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)...

Chapter VI - The New Role of Sila in Buddhist Monasticism

The final and what is claimed to be the most comprehensive code of monastic discipline is brought under the fourfold division of sila known as the Catupārisuddhisila. Buddhaghosa begins his Visuddhimagga, more or less, with a detailed analysis of this classification.[1]

Like the earlier lists of sila which had indriyasamvara closely appended to it,[2] this classification seems to recognise the basic importance of the two items of sila and indriyasamvara. Buddhaghosa goes so far as to say that no perfection in sila could be achieved without stability in indriyasamvara

(Evam asampādite hi etasmim pātimokkhasamvarasilam ' pi anaddhaniyam hoti aciraṭṭhitikam.......


However, the earlier concept of sila as expressed in the Suttas in the reference iminā ariyena silakkhandhena samannāgato now forms only one single fragment in this larger fourfold classification. The earlier concept is narrowed down and is specifically referred to as Pātimokkhasamvarasila. In this division of sila the emphasis is more on the codified legalised precepts. The sole basis of monastic discipline now seems to be the code of the Pātimokkha which is aptly described by Buddhaghosa as the sikkhāpada-sila.[3]

Here one immediately feels that there is a complete disregard of the role of the Dhamma as a disciplinary force among the disciples. This new attitude is perhaps resonant of an age in which the Vinaya dominated. Buddhaghosa does bring before us in clearer relief the tendency of his day when he says that the Vinaya constitutes the life-blood of the Sāsana.[4]

However, it is interesting to note that the Vimuttimagga which is claimed to be a pre-Buddhaghosa work[5] adds the following remarks after its definition of pātimokkhasamvara:

'This is the entrance into the doctrines.
By this the Good Law (saddhamma) is accepted.' [6]

One is tempted by this to ask whether the reference to the Good Law (saddhamma) under the definition of pātimokkhasamvara implies in this context a recognition of the wide range of monastic discipline and a desire to infuse the spirit of the Dhamma into the legal machinery of the Vinaya which tended to be exclusive in character in the regulation of monastic life.

Indriyasamvarasila forms the second item in this fourfold classification. It has retained its character, more or less unmodified in the new classification.[7] ajivapārisuddhisila and Paccayasannissitasila form the last two items. These are concerned with the daily life of the disciple, specially in relation to his food and clothing.

The Suttas too are adequately concerned with this aspect of monastic discipline although it had not come to be laid down in the form of a division of sila. The ājivapārisuddhi, as a separate item of sila in the new fourfold category, claims to safeguard the way in which a disciple ' earns his living ' without fraud and deceit, and greed for gain, and thus renders him blameless with regard to his livelihood.

It is possible to infer from Buddhaghosa's definition of ajivapārisuddhisila[8] that the origin of this special branch of sila lay primarily in the last item of Majjhimasila given in the Brahmajāla and the Sāmaññaphala Suttas.[9]

Buddhaghosa quotes it as follows:

..... kuhanā lapanā nemittakatā neppesikatā lābhena lābham nijigimsanatā ' ti evam ādinañ ca pāpadhammānam vasena pavattā micchājivā virati

- Vism. I. 16.

It is also of interest to note that the Mahācattārisaka Sutta defines micchājiva solely in terms of this item of sila.[10]

Buddhaghosa further suggests that along with this are also to be taken the different forms of unworthy professional practices or micchājiva which are elaborated under the mahāsila.[11]

To supplement this concept of ajivapārisuddhi Buddhaghosa also draws reinforcements from the Vinaya. These consist of six sikkhāpada from the Suttavibhaṇga and Buddhaghosa describes them as being

'laid down for the guidance of the livelihood of the monk':

ājivahetu paññattānam channam sikkhāpadānan ' ti yāni tāni ....
evam paññattāni cha sikkhāpadāni

- Vism. I. 22.

They occur already together in a group in the Parivāra as constituting in their violation ājivavipatti or damage to the purity of livelihood.[12]

Of these, five sikkhāpada are primary regulations directly traceable to the Pātimokkha. The other is a Thullaccaya offence derived from the fourth Pārājika. The Dukkhaṭa offence is in terms of Sekhiyadhamma 37. In their gravity, these sikkhāpada range from a Pārājika to a Dukkaṭa offence.

Three minor rules, a Pācittiya (Vin. IV. 88), Pāṭidesaniya (Vin. IV. 347f.) and a Dukkaṭa (Vin. IV. 193) are concerned with irregular appropriation of food.

Two rules, a Pārājika (Vin.III. 91) and a Thullaccaya (Vin. III. 102 Sec.7) deal with claims to spiritual powers which are made with a view to increase the support from laymen.

One rule, a Saṇghādisesa (Vin.III.139) proscribes the transaction of the affairs of laymen with a similar motive of personal gain.

It is also interesting to note that Buddhaghosa bundles up under the one Pāṭidesaniya sikkhāpada all the eight Pāṭidesaniya rules of the Bhikkhunis.[13]

He is perhaps here influenced by the single Pācittiya rule (no. 39) of the Bhikkhus which covers the same ground. Thus the ājivapārisuddhi is judged in terms of both sila and the codified rules of the Vinaya.[14]

On the other hand, we notice that in the earlier texts, the concept of ājivapārisuddhi was brought within the scope of sila itself.[15]

Its aim was to make the disciples purge themselves of such mean traits of character (pāpadhammā) as fraud and deceit,[16] as well as to make them abstain from blameable forms of livelihood (micchājiva) which are unworthy of a monk. But Buddhaghosa makesa further distinct group of micchājiva in terms of the transgression of the rules of the Pātimokkha:

ājivahetupaññattānam channam sikkhāpadānam vitikkamavasena

- (Vism. I 30.).

As far as the disciples of the Buddha were concerned, the items of micchājiva which are more or less professional practices were firstly considered stupid (tiracchāna-vijjā), perhaps because they exploited the credulity and the superstitious character of the public on whom they were dependent. Secondly, they were irregular practices for the monk (micchājiva), for they were not conducive to his spiritual progress. It would be a misuse of his life if he engaged himself in such activities.

There can be little doubt that kāyakamma-vacikammena samannāgato kusalena served as a warning against such irregular ways of members of the monastic community.[17]

Thus we notice parisuddhājivo being rightly equated by Buddhaghosa to kāyakamma-vacikammena samannāgato kusalena.[18]

It must be observed that the ajivapārisuddhisila as described by Buddhaghosa overlaps to some extent the Pātimokkhasamvarasila in that Buddhaghosa while recognising the various irregular ways of a monk enumerated under sila (kuhanā lapanā etc.) draws also on the contents of the Pātimokkha.[19]

The last item in this fourfold classification is the Paccayasannissitasila. While the ajivapārisuddhisila is concerned with the correctness of the method whereby the monk obtains his requisites, the Paccayasannissitasila determines the correct attitude of mind in the use of these.[20]

The Sabbāsava Sutta deals comprehensively with this consideration in relation to the use of the four paccaya.[21]

Buddhaghosa quotes freely from this Sutta in his description of the Paccayasannissitasila.[22]

Bhojane mattaññutā which was discussed earlier,[23] tended to single out food from among these four requisites and lays special emphasis on moderation in eating as a monastic virtue. The Paccayasannissitasila seems to reintroduce to monastic life the above considerations of the Sabbāsava Sutta in their widest application.[24]

Canonical Pali literature does not make any reference to this fourfold classification of Catupārisuddhisila. The Paṭisambhidāmagga knows the term Pārisuddhisila but it is used in the very general sense of a 'code of good living leading to purity '.[25]

It is presented there in five categories which are graded according to the degree of perfection of each. Speaking of a fivefold classification of sila in the Visuddhimagga, Buddhaghosa reproduces this division of Pārisuddhisila of the Paṭisambhidāmaga.[26]

The classification is as follows:

  1. Pariyantapārisuddhisila - anupasampannānam pariyantasikkhānam
  2. Apariyantapārisuddhisila - upasampannānam apariyantasikkhānam
  3. Paripunnapārisuddhisila - puthujjanakalyānakānam kusaladhamme yuttānam sekhapariyante paripurakārinam kāye ca jivite ca anapekkhānam pariccattajivitānam
  4. Aparāmaṭṭhapārisuddhisila - sattannam sekhānam
  5. Paṭippassaddhipārisuddhisila - tathāgatasāvakānam khināsavānam paccekabuddhānam tathāgatānam arahantānam sammāsambuddhaānam[27]

These refer to the various stages in the development of sila or moral virtue in Buddhism, from the uninitiated disciple to the Tathāgatas. It is difficult to determine with any certainty whether the concept of pārisuddhisila as the 'code of good living leading to purity ' heralded the later classification of the Catupārisuddhisila.

However, it has already been pointed out that the aspects of monastic discipline contained under the Catupārisuddhisila are of Canonical origin.[28]

Like sila, they were considered among the necessary accomplishments of monastic life, and as such some of them stood beside sila under their own name. Thus they were never reckoned as divisions of sila. Nevertheless, with the lapse of time, we witness the expansion of the scope and function of sila as it brings within its fold the entire range of monastic development which culminates in the attainment of Arahantship.[29]

Thus sila, from its position of being the first and basic stage in the threefold training of a disciple (tisso sikkhā) came, more or less, to be identified with the complete concept of sikkhā itself. The first clear indication of an adequate elaboration of sila capable of accomodating the new element is seen in the Milindapañha where the venerable Nāgasena tells King Milinda that

the silaratana of the Buddha consists of Pātimokkhasamvara, Indriyasamvara ajivapārisuddhi and Paccayasannissita silas as well as of the Culla, Majjhima, Mahā and Magga and Phala silas

(Katamam mahārāja bhagavato silaratanam.

Pātimokkhasamvara-silam indriyasamvarasilam ājivapārisuddhisilam paccayasannissitasilam cullasilam majjhimasilam mahāsilam maggasilam phalasilam

- Miln. 336.).

It also occurs in a statement by King Milinda where he refers to the development of a disciple in terms of the four categories of sila:

catusu silakkhandhesu sammā paripurakāri

- Miln. 243.

Although the term Catupārisuddhisila is not used here, there is no doubt that the fourfold classification had already gained considerable recognition, for the threefold division of Cula, Majjhima and Mahā silas which is the Canonical classification is accorded here the second place after the enumeration of the four items of sila which constitute the Catupārisuddhisila.

This fourfold classification of sila which evidently is one of post-Canonical origin seems to have been a subject of great controversy in later monastic history. Even during the time of Buddhaghosa the Catupārisuddhisila does not seem to have enjoyed an unchallenged position.

Buddhaghosa who describes it in great detail in the Visuddhimagga also records elsewhere the disputes which seem to have arisen on this subject. According to him, a learned Buddhist monk of Sri Lanka by the name of Culābhaya Thera who was a Master of the Tipiṭaka [ Tipiṭka Culābhaya Thera ] refused to accept, in the absence of Canonical authority, the importance attached to Indriyasamvara, ajivapārisuddhi and Paccayasannissita as separate items of sila.

He challenged the view of his teacher, Sumana Thera of Dipavihāra, who held that the term sila was used in the Canonical texts to mean implicitly the wider concept covered under the fourfold classification. To Sumana Thera sila meant something more than the discipline brought about by the Pātimokkha, although he was quick and ready to recognise the very significant part it played in the life of a monk.

Commenting on the term sampannasila in the akankheyya Sutta,[30] Buddhaghosa brings to light these differences of opinion

(Tattha sampannasilā ' ti ettāvatā kira bhagavā catupārisuddhi-silam uddisitvā pātimokkhasamvarasampannā ' ti iminā tattha jeṭṭhakasilam vitthāretvā dassesi ' ti dipavihāravāsi sumanatthero āha.

Antevāsiko pana 'ssa tipiṭakaculābhayatthero āha.
Ubhayatthā ' pi pātimokkhasamvaro bhagavatā vutto.
Pātimokkhasamvaro y 'eva hi silam.
Itarāni pana tini silan ' ti vuttaṭṭhānam nāma atthi ' ti ananujānanto vatvā āha

- MA.I.155.)[31]

Even if we would agree with the learned Culābhaya Thera and argue that the recognition of such items as Paccayasannissita and ajivapārisudhi as separate items of sila is a matter of post-Canonical origin, Culābhaya Thera is himself liable to be accused of viewing sila too narrowly by identifying it totally with the Pātimokkha. Sila would thereby be robbed of its spirit to some extent and be made effective only by the mechanism of the Pātimokkha.

However, the Pātimokkha was only an aid to the perfection of sila and therefore the old stereotyped description of a silasampanno invariably mentions sila first and then follows it with Pātimokkhasamvara etc.

(Kathañ ca mahānāma ariyasāvako silasampanno hoti.
Idha mahānāma ariyasāvako silavā hoti pātimokkhasamvarasamvuto viharati ...

M.I. 355.).

But with the increasing importance which the text and the ritual of the Pātimokkha gradually assumed in the early days of Buddhist monasticism we are not surprised to find in the Canonical texts themselves a virtual identification of the very comprehensive concept of sila with the Pātimokkha. In doing so, at least theoretically, the scope of the Pātimokkha was considerably widened. A passage in the Aṇguttara Nikāya refers to the complete grounding in sila simply as pātimokkhasamvara

(Etha tumhe āvuso silavā hotha pātimokkhasamvarasamvutā viharatha ācāragocarasampannā anumattesu vajjesu bhayadassāvino samādaya sikkhatha sikkhāpadesu ' ti.

Iti pātimokkhasamvare samādapetabbā nivesetabbā patiṭṭhāpetabbā

- A.III.138.).

On the other hand, we find in the Samyutta Nikāya a passage which describes the discipline of a monk with the rest of the above phraseology, leaving out the reference to sila. However, the discipline so described is recognised in the end as the grounding in sila

(Yato kho tvam bhikkhu pātimokkhasamvarasamvuto viharissasi ācāragocarasampanno anumattesu vajjesu bhayadassāvi samādāya sikkhasi sikkhāpadesu tato tvam bhikkhu silam nissāya sile patiṭṭhāya cattāro satipaṭṭhāne bhāveyyāsi

- S.V.187.)

Thus there seems to be a mutual identification of sila and the Pātimokkha. Evidently, Culābhaya Thera found here a point in his favour and Buddhaghosa himself remarks that this establishes the superiority of the Pātimokkhasamvarasila over the other silas in the fourfold classification.[32]

Culābhaya Thera argues that the other three items of this classification are never referred to as sila and dismisses them as elementary considerations relating to the control of sense faculties and to the acceptance and use of a disciple's food and raiment.[33]

Nevertheless, Buddhaghosa is anxious to maintain that the Pātimokkha by itself does not complete the discipline of a monk.[34]

The Pātimokkha being essentially an organ of Buddhist Vinaya aimed at the correction only of word and deed. This is clearly stated to be the avowed purpose of theVinaya Piṭaka as is borne out by the definitions of Vinaya given by Buddhaghosa.[35]

But the complete development of a Buddhist disciple included the discipline of his mind as well. As the Catupārisuddhi-sila was meant to be the complete and comprehensive code of Buddhist monastic discipline, it was argued that the development of the mind of the disciple which the Pātimokkha did not take within its fold was brought about by the rest of these divisions of sila.[36]

Thus Buddhaghosa would speak of the good disciples as being established in this fourfold sila for the perfection of their religious life.[37]

This deficiency of the Pātimokkha, and therefore also of the earlier silakkhandha referred to in the Suttas, which is pointed out here had been remedied to some extent by the discipline of indriyasamvara which was closely coupled with sila from the earliest times. Hence we would readily concede the elaboration of the indriyasamvara into a separate item of sila which contributes to the mental discipline of a monk.

But the formulation of ajivapārisuddhi and Paccayasannissita in their present form in the Catupārisuddhisila seems more to hint at the concern over the behaviour of the growing monastic community.

It is of interest to note that while Buddhaghosa records the divergent evaluations of the Catupārisuddhisila. he also makes a genuine attempt to place before us this fourfold classification with a definite note of recommendation. In the Visuddhimagga he shows us how these four items of sila bring into play essential monastic virtues like saddhā, sati, viriya and paññā.[38]

It is also shown that they contribute towards a fourfold purification in the life of the monk : catubbidhā hi suddhi.[39]

In terms of the sila which bring about these aspects of purification they are :

  1. Desanāsuddhi : Pātimokkhasamvarasila.
  2. Samvarasuddhi : Indriyasamvarasila .
  3. Pariyeṭṭhisuddhi : ajivapārisuddhisila.
  4. Paccavekkhanasuddhi : Paccayasannissitasila [40]

There is a passage in the Dhammapadaṭṭhakathā which in its comment on a verse in the Bhikkhuvagga,[41] attempts to equate the Catupārisuddhisila to the three items of pātimokkhasamvara, indriyagutti and santuṭṭhi of Canonical antiquity. In doing so it is constrained to accommodate both ajivapārisuddhi and Paccayasannissita silas under santuṭṭhi which is explained as contentment with regard to the four requisites.[42]

The Vimuttimagga[43] seems to go a step further in that it tries to establish with finality the significance of the Catupārisuddhisila in Buddhist monasticism by equating the four items of sila to the three sikkhā of sila, samādhi and paññā. In the light of all these observations it becomes clear that the Catupārisuddhisila has acquired in Buddhist monasticism a validity and significance which cannot easily be underrated.

Footnotes and references:


Vism. I.15 f.


D.I. 71; M.I.181.


Pātimokkhasamvarasamvuto ' ti ettha pātimokkhan ' ti sikkhāpadasilam - Vism. I. 16.


Vinayo nāma buddhasāsanassa āyu vinaye ṭhite sāsanam ṭhitam hoti - DA.I.11.


Vimuttimagga : The Path of Freedom. Introduction p. xliv.


Ibid. 17.


Vism. I. 20 f.


Ibid. 16, 30. It must be mentioned here that Buddhaghosa, in his definition of jivapārisuddhisila, first refers to the six rules drawn from the Suttavibhaṇga and then to the conditions discussed under sila. This is apparently due to the overwhelming authority which the Vinaya had acquired in his day.


D.I. 8. Sec. 20; Ibid. 67 Sec. 55.


Katamo ca bhikkhave micchā ājivo. Kuhanā lapanā nemittakatā nippesikatā lābhena lābham nijigimsanatā. Ayam bhikkhave micchā ājivo - M.III. 75.


Iti ādinā nayena brahmajāle vuttānam anekesam gahanam veditabbam - Vism. I. 30. Also see Mahāsila at D.I. 9 f, 67 f.


ajivahetu ājivakāranā pāpiccho ... bhuñjati. Ayam sā ājivavipatti sammatā - Vin.V.146.


Vism.I. 22


Ibid. 16, 30.


ajivapārisuddhim ' pi kho aham thapati silasmim vadāmi - M.II. 27. See also items 37-43 in the lists of sila given in the Brahmajāla and Sāmaññaphala Suttas.


Vism. I. 16, 30.


D.I. 63.


DA.I. 181 f.


The clause which pertains to the Thullaccaya offence occurs outside the Pātimokkha but is still within the Suttavibhaṇga.


Vism. I.16.






Supra p. 58, 60.


Vism.I. 30 f.


Pts. I. 42.


Vism. I. 46.


Pts. I. 42 f.


Supra p. 61.


Arahattamaggena sabbakilesānam pahānam silam - Pts. I. 47.


M.I. 33.


Also SA.III. 230.


Pātimokkhasamvarasamvuto ' ti catunnam silānam jeṭṭhakasilam dassento evam āha - SA.III. 230.


Itarāni pana tini silan ' ti vuttaṭṭhānam nāma natthi ' ti vatvā ananujānanto āha. Indriyasamvaro nāma chadvārarakkhanamattam eva. ajivapārisuddhi dhammen ' eva samena paccayuppattimattakam paṭiladdhapaccaye idamatthan ' ti paccavekkhitvā paribhuñjanamattakam. Nippariyāyena pātimokkhasamvaro ' va silam - SA.III 230. Also MA.I.155.


Sattame kāyasucaritavacisucaritāni pātimokkhasamvarasilam manosucaritam itarāni tini silāni ' ti catupārisuddhisilam kathitam hoti - SA.III .230.


Kāyikavācasikaajjhācāranisedhanato c ' esa kāyam vācañca vineti. Tasmā vividhanayattā visesanayattā kāyavācānañca vinayanato vinayo ' ti akkhāto - VinA. I.19. See also DA.I.17. and DhsA.I.17.


SA.III. 230.




Vism.I. 35, 36, 40, 43.


Ibid..43 f.




Tatrāyam ādi bhavati idha paññassa bhikkhuno indriyagutti santuṭṭhi pātimokkhe ca samvaro. DhA.IV.107.v. 375.


Tatra indriyagutti ' ti indriyasamvaro santuṭṭhi ' ti catupaccayasantoso. Tena ājivapārisuddhiñ c ' eva paccayasannissitañ ca silam kathitam - DhA.IV. III.


Vimuttimagga :The Path of Freedom. p.24.

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