Khandhaka section of the Pāli Theravāda Vinaya


As this is my maiden post, first of all I’d like to offer the heartiest of hearty thanks to all involved in creating and sustaining Sutta Central!

With this said, I am a little uncertain about the way the Khandhaka section of the Pāli Theravāda Vinaya has been divided - or more specifically, hasn’t been. Consulting Access to Insight and T. W. Rhys Davids & Oldenberg’s translation, I find in both cases the Khandhaka is separated into Mahavagga and Cullavagga sections and I haven’t yet been able to workout why it hasn’t been on SC.

If I haven’t missed some fine reason why things have been put as they are (and the abbreviation Kd has been chosen), I’d suggest it would be good to make the division (and use the corresponding abbreviations Mv. and Cv.) as every article I’ve yet come across that refers to the concerned texts does so using this division. Uniformity in reference systems is generally to everyone’s benefit and can save the emergence of (in this case, a tiny amount of) confusion.

Warm regards.


The reason for this is that SC is built up from parallels. In the case of the Khandhakas, the Vinayas of all schools (with the partial exception of the Mahasanghika) include a Khandhaka section, which is divided into more or less the same set of chapters, as you can see from the parallels.

None of these Vinayas, however, divide their texts into a Mahavagga and Culavagga, apart from the Pali. So it seems that this division was a late development within the Pali schools, and probably represents a convenient way of dividing the manuscript.

Unlike the division into Khandhakas, the division as Mahavagga and Culavagga has no semantic basis: the text is simply a collection of 22 chapters (khandakas) arbitrarily divided in two.

For this reason we moved away from referencing in terms of Mahavagga and Culavagga, and reference simply to the khandhakas.

Even though we don’t use the names Mahavagga and Culavagga, no information has been lost, as you can still find the references to Vol 1 and Vol 2 of the PTS Pali edition, which correspond to the Mahavagga and Culavagga.

Generally speaking, this is a conceptual issue that underlies the structure of SuttaCentral. Most editions of the canon or canons work from the top down, starting with the canon, then Vinaya, Sutta and Abhidhamma, then the nikayas, and so on. SuttaCentral starts the other way around, from the sutta, and then builds the structures on top of that.

Since our aim is to get closer to the original form of the texts by organizing ourselves around the parallels between traditions, it is not possible to reproduce the details of referencing every canonical system. For example, in the Chinese texts as found on CBETA, an important referencing system is through the juan, or folio, which is a text-based division comparable to the division between Mahavagga and Culavagga. Since this system doesn’t exist in Pali, we can’t use it. But we always retain the metadata that enables referencing to be made.

In my opinion, this approach not only allows us to build sets of parallels, it is more useful since it focuses on the genuine semantic structures of the texts themselves. We shouldn’t remain bound to the pages of a particular printed edition, or to the arbitrary divisions that were once useful for manuscript copying. The texts had their own structure before those things ever existed, and that should be our primary means of reference.


Splendid! This is exactly the kind of fine reason I wondered if I had missed.

To explain briefly why the question came up for me: as someone who’s almost totally unfamiliar with the Vinaya I was only motivated to tentatively make my way into this territory in effort to follow up on a reference that came up in a number of articles.

Ultimately it didn’t take me that long to find the right text and be confident I’d done so despite the different reference id, but there was definitely a cross-eyed moment or two before that.

I am so utterly pleased by the clean, simple layout that’s been achieved on SC (it’s an absolute joy to visit the site even before coming on to the true prize of the suttas) and am loath to encourage anything that might clutter. Nevertheless, out of compassion for those of us who haven’t a clue about these underlying conceptual issues might it be worth considering adding a single sentence note at the top of the Khandhaka page?


Your caution regarding clutter is most appreciated! In building for the modern web, it is no longer a question of “what can we do”, but “what can we leave out”. You have to fight for every bit of white space.

Having said which, we should probably solve this by simply inserting Mahavagga and Culavaga at the appropriate pleaces in the “Division” table. In fact, we plan to do this more generally, including such things as the pannasas of MN and AN, which are currently not properly represented on SC. It’ll take a little while.