Of good monks and spiritual cultivation
by R Dissa, Harrow, UK
I broadly agree with Dr. Daya Hewapathirane article (Averting the Erosion of Buddhist Values, Nov 18, 2004)on the state of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the opinion section. There is often a tendency to blame the monks in Sri Lanka and many monks do carry the blame. This is especially true with the stigma associated with disrobing.
Laymen should be able to become temporary monks, even if taking 10 precepts as in Thailand. When monks disrobe it could threaten the dayaka community that serves senior monks so they perpetuate a stigma associated with disrobing. Bad monks have of course already disrobed even if they wear a superficial robe. Temporary ordination as in Thailand allows some laymen to consider taking up a longer term commitment that they may not have thought of, and others to learn about the Vinaya and its value for a short time and the depth of the Buddha's teaching. It makes bad monks a rarity and they could be more easily persuaded to disrobe.
The lay community in Sri Lanka do not take an active role in the practise of Buddhism despite the presence however of some good monks. The only meditation most people have heard of is Vipassana meditation. No one seems to know about samatha meditation and the practise of Jhana thought the best book on Jhana the Visuddhimagga was composed in Sri Lanka. There are very few good meditation teachers lay or ordained, which is essential in perpetuating meditation groups. Meditating alone unguided, just from books is not to be recommended.
At least more people are taking up an interest in meditation now and there are still loads of Buddhas at practically most junctions on the Island. Mr Lance Cousins, a lay meditation teacher whose own teacher was an ex Thai monk will deliver a talk in Sri Lanka in March. His guidance should be followed I think (as someone who knows him). Only meditation among the lay community leading to even slight levels of concentration will make people understand the immense value of the Buddha's teaching.