Is asceticism a phenomenon driven by the upper class?

Is that information from the article, or do you have another source?

It could be, but so what if it is.

For example, technological innovations, such as the Internet that we’re all using now, are typically driven within the sphere of the “upper class.” If good is being done, harm isn’t caused, and access is made available, it wouldn’t make sense to be critical of someone’s work simply for their social status.


Of course people knew of impermanence. What makes the Dhamma innovative is that it challenges us to confront the impermanence in all things. The Buddha shed light on the realities that we try to disregard.

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Well articulated.

This seems observably untrue within a life.

Let’s deconstruct what beliefs (views) function in relation to this accessment.

It may rely on a belief in Justice. Underlying rationalization:“It must somehow be Fair; it must somehow work in terms of morality.” This anthropormophizes the Universe itself, if not attributed to a supernatural POV with power/ efficacy. “Rewarded” is an interesting word; rewards are not simply consequences due to occurances, it is a validation which suggests validator(s).

If we understand self view as confusion about aggregates, what is the ultimate validator of these mental fabrications? Is this how we understand kamma?

Some rich people “go look for what lies beyond the worldly things” and some do not. Are people either fulfilling or failing some destiny? Is there “destiny”?

“material wealth and rich families for their kamma and also the knack for spirituality” Is this an observable correlation of factors, or a fabricated association which seems more a juxtaposition or an aspiration, wistful.

Do these ideas, these fabrications, support the Path towards liberation? Do they inspire, sustain, the cultivation of contentment, equanimity, insight, or not?

Perhaps these ideas are considered necessary for a world in which the Dhamma can be sustained. Perhaps these ideas are considered to be integral in Dhamma. Perhaps these ideas are considered to be cultural accretions, useful, harmful, neutral…

I hope these lines of thought can be observed dispassionately.

Actually you might be right. But how?

What if we use the words “cause and effect” instead?

I have heard that Buddha has said not to go study the subjects of Buddha, kamma and universe as one can get lost in it and completely abandon the path to freedom. I’m not sure which sutta though. I will find out soon and let you know.

Well again causes and conditions make us go look for things not destiny.

Oh lots of things. General past life conditioning (Buddha’s words), my this life experiences and other people’s experiences. Most of all this is a way of making sense of things which are inexplicable with current human knowledge and trusting Buddha’s word until I find out for myself .

Yes. They inspire and increase the confidence in the dhamma very much. It also helps makes sense of the samsara, cause and effect and suffering. But you have to understand your thoughts in order to attain liberation.

Perhaps let’s not get stuck in these ideas. Keep practicing the dhamma day to day. Look inward and you will understand. Doubting is okay until you understand but don’t get attached to extremes… Middle way all the way!

I’ve gone mad, really, I’ve lost my mind! –SN56.41

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I didn’t see it mentioned in the article. I’ve read of the practice in various university textbooks and other books related to the history of the Catholic church.

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Honestly this applies to the rich and poor alike. The rich can be consumed with their sensual pleasures and the poor overcome by suffering. Both conditions make it hard to practice within lay life, but as far as going forth is concerned, what would be the large concern?

As a matter of fact, going forth in some ways is better for someone who is poor—you get taken care of within a well-respected community.

I do remember a Sutta where the Buddha relates that sometimes it can be very hard for a poor person to leave the household life because of his attachments, whereas a rich person may readily give it all up to taste the renunciate life. The difference for each person lies in the attachment.

Suppose there was a poor man, with few possessions and little wealth. He had a single broken-down hovel open to the crows, not the best sort; a single broken-down couch, not the best sort; a single pot for storing grain, not the best sort; and a single wifey, not the best sort. He’d see a mendicant sitting in meditation in the cool shade, their hands and feet well washed after eating a delectable meal. He’d think: ‘The ascetic life is so very pleasant! The ascetic life is so very skillful! If only I could shave off my hair and beard, dress in ocher robes, and go forth from the lay life to homelessness.’
But he’s not able to give up his broken-down hovel, his broken-down couch, his pot for storing grain, or his wifey—none of which are the best sort—in order to go forth…
For that man, they are a strong, firm, stout bond, a tie that has not rotted, and a heavy yoke. (MN 66)


I truly wish my memory were better, but I read something recently which discussed the class and caste make up of the Buddha’s followers based on the Suttas. I believe it was a Gombrich book but I can’t be sure. The conclusion there was predominantly, the Buddha’s followers and supporters were in the “top” 2 castes, dispurportionately so. The argument there was that it may have had much to do with why the sangha and dhamma was successful in growing-- the supporters had resources and means to keep things going. The Buddha never turned away anyone because of economics of course, but he certainly was fortunate to have the support and respect of prominent householders, kings, brahmins, etc.

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Thanks! :rofl: I thought there were separate suttas saying not to speculate about kamma and the Buddha…

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It might have been Kelly’s paper “The Buddha’s Teachings to Lay People”? (Lay practise in the ‘early’ days)

But we shouldn’t forget that there were rich Vaisas as well, like Anathapindika, and even rich Suddas. Wealth was not necessarily limited to Khattiyas and Brahmins.

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I didn’t do more than skim the article in the OP, but my general sense is that the practice of asceticism is akin to the practice of meditation; if you are able to find a teacher or an exemplar of such a practice, you then have the ability to explore it for your self, and its benefits. I’m not sure that asceticism relates necessarily to having some measure of wealth, though those that are fortunate to have some wealth in this world learn that it really doesn’t make them happy. Perhaps if one is poor and struggling, the belie that if only one can get some money or some things of value, they will be happy. Absolutely, people that have good educations, employment, clean water, housing, and good food have the time and opportunity to practice and cultivate aspects of practice that say, a refugee who is struggling to work 16 hour days just to feed their family, may not have.

Until one can test this practice, it may be that one doesn’t acquire the insight that less is more; that letting go is part of the path toward happiness. If you have the good fortune to have access to a teacher or an experience that can demonstrate for you the paradox that having more may mean being less happy, it is truly a gift to be born in a western country with access to some measure of wealth.

I’m not entirely happy with what I’m writing so quickly this morning, but thought I’d write something. In any case, I think of the Dalits in India that embrace Buddhism, that embraced in the midst of their rejection and poverty the Dhamma. Perhaps in some way out the Dalit community will come some great meditators and teachers; those that can embrace their oppression and resultant poverty as a pathway toward liberation. I think of the compelling story of the untouchable waste-collector that crossed paths with the Buddha in his village, who hid from the Buddha out of his shame, whom the Buddha recognized, embraced, and ordained.


In addition to education, clean water, housing, and food, money also buys time, as @UpasakaMichael suggests. I just spent an entire weekend attending to chores as well as completing some work that landed in my lap (students e-mailed me research papers over the weekend so I felt obliged to read and respond to them). If I didn’t have all the work to complete over the weekend I might have spent more time meditating and contemplating the Dhamma.

Granted, part of what consumed my time over the weekend was spending half of Sunday at the Wat I attend taking part in the Kathina celebration. One might ask, well, doesn’t that include contemplating the Dhamma? Not entirely. There is quite a bit of ritual involved, not to mention eating and socializing. I often wonder about what people expect out of weekly services at the Wat, but that is a topic for another discussion… :wink:

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It is possible that the poor and working class ascetics are more invisible to history. That’s the weakness of the Rodney Stark paper. They could be the type of monks who don’t write or get promoted in leadership, but just practice.
In medieval Catholic monasteries, the peasants would become lay brothers or sisters, working in the monastery and possibly practicing the spiritual life, but not recognized and not literate.
Catherine De Alwis, founder of the Sri Lanka nun’s order of Dasa Sil Mata came from a highly respected family, and at first attracted well educated women. Later, the DSL came to draw more from rural farm families. I have certainly encountered western bhikkhus and bhikkhunis from working class backgrounds.
Obviously the early Buddhist texts and stories show that anyone may become noble by their behavior. Neither monkhood nor noble attainment is limited to Sakyan or Brahman class. However, the opening of the path for persons from any background does not necessarily disprove Stark’s thesis.


This paper explains how this problem occured back in 50’s, when buddhism was new to the west.

Nattier, J., 1997. Buddhism comes to main street. The Wilson Quarterly (1976) , 21 (2), pp.72-80.

Import Buddhism and Elite Buddhism

There are two types of Baggage religions, import and export.
To begin with the import type, consider a hypothetical example: a college student living in the Midwest in the 1950s finds a book on Zen Buddhism in the public library and thinks it’s the greatest thing he’s ever heard of. So he buys a plane ticket, heads off to Japan, and begins to study meditation in a Zen temple. After several years of practice and some firsthand experience of Buddhist “awakening,” he returns to the United States and establishes a Zen center, where he begins to teach this form of Buddhism to other Americans.

The important point to note here is that the importer (in this case, the college student) deliberately seeks out the product and takes the initiative to bring it home. But for this to happen, two crucial resources are required: money and leisure time. Buddhist groups of the import variety, in other words, can be launched only by those who have a certain degree of economic privilege. And not surprisingly, in these groups (as in other voluntary associations), like attracts like. Thus, the upper-middle-class status of the founders tends to be reflected in their followers, with such communities drawing a mostly well-educated, financially comfortable, and overwhelmingly European-American constituency. Aconvenient label for the groups formed by the import process, then, would be “Elite Buddhism.”
Read the paper