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...

Audience of the Vinaya

It must be admitted that several early literatures have a coarse side. That the translations of Pali canonical works have so far been not in the least offensive, is mainly, or it may be said only, because the Sutta-Piṭaka and the Abhidhamma-Piṭaka deal chiefly with spiritual matters. The Vinaya, on the other hand, being concerned with behaviour, is forced occasionally to go into some aspects of life irrelevant to the subject-matter of the other two Piṭakas. Such expositions are, however, almost entirely confined to Pārājika 1 and Saṅghādisesa 1.

BD.1.xxxvii With regard to this preservation of crude passages in the Vinaya, three points must be insisted upon. In the first place they were neither spoken nor written down for a general public, but were intended only for the devotees of celibacy. Secondly, the motive which led to their being uttered or written down was not a desire to shock, but the need to prevent unchastity. Thirdly, the pattern on which the compilers of the Suttavibhaṅga worked was one of almost unbelievable detail, for in their efforts to be lucid, case after case of possible or actual deviation from the general rule was investigated, penalised and perpetuated. Hence it cannot justly be said that the tendency to be detailed is greater or more insistent in one Pārājika, or in one Saṅghādisesa, than in others. Such lack of restraint as is found may be embarrassing to us, but it must be remembered that early peoples are not so much afraid of plain speech as we are. No stigma of indecency or obscenity should therefore be attached to such Vinaya passages as seem unnecessarily outspoken to us. For they were neither deliberately indecent nor deliberately obscene. The matters to which they refer had to be legislated for as much as had matters of theft and murder, of choosing sites for huts and vihāras.

Nevertheless the differences in the outlook of an early society and a modern one may easily be forgotten or disregarded. I have therefore omitted some of the cruder Suttavibhaṅga passages, and have given abbreviated versions of others, while incorporating them in their unabridged state in Pali in an Appendix, and marking them by an asterisk in the text. Even in omitting or expurgating such passages, I yet think that they are interesting historically, scientifically and psychologically, even psycho-analytically, and that they might be of value to anyone making a detailed comparison of Eastern and Western Monachism.

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