A Response to Addiction in Buddhism
In Thailand in the fall of 2022, the police arrested monks from a Buddhist temple. In fact, they closed the monastery. Buddhist authorities defrocked the monks, dismissed them, and sent them into a drug rehabilitation program. Every one of the monks had tested positive for methamphetamine.
Imagine their saffron robes thrown into a fire. That sort of thing has happened many times over because this incident was not an isolated case of monks behaving badly. Monks not only in Thailand but everywhere and over the span of history, have been convicted of corruption, murder, drug trafficking, and essentially all other crimes possible. Their arrests and convictions seem inevitable because there have been enough clergy and more than enough history for all those things to happen. The clergy, after all, are human.
What strikes practicing Buddhists as the oddest aspect of drug addiction among monks, though, is the disparity between the actions of the clergy and the core tenets of Buddhism.
In a discussion, imi loa wrote:a core tenet of buddhism is minimizing attachment, with drug addiction being an intense form of attachment...
For me, reading with a sense of history makes these incidents more understandable. It's true that the difference between practicing non-attachment and acquiring a drug addiction is stark. However, not all official Buddhists follow what in the west would be called Buddhism or (by traditionalists) Western Buddhism. Instead, it might be more appropriate to say they practice their local traditions.
The history of Buddhism makes it different from many other major religions, as there was no event that corresponded to the Council of Nicaea that unified official Christian teachings. Instead, followers of the Buddha spread out; Buddhism received different sorts of emphasis in different countries; even today there's serious debate about whether Zen Buddhism is proper Buddhism. As a philosophy, the teachings remain stable and coherent. As a collection of temples, though, the organization of Buddhism allows a tremendous amount of diversity and differences in emphasis on the precepts. The differences include some temples conscripting young men from villages or temples recruiting children. It encompasses ceremonies left over from pantheistic religions of ages past.
From NPR:“The ultimate goal of Buddhism is for the people to get enlightened,” said Somboon Chungprampree, a social activist and executive secretary of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. “But most of the society is learning that not all those who are wearing saffron can be a holy or respectable person.”
In all religions, there is a tendency for a subset of lay practitioners to be the real followers of the faith, while the professionals and religious authorities should be regarded as suspect. This is for good reasons, as noted above and, in fact, as seen throughout the course of human history.