Since the topic arises frequently, this post is skipping its way to the top… (especially as someone called me ‘Vulnerable’ recently)
a quick guide to speaking to, about and calling monks:
This is a question that arises frequently so it is worth writing up in full. People are afraid of being impolite or doing things the wrong way. Of course, if you are trying to be polite that is enough to be polite – and Thais especially are good at picking these things up. On the other hand, they are not so good at telling you what you have done wrong.
As usual in Thai culture it is somewhat blunt to call someone just by their name. You would normally put ‘Khun’ or ‘Dr’ or ‘Ajahn’ etc before the name to be polite. Same with monks – you generally don’t use the name without an honourific first. But you can’t use the usual ‘Khun’ as with regular people. Here are the main choices :
The easiest word is ‘Bhante’. It just means something like ‘Vernerable sir’ and it is a term that monks use with each other a lot in all Buddhist countries. For some reason Thai monks don’t use it so much, but it is still polite. Most Thai monks who can speak English or who have been abroad will use the term with each other. You can call any monk Bhante – no matter their position, rank, age or nationality. You would not usually put their name after it – just ‘Bhante’ is correct already. Which is handy when monks have Pali names you can’t remember even seconds later. So this one is recommended, as it is so easy. Unless there are several monks in the room of course….
‘Venerable’ can be used in the same way, and is again is fine for laypeople to use, and for monks to address other monks. You can add the name afterwards or not – up to you. But best not to use ‘venerable’ with very senior monks such as abbots.
You would not use ‘khun’ before a monk’s name as you would with Thais commonly. You can use the word ‘phra’ (meaning monk) or ‘tahn’ – both equally valid and usable. ‘Tahn’ is rather like ‘khun’ but higher status, and is sometimes used with high ranking officials or important people.
Thais will often use ‘luang pii’ which means ‘venerable brother’ or ‘luang phor’ which is ‘venerable father’. The latter is properly used with people older than yourself . ‘Luang Ta’ is also used, and means ‘venerable grandfather’. Children might use ‘luang naa’ which means venerable uncle.
‘Ajahn’ means teacher, and comes from the Pali/Sanskrit word Achariya. These days it is used with just about anyone who does, or has, or even looks like they might, teach something. You can use with monks both on its own, or followed by the monks name.
‘Bhikkhu’ is also used sometimes, either before or after the monks name, but best not to use this one unless the monk is commonly referred to in that way, such as the eminent Bhikkhu Bodhi.
The Wai (or anjali) is another story. It is common to wai monks. It does not have to be excessive, it is just a way of saying hello, and is something akin to a simple handshake. Monks will wai each other all the time, but in Thailand a monk cannot wai a layperson – so don’t think they are being impolite, they just are not culturally supposed to wai to lay people, even the King. Bowing is similar. Monks bow all the time and it is no big deal to them. We bow to other monks who have been ordained longer, but not to those who have been ordained for a shorter period, regardless of rank or age. bowing is sometimes a bit of a jolt to start with, either to monks or to Buddha Statues, but it quickly becomes perfunctory. After a while it feels like a really nice thing to do – to respect something.
When bowing to monks, it is important to know that it is the Sangha you are bowing to, not the individual monk. Monks know this too – that when people pay respect it is to the robes, and the office of the Bhikkhu, and not to the person wearing the robes. So while laypeople respect the office of the monkhood by bowing, the monk has an even greater obligation to respect the robes by means of proper behaviour and renunciation. Thai people have a knack of separating the office from the person – they can respect someone’s rank, while not liking the person. They see the two as separate. Thus a parent might bow to a newly ordained son, to pay respect to the office, and then lecture the son on behaviour. They respect the rank, and lecture the son!
|Use without name||Bhante|
|Use with or without name||VenerableLuang PiiLuang PhorAjahn|
|Use with name||PhraTahnBhikkhu (before or after name)|
If all this is confusing, use Bhante to call someone (like a polite ‘hey you’) but use ‘phra +name’ when speaking about them.