A quick guide to speaking to, about and calling monks:
[div class=’content-2-col-left’] 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. With regualr people 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 alone 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. While Thai monks don’t use it so much, it is still understood and polite. Most Thai monks who can speak English or who have been abroad will use ‘Bhante’ with each other regularly. 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; but you can use the name also if needed, for example “Bhante Jayasaro said ...”. It is a handy term to use alone since monks have tricky Pali names you can’t remember, even seconds after you’ve been told. So this one is recommended, as it is so easy. Unless there are several monks in the room of course…. then they won’t know which one of them you are calling.
‘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. E.g. “Tahn Pasanno came yesterday”, or “Phra Gary are you ready to go?”
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 Ajahn 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. Monks often sign their names this way so the reader will know they are ordained monks.
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 or haughty, they just are not supposed to wai to lay people in Thai culutre, even if they meet His Majesty the King.
Bowing is similar. Monks bow all the time and it is no big deal to them. We bow to Statues and 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. It is telling yourself with the body that there is something worthy to aspire to.
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 his behaviour. They respect the rank, and lecture the son!
|Use without name||Bhante|
|Use with or without name||Venerable, Luang Pii, Luang Phor, Ajahn|
|Use with name||Phra, Tahn, Bhikkhu (before or after name)|
If all this is confusing, use Bhante to call someone (like a polite ‘hey you’).