Way of Monk2 - unwillingly, ministering to the spiritual...

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Unformatted text preview: unwillingly, ministering to the spiritual needs of the surrounding lay community. To examine this assertion more closely, let us regard the'monk’s role as having three main facets: personal, monastic and pastoral. Personal aspects of the monk’s role Those activities which are most centrally entailed in becoming a monk — at least according to the ideal — namely the study of and meditation upon the Fall tents, form the personal category of actions. According to Buddhist doctrine, study and meditation are pro— gressive steps on the path to Nirvana or Enlighten- ment, in that techniques of meditation are used to gain insights into teachings which have been absorbed intellectually. In practical terms the decision whether to pursue these personal activities at all, and to what level, rests with each individual monk. Many monks regard meditation, in theory the primary activity, as less important than the study of the Pall texts — perhaps because the latter is more easily assessed in terms of academic degrees and certificates, and therefore more concrete and provable. Many Thai monks have exhibited a kind of male chauvinism about meditation, regarding it as something more appropriate to nuns, magicians (rag'yczrat) or pilgrims (t/Judaflg monks). We must here discuss the custom of making pilgrimages to Buddhist shrines, though it is marginal to the monastic vocation. The Thai word tbadoag is derived from the Pall term damage meaning ‘austere practices’, of which there are thirteen mentioned in classical texts on discipline (see p. 8: above). In Thailand the term is most commonly used to refer to those monks who leave the monastery and go on foot to visit the various Buddhist shrines scattered throughout the country. During this period the monk observes the Viagra code with more than usual austerity, which means in particular that he takes only one meal each day and eats it directly from his aims bowl without discrimination. At night he sleeps in the open under a large umbrella-like shelter (érot) which is equipped with a mOsquito—net and can be folded for carrying on his back during the day. It is usual for two or three monks to deer: tbadmg (go on pilgrimage) together, though they would talk to each other as little as possible, proeeeding in single file along the road and separating each night to pitch camp so that each can meditate in solitude. Interestingly enough, in the highly institutionalized monastic systems under consideration here, there is much ambivalence towards the monk who renounces the system, however temporarily. Conventionally the pilgrim is admired as an exceptional individual capable of enduring the loneliness and physical hardship of iourneys of up to several hundred miles, punctuated by sedentary interludes of up to four or five days at each shrine on the itinerary. Nevertheless, few monks will admit to, or freely talk about their experiences as dézataizga monks. In some sense the dbatairga monk e I“ flnhhl‘f‘u" ‘ ' . gamma: 55m -- , - UlUi‘leUlL Uigire‘l‘JlJl-JI‘JIK IUI‘.‘ L'l. I‘.‘l ulul‘JlU ' 'JIUIUI'JJJ Print: [the Mir are widerpread in Soyrbeart Aria a: amalefr to bring gaodfartzme. This rormagmm be: #39 Baddbirt wheel in the centre and erg/5t Baddfllirt urban, or mintr, preria’ing over fibepoifir: aftbe campan'. whose way of life in theory corresponds most closely to the mendicant ideal of the early Buddhists — is regarded with suspicion. Neither belonging to lay society nor being properly integrated into the monastic commun- ity, dbunzr'zga monks are in danger of being equated with tramps, beggars and other social derelicts. Traditionally the season for monks to does rbadong in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia is during February and March when they leave their monasteries to pay their respects at one or more of the well—kn0wn places of pilgrimage. Laymen and women also take ‘day trips’ by road and rail to various shrines — footprint shrines may be particularly appropriate — to offer candles and incenseisticks to images of the Buddha and to press small squares of gold leaf to their surfaces. Particularly pious householders visit monks encamped in special parks in the vicinity of the shrines and make merit by presenting them with food. Among lay people, however, the dbutaitga role is not highly respected and consequently attracts monks with relatively little interest in earning the good opinion of society. Tbudaflg monks encountered by the author seem to be of two main types: elderly men who have retired into the Order; and younger, probably relatively uncommitted, monks out on a spree. It is nevertheless interesting that the religious action which it is most difficult, if not impossible, for an outsider to measure “- hamer 165 as} J .1 I '1 1’? e00 anatomist Another any/eff” obtaining one”: Miner: twa mgr/Jim] bird; called bargain: tangy garland: cfleflers in their mouth. meditation — is often regarded as being the special domain of monks who occupy a somewhat ambivalent position, either because they dam t/Jadaflg, and thus temporarily are not clearly located spatially or hierarchically, or else because they specialize in other unorthodox techniques, such as healing and astrology. An interesting development in recent years, how- ever, particularly noticeable in Thailand, is that monks are leaving the Official monastery and monastic structures and setting up simpler communities in remote rural areas where more emphasis is given to meditation and a life of austerity. The Venerable Buddhadasa, who established Suan Mokkha (meaning the Forest of Liberation) in Chaiya, Province of Surat Thani, Southern Siam, is one of the most famous of the Thai monks who have tried to return to a simpler way of life. It may be significant that he views another current, but opposite, development of the monks — namely their role in social work and community development — with complete disfavour. In an interview in 1967 he said: ‘1 entirely disagree with the idea [of social work]. Monks should concern them- selves with helping people to develop rpz'rifaalbf.‘ They must not be involved in making material things for people themselves, but should be the protection of people from unhappiness. . . . Man is usually defeatist — defeated by greed or love of gain. . . . Monks should not directly go in and help him in his work, but should make him wise in fighting against greed and delusion. . . . This is an incomparable service to him, far better than a monk who applies for a job in social work or joins in such work as kitchen gardening.’ 166 The other main activity to be characterized as ‘personal’ — the study of the Dhamma — is more amenable to institutionalization and external measure— ment of success than is meditation. Indeed, an essential part of the institutionalization of the Sangha in all the countries under discussion is the establishment of an examination system which charts progress in the study of the Word of the Buddha — as well as covering secular topics. There are two basic levels of ecclesiastical examin- ations. The syllabus of the first covers such topics as the previous lives of the Buddha, the basic tenets of his teaching, and the rules of conduct set 'out in the Monastic Code (the Vinqya Pigskin). This course of study is designed to inculcate a general Buddhist education rather than to produce scholars of a high standard of academic expertise. Students of the higher level are required to study Pali and Sanskrit as well as to acquire some familiarity with the doctrinal issues debated in the Pali scriptures. Honorific titles and insignia in the form of fans serve to indicate success in these examinations, which continues to have a ‘haio’ effect should the student return to the lay world. Prestige is assured and often also employment in the civil service for the well-educated monk. Monastic aspects of the monk’s role Monastic communities in Laos, Thailand and Cam— bodia can number anything from five to several hundred inhabitants. The basic categories are monks (permanent and temporary}, novices, monastery boys and in a few cases nuns. The larger and more prosperous monasteries are usually found in urban areas; in addition to being places of pilgrimage housing relics and Buddha images, they may also have attached to them schools for monks and novices or even universities where secular as well as religious subjects are taught. Monasteries which have teaching facilities normally house a higher proportion of novices and young monks eager to study, and because of their usually superior accommodation may provide hostel space for temple boys from outlying areas who are attending schools in town. On the other hand, and especially in rural areas outside the ‘rainy’ season {mid-}uly to October), some monasteries may be little more than hostels for elderly men who have taken refuge from the world in their declining years. During these months most communities swell in size to accommodate temporary monks or novices. What are the implications for the individual monk of belonging to a monastic community? What are the privileges and what are the constraints? According to the Administration of the Sangha Acts, all monks must be attached to a monastery and have permanent residence, and before ordination a man must obtain permission from the abbot of his chosen monastery to take up residence there. A number of factors may influence a man’s choice: he does not by any means always enter the monastery nearest to his house. He may decide on the basis of educational or other facilities ofi'ered by that monastery; or because it is the residence of a talented Or well-known monk or someone he knows. The residence of any monk is recorded on the identity card with which he is issued on ordination. During the ‘rains’, a, period of intensified religious activity, a monk must spend every night in his monastery if he is to count that season towards his seniority in the Order. Outside the official rainy season, however, there is considerable movement between monasteries both for pleasure and for educational and other official purposes. Dbafzzizga. monks, 'as we have seen, may leave the community altogether and go on pilgrimages to visit shrines throughout the country. Moreover it is easy for a monk to change his permanent residence; this is an essential part of upward mobility through the Sangha. The abbot is the head of a monastery, which is the smallest unit of ecclesiastical administration. The degree of control he has in that community varies very considerably, and is largely dependent on his personal interpretation of his very broad mandate. His primary responsibility is to grant or refuse permission to individual monks or novices to live in the war (or monastery), or to transfer residence. He should also be informed if any monk intends to stay away from the amt for a long period of time, and may allow a monk to be absent from the war for up to seven days during the rainy season under special circumstances. Beyond this he may be involved in the instruction of the newly ordained, and in such matters as settling the monks’ routes on the aims-giving circuit. The abbot is responsible for ensuring that communal acts of the Sangha are conducted at appropriate times, especially those that reaffirm community adherence to the Rules of the Order. The most important of these services is the recitation of the inflame/helm held on apomtba day (see above p. 57). Perhaps most important, the abbot provides the link between his community and the outside world, i.e. the higher ecclesiastical authorities and the lay community. Degrees of authority among other monks depend largely on age and seniority of ordination. In larger monasteries the residents may be organized into formal or informal groups centred on senior monks, although this means a certain delegation or duplication of the abbot’s domestic authority. For instance, the senior monk in such a group may have charge of the instruction of the junior members; decide on their alms-giving rounds; provide them with places to sleep; or share with them donations of food or goods received from the laity. Boys are often enlisted to handle cash transactions for individual monks, for example, in the market or when travelling, and in a similar way a committee consisting of the abbot, several leading laymen and one or more junior monks is normally established to handle monastery property. Like the temple boy for the individual monk, the monastery committee provides for the community a partial solution to some of the problems inherent in. the institutionalization of the Sangha, handling financial aEairs from which monks should remain aloof. The monastery is also a centre of religious activity for the lay community. On upomz‘fm days for example, many lay people visit their local monastery to pay their respects to the Buddha image there and to give the monks food for their morning meal. On these days particularly devout householders may spend the night at the monastery, usually sleeping on the floor in one of the pavilions. For the duration of Holy Day they undertake to observe three precepts or commandments additional to the five normally adhered to by Buddhist laymen: not to use jewellery or cosmetics to adorn their bodies; not to sleep on a bed or a soft couch; and, most importantly, not to take an evening meal. These Eight Precepts are also observed as a matter of routine by the so-called Buddhist nuns. There are no ordained nuns in the strict sense of the word, because the tradition of the ordination of nuns has been lost in Theravada countries (see p. 155) so that they may be regarded as belonging to the lay rather than to the religious section of society. There is no nation—wide hierarchical organization of nuns in any of the countries under consideration. But it is the practice for small groups of nuns to take up residence in the outlying buildings of certain monasteries where they normally perform some domestic duties * cleaning and cooking — for the monks. Pastoral aspects of the monk’s role Let us now examine the monk’s pastoral activities. These consist essentially of transactions between the monk and the householder by which the monk confers merit upon the layman, and the layman in turn expresses his gratitude and respect by oiferings of money, food and other items both mundane (tooth- paste, washing powder etc.) and ritual (candles, lotus- buds). Sometimes the layman gives land. Monks are, however, not allowed to cultivate land themselves because agriculture involves killing small organisms. Obeyesekere has discussed the tension inherent in the condition of the tbadoag b/jiéiebu, the monk who tries to ‘escape from the society of the monastery by isolating himself from the world. . . . Pious laymen are attracted by the special charisma which surrounds these monks and pursue them with gifts of aims, attempt to build living quarters for them and so on.’ But this tension is indeed inherent in the monkly role as a whole. For the layman, the highest ethical value is placed upon giving without thought for oneself; it is therefore felt to be more meritorious to give alms to monks with whom one has no personal ties or to a group of monks or the monastic community as a whole without discrimination than to monks who are also relatives or friends. This ideal of impersonal giving is perhaps most fully realized in that quintessential act of almsagiving, the 167 Theravada Budd/5n??? daily presentation of rice to the monks. Each monastery has several alms routes and its residents may receive rice from any of the householders whose houses line these routes. This relationship should have little or no personal content — or at least none should be in evidence. ‘Merit’ is automatically conferred by the monks’ acceptance of rice and other food. Although this ideal of impersonal giving is most perfectly realized in alms-giving, there are other ceremonies performed by monks for laymen which are generally regarded by both parties as representing a more significant aspect of pastoral relations. These\take place at critical moments in the layman’s life, moments corresponding to the rift: d9 parrage common to all cultures. The most crucial and hence more meritorious of these are probably the ordination ceremony, whereby a man crosses over from lay society into the world of the monk, and the ceremony of cremation, which accome plishes the transfer of the deceased from this world to the next. But monks are also usually invited to recite paring; or meritsmaking chants on other occasions, such as the wedding ceremony, entry into a new house, or the opening ofa school or business. A layman who wants to host or hold a merit-making ceremony usually invites a number of monks to come to his house from one or more monasteries on the appointed day. The central activity of the merit-making ceremony is the recitation by the monks of one of the appropriate Pali chants, in the memorizing of which a good part of the time may be spent. At the end of the ceremony the host presents each of the monks with the traditional offering * typically three incense sticks, two candles and a lotus bud — all items to be used in worship of the Buddha image; items of everyday use may be. added 7 packets of tea and sugar, washing powder and cigarettes as well as a small sum of money, or a chit which can be cashed by the lay bursar of the monastery. Any individual monk is likely to be invited to merit— making ceremonies by relatives and friends from his former lay life, but will also receive invitations simply by virtue of his residence in a particular monastery. It is considered more meritorious for a layman to invite monks impartially, although it would also be consi— dered a breach of form not to invite monks who are relations or friends. , One can visualize each individual monk, then, with his ‘parish’ of lay supporters who support him in a variety of ways: there are the householders along his alms-giving cirCuit giving rice more or less regularly; there are friends and relations who invite him because of the prior bonds between them; and unrelated, even unknown, laymen who contact him as a resident of a particular monastery. Until this century monks had an important role as teachers, as all schools were in the temple compound. However since the establishment of the State School system the monk’s role has been usurped. There are a number of other possible activities, 168 however, which may be regarded as optional, in that only a few monks choose to specialize in them, but through which those monks are brought into contact with a wider range of the public. Some monks, for instance, are regarded as saintly simply because of their venerable appearance and demeanour. Very often the possessors of this rather diEuse charisma are believed to have the power to confer health and happiness and to consecrate objects such as amulets of the Buddha. Their services may be in great demand to inaugurate schools or businesses; often they make and distribute images and amulets of themselves. The sale of such amulets, perhaps depicting famous monks resident in a partic- ular monastery, may be an important part of its fund- raising for upkeep of the buildings and so forth. Amulets derive their power to protect the wearer from their association with sacred things, but it is usual to consecrate them further. The most common form of consecration is the chanting of a Pall formula over the image by a monk, and monks who are renowned for the strength of their vocation and charisma are invited occasionally by groups of laymen to consecrate their amulets. In Thailand, amulet collecting has become a fine art, particularly among men, whose traditionally more prominent place in the outside world exposes them to greater dangers than their womenfolk are subjected to. There are many different kinds of amulets — ranging from tiger’s teeth and strange objetr trowe’r to auspicious diagrams and tiny images of the Buddha, or likenesses of revered monks. The tiny Buddha images are the amulets most seriously regarded by the collector and the large number of Thai magazines devoted to amulet collecting give the bulk of their space to them. Amulets of this kind are usuallylworn round the neck. Another form of amulet is the tattoo. Monks, unlike lay experts, may tattoo only the upper parts of the body and the head. Most often the monk will tattoo sacred syllables and mystical signs and symbols or motifs from the Hindu epic, the Raimiyarga. Amulets are thought not only to bring good luck and to help the wearer to avoid catastrophe but also to endow the wearer with an immediate sense of well- being and a desire to behave well towards others which in turn causes reciprocal reaction in them and so enhances his general prosperity. Images may be cast from various metals, stamped in clay or moulded from compressed vegetable matter. Recipes are jealously guarded, and some amulets contain scraps of plaster or bronze from famous images or stupas, or even pieces from ancient manuscripts destroyed by fire. As important a factor in efficacy as the ingredients of the amulet are the reputation and Charisma of the maker. The amulets most sought after are made by monks with special powers who, in many cases, have acquired the charms of consecration and the recipe from other specialists. In addition to the formulas uttered by the monk while he makes the amulet and when he hands it over to 4.. “new?” ,. rm". anmflnffl Three zjypz'ml amulets 0f #99 mn‘ were on Clubber or carried a: damn: rm: they are all enlarged abaatfaar timer. In Thailand marry the layman, a more elaborate ceremony may be held in a temple to reinforce its power. On the day of Such a ceremony —_ Tuesday or Saturday are regarded as being particularly auspicious for it e the amulets are placed near monks, and are often connected with the chapter by a sacred thread. The monks then chant in unison for up to five hours and meditate; these acts generate beneficial power which is transmitted to the amulets. The sacred thread used in this ceremony can also be cut into pieces which are amulets in themselves. The power of the amulet is fragile and must be conserved by appropriate behaviour on the part of its owner and wearer. An amulet must never be put in a low position where it could be stepped on. When washing or relieving himself a man may place his amulet in his mouth to avoid offence. A woman’s lower garments are particularly offensive and dangerous to the power of her own amulets or to those of any man she is in contact with. The exception to this is the sarong ofa man’s mother, a piece of which may even be given to him to wear as an amulet. Other popular amulets, aside from Buddha images, are amulets showing monks, kings or healers. One group depicts a many-armed monk covering his eyes, ears and other bodily orifices to close off the senses, a requirement for concentration on Nirvana. On the back ofthese images is usually to be found a small diagram or yearn: whose arrangement of letters and numbers has mystical significance. More brahminic than Buddhist in origin, these diagrams are often worn as amulets by themselves. They can be printed on cloth, painted on buildings or cars, or tattooed across a monk’s chest or back. An additional category of amulets is comprised of natural obiects credited with supernatural power. man/é: make and consecrate turf; amalerr, man/{y image; of the Buddha arfamam man/er. Tamarind seeds, cat’s—eye gems and tiger’s teeth are amongst the most common. ' Unique to Thailand and Laos is another class of amulets, usually worn round the waist and never round the neck. These are phallic amulets or failed kid/e. Traditionally they were given to small boys to protect them from dog or snake bites and to ward off evil spirits. Today, they are worn by Thai men of all ages and are nearly as common as Buddha images. Interestingly enough these phallic amulets also derive their power from being consecrated by monks or spirit doctors, and help to keep the wearer free from harm. The association of the phallus with fertility and Strength is extended to the belief in its power to give prosperity and protection. Ideally, of course, a Thai will follow the precepts of the Buddha, which will bring him immediate and long—term benefits, but many Thais feel that it is better to be safe than sorry and that a strong talisman or amulet will provide added protection. Some monks are experts in herbal cures and famous for their recipes. Others may function as seers and astrologers; this kind of expertise, although not forbidden, is outside the strict bOunds of Buddhist orthodoxy. As we have mentioned earlier, monks sometimes bless houses, shops and business enterprises, power plants, highways and hotels, but this blessing should be sharply distinguished from active co— operation in their establishment and functioning. In recent years some new and more activist trends have emerged in monk—layman relations. The monks who embrace this new thinking believe that they have a duty to make a return e in kind — to lay society and that they should recover their lost roles as educators and’ moral leaders of laymen. The Thai government’s 169‘ Theravfida Budd/Jim: programme of national and community development is a striking implementation of this new mode of thought. Under a series of national development programmes to improve environmental sanitation in the more deprived areas of the country, the potentially strategic position of the monks has been put to use without causing apparent damage to their special status. The capacity for mixing cement, plastering and bricklaying to be found in most well—run and self-sufficient monasteries has been tapped by the programme officials by using the monks as teachers of these trades to the villagers who must construct and maintain wells and latrines. Furthermore, the authority of the monks and the war has been utilized by establishing Revolving Loan Funds with credit from the monastery. Although these funds are administered by the monastery’s lay committee, the fact that they belong to the monastery makes laymen extremely reluctant to default on their debts. The rate of repayment on these loans has been extremely high, in striking contrast to the rate of repayment on govern— ment loans. There is a trend, most noticeable in Thailand, towards greater activism among young academic monks in the Buddhist universities; they cite 19th— century precedents when monks acted as missionaries to take primary education to the provinces in the reign of King Mongkut. In theory the monk’s pivotal role in the community would seem to fit him for leadership in a variety of fields; but, as we have seen, many people resist or disapprove of the monk’s dirtying his hands e both literally and figuratively - with community develop- ment and national development programmes. His strength lies essentially in being in but not of the community, which maximizes the value of his moral support, but minimizes his practical usefulness. In the 19705, revivalist Buddhism developed under the charismatic leadership of Kittivuddho Bhikkhu, whose preaching attracted a mass audience. His supporters contributed vast Sums to the construction of , his Buddhist boarding school, Jittabhawan College, nor far to the southeast of Bangkok. During the period of great political instability between 1973 and 1976 Kittivuddho Bhikkhu became the spokesman for orthodox Buddhist anti—Communist feelings. His most famous saying was that it was no more a sin to kill a Communist than to kill a fish or a fowl to ofier to a monk. Identified with the extreme right-wing regime of ' Prime Minister Thanin Kraivixien, he has since fallen into disrepute. We have examined the role of the Buddhist monk in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. We have looked at the variety of interactions between the monk and the lay people or householders who support him, and have seen that the monk is not in fact the solitary recluse dedicated to self-improvement but that in a variety of ways he ministers to the needs of lay society. He can however only maintain his semi-divine status by remaining as aloof as possible from the fruits of the world he has left behind. It is this peculiar tension and paradox in his position which makes an extension of his traditional role into new areas — community or national development * particularly problematic. It may well be that any serious modernization of the monk’s role would be detrimental to his unique and prestigious social position. ...
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