Samana/ascetic - discussing the meaning with regards to receiving alms

A gentleman should serve ascetics and brahmins as the upper quarter in five ways: by loving deeds of body, speech, and mind, by not turning them away at the gate, and by providing them with material needs. Ascetics and brahmins served by a gentleman in these five ways show compassion to him in six ways. They keep him from doing bad. They support him in doing good. They think of him with kindly thoughts. They teach him what he does not know. They clarify what he’s already learned. They explain the path to heaven. Ascetics and brahmins served by a gentleman in these five ways show compassion to him in these six ways.

What more do you think an ascetic should do?

Probably off topic and not sure it’s all that relevant, but …

As I understand it, the passage you are quoting from pertains to Chaddisāpaṭicchādanakaṇḍa (commonly translated as the “six directions”), in which the Buddha explains the various duties and obligations of various classes of society towards each other.

Also, as I understand it, “ascetics and brahmins” in the original Pali from that passage is “samaṇabrāhmaṇā” which is a generic term referring to religious practitioners, and not specifically Buddhist monks or nuns.

Since you are only asking me to comment on “ascetic” and not “brahmin” I assume you wish to narrow my response to those specifically practicing the life of a “samaṇa”, ie. a recluse who is engaged in the practice of austerities, which the Buddha himself practiced for a period prior to gaining realisation.

This sort of recluse would have been quite common in Buddha’s time, and indeed often mentioned in other Indian texts such as Rigveda, Mahabharata and Ramayana. I believe a samaṇa would be a relatively rare occurrence today. I understand a Buddhist bhikkhu would not consider himself a samaṇa.

I would probably suggest that ascetic should consider following in the Buddha’s footsteps and give up on the ascetic life, which is unlikely to lead to realisation as the Buddha himself discovered, and practice the middle path, which the Buddha advocated.

I hope this answer helps you, although as I mentioned at the beginning I feel it is somewhat off topic to what has been discussed in this thread.

Sorry, I thought that it was relevant given the title of the thread - “The ethics and implications of giving and receiving alms”. I thought it might be important to understand how the Buddha viewed the mutual obligations between the giver and receiver. Never mind! :rose:


Actually, we do use this term. It’s used to describe the more ascetic practitioners in many Buddhist cultures. Of course, we still have Samaneras (‘little Samanas’ or novice monks). And many Buddhists would be aware of the book
of teachings of Ajahn Maha Boowa (compiled by a bhikkhu) which is called Samana and has long been found on the free distribution shelf everywhere and—for better or worse—has shaped several generations’ ideas about Buddhist practice.

Christie, I’ve read several of your posts here and checked out your website and you look like a fun person. I have nothing personally against you at all. I understand you consider yourself “gone forth” in your own fashion and that you’re pursuing your own path. Good luck to you! :muscle:

Of course, choosing ones own path is nothing new and that’s always been an option throughout Buddhist history, albeit with varying levels of success… Today we see plenty of people doing their own version of Buddhism; there’s secular Buddhism, mindfulness movements, internet arahants (we even have people live streaming their awakening experiences whilst eating pizza), and then there’s the ‘psychedelic sanghas’.

Going one’s own way is fine of course and, like you, I would never dream of telling people what to do with their lives. There is a danger, of course, when people start to promulgate views not in accordance with the Dhamma. So when people say things like—for example—the secular Buddhists do, who suggest there is no need for the Sangha, and that there is no rebirth or kamma. Or when folks say things like have been said here; that there are no enlightened beings, or need for refuge in the triple gem, or that generosity is not important… well… these things actually are labelled as part of wrong view in Buddhism.

I’ve noticed with iconoclastic teachers and those extolling their own path, or those trying to change Buddhism generally, that they chop off one bit of Buddhism after the next because it doesn’t please them and in the end their path has very little of Buddhism left. It seems their own path actually is just that, more like a reflection of themselves.

A bigger danger is when people teach these things to others. Surely if there is genuine concern about the amount of kammic debt a monastic owes society, then there should certainly be concern about the consequences of wrong view and leading others deeper into darkness??

One of the underated aspects of the Sangha as an institution is it’s corrective power to preserve orthodoxy in doctrine and right view. Sure, there’s disagreements and different interpretations from time to time but there is always peer supervision—from teachers, from individual communities and from the Maha Sangha generally—which has the ability to correct wrong views that are harmful, within its own ranks.

This is generally not the case with solo practitioners who go their own path. Often they reject any scrutiny. In any case, I’ve noticed that these people are often doing things their own way because it suits their personality (edit: or defilements!) and because they are resistant to corrections. Both of these things—getting rid of attachment to personality view me/my/mine (i.e. my way of doing things) and learning to accept compassionate admonishment—are features of monastic training and have been since the time of the Buddha.

Your several comments about generosity to monastics and how it has brought ruin to whole nations seems a little short sighted in a historical sense.

There have been great Buddhist empires and Buddhist nations throughout history, that have flourished and continue to flourish today.

It seems a long bow to draw that Buddhist alms giving leads to ruination and poverty. There are many poor nations in the world, some of which are Buddhist, but many more that aren’t; can those latter nations’ poverty also be blamed on Buddhist’s almsgiving too? :thinking: Things are likely to be a bit more complex than your argument but if we want to make things simple, we can just blame poverty and inequality on greed, hatred and delusion! :laughing:

Of course it’s our wellbeing in the big picture of samsara that the Buddha had in mind when teaching. He said giving alms brings benefits here and now, and is further associated with rebirth in the heavenly realms where beings enjoy long life, beauty, bliss and strength.

If we take the Buddha as our teacher and as someone who saw things we presently can’t see ourselves, it’s probably good to listen to his teachings and try to understand them as they are, not as we would wish them to be or invent our own versions of what Buddhism is. Certainly one would think we should take care not to lead others astray.

I wish you the very best in your journey.


But the passage you quoted wasn’t about the mutual obligations between the “giver” and “receiver”, in the topic of giving alms to monks. It was about the mutual obligations between householders and religious practitioners.

Yes, but in the context of the passage that was quoted, that was specifically about the term “samaṇabrāhmaṇā” which is used to generically refer to religious practitioners such as “ascetics and brahmans” and not how different Buddhist practitioners may choose to practice. I would think any Buddhist practioner calling themselves a “samaṇa” isn’t probably understanding what the middle path truly is, but without understanding proper context I would withhold judgement.

As I understand it, the Buddha himself did not use the term “samaṇa” to refer to himself, although others did.

As for the rest of your post, I hope you don’t mind, but I will refrain from commenting. It seems you are trying to say something, but in a very generic way about various “dangers” but I am not sure how these dangers would be relevant to me as I don’t feel I am practicising any of the “dangers” you seem concerned about. I don’t know any of these “secular Buddhists” or “iconoclastic teachers” you are referring to, or what their views may or may not be, and I am not sure how any of that is relevant to my own situation. I generally focus on reading the suttas and I try to avoid being influenced by others.

I believe people are free to hold whatever views they want - whether I agree with those views or not. As I mentioned before, at the end of the day everyone’s path will be different. I don’t necessarily hold my views to be correct, indeed, I change them as I understand more and more.

But I don’t agree that “… corrective power to preserve orthodoxy in doctrine and right view” is a good thing, in fact very much the opposite. I don’t believe the Sangha generally preserves or holds right views. In any case, there is no single agreed view. As we all know, Buddhism is divided into many sects each of which hold their views to be right and other views to be wrong. So clearly, orthodoxy has not been preserved because we can’t even agree what it is.

If the various sects were in fact holding right views, then we would have lots of arahants today, and we don’t have a single confirmed one, so clearly whatever views are held by various practitioners today, they are objectively “wrong”, and have been for centuries.

I am not sure I actually made any comment along those lines. Perhaps you can quote exactly where I made these “several comments”? Otherwise it is hard to defend something I didn’t say.

What I did say, quoting myself, is:

That’s all they are, observations.

I also wish you the very best in your journey, and hope you will find it in your heart to forgive those “secular Buddhists” or “iconoclastic teachers” that you seem very concerned about. Although I generally try not to be influenced by others, I do pay particular attention to significantly different views from mine - they challenge my thinking and cause me to re-evaluate what I think is right or wrong. As you rightly say, it’s important to have one’s views “scrutinised”, and the best way to do so is to compare them with radically different viewpoints.

Ah, well I was trying to be subtle and kind. Sometimes a word to the wise is enough they say!

The danger I see is that although you describe yourself are a “relative beginner” you then proceed to present yourself as an expert, in things such as Pali, monasticism Buddhist culture and even making claims about attaining the very highest meditation states:

For example, all the literature and guidance on jhāna states do not adequately prepare oneself for the actual experience, particularly the higher levels or non-sensual (eg. arupa) states. I remember when I first experienced them, I was surprised that there is no elation or joy, or sense of accomplishment associated with them. I was glad I did not read a lot of the literature on the subject, I suspect I would have ended up very confused and possibly it may even hinder my progress.


(Incidentally, please see the forum’s policy on making claims about meditation - these are in place because of the danger of incorrect or unscrupulous people adversely influencing others by presenting themselves as attained)

Another danger I see for less informed forum members is that you make authoritative sounding statements which are totally incorrect such as:


The second quote above is after I offered you an example of it’s actual use., But you get to decide that even if it is used then they aren’t practicing properly?

Monastics frequently chant the ovada patimokkha (the heart of the Buddha’s teachings for monastics) which features the phrase:

No true renunciate injures another,
Na hi pabbajito parūpaghātī,
nor does an ascetic hurt another.
Na samaṇo hoti paraṁ viheṭhayanto

Both the terms samano and pabbajito here are used referring to the monks. There is a whole history and culture of using this term to describe monks.

As for your disbelief that you linked alms giving with economic consequences:

Here you go:

In my post above, I gently tried to point out the wrong views you had mentioned —no need to defend them again here. I did it out of concern for others who might read what you’ve said and become confused about things like almsgiving, refuge, meditation etc.

Best wishes once again.


Well, Dhammapada 264 & 265 sprang to mind:

Na mundakena samano
abbato alikam bhanam
samano kim bhavissati.

Yo ca sameti papani
anumthulani sabbaso
samitatta hi papanam
“samano” ti pavuccati.


On the contrary, every bhikkhu in good standing should consider himself a samaṇa, and every bhikkhunī in good standing should consider herself a samaṇī.

In the Vinaya declaring oneself to be not a samaṇa is laid down as one of the ways for bhikkhus to announce the fact that they are giving up the training and reverting to the household life:

Or again, dissatisfied, discontented, desiring to give up the monastic life … he says and declares: “Hold me to be not an ascetic” (assamaṇoti maṃ dhārehi) … in this way too, monks, there’s a declaration of one’s weakness and a renunciation of the training.
(Bhikkhuvibhanga, first pārājika)

Similarly, bhikkhus who have committed defeating offences are referred to with the stock phrase “not an ascetic (assamaṇo), not a son of the Sakyan”.

Edit: I’ve corrected an error in the earlier version of my post. Contrary to what I stated then, it is only bhikkhus, not bhikkhunīs, who can give up the monastic training by declaring themselves to be not samaṇas.


Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu! :anjal:

Just my upasaka observation is that I find alms-giving a very nice thing to do (though in the Netherlands, it is an extraordinary rare opportunity to find). It barely has any economic impact on the giver (generally in Thailand - where my partner was reborn - if for nothing else, they give whatever grows in the garden or stock food, such as [glutinous] rice - sometimes just leftovers), but it has certainly a positive impact on one’s mental state.

Also, having met Srilankan, Burmese, Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian followers of the practice, they do not share the view that alms-giving is the cause of their (perceived) poverty or other current problems.

I definitely know there are problems in those countries, but it appears to me to be more a result of colonialism (or standing up against that) than something to do with alms-giving. And I am also witnessing that repairs are being done (with or without the help of the ex-colonizers). This just needs patience.

If by chance any bhikkhu(ni) would walk in the neighbourhood of my house, I would certainly be very happy to give some alms - come to think of it, it is also better than carelessly throwing away food. We definitely need bigger Bhikkhu(ni) Sanghas here. :smile:


Thank you for this post, Bhante.
Can’t remember, which bhikkhu said that, but I’ve heard a saying: “Dhamma is like a tree. Faith is it’s heartwood, but the tradition and rituals are it’s bark. Without the bark the heartwood will die”.
So, yes it is very important to keep the tradition going. And the Sangha is doing that - for what we can never be too grateful. Thank you and all the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis for that.

Oh, and, by the way, I am a really poor person from a poor country, but I would love to give alms. For now I have to settle for electronic payments to a bhikkhu I support because I have no opportunity to meet him, and he has no opportunity to go on alms round every day. (And the use of money sometimes is nessecary, alas). I don’t think alms can destroy economics, I think generosity can only lead to a betterment of the society.


OK, I see now. Your previous post was really an attempt to point out my wrong views, out of concern that others may be confused. Thank you for clarifying your position. In that case you are right, there is no need for me to relitigate my statements, so I won’t.

In any case, as you correctly pointed out, I do not present myself as an expert but a “relative beginner”. I am sorry that you feel relative beginners cannot attain meditation states - I am not going to defend what I have experienced.

I do feel you have a tendency to transform words I have said into statements that I have not said and do not agree with. I asked you to quote where I have said “generosity to monastics and how it has brought ruin to whole nations” and my quote " I can’t help but wonder whether the practice of giving alms may result in a net deficit to society as a whole." does not really equate to what you claimed I said. If you think these two statements are equational then I have nothing further to say.

As for your quote from the patimokkha, I have already said I don’t agree with the Vinaya. I believe in their current form they were compiled long after the Buddha’s death, and therefore the reintroduction of the term samaṇa may represent a corruption in the intent of the Buddha’s teaching.

As I believe it, the Buddha did not consider himself to be a samaṇa but someone who forsook the ascetic path to take the middle path. I am sad that it appears this has now been perverted in later texts and once again the practice of samaṇa is being revered.

Anyway, in conclusion I believe you have now made your position clear, so let’s agree there is nothing further to say and we can continue on our respective paths and continue to wish each other well.

I am interested if you can provide citations that support this view, other than Vinaya references.

I don’t necessarily believe the Vinaya represents the Buddha’s teachings, and the current form was compiled many years after the Buddha’s death, and it is possible corruption in the Buddha’s teachings have already manifested then.

As I understand it, the Buddha advocates the middle path, which is neither the worldly life nor ascetic practices.

Thanks Stephen. As I understand it, this was a bhikkhu who is challenging non-Buddhist samaṇas, and the Buddha remonstrated that his behaviour was not appropriate. This does not then necessarily imply that Buddhists should consider themselves to be practising samaṇas.

Also, as I understand it, the Dhammapada does not represent what the Buddha actually taught, but was compiled many years later. It is part of the Khuddaka (which is considered less canonical than the other divisions). It is conceivable that by this time, the term samaṇa has once again become in vogue. India has had a long tradition of ascetics, and I can certainly understand that despite the Buddha’s teachings, many would be unwilling to give up this tradition and over time the notion of asceticism would be reintroduced back into Buddhism.

This is why I feel it’s necessary to not take every word in the Tipiṭaka for granted, but to go back to his core teachings. We already know the Tipiṭaka is corrupted, the Buddha himself foretold this (not that I believe he is omniscient, but it does seem inevitable that the intent of his teachings would gradually fade).

I think we can all see how this might go, an instance of a term is cited, only to then be rejected as ‘does not represent what the Buddha actually taught’.
For instance, similar to Ven. Dhammanando’s reference one can find ‘samano sakyaputtiyo’ in DN 24. But perhaps this is also unacceptable?

For me, at least, the central point is that all Buddhist monastics are samanas/ samanis, while not all samanas/samanis are Buddhist monastics.

Overall, I think it’s ok if one wants to start a new religion, or a variation on an older one.
But the boundaries do need to be made clear.

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I didn’t specifically say that I am rejecting the term, and I think you are conflating my first two paragraphs together.

My interpretation of Dhammapada 264 & 265 is that I don’t necessarily feel it implies Buddhists should consider themselves samaṇas or practice asceticism. The Buddha pointed out what exemplary behaviour for a samaṇa ought to be, but it seems he is referring to the term samaṇa generically here. He was specifically cautioning against the bhikkhu “challenging ascetics of non-Buddhist faiths”. He pointed out that a samaṇa is not just distinguished by a shaven head, but his behaviour. And if his behaviour is exemplary, then what the bhikkhu was doing was inappropriate.

Then, in a separate paragraph, I pointed out that the Dhammapada does not necessarily represent what the Buddha taught. It is clear it is a verse collection compiled many years after his death, and not necessarily considered canonical. There are also different variants of the Dhammapada, so we are not even sure which one is more accurate.

I think I have also separately said I also don’t consider the Vinaya to represent what the Buddha taught.

I want to draw the distinction between whether the Buddha considered himself a samaṇa (I understand he didn’t, but happy to be corrected) or whether later generations of his disciples, who have perhaps lost sight of what he taught in the absence of arahants, may consider themselves to be.

In any case, let’s move on. Perhaps the word samaṇa itself has changed over time. Like I said, I understand the term to mean an ascetic or recluse practising austerities, which the Buddha specifically advocated against. If a Buddhist monk wants to call himself a samaṇa, he is welcome to do so. But if he is practising the sort of austerities that the Buddha warned against, then I feel sorry for him but at the end of the day it is his path.

I don’t think this is about starting new religions, it’s about discussing what is in fact taught by the Buddha. I feel sad when someone has to denigrate any view that one doesn’t agree with as a “wrong view” - until we are truly enlightened, all our views are wrong, so let’s not get into “my wrong view is better than yours” debates. The Buddha asked us to evaluate his teachings with an inquiring mind, and that is all I do.

I finally had a chance to look into this. I find DN24 overall to be a good explanation of how the Buddha considers himself to be different from generic ascetics, so specifically “samaṇo sakyaputtiyo” is “an ascetic who is a Sakyan follower”.

As I mentioned before, the word samaṇa can be used generically to refer to anyone who has renounced worldly life and living a live as a monk depending on alms. However, the word has also a specific meaning of someone who is practising austerities, for the purpose of spiritual progress but also to acquire supernatural powers. The Indian texts often mention ascetics in this specialised context.

For reference, samaṇa comes from the Sanskrit śramaṇa meaning “seeker, one who performs acts of austerity, ascetic” (Monier-Williams) and the root śram , meaning “to exert effort, labor or to perform austerity”

The Buddha initially became an ascetic and practiced austerities, but then realised it did not help him, and so forsook the ascetic practices and eventually became enlightened. However, to other eyes he would still look like an ascetic and was sometimes referred to as “Gotamo samaṇo” but as I understand it he did not like this term.

So I understand the Buddha would be insistent on qualifying the term, hence “samaṇo sakyaputtiyo”. The word “bhikkhu” would be preferable since that means “one who begs” and only refers to the lifestyle and not necessarily the austerities practices.

Overall DN24 contains interesting comparisons between what the Buddha practised and believed in, vs other ascetics of his time, who were focused on supernatural powers, describing the origin of the universe, and the practice of self-mortification, including being naked or behaving like a dog, or eating certain foods to the exclusion of others.

Thanks for providing this citation, it reinforces my discomfort with the use of the word samaṇa to refer to Buddhist practices due to the over-loaded meaning.

I think we have different ideas about what the word ascetic means. From my perspective, reading about how Buddhist monks and nuns lived their lives I certainly get a very ‘ascetic’ quality.
(Living in a forest or jungle with almost zero possessions, entirely dependent on others for food, etc etc). These recorded practitioners are highly regarded in Buddhism.

I can understand how envisioning that today can make one feel uncomfortable, as most people we see who are homeless are sadly mentally ill, undergoing horrible circumstances, and generally totally miserable.
It can be easy to equate that with something that has veered drastically off the middle path.

You are entitled to regard the ascetic practices of both ancient and modern monastics as misguided. You can wish that the Buddha chose different words.
But please be reminded that there have been a very large number of people stretching back to ancient times who have found tremendous joy and reward with this lifestyle. Even some who have communicated with you on this very thread.
So, again, feel free to live the lifestyle you feel the most comfortable with, but perhaps don’t be overly concerned with revamping an entire religion.

Finally I leave you with a beautiful sutta from the Samyutta, 1.81. Please be well.


“Who in the world has no conflict?
“Kesūdha araṇā loke,

Whose life is not lost?
kesaṁ vusitaṁ na nassati;

Who here completely understands desire? Kedha icchaṁ parijānanti,

Who always lives as their own master?
kesaṁ bhojissiyaṁ sadā.

To whom do mother, father, and brothers
Kiṁsu mātā pitā bhātā,
bow when they’re established?
vandanti naṁ patiṭṭhitaṁ;

Who here, though of low birth,
Kiṁsu idha jātihīnaṁ,
is bowed to even by aristocrats?”
abhivādenti khattiyā”ti.

“Ascetics have no conflict in the world. “Samaṇīdha araṇā loke,
The life of ascetics is not lost.
Samaṇānaṁ vusitaṁ na nassati;
Ascetics completely understand desire.
Samaṇā icchaṁ parijānanti,
Ascetics always live as their own master. Samaṇānaṁ bhojissiyaṁ sadā.

Mother, father, and brothers
Samaṇaṁ mātā pitā bhātā,
bow to ascetics when they’re established. vandanti naṁ patiṭṭhitaṁ;
Even though an ascetic is of low birth, Samaṇīdha jātihīnaṁ,
they’re bowed to even by aristocrats.” abhivādenti khattiyā”ti.


Yes, one could if one were so inclined, for the suttas are replete with samaṇa references, in both its general and its buddhistically valorized senses.

But your textual opinions in this matter have no bearing at all on the claim to which I was responding, namely:

“…a Buddhist bhikkhu would not consider himself a samaṇa.”

Now whether Buddhist bhikkhus would be wont to consider themselves samaṇas on the basis of the Vinaya passages I cited will surely depend on their view of the Vinaya, not your view of it

For his monastic disciples, the Buddha advocates ascesis in the sense of simplicity of living, unburdenedness with duties, contentment with little and striving in mental cultivation. What he rejects is self-torture.


I agree, and as I’ve explained I’ve given my source of reference for the meaning of samaṇa.

From the perspective of Ancient India, there are two major types of religious practitioners, samaṇas and brahmins. Hence the use of the term samaṇabrāhmaṇā to refer to religious practitioners in general.

From a Buddhist perspective, Buddhism aligns closer with samaṇa rather than brahmin, as the life of an early Buddhist disciple closely resembles the lifestyle of a samaṇa more so than that of a brahmin.

DN24 and the citation from Dhammapada seems to imply the “generic” meaning of samaṇa as someone who has renounced and living the life of a “wanderer”. However, as I’ve mentioned, there is also a specialised meaning of samaṇa as someone who performs austerities.

This specialised meaning is the source of my discomfort, not the lifestyle factors you referred to.

I would not presume to call anyone’s lifestyle misguided. I think there is already enough debate on aspects of Buddhism that I don’t wish to add to it. However, I do wish to make my position on this clear, since quite a few people seem to be questioning it.