As part of a longer argument, Ven @Brahmali has discussed the controverted question of the “lesser and minor rules”. The Buddha on his deathbed allowed the Sangha to abolish these, but at the First Council there was no agreement as to what they were so ultimately the Sangha decided to keep all the rules.
If we grant that this allowance is real, we need to decide what are “the lesser and minor training rules”. This may seem like an impossible task, since even the participants of the first joint recitation (saṅgīti ) supposedly were unable to decide on this. The reality, however, is that we have solid pointers to decide. The monastic rules are divided between heavy and light rules (garukāpatti and lahukāpatti), with the lesser and minor rules clearly belonging to the latter. Moreover, the phrase ending the section on pācittiya rules in the Bhikkhu-vibhaṅga is khuddakaṁ niṭṭhitaṁ , “the minor section is finished”. The equivalent in the Bhikkhunī-vibhaṅga is khuddakaṁ samattaṁ , which essentially means the same thing. The idea that the monks at the first saṅgīti were unable to decide on what were the minor rules may be a rhetorical device used to justify keeping all the rules. It seems doubtful to me that this reflects an actual historical situation.
The discussion in the Pali Vinaya is here:
I just wanted to expand on this a little, filling in a few details and making it its own post so it’s more prominent.
“Lesser” (khuddaka) rules are the Pacittiyas, while “minor” (anukhuddaka) rules are the Patidesaniyas.
on the taglines in the Pali Vinaya
The Pacittiya section is consistently ended with Khuddakaṁ samattaṁ, in the Bhikkhu rules (pli-tv-bu-vb-pc92:2.2.22), bhikkhuni rules (pli-tv-bi-vb-pc96:2.2.22), and even the Parivara (pli-tv-pvr1.1:219.3). (Brahmali cites a synonymous reading khuddakaṁ niṭṭhitaṁ in the Bhikkhu-vibhaṅga; not sure where this is from, but anyway it’s not in the Mahasangiti edition.)
So this tells us that the presence of the tagline is quite deliberate and consistent. Moreover, in all three cases, the tagline comes before the final declaration of the end of the Pacittiyas, which shows that it is meant to apply specifically to the Pacittiya rules, not to other rules that came before (such as Nissaggiya Pacittiya).
on heavy offences
Brahmali draws on the
commentarial canonical distinction between heavy and light offences, and as he says it’s pretty obvious the lesser and minor rules must be “light” offences.
Specifically, an3.86:2.2 says one can “fall into and be rehabilitated from” a lesser or minor offence, so that rules out the Parajikas.
The same sutta contrasts the lesser and minor rules with:
their precepts regarding the training rules that are fundamental, befitting the spiritual path
This seems to contrast the technical offences of the Vinaya with the more meaningful precepts that relate to moral fundamentals.
This is important to bear in mind, as the Pacittiya offences, while “minor” from a legal standpoint, include several rules that are considered morally fundamental: killing animals, beating up humans, drinking alcohol, lying. The invitation to abolish the lesser and minor rules is obviously not meant to allow such things; rather they are covered elsewhere in passages such as the Gradual Training. It would simply mean they are no longer treated as part of the formal legal framework of the Vinaya.
Now, an3.86 says that even an arahant is capable of breaking lesser and minor rules and then being rehabilitated. This is because there are many rules that are established by convention and do not require an unwholesome mind state to break them.
An example of this is Belaṭṭhasīsa, a respected monk and Ānanda’s preceptor. He is regarded as an arahant, which appears to be implied by his Theragatha verses where he compares himself to a “fine thoroughbred”. In Pacittiya 38 he is keeping rice from his almsround, drying it out and moistening it when he needs to eat, thus avoiding having to go for pindapata every day. The commentary explains that he would spend his time in deep meditation. The Buddha admonishes him—but does not call him “silly man”—and lays down the rule. The purpose of the rule is not just for monastic contentedness, but for establishing regular relations with the lay community.
This principle would seem to rule out the Sanghadisesa rules, but this is not clear. While most Sanghadisesa offences clearly require an unwholesome mind state, two of them are sets of building regulations which can easily be broken inadvertently.
Nonetheless, the Sanghadisesas are referred to as garudhamma, which in this context means “heavy offence”. So it seems pretty clear that they would not be considered “lesser and minor”.
The aniyata rules are two supplementary rules that apply for monks only. They define a procedure to follow if a monk is credibly accused of a violation of sexual manner by a laywoman. The violations include Parajika and Sanghadisesa, so these rules clearly pertain to serious matters and are not “lesser and minor”.
relinquishment with confession
Thirty rules involving the relinquishment of a physical object are called Nissaggiya Pacittiya. Most of these deal with matters that are of a similar minor nature as the Pacittiyas.
Probably the most important are the rules forbidding the use of money, which was the main point discussed in the Second Council. In fact, I believe that the structure of this entire narrative, stretching back at least as far as the opening of the Mahaparinibbanasutta where the Buddha encourages the monks to not abolish any rules, is shaped to culminate in the Second Council. That is, I believe the elders of the Second Council (or shortly after) arranged the old material to support their case. At the Council, a number of arguments are brought forth to emphasize that the rules against money were fundamental. For example, they are included in the Gradual Training.
This supports the idea that the Nissaggiya Pacittiyas are not considered lesser. Add to this the fact that the khuddakaṁ samattaṁ tagline clearly excludes the Nissaggiya Pacittiyas, and I think it is probable that they are not among the “lesser and minor” rules, although I am less confident in this case.
The Patidesaniya rules (“acknowledgeable”) are a short set of rules that follow the Pacittiyas. They are quite different in the Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Vinayas, but in both cases deal with minor matters around the meal time.
One nuance lacking in translations is that the phrase khuddānukhuddaka literally means “lesser (khuddhaka) and following (anu-) the lesser”. This fits well with the Patidesaniyas, which both follow the Pacittiyas and are less serious. Thus if the Pacittiyas are the khuddaka, the Patidesaniyas are the anukhuddaka.
sekhiya, adhikaraṇasamatha, dukkaṭa, thullaccaya
One of the elders at the First Council suggests that the “lesser and minor” rules are those apart from all those considered above.
The problem with this argument is that the above rules constituted the “roughly 150 training rules” that were recited in the original Patimokkha. We know that the “lesser and minor” rules were recited, because one of the Pacittiyas is in fact about a monk complaining about having to recite them.
“pli-tv-bu-vb-pc72:1.11”: "“kiṁ panimehi khuddānukhuddakehi sikkhāpadehi uddiṭṭhehi
Thus all the rules that were not recited are ruled out. In the Pali, there are four categories of rule that were not recited in the original Patimokkha: sekhiya, adhikaraṇasamatha
*, dukkaṭa, and thullaccaya.
These days the 150 rules have been expanded to 227, because the sekhiyas and adhikaranasamathas were added at some point (quite early, as they are found in all schools, although the sekhiyas vary considerably).
- The seven Adhikaraṇasamathas (“methods of settling issues”) are general kinds of legal procedures, and not really “training rules”.
I haven’t researched the other Vinayas on this point. It would be really interesting to see, especially if they have anything corresponding to khuddakaṃ samattaṁ.
the purpose of the passage at the First Council
Brahmali suggests that the passage at the First Council may be a rhetorical device to justify keeping the rules. I agree, and I think the overall narrative thrust is to emphasize that the Sangha keeps these rules because the Sangha decided to. After the Buddha’s passing, the bad monk Subhadda suggests getting rid of all the fussy rules imposed by the Buddha. The narrative thread establishes that keeping the rules is what the Sangha wanted.
This, again, loops back even further to the start of the Khandhakas, just after the Buddha’s awakening, where he sets up the Sangha to look after itself by teaching and performing ordinations. The Sangha was well aware that there would be forces looking to wear down the rules, and the memory of the Buddha’s authority would wane over time. The strength of the Dhamma comes because we undertake what we decide to undertake. Sikkhāpadaṁ samādiyāmi is first person singular present tense: “I undertake the training rule”.
Thus the purpose of this narrative is to show that the Sangha decided to take responsibility to keep the rules of its own volition, not just because the Buddha said so.