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Can a person with Asperger ordain?

monasticism
vinaya
mentalhealth
ordination
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#1

As in topic.

Could a person diagnosed with an Aspergers, who is managing well and is self-sufficient, could become a monk.
And if yes, would such a person likely have difficulties with some monasteries getting the permission for ordination? And what advices could be given to such a person regarding ordination & place?


#2

I don’t believe that there is an outright rule about this, but one of the Monastics on the forum may be able to answer this.
Otherwise, I believe that whether one is labelled as having a mental illness or not is not the main point. Rather it is what effect the condition has with regards to thoughts and actions.

If one is “managing well and self sufficient” that is really great :slight_smile: The relevant question to ask is what impact would the individual expression of ‘symptoms’ (or thought/feeling/action processes) have on the requirements of a monastic life?

The best way to test this out (whether one has a diagnosed mental illness or not) is to familiarise oneself with monastic life. Visiting and staying as a guest for different lengths of time will be the best predictor.

You might think I’m underestimating the impact of ‘mental illness’, but it is not an on/off or black and white thing. It is a sliding scale for all humanity :smiley: From well functioning and healthy right through to completely non-functional and incapacitated. Some conditions will have little impact in some environments and other environments will make functioning almost impossible. So the adaptive response is to find an environment that suits ones character, disposition and abilities. Whether this is a monastic environment or any other environment, it is all about a beneficial match :slightly_smiling_face:

I hope this perspective is of some use :pray:


#3

Hi nikt! Thanks so much for this question.

From a Vinaya perspective I don’t believe there is anything that would outright prohibit a person from ordaining. It is also important to note that monastic rules largely concern whether one can live in harmony with the sangha, and whether they can be supported successfully and not cause significant problems for the monastery or the lay community.

I think it definitely depends on where you go. I would guess that one might find it more challenging to find such support in more traditional Buddhist communities, as well as smaller communities that are often not equipped to provide such high levels of care. On the other hand, I know that monasteries such as Bodhinyana have been supportive in such matters.

I think it is helpful to find a fairly open-minded teacher, as well as a community that is able to provide both social and psychological (i.e. the resources for therapy or medication) inclusion. [1]

Hi viveka, I think it might be useful, especially when talking about Buddhist monastic law, to differentiate between someone who is mentally ill and someone who has a developmental disorder. Although I am not a psychologist by any means, it seems that because Aspergers occurs from such a young age it should be treated somewhat differently than one who has depression or anxiety, for example. I think what I’m trying to say is just to be careful about using the term ‘mental illness’ to cover a wide array of very disparate and different mental conditions.

[1] However, although it is important for one to have the medication and resources in order live and function well, ordaining in order to receive care and medical support is considered a breach of Vinaya rules.


#4

I find it very important to always differentiate between “someone having a mental illness” and “a person with Asperger Disorder”. Humans with Asperger Syndrome are by far more intelligent than many other people on this planet. Most of the time, their concentration and persistency is much better as they will not put so much effort in what other people call “socially accepted behaviour”. They simply can’t. But most of the time they are verbally very skilled in expressing their thoughts and they try very hard to fit in, to be accepted. As they try so hard, many times they are not accepted and develop social anxiety. The thing is that (again) some of them work perfectly well around that. They can have successful careers out in the world. Also, not two persons with Asperger Syndrome are the same, some of them are extraverts, some are not, some are in between (like most of us). More than one brilliant scientist in human history had Asperger Syndrome. Think of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Back then, there were no psychiatrists who diagnosed them with Asperger Syndrome - that’s a recent diagnosis and even for the future people will be diagnosed in different ways - but nowadays it’s more often te case. Beethoven most probably had the syndrome as Jane Austen had. A lot of American presidents most certainly had. And last but not least, an intelligent and wise young lady has. Her name is Greta Thunberg.

I have no experience with monastic life. But I know a Buddhist former monk who has Asperger Syndrome. He did not disrobe out of discontentment with monasticism or for not being accepted in the sangha. He was a joyful monk for 10 years and life became much harder to him when he left the monastery.


#5

Dear Nikt, my opinion on this question is “Of course!”

Asperger Syndrome is now defined in the DSM-5 as being on the Autism Spectrum. One way to characterize people that have these traits of Asperger might be:

Asperger syndrome generally involves:

  • Difficulty with social interactions
  • Restricted interests
  • Desire for sameness
  • Distinctive strengths

Strengths can include:

  • Remarkable focus and persistence
  • Aptitude for recognizing patterns
  • Attention to detail

People that have high functioning Asperger traits are in many cases very high performers in life, and possess skills that some have considered “superpowers.” There was recently a segment on 60 Minutes that featured a gentleman on the spectrum whose brilliance as a young man was discovered by Harvard (after he was thrown out of Penn State for missing classes) and he is now running a lab at Harvard that is developing high level genetic cures and methodologies (such as gene engineering). His company is worth billions, and most notably, he hires for his lab mostly people on the spectrum. Some of his employees have gone on to patent high level processes for gene therapies.

If I were to guess, there are likely many adults that have ordained already, who might see themselves as being on the spectrum. There are aspects of monastic life that might also be quite appealing to people on the high functioning end of the spectrum, and my estimate would be that they are excellent monastics.

There are many people that live their whole lives on the high functioning end of the spectrum without ever knowing of any diagnosis. Some are diagnosed as middle aged adults, and the Dx only serves to help them and their loved ones understand these traits.

So again, my answer to your question is a big “yes” and I hope that if you or anyone on the spectrum has an interest in monastic life, being on the high functioning end of the spectrum would be no bar at all to ordaining.


#6

It is great to see the support and inspiring stories :slight_smile:

However, the area of mental health/illness is highly complex, and detailed discussion of symptoms etc is beyond the scope of this forum :pray: Even though I made the first response, I didn’t make any definitive proclamations, but rather a general observance about individual differences and a means of checking ‘fit’. I offer this perspective given that my professional background is in this area, Mental Health and Recovery and Rehabilitation.

To speculate about an individuals capacity for success, is not helpful :slight_smile: . It is NOT a simple area.

Making assumptions about a ‘diagnosis’ is also unhelpful, and may actually cause harm. ‘Symptoms lists’ only operate as ‘clusters’ and have immense individual variance. Add to that the highly contested nature of Aspergers within the DSM 6 and there is very little one can be certain of :slight_smile: (remember homosexuality was an uncontested part of DSM from its first publication until only a few decades ago).

There are 2 parts to this question

  1. Are there any rules that prevent someone diagnosed with Aspergers from ordaining? Bhante @sujato
  2. What are the implications of doing so?

I have answered the second part
There is No absolute answer to this question - it is wholly dependent on a wide range of interacting conditions. And the only people who know are the person with the condition and, if they are under professional care, then in conjunction with their treating practitioner. And even this changes over time :slight_smile: It is definitely worth investigating and exploring, and is best approached just as as any other major lifestyle change.

I hope that the process of investigating and getting to know more about Buddhist monastic life brings much benefit :pray: :slightly_smiling_face:

May all beings be free of suffering :thaibuddha::dharmawheel: :pray:


#7

Hi Nikt. Just to reinforce what others have said, there is no issue at all with people with Aspergers (or other psychological conditions for that matter) ordaining. Basically it depends on whether someone can keep the rules, live in harmony with the community, and spiritually prosper.

I don’t think there is any formal difference between communities in this regard. What you will find differs, however, is the degree of comprehension and support. If the teacher(s) understands what you’re going through there should be no problem. But I wouldn’t take this for granted, as many monastics have little or no understanding of psychological conditions.