I hear a lot of "spiritually awakened" people, on shows like batgap.com and on forums like dharmaoverground.org claim that the age of the monastic life is over, and in the present day one must learn to mix the spiritual life with the ordinary life. There is also evidenced by popular lay leaders like John Kabat-Zinn, one-time monastic Jack Kornfield, Ram Dass, Shinzen Young, Daniel Ingram, Kenneth Folk, Eckhart Tolle and others. Perhaps a lot of lay people on this forum are in this boat too.
These are largely sincere people from what I can tell, who have spent a lot of time looking for the truth. So why do they say this?
There have always been scandals and corruption in monastic orders since the time of the Buddha, as well as rather rigid and dogmatic views taken by some abbots. So, that cannot be a new reason to decry the tradition. The Buddha certainly appears to have spent a lot of time dealing with problem makers of this sort.
And both problems continue to be pretty common in almost all Buddhist traditions today (Tibetan, Theravada, Zen etc) who in addition seem to have also confused culture with the pursuit of the truth.
Now, a monk who isn't a local, enrolling in any foreign tradition spends a lot of time learning the new culture, the language, the food, the social mores, often dealing with racism to boot - all of which appear to be a waste of time, taking away from actual time spent on spiritual development. The saving grace is that it teaches perseverance, patience and doggedness, but is it enough? What's the alternative?
Maybe it is this?
Religion is largely becoming a taboo word in modern times with the trend towards secular materialism ascending. So, it's not like the times of the Buddha when the entire Sakhyan clan decided to follow the Buddha into monkhood. The bar is quite high for someone in the west or in any westernized country really, to forsake all known things, and head off to the other side of the world to become a monk.
Of course many still do.
Maybe it is this?
In the time of the Buddha lay arhats were pretty rare, the general route was to become a monk. Certainly if one must remain immersed in meditation and dhammic thoughts all day and night, lay life with its smells, noises and temptations is far more dangerous today than at any time previously. This alone must make monasticism all the more necessary today.
Yet, some lay teachers I can think of like Daniel Ingram and Kenneth Folk (at least one of them claims to be an arhat) declare that the idea of 24x7 meditative or dhammic immersion is impossible. One must allow for simple lay pleasures they say. KF even teaches in Silicon Valley, a rather central hub of material pleasures.
It doesn't help that in Buddhist countries like Thailand and Indian-Tibet most monks don't spend all day in dharmic duties either - they can often been seen out in the city, listening to music or idly browsing their smart phones or even smoking. All variously (dubiously?) justified as not contravening the Vinaya.
So, is it this?
Is the monastic life still relevant? The theoretical idea of samsaric seclusion, wise teachers and rigid routine is certainly attractive - but one's resolve is weakened when looking at the reality which often appears far different.
I'd certainly be interested in hearing from monks on the forum like Ven. Yuttadhammo if possible.