Monastic morality

Guidance for those who choose to renounce the world and dedicate their lives fulltime to Buddhist practice are far more stringent, requiring more self-discipline and asceticism. In Theravada, novice monks, or those joining the community for a short period, undertake five extra precepts:

To abstain from food after midday

To abstain from a luxurious bed, sleeping on a mat

To abstain from amusements like music, dancing and shows

To abstain from personal adornments like jewellery and clothes, wearing a simple robe

To abstain from having anything to do with money

And for monastics, the precept about no sensual/sexual misconduct means no sex at all.

Once monks (and nuns, where they exist) are ordained, they must follow the whole vinaya (monastic discipline). The Theravada version contains 227 rules, laid down in the Pali Canon. These range from four serious issues which lead to expulsion: murder, sexual intercourse, serious theft and falsely claiming supernormal powers, to not wearing noisy clogs around the monastery. There is no Mahayana vinaya as such, but monastics follow vinaya passed down from non-Mahayana traditions other than Theravada (different ones in the case of China and Tibet) with slightly differing number of rules, and occasionally different customs. For example, Tibetan monks may play instruments and dance, in a religious context, and may cook their own food. In certain circumstances, monastics from all traditions would adapt the rules.

Many of the rules (such as not preaching to a woman alone) seem formulated with men in mind. The historical Buddha did eventually allow women to be ordained in their own separate female community, but they are required to keep eight extra precepts which all establish the superior authority of the male bhikkhu (monk). In many Buddhist countries, the lineage of fully ordained nuns has been allowed to die out, or was never even established, but there have been recent revivals, and there are also communities of women who keep the ten precepts and live nun-like lives, but do not have the same official status as monks.

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