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Question
whenever it is asked wether we need to shave heads or leave family life in order to become buddhist, it is said that none of these is required. we just need to understand the 4 noble truth and follow the eightfold path. then why do people become buddhist monks? i mean, what special thing does a buddhist monk do that a layperson following the same path does not? what is the advantage to becoming a monk and following buddhism rather than being a layperson and following buddhism?

Answer
Hi Gurinder,
That is a very good question. Before answering, I must stress that I never became a monk, and was never seriously tempted to, so you should bear that in mind when you consider whatever I might say.

Clearly many monks are in a position to devote much more time to their study and practice than a person in the lay world. I say "many", because in a number of cases some months are basically just cooks, cleaners, and servants for those of higher status. Sad, but true.

Remaining a layperson carries, obviously enough, the danger that your practice, study, meditation and so on will, over the course of time, just become less and less and will "run into the sand", as we say. A monastic environment provides a structure that avoids that danger.
On the other hand, the monastic life is very hard to maintain purely. There are not very many of us who can suppress, for instance, our sexual urges effectively enough for them not to end up causing this damage. We only have to look at the Christian Catholic Church to know that!

Of course, there are places right across Southeast Asia, Tibet, China as it was, Japan and yet more where social structures encourage people to become monks and nuns. I have always lived in "Western" societies, where I think it is much more difficult, although some people seem to make a success of it.

So that is not, perhaps, a particularly clear answer, but I believe that it is a difficult enough question that really simple answer would probably not be an honest one!

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Alex Wilding

Expertise

I have practiced and studied Tibetan Buddhism in the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions since the early 1970s, and have a good knowledge of theory, history and of the struggles of trying to practice the teachings, including meditation, while leading a normal, modern life. I am also available to provide background information for journalists.

Experience

I have been a practitioner since the early 1970s; have run a small Buddhist centre in the English Midlands and was vice-president of Kagyu Benchen Ling e.V. in Germany, for whom I managed three large Buddhist summer-camps. More importantly, I maintain a habit of personal practice. I am the "owner" of the Kagyu list at Yahoo.

Education/Credentials
My first degree was an M.A. from Oxford. I later obtained a Master of Philosophy degree for a research thesis in "Initiation in Tibetan Buddhism" from Leicester University. I also have engineering and educational qualifications.

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