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)...

Appendix I - The Exclusion of Guilty Monks (from the recital of the patimokkha)

Let us examine the statements in the Khandhakas under the authority of which a monk who was guilty of an offence (sāpattika) was barred from participating in the ritual of the Pātimokkha.[1]

A careful scrutiny of these two accounts shows that this authority was derived from the story of the Suspension of the Pātimokkha in the Cullavagga.[2]

When Vin.I.125 says that the Buddha has decreed that no guilty monk shall participate in the performance of the Uposatha it has evidently in mind this incident of the Cullavagga. This story of the Suspension of the Pātimokkha appears also in two other Canonical texts, viz. the Udāna[3] and theAṇguttara Nikāya.[4]

It is interesting to compare here this version of the Theriya trdition with that of the Mulasarvāstivādins.[5] The following observations emerge from such a comparison:

1. In the Mulasarvāstivāda account, it is not the Buddha but the Saṇghasthavira who presides over the assembly at which the guilty monk is discovered. Thus the entire Theriya version that the Buddha up to this incident held the monopoly of reciting the Pātimokkha in the assembly of the monks finds no support among the Mulasarvāstivādins.[6]

It is clearly stated in the Mulasarvāstivāda account that the Buddha had ordered that the Saṇghasthavira should recite the Pātimokkha every fortnight.[7]

(Uktam bhagavatā saṇghasthavirena tvardhamāsam prātimokshasutroddesa uddeshṭavya iti

- Gilgit MSS. III. 3.107 f.).

This order, at any rate, is prior to the incident of the discovery of the guilty monk in the assembly which had met for the recital of the Pātimokkha.

2. The Mulasarvāstivādins do not draw the elder Mahā Moggallāna into the picture. It is the Saṇghasthavira himself who uses his 'divine eye' to spot out the guilty monk.

3. In the Mulasarvāstivāda account, unlike in the Theriya tradition where the elder Moggallāna uses his power of clairvoyance (cetopariyañāna), the use of the 'divine eye' or the 'divine ear ' for this purpose is condemned and forbidden by the Buddha. One who does so is guilty of an offence.

It appears from the above analysis that the Mulasarvāstivādins too, agree with the Theravādins in their tradition that no guilty monk shall participate in the recital of the Pātimokkha. This is evidently true of most Vinaya traditions for they had been firmly stratified before the break up of the monastic community into distinct schools.

Inspite of their elimination of the Buddha and the elder Moggallāna from this incident, the Mulasarvāstivādins are loosely linked with the Theravādins in this matter in that the uddāna gāthā which prefaces their Poshadhasthāpanavastu mentions the role of Moggallāna in penalysing the guilty monk:

Asaudhaposhadhādbhikshur maudgalyānena nāshitah

- Gilgit MSS.III. 3.107.

But there is no doubt that the Mulasarvāstivādins found the whole setting of this incident to be somewhat clumsy and in part unacceptable.

This leads uf further to examine the contents of this chapter in the Cullavagga on the Suspension of the Pātimokkha and observe the procedure adopted in excluding the guilty monk from the recital of the Pātimokkha.[8]

The elder Moggallāna tells the guilty monk that he has no right to sit together with the Bhkkhus:

Natthi te bhikkhuhi saddhim samvāso ' ti

- Vin.II. 237.

It is difficult to see from where the venerable Moggallāna derives the authority for such an accusation. It appears possible only under the terms of Pārājika offences about which alone the Vinaya says that no monk who is guilty of any one of them shall have the right of co-residence with fellow Bhikkhus. It is further added that such a monk forfeits his right of being a Bhikkhu.[9]

(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

- Vin. III. 109.). [10]

Then in terms of what criteria is the pārisuddhi or purity of the monk concerned challenged in this context? There is not a single specific charge which makes him a sāpattika in the sense that is familiar to us in the Vinaya. Is it to be inferred that no sikkhāpada had been laid down up to this stage? If that is conceded then this monk should have enjoyed the normal benefit of an ādikammika, i.e. of being exempted from guilt in the absence of sikkhāpada:

anāpatti ādikammikassa.

If sikkhāpada had already been laid down then this non-specific and all-inclusive charge seems hardly justifiable.

If up to the time of this incident no sikkhāpada had been laid down then it is hardly possible to imagine that the monks would have been in a position to start forthwith a Pātimokkha recital of their own.

(Note: Na dānā ' ham bhikkhave itoparam uposatham karissāmi pātimokkham uddisissāmi.
Tumhe ' va ' dāni bhikkhave itoparam uposatham kareyyātha pātimokkham uddiseyyātha

- Vin.II. 240.) [11]

At any rate, if this incident, contrary to the evidence of Vin.I.102, marks the real beginning of the recital of the Pātimokkha by the Bhikkhus, then it is also to be argued that the recital of the Pātimokkha by the Bhikkhus begins with the assumption that guilty monks should be excluded from the recital. But we have already seen that all available evidence point to the contrary.[12]

Thus the assumption that all participants at the recital should be pure has to be regarded as the development of a relatively later concept. The story that the Buddha suspended his recital of the Pātimokkha to the Bhikkhus because of the presence of the guilty monk in the assembly contrives to lend support to this growing idea.

We should also like to examine at this stage some evidence which comes to us from the Chinese versions of the Buddhist Vinaya. According to the Vinaya of the Mahishasakas[13] the Saṇghasthavira who presides at the Pātimokkha recital asks the assembly as to what the Saṇgha is going to do.

The Bhikkhus in reply recommend that various forms of disciplinary action such as the Tajjaniya-kamma be carried out on certain monks. They also specify that penalties like Mānatta be imposed. It can hardly be denied that these statements are in perfect accord with what has been laid down in the Suttas of the Theriya tradition. Nevertheless, side by side with this older tradition the Mahishāsakas accomodate a tradition which is akin to that of the Khandhakas regarding the Suspension of the Pātimokkha.

On the other hand, the Mahāsaṇghikas[14] seem to feel that the non-specific charge which is brought against the guilty monk is inadequate for purposes of prosecution. So they have a new story according to which the monk who stands accused had stealthily picked up a golden lotus petal which was a part of the decoration of the Uposatha hall and had fallen on the ground.

This new situation which is added to the story enables the venerable Moggallāna, perhaps on account of the offence of stealing, to give the verdict that from that day the monk who was involved would not be regarded as a samana. He is further told that he should not be any more among the members of the Saṇgha. The Mahāsaṇghikas also go so far as to make the Buddha declare the action of Moggallāna in dragging the guilty monk out of the assembly to be illegal.

We would consider this divergence in the Mahāsaṇghika tradition to be a very significant one. In the light of other evidence in the Suttas and in the Vinaya we are led to consider the exclusion of the guilty monk from the ritual of the Pātimokkha as striking a discordant note. In presenting a new and a legally more acceptable basis for the exclusion of the guilty monk, the Mahāsaṇghikas undoubtedly reveal their distrust of the soundness of the Theriya tradition and the validity of the act of exclusion as described in the Cullavagga.

The Mahāsaṇghikas, while they inherit along with the Theriya group and other early divisions of the Saṇgha the earlier story of this incident in toto, seem to challenge its conformity to orthodox canons.

There is yet another point in this story which runs contrary to what appears to be historically acceptable. The story of the Cullavagga tries to make out that up to the detection of the guilty monk in the assembly of the Saṇgha it was the practice of the Buddha to recite the Pātimokkha for the Bhikkhus. We have already observed that the Mulasarvāstivādins differ from the Theriya tradition on this point in keeping the Buddha out of the Pātimokkha recital.

The only other Canonical reference in the Theriya tradition to the recital of the Pātimokkha by the Buddha[15] comes to us from the Mahāpadāna Sutta.[16]

But this quasi-historical Sutta makes this statement in terms of a Buddha of the past. Placed in a legendary and supernatural setting the Buddha Vipassi, the first of the group of six previous Buddhas, expresses his desire to order his disciples to return to Bandhumati at the end of every six years, after their missionary travels, to participate in the Pātimokkha recital.[17]

Thereupon a great Brahmā appears on the scene and requests him to make the order and pledges their support to see that the disciples do so. The Sutta goes on to describe how the divinities thereafter play their role in reminding the Bhikkhus annually, in anticipation, about their return to the capital for the Pātimokkha recital. When the appointed time comes they make a further contribution by transporting the Bhikkhus to the venue of the recital in a single day by their supernatural power.

When the assembly of Bhikkhus meets, the Buddha Vipassi recites before them three stanzas which are traceable to the Buddhavagga of the Dhammapada.[18]

The Sutta describes this as the recital of the Pātimokkha by the Buddha Vipassi.

Strangely enough, we discover in the last of these stanzas[19] a reference to the restraint in terms of the Pātimokkha (Pātimokkhe ca samvaro). We are already familiar with this concept of discipline and are aware of its connotation. The Commentary to the Sutta explains this as the restraint in the highest sila which is identifiable with the code of the Pātimokkha.[20]

Thus when the Pātimokkha as a code of discipline seems to have been well established and its functions appear to have been well known during the life time of the Buddha how does one explain this unnecessary regressing to present the Pātimokkha and its recital as being primitively simple. As there is no reliable evidence

at all, excepting what we implicitly get in the story of the Suspension of the Pātimokkha, to show that the Buddha did preside for some time over a form of Pātimokkha recital we are compelled to regard the other abundant evidence pointing to the early existence of a Pātimokkha recital which the Buddha instituted for the Bhikkhus and which the Bhikkhus themselves performed from its inception as being more positive and reliable.

It is only with a considerable recognition of such an institution that one could expect the emergence of a standardised concept like pātimokkhe ca samvaro. To take this concept back to antiquity and link it up with a primitive and less organized institution appears to be a serious distortion. This retrospective use of the term Pātimokkha to refer to the mere recital of the three stanzas by the Buddha appears to be unhistorical. Furthermore, the past to which it is drawn is also enveloped in what comes more in the realm of myth and legend. Thus it is undoubtedly a projection from the present and the historical to the past and the legendary.

This tendency to delve into the past, in a search as it were for precedent and traditional sanction, is clearly seen in many instances in the life story of the Buddha and the history of the Sāsana.[21]

Such sanction seems to be sought both for what has historically taken place and also for what is intended to be approved as historical and acceptable. The whole of the Mahāpadāna Sutta seems to illustrate this tendency.

We discover in the Dhammapadaṭṭhakathā a story which appears to give a cross reference to this semi-legendary account of the Buddhas of the past of the Mahāpadāna Sutta.[22]

In a very brief story entitled anandattherauposathapañhavatthu the venerable ananda states that although the Buddha has given details regarding the parentage, disciples etc. of the seven Buddhas including the Buddha Gotama himself he has said nothing about the nature of the Uposatha of the past Buddhas.[23]

Therefore he raises the question whether their Uposatha was the same as the present one or different from it. The Buddha replies to say that there is no difference in the content of what is recited at the Uposatha. The only diference is in the frequency of its performance

(Yasmā pana tesam buddhānam kālabhedo eva ahosi na gāthābhedo

- DhpA. III. 236.).

Establishing the identity of the Uposatha of all the seven Buddhas he says that they all recited three admonitory stanzas before their assemblies. These stanzas are the same as those mentioned in the Mahāpadāna Sutta with reference to the Buddha Vipassi. This story strives to establish, above all, that the Buddha Gotama did perform some form of admonitory Upssatha and that it is distinctly in the tradition of the Buddhas of the past.

In doing so this story of the Dhammapadaṭṭhakathā goes a step further than the Mahāpadāna Sutta which speaks of the Uposatha only of Buddha Vipassi. Nevertheless, there is no serious divergence between the two accounts.

Buddhaghosa, in his comments on the Verañjabhānavāra, has attempted to integrate this tradition with the history of the Sāsana. This, he says, is the general practice of all Buddhas and the Buddha Gotama too, did recite a form of ovāda pātimokkha for twenty years in the history of the Sāsana up to the promulgation of the sikkhāpada.[24]

But this twofold Pātimokkha as ovāda and ānā in two distinct chronological stages is a product of commentarial tradition. The only Canonical reference to two stages of the Pātimokkha recital is the story of the Suspension of the Pātimokkha in the Cullavagga.[25]

However, we are not told there that these are two distinct types of Pātimokkha recital. All that we are told is that the Buddha refused to recite the Pātimokkha any more in the company of the Bhikkhus and asked them to do it themselves. In the Mahāpadāna Sutta the Buddha Vipassi himself recites the admonitory stanzas and this alone constitutes the Pātimokkha recital in his Sāsana.[26]

At no stage is this replaced by another form of recital in the Mahāpadāna Sutta. Even the account in the Dhammapadaṭṭhahathā preserves this singleness of character of the recital of the

Buddhas of the past.[27] This form of ovāda pātimokkha which originally was associated with Buddha Vipassi of distant antiquity is extremely simple and primitive and seems characteristic of a legendary past.[28]

The Canonical texts do not seem to mix this up with the Pātimokkha recital of the Buddha Gotama's Sāsana which is more historical in character. It is Buddhaghosa who attempts to trace the change over of the Pātimokkha from ovāda to ānā and give it a historical sequence and the story of the Suspension of the Pātimokkha in the Cullavagga seems to facilitate this.[29]

In this attempt of Buddhaghosa we see the romanticised tales of the Buddhas of the past invading the truly historical accounts of the life and the Sāsana of the Buddha Gotama.

On the other hand, it is interesting to analyse at this stage the contents of the Verañjabhānavāra which has a relevance to this question.[30]

In reply to a question by the venerable Sāriputta the Buddha discusses the history of the monastic organizations of the six Buddhas of the past. They are classified into two groups of three each on a purely chronological order. It is said that the three earlier Buddhas, Vipassi, Sikhi and Vessabhu, did neither lay down sikkhāpada nor institute the Pātimokkha recital for their disciples. Their discourses on the Dhamma were very meagre. In consequence of this, their monastic organizations disintegrated soon after their death.

Of the latter three, Kakusandha, Konāgamana and Kassapa, we discover that their organizations flourished because they preached the Dhamma extensively to their disciples and also laid down sikkhāpada and instituted the recital of the Pātimokkha. No more is said here of the nature of this Pātimokkha recital, either of Gotama or of the Buddhas of the past. Nor is there any indication about one form of recital being replaced by another.

Even though we may not regard this portion of the Suttavibhaṇga to be as old as the rest which deal with the text of the Pātimokkha, we cannot but be impressed by its conformity to the early traditions of the Sutta and the Vinaya. What we mean by this is the recognition of the fact that the promulgation of the sikkhāpada and their recital by the Bhikkhus at the Pātimokkha assembly together formed the basic structure of the Sāsana and its earliest institutions which safeguarded it. Thus we see that what is said about the Buddhas of the past in the Verañjabhānavāra is a very accurate projection into the past of a distinct historical setting.

Hence the idea of a primitive form of Pātimokkha recital by the Buddha Gotama seems to be in all probability a product of wishful construction which besides whatever other purpose it serves helps the legislation against the presence of guilty monks at the Pātimokkha recital For it is at this point that the Buddha abolishes the practice of the ovāda pātimokkha under protest and hands over the recital of the Pātimokkha to the Bhikkhus. What is more significant here is the legislation whic followed this incident.[31]

(Na ca bhikkhave sāpattikena pātimokkham sotabbam.
Yo suneyya āpatti dukkaṭassa

- Vin.II. 240.).

The presence of the guilty monk in the assembly being the provocation which led to the abolition of the ovāda pātimokkha the Buddha laid down the rule, applicable to the ānā pātimokkha of the Bhikkhus, that no guilty monk shall participate in the Pātimokkha recital. The incident of the abolition of the ovāda pātimokkha undoubtedly provides a very convincing situation for this new legislation. However, we have already pointed out that it is clearly a deviation from the original spirit of the Pātimokkha recital.

Footnotes and references:


Vin.I.125. and Vin.II. 240.


Vin.II. 236 ff.


Ud. 51 ff.


A.IV. 204 ff.


Gilgit MSS. III. 3. 107 f.






Vin.II. 236 ff.


Ibid. III.109.


We should here take note of the explanation which the Commentaries give for the exclusion of the guilty monk from the assembly which had met for the recital of the Pātimokkha by the Buddha. It is said that if the Buddha recited the Pātimokkha with the guilty monk present in the assembly it would have spelt disaster for the guilty monk: sattadhā tassa muddhā phālessati. Thus, out of compassion for him the Buddha declined to recite the Pātimokkha in that assembly. See UdA. 296 ; AA.IV. 112.


The Commentarial tradition maintains that the recital of sikkhāpada as the Pātimokkha (ānā pātimokkha) belongs exclusively to the Bhikkhus and not to the Buddha. See VinA. I. 187; UdA. 298.


M.III.10; Vin.I.103 ; IV.144.


Taisho, Vol.22. p.128 C.


Taisho, Vol. 22. p. 447B.


i.e. other than in the story of the Suspension of the Pātimokkha which occurs at Vin.II. 236 f, Udāna 51 f, A. IV. 204 f.


D.II. 46 ff.


A tradition in the Dhammapadaṭṭhakathā makes out the recital to be held every seventh year. See DhpA.III. 237.


Dhammapada vv. 183,184,185. See DhpA.III. 237.


Ibid.v. 185. It is a pity that Sukumar Dutt has completely missed this very significant stanza. See his Early Buddhist Monachism, p. 71.


DA.II. 479.


S.II. 5-9,106 ; A.II. 21 ; Vin.III. 7 ff.


DhpA. III. 236.


However, this is not true of the extant Mahāpadāna Sutta which gives a detailed account of the Pātimokkha recital of the Buddha Vipassi. See D.II. 47- 49.


VinA.I. 186 f.


Vin.II. 236 ff.


The Sutta, however, does not use the term ovāda pātimokkha with reference to this recital.


DhpA.III. 236.


D.II. 48 -50.


See VinA.I.186 f. where Buddhaghosa quotes extensively from Vin.II. 240. Sabbabuddhānam hi imā tisso ovādapātimokkhagāthā honti. Tā dighāyukabuddhānam yāva sāsanapariyantā uddesam āgacchanti. Appāyukabuddhānam paṭhamabodhiyam eva sikkhāpadapa––attikālato pabhuti ānāpātimokkham eva uddisiyati. Ta– ca kho bhikkhu yeva uddisanti na buddhā. Tasmā amhākam ' pi bhagavā paṭhamabodhiyam visativassamattam eva idam ovādapātimokkham uddisi. Tato paṭṭhāya bhikkhu ānāpātimokkham uddisanti - VinA.I. 187.


Vin. III. 7-9.


Ibid. II. 240. See also Vin. I. 125.

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