1

Suppose a leading Buddhist figure -- say a well-known Tibetan monk -- were to suddenly start displaying cultural behavior appropriate to other religious faiths. For instance, suppose this monk were to start performing namaz like a Muslim five times a day, and frequently make the sign-of-the-cross gesture during conversations.

Would this result in loss of rank, social standing and credibility in his own circles? Or would this cause others around him to start looking up to him? What's your opinion?

Are Buddhist cultural habits and traditional ways of dress, behavior, speech etc. important for making spiritual progress?

  • This question is attracting a lot of positive and negative votes and close votes. I've asked a question on meta to dig into why this question is provoking such a reaction – Crab Bucket Sep 11 '15 at 21:08
6
+50

Would this result in loss of rank, social standing and credibility in his own circles? Or would this cause others around him to start looking up to him? What's your opinion?

It would undoubtedly result in loss of all of these. Particularly in the case of adopting the rites and rituals of a theistic religion. I'm trying to think of an example where this actually happened, but cannot. Nor can I find any examples on the internet. Lots of converts to Buddhism, very few high profile converts from Buddhism.

We might take the example of the conversion of the British academic Paul Williams from Tibetan Buddhism (back) to Catholicism. Williams is the notable author of a standard text on Mahāyāna Buddhism, which is now in a second edition and still used in many universities around the world. He had practised Buddhism in the Tibetan Gelug tradition.

This caused quite a stir when it happened, fanned by his writing a book and at least one article about the reasons for his conversion. Of course it did not affect his standing in academia which is based on his published works on Buddhism. Buddhist responses mostly seemed to be couched in polite terms, but to be quite dismissive of William's understanding of Buddhism. One comment which stood out from NewBuddhist.com was

This exact topic was raised on another Buddhist forum and provoked more anger and rejection than almost any other, with the possible exception of vegetarianism, a topic which reduces some of those who value ahimsa to homicidal rage... In short Williams was seen as a turncoat, a traitor...a threat.

And remember that Williams was not a religious leader, simply a moderately prominent academic. If we were talking about a Buddhist leader apparently converting I think this would cause a great deal of upset.

The second part of your question is easier to answer

Are Buddhist cultural habits and traditional ways of dress, behavior, speech etc. important for making spiritual progress?

The simple answer is "no". And the early Buddhists seem to have been aware of this. A number of Pāli texts admonish that a robe and a bald head do not make a bhikkhu. A bhikkhu is someone who exemplifies Buddhist virtues. See for example Dhammapada vs 264-266; e.g.

na muṇḍakena samaṇo, abbato alikaṃ bhaṇaṃ.
icchālobhasamāpanno, samaṇo kiṃ bhavissati
. | Dhp 264|

He is not a practitioner because he is bald.
He is not a preacher who is immoral and lies.
How will he become a practitioner,
Who is given over to desire and acquisition? [My translation]

  • +1 as well as the middle of this answer (which helps to justify the beginning) I like the way you say, "It would undoubtedly result in loss of all of these" and "a robe and a bald head do not make a bhikkhu". – ChrisW Sep 11 '15 at 12:55
  • 1
    You said "I'm trying to think of an example where this actually happened, but cannot" but there are some historical examples of people being disowned for departing from actual rules (like, for example, getting married). – ChrisW Sep 11 '15 at 13:01
5

Firstly, Buddhist monks are subject to rules. The Theravada monk has to follow the 227 Patimokkha rules. Of course, for other traditions, it may be different.

Some of these rules can be quite detailed like the following:

    1. [12.] I will not go [sit] laughing loudly in inhabited areas: a training to be observed.
    1. [14.] I will go [sit] (speaking) with a lowered voice in inhabited areas: a training to be observed.
    1. [16.] I will not go [sit] swinging my body in inhabited areas: a training to be observed.
    1. [18.] I will not go [sit] swinging my arms in inhabited areas: a training to be observed.
    1. [20.] I will not go [sit] swinging my head in inhabited areas: a training to be observed.

Sex, murder, theft and false representation of one's spiritual progress constitutes the worst transgression (parajika offenses) that results in the monk's ipso facto expulsion.

The rules regarding attire:

    1. [2.] I will wear the lower robe [upper robe] wrapped around (me): a training to be observed.
    1. [10.] I will not go [sit] with robes hitched up in inhabited areas: a training to be observed.

As for your example of a monk praying like a Muslim or Christian, we must wonder what is his intention. If he is worshipping God, then that would be contradictory to the Buddhist teaching that there is no Supreme Creator God, hence the well known monk's followers might leave him. But this is only my speculation.

  • 1
    Thanks. I wish you would explore the thought process of the last paragraph. What if there is no explicit bowing to a Supreme God figure? For instance, if a Buddhist monk were to dress like a muslim, sit for meditation in mosques, and observe Ramzan fasts, but without worshipping a God? Does he face excommunication? And if so, why? What is the rationale? – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 10 '15 at 14:38
  • 4
    If he wears some other clothes apart from his monastic robes, that would be a minor offense according to the rules if I'm not mistaken. If he were to meditate in a mosque, I can't see what would be wrong in that, apart from the possibility of annoying some muslims – ruben2020 Sep 10 '15 at 15:14
2

You have asked two questions here... one about "spiritual progress" and the other about "excommunication" / "status". I can hazard a guess from the Theravāda tradition.

Spiritual Progress

In the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (DN 16) the Buddha said:

"In whatsoever Dhamma and Discipline, Subhadda, there is not found the Noble Eightfold Path, neither is there found a true ascetic of the first, second, third, or fourth degree of saintliness. But in whatsoever Dhamma and Discipline there is found the Noble Eightfold Path, there is found a true ascetic of the first, second, third, and fourth degrees of saintliness. Now in this Dhamma and Discipline, Subhadda, is found the Noble Eightfold Path; and in it alone are also found true ascetics of the first, second, third, and fourth degrees of saintliness. Devoid of true ascetics are the systems of other teachers. But if, Subhadda, the bhikkhus live righteously, the world will not be destitute of arahats.

In other words, spiritual progress depends on the Noble Eightfold Path, not on the kinds of superficial things that you mentioned.

Excommunication / Status

In the Theravāda tradition, "excommunication" only happens in the case of the four defeaters (pārājika): incelibacy, theft, killing, false claim of attainments.

The next most serious offenses are the twelve offenses requiring a formal meeting (saṅghādisesa). Once a monk confesses to one of these offenses during the uposatha ceremony, the monk is "put under probation" (some reduced freedoms) until the probation is lifted at a subsequent uposatha ceremony (in other words, the probation can be two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, etc.).

A monk's "status" is based on the number of vassa that they have completed (date that they were ordained).

Though the behaviours that you describe would certainly be strange for a monk, they do not seem to contravene either the pārājika or saṅghādisesa so they would not legally impact the monk.

When Faxian visited Sri Lanka around 400AD, he reported seeing Bodhisatta worship happening alongside traditional Theravāda practices within the same temple. It is not difference in practice that splits the Sangha, it is difference in Vinaya.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.