SuttaCentral

Formalities with monks in online contexts

I confess that I am at a bit of a loss as to “proper” Buddhist conduct (which is, of course, a product of various Buddhist cultures) toward interacting with members of the sangha, particularly online.

I think it is clear from the Buddhavacana that monk should be offered at least a certain base level of respect that is at least higher than one might give someone one does not particularly like, to put the matter lightly, (in fact, I think there is reason to assume that the way in which the lay are instructed to behave towards monks is, in fact, the way in which the lay, and everyone, should act towards one another on a universal basis, but I do not have any handy sutta-quotes to support that idea, so take it for what it is).

I am always unsure of when one ought to “Bhante” and “Ven”. I generally always “Ven” before someone’s name, but I don’t know when to “Bhante”. I am pretty sure that “Bhante” is a vocative, “O [name here]”, but, as an English speaker, I would never use a vocative in daily speech (unless I wanted to sound like a character from a Shakespeare play or a translation of Homer from the 1800s).

This isn’t really related to textual criticism or EBTs, but how do you go about “Bhante-ing/Ven-ing” or “conduct with monks” on an online basis? When do you find yourself using those words? Or, if someone wants to open that discussion, do you think the practice of using such words is beneficial, or is it antiquated?

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[quote=“Coemgenu, post:1, topic:5065”]
I think there is reason to assume that the way in which the lay are instructed to behave towards monks
[/quote]I just noticed a major assumption I made here: is there any Buddhavacana that addresses lay conduct towards members of the sangha, or is this conduct culturally produced by Budddhist societies out the instructions to venerate/“seek-refuge” in the sangha?

Interesting question - and I am sure you will get as many answers as answer-ers…
I think it depends on the monk/nun and the cultural setting as to what they think is respect. So there’s always that. Some have expectations and some don’t.

As for my totally self-invented etiquette system, I tend to call monastics what they want to be called (if I happen to know what that is). Depending on tradition/culture/context that could be Ajahn, Bhante, Master, Luang Por, Ayya, etc. Otherwise I just stick to Venerable or Ven., especially if I don’t know them, 'cos it’s respectful but non-sectarian.

If I am sending a direct message or email to any monk/nun I often try to use the little anjal thing or /\ as a sign of respect.[quote=“Coemgenu, post:2, topic:5065”]
is there any Buddhavacana that addresses lay conduct towards members of the sangha, or is this conduct culturally produced by Buddhist societies out the instructions to venerate/“seek-refuge” in the sangha?
[/quote]

I can’t tell you whether it’s Buddhavacana, but have vague recollections of a brahmin or something in the suttas disparagingly nicknamed Pridestiff, because he wouldn’t bow to the Buddha. And all the stories of people coming to see the Buddha/monks, treating them respectfully in greeting and passing on the right side. Not the best examples, but perhaps someone can elaborate, and maybe it indicates a precedent.

Then of course there is the provision in the Garudhammas that a bhikkhuni doesn’t have to pay respect to a monk who is not worthy of it (in the example, the monks showed the bhikkhunis their thighs inappropriately when the nuns were bowing to them). An interesting consideration I’ve reflected on from the other end of the spectrum!

On a personal level, it brings me great happiness to pay respect to monks or nuns I do indeed respect, so I do it for my sake! But to be honest, even if I don’t know them, I will still try to do it out of formality.

By the way, Bhante Sujato wrote a blog on the whole “Bhante”/“Ajahn” thing a while ago which may or may not have some points of relevance/interest to your question! :blush:

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My approach is pragmatic.

The level of renunciation required to take on robes alone is much higher than the one I am able to sustain. Hence, it does not matter if one is a wise bhikkhu/bhikkhuni, as long as he is not a dodgy one, he/she has all my respect and reverence.

Given that I don’t think dodgy bhikkhus/bhikkhunis have any interested in taking part in serious forums like this one, I always seek manifest as much respect and reverence as possible to anyone I am aware is in robes.

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I have noticed ‘Bhante’ has become the norm in the West (possibly from Sri Lanka) however in Thailand I recall ‘Bhante’ was never used, particularly towards young monks, since ‘Bhante’ is primarily used in the suttas to refer to the Buddha.

Personally, I prefer Ajahn, which means ‘teacher’, particularly towards a learned bhikkhu, such as Ajahn Sujato. .

‘Venerable’ is the most standard. Or ‘Venerable Ajahn’. In Thailand, ‘Tan Ajahn’ is used, which means ‘Venerable Teacher’.

That said, I think Pali names are very auspicious in themselves, thus I think simply using a name, such as ‘Sujato’ is very respectful, at least for me.

Or ‘Bhikkhu Sujato’, for example, can’t go wrong, imo, since the title of ‘Bhikkhu’ is also auspicious.

:slight_smile:

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In Sri Lanka, we pay respect to any teacher irrespective of whether a person is a monk. When I was young, I bow down to my school teachers. (This custom is now disappearing) However, we still pay respect to any person who is waring a yellow robe. I think we should pay special respect for the monks who are brave and humble enough to come to a forum like this and share their wisdom with us.

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Ajahn is a Thai word reserved for monastics of 10+ rains. Tan is a Thai word that can be used for any monastic, though not sure about novices. Probably not a good idea to call a non-Thai tradition monk Ajahn or Tan, or even call a Thai tradition monk Ajahn unless you’re sure of their status.

Bhante is a Pali word that can be used for any monastic and basically means “venerable.” This and its English equivalent are the safest ones to use because Pali is common to all Theravadans, regardless of ethnicity. It also doesn’t distinguish between senior and junior so you don’t have to know their status.

And obviously all that applies only to Theravada.

Pretty sure that’s all correct, correct me if I’m wrong.

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I personally try to use Ven. when talking about monks in the third person and use ‘bhante’ or ‘ayya’ as forms of address, just as one uses ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. ‘Bhante’ isn’t really a vocative, it is more like ‘monsieur’, ‘sir’, or ‘señor’.

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I think they would use luangpi, but that’s is very contextual. The Pali bhante is a safer bet.

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In the suttas, monks called the Buddha “Bhante”. Other monks call each other “avuso” (friend). I don’t think they called each other “Bhante”.

In the Maha pari nibbana sutta (if I remember correctly), the Buddha declared that after he left, monks should address their seniors as “Bhante”, and other monks “Avuso” (friend).

What I saw in the Burmese Theravada sangha, lay people would call all monks, even samaneras (novice monks) “Bhante”. Monks addressing themselves would follow the Maha pari nibbana sutta injunction.

Ajahn is a Thai corruption of the pali “Ācariya” (teacher). You’ll also see other weird spelling variations of Ajahn (acharn, etc), so it’s helpful to know the pali “Ācariya” to keep yourself anchored.

Another extremely weird Thai Theravada thing is they allow lay people to call the monks by their worldly householder name, preceded by the prefix “Tan”. For example, Ven. Thanissaro’s lay person name is Geoff, and lay people call him “Tan Geoff”. Probably that thai custom evolved because pali multisyllabic words can be hard to pronounce, but I don’t think the Buddha would have approved of lay people calling monastics by their worldly name.

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Indeed. I generally will call monks, Bhante and nuns, Ayya, unless they prefer something else.

At the monastery I go to I’ve known at least three of the monks since they were laypeople, and would (somewhat jokingly) call them Sam (Pali name) (eg. @Bhikkhu_Jayasara was Sam Jay for like a year) when they were novices. Of course, this depends very much on the culture, as such monks are American, and I notably would not call a Sri Lankan or Thai novice that as it could be seen as culturally disrespectful.

I think so long as the address is said with respect the specific word choice is not so important. Although using ‘Bhikkhu’ or the the person’s Pali name as a direct address makes me cringe for some reason.

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in addressing monks i consistently maintain the use of vocative , when speaking in 3d person i only use ‘venerable’

i overlooked using Ayye in addressing nuns though and from now on will make it a point to use it

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why not? https://suttacentral.net/define/bhante

if it’s a short of bhadante, which is vocative

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i believe this can be gleaned from the sutta narratives of interactions between laity and the Buddha and his disciples

Interesting! Abd the word luang por or luang pu is also used for monks who’ve been in robes a long time. I think it means something like venerable father.

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‘Bhante’ makes me cringe for some reason, particularly to youngish monks. If I meet a bhikkhu/ni, the first thing I ask him or her is what their Pali name means, so I can delight in it & hope the bhikkhu/ni lives up to their name.

Thank you for this. It is helpful.

And, Ananda, whereas now the bhikkhus address one another as ‘friend,’ let it not be so when I am gone. The senior bhikkhus, Ananda, may address the junior ones by their name, their family name or as ‘friend’; but the junior bhikkhus should address the senior ones as ‘venerable sir’ (‘bhante’) or ‘your reverence.’ (‘ayasma’). MN 16

:seedling:

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[quote=“frankk, post:10, topic:5065, full:true”]
In the suttas, monks called the Buddha “Bhante”. Other monks call each other “avuso” (friend). I don’t think they called each other “Bhante”. [/quote]

They do in the Vinaya, especially in formal situations — saṅghakammas and the like — when a junior is addressing a senior. For example at the First Council:

Then the venerable Mahākassapa informed the Saṅgha, saying: “Āvuso, let the Saṅgha listen to me. If it seems right to the Saṅgha, I could question Ānanda about Dhamma.”
Then the venerable Ānanda informed the Saṅgha, saying: “Bhante, let the Saṅgha listen to me. If it seems right to the Saṅgha, I, questioned on Dhamma by the venerable Mahākassapa, could answer.”
Then the venerable Mahākassapa spoke thus to the venerable Ānanda: “Where, āvuso, Ānanda, was the Brahmajāla spoken?”

It’s actually from the Sanskrit form: ācārya.

[quote]Another extremely weird Thai Theravada thing is they allow lay people to call the monks by their worldly householder name, preceded by the prefix “Tan”.

For example, Ven. Thanissaro’s lay person name is Geoff, and lay people call him “Tan Geoff”. Probably that thai custom evolved because pali multisyllabic words can be hard to pronounce, but I don’t think the Buddha would have approved of lay people calling monastics by their worldly name.[/quote]

The distinction you’re making didn’t even exist in the Buddha’s time. Men and women who went forth under the Buddha were not given new names, not even in the most elaborated form of the upasampadā ceremony. The custom of giving a new bhikkhu an ordained name most likely arose from the need to avoid liturgical defects (kammavācā-vipatti) in the ordination ceremony. If a man has a non-Indic name like Sompong or Thin Thin, then there might arise doubt about the proper way to inflect it in the Pali language.

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When I first encountered Tibetan Buddhism we were instructed to call all monks and nuns as Venerable. We were also told that by doing this we were venerating their robes, not so much the wearer, which helps overcome pride.

For Tibetan generally Venerable or more personally,
monks Lama, nuns Ani-la, but I won’t call myself Ani-la, just Ani :slight_smile: Then if you know their various qualifications such as Lopon, Khenpo and Geshe etc.

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(on the custom of Theravada monastics ordaining with a new pali name)

Thanks for clearing that up Bhante, I had always wondered about that.

(on junior monks addressing senior monks as “Bhante”)

Are there examples of that happening prior to Buddha’s pari-nibbana?

I’m not sure. The post-parinibbāna āvuso vs. bhante convention can be seen in the Vinaya’s description of the formulas to be recited by the saṅgha when carrying out saṅghakammas, but I can’t immediately recall whether it’s also represented in any pre-parinibbāna narrative passages.

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