Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

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Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby fgimelli » Sun Apr 03, 2011 3:25 pm

This might seem like a silly question, but I have been curious about this for some time. I noticed that Sanghadisesa rule 2 states that "Should any bhikkhu, overcome by lust, with altered mind, engage in bodily contact with a woman, or in holding her hand, holding a lock of her hair, or caressing any of her limbs, it entails initial and subsequent meetings of the Community."

Since the rule clearly states that lustful intention is necessary, I wondered why it is that monks in countries like Thailand do not touch any women. I could see the benefit of avoiding any possibility of a situation in which lust arises, or which might be misconstrued by a third party, but then I wondered: what if the woman was your mother or your sister?

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, in his 'Buddhist Monastic Code' states that "The Vinita-vatthu contains cases of a bhikkhu who caresses his mother out of filial affection, one who caresses his daughter out of fatherly affection, and one who caresses his sister out of brotherly affection. In each case the penalty is a dukkaṭa."

So, I wonder...is it OK for a monk to let's say hug his mother, if that is culturally appropriate and a sign of respect and greeting? Or would this be an offense?

Looking forward to any responses!

With metta,
Francesco
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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby pilgrim » Mon Apr 04, 2011 1:49 pm

I think that monks are not only allowed to touch their mothers, but all other women, on the proviso there is no lust. The Vinaya rule is quite clear.

I believe that in Thailand, cultural development has taken the observation of this rule to an unnecessary extreme. A woman is not even allowed to give something directly to a monk's hands but has to place it on an offering cloth. I hope that western descendants of the Thai Forest tradition drop this cultural baggage.
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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby Adrien » Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:49 pm

Some readings here :
Intimacy — Touching

º The modern West has stories of sexual harassment, so the ways that the Buddha dealt with such matters should not seem so very strange.

If a bhikkhu touches a woman in a sexual way, he commits a very serious offence requiring formal meetings of the Community and probation (Sa"nghaadisesa). The scrupulous bhikkhu wants to remain above suspicion so, if he can, he will avoid all physical contact. (Hence his attitude to shaking hands. This also explains why in Thailand a receiving cloth is used to receive offerings from women. (See EN 85)

The rule was first set down by the Buddha after a brahman and his wife had gone to inspect Ven. Udaayin's fine dwelling. As Ven. Udaayin was showing them around, he came up behind the lady and "rubbed up against her limb by limb." After they had left, the husband praised Ven. Udaayin but the wife was critical and explained what had happened. The brahman then complained, "Isn't it even possible to take one's wife to a monastery without her being molested?" This rule was then set down:
"Should any bhikkhu, overcome by lust, with altered mind, engage in bodily contact with a woman, or in holding her hand, holding a lock of her hair, or caressing any of her limbs, it entails initial and subsequent meetings of the Community."(Sa"ngh. 2; BMC p.100)

To be at fault, the bhikkhu must usually do some action to bring contact with a woman while lust overcomes his mind.[45] If he accidentally stumbles and bumps into a woman or vice-versa, or if he is accosted by a woman, as long as there is no intention to come into lustful contact there is no offence. However, the average bhikkhu's mind tends to be so quick and unruly — he is, after all, still in training and therefore unenlightened — that he may prefer to be super-cautious about such situations.

If a bhikkhu touches his mother out of affection, then this is still an offence but the lesser one of wrong-doing (dukka.ta). [46] While gratitude to parents was strongly emphasized by the Buddha, the bhikkhu having left the home-life and his family should not cling to worldly relationships. The only true way for him to fulfill his filial obligations is by gaining insight into Dhamma and then teaching his parents.

If a bhikkhu is acting with lustful intentions, he incurs a grave (thullaccaaya) offence for making bodily contact with a pa.n.daka ('sex- aberrant') and an offence of wrong-doing for contact with a male. (See BMC p.103)

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/ariyesako/layguide.html#touching

For a more complete analysis, see part 2. of this page :
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/bmc1/bmc1.ch05.html
Please don't hesitate to correct my english if you feel to
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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby Phra Chuntawongso » Tue Apr 05, 2011 9:39 am

pilgrim wrote:I think that monks are not only allowed to touch their mothers, but all other women, on the proviso there is no lust. The Vinaya rule is quite clear.

I believe that in Thailand, cultural development has taken the observation of this rule to an unnecessary extreme. A woman is not even allowed to give something directly to a monk's hands but has to place it on an offering cloth. I hope that western descendants of the Thai Forest tradition drop this cultural baggage.


I agree with you here Pilgrim.When I first came here as a monk I asked my Abbot about this, and he agreed that there was nothing wrong, for instance to receiving something from a woman without using a cloth or anything else.
However, as you termed it, there is cultural baggage here, and therefore I use some discretion in this matter.
The vinaya does say with lustful intent. One problem of course is how other people interpret your intentions.
This is something that we must remain aware of.
When I meet with my daughter, if it is in a public place, we keep our distance--well we don't hug, but I will place a hand on her shoulder.
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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby Fede » Tue Apr 05, 2011 10:45 am

While I accept that HH the DL is from a different tradition entirely, I believe the rule applies in some Tibetan traditions, also, but I have seen him, personally, with my own eyes, hug a woman.

Context plays a huge part.
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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby Ben » Tue Apr 05, 2011 11:47 am

Fede wrote:While I accept that HH the DL is from a different tradition entirely, I believe the rule applies in some Tibetan traditions, also, but I have seen him, personally, with my own eyes, hug a woman.

Context plays a huge part.


Yes, he also shook my wife's hand at a conference they were both at a couple of years ago. I don't mention it to blame or criticize HHDL, but only to confirm your observation. Perhps if the situation demands it, particularly as he is such a public figure, that he makes use of normative forms of greetings in the west.
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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby Euclid » Fri Apr 08, 2011 2:08 am

I seem to recall an anecdote of Bhikku Pesala's, of him shaking the Queen's hand in some ceremony of one another (apologies if my memory is incorrect.) In the telling of the anecdote he explained that cultural context outweighs arbitrary rules in some circumstances.
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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby fabianfred » Fri Apr 08, 2011 5:22 am

The problem with 'lustful intent' is that nobody can know your mind unless they can read minds....so to avoid suspicion it is better simply to avoid contact. In situations where we know there is nobody who is looking for trouble or to find fault then perhaps it is OK. In any audience of the Buddha's when he was teaching the Dhamma, there were those intent upon listening, just along with their friends, and those looking to find fault. Nowadays there are plenty of the latter so we must be careful.

In a similar vein....monks do not raise their hands to 'Wai' laypeople....although they do to other and more senior monks...a matter of showing respect. There is a heirachy to the precepts... 5,8 10 227. But it is OK for a monk to show respect to his parents. They are held in great regard by Buddhism since without them we wouldn't have got this precious human birth....and in Thailand are often referred to as the Arahants at home...being on a par with Arahants in respect to the henious karmic result of killing a parent or Arahant being equally severe.
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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby Pacific » Tue Apr 12, 2011 6:21 am

In Bhante Kovida's book The World is Myself, in an early chapter he addresses this issue. He thinks its cultural bagagge and can be very damaging:

An English monk in Thailand goes back to England to visit his family after some years
in SE Asia. He’s very strict with the precepts [the monk’s rules], with the dos and don’ts of
Thai culture, and without doubt takes himself very seriously. It is likely that he grew up in an
uptight, repressed social environment but at least in Thailand he’s respected for being an uptight
and ‘proper’ monk. Monks who think and believe that they’re very holy, special and
important tend to end up with a great deal of conflict, frustration, confusion and suffering
[due to ego/image problem, of course] and will most likely disrobe sooner or later due to a
lack of wisdom, balance, flexibility, and harmony in their lives of renunciation. On meeting
his family at the airport outside of London, he doesn’t shake hands with any of them [“Sorry,
as a monk I cannot shake your hand!”] and, of course, he cannot touch or kiss his mother.
[I’m sure he forewarned them by letter of this Thai Buddhist custom]. His poor mother not
only cannot touch him but she cannot give him or take anything from him in a direct manner,
as previously described. He’s a holy bhikku, after all, and with a stiff British upper lip, besides.
Also, he must eat before the forbidden hour of 12 noon and he cannot join them for
supper as he’s not allowed solid food during the afternoon and evening. You can imagine
what his family must have gone through. Even though he’s thousands of miles away from
Thailand, by George, he’s going to do the right and proper thing! He’s a bhikku, after all,
someone special and important. The final shocker comes when he and his mother are visiting
someone in an apartment building and he refuses to go into the elevator with her as it’s a
confined space and she is a woman! Now you tell me, is that wisdom and compassion or is
that ignorance and delusion, blind attachment and foolish rigidity? How about simple brainwashing,
eh what? This monk, not surprisingly, eventually disrobed after years of struggling
with the precepts, trying to be a good and proper monk. I heard he became an old hippy and
got himself a young wife. Good for him. I hope he can now relax and enjoy life with more
wisdom, compassion and common sense.
Another English monk goes back to the United Kingdom to see his very sick and dying
mother. He’s a disciple of a very famous forest monk in Thailand and he has been a monk for
over 20 years. He has a special image of himself, no doubt, and a senior monk at that! [very
few western monks I’ve met are really free from this ego/image illusion]. He relates the story
about how his parents have finally come to accept and respect him as a Buddhist monk, how
they even adopted the traditional Thai greeting and gesture of reverence by bowing the head
with palms held together. He also relates how he sat by his dying mother’s bedside and had
the most wonderful heart to heart as a mother and son would but that he was unable to touch
11
her, not even hold her hand, simply because he’s a monk. And what amazes me is that he
doesn’t see anything wrong, unhealthy or unusual about that formal behavior! He’s a monk
of the Thai tradition and this is just how you behave. You don’t touch women, your mother
included, even if she’s injured, sick or dying and in need of some kind of help or comfort.
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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Apr 12, 2011 7:12 am

As some have indicated, there are some things that Bhikkhus tend to do, or not do, in different countries, that are additional to the Vinaya. However, one of my (American) teachers (who trained mostly in Thailand) sometimes said that his mother was the only woman he was allowed to touch, so perhaps such customs also vary across Thailand, or the Siff-Upper-Lip Bhikkhu is just making it up to suit himself. As for monks not shaking hands, that would seem to me to be be a particularly odd thing. Touching (of men) by Thai, American, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi monks seems very common in my experience.

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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby fgimelli » Wed Apr 13, 2011 6:06 am

fabianfred wrote:The problem with 'lustful intent' is that nobody can know your mind unless they can read minds....so to avoid suspicion it is better simply to avoid contact. In situations where we know there is nobody who is looking for trouble or to find fault then perhaps it is OK. In any audience of the Buddha's when he was teaching the Dhamma, there were those intent upon listening, just along with their friends, and those looking to find fault. Nowadays there are plenty of the latter so we must be careful.

In a similar vein....monks do not raise their hands to 'Wai' laypeople....although they do to other and more senior monks...a matter of showing respect. There is a heirachy to the precepts... 5,8 10 227. But it is OK for a monk to show respect to his parents. They are held in great regard by Buddhism since without them we wouldn't have got this precious human birth....and in Thailand are often referred to as the Arahants at home...being on a par with Arahants in respect to the henious karmic result of killing a parent or Arahant being equally severe.


Thank you very much for this very good response Venerable. This seems like quite a logical and balanced perspective. I guess it's about skilful means, rather than aversion, and I will remember that when I ordain.

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Re: Are monks allowed to touch their mothers?

Postby shjohnk » Mon Jul 11, 2011 3:34 am

This also begs the question of monks who identified as homosexual in their lay-life; i personally
know one gay Buddhist who is seeking ordination. It therefore seems that discretion is the key; there is touching and there is 'touching', regardless of the gender involved.
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