Do disrobed monastics become "Slaves of the Sangha"?

A (somewhat eccentric) monastic told me that if a monastic disrobes and returns to lay life, they will owe a kammic debt to the sangha for many lifetimes, and will be a “slave of the sangha” for many rebirths, condemned by their kamma to serve until the spiritual debt is repaid.

Is there any basis for this in the suttas, or is it a folk-belief?

I remember something about debt being accrued by monastics until they attain sotapanna, when the debt is erased. Maybe the slave to the sangha belief is based on this?

Many thanks in advance, and please forgive me if I’ve transgressed any rules, this is my first post here.

EDIT: To clarify, I am a disrobed monastic, I was in robes only for a few years.


I’ve never heard any such thing, the opposite actually, that if one understood right view properly even for a moment of a fingersnap or simply fed someone with right view, it would result in great wholesome kamma. So I would make that your focus.

If one were to feed one person consummate in view, that would be more fruitful than the gift, the great gift, that Velāma the brahman gave.

"If one were to develop even for just a finger-snap the perception of inconstancy, that would be more fruitful than the gift, the great gift, that Velāma the brahman gave,

  • Velama sutta

What does “in debt to the sangha”, or “slave to the sangha” even mean?

edit: here’s a similar thread


There is a similar idea in the suttas:

for seven days I ate the nation’s almsfood as a debtor. Then on the eighth day I became enlightened.
~ MN 124

I’ve heard this explained thus: an unenlightened person living on alms accrues a debt to the lay donors who sustained his life, a debt that isn’t repaid until one attains.

I’ve never heard this explained as a debt to the (monastic) saṅgha


In Sri Lanka there is a huge stigma against disrobed monks. But I’ve never heard of the idea of “karmic” debt to the Sangha.

There is, though, a sutta that tells how even disrobed monks don’t blame the Dhamma for their inability to remain a monk. I wish I could find it because there is some wording about how they become someone who serves the Sangha. Anyone remember the passage?


My guess is that this somewhat eccentric monastic only once again demonstrated some measure of eccentricity in making the statement to you. Life in robes is a path of practice at the highest level and so of course there’s great Merit in remaining in robes. But I know of some truly excellent monastics who ordained and then disrobed and then reordained, and in some cases some really exemplary men and women who have been in robes and then disrobed to go on to a lay life that is an exemplary practice. And so I guess for me the bottom line is that there’s really no sense of enslavement or debt that one should feel from being in robes, but a true sense of Merit and a blessing that one experience this be it for a day or for a lifetime.


Ah, found it. MN77:

Even when a disciple of the ascetic Gotama resigns the training and returns to a lesser life, having been overly attached to their spiritual companions, they speak only praise of the teacher, the teaching, and the Saṅgha. They blame only themselves, not others: “We were unlucky, we had little merit. For even after going forth in such a well explained teaching and training we weren’t able to practice for life the perfectly full and pure spiritual life.” They become monastery workers or lay followers, and they proceed having undertaken the five precepts. That’s how the ascetic Gotama is honored, respected, revered, and venerated by his disciples. And that’s how his disciples, honoring and respecting him, remain loyal to him.’”

I’m doubtful that the monk in question based his beliefs on this one passage, but who knows.


Thankyou @Snowbird, that sounds like it is the passage the eccentric Venerable was referring to.


Great! Just in case it wasn’t clear from my post, If that’s the one he was referring to, I completely disagree with the conclusion he has drawn from it.


This idea would later be expanded in Mahayana.

If one live as a monk but do not strive with right effort, instead breaking the precepts; doing non virtue; essentially being a bad monk.

Because they eat from devoted lay followers donation, thiswould become a debt in the next life.
They would be reborn as an ox and work for those people.

I never heard about disrobed monk kamma. The closest thing is the idea explained above.


That’s from the opening chapter of the Visuddhimagga, paragraphs 125-9 in Nyanamoli’s translation.

there are four kinds of use [of the requisites]: use as theft, use as a debt, use as an inheritance, use as a master. Herein, use by one who is unvirtuous and makes use [of requisites], even sitting in the midst of the Community, is called “use as theft.” Use without reviewing by one who is virtuous is “use as a debt”;


Use of the requisites by the seven kinds of trainers is called “use as an inheritance”; for they are the Buddha’s sons, therefore they make use of the requisites as the heirs of requisites belonging to their father. But how then, is it the Blessed One’s requisites or the laity’s requisites that are used? Although given by the laity, they actually belong to the Blessed One, because it is by the Blessed One that they are permitted. That is why it should be understood that the Blessed One’s requisites are used. The confirmation here is in the Dhammadāyāda Sutta (MN 3).

Use by those whose cankers are destroyed is called “use as a master”; for they make use of them as masters because they have escaped the slavery of craving.

As for the eccentric monk’s opinion, I think there may be a certain figurative truth to it, inasmuch as abandoning the training is repeatedly represented in the suttas as something to be regretted, and regret (kukkucca) is compared in the Abhidhamma to slavery.

A contemptible act is kukata ; the state of a displeased mind, produced by making such an act its object is ‘regret’ (kukkucca). It has repentance as characteristic, sorrow at deeds of commission and omission as function, worry as manifestation, deeds of commission and omission as proximate cause, and it should be regarded as a state of slavery.


I believe this is from the suttas, which compares freedom from the fourth hindrance to:

a person [who] was a bondservant. They belonged to someone else and were unable to go where they wished. But after some time they’d be freed from servitude and become their own master, an emancipated individual able to go where they wished. Thinking about this, they’d be filled with joy and happiness.


Are you aware of anything in the commentaries like the ox story above?

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If this is the case, then perhaps someone should explain this to the many Thai men who ordain for a short period at some time in their lives because it is culturally the thing to do. LoL

I’m afraid nothing comes to mind.

Though in the Pali commentaries, especially the Dhp-a., kamma does come to be depicted rather more deterministically than in the suttas, the determinism doesn’t come anywhere close to that of the retribution narratives depicted in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist apocrypha.


About eating alms as a debtor, that debt is paid off by far less than full enlightenment.

Upon cultivating a mind of metta for even just a finger-snap, one “does not eat the country’s alms in vain.”


I was just thinking the same thing about Myanmar-- Many thousands of people all over Myanmar temporarily ordain and live at the monasteries for vacation times. I’ve never come across anything in the suttas condemning disrobing.

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A common understanding among some monastics I was learning from and friends with in Myanmar was that the receiving of requisites from the laity was the fruits of one’s previous dana, not a ‘debt-generating’ kamma. Ordaining and receiving generosity was creating conditions for wholesome states that support practice-- metta, gratitude, humbleness, etc-- and these conducive conditions also arose out of one’s wholesome past kamma and previous aspirations; the natural results of cause and effect…
I also have never come across anything like a ‘slave of the sangha’ condemnation in the suttas. Maybe they were wanting to scare you out of disrobing, hehe. However, serving the sangha with a wholesome mind for many lives wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen and could create wonderful kamma for a lot more happiness on your own journey to Nibbana. :slight_smile:


Nope, no one will become a slave of Sangha… This is just another papanca.

But anyone, who doesn’t gain the stream, will be the slave of Mara (5 senses) in Samsara for a long time even a monastic. :grin::smirk:


In the Buddha’s time, though there were people who went forth and later, for one reason or another, disrobed, there are no recorded cases of people going forth intending that they would later disrobe and go back home again. In other words, “temporary ordination” of the kind that we find in modern Myanmar and Thailand simply didn’t exist.

The sutta term for disrobing is “abandoning the training and returning to the inferior (hīna) life”. In nearly every sutta where this is spoken of, it is spoken of with disfavour, either implied or explicit.

“Bhikkhus, any bhikkhu or bhikkhunī who gives up the training and reverts to the lower life incurs five reasonable criticisms and grounds for censure in this very life. What five?

(1) ‘You did not have faith in cultivating wholesome qualities.
(2) You did not have a sense of moral shame in cultivating wholesome qualities.
(3) You did not have moral dread in cultivating wholesome qualities.
(4) You did not have energy in cultivating wholesome qualities.
(5) You did not have wisdom in cultivating wholesome qualities.’

Any bhikkhu or bhikkhunī who gives up the training and reverts to the lower life incurs these five reasonable criticisms and grounds for censure in this very life.

For it is called ‘death’ in the Discipline of the Noble One, Sunakkhatta, when one abandons the training and reverts to the low life.

See also Dhammapada 344, AN5.75, AN5.76, MN67, SN52.8, etc., etc.


Except in the case of “theft”, eh?