Buddhist Monastic Discipline

by Jotiya Dhirasekera | 1964 | 113,985 words

A study of Buddhist monastic code: its origin and development in relation to the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas. The Vinaya forms a part of a Buddhist disciple’s training method, particularly within Theravada Buddhism. This English thesis was completed by Jotiya Dhirasekera (Now Bhikkhu Dhammavihari)...


The Vinaya which is a part of the system of training for the Buddhist disciple is a subject of absorbing interest not only for the study of Buddhist monasticism but also for the study of Buddhism as a whole. This is particularly true of  Theravada Buddhism where the practice of monastic life as a means of attaining the religious goal is held in great esteem.  Dr. Robert H.Thouless has made a thoroughly accurate assessment of this position as early as 1940. He says : ' Perhaps the feature of Buddhism with which the modern Western mind finds it hardest to sympathize is its monastic character. The achievement of emancipation was regarded as a full-time occupation incompatible with the preoccupation of  a man living in the world. It is true that householders might become disciples of the Buddha. These were required to abstain from taking life, drinking intoxicating liquors, lying, stealing, and unchastity, and also aim at pleasant speech, kindness, temperance, consideration for others, and love. By obeying these injunctions laymen might hope to advance so far that their future state would be a happier one. It is even suggested in one discourse that a householder might obtain full release, but it is clear that this was regarded as exceptional; the fruits of the Buddhist discipline could normally be achieved only by the monk who gave all his time to the task.'[1]

Nevertheless, it is our belief that the subject has not received the attention it deserves. The present work attempts to assess the role of the monk in the religion which is the outcome of the teachings of the Buddha. There were monks in India, no doubt, even before the time of the Buddha. But the first sermon which the Buddha delivered to the ' Group of Five ' monks made the Buddhist monks appear somewhat different from the rest of their kind. His views about life in Samsāra and the escape therefrom, his aesthetic sensibility, and his regard for sound public opinion contributed to emphasise these differences. Thus in Buddhist monasticism the life of the cloister is not an end in itself. It marks only the beginning of the pursuit of the goal. It is a long way before the monk could claim to have reached that worthy ideal : anuppattasadattho. It has been our endeavour to show that Buddhist monastic discipline covers this vast and extensive field.

I wish to express my gratitude to my colleagues and friends who have been of  assistance to me at various stages in the course of  this work.

Jotiya Dhirasekera

University Park, Peradeniya, Ceylon
1  October 1964

At this stage of publication the need for further comments on the subject matter of this thesis is not felt. It is to be reiterated, however, that any meaningful living of the monastic life in Buddhism has to accord with the spirit of  both the Dhamma and the Vinaya.

Jotiya Dhirasekera

Encyclopaedia of Buddhism
135,  Dharmapala Mawatha
Colombo  7
5  November  1981

Footnotes and references:


Conventionalization and Assimilation in Religious Movements in Social Psychology with  special reference to the development of  Buddhism  and  Christianity,  p. 24, Riddell  Memorial  Lectures,  Twelfth Series, O.U.P. London, 1940.

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