Danny Fisher recently sent me a very nice piece of writing that is the product of his having interviewed a number of people, including myself, about the apparent tension or possible contradiction between monsticism and social engagement. This kind of question is very important for the person who feels a desire to do the best possible with their life and "not keep the Buddha waiting", yet is unsure whether
that means taking a path of world renunciation or one of world engagement. I can ressonate with Danny's question - it has in a sense been a lifelong concern of my own. Certainly thoughts of this kind have helped to shape the many ventures that I have made of my life over the years and, in the last decade, the work we have been involved in at Amida where we are currently feeling quite good about the form of engaged-monastic training that we have evolved. This does give:
- a thorough grounding in Buddhism from a Pureland perspective,
- a lot of practical skills,
- the kind of character development that comes through living in community
- ability to handle responsibility
- exposure to and involvement in all manner of socially engaged/pastoral activity at home and abroad.
This kind of programme has taken quite a while to develop and we are still constantly concerned with improving it. Such improvements include adding placements in other monastic and engaged settings as well as improving our teaching programmes and the natural enhancment of opportunities that flows from the continuing growth and diversification of the Amida Trust's range of activities in different parts of the world.
Recently there has been a further expansion with an up-surge of interest in our ministry programme. While our initial focus was on what we call amitarya training - a fully renunciant-engaged vocation - recently there has been a demand for Buddhist ministry training and commitment. Here too we are in the business of developing on-going training programmes, both in-house and distance learning, inter-laced with the opportunities provided by the Amida lifestyle.
Several of the people that Danny interviewed were pesimistic about the prospects for monasticism in the West, especially in North America. What is surely needed, however, is not a return to traditional western monasticism, but to the errant life of the person of simple faith who is willing to give their all to the Buddha's call not just in a monastic institution but in the heart of a sangha open to hearing all the cries of the world. Shakyamuni Buddha did not gather people into a fold, he sent them forth on many missions.
We are very keen on the mission approach. Go forth and do something. Go in ones and twos or in little teams, but do something. Then come back into the bossom of the sangha and share the experience with others so that we all learn together and the whole community may mature. Whether a person has the karma to become an amitarya and be free to go anywhere in the world or whether they are more established in one place and can minister to those in that place, there is always much that one can do.
We live in the world of Shakyamuni Buddha - a Pure Land in the making. This saha world still has a way to go before it matches the perfections of Amida's Sukhavati. Shakyamuni needs our help. Let's not keep him waiting too long.