Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Whatever Happened to 
the Monastic Sangha?

 An Extract of Dhamma Talk by Bhikkhu Bodhi

[Read Full Text @]

 If a monastic Sangha doesn’t 
become well established in America, 
I don’t see much hope for 
the Dharma here.

The roles of monastic persons in theory are intensive study of the Dharma and meditation, as well as performing services for the laity. What happens in practice, however, in most temples in Asian Theravada countries, is that the role of performing services for the laity gains the upper hand; it has even become the major function of temple monks. Even intensive, in-depth study of the Dharma has faded out, and the practice of meditation has almost vanished, so that it is reduced to just five or ten minutes of quiet sitting in the daily devotional service. Forest monks often place more emphasis on meditation in the hope of reaching true attainment. 
For all its shortcomings, in traditional Asian Buddhism, these activities take place against a long-standing background that includes trust and confidence in the Three Jewels as objects of devotion and a world view that is determined largely by the teachings of the suttas and the commentaries. It is built upon solid trust in the law of karma and rebirth and upon an aspiration for nibbāna as a state of world-transcending realization.
Modern Westerners, in contrast, come to the Dharma from an entirely different stance of consciousness. They generally have a much higher level of education than traditional village Buddhists. Many Westerners will have read widely in psychology and in fields that might be grouped under the heading of “spirituality” and “higher consciousness.” They also approach the Dharma with different problems in mind and they therefore naturally seek different solutions.....

Now those Americans – and Westerners in general – who turn to Buddhism or to Dharma practice because they are oppressed, either consciously or unconsciously, by the sense of existential suffering see the Dharma as a means of restoring a sense of meaning and purpose to their lives. Not only do they see it in this way, but it works in this way. It helps them to overcome this bitter feeling of alienation from themselves, from others, and from the natural world. In the Theravada tradition, or the “Vipassana movement,” the practice of mindfulness serves this purpose by helping one to cut through the net of conceptualization and obtain a fresh and direct encounter with immediate experience. It helps one to make a fresh and direct contact with one’s experience through the senses, to come back into the present moment, to make more direct contact with the workings of one’s own mind, and thereby to have fresher and more vital, more dynamic, more enriching human relationships. And so mindfulness meditation is seen as the technique that takes us back to the concrete experience of actuality, to actuality which is always fresh at every moment. For most people this is quite a startling revelation.

Now this function of mindfulness is common both to classical Buddhism and to meditation practice as taught within the lay Vipassana movement. Given that this function of mindfulness is common to the two, we can raise the questions: 

“Why does 
the lay Vipassana movement
remain primarily 
a lay Vipassana movement? 

Why doesn’t it evolve 
towards a monastic Sangha? 

Why doesn’t it look towards 
a monastic Sangha as 
a ‘polestar’ providing 
the ideal towards 
which its members 
should be striving?” 

And we can ask: 
“Is there a significant 
difference between 
the style of 
mindfulness meditation 
as taught within 
the lay Vipassana movement 
mindfulness meditation 
as taught within 
a classical 
monastic-based system?”

Faith has various aspects; it isn’t synonymous with belief, but one of its aspects is cognitive, and that involves holding certain beliefs. Among them is the belief that the historical Buddha, Gotama of the Sakyan clan, was the fully enlightened Buddha of this historical period; and the belief that his teaching is the teaching that leads to enlightenment and liberation; and the belief that those who have followed and practiced his teaching with a high degree of success have gained world-transcending realization. That is, for classical Buddhism faith is uniquely rooted in the Triple Gem, and rooted in them partly by way of certain beliefs. Faith also involves an emotional component. It involves devotion, and in this case it is devotion directed towards the Triple Gem, above all love and devotion directed towards the Buddha as the human being who has perfectly realized all the noble qualities and ideals expressive of the Dharma; also, as the one who, out of great compassion, has taken up the burden of teaching and transforming obtuse sentient beings like ourselves. I find that this aspect of devotion is conspicuously lacking in the contemporary lay Buddhist scene here in the U.S. With a few exceptions, we hardly see traces of devotion and reverence for the Buddha in any of the popular Western Buddhist journals....

I believe that for monastic Buddhism to take root and become properly established, what is needed is a laity that has an intrinsic respect for monastics, and for lay people to develop this respect, two themes that must be emphasized again and again in the teaching of the Dharma are faith and right view. Perhaps we shouldn’t begin with heavy doses of Buddhism pietism and  teachings on the intricacies of Buddhist cosmology; but when the time is right to do so, we also have to be straightforward and unabashed in teaching people. Otherwise we will just become robed and shaven-headed teachers of mindfulness meditation, similar to our lay colleagues, and then the main difference will be that lay people will find greater affinity with the lay teachers, who can speak to them at a more intimate level of shared experience of the household life.

Another theme we have to emphasize, without any fear or hesitation, is the contributions that monastics have made to the survival of the Dharma. We shouldn’t hesitate to speak about how the Buddha Dharma has survived down the centuries through the self-sacrificing efforts of monks and nuns, who had the courage and earnestness to give up the pleasures of mundane life and dedicate themselves fully to the cause of Buddhism, surrendering their very persons to the Triple Gem. And we have to draw the inevitable corollary: If the proper Dharma is to take root and flourish here in America, we need Americans to come forward and make that courageous move. Not just because it is “more conducive to their practice,” but because they truly have been swept off their feet by the Dharma and want to offer their lives to the Dharma in every respect. It is when lay people encounter monks and nuns leading lives of selfless dedication that they can appreciate the beauty and value of the monastic life, revere it, and bring forth a mind of generosity to support those who have entered its fold. I also want to add some concluding observations regarding the situation of lay Buddhists here in America. 

I don’t think that we should expect lay people today to revert to the roles of lay people in a traditional Buddhist culture, that is, to see their roles to be simply devout supporters of the monastic Sangha, providing their material necessities as a way of earning merit for a future birth; nor do I think this is desirable. I think in today’s world, lay people have much richer opportunities to lead a fuller Dharma life, and as monks and nuns we have to rejoice in this opportunity and try to encourage them. We should be of service to help them to realize their full potential as Dharma practitioners and teachers. We live at a time when people want and need to experience the concrete benefits to which the Dharma can lead, and they should have every chance to do so. This is a time when lay people will have more leisure and opportunity to participate in long-term meditation retreats, to study the Dharma in depth, and to live lifestyles that will approximate to those of monastics. This is also a time when there will be lay people who have the knowledge, experience, and communicative skills needed to teach the Dharma. Much thought has to be given to the task of establishing roles for lay Buddhists that can tap their talents, and we will have to adjust the social forms of Buddhism to the new conditions we find ourselves in today.

We simply can’t expect Western Buddhism to imitate Asian Buddhism. And yet, I feel, for the true Dharma to flourish as the Buddha himself had envisaged it, a healthy development of Western Buddhism will have to preserve the position of the monastic Sangha as the torch-bearers of the Dharma. I say this, of course, not to try to reserve certain privileges for ourselves, so that we can sit up on high seats and wield fans with our names inscribed on them and get addressed with elegant and polite terms, but because I’m convinced that it was the Buddha’s intention that the full monastic ordination with the opportunities and responsibilities it offers are necessary for the true Dharma to survive in the world. And this means that, in each major Buddhist tradition, we will need more people of talent and dedication to come forth, take ordination, receive proper training, and then reach a point where they can give training to the next generation of monks and nuns. In this way, the Dharma will be able to reproduce itself from one generation to the next.

Read the full texts @ 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Meditation Fit for a Marine

During the talk given by Dr Gooi Chien Hoong, The Psychology of Awakening: The Art and Science of Buddhist Meditation, he mention about the US Marines and mindfulness meditation practices. Here are some of the news:

1) New Experiments with the Military Affirm 
   the Benefits of Mindfulness

“The Marines engaged in a form of secular meditation called mindfulness, which is characterized by paying attention to the present. A beginner exercise, for example, involved concentrating on an area of contact between the body and whatever it’s touching, like a chair, for about five minutes. Whenever their minds wandered, the Marines were instructed to refocus. “It doesn’t take you to some transcendental state,” Davis says. “It’s not as foofy as that.” Some of the men, accustomed to excelling at everything they did, were surprised at how much focus they had to muster. As the weeks passed, Stanley introduced more complicated exercises. The Marines practiced “shuttling” their attention between contact points and sounds like wind or the hum of electricity. That may seem remedial, but consciously switching between focal points exacerbates the mind’s natural tendency to wander, and focus can easily drift to a dozen thoughts instead of two.

Near the end of training, the Marines attended a mindfulness retreat at the mansion of John Kluge, a former television mogul whose foundation also partially funded the study. The men spent an entire day in silence, trying to be mindful about every move they made. But some men, like Hermes Oliva, a Navy medic assigned to the unit, still weren’t buying it. “We’re barefoot on this guy’s lawn doing yoga, and we’re supposed to be silent,” he says. “We’re like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ ”

by Vanessa Gregory, MENSJOURNAL 

2) Meditate Like a Marine to 
   Pump Up Your Mental Muscles 

Marines waiting 
to be deployed 
showed better memory 
after participating in 
a mindfulness 
meditation program,
and so can you.

EMMAUS, PA—The moments just before deployment can be highly stressful for those in the military, but a study published in the journal Emotion finds that meditation improved mood and bolstered working memory during this period. Working memory is the short-term memory system we tap into for managing information, controlling emotions, problem solving, and complex thought—sometimes in crisis situations. You can gain the same benefits when faced with stressful situations, whether planning your wedding, having your first child, preparing to undergo surgery, or getting ready to change jobs, according to lead study author Amishi P. Jha, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

by Leah Zerb, RODALE NEWS

Read More:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


"women upholding 
the Dhamma"

 Forest Traditions
Mindfulness and Insight
Dhamma and Vinaya

Our Dhammadharini bhikkhunis' path of practice or patipada is inspired and informed by the Theravada forest traditions of Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma.

It is also very much inspired and informed by various mindfulness and insight vipassana teachings of the Mahasi traditions as well as the vipassana tradition passed on by the late venerable Ayya Khema. And we are very much inspired directly by the Dhamma and Vinaya teachings and practices of the Pali Canon and those who teach directly from it such as the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, the Venerable Analayo, Bhante Gunaratana and others.

Our Dhammadharini Bhikkhuni Sangha is a community of the greater Theravada Buddhist forest traditions and mindfulness and insight meditation traditions coming home together.  Our Sangha is inclusive not exclusive; not limited by the bounds of sectarianism.

Our Aranya Bodhi Hermitage — the Awakening Forest — is a place of forest mindfulness and insight meditation practice together with training for monastics in the monastic discipline of the Vinaya, as so well exemplified by both the monastic forest and vipassana teachers and traditions. 


Although we have great respect for Ajahn Chah and the monks of his lineage, neither Aranya Bodhi Hermitage nor Dhammadharini are legal affiliates of the contemporary Wat Pah Pong group of affiliated Thai forest tradition monasteries. We do however share in ordination lineage, as our pavattini-upajjha Tathaaloka Theri's ordination lineage is that of the Siam Nikaya (Siam Upali Vamsa) as was that of the Venerable Ajahn Chah and all of the monks of his tradition. This is also the ordination lineage of all of the Thai Mahanikaya and Sri Lankan Siam Nikaya monks. But this is not related to being forest tradition (Aranya Vamsa) or not which depends upon one’s way of practice and monastic livelihood, not upon ordination lineage.
But we do not care so much 
for lineage in this way, 
caring more about the practice of 
the Dhamma and Discipline 
that is a part of the Buddhavamsa, 
 that is, this Buddha's lineage. 

Ven Tathaaloka Theri's own late preceptor Ven Havenpola Ratanasara Nayaka Thera often spoke of his vision of America as the melting pot, not only for all people, but for the Sangha — long spread throughout the world in diaspora — coming back together again.  Ayya Tathaaloka has often spoken to us of the nature of water being like the streams and lineages of Dhamma-Vinaya. As one stream may branch off into many; also many streams can be tributaries to one great river. Ayya Tathaaloka's personal experience has been one of several streams of Dhamma coming home together again into one flow. 

Loving Kindness, Friendship 
and Communal Harmony

Looking upon one another with kindly eyes.... 

We share in friendship, in community, and in inspiration and practice of the Path with our brothers and sisters of the Thai forest tradition, as well as those of other traditions with similar path of practice. We hold these things as most important.
As the Buddha so beautifully and wisely said: 

Sukho buddhānaṃ uppādo 

sukhā saddhammadesanā;

Sukhā saṇghassa sāmaggi

sammaggānaṃ tapo sukho. 

 ~ * * * ~

Happy is the birth of Buddhas, 

Happy is the teaching of the sublime Dhamma;

Happy is the unity of the Sangha,

Happy is the discipline of the united ones.

-- The Buddha  
DhammapadaBuddhavagga 16

 More Information, visit their website (below):

Do you wish to get a glimse or 
a taste of the nun’s life? 
If you do, you are invited to 
the opening ceremony of 
Gotami Vihara,’ 
by Ven. Saranankara 
2nd June, 2012 
(a public holiday).
 More Information, visit their website (below):

Saturday, March 3, 2012


The Art and Science of Buddhist Meditation
by Dr Gooi Chien Hoong

3rd March 2012
@ House of Inward Journey