I have been watching Buddhist followers for sometime now in India and it made me wonder if austerity is necessary in Buddhism ?

Like if I wish to become a Buddhist do I need to give up on listening to music, watching tv, using social networking sites, making a livelihood by working in a firm, self- pleasure (read masturbation), have to sleep on floor and beg for a living?

I don't mean any of this questions in an offense way. But most of the people here, at least the common opinion as most of my friends/family have told me is that if you believe in Buddhism you have to live like a "Monk".

  • You will need to give up lots. However, I see loads of monks not sticking no.7 of the precepts.
    – jmkjuy
    Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 21:12

5 Answers 5


Is austerity [as defined above] necessary in Buddhism?

The answer depends as follows:

  • As a householder, austerity, as you defined above, is not required since it's not part of the five essential precepts prescribed for him.1 However, this austerity, also know as the 8 precepts, is usually applied during retreats and Uposatha days.2
  • As a monastic, it is required consistently since it will help to develop the meditation practice more effectively by diminishing unwholesome obsessions & available distractions.

This distinction, however, is not "set in stone" or "black & white" since householders are encouraged to follow this kind of austerity more consistently if they can and feel inclined to do so.


According to Triyana framework as presented by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the first stage of Buddhist training, known as "Hinayana", involves special emphasis on discipline and simplicity, in essence very similar to what you call "austerity" above.

The idea is to reduce the coarse defilements by restricting activities that lead to experiences that sustain the defilements. Metaphorically, in order to sober up you have to stop drinking. Basically, this means saying "no" to indulging, in all its shapes and forms.


I honestly am not sure why people are ascribing these qualities to 'Buddhism' without qualifying what type of Buddhism they are talking about. Hina/Maya/Vajrayana isn't enough either, as ideology in these schools varies widely. Thanks very much to the poster who mentioned Trungpa as a source!

There are adherents that believe that the eight fold path is antiquated, and should be modernized. Especially with cheap and accessible birth control, we can eliminate the sexual abstinence part of this (for example). Other parts of it could be revisited, in the light of 2.4 centuries of progress, and since we are not India.

The ONLY reason the eight fold path was designed this way. in 600+ BC, was as a teaching tool, and to give people a simple path that could work for uneducated people... we know this.. however, some schools of Buddhism insist on thinking it is the ONLY way to practice, and fossilize the teachings in amber.

To each his own. I don't like that approach.

Essentially, I believe the answer to your question is "No", "yes" and 'It Depends" :-)

We have the advantage now of education and science that is totally beyond the capabilities of a 6th century BC human to understand, Buddha or not, and in looking at the eightfold path and the four noble truths, we really need to understand that they were designed as a shorthand for the real story.. which is much more complex than these simple ideas.

Remember, it was also said that there are many paths.. and it was implied the eight fold path was but one. The whole point of it was to eliminate suffering by bringing people to a point where they could rid themselves of the strong boundaries they make in their minds about the world, and learn to see the world directly. That's all, really. It's not anything special, and so it might mean that YOU, in particular, should practice austerity as YOUR path, if you have problems with excess and impulse control, for example.

Your question has no general answer! It can't be answered for all Buddhist ideologies, nor for all Buddhists.


"Practicing" Buddhism typically involves study, meditation, and effort... without, at the very least, some sort of effort you are not practicing anything, and to practice Buddhism is to meditate... making "practicing buddhism" an austere act in and of itself. so yes, it is a necessary condition to a varying degree.

  • i will add that "Austerity" is defined with slight variations that make a big difference really, so the question is very subjective.
    – A Nonimous
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 5:34

Even gautam buddha left the five ascetics 'Kondana, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama, Assaji' when he realised that even after going through severe austerities until his body was almost emaciated, that austerities could not lead to realisation, he abandoned them...they how could you say that we have to sacrifice all. gautama buddha until the age of 29 was living a life envied by all, so in his case he had to sacrifice all that he have or want to the way to nirvana making it a mile long than any common man would have to go through as we were not living a life like him. we are already not bestowed with an early life like him. so in our case the meaning or amount of sacrifice is comparatively less.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .