A Question about "Nissaggiya Bhikkhus"

The below was posted today on a Facebook page. It raised a question with me: Are Bhikkhus that have been found to have committed an act of forfeiture and confession normally excluded from the communal recitation of the Patimokkha?

Bhikkhu Subhuti
10 hrs ·
I had a nice visit with Pa-Auk Sayadawgyi tonight. We ran into some car trouble but after adding 3 litres of water, things cooked down. I spoke to Sayadawgyi about doing the patimokkha for him at Pa-Auk and also excluding Nissaggiya Bhikkhus. As predicted he agreed and before I asked if I could announce this in Myanmar language, he said “nissaggiya Bhikkhus are not allowed into the patimokkha”. At the close he said to arrange things with U Candima which is the official yes for Sayadawgyi.

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This is most probably a reference to monks using money, and who are thus not living according to vinaya. Ideally speaking habitually violating any rule, even a minor dukkata, without making amends for it, means that inclusion in uposatha is unlawful.


Bhante, this makes sense, and thank you. My initial thought was that a monk in need of correction might benefit from inclusion in the Patimokkha and the support/admonishment of his fellow observant Vinaya monastics. Perhaps the message to monks that are negligent is the temporary exclusion, which is perhaps a lesson in itself.


There are many other interesting and effective ways, and actually duties, associated with supporting/admonishing fellow monastics, plus all that it takes for a monastic to join the recitation is to confess the offence and undergo the corresponding penance, so the exclusion applies only to one who does not comply with this. Though being from a different sect can be reason for exclusion also, even if you’re as free from offences as a dry bone of meat!

The Patimokkha recitation has a different established purpose since the time of Buddha, that of uniting Sangha around the principles of purity and devotion, and then renewing and reinvigorating Sangha’s resolve and determination to uphold Vinaya, having already cleansed oneself of offences. That is the psychological function of the Patimokkha’s recitation and gathering, as i was able to glean from the Canon. And it is for this reason that “non-pure” monastics are excluded, each sangha according to its own unique standards of “purity” here. Check AN 8.20 for nice story about this!

Except for strict sects such as Forest sangha, this tradition and these principles are very much loose nowadays, which is unfortunate though understandable. But look at the result: the recitation became like a duty, even ritual, that has no particular psychological purport in the way it is experienced by monastics. Adding to that of course that Patimokkha is being recited in Pali, rather than in a language that the monastics can understand! You just sit there listening to “sound” rather than to “meaning”!


This is a wonderful description, Bhante, and illuminating to me. Thanks!


Bhante, thanks for these wonderful explanations!

Some time ago I came across this passage from MN 65:

“Here some bhikkhu progresses by a measure of faith and love. In this case bhikkhus consider thus: ‘Friends, this bhikkhu progresses by a measure of faith and love. Let him not lose that measure of faith and love, as he may if we take action against him by repeatedly admonishing him.’ Suppose a man had only one eye; then his friends and companions, his kinsmen and relatives, would guard his eye, thinking: ‘Let him not lose his one eye.’ So too, some bhikkhu progresses by a measure of faith and love…‘Let him not lose that measure of faith and love, as he may if we take action against him by repeatedly admonishing him.’

“This is the cause, this is the reason, why they take action against some bhikkhu here by repeatedly admonishing him; this is the cause, this is the reason, why they do not take such action against some bhikkhu here by repeatedly admonishing him.”

I found it really sweet and very moving to see how the Buddha cares for something I would feel is something very vulnerable in a person, very tender and frail. As if there is a little seedling that has just sprouted, just so delicate and week, and someone out of impatience wants it to grow quicker and starts pulling it - this will of course not work. And then the Buddha comes along and says: “No, no, don’t pull! It is so delicate and precious, and it will grow in its own time!” :seedling:

How do you think this passage can be reconciled with the necessity of having a pure Sangha for the Patimokkha recitation?

(I don’t imagine this passage to talk about serious offences like Parajika or Sanghadisesa; just someone with good intentions in general, but sometimes doesn’t get it right.)


This is also one of my favourite quotes :slight_smile:

I listened to the talk given by ven. Sujato which you posted recently, in it he actually mentions that there isn’t so much “punishment” in Vinaya, and that the role of “admonishment” is to help and support rather than punish. So I guess you are thinking about exclusion from Patimokkha recitation as a punishment, but it isn’t, especially for …

Think about it! What would make such a nice monastic refuse to confess an offence?! Or even apologise for something slightly unpleasant s/he may have done?! So the exclusion is for a stubborn monastic who thinks everyone else is at fault, or who intentionally refuses to abide by Vinaya in a community that does. Think about this also, if a monastic does any offence privately, there isn’t a way for others to know about it unless s/he confesses it. This means that s/he can join Patimokkha as they please, and narrows down the exclusion to the kind of person who does an offence, admits it, but refuses to make amends for it (which would be quite unusual by the way).

We only depend on the goodwill and devotion and sincerity of each practitioner, there is no Sangha police or inquisition to check people’s private behaviours and intentions. One reveals an offence because one feels ashamed and guilty of having committed it in the first place, and would be even more ashamed and guilty if s/he should hide it. The whole point about confession in all religions is that it allows you to start over with a clear conscience and a hopeful energetic heart; it is never a punishment. The psychological effects of this are remarkable, and actually quite necessary for avoiding the accumulation of aversion, towards others and toward one’s own self, in the future. That’s why, except for a Sanghadisesa, confession is always almost instantly followed by forgiveness. What is not forgiven is to carry on, in this renunciate life, harbouring within one’s heart all that guilt and shame and self-contempt. It is out of compassion that we have this system, not out of a desire to punish and control. This is actually mostly how it is still followed today; cruelty and punitive/control passions of some abbots and powerful monks (quite wonderfully!) find expression against others only against Vinaya, in contradiction with Vinaya, but never through it.

I feel like I want to cry out this truth sometime, especially to young monastics who are afraid of Vinaya because they don’t understand it and only think that they are violating it all the time! The vinaya is for our protection and peacefulness, and for our practical support and moral fortitude also; the more we insist on it, the less we are subjugated! The more it is upheld, the less grows the power of corruption and decay in Sangha.

But in the end, friend @sabbamitta, the problem is never in the rules, the problem is in the impossibility of “living together” without conflict. It will never happen!! I know the Buddha, and I needn’t anything else, but i’m never really sure i myself can totally spare others from my own agony! Not yet! If even under Buddha monastics had conflicts and followed their kamma and got bored with practice, why not today? Why always complain about the cruelty of others? It’s not gonna go away; it is a part of nature!

But let it be remembered, at least remembered, that a lone monastic who is morally upright is as massive as the whole Sangha of the ancient times! He shall emerge victorious who lives with integrity and devotion; no harm shall befall him and no obstruction shall be placed along his open path; woe to them who should ever think it is otherwise!