In Buddhism, there’s a social contract between two communities, the lay, and the monastic population. This social contract is like any other contract, it’s a promise of exchange of goods and services between two parties. For example, a school providing education to students and students, in turn, paying tuition. But in this case, the exchange is food and shelter for the monastic population in pursuit of nirvana with imparting of Buddha’s teachings to the lay population.
Evolution of the Contract
Over time, the contract has evolved to a point where non-renewal of the contract was never even considered. The monastic order became part of the Burmese culture and part of the society as if the lay community has a fundamental need for the monastic order. And the order took on the role of the community elders who impart wise solutions to problems, religious or otherwise.
Breach of Contract
As with all organizations, there are outliers who do not represent what the organization stands for or does not act in accordance with the contract undertaken by the organization. Instead of imparting Buddha’s teachings, the monastic order started preaching their brand of Buddhism and exacted a new contract in which lay people can exchange their goods and monies for benefits in their after-life.
This new terms of the contract were not questioned by either party, even though both parties have prior knowledge that the monastic order does not have the authority to provide such benefits. Applying the Buddhist rules, karma is not something a third party can intervene in nor does good karma cancel out the bad karma. After all, even the Buddha died from diarrhea for his bad karma.
So, this constitutes a simple scam/fraud/swindle. The monastic order is taking goods and monies without any intention of delivering on the promise of a good after-life. At this point, the lay community simply believes that the promise will be delivered somehow while the monastic order mumbles in some Pali text about how their superior good deeds (i.e. giving to the monastic order) will deliver extra good karma.
Bribery is commonplace in Burmese culture. And the lay community in Burma sees donations to the monastic order as a bribery to the samsara for wiping out bad karma and adding good karma. It’s like getting out of a driving under the influence ticket and changing your bank balance to be a millionaire at the same time. The sad part is the lay people are bribing the wrong group, the monastic order. If you want to get out of a DUI ticket, you bribe a cop, not a monk. If you bribe a monk, you are still going to jail.
Happiness til Death
But then again, one can argue that the lay people are happy until they die, thinking that they accumulated all the good karma and managed to wipe out the bad. Of course, flaunting of wealth in this life with huge plaques with their names are also a benefit. If those are services that the monastic order provides, I guess they are still providing some sort of benefit. So, we get fat monks and happy people. But at the end of the day, the bad people are still going to hell, including the bad monks.