Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reflections On The Trial Of Ming Yi

Two things come to mind while contemplating the Ming Yi affair. The first is this. Venerable Ming Yi allegedly misappropriated S$50,000 from the Ren Ci Hospital, which is actually small change compared to the huge amounts of his own money he spent on himself. The question no one has asked so far is, ‘Where did he get all that money from?’ Anyone familiar with Buddhism as practiced in Asia will know the answer. It was given to him by his supporters and admirers. Traditional Buddhism is constructed so that the lay person’s main role, some might even say, only role, is to give things to the Sangha, and the more lavish the better. I have frequently encountered people who happily tell me that they don’t know and don’t want to know any Dhamma and that they just want to ‘give dana’ or to use the Thai term, to ‘make merit’. And if a monk wins more respect and regard than usual, as Ming Yi did, he will literally be buried under an avalanche of goodies. The more finicky monks will refuse to take money and either direct donors to their personal accountant or suggest that the money be ‘converted’ into material luxuries before being offered. A friend of mine recently stayed in what he was led to believe was a ‘forest monastery’ in Thailand. He described it to me as ‘a bhikkhu’s Club Med’ - all mod cons, dozens of servants, expensive furnishing, four cars to take the monks anywhere they might want to go, every meal a banquet, all the ‘kutis’ made out of teak and other rare timbers and fitted with air-conditioners – and everything acquired without actually touching any money.
I have said this before but I will say it again – traditional Buddhism is (unintentionally) constructed to make it much more likely that a monk (nuns aren’t in the running) will be spoilt or corrupted. The adulation monks receive, the ignorance of the Dhamma by the laity, and the understanding of ‘dana’ almost exclusively as generosity to monks, conspire to overwhelm, then tempt and finally to corrupt someone trying to live the holy life. Some resist this, many don’t. This of course does not excuse Ming Yi behaviour, but does go some way to explaining it. So long as Buddhism is ‘monk centred’ rather than ‘Dhamma centred’ these problems will persist.
Continued Tomorrow.


Hilton said...

Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog and approach to Buddhism. Thank you for the inspirational posts.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

Just want to echo Hilton's comments. My guess is that your blog is a very positive influence, and is appreciated by many more than are reflected by the comments.

I am confident that this "adulation" will not be corrupting. ;=)

ah-ha said...

ADULATION and IDOLATRY are very much a part of any religious faith. And both are causes of BLINDNESS. Remember the fable – Emperor with no clothe?

Ken and Visakha said...

It is not a new problem or unforeseen!

From the Samyutta Nikaya

The Dung Beetle

At Savatthi. "Bhikkhus, dreadful are gain, honor, and praise.... Suppose there was a beetle, a dung-eater, stuffed with dung, full of dung, and in front of her was a large dunghill. Because of this she would despise the other beetles, thinking: 'I am a dung-eater, stuffed with dung, full of dung, and in front of me there is a large dunghill.' So too, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by gain, honor, and praise dresses in the morning and, taking bowl and robe, enters a village or town for alms. There he would eat as much as he wants, he would be invited for the next day's meal, and his almsfood would be plentiful. When he goes back to the monastery, he boasts before a group of bhikkhus: 'I have eaten as much as I want, I have been invited for tomorrow's meal, and my almsfood is plentiful. I am one who gains robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medicinal requisites, but these other bhikkhus have little merit and influence, and they do not gain robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medicinal requisites.' Thus, because his mind is overcome and obsessed by gain, honor, and praise, he despises the other well-behaved bhikkhus. That will lead to the harm and suffering of this senseless person for a long time. So dreadful, bhikkhus, are gain, honor, and praise.... Thus should you train yourselves."

reasonable said...

Thanks Ken & Visakha for sharing that story. I can imagine some monks, who see themselves as "modern monks" and thinking themselves as being more progressive, more advanced and more "enlightened", looking down (secretly in their mind) on other "traditional" monks who still live in some "old-fashioned" lifestyle. Some "modern monks" may even find justification by thinking that "the problem is not in luxury itself but attachment to luxury; therefore it is perfectly ok if I know how to enjoy luxury while remaining unattached to luxury. Those who understand 'form is emptiness and emptiness is form' and the essential 'emptiness' of all things/phenomena would not fear enjoying luxurious things. Other less enlightened-minded monks would need to live in their poor lifestyle but as for more advanced minds like mine, there is no need to flee from luxury".

I suppose there needs to be a constant awareness about and guard against subtle temptations and self-deception within oneself, even when one thinks one has advanced very much in spirituality. As someone once said, "there is a road to hell even at the very gate of heaven". Even if one reached the "gate of heaven", one should still be humble and careful for even a wrong step taken there could lead one to "hell".

yuri said...

Again on "monk-centred or Dhamma-centred". Why not "Practice-centred"? It is not through reading Buddhist texts I have become less dependent on materialist side of living and indifferent to praise and fame (as well as to offence and injury :))). When I first discovered Theravada after decades of interest in Mahayana, Vajrayana and Zen, I avidly read suttas and poured extracts from them on my friends in Russian version of Live Journal. Then slowly I felt more and more dissatisfied as all that was intellectual. It didn't go deep into me, it didn't much change me. The change came only with experiencing strong concentration in meditation at a Buddhist retreat. Now I don't flee away from luxuries like a cruise in Mediterranian with me wife, but I enjoy it no more than my teaching hours with students, or washing up daily (no automatic dishwasher!:)) Jf course I am a lay person and what is discussed here is the ordained and influential monk's behaviour. Yet I doubt very much that he practised meditation regularly and progressed in it. About a road to hell near the Pearly Gate, I don't care about both of them.