Dear 100 Hour Board,
Let's say I wanted to be a Buddhist monk for a few years. Would I have to renounce the church, or would they let a Mormon live the aesthetic life at their monastery and learn their ways without having to convert to Buddhism?
This question spoke to me because I didn't know many other people (and Auto Surf too, hey!) were drawn to an ascetic lifestyle. I have a weird fascination with Catholic monasticism, which is different from Buddhism but involves a similar lifestyle of spiritual contemplation. Unfortunately, I can't pursue these dreams because a) Catholic monks are celibate for life... respectable, but not ideal, and b) Catholic monks are, well... Catholic, but that doesn't mean you need to give up on yours, too.
In fact, you may actually have a little leeway here because your Mormon faith and interest in Buddhism may be compatible. Technically, Buddhism isn't a religion in the strictest sense. Buddha didn't necessarily believe that his followers should use faith to come upon truths Buddhism teaches but that they should examine them for themselves and come to their own conclusions. It doesn't answer any of the big questions like what comes after death or why we have come to Earth: it more gives you the tools to examine truths and come to your own better spiritual enlightenment. So if you want, you could follow it as a philosophy of life rather than a religious belief.
Is it okay to be a Mormon and practice Buddhist philosophies, though? I can't really answer that but can make some measured thoughts. Brigham Young said, "I want to say to my friends that we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it."
While it's risky business including quotes from prophets, it sounds like if a philosophy or religious conviction is good and doesn't contradict our doctrine, it's okay to believe. So, since Buddhism would fall under "earth" in this scenario, having Buddhist beliefs that encourage goodness and spiritual betterment would probably be just fine. Much of Buddhism's truths do not contradict Mormon doctrine, especially since believing in reincarnation or any spiritual beings is not a requirement for Buddhism. If it helps you understand the Gospel better personally, it sounds like a good thing and not something you would need "conversion" to follow. You don't even need to convert to Buddhism to practice its teachings, as there is no pressure from other Buddhists to do so like in other religions.
Now the question is, can you become a Buddhist monk as a Mormon? It sounds like it might be unusual, but not impossible. From what I'm reading, in order to become ordained, you'll need to find a spiritual teacher who can guide you through the process and give you permission for ordination. You may want to get in contact with someone who can be this for you via a letter, phone call, or possibly email and explain your situation. Try contacting monasteries in places you'd want to relocate. I don't know if renouncing your Mormon faith would be necessary, but they may tell you what they would require when joining their monastery.
In addition, though this seems like a personal decision, you may want to discuss this with your bishop. While what you decide is up to you, he may be able to give you some advice on how to integrate your Mormon and Buddhist identities and if monasticism is the right path for your situation. Whether or not you agree with his perspective, it may give you a little more to think about and more authoritative advice from a Mormon than we can give.
If, for whatever reason, ordination as a Buddhist monk is not right for you, you may be able to find a program that gives you similar spiritual benefits:
- Monk for a Month is a program that allows you to live in a monastery and experience an ascetic lifestyle for a month in India, Nepal, Cambodia, or Ethiopia. While much shorter than ideal for you, it may give you a similar experience without having to take vows or "renounce" your life as a Mormon.
- Joining the Peace Corps can be a spiritual experience as you volunteer in another country and practice a lifestyle based on service for two years. Although not an ascetic lifestyle, it can be fulfilling in a spiritual sense. You could ask to serve in a place with a large Buddhist population and spend time learning from and helping out the local monasteries.
- Don't disdain personal growth. Although you may not be able to devote as many hours to spiritual development as a full-time monk could, you can still cultivate spiritual growth on your own terms. You could even meet with other Buddhists in Utah and support each other on your personal paths. If interested, there's a Buddhist temple in Salt Lake City. It may help to spend some time there, get to know the members, and spend time developing your spiritual convictions whether or not you decide on a monastic life.
Hopefully this gives you a few ideas to think about. My main qualifications for answering this answer are basically just having taken World Religions and Eastern Religions as a freshman... in other words, I am not an expert at all. If any of the readers have more understanding of Buddhism and what becoming a monk involves, please leave a correction. Good luck!
I'm pretty sure I've been wanting to be a Buddhist monk for a while now, I just didn't know it until I suddenly did. And then I realized that I'm probably good where I am, but I do want to learn more. Anyway, it's nice to find a kindred spirit.
In answer to your question: Buddhism is cool with "dual citizenship,' so you don't have to worry about denouncing your pre-existing faith and beliefs.
You might also enjoy The Pluralism Project and its resources. They list religious institutions in different metropolitan areas and help bridge communal gaps. Upon further investigation, I found out that they map even more than I thought, including these practices:
- Atheism & Humanism
- Native Traditions
- New Religious Movements
- Other Indigenous Traditions
- Other Traditions
- Unitarian Universalism
I would like to point out that officially converting to another religion is one of the few things that's specifically mentioned in Handbook 1 as grounds for a disciplinary council. As the other writers have discussed, Buddhism isn't exactly the same as converting to most other religions; from their perspective, they'd most likely be fine with you considering yourself a Mormon who also practices Buddhism. But it's definitely something to consult with your bishop about before you do anything to officially become Buddhist.
I found a cool Ensign article from June 1972 that addresses Buddhism specifically. It's written by a BYU professor and the gist is that, while there are some overlapping principles, the essence of Buddhism is believing that there is not a god figure, but rather that all existence is one Essence. I'll quote the article to try to explain the conflict:
The restored gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that God and man are self-conscious, self-determining beings who know how to make plans and execute them. This means that God can create things other than himself and allow events and forces other than himself to occur that are out of harmony with his will. He distinguishes between good and evil, and he is able to act in favor of that which he approves and to persuasively oppose what he disapproves...
Yet, Buddhism has no ultimate concern for ethics. The Buddhist goal transcends all opposites, including good and evil. Enlightenment is to apprehend underlying unity—that all things are of one essence...
So long as the Buddhist believes that true reality is one Inclusive Mind, such gospel teachings as creation, sin, repentance, the atonement of Christ, and judgment are irrelevant.
The end of the article really goes into detail about how our beliefs and Buddhism overlap and how they clash. It's worth a read if you've got the time.
TL;DR You would probably have to renounce some pretty core LDS beliefs to become a Buddhist monk.