Beware of conmen in monk’s robes

The Star, May 11, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- People who put on saffron robes and ask for donations could be conmen, said Chempaka Buddhist Lodge vice-president Tan Eng Chye. 

<< Tan: ‘Monks can only beg for food’

“In Theravada Buddhism, monks are required to practise generosity and are not allowed to collect money from the public,” he said. 

Monks, he said, could only ask for food to be put in a bowl which they carry with them.

“Theravada monks are not allowed to cook as their responsibility is to go out and remind people of the teachings of the Buddha instead of worrying about food,” he said. 

Dr K. Sri Dhammananda, chief abbot of the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields, said Theravada Buddhism was formed 500 years after the passing of the Buddha in 623BC.

It was when a group of monks broke away from the Sangha Council due to different interpretations of the teachings and cultures that Mahayana Buddhism came into existence.

“Theravada Buddhism is mostly practised in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar and Cambodia,” he said, adding that Mahayana Buddhism was widely practised in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan due to the language used in chanting.

He stressed that devotees should look at the similarity of the sects instead of the differences, which had come about through different cultures, traditions and rituals. 


The different forms of Buddhism

Most people of other faiths are not aware that there are different types of Buddhism. Here, we enlighten them.

i) Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism is the oldest form of Buddhism that originated thousands of years ago in India. It is based on the original Suttas or Sanskrit documents which have recordings of Buddha’s teachings, once writing became available.

Theravada Buddhism is practised in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. It sticks firmly to the teachings of the Vinaya Pitaka.

Theravada Buddhists believe in Nibbana, which is enlightenment and the cessation of all sufferings – the highest spiritual goal one can attain.

ii) Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism is a new strand that branched out from Theravada Buddhism after the religion moved out of India into new countries where it had to compete with other religions. 

Mahayana speaks of Buddha land (heaven) where faithful Buddhists go to after death. It is practised in countries like China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Mahayana Buddhism has since branched out into different variants and they each now stand on its own.

iii) Zen Buddhism

Zen Buddhism focuses on achieving enlightenment mainly through meditation and mental development. 

Zen came to Japan in the 13th century – five centuries after the orthodox forms of Buddhism evolved. It emphasises the uselessness of words and the insistence of actions without thought. It teaches that enlightenment is a spontaneous event, totally independent of concepts, techniques or rituals. 

iv) Pure Land Buddhism

Pure Land Buddhism worships the Amitabha (the Buddha of infinite light and lord of the pure land) hoping that by praying and reciting his name, they will go to the pure land when they die and move closer to Nibbana. 

v) Vajrayanna tradition 

One of the followers of this tradition is the Dalai Lama, who was the chief monk in Tibet during his time. He later settled down in India, and until today, certain parts of the country are still practicing the ritual and rights of this tradition.

vi) Nichiren Buddhism

Nichiren is a 13th century Japanese Buddhist reformer whose teachings are based on the Mahayana Sutra (scripture), known as the Lotus Sutra which, according to him, contains the essence of all the Buddhist teachings and the path of attaining enlightenment.

The central practice of Nichiren Buddhism is reciting the mantra namo myoho rengye kyo.