There are a lot of people practicing their religion at home (to some extent). But how practical is that for a Buddhist?

My question came boiling up when a family-member said that I ultimately have to choose between 'my western life' or becoming a Monk because they think they aren't compatible and to be honest, I don't really know.

I feel myself to become quite less social when I practice Buddhism which is by my knowledge a common reaction when you get to see things as they are. The Vinaya Pitika describes 227 rules to ordained Monks for the sake of becoming enlightened. There are many distractions which keeps you from the right path and you will break 220 on average each day.

  • Are you asking about compatibility with general Theravada Buddhism and modern western life or narrowly compatibility of the monastic vinaya and western life? The former is legal, the later is sometimes illegal (e.g. street begging is often against the law). It was a document of it's time and place. Monastics a few hundred years later in China had to rewrite it to make it something that worked in a Chinese context. I expect the same for Buddhism in the west. – MatthewMartin Aug 28 '14 at 12:48
  • I want to point out the essence of Buddhism, which is to become enlightened. It's not only the rules that contradicts the law, but the moral precepts of the monastic with that in western countries. The question is if these could potentially lead to not becoming enlightened, which contradicts the fundamental goal of Buddhism? Sorry if that was not clear. – Jordy van Ekelen Aug 28 '14 at 13:03
  • The vinaya is a mix of morality and house rules necessary to run a sangha of recent converts from all walks of life. The list of rules was an after thought after the Buddha became enlightened. So the Buddha never said, follow these rules and you'll be enlightened. It was more like, follow these rules and you won't be so disruptive that we have to kick you out of the sangha. – MatthewMartin Aug 29 '14 at 1:47

I woud say Theravadan Buddhism is compatible with the West because it is already happening. Jack Kornfield studied with Ajahn Chah and then went on to found the Insight Meditation Centre which is partially inspired by this practice (though doesn't wholly identify as Theravadan). Ajahn Chah's lineage itself has come to the West with the Thai Forest Tradition and to quote from here

They provide centres for monastic training, as well as, teaching and practice for the lay community.

So you don't need to be a monk to practice. My own group the Triratna Buddhists are also very influenced by Theravada Buddhism and we have no concept of monks. Even order members are considered to be lay followers.

As Buddhism moves Buddhism changes. As it moves into the West and as Western culture influences into the East then (Theravada) Buddhism will change. But Buddhism will always teach liberation - how could it be any other way. So I would humbly say that yes you can practice but the practice might not be quite as it was before.

  • I'm very aware that there are very committed Theravada practitioners on the site who I'm sure will have more (and different) to say. This is just my own very Westernised opinion. – Crab Bucket Aug 28 '14 at 14:06
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    That is a good point, it is true that you can ultimately practice Buddhism in most cultures as it is practiced in the West. However, you pointed out Buddhism will always teach liberation. But will it eventually lead to liberation too? The Western culture is known to be fast moving (science/technology), capitalistic and for its social/career pressures. I wonder if you could tell the difference of effects in a sense of understanding and realization which is of course hard, if not impossible to tell. – Jordy van Ekelen Aug 28 '14 at 15:19
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    @JordyvanEkelen whether Western culture helps or hinders practice generally is a hugely interesting point. I know many Westerners that believe that there is something about Western society that makes Buddhist practice more difficult or even impossible. I've always disputed that. I think it's a golden age - access to all the Dharma in history, access to teachers, freedom of worship and expression. I think that us in the West are very fortunate indeed. (it's a controversial opinion) – Crab Bucket Aug 28 '14 at 15:27

In my humble opinion, Buddhism meshes with the nobler aspects of western culture much better than most western religions. Buddhism has a system of ethics for lay people which is based not on appeals to authority but on what leads to true happiness, which is actually identical to the virtue ethics of most ancient Greek schools of philosophy for example, and the Buddha seems to have been a fan of democracy, setting up the Sangha of Monks and Nuns to make decisions by voting in a formal assembly in their communities, and the Buddha even gave a parable which seems to lay out a theory of government based on popular sovereignty in DN 27 ( http://www.urbandharma.org/pdf/AggannaSutta.pdf )

On top of it all, Buddhism rejects tradition and scripture as sources of authority, offering people not the all too familiar "Convert or burn in hell" line, but a confident "Don't take our word for it, test the teachings out for yourself!" attitude that fits much better with our much more empirical mindset.

Quite frankly, a lot of the things people point to as being major cultural barriers are quite superficial things like bowing, chanting, and other things which are by their nature supplementary to the teachings anyways.


I believe first you need to decide if you want to be a monk or keep as a lay buddhist. If you want to follow the lay buddhist path, there is nothing wrong with the west or our modern life, you just have to keep the 5 preceps, not really complicated.

If you want to become a monk, you just need to join a Sangha and that can be in the east or west, it doesn't make much difference these days if you find a serious place to practice.

Just to complicate a little bit...I used to question myself: If I truly believe in the Buddha why not becoming a monk? It is not the only way, but that was his way, there is clearly something special to be acquired following the Vinaya and everything... so why be satisfied with lay life? it is a hard question, but very, very personal.

  • I speculate about that every now and then and it is indeed a very intriguing question with a very personal answer, and I don't have one myself although I must say I sometimes reckon these thoughts as doubt. – Jordy van Ekelen Aug 29 '14 at 0:02

Even in Asia, you have to leave the lay life, if you are to become a monk. Once you become a monk, your culture doesn't matter. You belong to the Sangha. There are many Theravada Sangha in the world with western origins. Ex: Venerable Yuttadhammo, Venerable Bodhi, Venerable Ajahn Brahm. etc. They are hardly anti-social. Look at how many lay followers they have. You don't have to compromise on Vinaya rules to be a benefit to the society.

Even if you stay as a lay person, you don't have to kill, steal, sexually misbehave, lie or get drunk to be social.

  • I don't tend to agree to the part stating these people did not became anti social because it is a normal cause. One who pragmatically practices Buddhism gains insight and understanding of reality and will most likely become less social as the need for social participation reduces because one loses the interest due letting go of the clinging to relationships/social need. – Jordy van Ekelen Aug 28 '14 at 23:44
  • I think the mistake is on my side here though, because I should have wrote 'less social' rather than 'anti-social'. – Jordy van Ekelen Aug 28 '14 at 23:47
  • Less social in conventional ways perhaps, but sharing the Dhamma keeps people connected in a type of "social" way. The Buddha certainly remained connected to society to teach them. – Robin111 Aug 28 '14 at 23:48
  • Sangha become less social, if they go into the forest to meditate. Or if they were celebrities in lay life. Otherwise, they can actually become more social as they tend to interact even with strangers. Not just relatives and friends. Just that most of the people they usually interact with are the ones who are interested in the Dhamma. That makes them more social in a more beneficial way. – Sankha Kulathantille Aug 29 '14 at 4:31

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