This topic is a spin-off of a discussion that Bhante @Dhammarakkhita and I had on another thread. I’d like to explore instances in the Suttas where monastics are showing behaviour that would nowadays be considered as breaking a Patimokkha rule, or that deviates from how we nowadays interpret the rules.
The purpose of this is to understand better how rules were applied by the early Sangha. Today, monastics who are serious about the Vinaya can be faced with situations where acting in the most natural and common sensical way would be a breach of a precept. So they do something they know is not the most wholesome thing, possibly even harmful to their practice, just to follow a rule which doesn’t make sense in that context, due to peer pressure or because of pressure from lay people. Doing this over prolonged periods of time can twist your thinking, block the development of the wisdom faculty, and lead to irresponsible behaviour, mental illnesses etc.
It seems that in the Suttas, when faced with a decision to either follow a particular rule or common sense, monastics often didn’t keep a rule just for the rule’s sake.
I know that there are many instances in the Suttas where the Buddha exhorts his disciples to strictly adhere to the precepts and not give them up for the sake of their lives. However, when we look at their actual behaviour, it can sometimes be quite a different picture.
It’s also useful to remember MN 104:
A dispute about livelihood or about the Pātimokkha would be trifling, Ānanda. But should a dispute arise in the Sangha about the path or the way, such a dispute would be for the harm and unhappiness of many, for the loss, harm, and suffering of gods and humans.
edit: This is meant to be a wiki. Please post any questions and comments in the discussion thread. Feel most welcome to contribute sutta quotes in line with the OP here.