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 Khmer 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 Led Zeppelin’s 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 Dhammayutt Sect and False Austerity
The 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 Dhammayutt 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.
Consider further that here in Cambodia we have the clown show of the monk and the statue of the Buddha as well as Buddhist temples on the Cambodian money while the Cambodian government holds political rallies at our Buddhist temples…but if a monk says something that some don’t like they will remind us all that the monk shouldn’t be political!
The government in Cambodia will look to defrock a monk when seen at a political demonstration (a parade really, guarded by military with AR15 semiautomatic weaponry) which only our monastic sangha should be able to do, putting themselves in charge of the monastic community whenever they want.
So they can put themselves into our temples, but heaven forbid if we put ourselves into “their” politics! As well, last I can recall, when a Cambodian citizen becomes a monk they still are Cambodian citizens and still have every right to vote, and come election time you will notice that many do ….but a monk shouldn’t get involved in politics? When they cast their righteous vote, often at a Buddhist temple by the way, they already are!
Monks handling money
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 wasn’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.
Monks not eating after midday
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 Tipitaka 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 this is a false reference.
The Cambodian Pali Canon
Some in Cambodia might tell you that the Pali Canon Tipitaka in Cambodia has such a thing written, but what they are actually working with for a Pali Canon here in Cambodia isn’t simply a copy of the Pali Canon at all, but what would be at best a translated edition of the Pali Canon translated for the Khmer language revised with an exegesis (meaning) added as well.
The work was originally completed in Cambodia as a translation from the Pali in 1968 but was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. What we have now includes a preface that was updated in 1994 for Cambodia that includes a short discussion of the recent hardships endured by the Cambodian people (Khmer Rouge). The 1994 revision was created by the “Tripitaka Publishing Support Committee” and having been published in Japan, permission was given to a Cambodian publishing house to make reprints. This can be plainly seen by reading the current edition (1994) of our Pali Canon Tipitaka. They spell “Tipitaka” “Tripitaka” because that is the Mahayana method of spelling Tipitaka based on the Sanskrit influence as opposed to the Pali. The popular story is that the original translation was given to Japan and that they then graciously gave it back to the Cambodian people. Nonetheless the Japanese Tripitaka (Taishō Tripitaka) is a rendering of the Chinese Tripatika. Therefore they don’t use the Pali Canon, but believed that their Mahayana selves were qualified to give an explanation of it that they put page for page with the Pali Canon. Furthermore it certainly would not discount the fact that there is no Tipitaka in existence but this revised offering produced in Japan and then given to Cambodia, that states that a monk should not eat from midday until daybreak the next day. It is an interpretation (and therefore an interpolation) of the monk being advised in our Patimokkha not to eat at the “wrong time” which as we can see from our discussion of Suttas 66 and 70 of the Majjhima Nikaya isn’t necessarily after midday. The problem here is that in this work touted as the Pali Canon, you have the interpretation of the scripture itself included page by page. Who’s interpretation? That would be the interpretation of a committee of Japanese Mahayana Buddhist scholars! I would have to say, if it’s being put into a collection of books that from the front to back cover is being presented as the Pali Canon then although a side step effort for an interpolation, an interpolation none the less. Otherwise, the explanation (interpretation) should be in a separate book. To put the explanation (meaning) in the same cover to cover book that is being presented as the Pali Canon is simply deceptive and adds up to one massive and deceptive interpolation of the Pali Canon that is being confused for the actual Pali Canon itself! We have our Japanese Mahayana friends to thank for this incredibly deceptive blunder.
If any would like to point out that one of the 10 points in dispute at the second council was whether a monk should eat after midday this only goes to show that one hundred years after the Buddha’s passing this was a disputed topic, although the prevailing decision was with those who thought that there shouldn’t be as a meal anything else eaten after midday. If the Vinaya actually stated that though, there wouldn’t have been much room for a dispute. It is with due consideration of the above, that what the Cambodian Vinaya has in this regard must be considered as discussed, an interpolation (something added later), because the Pali Canon and an opinionated exegesis are both being pushed into the same book.
The first edition of this translation of the Tripitaka for Cambodia was completed in 1994. Because of the evidence for an interpolation here it has to be questioned just what they were actually working with for their interpretation of the Pali Canon. It would not be logical to believe that it would have taken a team of some of their finest Buddhist scholars to sit down and produce for us the simple act of giving the Cambodian people back what was given to them by Cambodian scholars in the first place. What they needed that for was to produce an interpretation of the Pali Canon and then push it into the same book as the Pali Canon, as if the Cambodian people were too slow minded to figure it out for themselves and need their interpretation of it all.
Now regarding the actual Pali Canon, would anyone care to suggest that the Buddha Gotama didn’t know the difference between afternoon and evening? There were what was considered at that time five watches of the day for the Buddha, Fornoon (morning), Afternoon, and three sub category’s of Evening. Those being the first, second, and third watch of the evening, giving more than an ample opportunity for the Buddha to understand the difference between afternoon and evening. With all of this in mind, I would have to ask just what should we think more important a consideration, what a majority of monks at the second council had to say about something….OR what the actual Pali Canon has to say?
Drugs weren’t allowed? Really?…..
For medicinal purposes some interesting things were indeed allowed….
…that smoke be inhaled.” … “I allow a tube for inhaling smoke.” … “One should not use fancy smoke-inhaling tubes. Whoever does: an offense of wrong doing. I allow (smoke-inhaling tubes) made of bone, ivory, horn, reed, bamboo, wood, lac (resin), fruit (§) (e.g., coconut shell), copper (metal), or conch-shell.” … “I allow a lid (for the smoke-inhaling tubes).” … “I allow a bag for the smoke-inhaling tubes.” … “I allow a double bag.” … “I allow a string for tying the mouth of the bag as a carrying strap.”
Can any of us absolutely say for sure what exactly was or wasn’t being smoked?
For wind afflictions in the limbs:
‘I allow you, O Bhikkhus, the use of hemp-water (bang)…
MV. VI .14
“I allow that, having accepted fruit-medicine — i.e., vilaṅga, long pepper, black pepper, yellow myrobalan, beleric myrobalan, embric myrobalan, goṭha, or whatever other fruits are medicines and do not serve, among non-staple food, the purpose of non-staple food; or, among staple food, the purpose of staple food — one may keep it for life and, when there is reason, consume it. If there is no reason, there is an offense of wrong doing for one who consumes it.” — Mv.VI.6
In case some of us aren’t aware, beleric myrobalan are also known as psychedelic mushrooms.
‘There are these six dangers of drinking alcohol; loss of wealth, increase of quarrels, ill-health, bad reputation, making a fool of oneself and impaired intelligence’ (Digha Nikaya 3. 182)
So certainly it is true, alcohol was prohibited, but for those that would like to believe that all substances that would today be considered as a potential impairment were never and would never be allowed, they might wish to actually read the Vinaya on this and do so with the effort of having a fair and objective approach.
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.'”
First, it’s 220 precepts not 227. 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.” (6)
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
All websites here have been linked and archived for your research convenience.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhammayuttika_Nikaya OR http://www.webcitation.org/6zlB0ee2k
- http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/soma/wheel008.html OR http://www.webcitation.org/6zlAt8t3c
- 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
- http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/ariyesako/layguide.html OR http://www.webcitation.org/6zlAWtQQX