Hello friends in the Dhamma. Please let me introduce myself, I’m a freshly minted monk, only 5 months old. I came into the holy life for a temporary ordination, however after realising how free and happy it is, how beautiful the Dhamma is, how lucky we are to have this chance to meditate and diligently seek enlightenment, I realized that there is no point in going back to lay life. Instead I will stay and follow the Buddha’s guidance.
With that in mind I dedicated myself to studying the vinaya, suttas and intensive practice (+5 hrs a day). I have never been happier . After reading about such exemplary monks as Ajahn Mun, Ajahn Chah, Bhante Nyanadeepa and Bhante Matara Sri Nanarama, I see the importance in strict uncompromising vinaya. I made a vow not to own or use money quite early on. However this is a problem for me here, my teacher and the other monk here, don’t believe money is a issue. I disagree , I think it’s dangerous and a reason for degradation. Lay people come here and always offer money in envelopes, I don’t want to make fuss and act superior so I just take it and drop it off in the donation box. My teacher even offers us money after doing a ceremony, this seems so perverse to me. I respect and love my teacher , he is a meditator too, but I just cannot come to agree on this viewpoint.
I do not know how to continue here, I am planning on eventually going to a forest in Sri Lanka, after I’m well versed in the suttas. But should I stay until I’m a majjima? But I’m finding it so hard to stay in the vinaya here, mostly because I don’t want to seem conceited , maybe I am conceited. Please can a venerable monk give this young idealist some good advice.
I am not a monastic but will make this brief observation: I attend a wat in the United States that is attended mostly by members of the local Thai and Lao communities. The wat typically houses any number of monastics, although because of Covid-19 there have been fewer monks in residence than in the past.
I am not intimately familiar with the financial aspects of operating the wat, but I know that they are substantial when one calculates in utilities, maintenance and upkeep, cleaning supplies, equipment for outdoor maintenance, etc. The laypeople at the wat are exceedingly generous and make substantial monetary contributions to keep the wat going. There is a board of directors made up of laypeople, but the monks also end up taking some responsibility for maintaining the wat’s finances.
Inasmuch as the wat I attend primarily serves first- and second-generation immigrants to the United States from Thailand and Laos, the laypeople are very much interested in bestowing financial largess on the wat. The wat is more than a place of meditation and chanting; it also serves as a community center and support community for the Thai and Lao communities in the area. This takes a lot of money, and the monks at the wat in some ways are the inadvertent beneficiaries, and objects, of the generosity of the laypeople. I suppose it is simultaneously a burden and a gift. They might prefer to live by the renunciation of money, but to serve the local community they are sort of obliged to go along with the financial responsibilities of maintaining the wat.
This post sent on much longer than I intended, but I hope it gives some insight into my own personal observations.
Congratulations on your decision and I wish you a very happy and fruitful monastic life!
I was in a situation very similar to yours a while back. I was advised by senior teachers to get out as soon as possible and to stay in a more suitable place. But in the meantime, to try to create as little friction as possible while staying there. We can’t change monastics who want to handle money, but we also can’t live together without tension. So the best thing is to wish them well and to move on.
Wanting to keep the vinaya is a very wholesome aspiration. I wouldn’t be too worried about being conceited.
Edit: In my personal experience, it is very difficult and exhausting to live in such conditions. As you say, you already don’t know how to continue there. Eventually you’ll get burnt out and lose the inspiration and joy you originally found in monastic life. That’s why you need to find a more suitable place with like-minded people as soon as possible. Don’t make things harder for you than they need to be. Monastic life has enough challenges as it is.
Hi Venerable. It’s great that you are here on D&D, and you will get some excellent responses here. My own two baht on the subject is that your question is a really good one. I was a temporary samanera in Thailand, and was able to see how some monks observed the proscription against using money, and how some did not. Personally, I found the use of mobile phones and apps on these phones just as bad as the use of money…Thai monks (young and old) seemed tethered to their phones at times, and I always wondered how they stayed mindful and meditated while being so tethered to their mobile phones all day.
In any case, your view of the use of money is a good one, and it may be that you will fulfil an important role in setting a quiet, but important, role as an example of good Vinaya observance. It’s not a conceit to observe Vinaya carefully…maybe it only feels that way because your colleagues do not practice as carefully as you do. I guess my feeling in this is to try to find a middle way in terms of how you feel and react to the behaviors of your peers. If you are benefitting from your life at the wat you are in, don’t feel too rushed to leave. At the same time, you might explore other options for down the road for a wat where the Vinaya is practiced more seriously.
In other words, you remind me of a story from a Sutta where the Buddha observed a master meditator sitting in a village, and then compared him with a struggling meditator in the forest. The Buddha looked favorably on the monk in the forest, in part, as I recall, as he had divorced himself from the fetters of the village life. In many ways, you are that forest monk, cutting yourself off from the fetters that the Buddha saw as a hindrance to practice. So, give yourself a “high five,” and just keep on doing what you’re doing. There will be avenues that open up for you down the road, but don’t feel pressured to make a change too quickly, or feel that your good practice is a conceit. You are just a good monk, a good and wise person, and the world needs more people like you. Well done, Bhante.
I’m afraid you have misunderstood the Vinaya. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people donating money to the temple. Of course there could be no temples without this. The issue is one of the monks accepting the money personally. To a lay person this difference may seem slight, but it is fundamental to the core of Vinaya.
Congratulations and welcome to the forum Ven Tittadammo!
As you study the Vinaya you will probably see more and more things that the monks are not following. And it’s likely that you will have a growing discomfort with it. However, it’s important to not overlook the good qualities of those monks around you. You owe a huge debt of gratitude to them for allowing you to become a monk. If you don’t work to emulate the wholesome qualities of those around you, you will miss a huge opportunity.
There is also a chance that one of the monks there is in fact trying to keep the vinaya but they are doing so in such a subtle way that you may not be aware. So without judgement, you may want to watch what they are doing. But in the mean time, as long as you have made the decision to stay, you need to maintain harmony as your greatest treasure. If it’s a Thai temple, the monks may be reluctant to correct you if you are a foreigner.
One trick that I’ve heard is to tell the other monks that it’s your personal practice to not handle money. This way you make it clear what you’re uncomfortable with while also not making them feel judged.
Bhante, I feel your pain! May I quite gently point out that bits of paper printed with dead people’s images have no intrinsic power to affect one’s mind or virtue? If they do have that power, its because we ourselves think “This is money, it can do X”. Shorn of that idea, all that is actually happening is that the people in your area have a somewhat strange custom of offering grubby little pieces of colored paper. No big deal. Leave them to their strange ways, our ways probably seem equally alien to them!
What should one do if people have a habit of littering? Direct them to the garbage can. If they do insist on dropping their garbage right at your feet, you can choose to sweep it up and put it where it belongs… or alternatively, just ignore it and walk off. Soon enough, they will know better.
Yes I totally understand this viewpoint, and this is the reason my venerable abbot has to handle money. However the ultimate goal of monks life is the final goal, and also the protection of the Dhamma. Monks accepting money, is a factor for the degradation of the Sangha, looking at the big picture, thinking of my duty as a monk, I believe it is to follow the Buddha’s advice and stay from all this.
Yes I agree, I am causing as little friction as possible, I don’t argue or say don’t give me money. Just silently slip it in the box when no one’s around . And I’m not so insane as to think I can change the mind of senior monks or reform the Sangha, it is what it is. All institutions tend towards degradation.
Thank you for the encouragement and advice. I want to slip away, however the whole covid lockdown thing in Britain is not helping. And I l do see that I can loose faith and inspiration over time, the environment has a way of moulding the mind. And I don’t want this environment to mould mine.
I’m not a monk, so please keep that in mind as you read this, Ven. Tittadammo. I have spent time in monasteries in several traditions (Theravada, Mahayana, etc.), though. Based on what I saw, there are very few traditions where monastics don’t handle money. If you’re looking to live in a likeminded tradition, your only choices are the Thai forest traditions or the Pa-Auk monasteries. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka, and so don’t know about the situation there. I’m sure there are people here who can speak to that, though. I have heard handling money is common among monastics in Sri Lanka, though. I haven’t actually been to Myanmar either, but have been in contact with an American monk who lives in a Pa-Auk monastery (https://americanmonk.org/). That monk has written about how vinaya is kept in Myanmar on his blog, I believe. Although I might be thinking of things he said to me in emails. Anyway, while monastics in the Pa-Auk monasteries can’t handle money, they are expected to have a sponsor, as I understand it. There are lay people in those monasteries responsible for handling the money donated by the monastics’ sponsors.
If you’re considering joining an Ajahn Cha monastery, then, based on what I saw during my time at Wat Pah Nanachat, I’d recommend going there sooner rather than later. I say that because I’d also recommend being ready to disrobe and go through their vetting process (see below) before being accepted as a monk. That will probably be easier to do as a novice than a bhikkhu with several phansa under his belt. Things might have changed, but when I was at Nanachat, whenever a monk showed up from a non-forest tradition, it was always a bit awkward. Since the way the Nanachat monks live is so different from other Buddhist traditions, it isn’t easy for a monk from another tradition to just show up and join. When non-Thai forest tradition monks want to live at Nanachat, they usually first disrobe, spend several months as an anagarika, then a novice for at least a year (if the community decides the person is ready), then gets the opportunity to become a bhikkhu. I think it’s very rare that a monk from outside the Thai forest traditions is immediately treated like the other monks.
Forgive me if you already know all of this, but I just wanted to point out that it isn’t always so easy to join certain strict monastic communities (like Wat Pah Nanachat). Another thing to keep in mind is that if you do go to Nanachat and become an anagarika you’ll have to make visa runs as you wait to get your novice ordination, which means having and handling money. I have no idea how the Ajahn Cha branch monasteries in Western countries handle these sorts of situations, though. It seems that you’re in England, where there are Ajahn Cha branch monasteries. So if you’re thinking about going there, I’d contact them, explain your situation, and see how they handle monastics from outside their tradition.
Sadhu on your new realization to follow the holy life. Much mudita!
As a lay person, all I can offer is an outsider’s anecdote: I’ve heard monastics talking about “monastery shopping.” With so many variants on the tradition, cultures, and personalities it seems common to need to “try on” multiple abodes before finding the right fit. If course this can be taken too far also…as with all things.
Do you have any other teacher who knows you and can advise?
Thank you for your encouragement dear upasaka. Yes phones can be so distracting , and the way YouTube and most websites are geared towards promotion of sensual indulgence does not help. I limit use to Dhamma and deleted Facebook and Instagram, even then I find it hard not to check up in the news that’s my only weakness thankfully .
It’s wholesome to want to keep the Vinaya, and the rule about handling money is as clear as can be. Of course, that doesn’t mean monks who handle money are bad, which you recognize; we all have strengths and weaknesses, areas we excel at and others where we need some more support (and supportive conditions!)—but we all make choices and are accountable for our choices.
It is important to know that the monastics in the world who don’t handle money is a sizeable minority—East or West or wherever. So if it’s important to you, you’ll have to do some searching, but also make the most of the time you have wherever you are.
As one venerable bhikkhunī once advised, when you meet a senior teacher you always learn at least two things: the qualities you’d like to emulate and the qualities you would not like to emulate.
Out of curiosity, where are you located geographically? You don’t have to name the specific temple (or answer at all actually )
There are some monasteries and hermitages in the West that do make a concerted effort to uphold the Vinaya to the fullest extent possible, including avoiding handling money. One such location is the Pacific Hermitage in White Salmon, Washington (USA):
In the “About Us” section of the hermitage’s website one finds this statement:
“Forest monastics live in daily interaction with and dependence upon the lay community. While laypeople provide the material supports for their renunciant life, such as almsfood and cloth for robes, the monks provide the laity with teachings and spiritual inspiration. Forest monks follow an extensive 227 rules of conduct. They are required to be celibate, to eat only between dawn and noon, and not to handle money.”
Thanks for the encouragement. Of course these monks are good and kind people, despite their faults, only arahants are perfect and even then people find faults in them. It is important to me, at least at this early stage, I believe a disciplined environment help me reach spiritual maturity.
I’m based in Aberdeen, Scotland right now. But I’m fluent in Sinhalese and learning Thai slowly.