Venerable Walter Mitty’s New Clothes

by Kobutsu Malone, The Buddhist Channel, August 7, 2007

Sedgwick, Maine (USA) -- It is absolutely prudent, reasonable and proper for any person to ask anyone claiming to be a Buddhist monk:  When, where, in what tradition and under whose auspices they were ordained as a Buddhist monk? When someone has claimed to be a Buddhist monk (necessarily ordained) on a public web site and it is only reasonable for the public to inquire into the nature of that claim, particularly if there is absolutely no evidence anywhere, that was not self-generated by that individual, which indicates they ever were ordained.

People have a right to protect themselves from charlatans by inquiring into the credentials of anyone who represents themselves in some way as a professional, a cleric, or someone who alleges to be in a position of trust and authority.  Within the Buddhist tradition such inquiry into a monk’s credentials is the basis for the tradition’s epistemology as set forth in the Charter of Free Inquiry found in the Kalama Sutra.

Ordination is an official public announcement.  It is an obligation of the preceptee while they are en-robed, and representing themselves as Buddhist clergy, to provide information about the public step of ordination they have taken whenever asked by monks or lay-people.  It is only right and courteous to truthfully inform the public when they ask of the details of one's ordination.  It is only fair and prudent for a patient to ask a doctor where he trained and to inquire as to his expertise before agreeing to be treated. 


"To announce untruly, “I am a Buddhist monk” and offer or provide spiritual training that one has not received, or if one is not trained, unqualified and/or unauthorized to teach, is criminal fraud."


When entering into an attorney/client relationship with a solicitor, it is reasonable and prudent for a client to ask a solicitor which law school he graduated from, which degrees she has attained and what her litigation history is.  Such professional people rely on the trust of their patients and clients and have a responsibility to put their minds at ease by providing true and proper credentials if requested before entering into an intimate and private professional relationship.  The same is to be expected of any minister of religion claiming to be ordained in a specific tradition, behaving as a member of said tradition, and/or wearing the vestments associated with such an office.
    
There is nothing illegal or even immoral about a person functioning as a minister of religion without any credentials or ordination from an eccleasiastical body.  If one functions in such a capacity without claiming to be ordained, there is absolutely nothing wrong.  There is nothing wrong with creating a unique religious vestment to go with one’s newly founded religion.  If such a person, being asked by a member of the public, “Are you ordained?” and responding, “No, I am not ordained, I simply live as a monk.” there is nothing amiss in so doing.  One has the freedom to live, behave, and function as a monk if one so chooses as a matter of the free exercise of religion.  If one starts a new religion, and adopts a unique clerical garb one is free to do so — with out question.  However, one is not free to simply adopt the religious garb of a recognized order or tradition if one is not authorized by that tradition to do so — to do so is improper and deceitful.
    
One is bound to come into question if they represent themselves as a member of an already established religious tradition.  Once one represents one’s self as an ordained member of a specific religious tradition it is only reasonable and prudent for the public to inquire as to the verification of such a claim in order to make an informed decision to accept someone as a cleric of a specific religious tradition.  Even a casual inquiry out of curiosity must be answered truthfully. 

To live “as a monk” is perfectly acceptable and legal, nevertheless, to call one’s self a “Buddhist monk” necessarily implies membership in the Maha Sangha.  A “Buddhist monk” within the Sangha can only be such, through the auspices of a legitimate teacher or preceptor within the tradition, in a public ordination or “going forth.”  The ceremony of ordination is a public event requiring a preceptor and witnesses; there is reason and rationale behind this arrangement.
    
When a person says he is a “Buddhist monk,” he is just a man who claims to be a Buddhist monk.  When Venerable Kobutsu Malone-Osho says he is a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk ordained on October 24, 1993, in the Sing Sing Prison Chapel at Ossining, New York, USA, by The Venerable Eido Sotai Shimano, Roshi and he offers his Ordination Shiki-Shi Certificate, His Ordination Certificate, Ordination Proclamation, Official Announcement and New York Times article reporting on the event… he is a Buddhist monk; who, in the spirit of public ordination, does not hide or dismiss his qualification.
    
It is the religious responsibility of ordained Buddhist clergy who declare themselves so to the world, to properly identify themselves to the public without embellishing or denying their qualification.  When a monk or layperson asks a monk, “Venerable: When, where, in what school or temple and under whose auspices where you ordained?” the genuine monk has a religious duty to answer truthfully without amplification or attenuation.
     
If one announces, “I am a Catholic monk.” then one is announcing that they are ordained in a Catholic order.  One would be assumed by most people to be a monk ordained in the Roman Catholic faith.  If a man were to say, “I am a Cistercian monk” then he is communicating precisely that he is a Roman Catholic monk; who follows the literal observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict.  If they identify their Abbey and Abbot they even more precisely declare their true identity.
    
Were one to form a new religion and announce, “I am the first monk of the Neo-Celtic order of the Magic Goblet” there is no issue as to one’s credential there is nobody to say otherwise.  But, when another person come along and announces. “I am the second monk of that line.” then it is incumbent on the second one to demonstrate his connection to the first, this is only logical and reasonable.
    
Religious orders are establishments of rule of law - wherein people follow a specific set of established laws, norms, strictures, precepts or principles.  To misrepresent one’s self as a member of a specific tradition or order, when one has not been ordained in that line, is fraudulent.  It is not necessarily criminal fraud – until, or unless, one takes in funds under such conditions, or functions as a religious advisor, confessor, or pastoral counselor - when this occurs, one is committing criminal fraud.
    
To announce untruly, “I am a Buddhist monk.” is not against the law — if it goes no further.
    
But, to announce untruly, “I am a Buddhist monk.” and take money from people for charity is illegal, it is criminal fraud.  To announce untruly, “I am a Buddhist monk.” and offer or provide pastoral counsel to people is illegal, it is criminal fraud. To announce untruly, “I am a Buddhist monk.” and offer or provide spiritual training that one has not received, or if one is not trained, unqualified and/or unauthorized to teach, is criminal fraud.

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Kobutsu Shindo Kevin Malone, Osho, is an American Rinzai Zen Buddhist Priest of the Gempo-Soen-Eido lineage, and is also recognized as the Second Lineage Holder of the Celtic Buddhist tradition. A practitioner for nearly four decades, Kobutsu has studied with such preeminent Buddhist teachers as Ven. Eido Shimano, Roshi, and the Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

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