Tibetan monks losing vocation under the sway of technology

The growth of technology within a sect of diasporic Tibetan Buddhists is one factor in growing defections among younger monks, according to Malwina Krajewska of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Poland. Krajewska, who was presenting a paper at the Toronto meeting of the International Sociological Association in mid-July, which RW attended, studied several Tibetan monasteries in India and Nepal over a five-year period, particularly from the Karma Kagyu branch of Tibetan Buddhism (which is separate from the lineage of those following the Dalai Lama). She found that since these monasteries have accepted lay practitioners, the younger monks have followed a less strict lifestyle. Krajewska observed younger monks streaming videos and taking “selfies,” drinking Coca Cola during pujas, even allowing her to practice sitting meditation along with them.

The monks are also putting their ceremonies and rituals online even as they pursue more secular interests, such as following football. The old lamas see this relaxation of the rules as a threat to monastic life. The monks’ new taste of freedom, especially through Internet use and travel, has led to many of them dropping out of the monasteries, Krajewska says. In the monasteries that she studied she found that there has been a narrowing of the number of vows that monks take upon entering monastic life. By taking fewer vows, the monks can meet and talk with women and find other new opportunities. Much of this change has come under the leadership of the head lama, Gyalwang Karmapa, who has challenged tradition by his openness to technology and, more personally, by marrying several years ago. But Karmapa himself acknowledged that monasteries may close in the future, with the tradition existing in the hearts of only a few monks.