Cultural Narrowmindedness and the Mistreated Monk

After all, since unverifiable religious promises are essentially non-material, the monk, too, is one who negotiates for a space among us. Monks eat to live, they breed desire (though, by their orientations, they are expected to curb such unpriestly impulses), they take part in struggles, they stand election, they subscribe to the Lankan telecommunications networks, watch satellite TV and meditate on the corn in cyber farms.

In a bogus Facebook profile I use there is a ‘FB female friend’ who, by all indications, too, is a “fake”. She claims to reside in a Middle East country and has a string of cyber buddies – some of them clearly “fake” – for whose voyeuristic pleasure she posts photos. These are not explicit photos, but since we are most of us frustrated one way or the other, the photos need not to be necessarily revealing. The profile owner, too, plays a self-gratifying function, since there is little indication of her having much other “Facebook activity” than the photo she would upload at regular intervals, and her uniform answer to all “praises” with which the voyeurs shower her: “thanks”.

Very recently, an exchange over one of her photos made me reflect on how poor we often are in our moral and ethical stances – specially in an age where the photos of a bogus FB friend is just one right click away. Among her many admirers, there is a monk profile (there could be many, but this is the profile causing the crisis) and he had “commented” on a photo where the woman sits on bed, in a pyjama and shirt – nothing explicit, I repeat –, with a pensive Wordsworthian look. Among another dozen comments the monk’s comment was visible, more because of the profile picture. The monk’s comment was: “nice”.

Following the monk’s comment there were one or two other submissions, before further – down the same space – a user with the name “Lanka” started insulting and attacking the monk. Lanka’s premise – couched as it were in an ugly wrapping of filth and aggression – was that the monk is a “fake monk” (a “ganayaa”) and that he should not be commenting on FB. He was chastised for being a “disgrace to the Saasana” and was further told to derobe himself, if he wanted to make comments on the photo. “After derobing” – Lanka instructs – “I don’t care even if you call (the woman) machan”.

The monk has the right to tread his chosen path.

Lanka’s false sense of morality and ethics is a reflection of the average among us – essentially ego-driven, medievalist and with an aggressive barrage always ready to pour out at the least given chance. For one, Lanka has no clue but his own assumption that the monk in question is a “fake monk”. Even if the monk is “fake” or “real” (what is “real” in this unreal world, then? the monk might ask) whether it is Lanka’s place to prescribe a moral position for the other is a question to ponder on. But, let us go beyond the premise – the chief issue, here, as I see it is in our possessiveness of our “voyeuristic space”; and our lethargy to allow another to trespass it. I doubt that Lanka is a “clean Buddhist” in spite of him donning the knight’s armour against the voyeuristic monk. Lanka’s sexual impulses and organs should function the same as ours and the monk’s does, but he would assume a moment’s “moral priesthood” to cut down the one (apparently) “without desire”, based on our own hypocritical mores.

FB interaction is no worse or better than our daily inter-personal traffic. It is ridden with voyeurisms, sexual urges, fakisms, appearances and so forth. A weekend Sinhala paper – in an air where the moral police meets Christopher Columbus the discoverer – carries weekly supplements of “crimes” committed by “strangers” you meet on FB. The cyber realm is a “parallel universe” we earthlings occupy and is an undivorcable overlap whether one is to accept it or not. The problem arises when one is to transport into this parallel space the same tribalisms and assumptions you harbour in the other. In other words, the day-to-day cultural logic and specifics are not necessarily complementary with the logic of cyber interaction. The unimaginative and limiting human regulator would deem there to be no difference – but, there is a difference: it is that difference which has allowed the monk to be the woman’s “FB friend”; and for him to comment.

Lanka – whose name coincides with the national consciousness –, to me, is a mistaken youth. It is not his fault. The system and cultural pettiness that have instructed him has made of him a non-reflective agent. Seven decades of false education which has promoted lesser tolerance and reflection than memorization has undermined the potential of the like. “Lanka” is a type. You just have to log onto FB or youtube to see the uncompromising attitudes in some of us with gaping cavities in our unwillingness to think or to be diplomatic. Our stubbornness in reading cultural alternatives or in allowing space to different opinions / ideas is staggeringly primitive. My advice to the monk, if he ever happens to read my blog, is not to heed ganayaa slogans. But, if you do get demoralized and feel guilty, then, create a fake FB account. Use a picture that looks better than Lanka’s on your profile page and comment till your whims are sated.

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2 thoughts on “Cultural Narrowmindedness and the Mistreated Monk

  1. It is not the best way to seek to conclude who is right or wrong or good or evil. But rather judge individual actions by their results only, as directions we take with each action. Although Lanka’s derogatory approach is was not warranted, his concern was. Right action would have been to report the incident to the Order, which would deal with it accordingly.

    The difference between a monk and a lay person is that a monk is supported by the lay person to undertake one task only. The world of monkhood is that of an ascetic. Not based on denial but on renunciation. If there is no renunciation, the person is not a monk and should not be supported by the laity.

    Lanka’s concern was correct, but he acted on it harshly. Still to judge either as a good/bad right/wrong person would be conceit and unskillful action. All of us need to tend to our own actions in thoughts, words and deeds. Seeing that the result of which are pleasant, useful and positive for one and all.

    Keeping the Order clean of non-ascetics is a rightful action, but one that only the leadership of the Order itself can make. No external person can attack a monk.

    The Order would deal with the transgressions of the individual monks by hearings and committees. The monk would gain a punishment or be expelled from the Order. For this monk’s case it could be nothing.

    But the problem lies in the purity of the ascetic practice within the individual Orders. This in Theravada is judged based on the Tipitaka and it’s commentaries, where everything in stated very clearly.

    I also would instruct(if it was my place to instruct a monk, which it is not) the monk to either disrobe or to undertake the practice. Not only because of the purity of the Order, or the strain imposed on laity, or the failed expectations, but for the sake of the persons in the Order who do not practice renunciation.

    The article itself was interesting.

    Be well.

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