People have asked: “How to help monks and nuns to protect their ordination while working for a center?” “Western Sangha have been disrobing in large numbers. That is very sad. What can we truly do to help? “Can Sangha members work? Can we ask them to help with a particular job?”
Buddhist Sangha is such a rare phenomenon in our Western world, and even if people are keen to support the Sangha, they don’t necessarily know how to do it. There is a need to raise the awareness about the importance of the Sangha in terms of preserving the Buddha’s teaching, and there is a need to provide some guidance to the lay community. Particularly, center directors must realize the responsibility they have to support the Sangha:
Sharon Gross said: “We should be more informed what it means to have Sangha. Some people have had the karma to have this ripen, to hold these vows. In the West we don’t have the appreciation for this lifestyle. I would like more awareness for lay people and to develop information for the centers, so people understand how valuable they are.”
They have been instrumental in starting centers and making the organization progress. Now, so many centers need qualified Sangha and are requesting to have them. We are so few; especially elders and qualified monks and nuns are in such small number. The centers must support them. They will not find someone outside the organization to do it.
Paula de Wys Koolkin said: “I think it is good to fundraise outside; it’s also strong for us to make a karmic connection. They hold the vinaya for us. It’s crucial for us to contribute to them.”
Support for Sangha can be seen on two fronts: funds and education. Education applies to Sangha members, but equally to lay people. What are the mutual responsibilities of centers and Sangha?
Centers should support Sangha by providing the best conditions possible for them to live purely according to the vinaya and protect their ordination. Monks and nuns working in the centers should be given enough time and opportunity for Dharma practice and studies. Center residents could be aware that their behavior in relation to the Sangha serves as a model for visitors and the general public. It is important that they set up good examples by being respectful to the Sangha.
Because they are a basis for other people’s refuge practice, Sangha members, from their side, would, through their behavior, stimulate, support and enhance people’s refuge in the Three Jewels. They would be subdued, humble and kind; be willing to help with the spiritual program of the centers, or any other work according to their capabilities, the needs of the place and the situations.
“What is an appropriate work for Sangha in a center?” Resident Sangha members should support the Dharma program when capable: look after the gompa, lead meditations and discussions, meet visitors. Lay people would preferably take charge of ordinary tasks such as cleaning etc., but monks and nuns could also be asked to participate, according to needs and situations. Lama Zopa Rinpoche said:
“I remember, Lama Yeshe stressed very much that Sangha should do other work [cleaning, etc.] It’s how you regard yourself as the lowest according to the practice of the training of the mind, specifically the second of The Eight Stanzas: ‘In all circumstances and whomever I accompany, I will practice regarding myself as the lowest of all and hold others as supreme.’ This is from the side of the practitioner. Lama was saying: ‘If you are humble and serve other beings as much as possible, they should respect you as much as possible.’
“It’s not the case that the lay can’t ask Sangha to help at the center; you can ask for help. From the lay side, one should pay respect as much as possible. After one has taken refuge vows in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, concerning the refuge in Sangha, the main precept is not to follow the wrong guide. Any Buddhist Sangha wearing the red robes, wearing any different color that Buddhist Sangha is wearing, immediately one should think: ‘This is my guide who helps me to end samsara. There are many qualities in this person I don’t see, this is my guide.’ Also, regarding Sangha robes, one should not step over them – this is not only for lay, but also for Sangha.
“From the Sangha side, the purpose of being ordained is to serve others. But you shouldn’t treat them as servants, put them down or look down on them, even if they are doing service at the center.”
How can we help? Some suggestions were made:
- Attendance at teachings should be free for Sangha. At big events, why not set up a special Sangha Fund to support the attendance and accommodation costs of Western Sangha?
- Thanks to our Lama Yeshe Sangha Fund (LYSF) we are supporting a few of our members such as monks in Nalanda Monastery and long-term retreaters at Shiné Land in California. If we could build up the fund, more people could be helped: we could organize Sangha education more effectively and more widely.
Centers are to make an annual contribution to the fund. Although that has been set up as a policy many years ago, not every center contributes. Still, some are champions for their faithfulness (special thanks to Vajrapani Institute, Institut Vajra Yogini, Maitreya Instituut as well as Tse Chen Ling, LYWA and Shiné); others are champions in providing special conditions to Sangha members, such as free accommodation and food.
- Create merit for the centers by making offerings to and help the Sangha. Why not establish an FPMT tradition of an annual “Offering to the Sangha Event” day – of robes or other items. Rinpoche thought that was a good idea: “Centers could do on the auspicious days of the year, the days of 100 million times the merit. Then they create merits with the Sangha. The best thing would be to increase the Sangha Fund. That fund will help for a long time. Yes, this is a good idea.”
- Help the happening of special Sangha events. Special teachings and gatherings where a lot of Sangha are likely to attend are opportunities for the monks and nuns scattered all over the world to get to know each other, live together in a monastic setting and develop a sense of community. The three Enlightened Celebrations, which have been held in the past, have been such occasions. Let’s hope for EEC4 to come about in the near future. In anticipation, we are encouraging our Sangha to participate and meet at another Dharma Festival: the three-month Vajrasattva retreat that will be led by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Land of Medicine Buddha in California next year.
- Develop the Sangha section of the FPMT website.
- Avoid terms such as “robed Sangha” or “ordained Sangha,” which imply lay people can also be Sangha, and develop awareness of the importance of the continuation of the lineage of ordinations for the spreading of the Dharma.
Through our joint efforts, may the Sangha of the ten directions and particularly the Sangha of the FPMT flourish. May their activity, as well as all the practitioners’ works, at the service of our precious gurus for the benefit of all beings, be most favorable to the world