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Using 'Beggar' for 'Bhikkhu'
... again[1]

He needs to be called 'beggar' because,
as long as he doesn't see that he isn't
he thinks he's God.


"I beg your pardon," does this make me a bum?
"I beg to differ," does this make me a bum?


The word "bhikkhu" is derived from the verbal root bhikṣ "to beg" a desiderative form of bhaj "divide, share." A bhikkhu is a beggar monk. Such monks are also known to the christian tradition.
Ole Pind


I will teach you the one-up-passed confusion concerning the translation of 'bhikkhu' as 'beggar';
listen up!
Pay attention!
I will speak!

Do you see that an individual downbound to the six-spheres [perception through the senses] is not able to perceive the actual creation of a thing prior to his consciousness of it as existing?

That since he perceives through the senses,
it is not until sense data have been cognized
that his personal consciousness arises,
and that therefore it is not possible to distinguish,
within individualized consciousness,
the separation of conscious awareness and creation?

If this is your understanding, then:

Do you see that this leads, inevitably to the perception that things external to the self change, while that which is taken to be the self remains a constant [in the sense of a continuing entity, not in the sense of no changes in that entity ... we do not go that far in this analysis]?

If this is your perception, then:

Do you see that in one sense or another,
there being the point of view of self there,
that given the perception that things external to the self change
while that which is taken to be the self remains constant
any individual perceiving at this level who is not educated in the Buddha's Dhamma will necessarily come to the conclusion that it is his self that is doing the creation of things in his world?

Do you see that this is a description of the meaning of 'saccaya-ditthi'?
That is, that this yoke to rebirth
is not simply a matter of having a point of view about the self,
but that that point of view is actually the structure, [infrastructure, scaffolding, cornerstone], on which the individual's construction of his world is built?

So then, if we have got this far:

Do you know that it is the 'breaking' of this saccaya-ditthi that is one of the three [and the most important of the three] yokes that must be broken to reach the state of stream-entry?

Can you see why?

Can you see that the dynamics of rebirth are bound up in this idea of point of view being the scaffolding on which the creation of one's own world is built (saṇkāraṃ)?

So do you see that in the case of the case where an individual is perceiving at the highest level attainable prior to Stream-entry, he is perceiving the entire world as his own creation?[2]

Do you see from the opposite side?
That is, that if this individual simultaneously holds on to the idea of self and refuses to be reborn he is faced with the situation where there is absolutely nothing existing for real in his world except himself?[3]

Can you see that stubbornly hanging on to this position is unstable?

That as long as the saccaya-ditthi is not broken there are only two courses that follow: rebirth into a lower mental state in which this problem is forgotten, or regression to a lower mental state in which the whole issue is forgotten (i.e., not a solution, but only a postponement).

Putting aside regression, do you see that rebirth is the inevitable outcome because maintaining the notion of 'self' and no 'other' defeats the purpose of distinguishing 'the personal' from 'the external' or in other words, the reason for the notion of 'self'. [Subjectively at this level, this is experienced as the loneliness of God. Brahmā, at the beginning of creation (say, maybe, after seven days): 'O O O If only there were others here like me!"]

Now do you see that the individual poised at this point faces a problem?

What problem?

What I call 'Pajapati's Problem': The Creator taking responsibility for Creation, is also responsible for all the du-k-kha-pain that results.

In the Hindu cosmos this is reflected in the notion that Pajapati is also Mara. You also get this in Shiva/Vishnu; and the Yama twins.

Without Buddhism the solution arrived at by the ordinary man is to opt for rebirth under any circumstances. In reality the rebirth is according to kamma, but kamma gets its foothold only after action is taken by the individual to create, and this creation is done subjectively as a matter of a sort of dialog:

"I want to be reborn."
"OK, we'll play with you again this time, but because you were such a mean sum gum last time, this time you get to be my pet poodle."

Those with vision have attempted another solution: penitential rebirth.

Rebirth as 'one of the guys.'

Christ, not come down to suffer for our sins, but his own ... if you like, to show us how to make up for our sins.

Kafka's 'The Trial'. Knut Hamsen's "Mysteries" which is just a Christ tale re-spun in this way. Or the story from the Arabian Nights where the king, wishing to know the true views of his subjects, and not being able to get a true picture from his court (of suck-ups), dresses up as a beggar and goes out into the night to see the people and talk of the king in unbiased terms.

The Buddha's solution, though, actually solves the problem.

By the 'simple' recognition of the truth of the statement that "There is no thing there that is the self of one," along with the other two notions that go along with that: that all things (including what we may have been identifying as the self) have no real continuity and that as long as one maintains the notion of self with regard to things, that attachment inevitably leads to pain when those things disintegrate one is freed from the idea of responsibility for the du-kkha-pain of the rest of the world, and, just coincidentally, it frees one from this confounded personality and the endless cycle of rebirths it involves because of this problem.

But even supposing an individual reaches the point mentally where all this is perceived accurately and all the correct decisions are made, how does one know that the problem has been thoroughly eliminated? After all, at first one does not maintain this level of perception on a permanent basis.

One monitors. "Minds". One repeatedly reviews one's thoughts, words and deeds for indications of identification.

With what?

With Earth, Water, Firelight, Wind,
Beings, gods, The Creator, God,
Radiant beings, Luminous beings, Bountiful Beings, Non-percepient beings,
The realm of space, the realm of consciousness, the realm of no-thing-to-be-had-there, the realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception,
'Seeing', 'Hearing', 'Sensing', 'Knowing',
Oneness, Diversity, The All, and Nibbāna.


By taking such things as being in reality as they appear subjectively,
conceptualizing them,
thinking about them in whatever ways they are usually thought of,
thinking in terms of "My" with regard to them,
and taking delight in them.

In other words one monitors the progress of practice in mind, speech, and action of avoiding any notion connected with anything conceivable, including Nibbāna, of ideas of separation, inclusion, superiority, inferiority, or connectedness. Anything, in other words, having to do with a self of one.

Now this was a problem that preceded the Buddha. In fact it was, in essence, this problem that Gotama set out to solve. And the solution to the problem prior to the Buddha, was similar to those I mentioned above: opting for rebirth, but as one with no pretentious to power, or any signs whatsoever of identification with worldly ambitions. The word 'humble' or 'lowly' comes to mind.

The practice that resulted from this was varied, but essentially came down to adopting the status of the lowest element of society [any 'unenviable position'], often actually, and even today, it is recommended that one act as though one were stark raving mad. Run around naked, never wash, never cut the hair, etc.[4]

The myth that served as guide was the myth of Sakka revisiting this world: when he does so he does so disguised as a beggar. It is only from this position as the lowest that one does not encounter suck-ups and such [much ... of course we know that there is beggar-to-beggar one-upmanship that goes on] and distrust of one's motives and the consequent truthfulness of the attitudes of people to one. [i.e., 'He doesn't matter.' And also the best in some people is only seen when one sees their response to distress or poverty. And it is generally only with others at one's level that one speaks truthfully about those in more powerful positions.]

So, with this long-way-round discussion I believe a little thought will show the logic to calling the Sons of the Sakkyans 'beggars.'

They take the old myth, and 'show'em how its done.'

Now ask yourself: Is a person, prior to being a Streamwinner, who objects to being called a beggar, when he depends entirely for his sustenance on others, a person concerned with appearances and status?

Is this or is this not reflective of notions of self?

Is a person, subsequent to being a Streamwinner, when in their right mind (Streamwinners can lapse temporarily) going to object to being called a beggar? Or anything else for that matter?

So who is it, and based on what, that objects to 'bhikkhu' being translated 'beggar'?

So this is the reason, aside from the fact that the word 'bhikkhu' means 'beggar' and aside from the fact that in English society we have no better word for the position at the bottom of the pile that has all the qualities of the bhikkhu other than 'beggar', that we should be using the term 'beggar': It illustrates the point of the system. It points to freedom from this world.


[1] See: BuddhaDust DhammaTalk Archives: Give Ear: Using Beggar for Bhikkhu

[2] In the Hindu religion this state would be called 'merging with Brahmā'.

[3] This is the 'ditthi' that 'There is no self.' I say this is the other side of the view that 'There is a self' because the state of belief in 'No self' depends completely on the existence of 'self' to make sense.

[4] In practice this often became masochistic in nature, and this will not work as the basis for the 'punishment' is the firm conviction that one is in fact in a position needing punishment ... i.e., one is in fact the Creator.



Oxford English Dictionary:

1. To ask alms or by way of alms. a. trans. To ask (bread, money, etc.) in alms or as a charitable gift; to procure (one's living) by begging.

7. To make (one's way) begging. Example: 1840 Dickens Old C. Shop xliv, To-morrow we will beg our way to some quiet part of the country.

[The notion that 'beg' had to do with the bag carried by a beggar, as if he were a 'bagger,' finds no etymological corroboration. The Flemish beggen appealed to by Littré under Beguin has no existence (Cosijn). Mr. H. Sweet has suggested that ME. beggen might be worn down from the rare OE. bedecian 'to beg,' found once (in Past. Care), and obscurely connected with Gothic bidagwa 'beggar,' f. bidjan 'to ask, beg.' This has much to recommend it; but the phonetic connexion of beggen and bedecian is by no means established, and there is the serious historical difficulty that no connecting links are to be found, there being no trace of the word in any form between K. Ælfred's bedecian before 900 and the regular use of the modern beg and beggar in the 13th c. Perhaps the most likely derivation is from the OF. begart, begard, and begar, med.L. begardus = Beghard, or its synonym beguin, beguin, and deriv. vb. beguigner, beguiner 'to act the beguin.' It is known that the Beghards or Beguins were, or soon became, a lay mendicant order, and that in the 13th c. mendicants calling themselves, or called, by these names, swarmed over Western Europe, 'laici, qui sub prætextis cujusdam religionis fictæ Begardos se appellant+qui extra religionem approbatam validam mendicantes discurrunt' (Council of Treves 1310). It is notable that in one of the two passages where Britton has Anglo-French beggar to beg (see 4 above), the reading of two 14th c. MSS. is beguigner, showing that this was at any rate identical in sense with 'beg.' So also we find in Sym. de Hesdin a 1380 (Godef.), 'il n'y eust pas tant de begars et de begardes qui mengassent leur pain en oiseuse' (there would not have been so many begards, male and female, to eat their bread in idleness), which strongly suggests the Eng. beggar. About this time the words beggare and beggen arose in English: the exact process of their formation, and their actual relation to each other can only be conjectured: possibly begg-en was shortened from beguin-er, possibly it was taken from begg-are, and this directly from OF. begar above. The -are of the Ancren Riwle proves nothing, being the regular agent ending, as seen in bacbitare, demare, reuare, etc.]




"Now, then, since we all carry axes, and must, and cannot break ourselves of it, why has not a best way to do it been invented by some wise and thoughtful person? There can be no reason but one: from the beginning of time each member of the human race, while recognizing with shame and angry disapproval that everybody else is an axe-bearer and beggar, has all the while deceived himself with the superstition that he is free of the taint. And so it would never occur to him to plan out for the help and benefit of the race a scheme which could not advantage himself. For that is human nature.
But — let us recognize it and confess it — we are all concerned to plan out a best way to approach a person's grindstone, for we are all beggars...

— Mark Twain, Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, 2-10; Reflections on a letter and a book. p 182.




An example of debate in poetic form. A temptress Divinity addresses the Bodhisattva and he responds in kind.

"Begging brother, do you know
What of joy the world can show?
Now's the time — there is no other:
Pleasure first, then begging, brother!"

"The time is hid — I cannot know
When is the time that I must go:
Now is the time: there is no other:
So I am now a begging brother."

"'Abhutvā bhikkhasi bhikkhu, na hi bhutvāna bhikkhasi,||
bhutvāna bhikkhu bhikkhassu, mā taṃ kālo upaccagā' ti.
|| ||

'Kālaṃ vo'haṃ na jānāmi, channo kālo na dissati||
tasmā abhutvā bhikkhāmi, mā māṃ kālo upaccagā' ti."
|| ||

Jataka #167, W.H.D. Rouse, trans.




Another from the Jataka Stories:

Why It Is Not "Mendicant"

Atīte Bārāṇasiyaṃ Brahmadatte rajjaṃ kārente Bodhisatto ekasmiṃ bhikkhaṃ critvā jīvikakappake kapaṇe naṭakakule nibbattitvā vayappatto duggato dūrūpako hutvā bhikkhaṃ caritvā jīvikaṃ kappesi.

Once upon a time, while Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as one of a family of poor acrobats, that lived by begging. So when he grew up, he was needy and squalid, and by begging he lived.

Jataka #212, W.H.D. Rouse, trans.

I think this makes it clear that the word was used, at least at the time of the setting down of the Jātaka stories, as 'beggar' not 'mendicant', for there is no way that this acrobat could be characterized as seeking support for a religious life by seeking alms.




See: Kantipala: Pindapata




There is no spot
On a mountain of shit
Which is the best spot
On which to be caught




I have just read of Samuel Beckett his response when asked if he was influenced by James Joyce: "Not really, except that his seriousness and dedication to his art influenced me. But we are diametrically opposite because Joyce was a synthesizer, he wanted to put everything, the whole of human culture, into one or two books, and I am an analyzer. I take away all the accidentals because I want to come down to the bedrock of the essentials, the archetypal."

The questioner[2.1] ponders the meaning thus: "And that is exactly what the clown/tramp [in Waiting for Godot] is. The clown is not an allegorical figure but is a man who hasn't got any possessions and can't be defined by the fact that he runs a Mercedes car. In other words, if you take away all the unimportant accidentals, you come to a human figure that is completely real but at the same time not encumbered by any sort of accidentals. Whether somebody has got a nice suit or not a nice suit has nothing to do with his essential soul. And therefore if you put him into a tramp's clothes, people don't think about the suit."

The why and wherefore is stated in another quote: "We are alone. We cannot know and we cannot be known."[2.2] The contrast was between the lesson taught by allegory versus the lesson taught by 'an admonitory mirror'[2.3] stripped of elements involving time, place, status; held up to people in all walks of life: "This is but motion in stasis.' Come! Look! See for yourself!

Here is the difference between the bhikkhu as conceived today by the majority of Buddhist Monks and the original point of 'giving up the world' to become of the lowest occupation, entirely dependant on others for one's sustenance; a beggar.

The beggar who would become this admonitory mirror reflecting the essence does not become an allegory. The Monk, living the monastic life on the other hand is an allegory for the seeker, the scholar, for one who knows and sees and because an allegory, one step removed from being a mirror and an admonition and because one step removed, one step more confusing.

It is the same story with the beatnik Dhamma bum of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, et al, the crazy wisdom of the Tibetans and the bizarre antics of some practitioners of Zen. The perception of motion in stasis is the foundation for each of these, but the translation into personal practice has been warped by the desire to teach through allegory. And there is what reveals these practices as not having clearly understood the implications of motion in stasis: the desire to know and be known is not seen as impossible while clinging to accidentals such as the desire to teach through allegory.

The desires of those who practice in this way is seen: The desire at the root of the confusion that putting on accidentals causes is not seen as it really is as the root of pain. The message of the allegory is that some sort of satisfaction awaits one who understands the meaning of the allegory and this is a false message. The admonition of the wholly dependant beggar is that there is no satisfaction to be had here in mere motion in stasis — in anything whatsoever in this world. These Monks and Mendicants, seekers and scholars who disdain the role of the beggar have missed their calling and are leading many astray by their allegorical displays.

Vi-banghas: Split hempers. Analyzers. Hair splitters. One of the original names applied to the early bhikkhus.


[2.1] Martin Esslin in Beckett Remembering, James and Elizabeth Knowlson, Bloomsbury, p. 49.

[2.2] ibid. p. 56. The meaning is that because the individual is defined by and perceives through his senses his world is made up entirely in his personal imagination — steps away from direct perception. He has no way of knowing what is really out there and no other individual also so bound to the senses has any way of knowing what of the many possible interpretations that could be put on the sensory input he has received another individual has managed to contrive to put on his world.

The wording here is made carefully. There is knowing for one who is not bound by the senses; something that is not the case for one bound by accidentals, gestures, motions in stasis. There is no being known, however, because there is no thing there that is the being to be known outside of accidentals which have been abandoned by the bhikkhu.

[2.3] ibid. p. 55 as recollected by Emily Skillen




Here is a verse from 𐅊taka 433 that illustrates the spirit of the role of beggar in the ascetic's life.

No island realm, safe-guarded in the sea,
Shall tempt me, Sayha, to this cruelty.
A curse upon the lust of fame and gain,
Whence spring the sins that lead to endless pain.
Better, as homeless waif, to beg one's bread
Than by a crime bring shame upon my head.
Yea better, bowl in hand, to flee from sin
Than by such cruelty a kingdom win.



Antam idaṃ bhikkhave jīvikānaṃ yad idaṃ piṇḍolyaṃ,||
abhilāpāyaṃ bhikkhave lokasmiṃ||
'Piṇḍolo vicarasi pattapāṇī' ti.|| ||

"This, brethren,
is the meanest of callings -
this of an almsman.

A term of abuse is this in the world to-day,
to say:

'You scrap-gatherer!

With bowl in hand you roam about.'

'Tis this calling
that is entered on
by those clansmen who are bent on [their] good
because of good,
not led thereto
by fear of kings,
by fear of robbers,
not because of debt,
not from fear,
not because they have no livelihood:
but with the thought:

'Here am I,
fallen upon birth,
sorrow and grief,
and despair,
fallen upon woe,
foredone with woe.

Maybe some means of ending all this mass of woe
may be found.'

Thus, brethren, a clansman leaves the world,
and covetous is he in his desires,
fierce in his longing,
malevolent of heart,
of mind corrupt,
careless and unrestrained,
not quieted,
but scatter-brained,
and thoughtless.

Just as, brethren,
a torch from a funeral pyre,
lit at both ends,
and in the middle smeared with dung,
kindleth no fuel
either in village or in forest -
using such a figure
do I describe unto you this man,
for he has lost his home and wealth,
nor yet does he fulfil the duties of a recluse.

SN 3.22.80, Woodward translation, where the Buddha goes on to describe the value of having adopted this low form of earning a living as being that in this way there is the opportunity to get rid of the corruptions of mind. 'almsman' = 'piṇḍolyaṃ' 'scraper'.

Another description of the same sutta:

The Buddha explains that the bhikkhus have entered 'the lowest profession', that of scrap (or 'chunk', or 'glob' or 'mess') (see SN 3.22.96 where it is used for a tiny 'bit' or 'lump' of dung) hunters, not from want of a livelihood or fears, but because it is in this way that some way out of all the pain in the world may be found.
Although the term here is not 'bhikkhu' (beggar), but 'pindola' scrap hunter, or 'dole-man', someone on the dole, the spirit is the same. Many of the 'monks' of today object strenuously to being called 'beggars' and have completely missed the point: It is by adopting the lowest of callings that pride of birth is humbled and by showing those who are beggars as a consequence of their bad kamma, that such a life can be lived with ease, generosity, virtue and dignity it teaches the way out of their misery. The translation of 'bhikkhu' as 'monk' and of 'pindola' as 'almsman' or 'mendicant' whitewashes the truth and destroys the lesson.


"This is a lowly means of livelihood, alms gathering. Its a form of abuse in the world [to say], 'You go around as an alms gatherer with a bowl in your hand'"
ITI 91, Bhikkhu Thanissaro translation.


I suggest 'monk,' or 'mendicant' or 'brother' is not a term of abuse in the world whereas 'beggar' is. There is, as it says in this sutta, a compelling reason for respectable people to adopt this 'lowest of possible occupations.'

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