When ‘East’ meets ‘West’ (2)
Posted by phrajew บน กุมภาพันธ์ 9, 2007
Because this attitude toward life is deeply ingrained, then anyone who comes to the monastery also brings their own habit from the outside world. Their attitudes clearly influence the ways of running the monastery. While the Thai tradition tends to have a family-like administration, the
Western Sangha is more like an organization. Responsibilities in the Western context are delegated to make them more efficient. Here, at Chithurst monastery, there are guest monk/nun, work monk/nun, chore monk/nun, librarian monk/nun, et cetera. Everyone seems to have responsibilities in running the monastery in some ways regardless of how long they have been in the community.
Not only does each person have their own responsibility in different areas, but they also take it quite seriously. I have witnessed some occasions where people can be offended or get annoyed when someone goes beyond their own area of responsibility, even with a good intention like helping with another person’s chores. Recently I have been told about the discussion on writing a notice on the community white board. The person who is responsible for this job was offended when someone wrote additional information on the board without asking him. The discussion then arouse about what should be done when there is important information which had not been known or written. I believe that many Thais would not find this topic serious enough to be discussed. They would just be happy to help or to be helped by others. Merit can also be made in this case.
Apart from sharing of responsibilities, the
Western Sangha also adopts the democratic way in decision-making. Coming to the West for not more than six months, I have already attended more meetings than I had during my 11 years as a monk in
Thailand. There are a lot of management issues that have never been brought up for discussion in the Thai tradition. In
Thailand, most of the responsibilities lie with the abbot. The whole community can just let the Ajahn or the abbot decide and they then follow. My first five years had passed without having to make any decision in the Sangha at all. I did not even have to relate to any lay supporters. During that period, I quite enjoyed space and time to mainly focus on my meditation practice.
Although there are certain differences between the two Sanghas, it does not seem useful for me to judge which one is a better model. We have to take the larger cultural context into consideration. For almost 30 years of adjustment and experimenting, our Western branches of Ajahn Chah’s tradition have developed their ways of fitting into this cultural context and it is still an ongoing project. However, as Luang Por Sumedho has commented, we still have to see the Thai tradition as a prototype and learn from it – we cannot neglect the connection with the Thai Sangha. This strong connection between the East and the West will be fruitful in terms of Dhamma-Vinaya practice both for each individual and the community as a whole.
The real purpose of the Buddha in creating the Sangha is to mainly support growth in spiritual life. Reflecting on this means that, from time to time, we have to go back to see the basic needs of living a renunciate life and ask ourselves if we are still on the same track. Despite all differences in culture, those who come to join the Sangha share similar aspirations. In this holy life, there will always be a common ground where everyone can meet. The message of the Buddha goes beyond any boundaries, whether it is the ‘East’ or the ‘West’.