Thursday, December 22, 2016

Patronage system breeds malaise in the monkhood

Patronage system breeds malaise in the monkhood
By Phra Paisal Visalo
  The problems surrounding the Dhammakaya temple and its abbot Dhammachayo are serious in themselves. But they also reflect larger and more acute malaises in the Thai Buddhist clergy.

For starters, the Sangha Council's controversial ruling on the Dhammakaya issue has posed questions over each elder's moral judgement and the serious flaws in the clergy's governing system. 

More specifically, the crux of the problem is the closed clerical system which centralises governing power within a small group of 20 elders without any internal monitoring and auditing mechanisms. It is a system that is accountable to no one. The lack of transparency has given rise to rife nepotism and abuse of power to give favours to the elders' networks.

The emphasis on personal ties explains why the elders turn a blind eye to misconduct by wealthy monks. Worse, they continue to back these influential monks, giving them tacit support or even moving them up the ecclesiastical ranks, which helps the monks expand their networks further.

That the Dhammakaya temple and Dhammachayo have managed to stay popular throughout these years also shows the weakness of Buddhists themselves for they have little understanding of dhamma principles in Buddhism.

There are widespread false understandings even concerning the most basic matters in Buddhism such as boon or merit. For example, many believe the more they donate, the more merit they will gain. This is tam boon or making merit to acquire more things, not to let go of things according to Buddhist teachings. When there is misunderstanding at this basic level, there is no need to talk about their understanding of higher dhamma such as nirvana. 

Not knowing what Buddhism is about, it is easy for them to be misled by false teachings and ready to turn a blind eye to irregularities of their gurus. In other word, the Dhammakaya controversy shows a lack of knowledge of Buddhists themselves about their own religion. It also reflects a failure of the clergy and the clergy's education system.

In addition, the popularity of Dhammakaya, especially among the middle class, is linked to the widespread misconduct of mainstream monks. Monks' scandals do not only routinely make headlines, but people see with their own eyes what monks should not do every day.

Fed up, many in the middle class feel attracted to the Dhammakaya monks who appear more strict and orderly. Not realising that the teachings of Dhammakaya and the conduct of its abbot have more far-reaching adverse impacts, they fiercely oppose any moves by the clergy to punish Dhammachayo/Dhammakaya while letting other rogue monks get off scot-free.

Punishment or not, the more crucial question is why we have rogue monks in every nook and cranny. The answer does not lie only in the inefficiency of individual abbots or the elders in the Sangha Council.

The main problem is the governing system of the clergy itself. The closed and unaccountable system breeds problems and fosters widespread violations of monastic codes of conduct. This centralised system has not only rendered the elders weak and inefficient, it has put their moral standards up to public question.

Phra Paisal Visalo is a forest monk and abbot of Sukato Forest Monastery. He is the author of 'Thai Buddhism in the Future: Trends and Ways Out of the Crisis'.

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                                    Bangkok Post  3 March 2015

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Buddhist perspectives on end of life care – a conversation with Phra Paisal Visalo

Buddhist perspectives on end of life care – a conversation with Phra Paisal Visalo
Author: Dr Suresh Kumar
08 August 2014
Image: Dr Suresh Kumar
Interview | People and places echospice

Alongside a busy schedule of training in Thailand, Dr Suresh Kumar spoke to Phra Paisal Visalo, abbot of the Buddhist Monastery, Wat Pasukato, and founder of the Buddhist Network for a Good Death.
What does Buddhism say about suffering in general and suffering at the end of life in particular?
In the Buddhist perspective, suffering is the reality that no one can escape from. We are all facing ageing, sickness, separation and loss, either sooner or later. The reason for this is that life is uncertainty. Everything in this world is only temporary. But change is certainty. That is: Impermanence. Our life is pressurised by internal and external factors which lead to constant changes. Everything ultimately is rotten and disintegrated, that is: suffering. There is no 'self' which is independent or permanent. We can only delay or escape suffering for a while but it is inevitable. What we can do is to alleviate suffering and lessen its effects when it occurs.
However, it is possible that those conditions of suffering can only affect us physically but not necessarily affect our mental conditions. Buddhism believes that every human can cultivate their mind to be free from suffering. Even though we all face ageing, sickness and death, our minds need not to be painful from these, if only we accept the reality with no refusal and no resistance. Acceptance is the most important factor for us to be free from suffering.
Instead of being affected by physical suffering, we can use it to our benefit; open our eyes to the fact that nothing is certainty. Wisdom is also the key success to enlighten our minds to be free from suffering. There have been numerous monks and laypeople who received enlightenment while they were facing suffering due to sickness and the death. In other words, sickness and death can develop our wisdom to realize the ultimate truth and achieve enlightenment.
How relevant is learning from these ideas to the end of life care of non-Buddhists?
Buddhism believes the happiness is possible at the end of life. There should be no fear when the time has come. Every human has it in his own capacity to be happy, regardless of which religion he professes, or even if he has no religion at all. Peaceful death is possible for all human beings.
What do you consider as a good death?
Good death, from Buddhist perspective, is not determined by the way one dies, or the reason for death. It is rather characterized by the condition of mind at the time of death; dying in peace, without fear or mental suffering. This is possible when one accept one’s own death and lets go of everything – no attachment to anything or any person. Good death is also characterized by the blissful states of existence where one is reborn. Best of all is death with an enlightened mind, achieving the ultimate wisdom concerning the true essence of nature. This enables the mind to be free from suffering and realize nirvana, with no rebirth.
What is good life?
Good life means life with well-being, free from sickness, poverty or exploitation. Good life also means living a life with morality; not taking advantage of others but also doing good deeds for others and society. It involves peaceful mind, having compassion and not being dominated by greed, anger and delusion. It is life not inflicted by suffering, resulting from understanding the reality of life and being capable of solving the problems that arise.
Do you think that good living always leads to a good or comfortable death?
Good life could lead to a peaceful death, but not always. When a person is dying, if his mind is in sorrow, or worried about his children, parents, the loved ones or could not let go of his properties, if he is guilty, or has unfinished business, he would refuse and fight with death at any cost. This will lead to torment, agitation and restlessness, with woeful existence after death. Besides, physical pain from sickness may cause patients to be angry and agitated and find no peace at the end of life.
On the other hand, do you think that a good death is possible without a good life?
Good death could happen to those who have unwholesome life, though it is very rare. This is because those who have unwholesome life are afraid that they will go to evil states after death. So they are fearful of death. Many suffer from guilt or are haunted by their bad conduct in the past. As for those who are dominated by greed, anger or delusion, they always find difficulty in letting go of their property or ill will. This will inevitably lead to death in torment. However, if they are lucky enough to have friends who can help them to recall good deeds and let go of everything, their mind will become wholesome and a good death will be possible for them.
Death being certainty in life, how can one prepare for it?
Preparing for death is a necessity for all human beings, because we all will face it no matter how we are or who we are. We should prepare for death by exercising ‘the Contemplation of Death’. This means we should remind ourselves constantly that we will die sooner or later. We do not know when, where and how. Then we ask ourselves: If we were to die soon, are we ready for that? Have we done any good deeds to our loved ones and others? Is it enough? Are we sufficiently responsible for everything that we have? Are we ready to let things go yet? If the answer is: ‘not ready yet’, we must do good deeds from now on and try to complete those tasks and responsibilities. Finally, we have to learn how to let things go. Doing good deeds means we have nothing to be sorry for. Then letting things go will enable us to face the death and ready for it now and in the future. 
Fear of death is one of the major factors causing distress in the dying. Are there ways of addressing this, irrespective of one’s faith?
The fear of death occurs when we tend to forget we all die sooner or later. We may have unfinished business and worry about beloved ones or belongings. One may be fearful of death because one is uncertain about what will happen after death. The fear of death can be relieved if we regularly practice the contemplation of death, try to do our best to our beloved ones and try to complete our important tasks and responsibilities. Meditation is a good way to cultivate our minds to accept death: seeing death as a part of life with no fear at all.
Can interventions like meditation assist in alleviating suffering towards the end of life? How? Even in a person who has not practised mediation till the final days of his or her life?
Meditation helps lessen suffering. At the end of life, when pain occurs, one can focus on one’s breath – in-breath and out-breath. Once mind and breath are in harmony, concentration and calmness will take place. Calmness of mind will produce some chemistry in one’s body that can gradually lessen the pain. Calmness meditation also diverts the mind from physical pain, and can enable one to be unaware of the pain or feel less pain.
Mindfulness meditation can also relieve suffering. Mindfulness meditation helps the mind to let go of the pain. Instead of 'being pain', mindfulness enables one to be aware of the pain. This will reduce mental pain. Only physical pain will exist.

Experienced mediators can give advice to anyone to eliminate the degrees of suffering. An appropriate and peaceful environment can also help relieve pain. Reminding oneself of good deeds in the past, or concentrating on sacred things in which one has faith can support mindfulness meditation as well.

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