Let us continue our scripture exploration for this week. Previously, we learned that Buddha was against public or mass display of miracles for the purpose of recruiting followers. Instead, He taught that bringing positive changes in a person’s character through Dharma is the best miracles. For example, Angulimala (serial killer) was converted by Buddha and renounced his violent life to become an enlightened monk.
Buddha also taught us how to determine the virtuousness of Buddhist contemplatives who make a livelihood from donations by the faithful. From this part of the scripture, we understand that virtuousness is measured by their frugality and discipline in life. In short, they shouldn’t be living a life of luxury by exploiting the faithful followers.
Next, Buddha went on to prescribe a list of non-virtuous activities for Buddhist contemplatives who depend on donations by the faithful for a livelihood. From the list of examples, we should understand that they should not indulge in entertainments and hobbies. This is actually commonsensical. If we donate money to someone in support of his/her Dharma practice, then he/she shouldn’t be spending time doing gardening, playing chess, painting or playing music.
Following that, Buddha prescribed a list of non-virtuous economical activities that a Buddhist contemplatives should avoid. In short, a Buddhist contemplative should not engage in trade or services to earn a living. For example, soliciting donations through provision of fortune reading services.
From the above, we, as lay people, should understand the Buddha’s intent and help to maintain a healthy balance in our Buddhist Order. Unlike other religions where priest or monks are viewed as holy representative of God(s), Buddhist contemplatives need to earn their respect and living by demonstrating their virtuousness and seriousness in Dharma practice. Woke Buddhist are not afraid of refusing donation to undeserving monks/nuns. This is an important lesson that I learned from a monk. Unfortunately, such lesson is not widely publicized or taught.
Although we refrain from being too judgmental against Buddhist contemplatives, we should also not be silly enough to sponsor the livelihood of a monk who spent his days glued to the TV watching Netflix.
Okay, the above is a summary of post 1 to 6. Let’s continue our exploration of this wonderful sutta.
“And how does a monk guard the doors of his senses? On seeing a form with the eye, he does not grasp at any theme or details by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the eye — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. On hearing a sound with the ear… On smelling an odor with the nose… On tasting a flavor with the tongue… On touching a tactile sensation with the body… On cognizing an idea with the intellect, he does not grasp at any theme or details by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the intellect — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. Endowed with this noble restraint over the sense faculties, he is inwardly sensitive to the pleasure of being blameless. This is how a monk guards the doors of his senses.
If you encounter practicing Buddhist Contemplatives, you might mistaken them to be unfriendly or distanced. For a Woke Buddhist, we want to sponsor such contemplatives because we know they are practicing. The above verses is not limited to monks or nuns. Lay people can also practice guarding the doors of senses. When you practice, you’ll understand how it influence your behavior. Then you’ll appreciate why some Buddhist contemplatives appear aloof or cold. (I am not saying Buddhist Contemplatives who are rude, insensitive, uncompassionate, and etc. are good.) It is all about a balanced personality.
The guarding of senses is to maintain a state of equilibrium in our mind. By doing so, our emotions are not easily stirred by sights, sounds, smells, touch, and thoughts. Therefore, a practicing contemplatives or an awakened master will not display much emotional swing in their daily interactions with the world. Unfortunately, ignorant lay people try to “please” monks/nuns/lamas in the hope of getting a positive emotional respond from them.
Remember, interacting with Contemplatives is of a different standard from interaction with your parents, friends or kids. We do not try to “please” them or make them “happy”.
Thus, there is much confusion in the interactions between lay people and Buddhist Contemplatives. Some people offered to bring Buddhist contemplatives to lavish meals, some offered expensive things, and some even try to engage them in entertainments. All these were done in hope of getting a favorable respond from them. Wrong approach.
I had witnessed the confused face of a groveling man who presented an expensive pen to my lama; only to see my lama giving that precious pen away immediately to a student. (The Buddha actually forbade His monks/nuns from keeping expensive stuffs)
If you donate a million dollars to build a Buddhist center and were treated with the same compassion & appreciation as a fellow Buddhist who offered a wild flower plucked from the sidewalk; then you should be extremely happy that you found a good Buddhist Contemplative as a teacher.
Once we read this sutta, we (as layman) should have the right understanding about our interaction with Buddhist Contemplatives.
May all be well and happy.