When I came back from being a monk and said that I had lived three years without sex, intercourse, or masturbation people thought I was either crazy, or, literally, "how the hell did you do it and not kill yourself?" It must have been beyond difficult.
Actually, I was really intrigued by the reaction of a surprisingly large number of people who were appalled at the idea of a celibate lifestyle. They thought that such a practice was stupid, or that is actually stunts and blocks someone from spiritual growth. I’ve heard, "a monk is 'old-world', archaic, doesn't have a place in today's world, and just causes one to suppress and resent sexuality and physical pleasures." I've also heard, "you don't have to be a monk to become enlightened, so why go through all that hardship and sacrifice!"
For many, sex is a very normal and awesome thing, one that we should fully embrace. My libido can hear that. Heck, they even embrace it with multiple partners. In fact, a lot of these people believe that enlightenment can be achieved through and during intercourse. The opposite of monasticism.
I recently saw the 2014 movie Whiplash about a young drummer with aspirations to become a legendary musician. It depicts the journey and sacrifices he chose in order to get to the level of greatness he strove for. He forfeited everything. He sacrificed relationships and comforts. He went through emotional instability. Most of his time was spent with his drum set.
The movie showed the arduous discipline and grueling hours the protagonist spent in training and honing his skills; practicing, and practicing, and practicing. He broke off his sensual/sexual relationships because he knew that he needed to spend that time in training himself, not be distracted, and not feel bad because he knew his priorities would eventually destroy the relationship. We, as a culture, can understand this sacrifice. Some admire it and even congratulate it.
Although we may not necessarily agree with the relationship and behavior of the abusive conductor towards the protagonist, we can understand the principle that greatness doesn't come easy, or cheap. More often than not, you have to put yourself in a situation and place where you are challenged, where your buttons are pressed, where you need to rise up, and transform yourself in order to become F-in’ Great.
Ask any world-class musician, master chef, doctor, teacher, etc. How much time did they spend in training themselves in their craft? How many years did they spend day-in and day-out honing their skills and qualities? What sacrifices did they make? What kind of environment did they put themselves in so that they were challenged to reach the next level? To be great, we accept that this is what it takes. It's the norm. We live in a world where if one wants to be great it takes time and sacrifice to become great.
This principle is no different for monastics. This is why people ordain. They ordain because they see that in order to be great at the spiritual arts and sciences, one has to fully immerse themselves in it; dedicate the majority of their time and efforts to properly studying, practicing, honing, training in it. They give up other activities, lifestyles, and behaviors because their goals and life priorities are bent towards achieving success.
Monasticism is not for everyone. It is a choice and lifestyle that really does "call" to certain people. It is true that a person can live the life of a householder and also be very spiritual and achieve realization. However, there are only 24 hours in a day. If you are married, have a home to take care of, have children, have a job, have a pet, and or have parents to take care of, etc. all this takes up a certain percentage of that 24 hours in the day. Can one make all those activities "spiritual"? Of course. Does a bear sh*t in the woods. However, for some people, doing both at the same time is just too much. Or, some come to a point where they want to just focus all their time and energy towards their spiritual goals.
A monastic has the majority of their time to be free of things that take their time away from study and practice. They do not have sex or masturbate because they knowingly make the choice that they want to spend their time doing other things. A good monastic consciously has the mentality that they want to try to work with their sexual, sensual emotions and urges so that they are not controlled by them. At the same time, they strive to understand them and make peace with them; not suppress or repress them away, avoid them, and inwardly abuse them.
To be blunt, it is very true that many monastics do, out of the nature of the lifestyle of being a monk, suppress their sexual desires and urges. In deciding to constantly suppress and repress these emotions and urges, tsunamis build power deep down in that well within. A torrent lies within that place where they are forced into, locked up, and turned a blind eye to. Many of these individuals eventually unveil immense repressed emotion that often shows itself in very ugly ways. Psychotherapist Carl Jung taught that the body/mind is always looking for a balance. And when something is not being paid attention to, something that needs to be paid attention to in order to attain a true balance, it may show itself in a very ugly way for the purpose of grossly grabbing our attention so that we take a good look at it. Kind of like the teenager that acts out negatively because they will take any attention they can get.
The Lord Gautama Buddha taught that we should neither be attached to or forcefully repel sensuality. Pulling and pushing are two sides of the same coin. He taught to understand its true nature.
A monastic such as this does not make you any less of a person or make your life any less valuable or worth-while. Them being a monastic is their choice, the one they feel is best for them. They are a student of their belief, just as a law student goes to law school, an engineering student goes to a school of engineering, an aspiring doctor goes to medical school, an aspiring mechanic goes to a mechanic school, etc. Monasticism, even if just temporarily, is arguably the best school for the spiritual arts and sciences.
So the next time you see a monastic, monk or nun, look at them with the eyes of this understanding. See their sacrifices and why they make them. See that they have chosen this path because they want to attain and realize the heights and greatness of their religious and spiritual beliefs. Observe that this is just as admirable as the musician, artist, scientist, doctor, or any other professional's journey. And, maybe even a bit special, because in the end their training and sacrifice to become a better person on such a profound level directly creates a better world.
Some 'wokeness' for your day.
practices for the kiddies
Buddhist Verses to Cultivate within our Children and be Learned by Heart
The following are some simple Buddhist practices from the Pāli tradition - Southern School - that both parents and their kids can do together and talk about.
Upon waking, sit up and settle your attention inwards, bring to mind the Triple Gem, and proceed to chant the “Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammā Sambuddhassa” verse three times. Then, take a moment to reflect on what we can call "Three Universal Facts of Life":
Having obtained the fortune that is this precious human birth, we should often reflect on these three knowledges. In order to understand the depth of these life-points until successfully and fully grasping their significance, we need to diligently study, reflect, practice, and train ourselves properly.
Before bed chant the “Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammā Sambuddhassa” verse three times. Then take a moment to recite some “Daily Aspirations and Resolutions to Live By", e.g.:
Get some good sleep.
SOME BACKGROUND INFO ON THE CHANTING:
“Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammā Sambuddhassa” is a customary preliminary chant that can be recited by itself or as a precursor to other chants. Essentially, it is a verbal practice wherein one is giving respects and honoring to their teacher, which they feel is someone whom has given them the know-how and knowledge of how make the most out of life and how to use it as a wholesome practice.
It is usually literally translated as:
“Homage to Him, the Blessed One, the Worthy Lord, the Fully Self-Enlightened/Awakened One”
Namo refers to Homage, Lowering oneself in reverence and respect
Tassa 'to That Being'
Bhagavato (skt. Bhagavan) in this context / tradition refers to one who is Great, Holy, Blessed, a Lord among humankind.
Arahato refers to Purity, in body speech and mind; pure, removed and free from delusion, disillusionment, anger, greed, lust, jealousy, inferior states of mind; because of that purity, they are Worthy of being a teacher, listened to, their teachings considered/contemplated over, and of having those teachings be tested in practice.
Sammā refers to something being Correct, Proper, Right (not relative, but as an absolute)
SamBuddhassa is two words together: ‘Sam’ means oneself, by oneself (not as a result from efforts of power done by another being and given out). ‘Buddhassa’ refers to True Knowledge, Awakening, Enlightenment. ‘Sambuddhassa’ refers to one who has attained Awakening / Clear Penetrating Sight / Knowing / Absolute Truth by themselves, as a result of their own efforts.
Perhaps put in a different layman’s terms: “I pay Homage, to That Being, Blessed and Holy as a result of their wholesomely dedicated efforts and accomplishments, One who is Worthy to be called a Lord due to purification of mind, speech, and body in the ultimate absolute degree, and has trained themselves over uncountable lifetimes until, as a result of their own efforts, forbearance, and striving has Finally and Fully Awakened to the discovery and Enlightenment of the ultimate truth and reality that lies within (i.e. was not bestowed upon them by some exterior supreme being or deity).
Traditionally and practically, this refers to what we know as a Buddha.
'Nippāna Pajayo Hotu' is kind of like a Buddhist 'Amen', meant to seal the words or practice and direct them towards the attainment of Nippāna (Sanskrit: Nirvāṇa)
DHARMAKĀYA - BODIES WITHIN
Within the various forms of Buddhist meditation, after one has learned to settle the mind - samatha - there comes a time where true insight and the ability to see things clearly as they are - vipassanā - is reached. In the method that leads to realizing the Dhammakāya, as was taught in the Wat Pak Nam temple in Bangkok, Thailand by the famous meditation master Luang Pu Sodt Jantasaro, there exists not just one inner - or what we westerners refer to as 'astral' - body, but multiple. He made reference to succeedingly refined bodies and minds linked within our coarse corporeal body.
The corporeal body that we currently use is composed of the four major elements dhātu, within the element of space ākāsa-dhātu, compiled from and for existence on this place we call Earth. Then there is the mind element viññāṇa-dhātu. These elements are linked together, constituting our body and mind. If they were not linked together we have either a corpse or a spirit without a body. Using this reasoning, mind and body account for the fundamental pillars for living a trended existence on this planet.
In the various Pāli and Sanskrit sūtras, Lord Gautama Buddha discussed the existence of other worlds and life forms, categorizing them into three major realms of: กามภพ kāmma-loka, รูปภพ rūpa-loka, อรูปภพ arūpa-loka. Each of these major realms have varying divisions and levels. Then there is Nirvāṇa, outside the cycle, yet still in the matrix. Not a great fan of Wiki for sūtra research, but for now:
For each of these realms, heavens, or abodes (whatever you want to call them) there are said to be beings that reside in them. A realm then is a place meant to be a container for the beings that reside there to have an existence within it. If we follow this logic - or what some call "facts of the universe" - and the principle that the coarse body we use is composed of and for this earth, then that would naturally mean that for each other realm there would be a corresponding body / form kāya designed for that place. Made to be housed in that place, composed of its elements, coarse and or refined.
The theory (and dare I say, truth) is that all these bodies exist simultaneously in the coarse human body, while the mind is still connected to it. They overlap and are interlinked "ซ้อนกันอยู่". The linking, and - most notably - access point or ‘metaphysical umbilical cord’, just so happens to reside in the abdomen, two of one's own finger-widths above the level of the navel at what was appropriately referred to by Luang Por Sodt Jantasaro as the “center” ศูนย์กลางกาย.
This is a very very interesting word choice. The word ศูนย์ 'sūñña' comes from the Pāli word suññatā which means "emptiness", "zero-ing point", "point of origin". ศูนย์กลาง, pronounced 'soon-glaang' in Thai, refers to the geometric center of an object or shape. กลางกาย, pronounced 'glaang-gaai', means 'middle of the body'. กาย, pronounced 'gaai', comes from the Pāli word kāya, meaning "body" or "form".
When one starts to get to the dhammakāya-gotrabhū, it could be said that they are getting to the Buddha element, buddha-dhātu, the tathagatagharba. This is where a more reliable refuge can now be established because it is outside the three realms, is more refine and with high-levels of purity and power. However, one doesn’t really start reaching an accurate and true internal refuge until they reach the dharmakāya-arahanta, as this is the body/form/shelter kāya that is freed and pure. Also, at this level it is outside of the three characteristics of existence: atta ‘Self’ (though the experience of it is should not be compared to, nor put with the conations of ego, “I” or “mine”), sukha ‘true happiness’, and nijja ‘permanence’. This is the practical reasoning and logic to why it can be called a refuge. It is also said that there are even more refined and more powerful dharmakāyas, on and on, layered deeper within the dharmakāya-arahanta. I think this is an important point to note, especially when considering ‘atta’.
Luang Pu Sodt Jantasaro and Luang Por Dhammajayo state that once one can unify their coarse human body with their uber-refined dharmakāya-arahanta (or beyond that) then abhiñña immediately and automatically arises. To common sense, this would make sense because when you unify a mold or casing that is charged by the element/energy of Nirvāṇa, I would imagine some pretty amazing things happen.
However, I am also told that when one reaches the dharmakāya-gotrabhū then one’s systematic thinking processes and mental software programming changes. One no longer is hindered by the coarse and conditioned physical, mental, and emotional processing of samsara and kilesa. In this way, it is not possible and even futile to analytically attempt to conceive or understand the uber higher-caliber mode of thought of the dharmakāya-gotrabhū, never mind beyond. If one uses an instrument that is not up to par and incompatible for the task, then one cannot achieve the appropriate results.
Also, only when one gets to the gotrabhū state, and begin to be one with it, can he/she begin to practice vipassanā. Only then can that person truly begin to understand the Four Noble Truths. Another perspective is to look at the first of the four foundations of mindfulness in the satipatthana sūtra: kāyanupassi, (kāyanupassana; kāyanupassana-satipatti) “thus s/he dwells observing body in body internally”. Yes it could mean have mindfulness and awareness of the three characteristics of existence in the coarse human body. However, it could also just as equally be interpreted to mean ‘mindfully observing the existence of bodies within bodies inside the coarse human body’. Same goes for vēdananupassi, vēdananupassana. Seeing ‘feeling/emotional state/vēdana’ in vēdana. Each body and mind has an อารมณ์, a feeling, a state of being, a vēdana. And cittanupassi, cittanupassana: seeing mind in mind in mind, etc.
If we go into subjects such as vipassanā (vi: super, supramundane, ‘special’; passana: sight, the faculty of vision, seeing) or even cakkhu, like dibbacakkhu, dhamma-cakkhu, buddha-cakkhu, then there is mention of an eye that is doing the seeing. Can the eye refer to mind? Or to an eye/faculty of vision, which would necessitate a body/form kāya that holds and encases that eye/faculty of vision?
It is said that only when one reaches their dibbacakkhu, being before the other more refined cakkhu, when they can use it to see and know (ñāna-dassana) the other realms and worlds, and see the arising and passing away of beings within the universe and world systems. At this point, one can then witness beings going to different realms according to their previous mental, verbal, and bodily actions (kamma). This is how the Lord Gautama Buddha re-discovered the already existing Law of Karma, the cycle of birth and death, using his various cakkhu.
What about the reference to the element, or actual existence and abode of Nirvāṇa nibbāna-dhātu or āyatana-nibbāna that is in the sūtras? That is a whole 'nother subject. Buddhism is not annihilation-ism.
To look at this a different way, many people have experienced astral traveling. When journeying, many describe the existence of a silky - often described as liquid-silver like - cord, connecting the astral body to the coarse body. Why is the cord there? What is the cord’s purpose?
The refined human body in this 18 body explanation is the astral body, which is why it looks similar to the human body, yet is separate and still somehow connected to the coarse human body. This phenomenon, and such like it, is very well documented in astral traveling circles. Feel free to find a qualified teacher and go see for yourself if it is true!
I will defer to the quality of the Dharma as 'ehipassiko', inviting the partitioner to come, see, and experience it for themselves so they can then decide how they think and feel about it. This is the best way to conclude these discussion points. My intention here is to at least try to put forth effort into explaining the philosophical, practical, and historical significance here. As Wat Phra Dhammakaya is pretty strong in Thailand now, I thought readers and meditation practitioners may want to know more about the deeper aspects of the teachings of BuddhaDharma.
If there is any error or misinterpretation herein, I offer my apologies and state that it does not reflect upon my teachers, but on my own current short-comings.
In service. With metta, openness, and respect for the Dharma.
CULTURE OF SUPERHEROES
Since my family has been in Spain, I have had time to surround myself with things that I had hoped would inspire me. I am grateful for the supportive environment that my work and co-workers provide for me. In returning more deeply to meditating, reading, exercise, and life logistics, feeling myself again as an aspiring 'good man', someone suggested I look at the new Netflix series of Marvel's Iron Fist because of my monastic and Buddhist background, and having lived in NYC.
I have never openly discussed what it was like to be a monk, in detail. What happens there, what the daily life is like. What the people there talk about, care about, interact about. Nor do I choose to openly discuss all the reasons why I left, and what that was like. It is not something easy to articulate. To have chosen to train in an ancient tradition over 2,500 years old with an undying succession of master to student, to be taught in an ancient monastic tradition in their own language, join that tradition, and be somewhat accepted therein. To see and experience things that we read about in fairy tails, comic books, and myths or legends. It is not something easy to talk about, because it necessitates a background knowledge in that culture and how they view life and the universe. The bond between members of the monastic community is strong. As it is so old, and profound, it has an inherent power and force to it.
In the Buddhist traditions, it is considered honorable to ordain. Inspiring. Noble. And once ordained, it is considered more honorable to stay ordained for life, i.e. to not leave the family of the monkhood and to fight the good fight there with them. There is nothing inherently wrong with this view, as the purpose of preparing for ordination is that one learns what it means to be a monk and if that is the right life choice for that person. So, out of one’s own free will and accord they decided to step into this life, and accept it’s lifestyle; e.g. not try to change the ancient tradition to fit one’s desires and passions so that it is more agreeable with them.
I have issues with the Iron Fist series, particularly their depictions of “Buddhist” practices, the shortcomings of monastic living vs. the ‘real’ world, and the incredible emotional instability (and acting) of the protagonist - especially after 15 years of hardcore training and being chosen as the bearer of great power. It shows poorly on his training and the ‘Buddhist’ culture he is representing. Although, in fairness, the antagonists in the series do continually refer to the emotional immaturity of the main character, it’s weakness and crippling effect, and the all-around destruction that came about as a result of it. It should be stated that the sect of Buddhism depicted in the Iron Fist series is from the Chinese tradition, perhaps during the Sui dynasty, when there was a time in the culture where war was everywhere and the monks chose to arm themselves, otherwise they faced total annihilation. However this is not original Buddhism, as it directly goes against the teachings of Lord Buddha. Here is an example found in the Ovāda Pāṭimokkha Gatha of the Pali Canon:
Khantī paramaṃ tapo tītikkhā
Nibbānaṃ paramaṃ vadanti buddhā,
Na hi pabbajito parūpaghātī
Na samaṇo hoti paraṃ viheṭhayanto.
Forbearance is the best austerity,
"Nibbana(Nirvana) is Supreme", says the Buddhas.
He is not one gone forth (a term for a monastic) who harms another.
He is not a recluse who molests (physically, mentally, or emotionally abuses) others.
Chinese Buddhist culture aside, what I found myself seeing in the character of Danny Rand (Iron Fist) I see also in myself. I am no Iron Fist, nor do I have aspirations to be a White Savior. I am a simple stumbling fool finding a sense of remorse and therapy from writing “notes” in Facebooklandia.
What I see in myself with Danny Rand, is the beauty of the temple / order that we associate ourselves with. The love towards our Brothers and Sisters and especially our Teachers. The power and miraculousness of the training we went through, and having been chosen to be close to our Teachers and learn directly from them. The feeling of family and of purpose. Of being a warrior of that order and lineage, and of striving to bring honor and integrity to that title. Yet, at the same time, simply not fitting in with their culture because we are outsiders. We felt that there was something calling us back to our culture. And although I had the blessing to leave on good terms, unlike Danny Rand, it was not wholly good in my heart because I know that I disappointed them. Much as Danny Rand felt in his heart too and that guilt doesn’t easily go away. Nevertheless, we followed our heart to return.
Although I have never been in the military or in war, I have heard that there are similarities between people formerly of the monkhood and military when they leave and return home. In returning home, everything we thought was home had changed, as we had changed. And we again felt like outsiders. While still trying to keep the pieces of what philosophy and path we followed and believed in while there, people did not understand. Nor could they, it would seem like a foreign language, almost crazy at times. Often, or eventually, we revert to the familiar language and behavior that they understand in order to fit in, which in turn causes more internal conflict. And this internal conflict expresses itself in our actions: confusion, debilitation, lack of purpose, lack of remembering, frustration, suppression of emotion, self-destructiveness, alienating ourselves from people, not letting people in, not understanding why people don’t see things as we do. All these things are compounded by the feeling of being alone, not in the community any more where the student could approach the Master for advice when in such trouble, although the spiritual connection is still there.
Everyone understands these feelings. You don’t have to have been a monastic to understand them. I understand this because I have been there -and in a way know Danny Rand’s monastic side - and do not always make peace with my demons. I do not think this kind of compassion is properly considered or validated in our society, because it is somewhat unprecedented. It is not mainstream. It’s foreign. Not many people go to become monks, learn and live the culture and tradition, and then leave it and come back. We read about it in tales, comics, and see it in the movies. But choosing to go out and live it, find Masters of ancient wisdom and put in the dues to learn it is a whole different thing.
As in the Iron Fist Netflix series, the western doctors and psycho-therapists would attempt to label such experiences in the realm of pyschological disorders and prescribe medicine to remove the problem. There are definitely times and people who need that, please understand that is not the point I am making. As in the series, Danny Rand is troubled, but not delusion or psychotic about his monastic experience and having seen and experienced things that “are not in the norm”. The trouble of when you walk between different social worlds, with different beliefs and life views, with different priorities, it can be confusing. Not just to the person experiencing it, but especially to those around them. It catches you off guard. There’s no reference point for a lot of this for most people in western culture. In this way, people like Danny Rand come to see how naive and foolish they are, but couldn’t see it right after the big return home, and at the same time so hopeful and believing in the goodness that lies within us all.
Going from a celibate life as a monastic, back to romance and the physical sensations between two lovers, is a whirlwind. And those who have ordained and renounced physical relationships in order to dedicate more time and energy to one’s own personal practice will understand that. It is not to say that relationships are bad, but they come with a price, no matter what level of romanticism we have. Turning one’s relationships into a doorway to constantly be reminded, and practice, to live a true and honorable life, following the teachings one has been taught by true Masters is something very notable and worthy of remembrance.
There is a scene in another Marvel movie of Dr. Strange whereby Steven Strange tells the Ancient One mockingly that he has heard of things like chakras and acupuncture in “gift shops”, mocking them as failing in comparison to “his” understanding of medicine and it’s superiority. The Ancient One then shows him how limited his knowledge is, and how little he knows. That scene is very meaningful to our society, and is prophetic. Flaws of the movie aside, I’m focusing in on the message there.
The modern problem is that there are things that commercial science cannot explain, although advances in quantum physics seems to be providing a way of giving language for expressing and understanding what we term “oriental mysticism”. However, what I would like to point out is that this is not about science vs. the mystic arts. In the culture of Buddhist supernatural practices and achievements, they are referred to as ‘Vijjā’ or ‘Śāstra’, ‘knowledge / wisdom’ and ‘science, rules, manual’ respectively. For example, the english word we use as ‘physics’ is known as ‘bhautikaśāstra’, where “śāstra” refers to scientific and basic knowledge on particular subject. The mystic arts and practices are not something that is etherial, they are considered sciences and knowledge that one can obtain through proper guidance and effort on the practitioner’s part.
We as a western culture are seeking superheroes. Many people flee their realities to play video-games and spend time in ‘living’ in that Marvel - or Superhero filled - world. In general, we are trying to find a refuge wherein we can believe that there is possibility to remove our suffering and the suffering of so many of our fellow humans. Where there is a possibility to overthrow and fight back against the injustices and defects of our society. Where our voice can be heard, and listened to. Or, where we can “become” or control a superhero, obtain supernormal powers and be badass.
Hollywood is amplifying and fulfilling this need, pumping our society with a cyber or cinematic world filled with the possibilities of greatness, or ‘super-powers’. None the less, just as in Marvel’s Iron Fist, they represent the heroes as somehow greatly flawed and haunted. Perhaps this is purposeful so that perhaps we can relate to them more and encourage them in their fight, as we wish to be encouraged in our fight.
This said, when I met real Masters, although they were not perfect and infallible, their quality of character and the wisdom - from years of trial and experience - was/is immensely profound. They are living embodiments of their craft and practice. They are Masters, or superheroes, because they have put immense effort, dedication, and sacrifice to train themselves to the highest level of their knowledge/science/Craft and they continue to train themselves. Moreover, they have learned it from and are tested in it by true and genuine Masters of the same.
Yes, it is a very imperfect world we live in, often filled the a dirty history. As you will see in this interesting YouTube clip highlighting the shortcomings of the Iron Fist series and the cultural dynamics around that cinematic world, we see the serie’s imperfections in its portrayal of all this. However, that doesn’t mean that the lessons they are meant to offer are not valid to anybody from any race, religion, creed, or nationality.
What I was taught is that, “to find wisdom, look within yourself. Do not fight others, fight and make peace with yourself. Blaming others leads to nowhere. To seek wisdom outside of oneself is to seek water outside of the ocean.”
The Theravādan Buddhist temple of Wat Phra Dhammakaya has been under siege by the junta of Thailand. The former Abbot, less respectfully referred to now as “Phra Dhammajayo”, has been accused of involvement in money-laundering and encroachment upon Thai national land.
Multiple searches throughout the temple’s vast compounds by the military, with full cooperation from Wat Phra Dhammakaya, over the months of February and March 2017 resulted in Luang Por Dhammajayo as m.i.a. A big question at this point is, “Why doesn’t he just turn himself in?”
Such inquiry necessitates a framework and background to put it in.
Socially, Thailand is fueled by “face-value”. The perception of who holds power pervades. Throughout Thailand’s history, power frequently changed hands among the ruling royal elite of various domestic, indigenous kingdoms. Thus, there is a social need for whoever holds the power to remind the people.
The first arrest warrant related to these charges was issued for Luang Por Dhammajayo - a more respectful title - on May 17th of 2016 due to him not presenting himself to the authorities to hear the charges against him. The temple had previously sent multiple official requests to have the charges read at the temple due to the former Abbot’s severe and ailing health. Nevertheless, after multiple attempts to enter the temple compound since the arrest warrant was issued have failed due to devotees blocking the entrances, Article 44 was enacted by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha and a full-on military siege was brought upon the temple at 3am of February 16, 2017.
Article 44 of the interim Thai Constitution drafted by the current Thai junta states that the Prime Minister may dictate any area of the Kingdom of Thailand a “special control zone” and under martial law. Herein the government also removes itself of any responsibility or liability to an autonomous judicial court.
Is Wat Phra Dhammakaya or Phra Dhammajayo a threat to national security or identity?
Wat Phra Dhammakaya has been under scrutinizing and persecuting limelight from the Thai and International press since the late ‘90s. The temple is dubbed a sect of Buddhism, i.e. not ‘real’ Buddhism. Worse, it has been labeled a cult and we all know there is no coming back from that ominous title.
Any spotlight on the temple highlights a sense of it being stained, blemished. The mainstream press continues to beat the horse that Wat Phra Dhammakaya is a “controversial” temple with a dark past. Moreover, it has supposed affiliation with the Red-Shirt party including political ties with ousted former Thai Prime Minister Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra.
All this is conspiracy. Neither the temple nor its Abbot Emeritus Luang Por Dhammajayo has ever been convicted of any crime, even to this day. To allude to the Red-Yellow Shirt drama of Thailand’s recent past, members of both parties have come to practice their faith at Wat Phra Dhammakaya. The temple does not hold allegiance to one or the other. It holds allegiance to the BuddhaDharma and the practice of Buddhism. Monks take vows to be apolitical. That’s a fact. But that doesn’t make for a good story, gossip, or drama. So the media and press prefer to fabricate and report a story that sells. And people like Buddha-Isara, Mano Laohavanich and Sulak Sivaraksa are ammunition for the drama and the problem. They are neither the solution nor the truth, no matter their social circles, accolades, or academic degrees. Any honest research and analysis of their statements and views shows their short-comings and obvious prejudices. It is also a fair thing to say that judging something before having personally experienced it thoroughly is not a good practice.
The temple is the biggest and most successful in Thailand. It has humungous financial resources at its disposal. Like, trumping Trump-style huuuuge in both national importance and wealth. Because of its financial status, enormity, and style of dissemination of Buddhist teachings, it naturally draws a lot of attention.
The Dhammakaya Foundation is an United Nations affiliated Non-Government Organization. It has its own FREE satellite channel that disseminates teachings of both the scriptures as well as morality and self-development based on the BuddhaDharma of Lord Buddha and commentated on by the many adept scholars and practitioners that reside in the temple. The temple hosts gargantuan ceremonies within its enormous compounds and structures, some of which can comfortably hold up to 1 million people. They enact programs for youth moral development and education, assist with domestic and foreign disaster relief, support deserted and abandoned temples throughout Thailand, encourage Buddhists to support and participate in religious activities within their own communities (and not particularly with Wat Phra Dhammakaya), and are bridge-builders. An example of this is they spent much of 2016 and 2017 in a continuous ceremony of chanting the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the first sermon of the Lord Buddha in the Pali language. In the beginning of 2017, they had completed over 16 million rounds. Monks and laypeople from not just all over Thailand but all over Asia - and of different denominations of Buddhism - would visit to participate, thus bringing the Buddhist community together under the common banner of arguably the most important teaching in the faith and practice. Because of their altruistic motivation to protect, guard, and see to the growth of Buddhism in Thailand, they attract more attention and devotees.
The fact is, this predicament is not about Luang Por Dhammajayo wanting to turn himself in or not. Frankly, the devotees will not allow Luang Por Dhammajayo to turn himself in!
In reality, there is no proof or promise that Luang Por Dhammajayo will receive a fair trial. Recent arrests using the Computer Crime Act of Thai citizens who questioned or criticized the junta, and the March 2017 United Nations meeting in Geneva where Thai officials failed to address international concerns about the junta’s obligation to uphold civil and political rights, cause grave concern and doubt. Why would there then be an honest, altruistic system of justice in Thailand? This isn’t Kansas, Dorothy.
People have died and been abused. Anawat Thanacharoennat committed self-immolation outside the temple to raise public awareness against Article 44. A volunteer nurse, Pattana Chiangraeng, died due to the military barricades not permitting an oxygen tank and medicine to pass to save her from a simple asthma attack. Women, men, and monks who created a human shield to nonviolently protest against the siege were sent to ICUs for injuries inflicted during a confrontation wherein Thai military soldiers and police abused them.
Disciples of Wat Phra Dhammakaya feel the junta is stepping out of line with ulterior agendas, without proper evidence, using the hunt for Luang Por Dhammajayo as a smoke and dagger. The devotees further believe there will not be sufficient medical care for Luang Por Dhammajayo’s dire medical condition of severe deep-vein thrombosis in the left leg, chronic venous insufficiency, diabetes, venous stasis ulcers, hyperlipidemia, sensitivity to light, allergies, hypertension, and vertigo. Books like The King Never Smiles by Paul M Handley or Welcome to Hell by Colin Martin showcase Thailand’s political and court systems as not known for their pleasant, or humane history. There is a very real possibility that “Phra Dhammajayo” will receive neither proper medical attention nor fair treatment while in custody. The fact that he is a 72 year-old man, and still a Buddhist monk, does not seem to interfere with the junta’s conviction to make an example out of him.
The international, and especially western world, need to understand a code that true Buddhist practitioners live by. Honor and see to the care of one's teachers, most especially one’s “gurus” ครูบาจารย์. This does not simply mean giving your teacher an apple out of appreciation and being done with it for the day. Thailand is not a western world with a western paradigm and Christian or Jewish enculturation. We would do good to put ourselves in their shoes and their cultural background. The act of gratitude and giving back is a well-known, fundamental, and cardinal virtue instilled in disciples and practitioners of BuddhaDharma, of not just Thailand but all of Asia and the world.
The media and press undervalue the profound depths of this last truth. Why would temple followers willingly expose Luang Por Dhammajayo, their teacher, to potential - and probable - unfair treatment, humiliation, and improper medical attention? All of which may even result in death? Most especially when they believe and know him to be innocent.
The Thai military government, which influences - if not controls - both domestic and international media and press has consistently and effectively damaged the reputation and face of the temple for decades. Almost like a chess game, they have moved their pieces for years, waiting, preparing, calculating, and anticipating a situation or moment where they can make their move and effectively bring the temple down. Potentially more than just the temple. A temple with as much assets and financial backing as Wat Phra Dhammakaya could definitely benefit a junta that has already spent over 100 million Baht putting Wat Phra Dhammakaya under seige. Yet no one seems to report that side of the story.
That is why Luang Por Dhammajayo is not being turned in.
soundscapes while you read:
There is a Poison.
It steps in the back entrance, when we aren’t looking. It enters in the most minuscule but problematic way. Once in, it festers. It grows in strength and effect, but not all at once. It is good at its job; not too much or too little as to make a scene and draw attention. First, from behind the scenes of our waking eyes and conscious awareness, it gathers its power. From the depths within, this virus in our human software programming begins to take control. It influences our life understanding. This automatically affects our thinking and mental processes. From our thoughts it moves to our speech, and from there to our actions. The web this spider spins becomes vast, very vast. Yet, if we know where to look, we can begin to take control again.
That Poison is Ignorance.
This Poison is debilitating, blinding us from seeing Truth. Ignorance begets separation, separation from our original state of Union. Separation breeds other poisons, namely: craving, anger, and delusion. From these three the web grows and spreads. Its influence reaches an encompassing level of effectiveness. Yet all is not lost, there is medicine.
The medicine is Wisdom.
Yet, before taking medicine we really would do best to find a good Doctor. One that is masterly in her/his Craft, is willing to help, and knows what particular medicine to prescribe based on the individual condition, needs and stage of affectedness in the patient. We can take medicine ourselves, yes, but the problem there is that we are not Doctors in the beginning, we are patients. Our state of suffering and discomfort, big or small, effects our decision making process. Honestly, we don’t know right away what is the best medicine for us. We may get lucky and stumble upon something good to get us going but it is not the same as having a true and good Doctor there to help us help ourselves. There are varying degrees and strengths of medicine, just as is the case with Wisdom.
Wisdom is Truth, and the Light to see and know what it is as well as what it is not.
Wisdom is not effective as a full cure immediately. Just as the Poison entered slowly, so is potency of the cure. Supplementing with wisdom daily, reviewing and reflecting on it, builds up our immune and begins to free us from the bonds and hooks of the Poison. They say a good Doctor knows and treats the root of the problem, not simply the symptoms. To see the roots and its depths, as well as how to properly and fully cure it, takes great skill and proficiency. True medicine here begins with seeing and knowing what is happening inside of us. This first step is to become aware of the problem: what is affecting, even controlling, our thoughts and understanding. Like any muscle, it needs training. And training takes time. The more we use this medicine, consistently, the deeper it sinks in and the stronger its effect. As the true Doctor empowers us with the tools to help us help ourselves, it is our job to do the work of taking the medicine. A Doctor’s motivation and intention therefore is to bring us to a point where eventually we no longer need the Doctor, and in effect become the Doctor ourselves. But before we get ahead of ourselves it is enough to let the situation we discover ourselves to be in, sink in.
There is a Poison. Treat it. That is the first Noble Truth.
"In the divine scriptures, there are shallows and there are deeps; shallows where the lamb may wade, and deeps where the elephant may swim."