Usually in the evening, when I am about to retire, I commit myself to finding and entering into a residential Sangha permanently.

When morning rolls in, I fall back into my usual patterns like work, hobbies, social, etc.

Usually when I suffer, this emboldens me to seek the monastic life but usually doesn't last very long.

When I think about it, I feel like the monastic life is the only way to proceed yet I don't follow through with it.

Speaking from a general point-of-view, if a Buddhist knows that the lay life is not ideal, what barriers (overt and inconspicuous) are preventing them from seeking and living the monastical life. How can they be overcomed ?

  • Could you re-state the question? It sounds like you're asking us to tell you why you persist with an apparent contradiction in your life. But surely you're the best/only person who can answer that particular question?
    – tkp
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 23:22
  • @tkp Good call. Have reworded the title and ending to generalize.
    – pmagunia
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 23:36
  • There are so many good answers, it's difficult to pick the correct one.
    – pmagunia
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 16:21

6 Answers 6


Why does he or she continue?

Because of clinging. Clinging to family, clinging to lovers, clinging to property, clinging to comforts, clinging to all kinds of sensual pleasures which the monastic life wouldn't have.

How to overcome it?

You have to develop Nekkhamma Sankappa of the noble 8 fold path. Take a timeout to think about what you've really been trying to do every day, your whole life. Being yourself subjected to birth, sickness, aging, death etc. which cause suffering, you are trying to attain satisfaction by chasing after other things which are also subjected to birth, sickness, aging and death. This is called the ignoble search. Think of the absurdness of doing the same thing over and over again, when it can never give you the intended outcome. Pay careful and wise attention to the signs of Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta in life. What made prince Siddhartha decide to leave the lay life? Seeing an old man, a sick man, a dead body, a hermit. We see the same things too. But we rarely pay wise attention. We rarely think that we are also subjected to the same misery. Even if we do think that, it would just be a passing thought. It wouldn't be strong enough to break the bonds of lay life. It wasn't a passing thought for prince Siddhartha. He thought about what he saw even after returning to the palace. He cultivated his mind with Nekkhamma thoughts, which eventually became strong enough to make him decide to leave the lay life to do the noble search. i.e. to seek the unborn, unaging and the deathless element.

  • Can you please explain why you removed 'absurd' from the title ? The word seems to capture the essense of modernity quite well especially juxtaposed to 20th century western literature.
    – pmagunia
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 4:54
  • I thought the word is too strong and gives the notion that Buddhism is against lay life, when you put it that way. Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 5:02
  • Would you agree with @soulsings answer that the Buddha did not favor the monastical life over lay life ?
    – pmagunia
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 5:10
  • No I don't! The Buddha praised the monastic life over lay life and outlined it's benefits. I don't quite remember which sutta. It's just that everyone does not have the mental fortitude to lead a monastic life. Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 9:19

Your use of the word "absurd" in the original title makes me wonder whether you've been exposed to 20th century nihilist philosophy.

"Absurd" comes from a Latin word meaning "dissonant" and it refers to the dissonance between man's expectations and his actual experience.

That's kind of cool (it's maybe the second noble truth) but it's still a description of the problem, and not of the solution.

Note that the Buddha spoke again both extremes: eternalism and nihilism.

I could try to suggest two remedies:

There are also some half-way measures, e.g. lay people visit or work with Sanghas.

Speaking from a general point-of-view, if a Buddhist knows that the lay life is not ideal, what barriers (overt and inconspicuous) are preventing them from seeking and living the monastical life.

This isn't quite what you were asking, but one answer is that to be accepted they might require you to be in reasonable health, and not too old (e.g. less than 50)

Also your basic question seems to be "why don't I act rationally?" Well that's a good question but maybe it's normal for human to have habits, including bad habits, and developing discipline and rationality and insight etc. is non-trivial.

There's a (non-Buddhist) poem addressed to Siva (named "Ramanatha" in the poem),

If this is my body
Would it not follow my will?
If this is your body
Would it not follow your will?
Obviously, it is neither your body
Nor mine:
It is the fickle body
Of the burning world you made,

How can they be overcomed ?

There's a little voice in my head that replies, "First you must have that intention (to overcome them)."

I suppose a canonical answer is the "noble eightfold way" (see for example here and here): that's the path to liberation. You start with Right View (seeing your situation properly), then Right Intent (wanting to act appropriately for that situation), etc.

And even a little is better than none IMO: doing away with ill-will, intending to be harmless, etc.

You might like to read The Intention of Renunciation since that's what you seem to be asking about,

The Buddha does not demand that everyone leave the household life for the monastery or ask his followers to discard all sense enjoyments on the spot.

Maybe you don't want to lose happiness (by losing work, hobbies, social, etc.). Maybe a key then is to replace these forms of happiness, not with nothing but with other causes of happiness: e.g. equanimity (freedom), good will, etc.

  • I've read "The Stranger", "The Wasteland", and a few other similar works though I'd say I was too young young when I read them to appreciate the ideas. I'm not sure I do understand "absurdity" or "modernity" fully but I do remember them from the student days.
    – pmagunia
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 5:46
  • I suppose "The Absurd" is often used in connection with Existentialism which is why I made that remark (it's been that long since I've seen the word "absurd" being used). A difference between Pascal and Existentialism might be that "God is Dead", therefore (according to "existentialism", if I've understood that) we choose who we are instead of the Church telling us who we are.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 18:29
  • More importantly you're asking why you don't do what you want to? An earlier topic on this site was whether Buddhism believes in Free Will. When I read en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will I read that "will" is mostly used synonymously with "free will" (e.g. if it's not my "free will" then it's not "my will" at all), except in the context of addiction (e.g. people taking drugs whether or not they "want" to). A related article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_of_free_will includes the statement, "Human agency ... may be ... a result of training unconscious habits beforehand."
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 18:37
  • @Sisyphus And that, i.e. "unconscious habits", has an I-think obvious tie-in to a perhaps-more-formally-Buddhist way of answering to your question: which is that people keep on doing it because that's their "karma". Maybe changing your karma would implies training/retraining so-called unconscious habits.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 18:42
  • I'm glad you brought up the topic of addiction. Usually when we think of addiction, it's with respect to substance abuse, but I wonder if a consensus will be reached that the lay life is also an addiction. Dopamine and reward chemicals shape our behavior perhaps more than science has yet shown. There was a controversial NIH scientist (his name escapes me) who denounced the APA's DSM in favor of physical biological markers in the brain. I have a feeling Quantum Science will also some say in our behavior and free will. May be if I meditate long enough the answers will become apparent.
    – pmagunia
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 0:25

Two reasons come to mind; one practical, the other metaphysical.


What you describe is no different from how we live our lives all the time. We want things but don't want to do the work for them.

  • We want to lose weight, but don't want to exercise.
  • We want to learn a skill, but don't want to spend time practicing it.
  • We want happiness, but don't want the changes required to bring it about.

I think this is the same phenomena. We want the fruits of Nirvana, but don't want to give up our attachments.

Also, there is something compelling about Samsara, otherwise it wouldn't be such a challenge to let it go. Besides, I think many people who superficially believe in Samsara do not believe it deep down.

How to overcome it? Well, mindfulness of Samsara. If you can really see this life as unsatisfactory, then the problem should solve itself. However, the key is seeing, not intellectual assent. We intellectually assent to many things that we don't really see. Can you honestly encounter your experiences in every moment, reflect on them, really SEE Samsara? That you can get some glimpses of Nirvana along the way can serve as a useful stick and carrot corrective.


Many Buddhists believe in rebirth. The quality of one's rebirth is commensurate to one's practice here. Therefore, even if a lay life is not ideal, one may practice to ensure a more favorable rebirth wherein one can practice more rigorously and at some point down the line achieve Nirvana.

How to correct this? Abandon believe in rebirth! Of course that's easier said than done for those who have that worldview.

  • You don’t have to abandon belief in rebirth. In fact, believing in rebirth is right view. You just have to abandon the desire to be reborn in heaven or Brahma realms
    – user14213
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 16:33

"There is the case, great king, where a Tathagata appears in the world, worthy and rightly self-awakened. He teaches the Dhamma admirable in its beginning, admirable in its middle, admirable in its end. He proclaims the holy life both in its particulars and in its essence, entirely perfect, surpassingly pure.

"A householder or householder's son, hearing the Dhamma, gains conviction in the Tathagata and reflects: 'Household life is confining, a dusty path. The life gone forth is like the open air. It is not easy living at home to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, like a polished shell. What if I were to shave off my hair and beard, put on the ochre robes, and go forth from the household life into homelessness?'

"So after some time he abandons his mass of wealth, large or small; leaves his circle of relatives, large or small; shaves off his hair and beard, puts on the ochre robes, and goes forth from the household life into homelessness.

"When he has thus gone forth, he lives restrained by the rules of the monastic code, seeing danger in the slightest faults. Consummate in his virtue, he guards the doors of his senses, is possessed of mindfulness and alertness, and is content.

Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2)

Also, this is what the Boddhisattva thought :

"Why wouldn't it have, Aggivessana? Before my Awakening, when I was still an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me: 'Household life is confining, a dusty path. Life gone forth is the open air. It isn't easy, living in a home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell. What if I, having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe, were to go forth from the household life into homelessness?'

"So at a later time, when I was still young, black-haired, endowed with the blessings of youth in the first stage of life, having shaved off my hair & beard — though my parents wished otherwise and were grieving with tears on their faces — I put on the ochre robe and went forth from the home life into homelessness.

Maha-Saccaka Sutta (MN 36)

This is to support Sankha Kulathantille's answer - which I think is reasonable and in line with the Dhamma.

Also, I think you should consider reading the Samaññaphala Sutta, if you haven't done so already.

  • 1
    This particular sentence in the first excerpt seems to standout in this context: He proclaims the holy life both in its particulars and in its essence, entirely perfect, surpassingly pure.
    – pmagunia
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 0:36

When I think about it, I feel like the monastic life is the only way to proceed yet I don't follow through with it.

While the ideal monastic life is considered the swiftest route to Nibbana, don't overly romanticize the monastic life today. It depends on where you are. Many monastics in Asia perform a purely cultural role fulfilling funeral rites and other customary rituals, some have abandoned the quest for enlightenment and taken up nationalistic causes.

Likewise don't overly put down a household life as being impractical to the practice. If you are disciplined and dedicated enough you can practice at home, perhaps finding encouragement from other like minded friends, and with the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable teacher. There were many householders who attained states of sotapatti, sakadagami and anagami and continued to remain householders even after.


Whether one is a lay practitioner or a monk, either way the key to progress is the daily practice. Either can meditate twice a day, do walking meditation, do karma work, do charity work, and raise their consciousness. Maybe the idea that the monastery is better than lay life is a concept that may be true or not true. Listing the jobs in each place and the challenges each offers may give a better idea of the demands of a monk or lay person. The Buddha did not give higher value to one over the other. Many lay person's attained enlightenment in Buddha's day. Perhaps the real question is one that must be asked within where there are no words or concepts and wait for an inner response: What is my calling in life? What have I come here to do? Why have I come here? What can I do that will most fulfill that aim?

By allowing the beginner's mind, the nirvana consciousness to grow, these answers may appear when the time is ripe.

  • 1
    Really? The Buddha did not give higher value to one over the other? I might be over thinking this but do you mean that the Buddha valued a meditator directly and not compared to another person or concept of a person such as "monk" and "lay"?
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 16:24
  • 2
    please, can you clarify this: "The Buddha did not give higher value to one over the other."
    – user382
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 17:40
  • I suspect that, for example, renunciation is said to be better than not, and that the monastic life is said to be more conducive to being able to do that.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 18:06
  • The practice is more important than joining an order or practicing independently, whether monk or lay does not boost your chances to succeed. The practice of Buddhism does.
    – soulsings
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 0:29
  • ChrisW, if one renounces the belief in the selfhood apart from Buddha mind, that certainly boosts your chances to succeed. Some people would fail as monks and succeed as lay people. Some people would fail as lay people and succeed as monks. Indifference to appearance and practice of the Middle Way appear to be the most significant factors in success.
    – soulsings
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 0:33

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