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Buddhist monksEdit

Main article at Bhikkhu

People of the Pali Canon

Pali English

Community of Buddhist Disciples

Monastic Sangha

BhikkhuBhikkhunī
Sikkhamānā
SamaṇeraSamaṇerī

MonkNun
Nun trainee
Novice (m., f.)

Laity

Upāsaka, Upāsikā
Gahattha, Gahapati
Agārika, Agāriya

Lay devotee (m., f.)
Householder
Layperson

Related Religions

Samaṇa
Ājīvaka
Brāhmaṇa
Nigaṇṭha

Wanderer
Ascetic
Brahmin
Jain ascetic

Monk is training

The abbot of a Buddhist monastery instructing novices, Uttaradit, Thailand.

Although the European term "monk" is often applied to Buddhism, the situation of Buddhist asceticism is different. There is often a trial period prior to ordination, to see if a candidate wishes to become a Buddhist monk. If he does, he remains in the monastery; otherwise, he is free to leave. In Theravada Buddhism, bhikkhu is the term for monk. Their disciplinary code is called the patimokkha, which is part of the larger Vinaya. They live lives of mendicancy, and go on a morning almsround (Pali: pindapata) every day. The local people give food for the monks to eat, though the monks are not permitted to positively ask for anything. The monks live in monasteries, and have an important function in traditional Asian society. Young boys can be ordained as samaneras. Both bhikkhus and samaneras eat only in the morning, and are not supposed to lead a luxurious life. Their rules forbid the use of money, although this rule is nowadays not kept by all monks. The monks are part of the Sangha, the third of the Triple Gem of Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha.


In Mahayana Buddhism, the term 'Sangha' strictly speaking refers to those who have achieved certain levels of understanding. They are therefore called 'community of the excellent ones' (Tibetan: mchog kyi tshogs); however, these in turn need not be monks (i.e., hold such vows). Several Mahayana orders accept female practitioners as monks, instead of using the normal title of "nun", and they are considered equal to male ascetics in all respects.

IMG 13442

A monk in the Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai, China.

The Bhikkhus are only allowed 4 items (other than their robes): a razor, a needle, an alms bowl and a water strainer.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, monkhood is part of the system of 'vows of individual liberation'; these vows are taken in order to develop one's own personal ethical discipline. The monks and nuns form the (ordinary) sangha. As for the Vajrayana vows of individual liberation, there are four steps: A lay person may take the 5 vows called 'approaching virtue' (in Tibetan 'genyen' <dge snyan>). The next step is to enter the monastic way of life (Tib. rabjung) which includes wearing monk's or nun's robes. After that, one can become a 'novice' (Pali samanera, Tib. getshül); the last and final step is to take all vows of the 'fully ordained monk' (gelong). This term 'gelong' (Tib. <dge long>, in the female form gelongma) is the translation of Skt. bikshu (for women bikshuni) which is the equivalent of the Pali term bhikkhuni; bhikkhu is the word used in Theravada Buddhism (Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand).

Chinese Buddhist monks have been traditionally and stereotypically linked with the practice of the Chinese martial arts or Kung fu, and monks are frequently important characters in martial arts films. This association is focused around the Shaolin Monastery. The Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, traditionally credited as the founder of Zen Buddhism in China, is also claimed to have introduced Kung fu to the country. This latter claim has however been a source of much controversy (see Bodhidharma, the martial arts, and the disputed India connection) One more feature about the Chinese Buddhist monks is that they practice the burning marks on their scalp, finger or part of the skin on their inner arm with incense as a sign of ordination.

In Thailand and Burma, it is common for boys to spend some time living as a monk in a monastery. Most stay for only a few years and then leave, but a number continue on in the ascetic life for the rest of their lives.

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