Thoughts on permethrin and the first precept

I’ll be moving to Sri Lanka in a few weeks and have been thinking of treating my clothing with permethrin as it is a so-called “insect repellent”. However I just learned that it is not really a repellent, as the mosquitos will still land on your clothing, and then it stuns or kills them. I’m not keen on this, but I’m also not keen on getting dengue. I’m curious how other readers living in such regions deal with this situation.


Use lemongrass oil ( Citronellal) - (පැඟිරි තෙල්)
There are creams with mosquito repellent oils.


Mosquito nets when necessary. Outdoors in the bush citronella spray on exposed parts, and cover the body with lightweight quick drying hiking clothes (long sleeve), and in stationary situations mosquito coils. Empty containers of water around the building to prevent mosquitoes breeding.

I have been living in Asia on and off for years including Sri Lanka, and on my first trip was worried about malaria. In the event the main things that have happened are two dog bites partly due to carelessness, which means you have to have a course of rabies injections, which last for three years. Hospitals in Sri Lanka have a designated dog bite unit. The other thing to be aware of is non-standard measurements on steps, which are sometimes smaller than in the west, and can cause you to trip. Also in Sri Lanka there are sometimes deep gutters (2m) along the edge of roads with no protection. Other topics include the upper heat threshold for Corona virus is 20°C meaning it will not spread in Sri Lanka, wet/dry zones, lack of authority and the effects of socialism.


This topic reminded me of a question I have been carrying around: were mosquitos a thing of ancient India?

Sorry if that sounds dumb, but I have a vague memory of reading somewhere that mosquitos were not as widely spread as they are nowadays before the era of international trade by sea (from the 1500’s to now). But I am possibly wrong!
Has anyone who has ever been to India encounter mosquitos over there?


The early Buddhist texts do mention them:

It’s when a mendicant cannot endure cold, heat, hunger, and thirst. They cannot endure the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and reptiles… . . (AN 4.165)


You are probably thinking of the Americas where Europeans, and African slaves, brought new mosquito species and diseases with them. This New Yorker article How Mosquitoes Changed Everything. does a good job explaining that. It’s in the second section.

If you can find untreated mosquito nets that would be the best for keeping the 5 precepts, if you’re strict on them. If you can only find ITNs (insecticide treated nets) then I would still recommend buying them to protect your health if it’s the only option.

If you’re staying short term, 3 months or less, you can try taking one of the three anti-malarials available on the market if you want to deal with their possible side effects. If your insurance doesn’t cover them then they may also be too expensive and not an option. And do not take them long term, longer than 3 months, because your side effects greatly increase.

All the previously mentioned options are good, especially when used in conjunction. The bed net is the only requirement, and repellents, mosquito coils, and proper clothing are highly recommended. You should also avoid letting things collect water, and make sure there is no tall weeds very near your dwelling. Although those diseases sound scary, know the symptoms and don’t be afraid to get tested if you exhibit any symptom so that you can get treated for them if you do happen to get a mosquito born illness. You know your body and if something is off, get tested.

I lived in Zambia for two years and was on an anti-malaria committee, I know more than I ever wanted. :rofl: I knew people who lived in a highly endemic malaria area, near lots of water, and never took their medicine and also never got sick but also people who took meds and got sick with malaria (twice!). You just never know!


Dengue is no joke. The important thing is to be safe.

Because dengue is spread by mosquito bites, all travelers to risk areas should prevent mosquito bites by using an EPA-registered insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors, and sleeping in an air-conditioned room or room with window screens or under an insecticide-treated bed net.

Learn more about dengue (how to prevent it and what to do if you think you are infected) at CDC’s dengue page for travelers.

Dengue in Asia and the Pacific Islands - Watch - Level 1, Practice Usual Precautions - Travel Health Notices | Travelers' Health | CDC

Not all insect repellents contain insecticides (substances which kill insects). Most simply discourage insects from landing on one’s skin.


Sri Lanka has been declared malaria free for several years. Please don’t recommend that people take anti-malarials for Sri Lanka. There is absolutely no need.

As far as Dengue, there are areas where it is present and areas where it is not. The map posted above is misleading. Clearly it’s providing country statistics, not regions. So if you are not going to be in Colombo and the suburbs, the risk will be low. Talk with the people who are hosting you and get their sense of things. The mosquitoes are also not present 24 hrs a day. There can actually be very few in some places.

There is a theory among the locals that the government over blows the seriousness of dengue prevalence so people don’t allow standing water on their property. The people I knew who used nets were using them mostly to prevent the annoyance of mosquitoes.

As Paul1 said, there are many other dangers in Sri Lanka, in my opinion much more likely than dengue. Make sure your tetanus shots are up to date. It is very true that the ground and steps are uneven. Everywhere. Because of this you will probably get cuts on your feet, so not a bad idea to take an antibiotic ointment. I don’t want to say not to worry about dengue, but in the scheme of things, if you are not there for long term, it’s really unlikely that you will get it. I believe it’s also not ever fatal on the first infection, which may not be much of a comfort.

But if you get a fever, get a dengue test at a hospital right away. There is a test and then you can be sick in peace if you don’t have it. :slight_smile:

I wish people had more insight into the permthrin thing. I’m very curious about it, but most things I read on line didn’t make the clear distinction between repellent and insecticide. People in Sri Lanka that I talked to thought that if you used it (the diffusers) in a closed space the insects would die but if you kept a window open they would just leave. I have no idea if this was correct or just based on wishful thinking.

The muscle balm Siddhalepa (a lemon/cinimon version of Tiger Balm) is very easy to get and works well as a repellent. Smells nice too.


That’s good news! I knew a monk who said he contracted malaria there, but that would have been in the 1990s.


Is there really a Pali word for mosquito?


Yes! The Pāli word is makasa (Skt: maśáka): SuttaCentral. It’s etymologically related to musca in Latin, which became mosquito in Spanish. English then borrowed it from Spanish.


Interesting! Thanks :anjal:

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Thanks for all the useful info. I will be living there long term (I will ordain in June), and I will be staying in a semi-rural location. My room has no ac or window screens but there is a bednet provided. Also it is on the second floor. I didn’t notice mosquitos in the room when I stayed there in October, I mostly saw them (and got bit a few times ) when I went out into the yard.

I am reading good things about OLE ( oil of lemon eucalyptus). The old standby DEET seems to be nonharming and can be applied to clothing so that seems like a better alternative to the permethrin, although less convenient because it needs to be reapplied daily. I’ll have to check into Siddhalepa for sure.


I’m a fan of the ITNs, and even buy them to distribute to refugee camps in Thailand. I do undertake this training rule to protect all life, but mosquitoes, for me, are just in a different category. See Treated mosquito nets | Insecticide treated mosquito net | LLIN So many refugees and the poor are affected in Thailand by malaria and dengue, and some people (older folks, infants and children) die from complications from these infections.

I’ve tried to offset the kamma of killing mosquitos with the kamma of trying to help poor people from getting ill from mosquitoes. Hopefully, I won’t be reborn as a Thai water buffalo, swatting mosquitoes all day long in my next life…



If it’s a rural area, then dengue risk should be low, but check with the other people there. You should be fine.

Good luck!


Happy to know you will giving the right livelihood a chance! I’m certain it’ll be fruitful!
Please do contact us here (or me directly) if you need any help getting this specific material support. We’ll find a way to make sure you have what you need! :blush: :anjal:


For a more blasé perspective, I spent a few months in Sri Lanka, bought some local repellant once and used it a handful of times. Otherwise I just did as the locals do and got bit, I was fine although definitely annoyed on occasion. Some places were worse than others and mosquitoes biting at night can make sleep fitful; check your net for holes!

Dengue is not usually lethal so if you get it, life’ll probably suck for a month or so and then you’ll be fine.

As a monastic you’ll want to learn to endure and abandon fear of biting mozzies:

“What taints, bhikkhus, should be abandoned by enduring? Here a bhikkhu, reflecting wisely, bears cold and heat, hunger and thirst, and contact with gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, the sun, and creeping things; he endures ill-spoken, unwelcome words and arisen bodily feelings that are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, distressing, and menacing to life. While taints, vexation, and fever might arise in one who does not endure such things, there are no taints, vexation, or fever in one who endures them. These are called the taints that should be abandoned by enduring. - SuttaCentral

An enlightened monk,
living circumscribed,
shouldn’t fear the five fears:
of horseflies, mosquitoes, snakes,
human contact, four-footed beings;
shouldn’t be fazed
by those following another’s teaching
even on seeing their manifold
should prevail over still other
further dangers
as he seeks what is skillful.

by the touch
of disease, hunger,
he should endure cold
& inordinate heat.

He with no home,
in many ways touched by these things,
striving, should make firm his persistence. - Snp 4.16


Congratulations! May your monastic life lead to liberation and happiness for yourself and all other beings :pray::pray::pray:


Don’t think about taking antimalarial prophylaxis longterm was my doctor’s advice when I went to live in the tropics. Bednets and DEET if there are mosies around, and keep your limbs covered during the times of day the mosies like to saunter out.

I don’t know about Sri Lanka, but I do know about SE Asia generally and I can see that the maps definition of “frequent or continuous” is a bit weird. I lived in Brunei (frequent) for five years and the single person I knew who got dengue was in Singapore (sporadic)!! (Incidentally the risk of terrorism was similarly overhyped by the Australian Government travel advisories.)

Much more to the point. I am so happy to hear that your previous visit to Sri Lanka has born such fruit. Congratulations on your approaching ordination. May your practice there be long and profitable. Sadhu :pray:


This is good advice. Psychosis is a real side effect from many antimalarial drugs. But I just want to repeat for anyone coming in late to the thread: As of 2020 there is no malaria in Sri Lanka.