Monastic Policing

2009 WBMC group roup

Discipline matters of Sangha members are handled within each temple or monastery privately among the ordained and specific to rank and gender; that is monks to monks and nuns to nuns.

It is not a matter of outside concern or the laity.  Protocol of the Sangha does not allow laity to file complaints with a specific temple about a certain member. In some cases a temple may adapt their personal policies to include procedures but most do not since we already have procedures established and beside the West culture of nonprofits is too new and influx to rely on.  All Sangha monks and nuns are responsible for their own path and consequences.

Bhikshuni Sangha receiving the ordination staff 2004
Bhikshuni Sangha receiving the ordination staff 2004

There is no national unified organization of Buddhist Sangha in the USA now. It would be made of monastics in all traditional Buddhist traditions. It would only deal with Sangha matters not laity relationships with Sangha for it’s own members which would be voluntary.  It would not supercede the existing national and state laws, membership in such an organization is voluntary.  Members are 4-part Sangha but in actual use of policy and rule making it is the 2 part Sangha who is the majority.  There are regional groups that meet but not everyone is a member and not everyone is required to be so.

Reports about Sangha members are not handled by contacting the temples. It’s expected that the Sanghan keep themselves in contact with responsible elders already and self-report any problems during pratimoksa every 2 weeks.

Independent monks and nuns residing in the USA is also quite common overseas; also respectable and a significant part of our Sangha have been doing since ancient time of the Buddha up until the present; they are expected to find good monks and nuns to supervise their purity and remain in contact with Sangha as prescribed by their training during ordination.

Sangha are not above the law, if you are in a situation that is legally compromising you can choose to pursue legal recourse, and remember that Sangha may choose legal recourse to protect themselves. We accord with the laws of the land and that means in the USA all  the rights we have as citizens or for those with visas all the same rights as well.

Remember all our monastic discipline rules are in-house and gender specific, we already have people we answer to, if you have some complaint about monastics you can handle it directly with them, it’s of no use to report to a temple nor is it of us to blather about it to anyone else. This is not a business style or tattel-tale type of process, you must try to understand our culture.

2005 WBMG Shasta Abbey
2005 WBMG Shasta Abbey

What if you don’t like what some monk or nun says, writes, or acts?

There is nothing beyond a respectful approach to add to normal societal rules in dealing with someone you are in conflict with, or don’t agree with or not able to accept.  As far as Sangha rules go as Buddhists you should be respectful and not pursue a student-teacher relationship with someone you can not agree with their views.  Monks or nuns both choose their students, they decide what to teach and when to teach and to whom they teach.  You know you don’t have to like a Buddhist monk or nun to be able to learn from them.  And they don’t have to like you.  They don’t have to teach anyone if they do not like to do so.  That’s life.

A Buddhist monk or nun of any tradition is not obligated to teach you, interact with you or even to meet with you.  Just because you want someone to teach you doesn’t make it required.  Temples do not oversee this part of our lives, we are in charge of it.  We are not required to take you on, not one of us are.

We don’t have to answer your questions. Just because you ask us something does not mean we have to answer it. If we decide to say something to you it’s best to listen respectfully. Then thank us and take some time for consideration and practice. This is not authoritarian nor pontificating, it’s practical. We have busy lives, may be in a middle of major project and you come to us and want to discuss rebirth, karma or your fear of ghosts. Sooo… keep it mind, show respect to gain benefits for yourself if you are indeed a serious practitioner of Buddhism.

What we are required to to is to observe our Vinaya rules, deport ourselves in the manner becoming a monastic in the Buddhist tradition. We are on the path as a monk or nun to become enlightened. That is is our goal. Beyond that it is all irrelevant.

We pause during our walks when we are asked to perform duties by our temples or teachers, decide to teach dharma, carry out personal studies and projects or die.

We have simple lives whether we are in the temples or outside the temples. Our Vinaya guides us and our monastic discipline and training saves us from the householder burdens and lifestyle.

Buddha Relics Hall at CTTB Western monks and nuns

And yes, if you haven’t figured it out.  There are no monastic police.  We have no Complaint Department or Customer Service area.  There are no people authorized to respond to complaints about a monk or nun.  Temples may get them very rarely and it’s usually by those who don’t understand or know about the way it really is.  I would suspect that not one monk or nun was disciplined as a result, not one; especially if it was a traditional temple or monastery.

Nothing is handled regarding discipline or complaints from laity by blogs, media, email, letters, or phone calls.

However, all media is available to Sangha for it’s use to explore and initiate,  but traditionally in temples or monasteries,  it is handled only by the monk and nun in charge of discipline matters in person, in private meetings; or with another elder monk or nun in the same tradition with some recognized mutual relationship like same temple, same ordination group, same ordination temple or something by agreement or shared in common.  Then it’s mutually decided what the course of action is, notice I wrote ‘mutually’ meaning the monk or nun in question has the right to not agree or act.

If we undergo something we don’t like in our dealings with laity or non-Buddhists we can choose to confront, accept, or walk away.  We let go of situations as soon as it happens, hardly if ever bring it up to beat it again.  Unless someone pursues us like habitual debator, deluded, clinger or stalker type, and that is vile bitter stuff to deal with.  Just having undergone a situation like this on another blog, it’s pretty low-brow to have people pester you about your interactions with them because they have misplaced issues with control or authority.  Mostly it depends on our personal level of comfort and skills.  We are human beings, subject to influence and flux.  So keep that in mind.

A side note: We are not associated with Catholics or any kind or of mystical hermetic tradition.  We do not disparage them or other religions in vain attempts to improve our image in anyone eyes.  Try to refrain from comparing their respectable monastic discipline to ours, or transfer any of their problems which are mainly your own problems, biases, or whatever with their orders and stop using their terms and structure when discussing Buddhist Sangha members.  We have no pope, no one single large infrastructure to support us or even willingness to set one up. Everything is on a local level.

On a personal note, I am horrified every time I hear Catholic bashing going on, I mean it’s so offensive to listen or read in print when people complain and ratchet up their spite, engaging in slander about monks and nuns in general when only a handful of priests or a few nuns are criminally inclined.

Most of the other monks and nuns are paying the actual financial price for those few, thus imperils their orders and their very survival; plus they have to endure abuse from the public who have no personal investiture in the issues but make themselves felt and known.  There are a majority of very good monks and nuns that are contributing significantly to the betterment of their communities and the public at hand, their historic contributions among these orders should not be ignored or belittled because of a few criminals.

Those engaging abusive hateful bashing online or in print or in words without actually having the direct experiences or being related to someone who has been the victims of a criminal act, watching this type complain with a great deal of  bitterness and voiced in print or in speech much hatred towards the monks and nuns in the Catholic orders are from some of the worst sort of bitter, cruel, immoral glory seeking persons our society.

Why are Buddhist Monastic Sangha are so different in structure and culture than Catholics or any group in the West.

We are Buddhist Sangha members. We have an infrastructure called Vinaya that was created by Buddha an Asian Indian prince, not a Westerner an independent typed as individualist.  We follow the practices and principles set for by the Buddha and temple guidelines by our lineage teachers who trained us in the beginning of our entrance into the temple community. For most of us that is Asian with all the culture and values associated with it.

That does not mean we turn into Asians if we are not racially and culturally linked, that would be ridiculous. But it does mean we stay supported by their stable time tested practices that are based in our temples influence and our own experiences; not on the Western system. If we deviate from that we may face trouble living as monks and nuns becoming influenced by worldly matters,  possibly risking our personal discipline and the path.

What’s perceived as fair and unfair in the West.

It’s not fair that women are pushed down by Asians, monks, businesses, governments, mommies and daddies or variations of this theme.

Buddhist Gender based traditions and practices:

Gender equity is not an issue much felt and it really is dependent on the culture of the temple where one resides; or what one encounters, the degree of cultural sensitivity should not be under-estimated and it is needed here in the west and really should be acquired by WESTERNERS not the Asians to deal with the temple environment.

It makes no sense to barge into someplace with self-righteous indignation and demand equity and fairness!  You don’t know the situation, nor do they know you! You are not the reformer that can be taken seriously only Sangha can do that in-house so to speak. I assure you not one idea will be taken seriously, even if you go to the extremes of sidewalk protests or whatever.

The gender issue is not discussed directly in the temple due to our discipline rules, not just a cultural issue but one of appropriate speech. It does not mean we are not aware of it or want changes made; it means we have to work with our seniors and junior monks and nuns with equal amount of respect, while candor is a priori we do not engage in blatant demands to discuss gender issues which are largely categorized as sexual matters with laity or opposite gendered people without methods to follow up rather quickly.

Genders are separated both physically and mentally by the Sangha and it’s Vinaya rules. This is to reduce conflicts, attachments, and risky behavior. This is the Buddhist culture and not entirely due to Asian societal influences and a very practical one at that.  Westerners who don’t understand or live it as monks or nuns, really want to fix it to make it seem more fair, often wrongly attempting to do so by making accusations and demands. That’s just not going to produce anything except discord.

Understand the cultural diversity and variations of Buddhism as it is; not as you want it to be.

budddhist police holding their pamphets
budddhist police holding their pamphets

Contrary to what is happening in their country, there is no monastic police, these groups here are against foreign monks and nuns coming into their country and getting donations for their own home temples and leaving the country with them.  This is not proper for them to do this.  This is a development by politicals with unvirtuous actions. They also had lay people ‘arresting’ foreign monks seen begging (pindapat is allowed in that country- begging for alms by monks and nuns) in their country, they forcibly pulled off the monk’s robes.   This is outrageous behavior in the first place and secondly worse for Buddhists to do this is very bad and against the Triple Jewel.

Cultural variations among different traditions and schools or temples.  It’s important to understand there are variations of cultural influences. Theravada and Mahayana are the two schools.  Theravada is primarily practiced in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and some parts of Asia. It seems culturally stagnant with no acceptance of women in equity.


That does not mean that monks don’t care about equity, some are even pioneering ordinations of women in the West and one bhikkhuni is offering ordination in the East. However, understand this, it is not accepted by their national Sangha councils. And those introducing bhikkhuni ordination against the councils wishes lack political clout, even at the act of fairness and what we understand to be moral and just cause.

Mahayana tradition as practiced in China, Korea, Tibet, Vietnam, and Japan. Tibet is not defined by vajrayana tantric practices, it’s rich with various schools which are influenced by it’s native religion of Bon.  Each and every one of these countries has a native religion, which influences the practice of Buddhism in their countries.

Tibetan Buddhism has no bhikshuni lineage, and it it too is seemingly culturally stagnant.  The Tibetan Sangha council has refused to accept the introduction of bhikshuni lineage, even against the advice of the Dalai Lama. Also they do have married clergy and monastic monks with novice or lay nuns. The few bhikskhunis in Tibetan robes are ordained through Chinese or Korean Mahayana Dharmguptaka Vinaya.

Japanese Buddhism is not Vinaya based. It was destroyed by the Meiji emperor and now so ingrained into Japanese society the few bhikshus left there are not accepted by the Japanese society or fellow Buddhists, in fact, they are often abused or criticized. There Buddhism developed on it’s own path after Meiji period became infused with a rich cultural diversity and practices and has married and monastic traditions. The married clergy are men and all women are nuns and monastics.  The monastics are well trained and practice very well, they offer sound training and observe the Vinaya in their temple rules rather than take the full ordination. They are often monastic scholars and translators of note, who have preserved the Tripitakas.

more later….

One thought on “Monastic Policing

  1. See my post June 30, 2011 on Crimes against Nuns and the previous one of Vilgilantes forming a SSPC sanctity of sangha protection center in Malaysia forcibly disrobing in public and on the spot of where they are found only just suspected (not charged or tried) foreign monks who were thought to have been sent by a sindicate to collect alms and their behalf.


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