by Kyodo News
COLOMBO -- A campaign by Sri Lanka's prime minister to recruit 2,000 children into Buddhist monastic orders to cope with a shortage of monks has met criticism from a scholar who says child ordination is against Buddhist doctrine.
Gananath Obeyesekere, an anthropology professor at Princeton University, says the campaign targets children as young as 5 years even though Theravada Buddhism doctrine states that a boy must be at least 15 years of age to become a monk.
The Buddha himself ordained at just 5 years his only son Rahula, but this was regarded an exception rather than a rule, Obeyesekere said.
After being rebuked for the act by his own father, the Buddha specified that one must not only have parental consent to ordain a child, but that the child must be 15 years of age. If not, the youth must have the ''physical maturity'' of a 15-year-old.
Sri Lanka's project to mass-recruit children into Buddhist orders disregards these considerations, says Obeyesekere, himself a Sri Lankan Buddhist.
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, who is also minister for Buddhist affairs, is the father of the campaign and is encouraging public donations for the endeavor.
The project includes sponsors for each novice monk and a monthly allowance drawn from a fund of contributions.
Reportedly, more than 1,000 people have already applied, although the final figure was not immediately known, nor was the breakdown of their ages.
The prime minister told reporters recently that he conceived the plan after receiving thousands of letters from senior Buddhist monks complaining, among other things, that fewer people were joining the clergy. This, he said, had even led to the closure of many temples around the country.
''I found there was a problem and this is the solution,'' he asserted.
He believes his plan will strengthen Buddhism in the country and bolster the ranks of a clergy that was in danger of dying out.
But Obeyesekere, in his remarks published in the Colombo newspapers Sunday Island and the Daily News, says if more monks are needed for the orders, older people should be recruited as they are increasingly given to meditation and usually have a good knowledge of the Buddha teachings.
Most have meager pensions, so free monastic board and lodging would be added incentives, the scholar, who has written extensively on Buddhism, suggested.
But one major reason Obeyesekere opposes child recruitment is that the very young are vulnerable to sexual abuse, which he says is ''notoriously associated'' will all forms of institutionalized monasticism.
The possibility of child abuse in Buddhist monasteries ''must be faced honestly and squarely,'' he stressed.
Unlike adult monks, children have little chance of resisting sexual advances, the professor added.
''Even the presence of guardians, or sponsors is not protection. How does the guardian inquire into such possibilities when the mere talk of homoerotic practices is taboo?,'' Obeyesekere asked.
He also asked why those promoting the campaign have not set an example by being ordained themselves or having their own children or grandchildren ordained.
The prime minister's office, however, reacted hotly to the criticism.
One of Wickramanayake's personal assistants said any opposition to the project ''was affiliated to a conspiracy to wipe Buddhism from the country.''
The prime minister has only the best of intentions, he said, on condition of anonymity, noting ordinations take place only with the consent of parents and high priests of the temples concerned and the scheme provides children with food, lodging and education that poverty may otherwise have denied them.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Decision Ends Long-Standing Policy Allowing Nominal Self-Rule of Monasteries
March 16, 2012
Although the Chinese government has placed many restrictions on the practice of religion in Tibet, these new regulations represent an entirely new level of intervention by the state. This measure, coupled with the increasing presence of government workers within monasteries, will surely exacerbate tensions in the region.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch
On January 4, 2012, the Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), Chen Quanguo, announced that government or party officials will be stationed in almost all monasteries permanently, and that in some cases they will have the senior rank and pay of a deputy director of a provincial-level government department. The permanent posting of government or party officials inside monasteries is unprecedented in Tibet, let alone at such a senior level.
“Although the Chinese government has placed many restrictions on the practice of religion in Tibet, these new regulations represent an entirely new level of intervention by the state,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “This measure, coupled with the increasing presence of government workers within monasteries, will surely exacerbate tensions in the region.”
According to official documents, the new policy, known as the “Complete Long-term Management Mechanism for Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries,” is described as, “critical for taking the initiative in the struggle against separatism,” and aims to “ensure that monks and nuns do not take part in activities of splitting up the motherland and disturbing social order.”
The order to post resident cadres within monasteries in the TAR was contained in an “important memorandum” on “mechanisms to build long-term stability in Tibet” issued by Politburo Standing Committee Member Jia Qinglin, Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu and other state leaders in late December 2011. That memorandum orders the TAR to “have cadres stationed in the main monasteries to further strengthen and innovate monastery management,” according to an official news report on December 20.
“This new decision is a major departure. It overturns the central guarantee of ‘autonomy’ that has guided policy on Tibet for decades,” said Richardson.
China’s policy for Tibetan monasteries, first introduced in 1962, provides that all monasteries are supposed to be run by monks – under close governmental supervision, but with only indirect involvement of officials. The policy was abandoned during the Cultural Revolution (from 1966 to 1979 in Tibet), when almost all monasteries were closed and many were physically destroyed.
The policy allowing nominal self-rule of monasteries was reinstated in the early 1980s and had been upheld ever since. China’s constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief, but control over religious activities of ethnic minority groups such as Tibetans and Uighurs has always been markedly more severe.
Under the previous policy, all places of worship, including Tibetan monasteries, have until now been administered by a structure called the “Democratic Management Committee.” Although the nomination and selection of the committee members are controlled by government and party officials (and rigid political constraints are imposed on the nominees), the committees were comprised of monks who had at least been elected by their own community.
The new system now requires an unelected “Management Committee” – also referred to as zhusi danwei/gongzuozu (“monastic government work-unit”)– to be established in every monastery, with up to 30 lay officials stationed in each monastery, depending on the size of the institution, according to a February 15, 2012 article in the government-run Global Times. The new “Management Committees” will run the monasteries and will have authority over the previous “Democratic Management Committees,” which will now be responsible for rituals and other matters.
The new arrangement is referred to as “the combination of management by administration with self-rule” in monasteries and means that “officials are selected and sent to manage the monastery together with the monks.” In monasteries that are at “grassroots level,” the administration will be in the hands of officials from the local village-level organizations of the government or party.
The new system of cadre-supervised monasteries is the result of a research project initiated in 2008 by the United Front Work Department, the agency of the CCP in charge of religion and nationality issues. The research was initiated as an “emergency response project” by a team of experts in Beijing following widespread unrest in Tibetan areas in 2008, according to an August 26, 2011 article by Gong Xuezeng, a professor at China’s Central Party School.
In November 2011, the authorities began establishing the “Management Committees” in the 1,787 monasteries that are allowed to operate in the TAR. The stated objectives of the new management scheme are:
- “to promote lasting political stability in the TAR and other Tibetan areas,”
- to “establish harmonious monasteries,” and
- to ensure that “monks and nuns have the freedom to perform their religious rituals.”
The rationale for the new system is explained in official documents as “enhancing social management” in temples. This is seen as developing an underlying objective established in 1994 which aimed to “adapt Tibetan Buddhism to socialism.” The new theory argues that since monks are members of society as well as monks, their institutions should be run by social forces, meaning party and government organizations. As a result, in the new system, besides the party cadres stationed within monasteries, numerous local government offices at each level will have day-to-day responsibility for directly managing different aspects of Tibetan monastic life. Twenty-four government organs, including the offices of public security, foreign affairs, and justice, are listed in regulations issued in Aba (Ngaba in Tibetan) prefecture in 2009 as involved in managing local monasteries (article 4).
Under the new system, according to Gong’s article, these government offices are also required to provide practical services, such as running water, electricity, roads, and social security payments, to monks and monasteries, “especially those that are supportive and helpful for patriotism.”
In eastern Tibetan areas outside the TAR, reports indicate that instead of establishing a new committee, the old Democratic Management Committees will be retained as the leading body in each monastery, but are expected to have a government official inserted as the deputy director of each committee. For example, regulations have been passed in Qinghai, which place each township-level monastery in that province under a “Masses Supervision and Appraisal Committee” that will supervise, monitor, and report to the government on the management and religious practices in local monasteries.
Two leading monasteries in the TAR, Tashilhunpo (Zhashilunbuin Chinese) in Shigatse (Xigaze in Chinese) and Champaling (Qiangbaling in Chinese) in Chamdo (Changdu in Chinese), will be allowed to retain their Democratic Management Committees without creating a committee of unelected officials above it because they have “have actively explored the path of self-education and self-rule, creating an effective management pattern with their own characteristics” and so have “achieved monastery self-rule and democratic management.” The two monasteries are considered politically reliable and are the traditional seats of two lamas, the Panchen Lama and Phagpa-lha Gelek Namgyal (a leading lama), who hold national-level office in China.
Human Rights Watch called the decision to impose direct rule on almost all monasteries and to station cadres permanently in them is a worrying indication that the state is becoming increasingly invasive in its management of religion in Tibet. These policies are likely to lead to further tensions and to further exacerbate social difficulties that have been growing in Tibetan areas since 2008. The move also appears to undermine statements by China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao, this week that “we should respect Tibetan compatriots’ freedom of religious belief” and that “we must treat all of our Tibetan compatriots with equality and respect.”
Strict security measures and restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Tibetan areas were imposed, following a series of street protests against Chinese rule in March 2008. Immediately following the protests, thousands of people were detained and arrested, though the total number is unknown, and at least two Tibetans were executed in October 2009 on charges stemming from their involvement in the protests. Security measures and restrictions on the exercise of religious freedom imposed on monasteries in Aba (Tibetan: Ngaba) and Ganzi (Tibetan: Kardze) Tibetan autonomous prefectures in Sichuan were especially severe, including intimidating raids and arbitrary detentions of monks, as detailed by Human Rights Watch.
Twenty-eight Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2011 to protest China’s policies, including at least 18 from Aba.
“If the Chinese government is committed to reducing tensions in Tibetan areas, it should repeal these policies immediately,” said Richardson.
By Saroj Pathirana BBC Sinhala service
Continue reading the main story
Pahalagama Somaratana Thera is one of the few Sri Lankan Buddhist monks to have been found guilty of child abuse inside or outside the country.
Yet according to figures from Sri Lanka's National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), only three Buddhist monks have been convicted of child abuse in Sri Lanka in recent history.
One of those died from poison he drank after he was sentenced for raping a girl aged 13 in 2005.
Research carried out by the BBC Sinhala service has revealed that over the last decade, nearly 110 Buddhist monks have been charged for sexual and physical assaults on minors in Sri Lanka.
Many of these cases - especially those of a sexual nature - were barely reported by the Sri Lankan media and seldom resulted in convictions.
One of the few cases that did make it into the newspapers is that of Buddhist monk and former parliamentarian Aparekke Pannananda Thera, who has been charged with sexually abusing minors.
He and another leading monk in the town of Anuradhapura, Namalwewa Rathnasara Thera, are currently released on bail in relation to the accusations - which they vehemently deny.
Tip of the iceberg
The issue of child abuse by Buddhist monks is regarded as taboo in what is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country.
Continue reading the main story
Anoma Dissanayake CPA headWe will take stern action against any child abuser irrespective of race, caste or the religion”
Against that backdrop, the 3 May conviction of Pahalagama Somaratana Thera - who runs children's homes in Sri Lanka - has come as a surprise, as well as a shock, to many expatriate Sinhalese Buddhists in the UK.
There are concerns that Thera's conviction may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to abuses in Sri Lankan Buddhist temples.
While in some cases monks are not directly accused of carrying out the abuses, they have been accused of failing to stop them.
Most Sri Lankan Buddhist temples have a constant stream of boys and adult male helpers who live there for short periods. It is not at all unusual for temples to seek help from youths in nearby villages to prepare for religious ceremonies and in the general day-to-day running of the buildings.
This, say critics, provides an ideal climate for abusers to take sexual advantage of vulnerable and impressionable boys mostly under 16 years old.
In one recent and disturbing case, monks of an unnamed eastern Sri Lankan Buddhist temple were accused of ignoring constant appeals by parents of abused children to prevent such practices from taking place within its premises.
"I work as an electrician at the temple. I have been part of this temple for a long time but even I could not stop my son being abused," Susil Rohana told the BBC.
Mr Rohana alleges that his son was sexually abused by helpers and workers staying in the temple throughout 2010.
He and other parents stress that while no Buddhist monk is accused of any involvement in the abuse, they nevertheless repeatedly failed to take action to stop it and that even today his son remains traumatised.
Mr Rohana says that he has tried to take the abuse suffered by his son to the courts, but is "getting constant threats" warning him not to do so.
It is not only Buddhist monks who stand accused - about 20 Roman Catholic and Protestant priests have been arrested or investigated for sexual abuse of minors over the last 10 years in Sri Lanka.
While there are no accurate records on how many of them have been convicted, officials say that at least one accused Catholic priest is still absconding since being given bail.
The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka refused to comment to the BBC on the issue.
But NCPA head Anoma Dissanayake is much less reticent.
"I do not know at the moment how many Catholic priests or how many Buddhist monks are involved, but we will take stern action against any child abuser irrespective of race, caste or religion," he said.
Children's Affairs Minister Tissa Karaliyadda told the BBC that he is "shocked and ashamed" over the extent of the problem.
"I noticed what kind of minor sentences the perpetrators are getting," the minister said. "We need tougher laws that if necessary do not fall too far short of the death sentence."
However Mr Karaliyedda rejected accusations that political leaders are trying to influence the judiciary to get culprits released.
"The president has clearly instructed us to implement the law irrespective of [a person's] status," he said.
The assistant secretary of the All Island Buddhist Council, Kalutara Somarathana Thera, says that many abuse accusations levelled at Buddhist monks are "baseless" - although there needs to be proper research on the "small minority" of monks that do commit such crimes.
Human rights lawyers such as Chandrapala Kumarage, meanwhile, argue that the Sri Lankan media are failing to expose abuses - "especially when it comes to politically or socially powerful figures".
- Buddhist monk charged with rape 19 SEPTEMBER 2011, LONDON
- S Lanka monks raze Muslim shrine 15 SEPTEMBER 2011, SOUTH ASIA
- Child abuse 'rife' in Sri Lanka 09 SEPTEMBER 2011, SOUTH ASIA
- Fears for Sri Lanka temple boys 15 OCTOBER 2010, SOUTH ASIA
- Child-abuser monk commits suicide 17 MAY 2005, SOUTH ASIA
Recent newspaper articles, photographs and reports in our newspapers have given prominence to massive campaigns to recruit thousands of children to the Buddhist order with the Prime Minister himself urging the recruitment of two thousand children as novices. He also urged the poor to multiply and bring forth children to bless the Sangha with new recruits and to serve in what he no doubt perceives as an endless war. My concern here is with the whole problem of child monks because this seems to be a violation of both the letter and the spirit of the Theravada Vinaya, the authoritative source of rules for monks. One newspaper photograph shows a child of about eight years wearing yellow robes and greeted by his smiling sister. The boy was not smiling; I am not surprised because joining a mendicant order is an awesome experience even for adults. One has therefore to ask whether little children are capable of making this kind of decision. Let me therefore address some of the issues that seem to me to be relevant for public consideration.
This Samanera is one of 150 boys ordained last week at the Dimbulagala Aranya Senasana. Immediately after he was ordained his two younger sisters ran to him and peeped into his pathther to see what was in it - (Picture by nihal Chandra kumara
1. The recruitment thrust has the blessings of politicians and the officials of the Buddha Sasana Ministry. I presume that in order to set an example to others the officials promoting the campaign have ordained, or will ordain in the near future, their own children or grandchildren. Outside of the offspring of these idealistically motivated officials, most of the child recruits must surely come from the poorest of the poor and also, nowadays, from those families who have been dispossessed or have suffered from the current war. One might make a case that monastic recruitment is a good thing because it provides homes and basic care for poor children. Yet, most of these children have had more than one meal a day, have had playmates and the support of family and kin folk. How would they fare with no solid food after the noon meal, without playmates and kin support? Moreover, if Buddhists are concerned about the welfare of poor children ought they not to develop alternative provisions, such as homes and orphanages, provision of food and education for destitute families - all of which are in keeping with the spirit of the religion.
2. The more serious problem is that of sexual abuse notoriously associated with all forms of institutionalized monasticism, witness the recent cases of abuse of children put in their pastoral care even by high prelates of the Catholic Church. But Catholics have no system of child ordination and therefore the possibility of abuse of children confined to Buddhist monasteries must be faced honestly and squarely.
Over the last five or six years I have visited many Buddhist monasteries trying to locate two rare palm leaf manuscripts and I believe that in general village monks are morally responsible human beings. Yet, it is foolish to believe that abuse of children does not take place in larger monasteries, in urban settings and among the more worldly monks. The rules of the Vinaya themselves were formulated when specific acts of immorality had taken place in monasteries and among these are unlawful homoerotic activities, generally among consenting adults. In our own troubled times, monks are provided with plenty of sexual stimuli: in TV and in coeducational interactions in campuses and other arenas. Yet the rules do not provide them with heterosexual outlets. One would imagine, therefore, that in our modern context the possibility of child abuse is certainly there and one ought to have institutional safeguards for that purpose. Urban monasteries today provide no serious monastic education because modern monks want to sit for secular government exams and go to secular universities. It is in the rare instance that monks study Pali or Sanskrit and have first hand knowledge of the doctrinal tradition. Many drop out of the monkhood after some time though exact statistics are not available. If I am even partially right then the real issue is to provide incentives for monks to study Buddhism seriously, engage in meditative exercises, and for the laity to provide support and encouragement for adult monks to remain in the order. When masses of children are to be ordained it is likely that most of them will follow the now popular pattern of secular education and many will end up disrobing. If so, what good will child recruitment do for the order?
3. Unlike adult monks children have little chance of resisting sexual advances. They are much more vulnerable; the cultural and familial pressures are so strong that they cannot run away to their own homes and, as far as I know, there is no satisfactory way in which they can protest to the monastic authorities. The new ordinations require, I am told, a guardian who will act in the interests of the child. But how does the guardian inquire into such possibilities when the mere talk of homoerotic practices is taboo? And how does a guardian set about his task? Are there rules and institutional procedures laid out? Perhaps one solution would be to have professionally trained child care workers among Buddhist monks who would then have the legal and moral right to inquire into problems of child abuse. But I doubt that this has even been considered by our pious officials and politicians.
4. What are the rules of the order regarding child ordination? The classic rule which officials and monks go by is formulated in the Mahavagga 1, 53-54 of the Vinaya Pitake . In it the Buddha ordained his only son Rahula but, owing to strong protests by his own father, the sage formulated the following rule: "Monks, a child who has not his parent’s consent should not be let to go forth [that is, ordained as a novice]." But well-meaning Buddhists are unaware that this rule was qualified by another sensible rule: "Monks, a boy of less than fifteen years of age should not be let to go forth. Whoever should let (one such) go forth, there is an offence of wrong-doing." (Mahavagga, 1.50) Because sixteen years is the permitted age of marriage for Buddhists at that time one would expect a fifteen year old youth to be fully mature. Nevertheless, this is further qualified by another rule which unlike the previous one is so vague that it simply cannot be applied to our time. It says: "I allow you, monks, to let a youth of less than fifteen years of age and who is scarer of crows go forth." (ibid,. 1,51) This qualification, however, is nothing to crow about. It is not a general rule but an exception to the former one. And it has been interpreted by later traditions to mean references to a muscular youth capable of scaring crows (who in Buddhist texts are hardy creatures classed with vultures and living on carrion) by throwing a clod of earth at them with the left hand! Simply stated the rule implies that one can qualify the fifteen year norm if the youth (not child) is physically tough and up to the rigours of monastic life. Thus, it seems to me that the Theravada Buddhist rules of recruitment for novices are quite sensible: one must have parental consent; one must be fifteen years old; if not, one must be a youth with the physical maturity of a fifteen year old. There is no space for child ordination according to the Buddha-word which means that in these matters ignorance is our worst enemy.
5. I for one agree that monks have a vital religion~ role in our society officiating in temple rituals and sermons and they are absolutely indispensible for death rituals, especially the pansakula and the remembrance of the dead (mataka dana). Hence, some form of recruitment is vital to the perpetuation of lived Buddhism. If monks, politicians and government officials declare that more monks are needed then they should also ask the question, how many monks does the nation require? Or, is one good monk worth the many who openly flout the rules of the order?
I have no answers to these questions but if more monks are needed there remains a very simple solution to the problem, and that is the recruitment of older folk. Many older people are increasingly given to meditation (of various types, some deep some shallow) and they are nowadays educated, often with a good knowledge of the dhamma. They have more or less retired from work and worldly life and form an ideal recruiting ground for both novices and fully ordained monks (and nuns). Many of them have meagre pensions; therefore free monastic board and lodging would be added incentives. And given the imbalances in our population more and more older people (age fifty and over) will be available for recruitment. They have already enjoyed (or put up with) domestic life and are ready for the life after. They may not be as glamorous as child monks but they could well be the rock on which a solid foundation for the future of the sasana could be erected. It seems that the sensible thing to do is for the Buddha Sasana officials to promote this form of recruitment rather than the Orwellian scenario proposed by the Prime Minister.
(The writer is Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, of Princeton University, New Jersey, USA)
Monday, December 10, 2012
While many Westerners are learning Buddhism, their predominantly Asian teachers are learning to adapt to the mores of the West. In 1993, a conference in India under the auspices of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was held at which several Western, and a number of Tibetan teachers, agreed to respect six important principles.
In March (16 - 19) of 1993, a group of 22 teachers of Buddha-Dharma from the major denominations of Buddhism that are active in Europe and America met in Dharamshala, India under the auspices of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama: Tenzin Gyatso. Also present were the Tibetan lamas Drikung Chestang Rinpoche, Panchen Otrul Rinpoche and Amchok Rinpoche.
The aim of the meeting was to discuss openly a wide range of issues concerning the transmission of Buddha-dharma to the Western lands. The conclusions were that:
1. Our first responsibility as Buddhists is to work towards creating a better world for all forms of life. The promotion of Buddhism as a religion is a secondary concern. Kindness and compassion, the furthering of peace and harmony, as well as tolerance and respect for other religions, should be the three guiding principles of our actions.
2. In the West, where so many different Buddhist traditions exist side by side, one needs to be constantly on one's guard against the dangers of sectarianism. Such a divisive attitude is often the result of failing to understand or appreciate anything outside of one's own tradition. Teachers from all schools would therefore benefit greatly from studying and gaining some practical experience of the teachings of other traditions.
3. Teachers should be open to beneficial influences from secular and other religious traditions. For example, the insights and techniques of contemporary psychotherapy can often be of great value in reducing suffering experienced by students. At the same time, efforts to develop psychologically oriented practices from within the existing Buddhist traditions should be encouraged.
4. An individual's position as a teacher arises in dependence on the request of his or her students, not simply being appointed as such by higher authority. Great care must therefore [be] exercised by the student in selecting an appropriate teacher. Sufficient time must be given to making this choice, which should be based on personal investigation, reason and experience. Students should be warned against the dangers of falling prey to charisma, charlatanism or exoticism.
5. Particular concern was expressed about unethical conduct among teachers. In recent years both Asian and Western teachers have been involved in scandals concerning sexual misconduct with their students, abuse of alcohol and drugs, misappropriation of funds, and misuse of power. This has resulted in widespread damage both to the Buddhist community and to individuals involved.
Each student must be encouraged to take responsible measures to confront teachers with unethical aspects of their conduct. If the teacher shows no sign of reform, students should not hesitate to publicize any unethical behavior of which there is irrefutable evidence.
This should be done irrespective of other beneficial aspects of his or her work and of one's spiritual commitment to that teacher. It should also be made clear in any publicity that such conduct is not in conformity with Buddhist teachings. No matter what level of spiritual attainment a teacher has, or claims to have, reached, no person can stand above the norm of ethical conduct.
In order for the Buddha-dharma not to be brought into disrepute and to avoid harm to students and teachers, it is necessary that all teachers at least live by the five lay precepts. In cases where ethical standards have been infringed, compassion and care should be shown towards both teacher and student.
6. Just as the Dharma has adapted itself to many different cultures throughout its history in Asia, so it is bound to be transformed according to conditions in the West. Although the principles of the Dharma are timeless, we need to exercise careful discrimination in distinguishing between essential teachings and cultural trappings.
However, confusion may a rise due to various reasons. There may be a conflict in loyalty between commitment to one's Asian teachers and responsibility to one's Western students. Likewise, one may encounter disagreement about the respective value of monastic and lay practice. Further more, we affirm the need for equality between the sexes in all aspects of Buddhist theory and practice.
Western teachers were encouraged to take greater responsibility in creatively resolving the issues raised. For many, the Dalai Lama's advice served to confirm their own feelings, concerns and actions.
The list of teachers present at that conference includes: Stephen Batchelor, Alex Berzin, Ven. Thubten Chodron (Cherry Greene) Jack Kornfield, Lama Namgyal (Daniel Boschero) Ven. Tenzin Palmo Ven. Thubten Pende (James Dougherty). Also Lama Surya Das (Jeffrey Miller) and Robert Thurman. The entire list is available at The Network for Western Buddhist Teachers 4725 E. Sunrise Drive, suite 137, Tucson, Arizona 85718 USA.
Shaping The Future?
By: Stephen Batchelor
Western Buddhist Teachers Meet the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, India. March 22-23, 1993Before our formal sessions with the Dalai Lama began, we gathered for a preliminary meeting. "I'd like to suggest an exercise," announced Jack Kornfield, "Close your eyes and imagine the kind of Buddhism you foresee in 20 or 30 years time. The practices, the centres and the world itself ... What role does the Dharma have in such a world?"
After fifteen minutes we opened our eyes and returned to the brash furnishings of the Surya Resorts Hotel in McLeod Ganj, the former British hill station above the town of Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama has been living in exile since 1960. The rain was still streaming down the windows while we took it in turns to present our visions. For the Americans, the Buddhist future unfolded as a kind of hi-tech Walden Pond peopled by Dharma-intoxicated Bodhisattvas. The disquieting features of contemporary institutions - sectarianism, scandal and all the things we were here to talk about - had conveniently evaporated. The Europeans were more cautious. "In our cities we are dominated by a thousand years of history," pleaded Sylvia Wetzel from Berlin. A history set in stone; and if history teaches only one lesson, it is this: no one ever guesses the future.
Two decades previously, almost to the day, I had arrived in this same Himalayan village to embark on a course of study, monastic discipline and meditation. Older, balder, disrobed and married, my enthusiasm well-tempered by the cynicism of experience, I had now returned along those same dizzying hairpinned roads for the first time in 18 years, filled with a mixture of nostalgia and trepidation. The rhododendrons, the snow-speckled rock wall of the Dhaoladhar range, the pine forests, the sheets of rain and mist, the tattered prayerflags - none of this had changed. But the village had become more packed, its puzzle of buildings scrambling ever further up, down and along the hillside, its smells more pungent and its roofs had spawned satellite dishes.
At the instigation of a burly, bearded American lama called Surya Das, 22 of us were gathered here for nine days of discussions, four of which would be with the Dalai Lama. We represented most of the Buddhist traditions: Theravada, Zen, the Tibetan schools. We had all been involved full-time with the Dharma as students, teachers and writers for most of our adult lives. Some of us bore titles and robes, some had founded centres, some had explored more than one tradition, some had spent years in retreat, some had authored well-known books. Within the course of our first session together it became clear that a common experience united us far more than our different traditions divided us. The first couple of days were spent preparing for our eight two-hour sessions with the Dalai Lama. Our task was to define the themes for each session and select people to summarise our perceptions to His Holiness. The ensuing debate generated myriad hand-scribbled sheets of paper taped to every available beam and pillar in the room. Out of this chaos emerged the issues of primary concern: adaptation of the teachings, tradition versus culture, sectarianism, the role of the teacher, the use of psychotherapy, sexism, monasticism. And the monster that kept rearing its head: teacher ethics - alcohol abuse, "sex in the forbidden zone."
We wait, sunken in capacious armchairs, in a tall, chilly room decorated with thangkas of the 16 liberated saints of the early Buddhist tradition, listening to the squeak of shoes of a solitary attendant on the polished wooden corridor outside. Then a rumble of invisible voices and footsteps, the attendant urging us to stand, our own fumbling and coughing, while, at the head of a coterie of officials, a slightly stooped monk in burgundy robes and tinted glasses, grinning hugely, bursts into view. As with many who have ascended to the god-realm of media celebrity, the Dalai Lama seems oddly diminished in the proximity of the flesh. He takes his seat and looks around. With polite prompting he closes his eyes, sways from side to side, and grumbles a prayer.
The discussions proceed hesitantly and uncertainly at first. Through probing the boundaries of real and imagined protocol, we gently relax into the confidence of familiarity. The man emanates an almost restless energy, switching effortlessly from intense inner reflection to bubbling laughter. His smile floods you with a gaze of such warmth and openness that it is hard not to avert your eyes. When excited the pitch of his voice rises to the verge of a shriek, the staccato firing of English syllables breaks into a torrent of Tibetan, his hands chop the air with conviction. Then he pauses - silence - laughs, grins and beams at his interlocutor: "Yes? All right. Next?"
The Dalai Lama is simultaneously a pre-eminent upholder of the historical Dharma and one of the foremost interpreters of its meaning. He is at once highly conservative in matters of ethical orthodoxy while radically liberal in terms of doctrinal interpretation. Not only does he brush aside as trivial the adoption of Asian names, the wearing of Eastern dress and the attachment to Oriental rituals, he dismisses traditional cosmology as invalidated by science, and questions the need for belief in rebirth (while stating that ultimately meditation will lead to conviction about it). But as soon as the ethical precepts and monastic ordination as detailed in the Vinaya, the Buddha's teaching on monastic and lay moral conduct, are challenged, one hits a brick wall.
Which is what happened to Dharmachari Kulananda when he presented the reformed model of Buddhism found in the British-based Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO). The Dalai Lama nodded approvingly. "I love it." he interjected as the activities of the Order were described, only to become stern and withdrawn as Kulananda outlined a form of ordination that was neither monk nor lay, based on commitment to the Three Jewels rather than a lifestyle governed by certain precepts. Yet his difficulty with the FWBO's approach should, in principle, be the same as he would have with any of the Japanese Buddhist schools, which have likewise relinquished adherence to the traditional Vinaya: although he might feel that Zen Buddhism, for instance, is too well-established to ignore. His sympathies clearly lay with the Theravada monks present, whose truly ancient and traditional opinion on such matters he invariably sought.
He confessed that after 34 years in exile, his relations with Christians were far better than those with either Theravada or Zen Buddhists. He had met with little success in his urging of Tibetan lamas to study the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism - let alone Theravada or Zen. Yet he encouraged exploration of other traditions and the acceptance of whatever was of value in them, provided it did not entail belief in a Creator God or a soul - views incompatible with an understanding of emptiness. While expressing his own preference for Buddhism, he warned against using Buddhist ideas to disparage other religions. Again this tension: openness combined with reserve.
The complexity of his position is further compounded by his twin role as preserver of Tibetan culture in exile and visionary for an independent, democratic Tibet of the future. In respecting the conflicting demands of the conservative old-guard and the young Indian-educated radicals, not to mention those Tibetans born in a Chinese Communist-controlled homeland, he has to address very different constituencies and somehow represent them all. His success in sustaining this balancing act for more than 30 years has helped forge a strikingly independent personality, at the root of whose actions lies a transparent faith in and practice of the Dharma. Having as a young man been abruptly propelled from a medieval to a modern world while carrying on his shoulders responsibility for millions of men and women, he has had to put this faith to test in the treacherous arena of international politics. Herein, I suspect, lies the key to his undeniable authority.
Yet when he responds to our presentations he insists that he is only giving his own point of view which he does not want people to follow simply because "the Dalai Lama has said it." Often it is not so much what he says that impresses, but the integrity of the standpoint from which he says it. His authority is not so much commanding, although one is aware of a strong temptation to take it that way, as it is confirming. In acknowledging his own thinking to be based on the Geluk tradition of Tsongkhapa while clarified by insights from other Tibetan traditions, he tacitly confirms our own appreciation of the entire Buddhist spectrum available in the West. "I always remember the Buddha-nature," he remarks at one point. "It gives me great hope." He likewise affirms the Bodhisattva's powerful self-confidence. For without such a will to enlightenment, one lacks the strength to confront the negative ego. "Selflessness," he insists, "does not mean something weak."
Between these sessions in the palace, rain and hail permitting, we leave the cluttered, muddy village of Mcleod Ganj below us and walk in the hills. Around Tushita Retreat Centre I frequently meet the fresh, eager faces of another generation of Dharma students, propelled along the mountain paths by a tireless resolve for more teachings. As I sit on a rock to catch my breath, they whizz by enrapt in earnest discussion. There is something reassuringly recurrent about these flashes of the past. For, in coming to India, many of us have returned to the very source of the meandering that has led to our being here now. And it is this very meandering that unites us; this ever more subdued questioning that renders these poignantly ambivalent conversations with the Dalai Lama significant.
Ostensibly, we have returned not as students but as teachers, our relationship with tradition switched from that of recipient to donor. We are aware, nonetheless, that to be a good teacher requires that one never ceases to learn. Some of us took enthusiastically to the teaching role, some were pushed into it reluctantly, some gradually evolved towards it, one refuses to accept that she is a teacher at all. Yet a teacher, by definition, is anyone who has students. And it is the student, the Dalai Lama declares, who ultimately invests the teacher with authority by placing him or her in that role. By acknowledging that a teacher does not exist as such in his own right, one empowers the student. Why, then, in a relationship of mutual dependence, have certain teachers (of both Eastern and Western origin) in America and Europe over the past few years become embroiled in scandals? Why have they been able to exploit and abuse their students with such ease? This was an issue about which the Dalai Lama was deeply concerned. He had received letters from people who were confused and disillusioned about the behaviour of their Buddhist teachers. He wanted to know what was going on.
There are many factors involved here. The student, he noted, often fails to examine sufficiently a person's ethical and spiritual qualities before accepting him (it's usually 'him', there are as yet not so many 'hers') as a teacher. Yet the Tibetan traditions state clearly that one should devote up to 12 years of close scrutiny before taking such a step - in particular with a tantric teacher. The Dalai Lama declared bluntly that one should "spy" on one's potential teacher to perceive his merits. He compared the promotional methods of contemporary, jet-setting lamas flying around the world freely bestowing initiations to that of Chinese Communist propagandists. (Except, he chuckles, when the Dalai Lama gives the Kalachakra empowerment.)
The fault can also lie with the teacher. The Dalai Lama observed: "Many of my friends I knew here were very humble, but in the West they became proud." A simple monk catapulted from an impoverished settlement in India to a city in Europe or America to be revered and showered with wealth would understandably be prone to let such treatment go to his head. "Alcohol," His Holiness commented, "is often at the root of these problems." Of course: a tempting strategy for someone uprooted from his home-culture and thrust into a bewildering and demanding world for which he lacks the necessary social and emotional skills to cope.
This would be all very well except for the fact that most of these Asian teachers (and their Western successors) were supposed to be enlightened. But what does 'enlightenment' mean if those who have it are still subject to those less than edifying forms of behaviour from whose grip we poor unenlightened souls are struggling to be free? At the very least, one would hope, enlightenment would imply a degree of contentment. But if someone were contented, why would they succumb to the conceit of self-importance? Why would they become dependent upon alcohol? Why would they indulge in a series of transient sexual encounters and financial irregularities? Even unenlightened contented people have no need for these things.
If a teacher's actions are unethical, responded the Dalai Lama, then, even if they have practised for many years, their practice has been wrong-footed. Quite simply, they lack a proper understanding of the Dharma. There is a "gap" between the Dharma and their lives. He challenged the idea that once one has insight into the ultimate truth of emptiness, then one is no longer bound by the norms of morality. On the contrary: through revealing the web of relationships that ethically connects all living beings, the understanding of emptiness does not transcend morality but grounds it in experience.
In both the Vajrayana and Zen traditions, however, one finds historical instances of enlightened teachers, whose actions have been both unconventional and, by normal standards, unethical. It is argued that since such actions were motivated by profound compassion, precisely suited to the spiritual needs of the student, they are to be regarded as eminently appropriate. As a Vajrayana master himself, this is not a possibility the Dalai Lama could ever rule out when judging the conduct of a Tibetan lama today. For he belongs to a tradition that, in order to create the kind of faith needed for Vajrayana practices to be effective, states that any unethical traits observed in one's tantric guru must be interpreted either as projections of one's own impure vision or the incomprehensible activities of Buddhahood.
As an example of how he himself has dealt with this dilemma, he spoke of his own relationship with one of his teachers. We presumed this was his first tutor and regent Reting Rinpoche, a sexually promiscuous Gelugpa monk who, in 1947, plotted to launch a Chinese-backed coup to regain the regency. In the privacy of his meditation, the Dalai Lama continued to regard his tutor as a Buddha, while in public he condemned his actions. Likewise, he admitted, "Mao Tse-tung may have been a Bodhisattva, but I had to criticise him because he destroyed our religion and independence."
What is at stake here is the standing and repute of Buddhism itself, which, for the Dalai Lama, serves not least as a crucial component for our times in creating peace in the world. Even if one has received great personal benefit from a teacher - even if one has taken tantric vows of discipleship with him, the integrity of the Buddhist tradition must take precedence over guarding that teacher's reputation when he is justly accused of ethical misconduct. When there is incontrovertible evidence of wrong-doing, then it is one's responsibility to take action. "Make voice!" he insisted. "Give warning! We no longer tolerate!"
The Dalai Lama encouraged us repeatedly to criticise such behaviour openly, even, when all else fails to "name names in newspapers." As his own example showed, this does not mean that one has to abandon one's spiritual relationship with that teacher. Such actions are of course, hardly likely to endear one to him. So what to do? The Dalai Lama had a simple answer: "Pack your bags. A teacher can kick out your body, but he cannot kick out your mind." Although such measures may be appropriate as a practical solution, they still fail to address certain underlying ethical questions. As long as one admits of the possibility that a Vajrayana teacher behaving 'unethically' may be an enlightened tantric saint, one acknowledges a double standard: actions that are immoral for an unenlightened person can be moral for an enlightened person. And if one can never be sure whether a person is or is not such a saint, then there will always be a loophole, an escape clause, that can never be definitively closed. At the root of this, do we not encounter a clash between the ethical norms of a feudal society, with its droit du seigneur (the right of a lord to deflower a vassal's bride), and those of a secular democracy in which all are equal in the eyes of the law? To what extent are Tibetan lamas and Japanese roshis still living within the context of a feudal morality? Should one be surprised that they expect privileges which their upbringing and society deem to be theirs by right? Are we not simply the victims of our own naivety in assuming that the norms of modern Western society are somehow intrinsically 'right' and must apply equally to pre-modern Buddhist cultures?
These profoundly difficult questions of cultural and ethical relativity were those which, from the point of view of our needs, we were least able to address satisfactorily with the Dalai Lama. While he stressed that the life of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, should serve as the ideal ethical model for Buddhists, he acknowledged that tantric yogins should be judged by Vajrayana standards. While unfamiliar with Trungpa Rinpoche's concept of crazy wisdom ("weird," he commented to our surprise), he pointed out that a genuine tantrika should be as eager to ingest urine and excrement as alcohol. "So what your Holiness is suggesting," called out the irrepressible Robert Thurman, "is some kind of taste test." Exactly how this would be administered was not discussed. A more delicate proof of tantrika status, His Holiness added, would be the absence of seminal emission during sexual intercourse. When asked how many Tibetan lamas today fulfilled such criteria, he confessed that while he personally knew none, there were monks in the caves above Dharamsala whose practice was such that his own, in comparison, dwindled to insignificance.
The Dalai Lama was prepared to agree with the Indian scholar Lal Mani Joshi that one of the reasons for the decline of Buddhism in India may have been the popularisation of tantra. Could this not be why the Vajrayana tradition itself declares the importance of keeping its practices strictly confidential? But when, as in Tibet, tantric teachings serve not only as the underpinning of a popular religion but have been institutionalised into a socio-political structure, can the genie ever be put back into the bottle? The Dalai Lama certainly recognises the dangers to the future of Buddhism through the behaviour of lamas who believe their actions to be justified by Vajrayana ethics. So could it not serve in the interests of the tantric tradition in the West that it be challenged precisely in order for it to assume its rightful position underground?
In response to accounts of the ethical misconduct of Zen teachers in the West, His Holiness expressed concern about the nature of the Zen experience of satori. On occasion, he suggested, it is confused with either a deep state of concentration (samadhi) or simply a state of nonconceptuality, neither of which in themselves imply transformative understanding. Moreover, by focusing so intently on a single practice, as often appears to be the case in Zen, one lacks adequate tools to deal with the whole range of spiritual dilemmas. "Because mind is so complex and powerful, one single practice cannot match that." (A point he returned to in his discussion of psychotherapy.) Alternatively, the emphasis in Zen of high levels of enlightenment experience might well entail the danger of leaving lower-levels of common, neurotic behaviour untouched. He likewise wondered about Chinese Buddhists he had met who talked of experiencing emptiness but who seemed to lack human warmth. This indicated to him either a meditative lapse into sheer non-conceptuality or mental "sinking" (a subtle form of dullness) "Therefore," he concluded, "I prefer the gradual path. A big question mark over Zen understanding of shunya (emptiness)."
Bodhin Kjolhede Sensei from Rochester spoke for many Zen teachers in the West by acknowledging that while these objections may be very true in certain cases, as a broader picture they present an oversimplification of the actual complexity of the Zen tradition. They might also detect an apparent double-standard and bias; for whereas a Tibetan lama who abuses his students might be a tantric saint, a Zen Master who does the same is more likely to suffer from a deficient practice. The Dalai Lama's views on traditions other than his own were understandably less well informed than those on the Tibetan schools.
Face to face in conversation with the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet one speaks with a person who is a living myth. Does this explain that strange polarity one feels between the shocking practicality of his remarks and the longing to sustain one's own internalised mythology of the man?
Indeed, much of what one observes supports the myth: the boundless energy, the radiant warmth, the razor-sharp intellect. But often I have witnessed him address gatherings of his own people in his own language where the myth has obliterated the man. I have heard him berate crowds of Tibetans in no uncertain terms, criticise their attachment to traditional ways and their failure to adapt. In response, they worship him tearfully, seek refuge in his Holy Presence, chat with one another, play with their children, nibble at their picnics - but ignore what he says. Is there not a tendency for us also, in our own peculiar ways, to reduce his voice to that of one crying out in a wilderness? To honour what he says but fail to realise its implications - let alone put them into practice? Listening to the Dalai Lama is to discover that "Buddha-nature" might be just a fancy word for common sense.
When asked what in Buddhism can really transform a person, he replies simply: recognition of the four noble truths, discernment between what is relative and ultimate, an altruistic attitude, insight into codependent-emergence, adherence to the five precepts, honouring the Buddha, kindness. "Most effective is thinking about the suffering nature, recognising how we remain a slave of ignorance. Our real master is ignorance, not the lama or guru. ... Ignorance is very clever and seems very kind. ... Less hatred, less desire in the mind is the mark of nirvana." A Buddhist approach to life should be one "based on reality", on uncovering facts through investigation. "If an instruction contradicts the Dharma, then reject it." And: "it is not our responsibility to increase the number of Buddhists but to make a better and happier world."
I doubt that I would be alone in confessing that the primary value of the meeting lay in the opportunity to spend a total of 16 hours in the presence of this man together with only a few other people. Although, at first naively, I may have expected that he would provide solutions to all the problematic issues on the agenda, in fact he offered a model of Buddhist integrity by which to reflect on and question my own integrity. In responding to issues he repeatedly emphasised basic Buddhist doctrines rather than suggest radically original solutions. When asked to visualise systematically a Buddhism in which all the great teachers including the Buddha and Her Holiness the Dalai Lama - were women, he smiled in acknowledgement of the validity of the exercise, but had no great insights to offer on the subject of sexism or feminism. While promising to do what he could to rectify current injustices, such as the lack of support for Western monks and nuns, he could offer little apart from raising the issue at high-level Asian Buddhist congresses. The meeting was as much an exchange of perspectives as a frank and open discussion. Again and again, he threw the ball back into our court.
It would be a travesty of what the Dalai Lama stood for to treat some of his remarks as divinely ordained commands from a Buddhist pope. I am no longer convinced, for example, that much good would be achieved by naming names of miscreant Roshis and Lamas in periodicals. For this could too easily degenerate into a self-righteous witchhunt. Far more effective, I believe, would be to try and create in the West a Buddhism rooted in its own blindingly evident principles. As a possible step in this direction we formed the 'Network for Western Buddhist Teachers' as an on-going and expanding forum to continue such discussions and thus create a new and dynamic ethical consensus.
Our days together, someone remarked, "had a bone-deep sense of rightness" about them. The meeting with the Dalai Lama was compared to an empowerment, an initiation in the true sense of the word. Above all it served as a confirmation of something we had intuitively known to be true all along but had found neither the courage nor the words to express. The connections we formed with one another disclosed a whole new dimension of the term 'sangha' - spiritual community. "Past is past," said the Dalai Lama on the last day. "What is important? The future. We are the creators. The future is in our hands. Even if we fail, no regrets - we have to make the effort."
Saturday, December 1, 2012
File under: Book Reviews and Wackadoo Gurus
We’ve just finished reading All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, the memoir of a young girl yanked out of her home in America, only to be taken to a desert wasteland backwater in India and the ashram of a dead, wackadoo guru she never believed in. It’s full of funny and yet startlingly sad recollections and many examples of the ridiculous things people are willing to accept about their supposedly divine gurus—and the twisted justifications they come up with for those gurus’ twisted behavior:
Obviously, the guy was drunk on his own power, as evidenced by this story:
We’ve just finished reading All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, the memoir of a young girl yanked out of her home in America, only to be taken to a desert wasteland backwater in India and the ashram of a dead, wackadoo guru she never believed in. It’s full of funny and yet startlingly sad recollections and many examples of the ridiculous things people are willing to accept about their supposedly divine gurus—and the twisted justifications they come up with for those gurus’ twisted behavior:
Baba had thrown a plate across the dining room table because he demanded total, unquestioning, to-the-letter obedience, and a mandali [devotee] had given him a white plate instead of the blue one he’d asked for. Paribanu said that Baba’s willingness to discipline his mandali [devotees] proved how much he loved them.Either that or he was a raging asshole. Not incompatible with enlightenment, but not always the outpouring of pure love a hapless devotee wants to believe it is.
Obviously, the guy was drunk on his own power, as evidenced by this story:
“Baba asked us if we were ready to give him true obedience,” continued Nona. “Of course, we all said we were. He asked us if we’d give up our money, our jobs, even our lives for him. We all said we would. Then one by one, Baba asked us if we would be willing to kill our relatives or loved ones if he ordered us to.”When you hear the story of Baba’s “enlightenment,” you begin to understand just how much of a nutbag the guy was, as if believing he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and every other major religious figure weren’t evidence enough:
The holy man pitched a rock at the dazed boy’s forehead. Merwan [Baba] promptly declared that he had become enlightened... For some time after the first blow, Baba banged his head against the floor until his forehead bled and all his teeth were knocked loose.Rachel Manija Brown’s memoir is a great read for anyone interested in the psychosocial dynamics of divine gurudom and the complete abandonment of reason it often engenders. As sad as her life was in India, we thoroughly enjoyed reading about it, and the world is a slightly less insane place for her having shared it with us. We highly recommend All the Fishes Come Home to Roost and give it 4 out of 5 turbans.