Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Broken Buddha

I was happily surprised to find this relatively positive review of my book The Broken Buddha. Hopefully it will encourage a few others to read it and give some thought to the issues it raises.


reasonable said...

Thanks for highlighting this. I have just gone to that link and then gone to another link to get a pdf copy of the book. Scan thru two paragraphs near the end and I think base on that it seems a very good book to read. Will find time to read it.

fable said...

Dear Bhante, thanks for this post. It is terrific.

Justin Choo said...


Quite some time ago, malicious rumours were Bhante had disrobed because of this book!!

Looks like Bhante, you can have the last laugh!!


Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for The Broken Buddha! I read it a while back and was deeply moved. I have it downloaded and share it with friends.

bodhabill said...


When the issue with bhikkhuni ordination flaired up last year and I was trying to understand the Thai position on what to me was a "no brainer" I was referred to The Broken Buddha

All made sense and I now pass it on to others here in Australia

Thank you

NellaLou said...

Dear Bhante,

Thank you for mentioning my blog post in your blog. I appreciated your forthrightness in the book as I do on your blog. Thank you.

Your knowledge and experience is useful in helping all of us to understand the many issues involved.

Dharma Apprentice said...

Thanks Bhante for the book.

I've read it and felt that it really gave me insight into why Buddhism is the way it is in the Theravada countries. Some observations i've made and questions I have were answered by the book!

yuri said...

Dear S. Dhammika, though I have never had a chance to live in a Buddhist country or know personally Asian traditional Buddhists, I still do not think all is foul and stinky in Theravada. No doubt, cases of corruption are there. It is naive to expect that all or even most Buddhists are True Buddhists, just like all or even most Christians are True Christians. I assure you that I could write in a similar way a book on Orthodox Christianity or Russian Buddhists. If we go by silly traditions and superficiality of faith even among clergy then no religions are what they claim to be. Theravada in this respect is no better and no worse than any other Buddhist Tradition or any other religion. And I find the book too negativistic. No kindness or compassion to Theravadin monks or lay people, however deluded they may be, and clear DOSA (aversion) to that tradition including its history. The purpose is NOT to help Theravadins mend their ways, the book is not even addressed to them - they are like rotten apples only to serve as bad examples and then be thrown away and forgotten. Hardly an approach that the Buddha could have recommended. As far as I remember the Buddha always opposed attempts to set some Buddhists against others, but that is what this book attempts to do, as I see it. Your call to start a New tradition in Buddhism — Buddhayana — is OK. If you have something to offer — show it , preach it, teach it. But it seems to be a wrong start to trample on some other tradition to draw attention to your own understanding of Dhamma. Whatever the problems of today's Theravada, I am deeply grateful to this tradition to offer me the least mystical, very practical and effective way to better understand the world and people including myself. Grateful to the tradition which produced such wonderful teachers like Ajahn Chaa, Ajahn Sumedho and Ajahn Brahm.

MidPath said...

I am at Page 12 of 80.....

Paulo Roberto said...

Dear Bhante,

Here, in Brazil, we have this saying;
"You've just put your finger in the wound".

I don't know if this make any sense in english, but I think you've made that. You've pointed where it hurts.

Is that a bad thing?

I don't think so.

The brazilian saying is used when we say hard things that needed to be said. When we need somebody to show us what's wrong in order to change and start going in the right direction. Of course, listen some things isn't pleasant.

Best wishes,


yuri said...

Dear Paolo Roberto, I find your image of the book very apt, but not its interpretation. It is sicking one's finger into the wound, but not your own - into somebody else's wound. The author, as he states in personal info, does not belong to this tradition or any other Buddhist tradition but suggests to start a new one. As if this new one would be perfect and immune from impurities and corruption. Healing someone else's wound requires compassion, care and genuine kindness. I do not find this in the book.

yuri said...

Dear S.Dhammika, one more remark on the book discussed. You know, for thirty years I was a journalist and a propagandist, and I know many tricks, devices and ruses of the trade, e.g. how to collect only damaging info and present it as a fully objective and balanced material... If I knew only this piece of your writing, I would be absolutely sure that your purpose is to sow disunity among Buddhists pretending that this is done for «purifying» Asian Buddhism especially its Theravada tradition. I would make a guess that this was an attempt to help christianise this part of the world. On the one hand you say that you are telling Theravadins about the dander of falling easy prey to Evangelists, but on the other hand you provide Evangelists with carefully selected material to be used by them against Buddhism in Theravada countries. After reading the book the reader should wonder how this shallow from the start, hypocritical and foolish Theravada can still be around. And you compare it, unfavourably of course, with Mahayana, Vajrayana and Christianity forgetting the Buddha's warning that comparisons are frought with seeds of disharmony, contention, disunity and conflicts.
I am not trying to say that we should close our eyes on real problems of Buddhism, including those you deal with in the book (and not only of Theravada or American Buddhism), but constructive and compassionate criticism is something different from denigration and invective. I feel somewhat awkward to say it to a Buddhist monk of long standing. But we all make mistakes in our lives. And we all can correct them. I am surely making a mistake of writing this to you :)))

Dharma Apprentice said...

Hi Yuri,

Thanks Yuri for your wonderful input. Allow me to share some of mine too.

I believe in one of the earlier part of the book, Bhante mentioned that there are already many books writing about the good things of Theravada Buddhism and he did not want to repeat that again. Rather, he wants to talk about something seldom talked about. i.e. the flaws of the current system.

Does it lacks compassion? Maybe, but as an asian who lived my whole life here and observed how things are done, often I can't help feeling that, "something is wrong". Yet we are not encouraged to question the system. What the book does for me is to put in plain text what is wrong about the system in no apologetic ways.

No, Bhante did not offer good solutions. I think that is because it is a big and complicated problem and there are no easy solutions. But by putting the problems in plain text, we can begin to see and acknowledge that issues exist and then start to try to deal with these issues.

Is the book perfect? No, e.g. I felt his description of Mahayana and Varjayana Buddhism to be one sided and idealistic.

Still I truly appreciate Bhante's effort to write this book.

mchean said...

On page 4 you mention the 2nd schema of dependent origination, could you further discuss this at some point, perhaps with sutta references?

budsas said...

Hi mchean,

Bikkhu Bodhi's article could be read at:


yuri said...

Dear Dharma Apprentice, the problem with the book is not isolated from many other posts by S.Dhammika in his blog. His attitude to Theravada, to Buddhism in ShriLanka and Thailand has been mostly fault-seeking, and I mentioned it in my previous comments to some of those posts. The book is a capital presentation of that thoroughly negativistic attitude. And it is not the question whether to notice and criticise problems of modern Buddhism or ignore them — problems are there and should be discussed. The question is how it is done. From my teaching experience I know that to sharply criticise a student all the time is a sure way to make him confused and lose faith in his abilities as well as make him hate you and the subject you teach. The writer reminds me of Christian theologicians accusing heretics of all mortal sins. Maybe I am too idealistic but I expect from a buddhist monk of 30 years monkhood to be more understanding, kind and compassionate when criticising his fellow-buddhists. By the way I am not a Theravadin, I stopped even calling myself a Buddhist after a certain meditational break-through. Those labels lost most of their meaning for me.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Yuri,
You have more than made your point with comments on this post and some previous posts as well. I think we now all understand that you object to my attitude towards certain aspects of traditional Theravada. Must be your old propagandaist habits coming out. I’m starting to feel I’m being nagged. In the future don’t read the posts where deal with this issue, although I hope you will continue to read my posts on other matters.

yuri said...

Dear S.Dhammika,
Thank you for your magnanimity concerning me. Could only wish you show it one day to poor Theravada :)))

yuri said...

Dear S.Dhammika, please have patience — this is my very last comment in your blog! :)
I am sorry I made you feel nagged. Believe me, I am not prejudiced against you, and I very much appreciate what you do to explain and popularise Buddhism. But time and again I face certain problems concerning your blog and finally that book... Your attitude to Theravada or American Buddhism is VERY negative. Partly it can be explained by bad practices and certain facts of corruption in both of them. But this is not enough to explain your too critical attitude to both of them. I feel there might be also some psychological reason... I have a guess about the origins but no direct knowledge concerning your life as a Buddhist monk.

The point I want to make is that such attitude whatever the reasons for it is a serious obstacle to spiritual development. I also had a very similar problem — my negative attitude to Orthodox Christianity. The reason was different — I didn't like the way it was spread by the full force of State controlled Mass Media. Propagated to the detriment of atheistic, scientific, humanistic views and values which were banished from our TV channels as well as from practically all nespapers and magazines.

This negativity is one of our mind's defilements — a serious barrier on the way of spiritual progress. And in many ways it affects the contents of your blog, which lacks spirituality. Mostly your blog deals with purely worldly matters and what the Buddha said about them. It is rather «bookish» but nevertheless interesting and educative. Yet the Buddha basically came not to mend ways of this world but to liberate us from its everlasting entanglements by achieving supramundane vision. Yes, albeit rarely, you published some posts on that too but they are few in number and usually quite formal and hardly evoke interest among your readers. Generally your blog, as I feel it, is for your personal enjoyment and for entertaining your readers. I know you see it differently and must be hurt by this my remark though it is not a bad aim at all :). Sorry, but that is my impression. Probably I am more demanding as I am no longer in doubt that 8-fold Way is indeed the way to liberation and the questions I sometimes have about the Path are very different from what is written and discussed in your blog.

Please try to see my letter not as a kind of challenge, or a nagging device but a sincere effort to help. Whether you need this help or find the offer totally ridiculous and silly — it is up to you to decide. And now you can enjoy the relief that I will no longer bother you with my comments. :)

Tazzie said...

As far as I can tell Ven Dhammika is one of the most published authors on all things Dharma and Buddhist. The clear majority of his publications are informative, inspirational and also well researched. If this single publication, "The Broken Buddha" is critical of certain aspects of Theravada Buddhism(and you don't necessarily have to be a Dharma expert to reach a similar conclusion) then it is only fair and reasonable for him to shine a light on those unhelpful aspects of
Theravada Buddhism as he sees them. For Ven. Dhammika not to have published this critique (especially of Theravada), I believe would have been a lost opportunity for all of us Dharma farers to re evaluate and possibly do our part to reform this venerable "tradition of The Elders"
where necessary. Here's cheers to many more publications by Ven S Dhammika, well said Bhante, Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu.

David ( said...

The Broken Buddha book was mostly written back in 2001. Since that time a number of monks and monasteries have moved more toward a 'back to the suttas' approach with less emphasis on the Commentaries and less dogma. Many of these monks support full bhikkhuni ordination, for example and some have even acted as preceptors, such as Bhante Gunaratana and Ajahn Brahm. So things are starting to improve. Perhaps it is all because of the exposure Ven. Dhammika has done with Broken Buddha. I am sure there are other forces and causes at work, but the book may have had some part with Theravadins questioning long standing traditions. This 'modern movement' of getting back to early Buddhism and the Suttas is sometimes called,
Modern Theravada.

wizwman said...

If only some insider priest had similarly written a `Broken God' to expose the pedophile priests many victims would have been saved and the Catholic Church would not be driven to the brink today.
In a bid to save Buddhism from rotting to extinction, Bhante stuck his neck out to produce `Broken Buddha' knowing that he will be ostracised for it. As a `simple monk' this is the best he can do.
Those who treasure Buddha's teachings should be grateful.

Walter said...

I have 2 pics very relevant to the topic:



MidPath said...

I am a slow reader and lack time...only at page 31 of 80 now. I am slowly absorbing and thinking very slowly and carefully.

On page 26, the author wrote..."Of all the defilements pride is the most easy to arouse and by far the most seductive...". So I don't think that the author wants thanks and praises.

I am still reading....

Anonymous said...

Bhikkhu S.Dhammika misrepresents Tathagata.

Tazzie said...

Mr Penchelama, please explain!?

Walter said...

I supposed it is going to be a facet of "western Buddhism" that criticism will be freely made against any perceived faults or evils. It is probably due to the culture of English-speaking peoples with their long tradition of liberal democracy where vigorous citicism of the faults of one's opponents is the norm. Just watch any election or House/Parliament debates. However, we can be mindful of this mindset.

Actually, Theravada has become the victim of its own success in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc. Through state patronage, it has gotten recognition and too many privileges such that the religion is almost identified with the nationality of the peoples of these countries. Buddhism cannot be so. It is a sublime teaching, the understanding of which is supposed to lead to the breaking away from the rounds of rebirths in samsara. It can be made available to all who seek, but it is impossible to be practised by all with understanding. So, to promote adoption and practice of the religion nation-wide, the leaders could not do any otherwise than to induce faith in the masses so that at least the Buddha is honored and the five precepts respected. To induce faith, many forms of irrational beliefs have to be tolerated if not actively promoted. Even where there is understanding, practice generally is always more faith than understanding.

However, I would think that the form of practice of any sect/school isn't very important. It is the people holding the leadership that matters. If a monk would not want to take milk in the afternoon, it is really not much of a hindrance. Or if a male monk has to meet females only in the presence of others. At most these rules post some inconvenience. If the monk or lay person has the right heart, the right things will get done despite the inconveniences. If the heart is not right, all the best rules will be of no avail. The point is, the kind of leaders is the all important factor, not the rules.

One other point, a personal one, is that there might be no need for monks at all in this current era. Monastic ordination was meant to serve as an express route to enlightenment, and a facility for the oral transmission of the scriptures. But no arahants were produced since a long long time ago (see # note below), and the scriptures are now very well recorded and documented. Thus, scholars and dedicated Buddhists instead of monks can be the ones charged with the task of transmitting the teaching. Practice can be personal or in organised groups and anyone will be free to adopt as much of the vinaya as he or she likes as an aid to practice.

(# Note: We might dispute this, but there is an entry in the Vinya Pitaka that the true dharma would last only 500 years. Not sure whether it is the Theravada or Mahayana version though.)

MidPath said...

I laughed and I thought I should not
I wanted to cry but I feel nothing sad about
I feel for the regrets but I should not

In Singapore we see monks from Thailand on the streets. They come here for various reasons but few are here to do what a monk is supposed to do. It is widely known that every Thai must be a monk for a short time. Many, me included, do not know the reason for such “national service”. It does not matter to me what tradition they follow. They are to me just a person wearing a piece of yellow cloth (I commented in the same way in an earlier posting on a Thai monk with a cigar). I have not for a single moment regarded them as a member of the Sangha. Their transgressions are no different from any other. I know little of monks in other countries such as Sri Lanka and Burma. While it is sad it is also not surprising to read that even monks are so ignorant as to adhere to rules and forget rationale or logic the rules are created for. Not surprising at all. We read of such an attitude in comments posted by a reader in this blog.

I empathize with you Ven Sir in calling for the creation of new tradition complete with proper governance and administration. It must be appalling for you to see these people continue to sully the name of the Lord Buddha. And you want a Body and a System of governance to right this wrong.

Many things cross my mind while reading your book from page to page. At one point I wonder how you must be at a cross road when you practice the Six Sets of Six and bearing so much on the faults and flaws of some while writing this book. At another point I thought one should maintain equanimity so as to avoid defilements.

I have to be frank to say I have highly mixed feelings and incline to think of the worst considering the way you propose to start Buddhayana. My fear is coming from a few considerations. 1) Power and Corruption – even in highly regulated Singapore Government, we saw a Minister (of Housing and Development) taking bribes and took his own life upon being discovered. 2) Media and spotlight - If any one of the Mahasabha transgresses or just rumored to have transgressed, the media will amplify the matter so much that is will sully the name many times over the erroneous monks you pointed out in your book. 3) Oppositions and Chaos - If Buddhayana deride other tradition, it may lead to oppositions and the worst scenario is not unlike the red and yellow chaos in the streets of Thailand today.

Yes there are faults and flaws and I see it as such too. We are aware of it and there is where we should stop. I suggest we do not bear our mind on the faults of others but instead on the benefits of Buddhayana. We can start Buddhayana right here and right now quietly, without differentiating from others or substantiating the need in a book. By co-existing with the others, albeit if they are right or wrong, Buddhayana may have a chance to develop and grow. Given time it may grow into a widely accepted new tradition like the way all other traditions started and exist until today peacefully.

Ven Sir, I look forward to see you in ordinary clothes.

fred said...

discussion about this here...

I am getting ordained as a Theravada monk soo in Thailand, having spent two months as a novice and living in Thailand for nearly twenty years now.
I agree with much of your book.
Presuming that the Tibetan monks have a different set of rules for their vinaya from the 227 of the Pattimokha... I would say they are still very worthy as monks and probably not commiting any 'sins' by creating bad karma for themselves just because their rules are different.
How do you still remain as a Theravada you use your wisdom to decide which rules are archaic and can safely be ignored since they are mere rituals, or do you still abide by the full 227 others expect you to...?

Patr said...

Hi Bhante, this topics last post was sometime back. Only just read your book.
I actually know of many of the problems you mentioned about the Thai Sangha, plain for all to see...
But what an eye opener on the Sri Lankan establishment.
Well if you take a better look at the Tibetan Vajrayana practices, they are so infused with culture, that its almost overtaken the Buddhist practices. For all the noted Theravadin faults, greater are those of Tibetan Vajrayana.
Altho the monks are much more sociable, their practices of elevating the Monks and venerating them are cultural practices.
The mainstream Mahayana establishment is, I think the most faithful to the Vinaya. One would never find the Venerable Cheng Yen asking for full prostrations (for the followers benefit, of course) or Pujas for her long life or proclaiming to be emanations (Tulkus). The truth is for all to see.

IamNaN said...

"As for Bhikkhu Prajnananda himself, I have been unable to find out
anything about him other than that he was an Englishman. After making his brief and futile appeal
he disappeared from history, almost certainly to disrobe."

It seems well within the realm of likelihood that this was Frederic Fletcher, the British Army ex-major and associate of Paul Brunton mentioned in this page:

Paddy said...

I read the broken Buddha when it first came out. I loved it and felt it was a breath of fresh air. It cut through the rubbish. I spent six years as a Buddhist prison chaplain in a maximum security prison. The prisoners used to love what they called 'Buddhism without the Bullshit' they wanted to cut to the chase of the important essence. The Broken Buddha helps in that task

NONE said...

Hello Bhante,
I read this article of yours today with great interest. Could you please provide some thoughts on the shift of returning to the Suttas as a guide for some Theravadan reform traditions? I am thinking mostly of the Mahamevnawa tradition in Sri Lanka which appears to espouse going back to the roots found in the Suttas.They also appear to be very successful and encouraging to lay people to engage in meditation practice. Do you think any changes have been made outside of any small reform movements? Thank you for writing this article; while it may be bitter medicine to say that some aspects of Buddhist culture are defunct, our problems must be identified and openly discussed so they can be resolved.

Inspired said...

Dear Bhante,

I recently spent 18 months living at a Thai monastery. I left feeling rather disillusioned.

I'm glad you wrote this book. It connects with some of what upset me at the monastery. It also puts my mind at ease to know some of these issues are out in the open and (hopefully) being discussed.

So thank you and Saddhu!

Buddha statues said...

My desire to understand more about Buddhism has always been strong. This is an excellent article. I am a huge lover of Thai Buddhas and would appreciate it if you could write about them as well. Thanks