The Bhikkhus Rules

A Guide for Laypeople

by Bhikkhu Ariyesako | 1998 | 50,970 words

The Theravadin Buddhist Monk's Rules compiled and explained by: Bhikkhu Ariyesako Discipline is for the sake of restraint, restraint for the sake of freedom from remorse, freedom from remorse for the sake of joy, joy for the sake of rapture, rapture for the sake of tranquillity, tranquillity for the sake of pleasure, pleasure for the sake of conce...

Stealing is universally condemned and is prohibited by one of the basic Five Precepts [see End Note 4] of any Buddhist. For the bhikkhu it is covered by the heaviest penalty of Defeat, being the second Paaraajika.

The rule was originally set down in the Lord Buddhas time when Venerable Dhaniya, by deception, carried off some of the kings timber to make himself a hut:

"A bhikkhu who takes something which the owner has not given to him and which has a value of five maasaka [-coins] (or more) [is Defeated]"

(Summary Paar. 2; Nv p.5)

Or:

"The theft of anything worth 1/24 ounce troy of gold or more is [an offence of Defeat.]"

(Summary Paar. 2; BMC p.65)

Defeat means the absolute termination of the perpetrators bhikkhu life so his stealing should be more than a petty theft.[1] Therefore for this to be an offence, the value of the stolen object must be such that, as it states in the original: "kings... would banish him, saying... You are a thief!" In modern America this is probably equivalent to grand larceny. (Petty theft is a grave offence (thullaccaya) or one of wrong doing.)

The bhikkhu must have an intention to steal for this to be an offence. If an apparent theft happens without his knowledge or connivance, or by mistake without any design on his part, it is no offence. However, fraud, breach of trust, embezzlement, tax evasion, smuggling, breach of copyright, etc., would be included under this rule.[2]

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Attempts to precisely define this guideline have given rise to differing views, for the most part due to the two different definitions of what technically constitutes stealing resulting in loss of bhikkhu status (i.e., gross stealing). The wording of the guideline gives the standard that a person caught stealing would be punished by the civil authorities: beaten, imprisoned or banished. The Explanation then defines this degree of stealing as taking anything worth at least one paada, a certain standard of value in India at that time.

"The first standard is somewhat ambiguous and relative to social values at different places and at different times. The second is more specific — if one knows how much a paada is worth! A sub commentary, says that one paada is equal to the value of gold weighing 20 unhusked rice grains. This has been determined as approximately 1/24 oz. troy of gold. Of course, it must also be recognized that the price of gold fluctuates over time. This seems like a reasonable amount to constitute a theft serious enough to warrant Defeat." (HS ch.14)

[2]:

"In the present time this may also include such things as breach of copyright, inappropriate use of public utilities (telephone, post, etc.) or transportation systems (traveling without the correct ticket), having money changed on the black market, illegal entry into countries (not paying for visa), etc., etc.," (HS Endnote)

[3]:

"The non acceptance of money has always been one of the fundamental observances of those who have left the world. Money is the measure of wealth and to most people material wealth is the goal of life. In the bhikkhus renunciation of money he emphatically demonstrates his complete rejection of worldly pursuits. At one stroke he sets himself significantly apart from the vast majority of people and becomes a constant reminder to all that a life based on the struggle to accumulate money is not the only way to live. Through giving up money he gives up much of his power to manipulate the world and to satisfy his desires. Thus, as the Buddha said in the Samyutta Nikaaya:

"Whoever agrees to gold or money, headman, also agrees to the five strands of sensual pleasure, and whoever agrees to the five strands of sensual pleasure, headman, you may take for certain that this is not the way of a recluse, that this is not the way of a Buddhist monk." (See P.T.S. Kindred Sayings, Vol. 4 p.232)

"A Bhikkhu who does not accept money inspires great faith in Buddhism amongst the laity; according to the following quote he is likened unto a shining example whereas the bhikkhu who does accept money is likened unto a blemish or stain:

"Bhikkhus,... there are these four stains because of which samanas and brahmans glow not, shine not, blaze not. What are these four? Drinking alcoholic beverages... indulging in sexual intercourse... accepting gold and money... obtaining requisites through a wrong mode of livelihood." (A.II.53)" (AB)

"In the act of accepting money, or having it accepted in ones name, one is accepting all the cares, responsibilities, and dangers that come with its ownership; in the act of arranging a trade, one is accepting responsibility for the fairness of the trade: that it undervalues neither the generosity of the person who donated the money, nor the goods and services of the person receiving the money in exchange." (BMC p.197)

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