Fake Monks in Southeast Asia

Giving alms to monks.

I was standing in a crowded market in Hong Kong when I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder and a voice saying “hello!” When I turned around, I found a man in a monks robe, shaved head and bare feat, holding an alms bowl and gesturing towards it. Inside the bowl, the man had his thumbs showcasing a $100 Hong Kong dollar note, which I suppose he was suggesting was the appropriate amount for a donation. I politely said, “I’m sorry sir,” and moved off to find where Arienne had gone off to (bubble tea of course!). As I walked towards her, my mind pondered the “shocking” possibility that I had just encountered a fake monk who was ‘shockingly’ trying to take advantage of people that didn’t know any better.

Well of course that’s what he was doing, as do many other fake monks in what has unfortunately become a very common practice in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia. While the fake monk I met in Hong Kong was pretty easy for me to spot, I found that I didn’t really know enough about Buddhist monks and the process with which they receive alms from people. That was until recently, when I read a poster outside of a temple in Melaka, Malaysia titled “Don’t be Conned: Eliminate the Bogus Monk.” The poster had some very helpful information on the way with which proper monks receive alms and, therefore, how to tell them apart from the fakes. Finding the information so useful, I thought I would share it with you.

  1. Monks will never sell items, including Buddha images, prayer beads & relics.
  2. Alms bowls are not for collecting money.
  3. Mahayana monks do not go around for alms.
  4. A monk will only use his alms bowl to receive food and medicine.
  5. Theravada monks will go around for alms, but only before Noon.

    How to give alms to monks.
    The original poster telling us how to spot fake monks.

Keep these things in mind the next time you see a monk asking for alms in tourist centric areas. Buddhism is a very important and beautiful part of Asian culture, and it would be a shame to encourage people seeking to profit off the selfless work of the Buddhist monks.


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  • Ruthi

    Great post! I have had that feeling several times here in China that the monks seem too pushy and not MONKISH enough! ha ha

  • Anonymous

    Oh wow. I don’t think I’ve seen that before but I’m heading back to SE Asia next month and now I’ll be prepared! Thanks for the tips!

    • ChefRegg

      I got hit tonight in central Hong Kong. I didn’t know any better, though all I had was coins I was dying to get rid of. He said 100HKD. I said take the bracelet back, but he let me keep it. I though I had been blessed by a real monk. I could have always used the blessing.

      • Tristan

         I swear we probably met the exact same monk.