Keeping the vinaya

Hello,

As an interested layman, I am keen to know to what extent vinaya is kept by monks of Theravada Buddhism. Following some recent discussions online with a monastic and layman in Myanmar regarding the widespread use handling of money by monks, I am somewhat concerned about the long-term impact of this on both the Sangha and the laity in terms of their faith in the Triple Gem.

I was wondering if someone could give me an idea as to the general consensus amongst the Sangha on the issue of keeping the vinaya and whether there is ‘room for manoeuvre’ on some rules so as to avoid confusion as to whether vinaya is being kept or not?

Thank you

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My impression is the Sangha has no power to enforce the Vinaya, which is why in countries like Thailand the police are often asked to arrest a wayward or defeated monk.

Therefore, I would also like to ask here: “How does the Sangha actually enforce the Vinaya?”

:seedling:

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This has been the case since soon after the Buddha’s death; it was a major issue at the Second Council. To get an idea of the scale of the problem, most of our information on ancient Indian coins, including both coins and means of manufacturing them, has been recovered from Buddhist monasteries.

Only a tiny proportion of Theravadin monks, maybe 5%, keep the rule on money.

Of course there is a degree of flexibility in the Vinaya, but most of the time it is just ignored. Many monks do not even know the basic rules such as parajika.

It can only really be enforced within a monastery, if the abbot decides to do so. In certain lineages, such as the Ajahn Chah tradition, Vinaya is observed. In many others, it isn’t, at all.

Any attempts by State authorities to enforce the Vinaya are a demonstrable failure. They might pick up a few drunk monks or whatever, but as long as the problem is not too public nothing is done.

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this is :frowning2:

How about the patimokkha, how many chant regularly and know the meaning?

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It’s chanted in Pali, so very few know what it means.

One ex-monk told me that when he learned about such things, they were just treated as a legend. It would be like a Christian reading about the rules governing sacrifice of sheep by Abraham in the Sinai desert.

The actual conduct of monks is almost entirely dependent on their community. People just do what everyone else does. If the community is good, they are usually okay. But much of the time, there is simply no example of anyone who actually keeps Vinaya, so they have no idea what it is like, or that it is even a thing.

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I recently came across a sort of example of this problem of bhikkhus not bothering to understand the Vinaya: I invited a recently ordained monk who is now living in Thailand under a well known Ajahn to help me revising the translations I have been making of the Bhikkhu Vibhanga.
Naively, I assumed that would be promptly accepted by the individual - all in all this should be a great opportunity to get to know the meaning of the patimokkha recitation he will one day be required to know by heart, right!? Surprise! He politely declined it! :cold_sweat:

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Interesting. Makes me wonder how monks and nuns should relate to Vinaya today.

Obviously it needs to be preserved and maintained as much as possible. But if only 5-10% of monastics can keep like, maybe 95% of it, it kind of… devalues the system?
Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in a catch 22 of wanting to keep the Vinaya perfect and intact and followed 100%, yet too conscious of the fact that this may not even be possible.

I know, I know, I’m a layperson, I feel like I can’t even talk about it (and maybe I can’t) but I’m so interested in what we can do into the future…

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Hey :slight_smile:

Come see how it works at Bodhinyana and Dhammasara. It works brilliantly! The Vinaya can be kept. Not rigidly, but compassionately.

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What we can do as lay disciples is to learn as much as possible about it - it will either inspire us to maybe one day give it a try or will inform us on what to expect from a well informed bhikkhu or bhikkhuni.

I can tell you that understanding the circumstances and the way the Buddha came up with those rules by reading the Bhikkhu Vibhanga only increased my appreciation and admiration for the Buddha and the early Sangha.

I can’t wait to finish the Vibhangas and eventually move on to the rest of as well as interesting bits like the Khandhaka.

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True! I have been there Kay and they do very, very well! I don’t know, maybe I’m just a die-hard sceptic.I think a compassionate keeping of the Vinaya is very excellent. But how do people then know which rules to be compassionate with and which not?

@Gabriel_L, yes what you say is very true! But what should we expect? Before I expected much more. But then I met many monks and nuns, and now I expect much less, and anticipate that each individual will learn and develop their own relationship with Vinaya. But I wonder if there’s more space or calling for realistic discussion about Vinaya application today with some sort of consensus and subsequent understanding and accountability.

I don’t know, this is something I keep rabbiting on about. :rabbit2: Guess I just gotta figure it out for myself like everyone else :laughing:

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This is an awesome question and I think the answer in some cases will be in flux.

There are always the 4 Great Standards to help monastics in individual monasteries to answer this question. Sorry, I’m a bit rushed and can’t seem to find a link to them (I did try!).

I think it’s up to lay people to call monastics out or to at least give most of their support to those who keep the Patimokkha/Vinaya. Also I think it’s up to the lay people to learn the rules too (I know I don’t know much and I should!) so we can see who we want to support and who we don’t.

Having said that, there are kind, generous and good hearted monastics who touch money. I’m not suggesting people stop being kind and supportive to them. Rather, find others who really do go down a deeper, more spiritual route and if possible, support them too.

And so you should. I reckon that’s part of the job of laypeople. We’ve all got to help out in keeping our Sangha clean! So keep on rabbiting. :slight_smile:

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An interesting curiosity is that it seems that in the early days of the Sangha - at least by the time King Menandros had his famous series of conversation with Venerable Nāgasena - the contents of the Vinaya were kept secret from non-monastic audience!

‘Venerable Nāgasena, it was said by the Blessed One: “The Dhamma and the Vinaya (Doctrine and Canon Law) proclaimed by the Tathāgata shine forth when they are displayed, and not when they are concealed.”
But on the other hand the recitation of the Pātimokkha and the whole of the Vinaya Piṭaka are closed and kept secret.

Source: https://suttacentral.net/en/mil5.4.2

To be frank, when I tell Thai people I know I have been studying and translating something from Vinaya they look at me with weird eyes - maybe thinking ‘this poor man is digging his way down to hell’! fearful:

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On the four great references

Now at that time scruples arose in the monks as to this and that occasion, thinking: “Now, what is permitted by the Lord? What is not permitted?”
They told this matter to the Lord. He said:
“Whatever, monks, has not been objected to by me, saying: ‘This is not allowable’, if it fits in with what is not allowable, if it goes against what is allowable, that is not allowable to you.

Whatever, monks, has not been objected to by me, saying: ‘This is not allowable’, if it fits in with what is allowable, if it goes against what is not allowable, that is allowable to you.

And whatever, monks, has not been permitted by me, saying: ‘This is allowable’, if it fits in with what is not allowable, if it goes against what is allowable, that is not allowable to you.

Whatever, monks, has not been permitted by me, saying: ‘This is allowable if it fits in with what is allowable, if it goes against what is not allowable, that is allowable to you.”

Then it occurred to monks:
“Now, is (food that may be eaten) during a watch of the night allowable with (food that may be eaten) during a short period, or it is not allowable?
Now, is (food that may be eaten) during seven days allowable with (food that may be eaten) during a short period or is it not allowable?
Now, is (food that may be eaten) during life allowable with (food that may be eaten) during a short period or is it not allowable?
Now, is (food that may be eaten) during seven days allowable with (food that may be eaten) during a watch of the night or is it not allowable?
Now, is (food that may be eaten) during life allowable with (food that may be eaten) during a watch of the night or is it not allowable?
Now, is (food that may be eaten) during life allowable with (food that may be eaten) during seven days or is it not allowable?”
They told this matter to the Lord.

He said:
“Monks, (food that may be eaten) during a watch of the night with (food that may be eaten) during a short period is allowable at the right time on the day it is accepted; it is not allowable at the wrong time.
Monks, (food that may be eaten) during seven days with (food that may be eaten) during a short period is allowable at the right time on the day it is accepted; it is not allowable at the wrong time.
Monks, (food that may be eaten) during life with (food that may be eaten) during a short period is allowable at the right time on the day it is accepted; it is not allowable at the wrong time.
Monks, (food that may be eaten) during seven days with (food that may be eaten) during a watch of the night is allowable in a watch of the night on the day it is accepted; it is not allowable after the watch of the night is ended.
Monks, (food that may be eaten) during life with (food that may be eaten) during a watch of the night is allowable in a watch of the night on the day it is accepted; it is not allowable after the watch of the night is ended.
Monks, (food that may be eaten) during life with (food that may be eaten) during seven days is allowable for (the length of) seven days; it is not allowable after the seven days are ended.”

Source: https://suttacentral.net/en/pi-tv-kd6/481

Interestingly, the above implies that the four standards seem to have been framed when people were getting doubtful about what is allowable when it comes to food or not.

Would it be a little bit too much of a stretch to quote it to justify not bothering about learning what the Vinaya has to offer as an account of how the Sangha dealt with very tricky situations and people? :unamused:

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Yes, I think that would be a stretch! But I wasn’t thinking of monastics using them to justify not learning Vinaya. Rather as a way of helping them to interpret complex issues relevant to Vinaya with compassion and according to Dhamma; thus it would hopefully involve them becoming intimately involved with learning the Vinaya.

I didn’t realise the text specifically referred to food. @sujato or @Brahmali are they only used in reference to food?

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No no, they are not only used in reference to food but they seem to have come about in the context of how to use food and medicine with different allowable tags to it it seems (the chapter in which it is found is entitled Medicine, Bhesajja).

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Oh I see.

Thanks for that!

That’s awesome gnlaera! Good on you for being such a well informed lay person!

I think the Sangha is like a wonderful shining palace of learning that could be an inspiration to all. Certainly, it was intended to be like that. And we can all walk in and out of the gates of the beautiful palace. And when we’re inside we have to take care of it from its heart - be restrained, grow our practice as deeply as possible by taking advantage of the extra sila and restraint and nurture harmony so that the palace doesn’t crumble from within. And when we’re outside of it, we need to look after it from the outside - by providing support to those who are within, by fortifying the external structures, by understanding as much as we can about the palace so we can support it better; thereby getting closer and closer to what it represents and perhaps even entering it ourselves. And if we leave it, we come out with resources we couldn’t have gotten in any other way, and we’re better equiped to look after it from the outside. The Sangha brings all of us closer to the Dhamma. That is its potential. Because it is a place of renunciation…a type of explicit, concrete, obvious, in your face letting go that is not provided in any other institution that I know of. That is its refuge. That is why it is a refuge.

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Dear Bhante Sujato,

Forgive my ignorance, but may I ask where does that then leave monks/nuns [who use money] in relation to their status as Sangha members according to how the Buddha established it? Are they still monastics?

You mention about a degree of flexibility in the Vinaya, I am trying to grasp what the boundaries are for monks and nuns if some rules are ignored, especially parajika ones. Can the holy life be lived authentically if these are not observed?

If I rephrase, what is the bear minimum for monastics to keep for them to be “worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, and worth of reverential salutation”?

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Wow, I didn’t realise this was ‘the norm’

Hi Cara,

I know what you mean. I am grappling with the realisation of how ubiquitous the ‘non-observance’ of Vinaya is. Maybe I have been living in a bubble the whole time (I have pretty much only been involved with Ajahn Chah monasteries).

Conversely, how fortunate to be in contact with monks and nuns who DO keep the Vinaya - it is suddenly dawning on me how precious and rare this is in the world.

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