Co-author Nina Strohminger at the University of Pennsylvania said that these findings were “probably the most bizarre and unexpected of her career“…
On one hand, this confirms what I've been regularly reminding people who idealise monastics a bit too easily, i.e. that people do not awaken merely by shaving their heads, or walking through the threshold of an institution… And, that's before even considering that many people who join the orders do not do so primarily for enlightenment, but because it's an acceptable and pleasant lifestyle to them.
It also confirms that clinging to "right views" as a dogma isn't freedom, isn't Liberation. It's once one engages with reality and embodies the teachings that it matters. Parroting about self-less-ness but then clinging to one's own existence isn't it.
On the other hand, the explanation given in the article is —I think— a bit short, and I'd propose another.
Buddhists tend to believe that human life is exceedingly rare and the sole realm in which cultivating the path is at all possible (conditions too harsh or too pleasant in other realms). The Chiggala sutta (SN 56.48) states that human rebirth is, assuming that this great earth were totally covered with water, as (un)likely as a blind sea-turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, sticking its neck into the yoke with a single hole, thrown at random by a man and pushed around by the wind. And, likewise, it's a sheer coincidence that a Tathāgata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, arises in the world. And that a doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathāgata appears in the world. So when these exceedingly rare circumstances are met in one's life, "your duty is the contemplation, 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress.' Your duty is the contemplation, 'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'"
I'd propose that the craving for longer life by the monastics is tied to a craving for enlightenment, and the conviction that this life is an exceedingly rare opportunity to attain it… hence a desire to maximise one's life's duration, to maximise one's chances.
But, of course, discerning another explanation / narrative / wrong view doesn't change the fact that such a craving for existence is among the "10 fetters", that it will actually prevent the awakening in this life, and that it will even send one down the hellish realms due to selfishness.
In Tibetan Buddhism, more advanced practitioners will gradually embody the bodhicitta doctrine… so the path itself is designed to help one go beyond such initial mis-appropriations of the rarity of human rebirth and of the opportunity to walk the path.
Other schools might rely on mettā, for similar effects.
Appreciating an opportunity, trying to make the best of it, doesn't equate clinging to it. Producing the effort here & now, manifesting perseverance and diligence in the circumstances at hand here & now, isn't the same as fretting about being able to continue doing so in the future.
And all traditions state that dāna or generosity is the first pāramī(ta) ! Giving the life-prolonging pill to others would in fact be the best and shortest bet towards Enlightenment! And yet people resist so much these teachings on generosity, giving, supporting others, etc! Monastics, like others, will so easily rationalise "I've given or renounced enough / so much already"…
The path is "clearly visible", but it's also "hard to see" for those who don't want to see (gplus.wallez.name/Sur3Q3p7xWs).
Buddhism has no specific guideline on supporting teachers, it simply asks for you to consider causality: if you want this living tradition to survive, how are you participating, in practical terms, to make this happen? Nice words, exposure or social media ‘+1’ might feel good, but they do not actually help with the basic necessities: koan.mu/donate.htm
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Is death still frightening if you believe the self is an illusion? An astonishing study of Tibetan Buddhists