I think Westerners lack respect for their own spiritual maturity. It’s as though Asia owns spirituality, and we’re these barbarians, beseeching, “Oh, Bhante, please come over and tell us how to live.” But I’ve been to Asia, and they’re just as screwed up as we are. And there’s some real wisdom in our culture; the West has a tradition, too, of compassion and wisdom. And some people who aren’t even religious have it. When I was in Asia I totally did whatever an Asian lay person would do—I have the deepest respect for this tradition—but Asia does not have a monopoly on kindness. In Asia, being a lay person is—from the point of view of meditational practice—considered second-class. I personally think that the monastic life does optimize your possibilities for breaking through to awakening.
But it’s by no means a guarantee. Most monasteries are hardly crammed full of enlightened people. But we need a teaching that addresses the lives we actually live. We do need to handle money. We are in relationships. We do need to eat more than once a day. The problem isn’t eating or sex or money; it’s that we don’t know how to use these energies. The monastic strategy is: Don’t touch it; it’s dangerous. So the monks don’t handle money, etc. To me that’s not in-and-of-itself particularly holy. It’s a strategy—a monastic strategy to get free. I’m all for it—if you’re going to be a monastic.
– Larry Rosenberg, “The Art of Doing Nothing” (Spring 1998)
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.