It seems to be a strong affinity in media for monks to be beggars. There doesn't seem to be anything in Buddhism that effectively correlates to being poor, or even using begging for livelihood. The Noble Eightfold Path even has occupations in one of the folds, and doesn't recommend too much of a constrain to the point of driving people poor.

Specifically, I would put the book Buddha Boy by Kathe Koja on display, where a Buddhist boy moving into a rather bad neighborhood is picked on at school for his actions, one of which is begging for food during his lunch period.

In this example, "Buddha Boy" begs for food, however, that doesn't seem like anything I've seen in Buddhist culture. Is this a common misconception, or am I misinformed?

  • I tried to answer something about "media" from the first sentence; but I didn't understand what you were saying/asking later, about livelihood and the eightfold path.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 4:38
  • 2
    Part of what I don't understand in the question is, "and doesn't recommend too much of a constrain to the point of driving people poor". Would you like to quote/reference something which says that? I think that Buddhist monks and nuns, in particular, were traditionally expected to live without money at all, supported by (their necessities provided by) the laity.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 10:06
  • I'm a beggar, not a Buddhist monk. I like being rewarded. Commented May 25, 2019 at 0:05

8 Answers 8


You ask about "strong affinity in media". You don't say what country/language you're asking about, but might it be viewed though a western/christian perspective?

I think of monks as doing "alms rounds" (because that's the English I've read; as proof, the first page of results for this Google search is all Buddhist monks (or at least it does when I use that search)).

The word "Alms" is described in Wikipedia as follows:

  • Buddhism
    Main article: Dāna
    In Buddhism, alms or almsgiving is the respect given by a lay Buddhist to a Buddhist monk, etc.

  • Christianity
    The giving of alms is an act of charity toward those less fortunate. In the Apostolic age, Christians were taught that giving alms was an expression of love etc.

So the confusion might come from language, e.g. from using a word like "alms", without necessarily always carefully explaining that the word being used doesn't mean what you think it means.

  • I'll be sure to put an example in my question tomorrow.
    – tuskiomi
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 4:44
  • Alright. I've added an example.
    – tuskiomi
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 0:52
  • @tuskiomi I haven't read that book, I have no insight into why its author might have written that.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 10:01

The monks are trained to be humble to lessen the stranglehold of ego and the defilments. When the Buddha addresses the monks in the suttas he calls them "Bhikkus" in Pali that means "Beggars" in English. This Isn't derogatory, it's a teaching.


This is tradition of past Buddhas how to live on laypeople donation, the future Buddhas will follow this pure path, less effort on living. Because it is not appropriate Buddha will plough his own farm, it is not appropriate Buddha will do trade to get money to buy meals and snacks, it is not appropriate Buddha to deceit people and earn money, it is not appropriate Buddha will do any profession/occupation to earn money.

In Noble Eightfold Path, Right Livelihood is

1) begging for meals from laypeople either by walking along the street, stopping in front of each houses sequentially for alms (not money, just something to eat) or going to particular laypeople house where the donor specifically ask the monk to come and have lunch at their premises,

2) just wearing robe only either donated by laypeople or picking up cloth from death bodies in cemetery/graveyard (in ancient India death bodies are buried in ground and before undertaker to do so, the death bodies are wrapped with new or low quality cloth and people do not like to wear that cloth at all; in Sutta Gautama Buddha wore this kind of cloth after it was washed and tanned properly [need citation here]),

3) only live under shelter/accommodation donated by laypeople or live under the tree if none available,

4) ask laypeople for medicine to donate only if the monk suffers illness.

This makes Buddhist monks simple, less effort and care for living because monk should dedicate only learning Pitaka and meditation. Beggar is not inappropriate word for monks and Buddha but it contains a sense of detesting which Buddhist laypeople usually do not use to call.

"Buddhism driving people poor" is badly associated view of the above Noble Onefold Path to Buddhist laypeople. It is wrong conclusion drawn by western people who cannot differentiate Buddhist laypeople lives and monk lives. It is unrelated collective assumption on livelihood by westerners who do not understand the correlation between monks and Buddhist laypeople. In Buddhist countries, the monks and laypeople relation is like a pond with bank(high ground around the water to conserve it). Monks are like the pond and laypeople are bank. To keep monk life to survive laypeople needs to donate/offer, otherwise there is no monk at all. So Buddhism laypeople earn money for living theirselves as well as donation/offering to monks. So In Buddhism communities laypeople has to try more for earning. In Pitaka sutras, Buddha encouraged laypeople to earn money (discourses about earning more by mindfulness/awareness) and make rich as long as laypeople do not do Wrong Livelihood for earning.

Wrong Livelihood

  1. Trade of arm and weapons
  2. Trade of poison
  3. Human trafficking
  4. Trade of alcohol, wine and other narcotic drugs or drug that make harm to people consciousness

So it is false assertion that Buddhism correlates to being poor. Buddha's teachings make monks to live simple and effortless live at the same time laypeople to earn righteous money by Right Livelihood and support monks. It is much more humane than "earn and consume self" idea. It required less self-centered and broad-minded. Even Buddhism Economics cannot agree the idea of "Being poor and being Buddhist".


In Classic Chinese Sutras, the translated word relating to the "offering to the Buddhist monk" is this: 供養, the monk is said to receive 供養 from the "adoring believers": 善信. 供 has the intrinsic value of offering from the lower to the higher, 養 is nurturing, cultivating. It is said that 供養 a Buddhist monk is an act of "cultivating the blessing/blissful/fortune field": 種福田. It hasn't any depriving meaning in it, although the monk purely received without making any "effort to earn". In the practice of old, the food offered to the monk must be the fresh and best, i.e., the offeror has not even eaten himself; the monk will stand at the door or make a sound with his bowl, max. 3 sounds from the bowl if the offeror doesn't response, he will pass.

I don't understand how it has been translated into "begging".

Also, the monk is regarded as one renounced the world, thus he is not supposed to put any more effort in creating the worldly values these incl. fortune, he renounced thus not having personal belonging this renderred him "light" and spent all his life in practicing for liberation. And the offering to nourish the monk from the believer is an act of sharing the merit because with this effort and connection, the monk once reached enlightenment he would 1st help to liberate the offeror.

On the other hand, Buddha when he was on his way to the Great Retreat he passed a country the king enchanted by his charm for Siddhartha was handsome and princely build, he offered half of his kingdom asking Siddhartha to stay with him. We can also understand the emotion we have when seeing a lovely child we would instinctly offer candies, or anything nice just to make the child smile. Thus a true Buddhist monk should receive the offers from the believer in the same way.

However, it may not be so in worldly practice; esp. today.


Shakyamuni Buddha was a beggar and so were his disciples. Most sutras will talk about going to the village, to beg for food.

What they did is translated as "begging", because that's what they did. The original term they used for it doesn't matter - they would go from door to door, asking for food. In English this is called "begging".

Countless Buddhist texts recommend poverty and praise poverty. Sure, many Buddhist sects and representatives became rich and enjoyed opulence, but it is not different from Christianity. Bishops with emerald rings and golden clothes to represent the way of Jesus is a ridiculous assumption. Of course they are phonies and don't relate to Christ at all. In Buddhism, it is not different. A lay person can be a Buddhist, work for money and enjoy material comfort, but if a Buddhist MONK is doing it, it's most likely just an emerald-ring phony.

Buddhist monks do work sometimes - like the Zen monks. Why?

It should be understood that, as Buddhism became popular and favored by the powers of the time, "not working" went from "being a humble beggar who lives in simplicity" to "being a freeloader who enjoys material comfort on somebody else's back, like an aristocrat". So the Zen sect revolted against that and the monks would grow their own food, work the soil, help other with manual labor and so on.

Note the difference between "not running away from strenuous work" and "seeking fame and fortune with some rewarded activity".

I hope I was helpful.


At Sāvatthī. Then a begging brahmin went up to the Buddha, and exchanged greetings with him. When the greetings and polite conversation were over, he sat down to one side and said to the Buddha:

“Master Gotama, both you and I are beggars. What, then, is the difference between us?”

“You don’t become a beggar just by begging from others. Someone who has accepted domestic responsibilities has not yet become a mendicant.

But one living a spiritual life who has shunned both good and bad, having considered, they live in this world: that’s who’s called a mendicant.”

When he had spoken, the begging brahmin said to the Buddha:

“Excellent, Master Gotama! Excellent! … From this day forth, may Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge for life.”



"Bhikkhu" (Pali) or "Bhikshu" (Sanskrit) literally means a mendicant, or one who lives off alms. But this doesn't mean they literally beg for food. However, they live off alms given to them.

From The Bhikkhus' Rules: A Guide for Laypeople by Bhikkhu Ariyesako:


◊ As has been mentioned above, the Buddha said that there were four necessities of life: clothing, food, shelter and medicine.

The Buddha suggested (fn73) that the basic source of food for bhikkhus was that received on the morning alms round (pi.n.dapaata). This daily dependence on alms food reminds both the bhikkhus and the lay devotees of their interdependence and prevents the bhikkhu from becoming too isolated from the lay community. He 'meets' them every day and eats the food that they share with him. Several important rules are concerned with this as well as a major section of the Sekhiya Training rules. (See below; see also story about Ven. Assaji.)

An alms round is not considered begging, for the bhikkhu does not solicit anything but is ready mindfully to receive any alms that lay people may wish to give. Although alms food may sometimes be meager, the bhikkhu is always expected to be grateful for whatever he is given.(fn74) It is surprising how particular we can be about what food we like to eat; and what complications that can cause. This is reflected in the way rules concerning 'edibles' are arranged, which may seem very complex especially when the bhikkhu's life is supposed to be so simple. It should be borne in mind that the rules often deal with extraordinary circumstances and try to prevent them from becoming the norm.

Begging for Food

When the 'group-of-six' monks in the Buddha's time solicited 'special foods' and ate them themselves, the lay people criticized this saying, "Who isn't fond of good food and sweets?" The Buddha therefore laid down this rule:

"There are these finer staple foods, i.e., ghee, fresh butter, oil, honey, sugar/molasses, fish, meat, fresh milk, and curds. Should any bhikkhu who is not ill, having asked for finer staple foods such as these for his own sake, then eat them, it is [an offence of Confession.]" (Paac. 39; BMC p.367)

"There are sumptuous foods, namely foods mixed with ghee, butter, oil, honey, molasses, fish, meat, milk and curd; and a monk who, though not sick, asks for such sumptuous foods for himself and eats them commits [an offence of Confession.]" (Paac. 39; BBC p.127)

The ancient commentators suggest that these 'finer foods' are actually made when one mixes rice, for example, with butter or fish, etc.

An exception is made for a monk who is ill, and a bhikkhu can ask for special food for the sake of a fellow monk who is sick. (He is always allowed to ask a relative or someone who has offered a Pavaara.naa Invitation.

Receiving and Eating Food

A whole section (fn75) of the seventy-five Sekhiya Training guidelines is concerned with how a bhikkhu receives and eats his alms food. Although 'table manners' may differ from country to country, and from age to age, these Sekhiya rules still largely conform to what is considered good manners:

"I will receive alms food appreciatively." (fn76) (Sekhiya 27)

"When receiving alms food, I will focus my attention on the bowl." (Sekhiya 28)

◊ This explains why the bhikkhu may not look at the donor when accepting food — he is concentrating on properly receiving it. "I will receive/eat (bean-)curries in the right proportion to the rice." (Sekhiya 29/34)

It is suggested that this was laid down so that bhikkhus on alms round would not pass by people offering plain rice in favor of better quality food. (See EV,I,p.211) "I will receive alms food only until it reaches the rim of the bowl." (Sekhiya 30)

◊ However, on festival or special occasions the bhikkhu's bowl may be emptied so that everyone who wants to join in offering has the opportunity. (fn77) "I will eat alms food attentively." (Sekhiya 31)"When eating alms food, I will look only into the bowl." (Sekhiya 32)

◊ This is also why the bhikkhu should not be expected to talk while he is eating, for this will distract his attention. "I will not cover up curries or other food with rice out of a desire to get more." (Sekhiya 36)

If donors think that the monk has only plain rice in his bowl, they may give him some 'better' food. "When I am not sick, I will not ask for curries or rice for my own benefit." (Sekhiya 37)

Other Sekhiya rules seem aimed at bhikkhus eating from their bowl using their fingers in the traditional way of India: (fn78)

"I will not make up an overlarge mouthful of food; nor open my mouth until the portion of food has been brought to it; nor put my fingers into my mouth; nor speak with my mouth full.

"I will not eat: stuffing out my cheeks; shaking my hand about; scattering grains of rice about; putting out my tongue; making a champing sound; (or drink) making a sucking sound; licking my hands; scraping the bowl; licking my lips. I will not take hold of a vessel of water with my hand soiled with food." (Sekhiya Section; see End Note 75.)


One should not think that people are different in perceiving by birth!

To approach the uphold of a wrong idea, displayed in Nyom Chris's answer.

Dana is Dana, alms are alms. It's not so that people of equal social standard and equal informed in west or east think different.

In SEAsia only less are informed or have even the notion that a monk, a Bhikkhu, is actually a Beggar. It's just in the West in more informed spheres, that the meaning and way of live is right understood.

A gift is a gift, and it's just in that far different as the recipient is someone (at least by perception of devoted) who is worthy (beyond proper) to be given.

The different between a ordinary beggar and a "holly beggar" is that the first does not beg only to maintain his body and to be able to gain liberation, but aside of mostly using the given energy also for harmful deeds on others, still seeks for gain and often strong sense-pleasure.

Under normal devoted in Asia it's not beloved to face their "Gods", monks as beggars (which has of course also to do with livelihood that is far off of the best and householder-like, "King-like"). Only informed or observant devoted, meeting proper conducting Monks would, aside of literary information, trace monks as "special beggars", one who does not ask but give wise a chance to make merits.

"Na ve yācanti sappaññā dhīro veditumarahati udissa ariyā tiṭṭhanti esā ariyāna-yācanā."

And a real Bhikkhu, beggar, at it's ideal:

"Sattānnaŋ, bhikkhave, dhammānaŋ bhinnattā bhikkhu hoti. Katamesaŋ sattānnaŋ? Sakkāyadiṭṭhi bhinnā hoti. Vicikicchā ... , Sīlabbataparamāso ... , Rāgo ... , Doso ... , Moho ... , Māno ..., bhinno hoti."

Hard to meet an alms-goer under the Buddhas heritage, even harder a complete, even if near, a blind could not see.

(not given for trade, exchange, stacks and entertainment that keeps in this wheel but as a tiny door to escape)

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