Would you say that it is appropriate for a monk to give advice to the laity in how to live life/dealing with obstacles?

Now don't get me wrong, but monks certainly have "safer" environments. They are much less exposed to stimulating sensory input as well as life problems. I am by nature quite skeptical and cannot really take a monk serious if he gives tips and at the same time does not follow these tips (or rather that lifestyle). How can a monk give relationship advice? Sure, the Dhamma gives such, but then it's just intellectual knowledge given by a monk, but that advice has not been practised by him.

I think the whole "problem" starts with titles like "venerable" or the admiration of monks/nuns. Again, don't get me wrong, seeing in them a role model and paying homage to them because they delivered proper dhamma is appropriate, but one should always keep in mind that they are UNIQUE, COMPLEX (in that they think, feel and do good, bad and neutral things) and FALLIBLE.

Anyone made same experiences? Advice? Opinions?

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    – ChrisW
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 10:05

7 Answers 7


In the same vein as ChrisW's answer, I would ask you, "You and I live different lives. I do not live your life. Is it appropriate for me to give advice?" The answer is generally "yes," especially in the position you have chosen to put yourself in, asking us for advice on this forum. =) So what is the difference between me giving you advice on a life I don't live and a monk giving you advice on a life he or she does not live? One may argue that it's a level of differentiation, but that immediately begs the question of what level of differentiation is appropriate?

Indeed, is it not reasonable to seek advice from everybody? I know that, in my culture, we prize the ability of children to see things through their young eyes and reveal what we cannot see ourselves. Of course, we aren't obliged to follow their advice either. If we were, my toddler would have far more cookies in her diet!

You point to the title of "venerable" as an object of concern. Alan Watts had a line of reasoning in one of his lectures that addressed this issue. He focused on the concept of the teacher, and asked "From what does the authority of a teacher come from?" What gives a teacher the right to tell you what to do. The answer he offered: "The authority of the teacher comes from the student." If someone wishes to learn from another, they might say "hey, tell ya what. I'll call you teacher, and you call me student," and from that the authority stems forth.

As you say, they are fallible. But they have also devoted a tremendous amount of time to seeing the world through eyes very different from your own. If they are willing to share their advice with you, that should be seen as a blessing.

I can call myself "venerable" if I want. It's just a word. Whether anyone wishes to act upon my claim is entirely up to them. However, as a general statement, we find that the lay society has decided that when a monk or nun is called "venerable," we really mean it. There is something special there. You obviously don't have to take my word for it. I have no authority. But the fact that lay society accepts that monks and nuns can and should be given this title is something worth noting, and you should decide what to derive from it. If I were in a position of authority, I'd argue that it indicates that your peers have found their advice is worth heeding, but as I stated, no authority here besides that which you give me.


Would you say that it is appropriate


This book, for example, shows there's a whole bookful of advice in the suttas for laypeople -- and that (whole bookful) is without even trying to customise or select, specify, present, apply, offer that advice to specific laypeople with specific complaints.

I am by nature quite skeptical and cannot really take a monk serious if he gives tips and at the same time does not follow these tips (or rather that lifestyle). How can a monk give relationship advice?

Sorry to answer a question with a question, but:

  • How can a doctor give advice to someone who is sick?
  • How can a teacher give advice to someone who is ignorant?
  • Even, how could a sports coach give advice to an athlete? Or the conductor in an orchestra, to the musicians who are performing? Or an air traffic controller, to a pilot?

Obviously these people can, and should.

I wouldn't go to the opposite extreme and say that all advice is skilful and appropriate to you, that you'll be willing to hear it and able to use it ...

And maybe everything is "intellectual" in some way -- e.g. someone might tell me how to ride a bicycle; and regardless of whether they do it themselves, I'd still have to learn to actually do it myself.

Sure, the Dhamma gives such, but then it's just intellectual knowledge given by a monk, but that advice has not been practised by him

Perhaps that depends, on their personal history; I'd guess they've all been children at least, and had families, and been friends, and so on.

Anyone made same experiences?

Not the same but sometimes I have ignored well-meaning advice: and eventually felt good about the outcome, no remorse. Other times, in retrospect I should have given better consideration to advice I was offered, and not have rejected it so quickly. So I'm heir to my own kamma, I guess -- I don't think it's possible to generalise here like this (e.g. to "always" or to "never" offer or accept advice).

Also, beware, rejecting advice because of who the advice comes from is an ad hominem argument. IMO, ad hominem isn't entirely wrong (it's a useful shortcut, like "don't ask for legal advice from strangers on the internet"), but it's not right either.

Also maybe there is some advice, some types of advice, which you'd rather get from friends, family, and/or professionals -- when you're lay, asking for lay advice about the lay life. And I think you can say that without going too far, i.e. so far as to say that a monk shouldn't or cannot give advice.

And the success or otherwise of offering advice (i.e. suggestions about a future which you haven't experienced yet) depends partly on faith -- whether or not that faith is justified isn't easy to generalise about.

I think the whole "problem" starts with titles like "venerable" or the admiration of monks/nuns.


So ... the whole problem, it starts there, is that so?

Maybe that is a type of conceit: comparing people -- "they are better than me, because they are ordained"?

The converse might sound like a 'conceit' too, though -- "my advice is better, because I'm lay".


The Pali suttas provided relationship advice, which is basically the same as modern professional relationship advice of sociologists & psychologists. Monks should give relationship advice from the teachings of the Buddha in the suttas. For example:

Householders, if both husband and wife wish to see one another not only in this present time but also in the future, they should have the same faith, the same virtuous behavior, the same generosity and the same wisdom.

Buddha's advice

How can couples immunize their relationship from the inevitable stresses and strains of life? How can they enjoy the profound satisfaction that is possible in a committed, long-term relationship? The answer is by sharing and setting mutual goals for the relationship and committing to daily actions to reach those goals. Just as you have personal or professional goals, you and your partner can mindfully consider what you want for your relationship and how you're going to achieve it.

Modern advice

A summary of the advice from the suttas for laypeople can be found in the book: Constitution for Living by P.A. Payutto. Most of the advice remains relevant and effective. Again, monks should give relationship advice from these teachings of the Buddha in the suttas.


My own failure in implementing what I learn has to do with the complexities of learning any skill. It's very difficult to go from simply learning something in a classroom to actually integrating it into your daily life. For example, a person may spend several years in university studying programming but to the company that takes him on as a junior developer he's still only in the learning stage. What matters to the company is not his ability to understand theory but to have assimilated it to the point where he is able to produce something tangible they can use.

I'm also a coward but that's another story.

As for priests, I do think you should be careful who you let into your head. Years ago, I read some books by someone I later found out to be a cult-leader. I stopped reading his books immediately but some of the teaching remains in me to this day.

A major reason I don't join a religion in spite of reading lots of religious texts is that I don't feel comfortable subordinating my own judgment to that of a priest. To me, 'faith' is something that belongs with family members or people who have proved their good will and loyalty to you over time.

And yeah, I wouldn't take advice on relationships from someone who'd only read about them in books.


I somewhat agree with your concerns and your reasoning. In theory, a monk should have enough insight into lay life, from both their own life before becoming a monk, and from movies and interaction with people. However in practice, I think someone who became a monk early in their life cannot have the same depth of experience with normal life, so their appreciation of the challenges and difficulties may not be enough to provide a convincing advice.

Personally, one of the reasons I actively participate in "normal" life, as opposed to ordaining as monk in any tradition, is because I want to be able to relate to people and have a first-hand experience of all the typical problems: relationships, parenting, house-holding, career-building, work relationships etc. My goal is to apply Dharma and learn to live in peace within these situations, so I can teach others to find that peace, having attained it myself.

This is a very Mahayana-spirit approach. In Tibetan Buddhism especially, it was not untypical for lamas to lead semi-normal life, complete with a spouse, children, and maybe even a small family business like farming or sheep herding.

My goal, as a Mahayana evangelist, is to promote a lifestyle in which lay people could find inner peace and social harmony through application of Buddhist insights and values - without disrupting the normal fabric of social life but rather transforming its attitudes and values from within. In my view, the dominant ("western") paradigm of personal success should get transcended in favor of a new paradigm, one based on the values of maitri/metta: altruism, compassion, humanism, tolerance, acceptance, love.

The only way to promote this, in my mind, is for each of us to implement it in our own lives first, without quitting society, and then spread to our children and people around us.


When I go to get advice from someone, even if they can't fully relate to my situation, it's still possible they can assist. Even if they just listen, really listen and perhaps give a gentle nudge or kind remark, the interaction may well provide unexpected insight. If I already have the tools to address my own problems, it's not a matter of being given the solution, but rather given guidance in how to find it.

It's tempting to say that the lay life is more complicated or problematic, but from where do these complications and problems originate? Getting to the root of this is, in reality, what the monk also faces, so although the apparent face of our problems may differ, the fundamental issue is the same.


Householder Val, interested,

Householder asked Buddhist monks give advice for lay life with many assumptions on total strange foundation.

    1. The Buddha and his Monks taught, teach and will teach lay people for a life toward long term benefit here, hereafter and beyond. Even that householders would be able to fully join the religion.
    1. Monks are not born as monks and you can be sure that many of them actually leaded "perfect" lay-life, successful and not missing anything of which this mod of live can provide.
    1. Even if a particularly Monk would have no experiances, had no success in lay life, as long as he teaches of what the Buddha taught for a happy lay-life and after, he act for great benefit for many lay people.
    1. If one seeks refuge under householders, one has not taken refuge into the Tripple Gems yet. Such a person will hardly ever come next to the good teachings of the Buddha in a manner so that it may beard long time fruits for one.
    1. Don't forget that most of you live in areas not suitable to prosper in Dhamma, live under people and associate with holders of wrong view. But it would be hard to see and understand before the time one actually has gone for refuge.

As for paying homage to them because they delivered proper dhamma: It would be wrongly grasped that a monk is worthy for veneration because he teaches (is such cases often because he teaches what one like to hear). Monks are not allowed to accept a gift as reward for teachings (something many should consider). What ever gift and offering is good placed, if giving it toward something that heads toward Nibbana, does not harm others by the use of the receiver, would not increase or nourish suffering in the world. Teaching lay people, even those not having gone for refuge, is a pure matter of compassion, if done like the moon.

(Note that this gift of Dhamma is not dedicated for trade, exchange, stacks or entertainment but as a means to make merits toward release from this wheel)

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