Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Poll: What political activities should be considered permissible for monks?

I added a poll "What political activities should be considered permissible for monks?" Click here or scroll down to the bottom of the page to see it. You can select more than one option in this poll, so select all that you think are permissible (or should be) for monks.

If there are any options you wish were on the poll that aren't there, please comment on this post and say what they are.


G said...

This is a subject that I've often reflected upon, Robert, especially living here in Thailand. Although bhikkhus here are nowhere near as politicized as many are in Sri Lanka, there are monks who are clearly caught up in various worldly issues, including political ones.

It does seem that to talk of important social issues in public can be interpreted as a political statement, when all the speaker intended to do was share the Dharma, but ultimately it's up to bhikkhus to speak in line with the Patimokkha and Vinaya.

Having written the above, and voted pretty conservatively in your poll, I'd like to state that it's not my place to judge monks that get involved in political issues, especially when they are coming from genuine impulses of compassion & goodwill.

However, the Sri Lankan "War Monk" you previously wrote about appears to be promoting violence & the killing of other beings (i.e. human beings!), and this is certainly (for me) going way too far. This person shouldn't be a bhikkhu if he says these sorts of things, which go against everything the Buddha taught in the Tipitaka for both monks and laity.

Nice blog, by the way!
G at 'Forest Wisdom'.

Robert said...

First off, thanks for the comments!

...I'd like to state that it's not my place to judge monks that get involved in political issues, especially when they are coming from genuine impulses of compassion & goodwill.

I don't really want to condemn monks for doing anything specific, generally speaking. Ultimately they have to decide what's justified in a given situation, and what the proper interpretation of the Vinaya is. There are also some situations where culture has placed them in an awkward position, such as Sri Lanka where I hear that police directing traffic will practically get run over while people will respect and heed a monk who's directing traffic. Of course, I don't think this really explains the "War Monk." I think some stuff in the Mahavimsa tends to make people in Sri Lanka a little more accepting of that.

So in some cases local culture has placed a certain pressure on monks to get involved in politics and that's probably hard to resist. All I can really say is what I would try to do, or avoid, if I were a monk, but if I actually became one in a specific place my opinions might change some.

Lastly, thanks for the compliment. Your blog is good and I subscribe to it in my RSS reader.

Dhamma81 said...

Nice to see you back Robert. I agree G, not all monks are deliberately out to make political statements but instead get accused of doing so. Perhaps it would be better to be silent and lead by example instead. I understand that there are many complex issues surrounding the Sangha and not all monks are mature enough in the practice nor care enough about guarding the reputation of the Sangha as a whole to refrain from acting in unseemly ways

I always reflect on Ajahn Jayasaro's statement that a monk is a "good friend" to all, and that to get caught up in partisanship and political bickering could cause a lot of damage to all in the long run. If taken like that then a monastery would be a place where everyone could drop their worldly concerns and focus on the practice regardless of whether you're a criminal, a saint, or fall to the left or the right of the political spectrum. All would be welcome without conflict, because a monk and a monastery are supposed to be refuges, not tools for political agendas.