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Buddhadharma : Spring 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 10 54 monastics as a vital part of society. And if American Buddhism turns in such a direction, we could see a renaissance in Bud- dhist monasticism in the next century or so. Jan Jan Chozen Bays: Even among my own dharma brothers and sisters, I encounter questions as to why would we need ordained people and why would we need monasteries as a place to house them or train them. In the Zen tradition, of course, people who are ordained also have aspects of lay life, so it’s not so surprising that the question would arise. The Buddha said that the fourfold sangha of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis (the ordained sangha), and upasakas and upasikas (the lay sangha) is essential. Today, we need a wide-mouth funnel that many types of people can fit into, one that makes the buddhadharma accessible and is very creative about the forms in which it’s presented. We’ve done well with that, but as a result we now need even more anchoring at the deep end of the spectrum. The danger of the wide-mouth funnel is that Buddhism will become too shallow, and therefore diluted and commodified. It will be mala Buddhism: if I wear a mala and I like the Dalai Lama, I’m a Buddhist. BuddhadhaRma: If the monastic element were to disappear from Western Buddhism, what would happen? RoBeRt thuRman: In traditional Buddhist terms, Buddhism itself would disappear. A few years ago when Time magazine did a big thing on Buddhism coming to America, I said at the time that I didn’t think it had arrived yet, because there’s really no significant indigenous American Buddhist monasti- cism. There are a few traces here and there, but it’s not widely accepted. Also, on a deeper level there would be no asylum for certain people. There would be no place for those young people who don’t want to have a family, produce, adopt a profession, or join the military. There would be no place for people who really (portraitsclockwisefromtopleft):Janel.wechsler;brinkmanphotography,unknown;richardrethemeyer. 54 join the military. There would be no place for people who really (portraitsclockwisefromtopleft):Janel.wechsler;brinkmanphotography,unknown;richardrethemeyer. ROBERT THURMAN is the Jey Tsong Khapa professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, and cofounder and president of Tibet House U.S . He was ordained in 1964, becoming the first American monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He renounced his vows of celibacy three years later. His latest book is Why the Dalai Lama Matters. AYYA TATHAALOKA is an American bhikkhuni and cofounder of the North American Bhikkhuni Association. In 2005, she founded the first women’s monastic residence in the Theravada tradition in the western United States. She is currently the resident teacher at Bodhi House in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is establishing a women’s monastic hermitage on California’s Sonoma Coast. Last October, she served as preceptor in the first Theravada bhikkhuni ordinations in Australia. BHIKKHU BODHI is a senior American Buddhist monk and scholar who was ordained in 1973 in Sri Lanka. In 2002, he returned to the United States and now resides at Chang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. He is the president of the Buddhist Publication Society and chair of the Buddhist Global Relief organization. JAN CHOZEN BAYS is co-abbot of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon. She received priest’s ordination and dharma transmission from the late Taizan Maezumi Roshi. She is also a pediatrician, wife, mother, and the author of Mindful Eating. Earlier in my monastic life, there weren’t that many mon- asteries in North America. We had to go to Asia, which was hard on one’s health. Although it was wonderful in many ways, it was also challenging to learn a new language and culture. In the last decade, I’ve found that more people have been calling for monasteries to be located here in the West, so that we can live a monastic life in our home cultures. RoBeRt thuRman: Monasticism is critical for the future of Bud- dhism in America. There is a tendency in American Buddhism not to think so, and to argue that monasticism was appropri- ate in Asian society but not in America, where most practi- tioners are bound to be lay practitioners. The idea that we don’t really need monasticism here is very wrong. The source of it is an unwitting Protestant ethic that is unwilling to have people pursuing a life path that doesn’t involve producing things. But in fact, one of our problems is that we overproduce things and it would be good to have a lot of people who are not producing things. The monastic institution was a brilliant sociological inven- tion of Shakyamuni Buddha—something distinct from forest ascetics, who are completely out in the jungle so to speak, as he had been, and distinct from the city priests, who operate at a temple in a town. The monastics were located a short distance from town, so they could come in to collect alms and food and maintain a connection with the populace. They were also far enough away to have some retreat from the hustle and bustle, yet not be utterly isolated. What Ayya Tathaaloka was saying about it being easy to be ordained is very important. Monasticism is a society- transforming institution that is the only institutional antidote in human history to militarism, the bad habit of most human societies. For Buddhism to really take hold in the West, society has to be slowly changed in such a way that it will support brinkmanphotography