SuttaCentral

Is it OK to impose non-Canonical "dhutaṅgas" on junior monks?

Is there any canonical basis supporting the practice of imposing additional austerities (practices which cause acute physical pain, which are enforced because they are “the tradition”) not mentioned in the thirteen dhutaṅgas, nor anywhere in the Pali Canon for that matter?

Here’s a good article on “the 13 ascetic practices”.

Examples of “modern” dhutaṅga-like practises might be:

  1. The need to walk barefooted (because a senior monk is doing so), even if one’s feet are bleeding.
  2. The need to copy a senior monk’s body posture, even if it will cause acute pain (say, from sitting on the floor during a long Dhamma Talk, where one has inflexible hips, being unable to use cushions, and not being able to get up, but rather being able to only shift ones legs around, while still remaining sitting).
  3. Not being able to sit in a chair for health reasons (for example, when a Doctor has given advice to take it easy on poor knees, etc), even though chairs are available in the monastery (or at least used to be available, before they were intentionally thrown away).

Where should the line be drawn, where “it’s healthy to toughen the monks up”, and thereby make them fit into “the tradition”, and “atta-kilamatha” (self-mortification)?

Perhaps an alternate title for this question might be “When is ‘atta-kilamatha’ (self-mortification) a good thing?”

3 Likes

Araṇavibhaṅga sutta (MN 139)

3 “A man should not pursue sensual desires which are low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble and connected with harm; and he should not pursue self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble and connected with harm.

The Middle Way avoiding both these extremes has been discovered by the Perfect One (Tathāgata) giving sight, giving knowledge, which leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.

4 “A man should not pursue sensual desires, which are low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and connected with harm; and he should not pursue self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble and connected with harm.” So it was said. And with reference to what was this said?

Such pursuit of enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires, low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble and connected with harm is a state [2] beset by pain, by vexation, by despair and by fever, and it is the wrong way. Disengagement from such pursuit of enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires, low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and connected with harm is a state without pain, without vexation, without despair and without fever, and it is the right way.

Such pursuit of self-mortification, painful, ignoble and connected with pain, is a state beset by pain, by vexation, by despair and by fever, and it is the wrong way. Disengagement from such pursuit of self-mortification, painful, ignoble and connected with harm, is a state without pain, without vexation, without despair and without fever, and it is the right way.

So it was with reference to this that it was said, “A man should not pursue sensual desires which are low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble and connected with harm; and he should not pursue self-mortification which is painful, ignoble and connected with harm.”

5 “The Middle Way avoiding both these extremes has been discovered by the Perfect One (Tathāgata), giving sight, giving knowledge, which leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.” So it was said, and with reference to what was this said?

It is precisely this Noble Eightfold Path—that is to say: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

So it was with reference to this that it was said “The Middle Way … to Nibbāna.”

you may disagree, because you know monastic life firsthand, but maybe these practices are prescribed to compensate for the comfort modern day monastic life is characterized with in comparison to what it was like at the time of the Buddha, when mendicant lifestyle hardships alone would count as self-mortification

1 Like

:pray:

Dear Bhante,

Thank you in advance for allowing us to provide feedback.

I think dhutangas are to be only used as a counteractive measure for certain habits. It can’t be taken too far as to physical hurt the body. That’s way to ascetic from what I understand.
Not everyone is “tough”. The Buddha specifically advised not to go to the extreme side of self mortification. Hurting the body won’t do anyone good in this practice. Even in lay life, this is evident. The side effects of extreme asceticism would be:

-a monastic will start to feel doubts about the practice as the extreme practice starts to take toll on the body and mind
-the lay people would have to pay for any kind of medical issues that have arisen from extreme practices (dislocated knee for example)
-lastly but the biggest price to pay and a big loss overall, is that a good monastic having to leave the sangha as s/he can no longer keep the such extreme practice

So my take is, dhutanga is only good to curb habits and redirect the practitioner back to right path. There is nothing to be gained by extreme practices. The Buddha as an example, had to discard very extreme mode of practices as he realized they were hurting him rather than helping him. We should really learn from his example. Out of compassion, he left us an easier way to practice. Now, if senior monks think that extreme asceticism is the path, then they might be as well give up the robes and do penance like the sadhu’s in India. They’re not representing the Buddha in the right way.

with respect and reverence,
russ

:pray:

1 Like

I know exactly what you mean! And I might add, there is a direct line from some of these practices to serious health problems. I’ve had two operations on my knees, and this is quite common among senior Western monks. When I tried to raise the issue, I was told (by an Ajahn who himself had had multiple operations) that we were—and I quote—a “cowboy” operation.

My answer to your question would be: never. Such practices are abusive.

One of the things which made me so inspired by “Early Buddhism” was the growing realization that these things are not found in the Dhamma/Vinaya. When the Buddha was faced with problems and complaints, he always dealt with them in a kind, reasonable manner. I’ve been told that the “unreasonableness” of things is the point, that we were deliberately to do things because they were irrational.

Have a read of Karen Armstrong’s Through the Narrow Gate for a powerful description of similar dynamics within a Christian monastic community.

I might add that I never experienced these attitudes in any Thai or other Asian monasteries. In my experience, Thai monks have always been kind and understanding. Only in certain Western monasteries have I encountered such attitudes. Of course, that’s just my experience!

6 Likes

I think it’s noteworthy that when we look at the 13 dhutaṅgas:

  • paṃsukūla : abandonned robes
  • tecīvarika : three robes
  • piṇḍapāta : collection by means of one’s bowl
  • sapadānacārika : food collection without skipping houses
  • ekāsanika : a single meal
  • pattapiṇḍika : everything within the bowl
  • khalupacchābhattika : no longer accepting any extra food after having started to take the meal
  • āraññika : to remain in the forest
  • rukkhamūla : to remain beneath a tree
  • abbhokāsika : to remain on the bare earth without shelter
  • susānika : to remain among charnels
  • yathāsantatika : to sleep at the alloted spot
  • nesajjika : to renonce to the lying posture

…not one of them causes acute pain. In other words, even when you get into the most strict (or close to ascetic) practices that the Buddha allowed, and didn’t even insist on, you still don’t find any acute pain there.

3 Likes

If we look to see if there’s any precedent of any monk trying to add additional dhutangas, we see that Devadatta tried to introduce some, and the Buddha refused. From here, we get a paraphrased summary:

…Devadatta then decided to create a schism in the order, and collected
a few monk friends and demanded that the Buddha accede to the following
rules for the monks: they should:

  • dwell all their lives in the forest,
  • live entirely on alms obtained by begging,
  • wear only robes made of discarded rags,
  • dwell at the foot of a tree and
  • abstain completely from fish and flesh [meat].

The Buddha refused to make any of these compulsory, however, and Devadatta went round blaming him, saying that he was living in abundance and luxury. Devadatta then decided to create a schism and recite the training rules (pātimokkha) apart from the Buddha and his followers, with 500 newly ordained monks. The Buddha sent his two Chief Disciples Sāriputta and Moggallāna to bring back the erring young monks. Devadatta thought they had come to join his Sangha and, asking Sāriputta to give a talk, fell asleep. Then the Chief Disciples persuaded the young monks to return to the Buddha. The Buddha praised the Chief Disciples and blamed Devadatta saying that he was doomed to the Niraya Hell for his deeds, and it is reported that shortly thereafter he did in fact fall into Hell.

1 Like

although they’re not deliberately painful, these two have the potential of causing pain

Myself, I went from having perfectly good knees in late 2006 (when I first entered monastic life), to being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my knees in January 2015 (when I was 38 years old). I’m currently “living pain-free”, by the way, which seems to be the best I can make of my situation. It’s tricky to keep it that way.

The number of meditation halls, stupas, ordination platforms, solar panels, windmills, kutis, sheds, end-tables and even coathooks that I will ever build or install for the Sangha will probably now unfortunately be zero. The best I can do now in the way of physical labour is clean a toilet, with the aid of a stool to sit on. I’m still able to type on a computer. I can also barely lug around my 30lb (14kg) carry-on suitcase (which rolls on wheels) from monastery to monastery on an airplane.

2 Likes

why do people comply with abuse and coercion in a monastic setting? out of fear to be different, to be ostracized, to be expelled (which is unlikely)?

To attain enlightenment, you insensitive clod. That’s the whole point of ordaining, after all. And if you think I am the compliant, submissive type, you’re wrong. Check out my bravery to even make a posting such as this on the internet (especially knowing that critics such as you exist).

It was only with extreme care (at least, from my point of view) that I survived my “dependant” years as a monk (where so many others did not) with this little damage, overall. It could have been much worse. You’ll notice how I said I’m currently living pain-free. That took incredible manoeuvring.

I’d especially like to thank Ajahn Sujato for his compassionate and understanding remarks. They mean a lot to me, to know I’m not the only one, and this is in fact a trend.

3 Likes

:pray:

Dear Bhantes,

It saddens me to hear that senior monks really are expecting this sort of practices to be endured. I just can’t see the benefit from them. It’s mind boggling. But in a way its hinting something to me, perhaps, these could be signs of slow advancement in their practice.

I’m very glad though that that he both of you are doing well despite the fact of your injuries. I really appreciate the both of you being honest with your experiences. It is much appreciated :heart_eyes:

with respect and reverence,
russ

:pray:

This is another important point: none of the dhutangas are requirements, and there is no allowance for a senior monastic to impose them on anyone. Dhutangas have always been an optional practice that individual monastics can take up if they wish, in order to support their practice.

If you haven’t already, i recommend reading the Visuddhimagga’s description of the dhutangas. While the practices are the same, the attitudes towards them are radically different from what you find in many monasteries today. There’s none of this forced pain and endurance nonsense. They are about freedom and happiness, and yes, reducing desires and wishes, but not from forcing, from letting go.

2 Likes

I had an excellent conversation with Ajahn Sudanto recently, where he said that Ajahn Pasanno used to do a lot of “forcing” of compliance with wickedly strict Kor Wat (the unique, beyond-the-Vinaya rules of a given monastery, declared by the abbot, but also sometimes coming down from the lineage-holder monk in the “mothership” monastery), but then he found that this “forcing” didn’t actually work, when it came to training the monks in any lasting, long term way (at least not with the Westerner monks). Sure, the monks behaved out of fear of punishment (not out of wisdom) while they were in the monastery, but they dropped many or all of these practices all too quickly once they left the monastery (out of an understandable secret, repressed hate of said rules).

Apparently Ajahn Pasanno has relaxed his “tough guy styles” considerably, since he came to America (from being the abbot at Wat Pah Nanachat) and became the abbot of Abhayagiri.

Yay, Ajahn Pasanno! He’s my preceptor, BTW.

1 Like

Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu lives in dependence upon a certain person. While he is living in dependence upon a certain person his unestablished mindfulness does not become established, his unconcentrated mind does not become concentrated, his undestroyed taints do not come to destruction, he does not attain the unattained supreme security from bondage; yet the requisites of life that should be obtained by one gone forth — robes, almsfood, resting place, and medicinal requisites — are easy to come by. The bhikkhu should consider thus: ‘I am living in dependence upon this person. While I am living in dependence upon this person my unestablished mindfulness does not become established, my unconcentrated mind does not become concentrated, my undestroyed taints do not come to destruction, I do not attain the unattained supreme security from bondage; yet the requisites of life that should be obtained by one gone forth — robes, almsfood, resting place, and medicinal requisites —are easy to come by. However, I did not go forth from the home life into homelessness for the sake of robes, almsfood, resting place, and medicinal requisites. Moreover, while I am living in dependence upon this person my unestablished mindfulness does not become established, my unconcentrated mind does not become concentrated, my undestroyed taints do not come to destruction, I do not attain the unattained supreme security from bondage.’ Having reflected thus, that bhikkhu should depart from that person after taking leave; he should not continue following him.

Vanapattha sutta (MN 17)

it’s not directly applicable to the case but certain parallel can be drawn and the principle borrowed

does it mean extrajudicial (extra-vinayical) punishment?

Of course the “punishment” comes in an indirect form, thereby escaping any sort of reprimand. These senior monks are certainly just as clever, if not more clever than you.

Perhaps you would understand the situation more if you watched these two Youtube videos:

sure i’m aware of these cultural differences

but then a group affected with such customs as extrajudicial punishment isn’t a healthy environment and simply corrupt

that’s in addition to the fact that high power distance structures in the Sangha is an encroachment on the democratic model set by the Buddha

why do you withdraw your post, bhante?
is this because this qualifies as divisive speech?

your link was quite useful though, it helped me find out that the country i’m residing in is placed 142 in the TI corruption rating out of 175 countries, a few dozens points lower than even many African countries
i knew the scale of corruption, but didn’t expect it was totally out of hand

i try to resort to the Dhamma to not get mad because of all this, since the state of affairs is really infuriating

the Dhamma is especially effective in the realms and times of misery and mayhem

You basically have nothing to lose by posting whatever you like here. I have a lot to lose, as my “clan” might get upset with me.

but what precept or Vinaya rule it might have been in violation of? will you be confessing this transgression before the Sangha?

as far as concern with upsetting the institution goes, i’m not sure it’s the right and actually dhammic motivation behind actions

bhante, i noticed you frequently contrapose your way of life and duties to the lay people’s, why do you have to do this? it creates an impression of either elitism or dissatisfaction on your part