Vinaya Pitaka (1): Bhikkhu-vibhanga (the analysis of Monks’ rules)

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...

The Suttavibhaṅga (analysis of a sutta)

Oldenberg began his edition of the text of the Vinaya-Piṭaka with the section known as the Mahāvagga. This, together with the Cūḷavagga to which he proceeded, constitutes the Khandhakas. He placed the Suttavibhaṅga after these, and ended with the admittedly later Parivāra. But properly speaking, the Pali Vinaya begins with the Suttavibhaṅga. BD.1.viii The Vinaya of the Sarvāstivādin school “follows the same general arrangement,”[1] as do apparently the Chinese Vinaya of the Mahīsāsaka school and the Dulva, or Tibetan Vinaya of the Mūlasarvāstivādins.[2] Be this as it may, the Pali Vinaya is the only one with which we can concern ourselves here. Comparisons with the Vinaya of other schools must be left to one side, as must comparisons with the rules and discipline of pre-Sakyan sects and contemporary sects, including the Jain Orders of monks and nuns.[3]

According to Rhys Davids and Oldenberg, the oldest portion of the Vinaya is the Pātimokkha, or list of 227 rules,[4] or courses of training to be observed. As this seems to be indisputably the case, it is only fitting that the Suttavibhaṅga should precede the Khandhakas. For the Suttavibhaṅga is that portion of the Vinaya which contains the Pātimokkha.

In their Vinaya Texts, Rhys Davids and Oldenberg open with the Pātimokkha. Buddhaghosa in his Commentary, the Samantapāsādikā (denoted as Vin-a in the footnotes to my translation),[5] begins with the Suttavibhaṅga in extenso. I therefore follow the same plan, and mention it chiefly to indicate that my Volume I does not correspond to Oldenberg’s Volume I, but approximately to the first two-thirds of his Volume III. Considerations of length alone prevented me from including all his Volume III in my Volume I of The Book of the Discipline. On the other hand, this present volume corresponds to the opening portion of Volume I of Vinaya Texts. The chief difference between the presentation of the Suttavibhaṅga in Vinaya Texts and BD.1.ix The Book of the Discipline is that, in the former the Suttavibhaṅga is cut down to comprise nothing more than the Pātimokkha rules themselves, all auxiliary material being omitted, while the latter, when finished, will contain, with very few exceptions,[6] an unabridged translation of the entire Suttavibhaṅga.

The Vinaya, the Discipline, especially that portion of it called Suttavibhaṅga, appoints and decrees a definite standard of outward morality, comprised in courses of training laid down for the proper behaviour of monks and nuns. On the surface the Suttavibhaṅga is not much more than an attempt to restrain unsuitable behaviour; but in reality it also arrives, though in many cases by a long process of exclusion, at the kind of positive conduct to be pursued by the monk who wishes his life to be externally blameless, so far as his relations with his fellow monks, with the Order as a whole, and with the laity are concerned.

This limitation of the Suttavibhaṅga to an outward and objective field is amply indicated by the striking absence from it, of any passage stating that the observance of the courses of training “made known for monks by the lord” will conduce to the realisation of desirable subjective states. The gulf between this and the pre-eminently subjective attitude of the Sutta-Piṭaka is immense. Never once is it said, in the Suttavibhaṅga, that the courses of training should be followed so as to lead, for example, to the rejection of passion, of hatred, of confusion, to the destruction of the āsavas (cankers), to making the Way (one, fourfold, eightfold) become, to the mastery of dhamma, to the attainment of perfection. Always the recurrent formula of the Suttavibhaṅga declares that breaches of a course of training are “not fitting, not suitable, not worthy of a recluse, not to be done,” and so on, and that such lapses are not “for the benefit of non-believers nor for increase in the number of believers.” Thus a standard of conduct is imposed from outside, and for BD.1.x external, impersonal reasons, instead of insistence being laid, as in the Nikāya teaching, on the great subjective states attainable through a man’s own efforts of will.

The word Suttavibhaṅga means analysis or classification (vibhaṅga) of a sutta, a term here applied to each rule or course of training included in the Pātimokkha. The literal meaning of sutta (sūtra) is of course string or thread, and as such also appears in the Vinaya. But its meaning of rule or clause or article is apparently peculiar to this composition, and is, according to Dr. E.J. Thomas,[7] earlier than its meaning of separate discourse. That the word sutta, in the Vinaya, probably does bear the meaning of rule, as was suggested in Vinaya Texts,[8] is indicated by various passages. For example, at Vin.1.65–68, a monk is not to receive the upasampadā ordination if he does not know the two Pātimokkhas[9] rule by rule (suttato); at Vin.2.68, it is said: “This thing is in a rule (suttāgata) and comes up for recitation every half-month.”[10] The thing (dhamma) here referred to is not in a Sutta, or Sutta-Piṭaka discourse, but does occur, as part of a course of training, in the Vinaya. Further, the Vinaya Commentary mentions, calling it a sutta,[11] the statement allowing an ārāma (park) to monks. The one reference that I have come across to the compound suttavibhaṅga in the Vinaya text[12] (apart from its use as the title of the section bearing its name) is in association with sutta. Both these terms appear here to refer as clearly to Vinaya and not to Sutta-Piṭaka material, as do the others cited above.

As the Suttavibhaṅga has come down to us,[13] it is divided into two sections: Pārājika and Pācittiya. Between them, these two sections comprise 227 rules divided into the eight groups of the four Pārājikas, BD.1.xi the thirteen Saṅghādisesas, the two Aniyatas, the thirty Nissaggiya Pācittiyas, the ninety-two Pācittiyas, the four Pāṭidesaniyas, the seventy-five Sekhiyas, and the Adhikaraṇasamatha rules.[14] Only the first three groups are contained in Volume I of The Book of the Discipline. There is a corresponding Bhikkhunī-vibhaṅga, sometimes referred to as the Bhikkhunī-vinaya, or Discipline for Nuns, with its set of Pātimokkha rules. This will appear in a later volume of this translation.

The Suttavibhaṅga material is usually arranged in a series of four groups:

  1. a story leading up to a rule;
  2. a Pātimokkha rule, which always states the penalty incurred for breaking it;
  3. the Old Commentary, the Padabhājaniya, on each rule, defining it word by word;
  4. more stories telling of deviations from the rule, and showing either that they were not so grave as to entail the maximum penalty, or that they were reasonable enough to warrant, in certain circumstances, a modification or a relaxation of the existing rule, or that they were not such as to be rendered permissible by any extenuating circumstances.

Items (3) and (4) are sometimes reversed in position, and (4) is now and again absent altogether.

Footnotes and references:


E.J. Thomas, History of Buddhist Thought, p.267; but see Dutt, Early History of the Spread of Buddhism, p.283f.


Oldenberg, Vinaya Texts i.xlivff.


See Jacobi, Jaina Sūtras, i.xixff. (Sacred Books of the East XXII)..


See S. Dutt, Early Buddhist Monachism, p.92, and B.C. Law, History of Pali Literature, i.20f., for notes on variant numbers of the rules. Also Winternitz, History of Indian Literature, ii.23, n.5, for numbers of rules recognised by various schools.


i.e., Vinaya-aṭṭhakathā, Commentary on the Vinaya.


See below, BD.1.xxxvii.


History of Buddhist Thought, p.268, n.2.


Volume i.xxviiif.


The one for the monks and the one for the nuns.


See below, BD.1.xi.




For date of compilation of the Suttavibhaṅga see Vinaya Texts, i.xxi.


Cf. B.C. Law, History Of Pali Literature, i.46f.

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