Document Type

Conference Proceeding

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Buddhist Studies | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


Celibate monastic practice has been a mainstay of Buddhist societies from the time of the Buddha until the present day. Buddha Sakyamuni specifically rejected the practice of extreme asceticism, but lauded renunciation of the household life. This tradition has continued for two and a half millennia, unchanged in many respects. Robed, shaven-headed, celibate renunciants are found in every Buddhist society even today. The measure of renunciation in contemporary Buddhist monastic practice varies, however, depending on how renunciation is defined. Renunciants are generally thought to live in solitude, apart from society. But it is well known that, except for exceptional individuals and periods of intensive retreat, Buddhist renunciants rarely dwell in seclusion. Even though some monasteries are situated in remote locations, most Buddhist renunciants live in monastic communities and are in frequent contact with the lay community upon whom they depend for food and other necessities. The extent of renunciation among contemporary Buddhist monastics therefore depends on a number of variables, including the nature of the community, the geographical setting, and the personal inclinations of individual monastics, in addition to a closer examination of the word "renunciation." This paper explores the nature of the renunciant ideal from a Buddhist perspective and reflects on the extent to which this ideal characterizes Buddhist monasticism today.


Originally published by Deepak Heritage Books in Asceticism. Identity and Pedagogy in Dharma Traditions: Contemporary Issues in Constructive Dharma Vol.3 Proceedings of a Session of the Third DANAM Conference.