I am curious to know a little bit more about the day-to-day life of Theravada buddhist monks. I am drawn to the idea of ordaining, but I fear this is only because I have romanticized the buddhist monk's life in my mind as easy and care-free; like an escape from my own life. What is monastic life like, and how do the challenges that come with this lifestyle compare with those of lay-life? I am looking for a reality check if anyone can provide it. Thx!


3 Answers 3


I had the same problem as you with romanticising monk life. Of course the day to day living of a monk varies a lot depending on whether they live in a monastery, a cave, or the forest. Despite having many hours in the day for their own practice I often see monks telling of how they have little free time.

This book called The Broken Buddha which was written by an ex-monk exposes the reality about monasticism in thailand/sri lanka/burma http://www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-berlin.de/downloads/brokenbuddhanew.pdf

Reading that drove away a lot of my dreaming of monk life because I realised the type of people I would be living with if ordaining in Asia. I still strive for a monastic lifestyle but not because of romanticised ideas.

  • 1
    Thank you for the link. I don't think the author is an "ex-monk": apparently he calls himself a "Buddhist" monk now, not a "Theravada" monk (see this reference and this reference).
    – ChrisW
    Jul 10, 2015 at 4:11

What is monastic life like?

From Nalaka Sutta: Gurgling Loudly (excerpt) translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki -

Listen to the sound of water
In the clefts and in the gullies:
The tiny streams gurgle loudly
— Mighty waters flow in silence.

how do the challenges?

From Nalaka Sutta: To Nalaka translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Now that I know
Asita's words to be true,
I ask you, Gotama,
you who have gone
to the beyond of all things.
I'm intent on the homeless life;
I long for the almsround.
Tell me sage, when I ask you,
the utmost state of sagacity.

[The Buddha:]
I'll explain to you
a sagacity hard to do,
hard to endure.
Come now, I'll tell you.
Be steadfast. Be firm.
Practice even-mindedness,
for in a village there's praise & abuse.
Ward off any flaw in the heart. Go about calmed & not haughty.
High & low things will come up like fire-flames in a forest.
Women seduce a sage. May they not seduce you.1
Abstaining from sexual intercourse, abandoning various sensual pleasures,
be unopposed, unattached, to beings moving & still.
'As I am, so are these. As are these, so am I.'
Drawing the parallel to yourself, neither kill nor get others to kill.
Abandoning the wants & greed where people run-of-the-mill are stuck,
practice with vision, cross over this hell.
Stomach not full, moderate in food,
having few wants, not being greedy, always not hankering after desire:
one without hankering, is one who's unbound.
Having gone on his almsround, the sage should then go to the forest,
standing or taking a seat at the foot of a tree.
The enlightened one, intent on jhana, should find delight in the forest,
should practice jhana at the foot of a tree,
attaining his own satisfaction.
Then, at the end of the night, he should go to the village,
not delighting in an invitation or gift from the village.
Having gone to the village, the sage should not carelessly go among families.
Cutting off chatter, he shouldn't utter a scheming word.
'I got something, that's fine. I got nothing, that's good.'
Being such with regard to both, he returns to the very same tree.
Wandering with his bowl in hand — not dumb, but seemingly dumb —
he shouldn't despise a piddling gift nor disparage the giver.
High & low are the practices proclaimed by the contemplative.
They don't go twice to the further shore.
This [Unbinding] isn't sensed only once.2
In one who has no attachment — the monk who has cut the stream,
abandoning what is & isn't a duty — no fever is found.

I'll explain to you sagacity:
be like a razor's edge.
Pressing tongue against palate,
restrain your stomach.
Neither be lazy in mind,
nor have many thoughts.
Be committed to taintlessness,
independent, having the holy life as your aim.
Train in solitude & the contemplative's task,
Solitude is called sagacity.
Alone, you truly delight & shine in the ten directions.
On hearing the fame of the enlightened
— those who practice jhana,
relinquishing sensual pleasures
— my disciple should
foster all the more conviction & conscience.

Know from the rivers in clefts & in crevices:
those in small channels flow noisily,
the great flow silent.
Whatever's not full makes noise.
Whatever is full is quiet.
The fool is like a half-empty pot;
one who is wise, a full lake.
A contemplative who speaks a great deal endowed with meaning:
knowing, he teaches the Dhamma, knowing, he speaks a great deal.
But he who, knowing, is restrained, knowing, doesn't speak a great deal:
he is a sage worthy of sagehood; he is a sage, his sagehood attained.


Pay everyday's attention to:

  1. listening meditation lesson from tipitaka-memorizer.
  2. observing the 91,805,036,000 vinaya-rules.
    1. keeping to violate the prohibited rules, such as denying money, denying sex activity, etc.
    2. keeping to do the procedure rules, such as memorizing bhikkhunissayamuccaka-course, go to bowl, keeping the monk robe, etc.
  3. keeping the balancing between the virtual, the concentration meditation and the insight meditation to enlighten nibbāna.
  4. develop the knowledge from bhikkhunissayamuccaka-course to tipitaka-memorizer.

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