Huseng, thank you for posting your essay on Saicho's monastic reforms. I've read it twice but need another go at it though. I've heard a few times that the laws enacted by the govt. on Buddhist monks was the intent of Saicho's reforms...but I've doubted this. The little info I've read on Saicho didn't seem to draw him strongly as a drinking sake every night, meat eating, married, raising a family and building a secular career type of practitioner. Not the picture of a householder really.
Saichō was a renunciate and in his mind the Brahma Net Sūtra
梵網經 represented the role a bodhisattva renunciate should fulfill. That meant being celibate and refraining from alcohol and other such desire-driven activities.
It is only since the 19th century that Japanese monks formally dropped the role of being celibate renunciates and became a married priesthood. It would be anachronistic to judge Saichō by contemporary Japanese Buddhism.
Today if you take the Brahma Net Sūtra
bodhisattva precepts the precept against sex is understood as refraining from sexual misconduct, and not celibacy. Originally it meant celibacy and as far as I know and have read all classical East Asian Buddhist authors understood the precept as meaning complete celibacy. However, in the present day this is not the case.
From your essay it seems the intent of the reform was to do away with a structure that could lead into fixation over rules and personal liberation... but not really to do away with the overall function of the vinaya- rather explicitly turning it into a support for the bodhisattva vows once they were stable?
Saichō did not reject the Vinaya, but thought of it as secondary for bodhisattva renunciates. Part of his problem was that the Vinaya ordinations were monopolized by what seems to have been a corrupt institution and thus he sought to forge ahead with his own ordination track program at Mt. Hiei. His idea was that the Vinaya ordination would come last, though we can assume that was more for bureaucratic and inter-school relations more than anything else.
The Brahma Net Sūtra
is actually a digested form of the Vinaya. It includes the primary Vinaya precepts without the numerous other culture-specific precepts. It also does not call for various clerical procedures.
In China and East Asia the Vinaya was seldom ever really taken seriously. There were special schools that studied it and presumably practiced it as well, though that was a small group of people. Also the formal karma
proceedings for the sangha which are outlined in the Vinaya literature were seldom if ever carried out in China. There were a lot of parts of the Vinaya that were simply not carried out in East Asia like the śikṣamāṇā ordination (between being a novice and full bhikṣuṇī women ordinands are supposed to be a śikṣamāṇā for two years to ensure they are not pregnant).
I suspect in Saichō's time the obvious differences between the prescribed lifestyle and reality would have made people ponder whether Vinaya ordinations were really necessary or not, especially given how more culturally appropriate the Brahma Net Sūtra
bodhisattva precepts are.
I'd imagine after 12 years of practice of the Bodhisattva vows a person would be stable enough in their self discipline to not need a handbook to turn to on 'what is mindful and appropriate for a renunciate and what is not'.
I think that's an ideal, though in reality it has often been that as a monk it was just understood you remain celibate, keep your head shaved, don't drink and generally behave yourself. The lack of discipline has often been a contentious point even to the modern age.
You also need to understand that in Japan the monastics acted as government agents and part of their job description entailed getting a Vinaya ordination. That just meant going through the motions rather than learning it for spiritual cultivation. Again, I'm inclined to think Saichō was well aware of this.
Since the major rules of vinaya match the Bodhisattva vows fairly close...and assuming Hiei had some form of standards and other house rules...taking on vinaya training would be a bit of a shoe in and just done as a formality. So they know how act with other groups and can receive the same respect by the Buddhist community at large. Am I close on my understanding of your article?
Mt. Hiei would have been a disciplined environment. To what extent monks in Nara and Kyoto studied the Vinaya I don't know. In a cloistered mountain environment you would have had little room to slack off or behave indecently. Probably a lack of womenfolk helped in that regard.
I always associate the term buddhist monk with someone who chooses a celibate lifestyle and does not drink/kill/steal/lie while engaging in a religious lifestyle and trying to live to a high standard of personal behavior.
Throughout history and today though becoming a monk wasn't always a personal decision. Being placed in a monastery at a young age is still common in Tibetan and Theravadin communities. Up until a generation ago it was common with Chinese Buddhists as well. Child novices were the norm, though not anymore. Now you graduate highschool before ever being considered for seminary. Historically becoming a monk in Japan, especially in the Nara and Heian periods, was a government position in many cases. There was a wing of the state bureaucracy operated by monks.
If bhikshus were to exist now in Japanese Buddhism could you from your studies paint a picture of a fictional bhikshu practicing today under Saicho's reforms?
Of course. Celibacy, sobriety and behaving yourself were part of his original program. If you followed all the rules laid out in the Brahma Net Sūtra
you'd be a renunciate monk, plus vegetarian to boot.
What could that look like given the current situation of Tendai and culture?
I don't know enough about present day Tendai, but they're married and celibacy is optional. Having celibate monks and married priests together leads to problems like in Korea.
Since this resolution didn't happen in Japan and the vinaya was dropped completely- what would be a way for it be practiced within Tendai today if it were revived in some form?
Try getting a senior well-established hierarchy to divorce their wives or discourage their sons from ever getting married.
I don't think it'd work. Part of how Japanese Buddhism survives is that sons inherit their positions. If it wasn't for that almost nobody would sign up for the job. Buddhism is irrelevant to Japan today. It is a fossil that few care about unfortunately.