Vinaya rule about engaging in a previously held profession?

Hi all, if memory doesn’t fail me there is in the Vinaya a rule or a story about a monk who was previously a doctor being told to stop medicating or advising others on health matters.

Can anyone confirm or identify this rule and/or story?

Thanks in advance for your help!



Hi, I don’t recall that precisely, but if you look at the discussion by Ven Thanissaro in BMC 2 (rev 2013) on Medicine, he points out scripture & commentary that describe practicing medicine as wrong livelihood for all bhikkhus:

The Great Section on Virtue in the S›maññaphala Sutta (DN 2) lists the types of wrong livelihood from which a bhikkhu should abstain. Among them is the practice of medicine, or in the words of the sutta:
“Administering emetics, purges, purges from above, purges from below, head-
purges; ear-oil, eye-drops, treatments through the nose, ointments, and counter-ointments; practicing eye-surgery (or: extractive surgery), general surgery, pediatrics; administering root-medicines and binding medicinal herbs—he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.”
The Commentary to Pr 3 states that a bhikkhu should not act as a doctor for lay people unless they are:
his parents, people who care for his parents, his other blood relatives;
his preceptor and teacher’s parents or other blood relatives;
applicants for ordination;
his own steward;
travelers who arrive ill at his monastery;
people who fall ill while in the monastery.
In none of these cases, however, should he expect material reward for his services.
Bhikkhus are, however, expected to know enough medicine to care for their own and for one another’s illnesses… >

The one profession I recall as forbidden only to monks who had practiced it in lay life is the case of barbers. Also from BMC2:

Mv.VI.37.5 tells the story of a former barber who had ordained late in life and still kept his barber’s equipment at hand. Giving his equipment over to his sons, who were also skilled barbers, he had them go from house to house taking the equipment along to ask for offerings of food. The boys were very successful. Donors, feeling intimidated by the razors, etc., gave donations even though they didn’t want to. As a result, the Buddha laid down a double rule: that a bhikkhu should not get others to do what is unallowable, and that one who was formerly a barber should not keep barber’s equipment. The first rule seems to mean that one should not get others to dissemble, talk, hint, etc., for the sake of material gain. The second rule seems related to the fear that people in those days had of barbers, who were reputed to be so skilled with their razors that they could kill without leaving a visible wound. Thus, to make sure that a bhikkhu who was formerly a barber cannot intimidate anyone, he should not have barber’s equipment at hand. The Commentary states that a former barber is allowed to use barber’s equipment (e.g., to shave the heads of his fellow bhikkhus) but is not allowed to keep it or to accept payment for using it. Other bhikkhus may keep barber’s equipment without offense.

Hope that is useful.

[Edited to fix typos]


Thanks! :anjal:

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Just one further point … the allowances listed in Ayyā Sudhammā’s post would seem to apply only to those monastics who became medically qualified before they ordained. After ordaining the study of medicine would be prohibited by the training rules concerning tiracchānavijjā – the study of which is a dukkaṭa offence for bhikkhus and a pācittiya for bhikkhunīs.

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Thanks! :anjal:

It seems, practice ‘as needed’, is ok?! IT is a skill as is writing, I presume :writing_hand:.

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Hmmm… The Buddha did relax this rule a bit later, iirc, so that Bhikkhus could practice enough astrology to tell when the observance days would be, etc.

It seems a bit overly-strict to refuse to learn (or teach) any medical knowledge. Far from prohibited, learning the parts of the body and studying corpses are prescribed parts of monastic training. So, while going to medical school might be a bit much for a monk, I don’t think this rule should prohibit anyone from learning CPR, first aid, or other practical necessities.

Your thoughts, Bhante?


DN 2 extrapolates on this topic. It talks about using one’s medical knowledge (amongst other things) as a form of livelihood.

“Whereas some recluses and brahmins, while living on the food offered by the faithful, earn their living by a wrong means of livelihood, by such debased arts as:

  • administering emetics, purgatives, expectorants, and phlegmagogues
  • administering medicines through the ear and through the nose, administering ointments and counter-ointments, practising fine surgery on the eyes and ears, practising general surgery on the body, practising as a children’s doctor—"

To learn or teach, as far as I know, this is not an offense. However, a bhikkhu should perhaps spend more time on the study of Dhamma-Vinaya and meditation.

Could be useful for the holy life, particularly while out in the forest on tudong. Where DN 2 draws the line is using these skills in order to earn a living. Such that when a bhikkhu is living in dependence on a village, they only feed him because of his ability to perform first aid when necessary.


Ven @anyatama,

Thanks for your reply. That’s also my understanding of the vinaya.

However, Ven @Dhammanando, three posts above mine, makes precisely this claim:

I did find a relevant section in the BMC2, but unfortunately I found myself unable to follow the references :confused:


Thanks to @Charlotteannun’s help, I managed to follow the references! And indeed, Ven @Dhammanando is correct, the prohibition is against learning or teaching “worldly knowledge.”

Coincidentally, this short prohibition occurres just after the prohibition against reciting the Buddha’s words metrically and just before the prohibition against garlic.


Assuming of course that tiracchānavijjā in these Vinaya contexts is to be taken as encompassing the same studies and activities as it does in the Brahmajāla and Sāmaññaphala Suttas. I’ve always been inclined to assume this myself, but I must admit I’ve never actually looked into the matter in depth.