“You’re going to become a What?
“You are going to do everything, on purpose, that everyone else is trying hard to avoid? Like Discipline, Commitments, Sitting on the Floor, Noble Silence, Wearing a bed sheet in public and Waking up early?
“All this, so that you can renounce everything everyone else thinks makes life worth living? Like Entertainment, Parties, Lavish food, Singing and dancing, Wine, women and song, Fast cars and fast women, Gossip, Strong opinions, Being right, Self-promotion, Self-adornment, Revenge, Late nights, a Vacation house in Belize, Tacquilla sunrises on the beach, Spiffy clothes and Hair?
“What are you thinking?”
These were questions of my own mind, raised for the umpteenth time.
“You see,” it replied to itself, “We are born into a Looking-Glass World, a world of Misperceptions in which Forward is really Backward, Outside is really Inside, and what seems Soothing is really Too Hot to Handle. A monk or a nun is someone who, generally even before understanding it completely, at least acknowledges that these Misperceptions exist and lives accordingly, who passes out through the Looking Glass to inhabit, as a matter of Vow, Bodily, Verbally and Mentally, the World as it Actually Is.”
Perplexing to many, the life of the monk or nun is actually one of ease, one of detachment from the petty concerns of the world that keep most people so fired up, in order to turn one’s energy, time and interest to more pressing matters. The Sangha, consisting of monks and/or nuns, has been an integral part of Buddhism in every Buddhist country in Asia since the time of the Buddha, in in fact is a consistent factor running throughout Buddhism, the cord that keeps the beads of the mala in line. The voluminous Vinaya, the founding charter of the Sangha, is perhaps geographically the most widely respected Buddhist scripture, outside of a handful of individual original suttas/sutras.
The pages listed here discuss various aspects of the monastic Way of Life as defined in the Buddhist scriptures and as it exists in Asia and the West today and of the social role the monastic Sangha plays in the Buddhist project. I think the greatest adaptation of the monastic tradition that American Buddhism will require will be in equalizing the roles of monks and nuns. Some of the links below will lead to abundant discussion of gender issues.
Bhikkhu Citita’s Essays.
- Ordination as a Bhikkhu. A personal account of Bhikkhu Cintita’s ordination in Burma and what it means.
- Bhikkhu’s Robes. The experience and significance of the monk’s attire.
- Feeding the Monks. Alms rounds and the rituals around monastic meals.
- Science and Vinaya. Monastic discipline has its counterpart in the structure, obligations and ethics of the scientific community, and plays a similar role int the perpetuation of the integrity of the tradition.
External Links for Monasticism and Vinaya.
- The Bhikkhus’ Rules: A Guide for Laypeople. A very readable summary of the bhikkhus’ Vinaya rules, aimed at giving laypeople a better understanding of the monks’ way of life.
- The Buddhist Monastic Code, Volume I: The Patimokkha Training Rules Translated and Explained, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. This is a comprehensive modern commentary to the 227 Patimokkha rules for Theravada monks, which has become, along with the following volume the standard reference to the Vinaya in English. Essentially the same rules are also followed in Mahayana countries.
- The Buddhist Monastic Code, Volume II: The Khandhaka Training Rules Translated and Explained, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. A detailed explanation of the procedures training rules not included in the Patimokkha.
- Going Forth: A Call to Buddhist Monkhood, a very moving account of a young German’s decision to ordain in Asia.
- Going Forth. A collection of links on personal reflections on life as a Theravada Buddhist monk.
- With Robes and Bowl, by Bhikkhu Khantipalo. A first-hand glimpse of the way of life for a meditating forest monk in Thailand.
- Banner of the Arahants: Buddhist Monks and Nuns from the Buddha’s time till now. Bhikkhu Khantipalo. An html book about the history of the Buddhist Sangha and the motivations for monastic practice.
- Discipline and Conventions of Theravada Buddhist Renunciate Communities: A Guide for the Western Sangha, from the English Forest Sangha, a guide for laypeople to some aspects of monastic life and training.
- Bhikkhunipatimokkha in English, translated by Thanissaro bhikkhu. The list of rules for Theravada nuns.
- A Life Free from Money: Information about the Money Rule for Buddhist Monks and Nuns, by Dhamminda Bhikkhu.
- The Ordination Procedure & Some Vinaya Rules by Chammyay Sayadaw/Ashin Janakabhivamsa. This covers what is involved in ordaining as a monk or nun.
- Series of Papers by Ajahn Brahm on various aspects of monastic practice. There are also found at Buddhasasana.
- Information on ordination in the Theravada tradition
- What Happen to the Monastic Sangha by Bhikkhu Bodhi (pdf file). This and the following are essays on Western monasticism.
- The Challenge of the Future”How Will the Sangha Fare In North American Buddhism” by Bhikkhu Bodhi (pdf file).
- Thubten Chodron’s Monastic Life Page. This has a lot of very good essays, audios and links. The Exploring Monastic Life audios are recommended. There is particular interest in the issues of full-ordination for nuns in the Tibetan and Theravadin traditions.
- Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies. Ajahn Sujato. This is a very informative critical look at the history of bhikkhuni ordination from an historical perspective by an outstanding Australian scholar monk.
- Alliance for Bhikkhunis. A group supporting full nun’s ordination in the Theravada tradition.