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 thirteen Saṅghādisesa rules

Like the Pārājika rules, the Saṅghādisesas begin (in Bu-Ss.2Bu-Ss.1 is in a category apart) with four rules connected with a monk’s conduct towards women. Then come two rules (Bu-Ss.6, Bu-Ss.7) in which injunctions for building a hut and a vihāra on sites approved by other monks, are set forth. The point of these rules appears to be to prevent monks from begging building materials too greedily from the laity, and to prevent them from building anywhere where animal life would be endangered or destroyed. The force of the injunction that the hut or the vihāra must have an open space round it, is difficult to interpret, and the Old Commentary gives no practical help. It probably means that no monk should live in a secret place. The laity, who had contributed to the building of the hut or vihāra, would very likely wish to have seen that the monk was behaving in a way worthy of their gift, and hence his conduct and habits must be open to unhindered inspection.

Bu-Ss.8 and Bu-Ss.9 comprise rules against the defamation of one monk by another. Then come two against the making of a schism in the Order, while Bu-Ss.12 is concerned with the offence that a monk incurs if he is difficult to speak to. All such transgressions, leading to disharmony in the Order, would have made it hard for the Order to maintain itself and to progress. And if there had been repeated quarrels, discord and stubbornness, the Order would have become discredited among its lay supporters.

The twelfth Saṅghādisesa should be compared with the Anumāna Sutta.[1] The Old Commentary’s definition of dubbacajātika,” difficult to speak to” BD.1.xxix (Vin.3.178 = BD.1.311 below), is word for word the same as the Anumāna’s description of the monk whom his fellows consider unfit to be taught or, instructed.[2] Buddhaghosa states[3] that the Ancients (porāṇā) called this Sutta the Bhikkhu-pātimokkha. This leads us to wonder if the twelfth Saṅghādisesa indeed represents some specially ancient fragment of the Pātimokkha, and whether, while the rules were being shaped, refusal to take the training with deference and respect appeared amongst the earliest offences that a monk could commit.

The last and thirteenth Saṅghādisesa rule is against bringing families into disrepute. This, again, would make the Order unpopular among the lay followers. It must be remembered that it was considered highly important to propitiate these, to court their admiration, to keep their allegiance, to do nothing to annoy them. For without their active interest and support the Order could not have endured. It is true that, had it been disbanded, the Sakyaputtiyas, as individuals, would not have come to starvation. For the “holy man,” be he samaṇa, sādhu, sañyāsin or fakir, in India always has had his physical needs fulfilled. And some Sakyaputtiyas doubtless could have reverted to a household life; while others might have gone to dwell in the forests, there to subsist on fruits and roots (phalamūla), and to dress in bark and antelopes’ hides, as did some of their brahmin precursors and contemporaries. But, in fact, the Order became a powerful magnet, attracting men and women from many and various families, classes, trades and occupations, from the ranks of the Jains and Wanderers (paribbājaka). Historically, the success of the Early Buddhist experiment in monasticism must be in great part attributed to the wisdom of constantly considering the susceptibilities and criticisms of the laity.

Like the meaning of pārājika, the meaning of saṅghādisesa is controversial. Again B.C. Law[4] and I follow Vinaya Texts in rendering saṅghādisesa as offences (or rules or matters) which require a formal meeting of the Order.

Now, one part of the penalty imposed for a breach of any one of the thirteen Saṅghādisesa rules, namely, a return to the beginning of the probationary period, has apparently led Kern, for example, to describe the Saṅghādisesas as offences “involving suspension and a temporary exclusion”[5]—from the Order or from taking part in its legal procedure is not made clear, though the latter must be meant. The other part of the penalty, namely, the necessity of undergoing the mānatta discipline, has apparently led E.J. Thomas,[6] for example, to describe these offences as those which involve “a period of penance and reinstatement by the Assembly.” Burnouf suggests[7] that saṅghādisesa means “that which should be declared to the Saṅgha from the beginning to the end.” He further states that the Chinese syllables, pho chi cha, the equivalents of ādisesa, are “probably altered.” This may be because the Pali had already been altered from some more definite phrase containing less ambiguity and obscurity. Childers suggests[8] that this class of offence is so called because as much in the beginning (ādi) as in the end (sesa) a Saṅgha is required to administer the stages of penalty and ultimately rehabilitation.

Neither of the descriptions—suspension or penance—is contained etymologically in the word saṅghādisesa. That both were penalties incurred by this type of offence is indubitable. But by derivation, the compound saṅghādisesa could not possibly mean either suspension, mānatta discipline or reinstatement. Comparison with the Sanskrit brings us no nearer to an elucidation. For as Kern remarks,[9] “Neither a Sanskrit Saṅghāvaśesa nor Saṅghātiśesa, i.e. remnant of the Saṅgha, renders a satisfactory meaning.”

BD.1.xxxi In the circumstances it is best to allow that we are in the realm of ancient technicalities, whose exact significance the passage of time has dimmed. In a translation, we can, however, pay due regard to the only member of the compound saṅghādisesa which is neither grammatically obscure nor controversial. This is saṅgha, meaning for Sakya the Order, or any part of the whole Order resident within a certain boundary, district or vihāra. That the offence could not be settled without the intervention of the Order is a point for which there is the support of the Old Commentary. This states clearly that “it is the Order which places (the wrong-doer) on probation, it sends (him) back to the beginning, it inflicts the mānatta, it rehabilitates.”[10] Moreover, as noted by Childers, Rhys Davids and Oldenberg, this type of punishment had to be enforced, could only be enforced, by formal resolutions (saṅghakamma) carried at meetings of the Order.

It is just possible that kamma, most usually work, which the Old Commentary states is a synonym for this class of offence, has also a specialised sense of “proceedings, ceremony performed by a lawfully constituted Saṅgha of monks.” Such proceedings were formal in character, with motions and resolutions, and rules for their validity. Thus, if kamma were indeed a synonym for this class of offence, and if it means acts of a formal nature, then what saṅghādisesa means is a type of offence whose punishment must be meted out by some formal administration on the part of the Order.

It may well be that the penalty for every class of offence could be imposed, or came at some time to be regarded as effective, only as the result of the jurisdiction of the Order met together in solemn conclave. This, however, would not prove that the word saṅghādisesa does not contain some special reference to the Order as that instrument which, in this type of offence, administers the penalty. It is more than possible that BD.1.xxxii some of the other rules were known and named before the codification of the Pātimokkha, but that the penalty for breaking them could be imposed by one or more individuals. Otherwise it could hardly have been necessary for the Old Commentary expressly to state that it is the Order, and not one man or many persons, which imposes the Saṅghādisesa penalties.[11]

As S. Dutt shrewdly observes,[12] “It is significant that only one of the group of offences (Saṅghādisesa) is mentioned as coming within the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Saṅgha, and it is in the case of this group only that certain penalties to be imposed upon the Bhikkhu, even against his will … viz. Parivāsa and Mānatta, are laid down. In the case of the other offences it is nowhere stated or suggested in the Pātimokkha itself that the Saṅgha should have jurisdiction over them, and no mode of exercising such jurisdiction is defined, as in the case of the Saṅghādisesas.”

It is not impossible that originally the various Saṅghas, which were really sub-divisions of the whole Saṅgha, exercised their jurisdiction over each individual member only in the case of the Saṅghādisesa offences, only coming later to exercise such jurisdiction in the case of all classes of offence. If this is so, we do well, I think, to underline the formalities which the Saṅghādisesa offences entailed, and were very likely alone in so doing at first. For by this means some early feature of the Order’s history may be kept in mind.

Footnotes and references:


MN15. Buddhaghosa at Vin-a.742, says that this Sutta is one of the five spoken for the disciples of the four groups (i.e., monks and nuns, male and female lay-followers).


MN.i.95, line 12ff.




History of Pali Literature 47, 50.


Manual of Indian Buddhism, p.85.


History of Buddhist Thought, p.17.


Introduction à l’ History du Buddhisme indien, 2nd edition, p.269.


Pali Dictionary.


Manual of Indian Buddhism, p.85, n.9.


See below, BD.1.196.


See below, BD.1.196.


Early Buddhist Monachism, p.105.

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