Becoming a Lay Resident

I applied to become a lay resident at a monastery beginning this summer, and I expect to hear this week whether my application is accepted. I’m happy to have this opportunity, but the transition itself is a little daunting. I have a whole house to clean out, and a beloved pet to rehome. I’m leaving my career at a convenient time, but as I’m in my mid-40s, the potential for returning to a career if this doesn’t work out is receding. It’s the right time for me, but it’s still not easy. How have other people here, monastics and lay individuals, navigated this transition? Any tips or advice?


Depends on your long term goal. If you’re going to become a Bhikkuni, then there’s no reason to expect needing to come back to lay life. So don’t think about it. Money still keep them until you’re in robes. Or even after. The vinaya rule didn’t say must relinguish all money as lay. So one can say just withdraw all the cash, bury it in some safe place in your room in the nunnery, and use allowable message for getting requisites via this method. There’s no way to increase more to the pile while in robes. So it’s more of an once off thing. Or that cash is basically the fall back in case one finds monastic life is not suited for one.

Allowable message means this: From Buddhist monastic code 1, NP 20.

In the origin story to NP 5, the Buddha allows bhikkhus to trade allowable articles with other bhikkhus, bhikkhunīs, female trainees, and male or female novices. The present rule thus covers trades made only with people who are not one’s co-religionists.

As for trades with people who are not one’s co-religionists, the Vibhaṅga here adds that a bhikkhu commits no offense—

if he asks the price of an object;

if he tells a steward;

if he tells the seller, “I have this. I have need of such-and-such,” and then lets the seller arrange the exchange as he/she sees fit. This last point may seem like mere hair splitting, but we must remember that if a trade is arranged in this way, the bhikkhu is absolved from any responsibility for the fairness of the deal, which seems to be the whole point of the rule.

The Commentary, in discussing these exemptions, raises the following points:

  1. A bhikkhu who tries to avoid the technicalities of what is defined as engaging in trading by saying simply, “Give this. Take that,” may do so only with his parents. Otherwise, telling a lay person to take one’s belongings as his/her own is to “bring a gift of faith (saddhā-deyya) to waste”—i.e., to misuse the donations that lay supporters, out of faith, have sacrificed for the bhikkhu’s use (see Mv.VIII.22.1; BMC2, Chapter 10). On the other hand, telling an unrelated lay person to give something is a form of begging, which carries a dukkaṭa unless the lay person is related or has invited one to ask in the first place. (From this we may deduce that bhikkhus should not bargain after having asked the price of goods or services—e.g., a taxi fare—even in situations where bargaining is the norm.)

  2. Under the previous rule, the Commentary mentioned that a bhikkhu engaging in an otherwise allowable trade for profit incurs a dukkaṭa. Here it says that if a bhikkhu, proposing a trade by wording it right (kappiya-vohāra), deceives the seller as to the value of his goods, he is to be treated under Pr 2. However, as the Vibhaṅga to Pr 2 indicates, goods received through deceit are to be treated not under that rule but under Pc 1.

  3. In the case of “telling a steward,” both the Commentary and K/Commentary deem it allowable to tell the steward, “Having gotten that with this, give it (to me).” This, however, is a clear violation of the protocols set forth by the Vibhaṅga under NP 10, according to which a bhikkhu is not allowed to speak in the imperative, giving the command, “Give,” to a steward, much less a command to barter or buy. Instead, he is allowed to speak only in the declarative: “I have need of such-and-such,” or “I want such-and-such.” Declarative statements of this sort would thus appear to be the only statements allowed under this non-offense clause as well.

  4. If a bhikkhu goes with his steward to a store and sees that the steward is getting a bad deal, he may simply tell the steward, “Don’t take it.”

5) The Commentary to NP 10 describes how a bhikkhu may make a purchase when his steward has left funds in safe-keeping on the bhikkhu’s premises but is not present to arrange a trade when, say, a bowl-seller comes along. The bhikkhu may tell the seller, “I want this bowl, and there are funds of equal value here, but there is no steward to make them allowable.” If the seller volunteers to make them allowable, the bhikkhu may show him where they are but may not tell him how much to take. If the seller takes too much, the bhikkhu may cancel the sale by saying, “I don’t want your bowl after all.”
In general it is not a wise policy to have funds left for safe-keeping on one’s premises—a Community allowing this exposes itself to the dangers of robbery and assault—but the Commentary here seems less interested in describing ideal behavior than in simply drawing the line between what is and is not an offense.

Special cases

  1. The Bhikkhunīs’ NP rules 4-10 show that if a lay donor gives money to a storeowner to pay for whatever a bhikkhunī will request from the store, the bhikkhunī may avail herself of the arrangement. If the donor stipulates that this arrangement applies only to certain items, or to items worth a certain amount, she may request only what falls under the stipulation: This is the point of the rules. In effect, what this is doing is making the storeowner her steward. Such an arrangement would thus also seem allowable for bhikkhus as long as they word their requests to the storeowner properly, as advised under NP 10.

  2. As mentioned under NP 18, checks, credit cards, debit cards, and traveler’s checks do not count as gold or money. However, any trade arranged with them would come under this rule.

In cases where an actual physical item is handed over to the seller in the course of such a trade, the trade is accomplished in the physical exchange, with no need to wait for funds to enter the seller’s account for the offense to be incurred. This is because “object” under this rule can be fulfilled by an item of the least inherent monetary value.

For instance, if a bhikkhu hands a check to a seller—or tells his steward to hand it over—in exchange for goods or services in the manner specified by this rule, he would commit the full offense the moment the check and goods change hands.

Similarly with credit cards: The offense is committed when the bhikkhu hands the signed credit card receipt—or has it handed—to the seller and receives goods or services in return. The receipt is an acknowledgement of the goods or services received from the seller, which in the context of the cardholder’s agreement with the credit card company is his promise to repay the loan he is taking out with the company. This promise is what the bhikkhu is trading with the seller, who will then use it to draw funds from the company’s account.

If, however, no physical item is handed over to the seller, the trade is not accomplished until funds enter the seller’s account. An example would be a debit card: The full offense is committed only when, after pushing the personal identification number (PIN)—which is his order to the bank to pay the seller—the bhikkhu receives goods and services from the seller, and funds are transferred to the seller’s account from his.

Summary: Engaging in trade with anyone except one’s co-religionists is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense.

Actually, you should ask the local rule of your nunnery/monastery concerning this.

Allow for some months or even years to adjust to monastic life. Don’t have a few very hard weeks then want to go back to lay life.

If you’re just staying as lay yogi, then not much difference. Like going for super long retreat. With no plans to come back, but still able to anyway.

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