Paccittiya 8 & teaching laity

Dear excellent fellow monastics and Dhamma friends :heart_eyes:

This may be a bit strange to discuss with non-monastics, but some of you have vast experience and i’d actually appreciate your sharing on this point. I’d also appreciate it if we can avoid off-topic proliferation here! (because it can easily happen on a topic like this!) :slight_smile:

I’m reflecting on Parajikas no. 4, and pacittiya no. 8. Let’s say that together, they make it quite difficult for a mendicant to speak openly, or at all, about meditation and practice. Firstly, they engulf nearly every aspect of practice:

  1. All jhanas
  2. 3, & 4. Three emancipations (vimokkha), samadhis, and attainments (samapatti): (1) emptiness (suññata), (2) signless (animitta), (3) desireless (appanihita).
  3. knowledge-and-vision (ñanadassana): knowledge of past lives, knowledge of the rebirth of beings, and knowledge of the ending of mental effluents (asava);
  4. path-development (magga-bhavana): the 37 (bodhipakkhiya-dhamma)—the four establishings of mindfulness, the four right exertions, the four bases of power, the five faculties, the five strengths, the seven factors for Awakening, and the noble eightfold path;
  5. the realization of the noble fruits (phala-sacchikiriya): stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning, arahantship;
  6. the abandoning of defilements (kilesappahana): the abandoning of passion, aversion, and delusion;
  7. the mind’s freedom from hindrance (vinıvaranata cittassa): the mind unhindered by passion, aversion, and delusion;
  8. and delight in an empty dwelling (suññagare abhirati).

I mean maggabhavana alone is a deal-breaker here!
Parajika 4 prohibits mendicants from “lying” about attaining any of these, and Paccittiya 8 applies to a mendicant who expresses his ‘true’ experiences to unordained people. And though it is clear that the Parajika 4 applies only in the case of intentional lying, still, some conscientious mendicants will have absorbed these rules so much to the extent that they will avoid talking about their experiences at all, just in case they may be misunderstood or to avoid criticism. This is particularly the case for those who -like me- rarely ever speak about anything that they haven’t themselves experienced.

Now I love meditation! But I can’t see how I can possibly talk about it with unordained people any more (including maggabhavana)! I am not so much used to bending phrases, and I don’t like it. Rather I will usually say outright that “this is only my experience”, “in my experience it has been such and such”, and so on. And if one should observe the list of experiences a mendicant is not allowed to talk about, then what is still there to talk about?!

The same applies to some extent also with Parajika 3, where I can no longer speak freely about “death”, another favourite subject of mine! In this case I can’t speak about “fearlessness of death”, for example, even with other mendicants; lest it be misunderstood for an invitation to suicide or carelessness with life and so on! The parajika will not apply because of the absence of certain conditions, but still you get caught up in the kind of unfortunate controversy that we have already seen unfolding among well-known and highly respected mendicants!

And while in the case of talking about death, one is naturally justified to talk from without experience (!), yet in the case of meditation, how is it ever possible that one should even allow oneself to give instruction or describe a meditative event to lay people, without having experienced it oneself at first? I mean the rule doesn’t make sense to me here!

This actually opens up the discussion on the relationship between the patimokkha’s problematic “wording” of some rules, and the original “logic” of those rules. The origin story of Pc 8 clearly shows that telling lay people about one’s true experiences is problematic in the event where one does so merely to get alms food. If we were to generalise (which seems to be the function of the patimokkha’s wording), then it would suffice to apply the rule on seeking “any” gains, whether alms food or otherwise, and whether material or immaterial (fame, prestige, etc.); but not to prohibit speaking of one’s experiences altogether (such as in the context of giving instruction for example).

Another thing that puzzles me on the subject of jhana specifically: The Buddha does speak highly of it (as in MN 59 para:6-7 & MN 80 para:13 and elsewhere).

“This [four jhanas] is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, that it should not be feared.”

Yet, the teaching emphasises how jhana is evidently samsaric and conditioned, thus insufficient for attaining the goal:

MN 79 para:28: “It is not for the sake of realising that entirely pleasant world [jhana] that bhikkhus lead the holy life under me. There are other states, Udayin, higher and more sublime [than that] and it is for the sake of realising them that bhikkhus lead the holy life under me.”

& MN 26: “[arupajhana as final dhamma] does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana, but only to reappearance in the [formless bases].”
_tr. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi.

What is it then that is so “super human” about jhana, when we know that it only suppresses defilements, and ceases to have even that effect sometime after cessation of practice? Why is it such a big thing to talk about experiencing it? I mean if one may eventually return down to the realms of hell after rebirth in the jhanic realms, why would it be such a big thing in a Dhamma context that exalts and honours nibbana on top of everything else?

And this gets you wondering about whether all these rules were made because lay people and other ascetics in the time of the Buddha may had inflated the significance of these meditative experiences, even equating them with Enlightenment, precisely due to their continued ignorance of the possibility of bhavanirodha. And sometimes it shocks me that this is unfortunately still the situation today in so many circles, including monastic ones!

Anyways, I wonder how do other monastic practitioners handle this issue, what opinions and practices there are regarding observing these rules.

Most appreciatively. :).


Very well then …

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I have been thinking about your question but was waiting for the more senior folks to join in as I’m interested in their opinion too.

My thoughts are that describing meditation experience is like describing a place to someone that they want to go to. I could tell you all about Adelaide and what this part is like and that part is like but really you won’t understand until you visit. So instead I can give you instructions on how to get here the easiest way I know. Then when you get here you can have a look around for yourself. This is what I’ve seen senior teachers do.

Otherwise if I want to describe something I’ve experienced without saying ‘this was my experience’, I say ‘someone I know well once had this happen’ or ‘it could be described like this’. Even saying ‘the way I understand it is…’ can skirt around the problem. This is my approach, as I don’t like talking directly about my practice most people, lay or otherwise.


I know this doesn’t matter at all, but if a monastic told me about their attainments and I got the sense they were just doing it out of compassion and to help me out, I certainly wouldn’t judge them at all or think they were doing something wrong. The Buddha did say some rules could be let go, who knows if he just meant for it to be left up to the monastics disgression. I mean as long as they were doing it with totally pure intentions.

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I can’t say “someone i know well …”, I don’t know myself well! :).

We’re the exact opposite here! Mostly I refer to my experience out of a desire to caution others against thinking that what I described is universal or necessarily applicable to all cases. I don’t know if it’s universal or necessarily applicable to all cases! And to say “in my understanding …” misses the point for me, in a certain sense I do want to inform the other, I want to let them know, that this has been something experienced, not an opinion, not an “understanding”. Hence the dilemma for me.


When I hear a monastic use one of the phrases above I interpret it to be either their direct experience OR the advice a senior teacher has given them. So I will give good weight to something like that.


Hmmm. It would be great if everyone understood those references in the same way. But thanks a lot, friend @Pasanna, for your input. We’re still here, still on topic! :+1:

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Thanks for starting this topic! I was hoping someone more experienced than me would comment, but since that hasn’t happened yet, here’s my two cents:

I have been wondering about this question quite a bit, too, and I think now that it is usually not a good idea to talk with laypeople about your personal meditation experiences or any higher knowledges that you might have. Even if they believe you, the usual reaction is not for them to practice more, but to start worshipping you, because “you are a special person and they could never do something like this themselves.” Or else they just see your superhuman states as a fun story with no relation to the problems they are actually struggeling with.
In MN 139 the Buddha recommends teaching the Dhamma in an impersonal way, just talking about the general principles instead of personal achievements.

“‘One should know what it is to extol and what it is to disparage, and knowing both, one should neither extol nor disparage but should teach only the Dhamma.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said?

“And how, bhikkhus, does there come to be neither extolling nor disparaging but teaching only the Dhamma? When one does not say: ‘All those engaged in the pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires … have entered upon the wrong way,’ but says instead: ‘The pursuit is a state beset by suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the wrong way,’ then one teaches only the Dhamma. When one does not say: I All those disengaged from the pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires … have entered upon the right way,’ but says instead: ‘The disengagement is a state without suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the right way,’ then one teaches only the Dhamma.

“When one does not say: ‘All those engaged in the pursuit of self-mortification … have entered upon the wrong way,’ but says instead: ‘The pursuit is a state beset by suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the wrong way,’ then one teaches only the Dhamma. When one does not say: ‘All those disengaged from the pursuit of self-mortification … have entered upon the right way,’ but says instead: ‘The disengagement is a state without suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the right way,’ then one teaches only the Dhamma.

So you just explain the general principles, so that people understand that the path works for everyone. They don’t need to know where exactly along that path you are.
For me personally, if any monastic openly claims to have reached a certain stage of awakening or a special insight, I rightaway stop listening to them. I have just met too many monastics making such claims who are clearly just frauds or seriously deluded.

I am also wondering if your list of superhuman states not to be talked about is maybe a bit excessive? Clearly the rule itself doesn’t state that maggabhavana is a superhuman state. In fact, maggabhavana is very practical and down to earth stuff. That long list could well be a later development.


First of all I’m neither monastic nor do I have actual suggestions, but as a lay person this is actually an issue…

Monastics are naturally asked to talk about nibbana, meditation, attainments. Many lay people project authority on them due to their robe only.

If a monastic would then say: “Here’s what I know about nibbana (or jhanas), it’s from this book from Maha Boowa” or “it’s from my teacher, but I can’t tell if it’s first hand experience”, then I’d be very disappointed, thinking “why, I can read that book too!”

If they somehow hint that it’s their actual experience, I’d be either in awe or doubt the claim.

In both cases the internet and other places of rumor don’t care. You can’t prevent rumors from spreading, but I think that letting rumors spread is actually harmful as well. Instead I would like to hear a monastic saying “Look, I know that people are talking about my supposed attainments. And I just want to say that it’s all fantasy and projection, because I didn’t talk about it - so anything you hear is just people gossiping”

Yet, it’s also legitimate for lay people to seek advice regarding meditation and a reliable practice to attain nibbana. So who should I ask? Any monastic with 10+ vassas? Certainly a robe and time are not guarantees for jhanas or attainments. So I turn to those who freely speak about it in general terms. And isn’t that insinuating that they have attained? How else could they be freely speaking?

Which goes back to the first point: Either freely admit your attainments, or else say you’re a scholar (then why bother them with practical questions?), or deny to talk about it altogether (and thus not be a guide to others and leave the field to lay teachers).

I don’t see a good solution, but from the standpoint of the lay follower it’s unsatisfactory - dhamma-dukkha :roll_eyes:


With lay teachers you have exactly the same problem as with monastics. Just because they can talk openly about their attainments, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be deluded or deliberately make false claims.
There’s just no way around it if you want to have a teacher you can trust: You need to spend time with them and really investigate them carefully, as explained in MN 47. There’s no shortcut.


I think that from the responses so far, it is clear that a lot depends on the following:

  1. Who is the listener (what qualities they have).
  2. How do you see yourself.

So perhaps somewhat differently from your clear-cut perspective; i don’t see myself as a “teacher”, nor do I think that others are “usually” so dumb as to “worship me”. Although of course what you are referring to happens; nevertheless I wouldn’t make a “rule” based on its mere possibility.

Now thanks a lot for the quote from MN 139. I don’t remember reading it before. Though I understand it quite differently from the way you do. While we know that the path can work for everyone, I believe it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone in the same way! Which is why I emphasise differences in experiences, and certainly not because I just like to inform others “where exactly am I along the path”.

Again, something bad happens, doesn’t mean a rule should be born! But that’s only my attitude here! Anyways the gist of what I was talking about had nothing to do with attaining super human states and I don’t really know if any such thing exists in the first place! My concern is purely about being able to communicate freely with lay people concerning much more common experiences which do in fact feature in the list. And yes including maggabhavana. my list is accurate: check “Bhūtārocana” in the Vibhanga; Pc 8 for monks and Pc 104 for nuns.

Thanks for your reply.


I’m glad to say that over the years I was in contact with monastics who were rather outspoken. We had conversations that were based on mutual trust, and the guidance I got was always helpful - either directly for my practice, or in order to gain faith in the dhamma-sangha.

Those informal encounters have been important to me, not necessarily talking only about the most fancy aspects. But more to be in touch with fellow dedicated practitioners who were at that time free of their ‘monastic facade’.


I wasn’t trying to imply that you had the intention to show off when you talk about meditation experiences. Sorry if it came across that way.

This is the wording of the rule:
Yā pana bhikkhunī anupa­sam­pannāya uttari­manus­sa­dhammaṃ āroceyya, bhūtasmiṃ pācittiyaṃ
It says superhuman Dhammas.

I guess it also depends how serious you take the Vibhanga. It is clearly later than the Patimokkha and that rule might not have included so many different topics when the Buddha laid it down. That’s what I meant by it possibly being a later development. As far as I know, the Ajahn Brahm monasteries interpret the rule to cover only jhanas and the four stages of awakening. So just talking about maggabhavana would be fine.

I’m not sure if you are talking about my personal “rule” to stop listening to people who claim to have attained superhuman states, or about the Vinaya rule.
If you are talking about the Vinaya rule, then I think a lot of times rules were born because something bad happened. And to prevent fraudulent monastics from taking advantage of lay people. Even if only one monastic misbehaved, a rule was laid down.
I am really glad that you haven’t had bad experiences with this rule being ignored. To me, it seems a very widespread problem. So much so that I now consider this rule very important. However, I do limit the rule to superhuman states, as understood by the Ajahn Brahm group. So I wouldn’t consider talking about maggabhavana to be breaking the rule.


Exactly. What I wish to be able to do without offence, is to respond to this natural interest (without which there would have been no sangha I suppose), in a meaningful way! I wish to be able to share my limited experience of the path with those who are intelligently and sincerely interested in discovering it. And like you I also have met many such people. Or let me say that I wasn’t so negatively affected by the crazy stuff that you come across here and there. It also makes a big difference where and with whom do you spend your discovering and sharing time. In all things, selectivity is a must!


I don’t want to mislead anyone, so I just checked this with Ajahn Brahmali’s recorded Vinaya class for the Bodhinyana monks. He says it includes samadhi states (jhanas, arupas, other samadhi states), 6 abhinnas and the four stages of awakening.


As a lay follower, I can think about several reasons offhand for the restrictions.

  1. Some lay people can easily move beyond veneration of monks into worship of monks. And free talk about powers and attainments can contribute to that outcome.

  2. At atmosphere of worship of “special” monks can turn into an environment in which lay adherents start to imagine that these special monks can be, and need to be, propitiated with sacrifices so that their powers will be wielded on behalf of the adherent. At the very least, this might disrupt the life of the sangha by influencing the pattern of dana.

  3. Lots of free talk among monks about their attainments can lead to a competitive environment in which monks are jostling with one another for attention, followers and adherents, and feel stronger temptations to break the fourth precept.

  4. Some monks who are great teachers might not have attained the spiritual levels of other monks who have cultivated higher attainments, but are poor teachers. It’s good to keep lay followers focused on the teachings and the practices, not their suspicions about who is and who isn’t highly advanced.

  5. At the end of the day, we can’t see into other minds and know their spiritual states for certain. So there is something inherently risky about an environment in which people are encouraged to make professions about the quality of their internal lives. Anyone who has been around Buddhist circles for a while knows that it is relatively easy for someone to “act enlightened”, by adopting a purring, solemn tone of voice, slow movements, and the other outward signs we tend to connect with high attainment on the path.


No trouble at all! I appreciate your participation very much. :relaxed:

I have mentioned this matter in my post. I wasn’t concerned about the patimokkha-vibhanga chronology as much as about simple logic and common sense. And my problem in this case is with the over-generality of the wording of the patimokkha as well, which probably allows for the vibhanga to involve about everything related to practice with “uttarimanussadhamma”! Note also that the same list, and very similar wording, appears in Parajika 4 as well.

In Pc8 as in many other rules, both patimokkha and vibhanga are problematic: The patimokkha is too general, and the vibhanga is questionably specific. And you’re left only with the origin story to glean the intention of Lord Buddha. And about how seriously I take the Vibhanga … well I take it pretty much very seriously. Without it, what vinaya text have we got left? (that’s why I at all bother about discussing its problems)! And then we end up with this situation, where you say that in Ajahn Brahm’s monasteries the rule is interpreted to include only jhana and maggaphala; well … why include jhana?! If we were to ignore the vibhanga, who gets to decide whether jhana is an “uttarimanussadhamma”?! In fact, who gets to decide what is superhuman; what is the “nature” of superhumaneness, how can we define it? And then check something like AN 6.77, The Buddha lists six things the dispelling of which is necessary for realising a super human state:

What six? Forgetfulness, unawareness, uncontrolled mental faculties, not knowing the right amount to eat, deceitfulness and talking deceptively.

THAT’S IT?!!! I mean really? And does not this indicate that perhaps what is meant by “uttarimanussadhamma” is something that is much more simple than what the expression may at first sight suggest?!

Oh I’m sorry for the confusion; I wasn’t talking about vinaya rules, but “rule” as “rule of thumb”. I have come across strange things too along the path, but they don’t effect me. And in all cases, making generalisations based on personal bad experiences is not my path, especially when the generalisation is about human behaviour and a specific social group. I don’t expect or require it from others though!

I would never answer a question about where I am on maggaphala, except if asked by my preceptor or a teacher whom I revere, and even if the answer was: “I haven’t the slightest idea!”


Let’s all vote “yes” in a referendum that proposes that people should no longer speak to each other because they may misunderstand each other! :sunglasses:


I’ll let Ajahn Brahmali defend his interpretation himself if he wants to. But I’d also be interested in his opinion on the question you raised in the OP as to why jhana is uttarimanussa and why there are conflicting descriptions, superhuman vs samsaric. My attempt at explaining it would be that there is a difference between superhuman states (that transcend the human plane) and super-samsaric states (that transcend samsara altogether). Jhanas are superhuman in the sense that they transcend the kama loka where humans live and are beyond the abilities of an ordinary human being. You need them to totally let go of the defilements of the kama loka and become an anagami. It thus depends on the perspective the Buddha was taking at the time of giving his sermon: Compared to nibbana they are nothing much, but compared to ordinary defiled mind states, they are superhuman.
Probably jhanas are covered by the rule because not everyone has right view and understands their transitory nature. Anything that seems superhuman would bring you a lof of fame and admiration regardless of whether it is useful for nibbana or not.

I guess in the end every monastic has to make up their own mind how to interpret the rules.
As you said so beautifully in response to one of my posts on another thread:


I’m a stranger to the Vinaya, but for what it’s worth SN 41.9 has the four jhanas as uttarimanussadhamma (is this trivial knowledge for monastics, or relevant at all?)

In these thirty years, householder, have you attained any superhuman distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones, any dwelling in comfort?”
“How could I not, venerable sir? For to whatever extent I wish, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I enter and dwell in the first jhana… fourth jhana. Further, if I were to die before the Blessed One does, it would not be surprising if the Blessed One were to declare of me: ‘There is no fetter bound by which Citta the householder could return to this world.’"

While Citta clearly includes the jhanas as uttarimanussadhamma, there is the hint that he might be an anagami, which again might be the ‘superhumanness’ of it?

Similarly MN 31, but goes even further

Good, good, Anuruddha. But while you abide thus diligent, ardent, and resolute, have you attained any superhuman state, a distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones, a comfortable abiding?”
“Why not, venerable sir? Here, venerable sir, whenever we want, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, we enter upon and abide in the first jhana… fourth jhana… arupas… we enter upon and abide in the cessation of perception and feeling"

MN 65 seems to agree with SN 41.9 and the four jhanas. But DN 11 has ‘superhuman feats and miracles’ (i.e. uttarimanussadhamma) - and jhanas are hardly miracles one could show off with?