Being a Buddhist monk can be bad for your health

People in the west tend to think of Buddhism as a somewhat austere and ascetic religion and its monks as people living a simple life. Those of us who grew up in predominantly Buddhist countries know otherwise. While there are undoubtedly many monks who fit that description, there are also many who enjoy the pleasures of the material life, living and eating well, driving around in luxury cars, and getting involved in politics in a big way, often to advance reactionary agendas.

Now comes this story from Thailand and Sri Lanka that confirms this idea of decadence among Buddhist monks.

Nearly half of the country’s 300,000 holy men are believed to be obese and suffering from chronic diseases, a study has found.

A study involving an unspecified number of the religious men found 48 percent were obese, 42 percent had high cholesterol, 23 percent had high blood pressure and more than 10 percent were diabetic, Jongjit told the newspaper.

In 2012, Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry, responding to the expanding waistlines and associated health problems of the country’s clergy, drew up special menus for Buddhist devotees wanting to donate food.

“Because of their great affinity towards religious observances, most devotees offer food with high cholesterol content and the Buddhist monks have no choice but to partake of these foods all year round,” Sri Lanka’s then health minister and now president, Maithripala Sirisena, said at the time.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    Buddhist monks can’t grow and eat their own vegetables? They have to eat whatever is offered to them?

  2. Johnny Vector says

    For an amusing take on the Buddhist monks of Japan, I highly recommend Juuzou Itami’s The Funeral. The monks roll up in gold-plated limos and end up looking as money-grubbing as the Catholic priests who ran my grandmother-in-law’s funeral, turning the entire thing into an extended plea to give money to their church. The rest of polite Japanese society doesn’t come out looking much better.

    For that matter, anything by Itami is worth watching.

  3. dannorth says

    @ moarscienceplz

    IIRC Buddhist monks are supposed to be mendicant so they could not grow a garden. They have to go out to beg.

    You have an illustration of this in the Kipling novel Kim.

    If am wrong Mano will surely correct me and inform us both.

  4. says

    And not just greed and lifestyles. Events across southeast Asia in recent years show once again that any religion is capable of justifying and inciting violence. I’ve encountered people (including atheists) who turn a blind eye either because those doing it are buddhists or because the victims are muslims. Or both.

  5. Mano Singham says

    dannorth @#4,

    As far as I am aware, you are correct. Buddhist monks are supposed to live entirely on the charity of others. But in Sri Lanka at least, some have come to expect that this ‘charity’ to be pretty bountiful.

    Religion is such a scam, enabling many of its leaders to live a luxurious life at the expense of their followers.

  6. says

    Keep in mind that there are different flavors of Buddhism. Sri Lanka is almost entirely Theravada Buddhism, which technically permits monks to own very few items, all personal things like a robe and a begging bowl, and requires monks to live largely on their own. The whole point of becoming a monk is to put aside all worldly work or cares to have time to meditate and attain enlightenment (and the whole point of becoming a nun is to gain enough merit to be reincarnated as a man, but that is a different piece of ugliness.) A monk who grows his own food is wasting time on worldly distractions, and depriving non-monks from performing the good deed of supporting him. In Mahayana Buddhism, the dominant form in East Asia, monks typically retreat from mundane life and thus need to rely on themselves for support more than their Theravada brethren.

    As I recall, in Sri Lanka, monasteries are owned by either the government or by a committee of lay people: during the rainy season, the monks will gather together into a community, but otherwise it is home only to a small staff. With everyone hoping to gain merit by making donations to support it, monasteries quickly end up with far more wealth than they actually need. All of this wealth is legally owned by the government or the committee, so the monks are “allowed” to use it without having to compromise their vows.

  7. says

    Buddhism has gotten severely whitewashed as it transformed to “american buddhism” (largely, the stuff Alan Watts and DT Suzuki were promoting back in the 70s) The lengthy history of violent warrior buddhism in Japan goes back long before the nichiren proponents of the military junta that took Japan to WWII -- the monks of Mt Hiei were ‘warrior monks’ (read: paramilitary thugs) as far back as the 1300s and participated in Japan’s military politics for centuries. Meanwhile, in Tibet, there were red, blue, yellow, and black Hat monks. Now there are mostly yellow hat monks. What happened to the blue and red and black hat monks: the yellow hat monks. That lovable old conman the Gyatso is the heir of a bloody slaughter over political power in what was (until China came and sorted the place out…) a theocracy where the monks had the power of life and death over the poor among their subjects. Gyatso’s become fond of democracy now that he’s actually had to find a job, but his previous 14 lives (or however many it was) were as a dictator. In Tibet, which was a shit poor place, the monks did pretty well for themselves, off “donations” from the even poorer farmers, etc. Lovely.

    The revised story of buddhism that american woowoos believe has had most of that nastiness edited out to the point where they don’t know it at all, and many american buddhists I’ve spoken to appear to mistake Hermann Hesse’s novel as history, which serves to apply a further secular gloss over the whole mess.

    They’re all fucking parasites and enblers of parasites, of course.

  8. StevoR says

    @ ^ Marcus Ranum :

    That lovable old conman the Gyatso is the heir of a bloody slaughter over political power in what was (until China came and sorted the place out…)

    What the .. !?! Seriously Marcus Ranum, dude, really?

    Is that really how you are going to describe the genocide by the Han Chinese against the Tibetan people? :

    Some very heartbreaking attention-grabbing facts:

    · 1.2 million Tibetans have been slaughtered since the Chinese occupation.

    · Over six thousand monasteries and temples and historical structures looted and destroyed beyond repair.

    · Tibet’s ecosystem has been severely damaged: vast regions of forest have been removed whilst numerous wildlife species decimated just for food by the Chinese.

    · Tibet’s substantial mineral resources have been pillaged and continues to this date.

    · One quarter of China’s nuclear missiles are stationed in Tibet.

    · China is using Tibet as a dumping ground for nuclear waste.

    · Some four hundred thousand Chinese troops are based in Tibet.

    · Over 8 million Chinese colonists have moved into Tibet in a step to dominate the Tibetans.

    · A secret Chinese document in 1992 revealed plans to swamp the Tibetan population with even more Chinese.

    · Forced abortions, many in late pregnancy, and sterilization of Tibetan women is not uncommon.
    · Hundreds of Tibetan political prisoners are being held including the Panchen Lama.

    · Over 150,000 Tibetans are in exile worldwide, including India and Nepal.

    · In 1959, the international Commission of Jurists found that genocide had been committed in Tibet.
    · Nomads are forced to end their traditional way of life.

    · Chairman Mao wanted to blow-up the Potala -- as they did with the Chakpori -- to break the Tibetan spiritual spirit.
    Forced to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama, their own spiritual and temporal leader, his chosen Panchen Lama Gedun Choekyi Nyima; Tibetans must pledge their allegiance to the Chinese government. Failure to do so can result in imprisonment or other forms of severe punishment. Celebrating birthday celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, commemorating anniversaries or festivals, and possessing an image of His Holiness the Dalai Lama or Tibetan flag is still illegal in Tibet today.

    Source :

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