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 IX - Of the Patimokkha (the Ritual)

An examination of the Pali texts reveals the fact that we are not without Canonical Sutta references which speak of the existence of the Pātimokkha recital even during the lifetime of the Buddha.[1]

In the Mahāsakuludāyi Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya, the Buddha himself tells Sakuludāyi Paribbājaka how the solitude of his forest-dwelling monks is regularly interrupted by their attendance at the fortnightly recital of the Pātimokkha in the assembly of the Saṇgha.

(Santi kho pana me udāyi sāvakā āraññakā pantasenāsanā araññavanapatthāni pantāni senāsanāni ajjhogahetvā viharanti.

Te anvaddhamāsam saṇghamajjhe osaranti pātimokkhuddesāya

- M.II. 8).

This is quite an incidental reference and no more is said in the Sutta thereafter about the Pātimokkha ritual.

The Aṇguttara Nikāya records the words of the Vajjiputtaka monk who comes before the Buddha and confesses his inability to discipline himself in terms of the sikkhāpada which are being regularly recited in the assembly of the Saṇgha every fortnight

(Atha kho aññataro vajjiputtako bhikkhu yena bhagavā tenupasaṇkami....
Ekamantam nisinno kho so vajjiputtako bhikkhu bhagavantam etad 'avoca.
Sādhikam idam bhante diyaddhasikkhāpadasatam anvaddhamāsam uddesam āgacchati.
Nā ' ham bhante ettha sakkomi sikkhitun ' ti

- A.I.230.).

But the word Pātimokkha is not used in this context. However, there is no doubt that the uddesa here referred to as a fortnightly event is nothing other than what is spoken of elsewhere as the recital of the Pātimokkha

(Pātimokkhuddesa and suttuddesa).

The Vinaya too, uses the term uddesa in the sense of the Pātimokkha and its recital.

(Uddesapariyāpannesu sikkhāpadesu ' ti pātimokkhapariyāpannesu sikkhāpadesu

- Vin.III.178.)

On the other hand, the Gopakamoggallāna Sutta which comes down to us as a post-parinibbāna composition of fair antiquity, gives us more details regarding the ritual of the Pātimokkha.[2]

According to the Suttta, this ritual seems to have been vital to the early Buddhist monastic community to maintain and establish its purity and exercise control over its miscreants.

(Atthi kho brāhmana tena bhagavatā jānatā arahatā passatā sammāsambuddhena bhikkhunam sikkhāpadam paññattam pātimokkham uddiṭṭham.

Te mayam tad ' ah ' uposathe yāvatikā ekam gāmakkhettam upanissāya viharāma te sabbe ekajjham sannipatāma sannipatitvā yassa tam vattati tam ajjhesāma.

Tasmin ce bhaññamāne hoti bhikkhussa āpatti hoti vitikkamo tam mayam yathādhammam yathāsattham kāremā ' ti.

Na kira no bhavanto kārenti dhammo no kāreti ' ti

- M.III.10).

Thus Pātimokkha undoubtedly became the most dynamic institution in the early history of the Sāsana. It also soon roused endless opposition from members of the monastic community on account of its uncompromising spirit of correction and reform. On the other hand, the Pātimokkha ritual itself lost its dynamism in course of time and there is evidence to believe that in its struggle for survival it lent itself to considerable modification.

It is with regret that we note that the translation of the above passage in the Further Dialogues of the Buddha is extremely misleading.[3] We would translate the passage as follows:

'O Brahmin, the Exalted One has laid down sikkhāpada and instituted the Pātimokkha for the use of the Bhikkhus. We are the Bhikkhus for whom they were laid down and all of us who live by a single village unit assemble ourselves together on the day of the Uposatha and whosover amongst us knows it, i.e. the Pātimokkha (yassa tam vattati ), we request him to recite it (tam ajjhesāma).

While it is being recited if (it is discovered that) a Bhikkhu has an offence or a transgression of which he is guilty, then we deal with him (kārema) according to the Dhamma and the injunctions (yathādhammam yathāsattham). It is not the monks who punish us but the Dhamma which punishes us.'

Sukumar Dutt, in his The Buddha And Five After-Centuries, has made use of the translation of this passage in the Further Dialogues of the Buddha which we have refered to above.[4]

Dutt has certainly attempted to improve on the choice of words in the translation. He replaces almsman with Bhikkhu, Doctrine with Dhamma and 'according to book' with 'scriptural ordinances'. But these changes do not add any more sense to the translation. If the statement yassa tam vattati tam ajjhesāma of the passage quoted above which we have translated as

'whosoever knows it (Pātimokkha), we request him (to recite it)'

still baffles the reader we would refer him to Vin. I.116 where it occurs in a clearer context.

(Te theram ajjhesimsu uddisatu bhante thero pātimokkhan ' ti. So evam āha na me āvuso vattati ' ti

- Vin. I. 116.)

Placed in such a situation, it is not at all surprising that Dutt came to the following conclusion:

'The periodical assembly mentioned by ananda seems to have been the primitive bond of the Buddhist sect after the extinction of personal leadership on the Lord's decease....

It is not known when exactly a disciplinary code ascribed traditionally to the Lord himself, of which the Pātimokkha was the final development, was first devised in the Buddhist community.'[5]

His theories which resulted from this assumption are examined in the relevant places.

In the Gopakamoggallāna Sutta, the declaration of the venerable ananda to the Brahmin Vassakāra is in answer to the question whether the monastic community was without guidance on the death of the Master who appointed no successor. It is interesting that both in the proper care of the monastic community and the spiritual welfare of its members, it is the Dhamma which embodies the spirit of the Buddha's teaching, which ananda claims to be their leader and guide

(Na kho mayam brāhmana appaṭisaranā sappaṭisaranā mayam brāhmana dhammapaṭisaranā

- M.III. 9.)

This regard and respect which the disciples still seem to have for the Dhamma even after the demise of the Master is reminiscent of the advice given by the Buddha to his disciples in the Kakacupama Sutta.

(Tasmāt ' iha bhikkhave dhammam y ' eva sakkaronto dhammam garukaronto dhammam apacāyamānā suvacā bhavissāma sovacassatam āpajjissāmā ' ti evam hi vo bhikkhave sikkhitabbam

- M.I.126.).

It also reminds us of his sdvice to ananda in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta.

(Tasmāt ' iha ānanda attadipā viharatha attasaranā anaññasaranā dhammadipā dhammasaranā anaññasaranā .....

Ye hi ke ci ānanda etarahi vā mamam vā accayena attadipā viharissanti.....

anaññasaranā tamatagge me te ānanda bhikkhu bhavissanti ye ke ci sikkhākāmā ' ti

- D.II.100.)

In both these cases, which on the authority of internal evidence mark a relatively early and a very late stage in the history of the Sāsana, the disciples are advised by the Buddha to be guided by the Dhamma and to respect its leadership. But the increasing need for regulations, with greater concern for the letter of the law, is already evident in the Sutta Piṭaka. We have already witnessed in the Bhaddāli Sutta the introduction of sikkhāpada into the sphere of Buddhist monastic discipline.[6]

In the Gopakamoggallāna Sutta, ananda makes pointed reference to the existence of the sikkhāpada as well as of the ritual Pātimokkha.[7]

What appears to be the most complete account of the recital of the Pātimokkha appears in the Uposathakkhandhaka of the Mahāvagga.[8]

This account, which is very composite in character, including commentarial notes which are of a relatively later date, attempts to place the inauguration of the ritual in a convincing historical situation. It introduces the establishment of the recital of the Pātimokkha through several preliminary stages not all of which seem to be really necessary. This is perhaps the result of the editor of the text following too closely the formulation of sikkhāpada.

and their modified versions in successive stages in the Suttavibaṇga where a historical or imaginary situation is provided for every addition or change. It is said that King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha brought to the notice of the Buddha the fact that the Paribbājakas met regularly on the 8th, 14th and 15th days of the fortnight and preached their Dhamma (dhammam bhāsanti) as a result of which they gained fame and popularity and grew in strength. So he wished that the disciples of the Buddha, too, did the same.[9]

In response to this the Buddha instructed his disciples to meet accordingly, hoping perhaps that they would engage themselves in some religious activity at such assemblies. But we are told that in the absence of specific instructions from the Master they sat in the assembly and remained silent like 'dumb creatures'. However, it is stated that the people were wise enough to remind the disciples that it was their duty to preach the Dhamma when they met

(Nanu nāma sannipatitehi dhammo bhāsitabbo ' ti

- Vin. I.102).

Thereupon the Buddha recommended that it should be so

(Anujānāmi bhikkhave cātuddase pannarase aṭṭhamiyā ca pakkhassa sannipatitvā dhammam bhāsitun ' ti

- Ibid.)

But it must be mentioned at this stage that the Mahāvagga does not refer to these assemblies of the Buddhist Saṇgha or of the Paribbājakas as Uposatha. They are no more than regular meetings of those who had renounced the household life at which, even the laymen knew, the Dhamma would be preached. The laymen attended those meetings for the purpose of listening to the Dhamma.

Nor do we find the term Pātimokkha associated with these meetings. But as a modification to these regular meetings of religious men at which their special doctrines were preached before laymen the Buddha is said to have suggested the idea that his disciples should perform the Pātimokkha recital as a religious duty on the day of the Uposatha. He appears to sanction for this purpose the recital of the body of sikkhāpada which he had already laid down for the guidance of his disciples.[10]

But the recital of the Pātimmokkha assumes a more positive and definite character where it is presented as closely following the promulgation of the sikkhāpada in the attempt to arrest the decline in monastic discipline. That this was undoubtedly the primary function of the Pātimokkha is clear from the request of the venerable Sāriputta in the Suttavibhaṇga pertaining to the institution of sikkhāpada and the recital of the Pātimokkha and from the reply given to him by Buddha.[11]

The ritual of the Pātimokkha empowers the collective organization of the Saṇgha, on the authority of the 'dhamma and the instructions' (yathādhammam yathāsattham), to sit in judgement over the conduct of its members.[12]

The sikkhāpada of which the text of the Pātimokkha is constituted form the criteria. One should also take note of the procedure adopted by the senior monk (thera) who recites the Pātimokkha in the assembly (pātimokkhuddesaka) in questioning the members of the assembly with regard to their purity in terms of each group of sikkhāpada recited by him. In the light of evidence from the Suttas which we have already examined there does not appear to be any justification to regard this aspect of the Pātimokkha recital as being of later origin.

But Sukumar Dutt calls this 'the present ritual form of the Pātimokkha' and says that it 'was not its original form - the original was a disciplinary code'. [13]

Dutt presumes the existence of the 'original' Pātimokkha in the bare form of a code.[14]

He says that the Suttavibhaṇga contemplates it as such, and goes on to add the following remarks:

'In the Suttavibhaṇga there is not the usual word-for-word commentary on the "introductory formular" of the Pātimokkha as we now have it - as text for a ritual.'

A few lines below he concludes as follows:

'The Suttavibhaṇga, in fact, regards the Pātimokkha as a mere code, while the Mahāvagga regards it as a liturgy.'

But how does one arrive at such a conclusion? When Dutt speaks of the Pātimokkha as a mere code does he mean that it was not used for the purpose of a recital? Apparently he does so, for the only argument

he adduces in support of his thesis is that the Suttavibhaṇga does not provide a word-for-word commentary on the "introductory forlmular" of the Pātimokkha which is now used as the introduction to the recital. We should point out here that not only is there no commentary on the "introductory formular" in the Suttavibhaṇga, but the "introductory formular" itself is not found in the Suttavibhaṇga.

But this does not prove that the recital of the Pātimokkha was not known to the Suttavibhaṇga. On the other hand, the evidence proves the contrary.

At a stage when the true spirit of the Uddesa or the recital of the Pātimokkha was well known there would hardly have been a need for the incorporation of such a formal introduction in the Suttavibhaṇga.[15]

Nevertheless, one cannot forget the fact that every sikkhāpada in the Suttavibhanga is introduced in a manner as though it were intended to be recited:

Evañ ca pana bhikkhave imam sikkhāpadam uddiseyyātha.

On the other hand, the text of the Pātimokkha, which contains only the sikkhāpada without any details about them, and which we believe was extracted from the Suttavibhaṇga to serve the needs of the recital, carries this "introductory formular". It is misleading to refer to the Pātimokkha which is known to the Suttavibhaṇga as a mere code. The Suttavibhaṇga knows fully well the functions of the Pātimokkha recital as is evident from Pācittiyas 72 and 73.[16]

The Pātimokkha recital which is known to the Suttavibhaṇga and to some of the Suttas in the Nikāyas is a dynamic function where a close watch is kept over the conduct of the members of the Saṇgha, the miscreants are detected and are dealt with according to the law. If Dutt attaches so much importance to the negative evidence of the absence of the commentary to the "introductory formular" in the Suttavibhaṇga, then it seems hardly justifiable to pay no attention to the positive evidence which points to a different conclusion.

This being so, where does one find the 'original form' of the Pātimokkha as a 'bare code'? Does one find such a code referred to by the name of Pātimokkha divorced from the confessional meeting of the Uposatha? What did apparently exist prior to the institution of the recital of the Pātimokkha was the body of sikkhāpada.

After his remarks on what appears to him to be the form of the Pātimokkha, Dutt proceeds to comment on the Pātimokkha as a monastic function. In his search for the 'missing link' Dutt is prepared to see in the story of Buddha Vipassi in the Mahāpadāna Sutta 'an earlier rite'.[17]

This he calls 'the archaic practice among the Buddhists' [18] and says that the recital of the Pātimokkha replaced it at a comparatively late stage of the growth of the Saṇgha.[19]

It is also difficult to see how Dutt comes to the conclusion that

'the rudimentary idea in the Buddhist Uposatha service seems to have been a ritualistic one, - the observance of sacred days '.[20]

On the other hand, we have already shown how the Uposatha and the Pātimokkha recital of the Buddhist Saṇgha are closely identified. Besides, we fail to detect the sacredness associated with these 'days' which the Buddhist Saṇgha was expected to observe. No matter to whom they were sacred, they were accepted by the Buddhists too, because it was convenient to use for the purpose of religious observances these conventionally recognised days.

Further, as is clear from the Mahāvagga, additional religious activities on the part of the Buddhist Saṇgha on these popularly respected days of the moon would have elevated them in the esteem of the people.[21]

Dutt is obviously making a needless search when he attempts to find a reason for the preaching of the Dhamma by religious mendicants when they meet on those specified days.[22]

This is what he says :

'It is curious to observe the closeness between the Vrata ceremonies of the Vedic sacrificer and the Posadha ceremonies of the Jaina, though the reason, as given in the Satapatha-Brāhmana, for such observances has no relevance to Jaina faith.

The Jainas retire on these sacred days into their Posadha-sālā, as the Vedic sacrificer would go into the Agnyāgāra, and they take upon themselves the vow of the four abstinences (Upavāsa), viz. from eating (āhāra), from luxuries (sarirasatkāra), from sexual intercourse (abrahma), and daily work (vyāpāra). Similar abstinences are prescribed also for Buddhist laymen who celebrate the day of Uposatha by the observance of the Eight Silas.'

'Among religious mendicants, however, the custom seems to have been different from that which prevailed among laity. It is another form of sacred day observance that is related of them in Mahāvagga, ii. i. The reason for this different form is not far to seek. The 'abstinences' were already implied in the norm of life of the religious mendicant, and some substitute had to be found among them for the Vrata abstinences observed by lay folk. Such substitute was found in religious discourse.' [23]

It should be clear to every student of Buddhism that the abstinences referred to by Dutt in relation to the Eight Sila are only a continuation of the spirit of abstinence and renunciation which is characteristic of all sila from the five sila of the layman to the major sila of the pabbajita. The similarity noted here is only a coincidence and shows nothing in common with the Vrata ceremonies of the Vedic ritualist. Hence one cannot find any basis for this forced remark which is made about religious mendicants that ' some substitute had to be found among them for the Vrata abstinences observed by lay folk.'

The Gopakamoggallāna Sutta which makes a brief but comprehensive statement about the recital of the Pātimokkha speaks of the ' single village unit ' (ekam gāmakkhettam) as its proper sphere of operation.[24]

The gāmakkhetta seems to have served as a convenient unit for the collective organization of the disciples for their monastic activities. The rigid divisions and technicalities of Simā which abound in the Mahāvagga[25] are conspicuous by their absence in the Suttas. Both in the Gopakamoggallāna and the Mahāsakuludāyi Suttas, participation in the ritual of the Pātimokkha, referred to there under the name of Uddesa, is looked upon as a regular duty which is voluntarily performed by the members of the monastic community as a collective body. It was looked upon as a ritual which was inseparable from Buddhist monasticism. Participation in it was a legitimate right of the members of the Saṇgha which was withdrawn only on the commission of a Pārājika offence.

The following explanation of the term asamvāso, which refers to the penalty incurred by one who is guilty of a Pārājika offence or for one suspended, makes it abundantly clear :

asamvāso ' ti samvāso nāma ekakammam ekuddeso samasikkhātā eso samvāso nāma

- Vin.III. 28.

This complete and total participation in the Uddesa (ekuddeso) also implies the solidarity of the monastic group in addition to ascertaining and safeguarding its purity

(Samaggo hi saṇgho sammodamāno avivadamāno ekuddeso phāsu viharati

- Vin.III.172.)

According to a statement in the Mahāvagga the performance of the Uposatha implies the unity and solidarity of the body of Bhikkhus who are participating in it.

(Anujānāmi bhikkhave samaggānam uposathakamman ' ti

- Vin.I.105.)

The solidarity which the ritual of the Pātimokkha thus gives to the monastic group seems secondary to the other, perhaps earlier, ideal of the purity of the individual monk and hence of the group as a whole. In the Gopakamoggallāna Sutta the recital itself is referred to very briefly in non-technical terms.[26]

But it has a very definite standpoint with regard to the miscreants in the

monastic circles and their prosecution and punishment. It is clear from the evidence of the Vinaya too, that the recital of the Pātimokkha had this end in view. During the recital of the Pātimokkha no monk shall, on grounds of ignorance, claim forgiveness for an offence committed by him, if he had been present at least at two earlier recitals of the Pātimokkha.

(....tañ ce bhikkhum aññe bhikkhu jāneyyum nisinnapubbam iminā bhikkhunā dvikkhattum pātimokkhe uddissamāne ko pana vādo bhiyyo na ca tassa bhikkhuno aññānakena mutti atthi yañ ca tattha āpattim āpanno tañ ca yathādhammo kāretabbo...


He is to be dealt with for the offence according to the law. He is also further guilty of not being alert and attentive during the recital.

(.....uttari c ' assa moho āropetabbo tassa te āvuso alābhā tassa te dulladdham yam tvam pātimokkhe uddissamāne na sādhukam aṭṭhikatvā manasikarosi ' ti.

Idam tasmim mohanake pācittiyam

- Vin.IV.144.)

Thus he has failed to comply with the requirements of the ritual which are specifically laid down elsewhere.

(Pātimokkham uddisissāmi tam sabbe ' va santā sādhukam sunoma manasikaroma

- Vin.I.103.)

On the other hand, the Mahāvagga gives us an account of the Pātimokkha recital with a far greater concern for details. Procedure assumes here a great deal more of importance.

(Evañ ca pana bhikkhave uddisitabbam.
Vyattena bhikkuhnā paṭibalena saṇgho ñāpetabbo.
Sunātu me bhante saṇgho.
Ajjh ' uposatho pannaraso.
Yadi saṇghassa pattakallam saṇgho uposatham kareyya pātimokkham uddiseyya.
Kim saṇghassa pubbakiccam.
Pārisuddhim āyasmanto ārocetha.
Pātimokkham uddisissāmi.
Tam sabbe ' va santā sādhukam sunoma manasikaroma.
Yassa siyā āpatti so āvikareyya.
Asantiyā āpattiyā tunhi bhavitabbam.
Tunhibhāvena kho panāyasmante parisuddhā ' ti vedissāmi

- Vin.I.102.).

The recital of the Pātimokkha must first be formally proposed before the assembly of the Saṇgha. In the absence of any objections from the members of the congregation the approval of the Saṇgha is assumed and the Pātimokkha-reciter commences the recital. It is on behalf of the Saṇgha that he does so and his action is made to be representative of the wish of the Saṇgha. The Pātimokkha-reciter announces that he is ready to commence the recital. However, he identifies himself with the whole group in the performance of the ritual. In the Kaṇkhāvitarani, Buddhaghosa attempts to safeguard against a possible misinterpretation of the phrase pātimokkham uddisissāmi which occurs in the Mahāvagga.[27]

It could be argued that the Pātimokkha-reciter would be excluded thereby from active participation in the ritual on the grounds that he is conducting the ceremony and is therefore outside it. But as pointed out earlier the recital of the Pātimokkha is a ritual to be undertaken and performed by all members of the Saṇgha living within a specified area.[28]

Therefore participation in it, either by being personally present or in absentia, was incumbent on every monk

(Ettha ca kiñcā ' pi pātimokkham uddisissāmi ' ti vuttattā sunotha manasikarothā ' ti vattum yuttam viya dissati.
Saṇgho uposatham kareyyā ' ti iminā pana na sameti.
Samaggassa hi saṇghassa etam uposathakaranam.
Pātimokkuddesako ca saṇghapariyāpanno ' va.
Iccassa saṇghapariyāpannattā sunoma manasikaromā ' it vattum yuttam

- Kkvt.14.).

The Mahāvagga has also a few remarks concerning the preliminaries to be observed by the Saṇgha before the Pātimokkha-reciter commences the recital.

(Kim sanghassa pubbakiccam.
Pārisuddhim āyasmanto ārocetha.
Pātimokkham uddisissāmi

- Vin.I.102.)

Strangely enough, the old commentary which is appended to the text has no comment whatsoever on these ideas of preliminary duties which the Saṇgha is called upon to perform. The atatement which requires the declaration of purity - Pārisuddhim āyasmanto ārocetha - does not get a single word of comment. On the other hand, it picks up such words as āyasmanto for comment.

The Samantapāsādikā too, makes no comment at all on any of the details of procedure given in the Mahāvagga, although it elaborates on a few ideas picked out from the Old Commentary.[29]

However, the Kaṇkhāvitarani explains kim saṇghassa pubbakiccam as an inquiry made by the Pātimokkha-reciter before commencing the recital as to whether the preliminary duties to be performed by the Saṇgha had been done.

(Kim tam katan ' ti pucchati

- Kkvt.11.)

It further explains these duties with the aid of both Canonical texts

and commentaries

(Kim saṇghassa pubbakiccan ' ti saṇgho uposatham kareyyā ' ti evam uposathakaranasambandhena vuttassa saṇghassa uposathe kattabbe yam tam anujānāmi bhikkhave uposathāgāram sammajjitun ' ti ādinā nayena pāliyam āgatam aṭṭhakathāsu ca

Sammajjani padipo ca udakam āsanena ca
uposathassa etāni pubbakaranan ' ti vuccati.
Chandapārisuddhi utukkhānam bhikkhugananā ca ovādo
uposathassa etāni pubbakiccan ' ti vuccati.

Evam dvihi nāmehi navavidham pubbakiccam dassitam

- Kkvt. 10f.).

We notice here that Buddhaghosa, following the earlier commetarial tradition, takes the Canonical statement anujānāmi bhikkhave uposathāgāram sammajjitum....[30]

to mean the preliminary duties incumbent on the Saṇgha who are participating in the recital of the Pātimokkha. But as we examine these directions in their context we notice that this preparation of the venue of the recital constitues the preliminary duties to be undertaken and supervised by the monks who act the host for the occasion. What is given there as most binding is that no junior monk shall, except in case of illness, fail to execute these duties when ordered to do so by a senior monk.

The failure to do so results in a Dukkaṭa offence. It is in the same spirit that these preliminary duties (pubbakaranāni) are recommended to a monk who is the sole occupant of a monastery to prepare for the Uposatha with the hope that other monks will arrive on the scene.[31]

It is here, in commenting on this that Buddhaghosa incorporates in the Samanatapāsādikā the commentarial tradition which he inherits from the Aṭṭhakathācariyā regarding these preliminaries.[32]

Thus one cannot fail to take note of this discrepancy. A later tradition, however, tries to explain how these preliminary duties, though performed by an individual, come to be reckoned as the lot of the Saṇgha : Navavidham pubbakiccam therena ānattena katattā saṇghena katam nāma hoti.[33]

On the other hand, chandapārisuddhi which is mentioned in the second list of preliminary duties known as pubbakicca occupies a place of real importance in the early history of the ritual. As the innocence of every member was tested during the recital in the full assembly of the Saṇgha and the miscreants were punished, the presence of every member who belongs to that assembly was absolutely essential. We use the word assembly here to mean the totality of the disciples who live within the formally accepted region of samāna simā or common communal activity.

The Suttas depict such a region as a very natural division of residence like a village

(.... yāvatikā ekam gāmakkhettam upanissāya viharāma te sabbe ekajjham sannipatāma...


However, with the expansion of community life the use of such natural divisions would have become impracticable. Thus we find in the Mahāvagga the origin of a formally accepted region of such co-residence or ekāvāsa.[34]

Through a Saṇghakamma such a unit of communal activity is demarcated and agreed upon by the Saṇgha. Under the injunctions of the Vinaya no monk shall fail to co-operate for the perfect execution of this arrangement except under the pain of a Dukkata

(Na tv ' eva vaggena saṇghena uposatho kātabbo. Yo kareyya āpatti dukkaṭassa

- Vin.I.108,120).

We notice a very rigid ritualistic interpretation of this principle at Vin.I.122. There it is deemed possible to give validity to the Uposathakamma by removing the non-participating monk temporarily out of the region of common communal activity which has been designated as the Simā

(Iṇgha tumhe āyasmanto imam bhikkhum nissimam netha yāva saṇgho uposatham karoti ' ti

- Vin.I.122.).

Under normal conditions the ritual could not be carried out or would be considered ineffective in the absence of even one member. This, in fact, seems to have been the accepted position in the early days of the Buddhist Saṇgha.[35]

The Buddha once ordered the monks to assemble so that the

Saṇgha might collectively perform the Uposatha. Then it was brought to his notice that one monk was absent from the assembly on account of illness. The Buddha decreed on this occasion that any monk who absents himself from the assembly should convey his innocence to the members of that assembly

(Anujānāmi bhikkhave gilānena bhikkhunā pārisuddhim dātum

- Vin.1.120).

He further indicated different ways in which it could be done. Here he definitely insisted that any performance of the ritual without the full assembly or without ascertaining the purity of the absentee members of the Saṇgha would not only be invalid but would also be a definite offence

(Na tv ' eva vaggena saṇghena uposatho kātabbo.
Kareyya ce āpatti dukkaṭassa

- Vin.I.120.).

This act of legislation is further proof of the fact that ascertaining and establishing the purity of the members of the Saṇgha, both present as well as absent, was the major function of the Pātimokkha recital.

Once the assembly of the Saṇgha has met in full membership for the recital of the Pātimokkha and the preliminary duty of communicating the purity and the consent of the absentees has been performed, the Pātimokkha-reciter proceeds thereafter with the recital. According to the statement in the Suttas the miscreants in the monastic circle were discovered and punished during this recital.[36]

The text of the Pātimokkha too, reveals the fact that the purity of the monks was tested and established during the recital and that disciplinary action was also taken against the transgressing monks at the same time

(Tena kho pana samayena chabbaggiyā bhikkhu anācāram ācaritvā aññānakena āpannā ' ti jānantu ' ti pātimokkhe uddissamāne evam vadenti idān ' eva kho mayam jānāma ayam ' pi kira dhammo suttāgato suttapariyāpanno anvaddhamāsam uddesam āgacchati ' ti...

na ca tassa bhikkhuno aññānakena mutti atthi yaṇ ca tattha āpattim āpanno tañ ca yathādhammo kāretabbo ...


It is also clear that the testing was done in terms of each group of sikkhāpada after its recital. The monks are called upon to confess if they have violated any of the said rules under each group

(Uddiṭṭhā kho āyasmanto cattāro pārājikā dhammā yesam bhikkhu aññataram vā aññataram vā āpajjitvā na labhati bhikkhuhi saddhim samvāsam yathā pure tathā pacchā pārājiko hoti asamvāso.

Tatthā ' yasmante pucchāmi kacci ' ttha parisuddhā dutiyam ....tatiyam... parisuddhā. Parisuddhā etth ' āyasmanto.

Tasmā tunhi.

Evametam dhārayāmi 'ti

- Vin.III.109.). [37]

All these accounts seem to agree on the point that the confession of guilt and the establishment of the purity of the members of the congregation as well as the punishment of the offenders were carried out at the assembly which met fortnightly for the recital of the Pātimokkha.

The Mahāvagga account of the Pātimokkha recital categorically states that during the recital all members of the congregation should listen attentively to it and ponder over its contents and whosoever discovers himself to be guilty of any transgression should confess the same before the Saṇgha.[38] This regular scrutiny would have served to ensure the purity of individual monks and also would have kept the community of monks as a whole above suspicion, as the innocence of every member in terms of the code of monastic discipline was tested in the assembly and the purity of the Sangha was thus established

(Pātimokkham uddisissāmi.
Tam sabbe ' va santā sādhukam sunoma manasikaroma.
Yassa siyā āpatti so āvikareyya.
Asantiyā āpattiyā tunhi bhavitabbam.
Tunhibhāvena kho pana āyasmante parisuddhā ' ti vedissāmi

- Vin.I.103 f.).

Yet another, and a very distinctly different function of this ritual is envisaged in the Mahāvagga. It appears that the confession of guilt, if any, by the monks during the recital of the Pātimokkha is insisted upon not only because no miscreant should go unpunished for his offence and thereby help to perpetuate such offences, but also because this confession is said to bring about the disburdening of the offender of the sense of guilt without which no spiritual progress could be made.

The Mahāvagga states that this absolution through confession is essential as a prelude to all spiritual attainments

(Tasmā saramānena bhikkhunā āpannena visuddhāpekkhena santi āpatti āvikātabbā.
avikatā hi 'ssa phāsu hoti

- Vin. I.103.).

In the ritual of the Pātimokkha, it is evidently this role of 'the purge from guilt ' (āvikatā hi ' ssa phāsu hoti ) which earned for itself the title of Pātimokkha, and

perhaps through this the text too, which is recited at the ritual of the Uposatha came to be known by the same name.[39]

The confession removes the sense of guilt from standing as an impediment on the path to higher spiritual attainment

(avikatā hi ' ssa phāsu hoti ' ti kissa phāsu hoti.
Paṭhamassa jhānassa adhigamāya....kusalānam dhammānam adhigamāya phāsu hoti ' ti

- Ibid. 104.).

However, the virtue of confession cannot be in the mere act of owning one's guilt. We should really seek it in the acceptance of penalties and punishments by the offender and in his determination to abstain from the repetition of such offences in the future (āyati samvarāya). It is also declared by the Buddha both in the Suttas and in the Vinaya that the ability to admit and accept one's error and make amends for it as well as safeguard against its recurrence is the basis of progress

(Vuddhi hi esā bhikkhave ariyassa vinaye yo accayam accayato disvā yathādhammam paṭikaroti āyatim samvaram āpajjati

- Vin.I. 315.). [40]

That this attitude to crime and its correction was not restricted to monastic discipline alone is clear from the Buddha's advice to king Ajātasattu in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta.[41]

The Vinaya too, records a similar incident where the Buddha advises the man, who being instigated by Devadatta, lay in ambush to assassinate him.[42]

This comprehensive process of confession, however, seems to have undergone considerable change in the history of the Pātimokkha recital.

It is interesting to note that we discover, both in the Suttas and in the Vinaya, a tendency on the part of some transgressing monks to suppress and conceal any lapses in discipline into which they have slipped

(ṭhānam kho pan ' etam āvuso vijjati yam idh ' ekaccassa bhikkhuno evam icchā uppajjeyya āpattiñ ca vata āpanno assam na ca mam bhikkhu jāneyyum

- M.I. 27.).

The fear and dislike of consequent punishment and loss of personal reputation may be considered as being responsible for this. There also seem to have been others who, though their guilt was known to fellow members and they themselves were willing to admit it, wished that they might not be prosecuted in public

(Anuraho mam bhikkhu codeyyum no saṇghamajjhe

- Ibid.).

The Posadhasthāpanavastu of the Mulasarvāstivāda Vinaya records an incident which reflects this tendency.[43] A monk objects to the declaration of his guilt before the whole assembly by the Pātimokkha-reciter and adds that it would have been best done in private. It is also stated there that the Buddha sanctioned this request.

(Sthavira prātimokshasutroddeshamuddisheti.
Sa kathayati. ayushmannaparishuddhā tāvadbhikshuparshat.
Sthavira ko' trāparishuddhah.
Tvameva tāvat.
Sthavira katham nāma tvayā saṇghamadhye mama shirasi mushṭir nipātitā.
Aho vatā ' ham tvayā ekānte coditah syām ' iti.
Sa tushnimavasthitah.
Etatprakaranam bhikshavo bhagavata ārocayanti.
Ekānte codayitavyo na saṇghamadhye

- Gilgit MSS. III.3.107 f.).

It is clear from evidence in the Pali Vinaya too, that there was opposition to prosecution and disciplinary action from certain individuals and groups in the monastic community

(Sace ime vinaye pakataññuno bhavissanti amhe yen ' icchakam yad ' icchakam yāvad ' icchakam ākaddhissanti parikaddhissanti. Handa mayam āvuso vinayam vivannemā ' ti

- Vin.IV.143.)


(Bhikkhu pan ' eva dubbacajātiko hoti uddesapariyāpannesu sikkhāpadesu bhikkhuhi sahadhammikam vuccamāno attānam avacaniyam karoti mā mam kiñ ci avacuttha kalyānam vā pāpakam vā aham ' pi āyasmante na kiñ ci vakkhāmi kalyānam vā pāpakam vā.

Viramathā 'yasmanto mama vacanāyā ' ti

-Vin.III.178.) [44]

Therefore, even where the members of the Saṇgha were physically present at the Pātimokkha recital, compelled by the regulations which required them to be present there, yet the miscreants could be non-co-operative in not admitting their transgressions when called upon to do so

(Yo pana bhikkhu yāvatatiyam anussāviyamāne saramāno santim āpattim na āvikareyya

- Vin. I.103.)

This would completely nullify the purpose of the recital where the purity of the Saṇgha is assumed by their silence

(Tunhibhāvena kho pana āyasmante parisuddhā ' ti vedissāmi

- Vin.I.103.).

Consequently the purity of the Saṇgha which is thus assumed would be far from being real.

In an attempt to steer clear of such a situation special emphasis has been laid on the honesty and integrity of the participants. Wilful suppression of a transgression of which one is guilty is deemed a serious offence hindering one's spiritual progress

(Sampajānamusāvādo kho panāyasmanto anatarāyiko dhammo vutto bhagavatā

- Vin.I.103 f.).

These words of warning seem to have been uttered regularly at the Uposatha as a prelude to the recital of the Pātimokkha.[45]

It is also laid down in the laws of the Pātimokkha that it is an offence involving expiation to help a fellow-member to conceal from the Saṇgha a grave offence, i.e. a Pārājika or Saṇghādisesa, which he has committed

(Yo pana bhikkhu bhikkhussa jānam duṭṭhullam āpattim paṭicchādeyya pācittiyam

- Vin.IV.127.).

We also notice in the Khandhakas what appears to be the development of a new tradition regarding the recital of the Pātimokkha. It is stated in the Mahāvagga that the Buddha has decreed that no monk who is guilty of any transgression should perform the Uposatha.

(Bhagavatā paññattam na sāpattikena uposatho kātabbo ' ti

- Vin.I.125.).

In the Cullavagga it is reaffirmed that such a monk should not listen to the recital of the Pātimokkha

(Na ca bhikkhave sāpattikena pātimokkham sotabbam

- Vin.II.240.).

Both these injunctions, in practice, really serve the same purpose as is clear from the following statement which identifies the Uposatha with the recital of the Pātimokkha:

Sammatāya vā bhikkhave bhumiyā nisinnā asammatāya vā yato pātimokkham sunāti kato' v ' assa uposatho

- Vin.I.108.

Both these statements evidently derive their authority from the story of the Suspension of the Pātimokkha in the Cullavagga.[46]

This brings us to a very paradoxical position. The Mahāvagga tells us in its details regarding the Pātimokkha recital that any monk in the assembly who is guilty of an offence and who remembers it during the recital should make it known. By the failure to do so he shall incur the further guilt of deliberate lying

(Yo pana bhikkhu yāvatatiyam anussāviyamāne saramāno santim āpattim n ' āvikareyya sampajānamusāvād ' assa hoti

- Vin.I.103.).

However, at Vin.I.126 the Bhikkhu who recollects during the recital of the Pātimokkha an offence which he has committed seems to be at a loss as to what he should do. He seems to be put into a very dilemmatic position by the apparently subsequent legislation that no guilty monk should participate in the Pātimokkha recital

(Tena kho pana samayena aññataro bhikkhu pātimokkhe uddissamāne āpattim sarati. Atha kho tassa bhikkhuno etadahosi bhagavatā paññattam na sāpattikena uposatho kātabbo ' ti. Ahañ c ' amhi āpattim āpanno kathan nu kho mayā paṭipajjitabban ' ti

- Vin.I.126.).

On the other hand, side by side with this exclusion of a guilty monk from the recital of the Pātimokkha it is also insisted on that no monk should let the performance of his Uposatha lapse.

(Na tv ' eva tappaccayā uposathassa antarāyo kātabbo

- Vin.I.126 f.).

Even a monk who on account of illness is unable to be physically present at the ritual was expected to communicate to the Saṇgha his purity so that it may be declared in the assembly before the recital.[47]

For it is the purity of all members concerned which is to be ascertained and established at this fortnightly congregation of the Saṇgha. Therefore it could not be properly performed in the absence of even one member of the group if the Saṇgha had not been authoritatively informed of his purity prior to the recital.

It is even suggested that a sick monk who has been unable to communicate his purity to the Saṇgha may be conveyed in a bed or a seat before the assembly for the valid performance of the ritual.[48]

If he is too ill to be moved without danger to his life the Saṇgha is then called upon to go to him and perform the Uposatha there lest they be guilty of a ritual of incomplete membership.[49]

Thus we see the very dilemmatic position in which a guilty monk is placed in the light of the ruling that no guilty monk has the right to listen to the Pātimokkha or perform the Uposatha and the injunction that no monk shall fail to perform the Uposatha. This would first eliminate the possibility of a guilty monk who could suppress his guilt and sit silently through the recital of the Pātimokkha. Secondly, such a monk, on that account, could not also keep out of the Uposatha.

The only solution that seems to be offered to this compels the monk to confess his guilt to another beforehand. Prior to his attendance at the ritual the guilty monk is expected to go before a fellow member and submit very respectfully that he is guilty of a specific offence and that he wishes to admit it.[50]

On his admission of guilt and his being advised to safeguard against its recurrence the guilty monk gains absolution which entitles him to participate in the ritual. Thus we feel that confession of one's guilt prior to participation in the ritual was necessitated by the exclusion of guilty monks from the ritual of the Pātimokkha.[51]

From what we have indicated it should be clear that confession of the type contemplated here does not absolve an offender from the guilt of a Pārājika or Saṇghādisesa. Nevertheless we are told that this form of confession gives an offender sufficient purity to enable him to participate in the ritual.[52]

Hence we are compelled to observe that what is conceded here is, more or less, a ritualistic purge. On the other hand, it seems to offer to the transgressing monks complete shelter from public scrutiny to which they would have ben subjected if they had to confess their guilt at the time of the recital. For now the confession may be made before a group or even a single individual who may possibly be selected on partisan loyalties.[53]

Thus it may be argued that this form of private confession prior to the recital was intended to remove the alleged harshness of the jurisdiction of the Pātimokkha ritual.

Certain incidents which are referred to in the Cullavagga, in the chapter on the Suspension of the Pātimokkha, seem to indicate the fact that there were certain members in the monastic community who were so rebellious in character that they did not choose to make use of this concession. That alone would account for the presence of the Chabbaggiya as guilty monks (sāpattika) at the recital of the Pātimokkha.[54]

The Suspension of the Pātimokkha would then appear to serve the purpose of dealing effectively with such miscreants who tend to break the law flagrantly at every turn.

We discover that through the act of suspending the Pātimokkha the ritual of the Pātimokkha comes to acquire a new emphasis. Any member of the Pātimokkha assembly who knows through seeing, hearing or suspicion (diṭṭhena sutena parisaṇkhāya) about the commission of an offence by any participant would, on seeing that individual, declare it in the assembly and call for the suspension of his Pātimokkha, which in effect means that the Pātimokkha shall not be recited in his company.[55]

Inspite of all the taboos and restrictions relating to the recital of the Pātimokkha which are indicated in the Vinaya Piṭaka, the possibility is here contemplated of the presence of a Pārājika offender in the assembly which meets to recite the Pātimokkha.[56]

It is also declared possible that there may

be offenders in terms of all the seven groups of apatti. Nevertheless, in all these cases, the detection and chastisement of offenders take place. if ever at all, not through voluntary confession during the recital of the Pātimokkha but through report and other indirect sources of information with which the Saṇgha has been acquainted, and that too, prior to the recital with a view to denying them the right of participation in it.

However, the ritualistic purge from guilt, resulting from confession at and before the recital, became a reality in the history of Buddhist monasticism. The Vimativinodani records the view of some section of the monastic community who actually maintained that even the greater offences were remedied by mere confession. But the author goes on to point out that this view is completely at variance with the text of the Pātimokkha which prescribes penalties for the greater offences.

(avikatā hi ' ssa phāsu hoti ' ti vuttattā garukāpatti ' pi āvikaranamattena vuṭṭhāti ' ti keci vadanti. Tam tesam matimattam parivāsādividhānasuttehi virujjhanato. Ayam pan ' ettha adhippāyo. Yathābhutam hi attānam āvikarontam pesalam bhikkhum akāmā parivatthabban ' ti ādivacanam nissāya anicchamānam ' pi nam upāyena parivāsādi dāpetvā anassam suddhante patiṭṭhapessanti. Tato tassa avippaṭisārādinam vasena phāsu hoti

- Vimt. 396.)

It is elear, however, that the changing outlook and the concessions made in the sphere of monastic discipline led to this position. We see here an attempt to extract a new concession from the old idea of confession of guilt at the Pātimokkha recital which included payment of penalties besides cofession. The reduction of the ritual of the Pārimokkha to a mere confession for the sake of absolution was undoubtedly a sectarian move as pointed out in the Vimativinodani.

But we discover that some scholars have mistaken this aspect of confession to be the original concept in early Buddhist monasticism. There is clear evidence that Sukumar Dutt did not fully appreciate the scope of confession of guilt by the Buddhist disciples.[57]

This has resulted from the incorrect translations of two Pali passages which he quotes. His first quotation (Cullavagga, v. 20.5) suffers on two accounts. Firstly, it is mutilated in that a vital portion of the quotation - vuddhi hi esā - has been left out. Dutt also seems to lose sight of another imprtant condition governing this confession. It is the reminder to the transgressing monk regarding future restraint which is part and parcel of this process of confession and self- correction

(āyatim samvareyyāsi - Vin. II. 102 : āyatim samvaram āpajjati

- Ibid. 126.).

Secondly, these omissions made the rest of the quotation meaningless and drove the translator to force a garbled meaning out of it. Hence this translation:

'In these Rules laid down by the Venerable One, he who realises his lapse to be such and remedies it according to law, obtains absolution at once.'

But we regret to say that there is no notion of absolution whatsoever here. How far from the real state of affairs would it be to say

'he.... absolution at once.'

In the second quotation he gives the translation 'Unconfessed offences are cleared up on confession

'for the phrase āvikatā hi ' ssa phāsu hoti.

Here too, we fail to detect any indication of the 'clearance of an offence.'

Based on this mistaken notion of absolution through confession Dutt assumes that there was in the early days of the Sāsana

'a mere religious confession which led to absolution from the guilt confessed.' [58]

This, he would have us believe, was the earlier aspect of the Pātimokkha ritual. However, he is quick to detect the dynamic function of what he calls the legal confession. Its importance is equally admitted by him. For he says:

'The incorporation of the concept of legal confession with the code was a necessity, as without it most parts of the code would remain inoperative and disciplinary proceedings could not be taken. Hence emphasis is laid on the duty of confession.' [59]

It is for these same reasons, as we have already pointed out, that confession and punishment became the essential core of the earliest Pātimokkha ritual. The text of the Pātimokkha too, which has

a better claim to be more authentic than the Mahāvagga, records in Pācittiya 73 evidence to the effect that if a monk is discovered during the fortnightly recital of the Pātimokkha to be guilty of a transgression, charges are to be framed and disciplinary action taken against him.[60]

At the same time, it is also clear that if a guilty monk could not take part in the ritual because of his guilt and he therefore absolves himself of it through confession prior to his attendance at the ritual, then no participant would really be guilty of any apatti of which he could confess during the recital. But the ritual of the Pātimokkha in its early phase countenanced the presence of both innocent and guilty monks

(Yassa siyā āpatti so āvikareyya asantiyā āpattiyā tunhi bhavitabbam

- Vin. I. 103.)


(Tasmiñ ce bhaññamāne hoti bhikkhussa āpatti hoti vitikkamo

- M.III. 10. [61]).

As far as we could infer, the phrase asantiyā āpattiyā which occurs in the Mahāvagga side by side with yassa siyā āpatti, should really mean complete absence of guilt. But the Mahāvagga itself, which appears to have recognised and accepted the new turn of the ritual, explains asanti āpatti in keeping with the new tradition of absolution through prior confession

(asanti nāma āpatti anajjhāpannā vā āpajjitvā vā vuṭṭhitā

- Vin.I.103).

The Kaṇkhāvitarani subscribes to the same view and maintains that an āpatti which has been declared and accepted really amounts to no āpatti

(Asantiyā āpattiyā ' ti yassa pana evam anāpannā vā āpattim āpajjitvā ca puna vuṭṭhitā vā desitā vā ārocitā vā āpatti tassa sā āpatti asanti nāma hoti

- Kkvt. 15.).

What purpose does it serve then to say as an introduction to the recital that any one who is guilty of an offence shall confess it during the recital? For no monk, according to this latter tradition, who is guilty of an apatti could be present at the recital. Has not this statement in the Mahāvagga, yassa siyā āpatti so āvikareyya, already lost its original significance and does it not appear as a mere fossil embedded in the old formula?

A similar significant deviation from what we would consider to be the older tradition is noticeable under the pubbakicca or preliminary duties which needed to be performed before the recital of the Pātimokkha. The Mahāvagga which describes the ritual of the Pātimokkha recital introduces what it considers to be the preliminary duty to be performed before the commencement of the recital in the following words:

'What is the preliminary duty of the Saṇgha? Let the venerable ones inform the purity.'

(Kim saṇghassa pubbakiccam. Pārisuddhim āyasmanto ārocetha

- Vin. I. 102.[62]).

Elsewhere in the Mahāvagga, the joint communication of chanda (consent) and pārisuddhi (purity) of those who are unable to be present at the recital is given as a general condition to be fulfilled before the assembly which meets for the recital of the Pātimokkha.[63]

The inclusion of chanda here is said to be done on the assumption that the Saṇgha might have besides the recital of the Pātimokkha other monastic duties for the performance of which the unanimous agreement of the Saṇgha was needed

(Anujānāmi bhikkhave tad ' ah ' uposathe pārisuddhim dentena chandam ' pi dātum santi saṇghassa karaniyan ' ti

- Vin. I. 122.).

In the context of this passage it is manifestly clear that the pārisuddhi which is communicated to the assembly of the Pātimokkha recital is that of the absentee monks. Therefore we would have to take the earlier statement pārisuddhim āyasmanto ārocetha to mean the announcement of the purity of the absentees, i.e. the members who have assembled for the recital should announce before the Saṇgha any information they have regarding the purity of the absentees who are expected to convey it through a competent fellow member (pārisuddhi-hāraka).

For the Pātimokkha recital, this information more than the chanda, is of vital consideration. However, we notice that the Mahāvagga gives no explanation whatsoever about this phrase pārisuddhim āyasmanto ārocetha even in the portion of the text which is regarded as the Old Commentary. On the other hand, Buddhaghosa hastens to explain this with the comment attano parisuddha-bhāvam ārocetha.[64]

This makes the purity which is announced before the commencement of the recital to be that of the monks present. But what we have shown so far from internal evidence in the Mahāvagga points to the contrary. It is difficult to say with any certainty whether during the time of Buddhaghosa

the practice of communicating to the Pātimokkha assembly the purity of the absentee monks had gone out of vogue. What is more clearly evident is the fact that the ritualistic significance of the purity of the participants at the Pātimokkha recital had assumed overwhelming authority. It is in the light of this new change that Buddhaghosa offers the above comment. For he supports it with a statement which he has picked up from the Cullavagga which bars a guilty monk from participating in the Pātimokkha recital

(Na bhikkhave sāpattikena pātimokkham sotabbam yo suneyya āpatti dukkaṭassā ' ti vacanato aparisuddhehi pātimokkham sotum na vaṭṭati.

Tena vuttam pārisuddhim āyasmanto ārocetha pātimokkham uddisissāmi ' ti

- Kkvt. 14.[65]).

But our assumption which is based on co-ordinated evidence from the Vinaya that what should mean here is 'the communication of the purity of the absentees' appears to be further supported by the Vinaya traditions of other schools besides the Theriya. On a careful scrutiny of the Vinaya texts of several other schools which are preserved both in Sanskrit and Chinese we discover that they all seem to agree with us in this interpretation of the declaration of purity at the Pātimokkha recital.

They specifically state that it is the purity of the absentees which is declared, as a preliminary duty, for the information of the members of the assembly. The Poshadhavastu of the Mulasarvāstivāda Vinaya, which agrees for the most part with the Uposathakkhandhaka of the Mahāvagga, contains a very clear and definite statement on this point

(Yadā saṇghasthavirah kathayati anāgamanāya āyushmantas chandam ca pārishuddhim ca ārocayata ārocitam ca pravedayate ' ti.

Tena antarikasya bhikshoh puratah sthitvā vaktavyam. Samanvāhara āyushman amusmin 'n 'āvāse bhikshur ābādhiko duhkhito vādhaglānah.

Adya saṇghasya poshadhapamcadashikā tasyā ' pi bhikshoh poshadhapamcadashikā.

So ' yam evamnāmā bhikshuh parishuddham āntarāyikaih dharmair ' ātmānam vedayati poshadhe ' sya pārishuddhim ārocayāmi ārocitām ca pravedayāmi

- Gilgit MSS. III. 4. p.100.).

According to the above statement the Pātimokkha-reciter addresses the members of the assembly and makes a clear request to announce before the Saṇgha the purity and the consent of the absentees. Whosoever in the assembly has chosen to play the role of messenger to carry to the Saṇgha the pārisuddhi on behalf of an absentee, he shall make it known to the Saṇgha that the absentee has intimated that he is pure and is not guilty of any transgressions which are detrimental to his religious life:

parishuddham antarāyikaih dharmairātmānam vedayati.

In the above passage anāgamanāya stands for

'the absence from the assembly of possible participants'.

That it is so is further supported by the statement in the Prātimokshasutra of the same school which in its comments on the preliminary duties uses the very specific term anāgatānām which means 'of those who are not present.'

(Kim bhagavatah shrāvakasaṇghasya purvakāla-karaniyam alpo 'rtho 'lpak¨tyam. Anāgatānām āyushmantash chandapārishuddhim c' ārocayata ārocitam ca pravedayata

- IHQ. vol. XXIX. 2.167.).

The Prātimokshasutra of the Mahāsaṇghikas too, states the same under its instructions for the Prātimoksa recital.

(Anāgatānām āyushmanto bhikshunācchanda-pārishuddhimārocetha. arocitañ ca prativedetha

- Journal of the Ganganath Jha Research Institute, vol.X. Appendix, p. 3.).

The Mahisāsaka Vinaya which is preserved to us in Chinese expresses the same idea of communicating to the assembly of the Saṇgha the purity and the consent of the absentees before the commencement of the Pātimokkha recital.[66]

In the light of all this evidence we feel inclined to infer that this is the true spirit and the older sense in which the statement pārisuddhim āyasmanto ārocetha of the Mahāvagga is to be taken. Nevertheless, we believe that here too, the Theriya tradition has conceded certain changes in the process of evolution.

The accomodation of such changes perhaps became more possible with the Theriya group whose Vinaya traditions did not get petrified through disuse but continued to be live and dynamic. Yet one cannot fail to observe that these changes robbed the Pātimokkha ritual of its vigour and vitality. For there seems to be no more need for confession of guilt in the assembly of the Saṇgha.

It is assured that the participants are pure in character. The Saṇgha does not collectively engage itself to punish and deal with offenders, exercising over its membership the authority of the Dhamma. The ritual as described in the Mahāvagga does not seem to provide

for this. The instructions given in the Pātimokkha with regard to penalties and punishments are left with a merely theoretical value at the recital.[67]

The erring individuals do not need any more to face the judiciary at the Pātimokkha recital. For the confession of guilt can now be made before a single individual.[68]

Even if one remembers during the recital of the Pātimokkha an offence he had committed he needs confess it only to a single Bhikkhu who sits beside him and promise to make amends for it after the conclusion of the ritual.[69]

On the other hand, the ritual is prefaced with a number of formalities by way of preliminary duties, pubbakicca and pubbakarana, which assume considerable ritualistic importance.[70]

They completely outweigh the recital and the consequent confession which formed the core of the ritual. The Pātimokkha recital thereafter ceases to be a powerful instrument in the proper maintenance of monastic discipline. While we witness here, on the one hand, the break down of the centralised administration of this monastic institution, the ritual of the Pātimokkha, we discover on the other the emergence of a completely decentralised system of the same.

It has been made possible for a minimum of four Bhikkhus, without any reference to the membership of a Simā, to undertake collectively the recital of the Pātimokkha:

Anujānāmi bhikkhave catunnam pātimokkham uddisitun ' ti

- Vin. I. 124.

This gives the Pātimokkha recital a very provincial character and robs it of its stature and dignity. But it would be clear from what has been said so far that the crystallized tradition of the Suttas contemplates a different position. But it also seems to be clear that the tradition of the Suttas regarding the Pātimokkha recital, like many other Sutta traditions pertaining to problems of Vinaya, soon became a thing of the past.

It is probably at such a stage in the history of the Pātimokkha ritual that it became possible to say that the Pātimokkha or the Uposatha is intended for the purpose of bringing about monastic unity while the purity of the Saṇgha is the burden of the Pavāranā

(Uposatho samaggattho visuddhatthā pavāranā

- . Vinvi. p.190.v. 2599.).

Hence we would choose to conclude with a few observations on the Pavāranā.

The Pavāranā is the ritual which comes usually at the end of the third month of the rains-retreat and is a part of the observance of the Vassāvāsa. It is used like the ritual of the Pātimokkha as a means of safeguarding monastic discipline. The Pavāranā, as the name itself suggests, is the request which a Bhikkhu makes to the Saṇgha with whom he has spent the rains-retreat to judge his conduct and declare according to what the Saṇgha has seen, heard or suspected whether he is guilty of any transgressions.

This request for the public scrutiny of one's conduct is made by every member of the Saṇgha, irrespective of seniority, on the definite understanding that whosoever stands accused would make amends for his errors when he recognises them as such

(Sangham āvuso pavāremi diṭṭhena vā sutena vā parisaṇkhāya vā. Vadantu mam āyasmanto anukampam upādāya. Passanto paṭikarissāmi

- Vin.I. 159.).

The benefits resulting from this form of self-correction are gives as

  1. being agreeable to and tolerant of one another: aññamaññānulomatā
  2. making amends for the wrongs done by safeguarding against their recurrence: āpattivuṭṭhānatā.
  3. developing a regard and respect for the rules of discipline: vinayapurekkhāratā. [71]

It is evident that the disciplinary function of the Pavāranā is very similar to that of the Pātimokkha ritual and hence the details of procedure in both rituals are for the most part identical. A monk who is prevented from patricipating in the Pavāranā on account of illness is expected, as in the case of the Pātimokkha ritual, to communicate to the Saṇgha through another

his request for the judgement of his conduct

(Pavāranam dammi pavāranam me hara mamatthāya pavārehi ' ti

- Vin. I. 161.) [72]

Although total and complete participation would have been the ideal aimed at in these two rituals, yet under circumstances very similar to those connected with the recital of the Pātimokkha, the quorum for the performance of this ceremony in the assembly of the Saṇgha (saṇghe pavāretum) is fixed at five.[73]

Any number of monks below this and down to two persons are expected to perform this ritual among themselves (aññamaññam pavāretum). A solitary monk who is left to himself must make a personal resolve (adhiṭṭhāna) on this matter, similar to the Adhiṭṭhāna Uposatha of the Pātimokkha ritual.

The position of monks who are guilty of offences which exclude them from participation in the ritual of the Pavāranā is identical with similar situations in the ritual of the Pātimokkha.[74]

However, a very distinct feature of the ritual of the Pavāranā is its dynamic character, specially in contrast to the Pātimokkha which already in the Mahāvagga has lost its vitality and appears to have only a ceremonial significance. When, for instance, a monk is charged at the Pavāranā with a Pārājika offence, if he were to admit that he is guilty of it, then disciplinary action is promptly taken against him

(So ce bhikkhave cudito bhikkhu pārājikam ajjhāpanno ' ti paṭijānāti nāsetvā saṇghena pavāretabbam

- Vin. I. 173)

, unlike at the ritual of the Pātimokkha where suspension of the Pātimokkha, without any reference to the admission or denial of guilt by the accused, is the only course of action recommended.[75]

Likewise, in the case of a Saṇghādisesa offence, the charge is laid on the offender on his admission of guilt. For all other offences too, necessary disciplinary action is taken according to the prescriptions of the law and the Saṇgha thereafter proceeds with the ritual of the Pavāranā:

yathā-dhammam kārāpetvā saṇghena pavāretabbam

- Vin. I. 173.

There is evidence to show that the ritual is, in fact, temporarily suspended in certain cases until necessary action is taken against the offender and he makes amends for his mistake

(Ye te bhikkhave bhikkhu thullaccayadiṭṭhino tehi so bhikkhave bhikkhu ekamantam apanetvā yathādhammam kārāpetvā saṇgham upasaṇkamitvā evam assa vacaniyo yam kho so āvuso bhikkhu āpattim āpanno sā 'ssa yathādhammam paṭikatā. Yadi saṇghassa pattakallam saṇgho pavāreyyā ' ti

- Vin.I. 173.).

Leaving all details aside, when we compare the two institutions of Pātimokkha and Pavāranā, we note one important distinction. In the early Pātimokkha recital it was the individual Bhikkhu who judged his guilt or innocence in terms of the regulations of the Pātimokkha. The assembly of the Saṇgha had to rely on the bona fide of the individuals. The accusation, if any at all, was pronounced in consequence of the confession of the erring member.

At the Pavāranā, the request made individually by the members of the assembly transfers this initiative to the collctive body of the Saṇgha. This arrangement to face the scrutiny by the Saṇgha which is implied here, although occurring only as an annual event, shows itself as an additional safeguard in the maintenance of good monastic discipline.

Nevertheless, the Pavāranā too, shows signs of acquiring a more and more ritualistic character. As in the case of the Pātimokkha, an idea seems to be gaining ground that the Pavāranā is to be performed only by the monks who are pure. The Buddha, it is said, meant it to be so:

bhagavatā kho āvuso visuddhānam pavāranā paññattā

- Vin. I. 174.

It is also said that the Buddha legislated for the exclusion of guilty monks from the Pavāranā.[76]

This gives the Pavāranā the appearance of a solemn conclave for it is said that the Pavāranā is laid down only for the Saṇgha who are united:

bhagavatā kho āvuso samaggānam pavāranā paññattā

- Vin. I. 174.

The same idea of ritualistic purity which came to be associated with the recital of the Pātimokkha seems also to be at work in the Pavāranā. The request made to the Saṇgha at the Pavāranā to sit in judgement over one's conduct

(saṇgham āvuso pavāremi....

Vin. I. 159)

would thus be made a formal and meaningless one. We would refer the reader to Vin. I. 175. for various other details concerning the ritual of the Pavāranā.

What becomes clear from all these is the fact that both these rituals of Pātimokkha and Pavāranā had, at the time of their origin, a similarity of purpose. They both strove for the maintenance of good monastic discipline and communal harmony. As such, they counted on the loyal co-operation and the sincerity and the integrity of the members of the Saṇgha.

Partisan rivalries and petty considerations were not provided for. But the history of these two institutions as recorded in the Vinaya Piṭaka shows that, contrary to expectations, these disruptive forces contributed considerably to the modification of the character of these institutions. The Pātimokkha and the Pavāranā, we are compelled to regard as being extremely simple in their origin and they also appear to have been characteristically direct in operation.

We have shown in this essay, as far as possible, how changes set in ere long, prompted by diverse circumstances, and how the Pātimokkha and the Pavāranā acquired in course of time a very formal and rigidly ritualistic character so divorced from their original spirit. The fossilised remains of the older versions which are embedded in places in the present form of these rituals reveal, even though unwittingly, these marked divergences.

Footnotes and references:


Whether we use the word ritual with reference to this event or not, it is said to have been performed with definite regularity and with a seriousness of purpose which had a religious significance. When we describe the recital as being ritualistic in character it is at the later stage when the spirit of the old Uddesa had faded away and the recital had come to be burdened with many technicalities of an external character which have hardly any connection with its earlier aims. In contrast to this we use the word ritual with reference to the Pātimokkha recital from its earliest phase.


See supra, pp. 2, 7.


Further Dialogues II [ SBB.VI ], p.160.


S. Dutt, The Buddha And Five After-Centuries, p. 65 f.




M.I. 445. See supra p. 48 ff.


M.III. 7.


Vin.I.101 ff.




Ibid. 102.


Vin.III. 9.




S.Dutt, Early Buddhist Monachism, p. 81.


See Ibid. p. 74.


See M.III.10; Vin.IV.144.


Vin.IV.142 ff.


S. Dutt, Early Buddhist Monachism, p. 81.


S. Dutt, Buddha And Five After-Centuries, p. 76.


S. Dutt, Early Buddhist Monachism, p. 81.


Ibid. p. 82.


Vin.I.101. On the adaptation by the Buddhists of this respect for the 8th, 14th and 15th days of every fortnight see Anguttara Nikāya I. 142-45.


See Vin.I.102.


S. Dutt, Early Buddhist Monachism, p. 83.




Vin.I.106-11. See Appendix III.




Kkvt. 14.




VinA.V.1034 f.




Ibid. 125.




Bhikkhupātimokkhaganṭhidipani, p. 6. A Pali work ascribed to a Thera Nānakitti and printed in Ceylon in 1889.


Vin.I.106. See also Appendix III.


Ibid. I.120.




See also Vin.III.186,194, 266; IV.174,184, 206.




Rhys Davids and Oldenberg seem to find further support for this idea through an etymological analysis of the words Pātimokkha and Prātimoksa. See Vinaya Texts I. [ SBE..XIII ], p. xxvii f.


See also D.I. 85 ; M.I. 440 ; III. 247 ; Vin.II.192.


D.I. 85.




Gilgit MSS. III. 3. p.107 f.


Further, the Mahāvagga records the state of affairs of a time when disciplinary action against offenders had to be taken after careful consideration of the temperament and mood of the offenders. For they were not only capable of openly expressing their resentment but were also bold enough even to threaten bodily harm to the prosecuting members. (Tena kho pana samayena pesalā bhikkhu chabbaggiye bhikkhu okāsam kārāpetvā āpattiyā codenti. Chabbaggiyā bhikkhu labhanti āghātam labhanti appaccayam vadhena tajjenti. Bhagavato etamattham ārocesum. Anujānāmi bhikkhava kate ' pi okāse puggalam tulayitvā āpattiyā codetun ' ti - Vin.I.114.).


Vin.I.103. See also Kkvt.16.


Ibid. II. 226 ff. See Appendix I.


Ibid. I.120.


Vin. I.120.




Ibid. I.126.


Ibid. II. 240.


Ibid. I. 125 f.


Ibid. See also Ibid. I.103.


Ibid. II. 241. See also Ibid. I. 125 f.


Ibid. II. 244.




S.Dutt, Early Buddhist Monachism, p. 85.


Ibid. p. 86.


Ibid. p. 86 f.




See Oldenberg, Buddha, p. 373. n.1.


See Ibid. p. 372. n.1.


Vin.I. 120 f.


Kkvt. 14.


See also Vin.II. 240.


Taisho, Vol.22. p.128 C.


See Vin.III.109,186.


Vin.I. 125 f.


Ibid. 126.


Kkvt.11 f.




Cf. Vin. I.120.


Ibid. 163.


Ibid. 164. Cf. Ibid. 125 f. See also Oldenberg, Buddha, p. 375. n.1.


Ibid. II. 244.


Ibid. I. 164.

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