Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

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Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 17, 2012 2:41 pm

In many modern day societies there is at the least the pretence and belief that everyone is equal no matter their status or background.

I think this belief might get transferred over to contemporary Buddhist communities as well to some extent. It wouldn't please people to just outright say that the male monks are chiefly superior followed by the male novices, then female nuns, female novices and following them the laity, even though this is how it is presented on paper. Seating arrangements have always been quite important. Moreover, there is a prescribed hierarchy.

So do we run into a situation where everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others? Wouldn't it just be best to do away with such pretences and consent to the existence of a prescribed hierarchy where male monastics are at the top and laity at the bottom? Or should a monastic have to earn their position of respect from the laity by virtue of wisdom and deeds rather than by putting on robes and formally renouncing?
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Blue Garuda » Fri Feb 17, 2012 2:53 pm

In the mind of someone with equanimity people are regarded as equal, Buddhist or otherwise, so that must be how I seek to think of others and to treat them accordingly.

Of course, there is plenty of self-cherishing in evidence as sects fight over aspects of practice and cultivate a feeling of superiority or even exclusiveness in relation to other groups. (At the 'grand scale' end of this is the application of the term 'Hinayana' to describe entire schools.)
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:22 pm

Blue Garuda wrote:In the mind of someone with equanimity people are regarded as equal, Buddhist or otherwise, so that must be how I seek to think of others and to treat them accordingly.


You might treat them accordingly, but what about seating arrangements during ceremonies? There is a strict hierarchy and it isn't just for looks.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby catmoon » Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:31 pm

For better or worse, some have more power than others. I don't think there has ever been a human society where this was not so. It does present some really peculiar conflicts. For instance, what if a monastic fires off a post that violates the ToS here? I've seen it happen on other boards, what am I supposed to do if it happens here? What if he insists he is correct and the ToS is wrong? Am I supposed to drop the ban hammer on a monk, who is my superior in the hierarchy?

The really nice thing about modding here is such things tend to not arise. The restraint and nonattachment that come with full time practice seem to be sufficient to prevent such conflicts of interest. Maybe this is a general principle resolving the "more equal than others" problems, i.e. genuine practice bypasses the need to exercise the "more equalness".

Nonetheless it is my task to keep a close eye on whose behind needs booting off the board next. :crying:
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:33 pm

catmoon wrote: The really nice thing about modding here is such things tend to not arise. The restraint and nonattachment that come with full time practice seem to be sufficient to prevent such conflicts of interest. Maybe this is a general principle resolving the "more equal than others" problems, i.e. genuine practice bypasses the need to exercise the "more equalness".


Have you read Bhante Dhammika's Broken Buddha?

http://www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-b ... dhanew.pdf

Not all monks do full-time practice.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Malcolm » Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:39 pm

Huseng wrote:In many modern day societies there is at the least the pretence and belief that everyone is equal no matter their status or background.

I think this belief might get transferred over to contemporary Buddhist communities as well to some extent. It wouldn't please people to just outright say that the male monks are chiefly superior followed by the male novices, then female nuns, female novices and following them the laity, even though this is how it is presented on paper. Seating arrangements have always been quite important. Moreover, there is a prescribed hierarchy.

So do we run into a situation where everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others? Wouldn't it just be best to do away with such pretences and consent to the existence of a prescribed hierarchy where male monastics are at the top and laity at the bottom? Or should a monastic have to earn their position of respect from the laity by virtue of wisdom and deeds rather than by putting on robes and formally renouncing?


Of what use is this proliferation about rank and position?
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:46 pm

Namdrol wrote:Of what use is this proliferation about rank and position?


I am not attempting to proliferate it.

But rank and position is still a major part of any significant Buddhist community in Asia. This is one thing that might get dropped if Buddhism is really transmitted into the west.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Malcolm » Fri Feb 17, 2012 4:02 pm

Huseng wrote:This is one thing that might get dropped if Buddhism is really transmitted into the west.


And good riddance too.

N
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 17, 2012 4:11 pm

Namdrol wrote:
Huseng wrote:This is one thing that might get dropped if Buddhism is really transmitted into the west.


And good riddance too.

N


I've come to have similar sentiments.

But then here in Asia, from India to Nepal to Taiwan, the whole hierarchy thing is ever present. This kind of thing is part of institutionalized Buddhism everywhere in Asia of course, though trying to extract Buddhadharma from it while maintaining the lifeline of a tradition for more than a generation might prove difficult.

I think some monastics might try to justify it by saying it fosters humility or something, but that to me is just contrived and superficial head bowing. Another form of self-grasping and cause for worry about offending someone.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Malcolm » Fri Feb 17, 2012 4:21 pm

Huseng wrote:
Namdrol wrote:
Huseng wrote:This is one thing that might get dropped if Buddhism is really transmitted into the west.


And good riddance too.

N


I've come to have similar sentiments.

But then here in Asia, from India to Nepal to Taiwan, the whole hierarchy thing is ever present. This kind of thing is part of institutionalized Buddhism everywhere in Asia of course, though trying to extract Buddhadharma from it while maintaining the lifeline of a tradition for more than a generation might prove difficult.

I think some monastics might try to justify it by saying it fosters humility or something, but that to me is just contrived and superficial head bowing. Another form of self-grasping and cause for worry about offending someone.


Well, the problem is that Asians tend to identify their hierarchy _as_ the Dharma. This is one reason I personally find the explicit leveling of hierarchy in Dzogchen so appealing, and why traditionally in Tibet, at any rate, Dzogchen teachings were considered threatening to the hierarchy. If you tell a bunch of folks that ignorant butchers will acheive realization faster than panditas based on instructions that you possess, it is going to shake some things up.

And yes, BTW to your question, the way it stands now is that some Buddhists are more equal than others -- for example, monastics with jobs still get to attend many teachings free of charge, while unemployed lay people are barred entrance. There is a phenomena in Buddhism where monastics correct every threat to their hegemony. This is largely sociological -- in societies where power lay in the hands of the aristocracy, the only way to power for common people is through the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

In societies like ours, where there is no de facto aristocracy, monastic heirarchies become one. In Buddhism in particular there is this notion of a hierarchy of virtue. I do not believe this was the Buddha's intent, however.
Last edited by Malcolm on Fri Feb 17, 2012 4:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 17, 2012 4:27 pm

Namdrol wrote:Well, the problem is that Asians tend to identify their hierarchy _as_ the Dharma. This is one reason I personally find the explicit leveling of hierarchy in Dzogchen so appealing, and why traditionally in Tibet, at any rate, Dzogchen teachings were considered threatening to the hierarchy. If you tell a bunch of folks that ignorant butchers will acheive realization faster than panditas based on instructions that you possess, it is going to shake some things up.



Reminds me of figures like Huineng in Chan. Illiterate and from the sticks, but more realized than his educated peers.

Still, despite such tales, at the end of the day the hierarchy is still there and people are instructed to use titles of address and defer to the powers regardless of what they might personally think about them.

I think there is a sense that such a power structure is stable and that stability is in effect beneficial to all parties involved.

That might be true to some degree, but you lose something in the process. Instead of venerating genuinely wise people, you just venerate the robes and pageantry. Administrators become dharma teachers and are hailed as masters.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Astus » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:12 pm

The majority of the laity care only about the basic religious services, for them the monks function as clergy. Just as in society in general, men are preferred over women, this is reflected in the monastic community. Inequality is generated by the laity, by the society. The few who seek actual spirituality and are rather intellectual people don't take all forms of apparent sanctity at face value. The concept of equality is another thing, mostly a legal matter and such.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Malcolm » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:22 pm

Astus wrote:The concept of equality is another thing, mostly a legal matter and such.


That is not how we Americans view the issue.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Astus » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:33 pm

"Therefore a bhikkhu ... should not present himself as equal to, nor imagine himself to be inferior, nor better than, another." (Snp 4.5)
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Malcolm » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:48 pm

Astus wrote:"Therefore a bhikkhu ... should not present himself as equal to, nor imagine himself to be inferior, nor better than, another." (Snp 4.5)



Yes, and I wish more bhikṣus would recall this.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:07 pm

One thing nice in Buddhism is that at least the hierarchy is [mostly] based on merit, for example, virtually anyone can become a monk or nun if they choose to do so. Whereas, in Hinduism it is for the Brahmin caste and in Judaism those from the Levi tribe have special status.

But I also agree that a little more equality or at least humility in some monks would be nice. Some of the precepts such as not taking a high seat and sleeping on a low bed appear to be not just for renunciation, but also for humility, but in some cases humility is not actually present.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby catmoon » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:41 pm

Huseng wrote:Have you read Bhante Dhammika's Broken Buddha?

http://www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-b ... dhanew.pdf

Not all monks do full-time practice.


Nope, but I'm worrking on it now. I see the PDF runs to 80 pp. , is that the whole book or just the first chapters?
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:47 pm

catmoon wrote:
Huseng wrote:Have you read Bhante Dhammika's Broken Buddha?

http://www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-b ... dhanew.pdf

Not all monks do full-time practice.


Nope, but I'm worrking on it now. I see the PDF runs to 80 pp. , is that the whole book or just the first chapters?


That's the whole book. Worth reading it from start to finish.

A lot of his observations are equally applicable to traditions outside of Theravada.
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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby kirtu » Fri Feb 17, 2012 7:36 pm

Huseng wrote:
Namdrol wrote:Well, the problem is that Asians tend to identify their hierarchy _as_ the Dharma. This is one reason I personally find the explicit leveling of hierarchy in Dzogchen so appealing, and why traditionally in Tibet, at any rate, Dzogchen teachings were considered threatening to the hierarchy. If you tell a bunch of folks that ignorant butchers will acheive realization faster than panditas based on instructions that you possess, it is going to shake some things up.



Reminds me of figures like Huineng in Chan. Illiterate and from the sticks, but more realized than his educated peers.


Well the point is that Huineng was realized and the others weren't (at least according to the story). If Shenxiu had deeper realization then the story would have been different (he at least wouldn't have thrown a hissy fit over the robe and bowl).

Thus at least within the gates of the monastery Huineng should have been the teacher. Thus the natural hierarchy of realization.

Kirt

Instead of venerating genuinely wise people, you just venerate the robes and pageantry. Administrators become dharma teachers and are hailed as masters.


Well of course this shouldn't be the case.

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Re: Are some Buddhists more equal than others?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Feb 17, 2012 7:43 pm

Huseng wrote:That's the whole book. Worth reading it from start to finish.
An excellent (and sobering) read! Has there been anything of the sort written about monastics in the Vajrayana and Mahayana traditions?
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