Stinky forest monastics (pc57)

We were talking about pi-tv-bu-vb-pc57 the other day and it seems to be so loophole ridden that there aren’t many occasions you would only bathe fortnightly.

Q: How is this rule practically interpreted? Do any monastics only bathe fortnightly?

I’ve been doing not much more than meditating, reading and visit SC over vassa, but I still become too stinky after about 5 or 6 days!


Yes, it is definitely a rule observed mainly in the breach.

I have long suspected that the rule betrays an early misunderstanding. The origin story in Pali features a group of monks bathing in the hot springs at Rajagaha, and thus inconveniencing the king. But it all seems a bit weird. Surely the king could bathe somewhere else! “Hot Springs” is tapoda, literally “waters of torment”. I can’t help but think the rule originally related to some kind of ritual observance. This would explain the time period; it was based on the lunar cycle. Perhaps the idea was that Buddhist monks shouldn’t be taking ritual baths, or giving the appearance of doing so.

However, I’ve never been able to put this idea on any sound textual footing, so treat it as pure speculation!


That’s what I was wondering. The suttas often talk about ritual bathing. Up to 3x day. I thought this was a reaction to this.

Reading all the ‘loopholes’, it seems like the Buddha is suggesting not to be too austere in this practice.

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How, monks, can these foolish men, though having seen the king, not knowing moderation, bathe? It is not, monks, for pleasing those who are not (yet) pleased … And thus, monks, this rule of training should be set forth.

‘Stinky forest monks’ would have the opposite effect of pleasing people! :pig_nose:

With metta


A matter of resource if we stick to the context of the time: water source back then wasn’t abundantly available to everyone and if there’s a water source, it’d be used for all kinds of purpose: cooking, drinking, bathing, clothes washing, you name it… So whether the original story was true or not, it was obvious that if a bunch of monks/nuns overused water by taking frequent baths back then, they would pose a huge inconvenience to other people around. It’s not so much a problem nowadays, so the appropriate measure is to use water when needed, not for the purpose of decorating or beautifying the body, but to keep it healthy and free from diseases.

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Dear Pasanna,
I think the old commentaries definitions would render it extremely hard falling into an offense here. :non-potable_water: Living anywhere else than in the Ganges valley bathing within a fortnight and also seemingly (taken literally) simply the use of ordinary soap or just plain water would not entail any offense, likewise not when doing some minor work or when tiny amounts of rain fall upon one’s body. No need to wait beyond discomfort … Here the old commentaries explanations of the exceptions given by the Buddha.

Should bathe means: if he bathes with chunam or with clay, in each action there is an offence of wrong-doing; when the bathing is completed there is an offence of expiation.

Except at a right time means: setting a right time to one side.

Hot weather means: a month and a half of the summer remains.

Fever weather means: the first month of the rains. Thinking, ‘these are the two and a half months when there is hot weather, when there is fever weather,’ there may be bathing.

Time of illness means: if there comes to be no comfort for one without bathing; thinking, ‘it is a time of illness,’ there may be bathing.

Time of work means: even a cell comes to be cleaned; thinking, ‘it is a time of work,’ there may be bathing.

Time of going on a journey means: saying, ‘we will go half a yojana,’ there may be bathing; there may be bathing when going, there may be bathing when gone.

Time of wind and rain means: if monks become assailed by a dusty wind, if two or three drops of rain come to be fallen on the body, thinking, ‘it is a time of wind and rain,’ there may be bathing.

Mettā and a refreshing bathe! :slightly_smiling_face: :bath:

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Well pointed bhante.
Only now it has become clear to me why, at least in Thailand (and more specifically Thai forest monasteries or hermitages), bathing time is always in the evening after the usual daily cleanup/sweeping!

I remember that even the older monks would do even a little bit of sweeping here and there or find something in need to be moved or dusted! This would suffice to justify the usual shower of the day!


There is a current thread on Author/Professor of Buddhist studies Ann Heirman in the watercooler section. Not sure if it has been mentioned elsewhere, but it appears she also has co-authored a book related to the topic of “stinky forest monastics.” It is called A Pure Mind in a Clean Body. Sounds like it could be an interesting read!

Here it is on Google Books