Temple Politics




Translation: May veneration be presented to the exalted one who is a Buddha and has achieved enlightenment by himself righteously. X3

Temple Politics

Recently I had the privilege of being privy to a conversation that I hear more and more lately, that of the moral relativism of things. Of course it may not be billed that way mind you, but that’s the sum of it. More and more I hear talk of how many people just are not ready for democracy. They’ll talk of the failure of the Arab spring as an example, and the long history of countries that have never had the benefit of a Western styled democracy. At the end of it all, you’ll be hearing some very dangerous talk, when they start asking questions such as “…and just what is freedom really? “ When you hear that one folks , pay very careful attention because it implies the opposite question that being “… “and just what is slavery and oppression …really?

First things first, we need to get over the notion that a peoples history will even most probably determine their future. If this were the case then the American revolution among other revolutions never would have happened. Why do some social movements that demand great change fail and others succeed? The fact that there was an Arab spring in the first place shows that there were many who were ready for change, before those who had more guns and ammunition got involved and killed many. The Tiananmen Square massacre a few years ago and the crushing of the student rebellion gives us another example to look at. It’s no small coincidence that the student rebellion didn’t work while the Chinese communist leadership were well aware that the students weren’t producing any of the appreciable economic wealth of the society, and nor did they have control of the militarily. The social revolutions that succeed are the ones that have a political and therefore a social credibility that can well weather the storm of those unwilling to make that change for any given number of reasons.
Writers, political activists, and students can all contribute to the overall victory, but without something more substantial there will be none. The only exception to this is if those writers, political activists and students have numbers that are so strong as to effect the economic community as producers and consumers.

To bring this conversation a bit closer to home, recently I had the experience of being put out of the temple where I was staying.
They tried to say my Vinaya (monastic code) was not clean, that is, that I had violated my monastic code as a monk. This conversation lasted about two minutes. It was a sad fact that I knew my monastic code better than all of them.
The worst they could say was that 5 months ago I had a dispute with a laundry shop owner who ruined some bed sheets, or that it was reported to the sangha that I was seen at a sauna getting some sweat healthy on, I’ve never know anyone who had good meditation but were physically unhealthy. No wait! That’s right! They also mentioned that I was seen at a market place buying an apple! Oh NO! How scandalous!
O.K… So It’s good to be able to give a donation to the monks practice…but he just better not be seen spending any of it at the market!

So just what are some of the actual reasons as to why a foreign monk may not be welcome?

  1.  For those of us who understand the dhamma as scripture studied, as opposed to rumour heard this can be awkward for them.
  2.  Foreign monk are often seen as  “auspicious” because of the fact that we are such a minority, and therefore it can be feared that we might receive more donation’s at the temple than the local monks.
  3.  Foreign monks are viewed as being more affluent and therefore a jealous element can become a part of the situation.
  4.  Sheer racism and bigotry. As an example of this, I have had other local monks tell me that I should be Christian!

Apparently they were simply looking for SOME excuse to put me out or they would have been able to come with something better than that. So that’s what they insisted on doing with only 3 days notice in the middle of Vassa. A small collection of other monks told the Abbott that if the board of directors didn’t vote to put me out then they would go to the Ministry of Cults and Religion and have action taken against both of us! The Abbott not looking to be disagreeable did what they so desperately wanted. Even though I was later told that I could stay for an eternity, here was where I was reminded that I once asked for and received 3 months. The Abbott I’m sure knew that this all was of course a power play scam and one that would be best if he went along with instead of making monastic adversaries. This is why he gave me an excellent letter of recommendation with his signature and Temple seal.

Would they care that our Vinaya is the standard for judging unskillful behavior, and with that in mind, they were actually breaking the 17th. Pacittiya of our own Patimokkha to do this?
Don’t bet on it. I will say on an upbeat note, that the Abbott himself is one of the very most loving kindness people I have ever met.

I feel consoled by the fact that some of history’s greatest visionary’s have been consistently told to take a walk by those that history would later judge as the truthfully ignorannt. Today, when I buy medicine for the sick, food for the homeless and ice cream for the poor children at the temple, would a single austere and self convinced righteous monk offer to help in the effort? Of course not!

That’s o.k., who needs that? As long as they know how to recite the recital at the appropriate time and do all the things regarding procedure of the temple …no matter! After all, that’s what is really important, isn’t it?

Perhaps some of this is because while being raised here in Cambodia, they have become desensitized to the suffering of their own people in their society, so much so that with all that they can make on alms round in the morning most of these “Buddhist” monks would never even think to buy a poor homeless woman or hungry man a 50 cent package of noodles. How shameful.

I have offended some people its true, because I know that what we can feel necessary because it’s what we’ve been taught with the excuse of tradition as the thing to believe is true, is not what the Buddhist teaching teaches us to understand as good for a spiritual teaching. As a matter of fact the Kalama Sutta expressly advises against it.

What we have is a monastic community of obedient and comparably well looked after house toms who have been intimidated by force and economic strife to be grateful for their position of humble servitude. With all of the pageantry of respect, we are not supposed to notice what becomes obvious with just a little mindfulness. This spiritual hospital patient type of situation is very apparent throughout Southeast Asia but nowhere as I have seen it in Cambodia. Monks are taught how to give a certain type of recital (chant would be an inaccurate but popular term) and how to perform their obligations to the laity for the most part, as clergy. Enlightenment? You don’t hear that talked about. What was the purpose of the Buddha? How do we better accomplish for ourselves what the Buddha’s mission was meant to help us accomplish? These topics of conversation you don’t hear from the monastics very much.
That certainly wouldn’t make them good and submissive social house toms on the king’s plantation..…now would it?

Authorities throughout history have found it easy to be afraid of the Buddhist monk. It is understood that a majority population of Buddhists are might listen to what the monks say and advise. Are we to think that personal empowerment that would then be naturally made manifest as a social empowerment among people is something that the political elites would embrace and promote?
Not likely. They would be more inclined to want to let you know just how much you need them.
This is why the people are encouraged to give respect to the monk but not to associate too much. As if the monk is to be kept like the proverbial bird in the gilded cage.
Here in Cambodia, temples are not even allowed their own street mailing address, this being one way that the separation of the monk and the laity is kept, the exception of course would be when the laity come to the temple for their recital blessing or something that has been prejudged as allowable. The Dhammayuttika Nikaya false austerity is very useful for this as well.

Those that have read their Pali Canon Tipataka know that the Buddha himself was a very political and practical man for a teacher. As an example, allowing women into the monastic sangha was a very political and provocative thing for him to do. Did he first check with the authorities to see if it should be permissible? No. No, he did not, and for good reasons. He knew that the best teacher teaches by example.
So…can we expect better from our own monastic community?
Yes we can, but it won’t happen if we believe that somehow the odds are against us as to what we can reasonably expect from ourselves if we want something better than a monastic community of house toms who have been so well indoctrinated that they dare not ever question anything that is established monastic thought or procedure.
Are there those who dare to wonder why it is that our Vinaya instructs the monk that the king is to pay homage to the monk, but that the monk not do likewise for the king?

Perhaps some of the monks here in Cambodia may ask themselves that critical question, if they can tear themselves away from Facebook or Instagram for a precious minute or two.

I will end this discussion with the thought that those who can have the nerve to think for themselves will always be an asset for themselves and society at large…while they’re busy walking around angering the ignorants for their absolute nerve to do so.

Have a great spiritual day!

Bhikkhu Aggacitto a.k.a. Brother Mark:)

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