Monks giving food to lay people: Against the Vinaya?

Today, another monk informed me that there’s a minor rule forbidding monks from giving food to laypeople. He claimed that there are exceptions for parents, lay people staying at the monastery and for leftovers after the meal. He didn’t have a citation or reference.

Now, from Vinaya Doodles :grin: I remembered that there is indeed a rule against giving food to lay people… for Bhikkhunis (Bi Pc 46)! However, I recall too, that while there are some Bhikkhuni Pācittiyas that are unique to the nuns, others are merely “an upgrade” of (what are for the monks) more minor rules. So, Bi Pc 46 can’t count as evidence either way vis-a-vis the Bhikkhus (except, perhaps, for a Bhikkhu who is voluntarily practicing the Bhikkhuni rules! Now that’s an idea!)

So, I tried searching The Book of the Discipline and Sutta Central and the BMC for the monk equivalent, but came up empty handed.

So, my question is this: Does anyone here know a possible source for this monk’s claim?

Thank you!


Most of food shared back is usually done so as leftover right?
That being the reason why usually they don’t touch or take back any of that food once it is passed on to lay disciples. Makes sense?


Ajahn Thanissaro mentions it here:

n the origin story to Pc 41, the Community receives a large amount of non-staple food, so much that the Buddha instructs Ānanda to share the excess among those who live off leftovers. Some Communities have taken this as a precedent for taking excess perishable items belonging to the Community and distributing them among the poor.

Food is classified as lahubhaṇḍa or light goods. But that doesn’t answer your question of where this monk got this idea.

If you are giving it with a “gain for gain” attitude, that would be inappropriate.


I think that for a bhikkhu giving away one’s food to non-monastics would be an offence only in fairly unusual circumstances, namely, where:

  1. the recipient is a naked ascetic (acelaka). See pācittiya 41.

  2. the gift is of fruit and the giving of it is in the context of “corrupting families”. See the definition of kuladūsako that accompanies the 13th saṅghādisesa rule and the Samantapāsādikā’s gloss on the phrase “by means of fruit” (phalena – Vin-a. iii. 628).

  3. the giving is an instance of “pursuing gain with gain” (lābhena lābhaṃ nijigīsanatā). See the account of wrong livelihood somewhere in the Cullavagga and the list of acts that constitute wrong livelihood for a samaṇa in DN. 1 & 2, MN. 117, AN. 5.83, etc.


Many (?) forest monasteries have a kor wat rule that prohibits monks from handing food to laypeople. It also covers things like making tea and offering other drinks, etc.
But I also don’t know any place in the vinaya where that idea comes from.


This is from Ajahn Thanissaro’s BMC II, chapter 10 Misbehavior:

To prevent a bhikkhu from pursuing gain with gain—and from displeasing his
donors—there is a rule that a bhikkhu living off the gifts of the faithful should not
take those gifts and give them to lay people. To do so is called bringing a gift of
faith (saddhā-deyya) to waste. The one exception is that one may always give those
gifts to one’s mother or father. The Commentary notes that this allowance holds
even if one’s parents are royalty. However, it does not extend to other relatives.
None of the texts define which gains do and do not constitute gifts of faith, but
the term itself suggests that it would not apply to gains accruing to a bhikkhu for
reasons other than the faith of the donor, such as an inheritance from his parents
or funds derived from work done before his ordination.
Gifts of almsfood, however, are obviously gifts of faith, which raises the
question: What is to be done with leftovers? Mv.III.7.8 mentions a person called a
bhikkhu-bhatika (vl.: bhikkhu-gatika), which the Commentary defines as a man
living in the same dwelling with bhikkhus. There may have been a custom for
bhikkhus to give their leftovers to such people, but the Canon does not explicitly
address the issue. The Vinaya-mukha does, saying that a bhikkhu may take any
gains beyond his own needs and give them as compensation to lay people who do
work in the monastery. (The Commentary to Cv.X.15.1 says that a bhikkhu may
take the best part of what is given to him and then give the remainder to others.
Also, if the gift is not congenial to him, he may relinquish it to others. He may also
use a robe or alms bowl for a day or two and then give it away.) If a bhikkhu gains
an excess of items of a more permanent nature, he may give them to his fellow
bhikkhus or to the Community. If the Community has an excess, it may have the
items exchanged for something more needed (see Chapter 7). Or, as the origin
story to Pc 41 shows, it may arrange to have them distributed to “those who eat
scraps (vighāsāda),” which, as that story also shows, may include wanderers of
other sects.

And the rule appears at the end of the chapter

“I allow giving to one’s mother and father. But a gift of faith should not be brought
to waste. Whoever does so: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.VIII.22


Very good @Snowbird, I was just searching for that very passage and yet it eluded me. :eyeglasses:

The rule mentioned above under Mv.VII.22 is given in specific reference to excess robe cloth, so Thanissaro uses the great standards here to apply it to other items. He uses the word"leftovers", which makes it sound as if he is talking about food, but I think, in the context of the passage this appears in, he is actually referring to other leftover requisites, such as robes and bowls.

Leftover food (as your monk friend monk said) would be simply classified as relinquished by the monastic once they have finished with it, such as at a monastery buffet table, the food no longer belongs to the bhikkhus/bhikkhunis once the Sangha has taken their food, and then it belongs to the novices and anagarikas and lay people who follow.

However, I think it feels like a different situation if a monastic is giving food away before making use of it, or taking something out of their bowl to give to a particular layperson, or distributing other sangha-dana as treats to a certain laypeople. It looks like favouritism, or an opportunity to ingratiate oneself for a future reason, or possibly an exchange or trade. I recall an occasion where I thought I was being really lovely and kind by giving lay people some chocolates that I had excess of, and a senior monk admonished me about that, saying we shouldn’t give out “treats” in this way, especially in public, when the donor might see! I didn’t like being told not to give, which I saw as a positive opportunity to practice a beautiful aspect of Buddhism… but thought about it later on and saw how it could look to others.

So then, imagine my surprise when I found myself telling a novice this very point a few years later, when he did exactly the same thing (:joy:) ! Perhaps, as he had only recently ordained, he was still in giving mode rather than recipient-field-of-merit mode – there is a shift to get used to, moving from lay life to being a monastic – but oh, he was making such a show of being the big benevolent bestower of largesse (albeit with something given to him for free by someone else…) and now I saw quite clearly that it certainly didn’t look good; was he playing favourites? what about the people nearby who missed out? What if the donor saw him being generous with things they’d given!? Did he just want to look super generous to others, out of ego?

This is using gain for gain… I think that’s the reason there’s a culture in monasteries of not giving food or medicines to laypeople, and instead relinquishing excess requisites to the store monk/nun for impartial disbursement, or to the anagarikas, who as monastery attendants can take what they need and then disperse anything remaining (usually to charity).


Wow! :star_struck:

Well spotted @Snowbird! 5 points to Ravenclaw! Thank you for the fast turnaround on this!

And Ven @Akaliko - Thank you so much for your reflections. :heart: Indeed it is a challenge adjusting to practice as a monastic! Thankfully, I am very fortunate to have many friends leading me to hidden treasure

Thanks again everyone! :pray:


I would also add in matters like this, one should do whatever the senior monks tell one to do. And try to go along with the junior monks if they feel strongly about it.

I have added pursue other material possessions to Voice examples. It is quite the interesting point about pursuing gain for gain.

Thank you.

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