Obstacles and first offenders

Just reading Ven Brahmal’s new Vinaya translation, and I wonder whether there is a mistake in Pacittiya 68.

Once of the things that Brahmali has done is to expand the “non-offence” clauses at the end of each rule. Normally every rule has two standard non-offense clauses: there is no offense if the perpetrator is mad, or if they are the first offender (and hence the rule did not exist when they did it.)

Fun fact, one implication of this is that there are probably a bunch of Vinaya rules that have been maintained for 2,500 years, yet which have never been broken!

Because these clauses are everywhere, the Pali text abbreviates them. Brahmali expands the abbreviated form so that the translation always lists these two cases.

Normally this is helpful, but in Monks’ pacittiya 68 it is a little unclear.

Pacittya 68 deals with a case where a monk persistently advocates for a view that is contrary to the Dhamma. Despite the fact that it appears in the pacittiyas (a class of minor rules), it was considered to be an extremely serious offense. It is dealt with in several patimokkha rules, and the context also appears in a major Majjhima Nikaya discourse (MN 22). Unusually, the procedure is expanded at length, not just in the patimokkha, but also in the Khandhakas and the bhikkhuni rules.

This rule requires the Sangha to first admonish the monk three times before applying the rule. This is unusual, but not unique. They are to say that Ariṭṭha ought not misrepresent the Buddha, for that is a bad thing to do and the Buddha would never say such a thing.

If after admonition the monk does not stop, they are to press the charge. The Buddha calls Ariṭṭha a “foolish man”. Not only are they subject to a pacittiya offense, but they are prohibited from living with the Sangha. And not just the local Sangha in that monastery: the monks are required to spread the message around all the monasteries that this person is ejected from the Sangha.

Further patimokkha rules are laid down making it an offense for monks to accommodate the suspended monk (Pacittiya 69), and they are even required to expel a novice who similarly misrepresents the Buddha (Pacittiya 70). So serious is this if a bhikkhuni sides with a properly ejected monk, she becomes subject to permanent expulsion from the Sangha.

Safe to say, the Buddha really didn’t like it when people misrepresented his teachings.

So that’s the context. As for the non-offense clauses, the Pali text (MS edition) omits the mention of “first offender”. The Buddha Jayanthi (BJT) and PTS editions include it, but the BJT notes that the Burmese 6th council text omits it. Commentary is silent.

The MS edition concludes the passage with a close -ti, which is joined via sandhi (ummattakassāti). This form does not appear anywhere else. It indicates that the intention was to finish the non-offence clauses here, i.e. it is not an accident.

Why would the Burmese editions leave the “first offender” clause out? Presumably, it is because of the nature of the rule. The offender has already been warned multiple times, including by formal admonition in the Sangha, and in the case of the actual first offender Ariṭṭha, a scathing admonition by the Buddha himself.

On the other hand, in other Vinaya rules where the offender is admonished a series of times, the “first offender” clause is still present (eg. Sanghadisesa 10). I haven’t researched these cases in detail.

But for pacittiya 68 we don’t need to rely on inference. The Vinaya consistently treats Ariṭṭha, the first offender, as being guilty as charged (in Pacittiya 69 and Bhikkhuni Parajika 7, as well as Khandhaka 11.)

So it seems clear that Ariṭṭha the first offender was in fact guilty. But what of the reading of the text?

As a translator, I want to read texts in a sympathetic light, assuming that they make sense where possible, while not papering over actual mistakes or flaws.

In this case since there is textual support, I would be inclined to follow the MS reading, which keeps the internal consistency.

@Brahmali what say you?


Do we know if this is the same Ariṭṭha from SN 54.6 / SA 805, who has different ideas about how to practice mindfulness of breathing?

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I think it is, although I’m not sure that the texts confirm this.

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Thanks for this. It’s an interesting point.

Yes, this seems to be the case for all such rules, that is, bhikkhu-saṅghādisesa 10-13, bhikkhu-pācittiya 68, bhikkhunī-pārājika 3, bhikkhunī-saṅghādisesa 7-10, and bhikkhunī-pācittiya 36. In all these case the offenders are first admonished informally and then formally through saṅghakamma, which means they are all given plenty of opportunity to change their conduct or give up their views. In spite of this, all the non-offence clauses include the first offender.

It is true that Ariṭṭha gets severely admonished by the Buddha, but so does Devadatta, as described in the Saṅghabheda-kkhandhaka, Kd. 17. Then there is Channa who is not personally admonished by the Buddha, but he is by other monks. There is a difference in degree here, but not in kind. Even though the nature of the admonishment varies, the general idea that one is admonished before a formal Saṅghakamma holds in all cases.

It seems to be the case that Ariṭṭha continued to hold on to his view even after the rule was laid down. In Kd. 11 the Sangha ejects him through an ukkhepanīya-kamma, which would have happened after he committed the pācittiya offence. If it is correct that he continued to behave in the same way after the rule had been laid down, then he would be subject to pācittiya 68 just like any other bhikkhu. In other words, he was both a first offender, as well as a subsequent offender.

A question is how much we can read into these texts. Can we really assume, as I have done above, that they are always completely consistent? The consistency is actually remarkable, but I think we should be careful not to read too much into the texts. We know from comparative studies that consistency is not always what it seems. For instance, sometimes it may well be an artefact of the editorial process rather than going back to the source. The story of the origin of the bhikkhunī-sangha and the development of the bhikkhunī ordination rules is a case in point.

Then there is the principle of lectio difficilior potior, which supports your argument. But this is more of a heuristic than an absolute rule. It is possible that the editors used a logic along your lines to decide that the exception for the first offender did not apply to this rule.

In the end, I am not able to decide. Perhaps the best solution is to add a note to explain that there is an alternative reading, which is also plausible. It would then be natural, I suppose, to translate the text as it occurs on SuttaCentral. I’ll think a bit more about it.

Any further thoughts?


I’m thinking that the first offender cannot possibly break this rule, on purely formal grounds:

The rule requires that the offender be admonished in the sangha three times, using a prescribed formula, i.e. a sanghakamma with one motion and three announcements. If they don’t use the prescribed formula, the admonishment is invalid. But the formula was only laid down at the time when the Buddha laid down the rule. So even if by chance the sangha had used the prescribed formula before that time, the admonishment would still be invalid, because the procedure had not yet been sanctioned by the Buddha.

So there’s no way that Arittha could have been admonished in a valid way before that time. Therefore, he can’t have committed the full pacittiya.

It seems more logical that Arittha was a repeat offender and is therefore treated as guilty.


Why would there be such an implication? Do you mean there are some rules where the prohibited act is one that only mad monks would be likely to perform?


I suppose if a rule could be applied retroactively, so could the admonishment.


I was thinking of such rules as the “queen’s bedchamber”, or “lying down down on a bed or a bench with detachable legs on an upper story in a dwelling belonging to the Sangha”. I mean, maybe someone’s broken them, but they are pretty specific!

Not really, what you say seems reasonable.

Also seems reasonable!