On having recite line by line

Just having a bit of a look at the Patimokkha, and following some recent discussion with @josephzizys , I wanted to take a closer look at this rule and Vibhanga.

Let’s start with the Vibhanga.

Padaso nāma
padaṁ, anupadaṁ, anvakkharaṁ, anubyañjanaṁ.

The Vibhanga describes them as four methods of teaching. In two of those cases, the meaning is obvious.

Anvakkharaṁ nāma
The next syllable:
“rūpaṁ aniccan”ti vuccamāno, “run”ti opāteti.
when ‘rūpaṁ aniccaṁ’ is being said, he prompts him, saying, ‘’.

I’m not sure why @brahmali translates Anvakkharaṁ as “syllable by syllable”: would not “the next syllable” be better?

Anubyañjanaṁ nāma
The next phrase:
“rūpaṁ aniccan”ti vuccamāno, “vedanā aniccā”ti saddaṁ nicchāreti.
when ‘rūpaṁ aniccaṁ,’ is being said, the other says, ‘vedanā aniccā.’

So far so clear.

The first two items (padaṁ, anupadaṁ) are less clear, because pada can mean “sentence” or “word”. Here, however, the commentary says it means “a line of verse”, which is implied in Brahmali’s translation “line”. This is interesting, because it means that the primary example of memorizing given is verse, a detail that clearly harks back to the Vedic tradition of teaching the memorizing of verses, for which the Pali uses the same verb vāceti. (Eg. dn4:20.7: Ahamassa mante vācetā.)

Assuming the commentary is correct, what are the two methods? It seems reasonable that the prefix anu- should have the same sense all three times it appears, namely “the next” or “following”. Thus anupada would be when the teacher recites asevanā ca bālānaṁ and the student joins in with paṇḍitānañca sevanā. Pada is where they start and finish together.

Turning to the non-offense clauses:

ekato uddisāpento
if they are made to recite together

Brahmali has “if they recite together”, which appears to be a mistake: it’s a causative form, and the commentary explains it as a case where a teacher gets an ordained and unordained student to recite together. But I don’t know why it has uddisāpeti?

ekato sajjhāyaṁ karonto
If they rehearse together

This refers to when they both know the text and recite it together. Thus it would seem that the main way layfolk would learn is by attending group recitations by the Sangha and chanting along, which is still how it is done today.

It’s worth noting that nowhere in the Vibhanga does it say anything about “memorizing” the teachings. Obviously that is the purpose of the methods, but the offence falls regardless of whether or not anything is actually memorized, and regardless of whether or not there is any intent to have them memorize.

The main question raised by this rule is, why is this a problem? The Buddha encouraged lay folk to learn discourses. Various reasons were proposed by Thanissaro in his BMC, but I don’t find any of them particularly convincing.

The background story says that when the group of six monks were teaching layfolk to memorize by reciting together, the the layfolk became rude and disrespectful to the monks.

But why would they? Surely one would develop respect for a teacher who is helping you? Indeed, at pli-tv-kd5:4.2.6 it is said,

Even the householders who wear white are respectful and deferential toward their teachers for teaching them the profession by which they make a living.

Perhaps, if we read into the origin story, the problem is the monks involved. The group of six monks were notorious bad boys, and it would be no wonder if lay folk were to lose respect for them when associating closely. Thus the rule, with its exceptions, is intended to curb forms of teaching that involve a close intimacy with layfolk, in favor of more public group recitation.

This would agree with the Vedic background, where such forms of teaching were only carried out in a close relation between student and teacher. Such a relation is similar to that between ordained monastics, but not layfolk in general.

Perhaps, although I’m still not really convinced. It would have been easy to take another way to solve this problem, for example, by having the Sangha appoint competent teachers for the layfolk.

The group of six monks are more legend than fact; a convenient literary device to invoke whenever bad monks are needed. The rule itself says nothing about them. Origin stories are not hugely reliable, especially in such instances where it would seem that Vedic cultural ideas were influential in one way or another.

I can’t shake the feeling that the true purpose for this rule was lost early on and we are just inventing post-facto justifications.


What origin stories do the parallel Vinayas give? :pray:

I wondered that too, someone should check them! @vimalanyani ?

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Is it possible this rule refers to Buddhist monks/nuns should not openly talk to laypersons about Vinaya, rules of the Sangha (involved word for word repetition)? The practice of Vinaya, being regarded as dhamma (sutta) in the collection, is only for the Sangha’s monks/nuns.

According to the Uposathakkhandhaka (sections 16.8 and 36) in the Pali Vinaya, the Buddha simply does not allow Bhikkhus to recite Patimokkha together with laypeople, non-Bhikkhus, without giving any reasons.

From a Vinaya perspective, I don’t see how this would be easier. A monastic could only teach when appointed? So there would have to be a blanket something like “no more than x sentences” for teaching anyone without sangha approval? I just don’t see that being practical.

But that’s kind of beside the point.

Based on…? You could say the whole tradition is just legends. Other than the fact that they pop up in various places, is there any reason to believe they are any less historical figures than any of the named monastics?


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I believe this has been debunked in prior threads.

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I’m happy to check.

The following are summaries, not proper translations:

Dharmaguptaka pc6:
The group of 6 bhikkhus recited the Buddha’s suttas together with householders in the dhamma hall. They spoke very loudly, like brahmins reciting their books. It disturbed the meditators …

Mahasanghika pc6:
A sangha official taught many youths to recite the parayana “phrase by phrase” (句句). A brahmin wanted to go forth, passed by, and saw it. Since the teacher sat with the students, he didn’t know which one was the teacher and which the students, and he felt unreverential. He ended up not meeting the Buddha, went back home and didn’t go forth.

I’ll post the rest of the origin stories later.


Mahisasaka pc6
The Buddha arrives with 500 monastics. The householders think that it’s been a long while, and that they should go and learn to recite suttas and gathas from the monastics, and ask about what they don’t understand, so that when the Buddha leaves again, they have something to rely on. They ask the monastics, and they say that they have to ask the Buddha first. The Buddha allows to teach laypeople to recite suttas.
The bhikkhus had gone forth from various countries. When they recite suttas and gathas, their pronunciation isn’t right. The householders criticize that they were being worshipped all day, but couldn’t even speak as well as ordinary people (the text says men, women, pandakas, and intersex people).

Mulasarvastivada pc6
The group of 6 bhikkhus recite together “in phrases” with not fully ordained people. They make a loud noise in the residence, like brahmins reciting their non-Buddhist treatises, and like laypeople loudly learning to read in the classroom.


Sarvastivada pc6
The bhikkhus of Ālavi teach not fully ordained people in the monastery with the “method of phrases”: With complete phrases, incomplete phrases, complete flavor, incomplete flavor, complete words, and incomplete words. Therefore they make a loud noise in the monastery, like people learning to count, or like brahmins reciting the vedas, or like fishermen losing fish. The Buddha hears the noise and asks Ananda about it.


It is still done that way in some places!

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Yes, the pattern suggests they should all be rendered the same way “the next …”. I’ll make the change.

I am not sure it’s wrong, but perhaps it’s too narrow. “Causing to recite together” could also refer to the offending monk causing the student to recite with him. It does not have to refer to two other people, but it should include this possibility. Perhaps:

if the recitation is done together;

I would say that uddisāpeti is used to show that this is not line-by-line memorisation.

Indeed. I believe I used “memorizing” because it is a clear modern equivalent of padaso vāceti. A more literal rendering, such as “teaching by the line”, is necessarily going to be more obscure.


Along the lines of the Bhikkhuni Ovada.

Not “teach” as in give a Dhamma talk, but teach someone to recite a text line by line. But whatever, I also don’t think this is very plausible.

Based on, well, the fact that Vinaya background stories are almost completely different in every recension and have in most cases just been made up. As for example, I guessed the different Vinayas in this case would not involve the 6 monks, and here we are.

Anyway, thanks so much Ayya for the help! Let me look more closely. There are three that are very similar.

For these three Vinayas, the problem is the noise generated by the recitation. These three schools are all from Mathura or further to the north-west, so this seems to be a local tradition.

Perhaps the issue here is that the Brahmanical method was mostly based on individual training of students, where a teacher would take on a student. I’m not sure whether the Brahmins at that time had larger institutions or schools. There’s no such idea in the suttas, but the Jatakas seem to assume Taxila was a place of learning and it’s often believed to be a center for schools. But sticking with the suttas, so far as I know, it’s always a single brahmin who takes on a student or students, in which case this problem would not arise.

Then we have three Vinayas where the problem is not noise, but respect. The Pali is one. Then there is:

The mention of the Parayana is interesting. This Vinaya, IIRC, was collected at Patna.

It seems odd that they couldn’t tell teacher from students. Clearly the brahmins had a big thing about the teacher sitting higher and being respected. Anyway, this suggests that the influence of brahmanical norms shaped this rule.

The Mahisasakas were probably from around Avanti, maybe they are the same community of Kaccana that Mahinda ordained in before he left for Sri Lanka. Regardless, this speaks to a time, no doubt some time after the Buddha’s death, when dialectical variations were becoming prominent in the recitation.

The problem is that this doesn’t explain the problem with “teaching line by line”. It’s just about “teaching” generally. I cannot believe there was ever a rule saying that monastics couldn’t recite suttas just because their accent was different.

The reasons appear to be localized: the three north-western texts say the problem was noise, while the three center/south texts say it was disrespect.

Overall, it seems to me the driving issue is that the change in lifestyle to communal living in the Sangha necessitated a new form of recitation, namely the Sangiti, where the group would recite together, rather than everyone having their individual students. The old Brahmanical line-by-line system was deprecated, perhaps for a variety of reasons, but ultimately because it simply didn’t suit the context of the Sangha.

The Sangiti, of course, was intended by the Buddha to include all four assemblies.

But “memorizing” is not more clear: it’s just wrong. Nothing about the rule requires it to have anything to do with memorizing. It is about “having them recite it”.

I could, for example, sit down with a student and have them recite it line by line in order to check and improve their Pali pronunciation, with no intention to memorize, and it would be an offence just the same. Conversely, I could sit down with them to “memorize” the text by reading it over and over and not fall into an offence.


In this case you are not teaching the Dhamma, but pronunciation. The rule is specifically about the Dhamma. Teaching pronunciation could be based on any text. I don’t think this would be an offence.

The verb vāceti means to teach, which in the cultural context meant to have someone memorise. This is especially so with the added qualifier padaso.

I do agree, however, that whether they actually do remember anything or not is irrelevant. It is the trying that is the issue. With the phrasing “instructs to memorize” the offence is committed based on the intention of the instructor, not on the result of the instruction.


Is it possible ‘the Dhamma’ here refers to Patimokkha sutta (which is only for the Sangha’s monks/nuns)?

Not according to the Vibhanga:

what has been spoken by the Buddha, what has been spoken by disciples, what has been spoken by sages, what has been spoken by gods, what is connected with what is beneficial, what is connected with the Teaching.

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That’s misleading. It means to have the student recite the text, which was a method of teaching. It’s not “teaching” in a general sense per deseti.

If I teach by using a blackboard, using a blackboard is a method I use to teach, but it is not the same as “teaching”.

The rule is specifically about having the student recite the Dhamma line by line, not about “teaching” or “memorizing”.

Alright, yet the purpose is still to have the student memorise the “text”.

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* citation required.

This is not the purpose stated in the rule. The purpose is to have them recite it.

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So far as I can tell, it is the standard meaning of vāceti. It’s not a very common word, and so it’s not too burdensome to look up the main contexts.

Probably the most common context is that of the brahmins teaching the mantras to their students, e.g.:

“You teach the teachers of many, and teach three hundred students to recite the hymns.”
Bhavañhi soṇadaṇḍo bahūnaṃ ācariyapācariyo tīṇi māṇavakasatāni mante vāceti. (e.g. DN4)

This context is particularly revealing. We know with a high degree of certainty that the brahmin students learnt memorization of the hymns, often not even understanding the meaning. At the same time, the only word that conveys this meaning is vāceti, which means that this word either explicitly or implicitly means “to make memorise”.

Closer to home, we find the following:

“Reverend Sāriputta, take a mendicant who memorizes the teaching—statements, songs, discussions, verses, inspired exclamations, legends, stories of past lives, amazing stories, and classifications.

Then, just as they learned and memorized it, they teach others in detail, make them recite in detail, practice reciting in detail, and think about and consider the teaching in their heart, examining it with the mind.

Idhāvuso sāriputta, bhikkhu dhammaṁ pariyāpuṇāti—suttaṁ geyyaṁ veyyākaraṇaṁ gāthaṁ udānaṁ itivuttakaṁ jātakaṁ abbhutadhammaṁ vedallaṁ.

So yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ vitthārena paresaṃ deseti, yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ vitthārena paresaṃ vāceti, yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ vitthārena sajjhāyaṃ karoti, yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati. (AN6.51)


Furthermore, the mendicants who are very learned—inheritors of the heritage, who have memorized the teachings, the monastic law, and the outlines—don’t carefully make others recite the discourses. When they pass away, the discourses are cut off at the root, with no-one to preserve them. This is the third thing that leads to the decline and disappearance of the true teaching.

Puna caparaṁ, bhikkhave, ye te bhikkhū bahussutā āgatāgamā dhammadharā vinayadharā mātikādharā, te na sakkaccaṁ suttantaṁ paraṁ vācenti. Tesaṁ accayena chinnamūlako suttanto hoti appaṭisaraṇo. Ayaṁ, bhikkhave, tatiyo dhammo saddhammassa sammosāya antaradhānāya saṁvattati. (AN4.160)

And we find a similar message at AN5.155 and 156. Again, all these contexts suggest memorisation.

At SN11.23 we have the following:

‘Teach me, Vepacitti, the Sambari sorcery.’
Vācehi maṁ, vepacitti, sambarimāyan’ti.

The sorcery presumably refers to reciting a verse, which would have to be memorised.

At SN12.70, the Susīma Sutta, we have this:

Memorize that teaching and have us recite it with you. When we’ve memorized it we’ll recite it to the laity.
Tvaṁ dhammaṁ pariyāpuṇitvā amhe vāceyyāsi. Taṁ mayaṁ dhammaṁ pariyāpuṇitvā gihīnaṁ bhāsissāma.

Again, the purpose of vāceti is for the others to memorise the teaching.

It seems to me that vāceti implies “memorisation” pretty much everywhere. I think it is quite acceptable to bring such implications into the translation. In fact, not only acceptable, but necessary to convey the meaning properly.


In none of these cases does vāceti mean “memorizing”. It means “having them recite”, which is part of a process that was often used for memorizing. Just like “putting it in gear” is part of a process used for driving a car, but “put it in gear” does not mean “drive a car”.

The purpose is irrelevant, because the purpose is not stated in the rule. Per BMC:

Intention is not a mitigating factor here.

The rule just says “having them recite it”. That’s the offence. Maybe you have them recite it as a chant on a football field. :soccer:

monk — “Rūpaṁ!"
the crowd roars — “Aniccaṁ!”

Awesome as that would be, the monk still falls into an offence.

Maybe you do it as part of a mystical ceremony for the invocation of spirits. :ghost:

monk (mysteriously) — “Rūpaṁ!"
people (timidly) — “Aniccaṁ?” (… candle flickers …)

Same deal. Having them recite line by line = offence.

Your Vibhanga translates padaso as “memorizes”. I’m looking at it and thinking, “does he know something I don’t?” Because that sure ain’t what it means.

Not at all, it’s perfectly clear. My translation:

Should a monk get an unordained person to repeat the teaching line by line, this entails confession.

And, hate to say it, but every other translator agrees.


Should any bhikkhu have an unordained person recite Dhamma line by line (with
him), it is to be confessed.


Should any bhikkhu rehearse the Dhamma word by word (with text and commentary) together with one who is not fully accepted (into the Sangha), this entails expiation.


If any bhikkhu should have one who has not been fully admitted [into the community] recite the Dhamma [line] by line, [this is a case] involving expiation.


If any bhikkhu should make someone who is not ordained recite the Dhamma word by word, there is an offence entailing expiation.


Whatever monk should make one who is not ordained speak dhamma line by line, there is an offence of expiation.

Rhys Davids/Oldenberg

Whatsoever Bhikkhu shall cause one not received into the higher grade (of the Order) to recite the Dhamma clause by clause — that is a Pacittiya.

If you think there needs to be more explanation as to why they would have someone recite line by line, great, that’s what notes are for. But the rule is for having someone recite, not for memorizing.

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