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Generalities about the monastic discipline.

How monks have to obtain their belongings, their food, how they have to receive their gifts, what they can eat, how they must eat, enter in the vassa, shave, put sandals, water a tree...

other points


The four requisites

The bhikkhu must limit his needs to a minimum. He is content with whatever is given to him, without ever asking for anything. Thus, he renounces everything that is superfluous, he avoids anything that could induce pleasure, comfort or distraction. His needs are of four kinds: nutrition (food, drinks, etc.); housing (monastery, hut, etc.); clothing (robes); and medicine (medicaments, remedies, first aid, hygienic products, etc.)

It is clear that everything the bhikkhu obtains must be exclusively to provide him the conditions required by his dhamma practice. It is only with this state of mind that the bhikkhu should use – or consume – the things at his disposal. For example, when he eats, it is only for nourishment, not for pleasure.

During the process of integration in the saṃgha, a new bhikkhu is told that he must henceforth go out for alms to collect his daily food, live under a tree, make his robes out of discarded cloth, and drink cow's urine as medicine. They are also told that if, on their part, the laity offer him other requisites, he is authorised to accept them (invitations for meals, lodging, new robes, medicines...)

A bhikkhu must never ask for anything from anyone. If a dāyaka invites a bhikkhu to ask for what he needs, he could simply report his needs, but he should not under any circumstances request anything. However, a sick bhikkhu is allowed to ask for whatever he needs to be cured.

The Food

Accepting and consuming food

Food collection.

If a bhikkhu is invited for a meal or served a meal in his monastery, he can accept it. If not, he must take his bowl and go out to do his alms round (piṇḍapāta). For this, he stops in front of the houses that he finds along his way, without entering (unless he is invited). When stopping in front of a house, he must stand still, silent, with his gaze lowered and his attention focused on the bowl. He must do nothing else than offering the laity the opportunity to cultivate merit through the food that they offer. When someone has placed food in his bowl, or after some time without anyone approaching, the bhikkhu continues his way towards the next house. He does this until he reckons that he has obtained enough food.

During the round, there are six places where a bhikkhu must avoid making a habit to go searching for food, even if he is invited: the house of a prostitute; the house of a widow; the house of an elderly celibate woman; the house of a homosexual; a bhikkhunīs monastery; place of sale of alcoholic drinks. Although it is inadvisable to go frequently to these places in the daily alms round, it is however allowed to pass by them occasionally. Also, it is proper to accept the food that people from these places place in his bowl as he approaches on their path (or on the road), as well as the food that they bring to the monastery.

When, what and how to accept?

There are periods during which certain types of food are forbidden, or cannot be stored. See the pācittiya 37 and 38. Also, the food can only be accepted if certain factors are respected. See the pācittiya 40. A bhikkhu must never show his preferences with respect to food. He must not even show whether he likes or not what is served to him. If a dāyaka offers to choose a dish or a menu for him, he must answer that bhikkhus do not choose, that they eat whatever is given to them.

The forbidden meats

The bhikkhu must not be fastidious: he is content with what "falls into his bowl". However, he must not accept meat of an animal who has been slaughtered purposely for offering to the saṃgha or to him, or meat from ten animals considered at the time of the Buddha (and still today) as noble or sacred by a part of the population. To avoid offending those people, the Buddha forbid the bhikkhus to eat these ten kinds of meats which are: human flesh, dog, horse, elephant, leopard, tiger, lion, bear, hyena and snake.

The flexibilities

Concerning accepting or consuming food, there are, in special cases, certain flexibilities: in case of famine, the fruits requiring to be made authorised by a kappiya (See the pācittiya 11) stored food, and food cooked by himself, are allowed; in case of health problems and in accordance with the needs of his medical treatment, a bhikkhu can ask for a particular type of food, or eat a meal at any time – of day or night. Under normal conditions, a bhikkhu who has not obtained any food must fast until the next day.

The frame of mind when consuming

It is important to take into account the spirit in which a product is consumed; if salt or sugar are taken for a medical reason, he can store the first for life, and the second for seven days. However, if the same salt or sugar are taken for flavouring, they cannot be consumed or stored after the solar noon on the same day of their acquisition.

The pātimokkha includes numerous rules regarding accepting and consuming food. See especially the sekhiya 27 to 56.

Conduct to observe when eating

As at all other times, during his meal, the bhikkhu must pay attention to his smallest actions and gestures. In this way, it will be easy for him to adopt the proper manners.

The best places must be reserved to the more senior. All the members of the saṃgha must eat at the same time. Those who arrive first must meditate whilst waiting for others. Nobody must eat before the majority have already arrived at the table. Each bhikkhu must make an effort to arrive punctually. The conduct at the table must be based on equanimity and moderation. The dishes must not be kept close to oneself but passed around the table to allow everybody equal access. Reasonable amounts of food must be served in the bowl (or plate) to avoid leaving remainders at the end of the meal. Every bhikkhu must avoid leaving the dining room with any food. The taking and chewing of each mouthful of food must be done with attention. He must abstain from any conversation at the table, eat in silence and not make noise with the ustensils. Every bhikkhu must eat properly, using a spoon to serve himself and wash his hands before eating, especially if he eats with his hands. He must avoid spitting, coughing or sniffling. If this is unavoidable, the bhikkhu is required to do it discretely by turning the other way or moving away from the table. A bhikkhu must not take away a cup, a spoon or any other ustensil without a good reason. If he has to do so, he must report it as soon as possible.

Although not obligatory, it is very important for a bhikkhu to adopt the habit of going to the village (or town) to collect his food with his bowl. This daily round is fundamental for bringing together and relate the lay world and that of bhikkhus.

The offerings

With regard to food, see the pācittiya 40. With regard to the rest, if it is an object that can be carried (soap, robe, etc.), the same factors as for food, as well as the ensuing conditions, must be respected (substituting eating utensils by the appropriate ones). If, in contrast, it is an object that cannot be carried (monastery, tree, etc.), it is sufficient that the donor indicates the object and the beneficiary of his donation without ambiguity, for this to be acceptable. It is more appropriate to address large gifts to the saṃgha rather than to a single individual.

Remarks: A bhikkhu is authorised to gather discarded cloths – to make himself a robe – without it being offered. See the dhutaṅga 1.

The five improper ways to obtain gifts

  1. Lies: by pretending qualities that one does not have.
  2. Flattery: talking in such a way as to flatter a donor.
  3. Suggestion: suggesting offerings through veiled allusions.
  4. Harassment: harass a donor to extract an offering.
  5. Gain through gifts: give presents, or render services, with the purpose of obtaining more.

A bhikkhu who uses an object that he has obtained incorrectly commits a dukkaṭa. This object must not be used by another bhikkhu, otherwise he too commits a dukkaṭa.

Way of abandoning things

Whether it is food or not, a bhikkhu can abandon what is offered to him. An abandoned object can no longer be used – even by another bhikkhu – unless it is re-offered. Attention: food that has not been abandoned cannot be re-offered on another day. To abandon something, two factors are necessary:

  • the bhikkhu must renounce the possession of the object by telling himself by word or thought that he abandons this object;
  • the object must be separate from the bhikkhu by a minimum distance of two cubits and one span (around 70 centimetres).

When these two factors are met (in whichever order), the object is considered to be abandoned.

The dāyaka and the kappiya

The dāyaka

A dāyaka is a benefactor who supports the bhikkhu materially. To do this, he provides, within the measure of his capabilities, for the needs of one or more bhikkhus. A bhikkhu can communicate his needs to a dāyaka only if the latter has expressly invited him to do so. A dāyaka can offer food, robes, soap, lodging or books. See also "What are a bhikkhu's means of support?"

The kappiya

A kappiya is a person who offers to help the bhikkhu to carry out various tasks, notably, that which he is not authorised to do by the vinaya (open a fruit with seeds or stone, re-offer the food abandoned the night before, make payments, etc.)

As a bhikkhu cannot receive or handle money, if anyone wishes to offer him something but has no time to buy this, he/she can send the money needed to buy this thing to a kappiya (temporary or not). The kappiya then uses this money when paying for what was intended for the bhikkhu's need(s). For example, a robe, transport tickets during a trip, medical consultation. After this, any remaining money must be returned to the donor. When the bhikkhu has been informed by the kappiya that money has been sent to him for the purchase of something, the bhikkhu can simply say that he needs that particular thing. Under no circumstances should he ask "Buy me this. Buy me that!"

A kappiya cannot be a bhikkhu, a bhikkhunī, a sāmaṇera or a sāmaṇerī, because these persons are also forbidden to handle money. A bhikkhu must not accept anything that has been bought by another bhikkhu, a bhikkhunī, a sāmaṇera or a sāmaṇerī. See also the nissaggiya 10 and the pācittiya 11.

The vassa

Every year, the bhikkhu is obliged to reside for three months at the same place; from the full moon of July (sometimes August) until that of October (sometimes November). In South Asia, this period corresponds to the rainy season, translated in Pali by the word vassa. During the vassa, a bhikkhu cannot spend a night in another place unless he has a good reason (teaching the dhamma, visiting a sick parent, etc.) and then only for six nights in succession. At the end of these, it is enough for him to spend at least one night in the monastery where he started to observe his vassa so as to be able to absent himself again for a few nights. As soon as the bhikkhu enters the enclosure of the vihāra where he observes his vassa, even if he has spent the previous night somewhere else, he is obliged to spend the following night at this vihāra.

There are cases in which the bhikkhus are not at fault if they change their place of residence during the vassa. These are extreme situations in which the bhikkhus no longer have the possibility of satisfying their vital needs: the village is about to be deserted (burnt, flooded, attacked, infected); dangerous animals threaten or attack the monastery; the monastery is destroyed; access to the village becomes impossible; etc.

The bhikkhu who, for any reason, cannot observe the vassa from the full moon of July (or beginning of August), has the possibility of entering in the "second vassa", that is, after the following full moon (August or beginning of September). He will then end his vassa a month after the others, but will not be at fault. However, he will not be able to benefit from the "kathina privileges" (see below).

Taking refuge on entering the vassa

The day of entering the vassa, each bhikkhu recites a short formula indicating that he will spend the vassa at the vihāra where he is. This then implies that the latter has chosen the place where he will reside during the whole of the three months of the vassa. To do this, he will say in Pali (three times in succession):

"imasmiṃ vihāre imaṃ temāsaṃ vassaṃ upemi"
"I will reside in this vihāra (monastery) during the three months of the vassa (rains season)."

Invitation at the conclusion of the vassa (pavāraṇā)

On the last day of the vassa, each bhikkhu recites a formula, in Pali (three times in succession), which is an invitation to all the members of the saṃgha to make comments on the offences that he has committed:

"saṃghaṃ bhante pavāremi, diṭṭhena vā sutena vā parisaṅkāya vā, vadantu maṃ āyasmanto anukampaṃ upādāya, passanto paṭikarissāmi." " dutiyampi... tatiyampi..."
"Venerables, if you have seen, heard or suspected any faults whatsoever in me, I invite you to admonish me as required." " For the second time... For the third time..."

The kathina

The period starting on the day of the full moon marking the end of the vassa, until the following full moon, is called the kathina.

The kathina privileges, which are five in number, are expressed by flexibilities in the vinaya. These are valid during the whole month of the kathina. The bhikkhu who has observed his vassa without breaking it can benefit from them:

  1. he can be distanced – by about 1.20 metres or more – from his robes at dawn;
  2. he can leave the vihāra after noon without asking for consent from another bhikkhu;
  3. he can accept an invitation (even if addressed to more than three bhikkhus) for a meal that has been formulated incorrectly;
  4. he is authorised to keep an additional robe – not determined – for more than ten days;the "kathina robe", offered to the entire saṃgha, can be shared with every bhikkhu in the monastery (this is not always obligatory, except for those who have observed the vassa right until the end.

The kathina takes place in a great ceremony during which the bhikkhus of the monastery gather at the sīmā to proceed to the presentation of the "kathina robe". At this time, no lay person – and no sāmaṇera – is allowed in the sīmā. After agreement, the saṃgha presents the famous kathina robe to the bhikkhu who has shown the most remarkable conduct, and who, a fortiori, must not have broken the observance of the vassa. According to tradition, this robe will have been sewn during the night by the villagers, before being offered to the saṃgha for the occasion. The bhikkhu to whom this is presented can keep it in addition to his own robe, during the whole month of the kathina. However, he will have to share it with the other bhikkhus beneficiary of the kathina privileges.

Miscellaneous

  • The bhikkhus are obliged to shave the head and, if present, "the hairs that the women lack", i.e. the beard. Other hairy parts are not shaved. The maximum length allowed for hair and beard is two fingers.
  • Outside the precinct of the monastery, the bhikkhu is not allowed to wear sandals (or shoes). When accepting an offering, a bhikkhu should never have footwear on. Footwear is a sign of wealth and comfort, which the bhikkhus are supposed to renounce. Besides, this forces them to keep the sight constantly lowered, permitting them to remain always attentive and preventing them from being distracted by the surroundings.
  • Outside the precinct of the monastery, the bhikkhu is not allowed to carry a parasol. In case of rain, umbrellas are tolerated.
  • The Buddha strictly forbade the bhikkhus to make use of astrology, numerology, palm reading, amulets, etc.
  • A bhikkhu must not water a tree (or a plant) that produces ornamental flowers or edible fruits. He must not even wash himself or shower near it, hoping to water it in this way. However, he can water a tree that provides shade or which serves as a fence.
  • It is not proper for a bhikkhu to transmit messages for any person except a bhikkhu, a sāmaṇera, someone who offers food to the saṃgha, his mother, his father or those persons who carry out various tasks on behalf of the saṃgha (sweeping, table service etc.)
  • If a bhikkhu needs to acquire something and there is no dāyaka in the immediate vicinity, he is authorised to do a round in the afternoon, stopping in silence in front of the houses (as during the food round in the morning). He can communicate his needs only if anyone asks him, if not, he continues his way and stands in front of another house.
  • A bhikkhu must avoid all forms of distraction and any futile action or word. He must watch his speech, avoiding vulgarities. In addressing anyone, he must be polite and measured in every single word. He must be vigilant to keep always a proper distance from lay people, he must not shake their hand or treat them informally. When a bhikkhu goes to the toilet, he is obliged to be restrained and silent. In anything he does, his conduct must be blameless.

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Origin: Text wrote for the Website and for a book

Author: Monk Dhamma Sāmi

Date: 2000

Translator: Lucy Costa

Date of translation: 2002

Update: 2005, June the 18th