The possessions

The obligatory things

A bowl; a double robe; an upper robe; a lower robe; a belt (to fix the robe around the waist); a sewing needle – with thread (to mend his robes); a razor (to shave the head and the beard); a water filter (to use water without killing living beings, to filter impurities in the water or fruit pulp –which is forbidden after noon).

The reason for being a bhikkhu is detachment, and as training giving up is the most propitious factor to detachment, it is ideal to restrict oneself to these eight things. However, if additional things can be useful to a bhikkhu for his going forth in the dhamma, some of them are allowed.

The authorised things

A square of cloth (nissídana); toiletries: soap, tooth brush, toothpaste, flannel, nails clipper, cotton buds, etc.; medical things: medicines, thermometer, optical devices, dental outfit, etc.; housekeeping material: broom, sponge, cloths, cleaning products, etc.; official documents (if the local law requires holding documents, these are then included in the category of obligatory things): passport, visas, etc.; protection material: draught-screen (to hide the face, to avoid being distracted, to be protected from the sun and for ventilation), umbrella, parasol, mosquito net, insect repellent (but no insecticide), sun cream, pair of sandals, etc.; travelling things: transport tickets, map of the town or of the region, suitcases, bags, etc.; time indicators: alarm clock, watch, calendar, etc.; a string of beads (rosary); books: books on the dhamma or on subjects permitting to develop knowledge favourable to the study and teaching of the dhamma (grammars, books on religion, journals, dictionaries, etc.); furniture (in moderate amounts): bed, chairs, table, cupboard; miscellaneous practical objects such as a lamp, a pair of scissors, a cup, a padlock, etc.

In general, everything that can help a bhikkhu towards the practice, study or teaching of the dhamma. For example: stationery, materiel to process information, tape recorder.

Things that a bhikkhu must not possess

A bhikkhu should possess or use only those things that are useful for his practice, study or teaching of the dhamma. Thus, a bhikkhu should never employ things aimed at doing anything that is not beneficial to the dhamma. For example: a television set; a vehicle; decorative objects; souvenir photographs or posters; books (or magazines) not related to the dhamma; etc.

Forbidden things

Monetary valuables: money (bank notes, coins, cheques, credit cards), silver (metal), or or any other precious metal, gems, etc.; things used for pleasure or entertainment: games, products related to pleasures, musical instruments; musical or film recordings, etc.; deadly instruments: weapons, poison, etc.; inebriating, intoxicating or hallucinogenic substances: alcohol, other drugs, medicines (taken without a medical reason), cigarettes, etc.; living beings: wife, lover, slave, animal; anything of an illegal nature.

To this list one must add all those things used to improve the looks, smell, or touch of the body. For example: beauty products, jewellery, tattoos, perfume, eau de toilette, substances to develop musculature artificially, etc. However, things that can solve health problems are allowed.

The robes

The word “robe” is a translation of the Pali word “cívara” that means, more precisely, “piece of cloth (used by a bhikkhu)”.

See the numerous rules concerning robes among the nissaggiya, the pácittiya and the sekhiya.

The robes serve to protect from cold, wind, sun, dust, from insects, and to show that one is a bhikkhu (it is by seeing the robe that people know that those are bhikkhus and not hermits or naked ascetics).

The wearing robes

A bhikkhu must have three wearing robes (ticívara): a lower robe (worn around the waist), an upper robe (worn around the shoulders) and a double robe (worn as a shawl in cold weather) – which can have three layers or even more. The only robes that he is allowed to wear are those that he has determined (see below), knowing that he cannot determine any others apart from these “three robes”. Nevertheless, he can carry a rectangular piece of cloth- obtained by cutting an old lower robe in three along the length – to wipe transpiration. In all cases, a bhikkhu is not allowed to wear anything other than rectangles of cloth (therefore excluding sleeved garments, vests, and any other piece of cloth tailored to adapt to the body shape). However, he can, in case of low temperatures, add more shawls over the shoulders. In a cold region, a bhikkhu can, of course, cover his head and feet without being at fault.

Other pieces of cloth

The bhikkhus are allowed to have other pieces of cloth (robes or not) for various uses…? In contact with the body: blanket, sheet, pillow case, towel, shawl, handkerchief, etc.? Others: nissídana, rugs, mosquito nets, screens, door-mats, curtains, etc.

The nissídana is a piece of cloth of around 70 cm square that serves mainly to sit upon without dirtying the robes.

Each time a bhikkhu receives a robe or a piece if cloth, he must “determine” it according to its purpose and size.

Determining a robe or another piece of cloth

Every time a bhikkhu receives a robe or a piece of cloth to be used in contact with the body and where the size exceeds one cubit and one span by one span and six phalanxes, around 70 cm by 32.5 cm (towel, sheet, blanket, shawl, pillow case, etc.), he must take it for use by “determining” it.

Each of the three robes can be specifically determined or all three can be determined together. The collection of the other pieces of cloth can be grouped and be determined in one go. There are therefore two types of determination; one for those cloths that are to be worn – the three robes – and one for the other pieces of cloth (except for those that are not in contact with the body, such as rugs, curtains and mosquito nets.)

The determination must be done by reciting the appropriate formula in Pali or in another language.

Determination of the lower robe

“imaµ antaravásakaµ adhi††hámi.”
“I determine this lower robe as being my (wearing) robe.”

Determination of the upper robe

“imaµ uttarásaýgaµ adhi††hámi.”
“I determine this upper robe as being my (wearing) robe.”

Determination of the double robe

“imaµ saµghá†iµ adhi††hámi.”
“I determine this double robe as being my (wearing) robe.”

Determination of several robes

“imáni cívaráni adhi††hámi.”
“I determine these robes as being my (wearing) robes.”

Determination of a miscellaneous piece of cloth

“imaµ cívaráµ parikkháraco¦áµ adhi††hámi.”
“I determine this piece of cloth for my various needs.”

Determination of a collection miscellaneous pieces of cloth

“imáni cívaráni parikkháraco¦áni adhi††hámi.”
“I determine these pieces of cloth for my various needs.”

The three “wearing robes” must be by oneself during the night. If at dawn, a bhikkhu finds himself separate by more than two cubits and one span – around 120 cm –, he commits the nissaggiya 2. Each new robe that a bhikkhu determines as “wearing robe” must be marked (see the pácittiya 58).

The determination of a robe or a cloth is broken whenever one of the following cases occurs: the robe is away from oneself at dawn, given away, abandoned, stolen, taken by a friend; the bhikkhu returns to lay life, dies or changes sex; the bhikkhu rejects his robe – breaks the determination of the robe; the robe has a hole of a size at least as large as the nail of the little finger.

On the upper robe there must be sewn two small thread-loops in a place anticipated to this effect, near the corners (in principle, robes made industrially already have these). On one of the loops, a button must be sewn. When going to inhabited areas, every bhikkhu is obliged to close his robe by inserting this button in the other loop. In this way, no matter how strong the wind or what movements the bhikkhu makes, the robe always remains well closed.

The bhikkhus obtain their robes either by sewing together abandoned pieces of cloth that they gather, or by accepting a woven and sewn robe offered by a dáyaka. In all cases, the robes must be dyed – naturally or not – in a sombre colour corresponding to the shades of tree bark or earth (brown, maroon, ochre, etc.) They must not bear the smallest ornament. Even though the robes’ colour can vary from one bhikkhu to another, each of them must be dyed in the same colour (in an even manner).

The bowl

Only a person having the following three implements can be integrated into the saµgha: a set of three robes and a bowl.

The bowl serves to collect and consume food. It can also be used to hold one’s things when moving.

See the nissaggiya 21 and 22, concerning the possession of a bowl.

Acquisition and abandonment of a bowl

Way of determining a bowl

When a bhikkhu obtains a new bowl, to consider it as his (as that which he will use to go and collect food and for eating), he must determine it with this formula:

“imaµ pattaµ adhi††hámi.”
“I determine this bowl as being my bowl.” (By means of which I will accept food and with which I will eat that food)

Way of abandoning a bowl

Following an offer, when a bhikkhu finds himself with two bowls, he has ten days to determine the one that he wishes to keep, before rejecting and relinquishing the spare bowl. For that, he must employ the following formula:

“imaµ pattaµ paccuddharámi.”
“I annul the determination of this bowl.” (Whereupon, it is no longer considered as mine)

The allowed bowls

All materials are allowed except for: gold, silver, precious stones, crystal, bronze, glass, pewter, zinc, leather, aluminium (stainless steel is allowed) and bark. In the past, bowls were more commonly made of earth. Nowadays, they are generally in steel, even when covered by lacquer. However, a bowl entirely in lacquer or in plastic is not suitable. Any form of decoration is forbidden. Only black and very dark brown can be used to colour them.

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