Vows of Buddhist Monks and Nuns

Monastic life for monks and nuns is one of simplicity and dedication. A monk must be at least 21 years old, and as a novice follow rules of conduct, eventually leading to taking a vow to live by 227 rules of conduct. It is a four-step process for a Buddhist to become a monk. The first step is following the Five Precepts:
  1. Not take the life of a sentient being.
  2. Not steal.
  3. Not engage in sexual misconduct.
  4. Refrain from false speech.
  5. Refrain from becoming intoxicated.
The second step is to begin life at a monastery and start wearing the traditional robes. In the third step, the novice undertakes learning and adhering to all of the vows. In the fourth step, the novice takes a vow to adhere to the 227 rules and is then a full-fledged ordained monk. Monks are required to live by the vow to those rules for their entire life, but are allowed to return to secular life temporarily and return to the monastery up to seven times.[1] Some of the vows seem like very familiar moral teachings even to people living in the West. The following are abbreviated descriptions of some of the vows:
  • Not to steal.
  • Not to commit murder.
  • Not to claim attainments that one has not achieved.
  • Not to falsely accuse someone else.
  • Not to deliberately create division between people.
  • Not to encourage someone else to create division.
  • Not to create disagreement.
  • Not to make someone else do your work.
  • Not to divert a donation to oneself meant for the group.
  • Not to lie.
  • Not to insult.
  • Not to speak with a full mouth.
But others may seem very different and unfamiliar:
  • Not to teach a woman more than six consecutive words of the dhamma.
  • Not to dig or cause someone else to dig.
  • Not to leave a mattress or chair outside without arranging it back suitably.
  • Not to visit houses just before noon.
  • Not to watch an army leaving for combat.
  • Not to witness military activities.
  • Not to tickle.
  • Not to play in the water.
  • Not to use mattresses, cushions or cloths filled with cotton.
  • Not to make or use beds or chairs of a height greater than 65 centimeters.
  • Not to laugh loudly when sitting in an inhabited area.
  • Not to stand on tiptoes within inhabited areas.[2]
For the Western mind, it would seem unthinkable to be told not to play in water, stand on their tiptoes, or laugh loudly in the presence of others, and yet there are extensive rules about the monk's body, clothing, food, belongings, sex, general conduct, interaction with others, accepting donations and more. Nuns must follow the same 227 rules, and are required to adhere to an additional 110 rules.[3] Some of the additional rules were created to protect the nuns or because of their biological differences such as menstruation, and some have to do with rules for sponsoring novice nuns. These rules do not necessarily place nuns in a subordinate position. In fact, in rule #25, they are told not to wait on a monk bringing him water or fanning him. If they do, they must confess it. The following are abbreviated descriptions of some of the 110 rules that make sense to a Western mind:
  • Not to go among villages alone or go to the other shore of a river alone or stay away for a night alone or fall behind her companion(s) alone (for safety reasons).
  • Not to converse with a man in a concealed place.
  • Not to converse with a man in the dark without a light.
  • Not to use a fund intended for one purpose and dedicated to one purpose for a Community, and then buy something else.
  • Not to provide a living space for another nun, and then out of anger have her evicted.
  • Not to be stingy with regard to families (supporters).
  • Not to insult a monk.
  • Not to throw trash (including excrement, urine or leftovers) over a wall or fence.
  • Not to curse oneself or another with regard to hell or the holy life.
  • Not to weep, beating and beating oneself.
  • Not to accept a bribe in order to sponser someone to be a nun.
  • Not to require one to attend to your needs in order to sponsor them as a nun.
Others may seem strange to Western minds:
  • Not to be lusting and having received staple or non-staple food from the hand of a lusting man, then consume or chew it.
  • Not to take an out-of-season cloth to deem it to be an in-season cloth and distribute it.
  • Not to request something and then send it back, and have another thing requested.
  • Not to eat garlic.
  • Not to bathe naked.
  • Not to bathe with perfumes.
  • Not to share a bed with another nun.
  • Not to spin yarn.
  • Not to do a chore for a lay person.
  • Not to use a sunshade or wear leather footwear outside, unless ill.
  • Not to go tiptoe in inhabited areas.
  • Not to sit clasping the knees in inhabited areas.
Written within the vows, it is outlined what the result with be if or when the vows are broken. For some, the monk or nun must confess and for others there is a specific admonishment. Sometimes it is specified that they must undergo further training, and for more severe infractions, the monk or nun is punished with a temporary expulsion from community. For example, if the nun tiptoes in inhabited areas, she must undergo additional training, but if she, with lust, accepts food from a man who is lusting, she is driven out of the community temporarily. There are four instances which result in immediate and automatic disrobal. The following are abbreviated descriptions of the four:
  • Engaging in sexual intercourse with either sex.
  • Stealing something of value (including smuggling, cheating, or avoiding payment of a tax).
  • Committing murder, or encouraging someone to commit murder or suicide (this includes abortion).
  • Boasting of a higher spiritual attainment that one has not yet attained.[4]

[1] Shiva, "A Buddhist Monk's Life," Buddhists.org, buddhists.org/a-monks-life/a-buddhist-monks-life/, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[2] "227 Rules," Dhammadana.org, en.dhammadana.org/sangha/vinaya/227.htm, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[3] "110 Specific Rules for Nuns," Dhammawiki.com, dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=110_specific_rules_for_nuns, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[4] "The Four Disrobing Offences," Budsas.org, www.budsas.org/ebud/ebsut019.htm, retrieved June 12, 2013.
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