The Thai Sangha

Prof. Nidhi Eausivong

Article in Thai published in Matichon daily on Jan 4, 2010.

Dr Nidhi is a well known professor in the History Department of Chiengmai University. He is in his late 60s, and educated in the US. He is a foremost Thai academic, who has often providing guidance and advice for the government. For the first time he has come out very clearly on bhikkhuni issue. He is also the founder of Midnight University in Chiengmai.

Finally, there is no bhikkhuni Sangha in the Thai Sangha. One of the senior Venerable monks who ordained women in Australia has been expelled from the forest tradition branch of Wat Nong Pa Pong. The Thai Sangha announced that they do not recognize the ordination. Luckily, however, the said Venerable was not expelled from the Thai Sangha altogether.

The door to allow women to be ordained as bhikkhunis is closed.

However, other countries belonging to the same Theravada tradition are opening the door to welcome the bhikkhuni Sangha. There is already a bhikkhuni Sangha in Sri Lanka, and the Laos community may not object to bhikkhuni Sangha when the need for bhikkhunis arises, and that may be true also with the Sangha in Cambodia and Myanmar.

Will the Thai Sangha perform sanghakamma together with the bhikkhu Sangha from Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar if all those Sanghas already have bhikkhuni Sangha? Or they will accept to join with the bhikkhu Sangha but still refuse the bhikkhuni Sangha?

I am reminded of one particular case which happened in the reign of King Rama I. When the bhikkhus and samaneras from Laos came to further their study in Bangkok, they were not accepted as at the time of their ordination they did not pronounce Pali properly, in accordance with the Thai pronunciation. So the Thai bhikkhus insisted that the Lao monks must go through ordination again. Responding to this, the King said that there was no need for such ordination, as ordination arises from the intention. If the Laotian monks had a good intention there is no obstacle, and they are no less bhikkhus.

This was the spirit of the King who is the founder of the present dynasty. He was willing to adjust to new changes through understanding the underlying principle. Without understanding the underlying principle, the dynasty would not have lasted up to the present. Other institutions also will not survive without adjusting themselves to the new circumstances. When they cannot adjust we can imagine that the institution itself will not maintain its relevance to society for long.

In fact in the current case there is some ambiguity that the Thai Sangha could have used for its own benefit. Since the ordination of bhikkhunis in foreign countries took place under the Thai Sangha, the Sangha could have used this to test the beginnings of change without raising it as a controversial issue. No one loses face.

That is, they could have neither recognized nor resisted the ordination, allowing the case to prove itself for social reaction and acceptance.

To do this does not mean that the Sangha allows it to happen according to the worldly powers. We must not forget that in principle the bhikkhuni Sangha is part of the Sangha according to the Dhamma and Vinaya.

The fact that the Thai Sangha does not recognize the bhikkhuni Sangha is a result of a conservative interpretation of the Vinaya, instead of a more inclusive reading which would allow the fulfilment of the fourfold Buddhist community.

The Thai Sangha came into existence in 1908 according to the first Sangha Act. The purpose then was to utilize the Sangha as a tool to strengthen the absolute monarchy. Therefore the Thai Sangha arose to play the role to spread the Government power to rural areas, and also to control all the monks to have the same goal and practice under the Government.

At the same time, the Thai Sangha was under an able leadership of a well educated monk of the time, that is Somdej Krom Praya Vajirnanavarorosa, who later became the Sangharaja. He led the Thai Sangha to face the challenges of the time effectively. The Thai Sangha worked as a cornerstone to interpret the teaching of the Buddha in line with scientific reasoning, making Buddhism a worthy religion of Siam, one of the modern countries of that time.

In this modern world, the old challenges that were faced at that time have been replaced with emerging challenges for religions to prove their validity in the modern world.

Some of the new challenges of the contemporary world, to which each religion must be able to respond effectively, are:

1. Poverty. This has spread to a large area of humanity. There is a structural exploitation which has never been witnessed before in human history.

2. Environmental degradation. This is now so immense that humanity may not be able to survive.

3. Equality. A sharp and clear consciousness of equality between gender, race, and culture.

4. Peace. The need for long lasting peace on the foundation of sharing and justice. At the same time, people in a civilized world also seek inner peace.

If one should ask what the Thai Sangha has done to respond to these new challenges, the answer is that as a religious institution they have addressed none of these concerns.

We will have a better understanding if we take a look at religious movements around the world including many institutes within Buddhism.

Quite apart from the radical Liberation Theology, the Catholic Church seems to be sharply aware of the social issues of poverty and environmental degradation. These two issues have been the focus of statements and actions by consecutive Popes. The right for ordination for women priests both in the Catholic and Anglican Churches is a topic that is still argued worldwide. The religious institutions allow the issue to be in dialogue even when women priests have not been recognized.

Religious institutions play the role of balancing dictatorships and try to intervene positively in many international conflicts.

Coming back to the same old question, how is the Thai Sangha responding to the new challenges of the modern world?

It is difficult to maintain religion in this modern world. It is true that human beings are still the same, they still need to find the answer which they cannot find outside religion. But a religion cannot merely provide such answers, it must also provide an answer to the people who are still facing the reality of the world. Religion cannot only advise the poor to be diligent and work harder, for this is not sufficient to explain the widespread poverty all over the world.

Similarly it is not sufficient to tell women about gender equality by simply stating that both men and women have equal spiritual capacity to be enlightened, but women do not have the right to be ordained. Immediately it will raise another practical question, that is, men also do not need to be ordained, so why do we need the Sangha at all?

The Thai Sangha is one of the important institutions of the ‘right’ system in Thailand, and like other institutions, they are also facing new challenges of the modern world. So far none of them have been able to adjust to meet the challenges. I have written about this many times in the case of capitalism, political parties, political ideology, moral system, educational system, culture, etc.

The ‘right’ system has been successful in the past because it has the flexibility to adjust, and we had wise men to remind us and provide ideological foundation.

Can the wisdom of the ‘right’ express itself only in the color of the shirt?

53 thoughts on “The Thai Sangha

  1. Once can almost imagine similar arguments at the Buddhist Councils thousands of years ago when the Mahayana developed in perhaps frustration over the lack of social engagement from the traditionalists.

    • Sorry that is in no way to imply the above author is advocating a Mahayana position, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  2. I like this part:

    “Similarly it is not sufficient to tell women about gender equality by simply stating that both men and women have equal spiritual capacity to be enlightened, but women do not have the right to be ordained. Immediately it will raise another practical question, that is, men also do not need to be ordained, so why do we need the Sangha at all?”

    Yes, according to what many Thai and some western monks say, indeed, men would not need to be ordained…🙂

    Prof. Nidhi’s above question is the one I’ve been asking some of the monks, but have never received any response…

  3. Dear Ben

    Rupert Gethin, lecturer in Indian Religions at the University of Bristol states in his book The Foundations of Buddhism “….. more recent scholarship tends to stress the fact that Mahayana was not in origin a sectarian movement. Rather than causing a schism within the sangha, Mahayana teachings were esoteric teachings of interest to small groups of monks from various of the ancient schools.”

    In this book he also states “The origins of the Mahayana are complex, but this was not a sectarian literature disseminated by one of the existing schools nor did it lead to the development of a formal division of the Sangha (sangha-bheda), with an associated Mahayana recension of the Vinaya”.

    “At the time of the emergence of the Mahayana literature in ancient India, members of the Sangha who were sympathetic to it followed their interest while remaining within the already existing schools and ordination lineages of the Sangha, almost invariably continuing to live alongside monks and nuns who did not share their interest.” This is interesting and greatly contrasts with the recent actions of the Wat Pah Pong and Western Sangha group.

    So in other words Mahayana did not develop from a schism within the Sangha. I believe Bhante Sujato shares the same opinion and had stated it in his book “Sects and Sectarianism”.

    • Dear Albert,

      Indeed, although Sects and Sectarianism was more concerned with the splits in the early pre-mahayana Sangha.

      The early formation of the Mahayana has been a hot topic in modern academic studies for the past decade or two, and the old ideas have been almost completely rejected. It is very true that many mahayana suttas are highly polemical and very critical of the ‘Hinayana’, but it is not sure to what extent this is a critique of actual schools, or af attitudes and ideas.

      The way the term ‘Mahayana’ is used in modern Theravada is largely influenced by the depiction of various Mahayana-type movements and texts in the highly polemical Sri Lankan Mahavamsa. This effectively depicts the Theravada as the sole pure bastion of Buddhism, holding out against the tide of corruption. It is an ironic historical situation, as many of the things the ‘others’ are accused of have become standard in many Theravadin monasteries: using money, worshiping Bodhisattvas, using adulterated texts, magic and amulets, and so on.

      This ancient prejudice was fuelled by the usual rivalries as the different monasteries jockeyed for status and patronage.

      In modern times, most Theravadin monks have very limited experience of ‘Mahayana’ monastics. All they see is the external details: the robes, eating after midday, and so on. This reinforces the perception that the Mahayana is somehow completely separate, ‘other’, only marginally Buddhist. Of course, when you get to know what Mahayana monastics are doing, you find that, no less than the Theravada, there is a great diversity, with many well-practiced, wise, and sincere monastics, along with a deep flow of corruption and decay in many monasteries. Sadly, although there has been a strong movement in contemporary Mahayana to revisit their roots and reform their practices to make them more relevant and closer to the spirit of early Buddhism, this movement has had little recognition and support from the Theravadins.

      I made this point years ago at Wat Nanachat. We would get visits from Mahayana monastics, who would come and stay. But they would be treated as outsiders, sat at the end of the line and excluded from much Sangha activity. I pointed out that they had come a long way to reach out to us as practitioners of an authentic form of early Buddhism, and we should respond by respecting their courage and sincerity in making this gesture. The policies at WPP remained unchanged.

      After coming to Australia, I’ve found this to be one of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of practice. In our environment we can discuss freely with monastics from various traditions and learn their problems, strengths and weaknesses. In February we’re hosting a 5 day Vinaya seminar, where monastics from all traditions can discuss their different approaches to vinaya.

    • Ok thanks for correcting me. Bhante as you’re aware there is a lot of benefit of a “mash up” with different strands of Buddhism. In many ways that is what Australian Multiculturalism is all about in a far broader context beyond Buddhism, but will feedback into it.

  4. Hi again,

    Someone earlier commented about “respect to the Elders” as blind obedience. Here, would like to quote one of the verses from “Metta Sutta””

    “Karaniya mattha kusalena
    Yantam santam padam abbi-samecca
    Sakko uju ca suju ca
    Suvaco cassa mudu anatimani”

    “He who is skilled in doing good and
    who wishes to attain that state of calm (i.e. Nibbana)
    should act thus.
    He should be able, upright, perfectly upright,
    OBEDIENT, gentle and humble”.

    Obedient is clearly stated by the Blessed One.

    • The Kalama Sutta was also stated by the Blessed One; in which he invites and encourages questioning and investigation. The Buddha valued independence, questioning, investigation for oneself. When someone asked Sariputta if he agreed with the Buddha, Sariputta replied that he could not as he had not seen it for himself.

      Furthermore he urges us not to follow traditions for their own sake.

      The opening to the Mangala Sutta states that it is a state of blessing NOT to associate with fools, but TO associate with the wise. Perhaps in this instance, a few have been foolish and so we cannot see the wise…at least for now… Either way, it is of benefit to move away from the foolish if at all possible, at least until they are not so foolish anymore.

      Importantly, OBEDIANCE, is not something that is repeated stressed in the teachings. Things that are REPEATEDLY stressed include, amongst other things: the three characteristics of existance (suffering, non-self and impermanence), the role of the jhanas…etc.
      Obediance is not something that is repeated in the teachings and therefore is not something that is stressed.

      I would like to bring up the Ratthapala Sutta at this point (Majjima Nikaya). Rattapala, rather than display obediance to his parents, lays down on the floor until such time as they allow him to ordain. Later as an arahant monk he returns to his parents house to visit them and displays disobediance again in refusing to return to the lay life.

      Also, I must question your use of the English word Obediance. Those who know their Pali, please do correct me but the translation I use goes like this:

      This is what should be done
      by one who is skilled in goodness
      and who knows the path of peace
      let them be able and upright
      straightforward and humble speech…

    • I already replied to this one from ‘precept’. I’ll post the same comment here for you, TCL.

      Umm, no, ‘obedient’ is not clearly stated by the Blessed One; it is stated by a translator, who has rather missed the point. The pali term is ’suvaco’, which means ‘easy to speak to’, ‘admonishable’. (Incidentally, the translation used in the Amaravati group says ‘gentle in speech’, which is also incorrect.) It occurs in Anguttara Nikaya 5.156: bhikkhū suvacā honti sovacassakaraṇehi dhammehi samannāgatā, khamā padakkhiṇaggāhino anusāsaniṃ (monks are easy to speak to (suvaca), endowed with qualities that make them easy to admonish, they are patient and respectfully take instruction.)

      The ‘qualities that make one easy to admonish’ are described in detail in the Anumana Sutta (MN 15). They include not having evil wishes, being angry, stubborn, denigrating or attacking the reprover, prevarication, insolence, envy, deceitful, obstinate, or attached to one’s views. You can have a look at the transcript of the meeting at WPP and ask yourself whether Ajahn Brahm displays any of these qualities.

      There is nowhere in the Buddha’s teachings where obedience is explicitly stated to be a virtue in and of itself; if you disagree with me, please find a relevant passage.

      We can see how disobedience is handled in actual cases such as the Kitagiri Sutta (MN 70) The Buddha lays down the rule forbidding eating at the wrong time, and two monks openly break it for a long time. The Buddha, when the matter was raised to his attention by the monks, called the misbehaving monks to him. He asks about the issue, and then gives them a long teaching teaching in Q&A format. At the end of this he admonishes them for having lost their way and they become remorseful and end up being brought back to practice by the Buddha. Nowhere does the Buddha say that they were wrong for disobeying as such; it is because they did not have good reason, but were following their defilements and leaving the Dhamma.

      This kind of treatment is entirely typical of the way the Buddha worked. He set up the Sangha as a body of mature, responsible adults, not as children who simply had to submit and obey. That kind of language is more characteristic of monotheistic religions, and is refreshingly absent from authentic Buddhism. Unfortunately, however, as knowledge of the Vinaya is rare, and the views of translators become taken as the literal words of the Buddha, this is not as well known as it ought to be.

    • Dear TCL/Precept,

      I can’t do any better than to quote Bhante Sujato’s excellent, and well informed reply to this same comment, on the previous blog:

      Hi Precept,

      Umm, no, ‘obedient’ is not clearly stated by the Blessed One; it is stated by a translator, who has rather missed the point. The pali term is ’suvaco’, which means ‘easy to speak to’, ‘admonishable’. (Incidentally, the translation used in the Amaravati group says ‘gentle in speech’, which is also incorrect.) It occurs in Anguttara Nikaya 5.156: bhikkhū suvacā honti sovacassakaraṇehi dhammehi samannāgatā, khamā padakkhiṇaggāhino anusāsaniṃ (monks are easy to speak to (suvaca), endowed with qualities that make them easy to admonish, they are patient and respectfully take instruction.)

      The ‘qualities that make one easy to admonish’ are described in detail in the Anumana Sutta (MN 15). They include not having evil wishes, being angry, stubborn, denigrating or attacking the reprover, prevarication, insolence, envy, deceitful, obstinate, or attached to one’s views. You can have a look at the transcript of the meeting at WPP and ask yourself whether Ajahn Brahm displays any of these qualities.

      There is nowhere in the Buddha’s teachings where obedience is explicitly stated to be a virtue in and of itself; if you disagree with me, please find a relevant passage.

      We can see how disobedience is handled in actual cases such as the Kitagiri Sutta (MN 70) The Buddha lays down the rule forbidding eating at the wrong time, and two monks openly break it for a long time. The Buddha, when the matter was raised to his attention by the monks, called the misbehaving monks to him. He asks about the issue, and then gives them a long teaching teaching in Q&A format. At the end of this he admonishes them for having lost their way and they become remorseful and end up being brought back to practice by the Buddha. Nowhere does the Buddha say that they were wrong for disobeying as such; it is because they did not have good reason, but were following their defilements and leaving the Dhamma.

      This kind of treatment is entirely typical of the way the Buddha worked. He set up the Sangha as a body of mature, responsible adults, not as children who simply had to submit and obey. That kind of language is more characteristic of monotheistic religions, and is refreshingly absent from authentic Buddhism. Unfortunately, however, as knowledge of the Vinaya is rare, and the views of translators become taken as the literal words of the Buddha, this is not as well known as it ought to be.

    • obedience must always be tempered by wisdom and investigation.

      blind obedience is foolish and has brought much suffering to the world.

      the buddha taught the four noble truths and the eight-fold path.

  5. Dear TCL,

    I don’t know Pali, but I will take your words for it. I agree that being obedient is generally good. However, one may have to ‘choose’ whom we should obey.

    Some ‘elderly’ monks in Thailand do not keep 227 precepts. I really could not imagine myself being obedient to them.

    The one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace will definitely practice loving kindness and caring for all beings, but I don’t think the one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace will ‘obey’ their seniors who are not skilled in goodness and who do not know the path of peace.

    With metta

    • May I clarify my statement above?

      The one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace will definitely practice loving kindness including respect and caring for all beings, but I don’t think the one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace will ‘blindly obey’ their seniors who are not skilled in goodness and who do not know the path of peace when it comes to unwholesome matters.

    • Dear Dheerayupa

      Thanks for your further clarification. I merely quoted it from the Metta Sutta from a Buddhist booklet & not my own translation as i do not know Pali.

      By quoting, i was not passing any judgement, but your comments and Kenchana’s are very judgemental about the Elders, i believe you refer to the Thai Forest Elders.

      I am not in a position to judge. My intention was more for a peaceful reconciliation.

      Metta to all.

    • Dear TCL,

      Sorry if you misunderstood me. My apology if you think I’ve offended the Thai Forest Elders.

      This is not my attempt to ‘accuse’ my unwholesome action, but it is my sincere attempt to clarify that my above statement was a statement which says that “generally” one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace (a stream enterer?) would not blindly follow a path laid down by one who is not yet skilled in goodness and who is yet to know the path of peace.

      For your information, I have had great respect for Ajahn Liem and Ajahn Sumedho (I can’t say about others, not because I don’t like them, but simply because I haven’t had time to listen to their teachings).

      With metta,

  6. Hi Dhamma bros & sis

    Sorry, not good in Buddhism history (so, please bear with me & ask for you to correct it if facts are wrong).

    Historically, it was documented that Bhikkhunis Sangha “died off” a thousand years ago.

    Question, why did it die off? Could it be that it was difficult & not practical for Bhikkhunis to practise “gone forth” or it died off due to problems/disputes within the Bhikkhunis Sangha? If so, would this revival face with the same fate in future that it would also died off?

    Any correct answer to this question, pls, anyone? Greatly appreciate it.

    • Dear precept,

      As you say, the bhikkhuni order in Theravada died off around 1000 years ago, perhaps a little less. Up until that time you find mention of bhikkhunis in the records from Sri Lanka. 1100-1200 was a very turbulent period in Sri lankan history. There was a lot of war and social strife, and when the dust cleared the bhikkhunis are simply not there anymore. There is no record of the exact circumstances, so we assume it must have been the ravages of war that did it.

      There are occasional suggestions of the presence of bhikkhunis in Thailand and Burma after that time, but no continuous documented history.

      The bhikkhuni order has, however, survived throughout east Asia. This order was originally established from Sri Lanka in 433 CE. Although popularly known as ‘Mahayana’, these bhikkhunis are ordained in the Vinaya of the Dharmaguptaka, which is essentially just a northern branch of the Sri lankan Theravada. Today there are many tens of thousands of bhikkhunis. The greatest number of bhikkhunis is in Vietnam, with around 22 000.

    • Dear Bhante,
      If I am not mistaken I recall several instances (including in the case of the wars in Sri Laka at that time) during which the Bhikkhu Sanghas died out and were not restored before a generation and had to be so done in rather creative ways?
      Metta

    • Yes, usually the Sangha would be reintroduced by inviting Sangha from a nearby country. Hence the Sri lankan Sangha is divided into Siyam Nikay (Thai), and Ramannya and Amarapura Nikayas (Burmese). The Thai Sangha is mostly of the ‘native’ or background Sangha which has just been there and evolved over the years (Mahanikaya), and the Dhammayuttika, recently introduced from Burma.

    • Thank you Ajahn, for that part of history. Just a reflection, so that we could learn from the past history for a better future.Sadhu.

  7. Sorry, Ajahn Sujato, I am totally going off on a tangent but despite the late hour ‘am feeling rather inspired by TCL’s reference to this beautiful sutta. I shall try and tie it all into something more relevant further down this rather long post…apologies for the length!

    Extracts from the Metta Sutta (the Buddha’s teaching on Loving Kindness):

    This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace…

    Let them be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech;
    Humble and not conceited, contented and easily satisfied,
    Not busy with duties and frugal in their ways.
    Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful.
    Not proud and demanding in nature.
    Let them not do the slightest thing thing that the wise would later reprove
    wishing in gladness and in safety, may all beings be happy.

    Whatever living beings there may be…

    …Let none deceive another, nor despise any being in any state
    Let none through anger or ill will
    wish harm upon another
    Even as a mother protects with her life, her child, her only child;
    so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings
    Radiating kindness over the entire world…

    …Outwards and unbounded, free from hatred and ill will
    Whether standing or walking seated or lying down
    one should sustain this recollection
    This is said to be the sublime abiding
    By not holding to false views
    The pure hearted one,
    having clarity of vision
    being freed from all sense desires
    is not born again into this world.

    ***
    This teaching is so vast and deep.

    It is aimed at whatever level we are at. For instance, I think the last bit is like an instruction to someone who has mastery over Jhanas; the middle bit is a description of how metta should look from the outside and feel from the inside; the first bit…well who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace? The Stream Enterer onwards I reckon. For the rest of us, still groping our way along the path as it slides out from under our feet every now and then, this is a guideline, an aspiration and an encouragement. At least, that’s how I see it…sorry I just was feeling so happy about it that i wanted to share… Lots o Metta.🙂

    ***

    To try and bring this back to the points at hand:

    This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace…

    [It would seem that most monks within the WPP sangha do not know the path of peace]

    Let them be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech;

    [Nothing gentle or straightforward about some of the speech/writing coming out of the WPP/WAM]
    Humble and not conceited, contented and easily satisfied,
    [by seeming to want to gain control over western monastarys??]

    Not busy with duties [doesn’t mean you don’t serve, just means you find out what you can sensibly do and do it to your limit…Ajahn Brahm’s limit aint normal! lucky for us!] and frugal in their ways.
    [go and check out where Ajahn Brahm sleeps if ever you get the chance to get a tour of Bodhinyana. Doesn’t even use a blanket!]
    Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful.
    Not proud and demanding in nature.
    [Ajahn Brahm didn’t ask for control over anything! People just keep asking him to help them!!]
    Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove
    [Yeah, like not losing the plot cos people in another country decided to fully ordain nuns as per the Buddha’s teaching]
    wishing in gladness and in safety, may all beings be happy.
    [even those who ordain nuns and those who don’t like those who ordain nuns!]
    Whatever living beings there may be…

    …Let none deceive another[like having a press conference and releasing statements in the form of a press release and then denying everything by saying that all the reporters made mistakes!], nor despise any being in any state [like those who are jealous of Ajahn Brahm and didn’t like it when he disagreed with them]
    Let none through anger or ill will [like those who don’t like Ajahn Brahm for whatever silly reason and really really need to do lots of metta…try putting Ajahn Brahm at the end…it might help…]
    wish harm upon another
    Even as a mother protects with her life, her child, her only child;
    so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings
    [ummm…not expell or excommunicate]
    Radiating kindness over the entire world…

    ***

    Sorry…I know I’m being extraordinarily cheeky…but in my defense, I didn’t bring up the metta sutta first!!! Sorry TCL…not blaming you there either…mean this kindly…🙂

    And it is with much mirth and metta that i post this…Metta to all the Abbots and monks within the the WPP/WAM and to all their beautiful supporters. Thankyou for being who you are. May you hear our disagreements and disobediance as well as our love and our respect.

    Much much metta to all…have absolutely got to go to sleep now!!🙂

  8. TCL :Dear Dheerayupa
    Thanks for your further clarification. I merely quoted it from the Metta Sutta from a Buddhist booklet & not my own translation as i do not know Pali.
    By quoting, i was not passing any judgement, but your comments and Kenchana’s are very judgemental about the Elders, i believe you refer to the Thai Forest Elders.
    I am not in a position to judge. My intention was more for a peaceful reconciliation.
    Metta to all.

    Actually I do not refer to those within any tradition who have attained to any stages of Enlightenment… In the post you are referring to, I was thinking specifically of the ACTIONS of those who thought of and made some of the statements at the press conference and also the ACTIONS of those who made the response to the press conference of the Dhammalight website. I say ACTIONS because just because we act foolishly now, doesn’t mean we are always going to act foolishly.

    In this situation we are all judging each other constantly…even those who are saying we are judging are judging. Almost everything is a judgement of some sort. That’s the exact opposite of the metta sutta isn’t it? I know I’ve got a long long way to go before I embody that particular sutta…a VERY VERY VERY LONG LONG LONG WAY…🙂

    Metta

    • Oh no…THIS IS ALL MORE DUKKHA,DUKKHA & DUKKHA!

      (Goodnite Bro, i am going to sleep now..zzzzzzz)
      “Sweet dream…Hope to see light in the tunnel
      when i woke up”.

      The world needs more LOVE….
      compassionate LOVE….

    • Dear TCL,

      You know what? I don’t think some of my comments in square brackets [] in post no. 19 were very compassionate. I’m sorry about that.

      We all need compassion…actually, just remembered something about compassion that I heard a wise monk say (this is not a direct quote): Compassion doesn’t work without wisdom. And if you are hurting because you feel sorry for someone, then its not proper dinky dye Buddhist compassion! These are just some random thoughts and are absolutely not intended to have a go at anyone.

      Hope you slept well…I think I’m gonna need a nap!

      Metta.

    • Ajahn Sujato, I tried to post a similar comment to this about an hour ago but it didn’t come up so I’m trying this again. Don’t worry about posting the first comment if you find it! Thnx.🙂

      Hi TCL,

      Re-reading my previous post no. 19… some of my comments in square brackets [] don’t seem very compassionate. I just wanted to apologise for that. I was feeling metta but not necessarily a sense of understanding/empathy of the suffering others may be experiencing. I’m awfully sorry if it sounded harsh.

      Metta🙂

  9. TCL :
    “Karaniya mattha kusalena
    Yantam santam padam abbi-samecca
    Sakko uju ca suju ca
    Suvaco cassa mudu anatimani”
    “He who is skilled in doing good and
    who wishes to attain that state of calm (i.e. Nibbana)
    should act thus.
    He should be able, upright, perfectly upright,
    OBEDIENT, gentle and humble”.
    Obedient is clearly stated by the Blessed One.

    Hi TCL,

    I’ve been studying the Pali of this sutta for the past couple of days.

    The Pali word which has been translated in English in your quote as ‘obedient’ is ‘suvaco’. This is a technical term in Pali which specifically refers to the quality of being ‘easy to speak to’ or ‘easy to admonish’ or ‘easy to criticise’.

    The word ‘obedient’ can be said to be a correct rendition if one assumes that only students should develop the quality of suvaco, but teachers and elders are exempt.

    One might hold that teachers and elders should be exempt from being suvaco on the basis that, in the absence of such an exemption, nobody would listen to their (apparently) wise and compassionate instruction. This, however, leads to the following problem …

    If there is disagreement among the elders (and there alway is, and always has been – Devadata would have argued that he is an elder!…) which elder/s should we be obedient to?

    This was the very question that the Kalamas (AN 3.65) were facing: Who should we believe? Who should we follow? The Kalamas said that they were taught so many different things by different teachers that they felt doubt.

    In response, the Buddha did not criticise the Kalamas for doubting. Quite the opposite. The Buddha said, ‘You are doubtful about a doubtful matter’.

    Yes. The world needs more love. And, yes. It needs more compassion. It also needs more intelligent investigation and dialogue, and less dogma and fear of the dukkha that arises when assumptions are questioned.

    Having said that, the Kalama Sutta is often cited as a justification for the denial for the need for faith. Bhikkhu Bodhi refutes this well: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_09.html

    Initial faith in our teachers, comes like a crush for a pretty boy or girl, it comes spontaneously and without reason. But mature faith in a teacher comes from investigation of that teacher, and the discovery that they have made considerable progress on the Path. The Buddha himself instructed his students to investigate whether he truly was fully enlightened (Vimamsaka Sutta – MN 47). How much more important is it that we do so in relation to those teachers who are only slightly enlightened, or those who are not enlightened at all?

    Finally, in the Seven Jatilas from the Kosalasamyutta in the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha gives King Pasenadi advice on how to know people well. I apologise for the long quote, but I can’t resist. It’s such a superb piece of literature!

    “It is by living together with someone, great king, that his virtue is to be known, and that after a long time, not after a short time; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive, by one who is wise, not by a dullard.

    “It is by dealing with someone, great king, that his honesty is to be known …

    “It is in adversities, great king, that a person’s fortitude is to be known …

    “It is by discussion with someone, great king, that his wisdom is to be known and that after a long time, not after a short time; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive, by one who is wise, not by a dullard.

    “A man is not easily known by outward form
    Nor should one trust a quick appraisal,
    For in the guise of the well controlled
    Uncontrolled men move in this world.

    “Like a counterfeit earring made of clay,
    Like a bronze half-pence coated with gold,
    Some move about in disguise:
    Inwardly impure, outwardly beautiful.”

    – translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi –

    Whenever I need a pick-me-up. Whenever the dukkha of discussion and inquiry is too much for me, I just pick a random page in the Sagathavagga (Book with Verses) in the Samyutta Nikaya. There is no better teacher, no words more wise, beautiful and inspiring than the words of the Buddha.

    >j<

    • Jason,

      This is a fabulous post and a must must must read!! Thank you for the link to Bhikku Bodhí’s article.🙂

    • Jason said:

      Yes. The world needs more love. And, yes. It needs more compassion. It also needs more intelligent investigation and dialogue, and less dogma and fear of the dukkha that arises when assumptions are questioned.

      Its hard to do though isn’t it? We have been so conditioned to be afraid of being wrong and we generally seem to associate someone’s disagreement with rejection/punishment. I hope we can all feel safe enough with each other so its okay if we disagree or say something that is lated corrected by someone else.

      I have to confess that I feel safer in this forum. In face to face forums…well there have been a few that I have known that were set up to feel safe…but by and large, I find it easier to stay quiet in most face-to-face forums…unless something is really important in my view and then I’ll put myself ‘out there’ even if I’m shaking inside!

      Truthfully, I’m not happy to be corrected! I’d assume that this is the honest truth for some of us!! But I would love to learn how to be happy to be corrected and I still want to be corrected cos I want the truth!!!
      🙂

    • Hi Anagarika

      Great job!
      Much thanks for your time & effort
      in your research of that Pali word.
      Hope a Pali expert to confirm the
      exact meaning of it.

    • Hi, I am back.

      I have been thinking hard about this word “obedience” used in this verse.

      I guess obedience can only happen if we have respect for that person or subject eg if you respect your parents, then obedience is automatic or if you respect your President then one would obey his words, it is not to be construed as submissive or obey foolishly.

      Well, this is how i look at it, as in spiritual allegiance.

    • Addition to respect:

      One would only respect the other if the other is worthy of respect.One would not respect someone not worthy respect, which is very subjective and personal.

      Therefore, first would be, 1.Worthy of respect (behaviour, values etc), then 2.Respect, then 3.Obedient (boils down to cause and effect).

      Obedience need not necessary means we have no freedom to think or choose what is right or wrong. It is with this freedom that we later choose to be obedient or not.

      Obedience is a choice not a mandate.

      Sorry, no good with words, but pls. contemplate it in the context of cause and effect.

      Trace to the cause why we cannot be obedient? Metta to all.

    • TCL – I think I understand what you are getting at and what you are investigating is very important.
      Some reflections… Are we not taught to respect all beings? Is this not the way of loving kindness and compassion? The way of non-harm? Intellectually or culturally or whatever, we may choose not to respect people. But that is a neglect of compassion imo. For me, respecting is of human dignity or in Buddha’s terms (translated by me) the right to be happy, be free from suffering.
      Yet to respect does not mean to obey.
      We can respectfully disagree on some points while respectfully agree on others. For those areas where we do not know, we can trust.
      You are wise to explore this more deeply.
      It is impossible NOT to just close our eyes at some level and just trust or we will never stop our thinking.
      The question we are all grappling with is where do we draw that line and what is the basis of that line we draw?
      Is it our cultural upbringing? Is it our personal conditions? Is it the way we were taught by our Dhamma teachers?
      We can trust in the Dhamma and at some level we must trust our teachers. But I believe the Buddha said, when he said investigate things to be true through our direct experience, follow the teachings not the teacher, does not mean I do not respect the teacher.
      A quick example. I have sat with teachers who make disparaging remarks about other faiths on the very odd occasion. I continue to respect my teacher because I know he is human and on the whole he is an excellent teacher. Through discernment, I see a little flaw here or there and what do I do with that? I look at it. I have my own compass that tells me I will not follow this behaviour. But my compass also knows that my teacher on the whole does not harbour negativity towards other faiths. He works with them, he sits with them and most of the time, on 1000 occasions his talks and actions promote harmony between people and faiths.
      So, I let it go. I do not pay it allegiance. I do not have blind allegiance to everything my teacher says or does.
      It does not mean I do not respect him.
      In fact, to respect my teacher, means to examine everything he teaches thoroughly and with all of my heart.
      To love my teacher is also to know he or she is human. He/She is growing in Dhamma just as we are. He/She has made a great commitment to the Dhamma and shoulders a great burden/(delight). And if on the rare occasion a situation arises where I feel it is necessary to question or say something to my teacher, I do it with an open heart and humility (provided I am skillful enough to do so in that particular situation – if not then hopefully I say nothing!🙂
      Say perhaps I have travelled more than s/he and read more than s/he and I hear him say something that I know to be completely incorrect, then I may actually quietly, if there is a right time and place, and it appears necessary, share with him or her my knowledge. And in love and respect, I understand he may examine it or he may completely ignore it. He is not obedient to me either. But he does have the choice to respond in respect and in love to members of his Sangha family as he feels ready to do.
      Like the Dalai Lama has been saying in his recent public talks, “I do not know the answer. That is my dignity, my right, to say, I do not know.”
      My challenging him may also lead me to a deeper understanding of what he was trying to say, trying to teach. And what a pity then if I did not question him or her?
      I guess there are different ways of examining this…what do you think?

    • Dear TCL

      Sujato talked above about the Pali word ’suvaco’ as meaning ‘easy to speak to’ or ‘admonishable’ rather than the more usual English translation ‘obedient’.

      It’s interesting to look at that English word too. Its root is is the Latin ‘oboedire’ which in turn comes from ‘ob’ + ‘audire’. It literally means ‘to listen to’ or ‘to pay attention to’ (as in related words like audible, audit, audience and so on) rather than ‘to do what you’re told’or ‘to follow orders’. It’s interesting how the meanings of both the Pali and the English words seem to have shifted over time.

      Members of the Christian Dominican monastic order take a vow of obedience, but they make it very clear that this is a vow to listen to each other (junior to senior, senior to junior and equal to equal in rank) not just to blindly follow rules. They trust that, in listening to each other, what is true and right will be discovered. Implicit in that is mutual respect. Also implicit is that one will “obey” the truth, as it were, and not just say “well, I’ve listened, now I’ll just do what I was going to do anyway”!

      I think even the Buddha was obedient in this sense. He listened to Ananda and changed his mind about the bikkhuni order. I think there was also an occasion where he sent some monks away for being too noisy and some lay people persuaded him to give then another chance. He also listened to his questioners and tailored his answers to their background and level of understanding.

      Thanks for the reflections TCL.

      David

    • And thanks, David, for the lesson in etymology. Has anyone read Julian Jaynes? This parallel shift from ‘hearing’ to ‘obeying’ reminds me of his ‘bicameral mind’ theory. i guess there would be simpler explanations, though…

    • I read Jaynes’s “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” when I was a student and it made a deep impression on me.

      In deep meditation I have certainly found that there can be deep impulses driving my behaviour of which I was unaware, that sometimes have the force and authority of a voice that must be obeyed, usually to do something that is less than beneficial.

      My relatives from South America (who have received a modern “Western” education) are quite at home with hearing voices and even seeing people that I can’t. They call it the Second World or the Parallel World and they think I and other people that they call Europeans (i.e. Europeans, North Americans and Australasians) are odd because they can’t see/hear it.

      They also in a sense feel that outside their family they don’t exist, however old they may be, whereas I find that there is a strong drive in European culture to be independent from the family as quickly as possible. These things seem linked to me.

  10. Dear JAson, i will read your above comment more carefully , a little later- i always enjoy reading what you have to say- as i feel you are sincere, humble and humourous- as well as quite a deep thinker with heart.

    But here i just want to re-iterate your very last paragraph- just a little encore for anyone feeling in need of sutta inspiration.
    I will keep this in mind and see if i can find it and read it too🙂

    You wrote : ” Whenever I need a pick-me-up. Whenever the dukkha of discussion and inquiry is too much for me, I just pick a random page in the Sagathavagga (Book with Verses) in the Samyutta Nikaya. There is no better teacher, no words more wise, beautiful and inspiring than the words of the Buddha. ”

    Thankyou so much.

  11. Bhante, would there be a way for the Western Sangha to “neither recognize nor resist” some of the Thai Sangha roots and see what impact that has in terms of “social reaction and acceptance.”? Is it possible for the offspring to grow up and move out? Can this be done without “splitting” anything? It is hard to imagine, without a public relations guru, a reasonable comeback from this for the western branches. I do not wish this to be the case, of course.

    • Well, that’s pretty much what we’ve been doing these past few years. Up until this ordination, i’ve never made a big deal of these issues, just quietly went about developing things the best we can here. Hopefully we can get back to that when this all settles down a little…

  12. Dear Precept and TCL,

    Thank you both for bringing up the subject of ‘Obedience’. I now have much clearer understandings of the subject from our great dhamma friends on this blog. (Jason, I believe you will be a good monk/teacher!)

    Perhaps this is why it is said that different opinions help growth.

    I don’t know if I’ve grown, but I definitely have learnt a lot from Kalayanamitra on this blog.

    Thanks and metta to all.

  13. I’m posting the following on behalf of Dheerayupa, who apparently has been unable to post it; some glitch with WordPress it seems.

    Dear Aj Sujato,

    I would like to thank you for posting this article, which got me to start searching for more info on http://www.midnightuniv.org/finearts2544/newpage1.html. (Sorry this website is in Thai)

    Two interesting things that I’ve found from this seminar held in 2001 in Chiang Mai, Thailand are:

    1. Several people, including the well-respected modern-thinking Phra Paisal Visalo, supported the revival of the Bhikkhuni order. So, their main concern is simply to find the ‘how’.

    2. Several people, including Mahatherasamakom and its chairman as well as many Thai women, reportedly expressed their opposition. They keep quoting the vinaya without any attempt to explore any possibility to ordain Bhikkhuni, while citing that women can get enlightened as a layperson and thus have no need to ordain.

    A seminar participant noted that:

    “The Thai Sangha hold a very strict observance of the vinaya – literally; that is, they like to read each piece of the vinaya and cite it as a ground for NOT doing something (even though the vinaya should be conceived as a collection of how to conduct a pure life)… Thai monks often cite the vinaya to satisfy some particular issue of theirs. For instance, if any prohibition is in accordance with their personal desire, they will make a strict observance of it, deeming it a necessity or a big deal. For example, the Buddha forbad the monks to destroy the green (trees), the monks, who do not want to make their temple look presentable, will claim that they cannot do so because the Buddha forbad the monk to prune the trees.

    On the other hand, any prohibitions established by the Buddha which are difficult for them to follow, the monks will interpret them in another way, such as the prohibition that say that monks are not to touch money. The monks violate this rule by claiming necessity — this is a modern lifestyle.”

    I cannot translate the whole article on the above website as I do not want to violate any IP rights. 🙂

    Yours in dhamma,

    Dheerayupa

    • While it is partly true that it is possible to become enlightened as a householder , but we must not forget that this is the exception, and not the rule. Although it is possible, it doesn’t mean that the level of difficulty is equal to that of the monastics that are living on retreat. If it is equally easy to practice as a householder, then most people in society will be enlightened. Also, there will be no need for anyone to become ordain at all if it really makes no difference whether one practice while living a householder lifestyle or living a life on retreat. If it is so, the Buddha simply needs to teach people how to practice so they can simply get enlightened from home, since there is no difference between in the level of difficulties . But since the Buddha did in fact established a monastic lifestyle that is drastically different from that of the householder for his intense followers, I don’t think it is a good idea to try to outsmart the Buddha by saying that the conducive conditions set up by him was not necessary for enlightenment. Instead , we should look further into the issue to find out what might be the reason for the Buddha to established a monastic lifestyle in the first place.

      In the Muni Sutta the Buddha said, “As blue-necked peacock when flies through the air, never matches the swan in speed. Similarly, the householder can never keeps up with the monk who is endowed with the qualities of the sage, secluded, doing jhana in the forest.”

      In the Samannaphala Sutta the Buddha said “The household life is a dusty path full of hindrances, while the ascetic life is like the open sky. It is not easy for a man who lives at home to practice the holy life in all its fullness, in all its purity, in all its bright perfection.”

      I would agree with the above statements by the Buddha. There are more obstacles to slow you down when practicing as a householder. For example, the majority of householder would have to spend most of the day being busy with worldly activities related to making a living. When they get home, there are household chores, such as cooking, cleaning, etc.. There is little time left to practice meditation. This explains why the buddha didn’t allow monks and nuns to have a job or cooking. How can those living a busy lifestyle ” matches the swan in speed” or be compared to those who have as much time as they need to be in solitude and meditate . Also, any stillness they manage to get have little chance of building up because their practice are constantly disturbed by numerous activities and engagements that are inherent in lay life. Their mind becomes like a city pool, the moment their pool settled down, a pebble (activities , business, interactions) falls in to creates ripples. There is little chance for it to become still like a “forest pool”. They would have to start over again. Here I am referring to the general population, there are always some rare exceptions where a lay person can live a life on retreat with a lot of solitude/ seclusion like a monk and not have to work, cook,clean, or be busy with duties,etc..

      On the other hand during long retreats, the energy of mindfulness have a chance to build up. The mind can settle and become still more and more still. I would say that it is way easier for someone who is living a retreat lifestyle to enter Jhana than someone who constantly have to come out into the world and engage in various activities and interactions. People who don’t understand what is required to enter Jhana think that the lifestyle of a monk is a lazy one, but I would say that the Buddha knows what he is doing when he set up the monastics lifestyle to be that way. If it is not necessary or makes no difference, I don’t think he would established it in the first place.

      However it is important to point out that these are just external conducive conditions for inner development. It is just the beginning. They are available when a person becomes ordained, but the person still needs to develop themselves internally .

    • Dear iMeditation,

      Thanks for your very clear explanation as to why being a bhikkhu or a bhikkhuni is essential.

      I hope that all the monks and laypeople who are fond of citing that statement (in my point # 2) would seek time to read your comments.

      Yours in dhamma,

    • i would gently suggest that one can be mindful cooking, cleaning, relating to other human beings with kindness and metta.
      how many monks are “secluded, doing jhana in the forest??? especially, how many western monks?
      the monks at the monastery i go to even serve themselves their own meals. (thai forest monastery).
      monks being treated like “royalty” in thailand does not seem to me to be “secluded doing jhana in the forest”.
      as dipa ma observed, you don’t have to be a monk to be mindful.
      one need not be a monk to understand the four noble truths and practice the eight-fold path.
      anicca, times change, we are not in the time of the buddha.

    • Dear iMediation.

      Some reflections on and responses to your post.

      “While it is partly true that it is possible to become enlightened as a householder, …”. It’s either wholly true or wholly false, and in fact it is wholly true.

      “… but we must not forget that this is the exception, and not the rule.” Same goes for monastics.

      “If it is equally easy to practice as a householder, then most people in society will be enlightened.” No. Most of them have no interest in the Dhamma and don’t practice. Your comments should relate to lay practitioners.

      “Also, there will be no need for anyone to become ordain at all if it really makes no difference whether one practice while living a householder lifestyle or living a life on retreat.” Nobody is saying it makes no difference.

      “But since the Buddha did in fact established a monastic lifestyle that is drastically different from that of the householder for his intense followers, I don’t think it is a good idea to try to outsmart the Buddha by saying that the conducive conditions set up by him was not necessary for enlightenment.” Nobody is trying to outsmart the Buddha. What would be the point in that? He didn’t think a monastic lifestyle was necessary to enlightenment as the stories of enlightened lay practitioners show. He just thought it was conducive.

      “In the Muni Sutta the Buddha said, ‘As blue-necked peacock when flies through the air, never matches the swan in speed. Similarly, the householder can never keeps up with the monk who is endowed with the qualities of the sage, secluded, doing jhana in the forest.’” Well, that’s the general idea but it doesn’t seem to happen like that. There is a lot more to the Eightfold path than jhana. In my experience it is profoundly helpful, but it can also become an addiction or an avoidance. Some practitioners, often monastic and sometimes lay, seem to forget the other seven parts of the path. I have been in monastic situations where I have been told barefaced lies to the extent of defrauding me of money, where lay guests are shunned at meal times, where women are badly treated for being women … situations which I have never encountered in lay life and which would be quickly addressed, sometimes by legal action or the police, if I did. When the issue is respectfully raised I am met with blissful smiles, breathy voices and advised to be compassionate, which seems to be monastic language for “put up with it or %^&* off”. Unfortunately I have to say that these kinds of occurrence, while not quite the rule, are certainly not the exception in my experience in monasteries in the EU. As for being endowed with the qualities of a sage, I haven’t seen much evidence of greater wisdom in monastics than in laypeople. Or less, to be fair.

      Life as a householder can be busy, but I have done retreats in monasteries where the day is actually busier than my normal working day with (astonishingly) less time to meditate. In some monasteries the monastics get just as absorbed in the business of running the monastery as any business person in their business. (In some they make business-like undertakings to their guests and are then too lazy or disorganised to provide what has been paid for.) As for cooking, cleaning, etc., I usually do those on retreat in a monastery as well as at home. No difference. It’s quite possible to do them mindfully. In fact it’s a good practice. I’ve been in both Theravada and Mahayana monasteries where a fixed daily timeslot is set aside for talking about interpersonal issues and, because a fixed time has been put aside, people just fill it up with issues many of which were not really that important but are turned into a problem by the amount of attention paid to them. The whole thing is mismanaged and counterproductive. In lay life most people would rather talk about what is important, settle anything that needs to be settled and move on to something else useful. Like meditating, for example. You know, it’s a monastery, after all.

      I have had monks who mostly have nothing to do all day come up to me and complain about how unstable their practice is and I am at a loss as to what to say. Most serious lay practitioners that I know are good committed practitioners because they have to fit it round their household life and that requires a degree of commitment. These monks seem to have expected the monastery to do it for them and are disappointed when they find out it can’t. My only answer to them is “Well, then practice practicing. You’ve got enough time!”.

      There is certainly a periodic need in my life for an undisturbed time and place in which to develop stillness, but to depend on such a place for maintaining stillness is to put yourself at the mercy of conditions. The real trick to learn is to be able to maintain inner stillness under many different circumstances. Unfortunately the monastic process seems sometimes to be counterproductive and the equilibrium of many monastics that I know is far more easily disturbed than most lay people. They are either quite irritable or else have developed a somewhat disconnected and “floaty” persona as a defence mechanism. Or both, and they switch from “floaty” to attack mode at a very slight perceived provocation.

      Then add to all the above the particular kinds of social dysfunction and neurosis that monastic life can often attract or engender and which have been discussed on this blog. The upshot is that in the EU, where I live, with a population of over 500 million, there is not one Buddhist monastery of any tradition in which I would consider ordaining were I free so to do, and if my son or daughter wanted to ordain, I would actively discourage them. From that point of view I sure wish we lived in Australia. On the other hand, there are many lay practice and retreat centres here which really do a tremendous job. Until more monastics get their act together like Santi and Bodhinyana, I think it’s going to be the lay sangha that carries the dhamma for a while, at least in the EU. I think the story in the USA and in Australia seems different (although I have encountered some similar issues in the USA). And I have to say that, with one exception, all the problems that I have encountered are with monks, not nuns.

      Retreats are undeniably tremendously valuable and I do a lot, but if I do one in a monastery it’s now more a case of using the facilities that a monastery provides (accommodation, silence, a hall, a cushion) than expecting much from the monastic community. And I’m not expecting perfection, since it doesn’t exist, just some sensible fellow practitioners to practice with.

      There are potentially obviously many profoundly good things about the monastic life or I wouldn’t be participating on this blog. But I have had it with paying automatic respect to “the robe”. I have seen too much. I will respect individuals (like many of the bhikkhunis, anagarikas and bhikkhus who have participated on this and related blogs), but not the robe. A year ago I would have said different. And that makes me very sad.

    • Dear David Conway,

      ” It’s either wholly true or wholly false, and in fact it is wholly true.”
      The reason I said it is partly true because, it is only true if conducive conditions are available for the layperson to focus on deepening meditation during their more advance stage of the practice. This often requires a period of solitude and seclusion . Many lay practitioners would have trouble finding the time and space for that. I don’t believe it is practical to tell someone who has to work all day long that they can get enlightened just as just as quick and easy as someone living a life on retreat. Here I am comparing two people with the same intensity in seeking and capabilities.

      When it comes to comparing two people with different degree of dedication and interest it is pretty obvious. For example, a monk who ordains for a short time due to having to conform to a cultural norm might progress slower in the path than a layperson who is a dedicated practioner for years out of his own love for the dhamma. These are obvious , therefore I didn’t mention about it. I don’t mean to say that a layperson can never be as highly developed as a monk.

      ” Nobody is saying it makes no difference.”
      I believe someone was saying that since there are laypeople who become enlightened, why the need to ordain . The women who wanted to ordain must be craving status . Therefore, I was highlighting that the monastic lifestyle does make a difference in your practice ( if we compare two people with the same abilities and level of dedication to the dharma ).

      “He didn’t think a monastic lifestyle was necessary to enlightenment as the stories of enlightened lay practitioners show. He just thought it was conducive.”
      If circumstances allow for a layperson to arrange a lifestyle that is just as conducive right from home than I don’t see why not. All I am saying is that many people would have trouble finding the time and resourses to do that. The institution he set up makes it possible for anyone to come and live the lifestyle anytime.

      “Well, that’s the general idea but it doesn’t seem to happen like that. There is a lot more to the Eightfold path than jhana. In my experience it is profoundly helpful, but it can also become an addiction or an avoidance. Some practitioners, often monastic and sometimes lay, seem to forget the other seven parts of the path.”

      I believe all 8 parts of the eightfold path need to be practiced without leaving out any. Or else it wouldn’t be called the Noble Eightfold Path. Various parts of the Eightfold path can easilly be practiced in the lay life. It is just that when it comes to Right Stillness/ Concentration, solitude and seclusion can be important and helpful. But it is not easilly available for many people that are living a lay life.

      ” As for being endowed with the qualities of a sage, I haven’t seen much evidence of greater wisdom in monastics than in laypeople. Or less, to be fair.”
      While monastic lifestyle was set up to provide the external conducive conditions for practice, whether the individual dedicate their time and effort to developing themselves internally varies from person to person. And how they apply their effort also depend on the person. The way a monastery is set up also varies depending on the location and tradition. Some are more conducive than others. And such monastery can be hard to find sometimes.

      ” Life as a householder can be busy, but I have done retreats in monasteries where the day is actually busier than my normal working day with (astonishingly) less time to meditate. In some monasteries the monastics get just as absorbed in the business of running the monastery as any business person in their business.”

      True, very few monasteries are set up in a way that provide people with enough solitude and seclusion. Perhaps logically it is hard to see why being still is necessary, so there is not much emphasis on it in some monasteries. Or that for many the mind is still too restless to handle a lot of solitude .

      “I have had monks who mostly have nothing to do all day come up to me and complain about how unstable their practice is and I am at a loss as to what to say. Most serious lay practitioners that I know are good committed practitioners because they have to fit it round their household life and that requires a degree of commitment. These monks seem to have expected the monastery to do it for them and are disappointed when they find out it can’t. My only answer to them is “Well, then practice practicing. You’ve got enough time!”.”

      While having nothing to do might look easy, but the beginning period can be extremely difficult . Mainly because the mind is still too restless to allow a person to just be. There will be strong resistance from the mind. It is easier for the mind to handle a week or so of having no activities to serve as distractions. But it is much harder for it to handle not having any distractions for a long uninterupted period of time . But when the mind is tamed or becomes still, you can feel very contented while nothing has changed in the external environment . So much so that most of the worldly activities might seem like dhukka in comparison. The Buddha’s First Noble Truth can be clearly understood if not experienced.

      However, too much solitude with nothing to do too early in the path of practice can even make the person feel depressed and want to do something or return to lay life. That is why it is helpful to go at your own pace. For example, going on weekend retreats, 9 days retreat for a long while. And if the person feels that he/she wants to spend even more time in stillness because meditation is just so joyful, then go on a 3 months retreat or so. Too much , too soon , can be counterproductive.

      “There is certainly a periodic need in my life for an undisturbed time and place in which to develop stillness, but to depend on such a place for maintaining stillness is to put yourself at the mercy of conditions.” The real trick to learn is to be able to maintain inner stillness under many different circumstances.”

      Most things in life are dependently originated ( dependent origination/ arising). The path leading to Awakening is not without causes & effects or conditions, as can be seen in ” Transcedental Dependent Arising” . It shows how one state of mind serves as the condition to develop another wholesome mental state , culminating in Awakening. It is like a domino effect.
      …..
      …..
      3- Freedom from remorse arises in one who is virtuous.
      4- Gladness arises in one who is free from remorse.
      5- Rapture ( joy, piti) arises in one who is glad.
      6- Tranquility arises in one who is joyful.
      7- Inner Happiness ( sukkha) arises in one who is tranquil.
      8- Samadhi ( jhana) arises in one who is inwardly happy.

      It continues in the same fashion :

      9- Wisdom
      10- Disenchantment
      11- Dispassion
      12- Liberation
      13- Knowledge and vission of release

      – Upanisa Sutta

      “From that point of view I sure wish we lived in Australia. On the other hand, there are many lay practice and retreat centres here which really do a tremendous job. ” True

      “Retreats are undeniably tremendously valuable and I do a lot, but if I do one in a monastery it’s now more a case of using the facilities that a monastery provides (accommodation, silence, a hall, a cushion) than expecting much from the monastic community. And I’m not expecting perfection, since it doesn’t exist, just some sensible fellow practitioners to practice with.”

      That’s what a monastery is for. It’s where people who are interested in the dharma can come and practice.

      “I will respect individuals (like many of the bhikkhunis, anagarikas and bhikkhus who have participated on this and related blogs), but not the robe. A year ago I would have said different. And that makes me very sad.”

      The recent event can be quite disturbing . Nevertheless, there are still great monks out there who embody the dharma. The Buddha and the Dharma are always great refuges.

    • Dear iMeditation

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a long reply.

      I had thought that, at first, my expectations of the monastic environment were naive and unrealistic, and I think there’s some truth in that, but it’s hit me over the past year how bad it really is (in my perception). Monasteries who can’t even provide a quiet room and a cushion just aren’t doing their job.

      If by “recent events” you mean the expulsion of Ajahn Brahm, that’s obviously disturbing, but it’s actually a much broader and longer term thing than that.

      On reflection I think I could have been more compassionate and helpful with the young monks who complained about their practice – after all they came and approached me for a reason, I guess. But I went there expecting to be taught, not to teach.

      I wondered if I was being naive and a bit arrogant in my assumption that the lay sangha could carry the dhamma but, on reflection, I stick by it. My weekly lay practice group is made up totally of people who have not been brought up in a Buddhist tradition and who mostly have had no contact with monastics. I hear more down-to-earth genuine insight and wisdom in our weekly 45 minute post-meditation talks than I’ve heard from most monastics in three weeks. I think part of the reason is that it’s lived insight, not regurgitated from some half-remembered fragment of a sutta or a commentary that seems vaguely relevant. (As you say, there certainly are monastics do teach and embody the dharma – but there are fewer of them than I thought.)

      I think my lay experience shows me that the Dhamma is something very natural to human beings that we all recognise, more or less. The Buddha is the best dhamma teacher that I’ve ever encountered, but Buddh”ism” is not the Dhamma, and there is a danger that institutional Buddhism will drift away from the Dhamma – in fact a lot of it seems to have done so already.

      As you say, the Buddha and the Dhamma are great refuges.

      Best wishes

      David

  14. Thank you for your insight, David.
    I heard a monk say once that he sees more spiritually-minded people in the laypeople than in some of the monks he was with in the monastery. While the monastery can help by providing a controlled environment that is supportive of meditation and living the dhamma, in the end it is always up to us. We can make our own home our monastery. We can still live in the world and live the eight precepts. There really is nothing stopping us for living a spiritual life right now, right where we are. Just ourselves!
    I try to see the obstacles that come up in front of me while living in the world, as a way to feed my practise…having some opposition to it makes me stronger and helps me to grow in fortitude and commitment (not always but it helps)🙂

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