Transmission

Here’s a brilliant article by Erik Storlie dissecting the latest wave of scandals to sweep ‘American Buddhism’. He lays the blame exactly where it belongs: not on occasional ‘mistakes’, but on the ‘fairy-tale’ notion of a Dhamma lineage. Those of us whose Buddhism is inspired by the early Buddhist teachings know full well that all notions of hierarchy, lineage, and Dhamma transmission are exactly the opposite of what the Buddha explicitly wanted. Storlie quotes a few passages to support his case; there are many more. Indeed, the entire Vinaya is constructed so as to exclude these power-based dynamics. It is a great shame that our very real, urgent need for spiritual Awakening has been hijacked by such inauthentic, damaging notions. It’s past time for a return to the source…

104 thoughts on “Transmission

  1. I have been up against this situation many times. It makes the Buddha’s message the exclusive possession (closed fist) of the teacher. It is not meant that way, I am told, still, I am constantly reminded that “it won’t work” (so to speak) unless I do all things the lineage holder tells me so that then s/he can give me the transmission s/he holds.

    It’s like being told my quarter won’t make the parking meter register unless I get the quarter from the bank.

    Goodness me.

    Thank you so much for sharing this great article.

  2. Sadhu X 3 Bhante for sharing this brilliant article by Erik Storlie. If we care to research into the source of lineage and Dhamma transmission which were never advocated by the Buddha, we will discover that they are nothing more than political innovation by East-Asian Buddhist sects, in particular among the Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan, to perpetuate their power base. It is still very prevalent till these days sadly.

  3. Dear Bhante,

    I think an important problem is a misunderstanding of the true nature of “refuge”. In the suttas, one’s refuge is always the triple gem, which includes the Sangha, but never individuals. Contemporary Buddhism, by contrast, in all its major strands, is replete with the worship of individuals.

    • Hi Ven Sir

      I had to have a good hard look at what my Refuge in Sangha was after all that has happened in the last 2 years. Especially since I’ve heard that Refuge in Sangha refers specifically to Refuge in the Ariya Sangha. (Is that correct?)

      I had to ask myself how i could take refuge in a being that was capable of making mistakes in the world. After much anguished mulling over, I reflected that the Enlightened beings, having seen Anatta, are operating through the conditioning of ultimate Truth but are also operating through whatever old conditioning from this life still has any force. Thus it is not in them as people/beings that i take refuge in. (Which wouldn’t make sense anyway, in line with the teaching on Anatta.) Rather it is the fact that i take on faith and through observing them, that they have realised the Truth; that they have done so through taking Refuge in the Triple Gem and in cultivating the 8 Fold Path; that if they can do it, theoretically, so can i – it is these three things that i try and reflect on when i take Refuge in the Enlightened Monks/Nuns.

      In this way I can take Refuge in those who existed in the past, exist now and will exist in the future; so I’m taking Refuge in the powerful possibilities that Enlightenment occured, that it may well be occuring and that it may well occur in future. This also becomes a way in to Sanghanusati.

      If you have the time Bhante, i would welcome any useful comments you may wish to make on these statements.

      _/\_ With Metta

    • Dear Kanchana,

      In the suttas the third refuge is given simply as the bhikkhu-sangha or the bhikkhuni-sangha, without specifying ariya. This may seem strange because clearly it is the ariya Sangha that is the true repository of the Dhamma. The problem is that we can never know with absolute certainty who the ariyas are, and thus we are in effect forced to take refuge in the Sangha as such. To my mind, this refuge constitutes two things: (1) it is likely that there will be ariyas in that Sangha, although their exact identity is often difficult to establish; (2) the Sangha will often have a good understanding of the Buddha’s teachings and as such it has an important role in making the teachings available.

      I am not quite clear who you are referring to when you say that “I had to ask myself how I could take refuge in a being that was capable of making mistakes in the world. After much anguished mulling over, I reflected that the Enlightened beings …” How do you know with such certainty that this person is “Enlightened”? This is no easy thing to know, and the Buddha says as much in the suttas. I think it is healthy to be careful in making absolute judgements in this matter. The Buddha said in several places that to judge someone else’s wisdom one has to live with them for a long time. Moreover, one has to be wise oneself and one has to be attentive. Most of the time when people talk of this or that person being “Enlightend”, or on the path to Enlightenment, it is just empty talk. They really haven’t got a clue what they are talking about. In any case, this whole question falls away if one takes refuge in the Sangha rather than individuals.

      And yes I think you are right that an important part of the Sangha refuge is to point to the efficacy of the Buddha’s teachings. The existence of an ariya Sangha shows us that the teachings actually work.

      With metta.

    • Bhante, are you saying that a refuge is actually to a group of people? .. Or a refuge is a concept or a trust that the path does lead to freedom?

      It feels risky going to refuge in a group of people since having a refuge is no small thing: it’s something that one puts their confidence, trust and safety in. I wouldn’t take refuge in people!

      A literal group of people is unsafe, can’t be relied upon.

      However if sangha is taken as a symbol of the possibility of awakening after following the training- then I can take refuge in that!

      Thank you for sharing your understanding and clarifying the three refuges. This refuge seems to be an important part of the Dhamma and I guess we are all interested to understand the Dhamma skillfully to help in our path to liberation…

      However if Sangha does mean people, it’s interesting, since we are listening and trust what you are saying, it is in one small way of ‘refuge’ ? Since we are taking ‘refuge’ in your advice…

      However, ideally we don’t take ‘refuge’ in others but take their advice as guidance to investigate ourselves…

      How to understand Dhp 238: ‘Make an island unto yourself’
      and the sutta on Buddha’s final Nibbana “Therefore, Ānanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge”

      How to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory teachings?

      This still leaves the refuge of Sangha confusing:
      A literal group of people? A symbol? or Just the trust that the path yields results?

    • Dear Bhante,

      You are quite right. I did make the mistake of assuming far too much on the basis of hearsay and faith! I could not possibly know if someone is Enlightened or not!

      However after years of listening to and occasionally observing someone, one can’t help but acquire faith in them. Especially if one checks out what they are suggesting and finds that it concurs with one’s own experience and what the Buddha is likely to have said. When this happens I do start to see what you have referred to above that ”the Sangha will often have a good understanding of the Buddha’s teachings and as such it has an important role in making the teachings available.” It does seem to me that when one acquires faith in an individual it is something that is so emotional that at times one can’t help it! I agree that it has it’s risks!!! Also, in acquiring faith in an individual in this manner, one’s faith in the capacity of the Sangha to carry the teaching (either through knowledge or lived example) comes alive; for one observes this individual displaying/almost exuding metta that is soft like one’s never felt before or one observes them being incredibly centred and still in the midst of other people’s chatter and conflict. Or one views the good humour and happiness with which they deal with potentially irritating situations. Here for me, whether or not this being is enlightened or not, is the lived example of the teaching. Alive and vital…here for me is real transmission.

      You said “In the suttas the third refuge is given simply as the bhikkhu-sangha or the bhikkhuni-sangha, without specifying ariya. This may seem strange because clearly it is the ariya Sangha that is the true repository of the Dhamma. The problem is that we can never know with absolute certainty who the ariyas are, and thus we are in effect forced to take refuge in the Sangha as such.” …Thank you, this makes so much sense.

      With Metta

    • Bhante Brahmli or Sujato – a bit on a side note but since the triple refuge is mentioned here, I have a question about it:
      I looked at the pali definition of sangha and according to what I read, the refuge of ariyan sangha and it is: “persons who have attained at least stream-entry, the first stage of Awakening.”
      It doesn’t say anything about being a monastic. This makes sense since the Eightfold Path is available to all beings and any being, whatever lifestyle they live whether lay or ordained, can get the fruits of the Eightfold Path. So when one takes refuge in the Buddha (the teacher, The Dhamma (the teachings that lead to awakening) and the “ariya- Sangha” (that the Dhamma does indeed work and lead beings out of samsara). Is this understanding according to yours?
      – That it doesn’t have to be ‘bhikkhu or bhikkhuni’ ariya-sangha but just ‘ariya-sangha’ in general since if it were just ‘monastic ariya-sangha’ then it gives the impression to the person taking refuge that one can’t get any results of the Eightfold Path if one weren’t ordained.
      So when I take refuge, I take refuge in the Buddha, the teachings and that practicing the teachings does lead to Awakening.

      One another unclarity is what does refuge in the Buddha mean?
      The Buddha is gone and all we have left is the Dhamma, while the historical Buddha is just an idea in our minds.
      So now, would refuge just be the Dhamma and Ariya-Sangha: The teachings and the results?
      One can say that the suttas are the Buddha, but the suttas and agamas are the Dhamma, not the Buddha. It seems to me, that now we can only take refuge in the double gem: Dhamma and Sangha, can both Bhantes comment?

    • I agree that this is a pressing issue for many Theravadin practitioners. The Buddha seems distant, and I admit an envy of deistic immanence. This has been compounded by no access to monastin Sangha, nor anyone who is on the Stream Enterer’s path.

      Please respond to help us understand a practical way to hold the Triple Refuge!

      Thank you Bhante and Bhante

    • Dear Sheridan,

      As far as I am concerned, the best evidence we have is that the four main Nikayas of the Pali Canon is essentially the word of the Buddha. So we have the Dhamma, and that is where we should take our primary refuge. But by accepting this refuge we are implicitly also accepting the Buddha as refuge, since there is no Dhamma without someone discovering it. Moreover, the Dhamma is such that it is supposed to lead anyone practicing it towards Nibbana. So if we still have the Dhamma, there should also be an ariyan Sangha.

      In the above description, the ariyan Sangha is just a concept. It is useful, however, to also have more concrete sense of Sangha. Sometimes you will find a Buddhist teacher that resonates with you. If you find such a teacher, then check their teachings against what the suttas say, and also check their character against the suttas’ description of ariyas. In particular, the Buddha said we should investigate a potential teacher in terms of greed, hatred, and delusion before we place confidence in them (se MN95). Over time your confidence will tend to either increase or decrease depending on what you observe. This is what I would call a practical refuge. But be careful to remember that you do not know with absolute certainty whether the person you choose as a teacher is indeed an ariya. If you keep this in mind, you will be better able to deal with any disappointments that may arise. And if you have to give up on a certain teacher, you still have the conceptual Sangha to return to, wherein you may find other individuals who more fully live up to the ariyan ideal.

      With metta.

    • Dear Ven Brahmali,

      I should have read this before posting my previous reply! It seems I have simply repeated some of what you have said here!!

      With Metta

    • Dear Sheridan and dhamma friends,

      Please allow me to share my experience on this issue of taking refuge in the triple gem:

      My question to Ajahn Brahm:

      “I used to have a problem respecting the Sangha, but after knowing you and Ajahn Chah and many others, I have learnt to appreciate what Buddhism truly is and what the Buddha’s disciples (the Sangha) are like. And when I say I bow to the Sangha, I know whom I bow to. Thank you so much.

      I appreciate the Dhamma, especially after you have helped me to have better and deeper understanding of some of the Buddha’s teachings. My eyes water when I recite ‘paccatam veditabbo vinnuhiti’. Once in a while, your and Ajahn Chah’s or Ajahn Sumedho’s exposition of some pieces of the Dhamma get through to my head, and though I’m not a vinnu (yet), I already have a glimpse of what this sentence refers to. THANK YOU!

      However, I don’t know the Buddha. I don’t know who he is. So, how can I honestly, wholeheartedly worship him? Yes, he was the one who gave all the wonderful teachings, but he seemed so vague, so far away and out of reach. I don’t know him and my psyche seems to prevent me from giving total faith to those I don’t know. That sounds ridiculous and confusing, does it not?”

      Ajahn Brahm’s kind reply:

      “The deep answer to your question is that one only understands the meaning of “Buddha” when one attains Sotapanna, that is when one experiences the same insight into Dhamma that the Buddha experienced.

      “However, I teach people that one can worship the Buddha by worshipping what the Buddha represents for you. For example, when I bow three times in front of a Buddha Statue, the first bow is to Virtue, the second bow to Peace, and the third bow to Compassion. It is easy, and very helpful, to bow down to these three qualities that the Buddha represents.”

      His answer really took a load of my chest, and sudden clarity shone through. I had thought there was something wrong with me! :) Now, it’s to be expected that I have found it difficult to take refuge in the Buddha; I am not enlightened yet. :)

      Yours in the dhamma,

      dheerayupa
      (who is happily bowing to the Triple Gem)

    • Dear Dania,

      It is certainly true that lay Buddhist could be ariyas. But to be practical, how many lay Buddhist do you know that you would wish to place such confidence in? The lay Buddhist community is vastly much larger than the monastic community. Moreover, one is much more likely to find ariyas in the monastic community than in the lay community, simply because the most committed Buddhists will tend to be monastics, generally speaking. So if you are the betting type, you would be much better off placing your bets with the Sangha. But if you do come across an exceptional lay Buddhist, of course you should listen to them and take their teachings seriously. (There are even some examples in the suttas of lay people teaching monks.)

      The Buddha refuge is important even though the Buddha is no longer among us. The Dhamma as a teaching is such that it had to be discovered by an individual. Without that individual there can be no Dhamma, and thus the Buddha is of crucial importance. What we are really taking refuge in is the idea that someone has penetrated to the truth we know as the Dhamma. (Their historic personality is not really important.)

    • Thank you Bhante for sharing with us your wisdom after a long time of practice and study. We do value your guidance.

      Thank you for pointing out refuge in Buddha: I understand it only makes sense to have refuge in the Dhamma if we have refuge in the Buddha, since we need to have a source of the Dhamma, and that is what the Buddha said. So they come together.

      However for Sangha- i didn’t mean that i had refuge in lay people. I don’t understand Sangha to mean any ‘people’ -that’s the confusion. Refuge in people isn’t reliable, even if they are monastics. Did the Buddha want us to understand Sangha as a concept rather than people?

      The statements made in the suttas: ‘i take refuge in Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha of…bhikkhus/bhikkhunis’ was made by people. the Buddha didn’t utter those words.

      We need to find a passage in the suttas where the Buddha explains the refuges, and not what disciples say.

      Anyone know where the Buddha explains the refuges?

    • Bhante it seems to me that you are perpetuating exactly the same ideas that are the subject of the original post.

      From your above post can we infer that it is your understanding that those most likely to be committed to awakening tend to be male and that that the majority of enlightened ones in the last 1000 years would be men?

      Bhante do you feel 100% commitment to one living teacher?

    • Hi Bhante Brahmali, and all,

      I’m a bit late to this discussion, but have read the comments to date. I think these questions about what is meant by refuge and what is meant by sangha are very important. My lay meditation group was just discussing it the other day, and it comes up again and again in discussion. There isn’t always much clarity, even among long-term practitioners.

      I appreciate your point that it’s very difficult to know with certainty whether a particular person is ariya-sangha. However, this never posed a problem for me. When I take refuge in the Sangha, for me it means the ariya-sangha. I take refuge in the same sense I take refuge in the Buddha. I don’t know him personally in this life, but I can have confidence in the truth of his teachings and his attainments. Likewise the ariya-sangha, whether lay or monastic, and whether in a past, present, or future existence. I gain inspiration, confidence, and a sense of refuge and protection from recollecting the ariya-sangha.

      Conversely, the idea of placing my bets on either monastic or lay practitioners is deeply unsatisfying to me as a foundation for taking refuge. Across various countries and Buddhist traditions, people ordain for all sorts of reasons and not necessarily because they’re more committed practitioners than lay Buddhists. There is also wide variability in opportunity and time for practice among Buddhist monastics, and lay practitioners in more affluent countries sometimes have the flexibility to arrange for sustained practice. I guess that’s not a bet I’d want to have to make in any case!

      If others feel comfortable interpreting refuge in the Sangha as being the monastic Sangha–as symbolic of the ariya-sangha and/or symbolic of the concept that beings can realize Dhamma–there is precedent for that in the suttas, as you mention. The trouble comes in when that nuance is lost and people (lay or monastic) begin to believe that *only* monastics can realize Dhamma or that *all* monastics have realized Dhamma. I’ve heard both misunderstandings expressed by long-time and otherwise well-educated practitioners. Obviously, both misunderstandings are unwholesome because the first discourages lay people from practicing to realize Dhamma in this lifetime (if they are unable to ordain) and the second sets up the potential for abuse of power among the monastic sangha, in a similar way to what Storlie describes in his article.

      I haven’t done much study on this question, but a quick index search of the Samyutta Nikaya brings up some further questions for me. Yes, most of the references to taking refuge specifically identify the Sangha as Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni. Isn’t it also true that in the early years, prior to laying down any Vinaya rules, the Buddha declared that everyone in the monastic sangha was also ariya-sangha anyway? I don’t know if all the suttas mentioning refuge could be dated relative to the Buddha’s biography, but it would be interesting if at the time of those incidents the monastic sangha were all ariya-sangha.

      Also, note 85 to the Devatasamyutta in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation is interesting. According to this commentary, there is a mundane going for refuge and a supra-mundane going for refuge, with the latter being definitive of stream-entry. The language for the mundane going for refuge is usually refuge in the Sangha of Bhikkhus or Bhikkhunis. The language for the supra-mundane going for refuge is always what Dania mentioned, the four pairs of persons, the eight kinds of noble beings (e.g. ariya).

      Is this distinction between “mundane and supra-mundane going for refuge” also in the suttas, or just commentarial? I don’t know. Is it mistaken to refer to the faith and confidence of stream-entry as also going for refuge? I’m not sure about that either, but it strikes me that if the definition of Sangha for one who has realized stream-entry is clearly ariya-sangha, then that’s the definition I would want to adopt if I have a choice.

      Lastly, I did find a few suttas that mention going for refuge in the Sangha without specifying the Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni Sangha. This seems to allow room for my interpretation of going for refuge in Sangha. One example is the Sakka sutta in the Moggallanasamyutta. Ven. Mahamoggallana says to Sakka, lord of the devas: “Good, lord of the devas, is the going for refuge to the Sangha.”

      Another example is the Sarakani Sutta in the Sotapattisamyutta, where again the reference is going for refuge “to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha” (no Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni mentioned). This sutta and the following are also interesting as they make finer distinctions between going for refuge, having “confirmed confidence” (i.e. ariya realizations), and being “completely dedicated” and having “full confidence”. I’m not sure to what the last two refer.

      Okay, enough said. Thanks everyone for your thoughts.

      Jackie

    • I like your post Jackie- thank you for sharing it with us! Thank you also for being upfront and warning us of the dangers of having refuge in a group of people. I am copy/pasting what you said since i found it quite insightful:

      Jackie said: “If others feel comfortable interpreting refuge in the Sangha as being the monastic Sangha–as symbolic of the ariya-sangha and/or symbolic of the concept that beings can realize Dhamma–there is precedent for that in the suttas, as you mention. The trouble comes in when that nuance is lost and people (lay or monastic) begin to believe that *only* monastics can realize Dhamma or that *all* monastics have realized Dhamma. I’ve heard both misunderstandings expressed by long-time and otherwise well-educated practitioners. Obviously, both misunderstandings are unwholesome because the first discourages lay people from practicing to realize Dhamma in this lifetime (if they are unable to ordain) and the second sets up the potential for abuse of power among the monastic sangha, in a similar way to what Storlie describes in his article.”

    • Dear Jackie,

      Thank you for your comments. It is very interesting for me to hear what you have to say, because your approach, at least in some respects, is quite different from mine. I therefore wish to respond to some of the issues that you bring up.

      My purpose in the following is to defend the importance of the Sangha; it is not in any way meant to diminish the importance of lay Buddhists. Coming from a bhikkhu this may sound terribly self-serving, but I only say these things because I believe they have a sound basis in the suttas.

      I am sometimes concerned about contemporary Western attitudes to the role of the monastic Sangha. My personal position is that the monastic Sangha is indispensable for Buddhism to thrive, and that Buddhism will not survive long without a properly practicing Sangha. I am therefore slightly worried when I read arguments that seem to suggest that the Sangha is dispensable. If you will pardon me for being direct, and even though this is probably not your intention, I feel your entry here can be read in such a way. In particular, the idea that the third refuge refers to ariyas in general (i.e., that it is not restricted to monastics), combined with the supposition that ariyas are found equally among lay and monastic practitioners, would seem to lead to the inevitable conclusion that monasticism is largely redundant.

      As I mentioned in a previous post, the monastic Sangha has two important functions: (1) it consists of individuals who specialize in Buddhism, and who thus on average will have a better understanding of Buddhist teachings than lay Buddhists; (2) it is among serious monastic practitioners that the path is taken the furthest. On point (1) consider, for example, that the most authoritative translations of Pali texts have come from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ajahn Thanissaro. In the absence of monastics, is it likely that lay people would come forward to produce translations as masterly as these? It is not impossible, but I think it is unlikely. Even academia, including the Pali Text Society (probably the world leaders in Pali studies), has not been able to rival these monastic translators; in fact, the Pali Text Society is using the translations of Bhikkhu Bodhi as its own authoritative translations.

      On point (2) I would say the story is much the same. It is difficult to directly prove people’s spiritual maturity, but perhaps we can use literature as a proxy. It seems to me that the best and most profound explanations of the Buddhist path, in particular explanations of the deepest aspects of samatha and vipassana, have been produced by monastics. It seems to me that it is the monastic Sangha, if anyone, who practices the path to its end and thus are the true custodians of the Dhamma. Indeed, it seems clear from the suttas that arahants, fully awakened ones, can only exist within the Sangha. And this points to something important: the closer one is to awakening, the more likely it is that one will be a member of the Sangha.

      There is one more thing which makes the above quite remarkable. The number of Western monastic Buddhists compared to Western lay Buddhist is tiny. Western monastics number no more than in their low hundreds (I am now referring to fully celibate monastics), whereas Western Buddhists overall must number in their millions. Despite this enormous imbalance, the monastics have still made a fundamental contribution to Western Buddhism, that is, a contribution completely out of proportion to their tiny number.

      I hold that a healthy monastic Sangha is crucial for the future success of Buddhism in the West. Without it, Buddhism will lose its depth and ultimately its direction. To me it seems clear that the third refuge is the monastic Sangha – at core the ariyans within the monastic Sangha – and not all ariyans as such. At the same time, refuge is not in individuals. This removes much of the potential for abuse. I will now respond in greater detail to some of the issues you bring up.

      Jackie :
      When I take refuge in the Sangha, for me it means the ariya-sangha … whether lay or monastic …

      From my perspective, you are on the right track by taking the ariya-sangha as a general refuge. But there are two points I would like to make. (1) Sangha in the suttas always means the monastic Sangha. The contemporary usage of Sangha to mean any group of people “practicing together” is an entirely modern phenomenon. The word ariya-sangha – which, by the way, seems to occur only once in the entire Pali Canon – is thus a subset of the Sangha, it does not include lay ariyas. When the Buddha said that the third refuge is the Sangha, then regardless of whether we take this to mean the ariya Sangha or the Sangha more widely, it would have referred to the monastic Sangha. (2) You say you “can have confidence in the truth of his [the Buddha’s] teachings and his attainments.” Yes, but how do you get this confidence? Typical reasons for such confidence is being inspired by the suttas, gaining some of the benefits of the practice, and even meeting people who embody the results of the path. Now these reasons could apply to anyone, not just the Buddha. Sometimes we meet special people; sometimes you get inspired by what seems to be the Dhamma come alive. To me one of the strengths of Buddhism is that it combines an ancient tradition with living examples of how that tradition is practiced. It is good to get such inspiration (and yes, of course, that individual could be a lay Buddhist), as long as one remembers that one’s refuge is in the Sangha as a whole, not in that individual.

      As Buddhists we also read Buddhist books and listen to talks. Again, this is taking a certain degree of inspiration from individuals. My point is that the dividing line between refuge in the Sangha as a whole and seeking guidance from individuals is not absolute. And as long as it isn’t, we still need to carefully look at the people we seek guidance and inspiration from to find out whether they are worthy to be our teachers.

      Jackie :
      … people (lay or monastic) begin to believe that *only* monastics can realize Dhamma …

      I am often concerned that the idea of realizing the Dhamma gets trivialized by contemporary discourse. The point, it seems to me, is that the Dhamma is extra-ordinarily profound, and that it is difficult to realize regardless of whether one is a lay practitioner or a monastic. How many ariyas are there within the Sangha? It is difficult to know with any precision what is happening in Buddhist Asia but my best guess, having observed monastic Buddhism from the inside for the past 16 years, is that the numbers are very small. And outside of Asia the situation is even worse. I happen to believe that there are ariyans also outside of Asia, but I think the number is only marginally greater than zero.

      If this is true of the monastic Sangha (and I am sure there are those who will disagree with my assessment), what is the situation for lay Buddhists? I think it is important to keep in mind that the Buddha established the monastic Sangha to give the best possible conditions for practicing his teachings. The Buddha declared the monastic Sangha as the most fertile field for his teachings. If the best vehicle for practice has produced such meagre results in the modern era, then I think it is reasonable to assume that a lesser vehicle (in the suttas lay life is called “inferior”, as far as the spiritual life is concerned) should produce even less results. My personal conclusion is that there is likely to be very few lay ariyas anywhere in the world.

      I am certainly not trying to denigrate lay Buddhist practitioners, but simply to be realistic. I highly respect many lay Buddhists for their commitment, and I do sympathize with your argument that for many of them ordination may not be an option. Indeed, I have much more respect for many lay Buddhists than I have for the vast majority of monastics. Nevertheless, monastic life is the “highway” of mental development, and it is therefore the place where the most dedicated practitioners will tend to gravitate. (Of course, this does not stop people from ordaining for all sorts of reasons, as you say.) Thus on the rare occasion that you hear of a plausible candidate for ariya-hood, I would say that candidate is more likely to be a monastic. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if the claim concerns a monastic, it is more likely to be true.

      Jackie :
      … people (lay or monastic) begin to believe that *all* monastics have realized Dhamma …

      Anyone who believes this needs to be better educated. Perhaps Bhante Sujato’s blog can be a small contribution to that end.

      Jackie :
      … the second sets up the potential for abuse of power among the monastic sangha …

      One of the advantages of traditional monastic Buddhism is that everyone knows that sexual exploitation of anyone by a monastic is the end of that monastic’s “career”. The examples from Storlie’s article are from Zen and perhaps, therefore, they highlight some of the shortcomings of the Zen system, which really has lost its monastic side. I am not saying that sexual scandals cannot happen with traditional monastics, simply that the lines for what is appropriate behaviour are much more clearly drawn. A student of a practicing monastic would normally be quite clear as to what sort of relationship is acceptable.

      Jackie :
      Isn’t it also true that in the early years, prior to laying down any Vinaya rules, the Buddha declared that everyone in the monastic sangha was also ariya-sangha anyway? I don’t know if all the suttas mentioning refuge could be dated relative to the Buddha’s biography, but it would be interesting if at the time of those incidents the monastic sangha were all ariya-sangha.

      The most important source of information on the early Sangha is the biography of the Buddha in the early parts of the Mahavagga, the third book of the Vinaya Pitaka. If one is to take the story given there at face value – and that is a big “if”, since this is quite clearly a compilation made by people who were not present at the events described – then, yes, it seems as if people became ariyas and then ordained, or at least became ariyas soon after ordination. But the information contained in the Mahavagga all relate to the first few months – perhaps the first year – after the Buddha’s awakening. In comparison, most of the going for the triple refuge found in the suttas happens much later in the Buddha’s teaching career.

      Jackie :
      Is this distinction between “mundane and supra-mundane going for refuge” also in the suttas, or just commentarial?

      The idea of supramundane refuge does not occur in the suttas. But the idea seems reasonable enough, and it fits well with how the ariyans would approach the Dhamma.

      Jackie :
      Lastly, I did find a few suttas that mention going for refuge in the Sangha without specifying the Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni Sangha.

      But Sangha in the suttas is always the monastic Sangha. (“Completely dedicated” and having “full confidence” are just alternative formulations of “confirmed confidence”. The reference is to the ariyas.)

      —–

      In sum, it seems quite clear to me that the third refuge is the monastic Sangha, in essence the ariya Sangha. The reason why the Sangha is given such a prominent position is because of its prominent role in ensuring the long-term survival of Buddhism. The Sangha has most of the ariyas and also the deepest understanding of the teachings.

    • Dear Ven. Brahmali, Peter, and all,

      I’ve been turning these questions over for a while now and haven’t arrived at any comfortable conclusions. I think it’s an area where it’s appropriate to practice by allowing and exploring the tensions.

      1) Meaning of sangha in the suttas

      Venerable, your points are very clear and well-taken, thank you. In my earlier comment, I didn’t intend to imply that the monastic sangha is dispensable, though I can see how it could be misread so. Actually, I first heard the interpretation that sangha refers to *ariyas only* from several monastics, and I don’t think devaluing monastics was their intention either! In fact, I was quite surprised to read your interpretation of the sangha refuge because I don’t think I had heard that explicit interpretation from a monastic before.

      In any case, you have convinced me–at least 95%–that in the suttas, sangha does always mean monastic sangha. With regard to taking refuge, it still seems more logical to me to take refuge in ariyas in the abstract (especially given the “four pairs of persons, the eight kinds of noble beings” verse), but the Kalama Sutta advises us to not go by logic alone. So I will bow out of that debate and defer to your knowledge of the suttas.

      2) Women’s historical disadvantages

      Next, to address the concern raised by Peter, that defining refuge in sangha as *monastic only* could appear to set up only men as symbols of ariya, at the expense of acknowledging women, individually and collectively, as being potentially enlightened. I was also coming from this perspective. In Theravada and Tibetan we know that few, if any, women were ordained as bhikkhunis for many, many centuries. Yet it seems very likely that some number of women practitioners attained enlightenment in these traditions (some may disagree), despite not having the opportunity to join a bhikkhuni sangha. It follows that *the majority* of women ariya in these traditions were not bhikkhunis. And so, taking the statistical approach one could arrive at a very different conclusion depending on whether one considers women or men. (Of course, throughout those centuries there were strong bhikshuni orders in Mahayana traditions.)

      We could hope that, despite the emphasis on the monastic sangha as the home of ariyas, people in societies without bhikkhuni sanghas would not make the mistake of assuming that women could not attain enlightenment. And yet, exactly this prejudice has occurred and spread among many in these societies, both in the past and today. As many have discussed in this blog and elsewhere, this has caused tremendous spiritual harm. We could hope to educate people out of this mistake, but human groups have a strong tendency to generalize, stereotype, and essentialize, conflating social identities with other variables. It would be unrealistic to expect otherwise.

      How, then, to address the problem at this point? By devaluing the monastic form altogether in order to equalize men’s and women’s potential? No, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it would be best to restore the bhikkhuni sangha, since it is the form offered by the Buddha that is most conducive (in general) to (most) women achieving their full spiritual potential. And of course Ven. Brahmali has contributed to this restoration.

      Still, I can understand Peter’s response as well. While the Theravadan and Tibetan bhikkhuni sanghas are still very small and young, I think we are in an interim period when it is important to be very sensitive to these issues and keep in balance respect for women’s potential and realizations, as well as the value of the monastic form.

      3) Preserving a healthy monastic sangha

      I share your belief, Venerable, that a thriving and healthy monastic sangha is crucial for the preservation and continuance of Buddha-Dhamma. Yet I see things a little differently, and I realise I may be in the minority. I see an inherent value in the monastic sangha that’s distinct from the question of how many monastics are actually realized compared to lay people. To me, the monastic sangha as laid out by the Buddha is an embodiment in visible form of Buddha-Dhamma; a visible reminder and inspiration, particularly of sila and of radical renunciation; an opportunity for lay practitioners to practice generosity; a repository for textual knowledge since, as you point out, few non-monastics have time and motivation to study, translate, and/or interpret the texts in the way our scholar-monastics have. Also, I think the monastic form is a more suitable form of practice for some, while the lay path is more suitable for others. Possibly this even varies from lifetime to lifetime, so we wouldn’t want to lose either path of practice. I also agree that it’s among serious monastic practitioners that the path is taken the furthest, which is a separate question from the overall numbers of ariyas here or there, but a very compelling reason for preserving a thriving monastic sangha. And the list goes on.

      My point is that I think the monastic sangha is essential to the continuance of Buddha-Dhamma for *all* these reasons. Therefore, I disagree that “the idea that the third refuge refers to ariyas in general…, combined with the supposition that ariyas are found equally among lay and monastic practitioners, would seem to lead to the inevitable conclusion that monasticism is largely redundant.” I’m not just saying all this for the sake of argument! When I aspired to the bhikkhuni path myself, I was clear that my motivation for that choice was not primarily to attain enlightenment. That’s a much more all-encompassing motivation: it’s my reason for practicing, my reason for living even, and was so long before I knew anything about Buddhist monasticism. I wanted to follow the bhikkhuni path because I thought it might be more suitable for me than the lay path and, if that turned out to be the case, I wanted to serve as a visible embodiment and reminder of the teaching, and particularly of renunciation.

      As for a healthy monastic sangha, the reasons why some in modern Buddhism do devalue the monastic sangha, and how to remedy that, I have some thoughts, but I don’t think this is the right forum. I do hope that both lay and monastic disciples continue to discuss these questions openly and sincerely. Thanks to everyone for your contributions!

      Jackie

    • Ven. Brahmali,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful and comprehensive reply to my post below. Now I think we’re getting to the heart of things!

      It looks like we’ve nested too many comments, so I can’t reply to your most recent comment directly. I hope this response finds you nonetheless.

      Also, I can’t reply in full right now, as I’m on a hotel computer in Butte, Montana (U.S.), in the middle of a cross-country trip. I’ve been dodging winter storms and it is extremely cold here tonight! I’ll meditate on these questions during the long drive tomorrow and when I next have a chance will try to draw it out a little more. I think we agree in many areas, and the areas where we might see things differently could be useful to explore, for me, at least.

      Thanks again,
      Jackie

    • Oops, correction, I should have written “my post above”, as the last one popped up below the other one — agh, it’s very confusing!

  4. What is the origin of taking refuge in the Triple Gems? It seems like a formulation derived from the Tipitaka, but not specifically in the Tipitaka? Also, it seems to contradict the pointed teaching in the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta. It has often struck me as an unessential teaching, and fraught with pitfalls whichever the branch of Buddhism in question.

    • Dear Mike,

      Taking refuge in the triple gem actually occurs quite frequently in the suttas. One of the earliest ordination ceremonies was in fact a simple going for refuge to the triple gem. It seems to me that this goes back to the very beginning of Buddhism.

      The idea of taking refuge in oneself does not necessarily contradict taking the triple gem as a refuge. After all, you are deciding to take refuge in the triple gem, that is, your most basic refuge is in your own ability to make a wise decision. You can then withdraw your refuge in the triple gem whenever you like. Again, you are in charge.

      Moreover, taking refuge often makes sense. It is natural to accept that there are people in the world who are more spiritually mature than we are, just as we accept that there are people who know more about medicine than us, or about physics, or indeed whatever. This sense of humility, I think, is important, because it allows us to take advantage of other people’s wisdom rather than having to figure it all out for ourselves. If you want to learn engineering, do you go to university or do you discover everything for yourself from first principles? The answer is obvious. If we didn’t accept the learning of other people, our societies would stagnate and decline. It is the same on the spiritual path.

      Finally, in my experience, taking refuge can be beautiful. It often feels good, and right, to bow down to something you respect. The Buddha often compared life without confidence/faith to walking through a desert. There is nothing to sustain us on the journey, and the journey itself can be very bleak.

      With metta.

    • Bhante: Thank-you, could you give me some references? Thanks to Dania I found one reference further down in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, but I think that it does not quite fit the bill since it is put forth as a test, a mirror that a person may use to gauge their development. What interests me is at what point does the refuge in the Triple Gem get formalized. Is it in the Vinaya?, or are there instances in the suttas where the lay community express this formulaic catechism? Or is it like the above example an enumeration of Dhamma elements?
      It is natural to accept that there are people more spiritually advanced than myself in this world. In fact I’m certain of it. The question is how do you recognize them? Do they wear robes; do they shave their heads?
      I think the analogy with engineering and university does not hold. We cannot peer inside our teacher’s mind in the same manner that we can take cross sections of concrete to determine if it will fail.
      I don’t wish to be argumentative. I studied at the Zen Center of Los Angeles with Taezan Maezumi, Tetsugen Rosh and Genpo Roshi in the late 70’s, so the question is very close to me. And certainly this phenomena is not limited to the Zen or Mahayana communities.

    • Dear Mike,

      You say: “What interests me is at what point does the refuge in the Triple Gem get formalized. Is it in the Vinaya?, or are there instances in the suttas where the lay community express this formulaic catechism?”

      There are a large number of instances in the suttas where lay people take the triple refuge, see for example the following suttas in the Digha Nikaya: 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 23, 31 (at the very end of most of the suttas). In the other three main Nikayas, there are many more instances. The taking of the three refuges is mainstream in the suttas.

      Not only do lay people take the refuges, the Buddha also speaks of them. In the Velama Sutta (AN 9:20) the Buddha declares that taking refuge in “the Buddha, Dhamma, and the Sangha with a mind of confidence” is more meritorious (i.e. better kamma) than any act of generosity. (Note the qualifier “with a mind of confidence”; this is clearly important.) A similar declaration by the Buddha is found in the Kutadanta Sutta, DN5 (DN I 145), and at SN 55:24 (SN V 375) the Buddha speaks of a lay disciple who for a long time has taken the triple refuge.

      An interesting passage is found at MN84 (MN II 90). After a conversation with the monk Maha-Kaccana, who is generally regarded as one of the Buddha’s most prominent arahant disciples, a king decides to take refuge in him. Maha-Kaccana then tells him not to do so, but rather to take refuge in the Buddha. The king then proceeds to take the triple refuge. The implication is that taking refuge in individuals is not appropriate.

      You say: “The question is how do you recognize them? Do they wear robes; do they shave their heads?”

      I think a main principle in spiritual life is to take full responsibility for oneself. This means, more than anything else, to keep investigating. In particular, as I mentioned above, it means investigating people in terms of greed, hatred, and delusion. Sometimes you hear that a certain teacher who seems to get angry is not really angry; you may even be told that there is some “spiritual” significance to their anger. Unfortunately people buy into this sort of stuff. If the Buddha said we should look for these qualities, then it is also appropriate to base one’s confidence or lack thereof on the outcome of such investigation. If you find a person with the right qualities, then whether they wear a robe or shave their head is obviously irrelevant. However, in my experience, on purely statistical grounds, you are more likely to find such a person among those most committed to a spiritual path. (But even there they are exceedingly rare!)

      You say: “We cannot peer inside our teacher’s mind …”

      I would argue that you actually can peer into another person’s mind. As is implied by what I have said above, you do this simply by observing their behaviour. Of course, there is no absolute guarantee that you will get it right, and therefore one should not make any absolute judgement. I think it can be useful to regard confidence/faith as a working hypothesis, and to remember that it is not knowledge.

      With metta.

    • Ven Sir,

      If in the suttas lay people took refuge in the bhikku and bhikkuni sangha, what was the ‘Sangha Refuge’ that the bhikkus and bhikkunis took refuge in?

      Metta

    • Bhante, with respect I think the Velama Sutta needs to be read as a whole to really make sense I would see the final line as being the key. What would be more more “meritorious” feeding a starving child or a chubby Anagami? As I understand it a key factor in karmic consequence is intention. It would be easy to misconstrue the teaching from this sutta if individual lines are taken out of context and too literally. I see it a the Teacher channeling into some of the common views on merit at the time and then rounding it off with the killer punch line.

      In my opinion your argument that we are more likely to find enlightened beings within the bhikku sangha is also very weak (based on the law of averages?).

    • Hi Peter, I think what Brahmali means is that there’s usually the pattern that one hears the Dhamma, gains inspiration then realizes that the “Household life is confining, a dusty path. The life gone forth is like the open air. It is not easy living at home to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, like a polished shell. What if I were to shave off my hair & beard, put on the ochre robes, and go forth from the household life into homelessness?” taken from DN 12 but pattern repeated often.

      So usually for those who’se primary motiv in life is to practice to realize nibbana, then they live the renunciant life. However of course that’s an ideal but often people are not able to either because of taking care of family that are dependent on them, or maybe there just isn’t a suitable monastery for them (which is often the case for women since there isn’t much opportunity for them to live a monastic path). However some people do not have to work 9-5 and have a lot of time for practice and i bet can renounce a lot more than some monastics. But Brahmali i think meant that usually people that are serious to practice tend to live a monastic life so you’re most likely to find ariyans there. However of course there are lay ariyans too. Anyone can practice and if one practices, results will come.

      I think that’s what faith in Sangha is, having the confidence that the path works. Having confidence that practicing the Dhamma leads to Ariyan. weather black or white, woman or man, brown robe or jeans.

    • Do you think that he might like to clarify his views for me?

      I think that Bhikku Brahmali might be in danger of perpetuating “hierarchy, lineage, and Dhamma transmission” views.

    • The buddha made it easy to renounce by establishing the monastic path, less obligations, worries and duties so more time spent on service, mediation, study and most important of all: seclusion :)
      However on the other hand, in the suttas there was many lay people who were ariyans. If someone does the practice and renounces their defilements and ego then they should get results too. It’s an interesting point you bring up Peter and is making me reflect.

      I guess these discussions are good since they challenge one’s assumptions and views and make one re consider important Dhamma questions. But we have to be careful to still keep the main goal in mind (our own Nibbana) and not get caught into debates over insignificant petty things. But this issue is important for the Buddhist community as a whole. However it does make sense that it would be easier to meditate and get peaceful and wise if one didn’t have to drive to work every day through busy traffic and worry about mortgage, taking kids to karate practice and worrying about cooking dinner for the family.

      Another interesting point raised through these discussions: It is a challenging line to keep the respect for the older practitioners yet not allow hierarchy and power. Respect and hierarchy are two different things and one doesn’t lead to the other.
      I do recall reading the Buddha’s principles for avoiding decline, again in the mahaparinibbana sutta
      “continue to respect, honour, revere and worship those monks who are elders, possess the pearls of wisdom, went forth into the religious life long ago, are the fathers and leaders of the community and to listen to what they say, then they can be expected to prosper, not to decline”
      so we have to be careful that we do respect, (I guess we respect all living beings!) but do not allow power or hierarchy.

      It’s interesting that the Buddha also gave principles:
      “Monks, as long as monks do not become attracted to doing things, enamoured of doing thigns, proccupied with the pleasure of doing things, then they can be expected to prosper, not to decline.
      As long as monks do not become attracted to conversation, enamoured of conversation, preoccupied with the pleasure of conversation
      As long as monks do not become attracted to company, enamoured of company, preoccupied with the pleasure of company”
      “As long as monks continue to have regard for living in the forest…”

      so the monastics have to be careful to remain renunciants and not get attracted to ‘worldly’ things. They’re job seems to be to sit in the forest, meditate, end samsara and then teach. But once they teach, like the Buddha, they aren’t attracted to the conversations nor company, but teach out of compassion for us beings stuck in the wheel of birth and death.

      Going back to hierarchy…

      Although, I do agree that Buddhism in general should be careful not to fall into the trap of hierarchy amongst any group of people, weather they wear brown, white or shorts.
      we have to remember that in the time of the Buddha there were many many ariyan lay disciples so it’s just as easy now as it is then. nothing is stoping us but our own defilements and ego. This reminder is a nice piece of encouragement. Actually Bhikkhu Brahmali lead a sutta weekend retreat a few weeks ago and he told us of the time when Citta (a lay disciple) had more wisdom than the community of monks which he visited, taught them Dhamma. This could be an interesting reminder that we still support and respect renunciants in their practice towards Nibbana but it does not mean there is a hierarchy or power. It just looks like a different lifestyle.
      I remember listening to a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahm and he said that he read a sutta where it said that someone is not ‘better’ or superior just because they are more moral than another or just because they keep more precepts. In the talk AB said that when he read that sutta long ago it was a good recollection to himself to prevent any conceit of being a bhikkhu. I remember this talk since it was quite humbling for a monk to say that he had to remind himself that he isn’t better than others just because he keeps more precepts, meditates or lives that lifestyle. I can’t quote this though because I don’t remember the specific talk, it was an old talk, maybe 10-20 years ago and it was given at Bodhinyana. If anyone knows of that sutta though they can mention it? It would be nice to read it.

    • Excellent Bhante! Thank you so much for the references, I apologize for the laziness on my part :) I will read them. After some reflection I realized that it isn’t the act of refuge which causes problems, but the abdication of personal responsibility to vet ones declaration of faith. And this is pointed out also in numerous places. It seems that there is a 4th refuge not mentioned in the formula, which is, and I’m not sure how to say this correctly, the wisdom of the self?

  5. I’ve often wondered about that too. In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta the Buddha says to Ananda…’So, Ananda you should live with yourselves as your island and refuge and not someone else, with the Truth (Dhamma) as your island and refuge and not something else.'(trans. Rupert Gethin)
    How are we to understand the statement?

    • Hi Mark,

      that’s such a neat coincidence, i asked the exact same question not knowing you asked it too! and quoting the same passage of the suttas.

      It’s quite an important understanding since the Mahaparinibbana Sutta was the last teachings of the Buddha so it seems it has a lot of weight.

      The Buddha was about to die and he said take the Dhamma as your refuge. Why didn’t he say “take me, the Dhamma and the Sangha” as your refuge?

      It is important to understand refuge, since refuge is something one places one’s life to!
      We better know we’re giving our life to something skillful ;)

  6. What an interesting discussion! The triple aspect of the triple gem reminds me of Spinoza’s theory of how we can attain true knowledge – through learning from teachings/tradition, from using reasoning or logic, and from direct experience. Real knowledge (as I recall) can only be attained through using all three together. Any one alone can lead into error.

    Although there’s obviously not any one-to-one correspondence, I wonder if a similar sense of the components of wisdom is at work in the idea of taking refuge in the triple gem. Roughly, I would associate direct experience of states of concentration and insight with the Buddha, use of reasoning and logic with the Dhamma (although it is more than this), and appreciation of teachings and the tradition with the Sangha.

    So when Ananda is advised to take refuge in himself and not another, this corresponds to other teachings of the Buddha which emphasise that we are not to take on any of his teachings simply on faith, but must examine and experientally test them for ourselves: this is what it means to take refuge in the Buddha (the Buddha in ourselves, in the sense that we come to experience what he experienced – well, a little bit of it! :) ).

    This doesn’t contradict taking refuge in the Sangha as the respository of the tradition and a wealth of teachings and different perspectives on them – these are a necessary and wonderful support for practice. This sense of Sangha doesn’t limit it to living people, or to monastics, although we will often make contact with it through them, and of course contact with living exemplars of enlightenment (whether consistent or momentary, individual or collective, monastic or lay, face-to-face or via a blog, for example…) is invaluable.

    If the Dhamma corresponds to the way things really are, then it is what we are seeking to become more conscious of in the process of practicing the teachings (of the Sangha) and coming to understand and embody them directly, for ourselves (like the Buddha).

    So much for my “tango philosophy” approach :) I’ll be interested to hear how other people respond to these questions…

    • And here i thought, ok no more blogging, i’ll go back to my sutta, and coincidentally, the next thing I read is the Buddha describing the Buddha/Dhamma/Sangha!

      One thing to note though is the Buddha did not say ‘refuge’ but rather it was translated as ‘confidence in… ‘
      It’s interesting that ‘confidence’ is used here rather than refuge.

      Buddha described Sangha as being the “8 persons, 4 pairs”.

      So we just have confidence in the 8 persons, according to this sutta & translation.

      Anyone know the pali word that was used as ‘confidence’ – is that the same pali word that in other places is used as refuge? Or does the Buddha really mean confidence rather than refuge?
      Does the Buddha ever use the word refuge in other places describing the Buddha/Dhamma/Sangha?

      I haven’t read many suttas and am not a pali scholar so i don’t know..

      So I’ll write it down here the excerpt of the sutta: (Buddha’s final Nibbana, translation Ruper Gethin)

      “What Ananda is the mirror of Truth, the way of Truth with which the noble disciple who wishes could by himself describe himself as having finished with birth in hell, animal etc etc (the context here was that Ananda was asking Buddha where the people that died are reborn, and Buddha replied saying if you keep asking me every time someone dies, it will be ‘a nuisance’ to him:)
      “In this connection a noble disciple has confidence in the BUddha because he knows that is the BLessed One in that he is an arahat, a perfect buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, happy, one who understands the world etc etc etc. He has confidence in the Truth because he knows that the Truth that is clear, immediate, accessible, practical, and that one who is discerning can come to know for himself, has been well explained by the Blessed One. He has confidence in the Community (sangha) because he knows that the Community of the Blessed One consisting of the eight persons in four pairs conducts itself well, honestly, skilfully, and properly, that it is a Community deserving of offerings, hospitality, presents and respect, an unsupassed field of merit for the world. He posses ways of conduct that are dear to the noble ones, of the kind that are unbroken, without defect, unblemished, without flaw, clear, praised by the discerning, untarnished, and conducive to samadhi. This Ananda is the mirror of Truth, the way to Truth with which the noble disciple who wishes could by himself describe himself…”

      So in this sutta, our notion of ‘refuge in the Sangha’ is replaced with ‘confidence in 4 types of persons’.

      I wonder if ‘confidence’ is a poor translation or if he ever used a word meaning ‘refuge’?

      (for those who don’t know the 4 pairs, it’s a person on the path and who has achieved the fruit of: stream-enterer (Pāli: sotāpatti)
      once-returner (Pāli: sakadāgāmitā), non-returner (Pāli: anāgāmitā), arahant)

    • Hi Dania and everybody,

      What an amazing discussion this has evolved into!

      I went and had a look in a (very little used!) Pali dictionary. I looked up “Sarana”… as in “Sangham SARANAM gachami”.

      Sarana means refuge/protection/help/shelter.

      I don’t think Saddha (faith/confidence) is meant to meant to mean Sarana. It’s possible they are synonyms but that doesn’t seem to make sense to me. I think that instead, they are very close in the emotional quality they point to. I think they are related but not the same.

      When I go for Refuge formally and i do the chanting etc… It is something that i find means more and more as the years pass. Because as the years pass I naturally rely more and more on my practise to protect/help and shelter me from harm.

      Whereas, my faith, which also grows as the years pass, seems to have a different function. For me, it has the quality of joyful gladness that i’m on the right track. It’s gives me happiness and energy and inspiration.

      But the act of going for refuge is much much more. It is the very act of my daily practise of the 8 fold path in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.

      In difficult times both faith and refuge are tested. Both become a source of comfort. But it is refuge that must do the work. Because to take refuge in something…i trust it whole-heartedly to work…even without fully knowing that it will. For instance, knowing that i’m soon to be a stressful/button-pushing setting, I choose to not try and come up with various strategies. I choose to trust the moment and all the conditioning of the practise i’ve done up to that time. I choose to pre-emtively forgive myself for any mistakes i will make. And very very weirdly…it is alright!

      So I’m seeking shelter in virtue (Sangha) and truth (Dhamma) and i’m really going out on a limb and trusting that the Buddha knew what he was talking about.

      ***

      Also, I think that the recollection of the Sangha (which is what Dania has quoted from the Mahaparinibbana sutta and which occurs often in the canon) is not the same as the chant that is about going for refuge.

      I think the recollection of the Sangha is more about cultivating faith and right view.

      ***

      Moreover, I also think that the word ‘Sangha’ (community) was originally meant to refer to fully ordained monks and nuns. I understand the word ‘Parisa’ (assembly) was used to refer to the lay men and women.

      So if this is correct, then our investigation of early suttas should be in line with this.

      ***

      Finally, I’m by no means certain of any of this and have found every body’s input so far invaluable!

      If anyone knows more, please do add it!! Thanks Bhante S for hosting this discussion!

      With metta

    • Apologies for the many errors here…

      In particular:

      When i said “So if this is correct, then our investigation of early suttas should be in line with this” I meant that if this is correct, when we read the word Sangha, we should take it to mean the monastic communities.

      ***

      And…when i said “I think the recollection of the Sangha is more about cultivating faith and right view” i meant that this chant, the recollection of some of the qualities of the Enlightened Monks and Nuns may be useful in affirming the view that Enlightenment did and can occur amongst the monks and nuns. To me, this has nothing to do with going for refuge, but does have something to do with cultivating faith, confidence, gladness and inspiration. And also the view that Enlightenment occurs in these monastic settings. And also how and why this occurs; because part of this chant includes the following:

      Supatipanno bhagavato savaka sangho…
      Ujupatipanno…..As Above
      Nyanapatipanno…As Above
      Samicipatipanno..As Above

      which i think means (please do correct me if wrong)

      The Buddha’s Sangha is practising Correctly.
      As Above…………………..practising with Rectitude.
      As Above……………………practising Insightfully.
      As Above…………………..practising Properly.

      In my humble opinion these things refer to the 8 pairs because this wording shows HOW and WHY these beings become the 8 pairs. It is through practising correctly…etc… And to me this highlights the distinction between the 8 fold path and the noble 8 fold path, the latter being that which the person who is bound for stream entry has entered upon.

      Thinking about it now, i can actually see how these particular recollections can serve to heighten all of the 5 Spriitual Faculites of Faith Energy Mindfulness Stillness and Wisdom! So nice writing out loud…so to speak/write!!

      ***

      Instead of “I don’t think Saddha (faith/confidence) is meant to meant to mean Sarana.” I should have said: “I don’t think Saddha (faith/confidence) is meant to mean Sarana.”

      Also I meant to say “For instance, knowing that i’m soon to be IN a stressful/button-pushing setting,”

      Anyway…once again…thanks so much for the discussion. Looking forward to seeing how you may disagree or agree with any of this! :)

      Much metta

    • Hi Kanchana,

      Yes, I’m finding this a useful discussion too. I posted a comment above that relates to the issues in your post here. It was rather long (sorry), so I won’t post it again, but you can find it quickly by doing a search on my name. To recap, I’m arguing that there’s room to interpret Sangha as either monastic or ariya-sangha.

      Jackie

    • Hi Jackie

      I know what you mean about posts being long…I feel rather embarrassed when i click ‘post comment’ and see how long it looks!!! Yikes!

      But I found your post very interesting.

      It did bring up a couple of things for me.

      First, i think (could be sooo wrong here) that when you see the word ‘Sangha’ in the suttas, the implication is always that it is in fact referring to the monks and nuns.

      ***

      Also, i think (once again…very unsure…would love some input on this from Bhante S or Bhikkhu Brahmali) that there is such a thing as mundane and supra-mundane going for refuge. Elsewhere i argued that i thought faith and refuge referred to two separate but similar/related concepts/emotions/functions… But perhaps at Stream Entry they merge even closer??

      It is said the Stream Enterer is like the person floating in the ocean who sees land and starts swimming for it…she sees Anatta and the rest of the Dhamma starts to become increasingly clear to her. The act of actually getting to the shore is the attainment of Arahant.

      So wouldn’t the path of the Stream Enterer be just so much more powerful and focused than that of the rest of us still floundering around in Ocean Samsara? Wouldn’t she just know where to look, where to swim. Wouldn’t it be almost automatic?

      ***

      Also i don’t think we should underestimate the powerful symbolism of the Sangha of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis.

      Yes, I agree that some who are in robes shouldn’t be and are a disgrace. And some lay people live more ‘monastically’ than some monks/nuns do.

      But let’s leave aside for a moment the people. Let’s look at what the structure of the Sangha offers and also at what the very act of joining the Sangha entails.

      Firstly, the structure of the Sangha is something made up of rules governing everything thing from dress-codes to how to patch up differences of opinion. It is geared in one direction and one direction alone…to attain freedom from suffering. As a layperson, i don’t have these rules. I am ‘free’ to indulge in a number of things that monastics can’t indulge in. And so, while i do practise at home, i find it useful to leave home and go on retreat at either a retreat centre or at a monastary. This takes me into an environment free from all sorts of temptations and it means i don’t have to worry about trying to go against a variety of long built up habits…e.g.a delight in snacking whenever i feel like it!!
      The structure is there to support me. I don’t have to fight the world and my ingrained habits that draw me away from my practise. This is what the structure of Sangha offers.

      It offers this to those who take it up but it also offers the rest of us an example to aspire to. I may not be ready to go without my ready supply of…white nectarines let’s say…but it’s inspiring to know that it is possible for me to gradually break my dependence on them because i can see that others have done so. It spurs me on to see that these Sangha structures are ‘lived’. It shows me what is possible and this is a teaching to me and i too strive to live it within my life.

      Secondly, the very act of asking for the full ordination is psychologically an extreme and radicallly symbolic thing to do and would surely impress itself upon a person who sought it out. (Afterall, if it wasn’t, why are we jumping up and down, demanding that we as women have the opportunity to do just this?) This is an act of profound renunciation. You are giving up soooooo much! And of your own will. It is really bizarre that people do this. Especially in the west, when support may not always be assured.

      This is an institution delivered to us so that we can courageously say ‘no’ to all those things that we have control over in our lives as lay people. We are giving up control over our own lives. We are giving up our lives to faith in the Buddha and his Dhamma. This is something worth upholding. Particularly within the context of rebirth and the gradual training.
      Within the context of many lives we sometimes ordain. Sometimes we don’t. But gradually the Dhamma moves us towards the Truth and Freedom. This is an institution/concept that we should take refuge in because it is a resource for us all. We might not be making use of it directly at present but we may wish to later. And those who are using it now may be those who later become our supporters as we strive to make use of the vehicle of ordination. We have to keep it going.

      But to worship a monastic, as if he/she were the fount of wisdom merely by the virtue of a ceremony they went through or a robe they are wearing is shear stupidity of the kind that even i have fallen foul of. And I’m never doing it again. It was painful for me and it was a massively unfair burden to place upon the monastic in question. It’s best not to go looking for someone to give our power to. Nobody should have that sort of burden to bear; if we who are the closest being to ourselves cannot sort ourselves out, how an earth is someone else who is also trying to sort themselves out, expected to do so?

      Gosh…it really helps to ‘speak’ out loud like this doesn’t it? It occurs to me that this is how i tend to talk with my women friends. We end up being listeners to each other, not so much advice givers, but just present to hear someone as they talk something out and work it out themselves. That’s my excuse for yet another long and winding post. Thanks so much for the ‘chat’ Jackie. :)

      With much metta

    • Jackie i just want to add something…

      I said: “Yes, I agree that some who are in robes shouldn’t be and are a disgrace. And some lay people live more ‘monastically’ than some monks/nuns do.”

      I think the key point is that the lay people live monastically have still not fully given up control over their lives. They still have the choice to live a little or a lot less monastically. I think it is when they take the next step and make a public declaration (by ordaining) then they are really putting themselves out there. Now they are really being brave…not just within the quiet control of their own home environments. They have given up that particular haven too.

      Thanks again Jackie

      Metta

    • I must say that this was a particularly delicious bit of ‘tango philosophy’. Quite lovely. Thanks Juzzeau.

    • Thanks, Dania. You ask some great questions (it’s a real skill). I’m in Australia – we’ve met at Santi. My name is Justine, when I’m not blogging. I recall when your Dad came, he and I had some nice chats in French. Last time I was there, I was talking with Ayya Citta and she commented on what great discussions there used to be at drinks time when you were there. It’s great that you’re still getting them going here…

    • oh cool! Yes I remember you! How nice, you’re very sweet. Thank you for the kind comments:)
      My dad actually loved it at Santi, so it was a quite remarkable change since he came in very skeptical but then saw what a wonderful place it was with kind people and good conduct. :) and then his attitude totally changed, which is nice.
      have a lovely week and a happy path to Nibbana:) Wishing you all the best in your studies and work (I remember you were doing your PhD at the time). Anyways, nice to ‘see’ you again and thank you for your insightful comments:) It’s nice to discuss about Dhamma since it helps one reflect on the teachings rather than passively take them in.

  7. An excellent article on the dynamics of power and the abuse thereof within the spiritual community. Sadly it seems too often this occurs.
    Unfortuantely, what is often missing in these kinds of dialogue is a reflection on the plight of the victim. Often these victims are young women…but not always. Often their plight is shrouded in secrecy and the victims are blamed and shamed to “protect the greater good of the Dhamma”. Claarly, these projections are harmful, wrong and incompassionate to the suffering caused to the innocent neophyte who naively gives their trust in all good faith to a spiritual figure of authority. But how easy it is for those not caught up within this harmful dynamic to blame the innocent, insensitively simplifying it within the context of “their karma” and resorting to harsh namecalling such as labelling them “stupid”? Unfair judgement and ostracism piled on top of the indecency and indignity of the original assault.
    An yet, when these victims do seek justice, exposing this abuse of power in order to protect other potential victims in the future they are blamed and subjected to scapegoating – often labelled within such typecasts as “vengeful”, “vindictive” and even “evil”.
    Where is the compassion for the victim? Why are they the one who is shamed and blamed?
    And what happens to these victims? How long does the damage to their spiritual well-being and psychological health last? Just this lifetime? Or more? Will they ever trust the Dhamma again? These are the questions I would like to see addressed.

    • Excellent questions. I don’t have any personal experience, but have heard from others about the trauma of sexual abuse or harassment by spiritual teachers lasting for decades, at least (including Eido Roshi’s abuses). It seems the sexual trauma would be multiplied by the aspect of spiritual trauma, such as losing one’s faith or one’s community. I’ve heard that in the mid-90s, Jan Chozen Bays and Yvonne Rand (two leading west coast female Zen teachers) led a retreat for women who experienced sexual abuse in a sangha. They might be good resources, or perhaps they’ve written on the subject from the survivors’ perspective. “Shoes at the Door”, about the San Francisco Zen Center, includes discussion of some of these dynamics and interviews with some survivors.

      The picture I get is that the power dynamics and community dynamics are quite complex for those caught in the web, but similar patterns do repeat themselves across communities. If these patterns could be mapped, it might help groups to address problems before they cause irreparable damage.

      Thanks,
      Jackie

  8. Dania :
    I think that’s what faith in Sangha is, having the confidence that the path works. Having confidence that practicing the Dhamma leads to Ariyan. weather black or white, woman or man, brown robe or jeans.

    Nicely put Dania…very pithy.

    Metta :)

  9. ‘Hierarchy, lineage and Dhamma transmission’ should never be confused with Refuge. The former is external and the latter internal. One is public, the other deeply private. It’s possible that confusing the former with the latter is what leads to abuse within some settings.

    So many seeming contradictions in this religion… While individuals are essential in paving the way, they are not to be blindly followed. While good friends/teachers are essential, we must look inward to see what our Refuge in Sangha really means. We support each other but we are ultimately alone and must do the work alone, must seek refuge alone within the quiet of our own hearts.

    As Bhikkhu Brahmali said:

    “I think a main principle in spiritual life is to take full responsibility for oneself. This means, more than anything else, to keep investigating. In particular, as I mentioned above, it means investigating people in terms of greed, hatred, and delusion. Sometimes you hear that a certain teacher who seems to get angry is not really angry; you may even be told that there is some “spiritual” significance to their anger. Unfortunately people buy into this sort of stuff. If the Buddha said we should look for these qualities, then it is also appropriate to base one’s confidence or lack thereof on the outcome of such investigation. If you find a person with the right qualities, then whether they wear a robe or shave their head is obviously irrelevant. However, in my experience, on purely statistical grounds, you are more likely to find such a person among those most committed to a spiritual path. (But even there they are exceedingly rare!)

    You say: “We cannot peer inside our teacher’s mind …”

    I would argue that you actually can peer into another person’s mind. As is implied by what I have said above, you do this simply by observing their behaviour. Of course, there is no absolute guarantee that you will get it right, and therefore one should not make any absolute judgement. I think it can be useful to regard confidence/faith as a working hypothesis, and to remember that it is not knowledge.”

  10. Dear Kanchana,

    Kanchana :
    If in the suttas lay people took refuge in the bhikku and bhikkuni sangha, what was the ‘Sangha Refuge’ that the bhikkus and bhikkunis took refuge in?

    The refuge for lay people and monastics is the same. A bhikkhu or bhikkhuni will find inspiration in the idea of an ariyan Sangha, and also in their fellow Sangha members, particularly those with special qualities.

    With metta.

    • Dear Ajahn Brahmali,

      That is also what I read in MN 108.

      “Master Ananda, is there any single bhikkhu appointed by Master Gotama saying: ‘He will be your refuge after I am gone,’ and to whom you now follow?”

      No

      “Then is there any single bhikkhu who has been chosen by the sangha and appointed by a number of elder bhikkhus saying: ‘He will be our refuge after the Blessed One has gone,’ and whom you now follow? .”

      No

      “ We are not without a refuge. We have a refuge; we have the Teaching (Dhamma) as our refuge….

      “The Blessed One , the one who knows , the one who sees, accomplished, and rightly self-awakened, has prescribed the course of training for bhikkhus and he has laid down the Patimokkha. On the Uposatha day , all of us who live dependent on a single village district gather together in one place. Having gathered together, we ask one who knows the Patimokkha to recite it. If , while he is reciting, a bhikkhu remembers an offense or transgression, we make him act in accordance with the Dhamma, in accordance with the instructions. It is not the venerable ones that make us act; it is the Dhamma that makes us act.”

      Does that mean that the monastics can’t turn to their fellow monastics who share the path for advice ? The answer is no. In the sutta, the Buddha indicated the qualities to look for in bhikkhu/nis that are capable of giving good advice .

      For example:

      1. “ Here, brahmin, a bhikkhu is virtuous, he dwells in accordance with the Patimokkha, he is perfect in conduct and sphere of activity. He trains himself by undertaking the training precepts, seeing the danger in the slightest faults.

      2. “ He has learned much ( bahussuta: very learned) of the dhamma , remembers what he has learned, and treasures what he has learned. Teachings that are admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, admirable in the end, with the right meaning and phrasing, and which affirm a holy life that is utterly perfect and pure – of such teachings he has learned much of, remembered, discussed, acquainted with ( paricita: practiced; attended; acquainted with; accumulated; accustomed) , investigated with the mind, throughly penetrates it with his mind.

      3. “He is contented with his robes, alms food, lodgings, & medicinal requisites.

      4. “He attains at will, without trouble or difficulty, the four jhanas ( four states of concentration of mind, meditation)— heightened mental states providing a pleasant abiding in the here & now.

      5. “He wields manifold supranormal powers, such as being one, becoming many, being many becoming one , appearing and vanishing. He goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, & mountains as if through space. He dives in and comes out of earth as if in water. He walks on water as though on earth. Sitting cross-legged he flies through the air like a winged bird. With his hand he touches & strokes even the sun & moon, so mighty & powerful. He exercises influence with his body even as far as the Brahma worlds.

      6. “With the purified divine ear-element beyond human — he hears both kinds of sounds, divine & human, whether near or far.

      7. “He penetrates and understands the minds of other beings. He knows the mind with greed, the mind without greed, the angry mind and the not angry mind. He knows the deluded mind and the not deluded mind, the composed mind and the distracted mind. He knows the exalted mind and the un exalted mind, the surpassable mind and an unsurpassable mind . He knows the concentrated mind and the un-concentrated mind, the liberated mind and the unliberated mind.

      8. ” He recollects the manifold previous births such as one birth, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty births. One hundred births, one thousand births, one hundred thousand births, innumerable aeons of cosmic-contraction, innumerable aeons of cosmic-expansion, innumerable aeons of cosmic-contraction and cosmic-expansion. He recollects : ‘There I was with this name, in this clan, with this disposition, supported thus, experiencing these pleasant and unpleasant feelings, enjoying such a lifespan. Disappearing from there I was born there with this name, in this clan, with this disposition, supported thus, experiencing these pleasant and unpleasant feelings, enjoying such a lifespan. Disappearing from there I was born here.” Thus he recollects the manifold previous births with all details.

      9. “With the purified divine eye beyond human he sees beings disappearing and appearing beautiful and ugly, in heaven and hell, born according their actions.’These good beings owing to misconduct in body, words and mind, reviling noble ones, owing to bearing wrong view and the actions based on wrong views, after death are born in misery, in states of deprivation, in decrease, in hell. These good beings owing to right conduct in body, words and mind, not reviling noble ones, owing to bearing right view and the actions based on right views, after death are born in increase, in fortunate states, in heaven. Thus he sees beings disappearing and appearing beautiful and ugly, in heaven and hell, born according their actions.

      10. ” By the ending of mental effluents, he enters and abides in the effluent-free liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, realizing it for himself with direct knowledge in this very life.

      The ten qualities indicated by the Buddha are the qualities of an ariya sangha member, that can be found among the monastic sangha.

    • iMeditation, the ending of the assavas- that’s for the arahat.
      For an ariyan, he/she doesn’t have to get all that list that you mentioned. Stream winner is just the 3 lower fetters that are gone; (right view, no more skeptical doubt and not believing that through mere rights they’ll be liberated)
      But even one on the path to being a stream winner is considered as an ‘ariyan’ since it’s one of the four pairs…
      That’s why it doesn’t make sense to me that we’re taking refuge in people, but rather our own confidence that this path works and produces ariyans.

    • iMeditation, do you know of a monk who possesses these 10 qualities?

      Dania I see the Sangha refuge as those who have gone before as well as those with a shared aspiration.

    • Hi Dania and Peter,

      Dania wrote: “the ending of the assavas- that’s for the arahat.”

      There seems to be a confusion whether the text is referring to the monastic sangha or the ariya sangha often found among the monastics. The description above is of an ariya because an Arahant is considered an ariya. If we want to go into details about the various types of ariya, then yes, there are 8 types or four pairs. The above is a comprehensive list of all the qualities that might indicate someone is capable of giving good advice about the practice in case we need it. But that’s not to say that a person needs to have the whole comprehensive list before he/she can offer any advice. Even a stream-enter or someone with a few of the qualities on the list can offer helpful advice about the practice.

      “That’s why it doesn’t make sense to me that we’re taking refuge in people, but rather our own confidence that this path works and produces ariyans.”

      I am not suggesting that we take refuge in people. But if you have difficulty on the path and wanted to ask an experienced person who share the path for input, then this list provides some tips on who might be able to. But if a person feels that he/she can do without needing to ask anybody more experienced then nobody say that one has to. Often it is the case that once in a while a practitioner might be confused about a certain aspect of the teaching/practice and wanted to discuss it with someone on the path. This list provides some good guidelines. Even in a math class for example, there are times when a person might want to ask a classmate or tutor about a difficult math problem.

      Peter wrote: “iMeditation, do you know of a monk who possesses these 10 qualities?”

      I believe I can tell when a monk has several or a lot of qualities on the list. But that is just me. You might not agree with my judgment.

    • iMeditation, thanks for the clarification. I had originally thought that all 10 of the qualities would be needed.

  11. Bhante Brahmali
    Using your “law of averages” argument can we conclude that it is your opinion that there are likely to be more men who are enlightened beings? Could we also conclude that being a man is an advantage for one searching on the path as there is more monastic opportunity for men?

    I’m also not clear on your view on the sangha refuge. initially you mentioned that “In the suttas the third refuge is given simply as the bhikkhu-sangha or the bhikkhuni-sangha, without specifying ariya” I took this to mean that your view was that the third refuge was the monastic community, It seams in your most recent post that your view is more abstract. Do you feel that it is important for lay people take refuge with a monastic sangha?

  12. Various refuges that I found mentioned in the Suttas includes:

    * Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha

    ” There are , O bhikkhus, eight streams of merit, streams of the wholesome, nourishments of happiness, that are heavenly, ripening in happiness, conducive to heaven, and that lead to whatever is wished for, loved, and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness. What are the eight? ” Here , monks, a noble disciple has gone for refuge to the Buddha. This is the first stream of merit, stream of the wholesome, nourishment of happiness, that is heavenly, ripening in happiness, conducive to heaven , and that leads to whatever is wished for, loved, and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness. This is the first stream of merit…. one’s welfare and happiness.

    ” Further, a noble disciple has gone for refuge to the Dhamma. This is the second stream of merit…that leads to whatever is wished for, loved, and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness.

    ” Further, a noble disciple has gone for refuge to the sangha. This is the third stream of merit…that leads to whatever is wished for, loved, and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness.” -AN 8: 39

    ————
    * Yourself & own actions ( Sila)

    ” Beings are owners of their actions, heirs of their actions; they originate from their actions, are bound to their actions, have their actions, have their actions as tier refuge. It s action that distinguishes beings as inferior and superior.” ( Mn 135)

    “…and though he sincerely took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha, the fruit of sincerely undertaking the Five Moral Precepts would have been greater.” ( Velama Sutta)

    AN 8: 39
    ” There are further, monks, these five gifts- pristine, of long standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated and never before adulterated, that are not being adulterated and that will not be adulterated, not despised by wise contemplatives and priests. What are these five gifts?

    ” Here, monks, a noble disciple gives up the destruction of life and abstains from it. By abstaining from the destruction of life, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression. By giving to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression, he himself will enjoy immeasurable freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression. This is the first of those greet gifts and the fourth stream of merit.

    ” Further, monks, a noble disciple gives up the taking of what is not given and abstains from it. By abstaining from taking what is not given, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from .… This is the second of those great gifts and the fifth stream of merit.

    ” Further, monks, a noble disciple gives up sexual misconduct . By abstaining from sexual misconduct….This is the third of those great gifts and the sixth stream of merit.

    ” Further, monks noble disciple gives up false speech and abstains from it. By abstaining from false speech…This is the fourth of those great gifts and the seventh stream of merit.

    ” Further, monks, a noble disciple gives up wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the basis for negligence. By abstaining from…This is the fifth of those great gifts and the eighth stream of merit.

    ” These, monks, are the eight streams of merit, streams of the wholesome, nourishments of happiness, which are heavenly, ripening in happiness, conducive to heaven, and which lead to whatever is wished for, loved, and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness.”

    Practice and Development of Compassion

    “…and though he sincerely undertook the Five Precepts, the fruit of developing (concentration on radiating) metta, even for just to the extent of a whiff of scent, would have been greater.”
    Realization ( Panna)
    “…and though he developed universal lovingkindness, the fruit of cultivating the awareness of anicca-even for the moment of a finger snap-would have been greater.” – Anguttara Nikaya, Navakanipata, Velama Sutta ( The Scale of Good Deeds)

  13. in the time of the Buddha- people didn’t do a ceremonial ‘taking of 3 refuges and 5 precepts’ in front of a monastic right? They just kept them.

    How did this ritual start- since it might fall into the trap of some cult that you can only be a Buddhist if you do a ritual in front of a monastic. It also gives the monastics ‘power’ over lay people which isn’t right. It might fall into this hierarchy that we’ve been talking about recently. It seems a bit weird to me. As long as people keep the precepts and have confidence in the Dhamma then it’s fine- no need for a ritual. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Interestingly it is a requirement for becoming a full member of the “Buddhist Society of Western Australia” that you take the three refuges and the five precepts with an ordained Buddhist monk or nun. A signature from the spiritual director or assistant spiritual director is also required. http://www.bswa.org.au/membership.html.

    • Yeah I noticed that.

      I know Ajahn Brahm mentioned in talks, for instance in one of the latest talks on encouraging investigation and encouraging us to be autonomous in our Dhamma practice that we don’t need to take any ritual or ceremony, as long as we practice. It was a really nice talk. In fact, I feel really inspired and peaceful after all his talks.
      http://media.bswa.org/mp3/Brahmavamso_2011_02_04.mp3 (this is from a few weeks ago). In previous talks, he even said that when he was a young Buddhist he didn’t do a ceremony, he just kept the precepts:) So i get a feeling that the ceremony for the bswa is just some old formality that maybe got instilled by the lay committee and never questioned. Although I never asked the committee so i cannot speak on their behalf. This is just an opinion. I guess they have so many things to look into maybe they didn’t think about it. They are a nice organization. Nothing is wrong with ceremonies since weddings and funerals are ceremonies to reinforce the message although i don’t know how necessary they are.. I guess declaring the precepts to another makes one take the precepts more seriously for some..

    • Often in the suttas we see someone announced to the Buddha that he/she will take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha ” as long as life last”. They are instructed to practice sila and do good deeds. Today, I guess the Buddha is not present physically so the ceremony is a symbolic declaration of one’s commitment to take up the path taught by the Buddha. I’ve been planning to take it formally to know what it’s like, but haven’t had a chance yet. But I think it is optional because I haven’t come across any reference to the ceremony in particular. To me, if something is not set down by the Buddha then it is optional.

    • In the ‘old days’ i used to delight in formally taking Refuge and Precepts and would even go looking for a monastic so i could ask for them; even if I hadn’t broken them!

      Then one day someone said to me, ‘but you’ve already taken them. Why do you need to keep doing this?’

      And i thought about it… I liked doing it because it felt nice! Also, as I said the words out loud, i felt like i was re-inforcing that which i wished to make so much a part of myself. In a way i was brain-washing myself quite deliberately!

      However when someone questioned me about this it also made me begin to see that this was a deeply internal process and i stopped actively looking for chances to formally take R and P.

      Yet if I’m ever in a situation where this is a part of the proceedings, i generally get into it with much enjoyment!

      I can see times in my life when mentally/spiritually/emotionally major decisions/turning points were reached; afterwards things are never the same as it feels like i’ve gone in a new direction. I can see how this internal process of mind-kamma can easily slip out into the world of speech and body kamma. So upon viewing someone quietly doing this chant by themselves, i think it important to remember that we cannot really know what is going on for them internally. I think we must be careful not to think that those who delight in this are only just reciting parrot fashion.

      I can also see how it can go the other way. That is, going from speech/body kamma making to mind good kamma making. Faith and devotion and gratitude and indeed love for the Triple Gem can make you do this little chant quite often. In the mind of someone who’s virtue really is clean (keeping/trying hard to keep the precepts) i can see how this sort of daily brainwashing can be an encouragement on the path and how this can then translate to something far deeper on the level of mind-kamma.

      Thanks so much for the discussion about this from everyone! It’s great! :)

      Metta

  14. I am still enjoying the author’s proposition, regarding the Buddha…

    “…maybe, somewhere in the cosmos, he’s still exploring, expanding, and perfecting his infinite wide-awake seeing. Or maybe all of us are, exactly at this moment, his eyes opening again and again – and wider and wider as our practice deepens…”

    …somehow this fits with my concept of Sangha…

    _/\_

  15. Ven Sir and everyone,

    This is well said. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of these matters with us. And this confirms what you have said about monasticism offering a vehicle to increase one’s knowledge/wisdom about Buddhism. You are certainly carrying the Dhamma quite well in your role as Sangha.

    In your summary you stated that the ‘reason why the Sangha is given such a prominent position is because of its prominent role in ensuring the long-term survival of Buddhism.’ In which case we all have a responsibility to ensure that it not only survives, but that it does so in pretty good shape.

    As lay people we must support (and join) those who appear to be doing there best in keeping their precepts and their meditation clean. We also have a responsibility to ensure that we don’t fall into the dangerous trap of blind devotion to a group or to individuals.

    Monastics must play what part they can in keeping this important vehicle of Buddhism pure and powerful.

    It’s clear to me that Ven Brahmali’s comments are not ‘self-serving'; indeed they point to why a healthy Sangha serves all Buddhists. As he pointed out: ‘the closer one is to awakening, the more likely it is that one will be a member of the Sangha.’ Of course, why wouldn’t you, given the opportunity, join a structure that so perfectly supports the direction that your life is going in.

    Metta

    • Ven Brahmali’s intention may not be self serving but I personally find his view’s do really need to be looked at and the full implication of his views examined.

      There is a giant paradox between this fundamentalist Buddhist view and the reality of life for both monastic and lay practitioners in the modern world.

  16. The Sangha is organized by senority for a good reason — it’s straightforward and objective. In the Sangha, seniority is determined by the number of rains retreats that a bhikkhu/bhikkhuni has observed since his/her ordination.

    The Morality of the Partridge
    Jataka Tales of the Buddha: An Anthology (Kawasaki/BPS/2009)

    It was while on the way to Sāvatthī that the Buddha told this story about how Venerable Sāriputta was denied a night’s lodging.

    When the great donor, Anāthapindika, had completed the construction of Jetavana Monastery in Sāvatthī, he sent a messenger to Rājagaha. Thereupon, the Buddha left Rājagaha with a large group of bhikkhus to go to Vesāi, where he planned to stay a while before continuing the journey to Sāvatthī. At that time, the Gang of Six hurried on ahead and secured all available lodgings, which they distributed among their superiors, their friends, and themselves. When the senior bhikkhus arrived, they could find no quarters at all for the night. Even Venerable Sāriputta’s disciples, for all their searching, could not find lodging for him. Being without a place to stay, Venerable Sāriputta spent the night near the Buddha’s quarters, alternately sitting at the foot of a tree and walking up and down.

    Just before dawn, the Buddha came out of his room and coughed. Venerable Sāriputta also coughed.

    “Who is that?” the Buddha asked.

    “It is I, Sāriputta, Venerable Sir.”

    “What are you doing here at this hour, Sāriputta?”

    After hearing the explanation, the Buddha thought, “Even now, while I am still alive, the bhikkhus lack courtesy and humility. What will they do when I am gone?”

    As soon as it was daylight, the Buddha called the bhikkhus together and said, “I have heard that the bhikkhus of the Gang of Six hurried ahead and reserved lodgings, preventing senior bhikkhus from finding lodgings for the night. Is this true?”

    “That is so, Blessed One,” the bhikkhus replied.

    “Tell me, bhikkhus,” the Buddha continued, “who deserves the best lodging, the best robes, and the best rice?”
    Some answered that the most deserving was the one who had been a nobleman before becoming a bhikkhu. Others thought that it was the one who was originally a brahmin or a wealthy man. Some answered that the most deserving was the one who was well versed in the rules of the Vinaya, the one who could expound the Dhamma, or the one most skilled in the jhānas. Others said that the most
    deserving was the bhikkhu who had attained arahatship or, at least, the first, second, or third paths.

    The Buddha listened to all of these opinions and said, “In my Sāsana, precedence in the matter of lodging and other requisites is not by noble birth or by possession of wealth before ordination. It is not by familiarity with the Vinaya, with the Suttas, or with the Abhidhamma. Precedence is not determined by the ability to achieve jhānas or by having made attainments on the path. Bhikkhus, the sole standard for determining who deserves respect in word and deed is seniority20. Seniors should enjoy the best lodging, the best robes, and the best alms. This is the true standard. Therefore, these things should be reserved for the senior bhikkhu. Because of his seniority, bhikkhus, Sāriputta, my chief disciple, who keeps turning the Wheel of the Law that I set in motion, deserves to have a lodging after me. Yet Sāriputta spent last night at the foot of a tree without lodging! If you lack respect and subordination now, what will your behavior be as time goes by?

    “In times past, bhikkhus, even animals realized that it was not proper for them to live without respect, without subordinating one to another, without order in their everyday life.”

    Then the Buddha told this story of the past.

    Long, long ago, near a great banyan-tree on the slopes of the Himavat, there lived three friends—a partridge, a monkey, and an elephant. They stayed together happily enough, but they came to realize that their life lacked order and that they had no one to respect. The more they thought about this, the more they wanted to know which of them was the oldest so that they could honor him.
    One day, as they were sitting beneath the banyan tree, they had an idea. The partridge and the monkey asked the elephant, “Friend elephant, how big was this banyan when you first remember it?”

    “When I was a baby, this banyan was a mere bush, and I used to walk over it. When I stood right over it, its topmost branches just touched my belly. I’ve known this tree since it was a mere bush.”

    The elephant and the partridge posed the same question to the monkey.

    “My friends,” he replied, “when I was just a baby and sat here on the ground, I had only to stretch out my neck to eat the topmost sprouts of this banyan. I’ve known this banyan tree since it was very tiny.”

    Finally, the monkey and the elephant looked to the partridge for his answer.

    “Friends,” he began, “long ago, there was a great banyan-tree some distance away. I ate its seeds and voided them here. That was the origin of this tree. Since I have knowledge of this tree from before it was born, I must be older than either of you.”

    “Indeed, Friend,” the other two animals exclaimed, “you are the oldest. From now on, we will pay you honor. We will show you due respect in word and deed, and we will seek your guidance. From now on, please give us advice whenever we are in need of it.”

    The partridge, accepting their respect as the most senior, counseled them wisely from that day on. He also established them in the precepts, which he himself faithfully observed. In this way, their daily life acquired more order. Established in the precepts, they lived together respectfully and properly, thereby, at life’s close, earning rebirth in heaven.

    Having concluded his story, the Buddha added, “The aims of these three came to be known as the ‛Morality of the Partridge.’ Knowing that these three animals, bhikkhus, lived together in harmony because of age, how can you, who have ordained in this Sangha, live together without proper respect? Henceforth, I declare that respect and all due service be paid to seniority.

    Seniority shall receive the best lodging, the best robes, and the best alms. Nevermore, let a senior be kept out of a lodging by a junior. Whosoever shows disrespect for his senior in such a way commits an offense. Those who honor age will be praised in this life and will find their reward in the future, as well.”

    Then the Buddha identified the birth: “At that time, Moggallāna was the elephant, Sāriputta was the monkey, and I was the wise partridge.”

    • Dear Visakha,

      Thanks for the story, a classic one in all forms of Buddhism. The key point here is that the text defines the privileges of seniority:

      Seniority shall receive the best lodging, the best robes, and the best alms. Nevermore, let a senior be kept out of a lodging by a junior.

      And that’s about all. In the rest of the Vinaya, there are hardly any specific allowances made for seniority, apart from matters of etiquette. Senior bhikkhus or bhikkhunis do not have any extra power or rights in the Vinaya apart from these few instances.

    • Absolutely! But many people seem to get very hung up on these issues of etiquette, mistaking them for matters of importance. The day-to-day ordering of things should be smooth and simple and for the rest, shouldn’t real ability be rewarded with real responsibility, decided democratically?

  17. Ajahn Sujato

    “Those of us whose Buddhism is inspired by the early Buddhist teachings know full well that all notions of hierarchy, lineage, and Dhamma transmission are exactly the opposite of what the Buddha explicitly wanted. Storlie quotes a few passages to support his case; there are many more. Indeed, the entire Vinaya is constructed so as to exclude these power-based dynamics”

    So are you saying that vajrayana buddhism is or is thought by Trevarden Buddhists to be all fairytales and make believe then? All this Guru worship *&*** Like they just tell people all that to get them through things or something like parents might tell their kids the tooth fairy will visit if they loose a tooth, so as to give them something to get through the ordeal of loosing teeth ith or something?

    • No, I’m saying that the Buddha, according to the most relaible records that we have, did not set up a hierarchy but stipulated that the Sangha must be managed with all bhikkhus as equal; he made no mention of lineage at all; and he said that Dhamma is sustained by people who practice the eightfold path, not through a mystical transmission. What this has to do with Vajrayana Buddhism is probably best answered by a Vajrayanist, as I know little about it.

    • Bhante Sujato,

      Thank you for that.

      I only asked about the Vajrayana Buddhism to try to get an objective perspective, but I suppose if their is no heirachy then that answers that, maybe it is sort of the same in some way.

      Thank you

  18. Some of the views expressed here are incredibly offensive.

    Bhikkhu Brahmali – your explicit abbrogation of lay life is truly shocking.

    AB, I respect your choice to wear the robe, and all I expect from you is the same respect for my cargo pants and t-shirt.

    Your tone is disingeuous – you say with respect – and then proceed to disresepct.

    All you lay people here should see what is happening here – you are also allowing AB to get away with some overly degenerate views.

    It is a sick, inhumane dynamic.

    Painful – all too painful

    • Dear Tam,

      I hear the outrage and pain in your response to what you’ve read here. Some of these questions can feel very sensitive to me too, and I think it’s important to make space to feel and come to terms with each of our emotional responses, whatever they might be.

      Sometimes these kinds of forums can be a good space to express diverse views and strong feelings, and find commonalities or come to new understandings. Other times, I think the lack of face-to-face and real time communication can lead to breakdowns in understanding, and then it’s not a good format. I’m getting the feeling this is the second case, but I’m going to try to respond anyway, in my own excessively wordy and laborious way.

      You’ve made an accusation against Bh. Brahmali of “degeneracy” and “inhumanity”. These are serious claims that to my mind require clear, thoughtful, and well-supported explanations and arguments, and I don’t see you providing those. Because of that, it’s hard to know what exactly you’re objecting to and what I can respond to. It might seem self-evident to you, but it’s not to me, and I think I’m fairly capable of taking a critical look at something, especially if it concerns misuse or abuse of power. In this case, I really can’t see any justification for your accusations. Maybe there is something I’m not seeing, but again, making a serious public accusation requires that you adequately explain and back it up.

      You wrote: “Bhikkhu Brahmali – your explicit abbrogation of lay life is truly shocking.” How do you reconcile that statement with what Bh. Brahmali wrote: “Indeed, I have much more respect for many lay Buddhists than I have for the vast majority of monastics.” He also wrote: “My purpose in the following is to defend the importance of the Sangha; it is not in any way meant to diminish the importance of lay Buddhists.”

      You wrote: “AB, I respect your choice to wear the robe, and all I expect from you is the same respect for my cargo pants and t-shirt.” I’ve reread all of Bh. Brahmali’s comments here on the subject of lay practice, and absolutely nowhere can I see any sign of disrespect for any person’s choice to practice as a lay person. I can only guess that you are assuming he has implied this based on something else he said, but you haven’t explained it.

      You wrote: “Your tone is disingeuous – you say with respect – and then proceed to disrespect.” If you first draw the conclusion that Bh. Brahmali was disrespectful, then you would have to also draw the conclusion that he’s disingenuous when he claims to be respectful. But the simpler explanation would be to go back and take another look at what he actually said, what you might have misread, what assumptions you might be bringing to your interpretation, and see if from another angle he is being respectful–and therefore genuine.

      You wrote: “All you lay people here should see what is happening here – you are also allowing AB to get away with some overly degenerate views.” While it’s possible that all of the rest of us are somehow missing the degeneracy in Bh. Brahmali’s views, again there’s a simpler explanation. Maybe you’ve jumped to some conclusions or read more into something than was actually said or meant.

      I admit that I’ve sometimes complained myself that lay practitioners in Theravada can be, on average, too sheepish, following teachers in robes without asking enough questions or challenging enough assumptions. This asking and challenging can be done in a respectful way, just as it can in any human interaction. However, I doubt that the folks commenting on this post can be fairly described as sheepish. People have been asking, answering, and teasing out complex, subtle, and important questions here. I think this has been handled quite respectfully, both by the laypeople and the monastics commenting.

      I guess one reason I’m taking the time to respond is because I was one of the people who drew Bh. Brahmali out to elaborate on his earlier comments. I want to say that in his thoughtful, well-reasoned, and well-supported response to me, I felt he thoroughly treated me and my arguments with respect and due consideration. He didn’t agree with me, and forcefully argued for an alternative perspective. And I respect that. He probably knew that in a forum such as this there was a chance of his words and views being misinterpreted, but the subject was important enough to him that he responded to me in full anyway. I respect that too. I never felt that he was insisting I agree with him in every aspect. He consistently used language like “from my perspective”, “my personal position”, “seems”, “on average”, and “my personal conclusion.” I don’t know how he could have made it more clear that he understands and respects that there could be other views and perspectives on the question. But he still has every right, as we all do, to express and argue for his own view.

      Similarly, in explaining that my response was different from yours, I’m not in any way trying to invalidate what you felt. I’m also not trying to argue that you should take a different view on the question of sangha or refuge, especially since it’s not clear what your own view is. My own view is still open to revision and deepening. I am suggesting–no, arguing strongly–that it is crucial for the survival of not just Buddhism, but of our species, to learn how to discuss questions with people who hold views different from our own and to be able to use appeals to experience, reason, compassion, scripture, authority, etc., as appropriate, to support our views. I saw Bh. Brahmali’s response to me as quite a good example of doing exactly that. That’s another reason I’m taking the time to respond.

      I’m going to take a guess that one reason you might object to Bh. Brahmali expressing his views is that you think he’s just being self-serving, since he’s a monk himself. He anticipated that criticism and wrote: “Coming from a bhikkhu this may sound terribly self-serving, but I only say these things because I believe they have a sound basis in the suttas.” People might differ in opinion about how much weight to give the suttas, but I think it is one reasonable and legitimate position to take, and Bh. Brahmali proceeded to support the majority of his argument from the suttas. I also don’t think he stood to benefit personally or directly from stating his position publicly here. The monastery where he resides is already well-supported. It seems obvious that his concern was for the long-term future of the Buddhist monastic sangha and the Buddhist teachings themselves, which is a legitimate concern. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to agree, but I think it’s worthwhile to at least listen.

      For transparency, I’ll add that I’ve never met Bh. Brahmali and only know him through his public comments and letters. I do feel gratitude to him for his role in supporting the bhikkhuni ordinations in Perth, which I believe displayed considerable personal integrity on his part.

      I hope my tone hasn’t sounded too harsh and I hope I haven’t said anything to cause further offense. If so, I sincerely apologise. We’re all doing our best to communicate our imperfect understandings with the imperfect tools of language and technology.

      With respect and appreciation,
      Jackie

    • Hi Jackie
      From a slightly different angle. I was disappointed that Ven Brahmali did not respond or even acknowledge any of my questions. I did notice that you did pull me back into the conversation though :).

    • Really, I thought he did a pretty good job of addressing your concerns whilst addressing others concerns as well. Perhaps you just didn’t like his answer and kept asking the same question? :) To tell you the truth, I couldn’t quite figure out what the underlying assumption of your question was…what exactly were you asking?

      Having said that, may I ask, do you have access to a real life thriving Buddhist community with well practising lay and monastic members? If the answer is yes, then I really don’t know if anyone can answer your question.

    • I addressed Ven Brahmali directly. Where did he address me directly?

      “a real life thriving Buddhist community with well practising lay and monastic members” is of cause subjective but I can access the same communities that you can. In fact I am accessing them right now.

    • What you mean this blog?

      That’s not what I mean.

      Let be very clear about my subjective notion of a useful, thriving Buddhist community.

      One that numbers in it’s hundreds. One that has male and female lay and monastics. One in which there are many skillful groups doing their own thing in service to the Buddhist and wider community. Where people come together regularly to: meditate, listen to talks, offer dana, hang out, clean their temple, clear the nunnery of potential fire risks, mail newsletters, organise and participate in food fairs/fetes, cooperate with other Buddhist groups and community groups… It’s so diverse that you can go years without seeing people and then when you do, you pick up on how each other have changed and there’s a sense of unspoken mutual understanding that such changes are because of one’s Buddhist practise. That, sort of community. And I’ve missed out so much.

      Just see that for a bit and you’ll never again doubt the role of lay people or the fact that they can have respect for themselves and that the Sangha can have respect for them. Bhikkhu Brahmali is actually part of such a community. He is highly respected by us but for a number of reasons by one is that he always treats us with the utmost respect.

      I totally get why Lisa Karuna keeps urging people to visit Perth or Santi. She doesn’t live here but it was enough for her to see it. It’s possible. It’s also fragile because everything is impermenent. To think that some people somewhere would try and damage such a community is just…well unthinkable…but I guess they thought it.

    • meant to say…

      he is highly respected by us for a number of reasons and one is that he always treats us with the utmost respect.

    • Hi Peter,

      Okay, although I have to agree with Kanchana that I wasn’t entirely clear what points you were making either, I just took a guess. It’s very difficult to respond to comments when the main point and underlying assumptions are unclear. It can just lead to further confusion and misunderstanding. I don’t know, but perhaps that’s why Bh. Brahmali didn’t respond directly to your specific comments.

      As a general rule, I think it’s much easier to poke holes or attack someone else’s argument than to make a cohesive, clear, and well-supported argument oneself. One rule I try to impose on myself in internet forums is to not write something that’s only tearing down, but also attempting to build up some better understanding.

      Respectfully,
      Jackie

    • Hi Jackie

      I was trying to ask Ven Bramali to clarify his position. I’m sorry if I was not making myself clear. I had the feeling that Ven. Bramali was unwilling to engage.

    • Tam

      In some ways I agree with you, in lay life people have such great qualities, there are so many kind people, good, courageous, intelligent people everywhere, in every person their is a spark of Buddha nature a potential Buddha mind.

      I prefer the company of lay people to many Buddhist because of bad experiences I have had , but you have to be cautious if they are on a spritual path and that is what you want, it is easy to get lead astray, at least you know that committed full time Buddhists are at least trying to head in the right direction, I think that is all that they were saying.

    • Clearly Tam, you’ve never met either Ven Brahmali or AB. That much would be obvious to anyone who has actually met them.

    • Tam

      Yeah I haven’t actually met Ahajn Brahm face to face, I had the chance once but to be honest I didn’t have the guts to say anything or couldn’t think of any thing say any way.

      I have listened to his talks, he seems to care about everyone equally really, he works with prisoners in jail and helps people from all walks of life and really supports women, honestly have a listen to his talks. I am sure if this other monk has trained with him he is cool to.
      :)

  19. Jackie :
    Hi Peter,
    It’s very difficult to respond to comments when the main point and underlying assumptions are unclear. It can just lead to further confusion and misunderstanding. …
    As a general rule, I think it’s much easier to poke holes or attack someone else’s argument than to make a cohesive, clear, and well-supported argument oneself. One rule I try to impose on myself in internet forums is to not write something that’s only tearing down, but also attempting to build up some better understanding.
    Respectfully,

    Dear Jackie,

    Sadhu!

    I wish I could always remember this.

    Dear Peter,

    May be very honest? I’ve had the feeling you were often “tearing down”. But I always questioned myself because I couldn’t see your face, I didn’t know your history and I don’t know you at all. I also questioned myself because I believe we see the world through our own perceptions and often what we take to be ‘truth’ isn’t it or has more to it. So I gave myself the benefit of the doubt (in being able to communicate with you) and gave you the benefit of the doubt too.

    Our feelings are valid. But there validity doesn’t guarantee their truth and whole-ness of picture/context. I hope you don’t just believe your feeling about Bh B.

    I believe Ajahn Chah often reminded us not to believe our thoughts or trust them.

    Much metta

    • Hi Kanchana
      I do think that Ven Bramali’s views in this thread diserved to be challenged and the implications examined. In my opinion your comitment to awakening is just as great as a monks and the notion that we are more likely to find the wise in robes of a Theravada monk is wrong.

      Keep the faith, As we saw in the clip you posted of the Ven. Sister transformation can take place in an instance and without jhana.

    • :)

      Dear Peter…

      …it is excused with much metta :)

      As for transformation without jhana…yes up to a point.

      But my very very limited experience of any sort of deeper samadhi has taught me that afterwards I am much more prone to transform at a far deeper level. Just speaking from experience. :)

      As for Ven Brahmali’s views on this thread…I fully agree with them. :) But that’s okay isn’t it?

      Tell you what if Ajahn Brahm was a woman, I’d have been a nun 10 years ago! That should not be taken as a reflection on the nuns, just a reflection of the fact that following and checking out AB’s teachings has worked for me. I’m just not strong enough or deep enough or wise enough to go off and not have access to him and his sound and beautiful teachings.

      Having said this…I’m curious to know what you mean by the implications of Ven B’s views… Can you please expand so I can enjoy disagreeing with you on this? ;) Heh, heh… :)

      You said: “In my opinion your commitment to awakening is just as great as a monks and the notion that we are more likely to find the wise in robes of a Theravada monk is wrong.”

      Ta :) My commitment to awakening is strong in my heart but it hasn’t expressed itself/translated into my actions. (e.g. I eat when I want and what i want and my husband and i shamelessly have a little tupperware box full of chocolate in the fridge.) If commitment displayed itself in my actions, then I believe I would have ordained.

      I believe (and Ajahn Chah is translated as saying that) wisdom is firmly grounded in virtue. As one cleans up one’s morality and becomes kinder to oneself and others, one starts to be able to stand to be with oneself! Thus one can be with all manner of internal nastiness with kindness present. This (as the Buddha said) overcomes the nastiness-es. Things settle. I understand that one translation of ‘samadhi’ is settling. The mind settles. Some how the virtue/morality has translated itself into a quieter mind. This deepens and deepens and deepens. Like a whirling wind that gradually recedes leaves only stillness, the thougths, emotions, subtle movement, fade and still. More and more there is nothing much. And one can’t help noticing the pleasure of it all, the lack of suffering, the lack of activity. This becomes the teaching of how suffering disappears, through cessation. How love conquers hate. How true love lets go. So as you can see, settling, samadhi, naturally leads to vision and understanding of these things. From this semi-deep experience I can only infer what it must be like to go even deeper into the real stillness of jhana. But touching these very outer limits and deepening and deepening, it’s easy to see that it’s possible to go further. That jhanas can be the flashlight to end all flashlights (to shamelessly paraphrase from AB’s similie).

      Then one gets up from one’s cushion and one writes better on blogs! ;) It’s not me, it’s the Buddha and the Dhamma, it’s the Sangha that gave them to me. I’m just a set of rolling conditons, without a home, driven by a constant forgetting of truth and love; it is only my faith that brings me back to those things that remind me of the Dhamma. One day…one day…I hope to really see this…not just write it or think it or hope it. But to really see it. I believe (I do not know cos I’ve not experienced it) the direction I must go in, passes through the jhanas.

      So maybe some monks and nuns are far stupider than me. But their level of sila is much higher because of their Vinaya. If they practise correctly, they have a better chance than me because their foundation, their actual/action-ual commitment is greater than mine.

      I don’t think Ven Brahmali was talking about the reality that all monastics are wiser…rather the *possibility* for them to be so. Because the vehicle the Buddha left behind was one that can be used by anyone if they want to translate their mental commitment into bodily commitment. I think he was trying to point to the symbol of the Sangha; the symbol of virtue, truly committed virtue – in action. That is what i think the refuge is now.

      Indeed, even literally, the Sangha in their banner or orange/brown, stand out and call me to stare at them, to watch them, to see what they do, how they speak, how they forgive and teach and learn… Ajahn Brahm once gave a frightened young primary school teacher who was new to her profession some good advise; the best teacher is a good role model. She really took it to heart; she’s still trying to live up to this and finds herself sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding but always striving to meet this high standard. But it was because he set the example first that she is trying to reach it too.

      Ven Brahmali has repeated here and elsewhere that we shouldn’t take an individual as a refuge. Rather that it is the concept – the potential if you like – of Sangha that we should take refuge in. The potential that we can make a greater commitment to awakening through our actions, through our very livelihoods.
      :) Metta

  20. Hi Kanchana
    The jhana comment was actually meant as a bit of a joke come Pavlovian switch (:.

    The implication that I saw were that the majority of enlightened beings now and in the past would be men who are Buddhist monks.

    I also felt that his quote from the Velama Sutta was given out of context (see above).

    Kanchana a few days ago you said that you needed a bit of a blog holiday (if I remember rightly). I think I need one at the moment (:.

    • Dear Peter

      Oh… :) I feel a bit of a fool going on about meditation in response to a joke!! Oh…the jokes on me! Heh, heh… Nevermind. :)

      I can see how that implication can actually come/be true!! All the more reason for women to be able to ordain properly! Mind you, just cos there are more monks doesn’t mean they all practise properly and are using their time well. That’s why Ven Brahmali suggests we do not take Refuge in individuals.

      Re: the Velama Sutta:

      Taking Refuge is a way of saying, “I’m Buddhist and I cultivate the 8 fold path in order to one day realise the 4 noble truths”. So I can see how doing this (the work of lifetimes – unless this is *the* lifetime) is surely going to be for our long term welfare and support; much more so than feeding someone. As I understand it “merit” means “happiness that comes of wholesome action”. Thus the “merit” made by “Taking Refuge” is going to last much longer, be more powerful and have far reaching consequences. Indeed the “merit” of taking refuge will lead one to do acts like “feeding someone”. But will the merit of feeding someone lead to the personal development, transformation and freedom that will come through taking and deepening Refuge?

      I hope you enjoy your few days off. I think I need a longer holiday but it’ll keep for a few weeks. And then I really will have a couple weeks off! :)

      I have very much enjoyed your company here Peter. Look forward to reading you when you get back.

      Metta :)

    • Heh, heh… I know what you mean!

      That’s an interesting view…that the sutta is building to something. I think that is a valid veiw. But I don’t think it should overshadow what came before to the extent that we take the last line as the only line worthy of attention. (I’m not suggesting that you are doing this.)

      It’s interesting to ask oneself why that last line is so important. To me, it’s because the goal of Buddhism is to realise this fully and not just for a finger snap. Perhaps that momentary finger snap is enough to cause someone to question, ask ‘is there more to life?’ Perhaps it is the beginning of a deeper spiritual life.

      I think the Buddha is trying to emphasise the importance of the Holy/spiritual life, particularly one which acknowledges, at least (to begin with) on a mundane level, the transitory and unsatisfactory nature of life.

    • Afterall, the five precepts and metta get a mention in the preceding lines.

      To me they are, together, the sound and solid foundation of spiritual life.

      To deepen it then, to take it to the sort of holy life that is not just seeking for an after life, but is seeking to end all afterlives, one must consider the possibility of Annica.

      And to live such a life; a holy life or even a lay spiritual life…that would include all that preceded. It would include kindness, harmlessness, generosity. It would include these things to oneself. And as one gives these things to oneself, one becomes more able to give them to others; recognising that the impermament 5 khandas that are causing problems internally, are also causing problems externally. And so one becomes a better person and in the scale of good deeds, this is surely the ultimate good deed; because if one is becoming better and better in one’s journey to extinguishment; one is surely leaving a trail that is littered with good deeds, wisdom shed, lives inspired and hearts moved to make the same journey to self-liberation; one is surely, along this way, going to be using any opportunities presented to do all everything else in the Velama Sutta that is good and more.

    • Here’s another offering/two cents:

      The Buddha seemed to speak to his audience, aware of who they were and where they were in terms of spiritual development/potential. I think this is evident throughout the Canon.

      Here, He is the one that starts the conversation.

      And it is to Anathapindika who famously donated the Jetavana Monastery to the Sangha (the well kept ruins of which still exists for pilgrims to visit) after having bought it from Prince Jeta for an exorbitant price.

      Clearly here is a faithful, devoted, wealthy, generous lay man. It makes sense that the Buddha gave him this teaching and started off by talking about something that would be close to his heart. And then slowly taking him to deeper and deeper examples of wholesomeness.

      Anathapindika eventually becomes an enlightened lay man.

      What is uncertain (to me) is at what point in Anathapindika’s training is this discourse given. Was it given to a man already attaining deeps states at will? Was it given to a man who had Entered the Stream? Perhaps that last pithy statement tipped him over the edge and rolled him onto the next beautiful opening of the Dhamma in his heart.
      :) Possibly another way of putting this sutta in context? ;)

    • Also, it seems that many suttas given start of by praising generosity, the making of merit, then move on to virtue and it’s benefits, then onwards (or should that be inwards?) to deeper teachings until finally the Buddha arrives at he deepest, the teaching that is unique to the Buddhas, the teaching of Anatta.

      Now I’ve heard it said that Anicca, together with the other 2 characteristics of existence (Anatta and Dukkha) are so interwoven and interrelated that when one sees one, one sees the other two as well.

      So the Velama Sutta follows this standard format.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s