Equality between monastics, yet inequality between monastics and other non-monastic dana recipients

OK, I have a really hard dilemma here for you to contemplate. (No doubt the trolls are going to have a party with this one.)

I’m visiting family in Canada, and as I visit various non-Buddhist family and friends, even though they are very kind to me (and are feeding me, etc), they keep slipping in their views that everybody should have a regular job and be working full-time in the way that laypeople here usually do. BTW: Canada has strong, hard-working, Puritan-style values, as in, “you’re only as valuable as how hard you work”. You know, the Puritan work ethic.

The (non-Asian) Canadians I know are quite generous, but that generousity is usually spread out thinly between a whole bunch of recipients, wether it’s pets (which are quite expensive to own in Canada), family (as in, spoil the children), various sorts of under-priveleged, needy people, or monastics like myself (making a brief visit before returning to Asia).

That thinly-spread generosity is, by and large, not really enough for a monastic to easily make a livlihood out of (without serious outreach efforts, fundraising, raising one’s public profile, risking becoming “famous”, living in a city for the first few years, working towards living out in the country, etc). I feel that it’s only the ethnic Asians here who can really drive Buddhist monasticism here in Canada (or at least, get a new monastery/hermitage off the ground in the early years).

In Asia, there is a widespread, ancient-stemming view that you get a lot more merit by supporting a monastic (than say, a pampered household pet). In Asia, this view is arguably the very lifeblood of the Sasana. Ethnic Thais, Sri Lankans, and Burmese support the Sangha very well (at least the monks, anyway), while mangy, skeletal, stray, un-neutered, un-spayed dogs look on, licking their lips at the smell of the almsfood.

So how do we reconcile the need to have a Western-style equality between genders in Buddhist monasticism, yet we simultaneously want donors to see a greatly unequal value of offering dana to monastics (far above other sorts of morality-challenged possible dana recipients out there), which would yield orders of magnitude more of merit, because the “purity” of the recipient is so much higher?


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From my experience, Asian communities in many western countries tend to support male monastics more than females. Anenja Vihara, the nuns community in the south of Germany, is completely supported by Westerners who are traditionally non-Buddhist and so are we in Belgium and actually all the nun’s Viharas in mainland Europe; we have hardly any Asian support (of course there are always exceptions!). The monk’s monasteries in Belgium and Germany seem to get a reasonable mix of Asian and non-Asian support. So the problem you describe is something that female monastics have quite often encountered more than their male counterparts.

On the other hand however, in these countries the non-Buddhist supporters do not favor one gender more than the other.

I know this is not what you are asking but I just want to put your question in a broader perspective.


I have only simple suggestions here, and my take of the whole thing called “western/Eastern” Buddhism is to acknowledge that we in the west just don’t bring enough of our hearts into this fantastic practice.

So the way out of it is to “heedlessly develop” our belief in “romantic love” so that it numbs out reasoning, and get’s us down to the ground where the teaching is served or exchanged for medicine for the teachers bodies, roof over their heads, ordinary medicine and clothing.

Bring in some devas, and chanting, and bowing and and whatever makes that little dictator in the head silent enough so that wisdom can overcome our mental gates and change the attitude towards whole value of The Triple Gem. I love the teachings from all of our monks and nuns, and I support Venerable Ajhan Brahm in his constant struggle to tell silly jokes and put a big “silly” smile on our face, they are not so silly when you discover that it is possible to reunite with that lost child that once was just happy to be, and now as a grown and old man I just go around smiling all the time hand in hand with my best friend, and the practice is just a wonderful big big toy :yellow_heart::green_heart::blue_heart:

And excuse me if this sounds a bit hard, it is just what my personality is like



Dear Ven Subharo,

Thanks for a thought provoking question. I guess in Asia, people give to the ‘robe’ not the person, and this attitude has some sutta support (ie, you get boundless merit if you give to one monastic with intention of supporting the entire sangha).

But in the West, with it’s more individualistic view, people want to give to the person not just the robe. I think monastics can use this to their advantage. By providing Dhamma guidance, support and friendship to a few laypeople as a person, not just a faceless robe or ideal, I have seen monastics garner support in the West with this approach (whether it’s ‘enough’ or not is a different question).

I’m sure some monastics like being worshipped and supported for merely putting on the robe. And I see a lot of beauty in that arrangement because it allows genuine practitioners the opportunity to freely and earnestly devote their lives to practice and cultivation of the mind. But the arrangement between monastics and lay people has always been a two-way street. While in Asian countries monastics have come to be spoilt and treated like gods, the Buddha did chastise the monastics for not performing their duties to laypeople, such as teaching the Dhamma on the Uposatha.

If you ask the question of who ‘deserves’ the dana the most, you’re immediately buying into the capitalist worldview of scarcity and that the lion’s share should go to the group with the most power, and therefore most worth. But people actually operate on emotional cues – pity, love, compassion, inspiration. People in their West feed and love their dogs and cats because those animals (at least seemingly) give love, comfort and affection back – which is a lot more than can be said for many monks I’ve met! Many Asians also give dana to monks like buying a lottery ticket or making an investment – believing it will pay off in some material benefit for themselves.

I don’t see that gender has anything to do with it. I think expecting to be supported because scriptures say that the supporter will get more merit by giving to you is the wrong way to see it. When lay people and monastics live together in mutual support, with loving kindness, viewing each other with kindly eyes, you don’t need scriptures to tell you that you will reap the benefits both now and into the future.


:slight_smile: i think generosity on a personal intimate level, of daily food to eat, etc., is possible for persons of any gender identification; and it may be a particular gift of the West to bring this into flower.

Then perhaps the men of the east can realize that what they do in daily life, what they spend their moneys on, how they respond to basic human need on a daily basis, can be part of very beneficial practice.

And then, enough with gender gerrymandering, which is harmful, unnecessary, unskillful, a crippling crutch of roles we can let go of.

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You know, it’s funny, I was thinking about a similar point recently – namely, how the Buddhist concept of generosity emphasizes the “merit” of the recipient, while the Western ideal I grew up with prioritizes the “need” of the recipient. However, I think @Subharo raises a valid point, that Westerners also give a lot to their family and pets, which is more about attachment than either “need” or “merit.” Likewise, @Vimala raises a good point that Asians tend to give primarily to male monks, probably because their understanding of “merit” isn’t based on a sound understanding of “merit,” but rather culture.

Yep…he also said in AN 7.68 that it would be preferable for a monastic to die a slow and torturous death than to squander a gift from the laity due to poor conduct :open_mouth:.


I think there is something very ordinary about the benefit of giving to someone morally advanced. In terms of gratitude. Some of the non-monastic homeless are in very poor positions morally as well, completely ungrateful for what is spared. I’ve seen them throw food away, or complain about change when they want bills, no doubt to support drug habits or something. So I kind of interpret the greater benefit in terms of giving to those who are genuinely grateful (morally advancing), and that’s something very ordinary, directly experiential, and not dependent on (speculative) future lives.

The difference between grateful/moral vs ungrateful/immoral would also likely affect your future willingness towards generosity in other situations.

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I just know how it’s done around me here in Norway, and I have the opposite experience - that the sangha-buzz is much louder when we have the opportunity to take care of nuns. But they are rarely visiting, so then our system is based on “retreat nuns”, who take the precepts, and combine training with care taking for the monks here. It might sound too simple, and maybe that is our challenge, - that we get stuck in our ideals and thinking thinking and some more thinking - what about just doing the skillful moves without thinking so much?

Here is a vdo from last year when we got a surprise visit from Thailand, and all of us went to pay respect and maybe for some “merit making”, but who cares as long as the stomach gets its fill, and the causes are wholesome!?

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I believe that this is the main issue, and a very difficult one. It requires a belief system shift withing the culture… and, as in Australia, such beliefs as, 'the individuals obligation to provide for themselves and not be dependent on ‘hand-outs’, are very deeply ingrained.

Perhaps in light of this, it may be useful to frame ‘active monasticism’ as a type of work - not just sitting around all day meditating on ones belly button (ie navel gazing), but rather to be able to iterate the hours of training, studying, teaching etc etc.

Simmilarly, to actively put forward the REASONS of two way obligation of dana and service. That in order to subdue the defilements, monastics purposefully renounce possessions and money, and that this in turns allows lay followers to experience the benefits of generosity and giving.

I’m sorry it is not much - but it is a deep and fundamental cultural issue you are facing. You may just have to become ‘famous’ in bringing this message. Kamma is a tricky beast!! :relieved:

In the mean time, do you have other supports, like from your ‘base’ Sangha? I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the inner workings of the Sangha. But this is about the ability to survive with food and shelter.

All the best in your pursuit. :grinning:


I am not 100% sure, but isn’t part of the “Puritan” “Anglo Saxon protestant” work ethic a sort of “Idle Hands do the Devil’s work” type of thing? In a way, we could see this as some of that subtle, or not so subtle, Judeo-Christian programming we have yet to jettison :slight_smile:
We could always re-frame it that monastics are “working”. That is their job-- spiritual practitioners and teachers who don’t charge.


Holding a society together and making it prosperous is hard work, often very unpleasant work, in which many people have to chip in and contribute what they are capable of contributing for the benefit of the whole society. A plumber is able to put food on his family’s table, and a roof over their heads, food that he, himself did not produce, and a roof he, himself did not construct, because he is on his knees all day cleaning people’s toilets and fixing their pipes and drains.

So its natural for people who are doing that miserable work for their living to be suspicious of, or resent, those they regard as spongers or parasites living off the work of others, people who are taking from what others have produced, but not are contributing something of value themselves for others in return for what they take.

There are always some people who for various reasons are incapable of contributing anything in return for their living, and kind people will be willing to support them. But those capable of working must demonstrate to others that they are producing something of value - something of general value to others, and not just of value to themselves, in order to earn their trust and support.

So what are monks and nuns producing that is of general value to others? Monks and nuns are keeping the dhamma alive. By “the dhamma” I don’t mean all of those mountains of religious customs and traditions, some of which contain ridiculous superstitions, but the core practices and realizations of the path to freedom. The Buddha taught a path of liberation and spiritual freedom through renunciation, and that path, and the knowledge of it, and of what it reveals, and the peace and freedom and hope it can bring to others, cannot be preserved if here are no people actually living it. That’s what the monk is - or should be - giving to earn his place in society. Society is willing to support artists who keep beauty alive, and so it should be willing to support spiritual seekers who keep the way to freedom, peace and unselfish love open. At least, that’s the kind of “pitch” that appeals to me when considering whether to support spiritual seekers.

The Brahmin Kasi Bharadvaja had the same question for the Buddha that contemporary westerners have now. Why should he give to the Buddha, he asked. He and others are working hard sowing and ploughing to grow their food. Where is the Buddha’s plow and yoke? The Buddha’s answer was this:

Conviction is my seed,
austerity my rain,
discernment my yoke & plow,
conscience my pole,
mind my yoke-tie,
mindfulness my plowshare & goad.
Guarded in body,
guarded in speech,
restrained in terms of belly & food,
I make truth a weeding-hook,
and composure my unyoking.
Persistence, my beast of burden,
bearing me toward rest from the yoke,
takes me, without turning back,
to where, having gone,
one doesn’t grieve.
That’s how my plowing is plowed.
It has
as its fruit
the deathless.
Having plowed this plowing
one is unyoked
from all suffering & stress.

I can’t speak for others, but one thing that would not appeal to me as a reason for giving is any impression given by a so-called renunciant that they think they are entitled to the support of others because they occupy a higher station in life, or because they wear magical robes that give off some holy aura, or because filling monkly bellies buys a ticket for a nicer seat on the heaven express or some other future worldly benefit, or because they are better than the lost, suffering, homeless begger, or the abused dogs in the shelter. The Buddha said that the muni doesn’t think of himself as higher, lower or equal to others.


This topic touches the core of peoples beliefs, values, efforts, choices.

one could cast monastics as our intellectual best; this might be true, or mostly true, but that is a dangeroUs choice. {That typo presented itself twice as a gift, so there it is.}

one could present the monastics as scholars and researchers and presevationists, also true-y enough but that too might be a dangerOus choice. (Deliberate, this time.)

one could prsent the monastics as social workers, caring for the hurting, visiting the imprisoned, etc. Also true-y but a niche which might have competition which can become conflict and also quite a time n energy trap.

one could present the monastics as priestly. Major us n them pattern building.

one could prsent the monastics as monastics, in all the diversity that rises and falls, in an enviable position which they happily share. In the suttas, in history, at times everybody wants to be monastics, and ordains, and somehow … life finds a way.

i trust our aussie nv american european monastics to make decisions, act for and out of freedom and guided by the Triple Gem, as i hope each of us is. That makes a marvel of a Sangha!!!

i am not sure what will develop. i am not concerned about waste or worthiness because i have seen these concepts used harmfully, used brutally, brutalizing the self trapped in their grips. However. I am not sending any more money to Thailand, or asia, because addictions there are endemic, and not just to meth or prostitution or gender privilege or exploitation of girls women and boys and masculinity. But as a layperson of no income, living on family dependence, one might think that is easy to say.

well it is not easy, but it is possible. :slight_smile:

May all beings be happy, may all beings be well, may all beings have whatever is needed for life and liberation.


i just read Bhante Sujato’s translation of majjhima
nikāya 82 With Raṭṭhapāla

… it is sooo good…

[redacted impulsive idea]

But the sutta is relevant to the OP, fairly obviously to me. :anjal:


I don’t think that generosity works like that. Generosity breeds generosity. (Loaves and fishes for the prodestants, if you want to give a sermon :wink: ). If you don’t block generosity in any direction and rather encourage generosity wherever the heart inclines, then there will be more to go around.


Listening to this talk right now, and believe others will find Venerable Ajhan Amaro’s reflections around dana interesting and in accordace with op


As Ajahn Chah famously said: “Joy at last -to know there is no happiness in the world!”

Title of talk: The happiness industry: joy at last.
All the best, mendicant.


At the lowest level of the spiritual development ladder there is the ‘spiritual transaction’ - giving in order to get something. This could be karma based or paying for trinkets etc. The next stage is people doing it because the Buddha said being generous is a wholesome thing to do - or doing it as a family or culturally sanctioned tradition. Others might do it as practice to develop generosity or practice letting go. At its peak people do it without expectating anything in return. In any case when religious institutions are exempted from tax, or when giving aid to developing countries people who decide these things are being generous. If people from Asian backgrounds are more likely to support monastics then one must wonder what qualities they like to see in a monastic and feel inspired to look after- they respect the Buddha’s robe!

I have only been attending a Wat in the United States since March. The Wat is primarily attended by Southeast Asians (there are monks from Thailand in residence). In the short time I have been attending the Wat I have been overwhelmed with the amount of money the laypeople donate. At the Kathina celebration this past Sunday one of the members of the Steering Committee couldn’t contain herself and whispered to me how much money was collected in just one day. I won’t say the dollar amount, but believe me, it was eye-popping. Granted, the Wat is completing construction of a new residence building for the monks, so right now there is a need for more funds than during normal operations. Still, I get the sense that it is not unusual for the largely Southeast Asian laypeople to routinely make very sizable contributions to the Wat.

As a Westerner born and raised in the United States I am not sure exactly what is expected of laypeople with regards to maintaining a Wat with monks in residence. I also maintain membership at a Jewish congregation nearby where I receive an annual membership statement with my dues clearly spelled out. At the Wat no one says how much is customary. I have politely asked my friend on the Steering Committee what is customary, but I discern that the proper etiquette is not to make explicit statements about specific sums of money. Although my friend couldn’t contain herself when she told me how much money was raised on Sunday, whenever I ask her what is expected, she always says to me politely, “Whatever you give is always appreciated.” As a Westerner it is challenging for me to navigate Asian customs and etiquette.

Anyway, I try to follow the lead of the other laypeople at the Wat. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming to me, and I enjoy contributing to the Wat’s operations since I get so much out of practicing there. I simply always wonder if I am keeping up with the generosity of others.

By the way, if anyone wants to PM me (or answer in this forum) with some advice on how much it is customary to donate to a Wat that one routinely attends, that would be much appreciated!

Edit: I just looked over my donation receipts I save for tax purposes and notice that, to date, I have donated roughly an equal amount towards the Wat I attend and the Jewish congregation of which I am a member. The Wat is constructing a new residence for the monks, while the Jewish congregation has higher costs associated with salaries paid to staff, building maintenance, utilities, etc. So it would appear that my donations to each organization more or less balance out.