Bhesajjakkhandhaka (Chapter on Medicine)

by Hin-tak Sik | 2016 | 121,742 words

This study deals with the ancient Indian Medicine (Ayurveda) in Early Buddhist Literature and studies the Bhesajjakkhandhaka and the Parallels in other Vinaya Canons. The word Bhesajja means “medicine” and is the sixth chapter of the Khandhaka, which represents the second book of the Pali Vinaya Pitaka. Other works consulted include the Bhaisajya-s...

(a) The Vinaya Piṭaka

What is Vinaya Piṭaka? The term “Vinaya Piṭaka” consists of two parts: the “vinaya[1] refers to the disciplinary rules, and the “piṭaka” literally means basket. Thus the Vinaya Piṭaka is “the Basket of the Disciplinary Rules,” which contains the rules for both male and female members of the Buddhist community (saṅgha).

The word vinaya comes from the verbal root n (to lead) and is commonly translated as “discipline” in English. According to the Pali-English Dictionary, this word has several meanings: (i) it gives the meanings “driving out, abolishing, destruction, removal”, and often refers to the removal of unwholesome states of the mind such as greed, hatred and delusion; (ii) it bears the sense of “rule (in logic), way of saying or judging, sense, terminology”; (iii) it is used in the context of “norm of conduct, ethics, morality, good behaviour”; (iv) it is most commonly used to denote the “code of ethics, monastic discipline, rule, rules of morality or of canon law”–the rules of discipline for the monastic members of the saṅgha, and directs things permissible or not to them.[2] Apart from these meanings which primarily pertain to conduct, this term also refers to Buddhist literature where these teachings can be found, which is the body of teachings about how the monastic members have to behave (Schopen 2004, 885).

The function of the vinaya is to prohibit physical and verbal transgressions by restraining the physical and verbal acts of the monastic members. By doing so, the vinaya brings about wholesome deeds of the body and speech, and so pure conduct. Moreover, since any violation of the body and speech can easily produce serious effects on the mind, the vinaya is beneficial in removing or preventing unwholesome states of mind, and hence it is conducive to the purity of the mind (Dhirasekera 2007, 35; Witanachchi 2009a, 644-646).

Why were the monastic disciplinary rules set down? When the Buddha expounded his teachings, more and more disciples surrounded him and practised his doctrines. With the growth of the saṅgha and the increase in its monastic membership, the personal discipline of the saṅgha began to show corruption. Unfavourable conditions emerged among the monastic members against the spiritual development and final emancipation of its members, as well as the harmony of the community. This necessitated the laying down of moral rules (Pāli: sikkhāpada; Sanskrit: śikṣāpada) and an organised system of legalised discipline, containing authority for the saṅgha to deal with offending members through certain procedures, so as to correct any mistakes of the members and to restore monastic behaviour within the saṅgha. The disciplinary rules, together with the system of the vinaya, therefore, were required and came to be established (Dhammavihāri 2009, 634-635, 638; Dhirasekera 2007, 31).[3]

Furthermore, the laying down of the rules, according to the Buddha, can bring ten benefits, namely:

  1. the excellence of the community (saṃghasuṭṭhutā),
  2. the comfort of the community (saṃghaphāsutā),
  3. control of obstinate people (dummaṅkūnaṃ puggalānaṃ niggaha),
  4. the ease of well-behaved monks (pesalānaṃ bhikkhūnaṃ phāsuvihāra),
  5. restraint of the defilements belonging to this world (diṭṭhadhammikānaṃ āsavānaṃ saṃvara),
  6. counteracting the defilements belonging to the next world (samparāyikānaṃ āsavānaṃ paṭighāta),
  7. (increasing) the faith of those who are non-believers (appasannānaṃ pasāda),
  8. increasing (the faith) of those who believe (in Buddhism) (pasannānaṃ bhiyyobhāva),
  9. the continuance of the true Dhamma (saddhammaṭṭhiti), and
  10. the benefit in (furtherance of) the vinaya (vinayānuggaha) (Theravāda Vinaya Piṭaka III. 21).[4]

These benefits are, in summary, for the spiritual development of the monastic members, the harmonious unity and purity of the saṅgha, the worthiness of respect and support of the Buddhist monks and nuns through their well discipline, the acceptance of the Buddhist community by lay society, and eventually the promotion and long-lasting of the Buddha’s teachings of the Dhamma and Vinaya (Schopen 2004, 886; Yinshun 2002, 195-200).

Many rules and regulations were laid down by the Buddha and they were put together as the Vinaya Piṭaka. Then, when was the Vinaya Piṭaka formed and how was it done? These are very complex questions and there are no easy answers to them. The first Vinaya Piṭaka is believed to have been compiled in a grand meeting held in the first rains retreat at Rājagṛha after the demise of the Buddha, which is known as the First Buddhist Council, with five hundred arhat-s[5] participating. The reason for this meeting was to preserve the doctrine and the discipline taught by the Buddha. The Buddhist tradition maintains that the compilation of the Tripiaka (including the Vinaya Piṭaka) was completed at this meeting. This belief, however, is rejected by most scholars. The general scholarly view now is that the Buddhist canon, including the Vinaya Piṭaka, was gradually compiled. The initial Vinaya Piṭaka formed at the First Council is believed to be an embryonic version consisting of some rules for the monks and nuns. The whole Vinaya Piṭaka would probably not have been finished all at once at the First Council, but was gradually developed over a long period of time even up to the period of Sectarian Buddhism. It is known that the disciplinary rules were collected and supplemented even after the First Council. [6] Furthermore, it is not yet conclusive for the embryonic form of Vinaya Piṭaka compiled at the First Council. There are various scholarly arguments put forth, but in brief they propose that the embryonic form was either the Prātimokṣa or the Vibhaṅga. Some scholars claim that the Vibhaṅga was compiled first (Dhirasekera 2007, 22-23; Witanachchi 2009b, 652-653). The majority of scholars, however, argue that the Prātimokṣa would have been the earliest text compiled at the First Council, though the original form would have been different from the present one and it would have been a shorter version with just over one hundred and fifty rules, and the Vibhaṅga was a later explanation of the Prātimokṣa rules.[7] The other components of the Vinaya Piṭaka, the Skhandhaka and the Appendices, are generally accepted as later additions to the Vinaya Piṭaka (Witanachchi 2009b, 653;Yamagiwa 1994, 102). The constituents of the Vinaya Piṭaka will be described later.

With schisms in the Buddhist saṅgha, there were different schools (nikāya) formed together with their own Vinaya Piṭakas. About 100 years after the demise of the Buddha there was the Second Buddhist Council at Vaiśālī,[8] and after this meeting the saṅgha divided into the two sects of the Sthavira and Mahāsāṃghika. [9] Subsequent schisms took place within each of these two sects resulting in many Buddhist schools. [10] At a certain stage in the history of Buddhism, there were eighteen Buddhist schools in India, but names of many more are found in different manuscripts and inscriptions in India (Hirakawa 1993, 110-116). The emergence of these schools was due to multiple factors. As Cohen (2004, 354) states, “claims to authority, differences of language, of location, and of monastic rules, as well as burgeoning differences over doctrine and religious practice” contributed to the further division of the saṅgha into numerous schools. The schisms, furthermore, contributed to the onset of the compilation of the various Buddhist canons by different schools (Hirakawa 1960, 43; Yinshun 2002, 40). These various Buddhist canons of the individual schools got further developed, and became distinctive by different structures, elaborations and literary styles (Yinshun 2002, 24). Some schools would, besides their doctrinal differences, try to differentiate themselves by making changes or modifications in the disciplinary rules, which mainly occurred in the category of the minor rules (Pāli: sekhiya; Sanskrit: śaikṣa–literally means connected with training) dealing mainly with etiquette (Dhirasekera 2007, 32-33; Holt 1995, 40-41).

Hence, the Buddhist schools, at least some of them, developed their own Vinaya Piṭakas as mentioned. Six of these Vinaya Piṭakas are still in existence, though many may have been lost.[11] These extant versions that have come to us are of a late stage of development in the period of Sectarian Buddhism (Hirakawa 1960, 591; Yinshun 2002, 65).[12] Among these Vinaya Piṭakas, it is found that there is much similarity in the general outline, component sections and contents, suggesting that they are likely to have originated from a common Vinaya.[13]

All of the existing Vinaya Piṭakas include two major components: the Vibhaṅga (or Sūtra-vibhaṅga) and the Skandhaka (Pāli: Khandhaka;also known as Vastu). The Vibhaṅga is a detailed explanation of the rules in the Prātimokṣa, the latter being the basic monastic discipline consisting of a certain number of offences to be avoided. Since there are two sets of Prātimokṣa (for monks and for nuns), there are two Vibhaṅgas: one for monks’ rules and another for nuns’ rules. The Skandhaka is another major component of the Vinaya Piṭaka. This portion is concerned with many rules and regulations other than the basic rules covered in the Prātimokṣa and the Vibhaṅga. Details of the Skandhaka will be given in the following Subsection 2. 2. 2. There is another text, the Karmavācanā, being the ritualistic summary of the Skandhaka. Furthermore, another group of texts, the appendix/appendices, is included in certain (but not all) of the Vinaya Piṭakas (such as those of the Theravāda, the Dharmaguptaka, the Sarvāstivāda, and the Mūlasarvāstivāda schools). This group of texts mainly provides summaries of the rules covered in the Vibhaṅga and the Skandhaka, as well as other events in monastic history (Lamotte 1988, 166-167).

The Vinaya Piṭakas of six Buddhist schools are present today and these schools are Theravāda, Sarvāstivāda, Dharmaguptaka, Mahīśāsaka, Mahāsāṃghika, and Mūlasarvāstivāda. The entire Theravāda Vinaya Piṭaka exists in the Pāli language, and the Sarvāstivāda, the Dharmaguptaka, the Mahīśāsaka, the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya Piṭakas are found in Chinese translations. The Mūlasarvāstivāda version survives probably whole in Tibetan translation, and large parts in Sanskrit and in Chinese.[14]

The followings are brief descriptions of the six extant Vinaya Piṭakas:[15]

1. The Theravāda Vinaya Piṭaka, as a part of the Tipiṭaka, was transmitted to Sri Lanka in the third century Before Common Era by a missionary sent by Emperor Aśoka according to tradition. It is preserved in Pāli by the Sinhalese Theravādins. The complete Buddhist canon was later written down in the first century Before Common Era during the reign of the King Vaṭṭagāmaṇi (Hirakawa 1960, 65-66),[16] though the definite content and structure of the Theravāda Vinaya is known through Buddhaghosa’s Samantapāsādika (of the fifth century Common Era) (Schopen 2004, 887). This Vinaya is also used by the Theravādins in South-East Asian countries. It has been transliterated in the Sinhalese, Thai, Burmese and Roman fonts. This Vinaya consists of three parts: (i) the Suttavibhaṅga which includes the Mahāvibhaṅga (or Bhikkhuvibhaṅga) and the Bhikkhuṇīvibhaṅga, (ii) the Khandhaka which has twenty-two sections, ten in the Mahāvagga and twelve in the Cullavagga, and (iii) the Parivāra, an appendix in sixteen sections and nineteen chapters, which “contains summaries and classifications of the rules” of the previous parts (Witanachchi 2009b, 657).

2. The Sarvāstivāda Vinaya Piṭaka, also known as the “Vinaya in Ten Recitations” (Sanskrit: Daśādhyāya; Chinese: Shisong lü 十誦律), is preserved in the Chinese canon (Taishō Tripiṭaka 1435) in sixty-one fascicles. It was translated in 404-405 Common Era by Kumārajīva in collaboration with Puṇyatrāta (or Puṇyatara) and Dharmaruci. After 409 Common Era, Vimalākṣa revised the translation and added a postface to it. This Vinaya has four parts: (i) The Bhikṣuvibhaṅga (the first three recitations), (ii) the Skandhakas (the fourth to sixth recitations), (iii) the Bhikṣuṇīvibhaṅga (the seventh recitation), and (iv) the appendices which contain the Ekottaradharma (the eighth recitation), the Upāliparipṛcchā (the ninth recitation), the Bhikṣuadhyāya, and the Kuśalādhyāya (the last two texts in the tenth recitation). Parts of this Vinaya exist in Sanskrit fragments, covering the two Prātimokṣas, parts of the Bhikṣuvibhaṅga and the Karmavācanā. Two Prātimokṣas and the Bhikṣukarmavācanā are found as separate texts in the Chinese canon (Taishō Tripiṭaka 14361439).

3. The Dharmaguptaka Vinaya Piṭaka, known as the “Vinaya in Four Divisions” (Chinese: Sifen lü 四分律) in sixty fascicles in the Chinese canon (Taishō Tripiṭaka 1428), was translated in 410413 Common Era by Buddhayaśas and Zhu Fonian 竺佛念. It consists of four parts: (i) the Bhikṣuvibhaṅga (the first division), (ii) the Bhikṣuṇīvibhaṅga (the first part of the second division), (iii) the Skandhaka (the second part of the second division, the whole third division, and part of the fourth division), and (iv) two appendices which contain the Saṃyuktavarga and the Vinayaikottara (rest of the fourth division). The Bhikṣu- and the Bhikṣuṇī-prātimokṣas and the respective Karmavācanās are found as separate texts in the Chinese canon (Taishō Tripiṭaka 1429-1934). A few Sanskrit fragments of this Vinaya are also preserved.

4. The Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya Piṭaka, Taishō Tripiṭaka 1425 in the Chinese canon in forty fascicles, was translated by Buddhabhadra and Faxian 法顯 in 416-418 Common Era. This Vinaya is divided into (i) the Bhikṣuvibhaṅga, (ii) the Skandhaka and (iii) the Bhikṣuṇīvibhaṅga. The Skandhaka of this Vinaya differs considerably from the Skandhaka in other Vinayas.[17] The Bhikṣu- and the Bhikṣuṇī-prātimokṣas as separate texts are found in the Chinese canon (Taishō Tripiṭaka 1426-1427). A few fragments of the Bhikṣuprātimokṣa and the Bhikṣuṇīvibhaṅga of the Lokottaravāda Mahāsāṃghika school have been found. The Mahāvastu, a Vinaya text, of this school is also preserved in Sanskrit.

5. The Mahīśāsaka Vinaya Piṭaka, known as the “Vinaya in Five Divisions” (Chinese: Wufen lü 五分律) in thirty fascicles, is found in the Chinese canon (Taishō Tripiṭaka 1421). It was translated by Buddhajīva and the Khotanese monk Zhisheng 智勝 in 423-424 Common Era, based on a copy brought by Faxian who found it in Sri Lanka. It consists of three components: (i) the Bhikṣuvibhaṅga (the first division), (ii) the Bhikṣuṇīvibhaṅga (the second division), and (iii) the Skandhaka (the third to fifth divisions). Separate texts of the Bhikṣu- and the Bhikṣuṇī-prātimokṣas and the Bhikṣukarmavācanā are present in the Chinese canon (Taishō Tripiṭaka 1422-1424).

6. The Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya Piṭaka, a voluminous Vinaya which was finished quite late, has been preserved in quite substantial Sanskrit fragments, as well as in Chinese and Tibetan translations. The Sanskrit fragments, mostly found in Gilgit and some in Bamiyan (discovered in 1931 and 1932 respectively) (Hirakawa 1960, 95), cover the Bhikṣu-prātimokṣa and large parts of the Vinayavastu. The Chinese version of this Vinaya (Taishō Tripiṭaka 1442-1451 of the Chinese canon) is partial. It was translated by Yijing 義淨 in 703-713 Common Era (Yamagiwa 1994, 105). The possibly whole version[18] was translated into Tibetan in the ninth century by several Indian scholars and translators such as Sarvajñadeva, Vidyākaraprabha, Dharmākara, Jinamitra, Klu’i rgyal-mtshan, Dpal-gyi lhunpo, Dpal brtsegs, Dpal’byor, etc. (Banerjee 1957, 80). This Vinaya consist of five components:[19] (i) the Prātimokṣa sūtra and the Vinayavibhaṅga of the bhikṣus, (ii) the Prātimokṣa sūtra and the Vinayavibhaṅga of the bhikṣuṇīs, (iii) the Vinayavastu, (iv) the Vinayakṣudrakavastu, and (v) the Vinayottaragrantha.[20] This Vinaya, as Yamagiwa (1994, 105) describes, is characterised by plenty of narrative material (avadāna and jātaka tales).

Footnotes and references:


The first letter of this term “vinaya” will be capitalised when the term refers to the Buddhist texts; otherwise it will be in small letter when the term is used to mean monastic rules.


These meanings are quoted from Pali-English Dictionary, s.v. “vinaya”. See also Witanachchi 2009a, 643-644 for elaborations.


The decline in the discipline of the monastic members, according to Dhammavihāri (2009, 634), could have been due to the increase in personal gains, popularity, and strength in numbers.


The translation of these terms is mine. Similar lists of the ten benefits are also found in other VPs. See these lists in Yinshun 2002, 197-199.


Arhat (Pāli: arahant) literally means a worthy one. It refers to a saint who has fully realised the Four Noble Truths and has achieved the highest spiritual attainment of nirvāṇa.


The above brief account on the compilation of the Vinaya Piṭaka at the First Council has material synthesised from various scholars’ works. See Dhammajoti 2008: xii;Dhammavihari 2009, 633; Geiger 2004, 9-11; Lamotte 1988, 171; Misra 1972, 12;Nietupski 2005, 1259-1260; von Hinüber 1995, 15; Witanachchi 2009b, 651;Yamagiwa 1994, 102; Yinshun 2002, 3 (of prefix), 19, 24. It is not within the scope of this study to delve into the origin and development of the Buddhist canon or the Vinaya Piṭaka. For the detailed (and complex) arguments on the gradual development of the original Buddhist canon or of the Vinaya Piṭaka, see Dhirasekera 2007, 22 ff.; Hirakawa 1960, 5 ff.; Holt 1995, 29-46; Law 2000, 29-66; Oldenberg 1997, ix ff.; Rhys Davids 2007, 109-126; Yinshun 2002. Another important piece of supporting evidence for the continuing collection (and authentication of the materials) into the canonical literature is the Four Great Instructions (Pāli: mahāpadesa; Chinese: 四大廣說, 四大廣演, 四大教法, 四大處, 四廣大說, 四大印) laid down by the Buddha. These four instructions form the four-fold criterion used for the acceptance of the heard materials as real teachings, and hence for the later process of continuous compilation and authentication of the newly collected materials. This criterion relates to that any teaching, either heard from the Buddha, from the saṅgha, from many monks, or from one monk, should be checked with the teachings in the discourses and disciplinary texts. If it conforms to such teachings, it can be regarded as authentic instruction and can be included into the teachings (Dīgha Nikāya II. 123-126; Aṅguttara Nikāya II. 167-170; Dhammajoti 2008, xiv-xvi; Yinshun 2002, 22-24).


A good number of scholars hold or accept this idea. For their arguments, see Hirakawa 1960, 60; Holt 1995, 35-36; Law 2000, 66; Misra 1972, 12-14; Oldenberg 1997, xv-xvii, xxxvii-xxxviii; Prebish 1975, 51; Rhys Davids 2002, vii-ix;2007, 109-126; Yamagiwa 1994, 102; Yinshun 2010, 312.


The chief cause for the Second Council was due to the dispute about the acceptance of money donation by some monks in Vaiśālī, but some accounts mention nine more minute matters concerning food and drink, seats, procedure for communal meetings, and conduct (Warder 2000, 203).


Buddhism in India, from the onset of the first schism, entered the Nikāya or Sectarian period (Hirakawa 1993, 2). According to Hirakawa (1993, 7), Indian Buddhism may be divided into five periods based on the chronological order as well as a categorisation of types of Buddhism. They are Early Buddhism, Nikāya or Sectarian Buddhism, early Mahāyāna Buddhism, later Mahāyāna Buddhism, and Esoteric Buddhism.


Causes and dates for the first schism and subsequent schisms in the history of Indian Buddhism are not conclusive because the accounts on these events are so contradictory. For discussions on the causes and dates of the schisms, see Hirakawa 1993, 79-83; Lamotte 1988, 517 ff.; Warder 2000, 206-212.


Apart from the six VPs that are extant (which will be described below), there are Vinaya texts such as the Prātimokṣa Sūtras in original Sanskrit, Haimavata Vinayamātṛka in Chinese, Kāśyapīya Bhikṣuprātimokṣa in Chinese, Saṃmitīya commentary on Bhikṣuprātimokṣa in Chinese, and so on (Anlayo 2009, 647-648).


Lamotte (1988, 165) reveals that the completion of compilations of the VPs could have been as late as in the second century Common Era, because there are data much later than the time of the Buddha, such as the record of prediction concerning the stupa of Kaniṣka (floruit first to second century Common Era).


Examples of scholars pointing out the similarity of the extant VPs and suggesting a possible common origin are Dhirasekera (2007, 32-33), Hirakawa (1960, 51, 593), and Schopen (2004, 887888).


It is not certain whether the Tibetan version of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya Piṭaka is whole or not. According to Yinshun (2002, 73), one text, which exists in the Chinese version but is missing in the Tibetan version, is the Nidānamatṛkā (Taishō Tripiṭaka 1452, Genben shuoyiqieyoubu nituona mudeqie 根本說一切有部 尼陀那目得迦 (Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya Nidānamātṛkā)). But Prebish (1994, 105-106) mentions it as a non-canonical Vinaya commentary. If it was originally part of the Vinaya Piṭaka, then the Tibetan version is not whole. Schopen (2004, 887) and Yamagiwa (1994, 105) cannot express with certainty when mentioning the entirety (or not) of the Tibetan version of this Vinaya.


The material here is mainly based on the writings of Anālayo (2009, 647-648), Heirman (2007, 175-179); Lamotte (1998, 167-171), and Yinshun (2002, 67-82).


According to Hirakawa, this event is recorded in the Mahāvaṃsa and the Dīpavaṃsa (1960, 103n4).


According to Yinshun (2002, 252), the Mahāsāṃghika Skandhaka section is actually the Vinayamātṛkā (the matrix of the Vinaya), the precursor of the Skandhaka.


See the above footnote 32.


The exact sequence of different sections in this Vinaya Piṭaka is not known, since the Chinese translation is not complete and the organisation of component texts in the Tibetan canon is different from the Chinese recension. Moreover, according to Yinshun’s analysis (2002, 76), the structure of this Vinaya Piṭaka is close to that of the Sarvstivda Vinaya.


Only the Tibetan version of the Uttaragrantha is present (i.e. there is no Chinese or Sanskrit version), and there are two texts for it–’dul-ba gzhung bla-ma and ’dul-ba gzhung dam-pa (Anālayo 2009, 648;Prebish 1994, 98-99). According to Lamotte (1988, 170), this text also includes the Upāliparipṛcchā.

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