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 Indrajala » Mon Oct 21, 2013 6:35 pm

lama tsewang wrote:what you said about the vinaya and consensus community decision making is very true.
Not many monks even understand this. There are places where this is followed ajahn brahm says his community has consensus decision making , my abbot , his temple in taiwan is like this . there are only a few.


There's a difference between saying you got a consensus and decision making procedures which demand that the sangha votes on everything.

In some communities you hear about "harmony of views" or something to that effect, which basically means dissenters either remain silent or are eliminated.

I think in the west having small decentralized organizations with a number of erudite monks and nuns being specialists in Buddhist translation, lore, practice and so forth is perhaps the optimal way to go unless there's a new need for monasticism (like a collapse of state welfare programs). A decentralized model ensures ecclesiastical autonomy which is essential when it comes to adapting to local conditions.

In any case, for the foreseeable future I don't see western monasticism happening on any noteworthy scale. There's no money for it.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Oct 21, 2013 6:47 pm

Most monasteries in the West survive hand-to-mouth. In the Tibetan tradition usually even the better-sized monasteries eventually lose monks- often not for the reasons people always assume people disrobe (celibacy)- but simply because they run out of personal funds or sponsorship. Most monasteries in the Tibetan tradition in the West will require some sort of donation per month from those who stay there. Obviously, the longer one goes without "working", the more strained finances become. So unless one has a wealthy sponsor, one is often delaying the inevitable. Then, when the inevitable arrives and one has to seek paid work, of course the stress of that situation makes it very hard to keep one's vows unless perhaps one has a close relationship with a master living in the same place.

It is true that our culture is not well suited to monasticism- whether of the Buddhist, Christian or Hindu variety. I wish that people would see the value in it but have given up on being an "advocate" as it feels like throwing stones down a well.

In terms of things being run democratically, usually even in the relatively Western Ajahn Chah tradition this is not really the case. One doesn't have a say until one is really senior, a "Thera" and on the Ajahn council. I am not sure how things work at Ajahn Brahm's monastery but I can imagine with such a charismatic teacher what he says goes in most cases. But that is true of most human organizations, even "democratic" ones.
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 lama tsewang » Mon Oct 21, 2013 6:57 pm

the question of paying is really not relevant i think , its not an issue. what youre saying is just making confusion do you see any possibility of monasteries of 500 here , or are they even desirable?
youre talking about something irrelevant. its revealing of your bias , its not a contribution to a discuission.
often , when people raise questions when i do teaching , i try to look at the person , not just the question .
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby lama tsewang » Mon Oct 21, 2013 6:59 pm

WRoNG KHEDRUP WRONG Attitude talk with the monks at Sukhas place .
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby lama tsewang » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:00 pm

dont wait until theres money start NOW!!!!!!!
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby lama tsewang » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:01 pm

It will never be perfect thats part of our practice
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:06 pm

The problem is if I wanted to start something I am not qualified to be a teacher. How could I lead or teach others if I am still building up my learning and practice? I am still learning to translate effectively and every session that I translate I realize how many things I still haven't really integrated into my practice.

To try to fill that role of teacher before I feel ready would be a mistake, I think. Geshe la and others have encouraged me to take it on when I feel ready- make the decision myself- no one is barring me. But I am just not ready.

But of course, this is just my opinion and experience, others may feel ready. But my opinion is that the first step to a stable, successful monastery is a really qualified teacher. Because of all the obstacles that have been mentioned, it is very hard for Westerners to get the experience necessary to become truly qualified.

I admire what you are doing, and pray that it works. It takes courage.

But I can only speak from what I have seen so far- Nalanda is the best example I can think of of a functioning monastery in our Tibetan tradition, but the monks still have to pay to stay there. If they didn't, it would have closed ages ago. I don't think that we need monasteries of 500 here, but to get Westerners trained properly you would ideally have at least a decent sized community of 10 or more.
Last edited by JKhedrup on Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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
JKhedrup
 
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Location: the Netherlands and India

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

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:08 pm

what youre saying is just making confusion do you see any possibility of monasteries of 500 here , or are they even desirable?


Sorry I wasn't trying to create confusion. What about my comments is doing that? I will try to explain myself.

A monastery of 500 is not realistic or desireable, but when I said "Tibetan Monastery" I should have specified "in the West"- that is actually what I was talking about. The conditions in India are completely different though even they are feeling the pinch and beginning to look at alternatives for funding and sustainability.
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
JKhedrup
 
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Location: the Netherlands and India

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

Postby lama tsewang » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:14 pm

iwasnt talking a bout you at first but indrajala
dont apologize

look at what he said

Dogen wroter that if they had lots of sponsors and enough food that it wouldnt be a good thing
.
Intersting statement , think about it
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:16 pm

On this I agree. Too many sponsors and benefactors inevitably lead to corruption. In this way I really do appreciate the noble poverty of the forest tradition, but their strict precept system creates other obstacles.

It will be a long time in the West before we face the problem of too many sponsors I think :thinking:
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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Location: the Netherlands and India

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

Postby invisiblediamond » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:23 pm

In the US, the support group is what people understand. If someone realized would start one it will help.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby conebeckham » Mon Oct 21, 2013 8:50 pm

It's a very complex situation, here in the USA, at least, with regard to creating Dharma Communities, and ordination, and whatnot. I'm just sharing some thoughts here--points to ponder.

Like it or not, the Protestant Work Ethic runs through the mainstream of US attitudes towards "right livelihood." Work, in whatever form, is seen as a necessity, even in regard to religious community. For many, that means "teaching" or "providing pastoral counseling." It can also mean "conducting practices" in the sense of pujas for the communal good, as is the case at monasteries in Asia, but by and large I think this is less valued here in the USA than the traditional "Clerical Role" of Christian ministers, etc. In any case, regardless of how the source of income is derived, from the POV of the supported community members, there's danger. Both ordained and lay Dharma practitioners need to be mindful of how the received "dana" is used. Frankly, it's dangerous to take money for "dharma"-related actions, no matter what. See Kongtrul's autobiography for comments about how delicate the issue of usage of sponsorship money can be with regard to outcomes, etc.

It's a bit of a Catch 22 situation: Monastic Centers in USA will not be adequately supported until there is a community of sponsors who value such centers for the "services" they provide. To create such a community of sponsors, we need to become a "Land of Dharma," a land where monastic centers can flourish and impact the community. Our cultural background is an impediment in many ways.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby lama tsewang » Mon Oct 21, 2013 11:17 pm

Part of the difficulty with this thread here, for me, is that many of the people contributing here, have limited experience of the greater Buddhist world , apart from Tibetan Buddhism as practiced in the west .

Monks are supported by the populace because of the services they provide for the population. This might be rituals , profoundly informed Dharma teaching, meditation instruction , to schooling for children.
We Bhikshus are to live in dependence on the population , helping people in return for offerings.
So this question about having lots of sponsors is moot , its wrong minded and self defeating. Buddhist monks have always been helping the people around them, thats how we survive.

In fact, there is lots of support for Tibetan Buddhism in this country teachers for all of these centers are being suppoprted , there is the funding. There isnt enough funding for centers here that will be able to train teachers who are local, fully , well trained western people, the funds arent being directed , to fund local things, (i believe) . , In fact , many of the centers here are branches of monasteries in Asia.
I believe strongly that for the teachings to flourish here local people have to teach and administer the Sanghas locally.
monastic centers are the best places for non monastics to do retreats or get good scholarly Dharma education , they are not merely places for a Monastic elite to live off of offerings from wealthy millionaires. Such places are the best way to make Dharma solid here . Otherwise Tibetan Buddhism will just be relying on imports from Asia with all of its attendant problems.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Oct 22, 2013 1:16 am

lama tsewang wrote:Part of the difficulty with this thread here, for me, is that many of the people contributing here, have limited experience of the greater Buddhist world , apart from Tibetan Buddhism as practiced in the west .


The subject of this thread is Western monks and nuns. What does the greater Buddhist world have to do with it? Many of the contributors, like Indrajala and Khedrup-la have considerable experience in India and China.

Monks are supported by the populace because of the services they provide for the population. This might be rituals , profoundly informed Dharma teaching, meditation instruction , to schooling for children.
We Bhikshus are to live in dependence on the population , helping people in return for offerings.


While an implicit quid pro quo exists, this is not the ideal model. The sangha ideally begs for support from a populace that believes in the inherent benefit of supporting ascetics. While I personally share this belief, it is not widespread in this culture and even the quid pro quo here is not valued as it is not perceived to bring tangible benefit by most materialist leaning Buddhists who are not of Asian origin. Beyond that, monks are as capable of communicating profoundly delusional Dharma teaching as any one else. Ability as a teacher, understanding, accomplishment and compassion are the necessary qualities and it is not a given that a monk will have these. As has been explored on many other threads here, even a title as a lama or tulku is a guarantee that someone is a qualified master. Some very good monks may make lousy teachers. Some reprobates may make excellent teachers... one can't really assume anything.

In fact, there is lots of support for Tibetan Buddhism in this country teachers for all of these centers are being suppoprted , there is the funding. There isnt enough funding for centers here that will be able to train teachers who are local, fully , well trained western people, the funds arent being directed , to fund local things, (i believe) . , In fact , many of the centers here are branches of monasteries in Asia.
I believe strongly that for the teachings to flourish here local people have to teach and administer the Sanghas locally.
monastic centers are the best places for non monastics to do retreats or get good scholarly Dharma education , they are not merely places for a Monastic elite to live off of offerings from wealthy millionaires. Such places are the best way to make Dharma solid here . Otherwise Tibetan Buddhism will just be relying on imports from Asia with all of its attendant problems.


I am not sure there is much problem with really qualified and respected western teachers finding funding, though certainly not on the scale of the Tibetan projects in the diaspora. The problem lies more with the individual practitioners who do not have a circle of students. For that we really need to look at funding models like crowdsourcing or endowments. There is a valuable role for monks and nuns that do not teach to uphold the vows and use them as a support for their practice. It would be a shame if we just get into the same quid pro quo as there is in Asia, even if it were conceivable. We need to continue to fund really good teachers and practitioners, the other institutional aspects will follow in time.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:12 am

JKhedrup wrote:In terms of things being run democratically, usually even in the relatively Western Ajahn Chah tradition this is not really the case. One doesn't have a say until one is really senior, a "Thera" and on the Ajahn council. I am not sure how things work at Ajahn Brahm's monastery but I can imagine with such a charismatic teacher what he says goes in most cases. But that is true of most human organizations, even "democratic" ones.


Some monks absolutely insist on never eating past noon as it is 'against the rules', but their own institutions neglect that other essential part of the Vinaya: the democratic karma proceedings.


On this I agree. Too many sponsors and benefactors inevitably lead to corruption. In this way I really do appreciate the noble poverty of the forest tradition, but their strict precept system creates other obstacles.


Starting a commune model might work. Meaning, monks would grow part of their own food and produce some product for sale on the market, like honey or cheese.

In such a model having extra reliable hands would always be welcome.

But then ultimately I don't know if the west right now wants or needs Buddhist monasticism. Almost everyone is literate by adulthood, so at that point you're able to easily read the relevant materials on your own, or go learn a language like Tibetan or Pali. A lot of communities operate with married teachers or just a single teacher who is a renunciate. There doesn't appear to be a pressing need for training large numbers of robed monastics.

For now and the foreseeable future it largely seems that if you want to be a monk or nun in the west you'll already need to be highly qualified, educated and maybe capable of generating your own side income, and then having a leadership role in a community which provides a residence. It is elitist, but that's the circumstances at present.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:17 am

Karma Dorje wrote: For that we really need to look at funding models like crowdsourcing or endowments. There is a valuable role for monks and nuns that do not teach to uphold the vows and use them as a support for their practice. It would be a shame if we just get into the same quid pro quo as there is in Asia, even if it were conceivable. We need to continue to fund really good teachers and practitioners, the other institutional aspects will follow in time.


Owning property and having monthly income through rents is one way of ensuring a constant income for resident monastics.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby rory » Tue Oct 22, 2013 4:19 am

People will come for teachings, you don't need a giant place, just something nice in a forest/desert, people in the West really do want to escape the noise/pressure/technology for weekends, retreats and devote time to practicing the Dharma with no distractions.If the monks/nuns do something like shojin ryori people would happily pay for that or write popular books on Dharma, there are lots of ways to generate income. I've given donations to priests in the past, but always unexpectedly as, as a layperson who does believe in karma, I don't want to fall into the whole mentality of merit-buying.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby smcj » Tue Oct 22, 2013 4:29 am

A small digression, about as big as an appendix:
It's a bit of a Catch 22 situation:

There are many such Catch-22s in modern life. I see them as the echoes of the big Catch-22, which is the cycle of rebirth. If I can see these many small Catch-22s in life, I could in theory extrapolate them out beyond death. Such was the doorway I walked through on my path towards believing in reincarnation.

So the Catch-22 of not having sponsors to support practitioners who will gain realization, and realized practitioners being needed to inspire sponsors, I see as a samsaric (Catch-22) cycle even though reincarnation is not involved.

Please forgive this egocentric interruption.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby lama tsewang » Tue Oct 22, 2013 11:27 pm

dear Karma Dorje , do u ever say anything positive and constructive?
Do you ever make misttakes in what you type here?
do you know anything about the conventions coneected with the monastic lifestyle,
apaart from your opinions ?
many of the beings here make a lot of statements which are just opinions , and opinons of people with little experience of being cut.often such opibnions voice ones mere prejudices based upon ones conditioning and the societys norms . mixing these opinions in with dharma can make a horrible tasting soup. telling long standing monks that they dont know about how monks live and dont know , is both very rude and certainly very very proud.
you really think you know better!!!!!!
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby invisiblediamond » Tue Oct 22, 2013 11:51 pm

lama tsewang wrote:Part of the difficulty with this thread here, for me, is that many of the people contributing here, have limited experience of the greater Buddhist world , apart from Tibetan Buddhism as practiced in the west .

Monks are supported by the populace because of the services they provide for the population. This might be rituals , profoundly informed Dharma teaching, meditation instruction , to schooling for children.
We Bhikshus are to live in dependence on the population , helping people in return for offerings.
So this question about having lots of sponsors is moot , its wrong minded and self defeating. Buddhist monks have always been helping the people around them, thats how we survive.

In fact, there is lots of support for Tibetan Buddhism in this country teachers for all of these centers are being suppoprted , there is the funding. There isnt enough funding for centers here that will be able to train teachers who are local, fully , well trained western people, the funds arent being directed , to fund local things, (i believe) . , In fact , many of the centers here are branches of monasteries in Asia.
I believe strongly that for the teachings to flourish here local people have to teach and administer the Sanghas locally.
monastic centers are the best places for non monastics to do retreats or get good scholarly Dharma education , they are not merely places for a Monastic elite to live off of offerings from wealthy millionaires. Such places are the best way to make Dharma solid here . Otherwise Tibetan Buddhism will just be relying on imports from Asia with all of its attendant problems.


Our point is that this model don't work in the west. So we're trying to figure out what would and still be authentic. In the West you get what you pay for. Higher method have to be expensive. Then people will be interested. The dharma master can devote funds to practitioners. This is what is happening already. There's really nothing wrong with this at all. Non ordained are better at this.
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