Can Monks read non dhamma books?

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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby Dan74 » Thu Apr 03, 2014 3:22 pm

daverupa wrote:
appicchato wrote:Really?...


It seems obviously inappropriate, of course. I just wanted to set up one end of the spectrum, so we could find a place where non-Dhamma books that didn't broach Dhamma themes were acceptable undertakings for monastics. This example doesn't seem to qualify as such a thing. Is there any fiction that does?

---

Surely some philosophy works or psychology works or certain works of history could all be put to good use, while a nonfiction book on ancient Mesopotamian economics probably couldn't be.


I don't know, Dave, how many monks do you know?

I suspect that even the best monastics are mostly still sentient beings and wish for some light amusement sometimes. Is it really so bad?
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby binocular » Thu Apr 03, 2014 4:11 pm

imagemarie wrote:I can't recall the reference, but in one of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's talks, he recommends

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sirens-Titan-Ku ... 556&sr=1-4

for it's ideas, which echo the dhamma. I'm grateful he did. It's a terrific book.

I know he mentions the book, but I'm not so sure he actually recommended it as a Dhamma book.


daverupa wrote:Maybe good literature always discusses existential themes, and this relatively similarity with aspects of dukkha is the key component. But if so, why is an echo to be preferred over a sutta? The words of artists and poets...

Exactly. It seems like a waste to spend time on books etc. that do broach existential topics, but which do not give useful insights and instructions as suttas do.
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby Aloka » Thu Apr 03, 2014 4:21 pm

Dan74 wrote:I don't know, Dave, how many monks do you know?

I suspect that even the best monastics are mostly still sentient beings and wish for some light amusement sometimes. Is it really so bad?


How many Theravada monks do you know yourself, Dan ? I thought you were a Zen practitioner...or has that changed now ?


.
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby binocular » Thu Apr 03, 2014 4:52 pm

Dan74 wrote:I suspect that even the best monastics are mostly still sentient beings and wish for some light amusement sometimes. Is it really so bad?

Journalists sometimes ask the Dalai Lama about how he manages to live without sex and whether he misses it and such.

Asking him such a question reveals they don't know much about his life and his practice. Worldly people tend to assume that celibacy is pretty much a matter of gritting one's teeth and bearing it.

And similarly, that renouncing any worldly pleasure is a matter of "gritting one's teeth and bearing it." They seem to be unable to envision that the desire for worldly pleasures at some point falls away, and that it requires no effort not to seek worldly pleasures anymore.


Dan74 wrote:I could equally say 'were these people but pointless fools who spent their lives scribbling nothing of use or interest to an enlightened personage like binocular?'

Oh-ho.

My dismay with worldy literature comes from my being repeatedly disappointed with it, despite investing high hopes in it. I still read books, watch films etc. with the hope to find The Revelation, The Insight in them. But repeatedly, I get let down.
I also get repeatedly let down by people who promote worldy literature. So far, they have not taught me how to enjoy literature, even though I have specifically asked them to do so. Googling "how to enjoy reading literature" gives plenty of results. But so far, all I have checked - and I have checked many - only give tips on how to go about the reading of books, none explain how to actually enjoy them. I won't go here into the dismissive replies I got from lovers of reading myself.

Moreover, there are new streams of thought on the ethics of reading as such, reflectingon topics such as whether it is ethical to devote oneself to others via reading as much as some popularizers of reading would have us do.
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Apr 03, 2014 5:36 pm

Personally I never liked reading fiction too much. I mostly read and continue to read nonfiction. For monks I suppose it could be some gray area. Most fiction books tend to have some inspiring character who overcomes some difficulties and attains some noble goal and good usually triumphs over evil. Most are pretty wholesome.

Ven. Dhammika when talking about reasons monks disrobe mentioned something like one-third due to difficulties dealing with lust, one-third over not handling the rigors of monasticism and one-third due to boredom. Reading books of any type might alleviate some of the boredom, while perhaps not being unwholesome either. There are plenty of worse things that some bad monks engage in.

Many lay people don't realize the typical life of a monk includes plenty of 'idle' time. Most monks do not meditate during all the non-pastoral duty times.
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby Mr Man » Thu Apr 03, 2014 5:38 pm

Perhaps the question should be "Can Monks read for recreational purposes", as possibly it is more about how we interact with the written word that makes the action skilful or non skilful.
What makes a book a "dhamma" book could possibly just be our own proclivities. The notion that a particular text is of a fundamentally higher value might possibly be a superstitious belief.
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby daverupa » Thu Apr 03, 2014 6:22 pm

Mr Man wrote:Perhaps the question should be "Can Monks read for recreational purposes"


The overarching topic seems to be about monastic recreation generally. There was another topic on this subject, to do with sports:

viewtopic.php?f=30&t=20225

---

As David said earlier, a large problem for monastics to deal with is boredom. So what about all this idle time that's given to them by design? I had thought bhavana under trees, in empty huts, else walking or reciting Dhamma or other trainings alongside whatever ecclesiastical duties - boredom is an influx, I'd have thought, not to be alleviated through kamaguna.

After all, that's why they leave the home life & take alms - to free up this time, clearing it of householder activities and other distracting obligations. To then shove recreation into these time slots seems... misguided.

Dan74 wrote:I suspect that even the best monastics are mostly still sentient beings and wish for some light amusement sometimes. Is it really so bad?


Is it sensual entertainments they seek? Yeah, that's hellish-bad.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Apr 03, 2014 6:41 pm

daverupa wrote:
---

As David said earlier, a large problem for monastics to deal with is boredom. So what about all this idle time that's given to them by design? I had thought bhavana under trees, in empty huts, else walking or reciting Dhamma or other trainings alongside whatever ecclesiastical duties - boredom is an influx, I'd have thought, not to be alleviated through kamaguna.
That is the ideal monk, of course.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby imagemarie » Thu Apr 03, 2014 8:32 pm

In Ajahn Sucitto's blog "Reflections: How Things Should Be and The Way It Is" :tongue: http://sucitto.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/h ... it-is.html, the venerable makes a didactic point by quoting from Jorge Luis Borges' story "The Immortal". Perhaps this is a book he remembers reading before becoming a monk. Perhaps he needed to revisit it, in order to make this specific reference.
I think it was well worth the "transgression" if indeed, he read the book, or part of it, again.


Binocular: I don't think I referred to "The Sirens of Titan" as a Dhamma Book. I used the word "echo", in the sense of "be reminiscent of or have shared characteristics with".

:anjali:
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby appicchato » Thu Apr 03, 2014 8:37 pm

...a large problem for monastics to deal with is boredom.


Mmm...perhaps a more accurate description might be 'for some (or even most) monastics'...also, one might postulate that those who do become, or are, bored have not (yet, or are unable to have) delved deeply enough into the program (practice) to be at ease, no matter the setting...adding to that the diverseness of human nature. It's not a stretch (personally speaking) to say that boredom (strictly speaking) is not, nor ever has been, in the dictionary...
Last edited by appicchato on Fri Apr 04, 2014 5:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby Coyote » Thu Apr 03, 2014 8:40 pm

binocular wrote:
imagemarie wrote:I can't recall the reference, but in one of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's talks, he recommends

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sirens-Titan-Ku ... 556&sr=1-4

for it's ideas, which echo the dhamma. I'm grateful he did. It's a terrific book.

I know he mentions the book, but I'm not so sure he actually recommended it as a Dhamma book.


He does recommend reading it. Something along the lines of "this should be on the dhamma 101 reading list" or something. Enjoy it for Kurt Vonnegut's writing if nothing else.
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby binocular » Fri Apr 04, 2014 8:37 am

daverupa wrote:After all, that's why they leave the home life & take alms - to free up this time, clearing it of householder activities and other distracting obligations. To then shove recreation into these time slots seems... misguided.

Exactly. Why go to the lenghts of being a monk, if what one actually wants is an easy, carefree life where one doesn't have to work for money?


tiltbillings wrote:That is the ideal monk, of course.

What else should a monk aspire to, if not to being an ideal monk?!


/.../
"That's the way it is, Kassapa. When beings are degenerating and the true Dhamma is disappearing, there are more training rules and yet fewer monks established in final gnosis. There is no disappearance of the true Dhamma as long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of the true Dhamma when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has arisen in the world. Just as there is no disappearance of gold as long as a counterfeit of gold has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of gold when a counterfeit of gold has arisen in the world, in the same way there is no disappearance of the true Dhamma as long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of the true Dhamma when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has arisen in the world.[1]

"It's not the earth property that makes the true Dhamma disappear. It's not the water property... the fire property... the wind property that makes the true Dhamma disappear.[2] It's worthless people who arise right here [within the Sangha] who make the true Dhamma disappear. The true Dhamma doesn't disappear the way a boat sinks all at once.

"These five downward-leading qualities tend to the confusion and disappearance of the true Dhamma. Which five? There is the case where the monks, nuns, male lay followers, & female lay followers live without respect, without deference, for the Teacher. They live without respect, without deference, for the Dhamma... for the Sangha... for the Training... for concentration. These are the five downward-leading qualities that tend to the confusion and disappearance of the true Dhamma.

"But these five qualities tend to the stability, the non-confusion, the non-disappearance of the true Dhamma. Which five? There is the case where the monks, nuns, male lay followers, & female lay followers live with respect, with deference, for the Teacher. They live with respect, with deference, for the Dhamma... for the Sangha... for the Training... for concentration. These are the five qualities that tend to the stability, the non-confusion, the non-disappearance of the true Dhamma."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby binocular » Fri Apr 04, 2014 8:50 am

Coyote wrote:He does recommend reading it. Something along the lines of "this should be on the dhamma 101 reading list" or something. Enjoy it for Kurt Vonnegut's writing if nothing else.

It's mentioned once here:

/.../
Why do we have to feed off one another all the time? Wouldn’t it be better if we could feed off inanimate objects or energies? If we could eat rocks or soil, if we could live off light waves or sound vibrations, nothing would be harmed. Like the harmoniums in The Sirens of Titan: We could just feed on vibrations and take pleasure in one another’s happiness. But that’s not how the world works.
/.../
http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writ ... tions5.pdf


And I think once in a longer talk at the IMC.

Ven. Thanissaro mentions several worldly books and authors in his talks. Off the top of my head - Malcolm Gladwell, François Bizot, Roy Baumeister, a book about Shackleton's expedition to the South Pole.
I'll listen in carefully in the future as to his recommendations and whether he recommends them as Dhamma books, or just as books that may be of general interest and use.

After all, "Star Wars" and "The Lord of the Rings" etc. make some good (preliminary) dhammic points too.

Enjoy it for Kurt Vonnegut's writing if nothing else.

Will you teach me to enjoy it?
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby Coyote » Fri Apr 04, 2014 9:34 am

binocular wrote:Will you teach me to enjoy it?


If you don't enjoy literature or science fiction then I don't think you will enjoy reading the book, and it would be pointless to try. There are much better things to read for dhamma IMO, like the suttas. I think the venerable recommended the book as a way to get book-readers to read and think about something vaguely dhamma related, to make a connection. As for enjoying the prose - I think that has to do with past conditions more than anything. Like enjoying any piece of art.
If you ever get into reading literature I would recommend Phillip Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials. It got me, a young reader, to think about the world in a different way. I think this is the benefit that some worldly books can give to those who are so inclined. I find it fascinating to explore an author's ideas through his/her works, even if they do not match up to my beliefs or experiences. But, each to their own.
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Apr 04, 2014 10:50 am

daverupa wrote:
Dan74 wrote:I suspect that even the best monastics are mostly still sentient beings and wish for some light amusement sometimes. Is it really so bad?


Is it sensual entertainments they seek? Yeah, that's hellish-bad.


Dave, on first reading this sounds like Buddhist fundamentalism to me. We are human beings, monks included, not some sort of plaster saints. I mean would you really judge a Venerable for reading Moby Dick or browsing through The Inferno?? I hope not.

Aloka wrote:
Dan74 wrote:I don't know, Dave, how many monks do you know?

I suspect that even the best monastics are mostly still sentient beings and wish for some light amusement sometimes. Is it really so bad?


How many Theravada monks do you know yourself, Dan ? I thought you were a Zen practitioner...or has that changed now ?


Aloka, I practice the Dharma/Dhamma, I hope, but yes, I tend to find the most affinity with the Zen/Seon/Chan traditions. That said I have known, brought dana to, driven around, a number of Theravada monks (and nuns) over the years, some quite well-known. They were all (as far as I could tell) exemplary monastics but then again, I would not begrudge them an hour of snuggling up in bed with a good novel. Maybe this is a result of my slack Mahayana morals, I don't know. :shrug:

Binocular, firstly I don't equate reading good books with 'seeking worldly pleasure'. Like I've tried hard to explain I see them as being very much in line with practice - understanding the human condition is essential if one is to attain liberation. And secondly, no I think most monks and nuns, even many of the very good ones, still enjoy many things and prefer a good meal to a bad one, enjoy a rest at the end of a long day and a beautiful view. Just because one ordains doesn't mean they stop being human, does it? I think there is a great disconnect whenever one tries very hard to be someone they are not. It just doesn't ring true. There is far less wrong with a little pleasure than with cruel puritanism foisted upon oneself and others, IMO. Best to pay attention and develop insight. The Buddha's is a gentle way, is it not?
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby Aloka » Fri Apr 04, 2014 11:18 am

Dan74 wrote:Dave, on first reading this sounds like Buddhist fundamentalism to me.


Huh ?

Dan74 wrote:Sometimes I am perplexed at this seemingly stark contrast between the standards we hold ourselves to as lay people and how quick we are to judge the Sangha.


What's the point of having an ordained sangha, if they behave exactly like lay people ?
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Apr 04, 2014 11:30 am

Aloka wrote:
Dan74 wrote:Sometimes I am perplexed at this seemingly stark contrast between the standards we hold ourselves to as lay people and how quick we are to judge the Sangha.


What's the point of having an ordained sangha, if they behave exactly like lay people ?


No point. But what's the point of judging them for reading a good book? Or expect them to engage 24/7 in strictly Dhammic activity??
_/|\_
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby Kare » Fri Apr 04, 2014 11:56 am

Dan74 wrote: But what's the point of ... expecting them to engage 24/7 in strictly Dhammic activity??


That is the job they signed in for and are paid for.

Every monk should study the Samaññaphalasutta, DN 2:

"Whereas some recluses and brahmins, while living on food offered by the faithful, indulge in the following games and recreations: ... he abstains from such games that are a basis for negligence."

The main point is not the details of the games and recreations, whether it is gaming, reading or whatever. The main point is that the monk is living on food offered by the faithful and therefore has an obligation to do the job he is paid for, and nothing else.

If he wants to do something else than strictly Dhammic activity, the honorable thing is to quit the job and derobe.

On the other hand, if he reads a non dhamma book not as entertainment, but for gaining a better understanding of world and the society outside the monastery, so that he may be better able to help people, I would regard that as a Dhammic activity not to be criticized.
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Apr 04, 2014 12:07 pm

Thanks, Kare!

So activities that may be conducive to practice are OK? What about activities that help the monastics general well-being, such as relaxing music? Or a joke-book? Or something creative and inspirational like what Ajahn Cagino does?



Kare wrote:
Dan74 wrote: But what's the point of ... expecting them to engage 24/7 in strictly Dhammic activity??


That is the job they signed in for and are paid for.


Is this a reasonable or realistic expectation to keep of the Sangha? And is this a reasonable or realistic expectation for the monastics to hold themselves to?

Is it a transgression to stop to listen to a bird on one's walk? How about to music played by a street musician? How about to a radio? Would this as a one-off unsolicited event be OK, but a regular passtime not OK? Would spending half an hour reading Dostoevsky after a day of practice, work, and serving the community, be acceptable? How about a game of chess with a computer?

There are several different environments I am thinking of. As a Forest monk, living in seclusion, as part of a monastic community with all the attendant duties and routine and as a monastic living among and serving the community, surrounded mostly by the lay people.

For me, this is purely an academic debate and I would not want to set strict and definite boundaries on what is and is not acceptable. Becoming a monastic obvously entails a great commitment but as will most such commitments sometimes they have a low point, sometimes a string may be too tight. Having a very rigid approach would be counterproductive, IMO, would it not?
_/|\_
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Re: Can Monks read non dhamma books?

Postby binocular » Fri Apr 04, 2014 12:37 pm

Coyote wrote:If you don't enjoy literature or science fiction then I don't think you will enjoy reading the book, and it would be pointless to try. There are much better things to read for dhamma IMO, like the suttas. I think the venerable recommended the book as a way to get book-readers to read and think about something vaguely dhamma related, to make a connection. As for enjoying the prose - I think that has to do with past conditions more than anything. Like enjoying any piece of art.
If you ever get into reading literature I would recommend Phillip Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials. It got me, a young reader, to think about the world in a different way. I think this is the benefit that some worldly books can give to those who are so inclined. I find it fascinating to explore an author's ideas through his/her works, even if they do not match up to my beliefs or experiences. But, each to their own.

I've been mystified by literature and by people's interest in literature and art in general ever since I can remember. It was one of the main reasons I even majored in literary studies in college. But I came away none the wiser.
The way some people rave about this or that work of art, the way they feel influenced by it, the way they praise it - I've never been able to do that. And of course, I have been made to feel a lot of guilt about it.
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