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Friday, September 11, 2009
Unemployed? Become a monk!
It is definitely a good intention. It is also definitely clear that the Ecclesiastical Council's decision to help unemployed men by turning them into monks will be plagued with problems.
The council's order brought to mind a conservation I had with the abbot of my neighbourhood temple some time ago.
He heaved a deep sigh when I asked if he had problems running his temple.
"People just think temples are where they can dump their problematic kids or relatives. And we cannot say no because they are our temple supporters.
"Once in the temples, these new monks often form cliques and gangs. They refuse to follow the rules or study dharma. I cannot do much about it. Upsetting them can be dangerous."
But at least he knows their relatives who can help when things get out of control. Imagine the extra headache when he has to follow the elders' order by opening his temple to total strangers.
To be fair, the elders have cautioned each temple to do a background check on ordination candidates and make sure that they will adhere to monastic rules and spiritual training. After all, the clergy is already at its wits' end on how to deal with rogue monks, many of whom are former criminals or formerly disrobed monks who abuse the robe and erode public faith in the clergy.
The abbots must then do their best to screen the right people and give them strict training, says the order.
But can they?
Poor screening and training are some of the most serious problems plaguing the clergy. According to the monastic rules, the preceptors must train the monks they ordain for at least five to ten years, or even longer, until it is certain that their charges can live a monk's life true to the monastic codes of conduct.
In reality, however, it is easy to get ordained, pick up a clerical registration card, and leave.
Some preceptors are plain greedy. Others just do not train new monks because it is too much of a problem, or they simply do not know how. They also know that the elders simply do not care how they run the temples so long as the scandals are swept under the carpet.
It is this extreme laxity resulting from the ineffectual, centralised clerical administration that breeds rife monastic misconduct and abuse.
During my conversion with my neighbourhood abbot, I also asked if he provided meditation training to his monks.
No, he said. There are so many meditation techniques, he explained, and since he does not know which is the right one, he'd rather not get involved.
What? An abbot, a preceptor, who cannot give young monks meditation guidance? If not for spiritual practice, what is monkhood for, then?
At least the abbot was honest. If anything, what he needs is not rebuke, but urgent help from the clergy in monk training as well as temple management, which does not exist.
It is not only his temple that is left to its own devices. Most are like that. Yet, they are expected to effectively recruit and train new monks out of thin air.
This is why it is no use to ask why the clergy is helping only men, not women too, in this time of economic stress?
Temples must go back to their communities. They must work together to revive the lost sense of community. It is the only way to effectively address local needs, which are different in different locales.
Any top-down, uniform orders from the feudal structure would not work. They are out of touch and out of place - be it for men or women.
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