Is it okay to share pictures of monks with one bare shoulder?

As I understand it, monks cover both shoulders when going anywhere outside the monastery in part not to expose their body in a way that may trigger unwholesome states in the people who see them.

Would people sharing pictures of monks with one bare shoulder not act against this principle?

Given umpteen youtube videos, for instance, of monks giving dhamma talks with robes in the right-shoulder open mode, this would appear a somewhat academic question.

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Yes, but it is not because others do it that it’s okay to do so oneself.

‘Others will be of wrong action; we shall be of right action here’ (MN 8)

I can gather that no one seems to care very much. Doesn’t necessarily mean one shouldn’t.

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“…this would appear a somewhat academic question…”

I’m not sure it is about (not) triggering unwholesomeness. Otherwise they would not sit with a shoulder uncovered to give a dhamma talk. Uncovering the should is a sign of respect. One I am guessing historically this is due to showing you have no weapons on your right hand side (my speculation).

I also speculate that the covering of both shoulders was to protect from wind, sun, bugs and other creepies. As reflected on in the reflection on the 4 requisites. The modesty aspect is covered just by wearing the robe either way.

This from the BMC, regarding the sekhiya rule on wearing the robe:

Sekhiya 3-4 - I will go [sit] well-covered in inhabited areas: a training to be observed.

The Vibhaṅga does not define inhabited areas in this or any of the following rules. The term thus probably has the same meaning as under Pd 1: in the homes of lay people, or along the streets and alleys of villages, cities, or towns. This does not include, however, monasteries located in inhabited areas, for the incoming bhikkhu’s protocols (Cv.VIII.1.2) show that when the Canon was composed, bhikkhus were not required to wear their upper robes in the monastery. At present, though, many monasteries located in inhabited areas require that bhikkhus living with them observe many of these rules when outside of their personal quarters but still within monastery grounds.

Well-covered, according to the Commentary, means not exposing one’s chest or knees. One should have the upper edge of the upper robe around the neck, and the lower edge covering the wrists. The lower edge of the lower robe, as stated above, should cover the knees. When seated, only one’s head, hands, and legs from the calves on down should show.

Sekhiya 4 here has an added non-offense clause: There is no offense if one sits not “well-covered” within one’s residence (§). According to the Vinaya-mukha, this means within one’s room when staying overnight in a lay person’s home; when outside of one’s room, though, one should follow the rule.


I think they do cover their shoulders when they give a Dhamma talk to lay people. As far as I can remember places serious on the Vinaya don’t give Dhamma talks to lay people with a bare shoulder… do they?

As for youtube videos, I am not sure why some don’t seem to care. Would be curious to know. It would be nice if one of our venerables could chime in and enlighten us.

Where in the vinaya does it state this?


Although I think it has changed now, at one time all the UK branch monasteries of Wat Pa Pong had a rule that monks should keep both shoulders covered even when inside the monasteries. Prior to this monks would often work just wearing an “angsa”*. It was decided that this was not appropriate for the UK and in mixed communities.

*A very open vest like garment, which covers one shoulder and which is worn under the main robe.

angsa are worn without the upper robe within many monasteries as a more practical option when doing labouring etc.

I’m surprised they had to cover both shoulders with the robe within the monasteries and not just wear the upper robe single shouldered. It’s virtually impossible to do anything when wearing the robe double shouldered as it’s quite restrictive and you need to use the left hand/armpit to hold the roll in place.

Angsa can be quite revealing and I understand how it could not be appropriate in a mixed community. Most of the UK monks seem to wear shirts under their robes anyway (like the nuns do) which provides plenty of modesty while keeping with tradition of single shouldered robe in the sāla. Are you sure the kor wat wasn’t just that they should wear shirts?

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Hi Passanna

Angsa were not allowed to be worn for work. When working monks wore work shirts or garments that covered both shoulders.

Monks had to wear an under jacket which covered both shoulders under the outer robe but the robe was still worn on one shoulder at formal meetings within the monastery (with under jacket covering both shoulders).

At no time was a bare shoulder to be shown in public areas/group meetings/work.

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That’s the spirit of the rule as I remember it, but I am not bullet-proof-evidence-from-the-pali-text sure. Which is why I started this thread.

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I can’t see anything in the patimokkha which addresses this other than the rule I included above. You’d be looking in the sekhiyas, most likely, for such a rule if it exists

Yes. Because the polite conduct would be to arrange the upper robe on the left shoulder only.

I have searched the Khandakas only found it repeatedly talking about arranging the upper robe over one shoulder (as a sign of respect, covering both shoulder when going into town) and about having the lower robe cover the 3 circles.

The only thing I can think of is in MN2 where hiri­kopī­nap­paṭic­chāda­nat­thaṃ is sometimes translated as ‘for the sake of modesty’.

“What taints, bhikkhus, should be abandoned by using? Here a bhikkhu, reflecting wisely, uses the robe only for protection from cold, for protection from heat, for protection from contact with gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, the sun, and creeping things, and only for the purpose of concealing the private parts.


I’d be glad to have a clear cut answer, which ever way it is. I was just pushing back against the idea expressed by some that this is a non-issue. Surely it should be pretty easy for any senior venerable participating to this forum to answer this question.

Hi @silence,
It’s good to be aware of etiquette towards monastics and to ponder how our contemporary culture (like social media) intersects with our traditional religious respect.

When we see images of nuns and monks, it can inspire others on the path, so if we are sharing images it’s good to think about how they are portrayed in those images and what your intention is in sharing them.

Monastics wear the robes on both shoulders in public for their own modesty, not to protect others’ minds from lustful thoughts, but perhaps it might work that way too. If you photograph them in public places they will have both shoulders covered but in monasteries they will have one shoulder uncovered, so if you take photos of them there, that’s just how they look! There’s no need to worry too much about sharing these images.

However, it’s good manners - with everyone, not just monastics - to ask permission for a photograph and let them know how you intend to use it. And also to try and show them in a respectful way. Also remember that photography has a kind of vocabulary and that there are formal and informal contexts. Images of monastics teaching or sitting in meditation are very inspiring because they communicate the path. Images of monastics brushing their teeth are probably less inspiring but some people seem to like seeing monastics doing mundane chores like sweeping!

Hope this helps.



In my experience the dress code can vary a bit between the different Theravada traditions and some monastics cover only one shoulder even in public.
If in doubt, it’s best to ask before taking a picture. :wink:


I remember reading in several books about the Myanmar history that this question once used to be far from being an academic one:

It’s a funny thought that in three hundred years people will be scratching their heads in amusement over how different ideologies could be arguing about trivial matters at our time.


Hi silence,

I’m surprised that you don’t already know the answer to your question in the OP because I recall you saying in the topic: " Always question authority" :

I won’t give any details, but I have spent extensive time training in monasteries in Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, and used to be a monk.

I am not sure what point it is you are trying to make. The Buddha considered it takes 5 years for a monk to learn the basics of monastic conduct. In addition, lot of questions about the Vinaya, especially those dealing with the application of Vinaya rules in present-day circumstances, are still not unanimously answered. Is that surprising?

I am not sure what point it is you are trying to make. The Buddha considered it takes 5 years for a monk to learn the basics of monastic conduct. In addition, lot of questions about the Vinaya, especially those dealing with the application of Vinaya rules in present-day circumstances, are still not unanimously answered. Is that surprising?

I wasn’t looking for an argument, silence, I was just expressing spontaneous surprise. Is that not allowed?