Bhikkhu Sangha as "land-lords"?

The early Suttas emphasise on “leaving the household life” and “enter the house-less state”. …

When Bhikkhuni Sangha was established that became a problem, because female renunciants were not safe, wandering about without fixed abode…

However, when bhikkhus appeared in large numbers, kings (and other donors) gave land and “servants” to the sangha … intending to provide for the monks into the far future… Isn’`t this practise self-defeating? How can “land-owners” observe Vinaya rules?

Quotation from L. S. Dewaraja: “The Kandyan Kingdom … 1707-1782”, written 1972, revised 1988, repr. 2008, Colombo, page 187:

Services due to the Dedalgoda Vihara from its shares in the village of Dunuvila:

transport share:
tenants are Muslims, … 2 1/2 acres of ploughed land, 17 acres of garden, and 6 and 1/4 acres of “chena” (dry land suitable for growing vegetables etc.) … each tenant supplies one pack bullock for seven days, twice a year to carry paddy, the man who accompanies the bullock receives a naaliya of raw rice daily.

service shares:
1 acre of ploughed land, 8 1/2 acres of garden land, and 8 acres chena land …supplies eight men to cultivate three portions (aunams) of the vihara’s own land (muttettu), thresh and store the crop, thatch the granary, and the hall of the vihara, and present the chief bhikkhu with 16 laha (measures) of paddy per month. Each share furnishes one man to do ordinary low caste menial service at the vihara one month in the year. Eight tenants are required to carry the chief bhikkhu’s palanquin on journeys; also to attend to the vihara and do menial service at festivals and decorate the temple.

kitchen share:
tenants belong to the govikula (class), 8 and 1/8 acres of paddy land, 17 acres garden, 12 acres chena. These shares support men to be on duty in the temple, each man serving 15 days. During this period he has to cook gruel in the mornings for the monks, rice and curry for lunch, and do guard duty at night. Before his turn of duty is over he has to clean the floor of the kitchen. This share also provides four tenants to cook at the four festivals, each tenant to give presents to the chief bhikkhu, to feed the messenger sent from the temple, to supply 8 men to accompany the chief bhikkhu when travelling for one week each year.

Note that the “service share” supplies 8 low caste tenants, who carry the palanquin with the monk, but the “kitchen share” supplies 8 further high class (govinda) tenants, who accompany the travelling monk. So the monk travelled with a retinue of 16 attendants.

The Degaldoruva monastery is a famous historical establishment, endowed in this way during the Kandy period of Sri Lanka, after the bhikkhu sangha was re-established from Thailand (in 1753 AC). …

I have noticed such service given to monasteries in Thailand and Myanmar too, but there it is voluntary - at least at present. In this document from 18th century Sri Lanka it is a “payment in kind” for the use of monastery land…

When the British conquered the kingdom of Kandy, it was estimated that 1/3 of the arable land belonged to Buddhist temples, and was exempted from taxes to the king.


Leaving aside historical practices for the moment, just to note that in the Vinaya, monasteries were allowed before the appearance of bhikkhunis. They are offered to and owned by the Sangha as a whole, not by any individual monastics.


This is the first time I have created a topic in this site. I apologize, that it is not strictly conforming to the requirement of discussing “early Buddhist texts”.

It just so happens that I am reading up historical informations on the medieval history of the Bhikkhu Sangha in Sri Lanka, at present, with a view of finding out why the kings of Sri Lanka took so much trouble to revive the bhikkhu sangha again and again between the 11th and 18th century, and did not lift a finger to revive bhikkhuni ordination.

It is truly amazing.

The gifting of land to the Sangha started in Sri Lanka in the early years of the Christian era.

The earlier cave dwellings are all gifted to “the Sangha of the four quarters, present or absent”.


The first Aarama was the “Bamboo Grove” donated by King Bimbisaara. That was within the the first year of Buddhahood.

The Bhikkhunis came only after Buddha’s father had passed away.

But privately owned (“puggalika”) dwellings for monks are referred to in the Sanghaadisesa rules: a small hut built by the monk himself, and a somewhat larger hut supplied by a donor.

These rules do not apply to bhikkhunis.
They probably had dwellings built by donors (and donated to the Bhikkhuni sangha?) from the very beginning?

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Not at all, it is an interesting and important topic. I just wanted to clarify a couple of details.

Fascinating! Let us know if you find anything—that part of history is usually just accepted as what happened, but we know few details.

Can you give me an exact reference?

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I am referring to Sanghaadisesa rule 6 and 7. … I know that these rules later became obsolete, and therefore are left out in some later Vinaya manuals. Presumably all monastic dwellings were larger at that time. Would these early small huts be sanghika property?

In the history of Sri Lanka the first vihaara donated “puggalika” was the Abhayagiri Vihaara, donated by King Va.t.tagamini Abhaya (1st c. BC) to the monk, who saved his life, when he was a refugee. …

This “puggalika” donation was hotly contested within the Sangha.

L.S. Dewaraja, page 175, says that from the 1st century (AD?) onwards, grants of lands, fields and tanks were made in Sri Lanka. But in support she quotes a source, that may be be difficult to get. (L. S. Perera: “Institutions of Ancient Ceylon from Inscriptions”, Univ. of Ceylon, 1949, Vol. II, pp.99 -122).


Thanks. But there is no mention of puggalika in these rules. Puggalika, in the sense of the property of an individual, is used quite commonly in the Vinaya, but only for more minor items.

In Ss 6 and Ss 7 we find the terms attuddesa “assigned to oneself”, explained as attano atthāya “for one’s own use”. A monk who wishes to build a hut has to ask permission from the Sangha, who must inspect the site before the building can commence. This is taken very seriously, and is the main reason for these rules. Thus it is the Sangha, not the individual monk, who owns the land, and controls how building is done. The exact ownership of the building is not, so far as I know, defined exactly, but my understanding is that the building is owned by the Sangha, on the understanding that it is for the use of that monk; something like a lifetime lease.

Well, they might not be applied very much, but they are still present. One problem is that we really don’t understand the sizes mentioned in them.

We have large pāsādas mentioned in the early texts. On the whole, though, it seems that the Sangha dwellings would have become more substantial. But I think at all periods there would have been plenty of monastics living in small huts.

I think so, yes.


It seems likely. There’s no doubt that the Sangha became significant landlords, and at quite an early date.


Thank you very much, bhante, for clarifying the point about the “sanghika” nature of the very small monastic dwellings.


We might want to call on @Brahmali here, as he is much better versed in this material than I. (I think he’s on retreat at the moment, so I’m not sure when he’ll be around.)


Maybe the wise kings of Sri Lanka had heard of AN 8.51


Between 1999 and 2003 I regularly visited Dhammagiri in Maharashtra. A little to the north is the town of Nasik. It was a royal capital during the Satavahana dynasty ruling this part of India from ca. 40 BC to 174 AC. Approaching Nasik a mountain with famous Buddhist caves cut into the rock can be seen. Locals refer to it as “Pandava lena” (from Mahabharata). They are not aware of it a Buddhist site, even though the department of archaelogy has developed the site, and put up signboards translating the more important ancient inscriptions into English.— Three villages are mentioned as donations of the royal family for the up-keep of the rock cut caves and chaitya there (in the middle of the 2nd century AD). They were given to the Bhadrayani and Mahasanghika monks of early Buddhist schools. The earlier caves are non-Mahaayaana, without Buddha images. The central image shows a chaitya, or the Bodhi tree with an empty seat.
I used to sit on this mountain and remember the ancient Buddhist monks living there five or six centuries after Lord Buddha, and realized that they had lived nearly a thousand years before Pagan in Central Burma (10th to 13 th c. AD), which is a very ancient historical site by Burmese standards. … It sharpens the awareness, how long ago the time was, that Lord Buddha lived among us, and through how many vissicitudes the Dhamma has survived into our own time.---- The three villages donated by the kings nearly 2000 years ago, may still exist. But the villagers of today would be very surprised to hear that they are supposed to contribute to the up-keep of the “Pandava lena”.


It seems they needed all the females in the country to serve food to them. :yum:

I praise the man, who learnt how to make coffee, and serve it at his wife’s bed side in the early morning.


Nyanatusita (2014:59) says that “Sugata-vidatthi” (Buddha-span) means “standard size”,
and that Ven. Thanissaro estimates one “sugata-vidatthi” as 25 cm.
So the hut in rule 6 would be 12 x 7 of these spans (3 m x 1,75 m = 5,25 square metres).
It seems big enough, but probably not in the rainy season?
I always thought, that 3 m x 3 m = 9 sqare meters was a small room.

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Thanissaro’s 25cm, IIRC, was estimated without considering the bhikkhuni rules. They would make a nun’s bathing cloth at 1 meter X 50 cm, which is manifestly inadequate. These are not meant to be average sizes, but big enough even for the largest and fattest monastics. And they’re just not.

The commentary says a sugatavidatthi is three times the size of an average man living in the Middle country in those days. My span is a bit over 20cm, so say an average Indian of 2,000 years ago might be 15cm. That would give a sugatavidatthi of 45cm.

That gives 17 M2 as the maximum size of a monks’ hut, which seems pretty reasonable. A maximum hut size of 5.25 M2 is ridiculous: our huts at Santi were 10 M2, and they were pretty small. Half that is a closet.

And a nuns’ bathing cloth becomes 1.8 M X 0.9 M, which is still pretty skimpy for a maximum size, but at least possible.

Just as a historical note, the commentarial interpretation of this has typically been dismissed among western monks. In Khantipalo’s edition of the patimokkha (IIRC), he rejected the commentary, saying it was based on the idea that the Buddha was three times the size of a normal human. However, this is not correct. The commentary doesn’t say anything about this, it merely gives the measurement as I stated above. I think that, taking it as the maximum measure, allowing for the fact that the average hand size of an Indian is a little smaller than that of a westerner, and applying it across the full range of cases, the commentary holds up pretty well.

In any case, given the uncertainty, almost all monastics in practice ignore these sizes.


I’m currently staying in a kuti < 8 M2, and I agree that a max size of 5.25 M2 is preposterous. I can barely do yoga in this kuti.


Indeed, I can only agree, and it goes against the spirit of the Dhamma. If it is just the Sangha owning the land of monasteries, I can’t see any problem. In fact this sort of ownership seems to have been set up by the Buddha. Owning productive land, however, which is what you are referring to here, is inappropriate and goes against the description of the path as found in the gradual training (as in MN 27):

… abandoning a small or a large fortune (bhoga includes all property) … he goes forth from the home life into homelessness … He abstains from accepting fields and land.

As for the question of kuṭi ownership, the word in bhikkhu saṅghādisesa 6 is assāmika, which literally means “without an owner”. This is then defined in the word-definition section as “there is no other owner, either a woman or a man, either a householder or one gone forth.” The word “other” would seems imply that the bhikkhu owns the kuṭi himself, or perhaps that there is no owner at all. Whether this definition includes ownership by the Sangha is not entirely clear, but it is usually interpreted in this way, that is, saṅghādisesa 6 does not apply if the Sangha is the owner. The strict size limitations are probably there to avoid the bhikkhu from owning anything valuable, so as to fulfil the requirement of the gradual training. I am not sure, but it is possible that later texts use the word puggalika to show this sort of individual ownership.

In many monasteries these days it is the Sangha which owns the property, or in the case of Bodhinyana a legal entity, that is, The Buddhist Society of WA. In such cases bhikkhu saṅghādisesa 6 no longer applies, but saṅghādisesa 7 does. But this latter rule has no size limitation on the kuṭi/vihāra.