Author Topic: Why are Monastics important in the modern world? Monastic vs Lay Sangha.  (Read 8366 times)

dsiluvu

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Found this rather interesting topic on whether having monastic sangha is important versus the growing likes and numbers of lay sangha that is happening. Well I do not think lay sangha are bad, it is like the next best thing if one cannot embrace the full on monastic way of life especially for those who already have a family. But I do agree that a monastic sangha definitely is better for sure because you can truly 100% focus on Dharma, but for those who can't lay is also okay and good... better then nothing and just wasting life with no Dharma at all. What do u guys think?


Why are Monastics important in the modern world?
Can't we just have a modern day 'Lay' Sangha?



The Tibetan community in exile is now well established in India, with many large monasteries, nunneries, free schools, hospitals, universities etc. They enjoy good support from Foreign Aid and some Indian Government subsidies. Under the skillful leadership of HH Dalai Lama, the Tibetan community in exile has flourished, although it’s problems are real and their loss is great. Approx 80% of Tibetan monastics in India have support. Buddhism is one of the fastest growing religions in the West. But 40 years after some of the first ‘Baby Boomer’ generation became Buddhist there is still little support and training for Western Buddhist monastics and few places where Lay Westerners can access the teachings of Buddhism under the ‘donation’ system the Buddha himself established.

Buddha said that the teachings of the previous Buddhas disappeared quickly because there was no Vinaya or code of ethics set down to preserve the teachings. He also said that when there was no one keeping the full Dharma Vinaya (.i.e. fully ordained monastics) there Dharma would quickly disappear. Even the Tantras mention that the most ideal practitioner of Tantra is a fully ordained Buddhist monastic. Of course there have been so many great Householder Yogis and Saints in Tibetan Buddhism, but to firmly establish Buddhism in any country, to master all the teachings, rich philosophy and meditative practice of Maha/Vajrayana Buddhism of takes 20 years of full time training. Many Householder Yogis have no time for this, being tied down with family and work commitments.


Monastic life offers a very real chance to have a deeply spiritual and meaningful life and to fully devote oneself to Dharma and the service of others without distraction in a world that is fast falling apart. It offers people a chance to have a ‘radical transformation of the heart’ and to live just as the Buddha lived. At the time of the Buddha people were also busy with work, trade, art, politics and economy, much as they are today. For people that wonder if monastic life is still relevant we might ask – is overcoming suffering still relevant?

Monastic life is very disciplined and not an easy life path. Often as lay people Westerners sponsor Tibetan and Himalayan monastics, but when they ordain they are refused admission into the very monasteries they sponsored because they are unable to speak or learn Tibetan language, live in crowded conditions within a Tibetan cultural context, obtain Visas or handle basic food and the intense schedule of a Tibetan monasteries. It’s not that Non-Himalayans are lazy, they just are unable to survive in that very challenging environment physically and culturally. They may find the ‘learn by rote’ system of studies not very meaningful. Tibetan Centres in the West function for lay people and are controlled largely by Tibetan Lamas who inevitably support their Himalayan disciples but seldom their Western ones.

The Buddha made it very clear that monastics should not work, what is the point of being a monastic if you’re engaging in business just like a Layperson? How does that help you to fully train and embody the Dharma and become an inspiring example of ‘the Dharma life well lived’? Traditionally it was the responsibility of the Master who ordained the student to train and support them, but unfortunately, this is now no longer happening as Centers in the West are lay based and often made on a business model. Monastic life is an all consuming and full time career worthy of support. We need to support all sincere monastics for Buddhism to flourish in the world, not just some who are already well supported and established.

Big Uncle

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This is a very interesting thread because it addresses the real issues that is plaguing Dharma centers around the world. Many Dharma centers are in cities which is located in the heart of distractions, vice and pure materialism. Therefore, such centers are usually run by lay students of a monk or a Lama. Many of these lay disciples will have their own preconceived notions about Dharma through their limited learning and only dedicate a small portion of their time towards the Dharma.

Hence, it is an uphill battle for teachers to break through and deliver the Dharma. Therefore, for any center to grow and expand, there must be at least a single Sangha member. And for real Dharma to take root in an area, more Sangha members must be ordained so that more dedicated Sangha members will dedicate their lives to the Dharma while holding sacred monastic vows that will bless their work. Sangha members live the Dharma and Dharma is not just a hobby or something we do when we are free. Hence, it takes real Sangha members that will make the Dharma grow.

dsiluvu

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This is a very interesting thread because it addresses the real issues that is plaguing Dharma centers around the world. Many Dharma centers are in cities which is located in the heart of distractions, vice and pure materialism. Therefore, such centers are usually run by lay students of a monk or a Lama. Many of these lay disciples will have their own preconceived notions about Dharma through their limited learning and only dedicate a small portion of their time towards the Dharma.

Hence, it is an uphill battle for teachers to break through and deliver the Dharma. Therefore, for any center to grow and expand, there must be at least a single Sangha member. And for real Dharma to take root in an area, more Sangha members must be ordained so that more dedicated Sangha members will dedicate their lives to the Dharma while holding sacred monastic vows that will bless their work. Sangha members live the Dharma and Dharma is not just a hobby or something we do when we are free. Hence, it takes real Sangha members that will make the Dharma grow.

Yup that is True what you say Big Uncle about having at least 1 or a few sangha members together with the lay practitioners because it will give the center some kind of basis or someone to look at as inspiration and aspiration to achieve. A Dharma center with no sangha can often go astray from the original core purpose unless the spiritual master is there. Why I say this is because I have experienced and personally heard so many stories of a center run by lay practitioner where somewhere along the way the motivation is forgotten and turned polluted which is very sad.

Klein

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This makes perfect sense. Even in the normal learning institutions such universities, we need experts who devote their entire life into studying specific topics in order to teach and uphold the knowledge. Without the faculty who would continue to do more research in their field of expertise, the knowledge will not be passed to future generations.

Look at universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and the Ivy League schools. They have been training students to become leaders in their fields of expertise. Many are very successful in their pursuits.

Likewise, it is important for people to be ordained and hold the vinaya vows so that Buddhism can continue for future generations. Otherwise, there'll be too much distractions for the practitioner to master the sutras and tantras, let alone teach others.


Tenzin K

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The Buddhist community includes monastics and lay people. Both are necessary for the preservation of Buddhism. However, monastics choose a life of vowed simplicity, a life directly related to the preservation and dissemination of the Dharma to benefit others. They are the core of that lifestyle that all Buddhist practitioners are committed to. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama notes, all Buddhist nuns have a unique role to play in the evolution of Buddhism where the universal principle of the equality of all human beings takes precedence.

The Origin of Buddhist Monasticism -
Why is it Necessary?
The Buddha ordained himself into the 'homeless life' by cutting off his hair and renouncing his wealth, family and claim to the throne in order to pursue the spiritual path full time. He ordained other followers as renunciates after his enlightenment. The prospective monastic would cut off their hair, renounce their worldly possessions and enter the community of 'Sangha' and practice dilligently to attain enlightenment.
Many householder Buddhists also made great progress on the spiritual path in the time of the Buddha, attaining enlightenment. But the Buddha said in order for the Dharma to last a long time, it was necessary to have monastics practicing full time keeping the full Dharma vinaya (the Buddhist code of ethics). The Vinaya is like a boat that preserves the Dharma. In the Pali Cannon, the Buddha stated that when no one is practicing the full Dharma Vinaya (i.e. fully ordained monks and nuns - Bhikshus and Bhikshunis), the Dharma would disappear. The sutras also state that a place where Buddhism flourishes must have fully ordained monastics. So it’s clear that from the very beginning, in order for Buddhism to last a long time, along with a strong lay householder community, there needs to be people practicing Dharma full time in the lifestyle and vows that the Buddha himself devised.

hope rainbow

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Yet a spiritual tradition like Islam does not have any monks at all, and thus no monasteries and yet that tradition is very strong and ongoing. Its "lay" practitioners do pray every day several times.

If a spiritual tradition like Islam can do without monks, then why is it necessary to Buddhism? (I am only asking for sake of debate)

And also this question: are the monks vows the aim of Buddhism?

Big Uncle

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Yet a spiritual tradition like Islam does not have any monks at all, and thus no monasteries and yet that tradition is very strong and ongoing. Its "lay" practitioners do pray every day several times.

If a spiritual tradition like Islam can do without monks, then why is it necessary to Buddhism? (I am only asking for sake of debate)

And also this question: are the monks vows the aim of Buddhism?

That's an interesting comparison and I think I have an answer for you. I think that the goals of Islam and the goals of Buddhism is very different. I can't say per se what the goals of a good muslim is but it shouldn't defer very much from the other monotheistic religions and that is to please god through worship and observance of the religious rules, I believe it is called the Hadith for the muslims. The emphasis is not so much as the transformation but on the observances of these rules.

Buddhism on the other hand is a transformative religion and it a tradition of practitioners who have incorporated the teachings into their very lives so that the teachings are alive in sincere practitioners and masters. These masters propagate the tradition in this manner and the goal is to become enlightened and not the observance of monastic rules or being a monk.

Because the subtleties of becoming enlightened requires a lot of effort to realize it and so, the best way of engaging it is to become a monk. It is not the only way but the one that comes with highest recommendation by the Buddha.

Positive Change

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Yet a spiritual tradition like Islam does not have any monks at all, and thus no monasteries and yet that tradition is very strong and ongoing. Its "lay" practitioners do pray every day several times.

If a spiritual tradition like Islam can do without monks, then why is it necessary to Buddhism? (I am only asking for sake of debate)

And also this question: are the monks vows the aim of Buddhism?

This is a most interesting question you posted here Hope Rainbow. Islam may not have the concepts of "monastics" per se, however, it is not an alien subject. Asceticism may be the term you're interested in. Asceticism existed during the time of the Buddha and is of one extreme. I'm pretty sure there's no brotherhoods, like Christians or Buddhists have, but the concept is in Islam. The Arabic word is zuhd.

I found an interesting article which describes the term which I found to be rather similar in some respects to what other religions that do embrace the concept of monastics:

Zuhd, (Arabic: “detachment”), in Islam is asceticism. Even though a Muslim is permitted to enjoy fully whatever unforbidden pleasure God bestows on him, Islam nevertheless encourages and praises those who shun luxury in favour of a simple and pious life. The Quran (Islamic scripture) is full of verses that remind believers that life is fleeting and the hereafter everlasting. It also holds in great esteem those “servants of God who pass the night prostrating themselves in the worship of their Lord”. There are students of Islam, however, who maintain that zuhd was influenced directly by the Christian hermits, with whom early Muslims had some familiarity. Some scholars also point to the pre-Islamic Arab ?anifs, who practiced the ascetic life and who may have had considerable influence on the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet himself spent long periods in solitary vigil, fasting and praying, even before his prophetic mission.

Zuhd developed in Islam as a result of the Muslim conquests, which brought with them material wealth and widespread indulgence in luxurious living. Religious Muslims reacted to this by calling for a return to the way of life of the Prophet and his pious Companions. The growth of the Islamic state had also brought with it bitter political disputes that pitted Muslim against Muslim in fierce struggles for power. The resulting bloodshed spurred men of religion to denounce such actions and to seek peace of mind in abstinence from all that distracts from the worship of God.

The terms zuhd and zahid (“ascetic”) were not used by pre-Islamic Arabs or by early Muslims to describe the elaborate and systematic ascetic doctrines that became characteristic of later periods, from the 8th century on. Among the earliest zahids was al-?asan al-Ba?r? (d. 728), whose sayings remained for a long time the chief guide of the ascetics. But it was not until after his death that zuhd became a significant and forceful movement in the religious and political life of the Muslim community. Many scholars have referred to Ibrahim ibn Adham and to his student and disciple Shaqiq al-Balkhi (d. 810) as the real founders of zuhd, as it became known in later periods. Ibn Adham stressed poverty and self-denial; indeed, he abandoned the wealth of his father and became a poor wanderer.

Because of the close ties among these pietists, the zahids are often regarded as being identical with the early Sufis, whose name, “wool-wearers,” points to the ascetic practice of wearing hair shirts. Later Sufis, however, dismiss the zahids as men who worship God not out of love but for fear of hell or expectation of paradise.

Asceticism, which literally means renouncing worldly pleasures and resisting carnal desires, is defined by Sufis as indifference to worldly appetites, living an austere life, choosing to refrain from sin in fear of God, and despising the world’s carnal and material aspects. Asceticism is also described as renouncing this world’s temporary ease and comfort for the sake of eternal happiness in the Hereafter. The first step in asceticism is the intention to avoid what has been forbidden and to engage only in what has been allowed. The second and final step is being extremely careful even when engaging in what is allowed.
Sounds like the monastic vows sangha have taken on.

An ascetic is steadfast in fulfilling his or her responsibilities, is not defeated by misfortune, and who avoids the traps of sin and evil encountered during the journey. With the exception of unbelief and misguidance, an ascetic is pleased with how the Creator decides to treat him or her, seeks to attain God’s pleasure and the eternal abode through the blessings and bounties the He bestows, and directs others to the absolute Truth. In the ear of his or her heart, the Divine announcement is echoed: Say: The enjoyment of this world is short; and the Hereafter is better for him who obeys God’s commandments in fear of Him. The command: Seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which God has given you, and forget not your portion of the world radiates itself through all the cells of his or her brain. The Divine warning: This life of the world is but a pastime and a game, but the home of the Hereafter, that is Life if they but knew penetrates his or her innermost senses. Sounds like description of samsara and eventual "liberation" to me!

Some have described asceticism as observing the rules of Sharia even in moments of depression and especially during financial difficulties, and living for others or considering their well-being and happiness while enjoying well-being and comfort. Others have defined it as thankfulness for God’s bounties and fulfilling the obligations that these bounties bring with them, and as refraining from hoarding money and goods (except for the intention to serve, exalt, and promote Islam). This philosophy could almost be Buddhist. Focusing on others and generating bodhichitta.

Such renowned Sufi leaders as Sufyan al-Thawri regarded asceticism as the action of a heart set up according to God’s approval and pleasure and closed to worldly ambitions, rather than as being content with simple food and clothes. According to these Sufis, there are three signs of a true ascetic: feeling no joy at worldly things acquired or grief over worldly things missed, feeling no pleasure when praised or displeasure when criticized or blamed, and preferring to serve God over every other thing.

Like fear and hope, asceticism is an action of the heart; however, asceticism differs in that it affects one’s acts and is displayed through them. Whether consciously or unconsciously, a true ascetic tries to follow the rules of asceticism in all acts, such as eating and drinking, going to bed and getting up, talking and keeping silent, and remaining in retreat or with people. An ascetic shows no inclination toward worldly attractions. Rumi expresses this in the following apt words:

What is the world? It is heedlessness of God;
Not clothes, nor silver coin, nor children, nor women.
If you have worldly possessions in the name of God,
Then the Messenger said: How fine is the property a righteous man has!
The water in a ship causes it to sink,
While the water under it causes it to float.


Having worldly means or wealth are not contrary to asceti-cism—if those who possess them can control them and are not overpowered by them. Nevertheless, the glory of humanity, upon him be peace and blessings, the truest ascetic in all respects, chose to live as the poorest of his people, for he had to set the most excellent example for his community—especially for those charged with propagating and promoting the truth. Thus, he would not lead others to think that the sacred mission of Prophethood could be abused to earn worldly advantage.

He also had to follow his predecessors, who proclaimed: My reward is only due from God, and to set an example for those future scholars who would convey his Message. For these and similar other reasons, he led an austere life. How beautiful are the following couplets by Busayri, which express how the Prophet preserved his innocence and indifference even at the time of absolute need and poverty:

Not to feel hunger, he wound a girdle around his belly
Over the stones pressing upon his blessed stomach.
Huge mountains wishing themselves gold offered themselves to him,
But he—that noble man—remained indifferent to them.
His urgent needs decisively showed his asceticism,
For those needs were not able to impair his innocence.
How could needs have been able to invite to the world the one
But for whom the world would not have come into being out of non-existence?


There are many beautiful sayings on asceticism. The following, with which we conclude this topic, belongs to ‘Ali, the fourth Caliph and cousin of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings:

The soul weeps in desire of the world despite the fact that
It knows that salvation lies in renouncing it and what is in it.
A man will have no abode to dwell in after his death
Except that which he builds before he dies.
Our goods—we hoard them to bequeath to heirs;
Our houses—we build them to be ruined by time.
There are many towns built and then ruined;
Their builders—death has come upon them.
Every soul—even if it somehow fears death,
It cherishes ambitions to strengthen its desire to live.
Man exhibits his ambitions but time obliterates them;
Man’s soul multiplies them but death puts an end to them.

O God! Show us truth as true and enable us to follow it. Show us falsehood as false, and provide us with the means to refrain from it. Amen, O Most Compassionate of the Compassionate.

vajrastorm

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While we cannot discount the need of lay Sangha in the modern world, it is important that every Buddhist center or community has at least a few fully ordained monks or nuns. It is fully ordained Sangha that keeps the Vinaya fully alive. Monks or nuns have completely renounced home life and family and hence can devote themselves 100 percent to practicing fully and holding all the vows they have taken.

Here are words of the Buddha and from the Sutra (taken from Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand') that state clearly the importance of the presence of the fully ordained Sangha in ensuring the continuity of the Dharma.

P.489."The fundamental thing that determines whether the Buddha's teaching will continue to exist is the ethics of the pratimoksha vow. The teachings exist if there are fully ordained monks upholding the Vinaya".

Again(p.490). Lord Buddha said:"Wherever there is a monk upholding the vinaya, that place has illumination, it has light. See this as a place where I am not absent".

Midakpa

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I believe that monastics are important in the modern world and that a lay sangha, even though they also have a disciplinary code,  cannot replace the monastic community. In Asian countries, momks are respected because they teach the Dharma and have renounced the worldly life. They devote themselves to the Dharma and do not earn a living. They are therefore supported by lay people who see to their material well being while the monks, in turn, look after the spiritual needs of their lay followers.

Thus monks (and nuns) must respect the feelings of their lay devotees and conduct themselves well so as to earn the respect and trust of the public. It is the duty of the monastic sangha to uphold the vinaya and to maintain the dignity of the holy order. The salient characteristics of a monk are purity, voluntary poverty, humility, simplicity, selfless service, self-control, patience, compassion and harmlessness. He is expected to observe the four kinds of higher morality:

1. The fundamental moral code (major offences related to immoral, cruel, harmful and selfish activities)
2. Morality pertaining to sense-restraint.
3. Morality pertaining to purity of livelihood.
4. Morality pertaining to the use of requisites pertaining to life.

biggyboy

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In my opinion, monastics rules and living in this present modern world is important as compared to having just lay sangha in a centre or temple. Lay sangha may tend to forget their intended motivation along the way as highlighted by dsiluvu.

Yup that is True what you say Big Uncle about having at least 1 or a few sangha members together with the lay practitioners because it will give the center some kind of basis or someone to look at as inspiration and aspiration to achieve. A Dharma center with no sangha can often go astray from the original core purpose unless the spiritual master is there. Why I say this is because I have experienced and personally heard so many stories of a center run by lay practitioner where somewhere along the way the motivation is forgotten and turned polluted which is very sad.


More importantly, we have to understand the importance of having monks and nuns.  Monasteries are not just places where monks and nuns worship--they are also places from which Buddhist laypeople can draw inspiration and be inspired.  They are also ever-present reminders of the goal of the Buddhist path: to transcend attachment to the material world and thereby reach nirvana.

http://www.essortment.com/role-monasteries-buddhism-42609.html
The community of monks and nuns, also called the sangha, serves as a model to other Buddhists as to how to live an ethical life. These are the people who have transcended material concerns and are on the path to enlightenment. By pursuing this path, they provide an ethical model for the entire community, and it is their example Buddhist laypeople follow when striving for a moral life. The ethical guidelines these monks and nuns must adhere to are far stricter than those prescribed to laypeople, but by obeying these rules, members of the sangha serve as an inspiration to other Buddhists that a moral life is within their reach.

The monastery is actually a monastery / temple complex, which includes school buildings for the community's children, as well as halls in which the laypeople can attend and participate in ceremonies. Members of the sangha also perform rituals both at the temple and at the homes of laypeople, and monks may even come to the homes of dying people to recite sutras, which are the teachings of the Buddha.

The sangha is one of the key components of Buddhism, as illustrated by a phrase central to Buddhist philosophy: "I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha." The very existence of the sangha is thought to be beneficial to the entire community, because it is believed that the merit gained through the monastic life can be directed towards the well-being of the rest of the community.


dondrup

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Not many practitioners can or would like to practise the way of a monastics.  Monastics requires total commitment, discipline and devotion to their practices.  How many practitioners can go all the way in their spiritual practice and become ordained?  How many can fully renounce and be free from the Eight Worldly Concerns?  How many are willing to hold and keep ordination vows? Monastics wears the Sangha robes and are seen to be the ambassador of Buddhism and hence they hold greater responsibilities to uphold and protect the image of Buddhism than the lay practitioners.  In other words, it is not easy to be a monastics!  We observe huge communities of lay practitioners than the monastics which is a rarity in the modern world today! On the other hand there is the exception to the rule where some practitioners are willing to practise the way of the ordained.

dondrup

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Not many practitioners can or would like to practise the way of a monastics.  Monastics requires total commitment, discipline and devotion to their practices.  How many practitioners can go all the way in their spiritual practice and become ordained?  How many can fully renounce and be free from the Eight Worldly Concerns?  How many are willing to hold and keep ordination vows? Monastics wears the Sangha robes and are seen to be the ambassador of Buddhism and hence they hold greater responsibilities to uphold and protect the image of Buddhism than the lay practitioners.  In other words, it is not easy to be a monastics!  We observe huge communities of lay practitioners than the monastics which is a rarity in the modern world today! On the other hand there is the exception to the rule where some practitioners are willing to practise the way of the ordained.

Monastics are important in the modern world because they represent practitioners who have the true courage to go all the way, who surrender their Eight Worldly Concerns and are totally renounced.  The monastics are the role models for all to emulate. In fact they represent the Sangha Jewels!