Venerable Ajahn Punnadhammo:
I was hoping to have you answer some questions for me, which are unrelated themselves but have both demanded answering in my mind. I do thoroughly enjoy reading your blog, and check it frequently for updates, but find myself naggingly questioning the appropriateness of a Theravada monk to be commenting on those things which you do. No doubt this has been addressed to you before, and you may have even spoken of the question on your blog in the past, but I am a new reader as of the published Tricycle article on Buddhist Blogs, and am curious to read your response to the issue. I did a few minutes of quick research into the patimokkha, and was quite astonished to see that there are indeed no rules at all which specifically restrict the speech of a Bhikku, but I might point out that in the Nikayas certain topics seem to be looked down upon, though no formal transgression or punishment is detailed.
"Whereas some priests and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to talking about lowly topics such as these — talking about kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity [philosophical discussions of the past and future], the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not — he abstains from talking about lowly topics such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue." DN 2
I think I can safely say I have never used this blog to talk about garlands and scents. More seriously, I have two things to say in my defence;
First, as the emailer goes on to say;
Accesstoinsight.org also provides this useful commentary on the matter - "Conversation that does not deal with the Dhamma, though, is termed "animal talk" (tiracchana-katha) in the Canon, and there are several passages (e.g., Pc. XXI.1; LXXXV.1; Mv.V.6.3-4) that criticize members of the group of six for engaging in animal talk: worldly talk about "kings, robbers, and ministers of state (politics); armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; also philosophical discussions of the past and future (this is how the Sub-commentary to Pacittiya 85 explains 'tales of diversity'), the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not." The Sub-commentary notes, though, that to discuss any of these topics in a way to foster an understanding of the Dhamma — e.g., discussing the impermanence of worldly power — is not considered improper.
I believe that politics can be a proper subject of comment for a bhikkhu provided his effort is directed towards Buddhist virtues such as peace, compassion and contentment with little.
Secondly, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I am only human and sometimes I'm in a mood and edge over the line. In general, I don't think it helps one's spiritual life to be overly rigid and narrow. It's all a question of finding the balance (Middle Way.)
And let me add a third; there is a vinaya rule against looking into another monk's bowl to find fault.