[Buddha-l] monks, meditation and trauma

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Tue Apr 7 06:16:01 MDT 2009

Dear Lance and Jayarava,

Peter Harvey's JBE essay aside, this is a more complex matter than a simple
thumbs up or thumbs down to mad monks. Several things: (1) there is a huge
spectrum of things that would fall under "mental illness", or unmāda if you
prefer (an important issue in Indian medicine; an entire chapter is devoted
to it in the Caraka-samhita, for instance), from basic disorientations
regarding time and place (not knowing what day it is or where you are can
get you committed today, or at least receive an official diagnostic label),
which would include not showing up for meetings; all the way to psychotic,
violent outbursts. Different cases would/should be treated differently,
depending on severity, how extreme the behavior (does he just talk to
himself and ignore others, or does he defecate and urinate all over himself
while rambling incoherently? Is he violent? Self-abusive [cutting,
mutilating himself, etc.] requiring restraints? And so on.) (2) The issue
would not be "culpability" if one is truly insane, but treatment or the
safety of the person and of others. Because otherwise intentional behaviors
are now to be viewed as non-intentional, non-culpable, the idea of demons,
possession, past unresolved karma, etc., became attractive explanations, and
the more attractive such explanations became, the more recourse would be
taken to confronting demons, exorcisms, charms, etc. as "cures." Dunhuang is
full of such "medical" texts. (3) If one was properly admitted to the order,
one should not have been insane at that time, but has become insane during
[maybe because of] one's existence as a sangha member. The sangha thereby
shares some responsibility for that person's present condition. (4) The
"text" aside, what has been done in Theravadin cultures with the severely
disturbed? Have they been returned to their families? When the closest thing
to a hospital would be a sangha community, they may take on the issue of
care simply by default.

Indeed other vinayas seem to be clearer that crazy behavior, even mildly
rude behavior, *may* be grounds for expulsion. That appears to be the
general understanding in East Asia, but I believe that is also expressed in
the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. Don't have time now to hunt down references.

Of course, some Buddhists (especially in the Chan/Zen traditions) also
romantically extolled the enlightened virtues of crazy monks, but these were
not "insane" in a disturbed way, though their social rudeness might be
disturbing to the less enlightened around them.

cheers (and a crazy laugh),

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