Besides the results from the survey proper, we also received many helpful comments from the respondents. There were praises, warnings, good wishes, complaints, suggestions, opinions—in short, the works! Here are some of them along with our responses.
How is the recruitment of postulants carried out? What is required of those who have finished the training? Can they leave or disrobe? How is SBS going to ensure life long commitment of the monastics?
Married Teacher from Selangor
Here is a very short answer to your first question. The prospective candidate shall have to
• study the Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary Prospectus
• complete a ‘Residency Application Form’
• get a referee to complete the ‘Letter of Reference’
and submit the form and letter to us. To get a complete list of requirements and pro-cedures for the recruitment of postulants and monks, you can contact us to ask for a copy of the prospectus (see page 2). It’s also available on the WWW at http://sasanarakkha.cjb.net/prospectus/.
A resident monk who has completed the basic course, which is geared towards fulfilling all requisites for independence as laid out in the Pali scriptures, will be encouraged to go on a long-term intensive meditation retreat in a suitable environment. When he finds that he is sufficiently well established in the practice of morality, sense-restraint, mental calm and meditative insight, he should review what he has learned in SBS regarding Dhamma dis-courses and propagation skills before setting out to guide and teach others.
However, according to the “Objects and By-laws of the Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary Management Committee”:
A resident monk who is spon-sored by the Management Committee on the recommendation of the Abbot to another monastery or institution for further education or training shall be considered a transferred resident monk. He shall be obliged to return after his course of study/training to assist in the Sanctuary for a mutually agreeable period of time.
Disrobe? Hope not! Among the requirements of a resident monk is that he must be resolute in making a life-long commitment to the monastic life. We would like to generate the highest returns from our investment in our monks.
What’s happening? Isn’t it supposed to begin in January 2001?
A young bhikkhu (via the Internet)
Yes, we did mention in our brochures that we expected SBS to begin operation in January 2001. Well, we were not completely wrong.
In terms of buildings, we are certainly behind schedule. There were more obstacles and hitches than we expected. While the frequent rain, steep slopes and the rocky site have been undermining our work schedule, the delay has also been largely due to lack of co-ordination. We did not account for the fact that the consultants of our Building Development Team could not place a higher priority on their voluntary services over their own full-time jobs. They have dedicated much of their free time for SBS, and we are certainly in no position to insist on meeting deadlines.
Employing professionals from the building industry or signing a turnkey contract for the project would have saved us a lot of time. But that would deprive our consultant friends of the opportunity to offer their services and earn great merits.
Furthermore, it would greatly increase the financial burden of our supporters.
However, we are happy to say that things have appeared to be moving more smoothly (though still on the slow side) these days since Ven. Aggacitta moved in to the site. To ensure quality work according to professional standards, he had no choice but to play a more prominent role in the construction as a navakammikabhikkhu—a post created by the Buddha that is closely related to project management.
Not having the buildings up need not mean that lessons cannot start. Lessons did start in January 2001 when Ven. Kumara came to stay with Ven. Aggacitta on 23 January 2001. Since then, he has been learning Pali and Vinaya from his current sifu. So, SBS did start on schedule—in a way at least.
Despite the shortcomings, we are grateful for the unwavering commitment of those involved in the development of SBS. We are determined to have seven buildings up by July 2001 so that we can accommodate enough bhikkhus to make a new sima before the official opening ceremony scheduled for 5 August 2001.
May the guardian devas of the Sasana help us!
I would suggest avoiding “jack of all trades, master of none” situations. Expose the young monks to various subjects mentioned, but allow them to specialise and be proficient in just a few.
Perhaps the bhikkhus should follow courses to improve their skills in language, counselling, giving talks, etc. A “Toast-masters Club” for monks, perhaps?
Retired Widow from Singapore
We think your suggestion of specialisation is a sound one. Having satisfied the basic prerequisites for independence, a monk may choose to specialise according to his aptitude and inclinations with consideration for the public’s opinion, such as those found through this survey.
A “Toastmasters Club” for monks? We may well score another first—possibly world first—with that. But we’ll probably give it just a pass. Nonetheless, we’ll still have those skills under our fifth course com-ponent: Propagation. (The other components are Vinaya, Dhutanga, Meditation and Pali.)
SBS is said to accommodate only 21 monks although it is on a 10-acre land. Plans should be altered to accommodate more monks.
While it’s true that we have ten acres, much of it is too steep for buildings—at least that’s what our consultant geo-technical engineer says. From our present point of view, we may not even have enough land to accommodate 21 monks. We’ll concentrate on the phase one construction (which includes seven units of monk’s dwellings) first, then try see how we can squeeze in more monks in our phase two.
I think SBS should have a strict mecha-nism to screen candidates so that only those who are very sure and sincere about being good monks are trained. This will ensure that the dropout and disrobing rates are negligible.
Editor from Kuala Lumpur
I suggest SBS considers giving training only to those with strong recommen-dation from other centres and gives priority to mature adults who have meditated sincerely for some years.
(Also from) Married Teacher from Selangor
We have adopted fairly strict measures in the recruitment of bhikkhus, samaneras and postulants.
As mentioned in our answer to a previous question, a candidate for postulant residency needs to have a referee complete a ‘Letter of Reference’. The referee must be an individual or organisation deemed reliable by SBS Management Committee.
Bhikkhus and samaneras wishing to be trained in SBS are also required to do the same. In addition, they must also have a guarantor complete a ‘Letter of Guarantee’.
After that, they may be asked to come for an interview with the Abbot. If the application is successful, they shall be formally invited to reside in the Sanctuary. For monks, they have to further undergo observation for a period of time before the Abbot can give him tutelage (nissaya).
We shall give priority to those who best fulfil our standard of requirements.
Show true teachings of Theravada Dhamma instead of ‘rojak’ teachings by some monks whom I sometimes meet.
Housewife (via Web-survey)
Ground the project directly at the heart of Lord Buddha’s advice as found in the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas, and do what is right over what is popular. All SBS members should make their own progress paramount. Otherwise, with a rotten core, the fruit will be bitter.
Single young man training towards becoming a bhikkhu
Yes, it has been our intention to go by our Lord Buddha’s teachings as enshrined in the Tipitaka. Should we find anything that is not clearly defined therein, we would then refer to its commentaries and if necessary the sub-commentaries too. In other words, we would follow the scriptural tradition, instead of copying existing popular beliefs, interpretations and practices.
Sorry if this may sound pedantic, but we think that with a rotten core, there wouldn’t be much of a fruit. We shall keep a very close look on potential infections.
It is an excellent project, but you have to make sure that it follows the Buddha’s teaching and is open to all different styles of Buddhist practices (Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan). After more than 2500 years, there is a need to unite the Sangha in Malaysia and show the real Buddhist image and practice.
Single Teacher from Kuala Lumpur
Although we can find many similarities among the different traditions of Buddhism, there are differences that are quite out-standing and irreconcilable. Trying to mix them would be comparable to mixing water and oil. You can force them to mix by shaking, but they’ll end up as a murky-looking colloid.
It is not part of our aims to unite the Sangha of various Buddhist traditions in Malaysia. Rather we believe that the most fitting solution is “unity in diversity”. While SBS promotes faith in the Theravada tradition, it also encourages resident monastics to nurture an open mind towards other interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings, and towards other spiritual beliefs and practices too—all in the spirit of Kalama Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya: III.65). Wouldn’t that be a “real Buddhist image and practice”?
After gaining momentum and attaining a certain cachet, most religious organisations (as in secular organisations) tend to degenerate into an arena for self-serving politicking and power struggles—this in spite of the idealistic and laudable impetus that started it. The initiators and prime movers of SBS need to ensure right from the start that such fractious strife does not gain a toehold in the organisation.
Single Lecturer (via Web-survey)
An important reminder indeed. Thank you. We shall endeavour to remain wary of such tendencies.
Hope (the project) is not controlled by certain groups for management of SBS. The Sangha should have the final say in major decisions.
SBS should be managed by the Sangha.
Company Manager from Penang
It must be understood that technically SBS does not belong to the Sangha. Neither does it belong to a certain group of monks or an individual monk. Since its conception, the founding Abbot has made it clear that SBS will not be owned by the Sangha to avoid running into some sticky Vinaya issues.
However, the Objects and By-laws of Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary Management Committee (OBS) has been formulated such that the Abbot, who holds the position of the management committee’s Spiritual Director, is invested with the power of veto. So, any resolution made by the committee is not effective unless the Abbot agrees to it.
If you wish, you can read up the OBS that is distributed to all management committee members, including the state representatives. You can also ask for a soft-copy via email.
No certificate for bhikkhus. Degrees, certificates and titles are just fertile fields for conceit.
P/s The Venerable Aggacitta should, out of compassion, study Mandarin.
Bhikkhu from Penang
Issue certificates for graduated monks.
BL Tan, Electrical Engineer from Petaling Jaya
So… to issue or not to issue? Quite a few people have brought up this issue and it certainly deserves careful consideration. We still have plenty of time to mull over it and have yet to arrive at a conclusive decision.
Nonetheless, the tentative decision by a couple of resident monks is “no”. If one wishes to find out whether a certain monk is properly graduated from SBS, one can easily contact SBS to check. One can also check our website for records of resident monks.
As for Ven. Aggacitta studying Mandarin, we’ll let him answer that himself.
Ven. Aggacitta: I’m already up to my neck with dozens of things to do. If I drown in the pile of workload, there’ll be no Abbot for SBS. (smile) Well, let the constructions finish and some other important matters get settled first; then, I’ll consider the suggestion.
Educate lay people on how to serve the Sangha efficiently.
Music Teacher from Penang
We do have that in mind. We know that there’s a substantial number of lay people who are interested in this. It would take quite a bit of learning on the part of the laity though.
We’re considering having a short course on “How to Help Monks Observe the Vinaya” sometime after this coming Wesak. It will be conducted on Sundays at TIMS. At press time, the date of commence is still unfixed, but by the time this newsletter is out, you may contact us to check.
Meanwhile, anyone who wishes to learn more about Vinaya rules concerning the laity can refer to “BHIKKHUS’ RULES: A GUIDE FOR LAYPEOPLE” by Bhikkhu Ariyesako (1998, Sanghaloka Forest Hermitage). It has been printed by W.A.V.E. for free distribution and can also be found in a few Buddhist websites in the Internet.
More publicity is needed. I found that many of my Buddhist friends didn’t know about the project until I informed them.
Pharmacist from Setapak, Kuala Lumpur
That’s an interesting feedback. As you probably know, we went on quite a number of road shows last year to reach out to as many Buddhists as we can. So much so that some people said we were “too aggressive”.
We’ve not been doing any road shows for quite some time, but still try to keep our supporters informed mainly through our newsletter “Sasanarakkha” and our website.
Still, if you really feel that more publicity is needed in your vicinity, please do let us know. We’ll see what we can do.
This is a much-awaited project and everyone is excited. It would mean a lot to the laity if SBS could hold a ceremony at the Sanctuary for all to rejoice upon its completion.
Sales Administrative Officer (via Web-survey)
Yes, we agree that an opening ceremony for all to rejoice would be appropriate. We are planning to hold it on Sunday, 5 August 2001.
Hopefully there will be a sanctuary for female ten-precept keepers in the near future.
Accountant from Kuala Lumpur
Start a nunnery as well in one section of the land.
SBS should extend the facilities for the training of Theravada nuns if they have collected enough funds. It can be in the same vicinity or in a separate area. SBS can also build a big meditation hall separately for lay yogis to go for meditation retreat.
Elderly Married Buddhist
Consider a sanctuary for nuns too.
It has been a sad scene that there is no order for bhikkhuni in Theravada tradition. I believe there are others like me, especially English educated ones, who are interested to pursue nunhood and follow the Theravada tradition as it is of the ancient way. Is there any intention to establish a ‘Sasanarakkha’ or bhikkhuni order in Malaysia? Or is there any intention to build a forest-like environment for ten-precept keepers. Hope that in future, SBS will also construct another site for nuns.
Single Branch Manager
An excellent project, but please don’t leave the NUNS behind. I like to think that what you do is not SEXIST.
Homemaker from Penang
Female renunciates should also have equal opportunity for practice.
This issue is by far the most common of those “other comments” received through the survey.
While we do see that Malaysia still lacks organised training for female Theravada monastics, we cannot cater for them within the Sanctuary because we do not have suitable resources to train them. For starters, it would be better for a nun to train nuns.
More importantly, there are good reasons and examples for not having monks in close proximity with women. As such, the idea of having resident females—renunciate or lay—trained together with the monks in SBS is inappropriate.
It’s possible though for a trained local female monastic to be inspired to set up a similar training facility specially for females, such as one in the making in Western Australia led by Ven. Vayama.
As for having a meditation hall separately for yogis, we are happy to inform you that we have a retreat centre in our master plan. Organised retreats may be held there from time to time. This is of course open to all males and females—lay or renunciate.
Allow lay people to cook and manage the assembly hall and kitchen if any.
(Also from) Married Kelantanese
We will certainly allow lay people to cook. Bhikkhus are not allowed to cook. Lay people can also manage certain buildings. However, buildings often used by resident monastics, such as their own kutis and the sima pavilion, shall be under their own care as part of their monastic duties.
There are many Buddhist Sanctuaries in Malaysia. What I don’t understand is why Buddhists do not make any effort to pool their resources together!
Self-employed from Selangor
We don’t quite understand what you’re getting at. First of all, what’s wrong with having one Bhaddekaratta Hermitage in the South and one Vivekavana in the North? They help spread the Sasana to the locals in their vicinity.
Anyway, the Malaysian Buddhist community is pooling their resources together in making SBS a reality. And we’re happy to know that you are chipping in too. (Self-employed from Selangor says in the survey form that he/she would like to make monetary donations to SBS fund. Sadhu!)
It’s a good try, but may be difficult to carry out the project. Anyway, I’ll support it.
You’re absolutely right; it’s not easy at all, but it’s definitely worth the try. And we thank you for your support.
It is a great project! Sadhu! How fortunate Malaysians are to be blessed with such great ideals from such a committed monk like Ven. Aggacitta.
Special Education Teacher (via Web-survey)
Yes, indeed. However, we like to tell you that there are people who are somewhat put off by the “guru glorification”. Perhaps we’ve been a bit carried away.
It is a noble vision. May all Buddhists and well-wishers work for SBS’s success. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.
I believe that SBS is a most ambitious, timely and excellent endeavour towards promulgating a true understanding of real Buddhist teachings in Malaysia. I wish you all the best and may all your good wishes come true.
(SBS is) a worthy cause worth supporting for the survival of Buddhism.
I think the project is a very valuable undertaking. May this project have every blessingof the Triple Gem and nothing impede it.
Theravadin Monk (via Web-survey)
As mentioned earlier, these are only some of the comments we got. We’re saving the rest for the next issue. We thank you all for the comments. We especially value those that are useful to us though you might think we would not like to hear. Do feel free to share your thoughts about Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary.
Let’s work together to build a Malaysian Theravada Buddhist identity. Remember: it’s our future that we’re shaping now.
We love to hear from you!