Lay land owner of a monastery?

When land is donated to build a monastery and a Sima has been built, can the lay person who donated the land remain the land owner and still make decisions about buildings and administration of the place (conditions of residence etc.)?


Well, during Buddha’s time, the only real “donation” was food, medecine & robe. That had to be given and not just lent.
But as far as I know, the great lay followers of the suttas, as Anāthapiṇḍika or Visakha, did not donate their land and monasteries, but just provided it freely to the Buddha and its disciples.

It would be good to have a sutta with parallel(s), that states that the Buddha was the owner of Anāthapiṇḍika monastery.

So, if for instance, Anāthapiṇḍika was still the owner of the land and the monastery, I suppose that he was in charge of all the material contingencies.

Indeed that would be the meaning of anathapindikassa arame

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So, let’s be very careful not to be sued by Anāthapiṇḍika’s scions.
“This was not Buddhassa ārāme”.
I repeat: “This was not Buddhassa ārāme”.

I am having a hard time figuring out what you mean

It’s a joke.
It just means that it has never been Buddha’s lands or monasteries. And that He never took part in the Early Texts, in any material contingencies attached to these matters.

Then if such is the conclusion, there is the question of who should make decisions for example about new buildings. Can the Sangha do whatever it likes or does it have to take into consideration the opinion of the owner?

Some of this depends heavily on the laws of the particularly land/culture. In the USA, typically monasteries are built on land that is donated to a trust, which is a board of lay Buddhists who provide for the Sangha’s needs. The Sangha meets with the trust reps who pay taxes on the land, arrange for water, sewer, etc. I’ve never heard of a lay person maintaining ownership individually over monastery land, I believe because to do so would defeat part of the financial “benefit” of the gift-- they would have to continue paying taxes on the land and maintain the land and be legally responsible for it.


I have heard of one case in the US where the lay land owner retains ownership and authority, but you are right most of the time the property is managed by a charitable trust or nonprofit corporation. In this case “trust” is not like the trusts that rich people set up for their children, where there is an explicit beneficiary. Instead there is a charitable purpose to which the assets are dedicated, and the board has a legal responsibility to make sure the assets held in trust are used for that purpose.

Interesting. I could see a few situations where temporarily the donor keeps the rights to the land, but ultimately its best in the hands of a trust of lay Buddhists so the Sangha can have control and full use of the land. Otherwise the risk is the owner of the land dies, a unsympathetic family member comes in and kicks all the monastics out. :frowning:

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We always have to keep in mind that there is the Vinaya and there are legal laws in the country where the monastery is situated. We should always keep the legal laws in any country.

The Sangha cannot own land or property. Therefore, there is usually a foundation or trust who takes on that role. However, as the legal owner, this foundation and it’s board members are usually legally and financially responsible if anything goes wrong. So they should also have some say in it. (Of course such a situation did not happen in the Buddha’s time when there were no Trusts and the legal system was vastly different).

The resident Sangha (so not the Sangha elsewhere, but only those who are staying in the monastery for a period of time) has to make all the decisions within the monastery and also about what happens to the donations received for the building of the monastery and for other things. However, the board members of the foundation should have the right to veto such decisions if they feel these decisions are legally or financially too risky.

Donations should always be used for the purpose for which they were given. So if somebody gives a donation for for instance lights in the Dhamma Hall, and it is not needed, the donor needs to be contacted to ask what they want to do with their donation or if it should be given back.

Sometimes in the start-up phase some extra legal measures have to be taken temporarily, for instance to protect a person who donates the land or buildings; they have to get a chance to sort themselves out and find other living space. Alternatively, the person who donates the land can stay on if they ordain or if they are hired to be the caretaker. That depends on the resident Sangha. In many monasteries there are lay people who just live there and help with the running of the monastery.

Of course every case is a unique set of circumstances. It might happen that local legal laws are against Vinaya rules for building. In that case the local legal laws take precedence. Also other things like the climate has to be taken into account. A bamboo kuti according to Vinaya standards might be against local building regulations and too cold to stay in when it freezes in the winter.

So each case has to be looked at separately and with compassion for all concerned.


Thank you ayye, I did not know that. I thought it could.

I don’t understand… if the monks must make the decisions about what the money is used for, does that not amount to owning that money? Should they not instead advise the trustee as to how to use the funds wisely in case they ask for such advice?

Ayye, I can’t help but notice this sounds contradictory with what you said earlier, as if the resident Sangha owned the land or property, since even the legal owner has to ask them permission to be hired to work on his own land?

Should it not be that the land owner should let the Sangha decide things but for example if the Sangha’s decisions are illegal he can step in and veto it as the person legally responsible?

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Yes, that is what I said. But usually the land owner is a foundation or trust, not an individual. But I guess it can be an individual too. I just don’t know of any monasteries where this is the case. When somebody donates land, the ownership is moved to the foundation.

The Sangha is not allowed to own property in the Vinaya. Therefore, the foundation takes on this task to help the Sangha. And for instance the foundation can step in when things go wrong, for instance if there is only one monastic who becomes very ill and is unable to make decisions or when there are no monastics they can ask new monastics to come in. Of course everything has to be done in consultation with each other.

The fact that a person can stay in the monastery if they ordain or be hired as caretaker is completely loose from whether or not they have donated anything at all. If the Sangha decides to do this, they can. Of course this can be a bit tricky if that person donated the land, because they might feel attached to it and feel entitled to do things without consulting the Sangha and that can create problems.

I know of one case where a person donated the land to the Sangha, managed by a foundation. Then that person went away for a few years and came back as ordained and moved in. That created problems because this had been their former home and they still felt attached to it.


Thank you ayye.

I know someone who was in a bad situation with a bad monk who wanted to take ownership of the place and make decisions without consulting the owner and some of them were illegal.

He gradually asked him to come to senses, them asked him to abide by rules the owner laid out, then asked him to leave as he refused everything and as he refused to leave for months he had a court order the monk out of his property. As a result, the monk’s followers had his kuti destroyed and they took away or stashed on the road side a large number of furniture Buddha statues and even removed the entrance sign.

I was trying to figure out who had done the things wrong.


Gosh, that sounds very bad. Usually things happen when there is no clear understanding of the relationship and misunderstandings arise. It is important to come to a good understanding from the outset and to make contracts that everybody agrees to. Personally I think that personal legal ownership of a monastery is not a very good idea. It is better to have an impersonal legal entity.

When things are illegal, the owner will probably be liable so he should have the right to veto decisions.

It is very difficult for me to say but I think it is important to always try to be compassionate and to avoid conflict where possible. Talking together and trying to understand each other’s point of view very important.


Sorry, guys, the Sangha can and in fact does own property.

Kd 1.22.17-18:

Then it occurred to King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha: “Now, this Bamboo Grove of ours, a pleasure park, is neither too far from a village … suitable for seclusion. Suppose I were to give the Bamboo Grove, a pleasure park, to the Order of the monks with the awakened one at its head?”

Then King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha, having taken a ceremonial vessel made of gold, dedicated it to the Lord, saying: “May I, Lord, give this Bamboo Grove, a pleasure park, to the Order of monks with the awakened one at its head?” The Lord accepted the park. Then the Lord, having gladdened, rejoiced, roused, delighted King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha with talk on dhamma, having risen from his seat, departed. Then the Lord, on this occasion having given reasoned talk, addressed the monks, saying: “Monks, I allow a park.”

The word translated here as “park” is ārāma, i.e. “monastery”.

In Kd 16, we have the lines:

Vihāradānaṃ saṃghassa,
The gift of a monastery to the Sangha
Aggaṃ buddhena vaṇṇitaṃ;
Is most highly praised by the Buddha.

In the text at Kd 1, where the Bamboo Grove is given, the verb dadati “give” is used. But at Kd 16 we find patiṭṭhāpeti instead, which is translated by Horner as “prepared” (for the Sangha). However the meaning must be the same as dadati, for that term is used in the verses. In this context patiṭṭhāpeti should be translated as “present” (to the Sangha). The commentary confirms this, glossing with pariccāga = “give”.

It seems that in ancient Indian law it was a normally accepted practice that a religious community had a corporate identity that was able to own property, independent of the individuals making up that corporation. This practice has been instituted into law in modern Buddhist cultures.

In non-Buddhist cultures, the Sangha is not recognized as a legal entity and thus is not able to own property. This is why it has become the norm that a lay organization owns the monastery property. However in some cases, such as Abhayagiri, a monastic foundation is set up that actually does own the land. When setting up Santi I investigated this option, but ultimately it was too legally complex.

The use of the genitive case in such contexts is idiomatic. Historically the park was Anathapindaka’s, so it is remembered by his name. It is the same as when we say “King’s Park”; we don’t mean it is the property of the king.

Whether an individual monastic can own land is a little more unclear. The Gradual Training section on ethics says a monastic refrains from accepting khetta and vatthu, where khetta means “fields”, i.e. “productive land”, and vatthu means “site”. This compound is normally read as a dvanda, which would mean “fields and lands”. That is how Ven Bodhi translates it, as do I. The commentary also reads it in this way, although its exact explanation is not quite what you’d expect.

However, the more I look at it, the more I think I may have got this wrong. Elsewhere, -vatthu as a suffix typically forms a tappurisa compound, as in gāmavatthu (site for a house/village), āramavatthu (site for a monastery), vihāravatthu (similar), etc. That would suggest the current context means “site for a field”, i.e. “arable land”. I seem to recall Ajahn Brahm mentioning this years ago; I’ll check with @Brahmali.

To return to the commentary, its gloss on this term is this:

Tattha khettaṃ nāma yasmiṃ pubbaṇṇaṃ ruhati.
Therein, “field” means wherever grains grow
Vatthu nāma yasmiṃ aparaṇṇaṃ ruhati.
“Site” means wherever vegetables grow.
Yattha vā ubhayampi ruhati, taṃ khettaṃ.
Wherever both grow is a “field”.
Tadatthāya akatabhūmibhāgo vatthu
A piece of land that is not used for that purpose is a “site”.

So the primary sense here is clearly “arable land”. The last term encompasses land not used for cultivation, although in context it seems to be referring to potentially cultivatable land. In any case, the point here is that, even when read as a dvanda, which yields a more general meaning, the explained sense is primarily arable land.

I haven’t looked at this for a long time, and I can’t recall if there’s a specific prohibition in the Vinaya itself against a monastic owning land; but I don’t think so. I think there is merely the absence of an allowance to do so. The mention in the Gradual Training is of course important, but such principles are not strictly legally binding.

So we can say that the Buddha admonished the monastics against accepting arable or productive land, and possibly all land, and he did not make an allowance for accepting land for a residence. The implication is that it’s best for monastics to avoid owning land, instead the monastery should belong to the Sangha. But I’m not sure that there’s an explicit prohibition against a monastic owning the land for a monastic residence.


I think khettavatthu is more likely to be a dvanda compound, that is, it is more likely to mean “fields and land”. The compound never occurs in the Vinaya, but the two words are sometimes used in close proximity, as when they occur in lists. From bhikkhu pārājika 1 we have:

khettaṃ sarāmī’ti vadati viññāpeti … ‘vatthuṃ sarāmi’ti vadati viññāpeti …
He says, he indicates: I remember my field … He says, he indicates: I remember my land …

Or from the chapter on the rains residence in the Khandhakas:

khettaṃ vā te demi, vatthuṃ vā te demi …
I give you a field, I give you land …

In these cases the two words must have individually identifiable meanings, the most obvious being “field” for khetta and “land” for vatthu. The word “site” is just a slightly narrowed down version of “land”. The precise meaning of vatthu must be derived from the context.