To be a monastic is to live in virtue
while being sustained through the virtue of others.
The relationship between monastics and lay
Monastics, who live lives of poverty and service, exist merely through the generosity of others. This reality becomes evident when rendering the title of a fully ordained monastic. In Tibetan, the title is gelong or the feminine gelongma, in Sanskrit, bhiksu or bhiksuni, literally meaning virtuous beggar–someone who subsists entirely on alms (sustenance received through the generosity of others). The Buddha saw an important and mutually beneficial interdependence between the monastic order and the lay community, believing each group serves to benefit the other. Monastics serve as teachers, fulfilling the spiritual needs of the lay, while also being living examples of enlightened behavior. In return, the lay community provides monastics with simple daily sustenance so they can continue unimpeded in their pursuit of enlightenment. The Buddha believed that this symbiotic relationship allows both communities the opportunity to practice generosity leading towards eventual awakening. Some may say that monastics have it better in this arrangement. However, this is to misunderstand the mindset of monastics. For monastics have renounced worldly concerns; living lives of simplicity so as not to be a burden upon the lay. Monastics have abandoned all interest in money, possessions, or self-importance; possessing no desire for gain or to manipulate others for their own benefit.
Recognizing the work of monastics
Often, many are not aware of the level of commitment and intensity of study and training that monastics undergo. That the deep insight and profound wisdom sought by monks and nuns is gained only through vigorous study and practice. In the West, I think monastics still remain as enigmas and are not fully appreciated for the work they do. On one hand, the West is a culture that has no problem justifying multi-million dollar contracts for professional athletes, musicians, and actors; on the other hand, it has difficulty accepting the concept of giving a simple meal to a monastic who tirelessly and selflessly works in creating a healthy society–work from which we all benefit. With that said, the work of monastics includes the development and promotion of education, ethics, altruism, compassion, wisdom, personal responsibility, nonviolence, and goodwill towards others. Monastics work as teachers, writers, philosophers, social workers, and social activists; but most importantly, monastics serve as role models of enlightened behavior.
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