Bhante or Ajahn?

You may have noticed that i usually call myself Bhante, whereas most of the monks who come from the Thai tradition call themselves Ajahn. Why one or the other?

Here’s a little history of the word ‘Ajahn’.

It’s a Thai word, derived from the Sanskrit ācārya, which is equivalent to the Pali ācariya. The root is car, which means conduct, so ācariya is literally ‘conductor’, although obvioulsy not used in the same sense. In Pali, ācariya is used of a person in a specific teaching capacity. For example, an ācariya has a student, antevāsī. An ācariya need not be a monastic. Ācariya is never used as a general title or term of address for monks. The nuns, of course, have their own version, ācarinī, which is used in a similar way.

In Thailand, Ajahn is used as a general title for a ‘teacher’, especially one with some seniority, such as a college professor. It is not commonly used by itself as a title for monks. The normal title for monks is ‘phra’ or ‘tahn’. When Ajahn is used of a monk, it is usually prefixed to become ‘Phra Ajahn’ or ‘Tahn Ajahn’. These titles are usually used for senior monks. In all of these cases, however, there is considerable variation in different regions, so that it’s not really possible to point to a ‘correct’ Thai usage.

Just as a little point of detail, the Thai spelling, which is derived from the Sanskrit rather than Pali, uses two identical long ‘a’s. So, depending how you want to depict a long ‘a’ in Roman transliteration, it should be spelled ‘Aajaan’ or ‘Ahjahn’ or ‘Arjarn’. These look pretty weird, though, so mostly we use something like Ajahn.

It is sometimes said that a monk becomes an Ajahn after ten vassa. This stems from a misunderstanding of the Vinaya contexts. In some of the places where a monk acts as an ācariya, he must be ten vassa. But in other cases this does not apply. In any case, the restriction as to vassa refers to the role that he plays, not to the use of a title.

This misunderstanding, while being neither Vinaya nor ‘Thai culture’, has become normalized in Western monasteries. The convention has become to use the title ‘Ajahn’ of a monk or nun when they reach ten vassa, as if it’s a privilege or promotion.

In the original texts, bhikkhus are referred to as āyasmā and bhikkhunis as ayyā. These are from the root āyu (life, long life), and so we translate them as ‘venerable’. The terms are not entirely consistent in the early texts. Sometimes bhikkhus are referred to as ayya, and sometimes the bhikkhus refer to lay people as āyasmā.

But nowhere do we find any system of titles or promotion. The most senior bhikkhus, such as Sāriputta and Moggallāna, are called āyasmā, and the most respected bhikkhunis, such as Uppalavaṇṇā and Khemā, are called ayyā.

These days, we often refer to the bhikkhunis as ayyā. Logically, we should call the bhikkhus āyasmā, but it sounds a little weird and hasn’t taken off. Instead, it has become a common convention to use bhante as a title for bhikkhus.

Bhante is used very widely in the early texts as a form of address for monks. The monks and laypeople use it referring to the monks, and the monks use it speaking to the Buddha. It is a vocative, and so is not normally used as a title. Mostly it is used by itself as a vocative, but in the Milindapañha it is used together with the vocative form of the monk’s name: ‘Bhante Nāgasena’.

So the use ‘Bhante Sujato’ is a bit of a stretch of the original usage, but not too much. (If we’re going to get picky about grammar, then it would be better to use ‘Sujata’ rather than ‘Sujato’, but that’s a lost battle…)

Bhante is not used as a title for monks in contemporary Buddhist cultures, all of which have evolved their own complex system of titles and forms of address. It has, however, been adopted in new Buddhist contexts, such as India, Malaysia, Indonesia – and Australia.

When I arrived in Sydney, most of the well-known Theravadin monks were being referred to as ‘Bhante’. I like it because it’s simple, authentic, and cross-cultures.

If someone wants to call me Ajahn, that’s fine. But I really don’t like this thing of promoting monastics just because they get to a certain seniority. The Pali texts are remarkably free from the sense of hierarchy and status that stains so much modern monasticism. Away with it all! Monastics are just monastics. If someone is respectful enough to call me ‘Bhante’, this is already a huge thing, and a great responsibility for me to live up to. There’s no need for anything else.

And, this being Australia, if someone wants to call me ‘dude’ or ‘mate’ – which happens! – then I’m cool with that.


51 thoughts on “Bhante or Ajahn?

  1. Dear Bhante

    If “Bante” is the vocative, what would be its honorific form? “Bhadanta”? as in Bhadanta Sujato?

    How about the more affectionate “Marisa”, or is that reserved for usage among devas and royalties?

    • It doesn’t seem to have a form as a title. ‘Bhadante’ is a more sanskitized (i.e. formal) form of the same word. Mārisa is, as you say, used only among the devas.

  2. As you mentioned although the word Ajahn is derived from the original Sanskrit word Achariya it is mainly used by the Thai Buddhists.

    I agree, the terms Bhante/Ayya, Bhikkhu/Bhikkuni are lot simpler, less hierarchical and closer to the original forms of addressing monks.

    This also avoids the use of seniority titles which are based purely on the length of time being a monk/nun – like what it used to be in the good old public service! After all, seniority should be based on the level of wisdom one attains not on the length of time one is a monk or nun.

  3. Dear Bhante,

    Thanks very much for this clarification. Knowing that Bhante is the vocative case (from my limited Pali studies), I had wondered why it was being used in the 3rd person to refer to you, and also 1st person( in that I had noticed awhile ago that you signed your name this way on the “about” page of the blog). So I appreciate the clarification.

    Also, I was under the erroneous conception that the title “Ajahn” was bestowed after 10 vassa as per the Vinaya. But I have also wondered why some other Bhikkhus from the Thai Forest tradition don’t us it–eg. Thanissaro, so has it only been adopted in the Ajahn Chah tradition? This also brings me to another question: why is Bhikkhu sometimes used before the monastic name (eg: Thanisasaro Bhikkhu) and sometimes after (eg. Bhikkhu Bodhi). Customary, some grammatical reason, sounds better, some rule, choice of the individual monk…?

    And lastly, I notice you use Ajahn when referring to other (senior?) Bhikkhus (in your blogs, etc). Just customary? I love the word Ayya, so am glad that’s taken hold of for addressing Bhikkhunis. I never even knew about ayasma! So thanks again for the lesson in Pali, Thai customs, western misconceptions,etc.

    (Sorry I can’t seem to get diacritics to work on my mac, something I would love to know how to do. If anyone can give me simple instructions I’d appreciate it! I’ve tried installing various Pali fonts to no avail, but then I’m not highly computer literate….I don’t have any trouble copying and pastng from the web and having them show up though. )

    • Hi Linda,

      I’m not sure if Bhante will reply to now that you’ve admitted to being a Mac-user.


    • It’s more like disrobing and going under the thrall of sense pleasures… it’s fun for a while, but in the end, you’re gonna pay…

    • Hi Linda,

      I got so caught up in the software controversy that I forgot to answer your questions! So here goes:

      I’m not sure why Ven Thanissaro doesn’t use ‘Ajahn’.

      The word ‘bhikkhu’ usually occurs after the name in the Pali, but as we use titles before the name it sometimes gets shifted there. I use ‘Bhikkhu Sujato’ as a pen name, following Bhikkhu Bodhi, etc.

      Yes, it’s just customary when I use ‘Ajahn’ in referring to some other monks – I usually use what they usually use… Is that useful?

  4. Is there a chance I may not go to hell after all if I drive a nail through my crashed out mac that contributed ever so greatly to my patience practice over the last 4 years?

    • Technically, yes, you still have a chance. Using a mac is not, in the classical Theravada analysis, considered to be a sin with definite consequences in future lives (anantarika kamma).

      But don’t be complacent! You have many years of happy Ubuntu-using in front of you to make up for your bad kamma. Think of it as penance, but in a good way. Unfortunately, it’s fast, reliable and free, so no good at all for your patience practice. To take patience to the next level, you really need Vista…

      And, if you want to write Pali/Sanskrit diacriticals, here’s how to set up your Ubuntu!

    • I like “dear” (as in “Dear Sujato”).

      As far as operating systems go, you’re all wrong.

      Recent textual analysis of the successive code rescensions of the major operating systems (even developed into a General Operating Systems Theory by one young scholar-monk, semi-mockingly characterised as “the GOST in the machine” by some of his critics) has shown that there is an original underlying Dhamma Operating System.

      Some time after its origination this character-based command line system became overlaid by a more visually based culture, the GUI culture, bringing in such non-dhammic elements as windows, icons, avatars, and even, in later manifestations, gestures and touch, elements completely absent in the original system. During this evolution there were parallel developments, with practitioners no longer sewing their own robes, eating off plates instead of using a single bowl, eating after midday, handling money and even treating women as equals.

      There have been attempts to re-establish the simpler command line based character of the original system. Sujato’s link to the technique for installing Pali/Sanskrit diacriticals in Ubuntu is one example. This well-meaning attempt is, however, contaminated by modern Western “democratic” developments such as free open-source distribution. This gives the laity the dangerous ability to read the code for themselves without reference to the monastic sangha, and no dana is required, with the loss of merit-earning ability for the laity and of support for the monks.

      Despite the sincerity of intention of those behind these modernist attempts, the only way which will truly benefit all beings is to return to the original DOS.

    • Aaaah. Laughter is Relief.
      I shall examine the intention more scrupulously and if it is one of renunciation, that could bring benefit to myself and others, I will go ahead. And if not, I shall recycle.
      Either way, it is becoming rather apparent that if I were to take 200++ vows one day, I still could not escape this maddening worldly web of ever changing technological wrangling. 🙂
      If it is all coded and stored and transported magically across the AIR, why couldn’t we just skip all of the mining, engineering, code writing, manufacturing, shipping, retailing, shopping, fretting and just focus on developing psychic powers?
      It all amounts to the same really and it would spare the environment and give us all more time and motivation for Jhana practice.

    • Ubuntu, roughly translated means “I am because we are”.
      Who knew? Ubuntu is Kii Swahili (?) for Dependent Origination!
      Maybe, just maybe Ubuntu is the original Dhamma script…

    • Lisa

      While recanting the Mac OS is in itself good kamma, there may be negative kammic consequences to the act of nailing.

      Have you considered just recycling it?

      Best wishes


    • That depends on the intention in the mind as you nail it.

      You should do it with the sincere aspiration, ‘In all my countless rebirths, as long as samsara remains, I will henceforth abjure all proprietary software, especially stuff which is so evil that the company logo advertises itself as the TEMPTATION OF THE SERPENT!’

      Then you’re safe.

  5. Dear Bhante,
    What does Phra Kru mean? What about the title Thera and Mahathera? Is it true that this title is given to bhikkhu after having ten vassa and twenty vassa?

    • ‘Phra’ means ‘venerable, sacred, excellenet’; ‘Khru’ (from Sanskrit guru) means ‘teacher’. Together, they are a title in the Thai monastic hierarchy, as defined in the Thai Sangha Act. A Phra Khru is, I believe, somewhere underneath a ‘Chao Kuhn’.

      And yes, there is a convention in the Nikayas/Vinaya that monastics of ten vassa are called ‘thera’, and a later convention that monastics of twenty vassa are called Mahathera. In the early usage ‘thera’ is not really a title, but is used in the context of discussing various monastics, whether new (navaka), middle (majjhima), or elder (thera).

      The Buddha, as usual, insisted on the true spiritual meaning of ‘elder’, esp. in Anguttara 4.22:

      Bhikkhus, before my enlightenment, I was living in the Ajapala grove on the bank of river Neranjara in Uruwela. Then many aged brahmins, decayed and reached the end of life, approached me, exchanged friendly greetings, sat on a side and said: Good Gotama, we have heard that the recluse Gotama does not salute, attend or offer a seat to aged brahmins, decayed and reached the end of life. Good Gotama, that is not the right conduct

      Bhikkhus, then it occured to me: These venerable ones do not know the elder or the attributes of an elder.

      Bhikkhus, there may be elders of eighty years, ninety years or even a hundred years from birth, talking, at the improper time, not the real and the not essential. Talk that is not the Teaching and the discipline, words without a limit and location and could not be treasured. They go to the category of foolish elders.

      Bhikkhus, there may be the young in the prime of life with black hair talking, at the proper time, talking the real and the essential. Talking about the Teaching and the discipline, words with a limit and location and could be treasured. They go to the category of wise elders.

      Bhikkhus, these four are the attributes of an elder. What four?

      Here, bhikkhus, the bhikkhu is virtuous restrained in the higher code of rules, pursuing the right course of conduct sees fear in the slightest fault and observes the precepts to train. He becomes learned and bears and treasures what he has learned. The Teaching good at the beginning, middle and the end full of meaning even in the letter explaining the pure and complete holy life. Of such a Teaching he becomes learned, bearing it in words, relaying it in mind and penetrating it to realize. He becomes a gainer for nothing, a gainer without difficulty, a quick gainer of the four higher states of mind, the pleasant abidings here and now. Desroying desires, releasing the mind from desires and released through wisdom, abides here and now having reàlized. Bhikkhus, these four are the attributes of an elder.

      If someone is puffed up, talks much, frivolously
      With undisciplined thoughts like an animal
      Unkind with evil thoughts he is far from stability.
      If someone is virtuous, learned and intelligent,
      Wants to perceive the Teaching wisely
      Has gone beyond all things unobstructed and is intelligent,
      Has dispelled birth and death and gone to the end of the holy life
      He is the elder without desires, I call him an elder.

    • Dear Bhante

      I learnt from e-Sangha that “Phra” is derived from the Sanskrit “vara”. Would you agree? I just can’t fathom how its pronunciation of the initial “v” drifted so far to a “p”, given the Thai predilection for “w” in place of “v”.

      A query on āyasmā. I’ve seen it used in suttas in the 3rd person, eg āyasmā mahakotthito, and it’s typically translated as Ven Mahakotthita. Presumably it is also used in the 2nd person? What would its form in the 2nd person be, eg if I to address you as Ven Sujato, would it be āyasmā Sujato?

      How about that term we see translated as Master Gotama, or Master Sariputta?

    • I must admit I also wondered about that derivation. I’m not an expert on Thai etymology, but the normal form derived from vara would be something like ‘worn’, as in ‘Wat Boworn’ (= pavara?). Normally the final vowel would fall away, and Thai words that end in -ar are pronounced ‘orn’.

      The initial consonant in phra is the same as ‘brahman’, and I have wondered whether phra is from brahman, with the second consonant fallen away. Normally this would still be spelled in thai, even if not pronounced, yet in such a common word the decay might have gone further.

      You can address a monk in second person as ‘ayasmā sujato’, although it would be a bit odd. Normally you’d use ‘bhante’ and ‘tvaṁ’ (=you), or the vocative form of the name.

      ‘Master Gotama’ renders the Pali ‘Bho Gotama’, a brahmanical form of address, regarded as polite speech.

    • Thanks Bhante.

      Hmm, I think it might be a little difficult for the Thais to have allowed Brahman to decay to Phra, notwithstanding the proximity of the initial consonants. I think it won’t be just “-man” disappearing, but the Pali “brahmana” would have to lose 2 syllables.

      Perhaps “Phra” entered Thai usage through the Khmer or Laotian adaptation of a Sanskrit or Pali loan word instead? Maybe even a Southern Thai derivation from the Nakhon Si Thammarat region, which is pretty old.

      Hee, hee. I don’t think it would be too off-kilter if I addressed you in the 2nd person as ayasma sujato. What would really be wierd is if you addressed yourself as such in the 3rd person. I think that’s the special prerogative of Tathagathas.

  6. Thanks for the laughs everyone. Just what I needed at the moment. Unfortunately, being somewhat of a luddite, I have no idea how to switch, and just the thought of it …ugh.

    Lisa, my fantasy is dropping my computer on the brick floor and watching it dissolve (well alright, maybe shatter..into a million pieces at least it wouldnt’ be identifiable as a compouter anymore). That or walking out the door I’m sitting next to, and dropping it from the deck into the full rain barrel on the ground below. Maybe it would just melt into the water and enjoy being absorbed… and be reborn and behave itself.

    Actually computers test my patience more than anything. And If it weren’t for some necessary e-mail, my love of dharma research, and of course this blog, I probably wouldn’t use it at all….

    So I guess I’m due for a lower rebirth if I don’t get my act together soon. But oh no, not macayana… well, maybe the lower it is, the fewer computers there’ll be. But then again, my goal is no rebirth… so what to do?

    • Ahaha! Amazing how we can generate so much ill-will towards an inanimate object! Less so that our buttons are pushed as almost every human movement and function seems now to be regulated to some degree by ever changing technologies…developed beyond our control…that we have to spend so much of our livelihoods on a regular basis on…that dont necessarily make our lives easier…that we have to cede control of the minutiae of our lives to some evil higher technology power! Is it about control? Since I cannot send loving kindness to a machine let it be an awareness and letting go practice! I dont get my way, frustration arises, awareness of unpleasant arises simultaneously, letting go of the object…it hasn’t worked entirely given the ever so slight fantasy I harbour of driving a nail into it…so clearly I have missed the teaching opportunity> recognizing the line between observing and letting go vs. suppression! how sharp are my eyes…is it in the keyboard? is it the tension in my neck…the sweat on my fingertips…the shortness of breath…the procrastination around constant techy problem solving…grrrr…I shall find you!:-)

    • I’ve always been grateful for the computers that I’ve used, even though it can be frustrating if you come to rely on them and then they stop working. I always think what it would be like writing messages like this by hand, no editing, no cut-and-paste, addressing the envelope, walking down to the post box … and then repeating that for the number of people around the world who might read this.

      With a little box in my hand, I can text, email, send photos, phone or video conference with just about anyone alive who’s got a similar little box. I can search much of the textual information that humankind has created, I can engage in conversations with people all over the planet (I believe that on this blog we have had people from Australia, the UK, Singapore, Thailand, the USA, Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands, at least), I can find out where I am and get directions to somewhere else, I can find and buy goods and services, and so on. It’s like Kirk’s communicator on Star Trek, except better.

      I think that the dynamics around the Bodhinyana bhikkhuni ordination would have been different without the internet – the petition certainly wouldn’t have happened. There would be less insight into the dynamics of current institutional Theravada Buddhism. Without the internet I would never have known about Santi, where I hope to visit one day, and far fewer people would have the benefit of Sujato’s scholarship and teaching and the insight of many others.

      On the other hand, the internet and mobile devices have led to the proliferation of pointless and distracting writing and speech. When I used to have to post letters and go to the library to get information, I interacted with others along the way, giving and receiving kindness, or not. Now I can be communicating with the planet from my house but never meet my neighbours.

      Many people that I know think that the internet has made their thinking lazier, and I’ve noticed the same tendency in me, so I really try to use it consciously and well.

    • Re: “I think that the dynamics around the Bodhinyana bhikkhuni ordination would have been different without the internet – the petition certainly wouldn’t have happened. There would be less insight into the dynamics of current institutional Theravada Buddhism.Without the internet I would never have known about Santi, where I hope to visit one day, and far fewer people would have the benefit of Sujato’s scholarship and teaching and the insight of many others.”

      sadhu, sadhu, sadhu, David!

  7. HI Lisa,

    “If it is all coded and stored and transported magically across the AIR, why couldn’t we just skip all of the mining, engineering, code writing, manufacturing, shipping, retailing, shopping, fretting and just focus on developing psychic powers?
    It all amounts to the same really and it would spare the environment and give us all more time and motivation for Jhana practice.”

    Tee hee–Certainly sounds a lot easier to me, seriously, and immensely more worthwhile, than dealing with computer technology, or even just changing to Ubunto (especially since I don’t even know what that is–but I’ll look it up on my computer via the wonderous Google–I am actually grateful for the many worthwhile things my computer enables me to do, not to mention all the good people sharing valuable info on the web….). And so far I’ve managed to restrain my extermination fantasies…

  8. FYI, I am a Thai. 🙂

    Kruu means one who imparts knowledge. It is as simple as that. A number of teachers prefer to call themselves ‘Kru’ (= using it as a first-person pronoun) as it can imply a precious relationship and attitude between the one who gives knowledge with metta or loving kindness and the one who are cared for and gratefully accepts the knowledge and care given.

    Ajahn means one who imparts knowledge and a specialist (in an academic field). Ajahn, in Thailand, is usually used to call college or university lecturers. It has an implied privilege. Thus, several people in different fields use the word Ajahn (second definition and its consequential privileged appearance), such as hair dressing instructors, massage instructors, and even fortune tellers!

    For monks, we generally use the term ‘Luang Por (Por = father)’ for senior or elderly monks and Lung Phuu or Luang Taa (Phuu and Taa = grandfather) for very senior or very old monks. My father got ordained after he retired and people called him ‘Luang Taa’ simply because of his age.

    Monks with official titles are usually called by their titles, except those who expressly do not care about the title or those whose disciples do not give much importance to the title — they might be called Luang Por or Luang Phuu still. I’ve heard people in Ubon Ratchathani call Pra Ajahn Liem ‘Luang Por Liem’, not Chao Khun Liem.

    Despite the fact that the word Ajahn has increasingly used in more ridiculous ways, I admit that I still use the term Ajahn to show my respect to those who give me knowledge.

    So, I call Ajahn Brahm not only because he has been widely called that way but also because I regard him as my teacher. His years in robe has nothing to do with my choice of words. It is this latter reason that I call Ven Sujato Ajahn Sujato — I respect his opinion and conduct and consider him a teacher of mine.

    Having said that I have to respect Ven Sujato’s preference. So, Bhante Sujato from now on. 🙂

    Dear Bhante Sujato, what is the feedback from ‘Pra Ajahn Mitsuo’ (as Bhante Gavesako is called in Thailand)?

    • Dear Dheerayupa,

      Well, as it happens, it’s a different Gavesako, a young Czech monk – who said he’ll try to avoid using ‘Ajahn’ just so he won’t be mistaken for Ajahn Mitsuo Gavesako!

      He pointed out that the Thai form is derived from Sanskrit, not Pali.

  9. Interesting topic.
    I found a few websites where ”Ajahn Geoffrey” is used instead of/together with Thanissaro Bhikkhu, so perhaps when he refers to his Pali name he uses it with the Pali ”Bhikkhu” and when he refers to himself in the Thai Dhammayuttika way, with his lay name as is normal in that tradition (and also in the Ajahn Chah tradition for Thai monks, but not for Westerners) he uses ”Ajahn.”
    On the Abhayagiri website he’s referred to as Ajahn Thanissaro, but this probably reflects the Abhayagiri Ajahn Chah tradition usage.
    The usage of Ajahn has always been disagreeable to me. In the Thai tradition, and in the Western Forest Sangha, the title is taken quite seriously and is considered an emblem, like when one becomes an officer in the army or the like. It marks a stage when one can, and is expected to, become a teacher. It fits the Thai hierarchical, quasi-militaristic Sangha system, but as Ven. Sujato points out, there is nothing of this kind in the Vinaya.
    In Sri Lanka there is no system of titles. Mahathera is sometimes used here for monks who have been bhikkhu more than 20 years but it is not commonplace and only used for very well known monks. In Sri Lanka usually Sinhala terms are used: Hamuduruwo for addressing a monk and Himi when a monk is referred to. The heads of Nikayas(monastic sects) and sub-nikayas, are referred to as Nayaka-thera (“Head-senior-monk”). There is no Sangharaja (“Sangha-king”) in Sri Lanka.
    In the Burmese Sangha, with which I am not that familiar, only monks who teach are referred to as Sayadaw, not every senior monk gets this title.
    Because the Ajahn Chah Forest Sangha is the most missionary and prominent Theravada tradition in the West—and has strongly held on to the Thai system out of respect and for keeping the generous financial support from the Thais—many in the West think that its practices apply to the whole Theravada tradition, or think that only Ajahns are worth of respect because they have reached some stage, but this is not the case at all.
    It is ironical that Ajahn Brahm and Brahmali still proudly continue to use the title Ajahn now that they have been put out of the Thai Sangha. What about Bhante Brahm?
    Bh Nt

    • Yes, Bhante Brahm sounds just weird, ‘Ajahn Brahm’ is like just one word…

      Although just to clarify, Ajahn Brahm and Bodhinyana have been expelled from Wat Pa Pong, not from the Thai Sangha. The Mahatherasamakhom has made no official comment on the matter, other than acknowledge the expulsion from WPP.

    • Yes, Bhante Brahm sounds just weird, ‘Ajahn Brahm’ is like just one word…

      This could be due to long term conditioning. To me “Bhante Brahm” sounds as fine, or as weird, as
      “Ajahn Brahm.” After a while “Bhante Brahm” will sound normal I expect.
      What about “Bhikkhu Brahm,” like Bhikkhu Bodhi?
      Bhante Brahm is probably coming to Sri Lanka again next year for a short visit and I will suggest to Prem to advertise him as Bhante Brahm. 🙂 He is a Buddhist celebrity here, and Sinhalese now probably think that ajahns are special monks, so I am not sure if Prem will want to change the name.

      Will Bhante Brahm still be able to go to Thailand? And what about you?

    • That’s interesting,Nyanatusita, I didn’t come across those. I do hear other people refer to him as Tan Geoff as well as Thanissaro Bhikhu. I don’t know if I’m spelling Tan correctly, but what does it mean (Dheerayupa or anyone?)

      And thanks Bhante, Dheerayupa and and others–I didn’t have a clue before about all these various forms of address except the ones we commonly hear among western monastics for the most part.

    • Dear Linda,

      Tan = 1. you (second person pronoun) 2. he/she, him/her (third person pronoun) 3. used as a prefix to the name or title to show respect, e.g. Tan Ajahn, Tan Chao Awat (Chao Awat = abbot)

      A very interesting thing about the Thai language is that we have so many words for ‘you’. Our choice will indicate the relationship between the interlocutors, the speeaker’s attitude or opinion towards the listener, etc.

      Tan is usualy used to show ‘respect’ to the person we talk or refer to.

      Dear Nyanatusita,

      I do hope that Tan Ajahn Brahm is still coming to Thailand and I will definitely go to listen to his talks. And I would love for Ajahn Sujato to come to Thailand to give talks, too.

      I wish more people could benefit from Ajahn Brahm’s teachings on forgiveness and loving kindness.

      With metta,

  10. Dear Bhante,

    As far as I am aware ‘ayya’ is actually derived from ariya, ‘noble’, not from ayu. To my mind this makes it a particularly beautiful title, which Buddhist nuns might use with a sense of wholesome pride.

    With metta,
    Bhante Brahmali (ex. Ajahn Brahmali!)

  11. Dear Bhante,
    I am particularly in love with the form of address ‘Venerable’ when speaking English. Firstly, on account of that it already had its place in the Catholic tradition before the promulgation of Buddhism in the West, so it doesn’t sound foreign. It’s also an easy stand in for a range of cultural titles: it substitutes the Chinese 師 shi or 法師 (fashi)and Thai ‘Ajahn’ more naturally than a literal translation of Teacher X. Where language-specific forms often confuse me, I feel comfortable addressing monks and nuns of all traditions as ‘Venerable’. Most Mahayana monks and nuns wouldn’t know to answer to ‘bhante’. So I feel Venerable has the advantage of widespread usage and uniformity when monks and nuns of varied traditions are being addressed in English.

    Thankyou for clearing up the matter of entitlement after 10 vassas. I also held the delusion that it was a matter of vinaya that one got the title of ‘thera’ after ten vassas and ‘mahathera’ after 20.

  12. Dear Sujato

    One of your regular readers has written to tick me off for calling by your name instead of your honorific. In looking for a way to contact directly about this, I found this blog post explaining the various titles and honorifics.

    I’m not a Theravādin Buddhist, or any kind of traditional Buddhist. I am a New Zealander. It does not feel right to me to use formal titles and honorifics. As I said to my correspondent, it would not feel right to address a priest as “Father” either. And I call my own teachers by their given names. You say “And, this being Australia, if someone wants to call me ‘dude’ or ‘mate’ – which happens! – then I’m cool with that.”

    Personally I think your name “sujāta” is rather evocative and poetic and it’s a shame to see people referring to you in a generic way. I just wanted to say that I hope you are “cool” with being called by your name. No disrespect intended, and indeed if I did disrespect you I wouldn’t read your blog!


    P.S. I would tend to translate your name as something like “fortunately born” or perhaps “blessed”. How would you translate it?

    • Dear Jayarava,

      Thanks for the question, and I realy don’t mind what people call me. Actually, the fact that you care enough to ask already show that you have respect, more so than if you just used forms unthinkingly.

      The Suttas are, as in so many things, very useful. The Buddha is addressed with everything from ‘mundaka, samanaka’ (shaveling, sham ascetic) to Bho Gotama to Marisa to Bhante to Bhadante to Bhagava. And he didn’t make a big deal about it.

      I would translate ‘Sujata’ as ‘well-born’, i guess; ‘well-bred’ is accurate but a bit weird…

  13. Vandana bhante
    have found you history class on line like it very much. I would like to know the of the books you are using. You gave a book by Strong could you let me have the details. You library sounds wonderful. I live in sri lanka tudy via the net.
    Yours in The Dhamma
    Ayya London Dhmmadinna
    Vandana bhante

  14. Wondering whether “bhante” is a gender neutral term, unlike “bhikkhu” or “bhikkhuni”. The Pali word ‘Bhante’ is equivalent to verb ‘Vande’ or ‘Bande’ as in the patriotic song ‘Vande Mataram’. Vande implies the reverential action of ‘bowing’ to someone or something. While visiting India I heard the word ‘Bhante’ being applied to a Buddhist ‘nun’.

    • Hi Mitaky,

      In the Pali, bhante is only applied to men. Despite the similarity, there’s no etymological connection with “Vande”. The root is in fact bhū, to be. So “bhante” literally means “O real one!”

      I haven’t heard it being applied in a gender neutral way, bu that’s a good thing! In the pali, there’s another honorific, ayya, which is usually used for the bhikkhunis, and is also used sometimes for the bhikkhus. These days we use it for the bhikkhunis, but maybe we should just all be ayya!

  15. Just read this thread, tho it’s years ago.
    Nowadays (and here in California), Thanissaro Bhikkhu is often referred to as “Than-Geof” — I’d assumed “Than” short for “Thanissaro”, but could be that Thai pronoun (“Tan”) maybe also.
    Having asked him once, what “Thanissaro” means, he replied “born on Wednesday”; I thought then it might be Thai rather than Pali, as most the Pali names for monks have some less prosaic (if not outright exalted) meaning. (My questioning him came from wonder if the name, via some PIE (proto-indo-european) root, were related to the Greek word for ‘death’. Turned out not.)

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