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Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewpoint

Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewpoint Fon 3/29/17 11:38 PM
RE: Arahant Vs 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewpoint Fon 3/28/17 7:53 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Ernest Michael Olmos 3/28/17 8:41 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Fon 3/28/17 9:24 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Ernest Michael Olmos 3/28/17 10:16 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Noah D 3/28/17 9:07 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Jinxed P 3/28/17 4:02 PM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Noah D 3/28/17 9:39 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Fon 3/28/17 10:46 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Noah D 3/28/17 10:23 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Jinxed P 3/28/17 4:03 PM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Marty G 3/28/17 4:21 PM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Fon 3/28/17 11:31 PM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp CJMacie 3/29/17 2:59 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Daniel M. Ingram 3/29/17 3:02 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Daniel M. Ingram 3/29/17 3:33 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp shargrol 3/29/17 5:49 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Daniel M. Ingram 3/29/17 5:57 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Fon 3/29/17 10:45 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Daniel M. Ingram 3/29/17 8:30 PM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Daniel M. Ingram 3/31/17 3:46 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp SHDravi 4/10/17 4:32 AM
RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp Noah D 4/10/17 12:52 PM
This is a merging and expansion of post I previously made. I realised that the 1st post is so critical in understanding the 2nd that I have decided to put them together (if that is okay)

I am only talking about the Theravadan monastic tradition. Also I am referring to the mainstream training monasteries - as with all religions there are those who will differ in opinion. There will also be those that disagree with the following, I am speaking purely from my experiences and opinions of Theravada.

****************Part 1. - Monastic Training**********************

Being a monk is like practicing in Hardcore mode.

Yes a lot of lifes problems are gone, you don't worry about money or worldly problems. It is a life where you really can fully apply yourself to practicing from the point you wake up until the point you go to sleep, without having too many situations in which doing so would be dangerous or unpractical. You do not have to think about tomorrow or the past a great deal (although your mind will want to). You have very little worries. Just living in the monastery your mind will automatically quieten. You will (mostly) be surrounded by like-minded dhamma people and forge relationships and help each other practice.
You will have the opportunity to meet and talk with highly attained monks in situations that many lay people would not easily get due to the issue regarding a monk discussing attainments with laity.

Yes, (usually) you have a lot of time to meditate , to study dhamma. Because of living in that system and the Vinaya, your conduct and Sila will be tend toward excellent and provide a foundation from which you practice.You will inspire Sila in others, you will inspire others to practice just by them seeing what you are doing. You can focus your entire life towards the Dhamma.

Sounds good.. from the perspective of Lay life. When you have been there a while, days, weeks, months, years - it is HARD. Your freedom and all the little nice things from lay life are gone. You are on Hardcore mode now. You are not there just to do some good meditation, get some attainments, you are there to develop wholesome qualities and have your unwholesome qualities removed.

As a lay person you may normally practice when you are feeling good, well refreshed, not hungry, not thirsty, the room temperature just right.. as a monk you will be in a community of people you may not always agree with, You will sometimes be very tired, you will sometimes be very hungry, hot, cold, sick, you will be bossed around and told to do things and it will be unpleasant! You will at times have to do unpleasant physical labour. Your comforts gone. The delusions you have in lay life of how 'I am not that attached to much at all in the world' will be revealed!! You will realise that it was all delusion, and that in reality you only thought that because you still had all the nice little things. The nice cup of coffee when you want. The snack. The entertainment. The pleasant walk outside. Freedom. There isn't the 'in another 30 days the retreat ends and I'll go do X'.. This is it. Forever (or until you quit). Often it may feel like your duties and work get in the way of your own formal practice. You will begin to think that maybe the monks life isn't for you. How being a laymen and practice would be really nice...... you could walk into a shop and buy whatever you liked.. like a nice cold pepsi whenever you felt like it. Instead of waiting until you happen to be given one.

As you follow the monastery rules and the Vinaya , you will see your flaws. You will see the Kilesa. You will ooze desire and aversion.

"I" don't want to do this. "I" am too tired. "I" shouldn't be spoken to like that. "I" think my way is better, "I" don't think he is practicing the way he should.

You have to let go of your likes and dislikes.

You can either go with these thoughts and suffer endlessly as some do, or you can observe them.

Your task is to ride it just as you would normally, observe the mind, observe the body, see the characteristics. Follow the 8 fold path.

To be clear, as others have said most Theravadan monasteries do very little towards actually practicing or meditating.
This is because in Buddhist countries they serve more a community purpose, ceremonies, marriages, deaths, blessings. The 'religious stuff'. Buddhism is part of the culture. Some people become monks just because its a better life than starving and being poor, some even do it because they become rich, some do it to get an education. The Vinaya is often not strictly followed. Being there you can easily begin breaking the rules.. and before long disrobe.

Then there are the other type, the small minority, the forest monasteries or monasteries where there are those that actually do practice. The names of many are well known around the world. In these places most people practice, they are strict, they are hard.

As a trend in buddhist countries, the number of places that tend towards being the 1st type is increasing as the modern world creeps in, and the 2nd types are gradually becoming more like the 1st types. But there are still many places left that have a solid training.

There is however no perfect place. You may find somewhere that is a great location but has too many non-serious monks, or a very serious training place that is in a terrible environment. Within the monks there may be a lot of hierarchy issues, bossing around, people letting power go to their heads, jealously. Mean monks. Difficult lay people. You just have to ask yourself 'Is this good enough, is it okay?' Everywhere will have its problems.
You will have to deal with the religious stuff, the chanting, things you will not agree with - but remember, this is their religion.. if it wasn't for doing such things (from which the lay people gain faith and at the least train their sila) - you get your requisites, you are fed and the monastery has buildings.
It isn't just about the monks. The monks and the lay people must work together.

In the DHO community I have seen comments about Theravadan monasticism which I often think is quite ill informed. The biggest thing I often read is about attainments. Many people perpetuate a myth that in the modern world nobody believes being an Arahant is possible, or that attainments are not possible. This is not true. From what I have seen, the only place where this view is predominant is within Theravadan buddhist in the West. In buddhist countries it is not uncommon for people to chat about a 3rd parties attainments. People will talk about which monks are arahants. Monks will talk about lay people who reached particular attainments. Monks will discuss with each other these matters. One thing that monks will not is talk about their own attainments with lay people, as this is against the Vinaya. Some people will claim that some well known monks have done this.. in reality they did not. Usually in these circumstances they were discussing the matter with monks.. but were either overheard by lay people, or the discussion was recorded and a lay person later heard the recording. Other times they just describe what actually happened (the sensory experience) as they reached that attainment and it is up to the reader to assume what it means. It is not uncommon to find books or CD's in bookshops whose title translates as 'A Manual to become a Sotapanna', or to meet someone who says that 1st path is what they hope to attain in this life. Unfortunately, outside of Sri Lanka, English is not well spoken in Theravadan countries - so often unless a person understands the local language - it appears that none of the above is happening, and instead there is just the usual western style books in English. That said the standards for attainments are usually set very high.

One thing that must be understood. Being a monk is not just about attaining 1st/2nd/3rd/4th path. It is lifestlyle/system in which you live as part of a community/sangha - monk and laity, developing your sila, developing wholesome qualities, uprooting unwholesome qualities, assisting others in developing those things, assisting the sangha, teaching the dhamma, being a symbol of the dhamma.. WHILST working towards those attainments... and supporting others so that they may reach those attainments.

As for whether you should you become a monk.. It depends on the circumstance. If you are married with children then obviously lay life is probably better suited. It also depends on your motivation. If you want to become a monk to escape from the world.. then you will find the monastery has even more suffering. Start by trying to keep a daily sitting practice in the morning and evening - whilst maintaining 7/8 precepts. Do that for a few months. Then go to a monastery and stay for month. The only will you will know if it is for you is by staying in a monastery and seeing it for yourself what it is like.

If you have the strength to do it, are able to do it AND practice (rather than just surviving) - then there is no more direct a way of practicing the Buddha's teaching. It is total immersion.

*************************** Part 2 - Arahant , Attainments and 'MCTB 4th Technical Path' ***************************

This next section developed through me looking on the forum and found this discussion regarding the differences between what people call MCTB 4th Path and Arahant.

It was very interesting and I thought I could perhaps write a little about this same thing but from the traditional Theravadan perspective.

It will contain some repetition of my previous post in order to connect things together a little. Also it is a little disconjointed as I edited it down a lot. I hope it makes some sense.

MCTB is actually in quite a few monastery libraries in Asia. But.. you are unlikely to find a monk who would consider Daniel to be an Arahant. Usually with most rational-minded-practice-orientated monks it is not because they believe he is making up the whole thing, but instead it is because from the traditional Theravadan view there are no models. Each sutta is not looked at individually, but instead they are taken and interpreted whilst taking into account the entire body of work. Each of the Buddha's descriptions of the Arahant are put together to form the definition.  Rather than each being a different model. Usually however it is the "abandoning / loosening of the fetters" that is used as a marker of progress. But it is important to know that this alone does not define an Arahant.

Some of the descriptions seem odd. Some crazy , 'Why can the Arahant not kill anyone?', 'Why will he die unless he ordains in a particular amount of days?'. But that is what the Canon states to mean Arahant. From this perspective you can see why it stirs the easily offended traditionalists - because to them a term from their religion is being appropriated.    

Even though a Yogi may state 'Well because there is nothing more to be done - 4th path has been attained and therefore Arahant'. Unless you meet the Canon's definition of Arahant - it hasn't been attained. No matter however odd or strange some of them maybe it is nonetheless the definition of the title.
So you can see from that perspective 'Technical 4th Path' is not equal to Arahant.  

But then there arises a conflict. A conflict between the view of those lay people who have attained 'technical 4th path' who believe there is nothing more to do and that Canon Arahantship is just a fairytale - and the monks who are Arahants who exist in that state.

So who is correct?

This conflict arises because they are two different training's. In the developing scene of western meditation, practitioners generally live a life of trying to keep to the 5 precepts, sit daily, develop mindfulness throughout the day and do retreats wherever possible. Sometimes they may go on retreat for many months or even years. This leads to insight. Many people can attest to that.

But it is NOT monastic training. Monastic training is not just about meditation. Some people have the idea that being a monk is being a professional meditator and it is like living on retreat full time. Some think 'I don't need to be a monk because I am wealthy and can live a retreat lifestyle without having to work'.
This it not the case. I wrote about this in my previous post in depth but monastic life is one where you live in a system of rules that are designed to uproot the Kilesa. It is training in renunciation, purification of mind and conduct , aswell as meditation. The 8 fold noble path.

One element within that path that is often not discussed is this renunciation, especially of sensual pleasures. There is the attitude among many western Buddhists that seems to have creeped in due to the era in which it transferred to the west, that Buddhist training is one where you can do whatever you want, indulge in sensual pleasures as if they are all part of the fullness of having a life and that it is your relationship to them that you work on and doing like this is not a hindrance at all to practice. This is not the training. A key part in the foundation of monastic training is sense restraint and abandonment of liking and disliking towards the world. Doing otherwise is seen as trying to have a shower without getting wet.

Many people believe themselves to have very little attachments - then they begin the monastic training and realise IT IS HARD, IT IS UNPLEASANT. Desire and aversion fill the body and the entrenchment of the Kilesas is plain to see.

If you read Jack Kornfields book 'After the Exctasy, the laundry' and look at the problems Kornfield cites, many of them would not exist in monastic life.

Jack Kornfield himself was a monk with Ajahn Chah of the Thai Forest tradition, and was ordained for around 5 years. Because he wanted the transformative meditative experiences he had heard of by those who had gone to Burma, he did not spend long periods training with Ajahn Chah but instead travelled to Burma and practised in the Mahasi system. There is the well known story of his in which he returns to Ajahn Chah to tell him of his insight experiences and Ajahn Chah replied with something such as 'Wonderful, another thing to abandon'. Kornfield (who I assume given his book considers himself to be around 'technical 4th path') stated in a Buddhist geeks interview that he does not consider the lay attainments mentioned in current  times to be the same as the monastic attainments - I believe he was referring to this difference in training.

The monastic Arahants have usually spent many years of living as a renunciate, abandoning their preferences, content with their requisites, purifying their mind through this monastic training that is designed to uproot the kilesas through following the rules and practices - alongside the formal sitting meditation and other practices and also develop wholesome qualities and characteristics. When you take all this into account, you can begin to see how and why the Canon version of Arahantship that seems like a state of near perfection, actually becomes understandable. (putting aside the 'what an Arahant cannot do' which are unlikely to be tested anyway)

The lay practice a Yogi may do is just a part of the monastic training, rather than one being a kind of full time version and one part time.

Also viewed from this point you will see that - Yes Arahantship in the Theravadan sense is viewed by a western lay person as this extremely unattainable goal where you have to become an almost perfect being in a mountain cave or forest, something which is far removed from their life and doesn't feel like something they could do - but you can see that in truth, most of what they view as impossible/unattainable - is actually just the daily life of being a monk following the rules and the training that he/she does. If that person ordained and lived as a monk for 1/2 years, by that point most of what they viewed as impossible or crazy would be gone.

Another relevant aspect that makes people see Enlightenment as a distant possibility - Why must they talk in riddles like a kind of Jedi master?. Why are they usually Asian?.  The answer for this is very straightforward. Of the 500 million+ Buddhists worldwide, only a few million of those reside outside of Asian and of those only a minority are non Asian and the number of western Theravadan monastics is only in the thousands. Just as with sports, the country with a population that plays the most, has the best facilities ( a monastery in every village), also develops more talent. An even bigger factor is that modern Western culture is not an environment which is particular conducive to Dhamma practice. A person who grows up in a city in the US and at age 25 becomes a monk, is most likely going to have a much more difficult time in his formative monastic years, then a 25 year Laotian who has lived a simple life of relative poverty in a farming village. Whilst the westerner is initially enduring withdrawal from his world of pleasures and having difficulty even being mindful, the farmer is probably sitting very content now that he has good food and isn't toiling in the fields.

The particular style of speaking part that is often portrayed in movies as 'enlightened' comes from the structure of Asian languages when it is translated into English. Because of all of this, many of the characteristics that western people consider that the enlightenment Arahant must have, actually come from cultural and personality traits of people in Asia. A slightly amusing observation is how many Westerners who enter the training, go through a brief period in which they suddenly attempt to emulate this Asian style of talking and act extremely seriously, as if that is what they must do now they are a monk.

There are however many highly attained Western monks. Often it is overlooked because Western monks (in the west) do not usually get the cult/god status around them as happens with the Asian monks who are living in a population with a great deal of faith and belief.  

I think as the western scene develops - the Theravadan terms need to be dropped for a more extensive description system which takes into account how Insight practices are developing in the west. Especially that given how information flows and spreads so freely in this modern era. We have so many different practices now - but yet we are still using such a limited vocabulary or trying to fit them all into a limited number of descriptive boxes created thousands of years ago. This also applies for other attainment terms such as Jhana. For the most part - there is no 'soft jhana' for monastics. This is just considered to be pre-jhana states such as Access Concentration. 'Hard' Jhana whereby there is development of the nimitta and full absorption and no sensory awareness such as hearing, is what is referred to as Jhana.  Understanding this can be very helpful when asking monks questions in order to avoid confusion. If you are referring to 'lite/soft' jhana it is better to use something such as 'a concentrated state'. Otherwise instead of an answer you may get a lecture on something else.

The big difference it seems between the current standards used in these communities and that of the Theravadans is in the territory after 1st path. Up to that point it is very much in accordance it seems - assuming people are taking into account the fetters rather than just an experience occurring.

A final point is that I don't believe people should consider the two systems as inferior to the other. The generation from the 60's and 70's who took Insight meditation to the west did their part, what is going on now in these online communities/centres is the next ongoing development of that. For some reason the prior generation of western teachers appeared to think that attainments were something that was not to be spoken of, which probably stemmed from their misunderstanding of the rule regarding Monks discussing their attainments with lay people ( which when thought about is a good idea when dealing with laity ), and they probably then thought they should too should do this. I believe Daniel and Kenneth speaking about results of practice has had a very positive effect on the western scene. Whether they correspond with the traditional Theravadan 4 stage path system I do not think matters too much.

I hope something in there was of value to anyone who read all that.

RE: Arahant Vs 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewpoint
3/28/17 7:53 AM as a reply to Fon.
Bruno Loff:
By the technical definition of Arahant as you describe, it would be impossible to be an Arahant while not being a monk for more than 7 days (or whatever). Hence no-one who is not a monk can every be or become an arahant (for more than 7 days).

Hence monks have the unconditional monopoly on arahantship (except during that 7 day period). I.e. to know if a lay person is not an arahant at any given time, just wait 7 days and see if they died.

That already makes the definition completely uninteresting. So why should I care?

And if your answer is, "well, we shouldn't take that 7 day comment literally", then who should be the person that chooses what should and shouldn't be taken literally?

Hi Bruno

The best way to view it is that they have a monopoly on the title - not the actual criteria that it is composed of. They ( The canon) defined the title. They therefore say what is needed to become it. Similar in a way to how Catholics have a monopoly on what is the eligible criteria for Sainthood (without the process). It can be odd, strange or crazy - it doesn't really matter. It is just a title for a set of criteria.

Although the following wouldn't happen in practice it helps understand this:

Two lay persons could for instance follow the training, attain to Arahantship. All the criteria met. On day 6 one them ordains , the other does not. On the 8th day  ( Assuming the who didn't ordain does not die in an unfortunate accident ) they could be considered to be the same. To have the same level of *actual* attainment. It is just that one of them would be able to use the Theravadan title 'Arahant', and the other wouldn't (because he didn't die as per the definition). It is just a title.

Whatever is '*that* attainment/state/condition' wasn't invented by Buddhism. They just created a system of training which took a person to somewhere near it , wrapped it all in a set of criteria and conditions and called it 'Arahant'. They can tell you when you are/are not an Arahant - but they have no ownership of '*that* attainment/state/condition'.

That is why it is probably better for a different term to be used such as Enlightened. Nobody can argue with it.

Very interesting post, with a lot of stuff to discuss.
I agree with most of it.

I haven't been to many monasteries to add to this post. But I do know something about lay life emoticon.

An important omision of this post is that lay life tend to develop "responsabilities", that are difficult at least to leave (and painful to the parties involved). Work, famility, relationships, you name it.
You can leave a monastery any time, but leaving your lay life is a lot more difficult.

In a monastery, shelter, food and relationships are a given, while in lay life, you have to build them. You have more freedom to do so, but you are dependent on them. After all, you need food, shelter. To get those, you need to work, so you need relationships.
Those dependencies trigger a lot of other dependencies.

RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp
3/28/17 9:24 AM as a reply to Ernest Michael Olmos.
Ernest Michael Olmos:
Very interesting post, with a lot of stuff to discuss.
I agree with most of it.

I haven't been to many monasteries to add to this post. But I do know something about lay life emoticon.

An important omision of this post is that lay life tend to develop "responsabilities", that are difficult at least to leave (and painful to the parties involved). Work, famility, relationships, you name it.
You can leave a monastery any time, but leaving your lay life is a lot more difficult.

In a monastery, shelter, food and relationships are a given, while in lay life, you have to build them. You have more freedom to do so, but you are dependent on them. After all, you need food, shelter. To get those, you need to work, so you need relationships.
Those dependencies trigger a lot of other dependencies.

Yes there is absolutely less responsibility. However relationships work similarly to the outside. If anything there is more dependancy on these relationships because there is so much that the monastic cannot do. Long term monks who have finished their 5 year Nissaya period, and then chose to go travelling - survive in robes because they have developed a network of friends both Lay and Monastic who assist them in their practice. Simple things such as travel, handling money, acquiring things / documents.

Junior monks who ordain and go off to do their own thing too soon, can often easily disrobe due to the frustrations they encounter due to not having a support system helping them.

If a 10-Fetter, monastic-certified arhat leaves the monastery and establishes a meditation center in the west, and then commits sexual or financial misconduct with his/her lay followers, is he/she downgraded by 0, 1, 2 or 3 paths by the monastic establishment? Or would the establish not admit to it in the 1st place?

I think part of the reason renowned modern, Theravadan arhats (Mahasi, Tuangpulu, Maha Bua, Chah) have been scandal free is because they never tested their mettle as lay people or spent much time in the West outside of monasteries.  For the renowned masters from other traditions that have, the pattern is clear.


Noah D:
If a 10-Fetter, monastic-certified arhat leaves the monastery and establishes a meditation center in the west, and then commits sexual or financial misconduct with his/her pay followers, is he/she downgraded by 0, 1, 2 or 3 paths by the monastic establishment? Or would the establish not admit to it in the 1st place?

I think part of the reason renowned modern, Theravadan arhats (Mahasi, Tuangpulu, Maha Bua, Chah) have been scandal free is because they never tested their mettle as lay people or spent much time in the West outside of monasteries.  For the renowned masters from other traditions that have, the pattern is clear.

That is an interesting question.

I think it is important to understand that very few people are ever 'certified' as an Arahant. The kind of 'arahant certification' that happens in some Mahasi centers in Burma is not very commonplace and is viewed with a bit of skepticism due to many stories (some false) where that Monk went to somewhere such as Pau Auk Sayadaw and realised there was more to do.

Usually in the current era it is left to those around a particular monk to infer it and from there it spreads by word of mouth and gossip. A monk will not teach what he has not done himself. This is a kind of loophole which kind of allows a monk to let it be known where he is at. If you notice in Ajahn Brahm's books he talks a lot about Jhana.. but not from the 1st person perspective - as that would break the rule. With this in mind it doesn't take much to realise where the Ajahn is at. Other monks will just describe a particular experience without giving it a title. There are times when a student of a particular monk will be told that they have finished but it isn't common to my knowledge.

In the scenario you described - As there is not a central authority it would depend on the particularly lineage / Nikaya / order as to what they would say and also the culture of that country. As there is no 'certification' he wouldn't be 'downgraded', but after he disrobed (assuming he was not sick or ill ) they would probably view it that he must not have been an arahant - as from their perspective why would he disrobe and engage in sensual pleasure if he was an arahant and free from the fetters? This very much comes back to the key difference between the two styles of practices which is renunciation. The focus would then be on explaining to the laity/monks how it happened and a kind of 'damage control' as such events can cause a huge loss of faith.

At that point he would be out of the system, so the other things such as the retreat center and the scandal would not be their concern - but it certainly would be gossiped about by both monastics and the laity as 'proof' that he must not really have been an Arahant.

Quite often when a very senior monastic disrobes... there is a female involved - who usualy becomes the target of the blame by the laity.

If you mean do such things whilst still ordained. (Like I mentioned I am talking about places that actually follow the Vinaya rather the businesses that many places have become) if it was serious he would most likely have no choice but to disrobe by the organisation, or sent into some kind of exile at least, depending on the severity of the Vinaya offense and the public reaction. As above , he wouldn't be 'downgraded' but certainly his 'reputation' of being arahant would be over as people would say he would not free from sensual desire.

I'm not so sure you can compare relationships that assist to do things (travel, eat, etc) to the relationships of ownership, family and work.
But again, I don't know so much about monastic life.

Very interesting and valuable information.  Thank you for sharing.  So the titles can not really be separated from the history and societal structures surrounding them... 

I suspect the 10 Fetter paths are "real" on a spectrum and based partially on ones environment.  And that they are a combination of the perceptual shifts and renunciation (plus other types of psycho-emotional healing).

I tried to map this once...

Noah D:

Haha. Love this.

Great post Fon. In the end, terms like arahant are just labels. What matter is the lived experience, not so much what we call it. 

Hi Fon, enjoyed your post. Good insight into monastic life, its trials and advantages. I have a question for you. As I move into later life I would embrace a much more renunciate program. Because of family duties it would not be formal or monastic. But it must be actual. Applying discipline and form to daily life. I think of it a retiring to Spirit -clearly not a Buddhist idea- but renunciate practice is universal as you would know.

Survival stress must diminish markedly for this to be true. By survival stress I mean everything related to the stress and disturbance of householder life: money, food, sex, duties, family relationships, social demands, friendship expectations etc.  How much has your stress reduced honestly in relation to these matters?

I would move toward constant ‘retreat mode’ – what I mean by this is constant release of stress related to ordinary matters as described  and freed up to focus on what is beyond that ( however you would describe it). Included in that, is time in service to others and not a complete withdrawal or anything that severe.

I have spent time in ashram (temple) style living and found a huge amount of stress there, just in dealing at close quarters with other human beings and ended up less available for meditative practice than in private situations.

How realistic do you think a self- renunciate situation is? I tend to idealism and may be just deluding myself.

I have a Tantric outlook, (meaning no real problem with internal arising qualities or struggling with purifying the character). That’s not to say there is not a refinement of qualities there is that. It’s just that I’m not interested in struggling with self to achieve enlightenment; the two are not connected (in my school).

From the feel of your post, you understand more than a rigid, unyielding dogma. So I wish you all the best and keep posting if you can.

There are many situations in monastic life in which the monastic does not want to do something (such as a task/work/responsibility), but they have to do it. If it was entirely their choice they would not do it but they still have to do it because they are inside a system which imposes those rules on them. This is part of the training - especially in the first few years.

Similarly, In a self imposed situation you will need a means of enforcing the rules you have laid down, even at times when you don't want to follow that rule, or even think it is better if you didn't follow that rule at that particular moment.

A way of possibly doing this would be by using your own precepts or vows which you renewed each week and wholeheartedly attempted to stick to for that week. That way you will be less likely to break them on impulse or temporary delusion, but it allows for flexibility should you need to change them or not follow them for a while due to a change in circumstance.

Well done overview and perspective in this thread. Thank you. emoticon

Dear Fon,

That's one of the most balanced, clear, straightforward, mature discussions of the topic that I have seen anywhere. Great job.

Might be fun to talk sometime or meet. Let me know if you are interested.


Your descriptions of monastic life reminded me of the second two years of medical school, residency, and some aspects of being an attending physician.

It is hard.

You work crazy hours, sleep when you possible can, eat when you are able, might go 12-15 hours at a time without eating, peeing or drinking. You have to do all sorts of stuff you don't want to, hard, difficult work.

You are exposed to life's misery and the realities of this aging, failing, weeping bag of transient flesh and all the crazy bad things that can happen to it at a level of intimacy a monastic could barely imagine. When you are doing your 100th rectal exam on yet another beligerant alcoholic homeless person vomiting blood in your general direction that is infected with who knows what, you learn about suffering and renunciation.

You have few choices, have to follow orders by obnoxious people above you, and must cheerfully care for and serve others, sometimes for over 36 hours at at stretch without sleep or time to care for yourself to any significant degree. You must shut up, keep going, see one more patient, address one more need, and then do that thousands and thousands of times for years with very little time to do anything else at all.

If you can't find a way to see each of these people in these circumstances as people with hearts who need compassionate care, some part of you will die and you will likely find yourself down dark pathways you never otherwise would have known existed. It is sink or swim, and a reasonable proportion sink.

People you are trying to care for and their family members and loved ones attack you physically and emotionally, colleagues can be toxic, vindictive and cruel, and you must absorb it all with professionalism of a high standard or derail and threaten what you have worked for and built up for decades of hard study and sacrifice. One small slip might end your career, and perfection of an unnatural degree is expected, both in your medical care and in your dealings with others. Penalties for failure can be extreme.

You give up large amounts of family time, friend time, relationship time, entertainment time, and many creature comforts for a very long time in the service of the health and well-being of others.

The money you finally make after years of poverty is appreciated by your family and the others you support with it, but you yourself barely have any time to enjoy it. Making a half a million dollars per year seems like some strange dream, as you lay on a hard stretcher trying for an hour or two before some early morning meeting after at 15-hour brutal shift after eating some awful crap they served in the hospital late-night food service area, pondering how long your body and mind can take what you are doing to it in the name of caring for those who need care.

If you are one of the unfortunates who went into medicine for some reason other than the patient care, such as the money or prestige, God help you as the reality of what you have done slowy percolates through your defenses.

You drive home exhausted, head nodding like it has hundreds of times before, and pray you don't die driving like your friends and colleagues you knew personally already did. You get up some hours later and do it again, and again, and again, and again.

You must find coping mechanisms beyond anything you ever dreamed of to try to deal with this. Some find skillful ones, some not so much. Those who find skillful coping mechanisms must do everything they can to develop them to a high degree, or disaster, suicide, severe depression, burnout, addiction, infidelity, divorce, misery, errors, and lawsuits are the expected outcomes, as you get to see again and again.

So, we find that lay life offers opportunities for personal growth, service, training in morality and kindness, training in endurance, training in being humbled, training in sickness and death, training in skillful coping, training in compassion in the face of adversity, training in renunciation, and at levels of intensity that few monasteries, if they had any sense, would ever subject people to in that dose for that long.

Just sayin'...

Again, thanks for your writing and perspective: it is top notch.

RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp
3/29/17 5:49 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thank you for that Daniel. I was hoping someone would talk about the unique experiences in lay life, particularily those in public health/service, that require deep commitment, perseverence, and resilancy. Lay life has plenty of opportunities for cultivating dharma and refining basic sanity. And in many cases, it takes a monastic-like discipline to thrive or just survive. Your quick snapshot goes way beyond what I imagined someone writing and it is humbling. Wishing you strength and wellness!


The lives of single, working parents also comes to mind....

RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp
3/29/17 10:45 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
A person can absolutely develop the same wholesome qualities in lay life - and in many careers/situations has more opportunity to develop certain qualities than a person would as a monastic. The reason I intially wrote part 1 is that I think it is important for people to be aware of the day to day hardships / annoyances that exist in monastic life - because so many have the idea that it is that kind of permanent retreat where all those struggles from lay life are gone.

In terms of renunciation - I think one of the key differences between the lay practice of the 8 fold path and the monastic practice of that path is in the freedom of choice and extremity of the renunciation.

The hardships a monastic faces in terms of his daily routine could be seen as quite ridiculous from a lay persons view because if a monastic wrote down what he did in day, it would appear very simple and quite easy. But similar to a prisoner, the most difficult hardship comes from what he cannot do - and the aversions, desires, cravings that come from that. Which is it's purpose - to highlight them and make the monk see just how deep they go and assist him in abandoning them.

Whereas a lay person can usually have an element of control in how much and when they renunciate sensual pleasures / freedoms - and often uses them as rewards to endure unpleasantness/difficulty, the choice is mostly taken away from the monastic.

My own exposure to monasteries, albeit relatively limited in comparison to one who has ordained, showed a very mixed bag of elements, some deep, some highly neurotic, some very competitive, some saintly, some just ordinary, some very religious, some moderately pragmatic, with plenty of power politics between lay people and monastics of various sorts, strange issues around food, with a wide mix of personality styles and practice depth, as well as sometimes widely divergent interpretations and expressions of the dharma. Anyway, they looked a lot like any other cross section of life where you find people.

RE: Monastic training /Arahants / 'Technical 4th Path': A traditional viewp
3/31/17 3:46 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
this thread got deleted accidentally, but is now back


Thanks for the write up Fon. You make some good points. I tend to think that modern pragmatic approaches that are redefining or cherry picking their definitions are better off dropping the traditional terms altogether and adopting new ones outright. Otherwise you end up with, even with the best intentions: equivocation, dishonesty, appropriation, confusion and over-reductionism. In the final analysis it is really a kind of cultural imperialism and is extremely inappropriate.

I wonder why it would matter if it is inappropriate or dishonest?  Who cares, as long as it works?  Meditation is medicine (when taken by the right people in the right doses).  I don't have to read the textbooks to know this & experience it's benefits.