or not) usually means big problems.

It is better to have quality rather than quantity in my estimation.

I think so, too, although it would be nice to have the chance to explore it all, perhaps achieving quantity and quality, something that has happened before.

Again, though, all this is up to the karma of the West in general and practitioners in particular. I hope for the best for everyone.

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

Postby Karma Dorje » Fri Oct 18, 2013 3:04 am

lama tsewang wrote:hmm karma dorje you prove my point in the way tyou respond to a sensible discussion With rude assertions.
Oh yes and some of the persons you mention to back up your arguments, well i know them personally.

You see i did the same three year retreat with my colleague Lama Palden from 1982-85.

I still stand by what I said in my post,before

I was the only person in my retreat who was a monk before the retreat , i was a monk for 5 years before the retreat.

The first things that novices learn in East Asian monasteries , is called noble manners ,its a bout etiquette , etc.


I haven't made a single rude assertion, unless you find facts to be impolite. Is it noble to call non-monastic teachers half-baked? Neither robes nor monastic vows make a teacher. Achieving the results and signs of the practices, having the real ability to benefit those that depend on one and having permission of one's master to teach are required. Some who have these (including my guru) are gelongs. Some are not. Dharma is a big tent. We should rejoice in all of its expressions.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby lama tsewang » Fri Oct 18, 2013 3:05 am

Karma Dorje, to speak of the Kagyu lineage , as a real lineage , meaning a clear set of teachings thatone can go and learn , Gampopa really created it.

So youre saying that before Gampopa , it wasnt monastic, really?
then what was Milarepa , and what of the othe other repas who were his students were they all farmers or sheep herders
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby lama tsewang » Fri Oct 18, 2013 3:21 am

oh yes , in that list of teachers you gave us , Chagdud Rinpoche was a monk was trained as a monk , his teachers were monks the places where he trained were monastic . Who were Dudjom Rinpoches teachers , and where did he train?
Where was Nakhai norbu trained originally?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Karma Dorje » Fri Oct 18, 2013 3:24 am

lama tsewang wrote:Karma Dorje, to speak of the Kagyu lineage , as a real lineage , meaning a clear set of teachings thatone can go and learn , Gampopa really created it.

So youre saying that before Gampopa , it wasnt monastic, really?
then what was Milarepa , and what of the othe other repas who were his students were they all farmers or sheep herders


Milarepa was a yogi, and his karma women are well known. He was not a monk. Neither was his guru Marpa, who was married and yes, a farmer. Nor were Naropa, Niguma, Virupa, Sukhasiddhi or Tilopa. Is this some sort of trick question? Having been on three-year retreat in the Shangpa tradition, surely you know the namthars of these masters?!
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby lama tsewang » Fri Oct 18, 2013 3:34 am

i cant believe it , that you would come up with such an argument. As I said according to u milarepa was an ordinary layperson , with girlfriends etc. This is a good joke, Ill show what youve written to all my friends. And all these others werent renunciates they just worked 9 to 5 like everybody, right?
Marpa was just a farmer who drank beer . same for Naropa?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby conebeckham » Fri Oct 18, 2013 4:09 am

Lama Tsewang-
Being a renunciate yogi and being a monk are not the same thing, right?

Are you asserting that Milarepa was monastic? That Marpa was not, in fact, a landowner?

How about the Mahasiddhas-beer sellers, weavers, procurers for prostitutes, court musicians, hunters?

I'm not against monasticism, I support it, as does Karma if you read him carefully. But surely you're not claiming there were no "lay" or non-monastic Kagyu gurus?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Alfredo » Fri Oct 18, 2013 4:15 am

Thus spake Huffpo:
It has been estimated that 30 percent of all Western Buddhists are of Jewish heritage, and many of the prominent Western Buddhist teachers were born Jews.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-fra ... 20948.html

But you're right--my eyes skipped over your line about Catholics. Sorry.

Karma Dorje wrote:
What you are espousing is exactly the Calvinist ethic I was referring to. One does not have to be Calvinist oneself to imbibe the general cultural value of work in the West (most notably in the USA) which derives from this worldview. I profoundly disagree that holding vows, practicing and studying full-time, translating texts, etc. is not worthwhile to invest in. I find this culture of mindless work and equally mindless accumulation and consumption very sad.


Is it possible to be guilty of the mindless accumulation of mindfulness...?

What you call Calvinism (in the sense of economic neo-liberalism), I call financial reality. However generous you might be, there is such a thing as economic scarcity, so you will inevitably face choices about whether to direct your money--to yourself (perhaps for your own Buddhist study) or to others; and if you choose to support monks or nuns, you will still have to choose which ones. The financing of Caucasian-majority dharma centers is still very ad hoc and experimental. It's not like old Tibet (or modern Japan), where feudal relations determined who supported what monastery (or temple), and spiritual ties typically followed familial or clan-based ones. We're shopping, and the monks and nuns among us are consumers no less than we are.

How much should one give to religion? A few enthusiastic souls may suggest ten percent, but most of us operate on the collection-plate model, and donate small amounts unless charged for something. Is this wicked? How much is appropriate, and who decides, now that these monies are no longer collected in the form of taxes? (Remember, there are other charities worthy of support, and you could be putting money away towards a house, your children's college fund, or retirement.)
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Oct 18, 2013 4:18 am

Greetings,

JKhedrup wrote:I am interested in people's real opinions. But not a flame war.

I find the options provided to the question difficult to relate to. What I "really think" of a monk or a nun would probably depend upon my interpretation of their actions of body and speech.

In doing so, I would set aside the geographical/cultural distinction, and would view them as individual Dharma practitioners, rather than as strategic cogs in some kind of organised proliferation of the Dharma.

Maitri,
Retro. :)
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