Theravada monasticism and western values

Lucas, modified 2 Years ago.

Theravada monasticism and western values

Post: 1 Join Date: 2/2/18 Recent Posts

First time poster here, I've been following the forum for a while, so I'd like to thank the community and Daniel for this space. I was a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition, and recently, for several reasons, I disrrobed.

I do not want to go into too many details or name names, but after spending over a year as a monk in Thailand and then Malaysia, I began to seriously doubt the possibility of adapting Theravada monasticism in the west. When I speak of adapting monasticism to the west, I am not only talking about establishing monasteries with Thai or Sinhalese financiers, but creating communities that harmonize dhamma / Vinaya with typically western values: democracy, gender equality, pragmatism, rationalism.

Among others, these are some characteristics of monasticism which, in my view, make it incompatible with Western values:

Inability to discuss experience in immediate, phenomenological, terms.
Everything is filtered under ideological lens. I know, this is common in all sorts of discussions, but in the case of monks the map is internalized with a hierarchical structure to which they identify, in this way, any meditative experience contrary to the model (not to mention a criticism) is seen as a personal attack, a transgression of territory. And I'm not talking about discussions about what is jhanna, how are the stages of progression of insight or something like that, just that if a lay person or junior monk describes experiences not shared by a senior monk, the tendency is that you will not really be heard and will probably be labeled in a pejorative way (after all, non-circumscribed experience is conceptually dangerous, causes anxiety).

Lack of openness to information feedbacks
. The hierarchical model by itself is not a bad thing and, I believe, necessary in a monastic organization (I can, and would like, to be extremely wrong at this point). After all, the presumption that people with more experience in the monastic life are in a better position to give advice and make decisions for the community seems to me to be a valid generalization. Also, at the end of the day, it is extremely complicated and tiring to submit absolutely everything to public forum.
However, in monastic circles, this hierarchy, in terms of information flow, is extremely unilateral. In other words, those who observe and make decisions are up, observing and ordering those who are down.
The biggest problem, from what I have been able to experience, is that many of these Ajahns are never directly questioned, and when they do, react extremely badly to it. After spending years, decades, with people literally kneeling and washing their feet, they unlearn to listen. They are extremely compassionate and humble as long as everything and everyone are in its proper place, but as soon as things go out of the order expected ... it is common to see them react with much less composure and social ability than a normal person. In fact, this was something that shocked me: how common is it for experienced monks not to have the least social skills, a lot of them: cannot deal with difficult situations or people; see small actions as offenses; and have years of grudge against each other.
I do not even want to start writing about the most futile motives for which I have ever seen monks discussing, it is enough to say that things that can pass by unnoticed in the lay life are causes for irreversible personal offenses that cause years of rancor for some monastics.
It seems to me that the lack of more immediate concrete concerns leads many monks to extremes of neurotic behavior and futile concerns.

Structural closure for material and political reasons that are never admitted
: I refer to cases where monastic traditions cannot adapt to egalitarian values ​​(be it gender, monks and lay persons, etc.) because the culture of their supporters is opposed to this. A striking example is the Ajahn Cha tradition and the ordination of bikkhunis. They act as if there really was an argument to be made, but the truth is they just cannot do it. In Thailand, ordaining a woman is a crime, and they simply refuse to admit that the fact that they depend on a military dictatorship to keep their religious stauts informs their decision on the matter.

Having said that, I must also say that if this tradition did not exist I would not have had the opportunity to learn to meditate and would not have gone through some of the most important and pleasurable experiences of my life. My intention is not to criticize everything about Theravada monasticism, but to think of ways of reconciling that tradition with the values ​​of the West.
I am curious about other people's point of view, or just stories about contact with monks and monasteries.
 
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Ben V., modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 351 Join Date: 3/3/15 Recent Posts
Congrats for living the monastic life for a while. Requires much discipline!

What you describe seems lilke just humans being humans, or ordinary human flaws being expressed, which can be found in both monastic and lay environments. Perhaps in monastic circle it would have a particular colour linked to specifically to monasticism, but the underlying issues are the same. The first one about discussing experience happens in lay communities too. The second issue could happen in lay communities with a charismatic or respected lay leader. Your third point sounds somewhat like the management department of some work places right here in the West. 

I do get a sense from reading you that you seem to have endured a long time of keeping those frustrations inside without the available context to discuss them openly and be validated for it, and perhaps that's related to monastic culture.That must be really frustrating. Hope discussing it here brings some relief.

I have not been a monk but have done many retreats in monastic contexts in the past, and otherwise hanged out with monks and nuns in other contexts, and have witnessed stuff you mention. When some sit on a cushion in front of an admiring crowd of lay devotees, they speak in a tone of deep calmness and wisdom. Then you hang around with them in other contexts and they act like very ordinary neurotic humans. I have met only one notable exeption who really seemed to keep his composure in most situations. 
Still, I admire those who live the monastic life sincerely, or strive too.

All this could be an invitation to be more accepting and forgiving of human flaws. But one thing I like about our Western culture is that there seems to be more space or contexts to openly address those flaws, which I assumed you must have missed as a monk. Each culture has its strengths and weaknesses though. Western culture is a high risk environment for narcissism, for example, which I tend to think is not the case in Asian cultures. A variety of human defilements and strengths in different forms all over the planet. 

Anyway, I hope you find peace through all that. I take it as a rule that wherever there are communities of humans, monastic or otherwise, we have to expect neuroticism to be present from time to time, in one form or another.
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 3180 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
I had a lot of similar thoughts to Ben V. regarding management, healthcare with doctors, administrators, educational situations, lots of lay spiritual communities, and a whole host of other situations where I see the same elements just as clearly.

I agree, Theravada monasticism is likely to look very different in some ways if it ever incorporates liberal democratic values as they are in theory, but, that said, in practice, we find lots of examples of situations that share those elements in very similar forms here in the theoretically more liberal, more democratic West.

Still, great things to point out, and I hope you are able to bring the wisdom and skills you learned during your time as a monastic forum to help practitioners on places such as this forum. Best wishes!

Daniel
Tommy Toys, modified 5 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 23 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
Very interesting discussion here! 

Apart from the usual angle of Asian hierarchial structure + monastic conditioning - which obv. independent of one's spiritual development, I also wonder (as a relative noob on 1st path), if the progress of "no-self" itself could also hinder self-reflection or mask certain blind spot? This is notwithstanding growth of one's compassion - but again judging one's impact on another is rather subjective.

More generally, for Arhat / senior monk / practioner, with much (perceived) subdued sense of self,  through what mechanism does (he/she) still reflect on behavior and impact to others? Esp. if the usual drivers - e.g. shame, social pressure, reduced to some extent, what replace them? 

There's also point from Jeff Martin's book <Finders> thats talks about over-confidence (particular of spiritual matters, but perhaps overflows) of practioners in far adv. locations.

Love to hear Daniel and others' thoughts on this! (e.g. when you still find your mind neurotically triggered by someone today, are such sufferings and chain reactions much different or rather similar, prior to your 1st/2nd path?)
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Ni Nurta, modified 5 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 659 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
Tommy Toys:

More generally, for Arhat / senior monk / practioner, with much (perceived) subdued sense of self,  through what mechanism does (he/she) still reflect on behavior and impact to others? Esp. if the usual drivers - e.g. shame, social pressure, reduced to some extent, what replace them?
The sense of self is not used by these drivers and does not drive behaviour. It is just added to them as part of the story which your brain creates for itself to make it easier to think about your situation in relation to others and talk about it.

If anything removing sense of self by itself makes people more neurotic, not less.
When you go through process of insight to the end you get many changes, not only removed sense of self and it is these developments which are more important than reduced sense of self. IMHO.
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Nicky2, modified 5 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 48 Join Date: 4/18/20 Recent Posts
Lucas :

First time poster here, I've been following the forum for a while... I disrrobed.


This forum sounds suitable for one of your calibre.

I began to seriously doubt the possibility of adapting Theravada monasticism in the west.

The West is often a decadent place.
 
creating communities that harmonize dhamma / Vinaya with typically western values: democracy, gender equality, pragmatism, rationalism.

Buddhism does not support democracy or rhetoric about gender equality. In Buddhism, people live by the Dhamma, which, politically, is similar to Theocracy. The recent USA elections show what a farce democracy is, where the majority of people, who are puthujjana, are fooled for vote for immoral canditates. In Buddhism, there is no variation in how people live. Therefore, there is no need for democracy; which is about selfishness & self-interest rather than about Dhamma.  

As for gender equality, sure, I as a man can bear a child & breast freed it. emoticon

Among others, these are some characteristics of monasticism which, in my view, make it incompatible with Western values:

Generally, at least in the past, individuals left the West and travelled to Asia due to dissillusionment with Western values. 

Inability to discuss experience in immediate, phenomenological, terms. 

As a monk, your experience is supposed to conform with the experience of the Lord Buddha found in the suttas. 

 hierarchical structure

You personally lack sufficient virtue to alone maintain livelihood as a monk. This is why you live in dependence on another monk; a monk that has the virtues to receive benefaction from the public. This is hiearchy. 

meditative experience

It appears u did not have any meditative experience that conformed to the Buddha.

if a lay person or junior monk describes experiences not shared by a senior monk, the tendency is that you will not really be heard and will probably be labeled in a pejorative way (after all, non-circumscribed experience is conceptually dangerous, causes anxiety).

The only relevant experiences are those described in the suttas. Regardless, what is there to share?

 
However, in monastic circles, this hierarchy, in terms of information flow, is extremely unilateral. In other words, those who observe and make decisions are up, observing and ordering those who are down. 

The Buddha has explained the Path. It appears it is your own craving to be connected to a hierachy that causes your criticism of hierachy. When I lived in a monastery (as a lay person), I just practised and avoided the heirachy. I practised the giving up of craving. 

The biggest problem, from what I have been able to experience, is that many of these Ajahns are never directly questioned, and when they do, react extremely badly to it. After spending years, decades, with people literally kneeling and washing their feet, they unlearn to listen.

They maintain the monastery for others to use for meditation. The Buddha has explained the Path. Ajahns are not required for anything, apart from to maintain the monastery for others to use for meditation. Anyone that seeks to learn meditation from an Ajahn has not taken refuge in the Buddha & Dhamma. 

how common is it for experienced monks not to have the least social skills, a lot of them: cannot deal with difficult situations or people; see small actions as offenses; and have years of grudge against each other. 

Lol - you were a monk for one year yet claim you have great social skills emoticon

I do not even want to start writing about the most futile motives for which I have ever seen monks discussing, it is enough to say that things that can pass by unnoticed in the lay life are causes for irreversible personal offenses that cause years of rancor for some monastics.
It seems to me that the lack of more immediate concrete concerns leads many monks to extremes of neurotic behavior and futile concerns.

227 Vinaya Rules to be upheld 

Structural closure for material and political reasons that are never admitted: I refer to cases where monastic traditions cannot adapt to egalitarian values ​​(be it gender, monks and lay persons, etc.) because the culture of their supporters is opposed to this. A striking example is the Ajahn Cha tradition and the ordination of bikkhunis. They act as if there really was an argument to be made, but the truth is they just cannot do it. In Thailand, ordaining a woman is a crime, and they simply refuse to admit that the fact that they depend on a military dictatorship to keep their religious stauts informs their decision on the matter.

Lol - lust for women emoticon emoticon 

There are bhikkhunis in Thailand. Ajahn Chah tradition is not interested in setting up the organisation to ordain women. Plus there is no bhikkhuni lineage. The entire current bhikkhuni lineage in based in Mahayana, which is not what the rules say. It appear improper for Mahayana bhikkhuni to ordain Theravada bhikkhuni. 

Having said that, I must also say that if this tradition did not exist I would not have had the opportunity to learn to meditate

Now you are claiming to be a Noble One; when you claim you can meditate. 

my life. My intention is not to criticize everything about Theravada monasticism, but to think of ways of reconciling that tradition with the values ​​of the West.

The West and its "values" or lack of them is trash.

I am curious about other people's point of view, or just stories about contact with monks and monasteries.
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 5 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 5375 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Nicky, how is this supposed to be a helpful post to a new member? 
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terry, modified 5 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
Nicky, how is this supposed to be a helpful post to a new member? 

a new member of his calibre...


lol...
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Noah D, modified 5 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 1143 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
Nicky:
It appear improper for Mahayana bhikkhuni to ordain Theravada bhikkhuni. 

Where in the tripitika is this?
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terry, modified 5 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
Nicky2:
Lucas :

First time poster here, I've been following the forum for a while... I disrrobed.


This forum sounds suitable for one of your calibre.

I began to seriously doubt the possibility of adapting Theravada monasticism in the west.

The West is often a decadent place.
 
creating communities that harmonize dhamma / Vinaya with typically western values: democracy, gender equality, pragmatism, rationalism.

Buddhism does not support democracy or rhetoric about gender equality. In Buddhism, people live by the Dhamma, which, politically, is similar to Theocracy. The recent USA elections show what a farce democracy is, where the majority of people, who are puthujjana, are fooled for vote for immoral canditates. In Buddhism, there is no variation in how people live. Therefore, there is no need for democracy; which is about selfishness & self-interest rather than about Dhamma.  

As for gender equality, sure, I as a man can bear a child & breast freed it. emoticon

Among others, these are some characteristics of monasticism which, in my view, make it incompatible with Western values:

Generally, at least in the past, individuals left the West and travelled to Asia due to dissillusionment with Western values. 

Inability to discuss experience in immediate, phenomenological, terms. 

As a monk, your experience is supposed to conform with the experience of the Lord Buddha found in the suttas. 

 hierarchical structure

You personally lack sufficient virtue to alone maintain livelihood as a monk. This is why you live in dependence on another monk; a monk that has the virtues to receive benefaction from the public. This is hiearchy. 

meditative experience

It appears u did not have any meditative experience that conformed to the Buddha.

if a lay person or junior monk describes experiences not shared by a senior monk, the tendency is that you will not really be heard and will probably be labeled in a pejorative way (after all, non-circumscribed experience is conceptually dangerous, causes anxiety).

The only relevant experiences are those described in the suttas. Regardless, what is there to share?

 
However, in monastic circles, this hierarchy, in terms of information flow, is extremely unilateral. In other words, those who observe and make decisions are up, observing and ordering those who are down. 

The Buddha has explained the Path. It appears it is your own craving to be connected to a hierachy that causes your criticism of hierachy. When I lived in a monastery (as a lay person), I just practised and avoided the heirachy. I practised the giving up of craving. 

The biggest problem, from what I have been able to experience, is that many of these Ajahns are never directly questioned, and when they do, react extremely badly to it. After spending years, decades, with people literally kneeling and washing their feet, they unlearn to listen.

They maintain the monastery for others to use for meditation. The Buddha has explained the Path. Ajahns are not required for anything, apart from to maintain the monastery for others to use for meditation. Anyone that seeks to learn meditation from an Ajahn has not taken refuge in the Buddha & Dhamma. 

how common is it for experienced monks not to have the least social skills, a lot of them: cannot deal with difficult situations or people; see small actions as offenses; and have years of grudge against each other. 

Lol - you were a monk for one year yet claim you have great social skills emoticon

I do not even want to start writing about the most futile motives for which I have ever seen monks discussing, it is enough to say that things that can pass by unnoticed in the lay life are causes for irreversible personal offenses that cause years of rancor for some monastics.
It seems to me that the lack of more immediate concrete concerns leads many monks to extremes of neurotic behavior and futile concerns.

227 Vinaya Rules to be upheld 

Structural closure for material and political reasons that are never admitted: I refer to cases where monastic traditions cannot adapt to egalitarian values ​​(be it gender, monks and lay persons, etc.) because the culture of their supporters is opposed to this. A striking example is the Ajahn Cha tradition and the ordination of bikkhunis. They act as if there really was an argument to be made, but the truth is they just cannot do it. In Thailand, ordaining a woman is a crime, and they simply refuse to admit that the fact that they depend on a military dictatorship to keep their religious stauts informs their decision on the matter.

Lol - lust for women emoticon emoticon 

There are bhikkhunis in Thailand. Ajahn Chah tradition is not interested in setting up the organisation to ordain women. Plus there is no bhikkhuni lineage. The entire current bhikkhuni lineage in based in Mahayana, which is not what the rules say. It appear improper for Mahayana bhikkhuni to ordain Theravada bhikkhuni. 

Having said that, I must also say that if this tradition did not exist I would not have had the opportunity to learn to meditate

Now you are claiming to be a Noble One; when you claim you can meditate. 

my life. My intention is not to criticize everything about Theravada monasticism, but to think of ways of reconciling that tradition with the values ​​of the West.

The West and its "values" or lack of them is trash.

I am curious about other people's point of view, or just stories about contact with monks and monasteries.


   go east, old man...
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terry, modified 5 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
terry:
Nicky2:
Lucas :

First time poster here, I've been following the forum for a while... I disrrobed.


This forum sounds suitable for one of your calibre.

I began to seriously doubt the possibility of adapting Theravada monasticism in the west.

The West is often a decadent place.
 
creating communities that harmonize dhamma / Vinaya with typically western values: democracy, gender equality, pragmatism, rationalism.

Buddhism does not support democracy or rhetoric about gender equality. In Buddhism, people live by the Dhamma, which, politically, is similar to Theocracy. The recent USA elections show what a farce democracy is, where the majority of people, who are puthujjana, are fooled for vote for immoral canditates. In Buddhism, there is no variation in how people live. Therefore, there is no need for democracy; which is about selfishness & self-interest rather than about Dhamma.  

As for gender equality, sure, I as a man can bear a child & breast freed it. emoticon

Among others, these are some characteristics of monasticism which, in my view, make it incompatible with Western values:

Generally, at least in the past, individuals left the West and travelled to Asia due to dissillusionment with Western values. 

Inability to discuss experience in immediate, phenomenological, terms. 

As a monk, your experience is supposed to conform with the experience of the Lord Buddha found in the suttas. 

 hierarchical structure

You personally lack sufficient virtue to alone maintain livelihood as a monk. This is why you live in dependence on another monk; a monk that has the virtues to receive benefaction from the public. This is hiearchy. 

meditative experience

It appears u did not have any meditative experience that conformed to the Buddha.

if a lay person or junior monk describes experiences not shared by a senior monk, the tendency is that you will not really be heard and will probably be labeled in a pejorative way (after all, non-circumscribed experience is conceptually dangerous, causes anxiety).

The only relevant experiences are those described in the suttas. Regardless, what is there to share?

 
However, in monastic circles, this hierarchy, in terms of information flow, is extremely unilateral. In other words, those who observe and make decisions are up, observing and ordering those who are down. 

The Buddha has explained the Path. It appears it is your own craving to be connected to a hierachy that causes your criticism of hierachy. When I lived in a monastery (as a lay person), I just practised and avoided the heirachy. I practised the giving up of craving. 

The biggest problem, from what I have been able to experience, is that many of these Ajahns are never directly questioned, and when they do, react extremely badly to it. After spending years, decades, with people literally kneeling and washing their feet, they unlearn to listen.

They maintain the monastery for others to use for meditation. The Buddha has explained the Path. Ajahns are not required for anything, apart from to maintain the monastery for others to use for meditation. Anyone that seeks to learn meditation from an Ajahn has not taken refuge in the Buddha & Dhamma. 

how common is it for experienced monks not to have the least social skills, a lot of them: cannot deal with difficult situations or people; see small actions as offenses; and have years of grudge against each other. 

Lol - you were a monk for one year yet claim you have great social skills emoticon

I do not even want to start writing about the most futile motives for which I have ever seen monks discussing, it is enough to say that things that can pass by unnoticed in the lay life are causes for irreversible personal offenses that cause years of rancor for some monastics.
It seems to me that the lack of more immediate concrete concerns leads many monks to extremes of neurotic behavior and futile concerns.

227 Vinaya Rules to be upheld 

Structural closure for material and political reasons that are never admitted: I refer to cases where monastic traditions cannot adapt to egalitarian values ​​(be it gender, monks and lay persons, etc.) because the culture of their supporters is opposed to this. A striking example is the Ajahn Cha tradition and the ordination of bikkhunis. They act as if there really was an argument to be made, but the truth is they just cannot do it. In Thailand, ordaining a woman is a crime, and they simply refuse to admit that the fact that they depend on a military dictatorship to keep their religious stauts informs their decision on the matter.

Lol - lust for women emoticon emoticon 

There are bhikkhunis in Thailand. Ajahn Chah tradition is not interested in setting up the organisation to ordain women. Plus there is no bhikkhuni lineage. The entire current bhikkhuni lineage in based in Mahayana, which is not what the rules say. It appear improper for Mahayana bhikkhuni to ordain Theravada bhikkhuni. 

Having said that, I must also say that if this tradition did not exist I would not have had the opportunity to learn to meditate

Now you are claiming to be a Noble One; when you claim you can meditate. 

my life. My intention is not to criticize everything about Theravada monasticism, but to think of ways of reconciling that tradition with the values ​​of the West.

The West and its "values" or lack of them is trash.

I am curious about other people's point of view, or just stories about contact with monks and monasteries.


   go east, old man...


   perhaps lucas' point that old theravadans can be curmudgeonly was well taken...

(wink)
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terry, modified 5 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
Lucas:

First time poster here, I've been following the forum for a while, so I'd like to thank the community and Daniel for this space. I was a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition, and recently, for several reasons, I disrrobed.

I do not want to go into too many details or name names, but after spending over a year as a monk in Thailand and then Malaysia, I began to seriously doubt the possibility of adapting Theravada monasticism in the west. When I speak of adapting monasticism to the west, I am not only talking about establishing monasteries with Thai or Sinhalese financiers, but creating communities that harmonize dhamma / Vinaya with typically western values: democracy, gender equality, pragmatism, rationalism.

Among others, these are some characteristics of monasticism which, in my view, make it incompatible with Western values:

Inability to discuss experience in immediate, phenomenological, terms.
Everything is filtered under ideological lens. I know, this is common in all sorts of discussions, but in the case of monks the map is internalized with a hierarchical structure to which they identify, in this way, any meditative experience contrary to the model (not to mention a criticism) is seen as a personal attack, a transgression of territory. And I'm not talking about discussions about what is jhanna, how are the stages of progression of insight or something like that, just that if a lay person or junior monk describes experiences not shared by a senior monk, the tendency is that you will not really be heard and will probably be labeled in a pejorative way (after all, non-circumscribed experience is conceptually dangerous, causes anxiety).

Lack of openness to information feedbacks
. The hierarchical model by itself is not a bad thing and, I believe, necessary in a monastic organization (I can, and would like, to be extremely wrong at this point). After all, the presumption that people with more experience in the monastic life are in a better position to give advice and make decisions for the community seems to me to be a valid generalization. Also, at the end of the day, it is extremely complicated and tiring to submit absolutely everything to public forum.
However, in monastic circles, this hierarchy, in terms of information flow, is extremely unilateral. In other words, those who observe and make decisions are up, observing and ordering those who are down.
The biggest problem, from what I have been able to experience, is that many of these Ajahns are never directly questioned, and when they do, react extremely badly to it. After spending years, decades, with people literally kneeling and washing their feet, they unlearn to listen. They are extremely compassionate and humble as long as everything and everyone are in its proper place, but as soon as things go out of the order expected ... it is common to see them react with much less composure and social ability than a normal person. In fact, this was something that shocked me: how common is it for experienced monks not to have the least social skills, a lot of them: cannot deal with difficult situations or people; see small actions as offenses; and have years of grudge against each other.
I do not even want to start writing about the most futile motives for which I have ever seen monks discussing, it is enough to say that things that can pass by unnoticed in the lay life are causes for irreversible personal offenses that cause years of rancor for some monastics.
It seems to me that the lack of more immediate concrete concerns leads many monks to extremes of neurotic behavior and futile concerns.

Structural closure for material and political reasons that are never admitted
: I refer to cases where monastic traditions cannot adapt to egalitarian values ​​(be it gender, monks and lay persons, etc.) because the culture of their supporters is opposed to this. A striking example is the Ajahn Cha tradition and the ordination of bikkhunis. They act as if there really was an argument to be made, but the truth is they just cannot do it. In Thailand, ordaining a woman is a crime, and they simply refuse to admit that the fact that they depend on a military dictatorship to keep their religious stauts informs their decision on the matter.

Having said that, I must also say that if this tradition did not exist I would not have had the opportunity to learn to meditate and would not have gone through some of the most important and pleasurable experiences of my life. My intention is not to criticize everything about Theravada monasticism, but to think of ways of reconciling that tradition with the values ​​of the West.
I am curious about other people's point of view, or just stories about contact with monks and monasteries.
 


aloha lucas,

   In terms of practical western spiritual groups, monasticism in traditional forms (eg vinaya) seems impractical. Most of the faults you enumerate have been features of monasticism throughout history. Monasteries are a place to margnalize and impoverish surplus men. Nowadays we have surplus women to marginalize and impoverish as well.

   Neither homelessness nor living on alms are especially practical in temperate countries, and the monastic tradition in japan has always reflected the need for accomodations to a different climate and social milieu from the one in the indian scriptures. Pai chang told his monks "a day without work is a day without eating." In europe as well as japan the all male monastic congregations and the continuous recruitment of boys led to systematic abuse, as well as segregating women from the spiritual life of the nation. Modern zen priests often marry, sometimes each other (I've heard that hurling insults at each other pertaining to the dharma can be especially painful).

   In light of this, we have some new imperatives:

1)  lbgtq tolerance, all beings are spiritually equal; what gets consensually stuck into what should not be an issue...

2)  everyone should practice right livelihood; being able to do useful work is a human need...like sex, it can be sublimated but not eliminated...

and these don't leave much room for monasticism. Even the organization of like-minded spiritual practicioners is somewhat suspect to me. Most western zen groups legitimize the practice of other religions while doing zen. Sufi groups tend to call any material that is spiritually useful "sufi" regardless of what tradition originated it.

   I think the relevance of buddhism to the (post)modern west is not in monasticism but in the precepts, the 8fold path, and meditiation. The buddha, the sangha, the dhamma.

   Going to the thai forest tradition and participating in their ways is a privelege. A year is a brief time. Your criticisms are interesting and no doubt apt. 

   I just think it is wonderful that there is a thai forest tradition. That they accomodate westerners at retreats may be the extent of the reconciliation. The reciprocal of inviting thai monks over here to get them laid and drunk has not worked out well in the past. Cheeseburger, anyone?

terry
thumbnail
Jim Smith, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 962 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
Lucas:

First time poster here, I've been following the forum for a while, so I'd like to thank the community and Daniel for this space. I was a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition, and recently, for several reasons, I disrrobed...

...

Lucas,

I am pretty sure I would disrobe too if I was in that situation. I think you did the right thing, it was a wise decision.

You wrote.
"I know, this is common in all sorts of discussions, but in the case of monks the map is internalized with a hierarchical structure to which they identify, in this way, any meditative experience contrary to the model (not to mention a criticism) is seen as a personal attack, a transgression of territory. "
and
"The biggest problem, from what I have been able to experience, is that many of these Ajahns are never directly questioned, and when they do, react extremely badly to it."
and
"They are extremely compassionate and humble as long as everything and everyone are in its proper place, but as soon as things go out of the order expected ... it is common to see them react with much less composure and social ability than a normal person. In fact, this was something that shocked me: how common is it for experienced monks not to have the least social skills, a lot of them: cannot deal with difficult situations or people; see small actions as offenses; and have years of grudge against each other. "


I think these observations indicate a bigger problem than compatibility with the West.

The real problem is that what you call "Therevada monasticism" is incompatible with producing awakening.

This tradition is not eliminating attachments and aversions, it is not freeing them from identity view, ill will, or conceit.

They have changed the definition of awakening from it's original meaning in the Pali Canon to something different that is measured only by attainments in meditation and subjective experieces, rather than, as Bhante Vimalaramsi said (see below), "the true personality change that awakening should bring".


I started a thread on this subject here:

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/21393142
Jim Smith:
In this thread

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/21392148#_19_message_21387100

Sam posted this link to a web page by Kenneth Folk:

https://eudoxos.github.io/cfitness/html/index.html

On the web page Kenneth describes something that happened while he was on retreat in Asia.
Once, I brought this up to U Vivekananda after a frosty encounter with U Pandita. The German monk said. “Never argue with Sayadaw. He simply can’t tolerate it.”

U Pandita was a highly enlightened teacher. 

If you can't tolerate argument and it makes you "frosty", then I think it is obvious that you are attached to self. 

How can you be highly enlightened and still attached to self?

This tends to support my belief that measuring enlightenment based on experineces in meditation is not really the correct way to do it. People are getting accredited with being advanced when they might be advanced in meditation states but not advanced in enlightenment.


Is there another way to explain it?


Thanks

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/21393142#_19_message_21394151


Jim Smith:
J C:
It does reduce emotional pain, but it doesn't eliminate it entirely.

There are many reasons someone could react poorly to being challenged. Maybe he thought Ken was being disrespectful and so it would be appropriate to be harsh with him. Maybe it was a teaching technique. Maybe it was just a habit. No one is perfect, not even fully enlightened people.

There is at least one qualified expert who thinks traditional end point of Therevada practice is not what Buddha was talking about, and that they are off track. And he bases this belief on the fact that there is an way to end suffering and it is not the stages of insight.

https://www.dhammasukha.org/ven-bhante-vimalaramsi.html


Bhante Vimalaramsi is an American monk who was ordained in Northern Thailand in 1986 at the age of 40. He left the USA to seek awakening through meditation in the early 80's and decided to let go of all of his material possessions. Before this starting in 1974 he engaged in Vipassana courses in California and even lived and worked at a meditation center in San Jose, California to 1977.

Bhante Vimalaramsi has studied with many famous teachers in Asia. Among them are Venerable U Pandita, U Lakkhana, U Silananda, U Janaka, U Dhammananda, U Dhammapia and he met Mahasi Sayadaw. He further studied with The Mingun Sayadaw, who had memorized the entire Tripitaka and Sayadaw U Thatilla. Other teachers he spent longer periods of time with were the late Most Ven K Sri Dhammananda, Venerable Punnaji, Ajahn Yanitra, Ajahn Buddhadasa, Ajahn Cha Lee, and Ajahn Santititho.

Bhante practiced Vipassana very intensely his first 20 years under an American teacher and in Burma, under U Pandita and U Janaka. Finally around 1990 he was told that he had achieved the endpoint of the practice, as it was taught by the Sayadaws, and now he should go teach. He didn't feel comfortable that he had really found the end of suffering. He felt he did not have the true personality change that awakening should bring, even after going through the 16 levels of Insight or knowledges, as outlined by Mahasi Sayadaw in Progress of Insight.

Changing Direction
From 1991 to 2000 he dedicated himself to "direct experience through study of the suttas and meditation practice". At first he stayed with K. Sri Dhammananda in Malaysia and taught Metta meditation. Then he had a real change in direction with his meeting of a Sri Lankan senior monk, Bhante Punnaji, also in Malaysia. His advice was to ‘study the suttas directly and to let go of relying on commentaries like the Visuddhi Magga'. Specifically he said, ‘Read only the suttas, then practice'. This was very significant because the commentaries were influencing how he was seeing the entirety of the Dhamma, at the time. It was suggested to put them aside while he studied the suttas as a standalone system. Nanavira in the early sixties, suggested this and then Stephen Batchelor also talked about just using only the suttas in his book "A Buddhist Atheist".

When Bhante began to do this, he discovered first hand, the interwoven nature of the Teachings. In each sutta he found the elements of the 4 Noble Truths, the 8-Fold Path, and the impersonal process of Dependent Origination. Dependent Origination or Paticcasamupada is the core of the Buddha's teachings. He realized that the word sutta literally meant "thread" and that the threads together, created a finely woven cloth, whereas, one single thread does not equal a cloth! Through his own objective first hand experience, the 8-Fold Path began to come alive. When he realized the secret of the teachings was on his doorstep he took the Majjhima Nikaya to a cave in Thailand and spent 3 months, living with a cobra as company, reading and then practicing just what the suttas said. In very little time, he said, he had gone deeper in his meditation, than ever before. What started as two weeks to study suttas turned into three months of deep practice. Out of this was born TWIM or Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation completely based on the suttas in the Majjhima Nikaya. He found the Jhanas had an entirely different explanation and experience. Nibbana was possible!


The quote "Never argue with Sayadaw. He simply can’t tolerate it." seems to me to add credibility to what Bhante V. is saying.


https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/21393142#_19_message_21403988

Jim Smith:
J C:
Well, U Pandita had forgiveness covered - if you read on, Kenneth saw the error of his ways and U Pandita forgave him!

That sounds like marketing copy - I'm skeptical that a machine could give you the equivalent of decades of meditation in a week.

As far as "nothing anyone says or does bothers you and no negativity can touch you" - that's an ideal that is not possible for a human being, and the attempt to emulate it leads to repression and shadow sides.

Besides, how do you know U Pandita was bothered by it? Maybe he just thought being "frosty" was the appropriate response. Maybe Kenneth was actually being rude and disrespectful. We only have one side of the story.

Even if nothing bothered you, that doesn't necessarily mean you'd always react in a super nice loving way. Maybe sometimes it's appropriate to throw tables around and smite fig trees like Jesus, or chop off students' fingers or hit them with sticks like Zen monks.


I think the quote: "Never argue with Sayadaw. He simply can’t tolerate it." is self evident.

But I could be biased because I also read this in the same web page: 

"My teacher there was the famous and cantankerous Sayadaw U Pandita, "

and this:

"Sayadaw U Pandita was living proof that this was not so; he displayed the whole range of emotion. Although he could at times be loving, kind, and supportive, more often he appeared angry, irritated, cutting and sarcastic. In short, he was a mean old man."
thumbnail
terry, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
Jim Smith:
Lucas:

First time poster here, I've been following the forum for a while, so I'd like to thank the community and Daniel for this space. I was a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition, and recently, for several reasons, I disrrobed...

...

Lucas,

I am pretty sure I would disrobe too if I was in that situation. I think you did the right thing, it was a wise decision.

You wrote.
"I know, this is common in all sorts of discussions, but in the case of monks the map is internalized with a hierarchical structure to which they identify, in this way, any meditative experience contrary to the model (not to mention a criticism) is seen as a personal attack, a transgression of territory. "
and
"The biggest problem, from what I have been able to experience, is that many of these Ajahns are never directly questioned, and when they do, react extremely badly to it."
and
"They are extremely compassionate and humble as long as everything and everyone are in its proper place, but as soon as things go out of the order expected ... it is common to see them react with much less composure and social ability than a normal person. In fact, this was something that shocked me: how common is it for experienced monks not to have the least social skills, a lot of them: cannot deal with difficult situations or people; see small actions as offenses; and have years of grudge against each other. "


I think these observations indicate a bigger problem than compatibility with the West.

The real problem is that what you call "Therevada monasticism" is incompatible with producing awakening.

This tradition is not eliminating attachments and aversions, it is not freeing them from identity view, ill will, or conceit.

They have changed the definition of awakening from it's original meaning in the Pali Canon to something different that is measured only by attainments in meditation and subjective experieces, rather than, as Bhante Vimalaramsi said (see below), "the true personality change that awakening should bring".


I started a thread on this subject here:

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/21393142
Jim Smith:
In this thread

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/21392148#_19_message_21387100

Sam posted this link to a web page by Kenneth Folk:

https://eudoxos.github.io/cfitness/html/index.html

On the web page Kenneth describes something that happened while he was on retreat in Asia.
Once, I brought this up to U Vivekananda after a frosty encounter with U Pandita. The German monk said. “Never argue with Sayadaw. He simply can’t tolerate it.”

U Pandita was a highly enlightened teacher. 

If you can't tolerate argument and it makes you "frosty", then I think it is obvious that you are attached to self. 

How can you be highly enlightened and still attached to self?

This tends to support my belief that measuring enlightenment based on experineces in meditation is not really the correct way to do it. People are getting accredited with being advanced when they might be advanced in meditation states but not advanced in enlightenment.


Is there another way to explain it?


Thanks

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/21393142#_19_message_21394151


Jim Smith:
J C:
It does reduce emotional pain, but it doesn't eliminate it entirely.

There are many reasons someone could react poorly to being challenged. Maybe he thought Ken was being disrespectful and so it would be appropriate to be harsh with him. Maybe it was a teaching technique. Maybe it was just a habit. No one is perfect, not even fully enlightened people.

There is at least one qualified expert who thinks traditional end point of Therevada practice is not what Buddha was talking about, and that they are off track. And he bases this belief on the fact that there is an way to end suffering and it is not the stages of insight.

https://www.dhammasukha.org/ven-bhante-vimalaramsi.html


Bhante Vimalaramsi is an American monk who was ordained in Northern Thailand in 1986 at the age of 40. He left the USA to seek awakening through meditation in the early 80's and decided to let go of all of his material possessions. Before this starting in 1974 he engaged in Vipassana courses in California and even lived and worked at a meditation center in San Jose, California to 1977.

Bhante Vimalaramsi has studied with many famous teachers in Asia. Among them are Venerable U Pandita, U Lakkhana, U Silananda, U Janaka, U Dhammananda, U Dhammapia and he met Mahasi Sayadaw. He further studied with The Mingun Sayadaw, who had memorized the entire Tripitaka and Sayadaw U Thatilla. Other teachers he spent longer periods of time with were the late Most Ven K Sri Dhammananda, Venerable Punnaji, Ajahn Yanitra, Ajahn Buddhadasa, Ajahn Cha Lee, and Ajahn Santititho.

Bhante practiced Vipassana very intensely his first 20 years under an American teacher and in Burma, under U Pandita and U Janaka. Finally around 1990 he was told that he had achieved the endpoint of the practice, as it was taught by the Sayadaws, and now he should go teach. He didn't feel comfortable that he had really found the end of suffering. He felt he did not have the true personality change that awakening should bring, even after going through the 16 levels of Insight or knowledges, as outlined by Mahasi Sayadaw in Progress of Insight.

Changing Direction
From 1991 to 2000 he dedicated himself to "direct experience through study of the suttas and meditation practice". At first he stayed with K. Sri Dhammananda in Malaysia and taught Metta meditation. Then he had a real change in direction with his meeting of a Sri Lankan senior monk, Bhante Punnaji, also in Malaysia. His advice was to ‘study the suttas directly and to let go of relying on commentaries like the Visuddhi Magga'. Specifically he said, ‘Read only the suttas, then practice'. This was very significant because the commentaries were influencing how he was seeing the entirety of the Dhamma, at the time. It was suggested to put them aside while he studied the suttas as a standalone system. Nanavira in the early sixties, suggested this and then Stephen Batchelor also talked about just using only the suttas in his book "A Buddhist Atheist".

When Bhante began to do this, he discovered first hand, the interwoven nature of the Teachings. In each sutta he found the elements of the 4 Noble Truths, the 8-Fold Path, and the impersonal process of Dependent Origination. Dependent Origination or Paticcasamupada is the core of the Buddha's teachings. He realized that the word sutta literally meant "thread" and that the threads together, created a finely woven cloth, whereas, one single thread does not equal a cloth! Through his own objective first hand experience, the 8-Fold Path began to come alive. When he realized the secret of the teachings was on his doorstep he took the Majjhima Nikaya to a cave in Thailand and spent 3 months, living with a cobra as company, reading and then practicing just what the suttas said. In very little time, he said, he had gone deeper in his meditation, than ever before. What started as two weeks to study suttas turned into three months of deep practice. Out of this was born TWIM or Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation completely based on the suttas in the Majjhima Nikaya. He found the Jhanas had an entirely different explanation and experience. Nibbana was possible!


The quote "Never argue with Sayadaw. He simply can’t tolerate it." seems to me to add credibility to what Bhante V. is saying.


https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/21393142#_19_message_21403988

Jim Smith:
J C:
Well, U Pandita had forgiveness covered - if you read on, Kenneth saw the error of his ways and U Pandita forgave him!

That sounds like marketing copy - I'm skeptical that a machine could give you the equivalent of decades of meditation in a week.

As far as "nothing anyone says or does bothers you and no negativity can touch you" - that's an ideal that is not possible for a human being, and the attempt to emulate it leads to repression and shadow sides.

Besides, how do you know U Pandita was bothered by it? Maybe he just thought being "frosty" was the appropriate response. Maybe Kenneth was actually being rude and disrespectful. We only have one side of the story.

Even if nothing bothered you, that doesn't necessarily mean you'd always react in a super nice loving way. Maybe sometimes it's appropriate to throw tables around and smite fig trees like Jesus, or chop off students' fingers or hit them with sticks like Zen monks.


I think the quote: "Never argue with Sayadaw. He simply can’t tolerate it." is self evident.

But I could be biased because I also read this in the same web page: 

"My teacher there was the famous and cantankerous Sayadaw U Pandita, "

and this:

"Sayadaw U Pandita was living proof that this was not so; he displayed the whole range of emotion. Although he could at times be loving, kind, and supportive, more often he appeared angry, irritated, cutting and sarcastic. In short, he was a mean old man."


aloha jim,

    Perhaps communication across cultures is less than perfect, especally when one comes from a different culture and language and then confidently interprets behavior in terms which seem familiar, though the behavior attempted to be interpreted may in fact be stylized and idiomatic, in a context deeply unfamiliar. What could be tediously explained to the flow of aspirants who expect to be spoonfed (they are making donations, after all) may get short shrift. This happens in sufi groups all the time, not to mention freshman science classes, where the students have failed to do elementary homework and ask questions which can best be responded to by silence, dismissal, or if persistent, impersonal contempt.

   If a psychology student, say, wanders into a chemistry cless and starts asking why the over-dependence on symbols, etc, they would be asked to leave and eventually ejected. Not out of prejudice or disagreement, but simply because they didn't understand and were not beginning to acquire that understanding in the right place and at the right time by interrupting ongoing classes. Classes not so much advanced but at least having established their abc's, and not just blabbing bar-bar-bar.


terry




from "fihi ma fihi," rumi, trans arberry:


A king has in his realm prisons and gallows, robes of honor and wealth, estates and attendants in waiting, feasting and celebration, drums and flags. In relation to the king all these things are good. Just as robes of honor are the perfect flourish for his kingdom, in the same way gallows and prisons are perfect ornaments. In relation to him all these things are perfect, but in relation to his people how could robes of honor and the gallows be one and the same?




from "cultivating the empty field, the silent illumination of zen master hongzhi," trans leighton:

https://terebess.hu/zen/Hongzhi-Cultivating.pdf



p26

In Hongzhi's teching of ultimate nondualistic illumination
even these illusory screens of ignorance we ourselves create are not
outside the field of buddha nature. It may feel to us as if the release
from suffering must involve immeasurable effort and hard work. But
from the point of view of awakened mind which Hongzhi expresses,
all the hindrances in our lives are themselves simply the manifestations
of the luminous field of truth, which we have the opportunity
to illuminate and shed in ongoing awakening:

Directly arriving here you will be able to recognize the mind
ground dharma field that is the root source of the ten thousand
forms germinating with unwithered fertility. These
flowers and leaves are the whole world. So we are told that a
single seed is an uncultivated field. Do not weed out the new
shoots and the self will flower.

Hongzhi encourages our self-reliant and indestructible inherent
understanding. He offers abundant examples, through images from
the natural world around us, of our innate familiarity with the workings
of clear awareness and of the ease and simplicity of its expression:

People of the way journey through the world responding to
conditions, carefree and without restraint. Like clouds finally raining,
like moonlight following the current, like orchids
growing in shade, like spring arising in everything, they act
without mind, they respond with certainty.
thumbnail
terry, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
Lucas:

First time poster here, I've been following the forum for a while, so I'd like to thank the community and Daniel for this space. I was a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition, and recently, for several reasons, I disrrobed.

I do not want to go into too many details or name names, but after spending over a year as a monk in Thailand and then Malaysia, I began to seriously doubt the possibility of adapting Theravada monasticism in the west. When I speak of adapting monasticism to the west, I am not only talking about establishing monasteries with Thai or Sinhalese financiers, but creating communities that harmonize dhamma / Vinaya with typically western values: democracy, gender equality, pragmatism, rationalism.

Among others, these are some characteristics of monasticism which, in my view, make it incompatible with Western values:

Inability to discuss experience in immediate, phenomenological, terms.
Everything is filtered under ideological lens. I know, this is common in all sorts of discussions, but in the case of monks the map is internalized with a hierarchical structure to which they identify, in this way, any meditative experience contrary to the model (not to mention a criticism) is seen as a personal attack, a transgression of territory. And I'm not talking about discussions about what is jhanna, how are the stages of progression of insight or something like that, just that if a lay person or junior monk describes experiences not shared by a senior monk, the tendency is that you will not really be heard and will probably be labeled in a pejorative way (after all, non-circumscribed experience is conceptually dangerous, causes anxiety).

Lack of openness to information feedbacks
. The hierarchical model by itself is not a bad thing and, I believe, necessary in a monastic organization (I can, and would like, to be extremely wrong at this point). After all, the presumption that people with more experience in the monastic life are in a better position to give advice and make decisions for the community seems to me to be a valid generalization. Also, at the end of the day, it is extremely complicated and tiring to submit absolutely everything to public forum.
However, in monastic circles, this hierarchy, in terms of information flow, is extremely unilateral. In other words, those who observe and make decisions are up, observing and ordering those who are down.
The biggest problem, from what I have been able to experience, is that many of these Ajahns are never directly questioned, and when they do, react extremely badly to it. After spending years, decades, with people literally kneeling and washing their feet, they unlearn to listen. They are extremely compassionate and humble as long as everything and everyone are in its proper place, but as soon as things go out of the order expected ... it is common to see them react with much less composure and social ability than a normal person. In fact, this was something that shocked me: how common is it for experienced monks not to have the least social skills, a lot of them: cannot deal with difficult situations or people; see small actions as offenses; and have years of grudge against each other.
I do not even want to start writing about the most futile motives for which I have ever seen monks discussing, it is enough to say that things that can pass by unnoticed in the lay life are causes for irreversible personal offenses that cause years of rancor for some monastics.
It seems to me that the lack of more immediate concrete concerns leads many monks to extremes of neurotic behavior and futile concerns.

Structural closure for material and political reasons that are never admitted
: I refer to cases where monastic traditions cannot adapt to egalitarian values ​​(be it gender, monks and lay persons, etc.) because the culture of their supporters is opposed to this. A striking example is the Ajahn Cha tradition and the ordination of bikkhunis. They act as if there really was an argument to be made, but the truth is they just cannot do it. In Thailand, ordaining a woman is a crime, and they simply refuse to admit that the fact that they depend on a military dictatorship to keep their religious stauts informs their decision on the matter.

Having said that, I must also say that if this tradition did not exist I would not have had the opportunity to learn to meditate and would not have gone through some of the most important and pleasurable experiences of my life. My intention is not to criticize everything about Theravada monasticism, but to think of ways of reconciling that tradition with the values ​​of the West.
I am curious about other people's point of view, or just stories about contact with monks and monasteries.
 


   I'm wondering if you will be a second time poster. Your experience could be very valuable to the sangha.

   I'd like to hear more about how the insights you have no doubt gained might apply to our practices.

   My contribution to monasticism is an adaptation of a thoreau-like practice of "voluntary poverty" (thoreau's term). I know from my hippie days that it is easy to live a perfectly middle class life, or nearly, on a poverty basis (with a little help from your friends). And more healthy for both the individual and the environment. A brick on the middle way.

   How would you adapt theravadan monasticism to the west? Surely you have some positive ideas?

   What goals might be achieved? What is the state of western culture that theravadan values might penetrate and elevate?


mahalos,
terry





https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_6aaH2gtIg
thumbnail
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 5375 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
terry:
Lucas:

First time poster here, I've been following the forum for a while, so I'd like to thank the community and Daniel for this space. I was a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition, and recently, for several reasons, I disrrobed.

I do not want to go into too many details or name names, but after spending over a year as a monk in Thailand and then Malaysia, I began to seriously doubt the possibility of adapting Theravada monasticism in the west. When I speak of adapting monasticism to the west, I am not only talking about establishing monasteries with Thai or Sinhalese financiers, but creating communities that harmonize dhamma / Vinaya with typically western values: democracy, gender equality, pragmatism, rationalism.

Among others, these are some characteristics of monasticism which, in my view, make it incompatible with Western values:

Inability to discuss experience in immediate, phenomenological, terms.
Everything is filtered under ideological lens. I know, this is common in all sorts of discussions, but in the case of monks the map is internalized with a hierarchical structure to which they identify, in this way, any meditative experience contrary to the model (not to mention a criticism) is seen as a personal attack, a transgression of territory. And I'm not talking about discussions about what is jhanna, how are the stages of progression of insight or something like that, just that if a lay person or junior monk describes experiences not shared by a senior monk, the tendency is that you will not really be heard and will probably be labeled in a pejorative way (after all, non-circumscribed experience is conceptually dangerous, causes anxiety).

Lack of openness to information feedbacks
. The hierarchical model by itself is not a bad thing and, I believe, necessary in a monastic organization (I can, and would like, to be extremely wrong at this point). After all, the presumption that people with more experience in the monastic life are in a better position to give advice and make decisions for the community seems to me to be a valid generalization. Also, at the end of the day, it is extremely complicated and tiring to submit absolutely everything to public forum.
However, in monastic circles, this hierarchy, in terms of information flow, is extremely unilateral. In other words, those who observe and make decisions are up, observing and ordering those who are down.
The biggest problem, from what I have been able to experience, is that many of these Ajahns are never directly questioned, and when they do, react extremely badly to it. After spending years, decades, with people literally kneeling and washing their feet, they unlearn to listen. They are extremely compassionate and humble as long as everything and everyone are in its proper place, but as soon as things go out of the order expected ... it is common to see them react with much less composure and social ability than a normal person. In fact, this was something that shocked me: how common is it for experienced monks not to have the least social skills, a lot of them: cannot deal with difficult situations or people; see small actions as offenses; and have years of grudge against each other.
I do not even want to start writing about the most futile motives for which I have ever seen monks discussing, it is enough to say that things that can pass by unnoticed in the lay life are causes for irreversible personal offenses that cause years of rancor for some monastics.
It seems to me that the lack of more immediate concrete concerns leads many monks to extremes of neurotic behavior and futile concerns.

Structural closure for material and political reasons that are never admitted
: I refer to cases where monastic traditions cannot adapt to egalitarian values ​​(be it gender, monks and lay persons, etc.) because the culture of their supporters is opposed to this. A striking example is the Ajahn Cha tradition and the ordination of bikkhunis. They act as if there really was an argument to be made, but the truth is they just cannot do it. In Thailand, ordaining a woman is a crime, and they simply refuse to admit that the fact that they depend on a military dictatorship to keep their religious stauts informs their decision on the matter.

Having said that, I must also say that if this tradition did not exist I would not have had the opportunity to learn to meditate and would not have gone through some of the most important and pleasurable experiences of my life. My intention is not to criticize everything about Theravada monasticism, but to think of ways of reconciling that tradition with the values ​​of the West.
I am curious about other people's point of view, or just stories about contact with monks and monasteries.
 


   I'm wondering if you will be a second time poster. Your experience could be very valuable to the sangha.

   I'd like to hear more about how the insights you have no doubt gained might apply to our practices.

   My contribution to monasticism is an adaptation of a thoreau-like practice of "voluntary poverty" (thoreau's term). I know from my hippie days that it is easy to live a perfectly middle class life, or nearly, on a poverty basis (with a little help from your friends). And more healthy for both the individual and the environment. A brick on the middle way.

   How would you adapt theravadan monasticism to the west? Surely you have some positive ideas?

   What goals might be achieved? What is the state of western culture that theravadan values might penetrate and elevate?


This!

I would be very interested in hearing more from you, Lucas. I hope you'll feel welcome here. Please know that the insults from Nicky are not representative to this forum. I so hope they didn't scare you away. 
charon, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Theravada monasticism and western values

Posts: 36 Join Date: 11/24/10 Recent Posts
 
Just as something else to consider alongside your really interesting observations (I'd also love to hear more!) about Theravada monasticism, and in particular SE-Asian/Thai culture and society, is that it's extremely and pervasively hierarchical in general (which I’m sure you’re well aware of, but perhaps other readers may be less so).
 
All the issues you mentioned, I also observed in their schools while working there (or as similar as you can get in the context). Very often I would speak to younger Thai teachers who would get really upset/frustrated when dealing with other senior teachers (so, anyone older than them, not only in a senior position) when they knew they were right, but had to continue doing something wrong, or felt unable to even speak up, due to their social hierarchy.   
 
Although, I should imagine that these hierarchical pressures are truly magnified in the monastic setting!
 
It’s interesting to think about how the factors of Buddhism and the ‘external society’ shaped each other into what they are now (very difficult to properly untangle I’d have thought).  
 
I suspect it was probably the same, or similar enough in Europe until our cultures really shifted towards individualism.

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