What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

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

What do you really think of monks and nuns in the West (an anonymous survey)

I think they are crucial for the establishment of the Buddhadharma here, and have had good experiences
58
62%
I think they are crucial for the establishment of the Buddhadharma here, even though I have had mostly bad experiences
3
3%
I don't have an opinion one way or the other
7
7%
I don't think they are necessary, because the dharma can be transmitted without monastics
14
15%
I just don't think that Westerners are interested in supporting monasticism financially
12
13%
 
Total votes : 94

What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:11 pm

I am interested in people's real opinions. But not a flame war.
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A wise man keeps them secret within.
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But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:22 pm

The most neurotic Buddhists I have ever met were monks and nuns.


This quote from Namdrol got me thinking- Western Sangha really have to be aware of how we are perceived, it is a necessary discussion. For true monasticism, where monks and nuns can practice single pointedly, some confidence and support from the lay community is required.

We cannot simply pretend that there is not a problem if we ever hope to get this way of life going here.

Sometimes, though, I feel that my robes actually get some Western Buddhists making negative assumptions about me despite not even knowing me. Usually, in Western Buddhist settings with people who don't know me, I am either ignored or regarded with suspicion, when they find out I do translation work then people are a little more interested in speaking to me.

In one Western Vajrayana centre (won't say where or which country) despite the Lama welcoming me the Western lay students were down right hostile.

In Asia, on the other hand, people without knowing me always approach with a friendly offer of help and hello.
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A wise man keeps them secret within.
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But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Nosta » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:26 pm

Honestly I cant answer because I dont know almost any western monks.

But, for example, the leader of the Buddhist Portuguese Society (in my country) does not emanate the same kind and compassionate look and smile that you see in eastern masters. He looks like to much rigid, to much serious and even bored lol. I dont think thats good for the sake of Dharma.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Malcolm » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:33 pm

JKhedrup wrote:
The most neurotic Buddhists I have ever met were monks and nuns.

For true monasticism, where monks and nuns can practice single pointedly, some confidence and support from the lay community is required.


And of what benefit is this to us? Why is having a monastic sangha a desiderata?

We cannot simply pretend that there is not a problem if we ever hope to get this way of life going here.


Give a good reason why supporting Western monks and nuns benefits lay people in the West?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:37 pm

Give a good reason why supporting Western monks and nuns benefits lay people in the West?


Well it depends. I mean, if one trains as a translator, of teachings or texts, can contribute to the running of the centre, becomes a qualified teacher, or serves the lay community, there can be very great benefit.

Malcolm please don't see this thread as an attack on you- I actually think you just say what many people might actually think but not verbalize.

My interest in this thread is mainly to see:

1)If there is any hope whatsoever or I should just throw in the towel, following this as my individual path and accepting that it just isn't going to happen in the West.

2)People are meeting a lot of Western monks and nuns who are not qualified or behave badly, but if the standards improved they might be interested in assisting sincere practitioners who have an affinity for the path of ordination.
Last edited by JKhedrup on Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:40 pm

Give a good reason why supporting Western monks and nuns benefits lay people in the West?


Take my situation. I translate at the centre and also do some cooking and other things for our two Geshes. I assist with organizing teaching tours and so forth.

Because I am a single monk I live very simply. I don't have a car, a girlfriend or kids to support. I don't draw an expensive salary. My lifestyle actually makes me more viable for the centre to support.

I know of several lay translators who do like to take a woman/man out on a date once in awhile. Several have children, who the centre has to offer appropriate accommodation for. In short, it works to the economic advantage of the centre to have a monk doing this job.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby gad rgyangs » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:41 pm

Malcolm wrote:Give a good reason why supporting Western monks and nuns benefits lay people in the West?


it may not benefit lay people, but it benefits the monks and nuns. I can think of worse places for people with too much money to spend it. Besides, chicks with shaved heads are sexy.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:45 pm

:rolling:

I want people to know I have no agenda, I just really want to know people's opinions. I am not one of those monks that feels the world owes him a favour and I should be supported merely because of my ordination.

From my side it would be nice if we could have some more monastic communities in the West, but if people are really not interested I wouldn't push it, and would move onto thinking about other projects.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Karma Dorje » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:48 pm

Malcolm wrote:
JKhedrup wrote:
The most neurotic Buddhists I have ever met were monks and nuns.

For true monasticism, where monks and nuns can practice single pointedly, some confidence and support from the lay community is required.


And of what benefit is this to us? Why is having a monastic sangha a desiderata?

We cannot simply pretend that there is not a problem if we ever hope to get this way of life going here.


Give a good reason why supporting Western monks and nuns benefits lay people in the West?


Monastics provide a field of merit for lay people who do not want to immerse themselves in the practice to practice generosity. Their conduct and example can inspire. A diversity of paths benefits the greatest number of beings.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Malcolm » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:00 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Well it depends. I mean, if one trains as a translator, of teachings or texts, can contribute to the running of the centre, becomes a qualified teacher, or serves the lay community, there can be very great benefit.


We don't need monks or nuns for this. I cannot see at all any valid reason why supporting an ordained person is better than supporting a lay person in the same role. I mean, it is not like westerners are running to monasteries to have rites recited to improve harvests, prevent frosts, etc. The context of supporting monastics to generate merit is lacking. This works in India because Indians in general support sadhus and other kinds of renunciates. It is a part of their culture. America and Northern Europe, the dominate places where there is interest outside of Asia in Buddhism are also Protestant countries. We don't like celibate priests much; we do not trust them culturally, and regard them with suspicion. And especially in Tibetan Buddhism there is a strong tradition of a trained laity who can carry out all the necessary religious roles which may be needed.

Quite frankly, most Buddhist learning is anachronistic -- the study of Abhidharma is great, but is deeply hampered by the medieval India culture that engendered it. The Prajñāparamita tradition is equally obscure and hard to make relevant. Even Madhyamaka is not so useful to most folks. "Why should I support this guy in studying such weird stuff that is not at all relevant to me?" -- this is the question that the monastic establishment must answer in the West.

There are basically four forms of Buddhism spreading in the West:

1) Psychological & Secular Buddhism ala Batchelor, etc.
2) Technological Buddhism i.e. Vajrayāna, Bon, Dzogchen etc.
3) Contemplative Buddhism i.e. Vipassana, Zen, etc.
4) Evangelical Buddhism i.e. Nicherin, Pure Land, etc.

While there are various crossovers between these four, none of these requires the basis of a monastic Sangha.

2)People are meeting a lot of Western monks and nuns who are not qualified or behave badly, but if the standards improved they might be interested in assisting sincere practitioners who have an affinity for the path of ordination.


Western Buddhists who supports monastics in Asia general do so because of the "cute" factor, or because they have a personal connection with a monastery or a monastic. But it possible because it is cheap.
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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he is said to be a ṛṣī; the others are the opposite of him."

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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Malcolm » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:01 pm

Karma Dorje wrote:
Monastics provide a field of merit for lay people who do not want to immerse themselves in the practice to practice generosity. Their conduct and example can inspire. A diversity of paths benefits the greatest number of beings.


Most people in the west who do not practice, are also not Buddhists, so they do not care.
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Norwegian » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:03 pm

I gave my vote for "I don't think they are necessary, because the dharma can be transmitted without monastics".

The Dharma can in fact be transmitted to anybody, and not just monastics. The more people that goes into the essence of the Dharma and tries to live and integrate that with themselves where they live as people, the more this will benefit them as individuals and the environment around them (people, animals, etc.). At least it should. People live in society, and society is what needs to improve. Monastics lives in monasteries. The crucial and important thing to change for the better is society, not monasteries - (although they too surely need to improve...)

So, I think it's a mistake to have the fantasy some people have, that only monastics are serious, or whatever. And I speak from experience, as twenty year old me about 14 years ago thought in order to be a "serious" Buddhist, you had to ordain as a monk and move to India or Nepal or something, shave your head, and get maroon robes, because only then could you really practice well. That is a serious misunderstanding to have, and I actually see this misunderstanding live on in so many people. And that misunderstanding is sort of like a gigantic wall that inhibits people from truly believing in themselves, that they can be very serious if they only want to. And thus they think that certain teachings are "too high" or "too advanced" for them, that if you live in the city, there'll surely be too much noise and whatever, that they cannot truly ever meditate, and so on, just a neverending loop of self-deprecating views.

Having said this, both lay people and monastics can and should contribute positively to the community and society. But are monastics necessary? Not really.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:04 pm

.
It is a part of their culture. America and Northern Europe, the dominate places where there is interest outside of Asia in Buddhism are also Protestant countries. We don't like celibate priests much; we do not trust them culturally, and regard them with suspicion


Soon California will be more Latino than WASP, same with states like Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Latinos generally have a strong Catholic background and affinity and so may be more welcoming to monks and nuns. I find this, for example, when I travel with Geshe la to Italy. The people really love to see monks, it makes them so happy. They couldn't care less if we were Catholic, Buddhist or Hare Krishna.

There is a slowly increasing interest in Buddhism from people of the South Asian community- and they generally prefer monks as teachers as it is a cultural form they are comfortable with. Same with Vietnamese, Filipino and other Asian backgrounds. As North America becomes increasingly multicultural your argument will hold less water, except maybe in states like Iowa, Utah etc.

Protestantism of the mainline variety is on the decline in North America. I think its influence is generally overstated. Protestatism of the charismatic/evangelical variety's influence is not so important as those shaped by it have little chance of developing interest in Buddhism.
Last edited by JKhedrup on Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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A straw floats on the surface of water,
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:07 pm

We don't need monks or nuns for this


But even according to the cold, hard capitalist view, it might be cheaper to have monastics do it, for reasons I mentioned above.

Having said this, both lay people and monastics can and should contribute positively to the community and society


Most of the Western monastics I know in FPMT, for example, are very involved with supporting our lay practitioners and communities. Many have roles in chaplaincy and teaching.
A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
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A straw floats on the surface of water,
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:26 pm

Hey not just religious people in robes are weird. Religious people in suits can be just as creepy. Anyone remember Tommy Davis?




A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
A wise man keeps them secret within.
A straw floats on the surface of water,
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Karma Dorje » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:29 pm

Malcolm wrote:America and Northern Europe, the dominate places where there is interest outside of Asia in Buddhism are also Protestant countries. We don't like celibate priests much; we do not trust them culturally, and regard them with suspicion. And especially in Tibetan Buddhism there is a strong tradition of a trained laity who can carry out all the necessary religious roles which may be needed.


What do you mean, "we", kemosabe? The US and Northern Europe are not homogeneous cultures. If anything there is a deep distrust of sexually active religious leaders. This is much more ingrained than in Tibetan or Bhutanese culture. There are huge Roman Catholic communities in the US, Canada and France and those teachers who have most captured the imagination of Westerners from these regions are all monks and nuns, whether it is HHDL, Karmapa, Tenzin Palmo or Pema Chodron. There are burgeoning South Asian and East Asian communities in many countries. For example, in the Greater Vancouver area here in Canada the three most popular last names are all Chinese. We don't need the whole society to support monasteries and institutions, just a few communities.

There is certainly room for both laity and an ordained sangha. Regardless, the communities which are formed have to have a small footprint, be sustainable or nearly sustainable outside of donations, etc. Frankly, the whole situation would change in an instant if there was a large endowment left for a western monastery. For now, most of the funds are going overseas.

While it is true that within the Nyingma and Sakya there are strong lay traditions, the same is not true of the Geluk and many of the Kagyu schools. Why would we want to discourage monasticism when there are practitioners that aspire to such conduct?
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Malcolm » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:32 pm

JKhedrup wrote:.
Protestantism of the mainline variety is on the decline in North America. I think its influence is generally overstated. Protestatism of the charismatic/evangelical variety's influence is not so important as those shaped by it have little chance of developing interest in Buddhism.


You completely missed my point -- as Latinos become americanized, they will also become Protestantized, and if they pick up yoga, Aryanized as well. It is not a religious thing, it is a cultural thing. And you might be surprised to learn this, but in Latin America, Protestantism is the fastest rising form of Christianity:

    Home to about eight per cent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics - more of the faithful than any country outside Brazil - Mexico has seen a slow but steady decline in people who self-identify with the faith. Currently about 82.7 per cent of Mexicans consider themselves Catholic, down from 88 per cent in 2000 and 96 per cent in 1970. Evangelical protestant denominations are believed responsible for much of the drop.

    "The Vatican is extremely concerned about competition with evangelicals," Daniel Levine, a professor at the University of Michigan who studies religious movements in Latin America, told Al Jazeera. "They are worried about losing their position as ‘the' spokesperson for religion and morality in the region. It is a big change from a generation ago."
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/featur ... 32334.html

In any event, in the US and in Northern Europe, you absorb the cultural morays if you want to get ahead.
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:35 pm

We don't need the whole society to support monasteries and institutions, just a few communities.


:twothumbsup:

Why would we want to discourage monasticism when there are practitioners that aspire to such conduct?


For the same reason people want to discourage people from Dzogchen without Ngondro, or Dzogchen with Ngondro, or Sutra vs. Tantra etc.

In generally, people think for some reason because something is not a good fit for them it cannot be suitable for anyone. Or that if something works better for them, it must be right for everyone.
A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
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A straw floats on the surface of water,
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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby seeker242 » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:36 pm

Western monks and nuns are an intrinsic part of the 3rd jewel of the 3 jewels! Sangha is called 3rd Jewel for a reason! A Sangha with no renunciates? What kind of sangha is that?! A one that is lacking IMO! I wish there were many more monks/nuns in the west!

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Re: What do you really think of Western monks and nuns?

Postby Malcolm » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:38 pm

Karma Dorje wrote:There are huge Roman Catholic communities in the US, Canada


Do you have any idea how much real estate the Vatican has for sale in the US? Or how much in decline the Catholic Church is in the US:

    Pope Benedict XVI, who announced Monday that he is stepping down from the papacy, has led the Roman Catholic Church during a time of turmoil and change for American Catholics. Nearly one-third of Americans who were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholics. Overall, American Catholic churches lost 5 percent of their membership during the last decade, and the decline would have been much steeper if not for the offsetting impact of Catholic immigrants from Latin America.

http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics ... m-20130211

Why would we want to discourage monasticism when there are practitioners that aspire to such conduct?


Well, step up and start funding Lama Tsewang out in Vancouver. Put your money where your mouth is. That is my challenge to all you advocates of monasticism in the west. If you want a monastic Sangha in the West, then pay for it.

M
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