Walking barefoot in the winter

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Buddhist monastic rule was originally designed to tropical weather. Therefore, living in a harsh weather would create trouble obeying rules with clothing; wearing shoes, putting on jerseys, etc.

Is it possible to manage without those in harsh weather?


I am pretty sure there are provisions in the rules that allow extra clothing and footwear in harsher conditions.
Have you checked the Vinaya pitaka in full?

Maybe bhantes @brahmali @vimalanyani or @Dhammanando can point you in the right direction?



These rules do not apply in “border districts,” i.e. outside the middle Ganges area.
This is from Mahāvagga 5:

I allow, monks, in all border districts, sandals with many linings. In the southern region of Avantī, monks, people attach importance to bathing, to purification by water. I allow, monks, in all border districts, constant bathing. In the southern region of Avantī, monks, hides (are used as) coverings: sheep-hide, goat-hide, deer-hide. As, monks, in the middle districts eragu, moragu, majjhāra, jantu (are used), so, monks, in the southern region of Avantī hides (are used as) coverings: sheep-hide, goat-hide, deer-hide. I allow, monks, in all border districts, hides (to be used as) coverings: sheep-hide, goat-hide, deer-hide.

The Theravada Vinaya, having been preserved in tropical Sri Lanka, does not discuss this in much detail. But one of the other schools, I believe the Mūlasarvāstivāda which is practised in Tibet, has the Buddha give allowances for winter clothing etc.

Yes, it is possible, I have done this myself for a year, also when temperatures were below 0°C. But you spend pretty much the whole day wrapped in a blanket, so you are very much limited in what you can do. People have hostile reactions because they think you look strange. You also tend to get sick easily. Overall, it’s not really a “middle path”.


“Monks, sandals with heel-coverings should not be worn … embroidered sandals should not be worn. Whoever should wear (any of these), there is an offence of wrong-doing.

These are not clothings, and used as sitting sheets.

As the blessed one said “na kañcukaṃ dhāretabbaṃ” wearing shirts, jerseys etc. are not allowed.


In Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon, 0c is considered balmy in the winter time. -40 is not rare. If one is going to make the argument that monks there must make do with sandals, then one is de-facto saying that there are places that monks cannot live. (or that monks don’t need to keep their toes :wink:) People are welcome to make that argument, but I’m not sure how one would support it.

That being said, I did meet someone once in Saskatoon who was walking barefoot in the winter time. But I think it’s a rare constitution that can bear that. And I honestly don’t know if there were limitations to what he could put up with, just met him on the street. And for sure the general perception would be that he was mentally ill.

My experience in western countries is that the public is very tolerant of people wearing unusual clothes. But if that way of dressing is somehow dangerous, then they are disturbed. And in colder countries, being barefoot in general goes against social norms. And being barefoot in the winter time would be a sign that the person was probably mentally ill. (Saddly it is the poor treatment of the mentally ill that would make it not unusual to see people in this situation)


So true. That reminds me of Dec 2002 when I was visiting my folks in Charlotte while preparing to go stay in Sri Lanka. I knew my tender winter feet needed toughening up for barefoot walking there, so on a mild afternoon, as we often have in North Carolina even in deep winter, I went walking barefoot outside. The only outdoor areas suitable for walking were highly visible to neighbors, and within a few minutes my mother stood in the doorway, having a conniption fit. “Put your shoes on! You will not go aroun’ hea’ barefoot in winter!”
“But Mom, I need to build up my feet for Sri Lanka!”
“I won’t have it!” (gesturing wildly) “Put some shoes on!”

Nevermind that I was wearing my weird robes, but no shoes in winter? Abhorrent. The same mild temperature in late spring or early fall wouldn’t have gotten such a reaction; it was my violation of the social norm. I reluctantly gave in, knowing I’d rue it. And I did.

My fellow nuns in Sri Lanka seemed to marvel at how I winced so much walking on the small sharp rocks that they couldn’t even feel, the bottoms of my feet cracked open and bled, and I recalled many, many times the unsuccessful argument with my Mom.


I walk barefoot in the California winter rain, which others may think of as nuts.
That is also why I wear a bright yellow traffic vest that declares, “this is work”.
Before I wore the vest, I was pulled over (yes, while walking) by police who thought me nuts. After I wore the vest, people just wave and say hello to me.

Walking barefoot has taught me to walk with feel. We have sharp seeds with spikes that fall on the ground. Now THAT is nuts. Literally. Stepping on these is like stepping on caltrops. Paradoxically, one might expect that walking barefoot in harsh conditions would toughen one. Unexpectedly, one may find quite the opposite. One might instead find an increase of mindfulness, gentleness and care. That has been my experience. I’m definitely not tougher.

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