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Proper Etiquette toward Theravadan Monks Outside of Monasteries

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  • Proper Etiquette toward Theravadan Monks Outside of Monasteries

    Dear Venerables:

    In July I will be traveling to Washington, DC to listen to several days of teachings by his Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) and observe part of a Kalachakra Ceremony. My experience in past teachings by HHDL is that he always starts off each days' teachings with chanting and this chanting will go in order of seniority of the various sanghas. In other words, the Theravadans chant first, then the other traditions in order of their founding.

    Both Thai and Sri Lankan monks are in attendance, and generally there are dozens and dozens of them both up on the stage and also seated in front of the audience.

    There are many opportunities for me to interact with them, and I'm often a little uncomfortable when doing so. I think I understand proper etiquette when visiting a monastery, but in a huge auditorium with 5000 other people around? That's a different story.

    My specific questions:
    1) Is it okay to ask which monastery a monk is living at, or is that considered rude?
    2) Is it okay to ask a monastic if s/he needs anything like water etc?
    3) When I encounter a group of 10-20 monks do I perform anjali for all of them? As a group? Individually? Not at all?
    4) I understand it is rude to stand higher than a monastic, or walk past a seated monastic, but if I am standing up to leave briefly, is it disrespectful to the monastics in the rows sitting in front of me?

    These may sound like silly questions, but I truly do not want to disrespect any monastic, especially Theravadan monastics who might be put into uncomfortable situations given that they will be outnumbered, and that many people in the US don't even know there are Buddhists other than Tibetan ones!

    with metta,
    Richard Hayes

  • #2
    Dear Richard,

    Just a couple of general observations before I answer your questions. Good monks and nuns will generally not be offended by the way people treat them, unless it is really gross. This is particularly so for monastics who live in the West and therefore are used to a non-Buddhist culture. I am saying this because I think it is important to be able to relax when we interact with each other, and not get too concerned with potential faux pas.

    At the same time, I think you should be commended for trying to find out the proper etiquette. If we all treat it each other with respect, and a certain sensitivity to each other's cultural expectations, then we will no doubt have more harmonious relationships.

    Now for your questions:

    (1) It is perfectly ok to ask which monastery a monk is living at. Some monks may be reticent to answer your questions, but that is most likely to be general reticence rather than taking offence.
    (2) It is not only ok, but it is something that may be highly appreciated. Unless someone offers such things as water, a monastic may often have to go without.
    (3) All as group is fine. But at big venues it is often not necessary to do anjali at all, except if you are directly engaging with a particular monastic.
    (4) No. At big venues such as the one in Washington DC almost any breach of minor etiquette is acceptable. Everyone realizes that ordinary etiquette is impossible to keep in such situations.

    I wish you a inspiring trip to DC!

    With metta.


    • #3
      May I ask what Anjali is? I looked it up and I have the idea that it is folding the hands together against the chest, and bow? Is this a proper way to greet a monastic?
      When I went for refuge last year, all people greeted each other that way (they were mostly Thai people).


      • #4
        Dear Jo,

        Añjali is a greeting and a gesture of respect. It goes back at least to the time of the Buddha. In Asian countries it is often used between equals as a greeting and a showing of mutual respect. It is also used to show respect: typically a child will do añjali to a parent, a student to a teacher, a lay Buddhist to a monastic, and a junior monastic to a more senior one.

        With metta.


        • #5
          Añjali is done by putting the palms of the hands together, and raising them to chest or head height.


          • #6
            Dear Ajahn Brahmali,

            Richard asked if one should offer water, etc. to monastics. Occasionally running into monks in airports (almost always after noon), I have wondered whether it is ok to offer something other than water. Would it be acceptable to offer juice or soft drinks?

            Thank you,

            Jerrod: )


            • #7
              Dear Jerrod,

              Sure! Or even a cup of coffee or tea (but no milk). All of these things are allowable for monastics in the afternoon and evening.

              With metta.


              • #8
                Dear Ajahn Brahmali,

                Thank you for your clear answer. When I took refuge last year, I was among a lot of Thai people. They did the same, with a little bow added to it, as a greeting.


                • #9
                  Is a monk allowed to express his dislike of someones behaviour?

                  It should not be an offense if it is not done with the intent to offend, should it? It is a great difference between ill will and lack of cultural knowledge. Good monks should be kind and understanding i don't think they will judge someone over a mistake. If there are any, what are the big mistakes someone could unknowingly make?


                  • #10
                    Dear Daniel,

                    Yes, but a monk is not allowed to be disrespectful. As you suggest, a good monastic will be tolerant towards people's mistakes, and will gently point out any mistakes.

                    The big mistakes are not keeping good morality! But even if you don't, you will not normally be judged. It is up to each individual to look after their own practice; a teacher can only encourage you.

                    With metta.


                    • #11
                      I take it that means a monk is not allowed to scold or use harsh words when making such an observation.

                      While we are on the subject of proper etiquette. What are proper questions to ask monk and what are improper questions?

                      Thank you, venerable.


                      • #12
                        Dear Daniel,

                        In deciding what is an appropriate question, you would follow normal standards of courtesy. Monastics don't need to be treated in any special way. However, you should be aware that in most traditional Buddhist countries it is considered rude to ask "challenging" questions of a monastic.

                        There is a nice sutta where a group of monks discuss what is the right time to ask a question of a senior monk. Some say the best time to ask is in the morning, some say at mid day, some say in the evening. They then approach the Buddha (I think it was the Buddha) and ask who is right. The Buddha says the right time to ask a senior monk is when the mind is obsessed by one or more of the five hindrances and one needs advice on how to overcome them! Very pragmatic. It gives you some idea of the type of questions that are really worthwhile.

                        With metta.


                        • #13
                          That makes sense. I'll think on this matter.




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