photo/chanting_monks_pray.png

Previous | Home | Next


The sun was shining in the room as one monk led the others in chant. This low rumbling of 20 or so baritone voices can be mesmorizing. The rooms are generally very dark, the light of candles or the few windows, an open door may be the only light that is allowed in. You notice the empty wooden bowls are next to the monks. This probably is for alms. These monks will wait for rice to be donated in their bowl. The rice is then brought back and shared amoungst the others at dinner.
Monks and nuns are expected to fulfill a variety of roles in the Buddhist community. First and foremost, they are expected to preserve the doctrine and discipline now known as Buddhism. They are also expected to provide a living example for the laity, and to serve as a "field of merit" for lay followers, providing laymen and women with the opportunity to earn merit by giving gifts and support to the monks. In return for the support of the laity, monks and nuns are expected to live an austere life focused on the study of Buddhist doctrine, the practice of meditation, and the observance of good moral character. The relative degree of emphasis on meditation or study has often been debated in the Buddhist community. Many continued to keep a relationship with their original families.
In Tibet, before the Communist invasion in the late 1940s and early '50s, more than half of the country's male population was ordained. Due to the oppression, and destruction of monasteries and libraries by the Chinese, this is no longer the case—the Chinese have historically justified this by the accusation that the Tibetan monks exploited the poor peasantry of Tibet for their sustenance. Hoping to find religious freedom, many Tibetan monks annually risk crossing the Himalayas, often trying to reach India. While generally adhering to a Mahayana tradition that advocates the virtues of vegetarianism, Tibetan monks generally eat meat as a concession to climatic conditions that make a plant-based diet largely unfeasible. Tibetan monks follow the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya lineage.
Lamas who take bhikṣu vows are not allowed to marry. The Nyingma school includes a mixture of bhikṣus and non-celebate ngakpas, and it is not unusual for lamas to wear robes closely resembling monastic garb despite the fact that they are not bhikṣus. Sakya school does not allow monks to get close to women after they have sons. Gelug school emphasized Vinaya ethics and monastic discipline; Choekyi Gyaltsen refused to wear monk clothing after he married. Kagyu monks are also required to return to non-monastic life to marry.