SuttaCentral

Any evidence for monastic buildings in the early Suttas?

I was chatting with Alex Wynne and he gave this position:

Buildings are hardly mentioned in the Suttas, but the Vinaya has more material on it - although this probably only indicates that the Vinaya is generally later than the Suttas. In the Suttas there are fragments indicating the Buddha’s homeless state, such as the Buddha sleeping on a pile of leaves (AN 3.35), or in a potter’s workshed (MN 140). I find it anachronistic of Sujato (on Suttacentral) to translate anāthapiṇḍikassa ārāme as ‘in Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery’ - ārāma means park, no more. There’s barely any evidence of monastic life in the Suttas.

This makes me curious - is my view of buildings from the Vinaya?
So I’ve taken a look at MN 4:
At one time the Buddha was staying near Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery.

ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā sāvatthiyaṃ viharati jetavane anāthapiṇḍikassa ārāme.

With this English word ‘monastery’, we naturally think of a building, as the English refers to. Yet the PED gives:

ground, park, garden (lit. sport, sporting)

and:

a private park

The ‘building’ meaning is reinforced a few lines later by:

‘Remote lodgings in the wilderness and the forest are challenging. It’s hard to maintain seclusion, and hard to find joy in it.
‘durabhisambhavāni hi kho araññavanapatthāni pantāni senāsanāni, dukkaraṃ pavivekaṃ, durabhiramaṃ

The Oxford Dictionary gives this for ‘lodgings’:

a room or rooms rented out to someone, usually in the same residence as the owner

Is it possible that we’re reading Vinaya reports of buildings, into the Pāli of this sutta? For senāsana, the PED gives:

[sayana+āsana] sleeping and sitting, bed & chair, dwelling, lodging

So far, I’m unconvinced that this is necessarily referring to any building. I wonder if it may simply mean something like ‘dwelling place’, ‘dwell’ simply meaning:

live in or at a specified place

The topic in the same sutta of having gone ‘from the lay life to homelessness’ - ‘agārasmā anagāriyaṃ’, also comes to mind, the PED saying of agāra:

house or hut

If we ignore any preconceptions we may have from later suttas or vinaya etc., doesn’t this all suggest an explicit lack of buildings?

Searching for more evidence, I read some threads here in the forum, which let me to a couple of terms.

It’s when a mendicant has gone to a wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut, and reflects like this:
Idhānanda, bhikkhu araññagato vā rukkhamūlagato vā suññāgāragato vā iti paṭisañcikkhati:

Some people seem to think that’s not a building either… I have not seen linguistic reasoning for that though. Anyway, supposing it does refer to abandoned buildings, this seems to me that it could be referring specifically to a place to do meditation (useful because potentially shaded from sun wind rain and sound, and less visible to animals), but not necessarily as a place to sleep, for example. Maybe just to sit down and meditate (and maybe that’s why ‘roots’ are relevant, since you’re sitting on the ground - that’s therefore the part of the tree closest to you).

Then there’s the word kuṭi, which I’ve heard often in the modern Theravada context. A little hard to search on suttacentral (seems the search function ignores diacritics and gives hits also for ‘kuto’, but I found a few). Here’s what I found in MN 81:

“It’s the mendicants, sister. The Buddha’s hut is leaking.”
“Bhikkhū, bhagini, kassapassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa kuṭi ovassatī”ti.

Now here the Buddha clearly has a hut. However, so far as I understand, this is the Buddha Kassapa! Which makes me think this may be a later sutta? Hence I am inclined to discount this example.

Then we have Thag 1.57:

This was your old hut,
“Ayamāhu purāṇiyā kuṭi,
but you still want a new hut.
Aññaṃ patthayase navaṃ kuṭiṃ;
Let go of hope for a hut, monk!
Āsaṃ kuṭiyā virājaya,
A new hut will only bring more suffering.
Dukkhā bhikkhu puna navā kuṭī”ti.

Now, the PED says a kuṭi is ‘any single-roomed abode’. I actually grew up in a house that originally only had one room (old European), so far as I understand. (It’s been added to since then). Since then I’ve lived at times in single-roomed dwellings also. Therefore, is there any reason to think that this may not refer to a lay residence? Since perhaps it may not have been uncommon for a lay person to live in a single-roomed dwelling.

In this sense could it be a monk who’s contemplating leaving the order, wistfully gazing upon his old home, that’s perhaps now in a state of ruin. And his friend is saying,

Dude, you’re thinking of having/making a home again, like you used to have, but leaving the homeless life will only bring more suffering.

Then in Snp 1:

Dhaniya
Cooked is the evening rice, all milked the kine,
by Mahī’s banks with friends, good cheer is mine,
my house well-thatched, my fire glows bright and still,
and so, rain on O sky, if such thy will!

“Pakkodano duddhakhīrohamasmi,
(iti dhaniyo gopo):
Anutīre mahiyā samānavāso;
Channā kuṭi āhito gini,
Atha ce patthayasī pavassa deva”.

Buddha
Hatred and barrenness from me are gone,
by Mahī’s banks I bide this night alone,
my house unroofed, my fires in ashes lie:
so, an it liketh thee, rain on O sky!

“Akkodhano vigatakhilohamasmi,
(iti bhagavā):
Anutīre mahiyekarattivāso;
Vivaṭā kuṭi nibbuto gini,
Atha ce patthayasī pavassa deva”.

Although the Buddha says he has a kuṭi, it seems to be metaphorical, poetically referencing the kuṭi in the previous line. He’s staying next to the river, for one night, with no roof. And he doesn’t even mind about rain. It sounds very much to me like he’s sleeping out, with no building at all.

I haven’t looked further but so far I see no explicit indication of buildings for the monastics. Only the opposite.

So the question is, do we have any evidence for monastics residing in buildings of any form (aside from meditation in abandoned buildings), in the early suttas or āgamas?

3 Likes

The Buddha spent most of his life travelling, and the translations which locate him in buildings only attempt to justify the difference between the modern monastic life of being secluded in monasteries, and the itinerant life of being exposed to natural settings and conventional reality on a daily basis, which has ramifications for meditation, inclining it towards vipassana:

“What physical evidence are wandering ascetics, which are what the Buddha’s disciples were, likely to leave? They established few permanent monasteries and those they did build were made of mud, bamboo and thatch.”—Dhammika

1 Like

Can you provide any quotes from any early suttas to provide evidence for these buildings/monastery?

We have many suttas in which the Buddha is reported to be staying near Sāvatthī at Pubbārāma in the pāsāda built by the mother of Migāra (i.e. the laywoman Visākhā).

[Pāsāda, (pa+ā+sad, cp. Class. Sk. prāsāda) a lofty platform, a building on high foundations, a terrace, palace Vin. I, 58, 96, 107, 239; II, 128, 146, 236 (cp. Vin. Texts I. 174; III, 178); D. II, 21; S. I, 137; A. I, 64; Sn. 409; It. 33; Pv. II, 125; J. II, 447; IV, 153 (pillars); V, 217; Vism. 339 (°tala); DhsA. 107; SnA 502; ThA. 253, 286; VvA. 197; PvA. 23, 75, 279 (cp. upari°); Sdhp. 299.—satta-bhū- maka° a tower with 7 platforms J. I, 227, 346; IV, 323, 378; V, 426, 577. The Buddha’s 3 castles at D. II, 21; A. I, 145; J. VI, 289. See also J. P. T. S. 1907, 112 (p. in similes).]

8 Likes

There are so many references to sangha buildings and huts… this is just a small selection:

Dhammacetiyasutta MN 82:

At that time several mendicants were walking meditation in the open air. King Pasenadi of Kosala went up to them and said, “Sirs, where is the Blessed One at present, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha? For I want to see him.”
“Great king, that’s his dwelling, with the door closed. Approach it quietly, without hurrying; go onto the porch, clear your throat, and knock with the latch. The Buddha will open the door.” The king right away presented his sword and turban to Dīgha Kārāyana, who thought, “Now the king seeks privacy. I should wait here.”
Then the king approached the Buddha’s dwelling and knocked, and the Buddha opened the door.

AN 5.121

At one time the Buddha was staying near Vesālī, at the Great Wood, in the hall with the peaked roof. Then in the late afternoon, the Buddha came out of retreat and went to the infirmary, where he saw a certain mendicant who was weak and sick.

AN 4.159

Then Ānanda robed up and went to the nuns’ quarters to visit that nun, taking his bowl and robe. That nun saw Ānanda coming off in the distance. She wrapped herself up from head to foot and laid down on her cot. Then Venerable Ānanda went up to her, and sat down on the seat spread out.

MN 128

“In this case, sir, whoever returns first from alms-round prepares the seats, and puts out the drinking water and the rubbish bin. If there’s anything left over, whoever returns last eats it if they like. Otherwise they throw it out where there is little that grows, or drop it into water that has no living creatures. Then they put away the seats, drinking water, and rubbish bin, and sweep the refectory.

MN 26

He went to the brahmin Rammaka’s hermitage. Now at that time several mendicants were sitting together in the hermitage talking about the teaching. The Buddha stood outside the door waiting for the talk to end. When he knew the talk had ended he cleared his throat and knocked with the latch. The mendicants opened the door for the Buddha, and he entered the hermitage, where he sat on the seat spread out and addressed the mendicants,

MN 119

Then after the meal, on return from alms-round, several senior mendicants sat together in the pavilion and this discussion came up among them.

6 Likes

Thanks Dhammanando. A platform is not really what I had in mind when I said ‘building’ - I had not thought of that actually, though if it is ‘built’ perhaps it can be classified as a ‘building’? I don’t know.

That dictionary entry makes me imagine a raised platform for sitting on. I’ve seen such platforms, in communal spaces, so people can sit somewhere clean while outside. Was it that type of thing? Or, do we have any evidence from any early suttas that is had walls and/or a roof? And if a roof, whether it was simply shade from the sun or also waterproof? And again, if a roof is mentioned, were walls also? Or a wall-less roof only, which may lie somewhere in between our concept of an indoor/outdoor space. Thanks!

Cool, thanks! I’ll check them.

Pavillion here is upaṭṭhānasālā.
Upaṭṭhāna seems to be ‘worship’, ‘ministering’.
Sālā seems to come from the Sanskrit śālā, of which I read:

house, space, covered pavilion or enclosure

This does sound like a building. So, I’m particularly interested in any details about walls or a roof. I wonder for example, was this the provision of a clean floor and roof cover from rain and sun, for the purpose of communal dhamma instruction? With no walls, and not for living in - just as a teaching space?

If so, again that would be somewhere in between what we might consider an indoor or outdoor space. Walls make quite a difference.

This is the hermitage of a brahmin, not a Buddhist monastic. No? It’s a nice example of Buddhist monastics discussing the dhamma in the house of a lay person. But it’s not an example of monastics actually living in a building, right?

Here, ‘refectory’ refers to bhattaggaṃ.
‘Bhatta’ seems to mean ‘feeding’, ‘meal’.

In the PED, under agga, I find:

bhattagge after a meal Vin ii.212.

Though the second meaning of agga does indeed seem to refer to a building. This again brings the question, was this a wall-less roof used for distributing food to the sangha, or the place they ate?

Also, this does not actually address the question: do we have any evidence for monastics residing in buildings of any form (aside from meditation in abandoned buildings), in the early suttas or āgamas? It is very interesting, but it doesn’t seem to imply that this is a place anyone is living in. Merely a place for eating.

You mentioned AN 4.159. Here’s the quote with the Pāli included and the next line also:

Then Ānanda robed up and went to the nuns’ quarters to visit that nun, taking his bowl and robe.
Atha kho āyasmā ānando nivāsetvā pattacīvaramādāya yena bhikkhunupassayo yena sā bhikkhunī tenupasaṅkami.

That nun saw Ānanda coming off in the distance.
Addasā kho sā bhikkhunī āyasmantaṃ ānandaṃ dūratova āgacchantaṃ.

I highlighted the part about seeing from a distance since that would be unlikely were the nun in a walled building.

I’m assuming ‘quarters’ translates bhikkhunupassayo?
For upassaya the PED gives:

abode, resting home, dwelling, asylum

Do we have any evidence that this is referring specifically to a building? For example, if a sramana lives not in a building, but has an area where they dwell, an ‘abode’, is it impossible to refer to that as an upassaya? If not, this seems not to be evidence of any building.

You mentioned AN 5.121. I notice that there are no parallels listed for this sutta, except one single Pāli text from the same nikāya. Does this bring into question whether it is an EBT? If so, we may be better to exclude this from the analysis. However, just in case, let’s take a look:

At one time the Buddha was staying near Vesālī, at the Great Wood, in the hall with the peaked roof.
Ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā vesāliyaṃ viharati mahāvane kūṭāgārasālāyaṃ.
Then in the late afternoon, the Buddha came out of retreat and went to the infirmary, where
Atha kho bhagavā sāyanhasamayaṃ paṭisallānā vuṭṭhito yena gilānasālā tenupasaṅkami.

Regarding the Buddha ‘staying’ (viharati) in that hall, I wonder if that may simply mean he was there for some period of that day, before leaving in the afternoon. And perhaps this was a roof providing shade etc., without walls, that was not used for living in. I don’t see anything there conclusively referring to a place where any monastic lived. Does anyone?

Then regarding the infirmary, we have ’ gilānasālā’. This does sound like a building where sick people may have been living while sick. Again, we have no indication of walls, here anyway. And I wonder if we have mention of any gilānasālā in any surely early sutta? But if we take this to be genuine, then this is indeed interesting. It could be in harmony with interpreting that the monastics did not live in buildings, unless they were sick, and therefore unable to bare the difficult sramana lifestyle of homelessness. That would make sense. And I think also sick people were allowed to break other sramana conventions also, right? Such as eating in the evening.

The final example is:

I believe that’s actually MN 89. This has an MĀ parallel, 213. I can’t locate a translation of that so it’s hard check if that also mentions the ‘door’ and what it says exactly about. From using google translate, it does look to me like this has the same part about the door, which is interesting for sure. Though I’d love to see a real translation to get the details.

Anyway here’s the passage in MN:

“Great king, that’s his dwelling, with the door closed. Approach it quietly, without hurrying; go onto the porch, clear your throat, and knock with the latch. The Buddha will open the door.”
“Eso, mahārāja, vihāro saṃvutadvāro. Tena appasaddo upasaṅkamitvā ataramāno āḷindaṃ pavisitvā ukkāsitvā aggaḷaṃ ākoṭehi. Vivarissati bhagavā te dvāran”ti.

For dvāro the PED gives:

an outer door, a gate, entrance

Āḷinda seems to mean ‘terrace’ or ‘a raised place or terrace for sleeping upon’. (Monier)

For aggaḷa, the PED gives ‘a bolt or cross’.

The most compelling of these words to me, is āḷinda. Aside from that word, I wonder if this Pāli may be able to refer to a buildingless dwelling place that may have a fence and a gate. A way for the Buddha, who was so famous and had so many students, to get some privacy. The one thing that challenges that that I can see, is the presence of a platform, if indeed that is what āḷinda is referring to. Though there may be alternative possibilities to explain that - such as it being a sitting place for people waiting at the gate after signalling by hitting the latch to signal the Buddha? Or, can anyone offer any other explanation for an āḷinda if this is not a building?

And, do we have any input on dating of this sutta? Even with a Chinese parallel, it may have been composed after the time of the Buddha.

I would be interested in any other examples if they give a real case for any monastics other than the sick, living in any building. Especially any building with walls - so far we have no references to any walls!

1 Like

It’s a little different. There’s no porch or latch mentioned, but then the building is large and has open windows. And it’s a door (戶), not a gate (門).

[0795c08] 眾多比丘答曰:「大王!彼東向大屋,開窓閉戶,世尊今在彼中晝行。大王!欲見便往詣彼,到已住外,謦欬敲戶,世尊聞者,必為開戶。」
That group of monks replied, “Great king, to the east there’s that large dwelling with the windows open and the door closed. The Bhagavān is presently inside there for his afternoon practice. Great king, if you’d like to see him, then go over there and stand outside. Clear your throat and knock on the door. The Bhagavān will hear and surely open the door.”

4 Likes

Suttas mention the rains retreats.
I think it was unrealistic for the monastic community to survive the rainy season without buildings. Without a permanent resident building for the rainy season, the rate of sickness and death would be very high.

4 Likes

In SN41.4 we find:

Then Citta went up to Mahaka, bowed, sat down to one side, and said to him, “Sir, please show me a superhuman demonstration of psychic power.”

“Well, then, householder, place your upper robe on the porch and spread a handful of grass on it.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Citta, and did as he was asked.

Mahaka entered his dwelling and latched the door. Then he used his psychic power to will that a flame shoot out through the keyhole and the chink in the door, and it burned up the grass but not the upper robe. Then Citta shook out his upper robe and stood to one side, shocked and awestruck.

Atha kho āyasmā mahako vihāraṃ pavisitvā sūcighaṭikaṃ datvā tathārūpaṃ iddhābhisaṅkhāraṃ abhisaṅkhari yathā tālacchiggaḷena ca aggaḷantarikāya ca acci nikkhamitvā tiṇāni jhāpesi, uttarāsaṅgaṃ na jhāpesi.

Mahaka left his dwelling and said to Citta, “Is that sufficient, householder?”

1 Like

I’m sure there needs to be a building of some sorts for this proper reflection to have some meaning MN2:

Reflecting properly, they make use of lodgings: ‘Only for the sake of warding off cold and heat; for warding off the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and reptiles; to shelter from harsh weather and to enjoy retreat.’

7 Likes