If you have never been a monastic and think of becoming one

Well, I have made one failed attempt at becoming a monastic, and I think it might be useful for some to know which problems I grappled with during that time.

The Theravada tradition is awesome because it has preserved the original teachings, at least as best as it could. But the flipside of this is that it is extremely rigid and conservative (which is the very reason why it has preserved the teachings so well). Ideally, it would be able to reform itself, but (given some of what I’ve read) the situation is such that it would likely lead to officially allowing monks to use money or worse. So there is a number of rules one has to abide by even though they sometimes make no sense in the context. I think it helps tremendously to keep in mind that this is the price to pay for this salutary conservatism. I think it is very helpful if mentors acknowledge this tension between theory and practice and offer guidance on the way to resolve it. Particularly that the rules that don’t make sense in context are not rules like others, they are a special kind of rules that should be regarded with the bigger picture in mind.


I am considering ordaining in the future. I like the conservatism of Theravada, so I think I would adjust fine to the points you made. That being said I know there is a world of difference between being a layman and actually being a monk.

Thanks for sharing.


Thanks for starting this interesting topic. I think it’s quite common to feel this way, especially in the beginning of monastic life.

Could you share more about the rules that you found difficult or that didn’t make sense? Were they rules from the pātimokkha, or maybe a korwat that was in place in your monastery? Different communities interpret and keep rules in different ways.


Welcome to the forum @anon56320353. We hope you enjoy many valuable discussions here. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask generally, or send a message to @helpdesk-dd (for the forum), @helpdesk-sc, or @moderators. :slight_smile:

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I would be hard pressed to make a comprehensive list, but off the top of my head, I remember the rule about carrying a strainer if one goes somewhere that is more than a certain distance away. Usually, this is done by car (the use of cars is also interpreted as an offense, interpretation I agree with based on the texts) and also these days no one is going to stop on the side of the road to get water from a pond that might contain mosquito larvae, primarily because these days most bodies of water are polluted. So one is supposed to carry an item that has 99.99% chance of being practically useless because the world has changed a lot in 2500 years.

Same goes with cars. Normally, monks should only travel on foot. It’s certainly doable in principle, and I think a number of monks live this way, but for practical reasons, often to avoid inconveniencing the laity, monks will use cars anyway. I know some serious traditions do not consider that to be an offense, but I find their explanation unconvincing (personally).

The reason I had trouble with this is that I had come to discover the Dhamma precisely because I had consistently kept looking for a way of life that made sense, and I had not become a monastic to start throwing away the very mental attitude that had driven me to the Dhamma in the first place. Some rules are meant to apply to a different context and I think it helps to avoid hiding this fact under the rug and instead acknowledge it and see the bigger picture, so that one still follows the rule, not out of blind obedience but seeing the bigger picture.

There are also local interpretations of the vinaya, but that is a bit easier to understand that you follow those rules as a guest in the community that laid them in that particular way without questioning whether they make sense or not, just for the sake of harmony.

I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but here is what I have observed which is based on my relatively short time practicing Buddhism:

I attend a wat in the United States which houses monks who are from Thailand. I have not memorized all 227 precepts that are part of the Theravada Vinaya, but based on my admittedly limited observations, I would say that the Thai monks at the wat I attend accommodate rules into the modern world for reasons of pragmatism and practicality. And it’s not just Theravada monks living in the United States. When I was in Thailand a couple of years ago I noticed that there are seats specially reserved for monks in airports. So clearly monks in Thailand and traveling using transportation other than their own two feet.

On the other hand, there is a Theravada monastery not far from where I live that houses a small number (less than five) of monks who, from the best I can tell, make a serious effort to follow every precept in the Vinaya. These monks are mostly U.S.-born American citizens who appear to follow monastic code more closely than many monks in Southeast Asia. So there would appear to be flexibility in how Buddhist monastic life can be adapted to the contemporary world.

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Indeed I think the conservatism of Theravada is what everyone appreciates here. Good to know you’re clear on this front of the difficulties that may come with monkhood :slight_smile:

Can’t the robe be used as a strainer?

Where did you ordain?

I don’t know. All I know is there was a khandaka rule about it.

I would prefer keeping this part private

But the way you put it made me understand it was a reason it did not work for you?

No, that wasn’t THE reason :blush: (the tax department was getting me in trouble, asking me for unforeseen amounts of money because of a technicality, on top of a welfare government agency that had gotten its files mixed up and was asking me to repay a significant amount of money that I had never received myself in the first place, and the person who should have been able to cover such things for me turned out to not be able to)

Having such questions (regarding Khandaka rules for example) figured out beforehand would have been helpful to me overall, which is why I have deemed potentially helpful for others to start this topic