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A Japanese Buddhist pilgrim on alms round 50Fan Fan Duo Si Qian deTuo Bo suruBian Lu P1010122.jpg
A Japanese Buddhist pilgrim on alms round

A mendicant (from Latin : mendicans, "begging") is one who practices mendicancy, relying chiefly or exclusively on alms to survive. In principle, mendicant religious orders own little property, either individually or collectively, and in many instances members have taken a vow of poverty, in order that all their time and energy could be expended on practicing their respective faith, preaching and serving society.


Mendicancy is a form of asceticism.

Religious practice

Many religious orders adhere to a mendicant way of life, including the Catholic mendicant orders, Hindu ascetics, some Sufi dervishes of Islam, and the monastic orders of Jainism and Buddhism.

While mendicants are the original type of monks in Buddhism and have a long history in Indian Hinduism and the countries which adapted Indian religious traditions, they did not become widespread in Christianity until the High Middle Ages. The Way of a Pilgrim depicts the life of an Eastern Christian mendicant.


A group of mendicant Christian friars The story of our Christianity; an account of the struggles, persecutions, wars, and victories of Christians of all times (1893) (14597327508).jpg
A group of mendicant Christian friars

Roman Catholicism

In the early Latin Rite church, mendicants and itinerant preachers were looked down upon, and their preaching was suppressed. In the Rule of Saint Benedict, Benedict of Nursia referred to such traveling monks as gyrovagues, and accused them of dangerously indulging their wills. This behavior was compared negatively with the stationary nature of cenobite or anchorite monasticism.

In the early 13th century, the Catholic Church would see a revival of mendicant activity, as followers of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Dominic begged for food while they preached to the villages. These men came to found a particularly Catholic form of monastic life referred to as mendicant orders. These orders were in stark contrast to more powerful, and more conservative, monastic orders such as the Benedictines and Cistercians.

Itinerant preachers that belonged to mendicant orders traveled from town to town to preach the Gospel, consciously modeling themselves after Jesus and the Twelve Disciples. Professor Giacomo Todeschini at the University of Trieste has described these mendicants in the following way: [1]

"The choice to be poor was realized in a series of gestures: abandonment of one's paternal house, a wandering life, ragged appearance and clothes, manual work as scullery-man and mason, and begging without shame."

Other Christians

Unlike the Western Church, Eastern Christians never created a form of monasticism equivalent to mendicant orders. Rather, all Orthodox monks and nuns follow the more traditionally monastic Rule of Saint Basil. Mendicancy does, however, still find root through lay expressions of Foolishness for Christ.

Despite the abandoning of ascetic practice within Protestantism, mendicant preaching has still come about independently of it. American Methodists were once known for sending out itinerant preachers known as circuit riders. Another example was Johnny Appleseed, a Swedenborgian itinerant preacher who would eventually rise to the status of American folk hero.


Mendicant monk reciting scriptures in Lhasa, Tibet, 1993 Mendicant monk in Lhasa, 1993.jpg
Mendicant monk reciting scriptures in Lhasa, Tibet, 1993

Buddhism is one of several religious traditions of ancient India that has an established practice of mendicancy. Monks of the Theravada traditions in Southeast Asia continue to practice alms round (Sanskrit and Pali: piṇḍapāta) as laid down by the Buddha. Food is procured from the faithful and divided equally among all members of the Sangha.

A major difference between Buddhist and Christian mendicancy is the understanding of manual labor as a means of support. While many Buddhist communities formulated limited forms of labor for monks, there also exists the understanding that a Buddhist monk must remain aloof from secular affairs. [2] Many of these rules of decorum and acceptable livelihood are preserved in the Vinaya literature of several schools. The Sangha's immersion into the work of laymen and laywomen is also believed to be a sign of impending calamity. [3]


A young layperson providing monks with alms Luang Prabang Takuhatsu ruanpaban Tuo Bo DSCF7017.JPG
A young layperson providing monks with alms

Buddhist literature details the code of behavior and livelihood for monks and nuns, including several details on how mendicancy is to be practiced. Traditionally, mendicants relied on what have been termed the "four requisites" for survival: food, clothing, lodging, and medicine. As stated in the Theravada Vinaya: [4]

"Properly considering the robe, I use it: simply to ward off cold, to ward off heat, to ward off the touch of flies, mosquitoes, simply for the purpose of covering the parts of the body that cause shame.

"Properly considering almsfood, I use it: not playfully, nor for intoxication, nor for putting on weight, nor for beautification; but simply for the survival and continuance of this body, for ending its afflictions, for the support of the chaste life, (thinking) I will destroy old feelings (of hunger) and not create new feelings (from overeating). Thus I will maintain myself, be blameless, and live in comfort.

"Properly considering the lodging, I use it: simply to ward off cold, to ward off heat, to ward off the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun and reptiles; simply for protection from the inclemencies of weather and for the enjoyment of seclusion.

"Properly considering medicinal requisites for curing the sick, I use them: simply to ward off any pains of illness that have arisen and for the maximum freedom from disease."

In addition, a monk's personal property was also limited. The Theravada tradition recognizes eight requisites (Pali: aññha parikkhàra): [5]

  1. Uttarāsaṅga (outer robe)
  2. Antarvāsa (inner robe)
  3. Saṃghāti (double robe)
  4. an alms bowl
  5. a razor for shaving
  6. a needle and thread
  7. a belt
  8. a water strainer

Commentarial literature provides additional possessions based on circumstance.

Japanese Buddhism

Similar to the development of Buddhism in China, the Japanese did not frequently engage in alms round as was done in the Buddha's time. Monasteries would receive donations of land that were worked by peasant farmers which provided regular communal meals for residing monks.

Nevertheless, piṇḍapāta is occasionally practiced in Japan, primarily within Zen Buddhism. Monks who engage in alms round tend to wear a bamboo hat, white leggings and straw sandals as traditionally worn by itinerant monks (行脚僧, angyasō). When going for alms in groups, the monks will form a line and wander through the town shouting the phrase hōu ( 法雨, lit. "rain of Dharma") to announce their presence. [6]


Among Muslims, especially in Northern Nigeria, there are mendicants called almajiri who are mostly children between the age of 5 to 18 years that are studying Qur'an in cities while begging to get sustenance. In addition to almajiri, Northern Nigeria, which is a predominantly Muslim region, has many beggars that may not necessarily be almajiri. This includes people with physical disabilities such as cripples, blind and even aged destitutes. [7]

See also

Christian mendicancy
Islamic mendicancy
Eastern mendicancy
General terminology

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Monasticism, or monkhood, is a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work. Monastic life plays an important role in many Christian churches, especially in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions as well as in other faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. In other religions monasticism is criticized and not practiced, as in Islam and Zoroastrianism, or plays a marginal role, as in modern Judaism. Women pursuing a monastic life are generally called nuns, religious or sisters or rarely, Canonesses, while monastic men are called monks, friars or brothers.

Sangha Sanskrit word meaning religious community

Sangha is a Sanskrit word used in many Indian languages, including Pali (saṅgha) meaning "association", "assembly", "company" or "community". It was historically used in a political context to denote a governing assembly in a republic or a kingdom, and has long been used by religious associations including the Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. Sangha, is often used as a surname across these religions.

Monastery Complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplace(s) of monks or nuns

A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory, or in the case of communities anything from a single building housing only one senior and two or three junior monks or nuns, to vast complexes and estates housing tens or hundreds. A monastery complex typically comprises a number of buildings which include a church, dormitory, cloister, refectory, library, balneary and infirmary. Depending on the location, the monastic order and the occupation of its inhabitants, the complex may also include a wide range of buildings that facilitate self-sufficiency and service to the community. These may include a hospice, a school, and a range of agricultural and manufacturing buildings such as a barn, a forge, or a brewery.

Asceticism Lifestyle of frugality and abstinence of various forms, often for spiritual goals

Asceticism is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from sensual pleasures, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. Ascetics may withdraw from the world for their practices or continue to be part of their society, but typically adopt a frugal lifestyle, characterised by the renunciation of material possessions and physical pleasures, and also spend time fasting while concentrating on the practice of religion or reflection upon spiritual matters. Various individuals have also attempted an ascetic lifestyle to free themselves from addictions, some of them particular to modern life, such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, entertainment, sex, food, etc.

The Vinaya is the division of the Buddhist canon (Tripitaka) containing the rules and procedures that govern the Buddhist monastic community, or sangha. Three parallel Vinaya traditions remain in use by modern monastic communities: the Theravada, Mulasarvastivada and Dharmaguptaka. In addition to these Vinaya traditions, Vinaya texts of several extinct schools of Indian Buddhism are preserved in the Tibetan and East Asian canons, including those of the Kāśyapīya, the Mahāsāṃghika, the Mahīśāsaka, and the Sarvāstivāda

Monk Member of a monastic religious order

A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism by monastic living, either alone or with any number of other monks. A monk may be a person who decides to dedicate his life to serving all other living beings, or to be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live his or her life in prayer and contemplation. The concept is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy.

Bhikkhu Male Buddhist monk

A bhikkhu is an ordained male monastic ("monk") in Buddhism. Male and female monastics are members of the Buddhist community.


The Vassa is the three-month annual retreat observed by Theravada practitioners. Taking place during the wet season, Vassa lasts for three lunar months, usually from July to October.

Mahākāśyapa Principal disciple of Gautama Buddha and leader at the First Council

Mahā Kāśyapa or Mahākāśyapa was one of the principal disciples of Gautama Buddha. He is regarded in Buddhism as an enlightened disciple, being foremost in ascetic practice. Mahākāśyapa assumed leadership of the monastic community following the paranirvāṇa (death) of the Buddha, presiding over the First Buddhist Council. He was considered to be the first patriarch in a number of early Buddhist schools and continued to have an important role as patriarch in the Chan and Zen traditions. In Buddhist texts, he assumed many identities, that of a renunciant saint, a lawgiver, an anti-establishment figure, but also a "guarantor of future justice" in the time of Maitreya, the future Buddha—he has been described as "both the anchorite and the friend of mankind, even of the outcast".

Mendicant orders Type of religious lifestyle

Mendicant orders are, primarily, certain Christian religious orders that have adopted a lifestyle of poverty, traveling, and living in urban areas for purposes of preaching, evangelization, and ministry, especially to the poor. At their foundation these orders rejected the previously established monastic model. This model prescribed living in one stable, isolated community where members worked at a trade and owned property in common, including land, buildings and other wealth. By contrast, the mendicants avoided owning property at all, did not work at a trade, and embraced a poor, often itinerant lifestyle. They depended for their survival on the goodwill of the people to whom they preached.

Tapas (Indian religions)

Tapas is a variety of austere spiritual practices in Indian religions. In Jainism, it means asceticism ; in Buddhism, it denotes spiritual practices including meditation and self-discipline; and in the different traditions within Hinduism it means a spectrum of practices ranging from asceticism, inner cleansing to self-discipline. The Tapas practice often involves solitude, and is a part of monastic practices that are believed to be a means to moksha.

Upasampadā Buddhist ordination ceremony

Upasampadā (Pali) literally denotes "approaching or nearing the ascetic tradition." In more common parlance it specifically refers to the rite and ritual of ascetic vetting (ordination) by which a candidate, if deemed acceptable, enters the community as upasampadān (ordained) and authorised to undertake ascetic life.

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Buddhist monasticism

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Religious habit Distinctive set of garments worn by members of a religious order

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Third Buddhist council

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Banishment of Buddhist monks from Nepal

The banishment of Buddhist monks from Nepal was part of a campaign by the Rana government to suppress the resurgence of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal in the early the 20th century. There were two deportations of monks from Kathmandu, in 1926 and 1944.

Fasting in Buddhism Religious practice

In Buddhism, there are a variety of attitudes towards different forms of Fasting. The Buddha is known to have practiced extreme forms of fasting which led to his emaciation and to have famously abandoned it before his great awakening. Nevertheless, different forms of fasting are practiced in various Buddhist traditions.


  1. "'Begging Without Shame': Medieval Mendicant Orders Relied on Contributions". Catholic Health Association of the United States. 2017. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  2. Borchert, Thomas (2011). "Monastic Labor: Thinking about the Work of Monks in Contemporary Theravāda Communities". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 79 (1): 162–192. doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfq035. JSTOR   23020390.
  3. Cowell, E. B. (1901). "No. 469.: Mahā-Kaṇha-Jātaka". The Jataka, Vol. IV. Cambridge University Press.
  4. Bhikkhu Ariyesako (1998). "Possessions And Offerings". The Bhikkhus Rules: A Guide for Laypeople. Sanghaloka Forest Hermitage.
  5. "The Eight Requisites". Guide To Buddhism A To Z. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
  6. "托鉢". Digital Dictionary of Buddhism. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  7. Patterns of Street-Begging, Support Services and Vocational Aspirations of People Living with Disabilities in Ilorin, Nigeria (PDF), Abuja, Nigeria: Department of Social Studies, Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin Mustapha, Jaiimi University of Abuja