by Venerable Bodhesako
The newly found article was written by an anonymous man. However it was discovered that it is written by Ven. Bodhesako.
In modern time a great deal has been said and written about sīla (virtue, right conduct) as taught by the Buddha, and quite properly so; for the Buddha himself had much to say about sīla, and many of his discourses that have been handed down to us through twenty-five centuries are concerned primarily with sīla. The five precepts set forth for laypeople have been discussed, explained and expounded upon by contemporary writers until it would seem that by now all that can be said about them has already been said and can only be repeated, not added to. Nearly as much has been written about the eight precepts to be observed by the laity on Uposathas (lunar days); nor is there any shortage of discussion about various points of monastic discipline—the ten precepts of the sāmaṇera, the Pātimokkha (monastic code) of the bhikkhu. and the Vinaya (disciplinary and procedural rulings) generally. And yet in all this discussion about proper and improper conduct one subject is almost totally ignored by monks and laity alike: the Buddha’s advice on the use, by monks, of money.
There seem to be three general reasons for this. First, the subject is often supposed to be vastly complex and of a nature that lends itself to various interpretations, all equally defendable, and therefore beyond the range of all save Vinaya experts, who will quibble over the matter endlessly. Second, it is sometimes looked upon as a dead issue. Nowadays nearly all monks use money—so it is argued—whether or not they themselves handle it; laypeople are accustomed, for the most part, to providing monks with not only their requisites but also discretionary funds. Most people are content with the existing arrangements. Why not leave well enough alone? Third, to the extent that it is not a dead issue it is, potentially at least, a very volatile one. It is not only a matter of differences of understanding or of hard-held opinions: vested interests are involved; and when they are threatened, even remotely, it is possible that more heat would be generated than light. Indeed, the views expressed herein could become, in some quarters, the occasion for a consciousness that would be a matter of regret to their author (who therefore chooses to remain anonymous).
To all of which it must be said that first, the subject is not so formidably complex as may be supposed; nor is it, in the end, a matter of equally valid but divergent opinions. It can be discussed with comprehensibility and completeness in a short article, as will be demonstrated. Second, and third as well, there are those, both monks and laity, who do take the Dhamma in earnest. These sincere seekers may be uninformed or misinformed about this important subject. It is not our purpose here to tell others how they must behave. But it is our purpose to clarify an existing misunderstanding and to set forth what ls the Buddha’s own advice, and thereby to put these concerned individuals in a position to make a knowledgeable decision as to what conduct is most suitable for them: for monks, what can and cannot properly be made use of; for laypeople, what should and should not properly be offered. It is for these that this article is intended.
But is this question about the use of money by monks such a very important matter? Or is it just another obscure point of arcane interest to a few legalistic pedants, and none other? And if it is an important question, what makes it so?
The subject has not always been neglected. Quite the contrary, we find that in the old texts, both Vinaya and Sutta, it is taken up with a frequency that makes it clear that even then it was regarded as not merely an important matter but also a vexatious one, needing to be repeatedly set forth clearly. Indeed, it was the major point of issue which gave rise to the Second Council, held a century or so after the Buddha’s decease. An informative account of this meeting and its cause is to be found in the Twelfth Khandhaka or the Cūlavagga of the Vinaya Piṭaka. but the question is not restricted to the Vinaya Piṭaka.
At Aṅguttara Nikāya IV 50 (ii,53-4) it is said that just as there are four defilements (upakkilesā) of the moon and sun, whereby they do not shine forth—to wit, cloud, storm, smoke and dust, and eclipse—so too there are four defilements of recluses and brahmans whereby they do not shine forth: taking intoxicants, sexual involvement, accepting gold and silver (= money), and wrong livelihood.
In the Ghoṭamukha Sutta, Majjhima 94, Ven. Udena refuses an offer of money stating, as reason, that receiving money is not allowable (na kappati). Again, in the Saṁyutta Nikāya, at Gāmaṇi Saṁy. 10 (iv, 325-6) it is said that the royal retinue of Rājagaha were agreed, with the exception of the headman Maṇicūlaka, that Buddhist monks were allowed to accept gold and silver. The headman, unable to convince those others, thereupon consulted the Buddha as to the truth of the matter, and was told:
‘No indeed, headman; it is not permitted to Sakyaputta [= Buddhist] recluses to take gold and silver, to let it be offered, to accept gold and silver. They do not do so. Rejected by them are gems and gold. They have done with gold and silver. Headman, to him who is permitted to take gold and silver the five sensual delights are also permitted. Headmen, you may downright aver of him to whom the taking of gold and silver are permitted that he is not a recluse by nature, not of the nature of the Sakyaputta.
‘Headman, I do declare this. Grass, firewood, a cart, a servant are to be sought after by him who is in need of such. But, headman, in no manner whatsoever do I declare that gold or silver should be accepted or sought for.’1
At Sotāpatti Saṁy. 53 (v, 406) accepting gold and silver are included in a list of traits which distinguish the layperson from the monk. And at Brahmajāla Suttanta, Dīgha l (i, 5) the Buddha says that he himself abstains from (among other things) accepting gold and silver, while at Therīgāthā 342 it is said that silver and gold are not conducive to enlightenment: this is not the proper course for ascetics, this is not the wealth of the noble ones. Other references could be adduced; but these will serve to demonstrate that the subject is discussed not only in the Vinaya Piṭaka (where we would expect to find it) but also, and repeatedly, in the Sutta Piṭaka (where we might not). Clearly, however neglected the question may be today it was certainly regarded as an important matter in the Buddha’s time.
And what makes this issue important? We have already been given two good reasons: involvement with money is an obstacle to attaining freedom from sensuality (S. iv) and to attaining enlightenment (Th). It is bound up with involvement in sensual indulgence; and this Teaching is for freeing ourselves from addiction to sensuality. Living without money may not be an easy matter for some; but neither, apparently, is overcoming sensual attachment. And failure to achieve the former, it would seem, makes it all the more difficult to succeed in the latter.
Two further reasons can be added. First, involvement with money is an obstacle to non-attachment. Since the time of the Buddha going forth (pabbajja) from the household life has meant a complete giving up of society, renouncing the advantages as well as the disadvantages (and the perils) of worldly gatherings and choosing instead a hermetic life involved with striving towards non-attachment. It is obvious not only that as soon as one is involved with money one is necessarily involved with society—for of what use is money in the forest?—but also that non-attachment is to be purchased with a very different coinage. There is no need to expand upon this point or to debate it. To those who accept this view it will already be self-evident. Those who do not wish to accept it will never lack for arguments, rationalizations, and ‘Yes, but…’s. But those arguments will only confirm what has already been said.
The second point is that involvement with money is an obstacle to insight. It is a well-known principle that to understand anything at all, extraneous material must be excluded. To spin cotton, stray bits of twig and leaf must be removed. To analyse a chemical structure the chemical must first be purified. To write an article, irrelevant ideas must be eliminated and attention recesses on the matter at hand. And also if we wish to understand the fundamental elements and relationships of our being we will make easier the achievement of this most difficult task if we make our lives pure and simple, eliminating as much as possible all that is a complication. Perpetual dissatisfaction is the basic reality, the basic problem, of existence. If we wish to resolve this situation we must understand what is (and what is not) basic. Involvement with commerce is one of the major complicating factors in life. Complexity is already akin to confusion. If we have done with it, how much easier our primary task!
This is not to say, of course, that to live without money is not in some ways the more difficult choice. If it is comfort we are looking for we would hardly choose that way. But, of course, the Buddha’s Teaching is not for those whose primary concern is comfort. The ability to see into the innermost depths of one’s being, wherein attraction, repulsion and confusion derive their impetus from the self-blinding turbulence of conceit—this ability is gained by relinquishing everything, let alone comfort. And they who cannot let go of the comforts, the options, and the (false) sense of security obtained by holding to a few bits of paper or metal do not thereby render the possibility of insight more likely.
In this regard we might compare the Ambaṭṭha and Soṇadaṇḍa Suttantas, numbers 3 and 4 of the Dīgha Nikāya. Both Pokkharasādi (of the former Suttanta) and Soṇadaṇḍa were brahmans; both were masters of the Vedas; both were masters also of their own seigniories, granted by mahārājas; both were dependent for their incomes (in part at least) upon their reputations as masters of brahman lore; both heard discourses by the Buddha; each approved of what he heard; and each took refuge ‘for as long as life lasts’ in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha. The latter, fearful that by open obeisance to the Buddha—a non-brahman—he might incur blame, diminishment of reputation, and consequent loss of income, tells the Buddha that to protect his income he will show his regard for the Buddha in ways less public than those customary at the time. The former, though in exactly the same economic situation and presumably equally liable to loss of income by a public display of reverence to the Buddha, nevertheless does not quibble. Pokkharasādi attains perception into the nature of things (‘Whatever is of a nature to arise, all that is of a nature to cease’); Soṇadaṇḍa does not. And the reason for this difference is, apparently, the latter’s concern for his income: his unwillingness to relinquish.
Enough has now been said to establish the importance of the question of involvement with money. How let us turn to the Vinaya Piṭaka to learn what, exactly, has been set forth.
For the sāmaṇera the ruling is straightforward. The last of the ten precepts he lives guided by is: ‘I undertake the training-course of refraining from accepting gold and silver.”2 And it is clear enough that if the sāmaṇera does not accept money then he will be quite unable to spend it or to store it up.
’18. Whatever monk should take gold and silver, or should get another to take it (for him) or should consent to its being kept in deposit (for him), there is an offence of expiation involving forfeiture.
’19. Whatever monk should engage in various transactions in which gold and silver is used, there is an offence of expiation involving forfeiture.
The term ‘expiation with forfeiture’ may need a few words. In most of the rules in this category this involves a symbolic surrender of goods and also a confession (to one monk) according to a standardized formulary. Rule 20 follows this procedure: what is obtained in barter is to be surrendered; but once surrendered it should be returned. In these matters, among those who are desirous of training themselves, this will be sufficient condition for restraint in the future. In a few cases, however, the offence is regarded with more gravity. It is instructive to consider in what way forfeiture is to be accomplished in rules 18 and 19. The procedures are the same for both. In the Sutta Vibhaṅga (that part of the Vinaya Piṭaka wherein are found both the story of the occasion that gave rise to each rule and a detailed discussion of the rules) it is explained:
‘And thus, monks, should it be forfeited: that monk, approaching the Order, arranging his upper robe over one shoulder, honoring the feet of the senior monks, sitting down on his haunches, saluting with joined palms, should speak thus: “I, honored sirs, accepted gold and silver. This is to be forfeited by me. I forfeit it to the Order.” Having forfeited it, the offence should be confessed. The offence should be acknowledged by an experienced, competent monk. If an attendant of a monastery or a lay-follower comes there, he should be told: “Sir, see to this.” If he says, “What can be got for this?” he should not be told, “Bring this or that;” oil or ghee be honey or molasses may be mentioned as allowable. If he brings what is allowable, having got it in exchange for this [i.e. with that money], it may be made use of by all except the one who accepted the gold and silver. If he can undertake to do this in this way, it is well. But if he cannot undertake to do it, he should he told, “Sir, remove this.” If he removes it, it is well. But if he does not remove it a monk endowed with five qualities should be agreed upon as silver-remover: one who would not follow a wrong course through desire, through hatred, through stupidity, through fear, and one who would know what is removed and what is not removed….’5
To complete our examination of this subject three more points remain to be discussed: briefly, a point of translation and, more fully, two exceptions.
The word sādiyati is translated here as ‘to consent to’. It is so translated by I.B. Horner, by T.W. Rhys Davids, and by Ven. Ñāṇamoli Thera. However, some take this word as meaning ‘to be glad at’ (as is to be found as an editorial alteration in later editions of the late Ven. Ñāṇamoli Thera’s Pātimokkha translation and as found too in The Entrance to the Vinaya, Ven. Vajirañāṇavarorasa’s exegesis). And, in accordance with this rendering, it is maintained by those that there is no fault in a monk consenting to the deposit of money on his behalf provided he is not glad at its receipt. And, indeed, there exists a bank which serves such monks exclusively, in non-interest-accruing accounts. If this rendering—’to be glad at’—is correct, then we have the strange case of fault being distinguished from non-fault not on the basis of cetanā (intention) but on the basis of vedanā (feeling). Is this possible?
The word sādiyati occurs elsewhere in the Vinaya. In the first pārājika (the first category of offence), concerned with sexual intercourse, it is said that should a monk be physically overpowered and compelled to engage in intercourse it is no offence for him provided he does not ‘sādiyati‘. Thus, if we understand sādiyati to mean ‘to be glad at’ we would have a strange case, wherein a monk who experiences, even against his will, some passing physical or mental pleasure is defeated as a monk, while one who consents to the act but is not gladdened by it is not. This is not possible; this case clearly demonstrates that sādiyati means ‘to consent to’; and consequently there is no justification herein for considering nissaggiya pācttiya 18 as allowing discretionary funds to be held for a monk.
There are found in the Vinaya two exceptions to this rule. The first is at nissaggiya pācittiya 10, which Ven. Ñāṇamoli Thera translates thus:
‘Should a king or a king’s officer or a divine [a brahman] or a householder send the purchase-price of a robe by a messenger specifically for a monk, “With this purchase-price of a robe purchase a robe and supply the monk named so-and-so with a robe,” and should the messenger approach that monk and say this, “Ven. sir, this purchase-price of a robe has been brought specifically for the ven. one; let the ven. one accept the purchase-price of a robe,” then the messenger should be told by the monk, “Friend, we do not accept the purchase-price of a robe, but we accept robe (material) at the (proper)6 time and (of the sort) allowable.” Should the messenger say to the monk thus, “Has the ven. one a steward?” (then), monks, a monastery attendant or a lay follower can be indicated as a steward by the monk if he needs a robe, “Friend, this is the monk’s steward.” If the messenger, after instructing the steward, should approach the monk and say thus, “Ven. sir, the steward indicated by the ven. one has been instructed by me; let the ven. one approach him for a robe at the (proper) time and he will supply it,” then the steward can be prompted and reminded two or three times by the monk if he needs a robe, “Friend, I have need of a robe.” If on being prompted or reminded two or three times the robe is forthcoming, that is good; if it should not be forthcoming (the monk) can stand in silence for the purpose four times, five times, or six times at most. If on standing in silence for that purpose four times, five times or six times at most the robe is forthcoming, that is good; if it should not be forthcoming, and if on making further efforts, it is forthcoming, then it entails expiation with forfeiture.7 If it should not be forthcoming he should go himself, or send a messenger to the place from which the purchase-price of a robe was brought, “That purchase-price of a robe that you sirs sent specifically for a monk has provided nothing at all for that monk; let those concerned send for what is theirs lest what is theirs be lost. This is the proper course here.’
It should be noted:
1) The cotton plant was unknown in ancient India. Cloth was dear. It was common for monks to have only meager shelters, wherein stored-up cloth could easily fall prey to thieves, mice or foul weather. Therefore this special allowance was made. But it is only with regard to the purchase-price of a robe that a steward is spoken of. There is no suggestion that it is proper for a steward (or a bank manager) to hold a general discretionary fund on behalf of a monk.
2) It applies only in the case of a lay-supporter who himself lives so distant from the monk that it is necessary for him (the lay-supporter) to employ intermediary.
3) A steward (veyyāvaccakara) is to be indicated only if the monk is invited to do so. The monk does not himself initiate this arrangement. All financial arrangements are made between laypeople without involving the monk. The monk’s involvement extends no further than to request a robe at the time he needs one.
4) Until the robe is purchased, the funds for it belong to the donor. The monk has no control over the money, and it would be an impropriety for his to ask that it be user for anything other than a robe. (Indeed, even his capacity to petition for the robe is strictly circumscribed.)
5) Other rulings in this category (e.g. nos. 8 and 9) disallow the monk from specifying the sort of robe to be purchased, or from combining the purchase-price of two or more robes in order to obtain one fine-quality robe, unless he is invited to do so. In other words, he is allowed no control at all over the way the money is to be spent—not even to the extent of volunteering information about his personal preferences in robes.
The second exception is known as the ‘Meṇḍaka allowance’. Meṇḍaka was a wealthy lay-follower living in Bhaddiya who undertook to feed the Buddha and all the monks in his company for as long as they resided near to Bnaddiya. When the Buddha together with the monks left for Aṅguttarāpa—apparently a frontier or wilderness settlement on the farther side of the Mahī river—Meṇḍaka followed after him with wagonloads of food and sufficient cows to provide fresh milk for all the monks. It was at this time that the Buddha declared dairy products allowable for monks. After having fed the monks on this doubtlessly difficult road Meṇḍaka said to the Buddha,8 ‘There are, lord, wilderness roads with little water, with little food; it is not easy to so along them without provisions for the journey. It were good, Lord, if the Lord allows monks provisions for the journey.’
As a result of this request the Buddha subsequently told the monks:
‘I allow you the five products of the cow: milk, curds, buttermilk, butter, ghee. There are wilderness roads with little water, with little food; it is not easy to go along them without provisions for the journey. I allow you to look about for provisions for a journey: husked rice for him who has need of husked rice; kidney-beans…; beans…; salt…; sugar…; oil…; ghee for him who has need of ghee. There are, monks, people who have faith and are believing: these deposit gold in the hands of those who make things allowable, saying, ‘By means of this give the master that which is allowable.’ I allow you, monks, thereupon to consent to that which is allowable. But this, monks, I do not say: that by any method may gold and silver be consented to, may be looked about for.’9
The context of this allowance, concerned as it is in both locality and subject with wilderness roads, strongly suggests that the allowance made here is limited to a time of travel. (Indeed, to regard it as being not thus restricted would be to remove it from its coherent setting and to set it adrift. There being then no longer any reasonable justification for its being placed where it is, there would inevitably arise the strong suspicion of its being a later interpolation whose very generality, standing out in contradiction to all else found on the subject, would make it of dubious validity.) First the monks are told what is allowable for a wilderness road and which may be looked about for. Then they are told that although money may be neither looked about for nor consented to, if a monk is travelling with a lay attendant (kappiyakāraka) who happens to hold money given to him by others for monastic needs, then it is permitted for the monk to make use of whatever is allowable that the attendant should purchase with those funds.10 Note that it is not said that the monk may request, suggest, or hint; all that is allowed herein is for him to consent to that which is allowable. For should he make a request of one who, as attendant, is in a subservient position, that request would be tantamount to an instruction. The monk would thereby be exercising control over the money and, control being taken, regardless of whose hands the money was in, the money would than come to belong to, to be accepted by, the monk.11
What is proper depends, of course, on one’s circumstances. The five precepts are proper for the circumstances of the layperson, but not for that of the monk. The precepts of the Pāṭimokkha are inappropriate for the circumstances of the layperson. So too, many of the rules of the Pāṭimokkha are relaxed in exceptional circumstances, such as illness. When there was food-shortage in Rājagaha the Buddha relaxed certain rules with regard to food; but when that shortage was ended the rules were revived. Similarly, although in the Buddha’s day the monks had no need to concern themselves with such matters as tickets for buses, trains or airplanes, there were nevertheless rivers to be crossed, and some rivers could be crossed only by ferryboat. No doubt the boatman would often take recluses and monks without charge; but not always: sometimes a fare needed to be paid. And besides this there were, no doubt, any number of other difficulties that might be made less difficult with money. Therefore in addition to allowing the monks to take food with them on a difficult journey the Buddha made it possible, in a strictly circumscribed manner, for money to be used on the monks’ behalf. However, when the journey was completed and such special circumstances no longer obtained, the ‘Meṇḍaka allowance’ was no longer to be made use of.
It is clear from the foregoing that the monks’ rules concerned with money are set forth to promote a going forth that is complete. To live in accordance with these rules is to totally forsake worldly involvement and worldly options in favor of a life devotee to changing oneself—the inner involvement, the inner option. And clearly enough only those who are concerned with renunciation and contemplation will feel a need to limit their lives externally in order to expand their lives internally. These, and those who support them with the necessary material requisites, will be appreciative of the wisdom upon which these rules are based.
‘Monks, this pure life is not to be lived to deceive people nor to prattle to them. It is not for the purpose of gain, acclaim or notoriety, nor for the purpose of loose talk nor with the idea, “Thus may the people know me.” Monks, this pure life is to be lived simply for the purpose of restraint, of abandoning, of dispassion, of cessation.’—Aṅguttara IV 25 (ii, 26)
3 Nissaggiya pācittiya, explained below. (The first category—pārājika, ‘defeat’—involves immediate expulsion from the Orde r; the second category—saṅghādisesa—involves confession before a full Order and loss of certain privileges for six or more days.
4 Yo pana bhikkhu jātarūpa-rajatam ugganheyya vā uggaṅhapeyya vā upanikkhittaṁ vā sādiyeyya, nissaggiyam pācittiyaṁ. Yo pana bhikkhu nānappakārakaṁ rūpiyasaṁvohāraṁ samāpajjeyya, nissaggiyam pācittiyaṁ. Yo pana bhikkhu nānappakārakaṁ kayavikkayaṁ samāpajjeyya, nissaggiyam pācittiyaṁ.
5 I.B. Horner’s translation (with emphasis added) is used for this passage and for the three ‘forfeiture’ rules above. Book of the Discipline, Vol. I, 99-109 (Pali Text Society, London, 1949). The translations by Ven. Ñāṇamoli Thera and by T.W. Rhys Davids are essentially in agreement with Miss Horner’s rendering.
6 We must disagree with this interpolation. There is no time when it is not allowed for a monk to accept robes or robe material. What is intended here is probably no more than ‘at the time when it is needed.’
9 Santi bhikkhave manussā saddhā pasannā, te kappiyakārakānaṁ hatthe hiraññam upanikkhipanti iminā ayyassa yaṁ kappiyaṁ taṁ dethā ti. Anujānāmi bhikkhave yaṁ tato kappiyaṁ taṁ sādituṁ na tv’evāhaṁ bhikkhave kenaci pariyāyena jātarūparajataṁ sāditabbaṁ pariyesitabbanti vadāmīti. (Mahāvagga VI 34 (i, 243-4))
10 If the monk is travelling with, or meets with, someone who has his own money, and if that person offers to provide assistance, then of course that assistance too can be accepted. Indeed, in such a case the monk need not be on a journey at all, for it is a normal procedure for a layperson to invite a monk to speak of what might be needed (in which case the Layperson can circumscribe his offer in any way he chooses—e.g. as regards time, type of help, quantity, etc.) and it is allowable for the monk, once invited, to speak of whatever is proper and within the terms of the offer made, should he wish to do so. The monk exercises no control over the situation. It is up to the layperson to provide (or not to provide) what has been spoken of.
11 There is a curious (but widespread) view that provided a monk does not physically touch money he is free from fault and may blamelessly instruct an attendant either directly (‘Go to the store and buy me ten bars of chocolate.’) or, at least, through verbal legerdemain (‘A monk would find a ten bars of chocolate to be of use.’) as to its usage. This notion is not supported by the 84th rule of the fourth category, ‘expiation’ (pācittiya, requiring the some sort of confession as offences of the third category but without forfeiture, there being nothing involved to be forfeited), wherein the Buddha himself is represented as instructing a monk to pick up and lay aside certain valuables, gold jewelry among them, which had been forgotten within the monastery precinct by a lay-follower. The monk was not appropriating the valuables but setting them in a safe place until their owner could claim them. Evidently, then, it is not the physical touch which is the important factor (as it would be in both Brahmanist and Jainist circles: see Upāli Sutta, Majjhima 56 (i, 372), wherein a Jain follower, in opposition to the Buddha, asserts bodily action to be more significant than mental action), but rather whether the money is touched mentally, i.e. thought of as, or treated as, being ‘mine’. The only reasonable standard here is that of control: if a monk is able to say, ‘Let these funds be used in this way, let them be used in that way,’ then whether or not he himself touches the money he is effectively in possession of it. (The question of whether physical touch is necessary for food and medicines to be made allowable lies just outside our immediate sphere of discussion. Anyone concerned to investigate this matter should take into account the story in the Sutta Vibhaṅga of the circumstances which gave rise to nissaggiya pācittiya 5 and the taking of food by Kassapa Buddha in the Ghaṭīkāra Sutta, Majjhima 81.)