Advice for Monks and Nuns

By Lama Thubten Yeshe, By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
various locations (Archive #233)

In these talks, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche explain the great benefits of practicing Dharma as an ordained person, the purpose of the monastic community, and much more. The necessity for the lay community to support the Sangha is also made clear, and not only monks and nuns but lay practitioners, too, will gain much by reading this booklet.

This title is out of stock but you can find links here to audiobook, ebook and print-on-demand versions.

Chapter Two: The Advantages of Monastic Life (Part I) - Lama Yeshe

I want to say a few words to the Western monks and nuns gathered here today.

Somehow, we are very fortunate. Trying to live according to Lord Buddha's vinaya rules as best we can, even for a day or a month, we are extremely fortunate. It's good enough.

These days the world is degenerating rapidly into impurity, aggression, and the grasping at resources, leading people into a state of tremendous anxiety. Though we are monks and nuns, we cannot ignore what is happening in the world. Newspapers and magazines are full of this information; even so far up here in the mountains, we still feel that negative vibration.

Therefore, we have good reason to be proud of our ordination. We should be proud, rather than think, "I'm a monk — I'm so useless, so lonely," "I'm a nun—I'm so useless, so lonely." Instead of repeating that mantra, you should feel proud of what you are.

Also, I'm very satisfied with the way this Dharma Celebration we're holding has gone. When you consider that most 20th century Westerners are living simply to grasp at sense pleasures, it is like a dream that more than 100 Western monks and nuns can come together at an event like this. Remember how His Holiness Ling Rinpoche told us in Bodhgaya that although tourists had been going there for a long time, our gathering was a historic occasion; never before had Westerners come there together to live and practice according to the Buddhist way of life. So we are very, very fortunate. You should be very happy. Living purely by the vinaya rules even for a day is very rare; your doing so is good enough for me.

How and why the IMI started

I'd like to recount a little of the history of the International Mahayana Institute. Some people had doubts when I called this organization the "International Mahayana Institute": they didn't like the name. I don't care! Who cares whether some like it and others don't — that's just the dualistic mind at work. Without an object of hatred, there's no desire. But I came up with this name because the words mean something. The members of our Sangha come from all over the world, so we are truly international; the Buddhism we practice is Mahayana; and since we're an educational phenomenon, I called it an institute: International Mahayana Institute.

Why form such an institute? Why shouldn't our international monks and nuns just go to the mountains and live like Milarepa? Why do we need an organization? Well, take this Dharma Celebration, for example: how many people did it take to organize it? Without organization, how could this Enlightened Experience Celebration have happened? That's my answer. Even two people living together as a couple need to organize their lives. We do need organization. Some hippies reject organization—that is stupid; they don't understand. They can't organize even their own lives, let alone do something that benefits so many others.

So why did I create this institute? Because I felt that according to the vinaya rules, it was my responsibility to do so. Our Sangha members started their Dharma studies with lam-rim; this gave them some understanding of the nature of samsara, the benefits of renunciation, and the best way to practice. Through their own experience they were enthusiastic about getting ordained. So I said yes. But, you know, for me to say yes is easy; I can ordain anybody any day just by reciting the words of the ordination ceremony, "Blah, blah, blah." But ordaining someone is more than just a day's work. Lord Buddha said that you have to take care of your Sangha. But how do you take care of the Sangha? I'm just a stupid Himalayan monk with neither worldly nor organizational experience. I was never even a manager in Sera Monastery. I was just a simple monk. All I did was study and serve and cook for my teacher. When I checked out what needed to be done, it appeared difficult for me to take responsibility for what has now become almost 100 monks and nuns. This process led me to conclude that if I created a Sangha community organization, its members would help each other.

We need security. We're what Tibetans call "white crows." Tibetans consider that Westerners becoming monks and nuns is as impossible as a crow's being white. As far as society is concerned, we're outcasts. Our pink faces show that we're not part of Tibetan society, and because of our renounced attitude, we're outcasts from Western society as well. They think we're Hare Krishnas. Not that I'm putting Hare Krishnas down, but people reject us because that's what they think we are. So I felt that we needed the security of creating our own category so that we could exercise our own reality. Therefore, about eight years ago I formed this organization.

Since then we've been growing by about five or ten monks and nuns every year. We originally established the organization in Kathmandu, at Kopan, and in my view the monks and nuns who stayed there were successful. They studied lam-rim, they learned some rituals. But after some time the government changed the visa laws so that it became impossibly expensive for them to stay there. So I thought, well, that's okay; it's no big deal. They are Westerners, not Nepalis; it would be stupid for them to think of spending their entire lives in Nepal, in the Third World. Still, they had renounced the comfort of this life, which is a very good thing. So, I thought deeply about what to do.

It took a long time to establish Nalanda in France, our first Western monastery. It wasn't easy. In the West you have to get involved with dollars. Without money, you can't buy land. Fortunately, one devoted student offered us the property in Lavaur, so finally we now have a place that offers us the opportunity to lead a monastic life and to take care of each other. We do need that.

We have renounced comfort to a certain extent, but we still have our problems; we have not yet eliminated the three poisons. We're not buddhas; we're not arhats. We need to take care of each other emotionally. It's difficult for lay people to do this for us. If monks cry, lay people don't understand: "This monk is supposed to have renounced samsara, now he's crying for it?" But other monks and nuns do understand and can comfort each other, can be warm to each other: "Oh, don't cry. Yes, today's a little cloudy, but it will clear up tomorrow."

There are many differences between lay people and those who are ordained. Their lifestyles are different; their thinking is different; their responsibilities are different. But up until now, just a few of the older monks and nuns have been dedicated to organizing food, clothing, shelter, transport between Nepal and India, and retreat and teaching facilities in order to keep our Sangha community together. Newer monks and nuns can't appreciate how hard we have worked; the old ones know. We have tried our best; we have a long history.

We reached a certain point where there were so many of us without income that it was almost impossible to go on. Still, we tried to take care of everybody. Some Sangha had their own money, and they shared it with others. I was happy to see them doing that. But these days we're scattered all over the world; we don't have our own home, so economically it's difficult to share our limited resources to help each other. In the future, when Nalanda Monastery is more firmly established, I hope that everybody will share in order to help each other.

I cannot organize all this myself. I have a vision of what needs to be done, but I can't take a needle and thread and sew all your robes myself; I cannot do all these everyday tasks. You people need to get organized to help each other. This is very necessary. You see, monks and nuns need education. How can we offer them a good education if we don't get organized? You can see how difficult it will be.

Anyway, that's a short history of how we started.

What it means to be a monk or nun      

Let's talk about how, at the beginning, you should become a monk or nun, or what it means to be a monk or nun. Permitting Westerners to become monks and nuns is not a job to take lightly. Nor is it good to ordain people too easily. We have learned a lot from the experience of the past eight years.

First of all, if your parents are still your guardians or if you have a good relationship with them, you need their permission to become a monk or nun. They should be happy about your decision. This is important; we've had some experience with this. Some people got ordained without their parents' permission, but then later, their negative mind arose. You know, the negative mind, the ego, always likes to rationalize—"Well now, my mother never really liked me being ordained, so I think I'd better give back my robes for her sake."

I know. I've had this experience. I say, "Okay, good." I am not that stupid. If you really want to keep your ordination, who cares what your samsaric mother thinks? Your samsaric mother is stupid, too; full of ignorance, full of desire, full of hatred. Who cares? Lord Buddha himself said that if you are not strong, if you are weak, you need your parents' permission, but if you are totally convinced that what you are doing is right, then you don't. I tell you, our parents are just as stupid as we are. We call our country of birth "the nest of samsara."

It's true. I look at my own situation. When I lived in Tibet, my uncle took care of me. Parents mean well, but giving you food, clothes, and money with samsaric mind, worrying about your reputation—I'm sorry, it's not sufficient. So, what I am saying is, if you are strong enough, you don't need your parents' permission. Shakyamuni Buddha is a good example. Who gave him permission to leave home, to leave his kingdom? Nobody. He had hundreds of wives grasping at him; there's no way they would have given him permission to go lead an ascetic life.

Many Westerners want to become monks or nuns simply because, "I hate society; I hate my parents' way of life—there's no alternative, I have to do it. Anyway, it seems that monks and nuns have an easy life, so I think I'll get ordained." That is wrong. Lord Buddha said it's wrong to become a monk or nun just to simplify your life in the sense that you don't have to worry about getting food or clothing or worry about some husband or wife. That is not the connotation of the pratimoksha. Prati means individual; moksha means liberation, or nirvana. It implies that we should understand our own personal samsaric situation and feel dissatisfied with that, not with the external object of society. If this understanding really touches your heart and you become a monk or nun on this basis, your ordination is a truly renounced one.

I tell you, if you become a monk or nun out of bad motivation, you will never succeed. Correct motivation is the most important thing.

Why did you get ordained?      

The way you get ordained, though, is good, in that you are old enough to decide for yourselves. Westerners becoming monks and nuns after the age of 20 is better than the way we Tibetans do it. I was just a stupid six-year-old boy when I decided to become a monk. Not so smart; I lost the chance to enjoy many of life's experiences! All of you have seen the sense world, you've had enough male-female relationships, you've experienced most of what worldly life has to offer, and you've reached a certain point where you think, "I want to make my life more easy-going instead of always being in conflict with and hurting others in human relationships." This is actually a better, more Dharma way of getting ordained.

The Tibetan way is sometimes culturally determined. Of course, Tibetan culture has its good aspects and its bad; I can't say Tibetan culture is all good. It also develops the samsaric, egotistical mind. Therefore, it is the responsibility of your preceptor—lama, geshe, yogi, yogini, whoever it is—to ensure that in your heart you have the right motivation for getting ordained.

Sometimes people are driven by neurotic, emotional feelings: "Oh, the lam-rim says that renunciation is the best way to practice! Hey, let's go! I want to be just like Milarepa!" This often happened in Tibet. It was common—many of us were like that. For example, monks from the colleges would go to hear some high lama teach the lam-rim, where he would explain how fantastic Milarepa was, or how Lama Tsongkhapa renounced the world. Many of them would then run off from college and go up into the mountains to lead ascetic lives. But of course, after a few days, most of them would come back down!

That's just emotional. Westerners, too, get excited: "Oh, becoming a monk, becoming a nun, what a good idea!" Becoming a monk or nun is not just a good idea! Actually, the life of a monk or nun is quite difficult. Lay people should have compassion for us! It's true! Tibetan lay people have compassion for the Sangha, or at least, they used to—I'm not sure if they still do. Perhaps these days they have given up on monks and nuns. Anyway, just having an emotional feeling is not enough.

Pratimoksha means renounced ordination. Renunciation means that somehow you have the strength to really comprehend that all worldly pleasures, whatever they are, are not for you. If you feel that something totally incompatible with Sangha behavior is actually wonderful, your life as a monk or nun will be very difficult indeed. If, however, you have a good understanding of the universal samsaric situation, true renunciation will come to you very easily. Therefore, before getting ordained, you should receive perfect, detailed explanations of the nature of samsara and liberation, and what renunciation really means. Attitude makes a big difference—a big difference. When you have a renounced attitude, all your superstitious tendencies are somehow dispelled. Psychologically, having no more expectations makes all the difference.

Sometimes I tell people wanting to get ordained to wait for a couple of years. I think this is good. Live as a monk or nun for a while, and then we can see about ordaining you. Some people have criticized me for this, but what to do? I think it's important for some people to live as monks or nuns for a couple of years without carrying the heavy burden of ordination. Some have done this and after two years have still wanted to become monks and nuns. This is fantastic. There is some significance.

I have also told some people to renounce worldly life, wear robes, and live as Sangha. In Tibetan we call this nyam-par nam-sum: live as a monk or nun, listen to the abbot's advice, and don't behave loosely, like lay people do—these three. It is so easy; we have these three simple conditions. You live like that for a while, until you reach the point where you are sure that this is the way you want to live the rest of your life. Then you can take the actual 36 novice vows. This is an easy way to develop a good understanding of what it's like to be ordained: there's no pressure, you have nothing to lose, it is flexible. I think it's a good idea. In summary, one should not become a monk or nun too easily.

Then, when you become ordained, it is very important for you to receive a detailed explanation of the vows.

The relationship with your abbot     

What about your relationship with your abbot? According to the vinaya, the person who ordains you becomes your abbot. He becomes responsible for you in the way that a father is responsible for the welfare of his daughter or son; it's that kind of relationship. Do you remember what was explained to you when you were ordained? It's important; it's no joke. As I said before, giving ordination is easy: "Blah, blah, blah.okay, now you're a monk or nun, goodbye!" One hour and it's all over. That's easy. But Lord Buddha said, "No! You have to maintain a strong relationship with your abbot. Whatever important question comes up, I want you to ask him if it's right or wrong." That way you take care of each other.

These days, somehow it's difficult for 20th century monks and nuns to sustain a strong relationship with their abbots. They split with their parents, they split with their gurus, they split with their abbot. Some kind of revolutionary lifestyle. Older monks, however, know that being close to their vinaya abbot has great significance, that it really means something, that it is very important.

Don't think, "I'm an individualist, I can do what I like." Yes, you can do whatever you like. Nobody's pushing you, but if you make a commitment, if you choose a lifestyle that has certain goals, you need many interdependent phenomena to develop in that direction, to help you reach that point.

Western lifestyle gives you so much freedom, but it also encourages you to develop a strong individualistic ego. So generally, you just do whatever your ego tells you to do. And if you don't do what your ego says, you feel frustrated. We have to change that attitude.

When you get ordained, you have to trust that your abbot can give you energy, guide you, help you. You should have confidence that your abbot won't give you bad advice and lead you into some disastrous situation. Therefore, you should build a good connection with your abbot based on the right understanding that he can help you until you are liberated. Do not let your strong individualistic ego rule you; instead, develop a good relationship with your teacher and your Dharma brothers and sisters. They are the resources from which your Dharma wisdom grows.

What to do after you've been ordained

After ordination, you must act according to the vinaya rules as much as you possibly can. That is your responsibility. Getting ordained is easy; it takes less than a day. The difficulty lies in keeping going; that's where the hardships are.

You need to study the vinaya rules in detail. For example, as you may remember, the act of killing has four branches: motivation, object, action, and completion. To completely break the vow of not killing, all four branches need to be involved. Even if you do something that breaks a vow, if one of these four aspects is missing from the action, you are not completely negative; the vow has been only partially broken.

It is important to know these things. Many times Westerners cry that they've lost their ordination. But when I check up, they haven't lost it. They may have broken something—this is my experience—they may have broken a vow in a small way, but they have not broken it completely. Vows are broken by degrees. You have to study these things clean-clear—then you know how to keep your ordination.

Since we are beginners, we sometimes break vows, but there's a way to confess such breaks. There are also degrees of confession and different ways of confessing. Usually we conduct formal confession ceremonies [so-jong] twice a month. It's good to attend those. Participating in so-jong is enough to purify the great accumulation of negativity from having broken precepts.

Vinaya rules can change

Remember that vinaya rules can change with the times. As our culture changes, the vinaya rules themselves can also change. Lord Buddha himself said this. Study the vinaya in detail. This doesn't mean that these days you can kill—it doesn't mean that.

For example, Western women's use of perfume is commonplace; it's nothing special, no big deal. But in Tibet and other Third World countries, when a woman puts on perfume, it is something special—people think there's something going in her mind. In the West, it's nothing: both men and women use perfume. It's almost obligatory! So you have to take into account such cultural differences, too.

Reinforcing your ordination with meditation

You have to understand the vows more deeply than just being able to enumerate them. In my opinion, keeping vows in a monastery in the East is easy. But in the West, even knowing intellectually clean-clear all the details of the vows is not enough. Westerners need to reinforce their intellectual understanding with meditation; otherwise, it is impossible for them to keep their ordination. The environment is too overwhelming. It's telling you, "Do this, do that; if you don't, you're stupid. If you don't grasp at Coca-Cola, you're stupid." I'm exaggerating a little, but the impact of these influences is so strong, so strong. I really feel grateful that there are some Westerners who are trying to keep their ordinations pure. To live in the West and do this you have to be strong inside. Otherwise, it's not possible.

In the West, some people think you're almost a criminal if you're ordained: "The man next door is very strange; he lives alone, no wife or children. He must be sick." That is the popular understanding, the reality of your culture. As a result, Westerners need to expend tremendous energy to keep their ordinations. Life in the West is not easy. That's why it is not an easy job for Tibetan monks to go to the West either.

Of course, we have centers all over the world, and if you live in one, it's almost like living in a monastery. That's different. In that small world you may be able to preserve your ordination. But where it gets difficult is when you go out from the center.

Therefore, as monks and nuns you should put as much energy as you can into meditating every day. This will generate some internal satisfaction and enable you to avoid the stress of breaking vows. Without meditation, it's just not possible.

Creating a conducive environment

One's environment must be conducive. We put a lot of energy into protecting our monks and nuns, into helping them keep their ordination. We do, we really do. In our centers, we try to create separate quarters for the Sangha. We have tried in many different ways, but so far it has not often been economically feasible. But now, with the creation of Nalanda Monastery in France, I hope we'll be able to live the monastic life we desire and thereby be able to develop our internal world quickly. So really, I strongly advise all of you to live the monastic life as much as you possibly can, until you have the internal strength to withstand the pressures of the outside world. Otherwise, it will be very, very difficult.

Remember what Vasubandhu said in his Abhidharmakosha? One of the factors that causes delusions to explode within you is the object: the object makes you deluded. Your mind is like a mirror—it reflects objects, superstitions are produced, delusions arise, resulting in deluded actions. Therefore, the environment is very important. So we should do something about it now. I would like all of you, for the benefit of the majority, for yourselves and others, to live a monastic life. You should give priority to that; it is so worthwhile. Of course, we each have different skills—some people can do certain things, others can't—so there can be exceptions. For example, some may be able to lead an ascetic life in retreat; that would be an exception.

At the very least, monks and nuns should receive a basic education; in other words, teachings on the lam-rim. Without the lam-rim, monks and nuns will be disasters. You need to practice lam-rim meditation in order to grow. However, in the West, where people can be so intellectual, knowing the lam-rim alone may not be enough. You also need to understand the philosophical basis of your Dharma knowledge in order to prove your points with reasoning and logic.

Monastic rules

Besides following the vinaya rules, you must also observe the internal rules of the monastery. These are related to the vinaya but are not vows as such. For example, if you don't attend morning puja, you are not breaking a vow, but still, you are breaking a Sangha community rule, so it's not so good. If you are sick, or if you have lung, an exception can be made. You can go to the gekö and explain that you are not well and ask permission to skip the puja. Lord Buddha always took care of the sick; that's an exception. But if you don't have lung or some physical illness, not participating is very bad, very bad. Actually, I tell you, it means you have no compassion.

Look at thangkas of what we call the rig-sum gom-po [Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, and Vajrapani]: sometimes Avalokiteshvara is in the center and below him, like servants or disciples, are Manjushri and Vajrapani. In other representations you'll see Manjushri or Vajrapani in the middle and the other two below. This has great significance. Manjushri is the embodiment of enlightened wisdom, but sometimes he acts as Avalokiteshvara's disciple. He doesn't do this for his own benefit but for that of others. We should be prepared to do the same thing.

Shakyamuni Buddha himself is another good example of what I'm saying. When he came into this world as the son of a king, he was already enlightened. He didn't need the worldly hassles of samsaric royalty and hundreds of wives. Do you think he needed all that hassle? No, of course he didn't. He was beyond hassles, but nevertheless, he manifested in that way for the benefit of others. Similarly, even if you have supreme knowledge of sutra and tantra, even if you're an arya being or even Manjushri himself, in order to benefit the Sangha community, for the good of the majority, you should participate in their activities as much as you can. If you are busy with some Dharma work or are sick, as I mentioned before, an exception can be made; just ask permission. In that case, you should not feel guilty. Everybody will understand.

Theoretically, I should tell you that monks and nuns should get up early in the morning, but I can't really push you on this because I don't get up early myself! I'm a bad example! Well, it depends on what time you go to bed. My nature is not to go to bed early, so I get up late. I'm a bad example, so don't follow that. It's not so good, but I learned it from you people! But really, I strongly encourage you to go to bed early and get up early. Don't go to bed at 12:30 or 1:00 in the morning; 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., certainly before midnight, is much better. Then you can get up at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning and do your practice, pray and meditate.

Many of my Sangha seem to be just like Tibetans, although I don't really know where this Tibetan trip comes from. It's not my trip; I don't know who set that example. They don't do their prayers and commitments in the morning, they just hang about distractedly all day. Then at midnight, they suddenly freak out, pull out their books, and finally get down to doing their commitments. They put their pechas on their knees in front of them, but as soon as they start reciting, they nod off. Then they wake up and continue for a while until they fall asleep again. Then they wake up again and find their book on the floor, so they have to start over. It takes a couple of hours just to do three pages! Then it's 3:00 a.m. and they do a few more lines and fall asleep once again. It goes on like this until the sun comes up. Then they just give up and go to sleep until lunch time. That Tibetan trip is not so good. I don't know who taught them that. It's better to sleep soundly; sleep helps you. At least at that time your mind is tranquil and peaceful because your gross mind is absorbed. Then you awaken clean-clear, physically and mentally rested, and healthy.

I am saying that when you do your prayers, you should do them with full concentration and good motivation instead of just reciting your mantras mindlessly, "Blah, blah, blah.okay, finished!" Then your sleep becomes so comfortable, so clean-clear. This is much better than the other way.

Each day in your life is so important. Your entire life is made up of these days, one after another. Therefore, you should organize your life: "When I get up I'm going to do this, then next I'll do this, then this, this, this..." You should organize yourself. Then your life becomes useful, and you don't waste your time.

If you make a program for your life, you'll see clearly how you waste your time. For example, the two hours you spend talking nonsense with your friends benefits neither yourself nor others. If you don't make a program, you don't realize how much time you are wasting. So, make a general program, and within that a more detailed schedule. It's up to you; you can be flexible. But somehow, you should organize every day of your life. It's very useful. When you do this, you should also make sure that you balance your activities: your intellect, your emotions, and your practical application.

Organizing a balanced day is very important. If you don't put one day together, then two days are not together, one month is not together, one year is not together, and you finish up wasting your entire life. That is why we need to organize our lives. And that's where the monastery comes in. You don't realize it yet, but monastic life gives us a schedule for our daily lives. We should be very grateful for that, I tell you. When I went to the monastery, the rules made me get myself together in a way that I could never have done alone. Monasteries are very, very useful.

You can't imagine how much we human beings can accomplish; it's unbelievable. We can do so much but sometimes are unaware of our own ability. When you put yourself into a situation that brings out the best in you, you can surprise yourself: "Incredible! I can do that!" After you've been in such a situation for some time, when you look back at what you have done, you feel so good, so very proud of yourself. If you check what happens when you're in a place where there are no rules, you can see what a disastrous effect it has on your mind. That gives you a new appreciation of monastic discipline.

Monastic rules are very important, extremely important. For example, now, here, at this Dharma Celebration, you monks and nuns are living a monastic life: how do you feel? Is it beneficial or not? Do you feel that your attitude has changed or not? Has it made your life easier? I think the answer to these questions is, yes. It is definitely true: we are supporting each other. And that's exactly what the lam-rim teaches: all our knowledge, our reputation, our goodness comes from mother sentient beings, from other people. You can see that this is scientifically true. It's not some kind of metaphysical gobbledygook. It is so important for us to support each other.

You should, however, expect to find some rules in the monastery that were not laid down by Lord Buddha himself. These are necessary because of the local environment. You should accept them, instead of negating them, "Oh, Lord Buddha never made that rule. Why do you say I can't do that?"

First of all, without realizing it, you have already accepted in principle the existence of such rules. For example, the long Tibetan zen that we wear. Lord Buddha didn't say anything about monks wearing long zens, but you accept them automatically. Long zens are from Tibetan culture. Lord Buddha explained in detail how the teaching robe, the ch”-g”, should be, but I never saw anything in the vinaya about long zens. But you just blindly accept them. You blindly accept certain things just because Tibetan people do them; that's stupid. However, monastic rules make sense. They help you grow, and that is their only purpose. Otherwise, why would we make them? There would be no point.

Who is responsible for seeing that these rules are observed? Does everybody have authority? Can just anyone say, "Blah, blah, blah..."? No. It is the abbot and the gekö who have the authority to enforce the monastic rules. Therefore, when you go to a monastery you should accept that "The abbot and the gekö are my dear friends, my spiritual friends, my leaders." You should have that attitude, that motivation, rather than think, "I'm Spanish, he's American. Why should I listen to him?" or "I'm Italian, that Tibetan monk doesn't eat pizza. Why should I take any notice of what he says? He can't offer me pizza or mozzarella." You should change that attitude. He is kind; he works hard. It is not easy being the leader; you should have compassion for him.

The leaders are trying to help you, even though they may be experiencing many difficulties themselves. Don't think that they're on power trips when they tell you this or that. Understand that the rules are there to benefit the majority. You are just one person. If you break the rules, you are damaging what benefits the majority; you are harming other sentient beings. Don't think that to harm others you have to stab them with a knife or do something flagrant like that. Destroying what benefits the majority of the community means you are harming them. Ignorance is like that; it sees only "my benefit."

Putting up with difficulties

You people have no idea what monastic life was like in Tibet; it was really hard. By comparison, your life here is almost a god-realm existence—even though almost every day you find something to complain about: "There's no running water, blah, blah, blah. We don't have comfortable beds..." Go down to the village and see how the poor Indian people live, how they just put up their simple cots and sleep in the street. In Tibetan monasteries, the monks would sometimes have to sit all night on the cold ground in winter. When it was necessary, we underwent many hardships. It's not that we'd create all these hardships on purpose, just for the sake of putting up with them; that would be stupid. But when there's some benefit, you should be prepared to struggle, and it should not bother you.

You should have the attitude, "As long as it contributes to my growth and benefits all mother sentient beings, I'll put up with this hardship as best I can." That's reasonable, isn't it? I'm not saying that you have to undergo an extreme Milarepa trip, but somehow you should face difficulties with the attitude, "As long as it's beneficial for others, I'll put up with it; it doesn't matter. After all, that's the reason I became a monk, a nun. I've given up serving just one person; one woman, one man. What I really want to do is to serve for the benefit of the majority, for all sentient beings, as much as I possibly can." That is truly the right attitude.

I am not criticizing you. When people gather from all over the world, the dualistic mind is naturally there. Some eat tsampa, some eat pizza, others like hamburgers. There are many cultural distinctions. It is difficult; I'm not blaming you for anything. It's understandable that being in a group such as this can create difficulties; we can't make our differences into some kind of multicultural soup. But although these differences exist, we're trying not to emphasize culture here. Instead, we're trying to focus on the essential aspects of Buddhadharma. That is the most important thing; that is why we've gathered here for this Dharma Celebration. Lord Buddha's Dharma wisdom is the only reason we've come together. Why else would you bother with a Third World Tibetan monk? No; you have Dharma in your hearts, so we've all come here to live together in the spirit of the lam-rim, understanding that all mother sentient beings are equal in desiring happiness and not wanting misery. To the extent that we all share this attitude, we're very fortunate.

The responsibility of the Sangha community leaders

The abbot and the gekö should also have compassion for the Sangha community, thinking, "What is the best way for me to help them with their education, to make them happy, and at the same time, how can I make them comfortable?" Being an abbot or a gekö is an incredibly big responsibility, and to do this job you have to understand how to take care of monks and nuns both physically and mentally. If you're concerned with only their mental well-being, there will be difficulties; if you think they should be leading an ascetic, Milarepa-like existence, it will be extremely difficult. We're not living in Tibet. In French society there is no room for Milarepas. If you try to live like Milarepa in France, they'll arrest you. You just can't do a Milarepa trip in the developed world.

You can see, it's not easy to take care of the Sangha community. The Sangha community doesn't involve only yourself; it involves everybody, hundreds of people. The abbot, the gekö, and the monastery management should know how to care for both the physical and the mental requirements of monks and nuns. It is important to be concerned with both, and not to become a Dharma fanatic.

The abbot, the organizers, and, in fact, every Sangha member who has some ability and talent should have the attitude, "Besides pursuing my own education, it is important that I serve the Sangha, especially future generations. I can see through my own experience how beneficial it is to be a monk or nun, so I want to serve the Sangha by ensuring that those who come after me have perfect monastic facilities for study and practice."

The Catholic Church provides an excellent example of how to take care of monks and nuns. They put incredible emphasis on this and have a lot of valuable experience. Don't look at Catholics as bad examples; that's a mistake. We should take advantage of the good aspects of Catholic monasticism by integrating them into our Dharma communities.

The Sangha community leader needs to be flexible. If some Sangha members prefer to do certain kinds of work, provided they are qualified, you should let them do it, rather than forcing them to clean or do something else. Take people's wishes and abilities into consideration. As time passes, people's attitudes and behavior change, so as people develop, you can change their jobs accordingly. In some ways the Sangha is like a baby. Babies grow, babies change; their minds and abilities develop. The leader should also remember this when assigning tasks in the monastery.

However, monks and nuns themselves have the right to determine the best schedule for themselves; they have the right to say whatever they want, as long as it benefits the majority. It is wrong for the abbot or gekö to force some nonsensical schedule onto the community. All of us have to take responsibility. Especially you people; you are no longer young, so try not to act like children. You should both dedicate yourselves to and act for the benefit of the majority. I feel that you have incredible potential and are largely responsible for establishing Dharma in the West for the benefit of future generations. I have great expectations of you, and my expectations are realistic and not at all exaggerated.

There are different ways of practicing and growing in the Dharma. Some people can meditate; others are better at organizing. Both can become Dharma. Mahayana means the great view, the universal view. There is an enormous amount of space in the Mahayana to accommodate different forms of practice, almost enough room for each person to have his or her own unique individual path. Such was Lord Buddha's incredible skill. So don't think that monastery rules are oppressive and that they prevent you from expressing your own intuition. That is wrong. We should—in fact, we do—allow you to express yourself. Don't think of the monastery as a concentration camp. On the contrary, monastic life is blissful, I tell you. It's true. We say that people who live in monasteries are completely protected; monastic life allows you to progress in the right direction without interference. That's what a monastery is really all about. For people whose lives are a disaster, though, monastic life is like a thorn in their side, like being in a concentration camp.

Certain aspects of monastic life can be changed. You yourself can change things for the better, and since we exist in order to benefit others, even the general public can make suggestions, as long as they are offered with great compassion and with an eye to the future.


What about the monastery's education program? I think balancing the three wisdoms of hearing, analytical contemplation, and meditation is the most important thing. In the monastery, these three must be balanced. Simultaneously, they must also be exercised. You shouldn't have the attitude, "First I'll study for 10 or 20 years; then for the next 30 years I'll analyze what I've learned; finally I'll meditate until I'm 100." That's a common misunderstanding.

It's true that the Sakya Pandita said, "He who meditates without first studying is like an armless rock climber." But many people, even learned geshes, misinterpret that statement. They'll tell you that the first thing you have to do is to learn stuff; that it's almost criminal to meditate without first studying. Of course, it's true that you can't make Coca-Cola without first having heard about Coca-Cola, that you can't meditate without having listened to Dharma teachings. But it's a misinterpretation to conclude from this that you have to study for 20 years before you can do any analytical contemplation, and then only after another 20 years of that, say when you're 60, can you begin to meditate. That is completely wrong.

Some Tibetans have this attitude, but not Lama Tsongkhapa. Even as a boy he meditated. He went into retreat on Manjushri, and when he was 16, he met him: Manjushri appeared out of a rock in his cave. Remember that story? We term that a rang-jung [self-originated] Manjushri. Lama Tsongkhapa combined everything into his everyday life: listening, analytical checking, and meditation. He put all three together. We should do the same: every day, all three should be practiced. Don't go a long time doing one without the others. That's a wrong conception.

Even when I was a boy at Sera Monastery, I was a victim of these misconceptions. I used to love praying, but I had to keep my small prayer book hidden from my uncle who took care of me because he didn't like me sitting in meditation position, doing my prayers. He'd tell me I was crazy; that—there's a Tibetan expression for this—"When your hair goes gray, that's when you meditate." How stupid! So whenever he came in, I'd hide my prayer book under the long philosophy pecha that I was supposed to be studying. I was okay as long as he didn't know what I was doing! That was a complete misconception.

For me, it is difficult to study philosophy and do nothing else. Sometimes in debate, while someone would be making an argument, I would completely space out, not knowing how to debate against him. For two or three hours I would just sit there doing nothing. Combining prayer with study kept me down to earth, balanced, and I want you people to be the same. You have an excellent understanding of the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment because of your extensive lam-rim studies. If, on the basis of this fundamental understanding, you do some practice and a little philosophical study as well every day, the lam-rim will become so beautiful for you.

In our own organization you can see that some people have an incredible level of intellectual understanding, but their hearts are not so much into the Dharma. Please, I have sympathy for you. I've been watching all my students to see how they do. For example, some people are like, "Oh, I want to learn Tibetan language, study all the different subjects, and then I want to practice everything." So I watch. After a couple of years of study, they become expert in Tibetan language, but they give up the Dharma. They never practice lam-rim; for them lam-rim is nothing. I have seen this; it's amazing. Sometimes the Dharma of people who study Tibetan language becomes Tibetan-style—they never practice any more. I'm not criticizing everybody, but there are definitely some people like that. It disappoints me. I guess when they learned the Tibetan language they came to know all about Tibetan samsara.

Then instead of becoming liberated, they get caught up in Tibetan samsara. You know, the history of every samsaric culture is not so good. When you're caught up in a samsaric culture, you can't differentiate between that culture's garbage thought and Dharma; you can't distinguish one from the other. Sometimes people who have not studied Tibetan but whose hearts are truly in the Dharma can better integrate their lives with life in the West than can those who have studied Tibetan language. Of course, I can't say it's always like this, but I am saying there are different ways of looking at it.

Therefore, the organizers who structure life at Nalanda Monastery should try to balance teaching, study, meditation, and daily life. I'm not going to go into the details of my own experience because the situation at Sera is different from that in the West, in France. We will need a different schedule, one that accords with our environment. We cannot make it Tibetan style. However, the Tibetan way is to have certain periods of intensive study and certain homework-like periods. For example, one month could be devoted to community study according to the monastery's schedule, the next to personal study in your own room. Then this cycle can be repeated. In that way, the intensity of the study cycle varies. Think about that; I'm not going into the details of it now. Perhaps I can another time, but not today.

Because the education program in our monastery is balanced, the Sangha we produce will be intellectually clean-clear and, therefore, universally accepted. Because the Sangha practice on the basis of the pure thought that always puts the benefit of the majority first, their minds will develop and people will see that they are compassionate and dedicated. Those are the kinds of monks and nuns we want our monasteries to produce.

The syllabus should include both sutra and tantra; we have to take this opportunity to study tantra. Our monks and nuns should be perfectly educated in both sutra and tantra. That's the way to grow quickly in order to benefit others.

When you need to take a break from your studies for vacation, for FPMT organizational work, or for your own personal work, you should not leave the monastery without the permission of the abbot or the gekö. They should investigate the situation and decide with compassion what is of most benefit for you.

Developing the Sangha organization

It is very important that everybody contribute something to the development of our organization. For example, some monks and nuns have their own money and can take care of their own food, clothing, and so forth. Others do not. Both those who have their own money and those who don't should work for, say, two or three hours a day for the benefit of the organization, with the aim of creating a strong Sangha community. If you are really dedicated, you can always fit everything in. But we are lazy; therefore, we rationalize. We can't even manage to do a one-hour puja. Don't you think you're rationalizing when your mind finds it too difficult to spend an hour at the Sangha community puja? Can you imagine! "I don't have time; an hour is too long." You're going to say that, aren't you? That's completely unrealistic; no compassion.

Most Western monks and nuns who come to India and Nepal tell me that they shouldn't have to work for their food and clothing because in Tibetan monasteries the monks don't have to work. "The monks in the Tibetan monastery in Boudha don't have jobs; why should we?" My goodness! What can I say? Can you live on only black tea and tsampa? Can you? You'll be dead the next day. Tibetans can live like that. Look at Tibetan monks' faces: you can see that they eat only tsampa and black tea! You Injis can't do that. Your pink skins come from good, nutritious food! You couldn't survive on a Tibetan monastic diet.

I think you are capable of doing what needs to be done because your society has given you a good education; don't waste your time and energy trying to be Tibetan. It's unrealistic. It costs $500 a month for you to eat in the way you've been brought up—not here, but in the West it does. Who's going to give you that money? Think about it scientifically. It's not part of Western culture for parents to work in order to support their adult children. And anyway, you're capable of supporting yourselves. If you really can't work because you're crippled or you've broken your leg, perhaps that's an exception. But you are so well educated, it's not good if you don't take care of yourselves. Of course, if you are from a rich family, you can ask them to support you. But if your parents are not well off, it is not their responsibility to take care of you. This just does not happen in Western culture.

Whether you have money or not, in the monastery you should give up your selfish needs and work to help others as much as you can. This is so important—unless you can't see the benefit of having a community of monks or nuns. Is a Sangha community important or not? Can you see that or not? I'd like to know what you think. Yes, it is! It is so worthwhile. But this is not Lama Yeshe's effort. You people think that only Lama Yeshe can do it; I can't do anything. All I do is talk, "Blah, blah, blah..." It's you who have to act to make the community successful; it is in your hands. I can't do it; it's your responsibility. But it is really worthwhile doing.

You should not think of just yourselves. Let's say I think only of myself. Why would I bother with you people, running after you all the time? I could disappear into a cave, go to the beach, sleep, be comfortable. That would be better than this. However, I feel it is necessary, somehow, that you should act to benefit others as much as you can and not always be obsessed by the pursuit of your own pleasure, always "Me, me, me." That's wrong, that's wrong. Try to benefit others as much as you possibly can; that is the most important thing. You have a choice: help yourself alone or benefit many people. Choose to benefit the many.

Remember what it says in the Guru Puja? "If it benefits even one sentient being, I will spend eons in hell." Remember that verse? It is so powerful. The way the Panchen Lama put that text together is incredible. "To bring Dharma to the West, for the benefit of the entire world, I am prepared to give up my own comfort." Think like that. You are more important than I am in bringing Dharma to the West. This is true. You people can live more realistically in your own culture than I can, and you relate to other Westerners better than I do. Anyway, I'm about to die, so I can't do it. It's best if you feel, "I myself am responsible for bringing the Dharma to the West. That's the reason I became a monk; that's the reason I became a nun." It has great significance if you dedicate yourselves in that way. If you develop that sort of motivation, the appropriate actions will follow spontaneously; you won't have to force yourself.

Don't think that it is a bad thing for monks and nuns to work for their bread and butter. Who else is going to take care of you? Should mother sentient beings serve you? In the West there is no such thing as someone being someone else's servant.

Look, I am convinced that we can completely bring Dharma to the West; you people have convinced me. You are the nuclear energy of this movement. When you got ordained, you decided to dedicate your entire lives to the benefit of others. Remember? We taught you to have that attitude, and you said the words when you got ordained, didn't you? You said, "For the benefit of all mother sentient beings I am becoming a monk / nun." Did you say that or didn't you? Okay, you said it—we can agree on that!

You don't have husbands or wives; your lives are not committed to just one person. Don't think that you're married to me! You're free of me, aren't you? You understand what I mean. It's true. That's the point: you are completely free. What you have to do is dedicate yourself, without discrimination, to all mother sentient beings; that is your job. I truly feel that to bring Dharma into the Western world, you have to be living in some kind of purity. That purity gives power to your words, and then you can offer Dharma to the West.

A living Dharma for the West

Intellectual Dharma has already reached the West. In many cases, Western professors know the subject better than you do. But words are not Dharma; we need something behind the words. We need the kind of energy force that can be developed organically only through living purely in the Dharma. That is truly the root of the Dharma and its spread to the West. I have great expectations that you are the people to do it; please, think about it.

The Dharma we are trying to bring to the West is not simply intellectual Dharma. Intellectual Dharma is already there, in universities all over the world. I want you to understand. What we need is for the living experience of Dharma to touch the human heart organically and to eradicate people's dissatisfaction. This is the Western world's great need. Without your living in the Dharma, without your having a certain degree of experience, you cannot give Dharma to others. It is not possible. That is why, when you live in the Sangha community, the abbot or "gek” should be involved in deciding who goes where to teach. If you just do your own trip, you're in danger of turning Dharma into Coca-Cola.

Of course, you need to be well educated so that when you go to different places to teach you will have at least an intellectually clean-clear comprehension of the subjects you are talking about. Otherwise, you might start spreading misconceptions, and then, instead of benefiting the Dharma, you will damage it.

We are a serious phenomenon. Don't think you're playing games with Tibetan monks, with Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism. This is not a joke. We should dedicate as much as we possibly can, in whatever way—words, deeds, intellect, meditation—for the sake of sentient beings; we should utilize our lives for their benefit. If you do whatever you do with sincerity, that is good enough. Without sincerity, many things become not good enough. There's no dedication.

This program, the Enlightened Experience Celebration, was created principally to benefit monks and nuns. I thought it extremely important that my monks and nuns receive a truly complete education. Then I won't be worried; wherever you go, you will take the light of Dharma with you. That is the main point. And in addition, we organized this event so that lay students could also attend.

Let's stop here and continue tomorrow.