When did Buddhist monastics first use dwellings?


Maybe that’s not your intention but your use of adjectives ‘snarky’ , ‘ridiculous’ across your post gave me the impression you have some sort of resentment with what you seem to take Bhante Brahmali, Theravadin Western monks and people like me who appreciated his words and article to represent. And I am really puzzled as I cannot fully comprehend where you are coming from in that aspect.

Nevertheless I write this reply as a piece of feedback and to say that this forum is a place safe enough for you to clear out whatever issues or share whatever reasons you may have for that (hypothetical) resentment.

On the technicality of your point . Again , please know and note that this place is not invested or biased to anything particular hidden agenda or particular linguistic family of EBTs.

As per A. Sujato’s reply above, most of us have limited understanding of Chinese EBTs so it is on you the opportunity to offer and share with us a broader perspective based on those.

Note that the way you do that will definitely make a difference on whether or not people will give you and your views the attention you believe they deserve.

Assuming your intention is wholesome and you come from a place of appreciation of the Buddha and his Dhamma, I strongly encourage you to make an extra effort and give a try to a more friendly, receptive and kind choice of words and tone.

With time you will find yourself making meaningful contributions to this forum and surely achieve what I assume is your objective: to expand the range of this community’s understanding and awareness of what different linguistic families of EBTs have to say on topics such as the one the OP is about. And of course, whatever interesting hypothesis we can form about how these agree or disagree on things such as the expectation or obligation to have bhikkhus and bhikkhunis taking fixed residence instead of inhabiting the feet of trees.

We have just met. We are friendly people with Buddha as our Teacher.

Be well and welcome to Central’s D&D! :slight_smile:



Having been a solitary rhinoceros for decades, I can assert the joy of meeting the spiritual friend who brought me here. Thank you, @AlexM. :pray:



~ :rhinoceros:


It is possible that the Pali Canon reflects “a more ambivalent attitude towards asceticism”. But it would take considerable research to put this hypothesis on a firm footing.

The broader question, however, is whether this is a bad thing. This depends in part on how we define asceticism. If we regard it as including self-torment, as arguably it is often understood, then perhaps the Pali Canon is on the right track.

The Buddha famously proclaimed the middle way as his very first teaching. Yet this middle way is quite elusive, with most seemingly practising one of the extremes the Buddha warned about. For instance, large numbers of Buddhists practice meditation where physical discomfort and pain are accepted as normal. To my mind this goes directly against the Buddha’s injunction to avoid self-torment. Many others tend towards sensual indulgence. The middle way can be tricky to find. It seems human beings have a natural tendency to veer to either extreme, sometimes oscillating between the two.

As @DKervick points out, spending the rainy season under a tree is likely to be difficult. For many this will be an extreme to be avoided rather than constituting a middle path. The same is true for solitude. All such practices need to be evaluated in relation to the individual pursuing them. For some people, especially those whose samādhi is well established - which normally is only a tiny minority, even among monastics - harsher living conditions may be conducive to developing the path. Yet even for such people it may not always be right. For the vast majority, by contrast, harsh living conditions are likely to stop you making progress. You have left the middle path.

It seems there has always been a tendency among Buddhists to fetishise asceticism. This goes back to the EBTs where monastics are sometimes said to undertake such practice to look good. In other words, it easily becomes an ego thing. So in my view we need to be careful with asceticism. So often it just leads you astray. The hard path to follow is the one in the middle.


Bhante :anjal:

Is it elusive ? I thought the middle way is the eight fold path ?


Exactly. But it needs to be understood in the context of the middle way. Most people seem to find it hard to practice the eight factors while not veering to extremes.


I’m not sure i quite understand. Do you mean any factor of the path can be practiced to either extremes of sensual-indulgence or self-mortification ?


I mean that the eight factors need to be practised while avoiding self-torment and indulgence. Only then are you likely to get the most out of the practice.


I hope i’m not bothering you.
What about some one with a sickness with painful bodily feelings can he follow the eightfold path or does he have to wait until he is cured ?


If you are sick, you have no choice, you have to bear with it. But if you have a choice, you should avoid self-torment.


what if someone practices vedananupassana with a arisen painful feeling while sitting in meditation without changing the posture to relieve the pain, would that count as self-torment?


Most of the time I think it does. According to the Ānāpānasati Sutta you can fulfil vedanānupassanā without a direct contemplation of pain.


People are interested in ascetic practices because it’s something different. It could bolster the ego. Monks also get more veneration if they have an ascetic life. An ascetic life doesn’t necessarily mean Nibbāna, as the Buddha found out. Ideally practice should come first and the lifestyle is a natural result of the result of the practice. The practioner needs to be mindful of that which helps or is an obstacle to the practice.

Middle path is the Noble eightfold path but there is a spectrum of life-styles that could fall under it. A layperson enjoying sensuality to an ascetic monk with dhuthanga practice would practice the N8FP. It would probably work best somewhere in the middle for most as craving for sensual pleasures and aversion to hardship are the drawbacks on each side. When unable to have sensual pleasures as and when required shows up craving readily making it easier to work on it. But not so much the bare necessities are lost and someone falls sick. The amount of food can be determined by whether it’s a sedentary lifestyle, what’s healthy for a given individual and to control hunger pangs. Usually one or two meals a day is good for many reasons. Portion sizes might matter more than frequency of meals as someone might eat 2 meals worth in one sitting. Sickness is another reason for being flexible with these things.


There are many reasons to find asceticism interesting or fruitful. For lay people it’s impressive and inspiring - probably they are projecting the wavering and the insufficiencies of normal life onto the ascetic who seems to be in perfect control over their body and mind.

For the practitioner asceticism has an allure because of a valid insight into the problems of life and the mind - when desire is identified as an issue, then the solution for it seems to be close at hand, namely disliking, eradicating, and trying to kill it off at its root.

‘Self-torment’ is not a good translation for tapas, it’s too judgemental. Maybe something with ‘hardship’ would be better. Anyhow, the Buddhist texts suggest that the tapassin is a masochist or so, whereas the serious ones have identified the problem similarly as the Buddha did, namely desire and attachment. They are just trying to pursue a more obvious solution - which doesn’t work.

Also declaring the practice as ‘the middle path’ is not very helpful I think. It throws the assessment of what ‘middle’ is back at the individual, which usually leaves them where they are. People in meditation groups have argued ‘more than 30 minutes of meditation is painful, I’m not supposed to inflict pain on myself, so I don’t do it’ - so ‘the middle path’ can become a slogan of non-change.

It would be more helpful to actually define the practice and not saying that it’s the middle between extremes - what ‘extreme’ is varies much from person to person and doesn’t accidentally mean what the EBT mean by it.


Hello Bhante,

I think a useful distinction is to be made between unnatural and natural asceticism.

From Wikipedia:

Dom Cuthbert Butler classified asceticism into natural and unnatural forms:[10]

  • “Natural asceticism” involves a lifestyle which reduces material aspects of life to the utmost simplicity and to a minimum. This may include minimal, simple clothing, sleeping on a floor or in caves, and eating a simple minimal amount of food.[10] Natural asceticism, state Wimbush and Valantasis, does not include maiming the body or harsher austerities that make the body suffer.[10]
  • “Unnatural asceticism”, in contrast, covers practices that go further, and involves body mortification, punishing one’s own flesh, and habitual self-infliction of pain - such as by sleeping on a bed of nails.[10]

The Buddha seems to have regularly promoted natural asceticism but not unnatural asceticism. Natural asceticism pretty much IS the middle way between the way regular people live and the way unnatural ascetics do.



The Buddha doesn’t criticize tapas afaik, and it definitely shouldn’t be translated as self-torment. Self-torment is attakilamathānuyogo. Tapas can include attakilamathānuyogo of course, in which case it is is painful, ignoble, and pointless, but doesn’t necessarily.


There are several compounds though, like attantapa in “nevattantapo … na parantapo”, e.g. in MN 51 which B. Sujato translates as “doesn’t mortify either themselves or others”, B. Bodhi as “not torment himself…”

It would be interesting in that context to get a fuller view on tapas in the EBT. Not sure if someone like Kaelber did it already? Unfortunately I don’t have “Ascetism in Buddhism and Brahmanism” by Shiraishi at hand…


Yes, that lay people find it impressive is common knowledge and even mentioned in the EBTs. But this is precisely why one needs to be careful. One should practice in a way that leads to the quickest possible progress, not to impressive anyone. In fact there are rules in the Vinaya against pursuing ascetic practices to impressive others.

The same is true of psychic powers. Most Buddhists love stories of monastic who possess them, yet the Buddha laid down a rule that specifically prohibits displaying such powers.

As Buddhists it is our duty to point out what is really worthy of respect, that is, paññā, samādhi, and sīla, in that order. The alternative is further degeneration.

Well yes, this is what people think, but it is not really the case. Although this seems to be a common misperception, the way to ending desire is not to create dislike or aversion. Aversion is just negative desire, the desire to avoid. As such it is just as problematic as desire. The point is that any kind of desire takes you out of the present moment. What you need is that even mind where you are neither attracted nor repelled by the body or the senses. Only then can you let go of these things.

I was referring to the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta and thus attakilamathānuyoga.

You’ve got to argue with the Buddha on that one! :slightly_smiling_face:

But seriously, I do personally find it very useful, as do many others. It obviously does not mean that you move or give up with the slightest pain. But when the pain becomes disturbing and persistent, then it is good to change you posture. Most people are able find a posture they can keep for an hour or more without moving, whether it’s sitting cross-legged or leaning against a board or sitting on a chair. So you choose a posture accordingly.

The main point is to get rid of the body so that it does not interfere with the meditation. For this to be possible, both desire and aversion must go.

That’s interesting.


In sutta use the term has both positive and negative meanings, (though the positive sense seems to be the more common). That is, there is tapas that the Buddha commends and tapas that he criticizes. See the Mahāsīhanādasutta (DN 8), Rāsiyasutta (SN 42:12) and Vajjiyamāhitasutta (AN 10:94).

Na kho, bhante, bhagavā sabbaṃ tapaṃ garahati napi sabbaṃ tapassiṃ lūkhājīviṃ ekaṃsena upakkosati upavadati. Gārayhaṃ kho, bhante, bhagavā garahati, pasaṃsitabbaṃ pasaṃsati. Gārayhaṃ kho pana, bhante, bhagavā garahanto pasaṃsitabbaṃ pasaṃsanto vibhajjavādo bhagavā, na so bhagavā ettha ekaṃsavādo.

“No, venerable sirs, the Blessed One does not criticize all asceticism, nor does he categorically denounce or disparage all ascetics who live the rough life. The Blessed One criticizes what should be criticized, and praises what should be praised. Criticizing what should be criticized, praising what should be praised, the Blessed One is one who speaks making distinctions, not one who speaks categorically on this matter.”


I don’t have reasons to distrust the ascetics’ motivation generally. Just as there are monastics for the wrong reasons there are of course ascetics for the wrong reasons (or Unicef employees etc.). The fact is that asceticism is impressive, much more so if it’s sincere. And of course they would say it’s for the quickest possible progress as well. I don’t think ascetics would say “I know my practice doesn’t lead anywhere, and Buddhism is much quicker, but I just stick to my practice”.

And this creates so many problems for meditators. How do I meditate without the desire for meditation? How do I move the mind in any direction (even a wholesome one) without the doubt that it could be tainted by a subtle desire? … You’re obviously right, but how to make it work in day-to-day life is mind-boggling for many people.

Sure, just what it means in practice is up for debate, and the more severe meditators (e.g. of the Thai forest tradition) certainly have a different understanding than contemporary Westeners. I remember a friend told be how in the 80s in the Mahasi Center in Myanmar everyone was expected to meditate for hours on a concrete floor without mat or cushion. Is that still Middle Path? Or was Mahasi expecting too much asceticism? There are obviously a lot of varying interpretations, even among monastics, which leaves the lay practitioner confused.