An air conditioner is a luxury when you come from a poor Asian family in the tropics during the 80s.
Therefore when my family visited a monastery and saw monks staying in air-conditioned room. It definitely made us wonder if that seems right.
During the Buddha’s time, I believe the only luxury that the Buddha’s monastic communities (Sangha) had; was accepting a meal from the royal family, hitching a ride on nice chariots and staying in well kept but basic monastery. Robes were made by collecting scraps to recycle into something wearable. It seems like Buddha intended the Sangha to create little economic burden on laity.
On the other hand, the sutra taught that making offerings to the sangha will create tons of good karma for the laity. I accept this teaching because it’s like donating to a good cause on go-fund-me.
I mean, out of the billions of human beings on earth, how many are enlightened? Therefore if there are men or women bent on attaining Enlightenment and wish to spend their 24 hours doing that, I am happy to donate some resources to keep them alive.
Prince Siddhartha renounced all responsibilities of a layman to search for Enlightenment. He survived by begging for food. His disciples followed his examples. After they attained Enlightenment, they devoted their times teaching. That is the basis of alms collection.
Will this work in our modern society today? Let’s say we see someone in rags with head shaven, begging for food in NYC or San Francisco. Will we ask that person to teach us how to live our life? Probably not.
In parts of Asia, monks still go around begging for food in the morning. However, it is more common in city to donated money to the temples instead.
It’s like, yah, I want to create some good karma but don’t expect me to cook you a meal at 5 am for you to collect at 6am. So here’s some money, please go settle your own food problem!
When there’s a rumour that a particular monk named “ABC” at Temple 123 is enlightened. All the lay people wish to gain MORE merit and started donating money to that place only!
Ironically, these Enlightened masters, usually started out living a very simple life with nothing to their possession except the robe they are wearing. When their fame grew, the disciples flocked to them.
Is this something new? I don’t think so. The Buddha had royal patronage and multi-billionaire disciples too. When he passed into Parinirvana he only had his robe and begging bowl.
That seems to answer the issue about how the monks should handle resources. RENOUNCE IT!
I am glad to share that some Sangha members still uphold such lofty principles.
But things are not so simple.
A temple or monastery is like any corporation. It has to pay utilities, get plumber, fix the roof etc. Usually all these matters are left to the lay disciples or volunteers in the temple.
So how do we deal with all these money that are skewed in distribution?
This is where the super egoistic layman plays a role.
Foremost, we are very attached to labels and stuff. We believe the money in the temple belongs to the monks! we believe that it belongs to the sect that the monks come from and the list is on and on. It does not matter that just a few blocks down the road, there is another run down temple and the monks inside are in rags, because that is not the temple that I go to.
Next is piety taken out of context by us. (Yup, the laity)
For example, we have a very respected teacher who is getting old. We love him dearly and wanted to make his life as comfortable as possible. So we installed aircon in his room and get him a 5000 dollars bed to sleep in. Then we get him a thousand dollar water filtration system. Of course we are not suppose to ask our respected teacher, because we know he will disapprove! So we just decide on our own. Not to be out done, another disciple decided that the 5000 dollar bed is not good enough, so she bought a 10,000 bed and have it delivered to the temple (again on her own accord)
Meanwhile a poor family visited the temple. They slept on the floor at home. There you have it.
I think laity plays a role and has impact to the monastic life too. Whilst we respect and love our spiritual teacher, let us also understand a bit of their monastic code of conduct. Let us not play the role of a tempter.
If we have some basic understanding, it also provide us wisdom to determine who are the genuine Sangha worthy of our alms and support. (regardless of traditions and sect) Buddha’s teaching is simple and direct.