What Does A Bhikkhu Possess?
The ideal possessions of the bhikkhu are just his basic requisites: three main robes (described in the following section); alms bowl; waistband; needle and thread; razor and water filter.
The alms bowl can be made from clay or iron but must be properly fired to harden it (if clay) and rustproof it (if iron). Three bowl sizes are mentioned: small, medium and large.1 There are also several rules about begging for a new bowl before ones old one is worn out, which entails forfeiture of the wrongly acquired bowl. (Nis. Paac. 22; 23)
The waistband became necessary when a monks skirt robe fell down while he was in a village. The needle and thread are needed for patching and repairing the robes — and many teachers instruct that it is a wrong doing for a monk not to repair them the same day.2 While the razor became necessary when:
"At one time, bhikkhus hair was long. The Buddha asked the bhikkhus:"Bhikkhus, are the bhikkhus able to cut one anothers hair?"When they answered in the affirmative, he allowed a razor, whetstone, razor case, felt wrapping and barbers equipment..."Lay people criticized the group of six bhikkhus for wearing long hair. The Buddha made this a Wrong doing, allowing only two finger breadths in length or two months growth, whichever came first... Hair and beards should not be styled, combed or smoothed, or gray hairs plucked out — all considered to be like pleasure enjoying householders."
The water filter is needed to avoid killing small creatures in drinking water. (See also Killing.)
However, most bhikkhus will have more than this — ranging from everyday items like soap and toothpaste, candles and matches, pen and books, a watch or clock, a flashlight or torch, to more sophisticated things appropriate to their environment. The principle is that such things should not be luxurious or expensive.3 Anything that is given to him (that is allowable) is his to keep, and he is allowed to give his things away if it is done in the right way and does not cause the donors faith to decline.4
Disposal or appropriation of anything owned by the Community, or belonging to the monastery, is strictly controlled and is covered by the rules that follow in the next section.
After a bhikkhu dies, his possessions will normally revert to the Sangha:
"Articles belonging to bhikkhus and novices who have died have the Sangha [Community] as owner, that is they are the inheritance of the Sangha."
In Thailand, the iron bowl has been almost superseded by the bowl made from stainless steel. EV reports that a medium sized bowl is about 22.5 cm. in diameter. (See BMC p.231)2.
After being ten days unrepaired, the robe is considered forfeit (Nis. Paac.). (A stitch in time saves nine!)3.
"Allowable items (i.e., knives and thimbles) were not to be made of expensive things but only of bone, ivory, horn, reed, bamboo, wood, shellac, fruit, copper or conch shell. These materials were also permitted for a variety of minor articles such as an ointment box, ointment stick, nose spoon, steam tubes, earwax remover, belt buckles and loops and tags for robes. Also, bags, with a strap and string for tying them closed, were allowed for most of the above mentioned articles as well as for medicines and sandals." (HS ch.12)4.
"...things which are given by donors to a bhikkhu to be his own, or a bhikkhu has [properly acquired] as his personal possessions. Even things which the sangha has distributed, their ownership is given to a bhikkhu and they are personal things. A bhikkhu who is the owner of such things has the right to give them up, or to give them away, just as he likes. The point here is that one should not cause the faith of the donor to decline." (EV,II,p.149)
"to distribute things among fellow Dhamma friends is suitable as well as giving to laymen who work in the monastery, or those who help with a bhikkhus work. They should be given to such people as the cost of food and as the cost of labor, or they should be given the things which a bhikkhu has received so that they can be used and not wasted, for this will be proper." (EV,II,p.130)
However: "...telling a lay person to take ones belongings as his/her own is a theft of faith (saddhaa deyya) — i.e., a misuse of the donations that lay supporters have sacrificed for the bhikkhus use." (BMC p.229)