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...

Eight sections of the Pātimokkha rules

The Pātimokkha rules of the Pali Vinaya fall into eight sections, classified according to the gravity of BD.1.xx the offence committed. Of these eight sections, only three are covered by the present volume. These are, first, the four Pārājika rules, framed to govern those offences, the most serious of all, which involve “defeat,” and whose penalty is expulsion from the Order; and secondly, the thirteen Saṅghādisesa rules, framed for the type of offence which is so grave as to necessitate a formal meeting of the Saṅgha, or whole community of monks present in the district or in the vihāra where the offence was committed. The penalties incurred for a Saṅghādisesa offence are chiefly that of being sent back by the monks to the beginning of the probationary period, together with that of undergoing the mānatta discipline. The terms pārājika, saṅghādisesa and mānatta are shortly discussed on BD.1.xxvif., BD.1.xxixff., BD.1.38, BD.1.195f. below.

Thirdly, included in this volume, are the two Aniyata rules, designed to meet offences whose nature is so “undetermined” that only individual circumstances can decide whether it is such as to involve defeat, or a formal meeting of the Order, thereby being linked with the two preceding sections of rules; or whether it is such as to require expiation (pācittiya). Because of this further possibility, the Aniyata rules are linked with the next group but one, the Pācittiya rules.

The first three Pārājika rules are levelled against the breach of a code of morality generally recognised and active among all civilised communities: against un-chastity, against the taking of what was not given, and against the depriving of life.

Evidently the aim of the strictures on unchastity, with which Bu-Pj.1 is concerned, was partly to bring the monks into line with members of other preceding and contemporary sects whose members, having renounced the household state, had to be celibate. This notion already had history behind it by the time the Sakyan Order of monks came into being. It was a notion based as much on common-sense, as on the conviction that restraint and self-taming were indispensable BD.1.xxi factors in the winning of the fruit of a monk’s life.

It is perhaps not necessary to believe that each or any of the many and curious forms of unchastity, mentioned in Bu-Pj.1, ever was actually perpetrated by a monk. Such comprehensive treatment as is found is not needed either to support or to elucidate the meaning of the general rule. This was clear enough. It is possible, of course, that some of the delinquencies did occur, while others did not, but we do not know. In any case, it is also possible that at the time of the final recension, each rule was minutely scrutinised and analysed, and all the deviations from it, of which the recensionists had heard or which they could imagine, were formulated and added in some kind of order. For then there would be in the future no doubt of the class of offence (E.g. Pārājika, thullaccaya or dukkaṭa) to which any wrong behaviour that had been or should be committed, belonged, or of what was the statutory penalty for that offence. The smooth and detailed handling of some parts of the other Pārājika rules and of some of the Saṅghādisesa rules, likewise suggests that these are the outcome, not of events, so much as of lengthy and anxious deliberations. The recensionists had a responsible task. They were legislating for the future, and they would, I think, have been determined to define in as minute a way as possible the offence already stated in a general way in each major rule.

Stealing is ranked as a Pārājika (Bu-Pj.2), or the gravest kind of offence, not merely because civilisation agrees that, for various reasons, it is wrong to take something not given. It was particularly reprehensible for a Sakyan monk to steal, since at the time of his entry into the Order he morally renounced his claim to all personal and private possessions, and should henceforth have regarded anything he used as communal property, lent to him for his needs. In addition, it may be urged that if monks were restrained from stealing, any tendencies they may have had towards BD.1.xxii greed and gluttony, towards finery and luxury, towards carelessness in the use of their requisites, would have been reduced and perhaps eradicated, thus allowing a greater margin for the exercise of unfettered spiritual endeavour.

There is a point in Bu-Pj.2 to which I should like to draw attention. The rules concerned with taking what was not given show that stealing something of or above a definite, though small, value, namely, five māsakas,[1] is a more blameworthy offence than stealing something worth less than five māsakas. Five māsakas apparently constitute the lowest commercial value that an object can have, and anything less is presumably commercially valueless and therefore negligible. But all tendency towards acquisition had to be suppressed in the monks, all inclination to regard objects in the light of possible possessions to be checked. And further, it had to be remembered that monks might not know the exact value of some particular object.[2]

In Bu-Pj.2, the value in māsakas of the object stolen becomes the standard of moral transgression, and hence the criterion of the gravity of the offence committed: to steal something of more than five māsakas entails defeat; to steal something of the value of from one to four māsakas is said to be a grave offence;[3] while to steal something worth less than one māsaka is called an offence of wrong-doing.[4] Thus the gravity of the offence of stealing is shown to be to some extent dependent upon the value of the object stolen. At Vin.1.96, on the other hand, it is said to be an offence entailing defeat to steal even a blade of grass. These inconsistencies doubtless suggest that these rules were drawn up at different times.[5]

No doubt the depriving of life ranked as a Pārājika BD.1.xxiii offence (Bu-Pj.3) partly because it is the very opposite of ahiṃsā, non-violence, non-injury, which was an idea prevalent in India before the advent of Sakya. Again, the teaching on rebirth and the allied teaching on karma, both pre-Sakyan notions, would hold that the murderer, in consequence of his deed, obstructs his progress through the worlds, until he has worked off the fruit of his action. The problems of Freewill and Predetermination find no place in Indian philosophy. Man’s will is assumed to be free. Hence the murderer might have chosen otherwise: the deed of murdering was not pre-ordained. To incite a person to death was considered as bad as murdering him. For if praise of “the beauty of death” inspired him to die at will, if he cut himself off before he had done his time here, the fruits of past deeds, both good and ill, would still remain to be worked off by him.

It may seem strange to a European living in the twentieth century that the offences of unchastity, stealing and murder receive the same legal punishment. But different ages have different values. In England, hanging was the penalty for sheep-stealing up to modern times. And the Pātimokkha rules relate to more than two thousand years ago, some of them being rooted in an even more remote antiquity. Besides, we must remember that they were for monks, and not only for Sakyan monks. The Jains had precepts corresponding to these first three Pārājika rules, as did the common precursors of Jain and Sakyan, the sañyāsins or brahmin ascetics and recluses.[6]

Those who had gone forth into homelessness were to withstand all temptation and ambition offered by life “in the world,” they were to be beyond the reach of its quarrels, loves and hatreds. For, if they continued to behave as those who had not gone forth, their supporters would fall away, the non-believers would think but little of them, and the believers would not increase in number.

BD.1.xxiv The injunctions against unchastity, the taking of what was not given, and against the depriving of life, besides corresponding to the brahmin and Jain precepts, also correspond to the first three Buddhist sīlas, moral “habits,” or precepts of ethical behaviour. These, however, run in reverse order from the Pārājikas, and begin with the precept of refraining from onslaught on creatures. Next comes refraining from taking what was not given, and thirdly the precept of refraining from unchastity (here called abrahmacariya, as it is in the Jain sūtras). The fourth Pārājika, alone of the Pārājikas, does not find any corresponding matter among the sīlas. If the relation of the Pārājikas to the sīlas were worked out, some cogent reason for these discrepancies might emerge.

At present I can only suggest that the fourth Pārājika, of which I have shortly spoken elsewhere,[7] is concerned more with a monk’s spiritual state than with his outward behaviour.[8] In this it differs from the sīlas, and more interesting still, from the other Pātimokkha rules. These are, with the striking exception of the fourth Pārājika, concerned with the here and now, with the regulation of certain aspects of community life, with matters affecting the Order, with the arrangement of various mundane affairs, with questions of conduct concerning the opposite sex and the lay followers, with questions of property.

The curious fourth Pārājika, concerned with the offence of “claiming a state or quality of further-men” (uttarimanussadhamma), seems to have been fashioned in some different mould, and to belong to some contrasting realm of values. It is by no means a mere condemnation of boasting or lying in general, for it is the particular nature of the boast or the lie which makes the offence one of the gravest that a monk can commit: the boast of having reached some stage in BD.1.xxv spiritual development, only attainable after a long training in the fixed and stable resolve to become more perfect, and to make the potential in him assume actuality. The seriousness of the offence of unfoundedly claiming a state of further-men is further emphasised by the statement at Pārājika 4 that, if a deliberate lie is uttered in connection with such a claim, then that lie constitutes an offence entailing defeat. Yet, in the Suttavibhaṅga, it is far more common to find that deliberate lying ranks as an offence requiring expiation (pācittiya), which is not nearly so grave as one “involving defeat.”

I have suggested elsewhere that the claiming of a state, or states, of further-men, to which the claimant was not entitled, could have only appeared as a most heinous offence to people by whom a teaching on becoming, on becoming more perfect, of going further, was held in much esteem. Perhaps the greatest of Mrs. Rhys Davids’ many contributions to the interpretation of Early Buddhism, is that this idea of becoming was of living power and force to Gotoma’s early followers. If so, one may conclude, tentatively, that the fourth Pārājika belongs to an ancient Sakyan stratum, and that in this, other-worldly (lokuttara) matters were held to be as important as, if not more so than, worldly (loka) matters. For I think it possible that the Pārājikas are arranged in an ascending scale of gravity, in which the offence held to be the worst morally, though not legally, is placed last. Be this as it may, if spiritual progress and development had not been valued by the Sakyans, to whom this precept appears to be peculiar, the offence of untruly claiming the attainment of this or that advanced spiritual state could not have ranked as a Pārājika offence.

It should be remarked that talk on conditions of further-men, though not absent from the Sutta-Piṭaka, is at no place accentuated in it. There is, for example, a Saṃyutta passage, which is the exact parallel of a long Vinaya passage, with the noteworthy exception that in the former there is no reference to Moggallāna BD.1.xxvi as one held by other monks to be claiming a state of further-men, an imputed claim which seems to be the pivot of the Vinaya passage.[9]

I have chosen to translate pārājika by “defeat” chiefly, I admit, because Rhys Davids and Oldenberg rendered it in this way. They follow Buddhaghosa, who, to quote E.J. Thomas,[10] “interprets pārājika as ‘suffering defeat,’ and the Mūlasarvāstivādins appear to do the same (Mahāvyutpatti 278, 279).” The editors of Vinaya Texts refer “the word to the passive of ji (to defeat) with parā prefixed.”[11] B.C. Law also considers these four rules are concerned with “acts which bring about defeat.”[12] Although it may be grammatically incorrect to refer pārājika to parā-ji,[13] to my mind no more convincing derivation has so far been put forward. Burnouf’s idea[14] (adopted by Childers[15] and others) is that pārājika is derived from parā + aj, meaning a crime which involves the expulsion or exclusion of the guilty party. parā + aj may be a better source, grammatically speaking, for pārājika than is parā + ji. Yet, that the sense intended is “defeat,” seems to me rather less doubtful than that it is expulsion, and aj, though a Vedic root, meaning “to drive away,” is unknown as a root in Pali.

It might be argued that because in each promulgation of the Pārājika rules the words pārājiko hoti is followed by the word asaṃvāso, “not in communion,” this is because the two are complementary, asaṃvāso filling out the sense intended by pārājika. Such an argument would naturally increase the tendency to regard pārājika as a word standing for expulsion or exclusion, probably of a permanent nature.[16] But may it not be that pārājika and asaṃvāso represent not BD.1.xxvii complementary, but disparate ideas, the not being in communion introducing a new notion, and one connected with and dependent upon not expulsion, but defeat?

If a monk were found to be unworthy to be in communion, unfitted to take his part in the communal acts and jurisdiction, then he would have to be expelled. But equally, he would have to cease to be in communion (which would entail expulsion, either temporary or permanent), if he found that he was defeated in his endeavour “to achieve the end for which he entered the Order.”[17]

It is beyond all doubt that the punishment for breach of the Pārājika rules indeed involves expulsion. But it seems unnecessary to take the etymologically obscure pārājika itself to mean expulsion, when this notion is covered by the word asaṃvāso, with which, as I have said, pārājika is always coupled in the formulation of the Pārājika rules. In addition, it may be remarked that the Suttavibhaṅga has the verb nāseti (causative of nassati), meaning” to be expelled.”[18]

In such a very controversial case, I have preferred to follow the commentator. It appears very probable that many of these words: Pātimokkha, Pārājika itself, Saṅghādisesa, were adopted from pre-Buddhist sects, and thus had some tradition behind them. Now, it may well be that the commentator explained the word pārājika according to a meaning that for it and for him had become traditional. In which case, such an explanation will as truly enshrine something of the history of that word as later and inconclusive attempts at grammatical analysis. Moreover, the reference, in the third formulation of Pārājika 1, to not disavowing the training and not declaring weakness, together with the subsequent detailed analysis of these phrases (below, BD.1.42ff.), to my mind lends weight to the suggestion that a monk becomes one who is defeated BD.1.xxviii (pārājiko hoti)[19] through his own inability or “weakness” to lead the Brahma-life.

Footnotes and references:


Below, BD.1.85.


Below, BD.1.114.


Thullaccayā, a technical term.


Dukkaṭa, another technical term.


See Vinaya Texts, i.xxv, for plausible argument for the introduction of the new terms thullaccaya and dukkaṭa into the final recension of the Vinaya.


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


Early Buddhist Theory of Man Perfected, p.111ff.


The fifth Jain precept, to renounce all interest in worldly things, calling nothing one’s own (aparigraha), seems to be on a rather different basis from the other Jain precepts.


SN.ii.254–262 = Vin.3.104ff. See below, BD.1.180ff.


History Of Buddhist Thought, p.16, n.2.


Vinaya Texts, i.3 n.


History of Pali Literature, i.47, i.50.


E.g. Kern, Manual of Indian Buddhism, 85.


Introduction à l’ History du Buddhisme indien, 2nd edition, 268.


Pali Dictionary


E.J. Thomas, History of Buddhist Thought, 16; Kern, Manual of Indian Buddhism, 85.


B.C. Law, History of Pali Literature, i.47, n.1; also cf. p.50.


E.g. Vin.3.33, Vin.3.40 = BD.1.50, BD.1.62 below.


On hoti = bhavati to become, see Mrs. Rhys Davids, To Become or Not to Become, p.18ff.