Sneezing and coughing are voluntary reactions provoked by viruses in order to propagate and reach as many hosts as possible. If a person has a high sense of control of his or her own reactions, they can perfectly control both impulses.

Are monks encouraged to observe the rising and passing of the impulse to sneeze or cough, but not give in? Strictly speaking both are propagating disease and generate bad kamma, since you're infecting other people.


There are a couple of points here about how to be polite if the Buddha sneezes or a monk sneezes:

Now at that time the Lord, surrounded by a large assembly, sneezed while he was teaching dhamma. Monks, saying: “Lord, may the Lord live (long), may the wellfarer live (long),” made a loud noise, a great noise; the talk on dhamma was interrupted by this noise. Then the Lord addressed the monks, saying: “Now, monks, when (the phrase) ‘Long life’ is spoken to one who has sneezed, can he for this reason live or die?”

“That is not so, Lord.”

“Monks, ‘Long life’ should not be said to one who has sneezed. Whoever should say it, there is an offence of wrong-doing.”

Now at that time people said “May you live (long), honoured sirs” to monks who had sneezed. The monks, being scrupulous, did not respond. People … spread it about, saying: “How can these recluses, sons of the Sakyans not respond when (the phrase) ‘May you live (long), honoured sirs’ is being spoken to them?” They told this matter to the Lord. He said: “Monks, householders like lucky signs. I allow you, monks, when (the phrase) ‘May you live (long), honoured sirs’ is being spoken to you by householders to say, ‘Long life’ (to them).”

  • That's very interesting! Well, if the Buddha himself sneezes then it's clear it is something not to be worried about. – QuantumBrick Jul 21 '18 at 13:58
  • I think it's generally also considered polite, at least these days, not to sneeze on or at people. It's not even difficult, even young children are taught so. But I think that's a secular/cultural matter. – ChrisW Jul 21 '18 at 14:31
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    @QuantumBrick careful, the Buddha sneezed deliberately and with intention in order to help sentient beings. There is meaning in his sneeze. – Yeshe Tenley Jul 21 '18 at 14:52

Strictly speaking both are propagating disease and generate bad kamma, since you're infecting other people.

Kamma doesn't get generated by sneezing when you are ill. The 'intention' plays a very big part in ones Kamma. So no bad Kamma there.

  • Understood. The rest of the question remains valid, though. – QuantumBrick Jul 20 '18 at 15:12

Our very existence acts as a condition for the suffering of others. That said, I think you have a blinkered understanding of how karma works. As Friedrick said, intention plays a pinnacle role.

Also, the Buddha dharma teaches pacification of the mind and body. The correct way to control our body, speech and mind is taught by all Buddhist traditions and refraining from actively harming other sentient beings is crucial. However, controlling involuntary bodily reactions is pretty high hanging fruit.

I don't know whether Arya being's can control involuntary bodily reactions, but I suspect they can. When I become an Arya being I'll try and keep your question in mind and let you know somehow. Keep in mind, that not all monks and seekers on the path are at the same level. Some must content themselves with much lower hanging fruit for now :)

  • I like your answer, but physiologically speaking it is not correct. Sneezing and coughing are not involuntary... The beating of your heart, hearing, etc, are involuntary – QuantumBrick Jul 20 '18 at 15:13
  • Considering that advanced Buddhist meditators can control the beating of their heart and can shut out all external noise ... i'd say that sneezing and coughing wouldn't be too hard for them. – Yeshe Tenley Jul 20 '18 at 15:21

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