I have often heard that in many places in the suttas where the Buddha says Bhikkave, (monks!), he really means to include the four parisā (assemblies), which includes lay male and lay female devotees. Therefore, it is said, that teaching applies to all.

Where did this idea get legitimacy? Is there any mention in the canon itself?

I can readily see why one would wish it were so (why would one ignore all the wisdom because it's not spoken directly to oneself) but that doesn't mean it is so.

I'm also interested if this explanation is offered in Mahāyāna where the meaning of saṅgha itself is broader, as I understand. Also within Insight/Theravāda circles, is there a difference between the West and traditionally Buddhist countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand in the reading of this word. Any historical insight into whether the West was influenced by the early arrival of Mahāyāna to its shores, for example.

Edit: I am aware that it makes sense to view the teachings as applying to everybody. Please note that the question is more specific - is there canonical support (in any canon) for this interpretation? Or some other historical information other than using our own logic.

  • In Mahayana, Samgha is Samgha - monks only. In Mahayana Canon, it doesn't need to pretend that when the Buddha said "Bhiksu!" it also "meant" the Upāsaka and Upāsikā. There are plenty of Sutras recorded the sermons Buddha given, among the audiences his Bhiksus, kings... lay Buddhists and villagers... It's ridiculous to believe that the Buddha only taught Bhiksus, all addressed only Bhikkave, (monks!), right? Even today a monk can give sermons to 1000+ audiences, but not the Buddha? Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 16:31
  • Even Jesus in his sermon there were 5000 fed by his 5 loaves 2 fish but not the Buddha? Where are those missing teachings of the Buddha?! In Mahayana Canon such freakish condition doesn't exist. Example, there Sutra recorded the conversation between the Buddha and King Bimbisara in the sermon, Bimbisara, the great patron of Buddha so well known, representing the Upāsaka... how could he be missing in the authentic Buddhist records? Also, Samgha is one of the Triple Gems for Buddhist takes refuge, it can't be another lay Buddhist, right? I may write an answer given time... Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 16:41
  • Very interesting, @Mishu米殊 So there is no second meaning of Sam̐gha in Mahayāna either? I’ve heard the word being also used at a local Chan temple and also a Tibetan group to mean fellow travellers on the journey (e.g. “my Sangha”). Certainly also in Insight circles. Have you never heard such usage? Also, no Bhikṣave in Mahayana?
    – Gotamist
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 22:08
  • @Mishu米殊 well, yeah. It may be ridiculous. But as I stated in my question, is the belief that it is broad mentioned in the scripture or do we have to just rely on our own reasoning and “common sense” etc?
    – Gotamist
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 22:12
  • Where exactly did you hear what your wrote in your question? There are suttas addressed to bhikkhus, householders, brahmins, etc. A sutta to bhikkhus is obviously for bhikkhus, however, if there were laypeople in the audience, they would obviously hear the teaching &, if capable, would practise that teaching. Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 7:09

2 Answers 2


It is an effect by wrong way commentary reading of the western professors and thai professors, because they have not enough skill to read pāli tipitaka and commentary.

Commentary just want to said:

Buddha called "bhikkhave" because the listeners in front of buddha are bhikkhu. But it doesn't means the other buddhist people can not practice follow that sutta.

But in the appearing commentary doesn't said "because the listeners in front of buddha are bhikkhu", like above, because it is simple in mukkhapātha tradition to call just the specify target, most cases are the nearest. And the most buddha's nearest people were bhikkhu.

Today, you can see in the classroom, when the teacher ask someone to teach , such as "Peter! don't break the school's rule", it doesn't means "just that one can't break", but it means "everyone in school can't break". It is simple, so it doesn't need to explain as "the others can't break, too."

There are some excepted cases that should use the difference meaning of "bhikkhave", such as in 1st vinaya rule. For those, there had the explanation in commentary, case by case. It does't means "commentary commented by there own opinion", but it means "that sutta's context or the other related sutta make the commentary commented like that". Because the commentary teacher must be tipitaka memorizer in ancient theravāda tradition, such as ancient mahāvihāra monastery.

I don't want to blame the others, but I must specify an actual main problem cause of new age buddhist students, that make them feel so hard to study buddha's teaching.


You would not like it, you don't like it, in all that instances where the Buddha rebukes and uses harsh words, give you certain names... and remind you on you duties saying "Bhikkhus!", do you?... so "it's a shame..." counts just for the sweets in the question, or?

On an ideal level it can incl. also novices, wanderers, lay people... Most significant to find a indication is surely the Dhammapada, when of course it is not everywhere clear that the Buddha spoke in such a broad manner.

See Brahmanavagga and Bhikkhuvagga.

(One needs to remember that many of those quotes are actually speaking of Arahats, which by nature could not live more than some days as lay person if not able to leave home.)

The general implemented feeling for modern and western lay Buddhist that they are directly and conscious incl. is merely founded on a marketing strategy, similar with "you can" advertising to lift the self-esteem and sell in this way a product.

In traditional countries really as good as no lay Dhammika would ever be dare to estimate him/herself being directly addressed. People living since long time next Bhikkhus with Vinaya know and get aware that there is even outwardly a big difference.

The phenomena that householder getting, aside of those being actually strong involved in monastic live, into the teachings of monks/Bhikkhus is a very young one, and again, has much to do with improper livelihood and trading in Dhamma: a wrong livelihood phenomena of monks.

But here we are, and one can be sure that it was not the most smartest way, going along with the Vipassana-for-everyone-movement from Burma and the imperial visions from Sri Lanka, perhaps leaded by Anagarika Dhammapala and German Dhamma-trading monks, introducing selling of Dhamma in the world since actually no foundation of the original ecomomy of generosity could be found ever for some hand full monks.

It's actually a 98% laymans enterprise what western and modern "Buddhists" experiances as "Buddhism". When speaking about laymans/householder enterprise it incl. all the many monastics who actually live and trade in improper dependency.

If that situation becomes more clear, if one understands that there is actually no functioning Sangha of Bhikkhus in the West till today, it becomes clear why the market requires to pychological lift householder generally on the same level.

How ever, as the Buddha told, real homelessness is a matter of being ot attached to the senses.

In this regard, if one trains after having mastered virtue already, to abound sensuality (e.g. eight Silas serious, or ten), that would be the time one could really take on the teachings torward the Bhikkhus in meaning and detail.

There is no problem to listen and read about the teachings directed to the Bhikkhus, they are no secret at all, but for ones own welfare it's good to know and understand whether one is directly spoken to or an Upasaka/Upasika (one who comes near), or even have not really taken refuge in the gems yet.

Today there are many of the third kind, with not even respect for the juwels, estimate themselves as Bhkkhus/Bhikkhunis.

Formal a Bhikkhu is a person who is by the status bond to Vinaya and the rules, a person who formal seeks nothing in the world but fears it. That is aside of (Noble) beggar (one who does not ask for anything and keeps high virtue) the second deeper meaning of Bhikkhu: one who fear the world.

Another thing worthy to note is, that the word Bhikkhu was used even by the Buddha before the founding of the Sangha. The Buddha addressed his his former ascetic fellows before awakening, later also as Bhikkhus while still having not taken refuge in him.

So when reading the Buddha addressing "Bhikkhus" than it's good to see it in a dhammic way: exclusively from free given alms living people who live a live to end suffering, keep virtue (not harming, not taking) and restrain from any sensual pleasure: eg. people with right resolve (followed by actions in accord).

So if on that level, where ever you might be, be sure that the Buddha includes you directly when speaking to "Bhikkhus".

If today or at the moment not in this range, better then to missuse it for certain overestimation of oneself, to take it as a powerful drive to reflect on the Sangha and for mudita, ideals which are worthy to work on gaining them, preparing ones own way in a proper manner step by step, building the foundation that can no more be removed if right done.

Such is in all cases wiser as to risk a suggested run throw muddy waters. And at least, one who stands aside, is not easy personally touched. If one likes to take an addressing "Bhikkhu" even now and here personal: good, but take than also the hard rebukes and calling you a fool very personal. So it's like everything in the world, to have pleasure one needs to take the pain as well, even for the way out of this dilemma.

May all of you become Bhikkhus (in an ideal sense) soon and by that means transcendent the world and suffering, oldage, sickness and death.

May all of you wisely honor and respect the fastly disappearing Sangha of the Bhikkhus, nurish and maintain it, knowing that there will be possible the time and existence where oneself would wish to still have such an even and layout path and community. Nothing appears without previous and present given causes.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]

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