Can Buddhist monks marry?

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

Buddhism has a very simple and profound message: to cultivate wisdom and inner well-being to live in peace. However, some religious practices allow marriage ceremonies and can monks participate in this union? The question still remains controversial despite the rise of Buddhism in the world.

Divergence of convictions between countries and schools of thought

There are three major currents of thought that differ on this subject: Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Each school has its own interpretation and standards regarding whether or not to allow a marriage.

Theravada Buddhism, also known as the "small path", is a classical form of Buddhism. It is based on the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, notably collected in the Pali Canon. This current forbids marriage to monks and more generally their commitment to any material activity. The followers of this type of Buddhism are mainly located in Southeast Asia.

The Mahayana, commonly known as the 'high way', is a more modern and flexible set of schools. They accept that a person can be both a good wife and a devoted Dharma follower. Its practice is widespread in China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia.

Finally, the Vajrayana or "diamond way" is the most recent of the spiritual currents. It involves very complex magical practices, mantras and rituals. Some lamas may be married and lead a full religious life. Most Vajrayana followers live in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.

The impact of religion on the principles of monks

Today, many Buddhists believe that marriage is not against monastic vows. It is not seen as a distraction or an obstacle to spiritual advancement. Monks can be married without limiting their religious commitments. However, some practitioners are opposed to this practice, and there is still a moral difference of opinion.

This decision is often made taking into account religious and cultural beliefs. Well-known examples include the Karmapa, a Tibetan spiritual leader who married in 1992, and the Dalai Lama who considers himself single but has been living with a wife for several years.

Some factors to consider before getting married

  • Personal preparation: Mental and spiritual preparation is necessary for monks considering marriage. It signifies the respect and care given to the marital relationship, in addition to the commitment to serve the Dharma.
  • Social organization: It is important to be part of a religious community that accepts married couples and encourages their spiritual commitment.
  • Observance of vows: Even if a certain laxity is admitted, it is recommended to respect the traditional vows and to maintain strict discipline during the marriage.

In conclusion, marriage is a complex and very personal matter. No religious law can impose an absolute restriction on Buddhist monks, although each school of thought has its own approach. It is recommended to think carefully and discuss with a mentor to find the best way to lead a life as a couple while serving the Dharma.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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