False Austerity and The Buddhist Monk
NAMO TASSA BHAGAVATO ARAHATO SAMMASAMBUDDHASSA
NAMO TASSA BHAGAVATO ARAHATO SAMMASAMBUDDHASSA
NAMO TASSA BHAGAVATO ARAHATO SAMMASAMBUDDHASSA
Translation: May veneration be presented to the exalted one who is a Buddha and who has achieved enlightenment by himself righteously. x3
I was taking a walk recently to the market place with my fellow students and teachers at the language school that I am attending, when I told one of my teachers, “You know, the security guard has a problem with me over at the market place”. You see, a few days earlier I had tried to enter into this small market place, and security threw me out! As it turns out, there are some people here in Cambodia who don’t think that a monk belongs in the market place, or for that matter, in an internet cafe working on his blog, or for that matter in the most compromising and scandalous situation of being seen at the local Caltex gas station having a cup of coffee, or in front of a bar having a Coke Light while counseling an older male friend while women are present at the same table!
The security guard threw me out again. For all the dedicated excitement, you would think that I was in the local K.T.V. sex club getting my johnson face waxed while belting out my rendition of Kashmir. There’s nothing in our Monastic code nor is there any law against a monk visiting a market place, and if there are those who want there to be one then they should go through the proper procedure of having a bill presented to Parliament and having it made so. So the question is , how do such people get away with this and why was there a police officer sitting right there on both occasions and did nothing even though I was being discriminated against unlawfully as a Buddhist monk?
First I shall discuss where much of this romanticized and fraudulent form of austerity comes from and then the sad situation of why people get away with this sort of behavior.
The Dhammayutti Sect and False Austerity
The Dhammayutti (also Dhammayutt or Dhammayuttikaya)
sect was created initially as a reform movement back in 1833 by Prince Mongkut who was the son of king Rama the second, because he didn’t think that the monastic community was austere enough. This was eventually recognized as an official sect of Theravada Buddhism with Thailand’s Thai Sanga act of 1902.(1) Throughout the years the Dhammayutti sect have helped to establish austerities that have never been a part of the Pali Canon teaching. As an example, when in Thailand you will notice that the monks go on alms round without any shoes even though there is nothing in the monastic code of the Buddhist monk to do so. Why? It’s simple really. The more of a show the Dhammayutti can put on with all of their posturing of austerity, the more “holier than thou” they look. The laity don’t and aren’t being encouraged to study their own teaching, and if they ever are it’s not an independent and objective inquiry that is being had. What this leads to is a situation where the rest of the monastic community believes that there is now the need to follow this bogus austerity routine so that they will be as much respected as the dhammayutti. So the monks are now encouraged to live a life as if they are the proverbial bird in a gilded cage. Isolated from the rest of the community, as if they are social eunuchs who are cut off from the rest of a productive society. Whether in Cambodia of Thailand or Burma or any other country, this false austerity has been allowed to infect the Buddhist community because otherwise the people would instead realize the tremendous spiritual ability that they themselves have. If that happens then some of the monastic community might fear that they will no longer be needed.
That’s the “Cambodian way”, the “Thai way”, the “Burmese way” etc. excuse.
Not valid. Take a look at the kalama Sutta (2) sometime. This is considered a very critical sutta in the Pali Canon, and for good reason. This is where the Buddha teaches something called critical thinking ability. This is where the Buddha teaches not to simple rely upon “tradition”, for a spiritual teaching. When you say, it’s the Cambodian way etc. this is to say that it’s Cambodian or some other countries tradition. The Buddha wisely knew better and so should we. Where are the teachers? You would perhaps think that if there was a situation where the Abbot of a temple were asked about something, or someone complained about something, the Abbot of a temple would certainly set the matter straight according to the actual teaching…right? Not so fast! Let’s remember that the government authorities have the day so in these S.E. Asian countries, not the Abbot or any of the monks. So, if some properly placed bureaucrat decided that you don’t belong as Abbot of that temple, or that you as a monk should be defrocked and thrown in jail for having the nerve to be seen at some sort of demonstration or political event that they don’t approve of, that’s exactly what might happen. Given this situation, where do you think the gravity is when it comes to upholding certain aspects of a teaching that may be unpopular because the population at large (which would include these government bureaucrats) have been taught religious myth, as opposed to the actual teaching? Consider also, that the Abbots here in S.E. Asia are more often than not required a P.HD in public administration, and not anything else, which ensures that they can be relied upon to be good diplomats, so they may very well be that less inclined to “make waves”, and although there can be a theoretical exception like perhaps anything else, for the before mentioned reasons this is usually not the case. I would like to make a special mention here of appreciation for those members of the Monastic community who willingly make themselves the exception to the general rule.
Do you not think that a monk should not be involved in politics? It would be wrong of course for a monk to endorse a particular candidate for public office because different monks may or may not approve of that particular candidate. However let’s remember as one example, that when the Venerable Gotama allowed women to become monks, this was a decision that had political consequences and of that fact I’m sure he was very aware.
How are we to be concerned with the wellness of humanity, but in no way ever to think or act politically? That would be like wanting a cook in a restaurant to cook a certain meal but scolding him or her for wanting to have a say so in what type of food to buy to fix it! Should all monks go and live in a cave somewhere and seek to isolate themselves from the rest of the world? I know of nothing in our teaching that would suggest that.
How many of our congregation I wonder are aware of the fact that when they give a Buddhist monk money that they are in the context of what is written, and only what is written in our Monastic code (Vinaya), in violation of what is allowed to the Buddhist monk? Taking only this portion of the Pali Canon into consideration, as some such as the Dhammayutti will do will demonstrate this. Strictly speaking, this is because the monk isn’t allowed gold or silver, and that is what was used as money at the time of the Buddha:
The pali Canon Patimokkha Part 2 : The Silk Chapter
18. Should any bhikkhu accept gold and silver, or have it accepted, or consent to its being deposited (near him), it is to be forfeited and confessed.
19. Should any bhikkhu engage in various types of monetary exchange, it (the income) is to be forfeited and confessed.
There are other things that are to be considered of course, such as not only the Kalama Sutta where one is instructed not to necessarily follow tradition or even scripture as a sole excuse for a spiritual teaching but the Abhaya Sutta: To Prince Abhaya of our Pali Canon (3) where the term kamma (Sanskrit karma), even though it means action, is given the practical definition by the Buddha as meaning one’s intention, as two examples of what can be further considered when discussing the topic of what a Buddhist monk should or shouldn’t do. The point here is that there is a big difference between taking all of the teaching into consideration on the one hand and on the other making up things that were simply never there in the first place and promoting it as the “authentic” teaching!
To give one of many such an example let’s look at the fact that in Thailand most monks do not wear shoes of any sort. Why? Because it’s not anywhere in the Vinaya or Patimokkha not to do so, but Dhammayutti tradition. That’s why. How many are aware that it is not against the monastic code of a monk to touch a woman, unless it is being done with a lustful mind?(4) If the monks are even taught their own scriptural teaching in the first place, they would know this but it would hardly matter. You see, many know that if they don’t simply do what is expected of them, then the largely ignorant of their own scriptural teaching laity who have been taught their Buddha dhamma by way of gossip and wisper, will not respect them as well as the Dhammayutti who have been sure to make a big show of their “austerity”. If that happens then their support will dwindle and so may their ability to eat and properly care for themselves. In the final analysis, what we are talking about here is the combination of both selfishness on the part of those who know of the true spiritual liberating ability of the Buddha dhamma, and the perpetually stoked fire of sheer ignorance based on a concern for their own well being.
There will always be those who believe that they must worship at the alter of austerity.
They seem unaware that the Buddha himself found enlightenment only after realizing that austerities would not realize the goal that he was striving to accomplish.
This is why, with the exception of the first four rules of defeat, the most severe penalty to accomplish from violating any of the precepts is to have something confiscated or to be put on probation.
If a monk were on probation for the rest of his life, so what? He can’t go anywhere alone? He might enjoy the company!
I remember when I was in Thailand and there was an urban legend of a monk who once defecated in his alms bowl and then ate it. Supposedly this was to show that just like the Venerable Gotama he was able to surpass any sensual desire including the sensual desire to enjoy the taste sensation of food.
However, for a taste of reality land, we need to go to the Parin-nibbana sutta of the Digha Nikaya (5) where we know that it is stated that the Venerable Gotama was served his last meal by Kunda the householder and that it was his favorite meal.
Obviously he enjoyed it well enough that he apparently was not anywhere near indifferent to it, because it was his favorite meal.
So here we once again have the reality of the teaching versus austerity fantasy land.
How about the notion that it is the Buddha’s teaching that a monk not eat (aside from a the five tonics and life long medicines) from midday until daybreak of the next day?
In the Latukikopama Sutta (M.N. 66) the Buddha said that there were many disadvantages to going for alms at night.
Latukikopama Sutta M.N. 66
“…that monks wandering for alms in the pitch dark of the night have walked into a waste-water pool, fallen into a cesspool, stumbled over a thorn patch, or stumbled over a sleeping cow. They have encountered young hooligans on the way to or from a crime.”
Kitagiri Sutta M.N. 70
“Once when the Buddha was touring in the region of Kasi together with a large Sangha of monks he addressed them saying: ‘I, monks, do not eat a meal in the evening. Not eating a meal in the evening I, monks, am aware of good health and of being without illness and of buoyancy and strength and living in comfort. Come, do you too, monks, not eat a meal in the evening. Not eating a meal in the evening you too, monks, will be aware of good health and….. and living in comfort.’ ”
We see here therefore that the monks were once used to going on alms round in the evening, but that they were at a certain point discouraged from doing so.
Nowhere does it state anywhere in the Pali Canon Tipataka that the monk should stop eating in the afternoon and should not resume until midday. Nowhere.
You may find a false reference here and there such as Vinaya 4.86 but upon investigation you will find that what I say is true.
Would any care to suggest that the Buddha Gotama didn’t know the difference between afternoon and evening?
For the real kick in the pants I will now discuss what must be considered for many as the bedrock of Buddhist monk austerity, that being the vow of celibacy.
This is what we find at the accesstoinsight.org website:
◊ The first offence of all the 227 listed rules of the Patimokkha concerns a bhikkhu engaging in sexual intercourse. It remains a hot issue, perhaps even more so today, going by the number of sexual scandals that rock the Buddhist religious world in both the East and the West. As Venerable Thiradhammo writes:
“While some of the guidelines may seem somewhat rigid or prudish, it is important to reflect upon the volatility and durability of rumour, even if untrue. The incessant sex-scandals in religious circles may provide a sufficient incentive to encourage the greatest measure of prevention and discretion.” (HS ch.13)
The rule was originally laid down because of Venerable Sudinna. He was the son of a rich merchant, who left home to become a bhikkhu only after great opposition from his family. He went away to practice Dhamma and when he came back to visit sometime later, his parents were overjoyed to see him and plotted to lure him back into the lay life again. They invited him for a meal and then laid out their wealth in front of him, piled up in two huge heaps of gold, while the wife he had left behind dressed herself in her most irresistibly alluring way. Venerable Sudinna remained unmoved by all of this. After telling them to throw the gold away in the river, he called his former wife, “Sister.” Nevertheless, when his elderly mother pleaded with him at least to give them an heir, he foolishly gave in and had sexual intercourse with his former wife.
This First Defeater Offence is summarized:
“A bhikkhu who engages in any form of sexual intercourse is Defeated.” (Paar. 1; See BMC p.45)
Every form and variety of sexual intercourse with sexual penetration — whether genital, oral or anal, whether with woman, man or animal — is forbidden. The penalty is the heaviest one of Paaraajika or Defeat.
But is it true? No. Something has quite conveniently been left out.
What is being used here for a reference is not the actual Pali Canon’s Vinaya or Pattimokha but the Buddhist Monastic Code written by the Venerable Thanissero.
What does the actual scripture have to say?
Translated from the Pâli by
T. W. Rhys Davids
The Mahâvagga, I-IV
Oxford, the Clarendon Press
Vol. XIII of The Sacred Books of the East
1. Whatsoever Bhikkhu who has taken upon himself the Bhikkhus’ system of self-training and rule of life, and has not thereafter withdrawn from the training, or declared his weakness, shall have carnal knowledge of any one, down even to an animal, he has fallen into defeat, he is no longer in communion.
“…or declared his weakness”…
Declaring your weakness is not renouncing the training. Therefore it is possible for a monk to have sex and remain a monk by way of declaring his weakness prior to the sexual contact. I am sure that there must be some monks who are aware of this fact.
Why is this? I believe that this most probably is the result of the situation at the time of the early Monastic Sangha (community), where a monk who would ever acknowledge his weakness to a woman would be absolutely humiliated to do so. This was used as a way of tempering sexual activity in the Monastic Sangha. When the Sangha grew in size, it then became impractical. A more standardized approach was then needed to prevent monks from simply using it as a loophole.
Independent Vs. Group thinking.
Herd mentality has a better chance where people are not even fairly studied in the concept of critical thinking ability. Critical thinking would give rise to independent research, which in turn would make a population less susceptible to the group mentality. The group or “heard mentality” is necessary for the comfortable control of the population because it makes their control more reliable. The reason why therefore force has to be used by them as a means of demonstrated cohersion is because they all know that if the group think turns on them and starts to run in a different direction, other that what would be beneficial to them, then the group think that they have fostered may very well become their worst enemy when the chickens come home to roost! All of a society’s sweet puppet masters risk this and are well aware of this untidy fact. Therefore truly independent thinking must be routinely discouraged and marginalized. If they believe that force must be utilized for a proper demonstration then you can believe that is exactly what will be done. In the case of the monastic Sangha, force can take on many forms, including the social ostracizing and shunning of monks and other individuals who can read their own religious scripture and have the nerve to think for themselves.
Why exactly is it then that the very core of the Buddhist teaching that instructs us to engage in an investigative procedure, to keep an open mind that will not allow the relic of a cultural excuse to stand in the way of the obtaining of spiritual knowledge, now has succumbed to the very prejudice that has been specifically taught against in the teaching itself?
I believe that if one gives any serious study to the Pali Canon, one will find that the overwhelming theme is one that encourages the practitioner to develop their natural potential for a heightened state of personal awareness. Collectively this becomes a heightened state of social awareness, which in turn naturally becomes a perceived threat to authority.
Social empowerment has never been high on the list of those who weld such privileged authority, and accordingly adherence to a different understanding that is more pliable and advantageous to authority will undoubtedly be encouraged at every opportunity.
Notes and References
- Sanghadisesa: Precept 2. Should any bhikkhu, overcome by lust, with altered mind, engage in bodily contact with a woman, or in holding her hand, holding a lock of her hair, or caressing any of her limbs, it entails initial and subsequent meetings of the Community.
- D.N. 16