the oppression of rules, and a bit of silliness

Karmic affinity probably plays a role, but when I was first starting out, I was never attracted to the Theravadan tradition.

In large part this was due to what I perceived as the strong, perhaps extreme, focus on the 250 precepts for monks (and 348 for nuns.) If I had to keep all of those straight in my head, I imagined that each and every day would be occupied with worries about which shoe I put on first, and whether I was holding my bowl in the right hand.

Well, I’ve since learned that it’s a lot more simple than that.
Basically, the precepts are there to help practitioners gather energy and motivation in their practice.

To this end, the situations they address fall into several categories:

1) avoiding things that will create karmic hindrances or damage our energy and faith

2) avoiding things that cause us stress and worry

3) not putting ourselves in the path of temptation

4) not creating the appearance of wrong doing

5) the appropriate situations for teaching the Dharma

6) rules to help a large community live together harmoniously
(there’s one or two more categories that I can’t remember just now!)

The additional rules for nuns basically address their safety in an era when an unescorted female was assumed to be a prostitute, and could be treated as such.

Also for nuns, it’s important to remember who the first nuns were:  they were from the noble classes, and were the family members of the Buddha and his great disciples. So when the Buddha said that an 80 year old nun had to bow to a 3 year old monk, these are the women he was addressing. It’s as if he was saying “your family status and connections with the leaders of the sangha don’t count here.” 
       I smile when I think of what might have happened otherwise: “Ananda! Come here and give your Auntie a shoulder rub!”  🙂 


Now for a bit of unrelated silliness:

15 thoughts on “the oppression of rules, and a bit of silliness”

  1. I smile to think about the Buddha saying to only keep the important ones…

    It’s good to understand the relevance of some of them. Weren’t many of them made to respond to something pretty much in the moment?

    I’d imagine if they were being made today, there would be a big difference, maybe even many more…

    thanks for the stories!

    1. … and Ananda forgetting to ask the Buddha “which” ones were the important ones!

      I think a lot of the precepts were made in response to people’s deep attachments. They really couldn’t see that something was a problem, and so needed a rule they could repeat to themselves so as to avoid doing something harmful.

      One of the things about the history of the precepts is that there are a lot of stories and descriptions of them as blessings that bring good fortune, and descriptions like this of the monks who first brought the precepts to a certain territory. That may be a good future post if people are interested.

  2. Am so happy you now have a blog page – am really enjoying it!

    By the way, do you grow your own vegetables at your temple? Someone contacted me yesterday about a film they are making on Korean gardens, and making the most of space available to grow things, I thought it would be interesting to include something about temple food. Any thoughts?

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Good to hear from you!
      Well, Korean temple gardens aren’t too exciting. At the temples in the mountains, they usually have big areas growing food for the temple, usually vegetables and greens of various kinds. At our temple in the city we have a few pieces of land here and there that things are grown on. Mostly, it’s people who want to grow something looking for a suitable piece of ground. Not too organized.
      But that’s a good idea about temple food, I’ll try to post something later.

  3. oh boy(s) – badly needing 98 extra rules for nuns to not assume ‘an unescorted female (…) to be a prostitute)! men are leading diffult lives…temptation everywhere;)

    great clip! hope, wonderful Bruno Gans watches it – he’d laugh tears, i’m sure.

  4. Hi, Jennifer,

    when I was at the Hanmaum Seonwon at Kaarst/Germany last Sunday we had a meal of vegetables grown by the temples nuns on our own temple ground and it was delicious!
    Our dear sunims and the korean members work hard to provide us with fresh salad and vegetables. Thanks to this Juingong who sent them here.

    with palms together 🙂

  5. Something tells me that the granting of ordination to the earliest Buddhist nuns was more complicated, and more freighted with culturally-based gender bias. However, I don’t have the information at hand to deliver a smashing rebuttal. Which is a good thing for us all!

    Thank you, Sunim. I’m looking forward to many posts about temple food, especially the delicious bean sprout and tofu soup that I enjoyed during Kyol Che retreats (minus the tofu by the time it got to me, of course).

  6. once I read in a book how one new monk said to Buddha that he cannot follow or even remember those numerous precepts and Buddha said – just follow three precepts : higher knowledge, higher morality, higher understanding
    (or something like that, I don’t have the book with me), so it is simple in its essence, but for some people I guess it was necessary to spell it out every little action, because precepts accumulated each time somebody did something stupid.
    And with nuns having more precepts – if you really imagine the situation – how monks lived in the forest and stuff, what they ate, how they slept and where they had to go to relieve themselves, you can imagine that those conditions were difficult to share with women, who accustomed to more civilised conditions, also those women were in their majority young and beautiful, so that would’ve been an added stress to most monks, at least in the beginning of their path.
    Also I just want to say something Padmasambhava said (in Tibet he is considered second Buddha), he said that there is almost no difference between man or woman, but when it comes to practice, female is better, if woman set her mind to practice – enlightment is faster.
    (I always thought so!)

  7. Tanya,
    what do think about the burqa?

    and, ‘if woman set her mind to practice ‘– it’s the same as it is when a man does; as everybody’s responsible for himself (my opinion)


    1. burqa have to be understood within cultural context, you have to know the dynamics of people in the particular culture and how they see/percieve and respond to things, burqa was ment as protection for a woman and sign of respect actually, and it was not originally meant to be as oppression, I do not like it personally, but there were a few times when I wanted to wear it, those times are long gone, but when you get constant attention from guys, like every day somebody comes up to you and asks for a phone number, a date or just plainly offeres money – you kind of want to hide; if men see woman as not attractive – they ignore her, if they see her as beautiful – they see her as potential mate and sex object, it is very rare that you can find a man (who is not family) who can see you as just human being.

      And as of what Padmasambhava said – actually it has to do with subtle energies of body

  8. Hi Tanya,

    i get your point. nevertheless the arguments you give are exactly the same – rather cheap ones, i find – men use to oppress women around the globe up to today. in its extreme men even blame women for getting raped, saying they should have known better, they should have… they should have… 98 should haves…and in case they’ve missed one – their fault…

    look above, the rule is
    3) not putting ourselves in the path of temptation
    ‘ourselves’! – not forcing another one to do ‘your’ work (e.g. by forcing her under a burqa). and then give it a semblance of solicitousness…

    ‘it is very rare that you can find a man (who is not family) who can see you as just human being’, sounds for me there should be 98 more rules for men to get wiser and more controlled. Then women will have no further need of false solicitousness.

    1. Hi Evelyn,
      I can’t claim to be much of an expert, but the impression I got of the extra rules for nuns was not as much oppression, as it was to protect them from society at large,(versus just male practitioners.) In that sense, it seemed more an acknowlegement of the social realities in India at the time, so while the issues with monks might be temptation or mutual temptation, the real problem was men who weren’t practicing, that is, just ordinary men at the time. That said, society at the time certainly seemed to have a “cave man” aspect to it.

  9. Dear Chong Go Sunim,
    thank you!
    i understand that, and i don’t want to deepen the point.
    the sad aspect i just wanted to mention was that ‘at that time’ seems reaches out at too many places up to nowadays. and not only in countries where women are as is known oppressed… (as Tanya e.g. mentions)
    my Guru, Lama Gangchen Rinpoche, focusses on female energy and gives all teachings with a female Lama at his side. Using our female energies, he says, the world will become more peaceful.
    knowing Daehaeng Kun Sunim we can see, he’s right.


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