One has to spend time in a Theravadin monastery to see the spiritual effects that the centuries of Vinaya formalism have undergone. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the generalized hypocrisy of monastic life. By insisting that a particular rule be followed with an almost fanatical accuracy, the monks will casually ignore the rules that do not satisfy them.
For example, one of the rules says that ‘you should not travel in a vehicle. Whoever goes, commits a Dukkhata offense (Vin.1,190). This was understood as any form of transport, whether on wheels, transported by humans or dragged by animals and the modern equivalent would be a car, bus, train, etc. However, the monks are happy to have their followers to drive them in cars.
The Sangharaja of Thailand and the Maha Nayakas of Sri Lanka have no qualms about traveling in their Mercedes driven by a driver. To the best of my knowledge and understanding, there is no attempt to avoid this rule with the usual sophistry and routine.
Like the rule of having only one set of robes, it is simply ignored. Then there is the generalized practice of adhering to the letter of the rules while carefully ignoring its purpose and spirit.
In a monastery in Sri Lanka, the monks always scrupulously examined the buckets of water in the well for tiny creatures before showering them over the head for bathing (Pacittiya 20), so as not to damage them at all.
One day, one of the monks discovered that he had worms. He informed the monastery assistant that he had been previously instructed on how to deal with such contingencies. The attendant brought a bottle of worm medicine, soaked the label of the worm, filled other unlabelled small bottles with water and then gathered them in the monk’s room. Several times during the next day the monk selected one or other of these bottles at random and drank it until he emptied them all, killing the worms without breaking the rules.
But hypocrisy goes beyond this. The strict Theravadin monks actually publish books that instruct laymen on how to help them get around inconvenient rules. The book The Bhikkhus’ Rules-A Guide by Laypeople by Ariyesako is a good example of this type of literature.
In one place, inform the reader that the monks are not allowed to dig the ground or have another person dig it (Pacittiya 10). But if a monk wants to dig a hole to plant a tree, for example, what should he do? He can not ask anyone to do it for him and they do not know what is required. The solution is to teach laymen what might be called the ” wink wink, push gently ” approach.
Quoting Ariyesako’s book; ‘It is … permissible for monks to insinuate people or novices about what should be done as long as words or gestures do not follow an order. When the bhikkhus need roads to clear themselves, necessary work on the ground, firebreaks, etc., any assistant of lay people who want to help should look for clues and indications “.
Thanissaro recommends a similar strategy to avoid the rule against harmful plants. It may indicate “indirectly that the grass needs to be cut (see how long the grass lasts) or that a tree needs to prune (this branch is on the way) without expressly giving the order to cut.
If one is going to evade the rules in this way, why insist on having them in the first place?Vinaya fundamentalists say that following the rules strictly encourages acceptance and discipline. Stratagems such as those mentioned above strongly suggest that it encourages nothing more than a Pharisee mentality.
Nor is there anything new in this kind of thing, it has a long tradition in Theravada. Ancient commentaries on Vinaya and Vinaya’s traditional manuals give numerous similar instructions on how to circumvent the rules. Another way to avoid rules is to juggle definitions. Thanissaro gives an example of when this can be done.
Sekhiya says that a monk should not defecate or urinate while standing unless he is sick. But, what if you’re in the west, you have to pee and take the cubicle in the public bathroom?Thanissaro suggests that you designate yourself “sick” so that you can get into the urinal and relive yourself with a clear conscience and without breaking the rule.
It is not surprising that the greatest hypocrisy within the Sangha Theravadin revolves around money. As noted above, the overwhelming majority of monks openly accept and use money and, in this sense, at least they are honest and realistic. This is the only rule that almost all monks are willing to be flexible. The majority, therefore, are only guilty of hypocrisy, since they do not take this rule into account and at the same time show a large number of others equally obsolete or less important.
However, it is the fundamentalists who take pride in being ‘pure’ and are the most hypocritical in this respect. There are two ways in which some of these monks elude the rule concerning money. The most common is to instruct the devotees to put their donations in an envelope so that, in the strictly literal sense, the monk does not “touch” him. Once I met a monk who had a pair of tweezers to count the donations he received without having physical contact with them.
In the main rooms of Theravadin temples throughout Southeast Asia, there is always a large box with envelopes so that people can put money in them before offering it to the monks.
The second way, and one used by the most sophisticated fundamentalists, is to have what amounts to a personal accountant. I know “strict” monks who make conference tours, perform blessing ceremonies or request support for their monasteries, knowing that they will generate money. They benefit from the money thus donated, they have total control over how it is spent and they scrutinize the accounts, taking care not to have direct physical contact with a single penny. Such monks remember John D. Rockefeller, who, when he became a multimillionaire, never brought or used money.
The only redeeming feature of all this hypocrisy of Theravadin about money is that it at least provides the opportunity to sometimes laugh good times.
Once, upon reaching a certain city in Southeast Asia, a Western monk had no choice but to stay in a large, rich and very popular Thai temple. The day after his arrival, the abbot told him that he should accompany him and several other monks to a private house for a dana (donation). After they had eaten and were leaving, the lady of the house stood at the door with the envelopes tilted to each monk as they passed by and dropped an envelope into the purse they opened for her. As the Westerner did not have a shoulder bag and reached out to take the envelope. The women hesitated a moment before giving them to me, without being sure that I was “doing things right”. The abbot spent much of the way back to the temple berating him for taking the envelope directly, and saying he was “against Wini” (ie the Vinaya). As soon as we returned to the temple, he rummaged in a closet until he found an old bandolier, threw it at him and said angrily, “Wini! You must practice Wini! And then he muttered something in Thai about “farang monks” (white monks).
Two nights later, he was awakened by a loud noise, fumbled for the clock to see what time it was and discovered that it was 1.30 in the morning. He stayed in bed for a moment trying to think what might be the strange noise coming from the ground floor and finally got up and saw what it was. When he turned the corner and started down the stairs, he found the most incredible sight he had ever seen. There, on the huge dining room table, was a stack of coins and banknotes that must have been twelve or fifteen centimeters high and that stretched from one end of the table to the other, at a distance of about eight meters. All the monks sat around the table counting the money and putting it in neat piles and the abbot sitting at the other end, with the cigarette in his mouth and the notebook in his hand, adding up the monthly intake of all the donation boxes that They were face down on the floor. The strange noise he had heard was the metallic click and the clink of thousands of coins that met and counted.
He could not help but laugh and when he returned to his room, he lay down on the bed and went back to sleep while singing the old mantra Theravadin Wini, Wini, Wini, Wini.
Of course, all this deceit and hypocrisy could easily be avoided. If a monk has a genuine commitment and sincerity, he should be able to use the money when necessary and not be seduced by it, he could touch his hand without touching his heart. Adhering strictly to the rules does not change the mind, in fact, it is often just a cover for cunning, inflexibility, self-justification and other negative states.