Thursday, August 6, 2009

More Reflections On Ming Yi's Trial

The second thing that comes to mind about the Ming Yi affair is what it may tell us about Buddhist monastic life in the 21st century. Several people have already written to the press saying, in effect, ‘See! We told you so! If monks stray even an inch beyond their role as defined in the Vinaya, that’s what will happen’. In the aftermath of Ming Yi’s trial such arguments sound cogent. However, I really think they are the result of the one-dimensional thinking characteristic of Theravada – follow the Vinaya scrupulously and there will be no problems, don’t and there will be nothing but problems. If only it was that simple! There are many ways of being sidetracked from the spiritual life. Ming Yi seems to have been led astray by wealth and adulation. But I know plenty of ‘strict’ monks who never touch money but who are self-advertising, proud, petulant, domineering and self-satisfied – not offences against the law or against the Vinaya, but corruptions nonetheless.
And perhaps more importantly, there have been and still are plenty of monks and nuns who abide by the spirit of the Dhamma without being fastidious about the fine points of each and every Vinaya rule. One who immediately comes to mind is Venerable Fatt Kuan, a bodhisattva-like Singaporean nun who founded and ran the Tai Pei Home until her death in 2002. Ven. Fatt Kuan was one of the kindest, most imperturbable and smiling people I have ever known. She solicited and attracted huge donations and every cent of it went where it was supposed to go – to providing decent accommodation and a homely environment for several hundred poor elderly women and compassionate nursing for them when they became incapacitated. She also founded or ran the Tai Pei Buddhist Centre, the Tai Pei Senior Citizens Drop–in Centre, the Thuja Home and the Tai Pei Child Care Centre. She was widely respected for her dedication to the less fortunate and in 1989 was awarded Singapore’s highest civilian award by the President of the Republic. Despite all this very ‘un-Vinaya’ behaviour she remained modest, accessible, kindly and unaffected. Once, when she came to know that we were reprinting our children’s book, ‘Rahula Leads the Way’ she invited me to come and have tea with her one afternoon. We chatted while she served me tea with a biscuit (something that would put her beyond the pale in the eyes of the fundamentalists) and when I left she gave me an extremely generous donation to help reprint the book. I thanked her for her completely unexpected generosity and said I would make sure her name went in the back of the book as the main donor. In her typical self-effacing way she asked me not to do so and not even to tell anyone she had made a donation. I know for a fact that Ven. Fatt Kuan made many other anonymous donations to poor or struggling individuals and to worthy organizations, often without being asked.
Another truly admirable Buddhist cleric who comes to mind is Venerable Yen Pei who founded and managed the Singapore Buddhist Welfare Services. For the noble work done by this organization see All his welfare work did not prevent Ven. Yen Pei from also being a master of the Chinese Tipitaka and a popular and respected Dhamma teacher. One could also think of Venerable Bellanwila Dhammaratna, the Sri Lankan monk who long ago saw the crying need for Buddhist educational resources in Singapore and resolved to do something about it. As a result, the Buddhist community in Singapore has a superb library in English and Chinese, a top-class venue for public meetings, a thriving Sunday School and a program of Buddhist higher education (see ). Ven. Dhammaratana also runs the Buddhist Research Society which publishes numerous Dhamma books. None of this just appeared, it was the result of hard work, determination, continual fundraising and, I suspect, quite a few sleepless nights, on the part of Ven. Dhammaratana. And it goes without saying that none of it could have been achieved had he refused to travel in a vehicle (it is a Dukkata offence to do so), refused to received, write out or cash checks (offences against Nissaggiya Pacitiya 18) or if he had spent all his time trying to find sandals with one-layered soles (unless of course he was living in the regions bordering Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India, in which case he could have two or even three layers on his soles, Vin.I,197). Despite not being strictly observant monks or nuns, no aspersions have ever been cast on the integrity of these three clerics, and their services to Buddhism and to the community have been enormous.
So why did Ven. Fatt Kuan, Ven. Yen Pei and Ven. Dhammaratana remain true to the spirit of the Dhamma and Ven. Ming Yi apparently fall by the wayside? It would seem to me that the first three had internalized the Dhamma to the degree that they were/are impervious to greed, fame and worldly success and the fourth had not - not because they followed or didn’t follow a set of arcane rules. As is often the case, the Buddha has something pertinent to say on this matter. ‘Say a bad person is an expert in vinaya and he thinks, “I’m an expert in vinaya but those others aren’t’ and he exalts himself and disparages others. This is the Dhamma of the bad person. But the good person thinks like this, “It is not through being an expert in vinaya that greed, hatred and delusion are destroyed. Even if one is not an expert in vinaya one may still live in full accordance with the Dhamma, may practice correctly, may still live by Dhamma and therefore be one worthy of honour and respect". Thus, having made the Way itself the main thing, he neither exalts himself nor disparages others. This is the Dhamma of the good person’ (M.III,39).
Concluded Tomorrow
The top picture is of Ven. Fatt Kuan’s Tai Pei Buddhist Centre, the second picture is of Ven.Yen Pei and the bottom one is of Ven. Dhammaratana.


reasonable said...

great post :)

If I may extrapolate Bhante's idea, one may not be labeled a Buddhist yet he may be living in the spirit of Buddhism while a person labeled as a Buddhist may be an unBuddhist Buddhist, just as a person labeled a Christian may be an unChristian Christian whereas a non-Christians may indeed be a Christian in spirit.

reasonable said...

In a few weeks' time would be Ven Fatt Kuan's passing-on anniversary. I think it should be the 8th anniversary since her passing-on. I used to follow my family to visit Tai Pei Temple. And I have eaten the yummy vegetarian food there, hehe :)

yuri said...

A remarkable post. Positive and with interesting points on too dogmatic attitude to Vinaya. The comment by reasonable also makes an interesting expansion of the subject. Sorry that I refer maybe too often to my personal experience rather than to suttas, but the fact is that I stopped calling myself a buddhist after my meditational break-through. And I «dropped out» of Buddhism as a religion and a set of traditions. I stopped bowing before an image of the Buddha and laying flowers near it or even observing uposatha days. I simply try to be more mindful and more helpful and kind to people around me and always find time for bhavana. So now I don't qualify for monkhood. :) But then who am I if not a buddhist? A truth-seeker on the 8-fold Path. A bit akwardly longish but...
Now back to the post - two or three wonderful positive examples against one negative... Still, there seems to be some problem with Sangha in modern times. Alas, an outsider like me can only see the problem but cannot offer remedies...

rebeldealegre said...

I like your writings so much!


IS IT REAL? said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Riglin said...

Dear Bhante,
A timely and wonderful post.

Coincidentally, Bhikkhu aggacitto just posted an article regarding monks handling of money in modern time, 'A Buddhist Misunderstanding'.

IS IT REAL? said...

Good evening Ven.

Regarding the whole Ming Yi saga, I must say I was quite disappointed... Not at Ming Yi, himself or what he has supposedly done... but rather because i had thought even after the mis-use of funds (the $50,000), that Ven. Ming Yi, the guy whom many Singaporeans watch on charity shows, and his compassionate care and work for the sick and needy that has earned mush respect by the community was innocent on this whole saga. But sadly, it seems to me now that he has been seduced by the worldly greed of the world.

I followed the news, though not intently, and must say that I initially felt that Ven. Ming Yi was just one of those greatly misunderstood persons, and that his intentions were purely good natured and simple, and was misunderstood by the society's norm of greed, filled with negative suspicion (though, i do think healthy judging is helpful to one in life.), I later realise, and in your earlier posts that I was most probably wrong... (Regarding the exclusive gold membership, properties and BMWs... O.O)

When report of him having a horse as a pet, and purely wanting to feed and look after it, (though a little expensive to upkeep for my taste...) I thought and had felt he genuinely just had these pure intentions of doing just that! because really who is to say what's truly right or wrong regarding one's own thoughts... only they themselves would know and be aware of the truth.
I must say i was bloody disullusioned, a little conditioned too i would think.
But I have to say, though, that that does not take away the fact that Ming Yi is indeed a good person generally, and despite what he has done, we should also remember and take into account the good that he has done for the less fortunate and needy patients under his Ren Ci Hospitale care.

Just my 2 cents.

no said...

I am all for a commonsensical, non-dogmatic, non-hypocritical and practical/practice-oriented approach. How many of us are scholars, not considering the demands on our time and energy by this and that, that we can scrutinise all the teachings? Can those of us who have read the Tipitaka, excluding the commentaries, excluding Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen... from cover to cover... please raise his or her hand.

It is good in a way that the IT age has made knowledge easily accessible and, with that, hopefully deceit cannot remain covered for long.

Thanks to the Venerable and all the enthusiastic comments of readers here!

ah-ha said...

Like day and night, there are good and bad. The good can become bad and the bad can become good. One may recall Yin-Yang, the ancient Chinese understanding of how things work and that life is not exactly white or black.
There is great expectation that clerics like judges are beyond corruption and excesses. But humans are not infallible and materialism can triumph over spirituality whatever faith one professes. This episode is not the first nor will it be the last. There was a Catholic priest before Ming Yi - owning condominium, shares, bank accounts and dipping into Church fund or pocketing donations. In both instances there was tacit silence amongst the clerics/sangha and the 'faithful' community. Perhaps, they hanged their heads down in shame and silence.

Ananda See said...

For the Ven Fatt Kuan and some of the admirable monks and nuns. I would like to use this quote from the Itivuttaka 20 :
"Having a mind filled with compassion, The Noble One does great good. "
They had done good for the many, don't you agreed ?

vegan27 said...

Couldn't these good monks and nuns do the same work as lay-people or as anagarikas? (Or even as novices?) Then Vinaya won't even be an issue, and they can do the same good work.

chong ah said...


Ven. Ashin Indaka from Myanmar stayed in Malaysia or who is Chief monk of SAMNAK SAMBODHI BUDDHIST TEMPLE, TAMAN DESA JAYA, KEPONG, KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA and he who is charged Rm400 per person on who want to become a monk. It is very shameful of Buddha religion because Buddha himself want to help human being to over from suffering.

If Buddha alive, Buddha will give chance for everyone to learn Dhamma without pays any single cent because Buddha attained Enlightenment with practice in hardly, may be Ven. Ashin Indaka understanding of this subject because this basic course in Buddhist study

Better Ven. Ashin Indaka in what mistake and correct, you done mistake you must carry sin for forever, we can’t help you but you must not try to do evil in Malaysia.

Thank you,

Malaysia Buddhist