SuttaCentral

The Importance and Benefits of Monasticism: A Recommended Talk from this Week


#1

Most all of us know that Ajahn Brahmali’s and Bhante Sujato’s Dhamma talks on youtube are a cut above most all of what else is out there. I watched this talk yesterday, and it just struck me as being particularly heartfelt, interesting, and excellent. I post it for those that maybe aren’t on youtube much, or the BSWA.org website…this is a good one.


#2

It’s hard to imagine this talk persuading anybody who did not already accept Ajahn Brahmali’s premises. Who is it’s intended audience?


#3

I took the heart of the talk maybe less as a persuasion piece (although @brahmali did invite a line to form at the beginning of the talk…:slight_smile: ), and more as a reaffirmation. Most all of us know of Forest monasticism, and the Vinaya and so forth. But, how often do we really incorporate this ideal of renunciation, the bhavana of skillful ethical acts, and meditative seclusion, into our daily sensibilities and actions? For me, this reaffirmation is always important.

I also enjoyed the reflection on Bhante’s family and his parents’ reactions to his going forth. It was nice to hear of how his father came full circle to appreciate his son’s vocation, and that he shared this reflection within just weeks of his Dad’s passing. I thought of how his father must have been concerned when his son, with advanced degrees in finance ( as I recall) decided to go forth, and leave behind career and family. And later, how proud his Dad must have become at what his son had become as such a leading monastic leader and teacher, and how positive and purposeful his life has become.

I also reflected on Bhante’s comment about how he celebrated his Dad’s life and passing, on taking this perspective of abandoning mundane grief and lamentation at the passing of his father, and choosing celebrating his Dad’s life. Reminiscent of Ajahn Brahm’s talk on his own Dad’s passing, and celebrating that life like a great concert that had concluded. Thoughts of bravo! and gratitude, rather than lamentation. As my own Mom starts chemotherapy this week for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, my thoughts turned to her and the goal of celebrating her each day, abandoning fear and worry, and being grateful for all that she has done for me.

So, for me, the mark of a great Dhamma talk seems to be its capacity to touch every listener in a distinct way, to meet us wherever we might be on the Path, and to offer insight into the best practices on this Path. It’s true that without these Forest monastics, what is left of Buddhism in this world? Ajahn Pasanno spoke once of how Forest monastics literally embody the ideals of Buddhism (archetypes, as I recall, is what he called them), and to have these great monks and nuns in our lives is a reminder, a reaffirmation, of what the Dhamma in practice looks, feels and sounds like.


#4

Well I have heard numerous dhamma talks over the years from monks in the forest tradition. But these days I find them more depressing than inspiring.


#5

Why is that? What do you find depressing about them?


#6

Although presented in calm and seemingly gentle tones, they often seem designed to demean, shame and humiliate the laity, to tell them that their lives are profoundly inferior to those of the monastics themselves, and to leave them with an empty hole in their hearts that can only be filled by the merit-making economic support of the monks and their “purer” path of life-denying nihilism.


#7

Psychological projection is a defence mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.


#8

I was asked a direct question, and I gave a direct response.


#9

Thanks for the feedback. I think I can see why some might see it in this way.

At the same time, I would ask you to please consider the context. At the beginning of the talk I mentioned how monasticism is often not valued, as if it is an ancient institution that has no place in contemporary society. The point of the talk was simply to argue that this is a profound mistake. And it is not just my opinion, but backed up by a number of quotes from the suttas.


#10

I would quote the following

There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters &; remains in the first jhana. AN9.36

Also relevant is AN5.73

Being secluded is expected from the layity:

Piti Sutta: Rapture


#11

Fascinating, thanks for the response. Yeah, I’m not sure what the intent of these sorts of talks are. They could function as a speech designed to ensure further monetary support, or encourage others to abandon the “low” life of the laity for the “higher” life of monasticism, or as a kind of solipsistic speech whereby a monk is trying to convince themselves by talking to an audience. I read somewhere once that some study has shown that giving other people advice boosts confidence and aids one in following their own advice. Also, giving a talk is listed in one sutta as a possible catalyst for realization. So maybe Ajahn Brahmali is just reminding himself of his values or goals by saying them out loud to people. But yeah, talks praising monasticism by monastics, if not spoken by a persuasive orator, may come off as gross. I haven’t listened to the above talk though.

I’d also tend to agree that there can be a bit too much of a movement towards vibhava tanha in the Ajahn Brahm sphere of influence, and I at times wonder whether most people who say more about nibbana than the Buddha did tend to fall either towards lust for existence or lust for non-existence and that this informs their interpretation.

:anjal:


#12

Yes, this is something I feel I’ve picked up on in talks from you and other monastics before. My question for you Bhante is, what is your purpose or intention in or reason for trying to convince or remind others of the value of monasticism?

Are you trying to convince others to support monastics because you’re concerned lay people are gonna let the monastic institution die out or something? Or are you trying to get others to consider becoming monastics? Or in your belief that giving to monks and spending time around them is of much merit, are you trying to convince others to support and associate with monastics so that those people can secure favorable rebirths? Or all those things?

The paragraph immediately above makes assumptions about what kinds of motivations you may have, but if you would answer my original question in your own words I’d find that very valuable. Thank you for your time Bhante.

:anjal:


#13

My concern is that we should all try to look after those aspects of Buddhism that will ensure its long-term survival, and thus its benefits to all those who practice it. The Dhamma is only truly beneficial as long as it is still a living tradition, that is, as long as people fully realise these teachings.

Before I say anything further, I think it is one-sided to portray my position as “demeaning” of lay Buddhists. I have a lot of respect for a large number of lay people, much more so than I have for the majority of monastics. There are lay people who live with great integrity and who gain very good results in their meditation practice. I actually find this very inspiring, because I know from personal experience how difficult lay life can be. And I have said these things on many occasions before.

My purpose is not really to set up lay life against the monastic life, but rather the worldly life against the spiritual life. It is just that if you want to practice the spiritual life fully you are generally better off as a monastic. Monasticism, when lived in the right way, is specifically set up to give the best possible conditions for deep meditation and insight. It is for this reason that the deepest insights are more likely to be found among certain monastics than among lay people. There is nothing demeaning about this. It is just recognising that everything is conditioned and that the right conditions are required to get specific results.

So I stand by my claim that Buddhism, by which I mean the living Buddhism of direct insight into the truths taught by the Buddha, will only survive as long as there is a well-practised and thriving forest tradition. Even then there is no guarantee it will survive, but at least it gives the optimum conditions.

Most forest monasteries are well supported, sometimes too well supported, but occasionally there is not enough support. It’s about a middle way. Too much support will sometimes corrupt, too little can make the monastic life hard. Generosity is good when there is a genuine need.

It’s important that people are clear about the benefits of monasticism. You want them to be able to make an informed choice.

This may or may not be the case, depending on the circumstances.

This has never really occurred to me. When I think of how to get a favourable rebirth, I normally think terms of kindness and right view.


#14

It would be pretty astonishing for a senior monastic NOT to have these premises - indeed I wouldn’t have much confidence in someone who was not convinced that Monasticism facilitates liberation and enlightenment :slight_smile:

I’ve often thought how very difficult it is to ‘target’ dhamma talks or teachings for a mixed audience.

I used to get so frustrated at what I thought of as ‘Dhamma Light’, but with more experience now, I see how challenging it can be, addressing individuals with differing goals for their practice. A goal of being generally happier living in the world, not even to the level of keeping precepts, may be the beginning of someones practice aims. It’s all about the right words at the right time. To expound on the necessity for Nibbida, would not be helpful for a person like this - it could actually have a very negative effect.
With a group familiar with monasticism, they already understand and accept that having a goal of awakening and attaining Nibbana is both possible and worthy of effort. As such, expounding on how a monastic life furthers these aims is directly relevant :slight_smile:

As such, context is everything in evaluating the success of a talk. If one knows ones audience, one takes this into account. One can even adapt the talk based on the reactions that one perceives in the room. The problem with Online access though, is that there is no matching of audiences with teachings.

Personally though, I am immensely thankful for online teachings, without which my own path to understanding would be so much poorer.

I have listened to many teachings by a whole range of teachers, most of which were not targeted at my personal needs or preferences, but that is fine :slight_smile: it’s a very tiny price to pay (an hour or two of ones time), for the chance of discovering treasure :smiley: And I have to say, that I’ve still come away with something from every talk I’ve ever listened to :thinking::slightly_smiling_face:


#15

It’s interesting how our perceptions can either make us depressed about dhamma talks or increase confidence on the buddha, dhamma and sangha. I’ve had experience of the latter and I don’t have words to describe my gratitude to the forest monks that I came across. I am so grateful that monks like ajahn Brahmali decided to ordain. How else would I have got inspiration to practise further? Perhaps a lay person? :grin: I highly doubt that. But I could be wrong.

Again, I guess it’s the way I perceived his talks. Western forest monks broke traditional Sri Lankan Buddhist views in my mind and that helped me a lot with my practise. Currently, I am in the process of breaking other steadfast views on the knowledge I have accumulated in my mind (regarding buddhism and other things) . My journey wouldn’t have progressed if not for Thai forest monastery tradition. But again, that is just my journey.

At the end of the talk A. Brahmali said kindly to one of the people who directed a question to him. “Let it come naturally. Don’t force it. If you want to be a dad, be a dad.” That and the follow up answers just showed he didn’t want people to line up to ordain. What I gathered was, if your heart tells you, you should ordain (meaning be more secluded physically and mentally to practise further) but you are on the fence about it, just go for it.

Dear Ajahn @brahmali, my brother whom I mentioned to you after the talk told me that “the guy who wanted to be a dad will eventually realise that he is not that hyped up as he thought he would be about being a dad.”
I guess you got through to him a bit more than I anticipated. To others who are reading this, it was my brother’s first time listening to a Friday night talk ever. He was adamant about not stepping to a buddhist temple ever again after leaving Sri Lanka 6 years ago. Perhaps ajahn Brahmali inspired him that day to come see the dhamma. Who knows. Only time will tell. :wink:


#16

Yes, I do not at all challenge the idea that the early Buddhist texts extol monasticism.


#17

Most of the dhamma talks I have attended or listened to in the forest tradition seem to be directed by the teacher primarily toward the fellow monastics. The lay supporters are sometimes included within the circle of attention and reflection, but in line with the tradition they are fundamentally being invited by the teacher to sit close and listen in to internal reflections on the holy life.


#18

I don’t mean to say that monks deliberately set out in their talks to demean and humiliate lay supporters. There might be some monks who are consciously motivated by that kind of passive-aggressive sadism and power-tripping, but that’s not what I was thinking about. I mean that the whole tradition of thought and way of life they have absorbed, and through which they view the world and their own place in it, tends to project that kind of disdain and revulsion toward ordinary lay life, and so to the extent that their speech expresses that way of life and thought, it can’t help but demean lay life.

Do you have respect for lay people only insofar as they have good results in their meditation practice, Bhante? What about the things they are doing just to support human life and society, without which the sangha could not continue to exist? The lay people are the ones who bear and raise all of the children who are going to be future monks or lay supporters. They are the ones producing the food and generating the electricity, and the other technological devices, that are shared with the monasteries. They are the one’s preserving and extending the scientific and technological know-how that is required for all of these things to continue to happen. They are the ones doing the difficult political wrangling needed to prevent the society from collapsing, or being overrun.

If it is a good thing for the sangha to survive for a long time, and if the sangha cannot survive for a long time without these supportive worldly activities, then those worldly activities must also be good and worth admiration.


#19

I have read online that in Thailand, some places allow people to ordain temporarily. How does this work exactly? Are married men allowed to ordain temporarily?

Is there some other middle path between lay person and Monkhood? Or is it all or nothing?


#20

Yes, but for those of us whose commitments and obligations lie in the lay spheres of family, political community, and world-sustaining economic activity, nibbana is only a relatively remote dream. We may be able to achieve a bit more peace by following the precepts and meditating in the gaps between the fulfillment of our responsibilities, but then its back to the world.

Sometimes visiting a monastery is, for me, like looking into an aquarium. It’s nice to know that there are creatures who are able to float around peacefully in a contained fluid world, while the food just drifts down from unknown benefactors above. But it can also be depressing since it is a reminder that my world is not that world, and that the fish seem to have nothing to say to me about how to resolve the practical problems I have here in the outside.