Today, after cracking open the Anguttara Nikaya for the first time in a few months, I came to AN 3.88 the Tatiyasikkhā Sutta.
Here is the first paragraph (Sujato translation): “Mendicants, each fortnight over a hundred and fifty training rules come up for recitation, in which respectable people who love themselves train."
Now, knowing the training rules were laid down on a case by case basis, as the need became apparent, the mention of “more than 150” rules would seem to mean that this sutta would be placed well into the Blessed One’s dispensation, assuming a grace period of several years without many rules, and an acceleration of bad behavior necessitating new rules as the Sangha grew. This is just my speculative opinion, but not critical to the discussion.
Further on, the following was said by the Noble One: “Take the case of a mendicant who has fulfilled their ethics, immersion, and wisdom. They break some lesser and minor training rules, but are restored. Why is that? Because I don’t say they’re not capable.”
So, in this case, we have the Buddha discussing “lesser and minor training rules” at a time when 150 was the closest estimable number, well short of the final tally of 227 (for the bhikkus, anyway).
Assuming that, at 150, there were lesser and minor training rules, it would follow that the next 77 would also be lesser and minor, as the greater, major rules would have already been stated by the Perfected One.
On his deathbed, the Buddha declared that the lesser and minor rules could be abolished, but did not indicate which were which, leading to the decision, again, my own speculation, to keep ALL the rules in place.
Now, for the actual topic of discussion: Would the Sangha have benefited from the abolition of many of the minor rules, thereby creating a less imposing obstacle for new and future potential disciples who otherwise would be reluctant to attempt a training which requires such a large swath of dictated behavior?
I, myself, would welcome the challenge of mastering such a daunting task, and see how inspiring such mastery can be for those who aspire to the higher ordination, yet I am struck by the notion that many good people, along with their diverse views, teaching styles and relatable personalities have been put off by the task, not knowing that the minor and lesser rules make up the bulk of the whole. Instead, they see such a large number, even LARGER for the Bhikkunis, are intimidated into lay practice for fear of failure in the training. I think this has had a very limiting effect, and has deprived the Sangha of many great potential teachers and practitioners, particularly the other than male genders.
Was this a possible reason why the Blessed One gave permission to abolish these lesser rules?