The Bhikkhus Rules

A Guide for Laypeople

by Bhikkhu Ariyesako | 1998 | 50,970 words

The Theravadin Buddhist Monk's Rules compiled and explained by: Bhikkhu Ariyesako Discipline is for the sake of restraint, restraint for the sake of freedom from remorse, freedom from remorse for the sake of joy, joy for the sake of rapture, rapture for the sake of tranquillity, tranquillity for the sake of pleasure, pleasure for the sake of conce...

The rule about a bhikkhu not accepting money came to be made when Ven. Upananda went to visit his regular supporters on alms round. The meat that had been set aside for him that morning had instead been given to the familys hungry son. The householder wished to give something else to make up for it and asked what he could offer to the value of a kahaapana coin. Ven. Upananda inquired if he was making a gift of a kahaapana coin to him, and then took the money away. Lay people were disgusted with this, saying, "Just as we lay people accept money, so too do these Buddhist monks!."

This Rule has been variously translated:

"Should any bhikkhu take gold and silver, or have it taken, or consent to its being deposited (near him), it is to be forfeited and confessed."

(Nis. Paac. 18; BMC p.214)

"Should any bhikkhu pick up, or cause to be picked up or consent to the deposit of gold or silver, this entails Confession with Forfeiture."

(Nis. Paac. 18; Paat. 1966 Ed. p.42)

"A monk, who accepts gold or money or gets another to accept for him, or acquiesces in its being put near him, commits [an offence requiring Confession with Forfeiture.]"

(Nis. Paac. 18; BBC p.116)

"If a bhikkhu himself receives gold and silver (money) or gets someone else to receive it, or if he is glad about money that is being kept for him, it is [an offence of Confession with Forfeiture.]"

(Nis. Paac. 18; Nv p.11)

Note that there are some subtle differences in the way that the rule is translated, especially in the last example.

According to the Commentary, there is no consent if a bhikkhu refuses to accept the money: by word — telling the donor that it is not proper to receive money; by deed — gesturing to that effect; by thought — thinking that this is not proper. There may be a problem in communicating this to the donors without causing them offence and without the bhikkhu falling into offence himself.[1]

Many of the rules concerning money, etc., are those of Confession with Forfeiture (Nissaggiya Paacittiya). This means that the money or articles that are wrongly acquired have to be forfeited. Furthermore, it is specified that they cannot be forfeited to a single monk but must be given up to the Community — who must then follow a strict procedure for disposing of those gains.

In practice, this rule is understood by various bhikkhus in different ways. This ranges from some monks who seek to circumvent the rule completely by saying that "paper money is just paper" and therefore not gold and silver (jaataruupa rajata) and so falls outside the rule; to the following more strict opinions:

The Paali term jaataruupa is defined as gold of any sort and, while rajata is also silver in other contexts, here it is defined as maasaka (coins) of different materials (copper, wood, lac) whatever is used in business, i.e., money.

"At present the term would include coins and paper currency, but not checks, credit cards, bank drafts, or promissory notes, as these — on their own and without further identification of the persons carrying them — do not function as true currency."

(BMC p.215)

"The term jaataruupa rajata refers firstly to personal adornments (of gold and silver), secondly to ingots, thirdly to ruupiya, which are for buying and selling, referring not only to gold and silver but anything which can be used in this way. All the above mentioned things are included in this term. The phrase, be glad at the money kept for him [as in translation above] suggests that if it is only cittuppaada (the coming into existence of a thought), he would not [fall into an offence,] so it must refer to the action of receiving it and holding the right over it."

(Paat. 1969 Ed. p.158)

"For Laypeople: A lay person should never offer money directly to a bhikkhu... even if it is placed inside an envelope or together with other requisites. They should either deposit the money with the monastery steward, put it in a donation box or into the monastery bank account. They may then state their invitation to the bhikkhu(s) regarding the kind or amount of requisite(s). In Thailand, for example, knowledgeable lay people would deposit money with the steward and offer to the bhikkhu(s) an invitation note mentioning the details of the offering."

(HS ch.14)

Footnotes and references:


"The question of whether or not it is best to express ones refusal outwardly lies beyond the scope of the Vinaya, and often depends on the situation. Ideally, one should inform the donor so that he or she will know enough not to present such gifts in the future, but there are also cases where the donor is still new to the idea of rules and will simply be offended if the bhikkhu objects to what he or she means as a well intentioned gesture. This is thus a matter where a bhikkhu should use his discretion." (BMC p.218)