CHAPTER THREE

Alms Bowls & Other Accessories

Alms bowls

The alms bowl is another requisite that a candidate for ordination must have before he can be accepted into the Community as a bhikkhu (Mv.I.70.1). Bowls made either of clay or iron are allowed, while bowls made of or with the following materials are prohibited: gold, silver, gems, lapis lazuli, crystal, bronze, glass, tin, lead, or copper. The Commentary extrapolates from these prohibitions to state that gold serving-vessels of any kind shouldn’t even be touched, whereas serving-vessels of the other substances—although they should not be used as one’s own personal property—are all right to use if they are Community property or remain the property of a lay person. It also states that the word copper in the prohibition covers copper alloys, although other serving-vessels made of copper alloys are all right to use (even as one’s own personal property, apparently). At present, stainless steel alms bowls are allowed because they come under iron, whereas aluminum alms bowls are not, because aluminum is weak like tin. Lacquer bowls are classified under “clay” bowls in Burma, but not in other Theravāda countries.

The Commentary to Pr 2 insists that the bowl not be painted or incised with writing or other decorations, or polished to the point of being “glossy like a gem.” If it is, one must scrape off the decorations or spoil the gloss before using it. However, that same section of the Commentary states that an “oil-colored” bowl is acceptable. This apparently refers to the practice of coating an iron bowl with oil before firing it to give it a glossy protective surface.

The stipulations for determining a bowl for use are discussed under NP 21.

In addition to the rules against using bowls made of prohibited materials, there are rules against going for alms with a gourd or a water pot, and against using a skull as a bowl.

Now at that time a certain bhikkhu was one who used nothing but thrown away things. He carried a skull as a bowl. A woman, seeing him, screamed out in terror: “My god, what a demon this is!” People criticized and complained and spread it about, “How can these Sakyan-son monks carry a skull as a bowl, like goblins?” (§—following the Sub-commentary for the last sentence, and the Thai and Sri Lankan editions of the Canon for the reading pisāco vatāyanti in the woman’s scream).

To protect the bowl from being scratched, one is allowed a circular bowl rest made either of tin or of lead. Many Communities interpret these two materials as setting the limits for the fanciest materials allowable for such a rest, and so they regard bamboo, wood, and other less valuable materials as allowable, too. There is an explicit prohibition against using bowl rests made from fancy materials or decorated with little figures or other ornamentation. Bowl rests may be planed to fit tightly with the bowl, and dragon teeth may be cut in them to keep them from slipping.

The Canon does not mention lids for bowls, although these are now used universally throughout Theravādin countries. The Great Standards would seem to apply here in not allowing them to be made from fancy materials or to be decorated with little figures or other ornamentation, but for some reason the Commentary to Pr 2 allows them to be decorated. It doesn’t explain why.

There is a strict etiquette in using, washing, and storing the bowl. Scraps, bones, and waste water should not be thrown away in the bowl. A waste receptacle is allowed for this purpose. According to the Commentary, waste water here means water used to rinse the mouth, but it also covers water used for washing the hands or feet. The Commentary goes on to say that, when eating, one may put down the remainder of half-eaten food in the bowl, but not if it has already been in the mouth.

When the bowl has been washed, it should be put away only after having been dried (in the sun, if the sun is out). Before drying it in the sun, one should first pour out and wipe away any water in it. And one should not leave it in the sun longer than is needed to ensure that it is fully dry.

To avoid dropping the bowl, one should not open a door while carrying a bowl in one’s hand. According to the Commentary, this prohibition covers opening the door with any part of one’s body; opening a door includes opening the latch or the lock; in one’s hand means supported by any part of one’s body (as, for example, holding the bowl between the knees), although there is an exception if the bowl is hanging by a strap from one’s shoulder.

To prevent damage to the bowl, one should not leave it aside at the edge of a ledge (and, by extension, a table), at the edge of a small ledge outside a wall, on a bed, a bench, an umbrella, or on one’s lap. (“Now at that time, bhikkhus left their bowls on their laps; in a lapse of mindfulness, they got up. The bowls broke.”) The bowl should also not be hung up (e.g., from a strap over a hook or from a peg in the wall). The Commentary notes that if a ledge is wide enough so that the bowl, if tipped over, would remain on the ledge, one is permitted to place it there. The same allowance would apply to placing a bowl on a table as well. The Commentary also states that one may leave the bowl on one’s lap if the bowl is hanging from one’s shoulder by a strap.

Different Communities differ in how they interpret the rule against leaving the bowl on one’s lap. Some interpret the word leaving as meaning holding the bowl on one’s lap without at the same time holding it with one’s hand, and apply it to the way one dries the bowl. Some interpret the word lap as meaning the lap formed when sitting on a chair or similar piece of furniture, and not the lap formed when sitting cross-legged on the floor. Others include the cross-legged lap under the word lap here, and insist that one should kneel on the ground, for example, while drying the bowl and refrain from placing the bowl on the lap in any way.

A bowl may be stored on a mat or a piece of cloth. For further protection one is allowed to store it in a bowl-holder, a bowl-shelf, or a bowl-chest. According to the Commentary, the bowl-holder is something placed on the ground, and may be made of creepers, sticks, or wood. It notes that one should not stack more than three bowls on top of one another in a bowl-holder. As for the bowl-chest, it says that it may be made of wood or brick/tile. One is also allowed a bowl-bag for storing the bowl in any of these places, although the Commentary to Pr 2 insists that the bag not be decorated.

The Commentary to Cv.V states that if there are no mats, cloths, holders, shelves, or chests, one may place a bowl—always upside down—on sand or on a floor that won’t scratch or otherwise harm it. It imposes a dukkaṭa for leaving the bowl on a hard, scratchy floor, on dirt, or on dust. This is probably based on the incoming bhikkhu’s duties (see Chapter 9): “When putting away the bowl, take the bowl in one hand, feel under the bed or bench with the other hand, and place the bowl there, but do not place it on bare ground.”

Footwear

The Canon mentions two kinds of footwear, leather footwear (upahana) and non-leather footwear (pāduka). Generally speaking, leather footwear—of very specific sorts—is allowable, while non-leather is not. At present, using the Great Standards, rubber is included under leather for the purposes of these rules.

Leather footwear

A bhikkhu in the middle Ganges Valley may wear new leather sandals only if the soles are made from a single layer of leather. He may wear multi-layer sandals if they are cast-off, which according to the Commentary means that they have been worn (presumably, by someone else) at least once. Outside of the middle Ganges Valley, one may wear multi-layer sandals even if they are new.

Sandals may not be worn if the soles or the straps are entirely blue (or green), entirely yellow, entirely blood-red, entirely crimson, entirely black, entirely orange, or entirely beige. According to the Commentary, if one takes a cloth and wipes the soles and straps with dye to spoil the color, even if only a little, the sandals will then be acceptable. At present, one may use a pen to mark them to serve the same purpose.

The following types of footwear, even when made with leather, are not allowed: footwear with heel-coverings (such as sandals with heel straps), boots (or sandals with straps up the calf), shoes, footwear stuffed with cotton (or kapok), decorated with partridge (or quail) wings, with toes pointed like rams’ horns, with toes pointed like goats’ horns, with toes pointed like scorpion tails, footwear with peacock feathers sewn around it, and other types of decorated footwear. Also not allowed is leather footwear embellished with lion skin, tiger skin, leopard skin, black antelope skin, otter skin, cat skin, squirrel skin, or flying fox skin. The Commentary states that if one removes the offensive part of the footwear, one is allowed to wear what remains. It also states that the allowance for new multi-layer leather footwear in outlying areas implies that all skins (except human skin) are allowable for footwear there as well, but it is hard to understand why this would be so.

As bhikkhus come to the West, the question inevitably arises as to whether boots and shoes should be allowed during colder weather, especially when there is snow. Although there is no specific allowance for using any of these types of footwear when ill (or when illness threatens), there is the precedence of the Buddha’s allowing multi-layer leather footwear outside of the Ganges Valley because the ground in outlying areas was rocky and rough. Taking this as a precedent, it seems reasonable to assume that there should be similar allowances for appropriate footwear in areas where there is ice and snow.

The original intent of allowing leather footwear was apparently for use in the wilderness, for there are rules allowing its use in inhabited areas only when ill (in a way that would be aggravated by going barefoot), and in monasteries only when one’s feet are split, when one is suffering from corns, or when one plans to get up on a bed or bench. (What this last allowance apparently means is that, prior to getting up on a bed or bench, a bhikkhu walking on the ground or a dirt floor may wear leather footwear to keep his feet from getting dirty, but when actually getting up on the bed or bench he should remove his footwear.) Eventually, however, leather footwear was generally allowed in monastery grounds (but not in dwellings or other buildings with treated floors, and not on furniture) even without these special circumstances. The Commentary, however, indicates that footwear should be removed in the vicinity of stūpas and other places deserving respect.

Non-leather footwear

The only allowable types of non-leather footwear are the shoes kept in urinals, privies, and rinsing-rooms (rooms where one wipes oneself clean after using a restroom). The Commentary indicates that this allowance refers to footrests fixed permanently on the floor in these places, and the rules covering these places (Cv.V.35.2-4, see Chapter 7; Cv.VIII.10.3, see Chapter 9) suggest that this is so: The footrests are designed to make it more comfortable while urinating, defecating, and rinsing oneself off.

Non-leather footwear meant for walking is not allowed under any circumstances. Under this category the Canon lists the following: wooden footwear, footwear woven of palmyra-leaves, bamboo-leaves, grass, muñja grass, reeds, marshy date-palm, lotus fibers, footwear knitted from wool, footwear made with gold, silver, gems, lapis lazuli, crystal, bronze, glass (mirrors), tin, lead, or copper. The prohibition against footwear knitted from wool raises the question of socks. Using the Great Standards, the allowance for appropriate footwear in outlying-districts, mentioned above, has been applied here as well.

Water strainers

A water strainer is another basic requisite, used to provide clean water and to protect small beings in the water from being harmed (see Pc 20 & 62). Three kinds of personal water strainers are allowed, although the first is not defined in any of the texts: a water strainer, a ladle strainer (according to the Commentary, this consists of three sticks tied together as a frame for the straining cloth), a water strainer cylinder (somewhat like a can with one end open, covered with straining cloth, and a small hole on the other end). The Commentary to Pr 2 insists that water strainers not have painted or incised decorations.

Cv.V.13.3 tells the following cautionary tale:

Now at that time two bhikkhus were traveling along a main road among the Kosalans. One of them indulged in bad habits. The other said, “Don’t do that sort of thing, my friend. It’s not proper.” The (first) bhikkhu carried a grudge. Then the (second) bhikkhu, overcome with thirst, said to the bhikkhu carrying the grudge, “Give me your water strainer, my friend. I want to take a drink.” The bhikkhu carrying the grudge didn’t give it. The bhikkhu overcome with thirst died.

As a result of this incident, the Buddha formulated two rules: “When a traveling bhikkhu is asked for a water-strainer, it is not not to be given… And a bhikkhu is not to go traveling without a water strainer… If there is no water-strainer or water-strainer cylinder, even the corner of the outer robe may be determined (saying):

‘Iminā parissavetvā pivissāmi (Having strained with this, I will drink).’”

For straining large amounts of water, two methods are allowed: The first is using a water-strainer mounted on sticks. This, according to the Commentary, is like a dyer’s strainer for lye-water: a ladder with four steps is placed over a basin, with cloth draped over the steps. Water is poured in the middle section, between steps two and three, and then flows through the cloth to fill the sections of the basin on either side.

The second allowance is for using a filter cloth spread in the water (of a lake, river, or other large body of water). The Commentary’s directions: Tie a filter cloth to four stakes, let it sag in the middle to below the surface of the water, and take water from the filtered water in the middle above the cloth.

Miscellaneous accessories

A bhikkhu is allowed to own an umbrella/sunshade and to use it in the area of the monastery—although again, as with footwear, he should lower the umbrella as a sign of respect near a stūpa. He is also allowed to use it outside the monastery when he is ill. According to the Commentary, ill here includes when he is feverish or in an irritable mood, when he has weak eyes or any other condition that might be aggravated by not using an umbrella. The Commentary goes on to say that when there is rain, one may use an umbrella to protect one’s robes; and when on a journey, one may use an umbrella as a protection against wild animals and thieves (!). The objection against using an umbrella without good reason seems to be that in ancient times it was considered a sign of rank and ostentation. Thus the Commentary goes on to say that an umbrella made out of a single very large leaf—as is sometimes used in Sri Lanka—is allowable in all circumstances, probably because it carries no connotations of rank. The Commentary to Pr 2 adds that umbrellas with fancy decorations should never be used. If the decorations are on the handle, one may use the umbrella only after scraping them off or wrapping the entire handle in thread so that they cannot be seen.

The following personal requisites are also allowed: a mosquito net, a little water jar (as is still common in India; a small water kettle would also come under here), a broom, a fan, a palmyra-leaf fan (a fan with a handle), a torch, a lamp (flashlights would come under here), a mosquito whisk, and a staff (or a cane). There are two qualifications here: (1) The mosquito whisk cannot be made of yak-tail hairs (a whisk of this sort was considered a luxurious item) and instead should be made of bark fibers, khus-khus grass, or peacock feathers (why this last was not considered a luxury item is hard to tell). (2) Conflicting with the allowance for a staff at Mv.V.6.2 is a prohibition at Cv.V.24.1-3 against using a staff with a wicker loop (for carrying bundles) unless formally authorized by the Community to do so. The Commentary’s resolution of this conflict is that the prohibition applies only to staffs two meters long. Any staff shorter or longer than that, it says, requires no authorization.

When carrying a load, one is not allowed to use a carrying pole for the shoulder with loads at both ends (as is used by farmers and small vendors in Thailand). One is allowed a carrying pole with the weight at one end or a carrying pole for two bearers (with the load hanging from the middle of the pole). One is also allowed to carry a weight on the head, on the shoulders, on the hips, or slung from a strap (over the shoulder).

All metal goods except weapons are allowed, as are all wooden goods except a dais and a throne (see Chapter 6), wooden alms bowls, and wooden shoes; all clay goods except a foot wiper and a potter’s hut. According to the Commentary, this last is a reference to the large baked earthenware hut mentioned in Pr 2. Although metal goods are allowed, one is not allowed to make a hoard of them. An appropriate collection is one limited to items that one is actually using. Cv.V.28.2 mentions a collection “to the extent of an ointment box, an ointment stick, and an instrument for removing dirt from the ears.” The Commentary to Pr 2 insists that knives, scissors, and other similar tools be free of fancy decorations.

And finally, although the Buddha praised frugality and the practice of finding use in cast-off things, the incident of the bhikkhu using a skull for a bowl, mentioned above, inspired him to prohibit the practice of using cast-off things exclusively.

Rules

Bowls

“A bowl made of/with gold should not be used. A bowl made of/with silver… gems… lapis lazuli… crystal… bronze… glass… tin… lead… copper should not be used. Whoever should use one: an offense of wrong doing. I allow two kinds of bowl: an iron bowl, a clay bowl.”—Cv.V.9.1

“One should not go for alms with a gourd… with a water pot. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.V.10.1

“One should not use a skull as a bowl. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.V.10.2

“I allow a circular bowl rest”… “One should not use fancy circular bowl rests. Whoever should use one: an offense of wrong doing. I allow two kinds of circular bowl rests: made of tin, made of lead”… “I allow that they be planed (to fit tightly with the bowl)”… “I allow that dragon teeth be cut in them (to keep them from slipping)”… “Decorated circular bowl rests—full of little figures, made with ornamentations (§—missing in BD)—should not be used. Whoever should use one: an offense of wrong doing. I allow ordinary circular rests.”—Cv.V.9.2

“A wet bowl should not be put away. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing. I allow that a bowl be put away after having dried it (in the sun)”… “A bowl with water in it should not be dried in the sun. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing. I allow that a bowl be dried in the sun after it has been made free of water”… “A bowl should not be left in the heat. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing. I allow that be put away after having been dried for a moment in the heat.”—Cv.V.9.3

“I allow a bowl-holder (§)”… “A bowl should not be left aside at the edge of a ledge (§).Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing”… “A bowl should not be left aside at the edge of a small ledge outside a wall (§). Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing”… “I allow a grass mat (on which to place bowls upside down)”… Termites chewed the grass mat. “I allow a piece of cloth”… Termites chewed the cloth. “I allow a bowl-shelf (§)”… “I allow a bowl-chest (§)”… “I allow a bowl bag”… “I allow a string for tying the mouth of the bag as a carrying strap.”—Cv.V.9.4

“A bowl should not be hung up. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing”… “A bowl should not be kept on a bed… a bench… a lap… an umbrella. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing”… “A door should not be opened by a bhikkhu with a bowl in his hand. Whoever should open one: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.V.9.5

“One should not throw away scraps, bones, and waste water in the bowl. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing. I allow a (waste-)receptacle.”—Cv.V.10.3

Footwear

“I allow single-soled leather footwear. Double-soled leather footwear should not be worn. Triple-soled leather footwear should not be worn. Multi-soled leather footwear should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.1.30

“I allow multi-soled leather footwear that has been cast off (or thrown away). But new multi-soled leather footwear should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.3.2

“In all outlying districts I allow multi-soled leather footwear.”—Mv.V.13.13

“Leather footwear that is entirely blue (or green) should not be worn. Leather footwear that is entirely yellow… entirely blood-red… entirely crimson… entirely black… entirely orange… entirely beige (§) should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.2.1

“Leather footwear with blue/green straps should not be worn. Leather footwear with yellow straps… with blood-red straps… with crimson straps… with black straps… with orange straps… with beige (§) straps should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.2.2

“Leather footwear with heel-coverings should not be worn. Boots (or sandals with straps up the calf) (§)… shoes (§)… leather footwear stuffed with cotton (or kapok)… leather footwear decorated with partridge (or quail) wings… leather footwear with toes pointed like rams’ horns… leather footwear with toes pointed like goats’ horns… leather footwear with toes pointed like scorpion tails… leather footwear with peacock feathers sown around… decorated leather footwear should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.2.3

“Leather footwear embellished with lion skin should not be worn. Leather footwear embellished with tiger skin… with leopard skin… with black antelope skin… with otter skin… with cat skin… with squirrel skin… with flying fox skin should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.2.4

“And one should not wear leather footwear in a monastery. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.4.3

“I allow one whose feet are painful or one whose feet are split or one who is afflicted with corns to wear leather footwear.”—Mv.V.5.2

“I allow you, when thinking, ‘I will now get up on a bed or a bench,’ to wear leather footwear.”—Mv.V.6.1

“I allow you to wear leather footwear in a monastery.”—Mv.V.6.2

“One should not enter a village while wearing leather footwear. Whoever should enter: an offense of wrong doing”… ”I allow that an ill bhikkhu enter a village while wearing leather footwear.”—Mv.V.12

“Wooden footwear should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.6.4

“Palmyra-leaf footwear should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.7.2

“Bamboo footwear should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.7.3

“Footwear (woven) of grass should not be worn. Footwear (woven) of muñja grass… (woven) of reeds… (woven) of marshy date-palm… (woven) of kamala-grass… knitted from wool… made with gold… made with silver… made with gems… made with lapis lazuli… made with crystal… made with bronze… made with glass (mirrors)… made with tin… made with lead… made with copper should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing. Any non-leather footwear that is meant for walking (§) should not be worn. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing. I allow three kinds of non-leather footwear if fixed permanently in place: restroom footrests, urinal footrests, rinsing-room footrests (see Cv.V.35.2-4).”—Mv.V.8.3

Water Strainers

“I allow a strainer (for water).”…. “I allow a ladle-strainer”…. “I allow a water-strainer cylinder (§).”—Cv.V.13.1

“When a traveling bhikkhu is asked for a water-strainer, it is not not to be given. Whoever doesn’t give it: an offense of wrong doing. And a bhikkhu is not to go traveling without a water strainer. Whoever should go: an offense of wrong doing. If there is no water-strainer or water-strainer cylinder, even the corner of the outer robe may be determined: ‘Having strained with this, I will drink.’”—Cv.V.13.2

“I allow a water-strainer mounted on sticks (§).”…. “I allow that a filter cloth be spread in the water (§).”—Cv.V.13.3

Miscellaneous

“I allow an umbrella (sunshade)”… “An umbrella is not to be used.”—Cv.V.23.2

“I allow an umbrella for one who is ill”… “I allow that an umbrella be used in a monastery and the vicinity of a monastery both by one who is ill and one who isn’t.”—Cv.V.23.3

“I allow a mosquito net.”—Cv.V.13.3

“I allow a little water jar and a broom.”—Cv.V.22.1

“I allow a fan and a palmyra-leaf fan (a fan with a handle).”—Cv.V.22.2

“I allow a mosquito whisk”… “A yak-tail whisk is not to be used. Whoever should use one: an offense of wrong doing. I allow three kinds of whisk: made of bark fibers, made of khus-khus grass, made of peacock tail feathers.”—Cv.V.23.1

“I allow you… a torch, a light, a staff (a cane).”—Mv.V.6.2

“Staffs with wicker carriers (§) are not to be used. Whoever should use one: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.V.24.1

“I allow that a staff-authorization be given for a bhikkhu who is ill.” Procedure and transaction statement. —Cv.V.24.2

“I allow that a staff-and-wicker-carrier-authorization be given for a bhikkhu who is ill.” Procedure and transaction statement. —Cv.V.24.3

“A carrying pole (for the shoulder) with loads at both ends is not to be carried. Whoever should carry one: an offense of wrong doing. I allow a carrying pole with the load at one end, a carrying pole for two bearers, (carrying) a weight on the head, a weight on the shoulders, a weight on the hips, a weight slung on (over the shoulder, etc.).”—Cv.V.30

“I allow all metal goods except weapons, all wooden goods except a dais (§), a throne (§), a wooden alms bowl, and wooden shoes; all clay goods except a foot wiper and a potter’s (hut) (§).”—Cv.V.37

“A collection of metal (§) and bronze goods is not to be made. Whoever should make one: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.V.28.1

“I allow a collection to the extent of an ointment box, an ointment stick, and an instrument for removing dirt from the ears.”—Cv.V.28.2

“And the practice of using nothing but thrown away things (§) should not be followed. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.V.10.2