Buddhist monks

Can Buddhist practice make you more of a dick?

A quick thought experiment for you. You can take a pill to extend your own life by six months. Alternatively you can give the pill to a stranger who is similar to you and add five years to their life.

Which would you choose in this hypothetical test of generosity?

This question was posed to a number of groups, including Tibetan Buddhist monks, non-religious Americans, American Christians, ordinary Buddhists in Bhutan, and Hindus in India.

You’d think that becoming a Buddhist monk would make people particularly compassionate and generous, but it turned out that this wasn’t the case, and that the monastic Buddhists were less willing than any of the other groups to give the pill to a stranger.

I’m stunned. The Tibetan monastics were more likely than any of the others involved in the study to embrace the idea that the self is not fixed. The study was in fact intended to find out whether embracing this Buddhist teaching would affect the fear of death. It seems it did, but in the wrong direction, making monastics more attached to living and more afraid to dying, to the point where they would choose to live at someone else’s expense.

I’m a bit disturbed by this, although it was pointed out that these were novice monks and not people who’d been meditating for years. But this point remains that these monks were less ethical than average Buddhists with far less practice under their belts.

It makes me wonder about who is attracted to monasticism in the first place. Could it be that it attracts people who are more self-centered than average? Or does being a monk make you more selfish, perhaps because of the status involved?

In a different part of the Buddhist world, a western monk, Sravasti Dhammika, pointed out that the “excessive reverence surrounding monks” in the Theravadin world tended to make many of them “complacent and proud.” Monks in Burma have been complicit in genocide against the Rohingya people, and monks in Sri Lanka have advocated violence against the Hindu Tamil population. Things can get ugly.

Anyway, I do find this study fascinating and rather disturbing. One of my social media friends said that it shows that becoming a monk doesn’t automatically make you a better person, but the problem is that it appears that in some respects it might make you less ethical!

As for myself, I think of what it would be like to live for six months knowing that I had deprived someone of five years of life. I’d rather not have that experience. You’re welcome to my pill!

But also, there are definitely times that my practice has made me more selfish and uncaring. Sometimes the notion of having a “higher” calling can lead you to neglect important relationships, and the idea of “non-attachment” can also become an excuse for unkindness.

The main lesson I take from this study is the reminder to keep checking that I’m being kind.


PS. I wrote an email to one of the leaders of the study, suggesting another possible interpretation of the results. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Dr. Garfield.

As a Buddhist I’m very open to the possibility that at times Buddhist practice may make us more selfish — I think many of us have misused teachings on “non-attachment” in ways that have hurt others — but I have a sincere question about the “Death and the Self” study.

I gather that the monks were novices, and my question is, given that novices may have recently (how recently in this case I don’t know) left home and entered a community of which they are the lowliest members, might your findings actually be measuring the effect of what may have been a deeply unsettling change in their social connections? I can imagine that such a change might provoke an anxiety that might overwhelm impulses to generosity.

I’m assuming that the other groups were not selected on the basis of having recently gone through such a profound dislocation in their lives.

Of course I may be misinterpreting the term “novice.” Perhaps these monks have been living in a monastic context for years. Anyway, I thought I should ask the question.

Thanks for your time.

Sincerely yours,
Bodhipaksa

 


And here’s the reply I received:

Dear Bodhipaksa,

Our group included novices and fully ordained monks with a range of years in robes. And we didn’t see any effect f length of time in robes or age. The interesting question in my mind is still, what happens when we look at seriously long-term meditators; I expect a reversal of the effect.

Yours as ever,

J

Read More

The nourishment of mindfulness

Bryan Eaton, Newburyport News: About three decades ago I spent a year as a Buddhist monk in Thailand. It was a very austere life, dedicated to meditation and simplicity. One of the trainings I practiced was to only take one meal a day before noon from the food collected going on alms round early in the morning. I would arrange my monk’s robes, walk alone across rice fields to a nearby village, where humble folk would place various little bits of foods such as rice and vegetables in my monk’s bowl. I would silently …

Read the original article »

Read More

‘Rebel’ female Buddhist monks challenge Thailand status quo

wildmind meditation newsDenis D. Gray, ABC News: On a rural road just after daybreak, villagers young and old kneel reverently before a single file of ochre-robed women, filling their bowls with rice, curries, fruits and sweets. In this country, it’s a rare sight.

Thailand’s top Buddhist authority bars women from becoming monks. They can only become white-cloaked nuns, who are routinely treated as domestic servants. Many here believe women are inferior beings who had better perform plenty of good deeds to ensure they will be reborn as men in their future lives.

Yet with the religion beset by lurid scandals, female monastics or “bhikkhunis” are emerging …

Read the original article »

Read More

Mindfulness can improve leadership in times of instability

Cheryl Rezek, The Guardian: What does the ancient eastern practice of mindfulness, often associated with orange-clothed chanting monks, have to do with the fast-paced, performance-driven style of western leadership? In tough times, it could act as an influential asset in the public service’s fight for survival.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, a moment in time. It is about focusing attention on the present in a way that allows that moment to be experienced and observed closely. It involves developing the skills to allow yourself to engage actively with whatever is happening at the time, as well …

Read the original article »

Read More

Why Buddhist men shouldn’t be ordained as monks

Thanks to Ayya Adhimutta, who forwarded me this wonderful link. Obviously it’s in a Christian context, but I bet we can think of Buddhist reasons why men should never, never, be trusted with the yellow robe!

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. The pastoral duties of men who have children might distract them from the responsibility of being a parent.

8. The physique of men indicates that they are more suited to such tasks as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do ministerial tasks.

7. Man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. Their conduct at football and basketball games demonstrates this.

5. Some men are handsome, and this will distract women worshipers.

4. Pastors need to nurture their congregations. But this is not a traditional male role. Throughout history, women have been recognized as not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are prone to violence. No really masculine man wants to settle disputes except by fighting about them. Thus they would be poor role models as well as dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was betrayed by a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment remind us of the subordinated position that all men should take.

1. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the church roof, and perhaps even lead the song service on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the church.

Read More

Meditation relieves anxiety?

Indian Express: Scientists have found that meditation can reduce anxiety by as much as 39 per cent and have also identified the brain functions involved.

Buddhist monks and Zen masters, have known for years that meditation can lower anxiety, but the mechanism has not been clear, until now.

“Although we’ve known that meditation can reduce anxiety, we hadn’t identified the specific brain mechanisms involved in relieving anxiety in healthy individuals,” said Fadel Zeidan, postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study.

“In this study, we were able to see which areas of the brain were…

Read the original article »

Read More

Candle-lit serenity in Thailand

Young monks rehearsed an evening candlelight ceremony at the Chedi Luang temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The country’s Buddhist temples are as much a part of the landscape as rice paddies and palm trees. But many temples in rural Thailand have fallen quiet.

Credit: Giulio Di Sturco for The International Herald Tribune

From a gorgeous slide show in the New York Times, accompanying an article on the decline of the Buddhist monastic tradition in Thailand,

Read More

Monks lose relevance as Thailand grows richer

Thomas Fuller, New York Times: The monks of this northern Thai village no longer perform one of the defining rituals of Buddhism, the early-morning walk through the community to collect food. Instead, the temple’s abbot dials a local restaurant and has takeout delivered.

“Most of the time, I stay inside,” said the abbot, Phra Nipan Marawichayo, who is one of only two monks living in what was once a thriving temple. “Values have changed with time.”

The gilded roofs of Buddhist temples are as much a part of Thailand’s landscape as rice paddies and palm trees. The temples were once the heart of …

Read the original article »

Read More

A vision of peace in Burma

Meditation on peace, by Alamsyah Rauf (Alamsyah)) on 500px.com
meditation on peace by Alamsyah Rauf

 

There’s been so much bad news from Burma recently, with Buddhist monks advocating violence against the Muslim minority and being attacked by security forces as they tried to prevent the expansion of a Chinese copper mine, that I thought I’d post this lovely image of a Burmese boy monk meditating.

The photographer, Alamsyah Rauf, says that he used a 1/5th second exposure on a tripod to blur the water a little yet keep the monk sharp. Do visit his page, and if you like the photograph then consider supporting the artist by buying a copy.

Read More
Menu

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.

X