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. Commented Aug 28, 2014 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. Commented Aug 28, 2014 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. Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 1:47

7 Answers 7


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. Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 14:06
  • 1
    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. Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 15:19
  • 1
    @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) Commented Aug 28, 2014 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. Commented Aug 29, 2014 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. Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 23:44
  • I think the mistake is on my side here though, because I should have wrote 'less social' rather than 'anti-social'. Commented Aug 28, 2014 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
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 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. Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 4:31

Householder Jordy van Ekelen, interested,

Right View and the Buddhas original tradition goes totally against modern and western views, so even if tending to right view, it will be hard to practice born and dwell under people with wrong views, thinking in ways or rights and regard all equal.

Gifted therefore who resists on suitable place and if not yet, one should try to build on Upanissaya that one of the main requisites and Maha Mangala would arise for one.

There are less places left in the world where right views, at large are still regarded and not replaced by Marxist or Materialistic Views.

Modern/Western "buddist" communities actually have already addopted those popular views and would be not really able to provide the basics in good manner. But one should not think that in the traditional countries, in the most of them, the tendency is not already modern, western... so hurry up, this traddition is disappearing much more fast as most think, incl. sadly often lead by monks into wrong direction and for the benefits in the world!

Some accounts on it:
To reside in a suitable location... is the highest blessing

(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)


Some aspects of western life is compatible with Theravada Buddhism, and some are not.

What is not compatible with Theravada Buddhism? Materialism and free consumption of alcohol are prominent examples, and applies to most western countries. But to be honest, materialism applies to most of the world, anyway.

In some western countries (and not all), there may be free consumption of drugs, habitual speaking of untruth (or perhaps, deceptiveness), legalized prostitution, strip clubs and sexual behavior like swapping partners - these are not compatible with Buddhism, because they are either not compatible with the five precepts, or because they are not compatible with Right Livelihood.

What is compatible with Theravada Buddhism? I would say plenty. Much more than what is not compatible.

The Buddhist qualities of charity and compassion are quite compatible with western countries that have a system of social welfare, for e.g. Scandinavian countries.

In some western countries like Germany, people culturally have the quality of being straightforward and truthful, as well as have the tendency to obey the law and rules, even when nobody is watching. This is compatible with the Buddhist precept of speaking the truth and also the Buddhist quality of heedfulness.

In many western countries, people are generally not in favour of superstition, astrology, palmistry, geomancy, divination, identifying astrologically auspicious dates, ceremonial idol worship etc. This is very compatible with Theravada Buddhism (see DN 2). Even some majority Buddhist Asian countries like Thailand and Myanmar fail here.

Many western countries are in favour of the separation of religion and government. This is also compatible with Theravada Buddhism (see DN 2). Again, some majority Buddhist Asian countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka seem to fail here.

Western countries are among the most atheistic countries in the world, with the notable exception of the United States. This too is very much compatible with Theravada Buddhism, but incompatible with Christianity and Judaism.

Many western countries tend to have greater acceptance of sexual orientation diversity, similar to Thailand. This too is in some way more compatible with Buddhism, than say, certain denominations of western Christianity.

Roman Catholicism does not allow women to become priests, and it seems that some Thai monastic orders do not allow women to become nuns. This is not compatible with western culture that tends to favour equal rights for women. The Buddha allowed both men and women to join the monastic order, and did not exclude women from the possibility of becoming arahants. In this way, Theravada Buddhism (based on the Buddha's original teachings) is quite compatible with the western quality of giving equal rights to women.

That said, many of the mentioned Buddhism-compatible qualities of certain western countries can also be found in parts of Asia.


Western life is the complete opposite to any kind of authentinc spiritual path. This comes especially obvious as you become more spiritually advanced. If you want to advance spiritually you need instructions from a quaified teacher and an authentic spiritual culture or community where people practice and live original teachings of Buddha. One of the aspects of Noble Eightfold Path is Right Livelihood.

  • "complete opposite to any kind of authentinc spiritual path", yes. But how comes that so many western feel that they are spirituall? Maybe they take red as a spiritual color?
    – user11235
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 23:37

You must log in to answer this question.

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