A Manual of the Dhamma

Should One Avoid Shameless and Immoral Monks?

    Questions two and three will be answered together as they are related. Let us recapitulate the two questions:

    “Should those who know the truth about shameless and immoral monks refrain from associating with and paying respect to them? Does this agree with the verse in the Mangala Sutta that advises one to avoid the foolish? Is a lay person who shows disregard by shunning immoral and shameless monks following the Mangala Dhamma? We would like to hear evidence and case histories from the scriptures regarding good or bad results from this act.”

    “Should those who know the truth about shameless and immoral monks continue to pay respect and offer requisites? Are they following the Mangala Dhamma that advises us to associate with the wise? Is this behaviour following the advice given in the Mangala Sutta or not? Kindly give evidence and case histories regarding good or bad results from this act.”

To answer these questions one should understand the nature and characteristics of shameless and immoral monks. The famous Mangala Sutta emphasises the nature of foolish or wise persons. In the injunction calling for associating only with the wise, the nature of good and bad persons is stressed. Here the Buddha taught the nature of the pious and the impious. In this subtle matter one must make distinctions to know the respective basis of each type.

  1. Moral (susīla) and immoral (dussīla).
  2. Foolish (bāla) and wise (pandita).
  3. A good man (sappurisa) and a bad man (asappurisa).

Thus there are three pairs of persons with respect to their nature and characteristics.

In the Sarabhanga Jātaka (Cattālīsa Nipāta) the Buddha distinguishes three types. Sakka, the king of the gods, asks in detail regarding the nature of each personal characteristic as follows:

  1. Who is called moral (sīlavantam) by the wise?
  2. Who is called wise (paññavantam) by the wise?
  3. Who is called good (sappurisam) by the wise?
  4. Who will never lose honour and respect?

These were the bodhisatta’s answers to Sakka’s questions:

  1. Those who control their senses, avoiding any kind of physical, verbal, or mental evil, who refrain from lying even at the risk of their life, are called moral persons by the wise.
  2. Those who, possessing profound wisdom, can answer philosophical questions with their innate wisdom, having no selfish regard for themselves or others, who refrain from abusive words and coarse actions that harm oneself and others, but work for the welfare of humanity, are called wise by the wise.
  3. Those who are grateful, have a steady mind, possess the attributes of a good friend, respect the worthy, and diligently fulfil the duties of a friend, are called good by the wise.
  4. Those who possess morality, wisdom, and piety, gain confidence, show humility, share their possessions unselfishly with others, understand the words of the alms seeker, help others according to just principles, practice truthfulness and show civility, will never lose honour and respect.

We can summarise the above classifications on the basis of avoidance of immoral deeds or offences. These persons are moral persons as they possess the characteristics of a moral person.

Regarding the nature and characteristics of a wise person, we must consider three factors:

  1. The ability to answer deep questions effectively and directly.
  2. Avoidance of physical and vocal misconduct, especially harsh words that harm the welfare of oneself and others.
  3. Whenever the opportunity arises one can work for the welfare of oneself and others.

Regarding the nature and characteristics of a good person, we must consider four factors:

  1. The ability to know and acknowledge the gratitude due to others.
  2. Possession of the qualifications of a good friend.
  3. Ability to associate with the wise.
  4. Willingness to help the poor and the needy, with the necessary skill to perform appropriate duties energetically.

Regarding the nature and characteristics of a pious and honourable person we must note the above factors, with the addition of confidence and humility.

Then Sakka asked again:

    “Which is the best among morality, honour, goodness, and wisdom?”

The bodhisatta answered:

“The sages declare that just as the moon is the brightest among the stars, among morality, honour, goodness, and wisdom, wisdom is the chief and best of all, because all good conduct, honour, and good character must follow its lead.”

In other words all must follow the lead of a wise man. In the text are other questions and answers regarding how to gain wisdom, etc., but we omit them here as they are not relevant.

Among the four good factors mentioned above, the first three are the main points to remember in our discussion of types of monks. Among the first three, we may further distinguish those who lack morality as shameless or immoral, as explained earlier. One lacking goodness can easily accumulate the characteristics of a shameless and immoral person too. Due to lack of wisdom one will take on the nature and characteristics of a fool. Lack of piety and respect will make one a bad person, taking on the nature and requisite factors of a bad man. Thus there are three pairs:

  1. Moral (susīla) and immoral (dussīla).1
  2. Wise (pandita) and foolish (bāla).
  3. Good (sappurisa) and bad (asappurisa).

Each has its own distinctive nature and characteristics in a different category.

Among the six types in three opposite pairs, one may associate with a moral person, a virtuous type, shown in the first category in the first position. Those having friendship in paying respect to a moral person can usually become moral too. Respecting or honouring an immoral or bad person can make one immoral or bad. Those who show respect and honour to the wise can usually become wise too. Friendship with a bad person makes one bad. However, if one makes friends with a pious, good person one usually becomes good. Obviously, the best person to associate with and respect is one who possesses all three virtues: morality, wisdom, and goodness.

If a person honours and respects a moral, foolish, bad person he gradually becomes likewise. However, the presence of morality is good, so we must praise him for this aspect while we should condemn foolishness and badness.

Who is a moral, but foolish and bad monk? Some monks try their best to keep their precepts and follow the monks’ training. As they are ordinary persons, they sometimes break some disciplinary rules, falling into offences, but they purify these offences as soon as possible. They are therefore classified as moral monks. However, since they fail to study Dhamma and Abhidhamma, they are ignorant, so they are classified as foolish. Also, if they do not acknowledge the benefit received from others, they are bad monks in the technical sense. So they are coarse and uncultured persons.

I will now explain in detail the nature of a bad person. This feature manifests as ingratitude. He is blind to the benefits received from others, and refuses to pay honour and respect to the worthy. He breaks the rules of good friendship by changing his attitude if someone criticises him. Moreover, a bad person fails to seek knowledge and wisdom, or to make friendship with the wise. If he sees friends in need, he acts as if not seeing them, thus he does not acknowledge their former friendship. So if one of the asappurisa factors exists, he is classified as “bad” because of this characteristic. He is not a good monk. This explains the nature of the moral, but foolish, and bad monk.

With the shameless and bad, but wise monk, those who pay respect and help him, obtain similar characteristics themselves. So we must praise a devotee who becomes wise as his teacher is also wise. However, as the shameless and bad aspects are present, we must blame both the devotee and the monk. Herein, the term “wise” only means well-educated in Sutta, Vinaya, and Abhidhamma. So we call a monk “wise” though he lacks the other two good qualities. However, since he breaks the Vinaya rules very often and does not care to restrain his senses, we also classify him as shameless. As he fails to acknowledge the benefit he receives from others and has other characteristics of a bad person, we call him “bad.” Indeed, he is not a good monk in these aspects. The above factors show the characteristics of a shameless and bad, but wise monk.

Following this method of classifying monks, many monks of mixed triple types can be found for further examination. One can see that most monks, like most lay persons, are of mixed triple types — a compound of good and bad features. This type is common everywhere. To befriend, honour, and support the moral, wise, and good monk is best, if possible. These are the best persons in the world, bringing the greatest benefits and welfare for all. They are worthy of respect and honour in all essential aspects.

If however, a devotee fails to find this ideal type, he needs to cultivate foresight and culture in choosing and helping a particular monk for worship, honour, and almsgiving. He needs intuitive skill in dealing with monks with mixed good and bad qualities.

The Simile of the Good House

A man needs to build a house in the forest, and enters the forest in search of timber. If he can get all beams, posts, floorboards, planks, and shingles from a single tree, this is the best, and ideal. If he is unable to find such a tree, he should not fail to build his house. He must use whatever timber he can get from various trees that he finds. He must build his house anyhow by all means because not having a dwelling place leads to all kinds of trouble and hardship. Every man needs a home for rest, sleep, and comfort. So a wise seeker of building materials must carefully examine each tree he happens to find in the forest. If he finds long logs he must take them for posts. If he finds straight timber that is too short for posts he must take it for planks or shingles. He must ignore unsuitable materials or sizes in each tree that he finds. By selecting only useful logs of appropriate sizes, leaving behind the useless ones, he can build a good, strong house for his benefit with the wood from various trees. By wise discrimination a well-built house results.

By choosing suitable materials for each purpose from various trees, one obtains a beautiful, strong house. He is no different to a person who finds all the suitable material from a single excellent tree. His house is not inferior in any way, because he obtains and dwells in a well-built house made from good materials. His house lasts long enough for his descendants too.

The above simile is a practical illustration for a comfortable life. Following this wise method, a devotee should pay attention to the good features of a moral, but foolish, and bad monk. He should pay respect to the good points in a person, ignoring the lack of the factors required for good and wise status. He should honour the moral features in such a person, thus gaining a clear conscience and much benefit. He should not utter harsh or slanderous words against this monk for his other faults, weaknesses, and failures. They must be totally ignored. One should not lump together all good and bad features of a monk in one’s mind.

If he blames and abuses this monk by lumping together all features, he becomes a foolish and bad person himself. He suffers for his disrespect and for his harsh words. Moreover, he fails to get the benefit of honouring and respecting the aspect of morality in this monk, due to his own foolishness. The wise course for an intelligent, devoted person is to rely on a wise monk for wisdom and to associate with a good monk for his humility and gentleness. One should therefore take heed of these different causes and different effects, being ever vigilant when approaching a monk for almsgiving, and showing respect.

One who helps a moral, but foolish and bad monk, may contradict the Mangala Dhamma calling for avoidance of fools because of the foolish aspect. By association with a foolish monk, this may appear to be so. The Mangala Sutta enjoins all to avoid foolish persons. Because of the words “to associate with the wise”, one might think this contradicts the advice to follow the wise. However, such a devotee, because of his wise attitude and appropriate choice, does not break these two good rules mentioned in the Mangala Sutta and Jataka. In fact he obtains the blessing of association with the wise for his clear thinking and suitable deeds.

What benefits does one gain by respecting a monk of the type shown above? The reason for getting benefits is that in the ultimate sense the essence of a wise person is moral conduct. This is explained in the Abhidhamma (Mātika) in relation to a pair of terms “bāla dhamma” and “pandita dhamma.” So morality alone, in the ultimate sense, is wisdom. If a person pays attention to the characteristic of morality alone, he gets at least part of the blessing called “associating with the wise.” If, however, he pays attention to a monk’s foolishness and badness, he cannot attain this blessing as his mind mixes all sorts of factors, good and bad. Because of this, he becomes foolish and bad too.

Regarding the remaining monks of three mixed qualities, one can probably understand the appropriate results, because all are similar to the above example.

Some monks may lack all three good factors, being known as shameless, foolish, and bad. No one should pay respect to such a monk or honour him, as he does not possess a single redeeming virtue. Therefore one should just ignore this type of monk and refrain from speaking abusive words. If one relies on or honours this type of monk one is breaking the injunction of the Mangala Sutta, which enjoins one not to associate with fools.

In each case one should make a detailed analysis and appropriate classification, since many combinations of vice and virtue can be found. The questioners asked about the classification of shameless and immoral, with the resultant types of foolish, wise, and bad persons. So in this answer I have given a detailed analysis and necessary comments for clarity’s sake.

If one understands the method of classification of monks in the first answer, one will have clear answers for the second and third questions. The essential points are the same.

A note of warning

 All devotees and lay persons should maintain an intelligent attitude. A narrow-minded, egoistic devotee will, at first, pay respect to a moral monk, but as familiarity grows, all kinds of attachment and clinging arise, thus diminishing the monk’s status. Intimacy, attachment, and familiarity lead to ignoble deeds that are improper according to the Vinaya. So corruption and decline set in due to intimacy. An unwise lay person can destroy a monk due to intimacy, wrong attitudes, and ulterior motives.

What is the meaning of Mangala Dhamma? How does one get it? In the ultimate sense, attitudes and acts that promote wholesome factors or merits are Mangala Dhammas. One gets blessings based on one’s meritorious deeds. Conversely, demeritorious attitudes and deeds are misfortunes since they increase unwholesome states. One should understand that both are impersonal states in their ultimate sense and characteristics. Regarding the problem whether one should associate with this or that monk, in the ultimate sense personal factors are absent. The essence of correct behaviour is to associate with wholesome states and not to associate with unwholesome states. This is the crux of the problem and the infallible guide to appropriate action.

Sevitabbāsevitabba Sutta

In the Sevitabbāsevitabba Sutta (the discourse on associating or avoiding) the Buddha declares in the clearest terms:

“Sāriputta, if by associating with a person you develop unwholesome states, lessening or destroying wholesome states, you should avoid that person. Sāriputta, if by associating with a person you develop wholesome states, lessening or destroying unwholesome states, you should associate with that person.”

The essential point is to choose between wholesome states and unwholesome states objectively.

The Bālapandita Sutta

A fool is so called because he habitually thinks bad thoughts, speaks bad speech, and does bad deeds. A wise person is so called because he habitually thinks good thoughts, speaks good speech, and does good deeds. So those who are evil in thought, speech, and deeds are depraved or wicked. Those who are virtuous in thought, speech, and deeds are wise and cultured.

Nowadays many lay persons and monks fail to attain complete purity in all three spheres of morality. Some are moral in their bodily actions, but immoral in speech and thought. Others, though moral in speaking the truth, are immoral in their actions and thoughts. Many have good intentions, but cannot speak or behave skilfully. Some are skilful in two spheres, but lack purity in the third. Thus, all kinds of people can be found with mixed physical, verbal, and mental skills.

Most people possess a mix of good and evil in each of the three spheres. In choosing a teacher or a monk for one’s mentor, one should check to see if wholesome states are developing or deteriorating. In other words, all intelligent persons should examine their own moral progress in honouring or associating with others.

The questioners have asked about the good or bad results of associating with or supporting shameless and immoral monks. They want evidence or case histories for the respective effects, good or bad.

It is said, “One shameless monk creates a hundred shameless ones by association and example.” So the bad results of associating with shameless monks are too great to measure.

The Buddha warns us that those who associate intimately with the shameless will take on their characteristics. This is the first bad result. Subsequent bad results are as follows. If one becomes shameless in this life, one is liable to retain this characteristic in thousands of future existences, as one is far removed from moral conduct. Once one becomes bad, one will tend to be bad in a series of future existences too. If one becomes foolish, being without knowledge and insight in this life, one becomes a fool in countless future lives. These are the bad results.

Seeing only bad results and the gravity of each case, one should avoid associating with shameless, bad, and foolish monks. Moreover, these persons, lacking morality, goodness, and wisdom, cannot bring blessings to those who meet them. Association with them usually brings only misfortune. Those who want to obtain blessings in associating with them should first reform their own minds and attitudes. Devotees and donors should concentrate only on some virtue or good aspect of such monks. Great care is needed here.

As for the evidence of good or bad effects, one should study the commentary on the Suttanipāta that explains the phrase “Asevanā ca bālānam” in detail. More examples to prove this point can be gleaned from teachers and learned preceptors. Dhamma teachers will give sermons on this matter, relating stories from the Tipitaka and its commentaries.



  1. In this context, ‘immoral’ also means ‘shameless’ as it is opposed to ‘moral.’ Cf. the bodhisatta’s definition of moral (sīlavantam) above (ed.)

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