The Bhikkhus Rules
A Guide for Laypeople
The Vinaya And The Patimokkha
The Paali Vinaya texts are contained in five large volumes. The Sutta- Vibha"nga division comprises the two books that contain the 227 Paa.timokkha Rules (and those for bhikkhuniis) with the stories of their origin and other explanations. The next two books, the Mahaavagga and Cullavagga of the Khandhaka division:
"...contain a great variety of procedural material dealing with such important Sangha functions as giving the Going Forth and Acceptance, the recitation of the Paa.timokkha and the keeping of the Rains Residence, as well as a great deal of material relating to bhikkhus requisites, such as lodgings, medicines, clothing, etc."
(HS ch. 7)
The last book (the Parivaara) is a form of appendix or supplement.
So the 227 Paa.timokkha Rules are a part of the greater Vinaya. As Ven. Thiradhammo remarks:
"...the Paa.timokkha is more like the bare bones or skeleton of the Vinaya Pi.taka [Basket]. Without reference to the explanations of the Sutta Vibha"nga or the elaboration of the Khandhakas this skeleton has no viable application!"
The Buddha laid down that on full and new moon days all the bhikkhus in residence in the same community must come together in a formal meeting. If there is a quorum of at least four bhikkhus, they should listen to the full Paa.timokkha Rule. A competent bhikkhu who has learned this by heart will recite it in the Paali language for the Community so that they can remind themselves of their responsibilities in keeping the major 227 Rules. The complete recitation may take anywhere from thirty five minutes to an hour, depending on the skill of the reciting bhikkhu.
Before the Paa.timokkha recitation begins, each bhikkhu should admit to any offences that he knows he has committed by formally telling another monk (or monks). Once this is accomplished, the monk is considered pure and can listen to the recitation of the rules. (The recitation includes questions, asking if any bhikkhu present is guilty of the offences.) In many communities it is normal for each bhikkhu to make a general confession of all possible offences to another bhikkhu before listening to the Paa.timokkha recitation.
Different offences are of different seriousness but the most common faults committed by carelessness or mistake can be cleared by confession to another bhikkhu. Admitting to ones mistake and agreeing to do better in the future is the way of growth and progress towards the elimination of all carelessness and absentmindedness.
Footnotes and references:
"The Paa.timokkha recitation on the Uposatha days thus would be the primary communal activity of the Buddhist Sangha, an occasion to meet together in communal confirmation of the standards of behavior to which they were all committed." (HS ch.20)
Note that anyone guilty of an offence of Defeat is automatically no longer a bhikkhu and therefore cannot take part in the Paa.timokkha recitation.