Early monastics "breaking the Patimokkha"

This topic is a spin-off of a discussion that Bhante @anon61506839 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.


The first instance that already came up in the discussion between Bhante Dhammarakkhita and me is about Pc8 (bu) / Pc104 (bi), not disclosing one’s superhuman state to laypeople. Anuruddha does exactly that in MN 127:

Anuruddha gives a talk about various devas in the presence of a householder. Then another bhikkhu asks about his personal experience and Anuruddha openly confirms that he is able to associate with them.

When this was said, the venerable Abhiya Kaccāna said to the venerable
Anuruddha: “Good, venerable Anuruddha. The venerable Anuruddha does not
say: ‘Thus have I heard’ or ‘It should be thus.’ Rather, the venerable Anuruddha
says: ‘These gods are thus and those gods are such.’ It occurs to me, venerable
sir, that the venerable Anuruddha certainly has previously associated with
those deities and talked with them and held conversations with them.”
“Certainly, friend Kaccāna, your words are offensive and discourteous, but still I
will answer you. Over a long time I have previously associated with those
deities and talked with them and held conversations with them.”
When this was said, the venerable Abhiya Kaccāna said to the carpenter
Pañcakanga: “It is a gain for you, householder, it is a great gain for you that
you have abandoned your state of doubt and have had the opportunity to hear
this discourse on the Dhamma.”


The next example is about the food rules Pc 35 - 40 (bu) / Pc 54, 120 - 122 (bi). Nowadays, there are many different practices, from eating only once a day to eating as many times as you like before noon. It is also unclear what way of offering food is “the right one”, and many communities only eat what has been given directly into their hands and not touched by laypeople afterwards.

Generally, eating only one meal seems to have been the standard in the suttas. But here are two examples that seem to indicate that things could be a bit more flexible.

At MN 65, the Buddha asks the monastics to eat only once. One bhikkhu is anxious about it, and the Buddha allows him to bring some food back to the monastery for later.

The Blessed One said this: “Bhikkhus, I eat at a single session. By so doing, I am free from illness and affliction, and I enjoy lightness, strength, and a comfortable abiding. Come, bhikkhus, eat at a single session. By so doing, you too will be free from illness and affliction, and you will enjoy lightness, strength, and a comfortable abiding.”
When this was said, the venerable Bhaddāli told the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, I am not willing to eat at a single session; for if I were to do so, I might have worry and anxiety about it.”
“Then, Bhaddāli, eat one part there where you are invited and bring away one part to eat. By eating in that way, you will maintain yourself.”

At MN 81, Buddha Kassapa is on alms round and is invited by a blind couple to help himself to food from the kitchen. They don’t give it into his hands but the Buddha has no problem with that.

On one occasion when I was living at Vebhalinga, it being morning, I
dressed, and taking my bowl and outer robe, I went to the potter Ghaṭīkāra’s parents and asked them: “Where has the potter gone, please?”—“Venerable sir, your supporter has gone out; but take rice from the cauldron and sauce from the saucepan and eat.”
I did so and went away.


I looked up this expression “your words are offensive and discourteous” and found some examples that might be helpful…

In AN 3.60 the Buddha tells a Brahmin that he has supernatural powers

Surely, brahmin, your words are prying and intrusive. Nevertheless, I will answer you. I do wield the various kinds of psychic potency…

Bhikkhu Bodhi quotes the commentary and concludes “I assume that the words, without being insulting, are considered inappropriate because they are making a personal inquiry”

So maybe this is an aspect of the rule not to talk about personal experiences - that it’s a ‘low kind of conversation’? Anyhow, the next example is AN 4.35, again with a brahmin

Surely, brahmin, your words are prying and intrusive. Nevertheless, I will answer you. (1) Indeed, I am practicing for the welfare and happiness of many people… (2) …I have attained to mental mastery over the ways of thought. (3) I gain at will… the four jhānas… (4) With the destruction of the taints, I have realized for myself with direct knowledge…

Finally MN 36 with a Nigantha:

Surely, Aggivessana, your words are offensive and discourteous, but still I will answer you. Since I shaved off my hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and went forth from the home life into homelessness, it has not been possible for arisen pleasant feeling to invade my mind and remain or for arisen painful feeling to invade my mind and remain.”


Thanks for sharing more examples! I was meaning to compile them, but you beat me to it! :slightly_smiling_face:
So the Buddha himself also didn’t necessarily observe Pc8.

  1. Not exactly. If we follow the details in MN 127, Ven. Anuruddha didn’t disclose his attainments to the layman carpenter Pancakanga, neither did he do it to his fellow monk Ven. Kaccana. Only after Kaccana asked him directly did he say it. But it was still a monk-to-monk reply and he did rebuke Kaccana for asking the question. It’d be more interesting had the layman Pancakanga asked the question and see how Ven. Anuruddha would reply. But then for nowadays, it’s hard to come by anyone like him, who (per the Comy.) has “fulfilled the paramis in past lives, Anuruddha had gone forth as a recluse, reached meditative attainments, and passed three hundred existences without interruption in the Brahma world. Hence his reply”.

  2. That monk Bhaddali still needs to finish his meal before lunch. The next paragraph clarifies it and the Comy. said:

His anxiety persisted because he would still have to finish his meal of the remains by noon.

  1. Uh… the couple were blind right?
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  1. Pancakanga was present, so Anuruddha did disclose it to him. It is irrelevant to the rule who asks the question. And as Gabriel just showed, the Buddha did the same thing when laypeople asked him.
  1. Yes, sure before lunch, but I was addressing the question of whether you could eat only once or multiple times before lunch.

  2. Blind people can also touch food. After all, the lady probably cooked it herself.

  1. Could you provide the link to any rule mandating single session meal?

  2. Since they were blind, if sticking with the rule, you wanted them to run their fingers all over the Buddha’s body to search for his hands first, and possibly touch some part that was not supposed to be touched?

That’s exactly the point here: What is the rule, and what is common sense? And in case the two are in conflict, to which one should one give preference?

  1. The Buddha asks for it in that sutta quote that I gave above and many other suttas. Also, I explicitly stated that I not only want to discuss the rules, but also current interpretations of the rules and that eating one meal is a very common practice in forest monasteries.
    One example is bhikkhuni pc 54. That rule applies under certain circumstances, not at all times.

Should any bhikkhuni, having eaten and turned down an offer (of further food), chew or consume staple or non-staple food (elsewhere), it is to be confessed.

The corresponding monks’ rule is slightly different.

  1. You realize that I am not saying that things need to be offered into one’s hands? I am just saying this is the standard practice in many monasteries. Also I think blind people are quite capable of locating someone’s hands without touching them in inappropriate places. They are blind, not stupid.

My blind friend, when it comes about shaking someone’s hand, just is very quick and reaches her hand out into the other person’s direction, and then they cannot other but just seizing it reflexively :wink:


Of course they’re not stupid. But they don’t have the world-transcending eyes of Ven. Anuruddha to instantly locate the Buddha’s hands either. Frankly if a monastic doesn’t give blind people a break, then there’s more serious problem than sticking to a rule.

That’s exactly the point we are trying to show here. Common sense was given priority in the EBTs, not strict adherence to rules. :slightly_smiling_face:


More like: one should stick to rules as much as one can, but there’ll always be exceptions where one needs to apply common sense (there’s a subtle difference between the 2 sentences)… :grinning:

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I think these examples are really good instances of how rules should be approached but Santa has a good point in that we should lean towards conformity as much as possible and give up only when necessary.

With metta


Maybe it’s too early for a discussion, I think the main idea of collecting examples of exceptions to rules is excellent. A discussion could be done in another post maybe to avoid early proliferation?


I had the same feeling! This was actually supposed to be a wiki.
Feel free to start another thread for the discussion.

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Last example from me for today: Bhikkhuni Sanghadisesa 3
There are also many references to bhikkhunis not observing Sanghadisesa 3, a rule that nowadays in many monasteries is interpreted to mean that nuns are not allowed to leave the monastery grounds alone, for example to go into the next village for alms round.
In the suttas nuns seem to have gone on alms round alone, spend the day in secluded spots, and also went wandering on long tours without any companion mentioned.

Alms round, seclusion: All of SN5, especially:
SN 5.1

Then, in the morning, the bhikkhuni Aḷavika dressed and, taking bowl and robe, entered Savatthi for alms. When she had walked for alms in Savatthi and had returned from her alms round, after her meal she went to the Blind Men’s Grove seeking seclusion.

SN 5.5

Then, in the morning, the bhikkhuni Uppalavaṇṇa dressed … she stood at the foot of a sal tree in full flower.
Then Mara the Evil One, desiring to arouse fear, trepidation, and terror in the bhikkhuni Uppalavaṇṇa, desiring to make her fall away from concentration, approached her and addressed her in verse:
“Having gone to a sal tree with flowering top,
You stand at its foot all alone, bhikkhuni.

Wandering without a companion mentioned :
SN 44.1 Bhikkhuni Khema wandering around in Kosala:

Now on that occasion the bhikkhunī Khema, while wandering on tour among the Kosalans, had taken up residence in Toraṇavatthu between Savatthī and Saketa. Then King Pasenadi of Kosala, while travelling from Saketa to Savatthī, took up residence for one night in Toraṇavatthu between Saketa and Savatthī. Then King Pasenadi of Kosala addressed a man thus: “Go, good man, and find out whether there is any ascetic or brahmin in Toraṇavatthu whom I could visit today.” …
“Sire, there is no ascetic or brahmin in Toraṇavatthu whom your majesty could visit. But, sire, there is the bhikkhunī named Khema, a disciple of the Blessed One, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One. Now a good report concerning this revered lady has spread about thus: ‘She is wise, competent, intelligent, learned, a splendid speaker, ingenious.’ Let your majesty visit her.”

In the Therigatha, there are numerous references to solitude, wandering etc.: (I compiled this list a while ago, and the references are to the verse numbers. I don’t know how to convert them to SC references without looking up every single one. Seems a bit much work since we don’t have an English translation anyway. Those who have the books or translations into other languages should be able to identify the verses easily enough.)
Alms food 2, 17, 110, 329, 349, 402
Wandering 14, 20, 110, 183, 332, 427
In the forest 51, 80, 372f
At the root of a tree 24, 75, 362
In the mountains 27, 29, 48, 108
Being alone, secluded 44, 57, 372f, 402


Please keep this wiki free of discussion and discuss here instead. :anjal:

But feel most welcome to post sutta quotes in line with the OP!


AN 3.84:

On one occasion the Blessed One was living in Vesālī, in the Great Wood. Then a certain Vajjian monk approached him and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One, “Lord, this recitation of more than 150 training rules comes every fortnight. I cannot train in reference to them.”

“Monk, can you train in reference to the three trainings: the training in heightened virtue, the training in heightened mind, the training in heightened discernment?”

“Yes, lord, I can train in reference to the three trainings: the training in heightened virtue, the training in heightened mind, the training in heightened discernment.”

“Then train in reference to those three trainings: the training in heightened virtue, the training in heightened mind, the training in heightened discernment. As you train in heightened virtue, heightened mind, & heightened discernment, your passion, aversion, & delusion—when trained in heightened virtue, heightened mind, & heightened discernment—will be abandoned. You—with the abandoning of passion, the abandoning of aversion, the abandoning of delusion—will not do anything unskillful or engage in any evil.”

Later on, that monk trained in reference to heightened virtue, heightened mind, & heightened discernment. His passion, aversion, & delusion—when trained in heightened virtue, heightened mind, & heightened discernment were abandoned. He—with the abandoning of passion, the abandoning of aversion, the abandoning of delusion—did not do anything unskillful or engage in any evil.