The Vinaya and monks being conscripted


It’s my understanding that the Vinaya bans preceptors from ordaining people who are legally obligated to perform government service (like military service). One must become exempted from said service before ordaining.

However, what if you are already ordained as a Bhikkhu/Bhikkhuni and are conscripted by the government for some form of service? Are you required to disrobe and perform the service? Or are you allowed to remain ordained, albeit as a fugitive?


This also relates to the notion of what happens when a government/state outlaws Buddhism.

Emperor Meiji once issued an edict banning excessive vinaya observation in Japan, particularly angled at ending the practice of celibacy in Japan. I don’t know what the exact wording was, but I imagine it posed an challenge to the norms of operation of monasteries, etc.


According to the vinaya, there are only six ways for a monk to leave the training:

  1. Sexual Intercourse
  2. Grand Larceny
  3. Murder
  4. Lying about your spiritual attainments
  5. Dying
  6. Voluntarily leaving the order

So, someone can steal my robes off my back and dress me up in whatever outfit they like, but the only way to force me out of the monkhood is to kill me.

That said, many people when faced with this situation would rather choose to disrobe than face the consequences of directly challenging a hostile government. And that’s understandable. But as far as the vinaya is concerned, whether I stay a monk or not is entirely up to me.

And that’s incredibly freeing.


What do you think of prelest as a translation for this, Ven?

The wikipedia article focuses a lot on defining the term from a particularly Christian perspective, but what it generally means is a person ego-inflated belief about one’s progress in the holy life in a monastic setting. In a Christian setting, people who have prelest are often believed to vainly speak in tongues, claim to have visions of God, etc., and it, unrelated, but it sometimes becomes a point of polemical critique against movements like Pentecostalism and Charismaticism.

Aside concerning defining prelest and Christian monasticism

If it please you, an aside concerning the above.


At around 8:18 in this video, Father Archimandrite Zacharias, who was a disciple of Elder Sophrony, who was a disciple of Saint Silouan of the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos), and who is a practitioner of hesychast meditation, will speak about the vainglory his spiritual father, Saint Silouan, struggled with on account of an initial breakthrough in spiritual attainment (which seems to be a brief illumination of the nous, or noetic faculty, which hesychast meditators seek to attain, believed to be a closeness to God, but that is my spin, not his language) at an unready stage of cultivation and his failure to maintain that state, resulting a depression of sorts and a period of struggling with internal prelest, which I think is the vainglory Father Zacharias is saying in English.

For instance, the demon that St. Silouan comes to fight with which appears before the icon of Christ need not be interpreted as a spirit from hell, but instead as an “internal demon” of vain-glory and this would not be a particularly off-the-wall reading. The injunction “keep your mind in hell” is very interesting here. Struggling with demons is a traditional element of the symptoms of prelest in Christianity, so that is a reason why the term might not be culturally appropriate. I don’t know if monks who lie about attainments are said to be hounded by spirits and Māra in Theravāda monastic literature as well.

Unrelated to the subject matter, but interesting miscellany: at 25:19 there is a discourse on the “heart” (which here is a translation of the Greek term nous, analogous to citta) and the purification of said heart, which I found very illuminating.
At 33:00, he speaks of a polarity between “things eternal” and “things of this world” which can easily be read as “unconditioned” and “things conditioned”.


Thanks for pointing out the term / concept! I hadn’t ever heard of it before. Quite fascinating!

From what I gather from reading the wikipedia article, though, it doesn’t seem a good fit for the fourth parajika offense, as a person suffering from prelest (am I using the term correctly?) is genuinely convinced of their sainthood, whereas in the Buddhist parajika, one must knowingly be lying — i.e. if you lie through genuinely overestimating yourself, you remain a monk.

From the linked YouTube discussion, it reminds me of the “defilements of insight” (vipassanupakilesas) I believe listed in the Vissudhimagga… but I’m no expert on this so I’ll just leave it at that :slightly_smiling_face:

1 Like