The Tibetan community in exile is now well established in India, with many large monasteries,
nunneries, free schools, hospitals, universities etc. They enjoy good support from Foreign Aid
and some Indian Government subsidies. Under the skillful leadership of HH Dalai Lama, the
Tibetan community in exile has flourished, although it’s problems are real and their loss is great.
Approx 80% of Tibetan monastics in India have support. Buddhism is one of the fastest growing
religions in the West. But 40 years after some of the first ‘Baby Boomer’ generation became
Buddhist there is still little support and training for Western Buddhist monastics and few places
where Lay Westerners can access the teachings of Buddhism under the ‘donation’ system the
Buddha himself established.
Buddha said that the teachings of the previous Buddhas disappeared quickly because there was
no Vinaya or code of ethics set down to preserve the teachings. He also said that when there was
no one keeping the full Dharma Vinaya (.i.e. fully ordained monastics) there Dharma would quickly
disappear. Even the Tantras mention that the most ideal practitioner of Tantra is a fully ordained
Buddhist monastic. Of course there have been so many great Householder Yogis and Saints in
Tibetan Buddhism, but to firmly establish Buddhism in any country, to master all the teachings,
rich philosophy and meditative practice of Maha/Vajrayana Buddhism of takes 20 years of full
time training. Many Householder Yogis have no time for this, being tied down with family and work
Why are Monastics important in the modern world?
Can't we just have a modern day 'Lay' Sangha?
Monastic life offers a very real chance to have a deeply spiritual and meaningful life and to
fully devote oneself to Dharma and the service of others without distraction in a world that is
fast falling apart. It offers people a chance to have a ‘radical transformation of the heart’ and
to live just as the Buddha lived. At the time of the Buddha people were also busy with work,
trade, art, politics and economy, much as they are today. For people that wonder if monastic
life is still relevant we might ask – is overcoming suffering still relevant?
Monastic life is very disciplined and not an easy life path. Often as lay people Westerners
sponsor Tibetan and Himalayan monastics, but when they ordain they are refused admission
into the very monasteries they sponsored because they are unable to speak or learn Tibetan
language, live in crowded conditions within a Tibetan cultural context, obtain Visas or handle
basic food and the intense schedule of a Tibetan monasteries. It’s not that Non-Himalayans
are lazy, they just are unable to survive in that very challenging environment physically and
culturally. They may find the ‘learn by rote’ system of studies not very meaningful. Tibetan
Centres in the West function for lay people and are controlled largely by Tibetan Lamas
who inevitably support their Himalayan disciples but seldom their Western ones.
The Buddha made it very clear that monastics should not work, what is the point of being a
monastic if you’re engaging in business just like a Layperson? How does that help you to
fully train and embody the Dharma and become an inspiring example of ‘the Dharma life well
lived’? Traditionally it was the responsibility of the Master who ordained the student to train
and support them, but unfortunately, this is now no longer happening as Centers in the West
are lay based and often made on a business model. Monastic life is an all consuming and full
time career worthy of support. We need to support all sincere monastics for Buddhism to
flourish in the world, not just some who are already well supported and established.
For Western and Non-Himalayan Monastics
NEW Download Venerable Bhikku Bodhi's talk
"Whatever Happened to the Monastic Sangha?