The BBC News magazine reports on Buddhist monks who slept sitting upright. Danny Fisher linked to the article, but making sure to note that it’s about Tibetan Buddhist monks. Sleeping in an upright sitting position is an ancient tradition recorded along with twelve other ascetic practices, which in the Pali Canon are referred to as the dhutanga practices. I was just talking with a monk about this yesterday, and he was very much against the dhutanga.
Two friends of mine are going to be ordained soon, and this has got me thinking about how we address monks and nuns in English. We tend to use the term that the monastics themselves use. Sometimes we have to ask, but we increasingly often encounter titles in books, magazine bylines and on the web. This post explores the sorts of monastic titles that I use when I speak or write about monks and nuns in English to English speakers. And I add a couple thoughts about “Western Buddhism” to boot!
There is a great monk currently leading a course at the IMS Forest Refuge. Bhante Khippapanno, alternatively known as Hòa thượng Kim Triệu (his lay name), is a well known meditation teacher in the Vietnamese Theravada community. A year ago when we started this blog, I’d never even heard of Vietnamese Theravada monks in the United States. But because of my post on this topic, one of the Dharma Folk pointed me to a local Southern California center. I went there and found that most of the monks, though Vietnamese, spend significant time studying meditation in Burma. So my own journey comes full-circle.
I’ve since developed friendships with some of the monks and practitioners at this temple. It’s a bit out of the way, but I try to go there every other month. A friend who had done a retreat there with Bhante Khippapanno encouraged me to go visit, and Bhante gave a valuable lesson on friends and practice.
I usually get to bed well before midnight so I can wake up at 5am, meditate, and go to the gym before work. But tonight a friend called me around 10:30pm, and we talked for about half an hour, after which I wasn’t able to fall back asleep. Next to my bed was a copy of Don’t Look Down on the Defilements by Sayadaw U Tejaniya, a gift to me from one of his Dharma brothers.
I sat up in my bed and started reading through it. It’s a good book, and I especially appreciate it’s simple and friendly style of writing. Of course, I decided I wanted to post about it. Online, I found that Sayadaw U Tejaniya has his own website with many of his teachings and in multiple languages. You can also find Don’t Look Down on Defilements there too. He even posted his interview from the Tricycle Winter 2007 issue.
On one trip to a certain monastery, my friends and I were about to leave when one of my friends asked me if it were possible to get one of the abbot’s books on Buddhist meditation. She was interested in a specific book that he’d talked about the day before. I asked a member of the temple board, who was standing around. He told me to go over and ask the abbot himself, who was up on one of the monastery’s hills.
As we came up to the top of the hill, we saw the abbot walking down beneath a parasol. We stopped and without saying anything, put our hands together and bowed. He saw us, smiled and said, “Go look in the shed over there. If it’s not there, there might be a copy in the main shrine room.”
How did he know that we were looking for the book? We hadn’t told him what we were looking for! So naturally, we spent the rest of the day talking about his telepathic ability.
Late last night I read about tigers and monks over on the Worst Horse, but it wasn’t till this morning when I read the UBA blog that I noticed that this temple is a Dhammayutt temple! What a timely coincidence. This story has been getting a lot of press, and fortunately it looks like Phil Ryan is kindly keeping track of it over at Tricycle Blog, thus saving me plenty of time chasing “tiger and monk” stories over the Buddhist blogosphere.
The other night, I was eating dinner with a scholar of Cambodian literature and his family, and somehow we got onto the topic of Buddhism and chanting. I mentioned that I chant in the style of the Dhammayutt.* His children (all my age or older) had no idea what I was talking about. They had never heard of the Dhammayutt.
We had some discussion about the two orders of Theravada monks in Cambodia. There is the Dhammayuttika Nikaya and Maha Nikaya, they have different sangharajas, and their practices and chanting differ. But I didn’t do the subject justice. This topic has come up a couple times before, so for the sake of reference, here is a background sketch of what I’m referring to when I talk about the Dhammayutt order.
(What I know is incomplete and admittedly biased, so feel free to set me straight.)
As I often do while I wait for programs to compile, I was browsing Wikipedia one day when I came across the page for Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh. I was surprised to see my query for “Thich Nhat Hanh” redirected to “Nhat Hanh,” and when I read further, I was disappointed by the explanation given:
Almost right, but not quite. The Wikipedia article unfaithfully refences the Order of Interbeing, which actually informs us that Thích is a name, not a title:
Thích (釋) is Vietnamese for Sakya, which is the Buddha’s family name. Every monastic member in the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition has a name which begins with Thích.
This post contains an article sent to me by a friend, Rethinking Western Feminist Critiques on Buddhism (original link), by Cheng Wei-yi (鄭維儀). It’s sort of timely since I’ve been ranting about cultural issues in the Buddhist community since… well, since I’ve started blogging here. I enjoyed this article and felt it deeply resonated with my perceptions. But then when I came to writing this blog, I remembered the first thing I was ever taught when discussing something that stirs your emotions: question your assumptions. It was very clear to me that different readers would draw very different conclusions from this essay. So I’m just putting the whole thing out there, typos and all. Take from it what you will.
If you’re interested in modern, transnational Buddhism, feminism and postcolonialism, then you’ll surely want to read on. (But it is long!)
Western Buddhists often talk about reforming conservative Asian Buddhism. But who's the real conservative? In my opinion, all this talk of "reform" and "adaptation" is really reactionary Western conservatism in disguise…