Why monks are wearing t-shirts+? (Thai tradition)


  1. Can somebody explain me how it possible and on what basis the monks from Thai tradition are wearing T-shirts under the robe? I seen this on many occasions, but only the Thai monks.

  2. Also how it is with the fulll robe? Isn’t the monk wear the full robe when crossing the monastery ground? And he is only able to put the full robe when he is another official monastery ground?

For example here in Myanmar, if the monk will wear t-shirt, nobody will take him seriously, because it is a lay clothes, the monks should wear only the robes. And if it is too cold, there is a double robe for this purpose.

What does the Vinaya say in this 2 cases? :face_with_monocle:

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I’ll leave it to the experts to give you the sources on the vinaya rules related to those two situations.

Vinaya in the texts and in common practice are different except for a small minority of monks who engage in what is probably the most noble variety of historical reenactment you’ll ever see. I’ve met many good monks who didn’t keep all of the minor rules, or didn’t even know where to find such rules. I’ve met lousy monks who kept lots of rules and made themselves prideful or difficult to care for in the process. There are monks who pull off being minor-rule-keepers and good monks, but they aren’t very common. Some of the most impressive practitioners I’ve met were women ordained as mae chee who don’t follow the vinaya at all.

I’d not worry too much about learning the rules unless you are (1) a monastic undergoing training in strict vinaya practice in a community that requires it or (2) a scholar specializing in vinaya. I’ve seen vinaya questions and differences lead to division, dissatisfaction, faultfinding, gossiping, pride, perfectionism and all sorts of other unwholesome things. I used to study vinaya texts, but that mostly lead me to engage in plenty of unwholesome words, thoughts and actions so I stopped.

In the sangha’s early years there were no vinaya rules. After a while rules were developed due to specific instances of monks behaving poorly. In many cases rules were created because something offended the lay people which lead to the sangha as a whole being looked down on. Thus vinaya was created not as a perfect system of practice, but as a practical way to keep monks from misbehaving and bringing the sangha into disrepute among the lay people. By the time of the Buddha’s death there was a code of rules, of which the Buddha allowed the sangha to abolish the lessor and minor rules. As tradition has it Ananda did not ask the Buddha what rules those were, and after the Buddha’s passing the sangha had many different views on what rules should be considered lessor and minor. Maha Kassapa pointed out that many of the rules had to do with the lay people, who might see the monks as unfaithful to the Buddha’s teaching if they stopped observing them, and so he suggested that they just keep them all.

As the centuries have passed by the vinaya has been expanded with various commentarial texts as well as unwritten societal rules about what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Texts tend to go in the direction of turning vinaya into a legal system, social rules tend to ignore most of the rules and occasionally add in further restrictions to other rules. A lot of Thai society is ok with monks wearing shirts under their robes (provided they are some shade of orange). They still look like monks to Thai people. Due to historical reasons, Thai monks are expected to shave their eyebrows - even though there is no such vinaya rule. That’s how a living tradition works. Other cultures may see this as inappropriate and insist on no shirts, but keeping eyebrows. Ditto for issues of which robe has to be worn in what way in what location. People are generally ok with the status quo - they lay people have faith in the sangha and the sangha are supported in practice. That’s good enough for me.


There is not an slight suggestion of that those monks are not good monks. This is only what is proper and what is not proper (according the religious rules).

This is just you opinion. You should know the rules if you are in contact with monks, and this for various practical reasons. For your own benefits and for benefits of monks.

Thank you, but I don’t ask the lecture about the history…but asked 2 direct questions… Before the Buddha passed away the rules were fixed. So any arguments saying anything about ohhh…there were no rules in beginning, and current rules are just result of pure accidents, is big a misunderstanding. And underestimating the omniscient powers of the Buddha.

I will not say anything when Buddha haven’t mention the decline of the Sanga directly connected to changing of the clothes, getting closed to lay people clothes… Together with omitting Vinaya rules… But he has mentioned that in detailed series of declines with all the related signs signs…

The lay people do not have votes for what is proper and what is not proper for holy life. For that is there Vinaya. If the people are ok with omitting rules it is just their ignorance, it cannot be used as argument in conversation about Vinaya…

Are you talking about in Asia or in western/colder countries? For Sri Lankan monks in the US and Canada it is very very common for them to wear t-shirts. Some will wear long-sleeve t-shirts.
Even in Sri Lanka you will sometimes see monks wearing button-down shirts with Nehru collars. In the up-country of Sri Lanka where it is relatively cold, you will see monks even wearing fleece jackets to stay warm.

How is it possible? Someone gives them. On what basis? As a location based modification due to need. There is precedent in the Vinaya for this although of course people disagree about it.

I’m not sure I understand what you are asking. Are you asking if the monk is supposed to wear the robe on the monastery grounds? The answer to that is no, they are not required according to the Vinaya. In Sri Lanka it is almost universal that monks will wear the robe in any public spaces in the monastery, regardless of how careful they are in general with Vinaya. In Thai culture (as I know it) in forest monasteries it is standard to only wear the robe for meals and pujas and sometimes when meeting lay people.

I’m really not sure what you mean by that. By “able” do you mean permitted? And what do you mean by “another”? Could you ask in a different way?

You have put “Thai tradition” in your post title, but I think that not only is this behaviour not exclusive to Thai tradition, but that the rationale behind it is the same in other traditions. Adapting to different circumstances. It’s not that complicated.

And of course many many monks don’t follow many many of the rules. You just won’t be aware of what they are doing (or not doing) because it is in the private sphere. So we can’t necessarily think, “Wow, these monks are following all of the Vinaya rules but they are breaking this one!” But I don’t think wearing shirts in cold countries is a signifier of breaking other Vinaya rules. It’s in fact one of the things that even Vinaya monks will do. And they can do it because most lay people care about the health and comfort of monks more than they care about Vinaya rules.


Well well…my question have been completely overlooked. I haven’t asked about personal opinions & not saying personal opinions of lay people - please no offence… but about what the Vinaya says explicitly… Hopefully some monastic will shine some light in this topic.

You seem to already know the Vinaya. Wearing “lay clothing” is not allowed. So your question comes down to “How is it possible for monks to break this Vinaya rule and what is their justification (basis) for breaking the rule.” That is not a Vinaya question. You asked “Why monks are wearing t-shirts” and I tried to answer that.

I am not stating my personal opinions. But I was trying to explain my direct experience with the complexities of following the Vinaya in circumstances outside and inside Asia.

And I did answer the first part of your second question. According to the Vinaya, upper robe is not required within the monastery. But you have overlooked my question about the second half of that question.


We both overlooked :smiley: I know that in the monastery there is no need to wear upper robe, except the interview with Sayadaw or taking alms. But sorry, yes my question was not clear, - by crossing, I meant crossing out of monastery ground.

Ah, yes. The Vinaya indicates that when outside the monastery in inhabited areas, not only does the upper robe need to be worn, but it must be worn over both shoulders. However in “uninhabited areas” like the forest, the upper robe is not required. So technically the distinction is not in or out of the monastery, but in and out of inhabited areas.

In Sri Lanka, although monks always wear the upper robe over one shoulder in any public space, monastery or not, monks of the Siam Nikaya will not cover both shoulders outside of the monastery in inhabited areas. Monks not in the Siam Nikaya consider this breaking the rule. But I think the Siam Nikaya monks justify it by saying that the whole island of Sri Lanka has been designated by them as a monastery (or more precisely a sima). I think there is another thread about this somewhere here.

As far as I know the only “loophole” for wearing lay clothes is when all of ones clothes have been stolen and you would otherwise be naked. But that’s only until you find robes, and I don’t believe that monks use that as the justification for wearing warmer clothes in cold climates. As I said previously, it is more likely justified by similar allowances the Buddha gave, for example the use of thicker soled footwear by monks living outside the Middle Country.

For some rules (but not most) there is an “unless you are ill” allowance. Some monks extend this to mean “unless you would become ill,” and in that way justifying lay clothes in a situation where one might become ill. But off the top of my head I don’t think this exception is explicit for lay clothing.

If you are interested in Vinaya from the Thai perspective, then you may want to read from Ajahn Thanissaro’s Buddhist Monastic Code, although I bet you already know about this.

Here is the section in the index on robes: Rule Index | The Buddhist Monastic Code, Volumes I & II

Here are the sekhiya rules about robes: Sekhiya | The Buddhist Monastic Code, Volumes I & II Number 2 talks about the inhabited area issue.

And here is the general section on cloth requisites. You can search on the page for " Forbidden garments" Ch. 2 Cloth Requisites | The Buddhist Monastic Code, Volumes I & II

You have to read from this book very carefully because although Ajahn tries hard to separate his opinion and the opinion of the commentaries from the canonical Vinaya, it’s not always easy to detect. FWIW, I believe that the monks at his monasteries (in warm southern California) do not wear shirts.


I understood your question to be why were monks behaving in certain ways, and I tried to answer it based on the vinaya and Thai customs. I apologize if I misunderstood you in any way.

The origin story for the rule about not wearing householder’s upper garments is located here -

The vinaya states that the group of six wore lay upper garments, which caused lay people to talk poorly of the sangha, saying they were like householders who enjoy the pleasures of the senses. To prevent this issue from arising again, the Buddha instituted the rule.

The vinaya texts are clear on how the rules were developed - on a case by case basis as problems and questions arose. The Buddha had to change the precepts constantly because of new circumstances. For instance, in the Vinaya the section regarding umbrellas (or sunshades) starts off like this -

Now at that time a sunshade accrued to an Order. They told this matter to the Lord. He said: “I allow, monks, a sunshade.”

And like that the Buddha allowed them. But then this happened:

Now at that time the group of six monks toured about having put up their sunshades. Now at that time a certain lay-follower went to a pleasure grove together with several disciples of Naked Ascetics. These disciples of Naked Ascetics saw the group of six monks coming in the distance with their sunshades up; seeing them, they spoke thus to that lay-follower: “These revered sirs of yours, master, are coming along with their sunshades up like a group of chief ministers.”
“These, masters, are not monks, they are wanderers.” They made a bet as to whether they were monks or not. Then that lay-follower, having recognised them as they came up, looked down upon, criticised, spread it about, saying: “How can these revered sirs tour about with their sunshades up?” Monks heard that lay-follower who … spread it about. Then these monks told this matter to the Lord. He said: “Is it true, as is said, monks, …?”
“It is true, Lord.” Having rebuked them, having given reasoned talk, he addressed the monks, saying:
“Monks, a sunshade should not be used. Whoever should use one, there is an offence of wrong-doing.”

And umbrellas were no longer allowed. However, a new situation arose:

Now at that time a certain monk came to be ill; there came to be no comfort for him without a sunshade. They told this matter to the Lord. He said: “I allow, monks, a sunshade to one who is ill.”

Yet another change to the rule based on circumstances arising. And yet again, a new circumstance arose -

Now at that time monks, thinking: “A sunshade is allowed by the Lord to one who is ill, but not to one who is not ill,” were doubtful whether to use a sunshade in the monastery and monastery precincts. They told this matter to the Lord. He said: “I allow, monks, a sunshade to be used in a monastery and monastery precincts both by one who is ill and by one who is not ill.”

And that’s where the rule was left to this day.

I bring this up to point out that the rules were not created from the ability to see the future or omniscience. According to the vinaya the Buddha had to change the rules many times. It also tells us that the Buddha allowed the monks to remove the minor rules - indicating that even if it is a good idea for monks to continue to follow them, many of the rules are not essential for noble practice. Maha Kassapa suggested the sangha continue to keep all the rules because failing to do so would bring the sangha into disrepute with the lay people. They didn’t keep the minor rules because all of the rules were necessary or important - they kept them because failing to do so would cause them to be criticized by the lay community.

The vinaya was largely developed in response to lay people’s criticism of various groups of ill-behaved bhikkus and disputes that arose within the sangha. That isn’t to say that the lay people can pick the rules - I just want to point out that vinaya was often a matter of a give-and-take between the lay and monastic communities. Any question of behavior has to be looked at in conjunction with the larger circumstances of the communities, particularly what is conducive for monks and lay people living in harmony.

Going back to the present and the rule I brought up about sunshades. Monks holding beautifully crafted umbrellas seem to be common in Myanmar (you would know better than I would). But the rule says umbrellas are only allowable for sick monks and within monasteries! Meanwhile, monks holding umbrellas as a sunshade are rarely seen in Thailand. They are usually only used as a protection against rain or to hold a mosquito net up. Why? In Myanmar, the tradition is that feeling hot because of the sun counts as sickness, so monks can use an umbrella as a sunshade whenever they want. But in Thailand, most monks do not consider feeling hot to be sickness, thus they do not use them as a sunshade.

Most of the rules are to help the sangha live in harmony with each other and the lay people. Learning to live in harmony with others is far more important than learning the details of these sorts of rules unless you are a monk who is being taught them.

I can’t emphasize this point enough. I’ve read several long books explaining all of the vinaya rules and procedures in great detail, but it has not benefited me or the monks I associate with. Whenever I have needed to know about a rule to better interact with monks, I can ask a monk in that community.

I hope this is helpful to you in some way!


Let’s bring into the discussion venerable @brahmali, who is well versed in Vinaya, he may be able to point us to useful direction.



Hi Gabriel, I am happy to chime in, but I think it @Snowbird has already given a good reply. Anyway, here is how I understand the Vinaya.

The Vinaya says a monastic should not wear lay clothes. That’s the easy part. How this should be understood, however, is not always straightforward. For instance, at the time of Buddha the monastic robes were similar in design to the clothes used by lay people. Both used sarongs, antaravāsakas, and upper robes known as uttarasaṅgas. So the kind of garment is not the critical issue. What matters, according to the Vinaya, is the style, colour, price, and method of wearing. A monastic robe should be plain and simple, not colourful or expensive, and it should be worn in a style that is not fancy.

You can then extrapolate to T-shirts. There is nothing in the Vinaya to prohibit such a garment. But if you do wear one, it should be plain, simple, and inexpensive.

If you enter an inhabited area, you should wear your upper robe over both shoulders. That’s the main rule on covering the body.


If I may agree with Ven Brahmali, and explain why I wear a t-shirt.

This is also true in Thai village monasteries, but not in forest monasteries. I’m not really sure why, except perhaps that the forest monks got used to being in remote places with few lay folks around, and it became customary to go without the upper robe. But it is noticeable in Thailand that the city monks are much more likely to wear upper robes when in a public area of the monastery.

It’s not a question of Vinaya, as there is obviously no requirement to wear an upper robe in the monastery. The problem is that what is worn—the single-cloth “angsa”—can often be very revealing, and in modern forest monasteries there are often a lot of people around. I mean, in the Buddha’s day the monks were just topless in the monastery, so I’m sure we’ll survive. I’m an Aussie and a bit of flesh doesn’t bother me.

But I recall the bowl-washing area at Bodhinyana, with monks gathered, some with the angsa pulled up so that it was little more than a sash across their rippling, glistening torso. :weight_lifting_man: There are plenty of gay men and straight women around, and I think there’s a reason for covering up a little.

Just wear a t-shirt and the issue goes away.


I’m an Aussie and a bit of flesh doesn’t bother me. / But I recall the bowl-washing area at Bodhinyana, with monks gathered, some with the angsa pulled up so that it was little more than a sash across their rippling, glistening torso. :weight_lifting_man: There are plenty of gay men and straight women around, and I think there’s a reason for covering up a little. / Just wear a t-shirt and the issue goes away @sujato

About 20 years ago I heard a senior siladhara nun tell the story of how Ajahn Sumedho’s monks came to wear shirts. She is a prim proper person you may think of as like your grandmother except that she’d be comfortable having tea with the Queen.

She said the nuns had pressed the issue of shirts for the monks, so in a community meeting Ajahn Sumedho said, “Well, they don’t like to look at our shoulders because they find them ugly, so -” This nun said she cut in, blurting out, “No! Because we find them attractive!” Then she sat there blushing during a long awkward pause. (She blushed scarlet merely recounting it to other nuns, so I can only imagine.) :rofl:

I hear that the monks of that community have worn shirts ever since.


Thank you Bhantes!

So this is the line making it possible! But isn’t there any line saying that the cloth should be rectangle with 4 corners and there should be no sewed parts stitched toughener (t-shirt)?

Yes here in Myanmar they wear angsa under the robe if it is too cold or when cleaning, and when it is extra cold in morning they throw double robe on them.

Interesting case will be Samanera wearing the t-shirt (doesn’t matter if it is cheap or not). By my knowledge I know that if Samanera is wearing any lay-clothes he is automatically “disrobed”.


Indeed, and I’ve heard the same thing. I’m sorry the nuns had to go through all that.


If you are a Theravadin? Mahasanghika vinaya seems to feature a male angsa, the gaṇḍappaṭicchādana. Not sure if the male angsa is just more evidence of Mahasanghika descent into decay. Seems more practical than its Theravada cousin, the kaṇḍuppaṭicchādana.

Personally, I grew up in rural/remote Queensland and I therefore think a singlet is men’s formal wear.


I would appreciate hearing from the other venerables about this. I think this must be local custom. As far as I know the canonical Vinaya doesn’t say anything about the disrobing of samaneras. Although it is a good issue related to this since there is also the belief that for a Bhikkhuni wearing lay clothes constitutes disrobing. Venerables @brahmali or @Charlotteannun?


Not sure where you heard that, but no, that’s not Vinaya.

? This means “boil-covering cloth”, i.e. a bandage. Is there a source for why it’s a form of angsa?

I’m not sure of the history of the angsa, and it may go back a long way. But surely the fact that the lower robe is called antarāvāsaka (“inside-the-monastery-cloth”) suggests that this was the original garment.


I’ve had a quick check at some images from Sanchi, and I can’t see any depictions on monks. Does anyone know of any early images of monks or nuns?

Here at Sanchi some worshippers at the Bodhi tree (i.e. the Buddha), wearing nothing on the upper body, or maybe just a sash.

This one is apparently a depiction of the scene from the Mahakkhandhaka when the Buddha was walking on water and the Kassapa brothers came to him. Interesting that, as brahmanical ascetics, they are depicted with an angsa-like garment.

Note that these images, while old, are from a few hundred years, and a few hundred miles, from the Buddha.


Oh really? If I may throw your original question back to you…

Can you explain me how it is possible and on what basis the monks from Burma are wearing aṃsas under their robes? I mean in the Vinaya Piṭaka and Buddhaghosa’s Vinaya Atthakathā there is no more mention of aṃsas than there is of T-shirts.

There, is admittedly, a reference to them in the Visuddhimagga, but only as an allowance for monks who have undertaken the triple-robe-wearers ascetic practice. And it seems to have been rather smaller than what monks wear today — no more substantial than the sash worn by the winner of a beauty contest:

Dhutaṅgatecīvarikassa pana catutthaṃ vattamānaṃ aṃsakāsāvam’eva vaṭṭati. Tañca kho vitthārato vidatthi, dīghato tihattham’eva vaṭṭati.

“It is allowed to one who wears the triple robe as an ascetic practice to have a yellow shoulder-cloth too as a fourth; but it must be only a span wide and three hands long.”


Fun Fact : The traditional shoulder cloth is still in vogue in Bihar, Jharkhand & Orissa (the middle countries of the Buddha’s time) where it is called a ‘Gamcha (Gamusa)’. It has diverse utility - it can be used to wipe sweat off the face and body, as a loin cloth, as a head-scarf, as a makeshift weapon (with a stone knotted into one end) and now… being promoted by the Indian Prime Minister as a DIY face mask for the villagers to use against Coronavirus!