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 greentara » Wed Oct 30, 2013 1:07 am

Karma Dorje, 'The problem is rarely about population growth. It's about ridiculously unfair wealth distribution" I agree, you are spot on! In addition this massive population still needs fresh drinking water, theres bound to be serious confrontation between China and India around the source of the great river systems and who controls the flow of water. The forests that are the lungs of the earth are being chopped down at a harming/alarming rate....I could go on and on but I'm veering off track as we're supposed to be discussing monks and nuns.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby muni » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:17 am

Besides money, there can be identification problems. Buddhism is new 'in the west'.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Aemilius » Tue Nov 05, 2013 11:57 am

greentara wrote:Aemelius, You say "Why do You fear the population growth?"
You can't be serious? It's like the Titanic, the ship is sinking and the band continues to play to quieten the fear of the passengers!


It is most useful to read what the scientists actually say about population growth. They have found that the growth goes through certain phases, and that different countries are right now in different stages of population growth. After awhile the growth stops naturally. This has already happened in some countries, and it is going to happen in others, after some time. The phenomenon of population growth is well studied.

best wishes!
& may knowledge dissolve unnecessary fear!
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby muni » Fri Jan 03, 2014 10:07 am

I was reading about Tsultrim Allione, I take this sentence: "To me the purpose of wearing the robes is to simplify one's
external appearance so that one could concentrate one's
inner development".

This makes clear that one can let go the worry for what others think about our appearances or how we think about.

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

Postby han » Fri Jan 03, 2014 11:03 am

I respect anyone who genuinely practices the Buddha Dhamma, but I also believe monks and nuns have an important role to play.

When one first looks, the robes can be a symbol of external security. When someone practices themselves this may be less important but I would never underestimate the importance of dedicated monks and nuns, practice wise or symbolically .

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The highest teaching is selfless love . Who can meet this standard?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby theanarchist » Fri Jan 03, 2014 4:22 pm

Aemilius wrote: After awhile the growth stops naturally.


It does not stop "naturally".

It stopped in the western industrial countries because of the pill, carreer chances for women, the acceptance of single women and a social security system that does not depend on children for looking after the elderly.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Tenzin & Söpa » Fri Jan 03, 2014 9:31 pm

Interesting topic, JKhedrup, thanks for opening it.

Buddhism currently being one of the fastest growing religions in the world and in progress of spreading across the novel territories of the so-called Western world, I think we'll be heading for certain adaptations/changes as an inevitable result of contact with these different cultures, their traditions, their systems of values, their society, etc.

Just as when it finally reached Tibet, Buddhism evolved there in its own unique way compared to Buddhist teachings in other parts of Asia, the same is bound to happen in the Western world too.

Now, one key social element in "Western"(-ised) countries is the emphasis on the individual (which has a long philosophical tradition in these countries). Concepts like independence, self-sufficiency, hard work, success, economical status, productivity, etc are highly positive values within this culture.

From this point of view, I don't think many Westerners, even Westerners with some interest in Buddhism (which is usually, on their own terms) will be interested in supporting monastics - in their eyes, economically unproductive adults. The latter is a category against which there's a strong social stigma in this part of the world. Supporting others outside your immediate nuclear family is not common here.

Indeed, many Westerners interested in Buddhism may not even find it desirable to deal with monastics - they may not feel they really need the Sangha part from the refuge formula after all.

In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, there's lots of emphasis on oral teachings and the personal relationship you share with your master is fundamental in your path.
But, based on what I've seen, many people in the West who turn to Buddhism aren't really into this type of relationship (an adult who puts him- or herself into another adult's hands? not common), or into Bodhisattva aspirations, or looking for a better rebirth (a concept largely alien to modern-day Western culture), rather, they are looking for some kind of universal wisdom and answers to make their lives more fulfilled and meaningful or just less miserable, right here and right now.

Also, as you correctly pointed out, there are other factors - like a certain widespread suspicion towards monastics (and in particular to those of a non-Western religion) - that create an environment that can't be equated to those established in Asian countries.

All this conditions make it very difficult for a monk or nun to survive in the Western world in the traditional way.

But the way I see this challenge, as daunting as it is, it offers us a chance to rethink on the meaning of the sangha and its relationship with the lay community. As the traditional definition of "householder" is starting to blur, so might, to a certain extent, that of monk (at least in the West) - in order to better serve its original function.

I don't have the wisdom or knowledge to come up with answers on how to tackle this, but I can share my personal experience here. I decided to devote my life to the Dharma, not for me, but in the name of all sentient beings, so naturally at some point the question of taking full monastic vows did arise... But thanks to those who shared their wisdom and advice with me, I realised that, at least for the time being, taking full monastic vows would actually interfere with the path I'm walking.

So I find myself in a liminal state, being neither a householder (I'm an expat with no family, don't own a house, car, don't engage in most mundane activities that aren't justified by my practice or survival, etc) nor a fully-ordained monastic, but fascinatingly enough this unusual position allows me to act as a bridge between the two worlds, serving and benefitting both, and all my practice revolves around that.

I only spend around 5 days a month at the gompa (unless I'm there on a retreat). My days revolves around my dharma practices/study, and serving the (lay, non-Buddhist) community where I live - which two aspects summarise everything I believe in. I do have a job to support myself - and which gives me a chance to give all of myself to others - but it's an atypical job. I collaborate with an institution that provides further education/retraining for adults. I don't have a salary (nor sick leave or holidays) - I receive hourly wages for the seminars/workshops I teach. So I never know if and how much I'll work/earn the next month. But as I have no family to support I don't worry about that and after I've taken care of my needs I can then devote what time and money I have left volunteering for my community. I believe in this and I am immensely grateful to be allowed to do this. As for the various vows I've undertaken so far, there isn't a single one which I find an impediment or annoyance in my life - on the other hand, I've repeatedly found them a source of precious guidance and a stimulus to work on my shortcomings.

I don't know about the future - I'll follow my lama's advice, but as long as he finds this suitable, I actually like the idea of being able to implement the things I believe in.

So based on this personal considerations, the way I see the Sangha, it has a fundamental role in transmitting the Dharma. But does this trasmission have to mere merely doctrinal and intellectual - or perhaps by setting an example? I wonder if maybe the key to successfully integrating monastics within Western culture would be by allowing monastics to be more engaged within their communities.

Just my two cents, in all humility.

PS - Benectine monks in Medieval Europe lived by the motto: Ora et Labora - pray and work. ;)
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby reddust » Fri Jan 03, 2014 11:05 pm

Thank you for the lovely story Tenzin & Söpa. I pretty much agree with you regarding us Westerners. However, we do support our local religions, most Christians give 10% of their income to their church and have grants set up for those who wish to study and work within their Church. Americans who wish to support the Buddhist community would at least know these kinds of structure. Whether it would work with those people attracted to Buddhism I dunno. When I was working I spent my money on teachings which support my Tibetan teachers and their community. Now that I am retired I don't have the extra cash. If I had a Buddhist Monastic community near me I would volunteer and bring them all my extra garden produce. Right now my extra produce goes to our local community center.

EDIT: I have only positive experiences with my Asian teachers and their establishments. I also have wonderful experiences with SN Geonka's meditation centers. I gave a lot of my time there in service to meditators as well as retreat work.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby tellyontellyon » Fri Jan 03, 2014 11:59 pm

I've met a few western monks from the Karma Kagyu tradition. They were very decent people, and they inspired the view that westerners could learn and teach the Dharma. My main teacher is a Tibetan, but a western lama has taught in the same group and he was great, his first language was English (though he spoke Tibetan too), and this helped him to explain very clearly.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Aemilius » Sat Jan 04, 2014 12:15 pm

theanarchist wrote:
Aemilius wrote: After awhile the growth stops naturally.


It does not stop "naturally".

It stopped in the western industrial countries because of the pill, carreer chances for women, the acceptance of single women and a social security system that does not depend on children for looking after the elderly.


All of these, and other such factors, are natural events in the evolution of humanity, are they not?
In the websites about population growth scientists consider that the growth of human societies, i.e. of nations and countries, go through predictable stages. After the stage of rapid growth comes a stage of decline. You can search this topic for Yourself, i.e. population growth, or population growth models, etc... There are lot of studies in this field. The site of United Nations is a good source, as an example.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby dharmagoat » Sat Jan 04, 2014 2:14 pm

theanarchist wrote:
Aemilius wrote: After awhile the growth stops naturally.

It does not stop "naturally".

It stopped in the western industrial countries because of the pill, carreer chances for women, the acceptance of single women and a social security system that does not depend on children for looking after the elderly.

When it stops naturally it is because of overcrowding, starvation and disease. We see very little of this in the west.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Seishin » Sat Jan 04, 2014 3:07 pm

Recently I watched a documentary about population growth in various countries, and they found that the population growth of the world is actually falling. The reasons for this, they said, were not due to disease or starvation, but because a large percentage of people are no longer having large families. This was happening mostly in the poorer countries, whereas in the US, for example, population growth continues. There was speculation about contraception and increasing costs to bring up children, but when they interviewed people they just said they wanted to do more with their life than have kids. But what they found was that the WORLD population is decreasing. It was really interesting, I'll have to try and find it....

In the mean time, here is an international forecast of world population growth;
Image
http://www.census.gov/population/intern ... rgraph.php

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

Postby Tenzin & Söpa » Sat Jan 04, 2014 4:32 pm

Seishin wrote:Recently I watched a documentary about population growth in various countries (...)


There was a highly informative article on the Jan 2011 issue of the National Geographic magazine, along with some interesting charts showing how population booms. The article itself can be read here, but I can't find those charts online, so I'll copy the info here:
How Population Booms

Phase 1: preindustrial
birthrate: high birthrate matches high death rate
death rate: disease, poor living conditions, and warfare lead to a high death rate that sometimes exceeds the birthrate
examples: none since wartorn Rwanda in the 1990s

Phase 2: boom begins
birthrate: remains high
death rate: better sanitation, health care, and food supply cause the death rate to drop
examples: Uganda, Nigeria, Angola

Phase 3: still rising
birthrate: declines as women gain access to education and engage in family planning
death rate: continues to decline
examples: India, Brazil, Bangladesh, USA

Phase 4: leveling off (population stabilises as births and deaths come into balance)
birthrate: drops to replacement level or even below
death rate: remains low or increases slightly due to older population
examples: Japan, Russia, Italy, China
ཁོང་ཁྲོ་སློང་མཁན་མེད་ན། བཟོད་པ་སུ་ལ་སྒོམ།

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

Postby reddust » Sat Jan 04, 2014 7:10 pm

I forgot to say all my meditation teachers have been from the West and I have had great experiences with them but most of them haven't been Nuns or Monks. All my My Dharma teachers have been mostly monks from the East, the only problems I've run into is they have been all men and don't speak very good English. So when I want to talk about practice from a woman's perspective I get really uncomfortable. That has been a great practice in itself, talking with a man who is also not of my culture. I have not meet many Western Monks or Nuns except as fellow meditators or Dharma students. Being a vipassana meditator from Goenka's camp I have been able to meet Buddhist lay teachers, monks, nuns from all over the world. Great experience for this West Coast Redneck :twothumbsup:
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Deva » Fri Jan 24, 2014 3:04 am

I suppose I could only vote for one option, but I would rather have two - not necessary to transmit Dharma in the West and also not supported by the Western society. That just seems obvious to me. I feel rather sorry for a monk in robes here in the U.S., they have no support from society and I can't see them having much influence, especially if they are not residing in a monastery, does that make any sense?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jan 25, 2014 8:18 am

Tenzin & Söpa wrote:Indeed, many Westerners interested in Buddhism may not even find it desirable to deal with monastics - they may not feel they really need the Sangha part from the refuge formula after all.


Our education system is such that we create minds more inclined to harsh criticism.

In my experience this leads to extremes with respect to Buddhist monastics. You either get extreme Vinaya fundamentalism where a monk having a snack after noon is a "bad monk" and clearly not worthy of any support, or complete dismissal of the sangha in any form.

There are a lot of Buddhists who are more Buddhist than the Sangharaja. I'm not kidding.

Personally, I think the sangha-ratna refuge is actually directed at liberated beings (arhats and noble bodhisattvas), and not common sangha members who are unsuitable refuges in any case being ordinary beings. I think it is actually rather audacious for monastics to think people should take refuge in them.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby dzogchungpa » Sat Jan 25, 2014 9:00 pm

Seishin wrote:Recently I watched a documentary about population growth in various countries, and they found that the population growth of the world is actually falling. The reasons for this, they said, were not due to disease or starvation, but because a large percentage of people are no longer having large families. This was happening mostly in the poorer countries, whereas in the US, for example, population growth continues. There was speculation about contraception and increasing costs to bring up children, but when they interviewed people they just said they wanted to do more with their life than have kids. But what they found was that the WORLD population is decreasing.

World population is not decreasing. What is decreasing is the growth rate, which is still positive. Until it becomes negative which, if your chart is to be believed, will not be until after 2050 if ever, world population will not decline.
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