The Simile of the Good House

A man needs to build a house in the forest, and enters the forest in search of timber. If he can get all beams, posts, floorboards, planks, and shingles from a single tree, this is the best, and ideal. If he is unable to find such a tree, he should not fail to build his house. He must use whatever timber he can get from various trees that he finds. He must build his house anyhow by all means because not having a dwelling place leads to all kinds of trouble and hardship. Every man needs a home for rest, sleep, and comfort. So a wise seeker of building materials must carefully examine each tree he happens to find in the forest. If he finds long logs he must take them for posts. If he finds straight timber that is too short for posts he must take it for planks or shingles. He must ignore unsuitable materials or sizes in each tree that he finds. By selecting only useful logs of appropriate sizes, leaving behind the useless ones, he can build a good, strong house for his benefit with the wood from various trees. By wise discrimination a well-built house results.

By choosing suitable materials for each purpose from various trees, one obtains a beautiful, strong house. He is no different to a person who finds all the suitable material from a single excellent tree. His house is not inferior in any way, because he obtains and dwells in a well-built house made from good materials. His house lasts long enough for his descendants too.

The above simile is a practical illustration for a comfortable life. Following this wise method, a devotee should pay attention to the good features of a moral, but foolish, and bad monk. He should pay respect to the good points in a person, ignoring the lack of the factors required for good and wise status. He should honour the moral features in such a person, thus gaining a clear conscience and much benefit. He should not utter harsh or slanderous words against this monk for his other faults, weaknesses, and failures. They must be totally ignored. One should not lump together all good and bad features of a monk in one’s mind.

If he blames and abuses this monk by lumping together all features, he becomes a foolish and bad person himself. He suffers for his disrespect and for his harsh words. Moreover, he fails to get the benefit of honouring and respecting the aspect of morality in this monk, due to his own foolishness. The wise course for an intelligent, devoted person is to rely on a wise monk for wisdom and to associate with a good monk for his humility and gentleness. One should therefore take heed of these different causes and different effects, being ever vigilant when approaching a monk for almsgiving, and showing respect.

One who helps a moral, but foolish and bad monk, may contradict the Maṅgala Dhamma calling for avoidance of fools because of the foolish aspect. By association with a foolish monk, this may appear to be so. The Maṅgala Sutta enjoins all to avoid foolish persons. Because of the words “to associate with the wise,” one might think this contradicts the advice to follow the wise. However, such a devotee, because of his wise attitude and appropriate choice, does not break these two good rules mentioned in the Maṅgala Sutta and Jātaka. In fact he obtains the blessing of association with the wise for his clear thinking and suitable deeds.

What benefits does one gain by respecting a monk of the type shown above? The reason for getting benefits is that in the ultimate sense the essence of a wise person is moral conduct. This is explained in the Abhidhamma (Mātikā) in relation to a pair of terms “bālā dhamma” and “paṇḍita dhamma.” So morality alone, in the ultimate sense, is wisdom. If a person pays attention to the characteristic of morality alone, he gets at least part of the blessing called “associating with the wise.” If, however, he pays attention to a monk’s foolishness and badness, he cannot attain this blessing as his mind mixes all sorts of factors, good and bad. Because of this, he becomes foolish and bad too.

Regarding the remaining monks of three mixed qualities, one can probably understand the appropriate results, because all are similar to the above example.

Some monks may lack all three good factors, being known as shameless, foolish, and bad. No one should pay respect to such a monk or honour him, as he does not possess a single redeeming virtue. Therefore one should just ignore this type of monk and refrain from speaking abusive words. If one relies on or honours this type of monk one is breaking the injunction of the Maṅgala Sutta, which enjoins one not to associate with fools.

In each case one should make a detailed analysis and appropriate classification, since many combinations of vice and virtue can be found. The questioners asked about the classification of shameless and immoral, with the resultant types of foolish, wise, and bad persons. So in this answer I have given a detailed analysis and necessary comments for clarity’s sake.

If one understands the method of classification of monks in the first answer, one will have clear answers for the second and third questions. The essential points are the same.

A note of warning: All devotees and lay persons should maintain an intelligent attitude. A narrow-minded, egoistic devotee will, at first, pay respect to a moral monk, but as familiarity grows, all kinds of attachment and clinging arise, thus diminishing the monk’s status. Intimacy, attachment, and familiarity lead to ignoble deeds that are improper according to the Vinaya. So corruption and decline set in due to intimacy. An unwise lay person can destroy a monk due to intimacy, wrong attitudes, and ulterior motives.

What is the meaning of Maṅgala Dhamma? How does one get it? In the ultimate sense, attitudes and acts that promote wholesome factors or merits are Maṅgala Dhammas. One gets blessings based on one’s meritorious deeds. Conversely, demeritorious attitudes and deeds are misfortunes since they increase unwholesome states. One should understand that both are impersonal states in their ultimate sense and characteristics. Regarding the problem whether one should associate with this or that monk, in the ultimate sense personal factors are absent. The essence of correct behaviour is to associate with wholesome states and not to associate with unwholesome states. This is the crux of the problem and the infallible guide to appropriate action.

Sevitabbāsevitabba Sutta

In the Sevitabbāsevitabba Sutta (the discourse on associating or avoiding) the Buddha declares in the clearest terms:

“Sāriputta, if by associating with a person you develop unwhole­some states, lessening or destroying wholesome states, you should avoid that person. Sāriputta, if by associating with a person you develop wholesome states, lessening or destroying unwholesome states, you should associate with that person.”

The essential point is to choose between wholesome states and unwholesome states objectively.

The Bālapaṇḍita Sutta

A fool is so called because he habitually thinks bad thoughts, speaks bad speech, and does bad deeds. A wise person is so called because he habitually thinks good thoughts, speaks good speech, and does good deeds. So those who are evil in thought, speech, and deeds are depraved or wicked. Those who are virtuous in thought, speech, and deeds are wise and cultured.

Nowadays many lay persons and monks fail to attain complete purity in all three spheres of morality. Some are moral in their bodily actions, but immoral in speech and thought. Others, though moral in speaking the truth, are immoral in their actions and thoughts. Many have good intentions, but cannot speak or behave skilfully. Some are skilful in two spheres, but lack purity in the third. Thus, all kinds of people can be found with mixed physical, verbal, and mental skills.

Most people possess a mix of good and evil in each of the three spheres. In choosing a teacher or a monk for one’s mentor, one should check to see if wholesome states are developing or deteriorating. In other words, all intelligent persons should examine their own moral progress in honouring or associating with others.

The questioners have asked about the good or bad results of associating with or supporting shameless and immoral monks. They want evidence or case histories for the respective effects, good or bad.

It is said, “One shameless monk creates a hundred shameless ones by association and example.” So the bad results of associating with shameless monks are too great to measure.

The Buddha warns us that those who associate intimately with the shameless will take on their characteristics. This is the first bad result. Subsequent bad results are as follows. If one becomes shameless in this life, one is liable to retain this characteristic in thousands of future existences, as one is far removed from moral conduct. Once one becomes bad, one will tend to be bad in a series of future existences too. If one becomes foolish, being without knowledge and insight in this life, one becomes a fool in countless future lives. These are the bad results.

Seeing only bad results and the gravity of each case, one should avoid associating with shameless, bad, and foolish monks. Moreover, these persons, lacking morality, goodness, and wisdom, cannot bring blessings to those who meet them. Association with them usually brings only misfortune. Those who want to obtain blessings in associating with them should first reform their own minds and attitudes. Devotees and donors should concentrate only on some virtue or good aspect of such monks. Great care is needed here.

As for the evidence of good or bad effects, one should study the Commentary on the Suttanipāta that explains the phrase “Āsevanā ca bālānaṃ” in detail. More examples to prove this point can be gleaned from teachers and learned preceptors. Dhamma teachers will give sermons on this matter, relating stories from the Tipiṭaka and its Commentaries.

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