Monks Behaving Badly | Photo Essay

There is this almost ‘romanticized’ image of Buddhist monks from a western mindset that often conjures up images of serenity, balance (& most importantly), the escape from worldly possessions and wayward lifestyle habits. Although, this may typically be the case, it´s not always the golden rule. While living in Korea, I´ve personally witnessed a monk scarfing down a Big Mac at Mcdonald´s, another on a bullet train and finally a showdown between a monk and a homeless man for a space on a park bench. It´s these moments of disconnect that stick out like a sore thumb. Scarfing down a cheeseburger hardly conforms with the image of a monk living a humble/vegan lifestyle. Where on earth would a monk need to get to in such a hurry on a bullet train? Finally, fighting with a homeless man for the territory of a park bench? Hardly, the salt of the earth type of balance you´d expect. Oh My Buddha!

While backpacking in South East Asia I witnessed monks doing more absurd things than what was even mentioned above. The following is a photo essay of monks behaving badly:

Monks behaving badly - smoking, etc

(A smoking monk in Ayutthaya, Thailand)

Monks behaving badly - smoking, etc

(The same monk furious that the cats are not getting all of the feed)

Monks behaving badly - smoking, etc

(A monk making a silly face outside of Inthanon National Park, Thailand)

Monks behaving badly - smoking, etc

(The same monk now sticking out his tongue!)

Monks behaving badly - smoking, etc

(Another smoking monk in Battambang, Cambodia)

Monks behaving badly - smoking, etc

(The same smoking monk meeting up with a friend)

The truth is that not all monks are necessary there for the most wholesome of reasons. As pointed out by another travel blogger, some enlist as a way of avoiding jail-time.

Oh My Buddha! 

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  1. says: cynthia

    Hi, Samuel!
    I think you’re on to something with this. I find monks behaving badly fascinating and more common than people think. After all, they are human. I was in Disneyland with the kids a few years ago riding the Tower of Terror freefall ride and had the privilege of riding next to a group of monks. They were punking each other in line, pushing each other like little kids when it was time to sit and the monk next to me shrieked like a little girl on the first drop, as well as committing the biggest no-no, touching a woman, by grabbing me in fearful horror as we plunged several stories. He was apologetic and embarassed, but it was all in good fun. Thanks for the share! Cynthia, JoyJournist

  2. says: Gecko

    I have seen many ‘bad behaviour’ from monks. Since they smoking, spitting on the ground, being arrogants when you refuse them money… HEY, they earn money for doing ‘nothing’!!! They have people begging for them! They have reserved seats on every transport… They are supported by thai government! I have visited many temples and I even think they are not any kind of illuminated persons. They do retreats like going to military service. Food is free and thats okay. I have also seen monks playing computer and drinking alcohol, not so serious… (?) But making fun of me?? I was in a temple and met some monks and I could understand they were laughing at me (even I can not understand the language). They were bad joking and laughing a lot. I felt embarassed but at the same time very proud of my society and mutuous respect. Because believe me, western people nowadays are more enlighnted than asiatic. Just take a walk…and observe. Observe…
    Thank you

  3. says: Bodlagz

    On seeing a monk walking the streets of Pattaya the other day, my wife said to me “I never wai to a monk in the street”. When I inquired why, she said there are too many bad monks, they ask for food instead of money and they don’t really care about being a monk, they only do it because of peer pressure.

  4. I think, smoking to buddhism is not prohibited. I was in Thailand for one year and 3 months working as a teacher, I really saw a lot of monks and even tattoing themselves inside the monastery.
    Some had just brought wine or beer for leisure. What you just observed was a pretty common sights of the Thai monks….I can’t judge them for doing that, better yet they’re respectful and nice individuals.

    1. Eric, that’s a great point. It may not be prohibited but I feel as though a lot of people have this image of monks living a clean and wholesome existence. Although many likely do it’s not the case in every situation.

  5. says: Leigh

    I loved your images and had certainly not appreciated the requirement of 90 days service until I read Barbara’s comment. Very informative – I guess they’re human after all.

  6. says: Donald

    I am less disappointed with monks now, thanks to Barbara’s comment. Monks had been around for a long time. They are very well known for their discipline. It is sad that there are monks that are ruining such a well respected image.

    1. Donald, I agree with you for the most part that monks have a well respected image. I guess I’m showing the other side of the coin here. I will have plenty of articles about monks shown in a more positive manner.

  7. says: Sherry

    I guess this just reminds us that no matter what vows we take in life, we are all ultimately still human, capable of reverting back to the fallacies in our behavior. I don’t necessarily think they are doing any truly bad. This could possibly be just the norm to them. However, the photos are indeed very funny. I especially like the one sticking out his tongue. I’m surprised you saw so many monks doing such “bad” things and that you were able to capture the evidence in photos. There’s so many colorful people in SE Asia. And, that’s probably why I love visiting there so much.

  8. says: Leif

    I like your title, hah, those naughty monks. I guess, like the rest of us, they are trying their best to attain enlightenment. I don’t blame them, old habits like smoking die hard.

  9. says: Dean

    I have a bit of a soft spot for monks, but I know exactly what you mean and I’ve seen quite a few monks doing things that you wouldn’t expect them to do. I think it’s also got to do with the way that the developing world impacts them. I’m sure 100 years ago you wouldn’t see a monk “behaving badly”, but with technology and western customs entering their culture, things change.
    When I was in Nepal I was allowed to sit in the Monastery at Tengboche, 3600m high in the Himalayas, observing the monks throat chanting etc. It was wonderful, then afterwards I was sitting outside having a cup of tea when all of the young monks came out, put on their fake Nike shoes and pulled out their cell phones, all looking for a signal. I was amazed.

    1. Hey Dean, that’s a great story! I’ve seen similar events take place with Ethnic minority groups posing in traditional costumes for tourists and then putting on normal street clothes afterwards.

  10. The other thing that many people may not know is that in Theravadan Buddhism (the sect of Buddhism prevalent throughout SE Asia), every man is expected to do mandatory service as a monk for a minimum of 90 days at some point during their lives, rather like mandatory military service. Many do it after completing secondary school or university, but others take a mid-career break to do it, which is why it is not uncommon to see monks smoking, speaking on cell phones, riding on motorcycles, etc. Another common misconception is: once a monk, always a monk. Not so. Many, many monks stay in the monastery for a number of years and then leave. While they serve as monks, precise records are kept of the income they generate from blessing new vehicles, homes, etc. That money is kept for them by the monastery and given to them when they disrobe, so it is considered a good way to build up a nest egg that allows them to go out into the world, get married and start a business.

    1. Barbara, thanks for the detailed and thoughtful comment. Thanks for pointing out several misconceptions and shedding some light on the reality of things. I didn’t realize the minimum period was as long as 90 days.