Thursday, March 08, 2007

Homeless, Unemployed Bum

I've received a lot of strange criticisms from Westerners since becoming a monk, starting with the King of Uganda but certainly not ending there. The general idea, I guess, is that we monks are nothing more than homeless, unemployed bums. Well, let's see what Oxford has to say...

Homeless (no definition in Oxford):

Homeless means without a place to live (cp. home). Kind of like "sugarless". Only you don't see advertisements for "sugarless" gum. It's "sugar-free". And, that's what I am. I'm home-free. Free from all the worries and cares that beset those who undertake the quest for a home external to their heart. Free from children, free from mortgages, free from fear of loss, free from busyness, free. Home-free.


adjective 1 without a paid job but available to work. 2 (of a thing) not in use.

Unless monks are "things", I don't think this applies. Indeed, we work our jobs unpaid in material terms. I worked a 5 to 9 job (5 AM to 9 PM) this February, and will again in April, and never get paid a dime. But available to work, no. Not unless you would have me work another job from 4 - 5 AM or 9 - 10 PM...

Bum (2)

noun N. Amer. 1 a vagrant. 2 a lazy or worthless person. 3 a devotee of a particular activity: a surf bum.

I assume we're talking about the second type of bum, as the first is unlikely to find itself homeless or unemployed. A vagrant. Hmm... Have to look that up. Vagrant: noun 1 a person without a home or job. 2 archaic a wanderer. Yes, no home. No, we do have jobs. Study, practice, teach. Personally, I don't often wander. I usually travel with purpose, like most people.

Lazy, worthless. This is a judgment call, I think. Maybe, if you consider sleeping six hours a night lazy... some meditators consider it so, and when I meditate more than 12 hours a day, I sleep around four hours, or not at all. Or if you consider how worthless this body and mind is, but that is true of any body and any mind. Useful, maybe. Worth anything? Nah.

Devotee... yes, that's it. We're Dharma bums. Home-free, unpaid Dharma bums.

"Maybe I'll be rich and work and make a lot of money and live in a big house." But a minute later: "And who wants to enslave himself to a lot of all that, though?"

-- Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

"yatha yatha khvaha.m bhagavata dhamma.m desita.m ajanami, nayida.m sukara.m agara.m ajjhavasata ekantaparisuddha.m sa"nkhalikhita.m brahmacariya.m caritu.m. Ya.mnunaha.m kesamassu.m oharetva kasayani vatthani acchadetva agarasma anagariya.m pabbajeyyan"ti.

"Verily, as I understand the dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is not an easy thing to do while one dwells in a home to live by the holy life in all its entirety, in all its complete purity, polished as a shell. What is it to me? I shall shave off my hair and beard, put on the ochre robes and go forth from the home life into homelessness."

-- Ra.t.thapala Sutta, MN 82


  1. cria pettingill2:51 PM

    Those westerners are criticizing the monk's reliance on the kindness of others. The monk willingly chooses poverty and the community gets involved. In Asia this is normal, here we are not familiar with it.

  2. In India it was also an activity looked down upon by the higher class:

    In the Commentary to the Dhammapada (v. 400) it is related that once, when the Venerable Sariputta was in his own village of Nalaka with a large retinue of monks, he came to his mother's house in the course of his almsround. His mother gave him a seat and served him with food, but while she did so she uttered abusive words: "Oh, you eater of others' leavings!" she said. "When you fail to get leavings of sour rice-gruel you go from house to house among strangers, licking the leavings off the backs of ladles! And so it was for this that you gave up eighty crores of wealth and became a monk! You have ruined me! Now go on and eat!"

    Likewise, when she was serving food to the monks, she said: "So! You are the men who have made my son your page boy! Go on, eat now!"

    Thus she continued reviling them, but the Venerable Sariputta spoke not a word. He took his food, ate it and in silence returned to the monastery. The Buddha learned of the incident from the Venerable Rahula, who had been among the monks at the time. All the bhikkhus who heard of it wondered at the Elder's great forbearance, and in the midst of the assembly the Buddha praised him, uttering the stanza:

    "Free from anger, dutiful, moral, free from lust;
    Tamed, carrying his last body — he it is I call a brahman."

    Source: <a href="
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