Are All In ‘Monastic’ Robes Beyond Question?

As featured in July 2017 issue of ‘For You Information’ (佛友资讯)

(An Answer With Eight Bodhisattva Precepts)

It is proper for you, Kalamas,
to doubt, to be uncertain. 
Uncertainty has arisen in you
about what is doubtful.

– Sakyamuni Buddha
  (Kalama Sutta)

There is a common misperception that no one wearing a Buddhist ‘monastic’ robe (as a ‘monk’ or ‘nun’) should ever be criticised; that doing so is ‘slander’. This is obviously a misconception, since anyone can put on a robe – including those out to deceive with their fake ‘monastic’ status. It is the responsibility of both monastic and lay Buddhists to disclose the unqualified, who mislead others (in)directly for reverence and all kinds of offerings. There should be complete enquiry for personally verifiable details of how the questionable were ordained, through which authentic monastics and organisations. If there is refusal for full disclosure beyond doubt, this is not beyond criticism – for protecting the integrity of the actual Sangha, lest it be defiled by liars. Ordination must be in accordance to the precepts taught by the Buddha or it would be fraudulent, invalid. The Dharma as taught by the Buddha is always the ultimate authority; not anyone else. The Buddha did warn that in this Dharma-Ending Age, there will be proliferation of bogus ‘monastics’, and wider disregard of the precepts. To let bogus ‘monastics’ go unchecked in terms of their status, conduct and teachings only allows them to multiply. 

A review of the relevant Bodhisattva Precepts in the Brahma Net Sutra (梵网经菩萨戒本) will let us know if any precept is broken by the active enquiry proposed. The Fourth Heavy Precept is against false speech (第四妄语戒). It is never false speech to sincerely enquire, without making any false accusations. Practising ‘Bodhisattvas must always give rise to right speech and right views, also giving rise to all sentient beings’ right speech and right views.’ (菩萨常生正语正见,亦生一切众生正语正见。) Investigative enquiry to seek right views for all is surely right speech. Those who do not enquire are the ones who might jump to false conclusions, who share non-truths instead. These are the ones who break this precept. Those who refuse to directly and clearly answer basic and fair questions about their ‘monastic’ status are also the ones likely to ‘give rise to all sentient beings’ evil speech, evil views and evil actions’ (起一切众生邪语邪见邪业) when teaching them. While breaking this precept, they perpetuate false speech with their ongoing misrepresentation. How can liars who keep breaking even the basic Fourth Precept which upholds truthfulness guide anyone to the truth?

The Sixth Heavy Precept is against speaking of the four assemblies’ misgivings (第六说四众过戒), to prevent negative image of Buddhism from spreading. These assemblies include monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen Bodhisattvas (出家在家菩萨、比丘比丘尼). However, if one merely pretends to be one of the above, one does not belong to the four assemblies at all. One who impersonates a ‘monastic’ by wearing ‘monastic’ robes is neither a true monastic nor a true layperson; but a liar who slanders the four assemblies. All within these assemblies should uphold their respective status accordingly, never muddling them up. Those who understand this should ‘always give rise to the heart of loving-kindness, to teach and transform this grade of evil people [who break this precept].’ (常生慈心,教化是恶人辈) Those truly of this grade however, might refuse to repent despite kind admonitions for their own good, while they do not care to uphold the pure image of Buddhism.

The Seventh Heavy Precept is against personal praise with defamation (or slander) of others (第七自赞毁他戒), which is to cultivate humility and of course, to avoid false, hateful and harmful speech to others. Again, the proper questioning of one’s ‘monastic’ status is not defamation, while abuse of ‘monastic’ status for personal advantage is against this precept, as this uses the status for ‘personal praise’, while defaming the actual monastic community. Lifelong impersonation as ‘monastics’ is a serious offence, that entails constant lying about status and constant ‘stealing’ of undeserved offerings from laity in cash and kind, even if gladly given by blind followers who think they are offering to genuine monastics. Even genuine ones should be mindful to be deserving of offerings.

The Ninth Heavy Precept is against the hateful mind that does not accept repentance (第九瞋心不受悔戒), that ‘with harsh speech scolds and dishonours.’ (以恶口骂辱) Yet again, polite enquiring of one’s ‘monastic’ status needs not be harsh scolding, though it can be firm and determined. This precept also instructs not to, if ‘predecessors [who did wrong] seek repentance, with good words, remorse and apology, yet still be with anger that is not resolved.’ (前人求悔,善言忏谢,犹瞋不解). While there is never need to bear any grudge, it is technically impossible to ‘forgive’ those who are not at all repentant. The unrepentant ones however, are those likely to bear grudges, to be unforgiving towards those who question them, even if what asked was justified. They are the ones who break this precept in spirit. This can be expressed through passive aggressive threat of the negative karmic consequences of slandering the Sangha, though they are not of the Sangha at all, being the ones slandering the Sangha with their continual unrepentant misrepresentation.          

The Tenth Heavy Precept is against the slander of the Triple Gem of the Buddha(s), Dharma and Sangha (第十谤三宝戒). This is often misunderstood and misrepresented by bogus ‘monastics’ to mean that anyone who merely appears to be a ‘monastic’ is part of the Triple Gem as the Sangha, and thus should be above all criticism. One who is not properly ordained in accordance to the Buddha’s teachings is not a Sangha member at all. Such a person who insists being of the Sangha slanders the Triple Gem instead. The precept also states that ‘Bodhisattvas who see external paths and evil persons, [hearing] the sound of one [spoken] sentence slandering the Buddha [from them], this is like three hundred spears piercing their hearts. Moreover, how can they with their mouths personally slander [the Triple Gem]?’ (菩萨见外道及以恶人,一言谤佛音声,如三百矛刺心;况口自谤?) Obviously, those who slander the Triple Gem have no qualms about slandering it, thus breaking this precept, while those who question potential slanderers observe this precept in spirit.

The Fifth Secondary Precept is against not teaching (those who break the precepts) to repent for their transgressions (第五不教悔罪戒). It says, if ‘seeing all sentient beings… of all violating the precepts with transgressions, they should be taught to repent…. If not raising the transgression [to be addressed], not teaching repentance, this violates [this precept]… [to be a] transgression.’ (见一切众生… 一切犯戒罪,应教忏悔。… 不举其罪,不教悔过者,犯… 罪。) This means it is a Bodhisattva practice to censure and correct those who break the precepts. Not doing so breaks this precept, going against the Bodhisattva ideal of protecting all beings from evil, including precept-breakers and those harmed by them. Not only does this precept instruct not to turn a blind eye to others who are supposed to observe the precepts well, it instructs to kindly keep an eye on one another. After all, the four assemblies should safeguard one another. Clearly, this precept means no one is above criticism. Even the Buddha welcomes enquiries about his enlightened status, conduct and teachings. No one is above the Buddha, especially not potentially bogus ‘monastics’ who evade reasonable questions about their status, who instead suggest questioners to be troublemakers.

The Sixteenth Secondary Precept is against for (personal) benefits invertedly saying (the Dharma) (第十六为利倒说戒). This is against ‘for gain [such as reverence and various offerings], for what should be answered not answering; invertedly saying the Sutras’ and Vinaya’s [i.e. precepts’ meanings of their] words [wrongly and incompletely], without beginning and without end, slandering the Triple Gem.’ (为利养故,应答不答;倒说经律文字,无前无后,谤三宝说者) Thus, refusing to answer simple questions on one’s ‘monastic’ status, and even possibly misportraying the Dharma and precepts to gain followers’ trust on their status, conduct and teachings would break this precept, by essentially slandering the Triple Gem with its name and form. What grave hell-bound misgivings!

The Eighteenth Secondary Precept is against those without understanding (of the Dharma, including the precepts) becoming teachers (第十八无解作师戒). It describes those who do ‘not understand one sentence or one verse [of the Dharma], and the discipline of precepts’ causes and conditions, who cheat by saying they are able to understand them, thus to themselves cheating and deceiving, also cheating and deceiving others… yet for others becoming teachers, transmitting precepts.’ (不解一句一偈,及戒律因缘,诈言能解者,即为自欺诳,亦欺诳他人… 而为他人作师授戒) Bogus ‘monastics’, being bogus, do not understand details of the Dharma, especially that of the precepts. This is so as if they understand them clearly, including the causes and effects of breaking precepts, they would not be bogus ‘monastics’ in the first place, what more continually neglecting their moral integrity. As long as their followers are not familiar enough with the Dharma, including the teachings as mentioned, they are likely to remain cheated and deceived, without knowing this is happening. 

True Buddhists, be they monastics or laity, are those who abide by the precepts; not those who go against them. We should never follow unrepentant liars who reveal only lies or half-truths about their identities as ‘qualified’ teachers, for how can constant precept-breakers even teach about foundational teachings on the precepts well? Without one’s respect for truth, the ultimate truth will never be completely realised by one. As the Buddha warned in the Itivuttaka (Verse 25), ‘The person who lies, who transgress in this one thing, transcending [karmic] concern for the world beyond [in the next life], there is no evil [s]he might not do [as all evils beyond lying can eventually be done, and simply lied about to be concealed].’ Teachers whom we can directly ask good questions for good answers are likelier to be trustworthy, while evasive ones should be cautioned against.

As bogus ‘monastics’ are often beyond the jurisdiction of actual monastic communities for disrobing and other forms of discipline, it is up to the whole Buddhist community to look out, and to expose them to the masses. Especially suspicious are those who seem to pop up rather suddenly as ‘monastics’ to teach and solicit funds, claiming to have ordained overseas through other monastics who are unknown or little known. They might live by themselves, without a proper Sangha community for group cultivation, or teachers for actively learning from. Formal documents traceable to actual Buddhist temples or centres, where they are supposedly ordained should be checked for. As even these can be forged, there should be contactable persons for full details. Out of compassion for the liars, they should be stopped from creating more negative karma for themselves. Out of compassion for those lied to, this should be shared with them too.

It is not due to respect for the robes
that those wearing them cannot be questioned.
It is due to respect for the robes,
that those wearing them must be worthy.

– Sisyhusian

Related Articles:

Can Buddhist Monastics Change To Lay Clothes?
Safeguarding The Buddhist Community’s Integrity
Who Is A True Sangha Member?
Can Females Reordain As Buddhist Nuns?
Do You Protect Or Endanger The Great Lion?

How You Can Protect The Triple Gem
What Should We (Not) Offer Monastics?
Importance Of Truthfulness As Right Speech
You’re Not A Monk… You’re A Fake
Dharma Protection Fellowship

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