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Below, I have questions regarding Buddhist monasticism. They are centered around topics of health.

  1. May a monastic regulate their alms diet in order to focus on healthy foods and avoid unhealthy ones?
  2. Would it be appropriate for a monastic to physically exercise to keep healthy?
  3. Do monastics have access to healthcare for dental & physical checkups as well as brush their teeth, cut their nails, etc.?

Thank you for your time and may you be well.

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  • There was a story from Ven. Yuttadhammo about a monk complaining that he wasn't allowed to run up and down steps in order to "stay in shape", and being teased -- "what 'shape' did you want to stay in: square? round?"
    – ChrisW
    Feb 17, 2021 at 7:29
  • @ChrisW Ah, yes. I have seen that video. I suppose I have a different understanding about physical exercise than Venerable Yuttadhammo despite him being one of my primary sources for learning and practice.
    – user20570
    Feb 17, 2021 at 15:23

3 Answers 3

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May a monastic regulate their alms diet in order to focus on healthy foods and avoid unhealthy ones?

As a monk, you generally accept what you are given. However, after collecting the food, you can choose to eat certain foods from your bowl and discard other foods; although this may be awkward to do when you are given foods & eat in public (such as at a public ceremony).

If you live in a hardcore monastery, often all the alms food is mixed together in a large bowl and then ladled out; thus preventing choice. However, this is rare.

Unless you are 'rock-star' monk or nun in California, you are generally given food by Asian benefactors, such as white rice, curries and lots of sweets. It is quite noticeable many monks in Western monasteries supported by ex-pat Asians appear overweight (possibly due to lots of public offerings & public eating and being offered lots of cakes & sweets).

A monk came to live in my small local area (in Australia) once for a few months. You could see his craving for my food when he visited my house (where i provided healthy brown rice, lots of veggies, eggs, tofu, nuts, etc). Most people offered him rubbish to eat. But I expelled him after a few days because he taught Dependent Origination incorrectly (when unasked!!). Therefore, a monk with wrong views that slanders the Dhamma and the Buddha may also not receive healthy food but, instead, eat junk food from the hands of fools.

Would it be appropriate for a monastic to physically exercise for the sake of retaining their health?

In a hardcore monastery, generally there is physical work to do, such as sweeping the forest paths, working on building projects, carrying water, etc. Plus there is alms round and walking meditation. Therefore, a monk exercises.

However, there is nothing stopping you doing exercises in private, such as doing push ups and sit ups in your hut. But visible exercise in public is generally disallowed.

Once I saw in Thailand a German monk kicked out of a monastery for insisting on doing Tai Chi in a public park in the monastery. The German monk cried it was unfair.

Do monastics have access to healthcare for dental & physical checkups as well as brush their teeth, cut their nails, etc.?

Generally, yes. Monks are generally well looked after. When I lived in well-known monasteries in Thailand as a layman, the local hospitals always gave me free medical care when required, including once during a one-week stay in Bangkok.

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May a monastic regulate their alms diet in order to focus on healthy foods and avoid unhealthy ones?

Few can do and most can not.

Would it be appropriate for a monastic to physically exercise for the sake of retaining their health?

When you say for the sake health. Is this closer to rehabilitation after suffering a stroke or jogging for general exercise? I think this question isn't supposed to be answered categorically.

Do monastics have access to healthcare for dental & physical checkups as well as brush their teeth, cut their nails, etc.?

I think most monks have access to these things.

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  • I edited question two in my post. Hopefully that is clearer.
    – user20570
    Feb 17, 2021 at 2:13
  • Would you consider swimming such exercise ie?
    – user8527
    Feb 17, 2021 at 2:19
  • In general if a bhikkhu is sick and exercise is necessary then he can enter water. Otherwise it's inappropriate to go for a swim as means of keeping healthy.
    – user8527
    Feb 17, 2021 at 2:24
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    It's paccittiya 53. In brief "Naturally, a sick bhikkhu entering the water for health reasons does not commit any fault. The same thing applies to a bhikkhu who swims only for the purpose of crossing a river that obstructs his way."
    – user8527
    Feb 17, 2021 at 2:26
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    In general i think there is a silid case to be made for it being inappropriate for a bhikkhu to become enthusiastic about some exercises, to play for sport, jogging and etc
    – user8527
    Feb 17, 2021 at 2:32
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OP: May a monastic regulate their alms diet in order to focus on healthy foods and avoid unhealthy ones?

The Theravada Bhikkhu Patimokkha states:

  1. There are these finer staple foods: ghee, fresh butter, oil, honey, sugar/molasses, fish, meat, milk, and curds. Should any bhikkhu who is not ill, having requested finer staple foods such as these for his own sake, then consume them, it is to be confessed.

Based on this, I assume that it may be possible for a monk to request for healthier meals based on his health condition, but he may not get it, if he is dependent on almsfood.

In this article, we read about the 14th Dalai Lama:

During his early years in Tibet, the Dalai Lama would have eaten meat as part of his diet because of the country's reliance on consumable livestock in lieu of sufficient vegetable crops. When he fled to India in 1959, he adopted a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet in accordance with the beliefs of many of the country's own Buddhists. Unfortunately, after 20 months, he contracted hepatitis and developed gall bladder disease, and his doctors insisted he resume eating meat for health reasons.

Of course, the Dalai Lama is a popular religious leader who could easily get any kind of food he desires.

The Buddha also gave advice in the Donapaka Sutta (also see this answer) to eat less or eat moderately:

When a person is constantly mindful,
And knows when enough food has been taken,
All their afflictions become more slender
— They age more gradually, protecting their lives.

OP: Would it be appropriate for a monastic to physically exercise to keep healthy?

Please watch Ven. Yuttadhammo's "Ask A Monk: Physical Exercises" Youtube talk. He basically says that monks eat less than normal laypersons, perform walking meditation and other physical tasks, and this is sufficient for monks.

Also he says that monks should not be averse to suffering from health problems as it is a learning opportunity to understand reality. But this is his opinion only.

The suttas also speak of monks exercising, for e.g. from the Meghiya Sutta:

Then in the early morning, Ven. Meghiya adjusted his under robe and — carrying his bowl & robes — went into Jantu Village for alms. Having gone for alms in Jantu Village, after the meal, returning from his alms round, he went to the bank of the Kimikālā River. As he was walking up & down along the bank of the river to exercise his legs, he saw a pleasing, charming mango grove

OP: Do monastics have access to healthcare for dental & physical checkups as well as brush their teeth, cut their nails, etc.?

I suppose they do, but I don't have info on this.

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  • About dental and physical checkups - what about monastics who live alone in the jungle or forest - what will they do?
    – user19910
    Feb 18, 2021 at 23:57
  • @Tranquility I think that they would a) be within walking/driving distance of a place that can provide such things or b) have such checkups occur on their premises in the forest (i.e. the dentists/physicians come to them or a monastic is trained in such ways themself) or c) not have such checkups at all. I think most monastics are within reach of civilization/laypeople despite sometimes being in a desolate location. Without civilization/laypeople nearby, where would they get their alms on their alms rounds (and one person would probably be a doctor of some sorts)? Hope this helps!
    – user20570
    Feb 20, 2021 at 0:33

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