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...

Translation of the terms Dhamma and Tathāgata

Besides brahmacariya and brahmacārin, I have left untranslated two other words of great importance. These are dhamma and tathāgata.

Dhamma is a word whose meaning appears to vary in varying contexts. It may mean something like what we should call “conscience,” that which should be done, in one passage; the externalised body of doctrine, in another; fashion, act (etena dhammena, Vin.3.133 = BD.1.225 below), in a third. Mrs. Rhys Davids has written at some length on the meaning of dhamma in her later works, to which I now refer the reader.

Anesaki, in his essay on Tathāgata,[1] closely connects the notion of tathāgata with that of Dhamma, but he comes no nearer to a conclusive translation of tathāgata than do others. For the very ambiguity of its derivation precludes any definitive meaning. This being the case, and because Anesaki has virtually shown that no empirical investigations of the uses of the term can bring us near to a meaning fixed once and for all, we must regard tathāgata as a term best left untranslated. I give here four ways in which it might be rendered:

  1. The one thus-gone, or thus-going (tathā-gata), since gata may be taken as a present as well as a past participle;
  2. The one thus-come, or thus-coming (tathā-āgata);
  3. The truth-finder, used by Lord Chalmers in Further Dialogues of the Buddha, as the result of empirical considerations;
  4. The Way-farer, a rendering suggested by Mrs. Rhys Davids,[2] and used by F.L. Woodward in Gradual Sayings, V.[3]

In Pali literature the term is not applied exclusively to Gotama himself.

If the meaning of words is liable to vary in different contexts, it is wiser and less misleading not to translate those words until there has been some further advance in Pali criticism and interpretation.

BD.1.lvii Deva, devatā and yakkha are other words that I have not translated. This is partly because the nature of these beings has not yet been fully investigated or established; and partly because the little we do know of them leads us to suppose that they represent kinds of beings for whom in English there are no acceptable equivalents. For example, in canonical Pali, devas are no longer “gods,” as they were in the Vedic age; nor are they “angels.”[4] Mrs. Rhys Davids has suggested that they were “brave and pious gentlemen who have passed as ‘devas’ to the next world only to come back one day as men.”[5] There is no doubt that these three classes of being are regarded as having a close contact with the world of men. The word deva is often coupled with manussa, men, people (e.g. Vin.3.1). The earth-devas are recorded to have heard of Sudinna’s lapse, and to have communicated it to the other groups of devas (Vin.3.18 = BD.1.33 below). It is told how a devatā (feminine) belonging to Māra’s retinue came and encouraged Migalaṇḍika for having deprived the monks of life (Vin.3.69 = BD.1.118 below).

Neither do yakkhas seem far removed from the human sphere. Words like “fairies, sprites or goblins” do not accord at all well with the Indian way of thinking. There are the predatory yakkhas (or yakkhas in the form of beasts of prey) who killed some monks, and there is the story of the exorcist monk who deprived a yakkha of life (Vin.3.84 = BD.1.146 below). A monk is recorded to have had sexual intercourse with a yakkhinī (Vin.3.37 = BD.1.56 below), although the Old Commentary does not include this type of being among mātugāma, women-kind (e.g. Vin.3.121 = BD.1.202 below). It defines mātugāma as manussitthi, human women, and carefully and deliberately excludes yakkhīs, petīs and female animals.

Where the word peta, and the feminine petī, occur I have used the translation suggested by BD.1.lviii Mrs. Rhys Davids[6] of “departed one”. It appears that petas, departed ones, those who have gone on, gone before, were regarded as still endowed with life, and able to speak to men. There is the story of the body, inhabited by the peta (Vin.3.58 = BD.1.97 below), which rose up in the cemetery, by what the Commentary calls “the peta’s own power,” and pursued a monk, asking him not to remove his outer cloak from him. It is also curious that it was thought possible for a monk to commit an offence with petīs, and that although an offence committed with petīs, yakkhinīs and nāgīs (female serpents?) is as grave in nature as one committed with a human woman, these beings are excluded from the Old Commentary’s definition of “woman-kind.” It almost looks as if a peta means one who is quite recently dead, and whose mind and spirit still have power over the body, being not yet entirely dissociated from it.

I think that what emerges most clearly from the Vinaya references to devas, devatās, yakkhas and petas, is that there is a non-human world (cf. amanussagāma at Vin.3.46 = BD.1.74 below) whose various denizens penetrate the human world and participate in the affairs of men, as their counterparts are thought to do in India, Burma and Ceylon at the present day.

Where names of weights, measures and mediums of exchange occur, I have left them untranslated, and have given notes. All attempts to correlate English words to these would be wholly misleading, and would conjure up a set of wrong ideas.

Amongst the store of incidental knowledge that this part of the Vinaya brings to light, it should be noted that the word nibbāna occurs only twice, each time in the same stereotyped formula (Vin.3.20, Vin.3.111 = BD.1.35, BD.1.194 below). I have translated it as “waning.” Nothing more can be safely deduced from its virtual absence BD.1.lix than the concentration of this portion of the Suttavibhaṅga on outward morality, on forms of behaviour to be regulated and guided by an external standard rather than by an appeal to the inner conscience, the inner morality which, in the India of the sixth century B.C., was held to be immanent in man.

Besides this piece of negative information, a good many positive details, mostly concerning contemporary manners and customs, are brought to light in this part of the Suttavibhaṅga. There is, for example, mention of the punishments that a king could mete out to a thief, while there emerges the very fact that a king meted them out (Vin.3.46 = BD.1.72, BD.1.73 below); mention of some of the kinds of ornaments used (Vin.3.48, Vin.3.180 = BD.1.75f., BD.1.314 below); some of the kinds of games played (Vin.3.180 = BD.1.316 below); the sort of foodstuffs in common consumption; various kinds of animals, birds, insects, plants and flowers (Vin.3.48, Vin.3.49, Vin.3.52, Vin.3.58 = BD.1.79, BD.1.80, BD.1.87, BD.1.98 below); there is mention of the existence of customs, frontiers and customs’ houses (Vin.3.52, Vin.3.62 = BD.1.86, BD.1.104 below); smuggling, kidnapping of children, the kind of treatment given by monks to their ill comrades; there is evidence for the belief that trees may be inhabited by conscious beings; and there is the indication that Indians, then as now, appear to have no difficulty in dying at will. I have nothing to add to Rhys Davids’ and Oldenberg’s remarks on the knowledge and use of writing[7] at the time of the compilation of the Vinaya.

The following authorities, including the late Professor E.J. Rapson, kindly helped me on the difficult point of finding a translation for the term bhikkhu; their letters were most interesting, while showing a considerable diversity of opinion. I have much pleasure in tendering my thanks to all their writers: to Professor J. Przyluski, Mrs. Rhys Davids, Professor Otto Schrader, Professor Helmer Smith and Professor F.W. Thomas. Above all, I should like to express my gratitude to my BD.1.lx friend, Miss A.M. Cooke, for her illuminating conversations on the Western monk. It remains for me to thank, especially and most sincerely, Mrs. Rhys Davids for entrusting the translation of the Vinaya to me, for her many rewarding suggestions, and for the help that she has generously bestowed upon the preparation of this volume.

(Note by Sujato: The following notes on the text do not apply to this SuttaCentral edition.)

An asterisk in the text denotes that the word or passage beside which it appears is given in full in Pali in the Appendix.

The page numbers, given in square brackets in the text, and corresponding to Oldenberg’s page numbers of his edition of the Vinayapiṭaka, are placed, not at the beginning of the pages to which the translation corresponds, but at the end. This has been done in order to introduce a certain consistency, for all Vinaya numbering—of section, sub-section and paragraph—is placed at the end.

I.B. Horner. Manchester, 1938.

Footnotes and references:


Kataṃ Karanīyaṃ, Tokyo, 1934, p.240ff.


Sakya, pp.67–68, p.381; Manual of Buddhism, p.116.


See GS.v.xiii; Verses of Uplift, Sacred Books of the Buddhists viii., p.81, n.2.


A. Coomaraswamy, A New Approach to the Vedas, p.60ff.


Manual of Buddhism, p.92.


Indian Religion and Survival, p.35; and cf. p.59.


Vinaya Texts, i.xxiiff.

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