Vinaya Pitaka (1): The Analysis of Monks’ Rules (Bhikkhu-vibhanga)

by I. B. Horner | 2014 | 345,334 words | ISBN-13: 9781921842160

The English translation of the Bhikkhu-vibhanga: the first part of the Suttavibhanga, which itself is the first book of the Pali Vinaya Pitaka, one of the three major ‘baskets’ of Therevada canonical literature. It is a collection of rules for Buddhist monks. The English translation of the Vinaya-pitaka (first part, bhikkhu-vibhanga) contains many...

Editorial Note

BD.1.lxi At the translator’s request I say here a few words. Words of valediction for a work which is a genuine labour of love. Result though it be of strenuous, unfaltering research, the translation of an ancient thesaurus of monastic legality, as is the Pali Vinaya Piṭaka, is not of the class we call “best seller.” Labour and printing costs have been alike undertaken by my friend and colleague, the translator. And I am not a little proud to think that a book which my husband helped, in his early efforts, to bring in part before European readers, should now receive my blessing in its first complete form after this interval of over half a century.

It may interest some to learn, as to that translation in part, how the two translators divided the work. For living in different countries, each translating in his leisure moments, there seems to have been (more’s the pity!) very little if any collaboration. No correspondence survives revealing that any took place. On the fly-leaf of Volume I of Vinaya Texts, Sacred Books of the East XIII, there stands in Rhys Davids’ handwriting the following:

“Of the work I have translated the

  • Pātimokkha i.1–90.
  • Mahāvagga v and vi.22; ii.1–ii.81. 80pp.
    vi.32–vii.3. 43 pp.
    viii.12–32. 49 pp.
  • Cullavagga i–iii 120pp.
    iv.1–12 (the whole volume). 440 pp.
    Total: 800pp. out of 1230pp.

The rest, as is well known, was the work of that fastidiously careful scholar, Hermann Oldenberg.”

As she has stated in her Introduction, Isaline Horner begins her translation at the beginning, as Oldenberg did BD.1.lxii not, in his edition of the Pali text, published shortly before the birth of the Pali Text Society. The Sacred Books of the East translation was a large selection, not the complete work.

In the Vinaya, taking it by and large, we have the records of a great effort, put forth by the culture of North India during the sixth to the third century B.C., to “get rich quickly” in things, not of worldly experience, but of man’s spiritual fortune. The idea, in monasticism, was that the man, in striving to become a More than his worldly fellows, could best do so by making his life here a Less. By cutting out a great part of what our poets have called “life in the whole,” it was judged he would, by living a simplified remainder, progress much faster. Progress, that is, towards that waning out of repeated spans of life as he knew it here, or heard of it in the next world or worlds.

This is surely to misunderstand life as we find it. An enemy army is not conquered by its being attacked in one section only. The monk admitted that he bore his enemy about with him in body and mind. And to shelter body and mind from opportunities of efforts towards a Better, such as life in its fullness alone could afford, was no sound method of seeking to grow. Man is but a less if he shirk much of life. Not along such lines does the Hand draw him which au fond de lʼidéal fait signe. (Being in the depths of the evidence is ideal.)

It is doubtless true that the withdrawn life is not only good at times, but may, there or then, be necessary for the student. But I do not find this need expressing itself in Buddhist monastic literature as a motive for leaving the world. I may be wrong, and shall welcome correction. For the history of monasticism, especially of monasticism in what was perhaps its cradle, has yet to be written. And a complete translation of the Vinaya Piṭaka will bring such a work nearer the day when it can be written.

C.A.F. Rhys Davids