Upekkha Journal Launches “Fake Monk” Reporting Form

New Service Launched.

Responding to a troubling trend of fake monks panhandling in urban areas, I’m launching a reporting form to develop a fuller picture of where fake monks congregate in New York City. The form is available at upekkhajournal.wordpress.com/report.


Inspired by a similar form at The New York City Anti-Violence Project for monitoring anti-LGBTQ bias and hate crimes. This new reporting form asks complainants to provide a name or pseudonym, the date and time of the panhandling, and where the panhandling occurred. It also asks monks to point out which monastic misconduct occurred, ranging from smoking cigarettes to threats of violence.

Other Action Steps To Consider

If you see a monk handing out golden tokens, aggressive panhandling, smoking cigarettes, shouting or verbally harassing passersby, or engaging in otherwise suspicious behavior — report it immediately to 911. They are imposter monks. If you saw a monk panhandling in this way in the past, complete a form at 311.

I also encourage people to like Fake Monks in New York City on Facebook, to raise awareness of this issue.


Why Not To Give To Imposter Monks

While generosity is a virtue, the Buddha spoke at length about not asking for donations or alms. Writing for Lion’s Roar, Heather Wardle writes: “Traditionally Buddhist monastics go on alms rounds carrying beggar’s bowls and accepting whatever donations of food they are offered.” One also can look at the suttas to see clearly that the handing out of gold tokens and blessings in exchange for donations is completely contrary to monastic rules. According to the 227 Rules of Pratimoksa, Monks are required:

  1. Not to accept money. (That includes donations). –
  2. Not to exchange things. (Tokens and blessings for donations.) —
  3. Not to light a fire, or have a fire lit. (Lighting cigarettes would count.)
  4. Not to make a threatening gesture suggesting that he is about to strike. — Video: Aggressive monk panhandling in Bryant Park.
  5. Not to enter a town or village after noon without having asked for approval from another bhikkhu. (Even monks going on rounds in the afternoon would be an infraction of monastic rules.)

And there are certainly other rules that would take too long to spell out, not to mention the Gadrabha Sutta: The Donkey

“Monks, it is just as if a donkey were following right after a herd of cattle, saying, “I too am a cow! I too am a cow!” Its color is not that of a cow, its voice is not that of a cow, its hoof is not that of a cow, and yet it still keeps following right after the herd of cattle, saying, “I too am a cow! I too am a cow!”

In the same way, there is the case where a certain monk follows right after the community of monks, saying, “I too am a monk! I too am a monk!” He doesn’t have the other monks’ desire for undertaking the training in heightened virtue, doesn’t have their desire for undertaking the training in heightened mind (concentration), doesn’t have their desire for undertaking the training in heightened discernment, and yet he still keeps following right after the community of monks, saying, “I too am a monk! I too am a monk!”

— AN 3.81

And this passage from another Sutta:

Then the Blessed One, … asked the Alavi monks, “They say that you are having huts built from your own begging — having no sponsors, destined for yourselves, not to any standard measurement — that do not come to completion; that you are continually begging, continually hinting: ‘Give a man, give labor, give an ox, give a wagon, give a machete, give an ax, give an adz, give a spade, give a chisel, give rushes, give reeds, give grass, give clay’; that people, harassed with the begging, harassed with the hinting, on seeing monks feel apprehensive, alarmed, run away; take another route, face another direction, close the door; that even on seeing cows, they run away, imagining them to be monks: is this true?”

“Yes, lord. It is true.”

So the Blessed One rebuked them: “Misguided men, it’s unseemly, unbecoming, unsuitable, and unworthy of a contemplative; improper and not to be done… Haven’t I taught the Dhamma in many ways for the sake of dispassion and not for passion; for unfettering and not for fettering; for letting go and not for clinging? Yet here, while I have taught the Dhamma for dispassion, you set your heart on passion; while I have taught the Dhamma for unfettering, you set your heart on being fettered; while I have taught the Dhamma for letting go, you set your heart on clinging. Haven’t I taught the Dhamma in various ways for the fading of passion, the sobering of pride, the subduing of thirst, the destruction of attachment, the severing of the round, the depletion of craving, dispassion, cessation, unbinding? Haven’t I advocated abandoning sensual pleasures, understanding sensual perceptions, subduing sensual thirst, destroying sensual preoccupations, calming sensual fevers?… Misguided men, this neither inspires faith in the faithless nor increases the faithful. Rather, it inspires lack of faith in the faithless and wavering in some of the faithful.”

— Sanghadisesa 6

So if a monk approaches you with a gold token, reach into your pocket… to grab your cellphone and call 911. And use the new reporting service so we can all develop a fuller picture of where these crimes are occurring.

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