A Buddhist Misunderstanding


Translation: May veneration be presented to the exalted one who is a Buddha and has achived enlightenment by himself righteously. X3

All scripture quoted is from the Pali Canon Tipitaka which is the oldest known extant writing from the oral tradition of what the Venerable Gotama (Buddha) taught his disciples.



A Buddhist Misunderstanding

Should a Theravada Buddhist monk possess or accept money? There are differing views on this and I shall present the view that under certain circumstances it very well should be allowable. It seems as if everywhere that I go there are people who will ask me; should the Buddha monk accept money as an offering to their practice? In the Pali Canon Tipataka the Venerable Gotama (Buddha) taught that the monk should not accept money(Maniculaka Sutta SN 42.10) This contradicts the experience of most monks today. Should most monks have their spiritual conviction questioned?

Let us examine this issue more closely.

The Vinaya Pitaka Mv 6.40.1 the Vinaya-samukkamsa: The Innate Principles of the Vinaya (also known as The Great Standard) , I believe would be a good place to start.

“Now at that time uncertainty arose in the monks with regard to this and that item: “Now what is allowed by the Blessed one? What is not allowed?” They told this matter to the Blessed one, (who said) : (4)what is allowable, if i “And whatever I have not permitted, saying, ‘This is allowable,’ if it fits in with t goes against what is not allowable, this is allowable to you.”

I do not think that we need a Masters degree in Pali Canon studies to know that given the problem that gave rise to this response, what was being talked about here was the importance of the spirit of the law as a way of giving good judgment to a particular situation.

We now need to investigate just why money was not allowed by the Venerable Gotama.

According to the Maniculaka Sutta mentioned above, “For anyone for whom money is allowable, the five strings of sensuality (desire pertaining to the five sense faculties) are also allowable…..That you can unequivocally recognize as not the quality of a contemplative, not the quality of a Sakyan son.”

I am sure we can all agree that today’s world is not the world that the monastic sangha knew more than two thousand five hundred years ago. If while traveling, a monk uses a few coins to go from one side of the river to another, have the five strings of sensuality been made allowable by such an action? I doubt it. If a monk uses a few coins of currency to use a toilet in a foreign country, because the monk in question would rather not act intellectually handicapped by way of urinating or defecating on his/her self, I ask you, have the five strings of sensuality been made allowable by such action? Seriously, I doubt it. In the Vinaya Pataka of the Pali Canon Tipataka Mv.Ch.11 Venerable Gotama sends his first sixty disciples forth to give the message of his dhamma (teaching), should a monk who travels only go where there will be abundant support for his or her practice?

What if the monk in question misjudges the matter? And just how does the monk get there? Will there always be someone else to insure a safe passage?

For a reasonable mind, should these issues provoke “The five strings of sensuality”?

Again, I seriously doubt it. It is one’s intention that decides if it is for or against what is not allowable, and we will soon discuss what the Venerable Gotama had to say about intention.

I’ve had the Second Buddhist Council (4th.Century B.C.E.) mentioned to me in regard to this discussion,….. so shall we?

The record of this Buddhist Council is to be found in the Skandhaka section of the Vinaya Pitaka of the Pali Canon and the story is basically this:

About 100 or 110 years after the Buddha’s Final Nibbana, a monk called Yasa, when visiting Vesālī, noticed a number of lax practices among the local monks. A list of ‘ten points’ is given; the most important was that the Vesālī monks, known as Vajjiputtakas, consented to accepting money. Considerable controversy erupted when Yasa refused to follow this practice. He was prosecuted by the Vajjiputtakas, and defended himself by quoting in public a number of canonical passages condemning the use of money by monastics. Wishing to settle the matter, he gathered support from monks of other regions, mainly to the west and south. A group consented to go to Vesāli to settle the matter. After considerable maneuvering, a meeting was held, attended by 700 monks. A council of eight was appointed to consider the matter. This consisted of four locals and four ‘westerners’; but some of the locals had already been secretly won over to the westerners’ case. Each of the ten points was referred to various canonical precedents. The committee found against the Vajjiputtaka monks. They presented this finding to the assembly, who consented unanimously. The canonical account of this matter ends there.1

We can see from what we have available that none of these monks involved except perhaps the monk called Yasa were actually Thudong monks themselves, which is why other than the monk Yasa and those already in Vesāli they all had to come from somewhere (their respective communities) to go to Vesāli.

If this doesn’t mean much to some then perhaps we should consider this… Do monks today live in the same or a much different world especially when having to travel? Even for a monk today living in a monastic community or a monk while traveling, what is the difference between appointing someone to handle the finances and him or her possessing the money themselves? If the head monk in charge of a temple decides how the money is spent are we not then engaging in some form of taboo fetishism of such an object not to allow the monk to possess or touch in anyway the object of money?

Was the Venerable Gotama’s teaching to regard his dhamma as the divine word of an infallible “God” that should never ever be questioned, even while facing different social circumstances close to two thousand five hundred years later? Is that what the Venerable Gotama taught us in the Kalama Sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya?2 …And finally was not the Buddha a teacher of analysis?

These are important questions that should not be scoffed at.

The only monks that get dogmatic and self righteous about this topic are the ones who are living in a monastic community (sangha) where all of their needs are being met, even when such a monk travels, they have it arranged to be met at the train station for example,

and to be transported to wherever they are going, either by a personal ride or by way of having a taxi paid for to assist their travel. A public bus would be considered too much of a “commoner” thing, beneath the “status” of a monk!

Ahhh yes…The royal Buddhist Brahmin amongst us. The Dhammayuttika Nikaya sect were fabricated in 1833 by Prince Mongkut , the son of King Rama the Second in Thailand over concerns of “religious purity” and remained a reform movement until passage of the Sangha Act of 1902 which formally recognized it as the lesser of Thailand’s two Theravada denominations(3). I remember once talking with a Dhammayuttika Nikaya monk about the Sabbasava Sutta, found as the second sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya as it reads: (3)“And what are the fermentations to be abandoned by using? There is the case where a monk, reflecting appropriately, uses the robe simply to counteract cold, to counteract heat, to counteract the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and reptiles; simply for the purpose of covering the parts of the body that cause shame.”…..

“The fermentations, vexation, or fever that would arise if he were not to use these things (in this way) do not arise for him when he uses them (in this way).These are called the fermentations to be abandoned by using.”

I discussed the fact that I have been in parts of the world where the robe was looked upon as “high end fashion” by those wanting to look unique! He responded by admitting that

regardless of anyone else’s perception, it would be a matter of the monks’ intention that would matter most! Imagine that! The monks’ intention! That is why it should be noted that I do not say that what the Venerable Gotama taught as an obstructions to the path is not so. Today it very well could be, based on the monks’ intention. I will add here as well that for reasons that I have yet to fully expound upon, I find it far beyond stupid that there are even Maha-Nikaya monks who try to “out austere” the Dhammayutika-Nikaya.

What did the Buddha have to say about intention?

“Kamma should be known. The cause by which kamma comes into play should be known. The diversity in kamma should be known. The result of kamma should be known. The cessation of kamma should be known. The path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma should be known.” Thus it has been said. Why was it said?

Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect”.

Venerable Gotama — AN 6.63

Okay! Do any of us remember the story given in the Vinaya Pitaka Cullavagga Ch.7?

It’s the story of Devadatta the Buddha’s Cousin. He was the one who sought to create a schism in the sangha. He wanted to lead his own sangha and temporally did so.

He wanted his sangha to be more “holier than thou.” His sangha would accept only vegetarian food for alms, would sew their robes only from discarded rags, etcetera.

Do we remember what happened to his “holier than thou” sangha? It did not last long, although they didn’t have the omgoing support of the royal Thai family now did they?

Thankfully the majority of the Theravada Buddhist monks today remember this valuable lesson. Unfortunately, a few still have not.

May you all be blessed with the best of all things spiritual.

Bhikkhu aggacitto a.k.a. Brother Mark:)



1. “Buddhist council.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.

2. Pali Canon Tipataka-Anguttara Nikaya 3.66

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhammayuttika_Nikaya

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