The debate over comfortable Buddhist monks

11 October 2011

On 11 October in a Sydney Ideas event, Karen Lang, a Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Sydney, will discuss how Buddha favoured moderation and would not have had a problem with modern monks living a comfortable life.

"The Buddha advocated a middle path between the extremes of luxurious living and harsh asceticism, which requires foregoing any pleasures," said Professor Karen Lang.

"Critics of the Buddha's modern disciples accuse them of living too well - of wearing fine clothes, living in beautiful monasteries and indulging in the eating of meat."

The talk will explore the Buddhist defence of moderation and the institutional power politics that shaped the debate over what the proper lifestyle of the religious elite should be.

"At issue was royal patronage and support for Buddhists and their large monasteries. During the medieval period in India, kings' patronage of Hindu and Jain temples eclipsed the generous support once given to Buddhists.

"In contemporary India similar disputes over government support for religious institutions and the proper behaviour of religious leaders continue."

Professor Lang will examine narratives from Buddhist and Jain texts that compare the comfort of Buddhist monks with the austerity practiced by Jains and other ascetic groups. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion which advocates non-violence towards all living beings.

Karen Lang is the 2011 University Buddhist Education Foundation Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Sydney.

She is a professor of Indian Religions in the Department of Religious Studies and two-time Director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia. Her publications include Four Illusions: Candrakīrti's Advice on the Bodhisattva Path and Āryadeva's Catuḥśataka: On the Bodhisattva's Cultivation of Merit and Knowledge, as well as numerous articles on Buddhist philosophy and literature.

She has been a member of the translation team that produced the first English translation of Tsongkhapa's The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Her primary research and translation interests focus on the work of the seventh-century Indian Buddhist philosopher, Candrakīrti.

Event details

What: The Buddha's Middle Way: In Defence of Fine Clothes, Good Food and Beautiful Monasteries

When: 6pm, Tuesday 11 October

Where: Foyer, New Law Building, Camperdown Campus. See map and directions

Cost: Free and open to all, with no ticket or booking required. Seating is unreserved and entry is on a first come, first served basis.

Contact: Verity Leatherdale

Phone: 02 93514312

Email: 125222001b375c280623361923161e2a0b5572312a5621102f1c2155171c071c