Following the discussion started here I would like to invite all those who may have had a chance to read or eventually become interested in reading Bhante Shravasti Dhammika’s book "Broken Buddha"to share their impressions and views on the content and message of the book.
It is important to state out clearly that Bhante Dhammika is not in his book advocating for a model of Buddhism in which there are no bhikkhus or bhikkhunis.
Bhante Dhammika’s first present us a realistic view of the issues within contemporary Theravada in the countries in which it is a predominant folk religion such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos and Myanmar.
He does as well put forth the argument that disagreements around interpretation and adherence to Vinaya training rules has been since the early days of Buddhism a source of fragmentation and sectarianism. This is not an unusual argument and other authors like Bhante Sujato have a similar view on that (as per his book Sects & Sectarianism).
Above all, it is important that in his conclusion to the book, Bhante Dhammika proposes that a way to save Buddhism from the flaws of its folkloric / regional idiosyncrasies a new Dhammavada or Buddhavada should be created.
He ends up calling this new approach a Buddhayana:
Buddhayana would be governed by a properly constituted and legally recognized mahasabha
(…) The mahasabha would be a corporate body owning all Buddhayana property and assets and represent it in all matters.
"For Buddhayana the term Sangha would mean ‘spiritual community.’ Anyone, clerical or lay, who was fully committed to the Dhamma would be considered a member of the Sangha. This accords with a concept already implicit in the suttas where the Buddha says that a monk, nun, lay man or lay woman who is ‘accomplished in wisdom, disciplined, confident, learned, upholding Dhamma and living according to it’ illuminates the Sangha.
So far Bhante Dhammika’s Buddhayana is pretty much aligned with what we find in EBTs. Things start getting interesting when we read:
All monks and nuns would receive a full education in Buddhism, Pali, history of Buddhism, psychology and philosophy before their ordination.
During their education and training they would be instructed in meditation and also be psychologically assessed to see whether they were suited to the monastic life or for the role of being teacher
Here I start to have my doubts. I totally agree with what he is trying to address here: the risk of people with psychological issues taking the robes as a conscious or unconscious way to fly under the radar of society. Given that he is a bhikkhu himself I must assume he had encountered some really crazy characters in his years in robe!
The question I have is who has the right of allowing or not someone to fulfill his spiritual aspirations?
The way the training rules are explained and analysed in the Vinaya Pitaka implies that the society in which the Sangha originally took shape there was a lot of tolerance towards insanity, which in turn apparently was understood more as a temporary condition than a definitive or long lasting one: every single training rule has exception clauses for when individuals find themselves insane or out of their minds!
Interestingly, Bhante Dhammika’s Buddhayana apparently is not about getting rid of clergy but formalizing it further**:
**There would be three orders or nikayas within both the monastic and the lay Sangha – a contemplative order, a pastoral order and an academic order.
Monastics in this first order (contemplative) would mainly be involved in solitude and self development but would be expected to make some contribution to the community as well - conducting meditation retreats and doing
counseling and conflict resolution work.
Those in the pastoral order would run local Buddhist centers and receive the appropriate training to equip them for this role.
Monks and nuns of the academic order would be the scholars of the Buddhayana, teaching in universities, doing research work, advising the mahasabha on doctrinal matters, giving the Buddhist perspective on various
issues when needed and also acting as dhammadutas both within their own countries and overseas.
Last but not least, Bhante Dhammika’s Buddhayana is not about denying renunciation and discipline. Instead, it is all about people genuinely following them!
"Buddhayanist monks and nuns would genuinely renounce on being ordained, giving all their assets to the Sangha and anything they earned or inherited subsequently would also become the property of the Sangha.
"The Vinaya would govern the behavior of all monastics. Certain rules would be disregarded, just as is done in Theravada, the only difference being which rules were followed and which were not. Buddhayana monks and nuns would abide by the Parajikas as well other rules relevant to monastic living and the modern world.
There would also be a Code of Conduct to cover matters not dealt with by these rules and this would be modified as circumstances required.
Where things go weird is when some sort of lay ordination is proposed:
Being realistic enough to realize that monasticism is never going to be significant in Western society Buddhayana would develop an order of lay teachers similar to Protestant pastors or better, to the Dharmacariyas and Dharmacariyinis of WBO. Some of these might marry, others might choose to remain single.
Lay teachers would run local Buddhist temples or assist monks or nuns in running them and involve themselves in social work. They would receive an adequate salary from the congregation. Buddhayana lay teachers would be known for their quiet unobtrusive efforts to help others, especially in areas that are strong points of the Dhamma, – relaxation training, counseling, animal welfare, hospice work etc.
I really don’t understand how this can make sense vis-a-vis the fact Buddhism is a spiritual tradition which pertains to the sramana movement - defined exactly by the proposition of spiritual life outside the usual mode of being of laity and based on some sort of austerity or restraint.
While in other traditions the move into homelessness is based on arguments of faith or logical deductions, in Buddhism we see something totally different. The Buddha is depicted in suttas like DN2 presenting a comprehensive portrait of the path of training he proposes, illustrating each stage of the training within a gradual training framework - from the external aspects of change in livelihood and environment to the inner aspects of solid development positive states and the access to insight-bearing and transformative stillness of jhanas.
From this point, Bhante Dhammika’s Buddhayana goes wild in its idealism, passing by ecumenism and even proposing further polishing to existing chanting styles and eventual creation of new Buddhist art trends! He even suggests inspiration to be drawn from Quakers:
Like Quakers and liberal Jews they would be respected for their liberal and humane outlook, admired for their charitable work and be well-known as progressive and active community leaders.
The best advertisement for Buddhism would be the lives and examples of Buddhayanists themselves. A good number of well educated thoughtful people would see Buddhayana as an attractive alternative to the dogmatism of Christianity or the emptiness of secularism
The book ends with a “Final Word” chapter in which Bhante Dhammika’s gives us some insight into what may be a key driver for his concerns and idealization of his Buddhayana:
It would be easy to think that because Theravada has such ancient and apparently deep roots in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia that it will be there forever. (…)
During a recent visit to Cambodia I was shocked to see how many evangelical Christian churches there were and how many people they attracted. Just thirty years ago there were almost no Christians in the country, now they make up a significant minority and all indications are that their numbers will continue to grow.
Whatever Theravada’s future in Asia it certainly has no long term future in the West. Western Buddhists must
develop confidence enough to stop accommodating Theravada, rationalize it or copying it.
At present Western societies are very receptive to all types of Buddhism but there is no guarantee that this trend will continue. It would be a tragedy if Buddhism fails to take advantage of this rare and wonderful opportunity.
All that said, let me propose and try to answer few reflection questions for discussion in this thread:
How do you relate what you read in the Vinaya to what Bhante Sravasti Dhammika is saying in his book?
I see no difference between the spirit of the Vinaya’s training rules - as per the analysis recorded in the Bhikkhu Vibhanga - and what he proposes in his conclusion as a Buddhayana.
How did his book affect your practice?
Reading Bhante Dhammika’s Buddhayana Manifest only served to make me more awareness of how complicating it can be to not seek to calm down one’s tendencies towards idealistic proliferation!
The Buddha taught in an ancient India in which things were much likely even more challenging than they are right now, and still all his focus was towards inspiring people through an inner and gradual journey towards awakening.
As properly recorded in EBTs, external and communal rules and codes of conduct were established as the need aroused and are never presented as anything but ways of allowing those able to renounce and take robes to “ward off those things that are the basis for taint” (MN65)
How does Bhante Sravasti Dhammika’s book relate to the EBTs?
I struggle to find in the book a proper thesis on whether Vinaya was or not originally part of Buddha’s teachings.
If one is to follow that path he/she will definitely have lot of trouble explaining how the concept of discipline-based removal of unwholesome behaviors vinaya is all about was inserted by members of an ancient wicked clergy into every single nikaya!
PS: For those concerned about copyrights, Bhante Dhammika has a blog entitled Dhamma musings and has himself shared the the link to the PDF version of his book I provide above and upload to this topic as well. brokenbuddhanew.pdf (679.2 KB)