Correct usage of the word 'bhante'

I noticed people use bhante as essentially a replacement for venerable, which is not always correct

this word is in vocative case as indicated in the article of the Pali dictionary available on SC

voc. of bhadanta Reverend Sir; O lord.

(bhavantaḥ=bhagavantaḥ) voc. of polite address: Sir, venerable Sir, used like bhadante

thus it’s only appropriate for addressing a monk

when mentioning or pointing at a monk in 3d person it’s more grammatically accurate to use the word venerable instead of bhante


See the discussion here:

thank you @mikenz66 for the link, an entertaining one

in replies Ven Sujato wrote

The Suttas are, as in so many things, very useful. The Buddha is addressed with everything from ‘mundaka, samanaka’ (shaveling, sham ascetic) to Bho Gotama to Marisa to Bhante to Bhadante to Bhagava. And he didn’t make a big deal about it.

at least once he’s said to have acknowledged a confession of wrongdoing expressed by a wanderer, who unknowingly addressed him as avuso

MN 140

Thereupon the venerable Pukkusāti thought: “Indeed, the Teacher has come to me! The Sublime One has come to me! The Fully Enlightened One has come to me!” Then he rose from his seat, arranged his upper robe over one shoulder, and prostrating himself with his head at the Blessed One’s feet, he said: “Venerable sir, a transgression overcame me, in that like a fool, confused and blundering, I presumed to address the Blessed One as ‘friend.’ Venerable sir, may the Blessed One forgive my transgression seen as such for the sake of restraint in the future.”

“Surely, bhikkhu, a transgression overcame you, in that like a fool, confused and blundering, you presumed to address me as ‘friend.’ But since you see your transgression as such and make amends in accordance with the Dhamma, we forgive you. For it is growth in the Noble One’s Discipline when one sees one’s transgression as such, makes amends in accordance with the Dhamma, and undertakes restraint in the future.”

MN 140

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There are some pretty surprising uses of “bhante” as an honorific, instead of a mere vocative following the strictures of Pali grammar. I don’t know if this is peculiar to Ven Ananda (owing to his popularity and accessibility by laypeople) but if you do a search for the phrase “bhante ānanda”, you find it popping up in not a few suttas -

AN 3.72 (addressed by an ājīvaka)
AN 9.37 (addressed by a nun from a matted-hair group)
AN 9.41 (addressed by a layman)
MN 88 (addressed by King Pasenadi)
SN 35.129 (addressed by a layman)
AN 6.44 & 10.75 (ditto)
SN 47.10 (addressed by nuns)
MN 52 (addressed by a layman) etc etc.

MN 52 is especially telling. In the 1st part of the narrative, Dasama asks for Ven Ananda by asking another monk about “āyasmā ānando” (very formal), but when Dasama finally meets Ven Ananda himself, he addresses the latter as “bhante ānanda” (rather more affectionate and informally).

I’ve not had the time to research who else was addressed by the use of “bhante” as an honorific (but see MN 143 for how Anathapindika’s addressing of Ven Sariputta is also informal), but it does seem that from the contexts of the usage in the suttas, and as late as the Milindapanha, the use of “bhante” as an honorific was not seen as problematic by the redactors of the suttas. Had they felt otherwise, they could have easily levelised all the instances of “bhante ABC” to “āyasmā ABC”, just to conform to the strictures of Pali grammar as it later developed.


hi Sylvester,

i’m afraid you misunderstood my post

in all your examples bhante is used in direct speech addressing the characters in 2nd person, just where vocative case is in order, not in speaking of them in 3d person, and my point was that nowadays in English people tend to apply the word in vocative case to 3d person references, that’s all

as far as ayasma is concerned, i didn’t do a research, but i get an impression that it’s used predominantly in 3d person, not in direct address


You’re quite right. I’d focused on the statement that "this word is in vocative case " and overlooked your later point about “when mentioning or pointing at a monk in 3d person it’s more grammatically accurate to use the word venerable instead of bhante”.

My post was to illustrate that while the Pali grammars do note that “bhante” is a vocative (and used without the addressee’s name), it does not seem invariably so, since the suttas do record its usage with the addressee’s name.

oh, now i see your point @Sylvester, i didn’t think of it that way as to me it wouldn’t seem odd just as Mister Jones, Sir Henry and Venerable Sujato don’t sound odd

and if i’m not mistaken in bhante ānanda the name Ananda is also in vocative case

Glad you don’t find it odd. I just find it odd that some of the papers I’ve read suggests that when “bhante” is used, the name is dropped, contrary to how it is used in some suttas.

In current usage in Insight Meditation circles (specifically ones I know in California), ‘Bhante’ is used to both address and refer to certain monks as a sort of official yet s/w familiar term; in particular one who comes and teaches in 10 day retreat every couple of years. I asked him once, and he said ‘bhante’ is used to designate a monk who is senior – more time since ordination. This monk was born in the West, but ordained ca. 1980 by Mahasi Sayadaw, later spent more than a decade working with Goenke, and since about 20 years working with Pa Auk Sayadaw, though he’s ‘independent’ – travels around between several monasteries in Burma and Sri Lanka.

in the suttas it doesn’t appear to be used for reference, rather solely for address in conformity with the Pali grammar

it just doesn’t sound right otherwise, it sounds like mixing up cases, a common type of mistake pertaining to poor knowledge of an inflected language

Wikipedia on “Sayadaw” mentions a term “Bhaddanta”, but no ‘bante’. Something suspicious, though, in the wikipedia entry: “Sayadaw is used interchangeably with the term “U”.”

Again, having asked U Jagara once what ‘U’ meant, he replied it means (or is used as) something like “Mr.” (i.e. like sir, senor, herr, sri, etc.) I’m talking in terms of current usages – not in ancient Pali texts, which is also interesting.

Seems like something of a free-for-all now-a-days.

This topic just crossed my mind &, in writing a new question, I came across this thread. Being not fluent in Pali, my impression is, in MN 143, Anathapindika’s servant also addressed Anathapindika himself as ‘Bhante’ or ‘Lord’.

'Evaṃ bhante’ti kho so puriso anāthapiṇḍikassa gahapatissa paṭissutvā yena bhagavā

Responding, “As you say, lord,” to Anathapindika the householder, the man went to the Blessed One

What I was told when I lived in Thailand is Thais generally do not use the term ‘Bhante’ unless referring to the Lord Buddha or, otherwise, although rarely, a very senior & old monk.

Yet in the West today, which is a custom I assume from Sri Lanka, all monks, whether young or old, are being called ‘Bhante’ and nuns, be they young, old, bhikkhuni or 10-precept, are using the title: ‘Ayya’.

Thanks MikeNZ. Sujato’s blog satisfactorily answered my queries although I have noticed Sri Lankans using the term ‘Bhante’ as common place.

Bhante is not used as a title for monks in contemporary Buddhist cultures, all of which have evolved their own complex system of titles and forms of address. It has, however, been adopted in new Buddhist contexts, such as India, Malaysia, Indonesia – and Australia…If someone wants to call me Ajahn, that’s fine…And, this being Australia, if someone wants to call me ‘dude’ or ‘mate’ [or ‘cobber’] – which happens! – then I’m cool with that.

The most senior bhikkhus, such as Sāriputta and Moggallāna, are called āyasmā, and the most respected bhikkhunis, such as Uppalavaṇṇā and Khemā, are called ayyā.

Sujato’s Blog