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 III - The Concept of Sima (its origin and development)

While the purity and the prestige of the early Buddhist Saṇgha was being safeguarded by the regular performance of the Pātimokkha ritual, the Mahāvagga witnesses certain sections of the community of monks who were holding factional meetings for the purpose of reciting the Pātimokkha within their own groups

(Tena kho pana samayena chabbaggiyā bhikkhu yathāparisāya pātimokkham uddisanti sakāya sakāya parisāya

- Vin.I.104.).

This would certainly have been in violation of the spirit in which the ritual was instituted in the early days of the Sāsana.[1] Legislating against such a situation which would herald the disintergration of the Saṇgha, the Buddha declares it to be a Dukkaṭa offence and calls for unity of the Saṇgha in the performance of the Uposatha.

But considering the increasing membership of the corporation of the Saṇgha and the vastness of the territory over which it was spreading, there seems to have appeared the need to determine as to what would be a convenient unit for the collective activities of the Saṇgha. We notice in the Gopakamoggallāna Sutta that the village in which the monks lived had served as the unit of such monastic activities.[2]

When the Buddha insisted on the unity of the Saṇgha in their monastic activities, the monks seem to have been perplexed by the theoretical position whether the unity of the Saṇgha implied the inclusion of all members of the community living in the land, literally on earth:

Kittāvatā nu kho sāmaggi hoti yāvatā ekāvāso udāhu sabbā paṭhavi ' ti.- Vin. I. 105.

This, we have no doubt, was hardly meant to be taken as a real position and would have been recorded here more for the purpose of pointing out the relevance of practical considerations. An area of residence (ekāvāso) became the obvious choice as an operational unit and on the recommendation of the Buddha the area of residence is delimited by boundaries, accepted and agreed upon by the Saṇgha as the region of co- residence within which the Saṇgha was expected to perform its activities collectively:

Sammatā simā saṇghena etehi nimittehi samānasamvāsā ekuposathā

- Ibid.106.

This marks the birth of Simā in Buddhist monastic history.

It is clear from the evidence of the Mahāvagga that in the early days of the Buddhist community not all āvāsa or centres of monastic residence enjoyed the status of being Simā or independent units of monastic activity. Ekāvāsa meant a region of residence within which all members acted collectively as one single body (saṇgha).

The Samantapāsādikā portrays beautifully this state of affairs in the early history of the Sāsana when it says that the eighteen great monasteries in the vicinity of Rājagaha formed collectively a single unit of common communal activity.

(Rājagaham hi parikkhipitvā aṭṭhārasa mahāvihārā sabbe ekasimā. Dhammasenāpatinā nesam simā baddhā.
Tasmā veÂuvane saṇghassa sāmaggidānattham āgacchanto ' ti attho

- VinA.V. 1049.).

Any one of the āvāsa within the region may turn out to be, by the choice of the Saṇgha, the venue of the ritual of the Uposatha

(Tena kho pana samayena rājagahe sambahulā āvāsā samānasimā honti. Tattha bhikkhu vivadanti amhākam āvāse uposatho kariyatu amhākam āvāse uposatho kariyatu ' ti

- Vin.I.108.).

We hear of members of one āvāsa going to another as guests for the purpose of performing the Uposatha there.

(agantukā bhikkhu na jānanti kattha vā ajj ' uposatho kariyissati ' ti

- Ibid. 107.).

Thus it was possible for the inmates of many āvāsa to operate as members of one Simā in their activities.

In performing the ritual of the Uposatha the monks had to operate collectively and no sectional meetings were allowed within that region

(Tehi bhikkhave bhikkhuhi sabbeh ' eva ekajjham sannipatitvā uposatho kātabbo.
Yattha vā pana thero bhikkhu viharati tattha sannipatitvā uposatho kātabbo.
Na tv ' eva vaggena saṇghena uposatho kātabbo

- Ibid. 108.).

All monks living within it, heedless of the distance they had to travel and the hardships of the journey, congregated at an appointed place for the purpose

of the Pātimokkha recital. In the interests of the guest monks it was considered necessary to decide beforehand upon a site for the performance of the ritual, viz. an uposathāgāra. Thus, on account of the prior knowledge of the place, the participants would be enabled to arrive there in time without any confusion. The Saṇgha may choose for this purpose any one of the five buildings sanctioned for monastic residence.[3]

Once selected an uposathāgāra continued to be recognised as such until the decision is revoked by the Saṇgha. It is clear from the following statement about the thoughtless selection of two such buildings at the same site and the subsequent order made by the Buddha to cancel one and use the other

(Tena kho pana samayena aññatarasmim āvāse dve uposathāgārāni sammatāni honti.....
Anujānāmi bhikkhave ekam samuhanitvā ekattha uposatham kātum

- Vin.I.107.).

In case the uposathāgāra turns out to be too small for the congregation which assembles, then the Saṇgha is empowered to declare as much of the courtyard of the building (uposathapamukha) as necessary to be valid territory in which the participants may take their seats for the ritual of the Pātimokkha. This is clearly a matter of ritualistic detail quite additional to the early spirit of the Pātimokkha recital.

For it is said with reference to an incident which historically takes precedence over this that the ritualistic validity of the ground on which a monk sat during the Pātimokkha recital was a matter of no concern as long as he was able to hear from there the Pātimokkha as it was being recited

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

- Ibid. 108.).

Although the delimitation of a region of Simā was approved, Simā in its early stages was not subjected to restrictions of size. Some of them became very large extending up to four, five and six yojana. The monks who had to travel long distances to the venue of the recital were unable to arrive in time. Hence three yojana soon came to be fixed as the maximum allowable size of a Simā. No Simā was also to extend beyond a river unless there was a permanent bridge or a regular ferry providing a safe crossing.[4]

The incidents connected with this proviso make it clear that it is based on practical considerations and has no ritualistic significance whatsoever.

Based on this institution of Simā which is thus established by delimitation of a specified region to be a unit of co-residence and common Uposatha, the members of the Saṇgha are given a concession to set apart one of their three robes for safe keeping, as a stand-by to be used in case of damage to the others.

This legislation was actually provoked by the incident in which the venerable Mahā Kassapa who on his way from Andhakavinda to participate in the Uposatha at Rājagaha got his robes wet while crossing a river and had to attend the ritual in his wet robes for want of a change of clothing. This concession of keeping out of one 's possession one out of the unit of three robes (ticivarena avippavāsasammuti) is applicable within the aforesaid Samāna-samvāsaka-simā, but leaving out its urban areas,[5] for it is out side these that this concession would have been most needed.

(Yā sā bhikkhave saṇghena simā sammatā samānasamvāsā ekuposathā saṇgho tam simam ticivarena avippavāsam sammanatu ṭhapetvā gāmañ ca gāmupacārañ ca

- Vin.I.109.).

The Mahāvagga also makes provision for regions in which monks reside but wherein no Simā has been officially proclaimed. In the case of such towns and villages

(gāmagahanena c ' ettha nagaram pi gahitam eva hoti

- VinA.V.1051)

their own boundaries are accepted to circumscribe the area of co-residence for the monks

(Asammatāya bhikkhave simāya yam gāmam vā nigamam vā upanissāya viharati yā tassa vā gāmassa gāmasimā nigamassa vā nigamasimā ayam tattha samānasamvāsā ek ' uposathā

- Vin.I.110 f.).

This seems to reflect the conditions which are referred to in the Gopakamoggallāna Sutta and are perhaps characteristic of a stage of pre-simā antiquity

(Te mayam tad ' ah ' uposathe yāvatikā ekam gāmakkhettam upanissāya viharāma te sabbe ekajjham sannipatāma

- M.III. 10.).

To this group of unbounded Simā of gāma and nigama is also added the forest regions in which monks reside. From any such place of residence an area of a radius of sattabbhantara i.e. seven abbhantara[6] is marked out as the region of samānasamvāsa and ekuposatha

(Agāmake ce bhikkhave araññe samantā sattabbhantarā ayam tattha samānasamvāsā ekuposathā

- Vin.I. 111.).

Such a Sattabbhantara Simā enjoys also the privilege of ticivaravippavāsaparihāra

(- ticivarena avippavāssasammuti). [7]

The Mahāsakuludāyi Sutta perhaps portrays an earlier phase of monastic life when it says that even the forest-dwelling monks come regularly to the midst of the Saṇgha for the recital of the Pātimokkha.[8]

In course of time further independent units of monastic residence seem to appear as the community expands and spreads over wider territories. As a result of this we also note a corresponding change in the concept of Simā.

Simā, which originally indicated a practical and convenient unit of residence of the Saṇgha for their common communal activities (samānasamvāsā ekuposathā ) and referred to as Samānasamvāsaka Simā, seems to have soon changed its character to mean also the venue in which the Saṇgha may perform its monastic activities like the conferment of Pabbajjā and Upasampadā.

This gives rise to what is latterly known as the Khanda Simā. The Samantapāsādikā suggests that this smaller unit of Khanda Simā should, in fact, be established first before the establishment of the Samānasamvāsaka Simā

(Imam pana samānasamvāsakasimam sammannantehi pabbajjupasampadādinam saṇghakammānam sukhakaranattham paṭhamam khandasimāyo bandhitabbā

- Vin. A.V.1041.).

In a monastic residence which is complete with all its accessories like the Bodhi tree, Cetiya and the Alms-hall, the Khanda Simā should be located in a quiet corner [not in the centre of the monastic residence] at a place which is not frequented by many people

(Sace hi bodhi-cetiya-bhattasālādini sabbavatthuni patitṭṭhāpetvā katavihāre bandhanti vihāramajjhe bahunam samosaranaṭṭhāne abandhitvā vihārapaccante vivittokāse bandhitabbā

- Ibid.).

Considering the quorum for valid monastic acts (which range from four to twenty monks), it is said that the Khanda Simā should be large enough to accomodate not less than twenty-one monks

(Sā heṭṭhiamparicchedena sace ekavisati bhikkhu ganhāti vaṭṭati tato oram na vaṭṭati...


It is also conceded that a large monastery could have as many as two, three or more Khanda Simā

(Sace pana vihāro mahā hoti dve ' pi tisso ' pi tad ' uttari ' pi khandasimāyo bandhitabbā

- Ibid. 1042.).

Any watery abode like a river, natural lake or the sea is said to be, by its very nature, suitable for the performance of all monastic acts. 'Its very nature' here may mean the fact that such places being 'uninhabited' it requires no further legislation to exclude aliens. Here, under normal circumstances, there would be no danger of trespassers

(Sā pana attano sabhāven ' eva baddhasimāsadisā. Sabbam ettha saṇghakammam kātum vaṭṭati. Samuddajātassaresu ' pi es ' eva nayo

- VinA.V. 1052.).

Thus we see the emergence of the Udakukkhepa Simā. It is a region in a river, a natural lake or the sea which covers

'the distance that a man of average (height) can throw water all round.' [9]

(Nadiyā vā bhikkhave samudde vā jātassare vā yam majjhimassa purisassa samantā udak ' ukkhepā ayam tattha samānasamvāsā ekuposathā

-Vin.I. 111.).

The Mahāvagga itself gives indications of a steady elaboration of the concept of Simā. What was originally introduced for the convenient administration of the monastic community soon turns out to be a cause of dispute in itself. With the fragmentation of the central Simā and the consequent multiplicity of smaller units there arose the danger of some of them overlapping the others

(Tena kho pana samayena chabbaggiyā bhikkhu simāya simam sambhindanti

- Vin.I.111.)


(Tena kho pana samayena chabbaggiyā bhikkhu simāya simam ajjhottharanti

- Ibid.).

To avoid such overlapping of territory of each monastic group it soon became necessary to provide a 'buffer state' (simantarikā) between two regions which are marked out as Simā

(Anujānāmi bhikkhave simam sammannantena simantarikam ṭhapetvā simam sammannitum.

- Ibid.).

This ritualistic concern with which the validity of each Simā seems to have been guarded appears to have been a subject of absorbing interest in the history of the Sāsana. This would have been necessarily so as the authority for the enforcement of discipline in Buddhist monastic life had to be secured at an impersonal level through the validity of monastic procedure. Simā undoubtedly was the corner-stone of this structure.

The Khandhakas have already witnessed the interest shown in it. The Samantapāsādikā shows how it has proceeded so far as to produce divergent views on many issues according to the inclinations of the diverse groups that developed within the Theriya fold.[10]

The wealth of Vinaya literature written in Ceylon in Pali on the theme of Simā shows what a live problem it had turned out to be even after the authoritative commentarial notes of Buddhaghosa on this subject. A Ceylonese thera by the name of Vācissasra is said to have compiled the Simālaṇkāra in the 13 th century. The Buddhist monastic community of Burma seems to have been equally interested in this problem.

The Burmese thera Chapaṭa compiled a Tikā to the Simālaṇkāra of Vācissara. [11]

Of this work, Mabel Bode says:

'The Simālaṇkārapakarana of Chapaṭa was a result of the Talaing thera's studies in Ceylon.' [12]

A considerable amount of literary activity on this subject seems to have gone on in both countries, perhaps with mutual influence. [13]

Another treatise compiled in Ceylon similar to the Simālaṇkāra of Vācissara is the Simāsaṇkarachedani of Sri Rāhula (15th century). [14]

The importance attached to the ritualistic validity of Simā does not appear to have been peculiar only to the Southern schools of Theravāda Buddhism in Burma and Ceylon. It does seem to have been shared by some of the schools of Buddhism in the Far East as well. The Kaidan (the equivalent of Simā in the Far East) must have enjoyed some prestige in China and Japan at a very early date.

Kanjin (Chien-chen in Chinese pronunciation) who introduced the Vinaya or Ritsu sect (= Lu-tsung of China) from China to Japan built a Kaidan for performing the ceremony of admission to the Order.[15]

What is more important here is the point which stresses the ritualistic significance of this new establishment. Monks and nuns of the land who had already been ordained but whose admission to the Order was considered invalid for any reason were re-ordained by him. After many entreaties by Dengyo Daishi, the founder of the Tendai sect in Japan, another Kaidan was established at Hieizan in 827 A.D. This seems to have led to the decline of the fortunes of the Ritsu sect.

However in the 12 th century, Shosho shonin, in a bid to revive the Ritsu sect, wrote a treatise called Kaidan Shiki on the ceremonial to be observed at ordinations.[16] Nevertheless, we have no doubt that with the birth of new and rival sects the Kaidan probably had to face a competitive process of change and modification.

The history of Buddhist monasticism in Ceylon has also witnessed a major dispute regarding the validity of a Simā which was being used for the conferment of Upasampadā. It assumed such proportions that Burma too, was drawn into it. Its histroy in brief is as follows. [17]

In 1845 A.D. an Udakukkhepa Simā

'consisting of a permanent raft fixed in the middle of the lake called Mādugaṇga at Balapitimodara [in Ceylon] and having an approach to it by a bridge from the bank'

was established.

Sometime afterwards,

'a famous learned priest called Laṇkāgoda Sirisaddhammavamsapāla Dhirānanda'

found fault with it

'as being confused and undetached, and consequently irregular and invalid... In consequence of his representations and his protest against the vaildity of the rite of ordination performed in the said Simā many priests who had received that rite there had themselves re-ordained in properly defined Simās...

There were, on the other hand, several who from various motives upheld the validity of that Simā and the ecclesiastical acts performed therein: thus disputes and dissensions arose in the Society and rent the unity and harmony which had hitherto prevailed.'

At this time two Ceylonese priests named Dhammakkhandha and Vanaratana went on a visit to Burma and informed the High Priest (Saṇgha Rāja) of Mandalay about the controversy that was raging in Ceylon with respect to the validity of the Balapitimodara Simā in which the ordination of the Amarapura priests had been hitherto held...

This pontiff (Saṇgha Rāja) having learnt the particulars of the case and after consulting the most eminent members of the Buddhist clergy in that country, drew up a memorandum embodying their decision on the matters in dispute, and sent the document in charge of these priests to the address of the principal priests of the Amarapura Society in Ceylon.

This authoritative decision which was adverse to the views held by those who maintained the validity of the aforesaid Simā not having been accepted as conclusive by them, the Saṇgha Rāja of Burma sent a second epistle supporting the statements made in the first with the help of copious quotations from the Pali texts and commentaries, and exhorting the recalcitrant priests to yield to reason and authority.

When this epistle was read in a public assembly of the Buddhist clergy and laity, the then High Priest of the Amarapura Society and his colleagues who, for some time, upheld the vaildity of the disputed Simā became convinced of its faultiness and renouncing their preconceived notions on the subject joined the party of Laṇkāgoda.

A number of priests at Dodanduwa who stood aloof from the contending factions also gave in its adherence on this day to the united factions, and thenceforward the three parties in alliance performed their ecclesiastical functions together in peace and harmony. But this epistle as well as two others accompanied with diagrams on the subject, subsequently addressed to the Amarapura priests of Ceylon by two learned members of the Burmese church, had no effect on those who persisted in their error...

Things were in this state when the priest Vimalasāra Thera of the Ambagahapitiya Vihāra at Velitota, who had received his ordination at the faulty place of consecration, wrote some epistles addressed to the late King of Burma and to the leading ministers and priests of that country, propounding certain questions having reference to the validity or invalidity of the disputed Simā at Balapitimodara...

The questions submitted by Vimalasāra were, at the instance of the King and his ministers, referred to a Committee of the most learned Buddhist priests of Mandalay under the presidency of the best Vinaya scholar of that country named Sirisaddhammavamsapāla Jāgara Mahā Thera. This Committee embodied their opinions on the different points submitted to them in the form of a report, which was printed and published in Burma, and copies of it were sent to Ceylon for distribution among the priests here.

The decision arrived at by this learned Committee was again adverse to the opinions of Vimalasāra and his party, and the Simā at Balapitimodara was condemned as defective and faulty. One would have supposed that this would settle the whole question and put an end to the controversy and strife once and for ever ; but it was not so...

With the praiseworthy object of conciliating the factious brethren in Ceylon and uniting the Amarapura Society in the bonds of peace and brotherhood, the Committee aforementioned, named Sirisaddhammavamsa Jāgara Mahā Thera, and who had come on a visit here, convened an asembly of the principal priests of Ceylon in order to advise and exhort the oppositionists to yield to reason and discipline....

This priest, in a great public assembly held at Velitara exhorted Vimalasāra and his party to stand to reason and to submit to authority; but the oppositionists actuated by policy rather than by wisdom, disregarded the sober admonition...

After the great Thera Jāgara left the island, the leader of the oppositionist band, Vimalasāra Thera, printed and published a work entitled Simālakkhanadipani in which he attempted to set at naught the generally received opinions of the ancient elders of the church who, in his estimate,were not infallible and were liable to error.

This book has been widely circulated among the Amarapura section of the Buddhist clergy both in and out of the island, and its tendency is to perpetuate and widen the breach which has unfortunately occurred among the brethren of the Amarapura clergy.

In order, therefore, to counteract the evil effects which this work is calculated to produce among the laity and clergy, and to correct the errors and misrepresentations which it contains... we have thought it incumbent upon us to publish a reply to that work by the title of

'Simānayadappana or A Mirror of the System of Consecrated Boundaries.'

We lament the fact that we are not in a position to produce an equally comprehensive version for the defence from the school of Vimalasāra Thera. However, it is clear that in these two works we come to possess two Vinaya treatises on the question of Simā submitted from opposite camps. These two masterly studies of the 19th century, while being undoubtedly a valuable addition to our Vinaya literature, also indicate the changing trends in the history of the Sāsana in the island.

Footnotes and references:


M.II. 8 ; III.10.


Ibid. III. 10


Vin. I. 56.


Ibid. 106.


This interpretation is supported by the Samantapāsādikā which takes nigama, nagara and gāma to be all in the same category : Ettha ca nigamanagarānam ' pi gāmen ' eva saṇgaho veditabbo -VinA.V.1050. PTS Dictionary equates gāmantavihāri to āra––aka. This is obviously a mistaken identification, for the two terms are regularly used in antithesis as is clearly seen from the following example : ara––akenā ' pi kho āvuso moggallāna bhikkhunā ime dhammā samādāya vattitabbā pageva gāmantavihārinā ' ti - M.I. 273. See also M.I. 30 f. See supra p.7.


The Samantapāsādikā defines an abbhantara as being twenty-eight cubits in length. See VinA.V.1052.




M.II. 8.


See The Book of the Discipline IV. p.145.


See VinA. V. 1053,1055,1056.


Malalasekera, Pali Literature of Ceylon, p. 202.


Bode, Pali Literature of Burma, p. 39. n.1.


See Taw Sein Ko's Preliminary Study of the Kalyāni Inscriptions of Dhammaceti. 1476 A.D. (Ind. Ant. xxii, p.11 f.).


Malalasekera, op.cit.. p. 251.


Kanjin arrived at Nara in Japan in 753 A.D.


See Sir Charles Eliot, Japanese Buddhism, p.231 f.


The statements within inverted commas which are reproduced above are extracts from the English summary of the introduction to the Simānayadappana of Dhammālaṇkāra Thera (published 1885 A.D.). This treatise, as would be clear from the notes above, was in support of the charge that the Simā at Balapitimodara in Ceylon was ritualistically invalid and it attempts to meet the arguments of the Simālakkhanadipani of Vimalasāra Thera which was written in defence of the said Simā. (Published 1881 A.D.).

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