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5 (rather than 8) precept monastery workers

Hi, everyone,

One passage in a sutta that’s been nagging me for a while is this part of MN 77:

They become monastery [Pali: ārāmika] workers or lay followers, and they proceed having undertaken the five precepts.

What’s weird about this is that, when I think of “monastery workers” in modern Theravada contexts, I think of 8-precept holders. You know, like Anagarikas. Yet here they are on 5 precepts.

When/why did the 8-precept monastery worker model take root in the Theravada world? Does it have something to do with the rise of “unofficial” nuns (like Mae Chi, Thilashin, Dasa sil mata) as a substitute for Bhikkhunis?

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Well, i think it has taken root in the western Theravada world. It is certianly not the norm in Sri Lanka from what I can tell.

8 precepts is a religious practice. Working at a monastery of course is good karma, but it isn’t necessarily tied with keeping the 8 precepts. Monastery workers is a broad term that could include manual laborers. It makes sense that they would need to eat in the evening. Expecting them to keep th 5 precepts makes sense so they aren’t getting drunk at night. :smile:

In newly founded “western” monasteries where people living there may not be from a Buddhist background, setting 8 precepts helps to maintain the monastery atmosphere.

Another concept is that of having a constant supply of anagarikas (people planning on ordaining) available to support the monastery. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. But it only tends to be the norm in monasteries that are 1. Growing fast and 2. Away from population centers that could otherwise support a monastic community.

For that matter, the whole concept of lay people living in monasteries for months on 8 precepts in preparation for ordination and calling them anagarikas is kind of a new concept. So is adults spending time as samaneras before bhikkhu ordination for that matter.

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The anagarika supply model can be problematic if the supply of anagarikas dries up…eg due to covid. Also: the idea of being structurally required to constantly grow weirds me out a bit. But it works for some places.

In Western Ajahn Chah forest monasteries, monastery lay volunteers are typically provided with monastery accommodation due to the remote location. This gets awkward if there is girlfriends/boyfriends/married people stuff involved. Hence eight precepts.

But I think at Wat Buddha Dharma in the early days in Australia, they had a lay community with families…City of Ten Thousand Buddhas also had families…so there is more than one way of doing it?

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To make the terminology clear, workers/staff means get paid with money in exchange for labour. Volunteers, Anagarikas, yogis, postulant generally don’t get to be paid.

When I was lay, working in Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, Singapore (for 2 years), who hires around 200 people then, there’s certainly no presumption that the staff has to be on 8 precepts. We have our own place to stay outside, office hours come to the monastery to work, and some workers can even be non Buddhist.

When I was working in Sāsanārakkha Buddhist Sanctuary, Malaysia (for 2 weeks) I was also not required to take 8 precept as a staff, even though the location this time is quite remote, hard to access, and I stay in the retreat centre area. When I switched to become yogi, I then took 8 precepts and no pay and it’s much nicer, focusing more on the practise.

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Thanks, y’all, for your responses :+1:

Now I’m more curious about what the “ārāmika” was in its original context.