Why Can't Buddhist Monks Ride Bicycles?

Bhante, I am just trying to understand what you posted here. It seemed grammatically ambiguous.

I am not making any claims - I just asked a question. This response is not a direct answer, but am I right In interpreting it as meaning that so far as you are aware all but one monk on earth uses cars and or planes?

EDIT: Upon further reflection, I see how these questions could be misconstrued, so let me clarify: I am asking from a position of genuinely estimating that you are likelier to know the condition of monks in those circumstances. I have never travelled to Asia, nor do I have any strong personal connections to anyone who lived in a majority Buddhist country. I know from previous experience that my unchallenged preconceived notions of what life is like for monks in those nations can be wrong (for example, I know I once vastly underestimated the amount of labor many monks perform). I assume most monks, if they have not directly experienced life in majority Buddhist countries, have close personal connections through the sangha with those who do. So when I said, “aren’t there such and such monks?” that wasn’t a rhetorical or “gotcha” question. It was a genuine question, of, “is my previous understanding incorrect.”

I’m not curious about his position on anything, I am only trying to understand what it is that you are saying.

If you do not wish to speak about another monk that is absolutely fine. To rephrase it slightly, I just want to know what is the “that” which all but one of the monks you know do not do.

Don’t forget forest monks who mostly live in caves or huts in the jungle.

It seems to me Vinaya purity and the Sasana’s strength go hand in hand.

Keeping the Vinaya maximizes monastics’ conditions towards liberation, which means more monastics with high levels of insight who can instruct junior monastics and the laity from personal experience.
In turn, the laity are impressed by the level of renunciation and insight of the monastics and their confidence in the Dhamma grows stronger.
This leads to more prosperous monastic-laity relationships and subsequent spreading of the Buddha’s teaching.

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Bhante, so far yours and Samseva’s responses and thoughts on the bicycles have made the most sense to me.
I also think that bicycles would probably fit under exercise equipment more than the vehicles of ancient india? You could argue a bicycle is a vehicle but I don’t think bikes are what the buddha had in mind when he spoke about ornate chariots or boats.


besides, who doesn’t love the image of a monk on a bicycle? :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

Bhante Jason (a friend of mine) became known as the wandering monk who walked barefoot everywhere he needed to go and led a very ascetic lifestyle. Unfortunately doing this destroyed his health a few times and he has needed long periods of recovery to restore his wellbeing. The roads in Australia get blisteringly hot. There is no villages for many kilometres. There is no water in between and often no places to get food.

In the end he seems to have softened his stance on such things, realising it was unsustainable. This should be praised as developing wisdom and not clinging to views! He later allowed himself to wear shoes and travel on public transport. He took a plane to Sri Lanka where he now lives.


Sadhu to you for this candour and for understanding the difference between experiential knowledge and the fantasy of preconceptions! This is such an important understanding. So often we meet people in this forum with absolutely no experience of monastic life nor any real knowledge of traditional Buddhist countries. They are often stuck in a fundamentalist fantasy of last century that they learnt entirely from old books, it’s a kind of romanticised fetishism of how they think asceticism should be. At the very least this might be anachronistic, or perhaps never really existed at all. Or it existed in ways we might not think about, such as when monks in former times lived in forests, they didn’t get to spend all their time just meditating; they needed to walk more than an hour for alms and then walk an hour back, and spend time fetching water, repairing and washing robes by hand, setting up camp etc. These boring but necessary things take time. Even these things can be glamorized but mosquitoes cannot!


Actually, the Buddha advised us to find the middle way between asceticism and indulging sense desire. For each new generation there will be a slightly different approach.

@Giovanni, as a fun challenge for you: try to do everything in your daily life without using any of the tools, materials or technologies developed in the last 2500 years. From clothes to beds to transport and food. Try it for a week or two and report back to us. Tell us if it makes you more “pure”? This is often what people want monks to do, return to some ancient “pure” version of monasticism.

But a fundamental teaching of the Buddha is that things change! Bhante Subharo’s point above, about the sasana is that people simply won’t join the monastic path if it is an extremely ascetic. Renunciation doesn’t have to be extreme, that’s not the middle way. It’s easier if the country is set up to help renunciants flourish in simplicity but that’s not possible everywhere.

This sort of “confidence” is easy to exploit, and you see it all the time in contemporary buddhism, through publicity images of monks seated in fake meditation in the forest (but the monastery and huts have electricity, air conditioning, golf carts and running water) This image appeals to the laity who have this romanticised idea of what they think renunciation is but it might not accurately reflect contemporary practice let alone say anything about the monk. It’s hard for the Sangha to live with this kind of expectation and do it day in and day out for years. Camping for a weekend is fun. But forever? It’s hard…

Yes. It’s hard to renounce! And again, I really encourage people on this forum with no experience of renunciation to try it, actually try it and see for yourselves. (Yes! All those who have never given up all their possessions or given away their all their money, who have never had just 3 pieces of clothing or patched their clothes themselves, who have never slept on the floor in a bamboo forest hut, or survived on one meal a day or countless other things that monastics have given up). Do it and then you can really judge for yourself where the middle is.

Monasticism is not a sprint, it is a marathon and it must be sustainable. So, go easy on monastics and temper your expectations a tad. Best of all, do it yourself. But remember the Buddha warns us in several places about getting puffed up and self conceited about being proud of ones renunciation!

In Australia there are no Jain ascetics. Because they closely follow their rules about not travelling on vehicles and they don’t spend more than one night in a place. That kind of monasticism might be able to survive in India but it will never arrive here and in any case, just could not survive here. I’m glad our teachers could get on planes to learn and teach the Dhamma and that they gave teachings and encouraged so many to meditate and deepen their knowledge. It would be a shame if we have all this knowledge but got caught up on small things like concepts of “purity” about riding a bike instead of putting our wisdom to use in ending our suffering once and for all!

The Buddha’s tendency when changing the rules was always done out of kindness and compassion, such as allowing shoes. My friend bhante Jason belatedly learnt to apply this to his own practice. I’ve known others who have tried too hard to be too ascetic, to live up to an idea about “purity” and they end up failing and leaving the monk life. So, perhaps this is something to reflect upon.

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Bhante, with all due respect, your answer seems to misrepresent so many things that were said on this thread. I hope you will give due consideration to my following words:

There is no need to walk barefoot everywhere, as the Vinaya allows for footwear, especially on difficult terrains. Plus in countries outside the Ganges plane multi-layered footwear is allowed. As you know, this is outlined in the Cammakkhandhaka.

So it seems your friend’s efforts, however laudable, were not really necessary.
And nobody here is arguing monastics should walk barefoot everywhere all the time.

Bhante please, you know very well that the Vinaya itself already prescribes this approach, with all its restrictions and allowances.

That’s what the Great Standards are for.

I’m sure that would be fun to try (actually there is a popular hobby nowadays called “primitive technology” where people do exactly this, check it out on YouTube! :slightly_smiling_face:).
However, there is no need to go back to 2500 year old technology, as the Vinaya allows for adaptation to modern technology, where possible, through the Great Standards.

Nobody is arguing for that :sweat_smile:

Please Bhante, in my post I’m talking about real development of insight through maximizing one’s own conditions towards liberation.
I don’t know what modern marketing has to do with what I said.

Bhante please :astonished: There are many examples of such way of life, even in modern times.
There are too many to mention.
Nobody here is saying they spend all their time meditating or that other monks who do not follow such way of life are failures.

I’m sure it is extremely hard to renounce, I have never held the contrary and have utmost respect for all renunciants.
However the Vinaya (which prescribes the Middle Way) is to be followed regardless, and monastics make a vow to respect it.

Nobody here is suggesting monastics (or people) should get puffed up and self conceited about being proud of their renounciation.

As we saw from the passages people linked above, there is a really good case to be made why planes and public transport are allowed under the Great Standards.
So nobody here is arguing against these things.

Bhante, please please please, I am asking you with all the respect I am able to convey, please do not misrepresent what people are saying on these threads. It only adds to the confusion around these delicate matters.

Nobody is saying that a monastic is expected to 100% follow all the rules in the Vinaya at all times otherwise they are a total con.
Of course following the Vinaya (as following the precepts) will involve multiple failed attempts, determination, discipline and personal growth. Most of the offences in the Vinaya are minor, confession is possible and nobody is expelled for breaking minor rules.
This doesn’t mean, however, that these rules should be deemed unimportant and set aside for some reason.

I hope you will appreciate my words as much as I cherish yours :pray:

“There are these two things.
What two?
To never be content with skillful qualities, and to never stop trying.
(AN 2.177)

:smiley: I’m merely stating my opinion. I note that you had numerous opinions yourself. The exchange of differing views is what makes a discussion. It’s probably good not to take everything personally. Best wishes!

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This was maybe influenced by your exchanges with me. To clarify: I do live in a Buddhist country, I’ve stayed at a number of monasteries, done extensive meditation, and extensively studied the Suttas, and Vinaya and Pāḷi.

(And also, as a lay person, I only use public transportation and walk. Yes, I can use money—being a non-monastic, however, if I have just enough money to feed me/pay my rent, I then can only walk.)


Regarding the situation in general, if I were to go to a monastery and ordain, which I could, and change my username to my monastic name, many of the things I’ve said would be seen as said by a monastic, and by mostly an equal—as a lay person, however, myself and my posts are viewed as said by somewhat of a lesser.

Almost every member could fall under your description above, Bhante. You unjustly criticize lay people’s supposed view of monasticism—however, with respect, you have not applied that criticism to your unfair view of non-monastics/lay people.

Of course :slightly_smiling_face:
Your opinion is very influential, and my recommendation is only that it’s best presented if polished of possible misunderstandings.

I surely try to do the same, and for all the times I failed, I please ask to be forgiven :pray:

No- it wasnt! There is a general trend we see frequently of this sort of thing though and an observation I have made on the forum several times, along with other infomred people.

Experience matters. In all industries and fields. I’m not looking down on you, but naturally someone who has actual monastic experience should be given slightly more weight when it comes to opinions on monastic matters!

Surely this should not be controversial…

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Sure. However, your description paints quite a bleak view.

Surely you can agree that the above is as unfair/exaggerated as the romanticized understanding some have of monasticism?

No.

I said ‘often’ as in sometimes, not always! It’s just a tendency I’ve noted. You are free to disagree or have other views of course.

In western countries, many people’s version of monasticism comes via the Thai forest tradition, because it has played such a dominant role in bringing Buddhism to the west. Much of the aura around that tradition comes from teachers and texts from the late 19th and early 20th century. It is this type of practice that many people associate with “proper” monasticism. This nostalgic, idealised version is a very common view, especially held by people who only read these vintage books but have not visited many monasteries or other countries. This view is seen frequently on the forum, because many forum members are isolated from a living Buddhist tradition. However, this view from afar is somewhat at odds with the actual monasticism practiced today in Buddhist countries, both generally and even in the forest tradition.

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As the person who he said it to, I think it’s quite fair. I don’t think I’ve had that extreme of a view for a long time, but it probably describes the me of a few years ago quite well. He’s not saying that every lay person has that view, just that people “often” have that view. Perhaps you’re less familiar with such people because of your background, but I think he may actually be giving a little bit too much credit - in my experience, often people in my country have “a fundamentalist fantasy of last century that they learnt” without reading a single book, but just passively absorbed through cultural osmosis. I remember taking a class on “Eastern Religions” where a fellow student was a self-proclaimed Buddhist but did not yet know much of the material covered in the initial bullet-point overview of Buddhism. To be clear, I’m not saying that to denigrate her, at the time I didn’t know it all either! I just hadn’t yet converted.

Thank you Bhante for explaining.

First I want to make clear that I do not think that practice should be required, nor do I at all disagree with your rejoicing at his developing wisdom and not clinging to views. I just want to add a slightly different lay perspective:

First, I personally find it very inspiring that he was able to do this for any period of time. I’ve never walked the hot Australian roads barefoot, but I am aware of another Monk in my country (Pamutto Bhikkhu) who took the Dhutanga practices and wandered in the extreme cold. Having once, by accident, been stuck in the cold northeast US winter without anywhere to stay at night, I viscerally relate to this practice. I am confident that there are some who similarly viscerally relate to Bhante Jason and are inspired. Though of course no-one should have their health ruined!

Second, I am just very very saddened to hear how hard it is to travel by foot in Australia. It is my understanding that Australia is broadly similar to America in many of its’ social problems - there are people who live in unnecessary poverty, especially marginalized ethnic communities, as well as those who are less poor but might seriously benefit from more exercise. I am disappointed that the infrastructure does not support this. We have known how to make walkable communities (even barefoot in the heat) for longer than the automobile has existed! Often, those who are harmed by the artificial structures of society are ascribed low social status, and while Australia is not a Buddhist country, I hope Bhante Jason received some respect and sympathy. Maybe one day Western countries will become less hostile to pedestrianism and monasticism, and monks like him won’t feel pressured to move to Sri Lanka!

The third, to circle back to what I believe was part of the thrust of the original point of making this thread (environmentally friendly travel), I think this is an extremely challenging example. Obviously, walking is extremely environmentally friendly, obviously, we do not want monks (or anyone!) destroying their health. We (the fourfold community) need to take care of both the health of the earth and the health of one another. I am glad monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen are all obviously thinking very hard about this and proposing solutions like bikes, public transit, and being more careful with thinking through the logistics of invitations.

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I won’t doubt your experiences regarding western Buddhism in the country where you live, but it’s difficult to say how you came to that conclusion regarding western Buddhism in North America and Europe.

However, if you were talking about the Internet, then that’s a very different thing. There are similar people as you describe in almost every community online. It’s not new that Internet forums attract people that have an understanding of the physical world that is very different, and resembles more the content they view on the Internet, as text, videos and so on. It’s very far from being unique to Buddhism.

Thank you for your wonderful insights, Bhante. Your candor and kindness shines through. :smiley_cat:

Does anyone know of any documentaries or videos portraying realistic Buddhist monastic life?

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I think it is easy to encourage monks do certain actions or say one merely “thought” of doing such actions, but I do not think that any self respecting monks would want to have pictures of themselves floating around of them driving, rollerblading, skateboarding, etc for the sake of exercise, collecting alms or travel even though there are no exact rules for this.

These are just not monk behaviors and it is easy to be criticized for doing such actions.
If that is true, and there is self shame or fear of pictures floating around, then the answer is not to do these actions for oneself, nor to encourage them to be done by other monastics.

Whether a monastic could ride a bicycle or not is a question that the individual monastic needs to decide according to their own feelings, taking into account of the relevant parts of the Dhamma & Vinaya . They could ask themselves whether that would lead to an increase in skillful qualities &/or to a decrease in unskilful qualities. Is riding a bicycle essential to the continuation of their spiritual life?

Kamma is the intention. So, if their intention for writing on this thread &/or riding a bicycle is good then, that may be ok. If not sure, they could ask good, practising, senior Sangha for advice. Such good Sangha is a rarity in the world, today but, they do exist!

My humble view is that it may not be such a good idea. However, as a layperson not conversant with Vinaya that much, I am not in a position to make any definitive comment.

One thing I could be definitive about though is that this whole discussion is part of the type of talk that the Lord Buddha labelled as Unworthy Talk!

Here is a quote from Sandaka Sutta MN 76!

“…Now at that time, Sandaka and the large assembly of wanderers were sitting together making an uproar, a dreadful racket. They engaged in all kinds of unworthy talk, such as talk about kings, bandits, and ministers; ……Talk about family, vehicles , villages, towns, cities, and countries;….”

When the Talk is unworthy what more of the Deed?

With Metta to all beings,

Upāsako

I think the Buddha was referring to avoiding small talk or idle talk about those subjects. The suttas and the Vinaya have lots of references to those things, how to skillfully and rightly interact with them. As pointed out in this thread, the Vinaya directly addresses vehicles but in how to deal with them, not about styles, features or desirability that idle chatter would talk about them. For me, reading all of these perspectives here, the serious discussion about something as mundane as a bicycle, shows me the care and concern that people give to keeping their actions pure for the welfare of themselves and others.

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There are those Buddhists who would prefer that the concept of cardio-vascular exercise not ever gain any widespread currency or relevance to Buddhist monastics. After all, the Buddha never seemed to need any cardio-vascular exercise, and he attained Nibbana. So why start with cardio-vascular exercise now? Better to obstinately ignore, or at least downplay, the existence of it, or value of it, for Buddhist Monastics. Thus, how could it ever be helpful for a monk to ride a bike?

Then there are those Buddhists who do acknowledge that cardio-vascular exercise does exist, and it does have relevance and value to Buddhist monastics. I fall into that camp, and I feel the Suttas do support getting some, under the factor of enlightenment of Viriya:

By the way, my original Acariya suffered a (non-fatal) heart attack while in the robes (before I ever met him). So I have a vested interest in trying to gain a sense why that happened, and put in some good causes and conditions, such that it doesn’t happen to me as well. Before that heart attack, my original Acariya went on lots of walks daily, and did tons of yoga. But his monastic life around the time of the heart attack very likely had little to no cardio-vascular exercise. I’m no doctor, of course, but the lack of cardio-vascular exercise in a large majority of all monastics I’ve ever met has not gone unnoticed by me.

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I don’t see a problem with monks riding a bike either for transportation or exercise. I can’t quote suttas like you all do, but to me it’s just common sense. If you have a long way to go and riding a bike makes the trip less onerous then fine. If it’s for exercise, then fine too. It’s not like the monks would be hanging out at a gym comparing abs, glutes, and biceps. :wink:

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I am sorry to hear of your teacher’s heart attack and hope all preventable illnesses among the sangha are prevented.

I’d add that cardio is also helpful in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes, another tragic monk-killer

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