#5: Monks from the Inside Out

Inherently, nothing.

Martial arts has no more to do with Buddhism than oil painting or cooking. For an interesting read on martial arts and Buddhism: http://www.amazon.com/Shaolin-Grand...dp/0975500910/ref=ed_oe_h/102-8483437-9007358

"Enlightenment" is kind of a crummy word for it - liberation or awakening are slightly better. The Buddha notably awoke to the realization that everything is interconnected - this realization profoundly changed his life and allowed him to transcend suffering as we normally understand it. It's easy enough to rationally comprehend that everything is interconnected, but something more is posited here: that he "directly saw" the truth of this. He grasped it in the gnostic manner. The flip side of this interconnectedness (pratitya-samutpada), by the way, is sunyata (emptiness). One crucial aspect of the 8 fold path is Right Meditation, precisely because such meditation is necessary to reaching this profound understanding.

Martial practitioners use martial training as a meditation, just as many other spiritual seekers use seated mediation (zazen in the Zen tradition). Martial meditation works well for many people, but probably not for most - thankfully there are many modalities of meditation!

As far as roleplaying a "monk" character in the eastern paradigm, I think the key thing to keep in mind is non-attachment. Although such a character may have goals and desire to do good, s/he is ultimately able to "let go" of things which cause happiness/sadness/etc. A monk character does not become "outraged", for instance. This does not mean that the monk allows heinous acts to occur! And it does not mean that a monk character would not experience temporary sadness at the loss of a loved one. It just means that he does not tie his own emotional well-being to outcomes. Sadness is very temporary. Revenge is never a motivation for action, because a genuine monk would have released the passions which are necessary to fuel revenge.


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I’ve always believed that there should be a mental emphasis to Monk abilities, maybe tied to Concentration. Also, the monk class should have some sort of behavioral restrictions tied to using the cool powers, maybe something like alignment restrictions for clerics and paladins. The main point of this column is to encourage player and GM’s to not forget that monks are inherently a religious position. And even if they don’t want religion, I hope they’ll play monk advancement as striving to something greater then more attacks per round.
One really interesting thing to keep in mind when RPing monks is that, traditionally, monks would only kill (if ever) in self-defense - and even then strive for lesser measures than death. A monk that attacks evil beasties on sight doesn't really fit the traditional mold, at any rate.


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Another thing that's bugged me about Dand D monks, is the abscence of a monastery background. I'm no expert but it seems to me that the monastery a monk got at least some of their early training from should be hugely influential to their stlye, their affiliations, and their philosophy. It's also a great source of plot and character hooks. But all you get are these lone wandering fighter types. Thanks for the book recommendation, by the way.

Gully Foyle

is looking at the sky.
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Indeed, the Monk as a character class is woefully underdeveloped. I myself built a minotaur monk called the Rose whose main form of meditation was to build and tend (what else) rose gardens. Looking at it now, I may have roleplayed him wrong, but I instinctively played him as a detatched character, and he was not a killer kick-in-the-door type. Also, I do believe that the whole monastery aspect of the monk, and that influence on his beliefs, access to powers and effect on the monk's point of view is also very underdeveloped. As it stands now, it falls to the DM and the players to flesh this out themselves, and I believe that the popular literature and movies do provide enough of a base and ideas about the lifestyle for the average to player to have some grasp of how the character 'should' be played.

The column has brought some interesting points to my attention, and I certainly shall keep them in mind whenever I play a monk again, which is a certainty, as they're one of my favourite character classes.

Good column.
I've always found myself somewhat turned off by the monk class. It seemed so at odds with the setting of most dnd games and was mostly a magnet for powergamers or people who wanted to be Goku (I'm totally not joking about that one, just so you know. He took a level of sorcerer and would cast light on his hair...) so it's always bugged me to see it there in the PHB and not as just a supplemental class like a warlock or a favoured soul. I do like the idea of placing monks in their religius context but because they have to be part of a party, being detached and, let's be honest, mimicing Caine from Kung Fu: the Legend Continues does not make them ideal players. I have never gamed with a monk who was not a joke like the guy who would dress up as Ming the Merciless or just a twink who wanted to make sure that even if he didn't have any gear, he could kick eight kinds of butt. I'm interested in hearing if people have had truly positive experiences with Monk characters that weren't jarring or random. -leeman


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Yeah, the Monk class is kind of jarring for the normal D and D setting. I think the core problem is that the whole concept of monasticism hasn’t been incorporated very well into the rest of the world. Like, the PHB mentions something like monks don’t need gods because they have a direct connection to divine energy. This is a really interesting concept with huge social and religious consequences that aren’t explored at all. How do normal commoners see monks? Are they exemplars of virtue and holiness or self-centered heretics? How do clerics of those gods relate to them? Are they missionary at all?

All the emphasis is on the surface powers and fighting, so they don’t really fit into the rest of PHB-land society.
What's worse than a powergaming Monk? Answer: a powergaming monk with a vow of poverty who's been reincarnated as a plant creature so is now immune to practically everything except weedkiller. ::shudders at the recent memory::

the q

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While defining a Monk who fights in strictly eastern terms seems to be the common concept pushed by both the D&D writers and those battling against the D&D concept, there is a lot to be said about these definitions and also a connection to western tradition forgotten by most gamers. Monks, the monastic part of the catholic and orthodox churches, were not always peaceniks tending gardens. The Catholic monk historically performed militaristic duties, and was part of the several orders sent to fight in the crusades. Although they resembled the D&D priesthood, the main militaristic orders were actually monastic or monk orders. Knights hospitaller templar etc. To see what the designers wanted look at how the original classes were described. Paraphrased: Paladins are religious knights who maintain connection to their country of origin (similar to the teutonic Knights), priests perform religious ceremony and evangelize with healing abilities and defensive spells (similar to the hospitallers who would walk among the wounded to tend them, or say prayers with the army prior to a battle, to get them in the spirit of things. And monks use inward looking techniques to test the spirit which allows them to battle using their body. Except for strictly using the body without weapons, Knights Templar were monastic and had military training. In fact the heresy which they were accused of using in defiance of the church was gnostic spiritual techniques.

Obviously the design of the Monk was based upon the early sixties through late seventies martial Arts films exploiting an aspect of monk life, but that does not mean it was wrong. In fact when the Monk first appeared in a guide, the book said that monks were not the devout souls of Monastic endurance but rather people trained in the fighting styles used by Monks as a spiritual tool. For instance, the Celestial emperor for many generations would have his eldest son trained by Monks, thus insuring him to have some marshal ability. So although he was a monk by training his spiritual awakening never happened but his fighting style was very similar to the monks.

And we are forgetting one of the largest monks, literally. The sumo started as shinto ritual. Their lives are highly regimented and share many aspects like their chinese counterparts. Introspection, spiritual health, and enlightenment were part of the sumo tradition before it became more commercial during the endo period. And their fighting was literally required of their beliefs. In their order, the practice of sumo was connected to the shadowboxing of deadly or angry shinto, spirits who were restless. A sumo fight is a ritualistic representation of the fight between human and shinto.

There are other religions with devoted religious mendicants who spend time cloistered for spiritual enlightenment, often they learn a form of hand to hand combat or something simila like Tai Chi, while other monks may have learned even weapon fighting techniques. I believe the seiks use religious fighting as a form of enlightenment.

The key of course is enlightenment or inner peace created through the practice of physical forcing.
the q
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