Referring to Xbhikkhu

I need to tag a venerable for this informal watercooler post to work, so I hope Ven @sujato won’t mind me using his name for it.

In my highly pedantic opinion, calling Ven @sujato

@sujato bhikkhu, @sujato bhikṣu

would be of the same functional equivalence as Venerable Sujato, or Ven Sujato.

This is a silly thing to muse about, how to properly address people formally, but I am wondering if others feel the same way about how this rolls off the tongue. Does it seem less formal than “Venerable X”?

I am thinking that it might, possibly for the simple reason that the name is first in order before the title. This doesn’t really happen in English, which many people here have as their first language, I perhaps-wrongly assume. We aways have “Reverend X” or “Doctor Y”. Even “King Z”.

Perhaps this was a silly musing to share. Oh well. Now it’s public forever.

9 Likes

Yes, it feels more informal (and/or less respectful) to me as well.

If you test it out by speaking it, it becomes clear why.

You hear just the personal name first, so the honorific coming second doesn’t strike your awareness in time. Kind of like the custom of coughing audibly when approaching their kuti so the person inside knows they’re not alone anymore, rather than just saying their name and startling them.

Also it feels like an afterthought, like you thought of them as “personal name” and then absentmentmindedly remembered that they should be addressed with a respectful title, too late.

An ordained monastic is a representative of the Buddha, we must never forget. IMO any ordained monastic, ideally we should interact with them as if we were speaking to the Buddha himself. Even just seeing a folded robe and bowl, I see a Buddha there. Remember what your life was like before you encountered the Dhamma. Imagine what it would be like if the Buddha and Dhamma did not exist. Now imagine the kind of gratitude and appreciation you’d feel to come into contact with that.

6 Likes

In many ways I think there can be something very beautiful, inspiring and practically useful in approaching things like this. At the very least, I certainly take coming into contact with the monastics that I have as one of the few signs that I might have done something right with my life/lives and deeply value the influence, encouragement and even, in places, friendship they’ve offered.

I do, nevertheless, think it’s important to take the advocated approach with the necessary softness of heart and suppleness and lightness in ideation. For both the sake of the monastic, the person, in question and for ourselves.

I believe ease of being is more conducive to deepening in the Dhamma than rigidly subscribing to ideals. This has generally been one of the many blessings of my experience of most of the monastics I’ve encountered: with a kindly manner they have promoted ease before all else and not being overly fussed with honorifics or etiquette.

It is also worth remembering that the Buddha himself seems to have been very accepting of people (and the way in way in which they are able to engage at anyone point) just as they are.

Saying all that,

Not to my mind; I’ve very glad you posted, because I definitely can worry about these things!

7 Likes

It can go both ways but I agree with Frank, honorfic titles should go before the individuals name. If when we talk about monastics in the third person then using just the word ‘bhikku’ is fine and apart of normal discourse in the way people generally talk when in monasteries/Buddhist centres or are around /talking about monastics. But then again sometimes we take ourselves too seriously and at the same time sometimes we can be to casual.

I’ve noticed that when the honorfic is not used the ‘kusala citta’ thing is also lacking and pride is also somewhere in the background. It’s the same with having aversion to either bowing or being bowed to, it’s perhaps culturally easier as in the west people tend to be less formal (with monastics) to get away with a bit of ditthi-mana but culture doesn’t always follow dhamm/citta-niyama, and being irreverent can also be a difficult kilesa to catch. So in a sense you could say we can use monastics to cultivate skillful speech to help eradicate our conceit which manifests in showing a lack of respect which is linked to a lack of mindfulness, and ultimately a lack of right view, I guess would be the point in summary.

At the very least we go both ways, sometimes we can be casual and informal (when needed) and sometimes we can be both formal and by the book(when needed). There was this time when L.p Cha was in the west and there was an upasaka who was really edgy and so l.p Cha sat down with the guy and had a cigarette with him to take the edge away, kusala-upaya.

4 Likes

Its sometimes confusing for people to understand the difference between spoken and written forms when referring to monastics.

Bhikkhunni or Bhikkhu is a descriptive title, indicating our status as ordained Sangha, like priest or bishop. It’s often used in print along with their ordained name in either order; Akāliko Bhikkhu or Bhikkhu Akāliko.

Ayya, Bhante, Venerable, is the ‘style’, i.e mode of address, the way Christian priests are addressed Father So-and-so, or your Grace etc. So we say Ayya Such-and-such when we address a monastic in person or refer to them to others (even online). Referring to them in their absence using Sujato Bhikkhu for example, also occurs but is usually formal. A noticeable exception is the great Bhikkhu Bodhi who is almost universally referred to in this way.

It is considered polite in Buddhist cultures for lay people to refer to monastics either by their title alone (Venerable) or their title and name (Venerable Akāliko) rather than using their name directly. This respectful form is useful for reminding ourselves of the renunciation they have undertaken and their status and role in our society. (and as a monastic I find it also helps to remind me that I am a monk!) Many cultures think referring to someone directly by their first name indicates a familiarity that might not be desirable.

In monasteries, more junior monastics always refer to their seniors using the title, Venerable/Ayya/Bhante/ Ajahn. However, senior monastics may address their juniors using their ordained name only, though many seniors will use the title Venerable out of mutual respect. I rarely refer to myself as ‘venerable’ when I sign off or create a user name, as that seems immodest, but sometimes it’s necessary for monastics to model the correct usage.

There are strict forms of address in traditionally Buddhist countries but westerners are often without this knowledge. In egalitarian Australia, I notice a tendency for people to refer to monastics by their ordained name only without using a style of address - unless you count ‘mate’! There are some monastics, such as Analyo who use their name only, and I know others who think a title is superfluous and creates unnecessary distance. However there is something to be said for a healthy respect for a very old tradition of politeness. Whether this tradition will survive is up to lay people, as I don’t think monastics will insist on lay people addressing them with titles!

Another point is gender. Using the gender neutral Venerable is great to put men and women on equal footing, without needing to identify their gender, or for monastics who consider themselves non-binary. Ven @Vimala recently told me that Ayya can be used for both men and female in Pali, (ayyā for men I think). Some female monastics I know have mentioned that ‘ayya’ is a word for a domestic helper in many Asian countries, so they prefer Venerable. Personally I am glad Theravada has moved on from referring to female monastics as ‘sister’ which implied a lesser status and was too similar to Christian nuns. I’ve heard that some communities are using the hybrid word ‘nunks’ as a non gender specific descriptor :star_struck: and it’s great that Bhante Sujato’s new translations redress the gender imbalance in the suttas through the more inclusive ‘mendicants’ which might have some people reaching for their dictionaries…

Bhante Sujato has expressed his personal preference to be addressed as ‘Bhante’ in this blog post: Bhante or Ajahn? | Sujato’s Blog

But he refers to himself as Sujato Bhikkhu for his work as an author.

Hope this helps!

11 Likes

Not quite. Please see my post here: Just to confuse you: Buddhist monastic titles 😕

According to the dictionary, ayya is used for both men and women and simply means ‘Venerable’.

(m.) a lord, master; a worthy person; the venerable sir, (f.) a mistress; a noble lady; the venerable lady.
(mfn.) well-born; worthy, venerable.

ayyā is used for women only in some cases.

If this is so, that is a later usage of the word and not according to the EBTs.

Ha! I think you mean Ven. @yodha a on this forum: Dhamma doodles 😁

Or to Ayya Sujato now :wink:

6 Likes

That’s a good point, and if I come across as being rigid on this issue, it’s not my intent. It’s more to counteract the tendency for laity to become too lax and casual. The mendicants themselves, as Ven. Akaliko mentioned, tend to not use their titles as a way to avoid appearance of immodesty, so it’s up to the laity to step up and police themselves.

We forget (myself included) how rare and precious Dhamma is, and the need to preserve it as long as possible. People take Dhamma for granted. Genuine Dhamma is so hard to find nowadays, because even within Buddhism, it’s hard to distinguish Dhamma from non Dhamma, or even psychotherapy.

9 Likes

Excellently put! :anjal:

5 Likes

Now this is really pedantic:

Do we refer to Sister Uppalavaṇṇā as Ayyā Uppalavaṇṇā, as Ayyoppalavaṇṇā, or as Ayyo 'ppalavaṇṇā, that is to say, do ‘we’ observe sandhi?

Protocols tend to have a social effect of sorting people, as well as bonding or giving a Feeling of bonding. And thus, they also can alienate, or be a convenient mental hook on which alienation can be held.

I have been thinking of buddhist etiquette. This life did not form in a traditional buddhist nation, or in a buddhist community, or in a buddhist family. I have felt this mostly to be an advantage, as i examine and question some things which seem best to be questioned and examined. Deconstructing views i have had, or have, or been offered, flows from this, for me.

On the other hand, i am sometimes concerned that i may seem rude, when no disrespect to any being or community or anything else is intended. On occasion, i am startled by reactions and social postures, by, well, almost anyone!

May all be happy, at peace, ultimately liberated from suffering.

3 Likes

Thanks for bringing it up, I was hesitant myself and don’t want to come off as rude.

I find the blanket veneration of bhikkhus weird I have to say, and that changed over the last few years. Sorry, it’s a bit off topic, but still belongs.

Bhikkhu /bhikkhuni seems proper to me, it exactly describes what status people chose, i.e. to be ascetics, renunciates, or as Bh. Sujato accurately translates, mendicants. Where is the blanket veneration coming in? Are the texts not warning from gain, status, etc?

A standard response is “by venerating a monastic you venerate Buddha and Dhamma” - to me it’s “actually I venerate Buddha and Dhamma by practicing”, and I admire other people who practice. Do I say “Venerable James” to the inspiring lay teacher? Do I bow down in front of my community rabbi because he represents the word of God?

Again, I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I think veneration comes as a natural response of me meeting someone that is inspiring, not because they wear a robe. And I was lucky to meet a good number of monastics where veneration just kept flowing. But why to do it for the sake of etiquette?

And is the wording really important to the monastics? I would have to question why if they chose a life of renunciation.

4 Likes

Generally not, in my experience, at least. Hence:

2 Likes

It just occurred to me that I always refer to Bhikkhu Bodhi as… well, simply “Bhikkhu Bodhi”. It would be the most fantastically mistaken notion to think that I do not regard him with the utmost respect, it’s just how I’ve always heard him called. I imagine that if I were ever fortunate enough to address him directly I’d go with “Venerable.”

3 Likes

Look guys, it really does not matter. Respect is something you carry in your heart, no matter what titles you use or not. You can say ‘mate’ respectfully also. If any of us feels offended because you call us something because you simply don’t know how to address us, than it is us who should look into our own minds!

14 Likes

Well said. I remember in my first university teaching position I was a little taken aback when the department administrative assistants addressed me by my first name. I thought to myself, “I just spent six years earning a Ph.D. Don’t I deserve the title of ‘Professor’ or ‘Doctor’?” I soon learned that was my ego talking. The administrative assistants did not respect me any less because they addressed me by my first name. What it meant was that the office cultivated an atmosphere of collegiality. So I let it go. I was not yet practicing Buddhism, but looking back on it, it was healthy for me to let go of my attachment to the idea that a title brought me respect.

On the other hand, it is customary for undergraduate students in the United States to address their university instructors with the titles they have earned just as it is customary in Buddhism to show respect for one’s teachers, which is why I bow to the monks who have taught Buddhist principles to me, just as my students address me with the title of Professor. I trust that in these instances the custom is more a reminder to the person giving respect than the person receiving it that the respect is for the wisdom that is being imparted, not because the individual providing that wisdom has any attachment to the title per se.

7 Likes

Actually, Venerable Mate, that’s exactly why I’d say reflecting on these things does matter. Sure, the terms are in a way irrelevant, but engaging with what exactly all this means to you can be a method of generating happiness for yourself.

9 Likes

For the sake of a point-counter-point:

Why not treat every single monastic with the respect that their title is traditionally given, particularly if you don’t like them as much as Y monastic.

It happens. Sometimes monks/nuns are bigots. Sometimes they are just weird people.

I view (striving at) biting my tongue and being polite (particularly if it feels like the person does not deserve politeness) as a excersize in restraint. Ideally, this etiquette should be extended to all sentient beings. Extending it to monastics, regardless of the monastics in question, can be seen IMO as a stepping stone to this.

4 Likes

I guess it’s a point of personal interpretation. Maybe I’ll think about it differently in a year. The big issue for most people is not that we treat them with no respect, rather that we don’t treat them at all. Most people disappear, because they are not special, or not good looking, or whatever.

So we are guided by appearance too much anyway. So it can be a trap so see the robe as exotic, project onto the robe whatever suits me at the moment. I for some reason stopped to see the robe as a nimitta for the Buddha.

To look at the actual behavior and communication, and not the dress, opens me up to look at ‘the other in disguise’, i.e. the fellow human. It turns the monastic also into a fellow human, which to me is a good thing.

3 Likes

SN 2.25

The mendicants used to live happily,
as disciples of Gotama.
Desireless they sought alms;
desireless they used their lodgings.
Knowing that the world was impermanent
they made an end of suffering.

But now they’ve made themselves hard to look after,
like chiefs in a village.
They eat and eat and then lie down,
unconscious in the homes of others.

Having raised my joined palms to the Saṅgha,
I speak here only about certain people.
They’re rejects, with no protector,
just like those who have passed away.

I’m speaking about
those who live negligently.
To those who live diligently
I pay homage.

After reading through this thread, I think I’m going to try and address everyone I know as Venerable/Ayya/Bhante/etc. going forward, at the very least in my heart. Now that I come to think of it, didn’t Ajahn Chah recommend calling the mosquitoes ‘Ajahn Mosquito’? Everyone is teaching us dhamma. Everyone is worthy of our respect.

Yes. The nanny’s in India back in the 60s (when I was very little) were addressed as ‘aya’ (from the Portuguese for ‘nurse’ I believe which was adopted by the Anglo Indians during the Raj and then the word found its way into Hindi), it was very respectful though. I think that my automatic response is to sit up and pay very close attention to someone who is referred to as ‘ayya’.

Thank you Venerable’s.

4 Likes