Homelessness

It’s a shame really, US Oxford Dictionaries gives the following as a secondary definition

1.1 A person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

Still not the same as not necessarily staying for long in the same place (cf MN 17), but close.

That’s amazing :slightly_smiling_face:. Also reminds me of a story of Ajahn Brahm, where he tore his degree from Cambridge apart in his mother’s kitchen. It was in a talk somewhere…

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Wanderer is good.

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Isn’t it more about one’s state of mind than the material nature of shelter? I found this in the evening chanting the monks perform at my local Wat under Reflections After Using the Requisites:

Whatever lodging I used today without consideration,
Was simply to counteract the cold,
To counteract the heat,
To counteract the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles;
Simply for protection from the inclemencies of weather and for the enjoyment of seclusion.

Which is to say, even if the laypeople provide monks with comfortable accommodations (which seems to be fairly common in some parts), as far as the monks’ state of mind, such accommodations are to be experienced not as comfortable, although others may see them that way, but merely as shelter from the weather and the environment (e.g., flies and mosquitoes). The accommodations themselves carry no inherent meaning. Rather, they only carry the meanings people attach to them. One person’s comfortable bed is for another person simply a place to sleep.

I know that the laypeople who provide for the monks at my Wat spare no expense when it comes to maintaining the monks’ residence. In many ways, by living in the residence the monks are indulging the laypeople’s sense of generosity more than their own desire to have a comfortable place to sleep. The spiritual leader of the Wat, whose name he would probably prefer I not even mention, has made abundantly clear that he is content to sleep in a tent or a plywood box outside. He routinely turns down indoor accommodations to live as simply, and as close to nature, as possible.

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During the last months I’ve been packing up the family home and downsizing myself into a flat and a van. Before I started doing this I saw Going Forth in a rather romantic light (after all I used to enjoy being a hippy backpacker) but the process has provided many insights into the nature of my many attachments and into their extraordinary depth. It’s this depth, the intensity of the attachments that surprised most.

I have a totally new respect now for people who do go forth. I can see that it’s not a romantic thing, that it’s truly hard yakka. And increased compassion for people who have homelessness forced on them, along with the poor outlook for them in terms of nutrition, health, education and social connection.

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There were several times in my life, pre-buddhism, when I considered deliberately becoming homeless, as the freedom was it offered was appealing. In the end, I cared more about people’s opinion of me, due to the recurring theme of need for recognition that continues to pester me, and never got beyond the contemplative stage. Truly, the laws in America make it difficult to be homeless at the root of a tree without facing trespassing charges.

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This is an interested thread. I’ve been spending the last few weeks trying to figure out a way to address true chronic homelessness in my small city in the US. I started a small meditation group there (Buddhist Society of Madison) and have wanted to kickstart a project in the city that would be of benefit and also inject a bit of the EBT spirit into the local community.

My two cents on the subject of homeleaving and being homeless is the idea of renunciation. If one has a home, a family, and a means of support, a dry bed, a roof over it, and food each day, then it is an act of renunciation to leave this and to go forth as a monastic, and depend on the dana of others. To be truly homeless…to be mentally ill, or addicted, or unable to earn enough income to shelter oneself, is a modern tragedy and an urban pathology. If one has nothing, and has no opportunities to forgo, then one has nothing to renounce.

When the weather in the Upper Midwest ( USA) was hit with subzero (F) polar temperatures, I and a lot of other folks rallied to help out with some local homeless shelters that needed food and provisions for the many seeking shelter from the deadly cold. The shelters overflowed, and so many living on the street came in for a night of shelter. That same week, I watched a BBC series about homelessness that was impactful. Here’s one of the segments (an extreme example, perhaps) worth watching : https://youtu.be/Vk7dAHzHm9w

The phenomenon of homelessness, of refugees, of those with no support or hope, is becoming a very serious global concern, and with climate change, war and ethnic cleansing, economic disparities, it’s seemingly not getting any better on this pale blue dot.

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That’s not the only problem @Polarbear! It’s a truly hard life surviving in all weather with no real shelter and medicating with urine! Many would find it impossible to practice the holy life.

It’s clearly the ideal version represented in the suttas you quote but as I mentioned above, even in the time of the Buddha, there were many monastics making use of dwellings. There are lots of rules in the Vinaya that deal with the subject of dwellings.

It’s likely that the Buddha, being a compassionate person, softened his stance on these things as the Sangha grew so that more people could benefit from the holy life.

I know that it’s romantic and idealistic to have these ideas but the reality is quite different :grinning: it’s very easy for people -especially lay people, who often have not ever even ordained- to say this is the way Sangha should live, but I don’t think we should tend towards extremes, indeed the Buddha cautioned against such and always tended towards compassionate revision of rules when they were shown to be too hard. Like wearing if shoes and so on. The holy life is not easy as it is at times!! It’s enough that we don’t personally own property and that we try to live a simple life of contentment so that we can practice… Asceticism as a practice has never been the aim in Buddhism

I know of one monk who had been living in caves and going without medicine whose health was severely compromised and have heard stories of people doing great harm to their bodies and minds trying to practice an ideal that was already likely a nostalgic one in the Buddha’s time.

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I think in the original Buddhist, or maybe pre-Buddhist, context it meant a person who had committed to forest wandering, with a livelihood based on begging for sustenance, with no attachment to particular families or villages, owning nothing but a begging bowl and a robe, and having no responsibilities or obligations of any kind. It was expanded to include wandering with similar companions in the holy life.

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The EBTs say it, not me. They don’t say monastics have to stay under trees, just that they should be willing to do so if they aren’t freely offered anything else.

Personally, I think the addition of a tent, sleeping pad to insulate one from the ground, and a sleeping bag should be sufficient to make homelessness pretty manageable for healthy monastics in areas where camping is possible and alms can be acquired nearby. Camping is a recreational activity after all.

But staying in a monastery is fine too. And hopefully more conducive to racking up meditation hours and therefore meditative skill, since practice makes for improvement.

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Go on @polarbear Do it! :grinning: or try it for a few months and see how you go at least. Let us know how you go. A tent sounds a bit luxurious to me though :joy::joy::joy:

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I know only of one monk whom i consider to have lived as a homeless person, wearing rags, not accepting money and going for alms in Russia.

Afaik people eventully locked him up in an institution for the insane, i don’t know the details of his detention. He is an infamous russian bhikkhu and there are some videos.

Nothing wrong with living in a monastery as i see it, as others have said homelessness is imo rightfully contrasted with householdership.

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A monastic is one who goes forth /away from household life and its duties.
The monastic must abandon the intentions and duties of a householder and cultivate intentions and duties of a renunciant.

The general intentions of a householders:
Wealth, family, intimacy, work, completion of work projects, developments of society, enjoying the senses, adornments, power, authority, safety and security, fame, honour,praise etc

The general intentions of a renunciant:
Seclusion, nonentanglement, restraint, wisdom, easy to look after, patience, humility, reliance on what is easily obtained etc

It’s for each person to know for themselves which of those intentions and their subsequent actions are present within them.
It’s not exactly easy to see a persons or even to know ones own intentions ,but one can infer the intentions from seeing what actions are performed.

Certainly in most monasteries the monastic’s look and act as though they were employed, there are many positions that are held e.g project manager, maintenance manager, organising lay events coordinator, kitchen manager, IT consultant and implementor, guest monk, secretary, master of coin etc
All the work is done, surrounded by others. One works, eats and pujas with many other people, regardless if there is a vow of silence, still one is surrounded by others.
The work inherently involves quite a degree of entanglement.
The monasteries are quite luxurious and way beyond what an average householder could afford, and the cost of running such places and activities are immense and so there is pressure to get funds to maintain the buildings which require someone to create more projects to try to get funds and so that one can build more and maintain more and work with more people etc all in the name of developing the ‘sign of the renunciant’ or Dhamma.

There is also within such places the ‘authority’ the one who has the power. The monastics are the bosses and the rest are like servants, there to do the masters bidding, there to offer the masters their afternoon sweets.
This is very similar to being ‘lord of the manor’, your house is massive and you have loads of servants.

However, It does not matter how big your house is or how much requisites come your way, its your actions which determine what you are.
Do I act in accordance with the duties of a householder or a renunciant?

You can dress up like you want, but your actions will reveal your intentions and that can reveal what you actually are.

Living in a spiritual family run business/ modern day monastery will most likely influence your decisions and intentions. The business demands participation, which will entail household duties.

Every lifestyle and environment will require some sort of corresponding support and maintenance, even the tree needs to be cared for.

By having intentions of renunciation, remembering them and acting in accordance with them, ones life will be moulded by them(as a layperson or monastic); and the way that it will manifest exactly is not certain i.e one could end up under a tree or inside a palace, with a robe or not. Either way one who develops and maintains such intentions of renunciation will eventually not care because wherever he dwells, he dwells like a god.

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Well, I did live out of a tarp for two months in Utah wilderness from mid-February to mid-April some years ago. So I was there for winter but also thaw. I had a great sleeping bag and set of clothes. I once sweat while backpacking in a blizzard because I had too many layers on. My back got pretty cold once I took the pack off. Unlike monastics, I also had fire. It’s also the longest period of time I ever went without a shower. But I don’t know if I’d ever ordain, and if I did I would likely stay in a monastery for at least the first five years of nissaya before giving the wandering life an honest shot. I wonder how many monks actually try it out, just for a short trial run even.

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Oh that sounds like a no :pensive:

There are many Indian renunciants today who still live the hardcore homeless life as it has been lived for thousands of years. Most of them are not Buddhists though. And such a lifestyle has not caught on in the west. But there is Jason Chan the wandering monk in Australia and the western Ajahn Chan disciples do backpacking tudongs here and there.

Jason Chan’s only companions during his three-year adventure along the east coast of Australia have been his alms bowl and a blanket. Barefoot and wearing robes, Chan, or Jinasiri, is a Theravada Buddhist monk, and set out on his wanderings down under in August 2011.

https://www.buddhistdoor.net/news/an-update-on-jason-chan-the-walking-monk

Ajahn Yatiko who I greatly admire walked 600 or so miles down the California coast on tudong, once going three days without food because he thought the empty NorCal beach was nice and he’d fasted before anyway. Unfortunately he disrobed, but he was a rad monk from what I knew of him through his talks. See his talk: Tudong in California

:anjal:

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Thanks everyone for helping to broaden my understanding of what it means to go from home to homelessness in the modern era.

:pray:t3::pray:t3::pray:t3:

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Just thinking out loud:

  • Going forth from the lay life into seclusion
  • Going forth from the lay life into the wandering life

:thinking:

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Secluded from worldly intentions, sensual perceptions, and unwholesome states, this is clearly someone who has gone forth.

A wanderer is not exactly secluded from those things on account of his wandering, as I am sure you realise, by ‘thinking out loud’ as you say.

In fact, the wandering monks I know are mostly the restless ones, they seem to have ‘ants in their pants’ so to speak, and another fact is that the reality of ‘wandering’ is not that peaceful. In practical terms, you will be wandering on roads, between villages, staying in temples and all these places have people in, on and around them, not to mention the vehicles. In Buddhist countries, you will be approached quite often, with offers and general questions not related to Dhamma. In Europe, you have to plan your trip more thoroughly so to make sure you are close enough to a food source for the next day, because they are spread out quite far, which means you do at the very least 2 hours walking every day and that’s not including your alms-round within the town. That kind of wandering becomes like a marathon, it can be an adventure of course. It can be very spacious and open, and spontaneous and that’s why its popular with backpackers.
But where does the intention for adventure fit into renunciation?
Will wandering around be conducive to composing ones mind on a theme of dispassion? Will it support restraint and non-entanglement?
Walking on roads, being in towns, aiming for food, searching for shelter, dealing with temples(not necessarily quite places), …its a mission, but can be fun.

There are also forests monks who live in the forest and do not wander around. They live alone, seeing people only briefly during alms. Their alms-round is usually set up so that it’s not too far away and not to close either. The food is enough and there is no chance for proliferation in that department i.e you get what you get, simple and enough.
They might travel to other dwellings from time to time, but the set up is the same. It’s seems not to be possible to do this in the west. The closest you can get to this is living in a hermitage which value such things, but there are not many around, maybe only one or two? In Sri Lanka, forest life is still possible, but only a few do it. In Thailand, there are restrictions as a foreigner, not to mention the severe lack of forest. In Laos, you will be monitored by government agents.

Most monasteries are quite busy, and the wandering life quite an adventure, both of those ways provide plenty opportunity for distraction, but living in solitude within a forest or otherwise, that will either make you or break you, because you will be forced to come into contact with your own mind, and for the most part, its not a fun adventure.

An environment which provides very little distraction is the ideal situation to get this renunciate work done. How that environment looks can vary, but almost certainly it will involve you being alone for most of the time.
There is quite a different feel from being ‘alone’ when others are only in the next room and being alone when others are at least an hour away in all directions.

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This begs the question, why aren’t there more hermitages? Where I live in the United States there are two hermitages nearby:



These places seem to serve as suitable middle grounds between the busy atmosphere of full-fledged monasteries and the challenges of a wandering life or time spent in the wilderness, both of which can be the source of distractions (monasteries, because of the work involved in running the operation and because there are lots of people coming and going; wandering or life in the wilderness, because of the constant need to find food and shelter).

Are hermitages simply not feasible because there are not enough ways to support them in the same way monasteries are supported by the lay community?

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Thanks once again everyone for providing so much more information than I was expecting. It seems like there are so many options for practicing that I’m at the very least reconsidering an idea I had of using a mosquito net over a platform in a large tree in the backyard for at least full moon puja in the near future. Sure it not a forest but it will be exposed to the elements and I’ll still have my mind to deal with.

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