Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Discuss your personal experience with the Dharma here. How has it enriched your life? What challenges does it present?

Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby undefineable » Thu Sep 12, 2013 11:18 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Let me clarify: I don't consider it fanatical for taking the flat- it is a smart move. I might well do the same in his situation!
I meant to suggest that a 'Vinaya Fanatic' would refuse the flat *if* legal codes including the Vinaya were able to be comprehensive enough to contain no loopholes.
JKhedrup wrote:What I considered fanatical was not using bus tickets for example, because he sees this as violating the precept for not touching money.
Since a bus ticket is bought with money rather than being money in itself, I'm not sure why the monk in question aplplied the 'no touching money' rule to it.
JKhedrup wrote:But- well, I do believe there is merit to keeping the discipline down to the letter. It is just REALLY difficult in a modern context and could produce many obstacles to being able to serve others.
As well as many ways of wasting others' resources on things other than necessities (accompanying one on buses for example).
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Fri Sep 13, 2013 2:39 am

JKhedrup wrote:If this is really the case there is less to be concerned about. I know of one very strict Theravada Bhikkhu, you could almost say a Vinaya fundamentalist (he refuses to use bus tickets, for example- a layperson must submit the ticket to the driver for him), who is regarded pretty much as homeless by the UK government so he is given a flat, but of course due to his vows does not take any money. Lay people bring him food from time to time which he keeps only for the allowable period.


Being provided a flat and welfare services by a more or less secular state and society is not going to earn much respect from people. It is your right as a citizen to those services, sure, but they are not given as dana, so I believe it unwise to receive such things.

There's also the fact, to be honest, that if you're more Buddhist than the Sangharaja, your fellow sangha members will probably avoid you like the plague.

"That guy is just too orthodox."

A lot of western bhikkhus, I've noticed, try to uphold the Vinaya in a way that the majority of Theravada monks find problematic. Ajahn Brahm is a solid teacher, but his conduct would actually be qualified as unusual in most Theravada societies. Most monks do in fact use money for example, which he expressly forbids to the point he said he doesn't personally accept cheques from devotees wanting to make a donation. He makes it sound like all monks behave like this, but in reality it is just a very small minority.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Fri Sep 13, 2013 8:18 am

A lot of western bhikkhus, I've noticed, try to uphold the Vinaya in a way that the majority of Theravada monks find problematic. Ajahn Brahm is a solid teacher, but his conduct would actually be qualified as unusual in most Theravada societies. Most monks do in fact use money for example, which he expressly forbids to the point he said he doesn't personally accept cheques from devotees wanting to make a donation. He makes it sound like all monks behave like this, but in reality it is just a very small minority.


Yes especially the Western Bhikkhus in what is known as the Ajahn Chah tradition, are very strict about these types of vows. Some of them will, for example, refuse to recite Praktimokkha and perform other Sanghakammas with monks who have what they euphemistically refer to as a "different standard". But it is not just Westerners, the Thai members of the Mahanikaya Ajahn Chah order as well as the Dhammayuttika Nikaya Ajahn Ajahn Mun order are also very strict. Though of course, as a rule the majority of Thai and Theravada monks are not so strict. AFAIK, in Burma and Sri Lanka there are also fraternities of strict Vinaya purists, but the vast majority of monks would handle money especially if they had to travel.

The type of Westerner who tends to be attracted to the Forest Tradition seeks as close to the "original teaching of Buddha and lifestyle of the Sangha" as possible. So such a person will be attracted to communities with an austere Vinaya code- which means that the "flavour" of Western Theravada monasticism is more austere than the Asian flavour, as the monks in those countries are born into the religion and do not have perhaps the same enthusiasm for strictness that you find in many who are converts.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Indrajala » Fri Sep 13, 2013 8:54 am

JKhedrup wrote:Yes especially the Western Bhikkhus in what is known as the Ajahn Chah tradition, are very strict about these types of vows.


I've come to think it isn't really the best system. I don't think it ever was historically. However, this sort of approach to precepts and discipline is almost mainstream in western Theravada it seems. Over at Dhammawheel I noticed how much hostility I received when I suggested monks might as well eat after noon if they've got a cook or people are willing to take them out for dinner (or, heaven forbid, they cook for themselves and have a fridge full of food).

Nevertheless, most monks I know of any stripe or color eat after noon, and it probably makes them more valuable members of their community to be able to sit down and have dinner with people and be their down-to-earth friend.


The type of Westerner who tends to be attracted to the Forest Tradition seeks as close to the "original teaching of Buddha and lifestyle of the Sangha" as possible.


The problem is they make it look like ALL monks are or should be behaving like this. It is quite divorced from the reality as we know.

The Theravada that is largely known in the west is austere and scholarly, but on the ground in Asia it is often a lot of magic and relaxed rules, especially in Thailand. These are seen as degenerate specimens of Buddhism, perhaps, but nevertheless they make up the majority of monks probably.

So the Vinaya fundamentalists get to think of themselves as the righteous minority. The final pillar of True Buddhadharma in this dark age of ours.

That's a nice narrative, but it ignores the fact it has always been like this. The reason we have so much Vinaya literature and regulations is because historically people haven't behaved like angels, and that's fine in my opinion. The firmest and tallest of trees will fall in the windstorm, yet the grass bends and is never destroyed.

Contrary to what they might think, the Vinaya fundamentalists might actually be hurting their own long-term prospects as they become increasingly alienated from the flawed masses of common people who pay the rent and bring the bacon to the monastery, so to speak.

Isn't it odd how despite all the Vinaya revivalism in Asia, a lot of these countries have statistically fewer and fewer people identifying as Buddhist? Meanwhile the numbers of monks falls rapidly...

Nuns are a different matter of course.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Fri Sep 13, 2013 11:05 am

:good:
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby kalzang » Wed Apr 09, 2014 5:15 pm

Interesting back-and-forth here, thank you all very much. A whole range of personal, social, financial, cultural, doctrinal etc. preferences and experiences factor into this, clearly. Aren't we basically talking about crowdfunding, though?

Acknowledging JKhedrup's strategy (born of necessity) of adding practical value to society (in his case translating) in return for support, I find it regrettable that westerners in general will only commit to sponsoring monasticism conditionally, i.e. in return for a valued service that can be quantified and put into an annual report. I feel a strong resistance to the notion of added value when it comes to a monastic commitment.

We could (like kirtu suggested, if I remember correctly) contrive a type of volunteer-managed (or user-managed) public database/announcement board for monastics in the West, much like some monastery websites publish a wish list of items. Something like gofundme.com, but without the paypal and publisher's commissions, exclusively for Buddhist monasteries and individual monastics (like Indrajala). One template, 5 pictures max, and a list of items/needs with a suggested offering, whatever.

Yes, this could lead to a horrible PR battle for attention, but let's let the system regulate itself, shall we? That's how crowdfunding (and couchsurfing and the like) works, and that's how people (i.e. potential sponsors) work as well. Part of the problem of not finding sponsors might be exactly that: not finding or being found by them, rather than people being unwilling to sponsor. So what if sponsors prefer to support a monastery of their own ethnicity? So what if celebs like Pema Chödron and Sogyal Rinpoche get more hits? As long as monastics in the West don't have to worry about the 4 requisites and can focus on their practice, right?

As a personal update: I have connected with Sravasti Abbey (USA) and will be staying for about 10 weeks this summer to meet the community and examine my monastic aspiration together. I have been able to raise just enough funds for the trip and some dana, and will take it from there. Feel free to be happy for me!
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Apr 09, 2014 5:36 pm

Enjoy your stay and please do share your experienceat Sravasti with us when you get back home.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby kalzang » Wed Apr 09, 2014 6:24 pm

Will do! :namaste:
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 10, 2014 2:50 am

kalzang wrote:As a personal update: I have connected with Sravasti Abbey (USA) and will be staying for about 10 weeks this summer to meet the community and examine my monastic aspiration together. I have been able to raise just enough funds for the trip and some dana, and will take it from there. Feel free to be happy for me!


Good for you. Please say "Namaste" to Ven. Chodron from me. :namaste:

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Apr 10, 2014 5:18 am

In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Location: the Netherlands and India

Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Andrew108 » Thu Apr 10, 2014 11:32 am

My own opinion, is that these days it is best to ordain in the Theravada tradition. Especially if you live in the West.
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Thu Apr 10, 2014 11:42 am

Andrew108 wrote:My own opinion, is that these days it is best to ordain in the Theravada tradition. Especially if you live in the West.


Why do you say that?
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Andrew108 » Thu Apr 10, 2014 11:55 am

More support from the laity. Although there are quite a few problems with ordination in general, I think the Theravada tradition gives one most exposure to the Vinaya teachings.
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Apr 10, 2014 12:05 pm

I would agree, if one has no strong inclination towards Tibetan Buddhism, and one's primary interesr is in monastic life, ordain in Theravada- if you are male.

For women, Chinese and Korean Buddhism have more opportunities. Unfortunately it is often very difficult fir Western people to adjust to the very regimented form of life that is the norm in those traditions. City of Ten Thousand Buddhas would probably be my best suggestion, or Plum Village.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
JKhedrup
 
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Location: the Netherlands and India

Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby kirtu » Thu Apr 10, 2014 4:35 pm

I am personally interested in long-term anagarika ordination but this does not appear to be an option in Tibetan Buddhism (although is an option on a daily basis).

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Apr 10, 2014 5:08 pm

It is possible, including lifelibg celibacy. I know of two people who received those vows.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
JKhedrup
 
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Fri Apr 11, 2014 3:10 am

kirtu wrote:I am personally interested in long-term anagarika ordination but this does not appear to be an option in Tibetan Buddhism (although is an option on a daily basis).

Kirt


Go for it! :namaste:
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Fri Apr 11, 2014 3:12 am

Andrew108 wrote:My own opinion, is that these days it is best to ordain in the Theravada tradition. Especially if you live in the West.


Andrew108 wrote:More support from the laity. Although there are quite a few problems with ordination in general, I think the Theravada tradition gives one most exposure to the Vinaya teachings.


Plenty of support from the Taiwanese / Chinese community over here. :smile:

I also feel that very good progress has been made on a lifestyle for celibate clergy living in the 21st century, based on Vinaya and classic Chinese monastic systems, but also quite modern at the same time.

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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Zhen Li » Fri Apr 11, 2014 4:00 am

Venerable, could you possibly elaborate on what you mean by:
I also feel that very good progress has been made on a lifestyle for celibate clergy living in the 21st century, based on Vinaya and classic Chinese monastic systems, but also quite modern at the same time.

?
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Re: Ordaining as a monk or nun in the west

Postby Huifeng » Fri Apr 11, 2014 4:09 am

Zhen Li wrote:Venerable, could you possibly elaborate on what you mean by:
I also feel that very good progress has been made on a lifestyle for celibate clergy living in the 21st century, based on Vinaya and classic Chinese monastic systems, but also quite modern at the same time.

?
:anjali:


Well, it seems to me that at times there is something of a bipolar attitude toward sangha lifestyle. On one extreme, the idea that the Vinaya must be preserved in its pristine purity, without anything changed; but on the other extreme, the idea that the idea of a celibate clergy is completely outdated and should be basically abandoned. There are also strong conservative vs progressive underpinnings to both of these positions, too Now, I definitely do not mean to imply that everyone discussing this topic fits only into one of these two extremes. No, not at all, but these attitudes do seem to be there, nonetheless.

However, from my experience of several communities in Taiwan, it is quite possible to maintain the essentials of the Vinaya for an active and vibrant sangha community; but also allowing for the fact that modern monastics fill face issues that simply did not exist in the Buddha's time, and hence no allowances or considerations are made for in the Vinaya. eg. getting on a bus and paying for a bus ticket. In particular, when living in societies and cultures which do not have the same basic attitude towards religious mendicants as was found in Magadha / Kosala circa 4-5th centuries BCE.

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