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Buddha teachings about right of a lay person to give feedback about monastic conduct/projects

Hello there :slight_smile:

I remember that in some dhamma talk I think I’ve heard that lay people have right to “constructively criticise” a monastic when they see some misconduct. I might be wrong thou and simply imagining something.

I also remember a story (and this I remember for sure) that some novice bhikkhu said to Sariputta or Ananda that he wears robe not as he should, and he humbly just went to the forest and corrected it and didn’t act our with anger or pride, even if he was “corrected” by a monk of less rains.

What I look for is if Buddha said when a lay person have a right to tell someone that something could be improved, that something is not right in his/her opinion in a conduct of particular monastic or monastery in relation to dhamma-vinaya.

I also remember some discussion about that lay people should support mendicants with good conduct, and that this is natural process of growth in buddhism.

These are more or less subjects of teachings and refferences from EBTs I’m looking for. When and how a lay person can give feedback about monastic conduct and remain a “good buddhist” :slight_smile: I don’t mean extreme cases here.

There is also a sutta that we should not criticise someone unless we ourselves don’t have particular traits developed for example speech conduct. But I wonder if there is a difference, since lay people support sangha with alms and funds etc., if a lay person can point out something even when he/she is not perfect either, just sees some repeating behaviour that goes against teachings of the Buddha and what discourages him/her to offer more dana. I think such feedback would be great from time to time, but on the other hand I think some lay people might be very scared of saying anything even constuctively critical due to deep respect or other reasons. So I’m very curious what Buddha said about this. :slight_smile:

With Metta :heart: :anjal:

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I also remember that, I think that I also read suttas but I also can’t find that :frowning: but after all, that’s how Vinaya was made, so it must be somewhere:D maybe later when I’ll have more time.

but I just came across something connected to that issue, so I thought that it may be helpful too

how to react to criticism or praise

“Mendicants, if others criticize me, the teaching, or the Saṅgha, don’t make yourselves resentful, bitter, and exasperated. You’ll get angry and upset, which would be an obstacle for you alone. If others were to criticize me, the teaching, or the Saṅgha, and you got angry and upset, would you be able to understand whether they spoke well or poorly?”

“No, sir.”

“If others criticize me, the teaching, or the Saṅgha, you should explain that what is untrue is in fact untrue: ‘This is why that’s untrue, this is why that’s false. There’s no such thing in us, it’s not found among us.’

If others praise me, the teaching, or the Saṅgha, don’t make yourselves thrilled, elated, and excited. You’ll get thrilled, elated, and excited, which would be an obstacle for you alone. If others praise me, the teaching, or the Saṅgha, you should acknowledge that what is true is in fact true: ‘This is why that’s true, this is why that’s correct. There is such a thing in us, it is found among us.’

no confidence in mendicant

“Mendicants, the lay followers may, if they wish, make a proclamation of no confidence in a mendicant who has eight qualities. What eight? They try to prevent the lay people from getting material possessions. They try to harm lay people. They insult and abuse lay people. They divide lay people against each other. They criticize the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha. They’re seen at an inappropriate place for collecting alms. The lay followers may, if they wish, make a proclamation of no confidence in a mendicant who has these eight qualities.

The lay followers may, if they wish, make a proclamation of confidence in a mendicant who has eight qualities. What eight? They don’t try to prevent the lay people from getting material possessions. They don’t try to harm lay people. They don’t insult and abuse lay people. They don’t divide lay people against each other. They don’t criticize the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha. They’re not seen at an inappropriate place for collecting alms. The lay followers may, if they wish, make a proclamation of confidence in a mendicant who has these eight qualities.”

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Hi Invo,

The main thing that comes to mind from EBTs is the Vinaya showing the Buddha responding with strong compassionate concern to complaints by laity, on many occasions.

But there is a set of Vinaya protocols and accompanying origin story that I believe will delight you. It is the protocol for the Sangha to force a monk to apologize to a layperson after being unkind.

It’s in Cullavagga 1 (scroll down to the middle or do a name search) My summary:

It all started when the noble lay disciple Citta invited a group of Great Disciples to a meal without first asking the opinion of the resident monk, Sudhamma. Ven Sudhamma was miffed and declared he wouldn’t join.

Next day Ven S. dropped by to see what Citta was preparing, and made a jeering comment about the meal, saying it was missing nothing except sesame cakes. (I’ve heard that he said “sesame sucks” making the candy into a lewd comment that works both in English & Pali, but this source says it was a slam on Citta’s family’s livelihood of selling the dish prior to his becoming wealthy.)

In turn Citta made a derogatory comment about Sudhamma [Edit: about the offspring of a hen & a crow crowing when it wanted to say cock a doodle do, and saying cock a doodle do when it wanted to crow - insinuating that the monk is being neither a monk nor a layman] that infuriated the monk so much that he departed in a huff to complain to the Buddha.

But the Buddha scolded the monk for insulting a good lay supporter, and sent him back to apologize, setting up a procedure for the Sangha to do this in future.

The Buddha then listed additional reasons to force a monk to apologize to laity.*

Ven Sudhamma went back, but failed to summon the courage and returned. The Buddha responded by setting up a procedure for a companion to be assigned to make sure the apology happens. The offending monk must ask forgiveness; if his apology is not accepted by the layperson then his companion is to intervene with various words up to 3x on his behalf. If the layperson still refuses, then the companion should make the offending monk sit on his haunches and salute the layman with joined palms and confess his offense. :sweat_smile: )

This was not a case of constructive criticism by a layman; the layman made a rude comment in response to a monk’s rudeness. Even so the layman’s rudeness was ignored by the Buddha and the monk’s misbehavior addressed strongly.

*The Buddha’s additional reasons for the Sangha to force a monk to apologize to a layperson:

if he tries for non-receiving (of gains) by householders; if he tries for non-profiting by householders; if he tries for non-residence for householders; if he reviles and abuses householders; if he causes householder to break with householder…

[And] if he speaks dispraise of the Awakened One to householders, if he speaks dispraise of dhamma to householders, if he speaks dispraise of the Order to householders, if he jeers at a householder with a low thing, if he scoffs at him with a low thing, if he does not fulfil, according to rule, his assent (given) to householders.

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After giving the monk Sudhamma a good scolding, the Buddha referred to Citta - who remember protested the monk’s behavior not with a gentle attempt to raise awareness but by way of a sharp insult - as “the householder Citta, who has faith and is believing, who is a benefactor, a worker, a supporter of the Order”.

Seems to me pretty close to an official Buddha approval of dosing out reality to errant monastics.

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There is no problem with questioning anyone if it is done respectfully, but just remember many people, especially those with something to hide and who have a reputation that they feel they need to protect, will very much dislike being questioned, no matter how genuinely respectful you are.

Before questioning others respectfully, you need to be aware of the potential consequences. For example, if you question a person who is indeed unwholesome and at the same time you are dependent on them in some way, then be prepared for that person to react negatively towards you. For example, if you respectfully question a bad monk who is responsible for allowing you to stay at his monastery, then you could expect to get your stay reduced etc

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Anyone can criticise anyone really, the question of course is, is it the right and wise thing to do?

Firstly, although you have said this is not about “extreme” examples, if a monastic is doing something harmful like bullying, abuse or corruption, then they should definitely be criticised and even reported if necessary to an authority.

Secondly, if it is a serious issue that affects you or others, then check if the monastery has established grievance procedures to deal with their behaviour and follow those protocols.

There are a few rules in the Vinaya that encourage a laywoman of good reputation to inform the Sangha if they have witnessed a monk committing a serious offended with a woman and there are the suttas mentioned by others above.

However, maybe it’s slightly different if your criticism is just based on a personal view of them being a “bad” monk, or if you don’t like the way they do things, don’t like their personality, or don’t agree with their views. In these situations, you are not personally affected and possibly they are not harming others or breaking heavy rules. In such cases, it’s probably sensible to be quite judicious and consider your own intentions and actions before judging others too harshly, as we would hope others would do for us!

I’ve noticed that in monasteries, senior monks are often very reluctant to give unsolicited feedback even to junior monks. As time goes by, I can see quite a bit of wisdom in this. There is a limit to what we understand about others’ growth and when we see our own flaws clearly, it’s hard to criticise others. Also, we understand that it’s very hard to change ourselves, so how much can we actually change others?

One important thing I would urge others to consider is that monastics are just people; they are usually doing their best and are not perfect. It’s very easy to criticise a monastic, especially if we have built up a ‘perfect monk ideal’ in our mind of how a monastic should be. Watch out for such ideals; they lead to disappointment.

There are many things about being a monk that are very hard, especially in countries where Buddhism is not established, and there are other things about being a monk that are impossible for lay people to understand, unless they have experienced it for themselves. So, perhaps it’s sometimes wise to pause before we criticise others, because we should also have understanding and compassion, knowing that we are not perfect our self either.

Also, we need to work out if it’s actually any of our business. Is this something that is one’s area of expertise and influence? Is this about something that we actually should have a say in? Or do we just want an opportunity to impose our opinion? Think about other areas of life. If you were interacting with someone at another workplace, in what circumstances would you tell them how to do their job or that they had a bad personality or something like that? How would you feel if someone came into your work or home and started telling you that you were bad at your job or bad at cooking?

Some people have an inflated sense of their own opinion and like judging others. They love telling other people what to do. They think they are entitled to. They might have a pet irritation that they want to make a big deal out of, or are there may be unkind motivations at play. Do we want to show that we know better than them, or give the impression that we would do better ourselves? Again, it’s easy to criticise, but how would we feel if people did this to us?

And what is your relationship to this person? Do they even know you? Are you already on good terms? Is there some trust between you that might help the message?

So, a good approach to feedback is one that requires us to have a little empathy and also some humility. We see this in the Kusināra Sutta AN 10.44

“Mendicants, a mendicant who wants to accuse another should first check five things in themselves and establish five things in themselves. What five things should they check in themselves? A mendicant who wants to accuse another should check this…"

The five things to be checked in oneself:
Do I have:

  1. Perfectly pure bodily behaviour
  2. Perfectly pure speech
  3. A heart full of love without any resentment
  4. Excellent knowledge of the Dhamma
  5. Excellent knowledge of both vinayas

That’s quite a list! If these things are missing in ourselves, how can we possibly criticise another? Otherwise we will just be seen as a fault-finder and hypocrite:

‘Is my bodily behaviour pure? Do I have pure bodily behaviour that is impeccable and irreproachable? Is this thing found in me or not?’ If it’s not, there will be people who say: ‘Come on, venerable, train your own bodily behaviour first…"

The Buddha then recommends that someone who already possesses these things should then establish a further 5 factors before reproaching another.

  1. I will speak at the right time, not the wrong time.
  2. I will speak truthfully, not falsely.
  3. I will speak gently, not harshly.
  4. I will speak beneficially, not harmfully.
  5. I will speak lovingly, not from secret hate.

So, if you feel confident about all ten of the conditions above and want to go ahead with criticism, the next thing is to make sure you have their consent to offer feedback by asking permission. No-one takes unexpected and unsolicited feedback well. Generally we don’t want to encourage everyone to tell everyone else what they think is wrong with them all the time… It would create a lot more problems than it solves and can be considered a little bit unkind and even “violent”.

People have to be wiling to participate in feedback, otherwise it won’t be effective. This is something at the core of the Vinaya, participating in disputes and procedures require that the person participate willingly and see the fault in themselves, admit it and accept consequences. For example, monastics give an invitation to be admonished by others after each Vassa residence. So, before you give feedback, ask if they are open to feedback first and make sure that you are speaking from a place that is not judgemental or hurtful, but motivated by genuine regard for their well-being and improvement.

Perhaps instead of giving feedback or criticising, you might have a general conversation and ask why they said something or did something, find out how they view it, you might be surprised; they may have good reasons, or maybe they just had a bad day. Finding out more first about how they view the situation might mean you won’t need to criticise.

After all, our view may also be quite wrong! We might think they are breaking a rule, but it turns out that our understanding of the rule is flawed or incomplete. I have personally seen lay people attack monastics for rules that they quite misunderstood. It didn’t seem to come from a place of kindness, but angry outrage. We need to accept that perhaps our version of events might be flawed, maybe that is just our viewpoint? Are there other ways to look at the situation? Have you noticed if other people like this monastic, or that they have some support? Maybe they have some good qualities that you can’t see? Maybe their good qualities outweigh the bad?

I see what you are trying to say here, but it’s important to be clear that the lay people give things freely of their own volition, and that there is no ‘quid pro quo’ attached. Although of course the monks should have hiri-ottappa about their behaviour and should make themselves worthy of offered requisites, giving doesn’t entitle lay people to control a monk, or control a monastery, impose their views or make demands, or anything like that. Generally speaking, monastery business is monastery business, sanhga business is sangha business. Also, a person’s path is their own, not ours.

There are lots of supporters with very different views about many things, that means lots of views of what makes a good/bad monk, what makes a good/bad monastery. Ask a group of people and you will see that these views can be quite different from one person to the next, so who is right? Who gets to decide? You?

If you genuinely believe that a monastic’s behaviour is so terribly egregious that you simply can’t support it in good conscience, then you can simply stop offering requisites to that monk. This was also done at the time of the Buddha. However, this is pretty severe and you would want to be fairly confident that you are entirely justified.

I try to remember the THINK acrostic as a short way to remind myself to THINK before I speak! But I still make mistakes and hope that I am getting better. Still, only human!!!

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Hope these thoughts are helpful.

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Thank you all for amazing replies. :slight_smile:

It is good to have some ETBs refferences, as well as modern outlook on the situation, so thank you Nipaka, Ayya Sudhamma and Bhante Akaliko for you replies. :slight_smile:

I’ll just reassure that I don’t have in mind criticising or giving feedback about/to any monastic or their conduct, I was just curious theoretically what Buddha thought about this subject, because I like to reffer my worldview to perspective of the Buddha.

As to actual situation, all I’ve did was when particular retreat has ended, at the end we were asked for feedback, so I’ve said that everything was lovely except the fact that it would be great if there was possibility of actual private individual consultations on next ones if possible. :wink: I was thinking if it was okay that I’ve said it in public and not privately, but I’ve thought this through and I feel it was OK to say that at this point because we were asked for it, and it was clearly with good intention.

As to character matching of certain monastics as Bhante Akaliko states, I feel it is best to just stick to those we are resonating with most. And also give our support there, so we feel good about our dana. As to sharing in general what I’ve meant was more like we have limited resources, and there are so many monasteries and monastic projects that we can support, that we have to choose among them. Some projects we might like a lot, but something about them might be not resonating, and it could make us to want to donate to even more promising because of that. Thats why I was wondering if sometimes we could give some feedback to perhaps improve this one particular thing, so we feel more like supporting this one and as to general input for improvement. But after thinking about this and your posts I’ve came to conclusion that its too complicated and it is better to just stick to the ones we feel simply good about.

Anyway I think that some monastics might feel that lay people expect too much from them. And sometimes lay people might feel that monastics are so great and religiously respected that ley people are not worthy, or it is “not suitable” to give ANY feedback that is not purely affirmative, like they would to another lay person. Thats more what I was meaning. I too think it would be great if we all were feeling more like simply human beings and just have healthy mutual respect. But I think, especially for people who very rarely meet monastics (because they are not from buddhist countries) might have such high esteem about them that they don’t act “natural” because of nervousness and fear from reaction of community if they say something wrong. At least I struggle with it a little.

I’m sorry that I didn’t made myself clear enough from the start. The more I write on this forum the more I realise it is not an easy task to convey in a post what we actually mean, at least for me. Being precise with written word is a skill to be admired and developed. :wink:

Thank you and with Metta :heart: :anjal:

PS: I wish I could give “solution” to all of you, but I’ll have to pick one :slight_smile: But please feel like you’ve all got it! :heart: :smiley:

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