This is intended as a guide to some of the traditional etiquette overnight lay guests of the monastery are asked to observe and/or be sensitive to. People from non-Buddhist backgrounds may find the discipline and customs somewhat unfamiliar; we hope that the following information will help in facilitating greater understanding and sensitivity to the various conventions of monastic life.
The Vinaya, the code of monastic discipline, establishes a relationship with laypeople without whose daily support the Sangha could not continue. Monks are prohibited from possessing money and from storing food. They are completely dependent on the laity for many simple things, such as the preparation and offering of food, pruning foliage, and digging the earth.
In monasteries, emphasis is placed on establishing harmony by mindfulness and consideration for others. Guests are invited to share in these observances of beautiful behavior and sensitivity.
Before entering a shrine room or living space it is necessary to remove the shoes. Although visitors are not obliged to, there is the custom of bowing to the shrine or teacher. The triple bow, to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, is usually done upon entering or leaving the meditation hall. At the end of a formal meditation period, respect is usually paid to the senior monk with the triple bow. When in the meditation hall concern need be taken in moving with as little noise as possible. When sitting one should avoid lolling and lounging and sitting with one’s back against the wall, especially during a Dhamma Talk. Care should be taken not to point the feet at the shrine or at other people generally, as this can be considered impolite.
When offering something to a monk or nun or talking with them, one should not stand looming over them but rather approach them at the same level at which they are sitting.
Monks and nuns are allowed to collect and consume their daily meal in the period between dawn and noon. Anything they intend to eat or drink, except water, must be formally offered into the hands or placed on or into something in direct contact with the hands.
In our tradition monks and nuns lead lives of total celibacy. This includes refraining from suggestive speech or physical contact with lustful intent, both of which are serious offenses against the Vinaya discipline. To avoid this and to prevent gossip or misunderstanding from arising, a monk has to be accompanied by another male whenever he is engaging in a long conversation with a woman. A similar rule applies for nuns.
Guests are asked to be sensitive to the proper mode of conduct for men and women within a monastic setting. In terms of lodging, men and women stay in separate areas and no men should enter the women’s lodgings/public restrooms, or vice versa, without permission from one of the senior monks. Guests are also asked to dress conservatively: traditionally this includes covering the shoulders and covering the knees.
Terms of Address
The abbot and any monk who has been ordained for at least ten years may be referred to as“Ajahn” (a Thai word derived from the Pali word ācariya meaning “teacher”). Other monks can be addressed as “Venerable” or the Thai equivalent, “Tan.” Any monk, senior or junior can be called “Bhante”, a more general term of respect. These designations may or may not be followed by the ordained name of the individual.
Anjali and Bowing
“Anjali” is a gesture of respect. The hands are held together in prayer-like fashion raised to the slightly lowered forehead. To bow correctly, kneel with the buttocks on the heels and with the hands in anjali. Bring the palms to the floor about four inches apart, then bring the forehead down to touch between the palms, the elbows close to the knees. Bow three times.