Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Discussion of ordination, the Vinaya and monastic life. How and where to ordain? Bhikkhuni ordination etc.
EmptyShadow
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Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by EmptyShadow »

Hi,
a while ago Birken Forest Monastery added option for donors to donate towards Endowment Fund and I was wandering if this is in line with the monastic code. From their site:
Birken Forest Buddhist Monastery is pleased to announce the establishment of an endowment fund which will allow stable support of the monastery into the future. The endowment fund, which is managed by Nicola Wealth (https://nicolawealth.com), will allow us to use modest interest earnings as a reliable source of ongoing funding. As in major endowment funds for universities, etc., the capital fund is to remain stable and increase while a certain percentage of earnings is used yearly. We welcome this form of stabilization to the uncertain and non-profit structures which the monastery relies on.
As I understand it, the donated money in the fund are invested by finacial institution(in this case Nicola Wealth) and the yearly interest is withdrawn and used by the monastery. If this is the case than who is actually making the merit, the donors of the initial fund or the institution that is using the fund to make profit for the monastery?

Personally I think that the abbot of the monastery, Ajahn Sona, is excelent abbot and meditation master and I dont think that he had any bad intentions about the fund or that he would intantionally break vinaya rules.

However the whole idea of endowment fund kinda feels like it breaks the direct relationship between donor and monastic and also it feels in a way that the monaster is getting involved indirectly in business(making money).
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by TRobinson465 »

This is a good question. Ill follow this thread cuz im curious about the answer too.
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SarathW
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by SarathW »

Monks are not the monastery. Monks do not own it. They just live there like the Christian church and the clergy.
So there is no Vinaya issue here.
However in Sri Lanka some monks own the properties!!
A monastery can act as a business venture if they wish.
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JamesTheGiant
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by JamesTheGiant »

EmptyShadow wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 1:04 am Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?
No. No rules are broken in this case.

Laypeople sometimes become outraged or concerned by things which are not a problem, not against vinaya.
48vows
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by 48vows »

It has happened that Buddhist organizations have been criticized for doing this sort of thing when it comes out that not all of the investments those firms make are wholesome
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by bhante dhamma »

Perhaps the reasoning was that as in the West there is less support so making such an arrangement makes for more financial security..? In any case I would agree that whilst it doesn't necessarily break any rules per se it does to a degree contravene the tradition of giving in person with ones own hand (sahattha) and direct contact with monastics, things which are reasonably important in th grand scheme of things, so I am inclined to thinking this is just Lokadhamma and somewhat against the spirit of renounciation. I wonder what #Ajahn Gavesako's/ Bhante Dhammanando's thoughts are on this matter?
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by SarathW »

48vows wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 3:50 am It has happened that Buddhist organizations have been criticized for doing this sort of thing when it comes out that not all of the investments those firms make are wholesome
This is why I always oppose the Vatican style organisations in Buddhist temples.
For instance Ajahan Braham's have series of temples controlled centrally. (I may be wrong)
I like to see autonomous temples rather than big franchise type temples because franchise temples are more prone to corruptions.
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala »

Merit is just another word for wholesome kamma. It is volition that the Buddha calls kamma.

If the investment fund manager is (most likely) motivated by greed, that will be their kamma.

Any dividends on the investment will be paid to the current account for the temple fund, which should be managed by lay supporters, or anagārikas who provide the monks' needs. They may buy food, shoes, or pay for journeys, or provide whatever the monks require that is allowable for monks.

Money is not allowed for monks, but by means of a kappiya fund allowable requisites can be provided. If the monks need a vehicle, the kappiya can buy them a vehicle. Either way, the donors make merit, and the kappiya makes merit, and no Vinaya rules are broken, as long as the right mode of speech is used (kappiya vohāra), e.g. “the monks need such and such kind of vehicle,” not “buy such and such kind of vehicle for the monks.”

When the Venerable Ānanda received a gift of 500 sets of robes from a king, some people blamed him for being greedy for accepting so much. When inquiries were made, the Venerable Ānanda explained how the new robes were given to those monks whose robes were worn, the worn robes were used as bed-sheets, the worn bed-sheets were used as floor rags, etc. It is the monks' duty to protect the donations given for their requisites, and to maximise the benefit for the donors.

Money left in a current account, or even a savings account, will just dwindle due to inflation. It is skilful to invest the funds to maximise benefits, without incurring significant risk. Investment fund managers will do a professional job (hopefully), but of course they will also cream off most of the profits for their own business.

I would be doubtful about trusting any bank or investment fund to invest the funds ethically. Some banks were accused of money-laundering; others lost huge sums in the sub-prime mortgage scam, and were bailed out by tax-payers. The managers made sure they got their bonuses.

Those who manage funds for the monks can decide how best to maximise the benefits for the donors. The monks can advise them about right livelihood.
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by BKh »

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 12:01 pm without incurring significant risk.
I agree with everything you said, but I think this point is the key (although in any case not a Vinaya issue). I once donated what was for me at the time a large amount to a monastery that I later found out was investing money they had saved. Because I got more involved with the monastery I happened to hear that, because of some down turn in the market, they had lost an amount much in excess of what I had donated. I felt sad about that, although I know it's not really the case that they gambled and lost my money.

But it wasn't in any way against the Vinaya. If you view investing in the stock market to be gambling (which I kind of do) then it may be against the Dhamma.

I know that in ancient times kings would donate the revenue of land to monasteries. Can't remember, though, how it falls in the Vinaya.
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala »

Trading is not gambling. Gambling is betting on the outcome of sports events, the play of cards, the throw of a dice, etc.

Trading in certain kinds of goods such as alcohol, weapons, poisons, etc., is a wrong livelihood. Investing in businesses that engage in wrong livelihood is also wrong livelihood. See the Vaṇijjā Sutta (Both are relevant here).

In my opinion, the first criterion for investing should be “Does this business work for the welfare of living-beings?” If the decision is motivated by greed, e.g. hoping for a large profit, then the kamma is one of greed, but it is still not the immoral deed of gambling. I think banks and investment funds are not motivated by any sense of philanthropy; they just wish to maximise profits, and will not hesitate to invest wherever it is legal to do so.

Investing in medicine, education, healthy food, clean water, sustainable energy, etc., that bring real benefits, then the kamma is one of kindness. The profit may be modest or great, but the motivation is primarily not to let donations be dissipated, while benefitting society in general.
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by SDC »

Isn’t it usually lay supporters who handle the management of finances at a monastery? Who usually own and manage the property?

Although I’m sure the abbot approved of the decision, the actions of these lay supporters doesn’t seem to have much to do with the conduct of any of the residents.

Correct me if I’m wrong here.
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by BKh »

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 1:47 pm Trading is not gambling. Gambling is betting on the outcome of sports events, the play of cards, the throw of a dice, etc.
I guess I see it as gambling on the market, not investing in a business. Once you are picking things like money market accounts, you really are making a decision on how much you want to risk and how great that risk will be. The more you risk and the greater the risk, the more you get/win. So for me it seems more like gambling. If there wasn't the chance to loose money (which I see as a key part of gambling) then things would be quite different. But people loose money all the time in playing the market. It's not as random as dice, but it's certainly as random as card games. Hence my gambling interpretation.

But if you thought of it as investing in a business (or in the case above, many different businesses) then I can see that. I wasn't really making a point about right livelihood in terms of the individual business being ok or not. Clearly investing in businesses engaged in things like weapons, for example, would be against the Dhamma.
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by dharmacorps »

It seems there is no basis for it breaking the vinaya, but there also seems to be no sufficient information for even considering the question because we don't know how the money is being utilized. For those reasons it seems a bit frivolous.
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by DNS »

It sounds like a good idea, imo. When there is an endowment, the principal is not touched, it is just the interest income that is used, as needed. Right now interest rates are near rock bottom, so maybe they might invest some of it in the market? If so, as long as it was only solid, good companies (little to no chance of going bankrupt) then that could provide more income and dividends. And then that way, the hope is that in the future, they would be mostly self-sufficient. That is, in case there was a period of little to no donations coming in, they could still survive and pay their utilities and other bills.
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Re: Is it breaking of Vinaya if a monastery set up an endowment fund?

Post by SarathW »

DNS wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 8:51 pm It sounds like a good idea, imo. When there is an endowment, the principal is not touched, it is just the interest income that is used, as needed. Right now interest rates are near rock bottom, so maybe they might invest some of it in the market? If so, as long as it was only solid, good companies (little to no chance of going bankrupt) then that could provide more income and dividends. And then that way, the hope is that in the future, they would be mostly self-sufficient. That is, in case there was a period of little to no donations coming in, they could still survive and pay their utilities and other bills.
Some times share market crash about 50%.
So you can lose 50% of your investment.
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