Ordination and Disrobing in Theravada Buddhism

The Sangha as a Barometer of the Community


  • Kate Crosby SOAS, University of London




Buddhism, disrobing, monk, ordination, Theravada


Much has been written about motivations for becoming a monk in Theravada societies. This article examines the other end of the process, the monk’s ‘re-entering’ society. It begins by looking at the motives for becoming a monk, and the difference between the lifelong commitment typical of Sri Lanka and the temporary ordination typical of Southeast Asian countries. It then looks at motives for disrobing, which may be a wish to enjoy lay life, a wish to serve one’s family or the community, a sense of unworthiness, or dissatisfaction with the Sangha. The social and economic problems faced by the former monk are also discussed. We then look at what disrobing practices tell us about the position of Theravada and of the Theravada monk in different Southeast Asian countries.

Author Biography

Kate Crosby, SOAS, University of London

Kate Crosby is Professor of Buddhist Studies at King’s College London. She works on the texts, history and current practice of Theravada Buddhism. Her publications include Theravada Buddhism: Continuity, Diversity, and Identity (2014); Traditional Theravada Meditation and its Modern-Era Suppression (2013); The Dead of Night & The Women (2009) and Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (with Andrew Skilton, 1995).


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Crosby, Kate. 2013. Traditional Theravada Meditation and its Modern-Era Suppression. Hong Kong: Buddha Dharma Centre of Hong Kong.

Crosby, Kate. 2014. Theravada Buddhism: Continuity, Diversity, and Identity. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Crosby, Kate, and Jotika Khur-Yearn. 2010. 'Poetic Dhamma and the Zare: Traditional Styles of Teaching Theravada amongst the Shan of Northern Thailand.' Contemporary Buddhism 11(1): 1-26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14639941003791568

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Langenberg, Amy Paris. 2012. 'Scarecrows, Upasakas, Fetuses, and other Child Monks in Middle Period Indian Buddhism.' In Vanessa R. Sassoon (ed.) Little Buddhas. Children and Childhoods in Buddhist Texts and Traditions. New York: Oxford University Press: Chapter Two.

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How to Cite

Crosby, K. (2014). Ordination and Disrobing in Theravada Buddhism: The Sangha as a Barometer of the Community. Religions of South Asia, 8(1), 97–108. https://doi.org/10.1558/rosa.v8i1.97