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Religion Library: Buddhism


Written by: Julia Hardy

Even in the modern world, there are still Buddhists who wander alone. Some of these will have a home institution that supports them, others will not. There are other Buddhist clergy who do not live in monasteries. They may teach at a university that is not affiliated with the religion, or they may run a non-monastic institution, as do the Taiwanese nuns who run the huge Buddhist charity Tzu Chi. A few monks simply choose to live alone and support themselves.

Traditionally there were also traveling teachers who taught Buddhism; these were skilled storytellers who were entertainers as well as teachers. While this practice is rare today, there are now Buddhist teachers who write books and make television appearances in which they explain Buddhist views in a public forum and comment on current issues.

This section would not be complete without mentioning that while all monks are supposed to follow a strict code of discipline and serve as role models for the community, this is an ideal that is not always met. Because of this, a stereotype in popular literature and film in Asia is the Buddhist monk who is stupid, incompetent, lecherous, or immoral. Another stereotype in literature and film is the monk who has supernatural powers and is able to accomplish amazing feats of magic.

In reality, monks are a diverse lot, with the same differences in character that one might expect among the general population, or among the leaders of any religious body. They are distinguished from others only by their choice to devote their lives to Buddhism. They sacrifice the benefits of an ordinary life to gain the spiritual benefits of their practice and service to the community.

Study Questions:
1.      Is it accurate to compare Buddhist monks to the western understanding of clergy? Why or why not?
2.     Who can become a Buddhist monk?
3.     How are Buddhist monks visibly set apart from laity?
4.     How do monks serve the laity?