After 3 years in Myanmar, I have moved to The International Institute of Theravāda. What is this place and why did I come here and what is mission?
What is IIT?
The International Institute of Theravāda (IIT) is a comprehensive training institute aimed at facilitating spiritual and academic development of Buddhist monks, based on Theravada teachings. It is inclusive and accommodative, irrespective of sects (Nikaya) and other differences within the Theravada Buddhist clergy. The IIT would disseminate the teachings of the Buddha as per the ancient Theravada texts, to Buddhist practitioners across the globe.https://www.theravado.com/aboutus
One thing they are doing at this monastery is focusing on a community of vinaya monks. While many monasteries in Thailand and Sri Lanka exclude monks from other traditions from participating in vinaya transactions, this monastery is not part of that exclusionary practice. Pa-Auk and Wat Khao Sanamchai are also monasteries that are open to all monks who choose to follow vinaya as well. By doing this, more monks can learn about the vinaya bhikkhu way of life.
The description continues further.
The Saṅgha community, especially the Sri Lankan Saṅgha community has witnessed great setbacks during the past few decades in spirituality, knowledge and practice. One of the main reasons for this phenomenon is the absence of a proper monk-training program during the initial stages of the monkhood. This vacuum was clearly visible at least for the past seven decades. Though there had been a few attempts to rectify this situation, no coherent, well-focused and well-structured mechanism had been established so far, mainly in the contemporary tradition of Theravada monks.
Due to the lack of learned and disciplined monks within the Sri Lankan society, pure philosophy of Theravada Buddhism is at the brink of being distorted, misinterpreted and misguided. Also, the real purpose of monkhood is being diverted towards arenas which are entirely against the real Dhamma and Vinaya.https://www.theravado.com/aboutus
If you read between the lines, they are also talking about the current state of “International Theravada Buddhism”, especially those that teach in English. Over the last seven decades refers to the monks who have ordained in Sri Lanka and other countries without proper teachers, using self study mixed with self-opinions, conclusions and flavors of what is “true” and what is “not true”. These teachings have spread and have become mainstream in the West. IIT seeks to remedy this through proper education and bringing up monks properly… etc. Actually, there is no other course of action.
The description continues further:
Observing this timely need a group of young competent monks from the Śrī Kalyāṇī Yogashrama Saṃsthā, Sri Lanka who have completed their studies in Myanmar and exposed to forest traditions in Thailand and elsewhere took the initiatives to establish the International Institute of Theravada (IIT), a monk training center focused on empowering monks who can lead their own spiritual lives and render correct spiritual advice to others. With the erudition garnered from the courses conducted in the institute, student monks of IIT are expected to sustain the lineage of the Theravada.
Founding monks of the IIT …visited Myanmar for higher studies in Theravada doctrine with the blessings of the Mahā Thera and returned to Sri Lanka, having successfully completed their studies.
The auspicious establishment of IIT took place on the 15th November 2019 with the offering of six residential chambers (kuṭis) for the Mahā Saṅgha by Honorable Maitreepala Sirisena, the President of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Construction of the kuṭis were done by the Sri Lankan army.https://www.theravado.com/aboutus
If you read this last paragraph quickly you might overlook that the president of Sri Lanka helped with the initial construction.
The last part of the description is below:
The land of approximately 87 acres known as Heenatikalma Watta, where IIT is located, was offered to the Mahā Saṅgha, on the 25th April 2019, by pious devotee Mr Chandrakeerthi Bandara and his family under the guidance of Most Venerable Agulgamuwe Ariyananda Mahā Thera, the abbot of the well-renowned Na-Uyana Forest Meditation Center, Malsiripura, Sri Lanka.
Association with Good Friends:
I have known the founding monks, Venerable Maggavihari and Venerable Dewananda for over 16 years now. I have also gone to Kaua’i with Venerable Dewananda in 2015. I’m not sure if the Kaua’i people knew how special my guest was who visited the island.
This place is filled with very special monks and there is a general happy vibe here because everyone has semi-committed to six years. They want to improve who they are as monks and fulfill the true requirements for monks to gain “independence”. Because of this, sincere monks have gathered.
What All Monks Need to Learn:
The mission is to train monks in the classical Theravāda training to be independent from teachers according to the classical requirements mentioned in the pali texts. Few monks ever achieve proper independence, yet this school aims to have all graduates achieve this status in a period of 6 years. I hope to be one of those graduates too. No title is given when one graduates. You just get the privilege to be qualified to live alone if you choose to do so.
Following things should learn and skilled by the one who completed five rains and to be freed from dependence. 1tasmā nissayamuccanakena (pāci. aṭṭha. 145-147) upasampadāya pañcavassena sabbantimena paricchedena dve mātikā paguṇā vācuggatā kattabbā, pakkhadivasesu dhammassavanatthāya suttantato cattāro bhāṇavārā, sampattānaṃ parisānaṃ parikathanatthāya andhakavinda(a. ni. 5.114) mahārāhulovāda(ma. ni. 2.113 ādayo) ambaṭṭha(daī. ni. 1.254 ādayo) sadiso eko kathāmaggo, saṅghabhattamaṅgalāmaṅgalesu anumodanatthāya tisso anumodanā, uposathapavāraṇādijānanatthaṃ kammākammavinicchayo, samaṇadhammakaraṇatthaṃ samādhivasena vā vipassanāvasena vā arahattapariyosānamekaṃ kammaṭṭhānaṃ, ettakaṃ uggahetabbaṃ.
- Two (sets) of pātimokkha rules (bhikkhu and bhikkhuni) should be learned by heart [at least].
- Should be skill in Four “bhāṇavārā” with profound understandings to deliver dhamma-talks at observance (uposatha) days.
- Suttas named Andhakavinda; Mahā Rāhulovāda, ambatta etc. or one of them should be learned for guiding and encouraging community members that have assembled.
- Three talks should be fluent to lead devotees in the ceremonies like alms offering to saṅgha (saṅghadāna), auspicious occasions and funerals.
- To be confident in Uposatha pavārana etc. one should be skilled in right factors and faults in formal acts (vinayakamma).
- In order to fulfill the goal of a monk one should be skilled in one of samathavipassanā meditation objects (samādhi and vipassanā) up to the level of achieving Arahanthood.
Although I have finished the memorization and performed the pātimokkha, there are still other requirements left to do. The first one on my list is to memorize the bhikkhuni (female nun) pātimokkha. Because it is so rare to “know” the pātimokkha and the bhikkhunis are considered extinct by the general Theravāda Community, most teachers don’t require the extra work needed to be fully independent. I have started this daunting task already, and I can see some benefits that our ancient elders required.
Is There Food and Support?
I have come from Pa-Auk, Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar and now I am at The International Institute of Theravadā. You might wonder why I would stay in, or go to, countries which are reputed to have financial and or political difficulties? My parents have asked the same question to me as well. The answer is, it is rare to find monasteries which are striving to practice the vinaya to its fullest extent, while fulfilling the study and meditation duties of a monk. Unfortunately, such places are rare. Because of its rarity, such places are fully supported by the community for the four requisites. (robes, meals, living quarters, & medicine).
For a place that has just opened 3 years ago, 78 residents is quite an astounding achievement. New applicants are locked out now for the first 6 years, but I wonder if this will really happen. In the future, it will open year by year for new students. IIT will surely become a central hub for monks who want proper monastic education and training. I believe it will be a well known place for foreigners to ordain. I wish the organization the best. I also wish myself the best because it will not be easy. There is quite a lot to study!