I usually click on the user name to check if the person is a monastic. Of course, there are many like Bhante @sujato or Ajahn @Brahmali who need no introduction! That said, I feel its most appropriate to address a known monastic by way of a title, out of respect for their commitment to the Buddha’s cause.
“Bhante” is a Pali honorific carrying the same meaning as the English “Venerable” which can be used for any monk in any tradition, while “Ajahn” is a Thai honorific meaning ‘Teacher’, usually reserved for monks with over 10 years standing in the Theravada Thai tradition.
Of course, it is highly unlikely that any good monk would ever take offense to not being addressed by a title, so you certainly haven’t done anything wrong!
The essay you linked by Bhante Sujato was very clarifying.
One follow-up question. For women monastics, it seems either Venerable or Ayya are appropriate forms of address. If I can’t tell what a given woman prefers, is there a way to choose between those two option?
I think it’s also helpful to keep in mind that both Bhante and Ayya are gendered terms. Thus, as we often don’t know and shouldn’t assume the gender identity of monastics, I more and more choose to use Venerable unless I know that they’re comfortable with other terms.
I agree with Brenna. If in doubt use Venerable.
At the monasteries in WA we are all venerable if under 10 rains, then Ajahn, regardless of gender. However, Ajahn is a very Thai thing and I think venerable is perfectly respectful.
Like Bhante sujato says in his blog, you can call me Mate and I won’t be offended
There is a thread, likely in the Watercooler, where this was asked and some of our monastic members responded. It would be nice if somebody had time to search for it.
I use Bhante and Ayya for male and female monastics I know or with who I talk a lot, and Venerable for others.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Bhante Sujato is Australian and all Australians are casual and informal, so just because he says, “Call me Mate”, please don’t use it on nonAustralian monastics. … Asian cultures are traditionally much more formal, and so I ramp up my formality when addressing monastics from Asia.
Ajahn is used by Thai monks and other monks trained in the Thai, especially Thai Forest, tradition. There’s also this thread that explains that Thai ‘Ajahn’ translates as ‘teacher’ and is used both by monastics who have enough seniority to teach, and also college and university teachers. (When I was a very new Buddhist it was part of my job to go and give talks in Universities in Thailand, and I felt very uncomfortable being addressed as ‘Ajahn Gillian’ because I thought it was only a monastic title!!!)
I wonder if @Snowbird could explain the common useages in Sri Lanka.
I have had the same experience at the Thai Wat I attend in the United States. I am a college professor, and although I do not have a formal teaching position in any way associated with the Wat, the monks often address me as “Ajahn” out of respect for my role at the secular university at which I teach. I do spend time helping the abbot at the Wat practice his English, so I think this is why he and the other monks often refer to me as “Ajahn,” but I am self-conscious about being awarded that title since my initial impression when I started practicing Buddhism was that the title was reserved for monastics.
In Australia we are used to ‘Ajahn‘ for senior monks too. However, one of the (Thai) nuns I live with says she called her tennis coach Ajahn when she was growing up. So I think it’s just a more general sign of respect to any teacher.