SuttaCentral

Bitcoin and Bhikkhu

Hello

I won’t expound on what is bitcoin, because I think few minutes on internet search would do the work if one don’t know what it is.

I wonder how to interpret sucha a case where for example person is a layman, he have some bitcoins and later he becomes a monk.
Question is he before his ordination, he should give the bitcoins/wallet to someone else or he could keep them/it(for example in his memory the wallet name and password).
And if he can have it, could he give later those bitcoins/wallet(wallet name and password) to whoever he wants?

I apologize for my English

Hi nikt,

I am a layman, so keep in mind that I speak only theoretically, not from experience.
In my mind, I would like to respect the spirit of renunciation and give away all the money I have before the full ordination, including any bitcoins.
Keeping some money would be like keeping a door opened behind me and I would fear that when things got tough as a monk I would use that door… I don’t know if that make sense!

But basically, for me there is no difference between keeping money and keeping bitcoins, it’s the same question.

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Technically speaking you may entrust any pre existing wealth to a trusted lay steward who may look after the assets and use it to provide you and other members of the Sangha with the four requisites: clothing, food, medicines and shelter.

It is not wrong at all to make such arrangements as one makes the choice to give up the householder lifestyle. The only challenge that comes with it is to fully give up all impulses to control and or have a say on how those assets end up being managed once they have been in practice handed over to someone else.

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Thr same could be said about a debit card. Sure I can cut up the card when I take 10 precepts but it’s unlikely I will forget the card number!
Living in a monastic environment, at least a forest monastery, you generally don’t need much more than you have. The environment is set up to make it easier to restrain desire. You don’t go out shopping or spend too much time online. You’re food is provided. Everyone dresses in the same simple clothes. Even now when I can still handle money the only things I buy are one of the 4 requisites; food, building materials, medicine and I bought a $3 beanie because my last one broke and we only had spare brown ones.

As I understand it, the WA sangha of Ajahn Brahm, are ask to relinquish control of their money and to liquidise assets before taking brown robes. It is recommended that after 5 years in brown they then relinquish the actual funds if they intend to stay in robes. This could be to a family member or however they wish. So in the case of bitcoins, you just wouldn’t log in to your account. No different to internet banking. Then if you decided to stay in robes you’d eventually close your account and give the balance to someone else.

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Hi Nikt,

I don’t think bitcoin has been thoroughly studied from a Vinaya perspective. As far as I can see, though, it would be treated like any other form of currency. There are lots of grey areas in the Vinaya when it comes to the use of money. Obviously, the whole culture and use of money was much simpler then. Nevertheless, a few basic principles cover most cases. A monastic should not:

  1. Own money or similar means of exchange
  2. Make financial transactions, i.e. receiving or paying money
  3. Give orders for others to make financial transactions. This would, I think, include making bitcoin transactions.

However, a monastic may give indications short of commands for the use of funds, for example, “I need a new robe, are there sufficient funds for that?”

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to renounce everything when going forth. But this isn’t always possible or advisable, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps someone is not sure if they will remain in robes. Or maybe someone has dependents, or medical costs. Also, the place of ordination matters. Some monasteries will supply all a monastic’s needs, but in other places they don’t, so you have to have your own resources.

In such cases, as suggested by @Gabriel_L , a new monastic may set up a fund to be managed by a trusted lay steward. Typically this will be a family member, good friend, or long term monastery supporter. The funds are legally transferred to the steward, with an understanding, usually informal, that they are to be used according to the monastics’ wishes.

If for some reason this doesn’t work, a monastic may still ordain while owning money. Most of the Vinaya rules on money deal with making transactions, rather than simple ownership. This is, admittedly, a thin excuse and I don’t recommend it. But technically it would be a legally valid way to ordain, and if there was a Vinaya infraction, it would be a minor one. Later the monastic could transfer the funds to a steward, or just give them away.

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Bitcoin may be seen, properly, as currency and not generally allowable for a monastic. That seems clear enough, as explained above.

My two baht on the subject is that Bitcoin is more than a currency but really a speculative commodity. It is a peculiar commodity, in that its foundations are rather dark, and its value can swing with only a whisper of scandal. See https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/13/bitcoin-is-in-a-bubble-and-heres-how-its-going-to-crash-ron-insana.html

Bitcoin, as I recall, was established as a currency for the Dark Web, an underground economy that traded in illegal drugs, pornography, and other criminal enterprises. The notorious “Silk Road” was just one example of a crime syndicate that was fueled by Bitcoin. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road_(marketplace)

Some of the NGO work that I try to do is involved in combatting child sexual abuse and child trafficking. Unfortunately, many sites on the internet and dark web use Bitcoin in order to buy and sell child pornography, or the sexual exploitation of children. So, for my money, Bitcoin is a tool of an ongoing criminal enterprise, and is involved in funding the exploitation and abuse of children globally.

The argument might then proceed to, “well, all kind sof currencies are involved in crime.” That is true, But, Bitcoin’s rise as a commodity was fueled by criminal syndicates, and it seems to me that any person concerned with ethics might just avoid it altogether. It is a speculative digital currency, prone to large swings in value, and is used as a cryptocurrency for crime. In my book, it is more harmful than a common sovereign currency, and should be avoided at all costs.

Not at all. Bitcoin has been used for dark purposes, as has ordinary currency. You might as well blame the http protocol because people do bad things on the internet. The roots of it have nothing to do with that. The purpose was to create a truly international currency, which replaces or complements currencies backed by governments. There’s nothing wrong with that, and no reason why governments should be the sole guarantors of money. Bitcoins and related cryptocurrencies have a lot of promise in that they suggest a future of trade that isn’t controlled by banks and corrupt governments.

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correction. dark web is not an underground economy. it is a part of the net that requires special means to access and tends to keep people anonymous. underground marketplaces exist on the dark web. they aren’t synonymous.

blockchain technology is being used by big financial interests and it’s spreading. it’s not going away. good intro article: http://www.barrons.com/articles/beyond-bitcoin-how-blockchain-is-changing-banking-1498890463

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Yes, and while the dark web is often, perhaps mostly, used for nefarious purposes, it too has a valid purpose for existing. The technology of the dark web, Tor, was originally developed by the US Navy in order to provide secure and anonymous military communications. Those developing it today do so to provide a way of sharing information by people living under repressive regimes. In a world where journalists and activists are regularly murdered for speaking the truth, secure communications are more relevant than ever. If Nadeem James had used Tor, he might not be under a death sentence.

There is even a case to be made for some of the criminal uses of such tech. If someone wants to buy drugs, is it better to do it from some dodgy guy on the street, or on a secure marketplace, with user feedback to indicate whether the product is safe?

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@sujato and @roosbugg, thanks for the responses. I’ll stand by my earlier comment (w/ respect to its use by monastics) , but your posts did cause me to re-examine my position, and to do a bit more research. My post would not be the first time I’ve made an argument without fully researching a subject…

I found this article, which seems to resonate with what Bhante and roosbugg were arguing. https://www.smithandcrown.com/bitcoin-freedom-black-market-history/ The article discusses the liberative value of both the TOR network and the Bitcoin:

Whatever Satoshi Nakamoto’s motives were, Bitcoin itself as a concept is objectively liberating, from both the perspective of an individual and society as a whole.

So, i can see from the lens by which both of you view Bitcoin for the value of its liberating characteristics. " Like Ross Ulbricht said, “I learned from Silk Road that when you give people freedom, you don’t know what they’ll do with it.”"" This argument resonates with previous discussions here on copyright and other forms of restrictions that limit expression and the free exchange of ideas.

Being wrong is more valuable to me than being right. Perhaps being wrong here (or maybe, correct from an absolute, perhaps naive, principled point of view) gave me a chance to take a new perspective in this issue. I’m still not a fan of Bitcoin, for many reasons, but I am a fan of allowing people freedom, and the ability to express themselves in ways that guarantee safety, and encourage open dialogue.

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