Monastics and sports

This might sound like a frivolous question but I was wondering whether monastics are allowed to do any sports and if so which ones. According to the Middle Way we should not mortify the body (as some ascetic religions do) and at the same time we should not indulge in physical pleasures; so how is the Middle Way applied in the case of sports? In modern Western medicine, some physical activity is generally considered very important as a way to look after the body (and even the mind): did the Buddha encourage it?
It has also occurred to me that for example running might not be suited to Monastics robes so perhaps there are rules against some type of physical activity? Whilst other activities might perhaps be encouraged?


These are some information that I found from tepitaka.

Suttas in Sīlakkhanda vagga shows it is a part of middle section of ethics to refrains from games.

The Middle Section on Ethics DN 2

There are some ascetics and brahmins who, while enjoying food given in faith, still engage in seeing shows. This includes such things as dancing, singing, music, performances, and storytelling; clapping, gongs, and kettle-drums; art exhibitions and acrobatic displays; battles of elephants, horses, buffaloes, bulls, goats, rams, chickens, and quails; staff-fights, boxing, and wrestling; combat, roll calls of the armed forces, battle-formations, and regimental reviews. They refrain from such shows. This pertains to their ethics.

There are some ascetics and brahmins who, while enjoying food given in faith, still engage in gambling that causes negligence. This includes such things as checkers, draughts, checkers in the air, hopscotch, spillikins, board-games, tip-cat, drawing straws, dice, leaf-flutes, toy plows, somersaults, pinwheels, toy measures, toy carts, toy bows, guessing words from syllables, and guessing another’s thoughts. They refrain from such gambling. This pertains to their ethics.

Apart from that there are some monastic rules prohibiting games and shows.

The training rule on corrupters of families

The origin story shows all the bad behaviours those bhikkus at Kīṭāgiri had. Because of those they were bannished from the samga society (pabbajanīya kamma).

They ate from the same plates as these women and drank from the same vessels. They sat on the same seats as them, and they lay down on the same beds, the same mats, the same blankets, the same mats and blankets. They ate at the wrong time, drank alcohol, and used garlands, perfumes, and cosmetics. They danced, sang, played instruments, and performed. While the women were dancing, singing, playing instruments, and performing, so would they.

They played various games: board games with eight or ten rows, imaginary board games, hopscotch, spillikins, dice games, tip-cat, painting-with-the-hand games, ball games, toy-plipe games, toy-plow games, turning somersaults, toy-windmill games, toy-measure games, toy-chariot games, toy-bow games, letter-guessing games, thought-guessing games, games of mimicking deformities.

They trained in elephant riding, in horsemanship, in carriage riding, in archery, in swordsmanship. And they ran in front of elephants, in front of horses, and in front of carriages, and they ran backwards and forwards. They whistled, clapped their hands, wrestled, and boxed. They spread their outer robe on a stage and said to the dancing girls, “Dance here, Sister,” and they made gestures of approval. And they engaged in many forms of improper behavior.

There are few other rules found in kuddhakavattukkhanda.

“Monks, you should not go to see dancing or singing or music. Whoever should go, there is an offence of wrong-doing.” (Kuddhakavattu)

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ok ok I will modify my question, I was not ‘suspecting’ anyone because I don’t see exercising as a bad thing; I know a Christian monk who does a lot of jogging for example (he puts on a sports gear to do that though; I am not sure Buddhists monks ca do that as they seem to wear their robes full time?) and it’s fine for his religion. Anyway I will put a motivation for the question in terms of the middle way and delete the sentence you refer to. I can’t delete it in your message though I don’t think. I hope it will not cause offence to anyone.


Excellent advice regarding right speech in asking questions in a public forum

Well done :slight_smile: and a great example of a good response to a teaching :slight_smile:

Sadhu to both of you for this good example :anjal:


Thank you for these references :anjal: The physical activities they mention are often linked to shows. As such I understand they may not be decorous.
But what about doing them just for fitness? For example, would a nun be allowed, or even encouraged, to do push ups in her hut, to take an example that is not unbecoming (I learnt this world from Prince Andrew :wink: :grinning: ) even for the First Lady?

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Perhaps it is useful to distinguish sports from non-competitive physical activity.

It’s not uncommon for monastics nowadays to do some form of ‘yoga’ or tai chi.
Depending on where they are living, monastics may also have ample opportunity to engage in physically strenuous work around the monastery.
Alms round too, can be physically quite demanding depending on location.


Jīvako Komārabhacco bhagavantaṃ etadavoca—“etarahi, bhante, bhikkhū abhisannakāyā bahvābādhā. Sādhu, bhante, bhagavā bhikkhūnaṃ caṅkamañca jantāgharañca anujānātu. Evaṃ bhikkhū appābādhā bhavissantī”ti (Khuddakavatthu).

Now at that time at Vesālī a succession of meals of sumptuous foods came to be arranged. Monks, having eaten the sumptuous foods, became very ill with their bodies full of (bad) humours. Then Jīvaka Komārabhacca went to Vesālī on some business or other. Jīvaka Komārabhacca saw the monks who were very ill with their bodies full of (bad) humours; seeing them, he approached the Lord; having approached, having greeted the Lord, he sat down at a respectful distance. As he was sitting down at a respectful distance, Jīvaka Komārabhacca spoke thus to the Lord:

“At present, Lord, monks are very ill with their bodies full of (bad) humours. It were well, Lord, if the Lord allowed the monks a place for pacing up and down in and a bathroom. Thus will the monks come to have few afflictions.” Then the Lord gladdened, rejoiced, roused, delighted Jīvaka Komārabhacca with talk on dhamma . Then Jīvaka Komārabhacca, gladdened … delighted by the Lord with talk on dhamma , rising from his seat, having greeted the Lord, departed keeping his right side towards him. Then the Lord on this occasion, in this connection, having given reasoned talk, addressed the monks, saying:
“I allow, monks, a place for pacing up and down in, and a bathroom.”

Walking paths and Jantāghara; A kind of steam room or a sauna (some translates this as a bathroom. But with the explainations given this should be some kind of steam room) was allowed to monks over the suggestion by the physician Jīvaka Komārabhacca.

About Jantāghara (bathroom(?))

Now at that time monks made a fireplace in the middle of a small bathroom, and there was no access. “ I allow you, monks, to make a fireplace at one side of a small bathroom, in the middle of a large one.” The fire in the bathroom scorched their faces. “I allow, monks, clay for the face.” They moistened the clay with their hands. “I allow, monks, a tub for the clay.” The clay came to smell nasty. “I allow you, monks, to cure it.” The fire in the bathroom scorched their bodies. “I allow you, monks, to take in water.” They took in water in dishes and bowls. “I allow you, monks, a receptacle for water, a saucer for the water.” A bathroom with a grass roofing did not make them sweat. “I allow you, monks, having lashed on (a roof), to give it a smearing inside and outside.” The bathroom became swampy. “I allow you, monks, to spread three (kinds of) spreadings: a spreading of bricks, a spreading of stones, a spreading of wood.” Even so it became swampy. “I allow you, monks, to wash it.” Water remained. “I allow, monks, a drain for the water.” Now at that time monks sat down on the ground in a bathroom and they got pins and needles in their limbs. “I allow, monks, a chair for the bathroom.” Now at that time a bathroom was not fenced in. “I allow, monks, three (kinds of) fences to fence it in with: a fence of bricks, a fence of stones, a fence of wood.”

Form the passage we could see that this was not just a bathroom. Now saunas are kind of rare and luxurious in most countries (?).


My limited sense of this is that some monks do in fact find ways to exercise and maintain a level of physical fitness, with most of the work done in their kutis. For example in Thai wats there is a lot of physical work doing construction, which is certainly beneficial to the body and mind. There are walking paths and there is always sweeping to do. When I visited Abhayagiri, I learned that some monks were allowed to do yoga or Tai Chi in their kutis and out of public view. Some monks that had some physical injuries also employed occasional Thai massage, which was also available at the wat where I temp ordained. If anyone feels that Thai massage might elevate sensuality, I can advise that it is rigorous and somewhat painful…zero sense pleasure involved!

I also knew of one monk that set up a set of weights that he used for weight training in his kuti. He did it for fitness, and not for body sculpting. He looked normal but was fit.

Aside from this, you won’t see monastics running a 5K, or working out in a fitness center, nor playing football on a pitch, per the rules listed above in part.

As a side note, I feel that this kind of physical fitness should be encouraged. I was watching a meal dana episode on youtube yesterday, and the monks in a Karen village were offered white rice along with many trays of cakes and other carbs. Lack of physical exercise and a poor diet has lead to many monks (for example, in Thailand) with poor health and diabetes and other illnesses; many I am sure were preventable.

The Buddha came from a warrior caste, and likely practiced combat sports, archery and other kinds of physical training. I’m not sure that it is out of sync for monastics to take the same care of their bodies and they try to do with their minds. The two are absolutely joined, and it makes sense for monastics to practice physical as well as mental fitness.


very interesting points, thank you for sharing your experiences and reminiscences, and I also find interesting this last point on the Buddha’s warrior cast.
Concerning archery that you mention I find that it has not only a physical aspect but also a nearly meditative aspect in the way you have to relax and completely be focused. At the same time @Amatabhani in a message above posted a text which seems to condemn this activity.


About the archery.

Monks’ Expiation (Pācittiya) 61

… at Sāvatthī in the Jeta Grove in Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. Now at one time the venerable Udāyin was an archer, and crows were unpleasant to him. He, having shot crows, having cut off their heads, put them in a row on a stake. Monks spoke thus:

“By whom, your reverence, were these crows deprived of life?’”

“By me, your reverences; crows are unpleasant to me.” Those who were modest monks … spread it about, saying:

“How can the venerable Udāyin intentionally deprive a living thing of life?” …

“Is it true, as is said, that you, Udāyin, intentionally deprived a living thing of life?”

“It is true, lord.”

The enlightened one, the lord, rebuked him, saying:

“How can you, foolish man, intentionally deprive a living thing of life? It is not, foolish man, for pleasing those who are not (yet) pleased … And thus, monks, this rule of training should be set forth:

“Whatever monk should intentionally deprive a living thing of life, there is an offence of expiation.”

I do not think practicing karate or some kind of martial art would be allowable at all. There are two pācittiya rules.

  1. Pahāra
    A monk who in anger strikes another monk must confess the offense.
  2. Talasattika
    A monk who in anger physically threatens another monk must confess the offense.

Note: These are Teravāda vinaya rules, I don’t know about other sects.


Thank you for these references. :anjal: Nowadays some people practice archery using a paper target made of concentric circles; and as a means to develop some physical and mental qualities (such as a good physical exercise for your back muscles and good mental focus). That does not seem to break these precepts.
On the other hand I know of people for example in the US who do use archery nowadays to hunt animals such as deer; that’s certainly reprehensible in my opinion.


About the archery

I just wanted to show where it would end up if this was allowed. People are different, there are some people who are as bad as famous six bhikkus (chabbaggiya) and Udayin.

About combat sports.

How could a person guarantee his thoughts would not fall into anger when he is practicing a combat sport. I seriously doubt that.

About food.

When you sit for meditation you can identify the right amount of the food that you could have to a better practice. If the amount is higher you will end up sleepy. And if it is lower, you will get burning feeling and ultimately gastritis. But having one meal also very useful to have a good health, but you should control your desire towards the food, if not every desireful thought wood induse gastric juice to secrete causing damage to your stomach. Having one meal is better for meditation practice and for a good health if you are a healthy person.

About monastic life

The Buddha adviced the monks to keep their mind and body healthy using walking and sitting meditation as well as knowing the the amount of food he should have (eat in moderation)

Apaṇṇaka Sutta AN 3.16

Mendicants, when a mendicant has three things their practice is guaranteed, and they have laid the groundwork for ending the defilements. What three? It’s when a mendicant guards the sense doors, eats in moderation, and is dedicated to wakefulness.

And how does a mendicant guard the sense doors? When a mendicant sees a sight with their eyes, they don’t get caught up in the features and details. If the faculty of sight were left unrestrained, bad unskillful qualities of desire and aversion would become overwhelming. For this reason, they practice restraint, protecting the faculty of sight, and achieving its restraint. When they hear a sound with their ears … When they smell an odor with their nose … When they taste a flavor with their tongue … When they feel a touch with their body … When they know a thought with their mind, they don’t get caught up in the features and details. If the faculty of mind were left unrestrained, bad unskillful qualities of desire and aversion would become overwhelming. For this reason, they practice restraint, protecting the faculty of mind, and achieving its restraint. That’s how a mendicant guards the sense doors.

And how does a mendicant eat in moderation? It’s when a mendicant reflects properly on the food that they eat: ‘Not for fun, indulgence, adornment, or decoration, but only to sustain this body, to avoid harm, and to support spiritual practice. In this way, I shall put an end to old discomfort and not give rise to new discomfort, and I will live blamelessly and at ease.’ That’s how a mendicant eats in moderation.

And how is a mendicant dedicated to wakefulness? It’s when a mendicant practices walking and sitting meditation by day, purifying their mind from obstacles. In the evening, they continue to practice walking and sitting meditation. In the middle of the night, they lie down in the lion’s posture—on the right side, placing one foot on top of the other—mindful and aware, and focused on the time of getting up. In the last part of the night, they get up and continue to practice walking and sitting meditation, purifying their mind from obstacles. This is how a mendicant is dedicated to wakefulness.

When a mendicant has these three things their practice is guaranteed, and they have laid the groundwork for ending the defilements.”


I have a brown belt in aikido. Aikido has no formal attacks. Its purpose is to restrain and deflect anger minimizing damage to both assailant and practitioner. I trained in aikido and practiced it diligently to defuse my own reflex towards anger. It is quite effective and I am tremendously grateful to Shiohira Sensei and Tanouye Roshi for their supreme kindness and generosity of heart.

Indeed, my Zen master was an accomplished swordsman and melded martial arts practice with zazen. The purpose of that practice was to invigorate the body to combat both drowsiness and restlessness. It was not for show and certainly not to conquer anybody. In fact, I first studied and learned the Dhamma at Chozen-ji

:heart: :meditation:


My “side job” on some weekends is that I am a state licensed judge for Combat Sports (MMA), and work with men and women that train and compete in MMA around the country. It might seem paradoxical, but anger is an impediment to MMA fighting. Most of all of the young men and women that I’ve encountered in this sport are disciplined, thoughtful, and genuinely good people. They’d be the first to say that once anger enters their minds, the gameplan and all the training goes out the window, and the fight is lost.

Here’s an example of the sportspersonship that is a part of professional MMA, for the most part:

“It’s a very tough fight for me. I know Michelle is a great fighter, great person and she is one of my idols. This is a big honor for me to fight her.”

Kowalkiewicz explained why she respects her opponent so much.

“She’s a very nice person and she’s very beautiful,” Kowalkiewicz said. “She’s a mother and she’s still fighting and her whole career she’s been on the top. She’s amazing.” “I respect all fighters, all women fighters,” Kowalkiewicz said. “This is part of my job that I have to punch her.”


Thank you for sharing. Your Zen master was a monk? If so did he follow the rules as found in the Vinaya of EBT?


The EBTs and Vinaya were never discussed, but Tanouye Roshi was the abbot of Chozen-ji and most definitely a monk of the Rinzai Zen lineage. Indeed, when I attended a lay retreat, I was astounded to learn about their practice of not eating after noon and thought it much too difficult to practice then.

Chozen-ji is a beautiful monastery that brought me much peace. The Japanese understand that the body itself needs training and that we cannot just sit around all day and night. All the training, sitting, chanting, cleaning, martial arts, calligraphy, meal preparation, walking meditation, gardening, etc. was all practice requiring right mindfulness and an open heart.

Image result for tanouye roshi


thank you for sharing :anjal: It seems a different culture and approach to that of the Thai forest tradition monastics to some extent, at least as far as martial arts are concerned (and meal preparation).

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