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Vinaya Comparison of Monastery Allowances

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Below is a chart comparing special allowances by tradition which is useful for making a decision on where to ordain.  If you need an explanation, read further..

Dhammayut Wat Pah Pong Wat Khao Sanamachai
(Hua Hin)
Pa-Auk
Cigarettes Allowed No Smoking No Smoking No Smoking
Betel Nut Allowed No Betel Chewing allowed No Betel Chewing allowed No Betel Chewing allowed
Cheese 7 Day (medicine) Cheese 7 Day (medicine) Cheese allowed before Noon Cheese allowed before Noon
Dark Chocolate 7 Day Dark Chocolate 7 Day Chocolate allowed  before Noon Chocolate allowed before Noon
Bottled Juice 7 Day Bottled Juice 7 Day Fresh Juice Evening Fresh Juice Evening
Soy Milk lifetime medicine Soy Milk lifetime medicine Soy Milk before Noon Soy Milk before Noon.
Tea/Coffeemix Allowed 7 days Tea/Coffeemix Allowed 7 days Tea/Coffeemix before Noon Tea/Coffeemix before Noon
Requires shaving of Eyebrows Requires shaving of Eyebrows Most do not, but it is optional Not allowed
Tan robes Tan Robes Any allowable color Burgundy required
Checks accepted (not money) Checks accepted (not money) Checks not allowed (money) Checks not allowed (money)
Co-Signing Checks allowed Co-Signing Checks allowed* Signing checks are not allowed Signing checks are not allowed
Exclusion of nonDhammayut monks from Patimokkha Exclusion of Non Wat  Pa Pong Monks from Patimokkha All Vinaya compliant monks welcome All monks are welcome, vinaya or not.
Rejects Commentaries Rejects Commentaries (if scholarly). Accepts Commentaries Accepts Commentaries
Rejects Abhidhamma Rejects Abhidhamma (in most cases) Accepts Abhidhamma Accepts Abhidhamma
Believes Buddha Lives in Nibbana (Ajahn Mun’s Biography) Some defend Ajahn Mun’s Biography while others blame the author. Buddha Does not live in Nibbana Buddha does not live in Nibbana.

There are some allowances and differences among traditions. I have included four traditions to the best of my knowledge about certain “allowances” that are allowed in some places and not allowed in other places. Who is right? Well, I believe that the two monasteries on the right (especially Wat Khao Sanamachai) are correct while other monks will believe that the monasteries on the left are correct. You can read it and decide. Na-Uyana Monastery in Sri Lanka is not included but is similar to Pa-Auk. I explain a few differences for Na-Uyana within the explanation text.

The main book to learn the Buddhist monk rules is the Buddhist Monastic Code (BMC I ) and it is available at this link here.  This book is however written by a Thai ordained American monk and it is based on The Thai Forest Tradition’s interpretation of the vinaya, called The Vinaya Mokh. The BMC often says, “Some traditions do not follow this allowance.” and this post is a rare place where other traditions get a voice.

While this document explains another viewpoint that disagrees with the BMC in these areas, all of these traditions have some good points to mention.  The main thing is that money is not used and the majority of the vinaya is followed in the monasteries that practice vinaya.  Not all satellite monasteries live up to their “reputed” traditions.  This is also true for Pa-Auk which has let at least two monasteries “go astray”.  Wat Pah Pong has a certification process for its monasteries and has kept a decent standard, yet it is the standard based on the BMC allowances.  Wat Khao Sanamachai is a single monastery that represents 12 monasteries that are loosely strung together.  “They know each other” is pretty much as connected they get.  However, they do have regular vinaya conferences and talk and visit with one another.  Dhammayut used to have a great reputation.  Now such dhammayut monasteries that live up to that reputation are not so easy to find.

Cigarettes and Betel

The Dhammayut tradition allows cigarettes and betel nut as medicines.  Both Ajahn Mun and Ajahn Chah smoked cigarettes while they were famous teachers although Ajahn Chah quit smoking after someone requested him to stop.  After he quit smoking and betel nut was outlawed throughout his Wat Pah Pong franchise.  Never the less, the Thai Forest Tradition believes that enlightened beings who have removed greed, hatred and delusion are able to maintain a cigarette habit..

Smoking and betel nut are addictive substances and the idea that they are “medicines” means that it cures the addictive need to have a cigarette or betel nut. Methadone is a medicine too and that is where the logic comes. There is a mention in the Vinaya texts and The BMC Vol 2 about a single inhalation tube and a double inhalation tube as a justification to allow cigarettes. However, few monks will argue that the inhalation tubes especially the double inhalation tube is to inhale smoke of herbs through the nose.  I have seen one monk in Myanmar use smoke from an herb to help his eyes. This seems proper and snorting herbal smoke for a medical reason seems proper too. Is it proper for a monk to smoke cigarettes though the mouth? That is for you to decide.

Food “Allowances”

Food is not allowed after high-Noon for monk and sometimes monks are hungry and want to eat things. That is where we get an allowance discrepancy. A big issue is whether hunger counts as a “sickness.” While BMC quotes commentary in relation to hunger, this is non in proper context.  Even in the case of sickness, a monk should not eat foodstuff after Noon. It is very clear in the vinaya commentaries what a monk can and cannot do in the case of hunger. One may drink water with sugar mixed in (dissolved) for hunger, but he may not bite sugar for hunger. One must have a valid sickness to bite a sugar (which is called jaggery in Asia). If one bites a sugar without being authentically ill, one incurs an act of wrongdoing, but not a full offense of “eating” after Noon, but an offense nonetheless. The two traditions on the right, do not allow any of these “allowances” and follow all the rules as written and as intended.

Cheese

There are real ancient allowances for fresh fruit drinks, sugar and water, honey, butter, etc. There is no debate or controversy over these mentioned items. However, according to a book called The Vinaya Mokh, Cheese was said to not be invented during the time of the Buddha and since it can be stored without spoiling for 7 days without refrigeration, then they say it should be allowed for 7 days, just like butter. I researched this and found that paneer cheese is mentioned in the Vedic texts which predates the Buddha and it was familiar to him1. Have you ever watched how butter and cheese are made on YouTube.com? The process looks exactly the same actually. You stir the milk up and then you get solids and pour off the excess liquid. However, the contents of the solids and excess liquids are different. Butter is classed as a fat while cheese is classed a food just like milk or yogurt which are not allowed after Noon. The chemical differences are very clear to any chef and or nutritionist and you should ask one if you have doubt.

Dark Chocolate

In vinaya, we are allowed sugar, and butter as 7-day medicines.  That means we can keep and store it for seven days.”  Salt is considered a “lifetime medicine” which means it may be kept for as long as it lasts.  While cocoa is also considered a lifetime medicine it really is not the best choice for the purpose needed. If you really want to get the antioxidant benefit of chocolate, you should try raw cacao or raw cocoa powder2. Another question is, “Are antioxidants a medical reason to take outside of the mealtime?”  If I wanted to take a multivitamin which is a lifetime medicine, I would take one with my meal.  The idea of medicines is that you need a medical reason to take it and hunger does not count as a reason. In any case, if you took all of.these medicinal ingredients of dark chocolate and cooked them together, you would have dark chocolate, tasty, but only one seventh the medicinal value.3 Like biting a sugar without being legitimately ill, it is not a full offense for eating after Noon, but it is a small offense nonetheless.  We can draw the line when a doctor believes it is the best thing for you to cure a sickness and that it should be eaten after Noon and not with other foods. Eating or chewing chocolate without being sick, no matter how you slice it is an offense. A hot chocolate drink made from the same ingredients (excluding milk and using butter instead), might be allowable. Are you ready to dissolve your chocolate in hot water to cure an illness?  Sure you would do that, but if you were not sick, you might opt to eat the chocolate before Noon as a food suppliment.  This is one way we can know what is right and what is wrong.

Juice Drinks

Juice drinks are allowed for monks in the afternoon and evening. They need to be prepared by a non-monk (novice monk is OK) and they cannot be heated by any other method other than the sun. Otherwise, it is considered to be a “food” and not consumable after Noon according to the texts. This basically rules out most bottled juices which use heat in the extracting and bottling process.  Because of this, one can only have bottled juice before Noon. If the juice were cold pressed, it would say so because it is less efficient and more expensive. According to the Thai Forest Tradition, The Buddha did mention a rule against “heating” juice, but he never mentioned “boiled juices” and somehow that is considered a completely different substance. The Vinaya Mokh claims that boiled juice magically turns into a sugar and is therefore allowed for 7 days. Wat Khao Sanamachai and Pa-Auk disagree with this. At best, it might be easy to say bottled juice is juice and allow it in the evening.  Seven days for bottled juice is something you can decide.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is said to be allowable because the Buddha allowed bean water. What is was meant by “bean water?” The Buddha was probably thinking of rejuvelac which is the remainder water that is poured off during the sprouting of lentils. It could also be aquafaba which is the remainder water that is used to cook beans that is usually thrown away. Often something that is not eaten as food can often be considered medicines. For instance, lemon peels or grapefruit seed extract are not eaten as food by normal people. Do you eat those?  It is not considered a mainstream practice.   So that is why it is considered not a food substance. The rule of thumb is that one should have a reason and it is not considered food (like chocolate or soy milk). Once you allow soy milk, you can allow soy ice-cream, soy-yogurt and soy-cheese as well. Soy milk is made by grinding up and pulverizing the soybeans with water so that the bean solids become dissolved into the water. One is actually eating/drinking the beans and the chemical makeup is quite different from bean wastewater like rejuvelac or aquafaba.

Coffee and Tea

Coffee and Tea are controversial and I will just say that the monasteries on the right don’t allow it in the afternoon. Na-Uyana allows these items. The idea of coffee creamer is also controversial. There are many ingredients in non-dairy creamer and while most of them are allowable, there are still some that are not. Nondairy creamer actually does have dairy products in it as well. Again, these need to be considered as medicines in order to be allowable. I have never heard of any doctor prescribing non-dairy creamer. In contrast, there are many doctors and health professionals who recommend against taking such substances.

Eyebrows and Robe Color

The Thai tradition and some parts of Sri Lanka shave their eyebrows.  This has nothing to do with the vinaya.  It is tradition from a King’s order for an unrelated purpose.  All monks in Thailand follow this tradition except Wat Khao Sanamachai.  The other traditions do not follow this practice although it may be found in Cambodia and Lao’s and Sri Lanka since there are Thai roots there.  Traditionally, Thai monks where orange or Tan/Brown robes and Myanmar wears burgondy or red robes.  Sri Lanka has both colors and it depends if the monks are part of a Myanmar or Thai rooted tradition.  A pure Sri Lankan tradition is actually extinct and brought back by Thailand and Myanmar.  All the aforementioned colors are allowable in the texts and Wat Khao Sanamachai allows the colors that are allowed in the texts.  I have even seen some WKS monks wear upper and lower robes that do not match tones or even colors.  This is a taboo in Myanmar and Thailand.

Checks

It is obvious that monks are not allowed money, but what about checks? According to the technical logistics, it is an IOU on paper. The check is a note to the bank telling them to give such and such money to the person who has a signed check. Is this money? The Buddhist texts say that anything that is used as currency or business to get goods is considered money. Even shells would count as money if they are used that way. So most people would consider checks money once it is signed because an unsigned check is not valuable. Then there is the idea of a non-endorsed check.. Meaning that the check is not signed by the receiver either. This is where the controversy comes and where it is allowed. Common sense says that checks are considered money. You should also look at a US dollar bill carefully and you will see “Bank Note” written on the front and it is signed too.  It is nothing more than a note from the US Treasury (Bank).  Some say the US Dollar is not worth anything either.

The other issue is with co-signing checks. It is common for monasteries to have checks that need two signatures. One signature is usually by the abbot if the amount exceeds a certain prescribed amount. The idea here is that the abbots signature is not the final signature that makes it a valid check since two signatures are needed. The two traditions on the right do not believe this is allowable. However, if the money in the bank was allowably obtained, then only the monk who signs the checks is the only one who is breaking the rule. The other monks are free from offenses by using whatever was obtained with such actions. This is officially called, “Allowably obtained requisites with unallowable speech.” Only the monk who signs such checks is affected, so it is not a major issue for others.

Patimokkha

The Patimokkha is a bimonthly meeting that takes place in vinaya compliant monasteries. In Thailand and Sri Lanka, there is often a practice of excluding monks from other sects. These sects often believe that their own ordinations are the only perfect ordinations and the outside monks are not validly ordained. Therefore, if that is true, an outsider monk is not a monk and they should not be allowed in the meeting. The whole idea of who has a valid ordained lineage is impossible to prove. However, there are ways to catch invalid ordinations and disprove those that follow.  It has happened to Na-Uyana’s mother organization and 250+ monks were forced to re-ordain from zero again, losing all of their seniority for up to 6 years.  The ironic part is that they have excluded other monks from their meetings claiming they were perfect all along.  If there is an ounce of doubt, one can do a 5 minute ceremony to give that person dalhikamma. This makes a monk in doubt a real monk and honors their old ordination and seniority. The two traditions on the right do this practice if it is requested by the monk. They are also allowed to come to the meetings if they request it or not assuming the best. Na-Uyana does not practice this but allows monks from “reputable” monasteries attend its meetings.  Wat Pah Pong excludes monks for about 3 months in Thailand, but allows monk to attend at their international branches.

There is a second factor and more provable factor for attending the Patimokkha meeting.  Monks who have outstanding offenses should be excluded from these meetings. A good example is a monk who touches money and buys things with money and still owns such objects bought with money. Usually a phone would fit in this category. While Pa-Auk allows all monks to come to the meetings, they do not thoroughly and realistically check to see who really qualifies or not. Because the majority of Pa-Auk monks are “visitors”, it is highly likely that they come from a money using background and have remainder objects that are not allowable on them or stored with a friend (like a phone). Wat Khao Sanamachai allows all monks to attend who follow the rules and checks for this if they do not come from a reputable place. If there is doubt about the ordination, they will perform dalhikamma and allow them into the meeting.

Abhidhamma and Commentaries

The Buddhist Texts consists of three sections. Traditionally they are called the three baskets; Vinaya (rules), Sutta (discourses),and Abhidhamma (detailed components of ultimate realities). The last of the three baskets is disputed by the two traditions on the left and followed closely by the two traditions on the right.  The commentaries for the discourses which is compatible with the Abhidhamma are usually disputed called “academic” by the Thai Forest Tradition.   According to monk monk from the Ajahn Cha tradition, “Many of the commentaries are followed. However if they are scholarly, they are rejected.” What “scholarly” means is up for debate.  Lastly, because of this lack of detail, those that follow the book written on Ajhan Mun’s life, believe that the Buddha lives in Nibbana. Since was written by a Dhammayut monk, it is accepted.  Interpretations vary in the Wat Pah Pong, but seem to side that the author was wrong.  The two traditions on the right simply laugh at such claims that The Buddha Lives in Nibbana.

 

Chocolate picture cc-attrib found at http://www.picserver.org/pictures/health-chocolate01-lg.jpg

This text is copyright, Bhante Subhuti .. CC-by-Attrib (needs a reference link to this website).

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paneer
  2. https://bestsuperfoods.wordpress.com/2008/08/14/raw-cacao-chocolate-and-ORAC/
  3. 95,500 ORAC versus 13,100 ORAC ibid
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About Bhikkhu Subhuti

Bhikkhu Subhuti is an American Buddhist Monk with roots in both Sri Lanka and Myanmar Forest Traditions. He currently resides in Myanmar but his heart sometimes floats back to Kauai, HI where he spent six months in 2015.
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