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Buddhism in the News


Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Dangers of Organized Buddhism.

many [...] lament the state of Thai Buddhism as being corrupt, power hungry [...] A series of scandals has turned up recently, including senior monks sexually abusing their novices. Many monks have been accused of the commercialization of the faith including fraudulent fund-raising. Between accepting donations and chanting ancient Pali incantations that many in the congregation don’t understand, the monks thumb at their cell phones or ask their personal attendants to grab them refreshments.
Corruption within the Thai clergy has not been an uncommon or even recent phenomenon. In 1999, The Associated Press carried a story stating: “At its core, Buddhism is a religion that teaches the renunciation of desire for material comforts is the way to relieve suffering and find the path to wisdom. But instead of shunning material comforts, some senior monks live in plush quarters and drive Mercedes Benzes.”

This is why I personally believe it is important to have a healthy skepticism of organized religion. I am a very happy and devoted Buddhist, but I don't believe everything taught by organized Buddhism, or any religion. In the end, no organization can do the work for us. No amount of "blessings" or donations can help us in those quiet moments alone when our ego declares war upon our peace of mind. While I am thankful for temples and monasteries, we are on our own.

I find that freeing because it empowers us to directly impact our lives without relying so much upon imperfect organizations and leaders. People will disappoint us and lead us astray if we put all our faith in them alone. There is definitely a place for temples and monasteries, but for me, direct experience is where the progress happens. Amulets can not prevent bad things from happening in our life, but the purpose of Buddhism is to teach us methods of behaving that enable us to experience the inevitable pains of life with less mental anguish.

As for the money involved in these corrupt temples, I believe in dana, or donating, but the Dharma is not for sale. The idea of making money off donations beyond caring for the basic needs of monks and their temples is shockingly antithetical to the dharma. Monks driving around in Mercedes Benzes corrupts the dharma to nothing other than a business gimmick. No one expects monks to be perfect but they set the example for novice Buddhists. They are the caretakers of the dharma who are supposed to best embody Buddha's work. They represent what is possible when the Buddha's methods are practiced on a regular basis. They are the teachers who pass on the knowledge of finding the path to true spiritual freedom.

There is, however, the tendency to deify monks on the other extreme. This is why I have a healthy dose of skepticism of organized religion. It's not that the Dharma is flawed but that we humans are flawed, so putting all our trust in any human being is falling into the trap of delusional thinking, which is one of the three poisons that Buddha taught create suffering. After all the teaching, chanting and reading, no one can walk the thorny path of samsara for us, and it can not be any other way.

There are no short-cuts. We can believe that trinkets and donations will ease our suffering but they merely distract us, so when the delusion wears off, we're back in our hole of suffering. In the end, it's up to us to put one foot in front of the other and climb the steps toward realizing enlightenment. We can walk with friends and guides for a time but they can not carry us to liberation because the path to enlightenment isn't a physical journey. It's a journey of the mind.

Being carried the whole way could never work because our mind is where the problem rests and if you don't fix the mind first then you're simply trying to drain water out of a boat before fixing the leak first!! Trying to fix the mind through charms is like trying to heal a broken bone by reading the doctor's manual on how to heal broken bones aloud to the damaged leg hoping that alone would cure the problem. Thus, for me, my practice is a balance of following experienced, Buddhist, teachers while continuing to think for myself and use common sense. In the end, isn't balance the middle-path that Buddha taught?

~i bow to the buddha within all beings~

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treeluvr87 said...

Long time reader, wanted to comment that I've always appreciated your use of analogies.

Kurt Gielen said...

Thank you for this article. As a Buddhist/Catholic (yes, still not sure which to choice, or even if I have to), I've been thinking about donations (or tithing as it's called in Catholicism) a lot. Would you mind expanding a bit more on your view on this? I know you touched on it here, but I'd love to hear more from you on this subject.

Thanks in advance,


Bic Tran said...

Many Buddhists are in name only: there is no understanding of the Dharma, only seeking selfish gratification. So there is no surprise an entire institution sprung up to serve this need. A friend of mine overheard a conversation among monks: one said to others that if 50% of lay people go to hell then more than 80% of monks would enter hell. I am very saddened by this. For one I am not affected by this, but it is truly regretful that such a corrupt act may extinguish the flickering spiritual flame of people seeking the Buddhist Dharma and go away in disgust and fall back in Samsara. I have seen enough of this, and many time I could not defend. That's why equal to the sin of killing is faking one realization to hoodwink others for material or carnal gain.
In the end, like other faith the path of realization is a lonely one, and one can only walk on one own feet.

They call him James Ure said...

@treeluvr87...Thank-you, friend, for taking the time to pass the compliment on. I like using analogies because they convey knowledge in a very clear and concise format. I appreciate your readership and look forward to hearing from you again. I bow to the Buddha within you...

@Kurt Green...Take your time searching your path. If you want to be Buddhist/Catholic right now then go with that instinct. I firmly believe that we must follow our hearts. Buddha advised not to adopt anything he says unless we have investigated it for ourselves. Thus, I feel one should not rush into Buddhism. Take your time...let your karma guide you.

As for donations, I feel that they serve a purpose in helping monks and nuns pay for their basic needs. However, money can corrupt even the most knowledge monk.

It is for that reason that it seems wise to have a independent board of lay Buddhists attached with each monastery who are in charge of the donation funds.

This prevents corruption of the monks and allows them to focus fully on living the Dharma and teaching it.

They call him James Ure said...

@Bic Tran...It is very sad, indeed because there are other monks who are wonderful examples of Buddha-Dharma.

It is for them that we must stand as witness to the abuses of the corrupt monks. We must speak out and demand better. It is up to the laity (us) to educate people so they know Buddhism isn't the problem. It's those who are misusing it.

They need to be educated that what these monks preach is not Buddhism.

But, as you say, in the end we can not rely upon anyone else to save us. There are great monasteries over-all but the hard-work comes in those quiet moments alone, away from the monasteries and festivals.

Buddhism is stronger than ever, despite these rotten apples. I feel Buddhism is growing around the world, and the internet has fueled that progress by enabling people in far-away places to learn of the Dharma.

Having those documents at your finger-tips, at home, means having the greatest teachings of Buddhists teachers from ancient times to present, all brought into your home at the click of a button. The internet has freed Buddhism, so that the knowledge isn't solely in the heads of the monks and nuns. This enables the lay practitioners to know when their monks are going astray, which improves the chances of not falling prey to their charlatan charms.

Thank-you for your comment, Bic Tran, I enjoyed your insights and honesty.

They call him James Ure said...

P.S. -- When I say "their charlatan charms" I mean, of course, only the corrupt monks. I don't want to convey the idea that I think ALL monks are charlatans. Nothing could be further from the true. Most monks and nuns are great examples for us on how to be like Buddha.

Radha Santadharma said...

This is why I like the Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation.

All their books are free. While that is still not as good as having a guru or a solid Buddhist teacher, it is leading me in the right direction.

Thich Thien Tâm, the author of Buddhists of Wisdom and Faith, is like a guru to me. Reading this book opens my heart to the Buddha's Call, and lightens my mind up to the Bodhi Mind.

As for Thailand, it is tragic how organized religion becomes a field of gold for pedophiles and rapists.

This all could be reduced when Theravada allows their monks to marry as in Jodo Shinshu.

They call him James Ure said...

@Radha...I would be open to the idea of monks being allowed to marry. They could rise early in the morning each day to go to the monastery for the day, much like going to work. Then return home at the end of the day.

While I think the core of monastic traditions should be upheld, I do think some things need to evolve. After all, if change is inevitable then why should monasteries be immune to change?

Bic Tran said...

No, I would stand behind the Dalai Lama in strictly upholding the vow of chastity for buddhist monks and nuns. No one forces anyone to put on a robe, and if one wants to marry one should return the robe and stop caliming to be a monk. Here is an excerpt from the Dalai Lama's My spiritual journey:
the 4 rrot vows correspond to 4 simple prohibitions: a monk must not kill, steal, or lie about his spiritual realizations, and he must also observe strict chastity. If he breaks one of these 4 vows, he is no longer a monk.
The corrosive of money is bad enough now do you want to throw in sex, and children in the mix? Instead of unshackle now monks can put on more? Now could he focus on his quest with a wife and kids?
Any one can preach without having to put on the robe.
Please search on Michael Roach to see why sex and quest for enlightenment don't mix.

They call him James Ure said...

@Bic Tran...Hmmm, you make good points. I think I'm leaning back to your viewpoint on celibacy of monks. I can see how it would create further distractions.

I guess I said they should be able to marry out of wanting to reduce sexual abuse from monks on other monks.

Sometimes I feel, though, that holding back sexual urges too much can lead to sexuality being expressed in perverted ways, such as via molestation.

So, while I am back in agreement with you about the celibacy of monks, how would you best address molestation among monks. You see it within Catholic monks, and Buddhist monks.

Does the lack of sexual release have anything to do with these sexual abuses? Because it seems like there is a real problem with sexual molestation within monasteries from several religions.

So, while I agree with you now that monks should not marry, how do you see the molestation issue?

Tao1776 said...


Skeptical Dharmaist said...

The greater the crowd, the greater the corruption.

Meeting with people to discuss ideas and support one another is a valuable part of any endeavor in life, but spending too long in the company of others tends to lead to a watering-down of values. When something is difficult, or long-winded, or frustrating, it is easy for comments of support to turn into murmurings of disquiet - are we sure he really meant this? Is that really required?

There is also a lamentable human tendency to put the person, rather than the teachings, on a pedestal. Monks inspire admiration and respect, when really, they should be conduits for understanding; examples of dharma in action. This is a two-way street; devotees are as much to blame for the corruption as the monks themselves. Holding monks in too high a regard warps not only the spiritual path of the novice, but of the monk also.

Clumsy Warrior said...

I am Thai and I totally agree with this. Since the Buddha has left the world, he also has left his Dharma for us.

I have been to different temples, different dominations of Buddhism in Thailand. In the end I find reading Dharma in Buddha's own word, or Buddha Vacana, to be the most clear and to the point. Reading Buddha vacana truly weeps away all my confusion and leaves me feel like I really arrive at my refuge.

here is my resource if anyone is interested. Other sutta resources are great too, but I like this one because they organize suttas into topics for you. They have finished the translation of some books in english.

Bruce said...

Organised Buddhism as a religion is very important. Without it many corrupt evil and externalist teachings will get in. This is the Dharma Ending age, people's roots are especially dull. Hence wrong teachings can easily lure and delude people.

Just because some organisations are corrupt doesn't make organised Buddhism wrong.

Bruce said...

There are plenty of good Venerables and good Buddhist organisations. Why don't people look for those instead of slandering the bad ones? All your doing is to reinforce your own ego anyway.

You can't practice Buddhism without the physical Triple Gem first, because lay people are heavily deluded and Karmic obstructed.

They call him James Ure said...

Bruce, thank-you for your comments.

I never stated in my post that I believe ALL of organized Buddhism is "bad." I only said that it's good to have some skepticism of it. Skepticism doesn't mean you reject something. It simply means that you don't have blind faith. Blind faith can lead to delusion, just as much as thinking we don't need teachers.

I merely am stating that we must balance the need for organized Buddhism with direct experience of the practitioner. It's about having both.

I point out the corrupt organizations, not to aggrandize my ego but rather to warn people. I don't know how pointing out suspect teachers is egotistical. However, I'm certainly not here to say I'm perfect, but neither are you.

I talk about good organizations, too, but they are the norm. I honestly think most organizations are NOT corrupt. As I said, there are just a few bad organizations, so pointing them out helps purify the sangha. That's my view.

I don't care if I get credit for saying this or that--I don't criticize to hold myself up, but rather to inform. I don't believe that one is being egotistical for exposing a corrupt temple.

I think you assumed that I was criticizing ALL organized Buddhism, but that is not my position. I'm merely holding a candle up to these few, corrupt temples, to hopeful inform others as to which teachers to avoid. That was my intention, and I apologize if my wording lead you to believe otherwise.

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