BANNER OF THE ARAHANTS
Bhikkhus and the Rains - Residence - support of Bhikkhus - merchants and kings
- Bhikkhus never
‘missionaries’ - qualities for spreading Dhamma - the learned and the
meditative - Reciters - lost discourses - reasons for the First Council - its
work - the Baskets of Vinaya and Sutta analysed - the Abhidhamma - the minor
rules - Purana and the variant traditions - 2nd Council and lax Vinaya -
Schism created by the Great Assembly - their wrong views and corruption of
their texts - Emperor Asoka and the 3rd Council - the attitude of one
successful Bhikkhu who spread Dhamma.
Buddha time most Bhikkhus wandered. For most of the year they travelled by
themselves or in larger or smaller groups around a Teacher-monk (ácariya).
They might stop in a place they found suitable for their practice for a few
months or intermittently even for years. In some cases people might invite
them to stay and guarantee their alms food and other simple needs. These
people would have huts and a meeting-hall erected, these small buildings being
the beginnings of Buddhist monasteries. There are many stories in the
which picture such wandering Bhikkhus and their friendly reception by
villagers who were not always Buddhists.
the Rains, the monsoon from July to October, the Buddha laid down a rule that
Bhikkhus were to stay in one place and this period is now called the
Rains-residence. It is observed by all Bhikkhus (samaneras as well) as a time
for the intensification of meditation practice, or for greater efforts to
study. Generally Bhikkhus gather round well-known Teachers to be instructed
and exhorted by them for these three lunar months. Lay people also have the
chance to learn Dhamma at this time, perhaps becoming Buddhists if they had
not already Gone for Refuge to the Triple Gem, while at the end of the Rains
some or all of the Bhikkhus would move on.
is one way in which Dhamma was spread throughout India and beyond by Bhikkhus.
They do not have many possessions, unlike householders who must have a lot of
things, so they can come and go easily. The Buddha compared the Bhikkhu to a
swan, a bird that is plain and unadorned but capable of flying very far and
strongly. The layperson is compared to the peacock, beautiful but burdened by
its beauty and therefore slow and unable to fly long distances. It is for this
reason that Dhamma was spread far and wide mostly by Bhikkhus. It is very rare
to read of a layman or woman propagating the Dhamma in distant lands for
usually they would have their families to look after. Of course, there have
always been learned lay Buddhists, and those who have been able to practise
meditation deeply, but they have rarely travelled far. Their influence was
usually limited to their own towns or villages where they would be foremost
among the supporters of the local Teacher-monks and leaders of the lay
the Bhikkhus did not have the burden of family and possessions. They could
come and go freely after their first five years. (After the
Acceptance-ceremony a Bhikkhu must stay with a Teacher-monk for at least five
years). There were Teachers to go and learn with, holy shrines to revere,
invitations of lay people to accept, new monasteries to establish - many
reasons for travel. So the Dhamma spread in these ways. It was never a
methodical effort at ‘conversion’ because it is not the aim of Buddhism to
convert everyone. Such an idea was not considered possible by the Buddha for
he recognised that people have many and various opinions. Their views will
never be one, however hard organisations, religious or political, try to
coerce them into it..
is for those who want to understand, who want to know why there is suffering (dukkha)
in this world and all worlds and what can be done about it. For the Buddha’s
teaching was simply and directly just this: „Dukkha
and its Cessation“. If one is really interested in its cessation, or at
least in lessening it, then the teachings of the Buddha based on the subtle
cause-effect relations in the mind, will be very appealing. Belief and dogmas
are not at all important - clear understanding is what is needed without a
clutter of views and opinions. The Dhamma then ‘spreads’ to those who are
ready to investigate themselves fearlessly. It is like one candle held against
another, the light of one causes light to come into existence on the other,
Dhamma is present in the heart of every person but is more or less obscured by
the defiling passions of greed, aversion and the views which arise upon them.
Bhikkhu should have no money. This means that if he travels in the present
time it will be either on foot or with tickets bought by supporters. In the
Buddha-time his travel had to be on foot and even down to the last century and
the beginning of this one, in Thailand for instance, this was the case.
meant that he had to be able to rely upon his bowl as the way of obtaining
alms food. He could of course, accept invitations from householders when they
wanted to make merit but mostly he would maintain his body on the offerings
which lay people were happy to make him. This method worked well enough in
India. (Even today it is still possible for a Bhikkhu to get alms food there).
But it is not a method, which would succeed very well once Bhikkhus get out of
the sphere of Indian culture. Among people who had no traditions of supporting
wandering religious, a Bhikkhu’s alms bowl was likely to be as clean on his
return from the alms round as when he set out! And there are other factors,
which will affect the Bhikkhu. Alms round are possible in reasonably warm
climates but it would become rather difficult in England say, in midwinter!
When you consider that a Bhikkhu should go on alms round barefoot and with no
covering on his head, it becomes obvious that in some seasons or weathers
Bhikkhus could not get their support in this way. Yet they have no money,
neither can they cultivate their own food, nor cut or pick any vegetable or
fruit nor cook their own food, for the Buddha in the Vinaya has intentionally
made them completely dependent upon lay supporters. (Samaneras or novices
cannot possess money but they can do all the other things mentioned. Once a
Bhikkhu may travel with a samanera who can help with food, or with a layman
who can aid him with both money and food).
Bhikkhu who ventures outside the Indian sub-continent must have some other
arrangements for support. He could not take along a fund of money; and set
himself up in a new place until he had enough supporters there, as
missionaries of other religions. No, if he was going to travel into Central
Asia, or to the lands of South-east Asia he had to have an invitation.
in the early times of Buddhism came frequently from merchants. They usually
travelled in great caravans, even of hundreds of carts or pack-animals or in
fleets of ships, some of their journeys lasting longer than a year. If a
merchant had faith in the Buddha’s teachings, before he set out on his long
and often perilous journey, he would go to his Teacher-monk and make offerings
to all the Bhikkhus in that monastery and no doubt request their blessings
upon his venture. He would be happy too if he could find a monastery or two
along his route where he could pay his respects to the Triple Gem - the
Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, and set out again, his confidence renewed. But it is
more than likely that he would reach towns so far distant that nobody had ever
heard of the Buddha, let alone finding a Buddhist monastery there. Then before
his long homeward journey he would not be able to hear the wise words of a
good Teacher nor the sound of all the Bhikkhus chanting the Buddha’s
discourses. Perhaps while slowly making his way back he would decide, along
with other like-minded friends, to invite a Teacher monk and some Bhikkhus to
accompany them on their next journey and to establish them in a monastery
which they would build and finance. When this had been done, at first support
would come only from the fund provided by those merchants and administered by
some local trading partners, but soon some of the people of that place would
become interested and want to know what the Bhikkhus taught. So the Dhamma
too, invitations came from kings, for Bhikkhus were bearers of the high
Buddhist culture. Small outlying states and even great empires through their
kings and nobles received the blessings of this culture founded upon the
Buddha’s teachings. Even where Bhikkhus did not go at the invitation of the
king, it was often the king and his court that became firm Buddhists before
other people, as in Sri Lanka. This is because the Dhamma, can be understood -
at least intellectually, best by those whose minds are developed through
were never missionaries - nor are they now, in the sense that this word is
used in Western religion. Wherever they have gone, either they would set
support anyway as we have seen, or they have gone by invitation. An invitation
means that one is welcome, that support is guaranteed and that the Dhamma will
be listened to respectfully and probably practised well too. So a Bhikkhu does
not impose anything. He harms no one - as the Buddha says in the Dhammapada:
is a wise man, one who is silent, as a Bhikkhu is, when collecting alms food -
no one comes to grief through the gentle conduct of the Bhikkhu.
who take the Dhamma with them to far countries are called Emissaries of
Dhamma, in Pali language Dhammadúta.
The Buddha said that a Bhikkhu is fit to be a Dhammadúta when he has eight
Collection, Book of the Eights, Discourse 16)
the qualities listed above, a Dhammadúta Bhikkhu should be one who has great
learning, which in the Buddha-time did not mean from books as there were no
religious books then and the art of writing was used only for business
transactions and possibly for secular poetry. Such a Bhikkhu learnt by heart
from his Teacher a certain section of the Buddha’s discourses.
have a picture of such 3 young Bhikkhu in venerable Sona Kutikanna who spent a
night, at the Buddha’s invitation, in the Buddha’s kuti
(hut). When they had meditated most of the night and the dawn gladdened the
sky, the Buddha asked him to recite some Dhamma. „He recited all the sixteen
intoning them. When he had finished, the Blessed One approved, saying:
‘Good, good, Bhikkhu. You have learnt the sixteen Octets well; you know them
and remember them well. You have a fine voice, incisive and without faults,
which makes the meaning clear’.“ (Udána, V. 6).
before the First Council the discourses of the Buddha were classified for easy
memorisation but it seems that their general order was not as we have them
now. The first method of classification was probably the Teacher’s Ninefold
Instruction, a list of different types of discourses often mentioned by the
Buddha: Prose discourse, Song, Exegesis, Verse, Inspired Utterance, Saying,
Birth-story, Wonderful event, Question and Answer.
Bhikkhus, then, would learn part of the Buddha-word by heart, usually
specialising in one particular section so that they became experts on Dhamma
(or Vinaya). This kind of Bhikkhu had to recite some part of his learning
every day in order to keep it fresh in his mind. And because chanting out loud
during the day or night would disturb those Bhikkhus who were developing their
minds through meditation, senior Bhikkhus, like venerable Dabba Mallaputta,
who were in charge of allotting lodgings to newly arrived Bhikkhus, were
careful to segregate the different types of Bhikkhus. „He allocated lodgings
in the same place to Bhikkhus who knew the Suttas, saying, ‘They will be
able to chant over the Suttas to one another’. He allocated lodgings in the
same place to Bhikkhus versed in the Vinaya rules, saying, ‘They will decide
upon the Vinaya with one another’. He allocated lodgings in the same place
to the Dhamma-preaching Bhikkhus, saying, ‘They will discuss the Dhamma with
one another’. He allocated lodgings in the same place to meditative
Bhikkhus, saying, ‘They will not disturb one another’. He allocated
lodgings in the same place to the Bhikkhus who lived indulging in low talk and
playing about, saying, ‘These revered ones will live according to their
pleasure’.“ (A nice touch, this last sentence!) (Basket of Discipline,
Bhikkhu’s Analysis, Sanghadisesa VIII).
seems that even from this time, when the Buddha was still alive, that some
rivalry existed between the scholars and the meditators. Here is a discourse
given by venerable Maha-Cunda, a famous Arahant disciple.
(Words in brackets are commentarial).
have I heard. Once the venerable Maha-Cunda lived at Sahajáti among the Ceti
people and there he addressed the Bhikkhus, saying;
Sirs, there are Bhikkhus who are keen on Dhamma (the preachers and those with
an intellectual approach) and they disparage those Bhikkhus who are
meditators, saying, „Look at those Bhikkhus! They think, We are meditators,
we are meditators!’ And so they meditate and meditate, meditating up and
down, to and fro! What then do they meditate and why do they meditate?“
Thereby neither these Bhikkhus keen on Dhamma will be pleased nor the
meditators. (By acting in that way) their life will not be conducive to the
welfare and happiness of the people nor to the benefit of the multitude; it
will not be for the welfare and happiness of gods and men.
venerable sirs, there are meditative Bhikkhus who disparage the Bhikkhus who
are keen on Dhamma, saying: „Look at those Bhikkhus! They think, ‘We are
Dhamma-experts, we are Dhamma-experts!’ And therefore they are conceited,
puffed up and vain; they are talkative and voluble. They are devoid of
mindfulness and thoughtful awareness, and they lack concentration; their
thoughts wander and their senses are uncontrolled. What then makes them
Dhamma-experts, why and how are they Dhamma-experts?“ Thereby neither these
meditating Bhikkhus will be pleased nor those keen on Dhamma. By acting in
that way … it will not be for the welfare and happiness of gods and men.
are Dhamma-experts who praise only Bhikkhus who are also Dhamma-experts but
not those who are meditators … And there are meditators who praise only
those Bhikkhus who are also meditators but not those who are Dhamma experts.
Acting thus … it will not be for the welfare and happiness of gods and men.
venerable sirs, you should train yourselves thus: ‘Though we ourselves are
Dhamma-experts we shall also praise those Bhikkhus who meditate. And why? Rare
in the world are such outstanding men who have personal experience of the
Deathless Element (Nibbána).
(the other Bhikkhus too) should train themselves thus: Though we ourselves are
meditators we shall also praise those Bhikkhus who are Dhamma experts. And
why? Rare in the world are such outstanding men who can by their wisdom
clearly understand a difficult subject“. (Numerical Collection, Book of the
Sixes, Discourse 46).
shall have more to say about these two classes of Bhikkhus in Chapter V, and
their ways of life in Chapter VI.
who learnt the Buddha’s discourses (or Vinaya) by heart were called ‘bhánakas’
or reciters. They would usually be present when the Buddha spoke, committing
his words to memory while he was speaking. If there were no reciter-bhikkhus
present then the foremost among them, venerable Ananda who was also the
Buddha’s attendant, would request the Buddha to repeat his teaching so that
it could be preserved. The Buddha made the memorising of his discourses easier
(though this may have been a general feature of teaching in the age before
books), by repetition of key phrases and the harmonious grouping of words.
be partly for this reason that the Buddha often spoke in verse. The idea of a
religious teacher speaking verse instead of prose is not familiar now in the
West (though many of the Old Testament Prophets did so). But this is not
strange because in his youth as a prince his education would have included
poetics, the ability to compose extemporaneous verse being valued highly. No
doubt there were other reasons too for speaking in verse: it could be more
forceful than prose even acting as a shock or it could inspire deep faith.
Besides this, much teaching could be compressed into a short discourse. A
large number of such verse discourses have been preserved, the most important
collection of which is the Sutta-Nipáta (The Book of Discourses) in the Minor
return now to the reciter-bhikkhus who later that day would meet and chant
that teaching together so that variations due to individual memories could not
obscure the Buddha’s words. That discourse would then be added to one of the
nine sections mentioned above. In this way the great collections of what are
now called the Case of Discipline and the Basket of Discourses in the Pali
Canon, were built up through the forty-five years of the Buddha’s teaching.
material has certainly been lost, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say
that it was never recorded. We hear of discourses delivered by the Buddha,
which have not come down to us. For instance, after the first discourse when
venerable Añña-Kondaññá was already a Bhikkhu and a Stream-winner, the
text of the Vinaya relates: „Then the Blessed One taught and instructed the
rest of the Bhikkhus with talk on Dhamma“. But who do not know what that
talk consisted of, though it was probably an amplification of the headings in
the First Discourse. Again, in the case of the venerable Yasa’s mother and
former wife, we read: „He gave them progressive instruction, that is to say,
talk on giving, on virtue, on the heavens; he explained the dangers, the
vanity and the defilement in sensual pleasures, and the advantages of
renunciation. When he saw that the minds of Yasa’s mother and former wife
were ready, receptive, free of hindrance, eager and trustful, he expounded to
them the teaching peculiar to the Buddhas: Dukkha
its causal arising, its cessation, the path to its cessation“. (Vinaya
Pitaka Mahávagga Kh. I) Although there are many discourses extant upon
subjects like giving and the rest, we do not know the precise content of this
talk which resulted in the two ladies becoming Stream-winners.
the reciter-bhikkhus were marvellously diligent for it is due to them that we
have today the Discipline (Vinaya), and the Discourses (Sutta), which were
divided, in the First Council, into the five Collections (nikáya).
brings us to the time after the Buddha had passed away or as Buddhists say,
after the Great Parinibbána. Many Bhikkhus were no doubt concerned that the
Dhamma-Vinaya should last long. Some time before this, after the Jain teacher
Nigantha Nátaputta (or Mahávíra) had died, his disciples quarrelled over
his teaching and different parties formed. It was to prevent this that
venerable Sáriputta spoke, in the Buddha’s presence, the Recital Discourse
(Sangíti Sutta) in which important teachings are classified in groups from
one to ten.
just after the Parinibbána, the Bhikkhu Subhadda who had gone forth in his
old age, said to the other Bhikkhus: „Enough friends, do not sorrow, do not
lament. We are well rid of the Great Samana (an epithet of the Buddha). We
have been frustrated by his saying, ‘This is allowed to you; this is not
allowed to you’. But now we shall do as we like and we shall not do as we do
not like“. This was cause enough for venerable Mahá-Kassapa to say at a
meeting of the Sangha: „Now friends, let us rehearse the Dhamma-Vinaya.
Already wrong teachings and wrong discipline have been courted and right
teachings and right discipline have been flouted. And already upholders of
wrong teachings and wrong discipline are strong while upholders of right
teachings and right discipline are weak“. So it was agreed that a Sangha of
five hundred Arahants should stay in Rájagaha for that Rains-residence and
systematically recite the Buddha’s teachings.
leader of the Sangha in this great assembly was venerable Mahá-Kassapa,
possibly the most senior of the Buddha’s disciples still alive, while the
authority for the Vinaya, was venerable Upáli and that for Dhamma, venerable
Ananda. The account as we have it says that venerable Maha-Kassapa asked
questions about the rules of the Pátimokkha in the order we now have them and
then about the Suttas, beginning with the Collection of Long Discourses, in
the order we have them now. If nothing has been omitted from the account of
this Council (which is very brief), then it must be that the Vinaya was put in
its final order during the days of the Buddha - likewise the Suttas were
ordered into the five Collections then. This seems unlikely. As the account of
the first Council suggests that this classification was complete it may rather
be a retrospective view of what happened, perhaps added at the time of the
Second Council, one hundred years later. Of course, this is surmise.
more probable that at this great assembly, the rules, allowances, prohibitions
and legal procedures were collected and the Vinaya codified. The old
word-by-word Commentary would have been added, or at least received the
approval of all the venerable Arahants and those portions of the Analysis
(Vibhanga) which systematically clarify when a Bhikkhu has committed an
offence and when he has not, would probably have been settled and
‘incorporated’ into the Vinaya. These parts may not be even as old as this
but certainly they did not come from the mouth of the Buddha.
case of the Discourses, it is likely that they were previously arranged as the
Teacher’s Ninefold Instruction This may not have proved a convenient
classification and certainly would not have been as systematic as that of the
Five Collections. The re-sorting of this great mass of material into these
Collections may then have been the main work of this Council. It will
certainly have been necessary as some of the Discourses were known only to a
very few Bhikkhus and lay people. Without any use of writing this was a
stupendous achievement. The reciter-bhikkhus would not only have to chant the
Discourses known to them at the Council, but then to re-order them in their
memories in the sequence decided upon. It is difficult for us to imagine how
this could have been accomplished. Perhaps the summaries of the different
collections were written down at this time as a check and guide to their
order. Some of the small books in the Minor Collection could well be the
material memorised by particular groups of Bhikkhus - such books as the
Sutta-Nipáta, Udána and Itivuttaka. The Dhammapada,
a collection of 423 verses spoken by the Buddha, might be the personal
compilation of a great Arahant, which has been incorporated as it stands.
See, „Buddhist Legends“ Vol. I p. 146f, and „Minor Readings and Illustrator“ p. 267f.
The Atthaka-Vagga (Chapter on the Eights) in Sutta-Nipáta. See the new translation to be issued by P.T.S. This passage is from „The Life of the Buddha“, translated by Ven. Nyanamoli, B.P.S.
Translated by venerable Nyanaponika Mahathera in „Anguttara Nikaya, An Anthology, Part II“, Wheel 208-211, B.P.S.
The most translated book of Buddhist scriptures. See the author’s translation: „The Path of Truth“, Mahamakut Press, Bangkok.