Discipline of a Buddhist monk is refined and is intended to
be conducive to the arising of mindfulness and wisdom. This
code of conduct is called the Vinaya. While it is not
an end in itself, it is an excellent tool, which can be instrumental
in leading to the end of suffering.
from the direct training that the Vinaya provides, it also establishes
a relationship with lay people without whose co-operation it
would be impossible to live as a monk. A monk is able to live
as a mendicant because lay people respect the monastic conventions
and are prepared to help to support him. This gives rise to
a relationship of respect and gratitude in which both layperson
and monk are called upon to practise their particular life styles
and responsibilities with sensitivity and sincerity.
of the rules of discipline were developed specifically to avoid
offending lay people or giving rise to misunderstanding or suspicion
(for example, the rules stipulating that another male be present
when a monk and a woman would otherwise be alone together).
As no monk wishes to offend by being fussy and difficult to
look after, and no lay Buddhist would wish to accidentally cause
a monk to compromise the discipline, this booklet is therefore
intended to be a useful guide to the major aspects of the Vinaya
as it relates to lay people.
the Means for Support
Vinaya, as laid down by the Buddha, in its many practical rules
defines the status of a monk as being that of a mendicant. Having
no personal means of support is a very practical means of understanding
the instinct to seek security; furthermore, the need to seek
alms gives a monk a source of contemplation on what things are
really necessary. The four requisites, food, clothing, shelter
and medicines, are what lay people can offer as a practical
way of expressing generosity and appreciation of their faith
in belonging to the Buddhist Community. Rather than giving requisites
to particular monks whom one likes and knows the practising
Buddhist learns to offer to the Sangha as an act of faith and
respect for the Sangha as a whole. Monks respond by sharing
merit, spreading good will and the teachings of the Buddha to
all those who wish to hear, irrespective of personal feelings.
monk is allowed to collect, receive and consume food between
dawn and midday (taken to be 12 noon). He is not allowed to
consume food outside of this time and he is not allowed to store
food overnight. Plain water can be taken at any time without
having to be offered. Although a monk lives on whatever is offered,
vegetarianism is encouraged.
monk must have all eatables and drinkables, except plain water,
formally offered into his hands or placed on something in direct
contact with his hands. In the Thai tradition, in order to prevent
contact with a woman, he will generally set down a cloth to
receive things offered by women. He is not allowed to cure or
cook food except in particular circumstances.
accordance with the discipline, a monk is prohibited from eating
fruit or vegetables containing fertile seeds. So, when offering
such things, a layperson can either remove the seeds or make
the fruit allowable slightly damaging it with a knife. This
is done by piercing the fruit and saying at the same time 'Kappiyam
bhante' or 'I am making this allowable, Venerable Sir' (the
English translation). It is instructive to note that, rather
than limiting what can be offered, the Vinaya lays emphasis
on the mode of offering. Offering should be done in a respectful
manner, making the act of offering a mindful and reflective
one, irrespective of what one is giving.
monks generally make their own robes from cloth that is given.
Plain white cotton is always useful (it can be dyed to the correct
dull ochre). The basic 'triple robe' of, the Buddha is supplemented
with sweaters, tee-shirts, socks, etc. and these, of an appropriate
brown colour, can also be offered.
silent and simple could be a fair description of the ideal lodging
for a monk. From the scriptures it seems that the general standard
of lodging was to neither cause discomfort nor impair health,
yet not to be indulgently luxurious. Modest furnishings of a
simple and utilitarian nature were also allowed, there being
a rule against using 'high, luxurious beds or chairs', that
is, items that are opulent by current standards. So a simple
bed is an allowable thing to use, although most monks prefer
the firmer surface provided by a mat or thick blanket spread
on the floor.
monk's precepts do not allow him to sleep more than three nights
in the same room with an unordained male, and not even to lie
down in the same sleeping quarters as a woman. In providing
a temporary room for a night, a simple spare room that is private
monk is allowed to use medicines if they are offered in the
same way as food. Once offered, neither food nor medicine should
be handled again by a layperson, as that renders it no longer
allowable. Medicines can be considered as those things that
are specifically for illness; those things having tonic or reviving
quality (such as tea or sugar); and certain items which have
a nutritional value in times of debilitation, hunger or fatigue
(such as cheese or non-dairy chocolate).
circumstances changed, the Buddha allowed monks to make use
of other small requisites, such as needles, a razor, etc. In
modern times, such things might include a pen, a watch, a torch,
etc. All of these were to be plain and simple, costly or luxurious
items being expressly forbidden.
principles of mendicancy forbid a monk from asking for anything,
unless he is ill, without having received an invitation. So
when receiving food, for example, a monk makes himself available
in a situation, where people wish to give food. At no time does
the monk request food. This principle should be borne in mind
when offering food; rather than asking a monk what he would
like, it is better to ask if you can offer some food. Considering
that the meal will be the only meal of the day, one can offer
what seems right, recognising that the monk will take what he
needs and leave the rest. A good way to offer is to bring bowls
of food to the monk and let him choose what he needs from each
and coffee can be offered at any time (if after noon, without
milk). Sugar or honey can be offered at the same time to go
can also make an invitation to cover any circumstances that
may arise which you may not be aware of by saying, for example,
'Bhante, if you need any medicine or requisites, please let
me know'. To avoid any
misunderstanding, it is better to be quite specific about what
you are offering. Unless specified, an invitation can only be
accepted for up to four months, after which time it lapses unless
Items Including Money
and videos for entertainment should not be used by a monk. Under
certain circumstances, a Dharma video or a documentary programme
may be watched. In general, luxurious items are inappropriate
for a monk to accept. This is because they are conducive to
attachment in his own mind, and excite envy, possibly even the
intention to steal, in the mind of another person. This is unwholesome
Kamma. It also looks bad for an alms mendicant, living on charity
as a source of inspiration to others, to have luxurious belongings.
One who is content with little should be a light to a world
where consumer instincts and greed are whipped up in people's
the Vinaya specifies a prohibition on accepting and handling
gold and silver, the real spirit of it is to forbid use and
control over funds, whether these are bank notes or credit cards.
The Vinaya even prohibits a monk from having someone else receive
money on his behalf. In practical terms, monasteries are financially
controlled by lay stewards, who then make open invitation for
the Sangha to ask for what they need, under the direction of
the Abbot. A junior monk even has to ask an appointed agent
(generally a senior monk or Abbot) if he may take up the stewards'
offer to pay for dental treatment or obtain medicines, for example.
This means that as far as is reasonably possible, the donations
that are given to the stewards to support the Sangha are not
wasted on unnecessary whims.
a layperson wishes to give something to a particular monk, but
is uncertain what he needs, he should make an invitation. Any
financial donations should not be to a monk but to the stewards
of the monastery, perhaps mentioning if it's for a particular
item or for the needs of a certain monk. For items such as travelling
expenses, money can be given to an accompanying anagarika (dressed
in white) or accompanying layperson, who can then buy tickets,
drinks for a journey or anything else that the monk may need
at that time. It is quite a good exercise in mindfulness for
a layperson to actually consider what items are necessary and
offer those rather than money.
and nuns lead lives of total celibacy in which any kind of sexual
behaviour is forbidden. This includes even suggestive speech
or physical contact with lustful intent, both of which are very
serious offences for monks and nuns. As one's intent may not
always be obvious (even to oneself), and one's words not always
guarded, it is a general principle for monks and nuns to refrain
from any physical contact with members of the opposite sex.
Monks should have a male present who can understand what is
being said when conversing with a lady, and a similar situation
holds true for nuns.
of this standard of behaviour is to prevent scandalous gossip
or misunderstanding occurring. In the stories that explain the
origination of a rule, there are examples of monks being accused
of being a woman's lover, of a woman's misunderstanding a monk's
reason for being with her, and even of a monk being thrashed
by a jealous husband!
to prevent such misunderstanding, however groundless, a monk
has to be accompanied by a man whenever he is in the presence
of a woman; on a journey; or sitting alone in a secluded place
(one would not call a meditation hall or a bus station a secluded
place). Generally, monks would also refrain from carrying on
correspondence with women, other than for matters pertaining
to the monastery, travel arrangements, providing basic information,
etc. When teaching Dharma, even in a letter, it is easy for
inspiration and compassion to turn into attachment.
monk as Dharma teacher must find the appropriate occasion to
give the profound and insightful teachings of the Buddha to
those who wish to hear it. It would not be appropriate to teach
without invitation, nor in a situation where the teachings cannot
be reflected upon adequately. This is a significant point, as
the Buddha's teachings are meant to be a vehicle, which one
should contemplate silently and then apply. The value of Dharma
is greatly reduced if it is just received as chit-chat or speculations
for a Dharma talk, it is good to set up a room where the teachings
can be listened to with respect being shown to the speaker.
In terms of etiquette, graceful convention rather than rule,
this means affording the speaker a seat which is higher than
his audience, not pointing one's feet at the speaker, not lying
down on the floor during the talk, and not interrupting the
speaker. Questions are welcome at the end of the talk.
as a sign of respect, when inviting a monk it is usual for the
person making the invitation to also make the travel arrangements,
directly or indirectly.
Matters of Etiquette
also extends into the realm of convention and custom. Such observances,
which it mentions, are not 'rules' but skillful means of manifesting
beautiful behaviour. In monasteries, there is some emphasis
on such matters as a means of establishing harmony, order and
pleasant relationships within a community. Lay people may be
interested in applying such conventions for their own development
of sensitivity, but it should not be considered as something
that is necessarily expected of them.
there is the custom of bowing to a shrine or teacher. This is
done when first entering their presence or when taking leave.
Done gracefully, at the appropriate time, this is a beautiful
gesture, which honours the person who does it; at an inappropriate
time, done compulsively, it can appear foolish to onlookers.
Another common gesture of respect is to place the hands so that
the palms are touching, the fingers pointing upwards and the
hands held immediately in front of the chest. This is a pleasant
means of greeting, bidding farewell, saluting the end of a Dharma
talk or concluding an offering.
language is something that is well understood in Buddhist cultures.
Apart from the obvious reminder to sit up for a Dharma talk
rather than loll or recline on the floor one shows a manner
of deference by ducking slightly if having to walk between a
monk and the person he is speaking to. Similarly, one would
not stand looming over a monk to talk to him or offer him something,
but rather approach him at the level at which he is sitting.
is restraint in body,
restraint in speech is good,
good is restraint in mind,
everywhere restraint is good;
the bhikkhu everywhere restrained
is from all dukkha free."