BANNER OF THE ARAHANTS
ordained as first novice - Why are there rules? - Meaning of Vinaya - How
Vinaya began - Contents of the Patimokkha - allowances and prohibitions - few
things, few troubles - Legal procedures in the Sangha - Ten Reasons for
the Buddha returned to Kapilavatthu, the Sakiya’s principal city, at the
entreaty of his father, King Suddhodana, the Buddha’s son, Ráhula was
ordained as the first novice or samanera.
happened in this way. The Buddha and the Bhikkhus accompanying him having
received no invitations to the Sakiyan’s houses, walked for alms food. This
caused a great stir in the town - that the Buddha, formerly the Crown Prince
there, should do such a thing. When the king heard about it he too was
disturbed and ran into the streets to stop the Buddha, saying that he was
disgracing his lineage. The Buddha replied that in his lineage people always
went on alms round, a statement which the king contested saying that no Sakiya
prince had ever done so. But by his own lineage the Buddha meant the lineage
of the Buddhas from past times. When the Buddha spoke some verses about this
the king attained to the Noble Path and Fruit of Stream entry and immediately
perceiving his own lack of courtesy invited the Buddha and all the
Bhikkhu-Sangha to a meal in the palace. At the end of the meal when the Buddha
was about to depart, the Buddha’s former wife, Princess Yasodhara, said to Ráhula,
„That is your father, Ráhula. Go and ask for your inheritance.“ So prince
Ráhula went to the Blessed One and stood before him, (saying): ‘Your shadow
is pleasant, monk’. Then the Blessed One got up from his seat and went away.
Prince Ráhula followed behind the Blessed One, saying: ‘Give me my
inheritance, monk; give me my inheritance, monk’. Then the Blessed One told
venerable Sáriputta, ‘Then, Sáriputta, give him the Going-forth’. The
Commentary elaborates and says that the Buddha considered the worldly
inheritance of power and riches as leading only to more sufferings and so gave
him his inheritance in the Dhamma. The Buddha saw that Ráhula had all the
potential necessary to attain Arahantship.
this time Ráhula was only seven years old. (Six years had been spent before
Enlightenment in seeking the Way while one year had passed since then).
Venerable Sáriputta therefore enquired how he should do this and the Buddha
told him to use the second style of Acceptance - Going-for-Refuge, which was
described in the last chapter. So Ráhula became the first samanera, literally
meaning ‘a little Samana’, Samana being a word used for all who cultivate
peacefulness in mind, speech and body.
King Suddhodana was not happy. When Prince Siddhattha left home he had lost
his son and heir to the throne. Just prior to Ráhula’s going-forth, Prince
Nanda, the Buddha’s cousin, a youth about to be married, had become a
Bhikkhu. „Ráhula is too much,“ as the King said. He requested the Buddha
not to allow the going-forth of children without their parents’ permission -
and the Buddha laid down a ruling that this was not to be done. To do so in
future would be an offence of wrong-doing.
brings us to a discussion of the rules, which govern the life of a Bhikkhu.
First, for what reason are there rules? It was characteristic of the Buddha
that he never laid down rules unless he had to do so. In the example above, it
was so that parents should not grieve and possibly take action against
Bhikkhus who made novices of their children, but very often the need for rules
arose through the unsuitable actions of some Bhikkhus, and later of some
bhikkhunis too. What actions are unsuitable for those who lead the Holy Life ?
As this life is for ending, for destroying all the defilements, which spring
up from the three Roots of Evil - greed, aversion and delusion, actions of
body and speech, which are born of them, will certainly be obstructive and
unsuitable. Rules are only for checking body and speech actions, not to
restrain the mind, which should be trained by meditation. So the Buddha when
faced with a situation where some Bhikkhu had failed to be restrained in
actions of body and speech, first upbraided the guilty Bhikkhu and then
convened an assembly of Bhikkhus in which he laid down a rule of training. No
doubt he thought, ‘If they do such things while I am alive, what will they
do when I am no longer here?’ But before such an incident actually arose the
Buddha did not lay down any rule at all, even though such a thing, theft for
instance, was sure to occur sooner or later.
after all, are needed by the weakest members of any society. Those who are
strong in moral principles just naturally keep to good conduct. So it was in
the Sangha, for most of the rules laid down were because of a Bhikkhu’s
greed, aversion or delusion, which made him act in a way, which disturbed
other people, his fellow-Bhikkhus or householders.
who were training themselves diligently and applying the Dhamma all the time
were unlikely to do anything, which was unsuitable to the Bhikkhu life. While
of course, the Noble Ones and the Arahants in particular hardly ever fell into
an offence. If they did so it was in matters, which never involved a moral
lapse, only small things which had been overlooked. Venerable Sáriputta for
instance, one day was leaving the monastery to go into town and one side of
his sarong or under-robe had slipped down. A young samanera noticed this and
very respectfully informed him, at which venerable Sáriputta rearranged it
and thanked the samanera, with true humility called him ‘Teacher’.
Sometimes an Arahant was involved in a more serious affair, which the Buddha
did not approve of and made the subject for a ruling. There was the very
spectacular case of Venerable Pindola-Bharadvaja who exhibited his mighty
powers to many people.
The Buddha heard the noise of the vast multitude that had seen him levitate
and fly, and enquired about it. When he was told how the venerable Arahant had
brought down the precious sandalwood bowl from on top of the pole, he censured
him strongly saying that he had done it just as a woman for money exhibits her
loins. In this case no doubt venerable Pindola-Bharadvaja intended to use his
powers just to win over the rich merchant who was offering the bowl to anyone
who could show him the marvel of levitation. In other words, his intention was
to use his powers to teach Dhamma but the Buddha did not approve of this
method. Though he possessed in full all sorts of powers, he rarely used them,
esteeming the gradual method of leading people to discover Dhamma step by step
as more wonderful.
return now to the rules. All the varied material - rules, prohibitions and
allowances and the formal acts of the Sangha, together with accounts of the
events, which had given rise to them, are included in the Basket of Vinaya or
Although ‘Vinaya’ has been translated by the word ‘Discipline’,
English cannot convey the full flavour of the word, for it means literally
‘that by which one is led out’. Led out of what? Led out of dukkha,
of all the sufferings experienced in the round of birth and death. So Vinaya
extricates the person who practises it from making evil kammas by speech and
body and so continuing in ‘the wandering-on’; while on the other hand
purifying exterior actions so that the interior ones, the workings of the
mind, can be purified through the meditations of calm and insight. But without
Vinaya none of the higher steps in the training will be successful. This
applies not only to Bhikkhus but to lay people as well. Their Vinaya basically
is the Five Precepts, though a wider application of these is seen in the
discourse of the Buddha to the young man called Sigála, a sutta that is also
called „The Householder’s Vinaya“.
rules of the Vinaya arose gradually in the course of the forty-five years of
the Buddha’s teaching. A commentary tells us that no serious challenge to
the Holy Life arose for the first twenty years after the Buddha’s
Enlightenment. During this time and later until the time of the Buddha’s
Final Nibbána, these rulings were remembered and put in some kind of order by
Bhikkhus who specialised in memorising Vinaya. They are known as Vinayadharas
- literally, ‘those who hold (or preserve) the Vinaya’ and it is due to
their diligence that we have the Vinaya today. Among the group of
‘discipline-holders’ the venerable Arahant Upáli Thera was the most
distinguished. Even during the Buddha’s lifetime he was an authority on
Vinaya and after the Final Nibbána he led the First Council in the
codification of what we now call the Case (or Basket) of Discipline.
contains a vast amount of material though it is not all rules, fortunately for
Bhikkhus! Its present arrangement, the work of the First Council (See Ch. IV),
probably differs from the way that it was preserved while the Buddha was
alive. Then its beginning may have been the long passage describing how the
Buddha attained Enlightenment and the events which followed up to the arrival
of the two foremost disciples. After this the Vinaya describes how situations
arose showing the need for new Bhikkhus to have Teachers and the Buddha makes
rules about this. However, this long section is not now the opening of the
Vinaya, as it stands at the beginning of the Great Chapter, the Vinaya’s
second half. The opening section of the Vinaya now relates how venerable Sáriputta
requested the Buddha to lay down the fundamental code of rules called the Pátimokkha.
The Buddha declined to do so until it became necessary, in accordance with the
principle of not making rules unless they were needed. Sometime after this
such a need arose when venerable Sudinna Kalandakaputta defiled the Holy Life
when he was lured into having sexual intercourse with his former wife. This
was the first time that a ruling upon a serious matter of Vinaya had to be
made by the Buddha.
have the books of the Vinaya now, the first two present their material, the
fundamental rules in the sequence of the Pátimokkha, of Bhikkhus and
bhikkhunis respectively. The Pátimokkha is the code of 227 rules (for
Bhikkhus) recited every fortnight when Bhikkhus have a chance to confess
infractions and then, purified, listen to their recitation. But in the Vinaya
these bare rules are supplemented with their origins in this or that incident,
further events, which may modify the rule, analysis as to when one has or has
not fallen into an offence, a word-by-word commentary, and finally excusable
circumstances which do not count as infractions. All this accounts for the
bulky nature of the first two Vinaya books.
second two books, the Great Chapter and the Lesser Chapter may just be
mentioned here. After their beginning, from which much material for the first
two chapters of this book has been taken, they deal with many different
subjects, each one introduced by long and interesting stories. There are the
numerous allowances and prohibitions that the Buddha had to make, as well as
the legal procedures established by him for the Sangha. Finally, there are two
chapters on the first two Buddhist Councils, one of which was held just after
the Buddha’s Final Nibbána and the second, one hundred years later (see Ch.
classification of rules in the Pátimokkha may be reviewed briefly so that
readers understand what sort of actions is unsuitable for the Holy Life. But
not all of the offences against these rules are of the same order spiritually.
There are some, like the offence of wrong doing mentioned above, which are
minor matters in the sense that they can be cleared away by simple confession
with another Bhikkhu. (Though only ‘minor’ offences, good Bhikkhus are
careful not to commit them, wherever possible). On the other hand, some defeat
the doer of them, in the sense that he has defeated his own purpose - to use
the Holy Life for purification and Enlightenment. After doing any of the
following four things a Bhikkhu is called ‘incurable’, loses his state and
must disrobe: intentional sexual intercourse of any sort, theft of an object
having some value, murder of a human being which includes aiding abortion or
praising suicide to someone who then takes his own life, and last, boasting of
or hinting at superhuman attainments which one does not have, whether they are
deep states of meditation or degrees of insight and Enlightenment. If a
Bhikkhu does these things knowingly he is no longer in communion with other
Bhikkhus and not regarded as a Bhikkhu by them. Even if he continues to wear
the yellow robes he is not a Bhikkhu. And so serious are these offences that
if he continues to pose as a Bhikkhu, even though he makes great efforts to
progress in Dhamma, he will not be able to realise anything. Moreover, a
pseudo-Bhikkhu who deceives the lay people supporting him in this way is
likely to get a very long and painful rebirth. An honest man disrobes himself
without any force being necessary though in some Buddhist countries today a
defeated Bhikkhu who refuses to disrobe can be compelled to do so by secular
law. When a Bhikkhu has been defeated he can never again, in that life, become
a Bhikkhu again. This shows the wisdom of the Buddha who allowed Bhikkhus who
were no longer happy in the Holy Life, to disrobe when they wished to do so.
This allowance accounts for the fact that there have been very few defeated
next class, of very serious offences, which are ‘curable’ after the
prescribed penance, number thirteen. When it is said that they are
‘curable’ this does not mean that the penance having been properly
performed by the guilty Bhikkhu, will wipe away the results of the bad kamma,
which has been made. It only means that such a Bhikkhu is pure again and can
continue in his training without the burden of a guilty conscience. Of the
thirteen offences, five are concerned with relations just short of sexual
intercourse - such as deliberate emission of semen, touching women lustfully
and with intention, speaking lewd words to them, or praising intercourse as
the highest way of making merit. Also included here are making arrangements
for men to meet women (or vice versa), for marriage or for casual intercourse.
A Bhikkhu thus can never ‘marry’ a couple in the way that priests do in
western religion. This is not his job - though Bhikkhus are usually invited
before a wedding to chant auspicious stanzas. Buddhist weddings are therefore
performed by any competent friend of the family who knows the tradition.
serious matters included under this heading are establishing a monastic
residence on land which has not been appointed by competent senior Bhikkhus
and which has no proper surrounding area, or the building itself being too
large. A Bhikkhu, if building for himself, is allowed to construct a hut about
13 feet long by seven foot six inches wide - inside measurements. Trying to
oust from the Holy Life another Bhikkhu who is innocent by accusing him of one
of the four Defeats is the subject of two offences here. Attempting to cause a
schism in the Sangha, and being followers of one who attempts to do this, are
two more offences. Last but one is the case of a Bhikkhu who is difficult to
admonish, who adopts the attitude ‘Well, I shan’t say anything to you
about your deeds, so don’t you say anything to me!’ And last comes the
Bhikkhu who is a ‘corrupter of families’, that is, he gives gifts here and
there intending to make himself popular so that he will receive plenty of
offerings, he is also guilty of an offence entailing ‘initial and subsequent
meeting of the Sangha’.
Bhikkhu who falls into any of these offences must first confess them to his
Teacher who them informs the Sangha of some special procedure to be enacted.
When the Bhikkhus have met, the guilty Bhikkhu must inform them of the nature
of his offence and then ask for the six-night penance. If he has concealed his
offence he must first undergo a period of probation equal in length of time to
the concealment, then carry out the six-night penance. In any case, during the
entire period he loses all his seniority and must be seated as the youngest
Bhikkhu, also he cannot take part in official Sangha acts such as ordination,
nor can he teach the Dhamma. All visiting Bhikkhus have to be informed by him
of his offence. At the successful conclusion of this penance, he has to
request rehabilitation to his former status in the presence of not less than
in seriousness are a number of wrong actions which have no specific number as
they are scattered here and there in the Books of Discipline. These are the
grave offences such things as appearing naked in public (unless forced to do
so when robes have been stolen), drinking blood and deliberately stimulating
the sexual organs. This class of offences are not included in the Bhikkhu’s
code of discipline - the Pátimokkha - because they are often, though not
always, the lesser degree of some more serious offence, which is in that code.
the next group, the thirty offences of expiation with forfeiture, are in the Pátimokkha.
They mostly concern requisites - robes, or funds for buying them, rugs, bowls,
medicines, and so on, which a Bhikkhu can keep only within a certain number of
days or of which he can possess only a certain quantity. There are also
important rules about Bhikkhus not receiving money, handling it, nor
trafficking with it in any way. A good Bhikkhu tries to be free from the taint
of money, which promises to buy ‘happiness’ for him. This protects him
from the latent greed in his own mind. Articles which he possesses in excess,
or overtime or should not possess at all like money, have to be forfeited to
another Bhikkhu, or in the case of money, to the Sangha who arranges for its
disposal. Then the guilty Bhikkhu simply confesses his offence and promises
that in future he will be restrained. This method of purification applies also
to the class of grave offences mentioned above and to all the remaining groups
of offences to be outlined below.
the minor offences, though some matters here are serious enough, are the
ninety-two offences of expiation. This is a, class dealing with a very wide
range of topics from matters of importance at all times such as not being
respectful (to other Teacher-Bhikkhus or to the Way of training), round to
subjects which now have little relevance, such as not having a needle-case
made of bone, ivory or horn. There is also a whole section of ten rules
limiting the dealings of Bhikkhus with the bhikkhunis. This has little
significance now as bhikkhunis have disappeared in Theravada lands (see Ch.
VII) though some of the rules could still apply with the present upásikás or
important principle is illustrated here: of time and place. The Buddha spoke
of certain rules, which have application only at certain, times or places. For
instance, a rule here makes bathing more frequently than once a fortnight an
offence of expiation, though one is encouraged by the number of exceptions to
note that usually Bhikkhus will have bathed more ‘frequently! But this rule
applies only in ‘the Middle Country’ or the eastern Gangetic valley where
the Buddha mostly taught; even there it may have applied only in times of
drought. The Buddha was sometimes accompanied by a thousand or more Bhikkhus
and bhikkhunis and if all of them bathed from a village’s wells the water
would have been finished very quickly! At special times he allowed, for
example, to sick Bhikkhus, what was usually unallowable, that is to make a
fire for warming the body. The variety of matters covered by the rules in this
section is so great that interested readers should consult the Pátimokkha or
the Book of the Discipline for details.
minor rules of a slightly different sort follow the expiations and then come
the group of seventy-five ways of training. These brief rules are mostly about
good manners and polished conduct regarding the wearing of robes and bearing
the body, collecting alms food and eating it, occasions suitable for speaking
Dhamma, and places for passing urine and excrement. If they are broken they
are only offences of wrong-doing, but Teachers stress their importance since
they cover everyday matters. They would not be so important for those coming
from refined and well disciplined families but many Bhikkhus, then as now,
come from the country and needed these Trainings. They apply not only to
Bhikkhus but also to Samaneras who usually learn them by heart.
of the allowances and prohibitions are in the second part of the Vinaya, the
Great and Lesser Chapters. The Buddha found it necessary to lay them down as
the Sangha expanded and gained more supporters. This brought more
possibilities of using a variety of articles. To take an example: Bhikkhus
were offered honey by a rich merchant. At first they declined to accept this
offering as honey had not then been allowed by the Buddha. Then he made it
allowable and the Bhikkhus accepted it. Or a prohibition: the turbulent group
of six Bhikkhus began wearing all manner of decorated and expensive sandals,
which the Buddha had to prohibit as unsuitable for those leading the homeless
life. Showy, decorated and expensive things generally are unsuitable for
Bhikkhus who should use plain and ordinary things. Prohibitions, as in this
case, are often backed up by the phrase, „and whoever shall use them falls
into an offence of wrong-doing“.
things of no great value are suitable for Bhikkhu-life. But if a Bhikkhu has
great valuables he becomes liable to the same troubles as householders who
have to guard wealth and possessions from envy and theft by others. He should
reflect: „All that is mine, dear and delightful, will change and vanish“
and so not become attached to many or valuable possessions. Here are eight
‘blessings’ enjoyed by Bhikkhus as related to a king in the power of the
passions by a Pacceka-Buddha (a Buddha who is unable to teach in detail):
can consider some of the legal procedures, which are methods for dealing with
four sorts of occurrences in the Sangha. These are: contentions, accusations,
faults and duties. Regarding the first of these - two Bhikkhus might have
difference understandings of Dhamma and Vinaya and so begin to dispute with
each other. The Sangha has the duty then to examine them both and then
pronounce judgement on who is right and who is wrong.
second case, sometimes a Bhikkhu accuses another of some undeclared offence,
which accusation may or may not be true. The Sangha must meet to decide what
is true and what is false.
Bhikkhu has an offence against one of the training-rules then he should take
the appropriate steps to purify himself, by confession to the Sangha or to an
individual Bhikkhu. The Sangha has to meet here only if the offence is
serious, one of those in the group of thirteen called ‘Initial and
subsequent meeting of the Sangha’.
there are duties to be done, such as the Bhikkhus who are invited to accept an
applicant as a new Bhikkhu, or those who participate in establishing a new
boundary for an ordination (acceptance) temple. These duties should be
thoroughly carried out for it is the responsibility of Bhikkhus to see that
the Sangha’s business is properly done.
these cases the Sangha, which is present for those matters, has to act in
harmony. Decisions are not taken by a person in authority (say an abbot) and
then handed down for obedient submission by juniors. The Buddha himself came
from a people, the Sakiyas, who though they had a form of monarchy, were among
the democratic and republican tribes. In those states there was a Sabhá or
legislative assembly in which all the leading citizens had a voice. We may
assume that the rajah was the most prominent among the citizens and leader of
this assembly. With this background the Buddha would be unlikely to institute
an authoritarian system of government in the Sangha. So when he came to lay
down the legal procedures for the Sangha he did so with a group (Sangha)
making decisions on the basis of the rulings that he had given.
Sangha in this sense means the group of Bhikkhus who have gathered, or been
invited, to attend to one of the above legal procedures, the number of them
depending on the function they are to perform. Thus, if they gather to recite
the Pátimokkha on the Uposatha days four Bhikkhus at least are needed for a
quorum. But five are necessary in an acceptance ceremony for a new Bhikkhu in
‘outlying countries’ which means everywhere except the Gangetic Valley. In
the Middle Country there, ten Bhikkhus are needed for this same function. A
group of not less than twenty Bhikkhus are a Sangha for an offending Bhikkhu
who asks for rehabilitation after having done his penance, as mentioned above.
each case there will be competent and learned senior Bhikkhus (or Theras) who
ensure that the procedures are fully carried out so that they cannot be
challenged by other Bhikkhus. A procedure, which is not thoroughly
accomplished, is not fit to stand; it carries no weight. For instance, if a
man under twenty goes through the ordination procedure correctly in the
presence of a sufficient number of Bhikkhus he is, nevertheless, not a Bhikkhu
since he is less than the required age. Similarly if words or sentences are
omitted in these procedures they have no validity. Hence the care with which
all the functions of a Sangha are carried out.
form depends on the pattern laid down by the Buddha but broadly speaking they
consist either of a motion put to the Sangha, by one or more Bhikkhus,
followed by three announcements, or a motion followed by one announcement. The
more important Sangha functions are of the first type and those of lesser
weight, the second. At the end of the motion and before the conclusion of the
announcements any Bhikkhu in that Sangha who wishes to object has the chance
to do so. If there is an objection - and this is very uncommon, then that
legal act is broken and must be performed again to become valid. The motion is
carried by silence, for example; at the end of the Acceptance of a new
Bhikkhu, these words are chanted:
Acceptance is agreeable to the venerable ones of (name) with venerable
(Preceptor’s name) as preceptor, let them be silent. He to whom it is not
agreeable should speak. The Acceptance has been given by the Sangha to (name)
with venerable (Preceptor’s name) as preceptor. It is agreeable to the
Sangha, therefore it is silent. Thus do I remember it“.
conclusion for this chapter here is a short discourse of the Buddha explaining
the advantages of the Vinaya. (Bracketed words are my explanations).
„Thus have I heard. At one time the Exalted One was staying near Sávatthi
at the Jeta Grove, Anáthapindika’s monastery. Then venerable Upáli
approached the Exalted One, bowed down to him and then sat down nearby.
Sitting there he asked the Exalted One, „Lord, what are the reasons why the
rule of training was laid down for the disciples of the Tathágata and the Pátimokkha
„For ten reasons, Upáli, the rule of training was laid down and the
Upáli, are the ten reasons why the rule of training was laid down and the Pátimokkha
appointed for the disciples of the Tathágata“.
spoke the Lord. Delighted, venerable Upáli rejoiced in the Exalted One’s
Collection, Book of the Tens, Discourse 31).
For a full account see the essay, „The Life of Rahula“ in „The Novices Training“ (Samanerasikkha), Mahamakut Press, B.E. 2509 (1966).
For a complete treatment of this subject see „The Patimokkha“; „The Entrance to the Vinaya“, Vols. 1 2. Mahamakut Press; also „The Buddhist Monk’s Discipline“. Wheel No. 130/131, B.P.S.
See „The Life of Sariputta“, Wheel No. 90/92, B.P.S.
See the account in „The Book of Dicipline“ Vol. 5 p. 150-151; or the more embroidered version in the Dhammapada commentary, „Buddhist Legends“, Vol. 3. pp. 35-38. P.T.S.
See the complete translation „The Book of the Discipline“ Vols, 1-6, P.T.S.
See translation in „Everyman’s Ethics“, Wheel 14, B.P.S.