Looking for a reference: who is called a Bhikkhu?


I’m looking for a Sutta in which the Buddha says that not only a Bhikkhu is called a Bhikkhu, but whoever is practicing properly is called a Bhikkhu, (layman/laywoman too)

Any lead?


I can’t think of a sutta that spells it out explicitly. But there are a number of suttas that make it clear the Buddha is using “bhikkhu” as an inclusive term, irrespective of gender. Venerable Anālayo and Alice Collett wrote an article on this entitled “Bhikkhave and Bhikkhu as Gender-inclusive Terminology in Early Buddhist Texts” that examines this question. I hope you find it useful.


Thank you!

I do remember that I came across a Sutta that does spells it out explicitly…

In MN 98 the Buddha enumerates several points on who is called a Brahmin (not Bhikkhu)… Could you be thinking of this one?

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No :slight_smile:

I do recall something like ‘one who follows the damma and the vinaya is a monk in my dispensation’ - does that sound like what you are thinking of?


Not knowing, I certainly can’t say there isn’t such a sutta that frames things exactly as put in the OP (with the extension of “Bhikkhu” to explicitly incorporate lay folk), but it does have a bit of an unusual feeling to me, and I’d more naturally expect to find suttas with lists of qualities that would fulfil a more meaningful sense of what being a bhikkhu/mendicant entails along the lines of AN7.42/AN7.43, or MN115, or SA2.22.

Conversely, I might anticipate some suttas that outline who is not a mendicant even if the given person has the outer trappings of one, as in eg. MN40, or vividly described in AN7.72, or comically treated in A​N​3.82.

Slightly tangentially, a few suttas explicitly outline what constitutes various types of lay follower.

All this said, at least my overwhelming impression of the suttas as a body very much matches with what I understand as the essence of the idea in the OP: the critical detail in being a true follower of the Buddha (lay, or monastic) is practising well, in accordance with the Dhamma.


Maybe check SN 36.5:
“He is a bhikkhu who sees rightly,
One who fully understands feelings.”

Snp 3.6 v.514:
“When by the path practiced by oneself, Sabhiya,” (said the Blessed One),
“one has attained nibbāna, crossed over doubt,
abandoned nonexistence and existence, lived [the spiritual life],
finished with renewed existence: he is a bhikkhu."

But neither are really convincing from the context. Also keep in mind that ‘bhikkhu’ is etymologically connected with almsfood. So even if we come across an operational definition somewhere, in the end it would still refer to monastics.


I found one of the references I was looking for - it is from the dhammapada

For example:
264. Not by shaven head does a man who is indisciplined and untruthful become a monk. How can he who is full of desire and greed be a monk?
265. He who wholly subdues evil both small and great is called a monk, because he has overcome all evil.

There are a number of similar statements made. However I am positive I have seen this elsewhere as well stated along the lines of my earlier post. Sometimes there are just too many suttas!


Thanks, it’s a great reference. Personally, I’d read it as implicit that the person in question has been ordained as a monk and that the text is trying to differentiate what makes a “real” monk, or what makes monkhood meaningful, but of course, the interpretation that layfolk are included in this description is definitely available there.


Yes, it could be understood either way. Sadly, the author is no longer in a position to clarify.

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Perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place. I recall hearing/reading that the always Buddha addresses the most senior in the audience, so if he says “Bhikkhus”, it does not exclude the non-Bhikkhus in the audience. Perhaps someone can recall a more thorough exposition of this point.


The article I linked to above addresses this point in detail.


Indeed it does! Sorry. I overlooked the detail of that post!


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Thanks a lot, everyone!
Nice to see all are trying to help.

maybe my memory is fooling me, and there isn’t such a Sutta that spells it out as I said.

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In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11), the Buddha is presented as addressing the group of 5 ascetics as ‘bhikkhus’. This was obviously before he established a monastic order, so the term had a broader meaning than is typically understood today (cf. @Gabriel’s post above).

I’ve heard Dhamma talks in which the speaker has used this as support for the idea that when the Buddha addressed his teachings to ‘bhikkhus’, we can usually understand the term in an inclusive manner, bringing in lay male and female followers. However, I don’t recall ever reading a sutta in which this is explicitly stated.

This is from Ven. Soma’s translation of the commentary to the Mahasatipatthana Sutta:

Bhikkhave = “Bhikkhus.” This is a term for addressing persons who accept the teaching.

Bhikkhu[15] is a term to indicate a person who earnestly endeavors to accomplish the practice of the teaching. Others, gods and men, too, certainly strive earnestly to accomplish the practice of the teaching, but because of the excellence of the bhikkhu-state by way of practice, the Master said: “Bhikkhu.” For amongst those who accept the teaching of the Buddha, the bhikkhu is the highest owing to fitness for receiving manifold instruction. Further, when that highest kind of person, the bhikkhu, is reckoned, the rest too are reckoned, as in regard to a royal procession and the like, when the king is reckoned, by the reckoning of the king, the retinue is reckoned. Also the word “bhikkhu” was used by the Buddha to point out the bhikkhu-state through practice of the teaching in this way: “He who practices this practice of the Arousing of Mindfulness is called a bhikkhu.” He who follows the teaching, be he a shining one [deva] or a human, is indeed called a bhikkhu. Accordingly it is said:

“Well-dressed one may be, but if one is calm,
Tamed, humble, pure, a man who does no harm
To aught that lives, that one’s a brahman true.
An ascetic and mendicant too.”[16]


As far as I know there is nothing at all in the Suttas that supports this directly, although others have pointed out things that kind of sort of maybe hint at it. But I believe this is a super popular talking point at lay-taught vipassana/insight retreats. So it’s an idea that has seeped into popular thinking.

Indeed, I believe this is a remark in the commentary to the Satipatthana Sutta. Since this was one of the prime source texts for the modern vipassana movement, it was a natural source for the Burmese teachers as they developed the modern concept of the meditation retreat for laity.

Of course the teachings apply to everyone, but this specific statement is not found in the canon.


I find Western practitioners keen to take on Bhikkhu practices, and the texts literally, perhaps showing the importance of the accuracy of translation. In the East they are a bit more relaxed. Ardent yogis won’t let these categories hold them back, however. The environment of a monastic however makes the arising of factors of enlightenment etc. more likely.

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Fwiw Pukkusati not being ordained is addressed as bkhikkhu in the dhatuvibhanga sutta Dhatu-vibhanga Sutta: An Analysis of the Properties

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