Is dumpster diving for food and/or robe cloth allowable according to the Vinaya?

I would imagine that where dumpster diving is legal, doing it for the purpose of obtaining cast off cloth for robes would be allowable. But I’m primarily interested in whether it is allowable for a monk to obtain food by dumpster diving as the Freegans do. The only thing that comes at all close to this that I’ve found in the suttas is where Ratthapala asks one of his former servants not to throw away old food but give it to him. This after his father failed to give him alms.

And at his own father’s house Raṭṭhapāla received neither alms nor a polite refusal, but only abuse. Now at that time a family bondservant wanted to throw away last night’s porridge. So Raṭṭhapāla said to her: “If that’s to be thrown away, sister, pour it here in my bowl.”- MN82

Of course, this isn’t dumpster diving but he does seem to break a rule by asking for food, but in the context of thinking it would go to waste otherwise.

So, is dumpster diving for food allowable according to the vinaya? What about for robes?

My hope is that Venerable @Brahmali or someone else savvy in the Vinaya will be able to answer. Thank you for your time.

Anyone who makes use of
Leftovers for food,
Putrid urine as medicine,
The root of a tree as lodging,
And rags from the rubbish-heap as robes,
Is at home in any direction.



In the case of cloth, it would depend on what the law has to say in the country where the monk is living. If it makes it illegal, then dumpster-diving for cloth would be a dukkaṭa offence of non-conformity to the wishes of kings. If it makes the dumpster-owner the owner of the dumpster’s contents, then the bhikkhu might be risking the more serious offence of theft, unless he first sought and obtained the owner’s permission.

In the case of food, the same considerations apply, but also the 40th pācittiya rule:

Should any bhikkhu take into his mouth an edible that has not been given—except for water and tooth-cleaning sticks — it is to be confessed.

To count as “given” an edible must have been offered into a bhikkhu or bhikkhunī’s hand by an unordained person. In the case of dumpster-diving the taking of the edibles would be a dukkaṭa offence and the inserting of them into one’s mouth a pācittiya offence (unless what was taken was toothsticks or water, with the latter being extended by the commentary to include ice and hailstones).

The Food Chapter


Awesome, thank you Bhante.



Thanks for teaching me some new vocab! Dumpster diving … In fact monks have long been dumpster divers of a sort, with our tradition of picking up paṃsukūla cloth (discarded cloth or rags) and all that. Ven. Dumpster Diver … :thinking:

Ven. Dhammanando’s reply is excellent, as always. There are a couple of things that could be added, perhaps. There is an interesting allowance in the Vinaya for times of scarcity. If food is hard to get, then it is allowable for monastics to pick up discarded or ownerless fruit and then have it offered when they find a suitable person. Here is the story from the Canon:

On one occasion a number of monks who had completed the rains residence in
Kāsī were travelling to Rājagaha to see the Master. While travelling, they did not receive sufficient food, whether fine or coarse. There was much fruit, but no-one to offer it.

When those monks arrived in Rājagaha, they were exhausted. They went to the Bamboo Grove, approached the Master, bowed down to him, and sat down to one side. Now it is the custom for Buddhas to greet newly arrived monks, and so he said to them, “I hope you’re keeping well, monks, I hope you’re comfortable. I hope you’re not tired from travelling. And where have you come from?”

“We’re keeping well, Venerable Sir, we’re comfortable,” and they told him what had happened. Soon afterwards the Master gave a teaching and addressed the monks:

“Monks, if there is no attendant, but you see fruit, I allow you to pick it up yourself. You should then carry it until you see an attendant, put it down on the ground, and receive it. You may then eat it. I allow you to receive what you have picked up.”

Now it may not be unreasonable to extend this allowance to all kinds of food. It might be possible, then, if a Buddhist monastic happens to be in a place where support is hard to come by, to be a dumpster diver just to get by! If it’s done with a degree of dignity, I think this is probably in the spirit of early Buddhism. :grinning:

As for cloth or other requisites, as long as you perceive it to be ownerless, you are allowed to take it. It is then paṃsukūla, “from the dust heap”.