Admonitions: Part I

The Buddha Shakyamuni never established any rules for his Order until problems developed. Most of the Buddhist proscriptions were established as individual cases occurred. For instance, it was not until several dozen monks committed suicide by their own or another’s hands due to extreme (and excessive) disgust for their bodies, that the Buddha instituted the first precept for laity and monastics, refraining from killing.

Similarly, monastic teachers offer instructions on improper actions as their students enact them.
Hence a question for Buddhist educators follows: what is the insight to the Buddha’s prohibitive teachings? Would not preventative education be more effective? While I invite others’ views on this, I venture to offer one possibility. For practitioners whose minds are often calm, the power of suggestion multiplies manifold for them — just as a small pebble thrown into a waveless and quiet sea stirs up seemingly extensive ripples in comparison to the hardly palpable effect of that same pebble in a tumultuous ocean of high tides. By establishing rules before anyone has committed the said transgressions is to describe those transgressions, thereby causing the students to mirror those wrongdoings in their assumed to be particular serene minds (which is experienced by the brain as if the event is occurring in actuality). Most of us know nowadays that by commanding ourselves to “NOT eat” only leads the brain to focus on the affirmative part of the sentence “EAT”.  

I cannot fathom the full extent of the Buddha’s wisdom and do not wish to digress further. Let me return to the topic of monastic lessons on offenses committed. These instructions by monastic teachers were directed at monks and nuns in Buddhist monasteries and excerpted from my translation of Admonitions for Monastics 緇門警訓.

It seems apt that the following excerpts and this particular compilation begin with a response from monk Zanning (919 – 1001 C.E.) to one poignant question:

Question:         Why have you published a brief                                     history about the Sangha?
          This could start trouble.
Answer:           To make Buddhism flourish and the                             proper Dharma long abide.

To such a succinct answer, meditation master Dayuan adds further irony, “The thought of [what occurs in the Sangha] so saddens me; grief is so overwhelming that my heart is in pieces. So how can I remain silent and not pass on these warnings? . . . . I offer my myopic views in the hopes of clarifying some things for future generations.”

With that, here is part 1 of the exhortations from various monastic teachers:

They have no words that can help the newer students who ask questions. If they do have something to say, their words are not drawn from any Buddhist text. When slighted, they scold the new students for being impolite.
They consider those who can compete for fame and gain capable, while they consider the circulation of the Dharma child’s play.
Nowadays monks’ conduct is mostly superficial and abusive.
People only see different masters praise their own faction, hence they become attached and different factions criticize each other.
To those who are in the role of a teacher: I suspect you do not have much shame or virtue. You may think that you undoubtedly will achieve Buddhahood. If you do not praise yourself, why would you be so arrogant about such petty views and limited knowledge of yours?
They may be six feet in height but they have no wisdom. The Buddha calls their kind deluded monks. Their tongue may be three-inch long, but they cannot explain the Dharma. They are what the Buddha calls mute monks.
People who talk about zen nowadays like to confuse each other with coded words.
Spitting and dragging a bowl, making bodily noises that only disturb the great assembly.
They despise poor guests and favor affluent guests, valuing laity and slighting monastics.
They secretly measure the lengths of deceased monastics and check out their belongings. ….They carve up the valuable items to such an extent that they are worse than ordinary merchants. They do not know to reflect and be ashamed, instead, they consider their finds bargains.
They look down on meditators as if they have been enemies for hundreds of lives, and yet they treat the powerful and the elite like they have been relatives for countless eons.
The level of filth that messed about in the sea of Buddhas in the past had never reached the height of today. We may talk about this with wise individuals but not petty individuals.