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One thing that seems fascinating about the rules of the monastic life, the rules of poverty and celibacy, and so forth, is that as strict as the rules are, it seems that compliance is voluntary. A monk could, at any moment, choose to disrobe and leave the order, and he would still be welcome to hear the Buddha and practice as a lay believer.

It seems almost as if he is lauded for acknowledging his limitations rather than continuing to struggle without making progress, and continuing to eat the alms food in vain. I haven't yet read any sutras where a lapsed monk is told that he earned himself a rebirth in a bad destination.

Am I mistaken? Does a lapsed monk earn bad karma from leaving the order, or from having mistakenly joined the monastic order? On the other hand, is it possible that he earns good karma and a good rebirth for having been in the Sangha? Suppose that his time in the Sangha makes him more wise, compassionate, forbearing as a lay person than he was previously.

Suppose a recently divorced banker or stock broker resolves to join an established Therevadin order for exactly seven years. He will memorize the teaching and meticulously follow the rules during that time, after which he will return to his profession (and find a new wife).

Is this permissible and beneficial, according to the Dhamma?

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I do not recall any suttas that refer to a bad outcome due to disrobing. This said, I do not recall any suttas about a monk returning to lay life given the Buddha generally intervened and prevented them.

However, the suttas do have teachings I recall about bad monks, such as the Dhammapda verses below:

  1. There are many evil characters and uncontrolled men wearing the saffron robe. These wicked men will be born in states of woe because of their evil deeds.

  2. It would be better to swallow a red-hot iron ball, blazing like fire, than as an immoral and uncontrolled monk to eat the alms of the people.

As for good rebirth, this can only come from general good karma (rather than a token amount of time as a monk). For example, in Thailand, often corrupt politicians temporarily become monks to redeem their reputations. However, if they are inwardly rotten, ordaining temporarily won’t help much change their destiny.

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Does a lapsed monk earn bad karma from leaving the order, or from having mistakenly joined the monastic order? On the other hand, is it possible that he earns good karma and a good rebirth for having been in the Sangha? Suppose that his time in the Sangha makes him more wise, compassionate, forbearing as a lay person than he was previously.

Depends on the situation right before he leaves. If he violated some key precepts which the discipline codes requires an expulsion from the order, then that would incur negative kamma. But if he has not broken any precept and simply found that monkhood was not really the most suitable for him, he can leave the order without any negative kamma. Once back to lay life, if he applies what he's learned and implement the Three grounds for meritorious activity, then indeed he'll earn good kamma and favorable rebirths.

Suppose a recently divorced banker or stock broker resolves to join an established Therevadin order for exactly seven years. He will memorize the teaching and meticulously follow the rules during that time, after which he will return to his profession (and find a new wife). Is this permissible and beneficial, according to the Dhamma?

Again, it depends on how he'll apply what he's learned for his post-monastic life. If he only follows the training rules during the monastic time, but then commits unwholesome deeds once back to lay life, then chances are he'll only reap what's called mixed kamma with dark and bright results, which we can see all around us: smart intelligent man but destitute and in constant debts; rich wealthy guy but subjected to throat diseases which prevents him from enjoying good food; beautiful woman who was sold into brothels; man who seems to have it all: intelligence, wealth, fame, looks, but die tragically at a young age, etc..

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There is nothing 'special' about being a monk. People join monastic orders in order to accelerate their development. If they find the process of development too difficult, or come to believe that they will not make progress on the path, or otherwise become disenchanted with the monastic life, then there is no harm in leaving the order. They merely go back to the life they had before — perhaps with some new insights, perhaps not — and develop at the 'normal' (layperson) rate. They can return to the order later when they are properly ready to try the accelerated path.

It would be far worse for someone to someone to remain within the order if they have become jaded about the practice. That just leads towards corruption.

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