Vinaya Pitaka (3): Khandhaka

by I. B. Horner | 2014 | 386,194 words | ISBN-13: 9781921842160

The English translation of the Khandhaka: the second book of the Pali Vinaya Pitaka, one of the three major ‘baskets’ of Therevada canonical literature. It is a collection of various narratives. The English translation of the Vinaya-pitaka (third part, khandhaka) contains many Pali original words, but transliterated using a system similar to the I...

Translator’s Introduction

BD.4.v The present volume of the Book of the Discipline covers the whole of the Mahāvagga, the Great, or Greater Division of the Vinaya, and is thus a translation of the first volume of Oldenberg’s Vinaya Piṭakaṃ, published in 1879. The Mahāvagga was translated in full by Rhys Davids and Oldenberg, and comprises most of Volume I and the first part of Volume II of their Vinaya Texts (their Cūlavagga translation also begins in Volume II), published in the Sacred Books of the East, Volumes XIII and XVII, in 1881, 1882. These volumes, although they first appeared seventy years ago, are still indispensable for a study of early Buddhist monastic life.

This new translation of the Book of the Discipline is, however, justified I think, for various reasons. For example, recent events have focused attention on the Buddhist lands of South-East Asia where Buddhist monks still follow these ancient rules; Buddhism itself is stirring and seeking to know more of its own treasures, and it is attracting non-Buddhists to become acquainted with them likewise. The moment is therefore not unsuitable to re-translate one of the principal works of the Pali canon, the more especially as many Western students are now debarred from consulting the original English translation, Vinaya Texts, since unfortunately it is out of print. Moreover, the scholarship which has been lavished on the Pali canon during roughly the last century has inevitably resulted in an increased understanding of the technical and other terms so abundant in the Vinaya and which in many cases also occur in other parts of the Pali canon. Following this, there has resulted a surer knowledge of Pali Buddhism as a whole. Now that references, allusions, remarks, not to mention words themselves, can be compared with other contexts, which had been either not edited in Roman letters or not translated by the time Vinaya Texts was published, they are able to take on a fresh and a fuller meaning. For the same reason various terms and phrases, hitherto difficult and perhaps baffling, have become easier to understand, and hence to translate.

I have therefore attempted translations of various words that Rhys Davids and Oldenberg, for one reason or another, kept in the Pali. I do not claim originality, however, for my renderings, for most, if not all of these terms have already been translated where they occur in other canonical texts and have appeared in their appropriate books in the Pali Text Society’s Translation Series or in the Sacred Books of the Buddhists. Some of these words may be mentioned here. For example, as in the first three volumes of the Book of the Discipline, saṅgha is rendered as Order; dukkaṭa as wrong-doing (a type of offence) of constant occurrence in this volume; sāmaṇera as novice; titthiyā as other sects; bhikkhu and bhikkhunī as monk and nun; chabbaggiyā bhikkhū as the sixfold group of monks; vassa as the rains; parivāsa as probation; upajjhāya as preceptor; saddhivihārika as the one who shares his cell; ācariya as teacher (in a technical sense), and antevāsin as his pupil; and pavāraṇā as Invitation.

In this volume I have also translated a number of other words, likewise left untranslated by Rhys Davids and Oldenberg, and which have not occurred in my three preceding volumes. For example, I have translated pārisuddhi as entire purity; nissaya as dependence; and ñatti as motion while ñatticatuttha is a motion followed by a resolution put three times. I have also given the names of the formal acts of the Order in English. All these are technical terms, and should be understood, for they naturally help to clarify some of the depths and complications of the Vinaya. In almost every case the notes which Rhys Davids and Oldenberg append to their untranslated words are of great value and merit careful consultation. I have made no attempt to translate dhamma and nibbāna. But I hope by translating such terms as I have mentioned above I have, while keeping to the Pali intention, perhaps clothed them in a meaning and significance easier for the English reader to grasp than when he is confronted with the Pali forms.

This volume opens with the account, of the greatest importance to historians and devotees of Buddhism alike, of the days immediately preceding the formation of the Order itself, beginning with the seven days’ contemplation under the Bo-tree where Gotama sat enjoying the bliss of deliverance just after he had attained that full awakening, illumination or enlightenment which marked his passage from Bodhisattahood to Buddhahood.

According to this Mahāvagga account, during each of “the BD.4.vii three watches of the night”—presumably the last of the seven spent under the Bo-tree—he uttered a solemn utterance concerned with cause, and then with the routing of Māra (in the third watch). The Dhammapada Commentary (Dhp-a.iii.127) says that in the first watch he dissipated the darkness (ignorance) veiling his former abodes, or lives, births; that in the second he purified his deva-vision; and that in the third, out of compassion for creatures, he paid right mindfulness to dependent origination both in forward and reverse order. Then, self-awakened to the fullest self-awakening, he uttered the solemn utterance common to hundreds of thousands of Buddhas, namely the two verses beginning anekajātisaṃsāraṃ (Dhp.153; Thag.183; Ja.i.76). The Introduction to the Vinaya Commentary (Samantapāsādikā ), Vol.i, p.17, and the Dīgha Commentary (DN-a.i.16), agree that these verses are the first Buddhavacana; while the Udāna Commentary (Ud-a.208) and the Suttanipāta Commentary (Snp-a.ii.392) also say that he uttered these verses after he had attained the three knowledges in the three watches of the night. The Khuddakapāṭha Commentary (Kp-a.12–Kp-a.13), elaborating further, or perhaps following some other tradition, says that while these two verses were the first of all words to be uttered by the Buddha (Buddha, because now, although very recently, “awakened”), they were only spoken mentally and not out loud. For what he first spoke out loud, so this Commentary continues, was the verse which in the Mahāvagga is attributed to the end of the first watch of the night of awakening.

At the end of the third watch of this crucial night the Buddha went, according to the Mahāvagga, to the foot of the Ajapāla banyan and sat there for seven days; he then spent another seven days at the foot of the Mucalinda tree, and a still further seven at the foot of the Rājāyatana. While he was at the first of these three trees he was visited by a brahmin, representative of one of the sects which abounded in India at that time, and the Buddha stated his view on what it is to be a “Brahmin” (in the true sense). While he was at the second tree a naga-king arrived to offer him protection—indicative of the close and, on the whole, friendly relations which in the Buddhist tradition existed between serpents and human beings. Again Gotama made a short statement, this time on what it is that constitutes BD.4.viii “highest bliss”, parama sukha. Although this statement lacks the terseness of that attributed to Gotama in the Māgandiya Sutta (MN 75): that “nibbāna is the highest bliss”, it nevertheless contains tenets that throughout the long history of Buddhism have remained at the heart of its teaching: that the absence of malice, the absence of feeling attracted to conditioned things, the transcending of sense-pleasures, and the averting (or control, vinaya) of pride in the thought “I am”—that these are the highest bliss.

In the “Talk on Brahmā’s Entreaty” during the time of the Buddha’s hesitation to teach dhamma, concepts emerge which, with more insistence or less, are found in most of the Pali canonical texts: the deepness and difficulty of dhamma, its peace, and the consequent need to teach it in a world so delighting and rejoicing in sensual pleasure that it was averse to letting itself be persuaded that dhamma, earnestly practised, led upstream, against the current, paṭisotagāmin, and by the death of craving opened the doors of deathlessness to nibbāna, the source of true and supreme bliss.

The first Khandhaka, Section or Chapter of the Mahāvagga, called the Great (mahā) Section,[1] also contains Gotama’s famous utterance to Upaka, the Naked Ascetic, of his victoriousness, perfection and self-awakening, of his uniqueness, and of his having had no teacher (Kd.1.6.8). He is therefore different from other human beings. Then there comes, preceded by further stress on the finding of deathlessness, the First Discourse, delivered to the five earliest followers, and called elsewhere the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Discourse on the Rolling of the Wheel of Dhamma, in which the Middle Course between the two extremes, the dead-ends of too great luxury and too great austerity, is called the ariyan Eightfold Way. This Way is graded into sīla, samādhi and pañña. (MN.i.301) and centres on dukkha, unsatisfactoriness, ill or suffering, and the stopping of it, epitomised later by Gotama when he is recorded to say (MN.i.140): “As formerly, so now, this is precisely what I teach: ill and the stopping of ill.” Aññata Koṇḍañña was the first of the disciples to apprehend this central fact in causality, that “whatever is of the nature to arise, all that is of the nature to stop”. It was his vision of dhamma, as it was soon afterwards that of his four companions.

BD.4.ix As this dhamma-vision arose in each one of them he asked for the “going forth” or admission, pabbajjā, and for the ordination, upasampadā, in the Lord’s presence. In response, Gotama uttered the words, “Come, monk, ehi bhikkhu, well taught is dhamma, fare the Brahma-faring for the utter ending of ill.” This, the original formula, used by Gotama when the Order was beginning to form and while it was still in its infancy, covers simultaneous admission and ordination. Later, two separate procedures supervened, and as the Mahāvagga shows, admission into the Order had to be gained before ordination could be conferred.

After the Second Discourse, that on the impossibility of the five khandhas being self because they are impermanent and suffering, and also spoken to the five original followers, and after the ordination of Yasa, his four friends, and then his fifty friends, there were sixty-one arahants in the world (Kd.1.10.4). “Freed from all snares,” they were told by Gotama to go out on tour and preach dhamma for the good and the welfare of the multitude. As a result many people became anxious for admission and ordination, but, journeying to Gotama so as to be admitted and ordained by him, they arrived exhausted. Accordingly he thereupon allowed monks themselves to admit and ordain in any district, in any quarter. They were not, however, instructed to use the words “Come, monk.” On the contrary, it is now the candidate who has three times to repeat another formula. This is called admission and ordination by the “three goings for refuge”. This marks the second stage in the ordination proceedings. In the usage to be followed by those who wished to be monastic followers, the three refuges became stabilised as buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi, dhammaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi, saṅghaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi, each phrase to be repeated three times. Those who wished to be counted as lay-disciples (upāsaka, feminine upāsikā) asked for this status by repeating the slightly different formula of taking refuge not in buddhaṃ, dhammaṃ and saṅghaṃ, but in bhagavantaṃ, dhammaṃ and bhikkhusaṅghaṃ,[2] or in bhavantaṃ Gotamaṃ, dhammaṃ and bhikkhusaṅghaṃ.[3]

BD.4.x It is probable that this method of admitting and ordaining did not last very long. The reasons given for abolishing it are perhaps not very convincing, and we should have expected more details and tales of mishaps showing that it no longer sufficed and therefore needed revising. At all events, as the Mahāvagga stands, on an occasion when Sāriputta asked him how he should admit and ordain a certain Brahmin, Gotama did not answer that the Brahmin’s repetition of the three goings for refuge would constitute his ordination (Kd.1.28.3). Instead the third phase now arose: that of the Order ordaining a candidate, presented by his preceptor, by means of a formal act (kamma) consisting of a motion and a resolution proclaimed three times (ñatticatuttha). This means that it is now the Order alone which has the authority, the power and the legal right to ordain. In addition, the candidate for ordination now has to have a preceptor, agreed upon by the Order, who must present him to the Order—that is to the one dwelling within the boundary where he wants to take up his residence—and who must have prepared him beforehand so that, without feeling ashamed or confused, he will be able to answer a number of routine questions that will be put to him in the midst of the Order. No doubt of gradual growth, these routine-questions form a kind of examination, and it is impressed on the candidate by his preceptor that now, above all times, is a time for truth-speaking.

These are, however, merely some of the features among the many leading to the finalised form of the ordination proceedings. These multiplied and became intricate to suit the dynamic and progressive phase in which they took shape. Gone is the old simplicity of “Come, monk”. Regulations have to increase to meet a complexity of emergent eventualities. The resources, nissaya, the minimum number of monks composing an Order competent to ordain, the number of years a monk must have been ordained before he is reckoned as suitable or competent to ordain others, living in dependence, nissāya vatthuṃ, on a teacher, giving guidance, nissayaṃ dātuṃ, the qualities that a monk should be possessed of in order to ordain, and the ordination and probation of former members of other sects, and the age at which a person may be ordained, are all subjects brought under review. The inner life of the Order BD.4.xi had to be safeguarded as much as had its relations to the world outside.

That the candidate for ordination had to undergo a prior period of preparation and instruction at the hands of a preceptor implies a passage of time elapsing between “going forth” or preliminary admission, and “ordination”, or final admission. It would seem that in order to meet difficulties, perhaps created by the drawing power of Gotama’s Order itself, what had once been one operation became split into two. This is the intention of Kd.1.28 which, without mentioning admission, allows monks to ordain by a formal act consisting of the motion and the resolution put to the Order three times. Since the method of admission is not formulated here, although Sāriputta had asked how to admit and how to ordain, it becomes clear that these two proceedings, hitherto simultaneous, are now in the process of separating. Kd.1.30 shows even more confusion. It cites an instance where monks admit and ordain a brahmin who had asked for admission (only). Gotama reproved them for admitting anyone who went forth for the sake of the good meals the monks were reputed to enjoy—and then pointed out the four “resources” for one being ordained, saying that admission was for the sake, not of good food, but of each one of the resources.

It is, however, clear that two stages were becoming necessary before the full status of a monk could be acquired, and that in the earlier of these two stages, entered on to by pabbajjā, admission, the monk’s standing, rights and duties would be different from those in the latter stage, entered on to by upasampadā, ordination. Hence when pabbajjā was functionally separated from upasampadā, it received a new and specialised significance, coming to mean admission to noviciateship. One became a novice, sāmaṇera, by the conferment of pabbajjā, a newly ordained monk, nava, by the conferment of upasampadā. The former, like the latter, had its own machinery for its proper enactment (BD.1.50–BD.1.61). For example, a boy should not be allowed to “go forth” unless he had his parents’ consent, and unless he had reached the age of fifteen, except on the strange condition that he could scare crows (BD.1.51)—a test perhaps that his first infancy was past. Methods of dealing with refractory novices are laid down (BD.1.57–BD.1.60). As depraved BD.4.xii monks could be expelled after they had been ordained, so depraved novices could be expelled before they were ordained The going for refuge in the buddha, dhamma and saṅgha although abolished from the normal procedure of ordination, was retained as the formula novices are to repeat when being allowed to go forth (Kd.1.54.3). It is also the formula to be used by those former members of other sects, who later will be eligible for ordination, when they are asking to enter on a four months’ probationary period which they have to observe first (BD.1.38).

By enlarging the Order to include novices, who might be those who shared a cell (with a preceptor) or pupils (of a teacher), by not limiting it to Gotama himself and the first sixty monks, all of whom were arahants, by exhorting these original “adepts” to go forth and teach dhamma and as a result of their returning with an unspecified number of people seeking for admission and ordination, the Order was rendered accessible to men whose powers of attaining the matchless deliverance (Kd.1.13.1) were not so great as those of the original disciples. These were monks who therefore stood in need of training. But in spite of many opportunities of submitting to it and profiting by it, they did not always turn out satisfactorily. Hence it may be presumed that the bhikkhusaṅgha of the third refuge for lay followers said less than was intended. The saṅgha of arahants, or at least of ariyans is meant, not that of average men. The Saṅgha of the Triple Gem is not the community of monks as such, not the community that includes the groups of six or seventeen monks, notorious for their bad habits and as makers of trouble, or the quarrelsome monks of Kosambī, or those depraved or ill-behaved individuals on account of all of whom rules were formulated, regulations devised, and offences discriminated from what were not classed as offences, and whose misdoings provide the raison d’être of discipline, of vinaya, of the outward standard of self-control so much needed not merely to distinguish the monks from members of other sects, although in some cases a certain amount of imitation was permitted, but also to gain the loyalty and support of the lay followers. For on these depended to a large extent the physical conditions which would make a monk free to devote himself to his training, the goal of which was the BD.4.xiii vision of nibbāna. The Saṅgha of the third refuge has in reality reference only to those steadfast disciples who, having entered the sotāpanna stage are on the supramundane parts of the Way, and so are themselves of supramundane stature and attainments—lokuttara because unaffected by all that is lokiya, of the world, compounded and conditioned. “They are united by the communion of understanding and ethical behaviour,” according to the Commentaries on the Bhayabherava Sutta (MN-a.i.130ff.) and the Khuddakapāṭha (Kp-a.18), in both of which the meaning of “going for refuge” is discussed at length and at a high level not approached in the Vinaya Commentary.

The first twenty-four chapters of the First Section, the Mahākhandhaka, of the Mahāvagga appear to give a chronological account of events from the night of Awakening under the Bo-tree on the banks of the river Nerañjarā to the admission and ordination of Sāriputta and Moggallāna, the pair of chief disciples, already gone forth from home into homelessness as wanderers. From this point on, a precise historical narration is not so apparent, for the Mahāvagga now begins to group together subject-matter that belongs together. Strict chronology is suspended, no doubt in the interests of classifying this subject-matter and reducing its complexity to some kind of manageable order, the better to be fixed in the memory. What need was there for the existing or for any subsequent Order to know the exact procession of events? It was of greater value to learn and master the rules and procedure governing both the recurrent occasions and the daily conduct of monastic life, and this could be more easily accomplished if the material for the various topics were grouped together instead of being scattered throughout the immense compilation known as the Vinaya-Piṭaka.

If, in the hands of the early editors the sequence of events became secondary to systematisation, this plan nonetheless well shows both the development and the stabilisation of the Order as a uniform institution, the growth of several monastic practices, of government within it for the sake of its own preservation and continuance which, in turn, depended on the essential qualities of scrupulousness and striving on the part of the individuals who became its members. These therefore BD.4.xiv were being continually brought to live in conformity with a standard of behaviour specially suitable to recluses, samaṇa, and worthy of those who had “left the world” with its evanescent pleasures and its troubles and had instead entered on a way of life where worldly joys and sorrows were gradually to be renounced so that the other-worldly and higher joy that transcended them could be apprehended.

For achieving this, the life of the Order regarded as a whole came to be, no doubt gradually, planned and arranged and adapted to circumstances, while, running parallel to such developments, the life of its members became carefully regulated. Thus the first steps of all—admission and ordination into the Order—were experimented with until various types of applicants regarded as not eligible for entry could be excluded by rules, based either on experience or on forethought. This left the Order open only to the sort of person whom it was not unreasonable to suppose might be assimilated without bringing it into disgrace. Even so, there were backsliders, as already mentioned. Disgrace would have been courted if, for example, debtors and those in the royal service had been allowed to escape their obligations by becoming monks. Therefore they were debarred from entering the Order.

After its first Section on Admission and Ordination, the Mahāvagga proceeds to an account of the nature and establishment of the great fortnightly Observance of uposatha, whose principal feature is the recital of the Pātimokkha rules. This provides monks with an occasion to reveal any offence they may have committed. Their silence, on the other hand, is taken to mean that they have “entire purity”, pārisuddhi, in respect of adherence to the rules. As usual, all kinds of subsidiary matters had to be defined and regularised in order to achieve the smooth running of the main concerns. In the case of the Uposatha it was for example determined that only monks living within the same recognised boundary should gather together on an Uposatha day. Therefore methods of fixing boundaries had to be established. Moreover the Uposatha could not be held at some place chosen at random; a place of a maximum size for the current needs had to be agreed upon within each boundary so that all the monks living there should know where to go and arrive in time. If they had difficulty BD.4.xv in crossing a river—one that ran through their boundary—to get there, it might be agreed by the Order that they need not come bringing all their three robes; but if they left them behind they must not lay them aside in an unsuitable place where they might get lost or burnt or eaten by rats (BD.2.12).

Right and wrong methods of reciting the Pātimokkha are given: whether or not it should be recited in full or in brief, which to some extent depended on the absence or presence of ten sources of danger. It was, ideally, to be recited by an elder (thera), but if he was incompetent, then it was to be recited by some other experienced, competent monk; if there were none within the boundary, a newly ordained monk was to be sent to a neighbouring residence to learn it there, either in full or in brief, and then return (Kd.2.17.6).

If a monk, owing to illness, could not attend the recital of the Pātimokkha, he had to send his “entire purity”, pārisuddhi, by another. This monk conveyed it on behalf of the one who was ill and declared it (dātuṃ) to the Order; but many occasions are posited when the entire purity comes to be not conveyed on account of a variety of things that might happen to the conveyer both while on his way from the invalid to the meeting-place and after his arrival there but before he had given the entire purity. This, and the conveyance and giving, or declaration of the consent (chandaṃ dātuṃ) on behalf of a monk who is ill for the carrying out of a formal act of the Order, serve to show how extremely important it was held to be—a point stressed over and over again—that an Order should be “complete” whenever its business was being discharged. This was not to fall into the hands of the few. Even those who, like Mahākappina, claimed to be “purified with the highest purity” (Kd.2.5.5), were not not to go. For an Order would not have been complete if even one monk were absent. It would seem that the only reasons for not going to the Observance in person were severe illness and madness. In the former case the Order could be regarded as complete although in fact not complete, provided that the entire purity and the consent were properly and safely conveyed and declared. In the latter, the Order must grant the mad monk, here typified by Gagga, the agreement for a madman. This agreement is to the effect that whether the mad monk remembers the BD.4.xvi Observance or not, comes for it or not, whether he remembers a formal act of the Order or not, comes for it or not, the Order either with him or without him can legitimately carry out both the Observance and the formal act.

Such are some of the items and problems which had to be settled and solved before the recital of the Pātimokkha received its final form. I do not recapitulate all these here, for they may be read in the text. Those I have given may be regarded as typical of the care taken to forestall and circumvent deleterious contingencies that might arise and disrupt the monk’s standing either in his own eyes or in those of his fellows or those of the world. The strength of the regulations governing monastic proceedings and individual conduct lies in the standard or criterion they give of how to act in a multitude of circumstances affecting a monk’s life.

When the Mahāvagga comes to deal with the rainy season it pays almost equal attention to entering on the rains and then keeping them by residing in one monastery for either the first three or the second three of the four months of this period, as it does to the journeys monks may take away from their rains-residence. The prime motive underlying the establishment of rains-residences was protection or non-injury: the protection of crops—the economic mainspring of life—and the protection of the teeming small creatures that some Pācittiyas also seek to safeguard. One of the results of this anxiety not to harm vegetable or animal life, and which sometimes received an impetus from the criticisms the laity made, was the allowance given monks and nuns to enter on the rains, followed by an attempt to immobilise them during this season. But restrictions such as this latter were at variance with the immense vitality the Orders possessed, as is shown by the numerous occasions when it is deemed not only permissible but desirable for monks to leave the rains-residence on various kinds of monastic business or on compassionate missions. Even as life must go on, so the Order’s business must go on. And the life of this smaller world within the larger one could not close down entirely for a third of each year[4]; monks were too much BD.4.xvii involved with the world outside, they were dependent on it (BD.3.10–BD.3.11.4), and had commitments towards it, and their lives were too much interlocked with those of the laity to make this feasible. A compromise had therefore to be found between, on the one hand, staying in a residence for the whole of the three months of the rains, whereby the minimum of harm would be brought to the crops and the life of minute creatures, and, on the other, leaving the residence for business which might reasonably be regarded as urgent. This compromise was effected by limiting the time of absence to seven days; and the business calling for a monk’s presence being carefully defined, if he could not transact it within this time, he should not undertake it at all.

The end of the rains was marked by two ceremonies. One of these was the Pavāraṇā, when monks invited one another to speak of offences they had seen, heard or suspected to have been committed during the rains. The recital of the Pātimokkha was to “remove” offences, by confessing them, during the nine dry months of the year; the Invitation was to remove any offences that monks had committed during the three wet months, and would help them to aim at grasping discipline (Kd.4.1.13).

The other ceremony held at the end of the rains was not disciplinary in nature or connected with the confession of offences. It was for the making up of the kaṭhina cloth, or cotton cloth that had accrued by way of gift to the monks, into robes to replace those that had become thin and shabby or spoiled by the rains (Kd.7). Thus the replenishment of robe-material comes under consideration, and had to be managed in an orderly and prescribed way.

Further, various officers were created for looking after robe-material: the acceptor, the guardian, the distributor; places suitable for store-rooms are prescribed: dyes and methods of dyeing laid down; the use of three robes only (one doubled however) allowed; while the kinds of medicine monks might take are discussed in considerable detail. The kinds of shoes and sandals they might wear, and the use they might make of animals’ skins are treated with equal precision. Both of these categories no doubt spring from the desire not to take life, however infinitesimal. Wooden shoes, or clogs, are objected to BD.4.xviii because if monks wore them and stepped on insects they might kill them (Kd.5.6.3), besides disturbing monks who were meditating. Further, sandals made of young palmyra palms and young bamboos came to be forbidden after people had complained to monks that, in cutting these down, they were destroying life that was one-facultied. Other complaints must also have tended to reduce the slaughter of animals. Rugs—or garments (Kd.8.28.2)—made of black antelope skin were forbidden to monks and also sheets made of the hide of the Kadali deer (Kd.5.10.4), and it became an offence of wrong-doing to recline upon the hides of lions, tigers and leopards (Kd.5.10.6) or of smaller animals. Cowhides were forbidden because scandalised monks found that one of their number had incited a depraved lay follower to kill a calf for his benefit, and they remembered that Gotama had condemned “onslaught on creatures”. But, at the end of Kd.5, an exception is made in favour of the border districts (Kd.5.13.13) where, because of the hardships and discomfort, the hides of sheep, goats and deer were allowed to be used as coverings.

The last two Sections of the Mahāvagga point to an Order that was indubitably growing and that, in order to meet this expansion, had to be carefully controlled. Kd.9 engages on a thorough discussion of what it is that constitutes valid as against invalid formal acts that an Order can carry out. In the first place an Order to carry out a legally valid formal act must be complete; those monks not able to be present because of illness must send their leave for absence, and those who are present must not protest against the proceedings. A “complete Order” also refers, as before, to the one residing within a determined boundary. The actions and business of every such Order must be transacted on a uniform pattern, and conform to one uniform standard, so that each Order transacts its business in the same way as every other, all following the same regulations. This must therefore be done, in the second place, dhammena, rightly, properly, by rule. To carry out a formal act dhammena, by rule, means that if it is to be carried out by a motion and one resolution, ñattidutiya, the motion must be put and the resolution proposed once only. But if it is to be carried out by a motion and a resolution put three times, ñatticatuttha, then this must be done, in all cases the motion BD.4.xix being put before the resolution is proclaimed. The formal act will then be irreversible, fit to stand, and protests against its validity of no avail. Immense pains are taken to distinguish a formal act carried out in a complete assembly and by rule from one carried out in an incomplete assembly and either by what has the appearance of rule or not by rule. The formal acts under the jurisdiction of an Order number sixteen. They comprise (Kd.9.4.1): invitation, rehabilitation, ordination, but only an Order consisting of twenty monks or more can carry out all of these. They also include verdicts of innocence, of past insanity, specific depravity, formal acts of suspension for not seeing an offence, for not making amends for it, for not giving up a wrong view; and of banishment, censure, placing under guidance, reconciliation, sending one who merits probation back to the beginning, and the imposing of mānatta (two features in the penalty for Saṅghādisesa offences). When circumstances justify, these formal acts may be revoked by the Order.

Finally, the tenth and last Section strikes a different note again by promulgating regulations and advice for allaying schisms. These might arise through genuine disagreement upon what constituted an offence and what did not, or upon the particular kind of offence incurred by a particular action; or when factions formed to support a monk or monks who had quarrelled with their fellows from other causes, among which must be included the positive wish to create a schism, a wish put into practice by, for example, suspending a monk for an offence he had not committed and that he therefore refused to see as an offence of his. On one such an occasion Gotama is reputed to have tried, unsuccessfully, to make the bickering monks compose their differences by telling them a Jātaka story illustrating the conquest of wrath by non-wrath (Kd.10.2). The Mahāvagga therefore contains dhamma or doctrine as well as discipline. Indeed the latter would be nugatory if it were not based on the former and promulgated in conjunction with it. How great is the contrast between the quarrelsome monks of Kosambī whose brawls and dissensions caused Gotama to seek solitude like the great bull-elephant who was beset and annoyed by the rest of the herd (Kd.10.4.6), and the peaceable monks, Anuruddha, Nandiya and Kimbila who lived harmoniously BD.4.xx together as milk and water blend, regarding one another with the eye of affection, full of amity in gesture, speech and thought surrendering their minds to each other and so, although having different bodies, having only one mind nāna hi kho no kāyā ekañ ca pana maññe cittaṃ, (Kd.10.4.3–Kd.10.4.4).

The Mahāvagga deals with a time when, at the beginning of Gotama’s ministry, the number of monks—and nuns too—was fast increasing, and when they, travelling to more distant parts of India, bore the new doctrine with them and so started the influx of members that has gone on until today. If the geographical expansion of the Order can be gauged by the relaxations in the rules for the outlying districts or border countries, made necessary by the conditions prevailing there, harder than those of the Middle Country where otherwise the scene is laid—principally at Rājagaha, also at Sāvatthī, Vesālī, Kapilavatthu and other neighbouring places—its numerical expansion can equally well be gauged by the awareness of schisms arising to the danger and detriment of the Order, and which could only have occurred some time after its formation.

Although the beginning of the Mahāvagga gives not only an impression but an account of an Order expanding and taking shape immediately after its inception, the remainder appears to refer to a time when the Order already had a considerable amount of history behind it, and to a time therefore when many rules had been laid down and when, in spite of attempted schisms, a certain amount of stability had been achieved in the matter of the Order’s government and legislation. This may to some extent be judged, for example, by the number of times, thirteen in all, that the phrase yathādhammo kāretabbo, should be dealt with according to the rule, occurs. The rule referred to will in each case be found complete with the penalty incurred for infringing it, in the Vibhaṅgas. That the use of this phrase assumes the prior existence of the rule is confirmed, in addition, by the fact that the material contained in the Mahāvagga is placed in the palm-leaf manuscripts after the Maha- (or Bhikkhu-) and Bhikkhuni-Vibhaṅgas. Although this sequence is not followed by Oldenberg in his edition of the Vinaya Piṭakaṃ, it is that rightly adopted in the Vinaya Texts, for here the Vibhaṅga for monks, although drastically curtailed precedes the Mahāvagga—that for nuns being omitted entirely.

BD.4.xxi The question then arises why, in the middle of the Vinaya, an account is incorporated “of the very first events in the history of the Saṅgha” (Vinaya Texts i.72, note). Rhys Davids and Oldenberg think it “natural” to connect “the stories or legends concerning the ordination of bhikkhus” with these early events because, so they argue, “it was impossible to realise the idea of a Saṅgha without rules showing who was to be regarded as a duly admitted member of the fraternity, and who was not”. I agree that this provides a good reason for prefacing the record of the development of the first and most vital step in a monk’s life by a short history of how there came to be a life for monks at all. From their admission and ordination, all the rest follows. At the same time many stories are interspersed throughout the whole of the Vinaya, excepting the Parivāra. Not only are there several in the Mahāvagga itself, for example about Ambapālī and the Licchavis, about Jīvaka Komārabhacca, Visākhā, Meṇḍaka, Dīghāvu, and about Pilindavaccha, and about the boy Upāli (both told elsewhere in the Vinaya), and countless shorter ones, but every rule in the Vibhaṅgas is introduced by some story, long or short, as the case may be. This being so, it seems not only “natural” but logical to introduce the rules governing the initial and most important step in a monk’s life by an account of the first events which occurred after the supreme moment when Gotama attained full self-awakening. Since this was the initial and most important step in a Buddha’s career, to recount it was therefore the greatest of all stories a Buddhist “book” could tell.

The Mahāvagga possibly derives its name from that of its first Section, the Mahākhandhaka, the Great (or Greater) Section because it deals with great (or greater) events. The plan of naming a Division after its first Section, or a Section after its first chapter, is of fairly common occurrence in the Piṭakas, and was perhaps adopted here. On the other hand, it might be conceded that the Mahāvagga, including as it does matter concerned with admission and ordination, with the Uposatha, Pātimokkha, Pavāraṇā and Kaṭhina ceremonies, the clarification of what are valid formal acts, and the ways of dealing with a schism, contains subjects exceeding in importance those contained in the Cūḷavagga. It is again possible that BD.4.xxii the Cūḷāvagga was regarded as the “Less” or “Lesser” or the Small Division because of its two Sections on the Councils of Rājagaha and Vesālī. As the first of these purports to have been convened shortly after Gotama had died, and the second a century later, the Cūḷāvagga takes us to a time when he, as the living fount of authority, was no longer promulgating discipline, and when discipline was no longer growing.

Yet the mass of the rules attributed to him and held to have been laid down by him when he was alive, many large in their scope, others concerned with small details, but having their own significance nonetheless, together yield a formidable body of that discipline, vinaya, which with dhamma, was to be the teacher after Gotama had passed away. The text at DN.ii.154 is I think sufficiently clear in its meaning, although it has been accused of gloss. It readsyo vo Ānanda mayā dhammo ca vinayo ca desito paññatto so vo mam’ accayena satthā. Gotama was speaking to Ānanda, a monk; he would not therefore have omitted to speak of vinaya which, together with dhamma, gives a surer basis for progress towards the final vision and ultimate bliss than dhamma alone can give. Had the sentence run: yo vo mayā dhammo ca desito vinayo ca paññatto, it might have been more apparent that the reference of the following so was to both dhamma and vinaya. Dhamma is taught, desita, showing the Way; vinaya is laid down, paññatta, for keeping one’s footsteps on the Way by strict adherence to it. Both are satthu sāsanaṃ, the Teacher’s instruction.

Discipline, as promulgated, is itself an authority. According to the early editors (Vin.1.99) the teaching will stand firm so long as vinaya is not lost even if the Suttanta (Piṭaka) and the Abhidhamma be forgotten. It is moreover capable of almost indefinite extension and application, and can regulate items of behaviour that, in spite of the multitude of rules, offences and “allowances” (anujānāmi) that were laid down by the Teacher, were not legislated for in particular in his lifetime. The monk must make up his mind about what has not been legislated for, measuring any course of action by the general standard of what he knows to be discipline. He must remember this and apply it to his problem. When Mahāpajāpatī asked to be taught dhamma in brief (Vin.2.258) a general standard was given to her by which she might know of other things BD.4.xxiii eso dhammo eso vinayo etaṃ satthu sāsanaṃ (this is dhamma, this is discipline, this is the Teacher’s instruction). Similarly in the Mahāvagga, when some monks were doubtful or had scruples about what had been allowed, anuññata, and what had not, they were told that anything not fitting in with what had been allowed, anything tallying with what had not been allowed, was not allowable, na kappati, not suitable; and the contrary.

In the Mahāvagga alone there are about 280 occasions when Gotama, by uttering the word anujānāmi, I allow, I permit, made some thing or some usage permissible to monks. The variety of cases covered is so large, ranging as it does from accepting a monastery to the preparation of a foot-salve, from using three robes to the insertion of a patch, from the novices training in ten rules to the use of a trough for dye, that anyone acquainted with these would stand a good chance of knowing how to act in circumstances not specifically either allowed or objected to by Gotama. Or they could extend an “allowance” to suit circumstances beyond those legislated for. Gotama himself, as recorded, once gave a flint in this direction when, after making ten “allowances” for curing a boil a monk was suffering from, finally said, “I allow, monks, a linen bandage, and every treatment for curing a sore” (Kd.6.14.4–Kd.6.14.5).

Besides the use of anujānāmi, the Buddha is often represented as saying to monks,“you may” or “you should not”, a prohibition apt to be followed by intimating that contravention results in an offence of wrong-doing. This kind of offence, with thullaccaya, grave offences, mentioned infrequently in this volume, and three other types of offence, not mentioned here at all, are regarded as a “falling away from right habits” (Kd.4.16.12).

Whether Gotama himself was responsible for all these allowances and prohibitions we shall probably never know. In the story of the three monks who had spent the rains at Rājagaha and who journeyed to Pāṭaliputta to ask elders residing there to solve their problem there is a hint that power might be delegated (Kd.8.24.6). This story may, however, be included in the Mahāvagga for the simple reason that it was recording exceptional events. Or it may have been left in because in fact the practice of turning to others instead of to Gotama to BD.4.xxiv interpret dhamma, a rule, was becoming more generally adopted than is evident in the rest of the Mahāvagga.

It is true that there is not much philosophy in the Vinaya. It is by nature as by name a book or basket of discipline. But as it is rather hollow to lay down rules for training and for outward behaviour without giving the underlying reasons why they should be observed, it is not possible to exclude philosophical concepts completely from a “book” principally concerned with discipline. I have already mentioned some of these philosophical concepts (above, BD.4.viii). The Mahāvagga, especially at its beginning, is not in fact devoid of some of the notions which are recognised features in Buddhist philosophy. In the first place, to mention but a few examples, the goal is spoken of and is named. It is amata, deathlessness, the undying. Its gates have been opened by Gotama, the Way-finder, so that those who hear dhamma may arrive at the object of their quest. The notion of gaining the goal by travelling on a Way between two opposites is common to many traditions and in Pali Buddhism finds expression in the First Utterance, but which is merely one example among several the Pali canon contains of the philosophical rightness of adopting the mean between two opposing extremes. The First Sermon also defines the four truths of ill, or the unsatisfactoriness and suffering which possesses every compounded thing. It is because these truths are not understood or grasped that there is this long long faring-on (in saṃsāra) “both for me and for you” (Vin.1.230). Ill has to be eradicated by cutting off its root, ignorant craving, before recurrent birth, again-becoming, punabbhava, can be stopped, and deathlessness won.

Then, the young men are told, in a passage that with the passing of time has become controversial, that they should seek, gaveseyyātha, the self, attānaṃ (singular). Anyone acquainted with the importance of Atman, self, in the Upaniṣads might be inclined to think that this was the greatest of all philosophical concepts in Ancient India. Various passages in the Pali canon, including the Attavagga of the Dhammapada, should not be ignored in estimating the position of it a as a philosophical concept in Early Buddhism. The Second Utterance, for example, lays the idea of self beside that of not-self when it says in its opening words: rūpaṃ bhikkhave anattā, BD.4.xxv rūpañ ca h’idam bhikkhave attā abhavissa, “material shape (or body), monks, is not self, for if, monks, material shape had been self …” and similarly of the four other khandhas: if they had been self they would not be as we know them: impermanent, suffering and liable to alteration. Everything that is compounded or constructed is not-self. What is constructed is to be escaped from (Ud.p.80); and the self is to be sought (Vin.1.23), that self which therefore by inference is not made, is not compounded, and which is unaffected by kamma, the deeds or actions done in a series of individual lives while the being is bound to saṃsāra, satto saṃsāraṃ āpādi (SN.i.38).

The message of the Third Utterance is that if one turns away from feelings of pleasure and pain derived from the impingement of the sixfold sensory data on their appropriate sense-organs, then one knows that one is freed and comprehends that birth (rebirth) is destroyed, the walk to the Highest is brought to a close, done is what was to be done, and there is now no more of being this or that (Vin.1.34–35). The content of this Disquisition on Burning is purely philosophical.

Nor will the various allusions to cause and dependent origination be missed. The whole system was based on cause: if this comes to be that will come to be. Discipline therefore will lead to something not yet existing for the man who is earnestly training in it and cultivating it. The Buddha would not have spent so much time in laying down rules and precepts unless he had thought they would be effective in the quest for the goal.

At the top of each right hand page the chapter number and paragraph number of each Section are given.[5] The figures in heavy type in square brackets in the body of the text refer to the page numbers of Oldenberg’s Vinaya Piṭakaṃ, Volume I, and are placed so as to mark the end of each such page.

I gratefully acknowledge the care and attention given by the Burleigh Press to the production of this volume.

I.B. Horner.

London, February, 1951.

Footnotes and references:


Note by Sujato: In this SuttaCentral edition this is titled the Pabbajjākkhandhaka, the Chapter on Going Forth.


Besides the Mahāvagga references, see e.g. MN.i.368, MN.i.379, MN.i.391, MN.i.396.


See also e.g. MN.i.290, MN.i.413, MN.i.489, MN.i.501.


The rains lasted for four months. Each monk could choose whether he would observe the first three months or the second three months, but he was not expected to observe all four.


Note by Sujato: These remarks do not apply to the SuttaCentral edition.