SC Next: Introduction to the Vinaya

For the upcoming revision of SC, Bhante Sujato has asked me to prepare a short essay introducing the Vinaya Piṭaka. Here is a draft version for anyone who wishes to give their constructive feedback.

The Monastic Law

Bhikkhu Brahmali

The Vinaya Piṭaka, “The Basket of Monastic Law,” contains the rules that are binding on monastics and the regulations that apply to monastic communities. The Monastic Law is available in more recensions than any other part of the Tipiṭaka. There is a full version in Pali, and four complete versions extant in Chinese translation, all belonging to different schools of early Buddhism: Mahāsāṅghika, Dharmaguptaka, Mahīśāsaka, and Sarvāstivāda. The Chinese Tipiṭaka also preserves other Vinaya related texts, such as an independent bhikkhu pātimokkha of the Kāśyapīya School and several more or less school-specific Vinaya texts. The Vinaya of the Mūlasarvāstivāda school exists in three versions: a complete text in Tibetan translation, a mostly complete version in Chinese, and substantial portions in Sanskrit. There are also several Vinaya texts, as well as a large number of fragments, in Sanskrit and other Indic languages, mostly of Mahāsāṅghika, Sarvāstivāda, and Mūlasarvāstivāda provenance.


The word vinaya, here translated as “Monastic Law,” originally probably meant “training,” as can be seen from its usage in the Sutta Piṭaka, “the Basket of Discourses.” In this sense it complements the Dhamma, the doctrine or teaching, which provides the instructions on how the training is to be achieved. The compound dhamma-vinaya is a common one in the earliest literature and might be rendered as “theory and practice.” Gradually the meaning shifted to refer to the rules of conduct instead, thus referring to the training in a narrower sense. Although the former usage is more common in the suttas, it is this latter usage of vinaya which has become the dominant one and which has prevailed to the present day.

The Monastic Law developed over a period of several centuries after the Buddha’s passing away. Yet given the close agreement on some of the most fundamental aspects of the Vinaya across all surviving scriptures, it seems likely that the earliest parts originated in the lifetime of the Buddha. This includes the rules of conduct binding on all monastics, known as the pātimokkha, and several of the most important procedures that regulate the proper functioning of the monastic communities. It is only these parts of the Vinaya that are part of the Early Buddhist Texts in the strictest sense.

Around this kernel the Vinaya gradually expanded. Over time, the pātimokkha rules gained a canonical commentary that included origin stories, word analyses, detailed permutation series on the applicability of the rules, non-offense clauses, and case studies. For the rest of the Vinaya, known as the Khandhakas, the expansion was less structured, with minor rules, stories, and procedures apparently being added as the need arose. It has been shown by Frauwallner (1956) that, despite a significant common core, many of the details of this part of the Vinaya vary between the schools.

The exact cut-off point after which no new material was added to the Canonical Vinaya is impossible to pin down and it would have varied from school to school. On linguistic grounds, it seems likely that the majority of additions to the Pali Vinaya, with the exception of the Parivāra, were done prior to its arrival in Sri Lanka in the third century BCE. After this point new material was added to the commentarial literature, which, despite its likely origin in the mainland, was greatly expanded and developed in Sri Lanka.

The Vinaya was not established as part of an overall plan to provide the monastic community with a legal structure, but was laid down rule by rule in response to problems as they arose in the monastic Order. It is the Dhamma, the teaching, that guided the laying down of the Vinaya, and the Vinaya is subsidiary to and bound up with the broader concerns of the proper practice of the Buddhist path. A large number of rules were laid down in response the lay people’s criticism of the monastic Order.

Textual Transmission and the Schools

The number of extant Vinaya texts is quite large and the process of transmission and translation into various Indic languages and especially into Chinese and Tibetan is quite complex. In what follows I give an outline of how the main Vinaya texts were transmitted to China and Tibet.

The first split in the monastic Order occurred between the Mahāsāṅghikas and the Sthaviras, very roughly around 200 BCE. Each of these branches subsequently split into a number of sub-schools. Of the six complete Vinayas still extant, only one belongs to the Mahāsāṅghika group and the remaining five to sub-schools of the Sthaviras. We should therefore expect to find shared qualities between the Vinayas of the Sthavira schools that are lacking in the Mahāsāṅghika Vinaya. Indeed, the Khandhakas of the Mahāsāṅghika Vinaya are structured differently from those of all the other Vinayas.

The sub-schools of the Sthavira branch for which we still have complete Vinayas fall into two sub-groups: the Sarvāstivāda and the Mūlasarvāstivāda on the one hand, and the Dharmaguptaka, the Mahīśāsaka, and the Theravāda on the other. First the Sarvāstivādins split from the rest of the Sthaviras. Over time the Mūlasarvāstivāda emerged as a sub-school of the Sarvāstivāda, and for this reason the Vinayas of these two schools share certain characteristics (Frauwallner, 1956: 194). After the Sarvāstivādin split, the remainder of the Sthaviras divided further, including into the Dharmaguptaka, the Mahīśāsaka, and the Theravāda. Yet these three schools were probably no more than regional variations of each other (Sujato, 2012: 102) and consequently their Vinayas have much in common (Frauwallner, 1956: 181).

Apart from the Theravāda Vinaya, the following are the main Canonical Vinayas still extant:

  • A complete Mahāsāṅghika Vinaya, found in the Chinese Tipiṭaka at T 1425, was translated into Chinese by Faxian and Buddhabhadra in 416-418 CE. Although its section of Khandhakas is structured differently from that of the other schools, the content appears to largely overlap. Further study is required to clarify the degree of divergence. Substantial parts of this Vinaya has also been preserved in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, including the Mahāvastu, a large work mostly concerned with the biography of the Buddha, as well as the Suttavibhaṅga for the nuns and the monks’ pātimokkha.
  • A complete Sarvāstivāda Vinaya is preserved in Chinese at T 1435, translated by Kumārajīva in 404-409 CE. There are also a number of surviving fragments in Sanskrit.
  • A full translation of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya into Tibetan, found in the Kanjur at D 1-7/P 1030-1036, was completed in first decade of 9th century CE by Jinamitra of Kashmir and various others. There is a version of this Vinaya in Chinese at T 1441-1457, largely translated by Yijing in 703-710 CE. This translation is incomplete and full of gaps (Frauwallner, 1956: 195). In addition to this, approximately 80 percent of the Khandhakas exist in Sanskrit (Clarke, 2015: 75).
  • Apart from a few fragments in Sanskrit and Gāndhārī, a full Dharmaguptaka Vinaya is only preserved in Chinese at T 1428, translated by Buddhayaśas and Zhu Fonian in 410-412 CE. Of all the extant Vinayas, this is the one normally regarded as closest to the Theravāda Vinaya (Clarke, 2015: 69).
  • The Mahīśāsaka Vinaya is only extant in Chinese at T 1421, translated by Buddhajīva from Kashmir and others in 423-424 CE from a manuscript brought from Sri Lanka by Faxian. According to Frauwallner (1956: 183-84), this Vinaya is full of gaps. It is closely related to the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya (Frauwallner, 1956: 181).
  • Apart from the full Vinayas listed above, there are a variety of Canonical Vinaya texts and fragments in different languages. One significant text is the monks’ pātimokkha of the Kāśyapīya School, available at T 1460 and translated into Chinese by Gautama Prajñāruci in 543 CE.


The Vinaya Piṭaka is divided into two main parts: the Suttavibhaṅga, “The Analysis of the Rules,” and The Khandhakas, “the Chapters.” The individual schools sometimes have additional texts, such as the Parivāra, “The Compendium,” belonging to the Theravāda tradition, and the Uttaragrantha belonging to the Mūlasarvāstivādins.


Suttavibhaṅga means “Analysis of the sutta.” Sutta here does not refer to the discourses, but rather to the pātimokkha rules as a complete set.

The Suttavibhaṅga consists of the pātimokkha rules embedded in a commentary that analyses each rule in detail. The Suttavibhaṅga is divided into two parts, the 227 rules for the monks and the 311 rules for the nuns. The majority of rules are the same for the two Orders, but 130 rules are specific to the nuns and 46 specific to the monks. The greater number of rules for the nuns is in large part due to the subdivision of individual monks’ rules into multiple rules for the nuns and to the fact that the nuns have rules in their pātimokkha that the monks have in the Khandhakas.

The rules are categorised according to the penalty incurred for breaching them. The heaviest penalty, expulsion from the monastic Order, is incurred only for conduct that is fundamentally opposed to monastic life, such a sexual intercourse or murder. There are 4 such rules for the monks and 8 for the nuns. The second heaviest penalty consists of a period of suspension and probation during which time one is not a full member of the monastic Order. There are 13 such rules for the monks and 17 for the nuns. The vast majority of offenses, however, are cleared simply by confession. These rules are subdivided into a number of categories dependent on factors such as the severity of the breach, the sort of confession that is required, and additional requirements such as relinquishment of wrongly acquired requisites. The last seven rules of the Suttavibhaṅga are principles for resolving “legal” issues. Most of the material connected with these principles is now found in the Khandhakas.

Within the Suttavibhaṅga, each rule is largely self-contained and forms its own subsection. These sections begin with one or more origin stories that relate the incident that led the Buddha to lay down a particular rule. Many of these are no more than brief accounts of a stereotypical monk or nun who is simply stated to have done something inappropriate. A few are elaborate narratives that may include sub-rules or important procedures for the monastic Order, and occasionally even sutta-type material or Jātaka-type stories. The majority of origin stories fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Following the origin story is the actual rule. In a number of cases the original rule is later amended by the Buddha, sometimes several times, before it reaches its final form. The rule is then analysed in detail in a word commentary, in which each significant word of the rule is defined. These definitions range from merely supplying a synonym to large sections with a detailed exposition. The word commentary is always technical in nature.

After the word commentary, many rules are further analysed as to their applicability given a number of general scenarios. These section normally take the form of a permutation series in which a certain number of factors are varied in all possible combinations with each other. These sections, too, are highly technical.

Next comes a non-offense clause, which sets out important exemptions for each rule. The non-offense clause is sometimes followed by a set of case studies. These concern specific instances where a monastic acts in such a way that it is not clear-cut whether they have committed an offense. The incident is related and the Buddha then decides on the matter. This section is similar in content to the origin stories. Only the first nine rules of the monks’ pātimokkha have this section.

Comparative study of the various pātimokkhas makes it clear that these texts in large part go back to the pre-sectarian period of Buddhism (Pachow, 2000). As for the rest of the material in the Suttavibhaṅga, academics normally consider this material to be significantly younger than the pātimokkha rules (v. Hinüber, 2000: 13f), but it is nevertheless likely that some of it goes back to the earliest period (Pachow, 2000: 14ff). In the absence of more detailed research, it seems prudent to regard the pātimokkha as the only part of the Suttavibhaṅga that belongs to the Early Buddhist Texts.

But even this overstates the case, for it is clear that not even all the pātimokkha rules belong to the earliest period (Pachow, 2000). This is true of many, perhaps all, of the most minor rules of the monks’ pātimokkha, the sekhiyas, but especially of the rules for the nuns, many of which vary considerably between the different schools, making it likely that they stem from the sectarian period.


The other main part of the Vinaya, the Khandhakas, is a group of sections that each discuss a major area of monastic law, such as a section on ordination, several sections on allowable requisites, and a number of sections that deal with technical matters. The Theravāda Khandhakas is a set of 22 sections, all of which are matched by equivalent sections in the other existing Vinaya recensions, with the partial exception of the Mahāsāṅghikas. The Khandhakas of the Mahāsāṅghikas, although containing much of the same material as the other Vinaya recensions, are structured differently. There is as yet no scholarly consensus as to why this is the case and what might be the implications for the historical evolution of the Khandhakas.

The Khandhakas lack the close unifying principle found in the Suttavibhaṅga, which, as we have seen, is organised as a commentary and analysis of the pātimokkha rules. This makes the Khandhakas less integrated and more diverse than the Suttavibhaṅga.

In place of the rigid structure of the Suttavibhaṅga, the Khandhakas are loosely structured around the life story of the Buddha. After the Buddha’s awakening, he set out to teach others about his discovery. As he started to gain a monastic following, the need for rules and procedures gradually arose. This need continued throughout the Buddha’s life. It is this process that furnishes the framework for the Khandhakas as a whole.

The “biography” of the Buddha is in fact largely considered part of the Vinaya in all Buddhist schools. (Some schools even include their version of the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta in the Vinaya, rather than among the suttas, as with the Theravādins.) The Khandhakas show ordinary interactions of the Buddha with monastics and lay people, and we get a glimpse of the Buddha as real person, not just as the distant teacher and leader of a large religious organisation. We see him walking around the Ganges plain, meeting a variety of people. We see him in close contact with his monastic disciples, criticising their misdeeds, but also praising them when they get it right. The touching story of the Buddha and Ven. Ānanda cleaning up a monk suffering from dysentery is found in the Khandhakas. This close and almost personal view of the Buddha is one factor that makes the Khandhakas a particularly interesting collection.

One of the main functions of the Khandhakas is to present the procedures by which the monastic Orders conduct their business. These include the ordination procedure and the uposatha ceremony, but also a number of other procedures that enable the Orders to function properly. These procedures are governed by precise rules, especially regarding democratic participation and decentralised decision making. They allow for effective and harmonious dispatch of monastic business.

The Khandhakas include a large number of minor rules not found in the pātimokkha. These rules are diverse, but can broadly be summarised as prohibiting luxuries and sensual behaviour, both of which are incompatible with the renunciant life.

The Khandhakas also include background stories of some of the Buddha’s most well-known lay disciples, such as Anāthapiṇḍika, Visākhā, and Jīvaka. There are also stories about monastic disciples, such as the remarkable story of Pilindavaccha, the inspiring stories of Soṇa Kolivisa and Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa, as well as the downfall of Devadatta. Then there are several Jātaka-type stories, some of which are also found in the Jātaka collection. On top of this, each section often has its own origin story, similar to those found in the Suttavibhaṅga. But apart from the origin stories, the Khandhakas lack the detailed exegetical material found in the Suttavibhaṅga.

The third last chapter of the Khandhakas deals with rules and procedures that are specific to the nuns, including their ordination procedure. Unless specifically stated or implied, the rest of Khandhakas are equally valid for both Orders.

The Khandhakas end with a description of the first saṅgīti, the first “communal recitation” of the teachings after the Buddha’s passing away, as well as the famous Vesālī affair, sometimes known as the Second Council, where the Order with difficulty resolved a disagreement over issues of Vinaya. The Vesālī affair is said to have happened around one hundred years after the Buddha passed away. It is around this time that sectarian tendencies are starting to form in the monastic Order, and this is roughly the cut-of-point for the common heritage of all Buddhists.

Other Texts

The Theravāda tradition includes the Parivāra in its Vinaya Piṭaka. Oskar von Hinüber (2000: 22) suggests it was completed no later than the first century AD. The Parivāra is an analytical summary of the first two parts of the Vinaya. In style and method it is sometimes compared to the Abhidhamma.

Other schools, too, have Vinaya summaries and addenda that may or may not share material with the Parivāra. Because of a lack of research, not much is known about these texts. It seems clear, however, that none of them is part of the Early Buddhist Texts.

Modern Perspectives

Most of the early schools of Buddhism have long since disappeared, but three Vinaya traditions are still alive: the Dharmaguptaka, practiced in East Asia, including China and Korea; the Mūlasarvāstivāda, practiced in Tibet and Mongolia; and the Theravāda, practiced in South and Southeast Asia.

In practice, it is rare for monastics to follow all the stipulations of their chosen Vinaya lineage. For instance, although the use of money is prohibited by the pātimokkha rules of all schools, it is nevertheless used by the vast majority of monastics. The extent to which the rules are followed varies enormously, but most monastic do at least follow the most important rules, that is, the rules entailing expulsion and those entailing suspension. A similar situation holds for the procedures that govern the Orders. Sometimes they are practiced to the letter, such as most ordination ceremonies in the Theravāda tradition. At other times the procedures are misinterpreted or simply disregarded, such as the procedures for choosing the officials of the Order.

Over the course of Buddhist history, there have been periodic reform movements and irregular attempts at purifying the monastic Order. Typically the Order gradually degenerates until a charismatic leader starts a reform movement aimed at the proper practice of the Buddhist path, including the Vinaya. These reform movement sometimes manifest as “forest traditions,” whereby monastics establish forest monasteries in conformity with the ideals of early Buddhism. Over the last three decades, one controversial and ongoing reform has been the reestablishment of an Order of nuns, bhikkhunīs, in the Theravāda tradition.


Another important component of the monastic Vinaya is the vast commentarial literature that has gradually evolved over the centuries and millennia, and continues to do so to the present day. All three of the living Vinaya traditions have such a commentarial literature.

The commentarial literature begins with the Suttavibhaṅga, which, although it is now part of the Canon, is an early commentary on the pātimokkha rules. Next we have other Canonical commentaries or summaries, such as the Parivāra of the Theravādins. Beyond these, we come to the commentaries proper, the atthakathās, “The Discussion on Meaning.”

The most important non-canonical commentary on the Theravādin Vinaya Piṭaka is the Samantapāsādikā, composed in Sri Lanka by Buddhaghosa in the fifth century CE based on pre-existing commentaries that probably originated in India. There is also another important commentary from this period, the Kaṅkhāvitaraṇī, also composed by Buddhaghosa. The next layer of commentaries are the ṭīkās, the sub-commentaries, of which there are over a dozen, including highly specialised literature, such as handbooks on monastery boundaries (sīmās). Ṭīkās continue to be composed to the present day. The extent to which the Canonical Vinaya needs to be interpreted in line with this commentarial tradition is typically controversial, and practices vary widely.

To navigate this vast literature, many Theravāda monasteries rely on modern summaries for their practice of the Vinaya. Examples include the Vinayamukha in Thai and Ajahn Ṭhānissaro’s The Buddhist Monastic Code in English.

In addition to the above, most Theravāda monasteries follow a number of rules that are more informal in nature. These include rules used to distinguish individual sects (nikāyas), such as rules on the style of robes and on the manner of wearing them. Then there are rules that pertain to particular teacher traditions, such as those that often form around especially charismatic and famous teachers. The final set of rules are those laid down at individual monasteries. These regulate the daily schedule and other aspects of monastic life that are monastery specific. Although all these rules are sometimes called Vinaya and therefore assumed to stem from the Vinaya Piṭaka or at least the commentaries, in reality few of them have any Canonical basis.

References and Further reading

Clarke, Shayne; Vinaya Mātṛikā – Mother of the Monastic Codes, or just Another Set of Lists?; Indo-Iranian Journal 47: 77–120, 2004
Clarke, Shayne; Vinayas; in Brill’s Encyclopaedia of Buddhism; Leiden, 2015; vol. I, pp. 60-87.
Frauwallner, Erich; The Earliest Vinaya and the Beginnings of Buddhist Literature; Rome, 1956
v. Hinüber, Oskar; A Handbook of Pāli Literature; Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 2000
Kabilsingh, Chatsumarn (trans.); The Bhikkhuni Patimokkha of the Six Schools; Bangkok, 1991
Norman, K.R.; Pāli Literature; Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1983
Ñāṇatusita, Bhikkhu; A Translation and Analysis of the Pātimokkha; Kandy, 2008
Pachow, W; A Comparative Study of the Prātimokṣa; Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 2000
Sujato, Bhikkhu; Sects and Sectarianism; Santipada, 2012
Sujato, Bhikkhu; Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies; Santipada, 2009


This is very interesting overview; thanks a lot, Venerable, for sharing it with us here.

I have one particular point I would like to raise, quite important it may be, regarding the dimension in the paper which functions as a “history” of the development of Vinaya as a text.

The first thing a careful reader might wonder about is how the various historical evaluations/statements, are reached at. For example here:

Except for hints about comparisons with other Vinayas and the use of linguistic analysis, there is nothing in the paper, even a brief bit, about the methods of historical analysis and investigation which support or, even lead to a conclusion like this, and to the various other statements regarding the historicity of this or that portion of the text. I find this to be particularly important in the case of conclusions about the Vibhanga (I will explain below).

But there is generally an epistemological canundrum with this issue, and I have found it to continually haunt historical research in Buddhist texts. It arises so vividly due to the painful lack of any historical documents or records that are contemporaneous to the events, both that of the Buddha’s time and that of committing the Tipitaka to writing. And the only thing there is to guide one’s historical insights into the historicity of the Theravada Vinaya, for example, are other Vinayas that are not necessarily earlier, or worse, possibly written even at a later period!

One’s only source of information about the text, is the text itself! To what extent then might linguistic analysis give clues, I am not sure; but I was very glad to see that you have resolved to this method Venerable. I have found even a sporadic linguistic analysis to give very interesting results in the case of the Suttapitaka, even on the level of “phonological” examination one finds curious leads and patterns. But please correct me if I was wrong Venerable, when I say that I have failed to notice any linguistic evidence that matches the otherwise established sharp seperation between Patimokkha and Vibhanga. And while I am not so proficient in Pali, let’s also remember that Pali is no Latin or Arabic!

And here, further than the question of “how” does the researcher come to ascertain a historical distinction between Patimokkha and Vibhanga; another more serious question arises: How much is really “ascertainable” in the first place?! You mention:

And I have always wondered why can’t we state the exact same thing about the starting point as well? That is: how can we know “how early” was an addition made? Based on what, exactly, do we ignore the very possibility that the Venerable Upali may have recited the Vibhanga immediately following the Patimokkha? Or shortly afterwards, after clearing his throat or drinking some water?! What I’m trying to say is that, what is there in the text which “denies” a possibility like this, or even the possibility that some of the Patimokkha rules may have already acuired a Vibhangic expansion even before the departure of Buddha or the first council? Especially given that the Vibhanga seem to function itself as a “history of the Patimokkha”, including a record of the origin, development, and transformation of rules.



Hi @Brahmali
I think a bit about both the intention behind the vinaya (as a whole) and it’s actual implementation (practice under the vinaya) would be interesting.


Thanks Ven Brahmali, and also Ven Dhammarakkhita and Peter for their interesting points and good suggestions.

This misspelling is used a few times.

I would rather find another example here. As we’ve discussed, it seems to me likely that this specific difference arose as a result of later reorganization. A bit of research would probably show some differences that are more attributable to the early split; one that occurs to me is the nature of the “six rules” of the sikkhamana, which, if my memory serves me well, is quite different in the Mahasanghika. Otherwise, this passage could simply be left out.

Would it be worth mentioning the Puggalavadin Vinaya treatise, one of the few texts of that school?

Would it be worth saying something like: “Note that, while there are more rules for nuns than monks, the difference is much less than it seems. Most of the extra rules are either nominal expansions of a single rule, or represent rules or procedures which the monks do in fact have, but they are found in the Khandhakas.”

Most people have even less idea of what the commentaries are than the main Vinaya. Would it be worth summarizing the different strata of commentaries in the Theravada tradition:

  • Root text
  • Canonical commentary (i.e. Suttavibhanga)
  • Atthakatha
  • Tikas
  • Local monastery or sect rules, teachers’ traditions, etc.
  • Modern commentaries (Vinayamukha/Thanissaro, etc.)

Thanks for your comments, Venerable. I have expanded my explanation a bit, hopefully giving enough information to justify my views.

As a general principle, I think comparative textual research is very powerful. We have enough historical information to give us a rough idea of when the various Buddhist schools started to form. I think Bhante Sujato is on the right track when he concludes that the sectarian period started after Ashoka. But even if sectarian tendencies started before that, it seems unlikely to me that it would have been prior to the Second Council. If anything so important had happened at such an early period, it would surely have been discussed in the Vinayas of at least some schools. Instead we have the Vesālī affair (the Second Council), which is a far less serious matter. I therefore take it that Buddhism was non-sectarian at least until the Second Council.

Moreover, I think we have to assume that the main variations that exist across the different schools must have arisen in the sectarian period. Otherwise why is it that we find that certain texts are almost exactly the same across the schools whereas other differ widely? The pātimokkha is often verbatim the same, whereas the material that comments on it, the Vibhaṅga, is often completely different, sometimes with no recognisable commonality. Since the pātimokkha must have come into existence before the Vibhaṅga – after all the Vibhaṅga comments on the pātimokkha – the natural conclusion is that the much of the Vibhaṅga material arose in the sectarian period.

In addition, some of the most eminent scholars of Pali, such as Oskar von Hinüber, arrive at much the same conclusion on linguistic grounds.

I have to admit that to me the evidence seems quite strong.

Good point. I have added a short paragraph at the end of the Origin section to say a bit about the Buddha’s intentions in laying down the Vinaya.

I have spoken a bit about this under “Modern Perspectives.” I have also touch on this in the Khandhaka section:

One of the main functions of the Khandhakas is to present the procedures by which the monastic Orders conduct their business. These include the ordination procedure and the uposatha ceremony, but also a number of other procedures that enable the Orders to function properly. These procedures are governed by precise rules, especially regarding democratic participation and decentralised decision making. They allow for effective and harmonious dispatch of monastic business.

I am fairly satisfied with this, but I will consider making further additions if there is anything specific you think I should mention.


Have comparative studies been done for the Bhikkhuni parts of the vinaya to the same extent as have been done for the Bhikkhu parts?


I think that’s not necessarily true for the four additional nuns’ parajikas.
In fact, equivalent conduct for monks is usually in a lower class of offense, thus showing that it’s not fundamentally opposed to monastic life.


This seems to be the Sanskrit spelling, whereas in the Pali the third ‘a’ is short. Because I have used Sanskrit for the names of the other schools (except Theravāda), I think it is better to leave it as it is.

It may well be that the present form of the Mahāsāṅghika Khandhaka section is the result of later developments, but it is nevertheless quite striking that the Mahāsāṅghika Khandhaka is so different from all the other schools. It seems quite possible to me that there were forces in the Mahāsāṅghika School that started to reshape their Vinaya soon after the first split in the Order. This reshaping may then have continued for quite a while, even after further splits had occurred. So I don’t think this example necessitates that the Mahāsāṅghika Vinaya is more original than those of the Sthavira Schools. In fact my example is quite neutral as to which school(s) were more prone to restructure their Canonical texts.

The passage could be left out, but I have tried to tie developments in the Vinaya to the evolution into schools, thus making this part more relevant to the general discussion on Vinaya.

Are you referring to the text in Chinese translation from the Sāṃmitīya School? I have purposely left this put because it is not Canonical.

Yeah, I think this a good idea. I have added a sentence.

I have added a few paragraphs on this. I am not very familiar with “sect rules,” and so if there anything you think I should add, please let me know.


Thanks for your reply, Venerable, I appreciate it.

Oh! This is very curious to me! I never managed to get Oskar’s book. It’s curious because I started reading the Vibhanga in Pali since last Vassa and I have generally felt that this is an old text; which was one of the main reasons I started asking questions about the separation established in EBT views between Vibhanga and Patimokkha. I also don’t see Vibhanga as a “unit”, as an “opus”, a whole or complete work; rather it is messy and may had been developed gradually just like the Patimokkha. Obviously some parts of it are rather off and strange. But the very fact that it mostly retains a convincingly detailed history of the development of the Patimokkha strongly suggests chronological proximity, among other observations which I hope to examine more closely at some point.

I think it would have been powerful had any of the identical texts across the schools been a “historical document”, that is, one “written down” during the events it describes, or not too long after that. Scientifically we cannot ascertain the authenticity of a late text simply on the basis of finding several identical versions of it (for all of them may be apocryphal or based on the same inauthentic sources, such as we find argued in biblical studies for example). But this position generally contradicts your and Venerable @sujato 's problematic definition and thesis regarding “authenticity”, (here at p. 9-10 of the “The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts”), which imho is unfortunately conflictual with modern scientific principles and methods, at least in the way they have been understood and practised by modern Western standards (such as “source criticism” for example and particularly in the instructing example of biblical studies). While I myself find the Pali Canon to show such astonishing fidelity to the word of Buddha, with exceptions of course, I would be careful to state this “belief” of mine in scientific historical terms; and I wouldn’t allow that belief of mine to influence my research on questions of historicity either.

But perhaps this is not the right place to examine these matters in full, nor is this now a very “constructive” contribution on my part. What I thought relevant and important, especially since yours is an encyclopaedic-like article on Vinaya, was to inform the reader at least about the existence of debate around these historicity matters, probably even among EBT specialists, and to present historicity views as views rather than as facts; in just the same way as it is perfectly legit to state that the great pyramid is 139 meters high; but very problematic to state anything with similar certitude about how it was built.

Venerable as always i’m very delighted to converse with you, and just in case either one of us is not round here during the soon time, I wish you in advance a very happy and pleasant winter solstice and new year. :anjal:

Summer solstice! In case you’re in Australia then ‘summer’ solstice! :sweat_smile:


Okay, so long as it’s consistent.

Yes, and it’s fine to leave it out.

I think it’s fine, although I’d personally avoid mentioning the Ajahn Chah tradition on its own; if you want to mention a few examples of different traditions that’d be fine, or else just leave it out.

One detail that’s probably worth mentioning here: In the traditions, it is common to loosely refer to “all of the above” (commentaries, modern practices, and so on) as “vinaya” in the generic sense of “monastic rules/guidelines/conduct”. People often assume that if something is said to be “Vinaya” that it’s found in the Vinayapitaka.

I agree that there were one or two places where I felt a more neutral tone would be better.

I mean, I get your point; but I don’t think that the statement that the great pyramid is 139 metres high is a “fact” in any absolute sense. It is a conclusion inferred from any number of assumptions, including the accuracy of measuring equipment, reliability of reporters, validity of method; heck, even the notion of “height” is purely an abstract concept. Not to speak of the shifting sands at the bottom and the erosion at the top! I don’t think there’s a fundamental epistemological difference between the statements “The great pyramid is 139 metres high” and “The great pyramid was constructed out of stone blocks pulled across the sands on sledges, using water as a lubricant, with a workforce of slaves.” One is, surely, more probable than the other. But they are both inferences, not “facts”.


I agree, Venerable. I didn’t mean “fact” in any absolute sense, since it can be argued that nothing is a fact in any absolute sense. That the great pyramid is of certain hight is at least a conclusion based on verifiable data, and disagreeing with it must be based on the discovery of contradictory verifiable data as well. When the sand does shift, then the hight changes, and so forth. But whether it was built through magic, or whether it was extraterrestrial beings that built it, that falls in the category of conjecture, at least until verifiable data come to the support of those conjectures.

Not to the same extent, but Chatsumarn Kabilsingh (now Ven. Dhammānandā) has published a translation of all the bhikkhunī pātimokkha rules from the various schools of which we still have a pātimokkha. It is well known, for instance, that the number of pācittiya rules in the bhikkhunī pātimokkha varies significantly between the different schools. And even when the rules are more or less the same, the wording can still be quite different.

Bhikkhunī pārājika 5 and 8 are similar to the bhikkhu saṅghādisesa 2, and bhikkhunī pārājika 7 is similar to bhikkhu saṅghādisesa 11. The pārājikas and saṅghādisesas are both classed as garukāpatti, “serious offences,” and are opposed to the lahukāpatti, “light offences.” I would say the purpose of the name garukāpatti is to show that all these offences are fundamentally opposed to the monastic life, although these is a difference of degree.

As for bhikkhunī pārājika 6, this parallel to bhikkhu pācittiya 64, so in this case there is a significant difference. I am not sure why this is the case, but I suspect there must be a reason. It seems likely to me that the Buddha himself must have laid down the pārājika and saṅghādisesa rules for both Orders, for it is hard to imagine that anyone else would have felt they had the necessary authority. Also, these rules are, as far as I know, pretty much the same across all Buddhist schools, which adds to the weight of evidence that they must stem from the earliest period. There comes a point, I feel, that we simply need to trust the Buddha’s judgement. Perhaps there are good reasons that are hard to grasp; I mean, we are dealing with a significant cultural and temporal gap, as well as a gap in awakening. I don’t think it is realistic to expect a situation that is completely egalitarian from a modern point of view.

By history you presumably mean the origin stories? I would suggest that their mere existence does not mean they are temporally proximate to the rules they relate to. The stories are there to give authority to the rules, a need that would have arisen only after the Buddha had passed away. Moreover, for a number of rules the origin stories don’t even fit very well, which to me again suggests chronological distance. Then there is the use of vocabulary and other aspects of language that are more standardised in the Vibhaṅgha than in the pātimokkha rules. Again, this suggests a significant temporal gap. On top of this comes comparative study, which shows unmistakably that the rules have far more in common than the origin stories.

We are talking about texts that have been separated by vast geographical distances roughly since the time of Ashoka. That they are still often the same is surely quite remarkable. It seems to me that we can be sure that the Buddhist tradition has been conservative at least since then. And where did that conservatism come from if not from the common heritage of all the Buddhist schools? That this should stem from an inauthentic source or an apocryphal text seems implausible to me. How would that have arisen and been accepted in the Buddhist community?

I don’t think biblical scholarship can be adopted without adjustment in the field of Buddhist textual studies. Buddhism has had a very strong and developed oral tradition, which existed from the beginning, something missing in the handing down of biblical scriptures. Anyway, I do not wish to get too sidetracked with this.

Many thanks for your kind and thoughtful input, and that of everyone else. The result is a much better essay!

You are probably right.

Ok, this does seem useful. I have added a sentence.


Just to add on to Ajahn Brahmali’s reply, for those who speak German, there is an excellent study done by Waldschmidt in 1926, with translations and comparisons of the bhikkhuni-specific rules of all available patimokkhas(/vibhangas), - except for the Lokuttaravadin which wasn’t known yet - and also their counterparts in the bhikkhu rules.
Downloadable from this thread (at the bottom of the OP)

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh has also done a study in English, called “A comparative study of bhikkhuni patimokkha”. (@Sabbamitta, I may have left a copy of this book with you.) This is not the same as her translations of the rules that Ajahn Brahmali mentioned. These translations are unreliable and should be used with great caution.

And of course Bhante Sujato has compared a few of the most important rules in his “Bhikkhuni vinaya studies”.


Thank you for these references, Ayya!

(I just opened your suitcase however, and there are no books… )


OK, then you have to wait until we meet again. :slight_smile:


Thank you Venerable. It’s really quite a coincidence because I was just drawing up a summary of the vinaya from suttacentral just to help me get a grasp of its basic structure without too much detail, when I logged on and saw your contribution on the topic. For me, even as a lay Buddhist, I feel it is incumbent on me to have at least a basic understanding of the requirements of monks and nuns. Well done!


Bhante @Brahmali,
Is the Vinaya translation complete? Spot checking some of the links in my SC offline version, it looks like all the EN translations are yours. I remember a few years ago, it looked like it was still in a transition period of being reworked version of PTS. One of the things in the PTS version was they censored portions of the methuna dhamma, which I found really offensive. Is it all there now? And out of curiousity, how much of the old PTS translation is still recognizable? Is it like 70% your translation, 90%? 99%?

Does the current SC offline website version contain your most up to date translation? I’ve been holding off on reading the Vinaya, waiting for you to finish. (not trying to rush you , just being patient and wanting to wait for your finished product).

Thanks for doing this work! It’s a marvelous contribution to the sassana.

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I have now translated 80 percent of the Vinaya, but less than half of it has been uploaded to SuttaCentral. Hopefully within a year or two it will all be there.

The new translation is complete, with nothing missing. As you say, I did start off by editing and filling in the gaps in I.B. Horner’s translation, but I soon realised a entirely new translation was called for. For the pārājikas there are still some traces of I.B. Horner’s style, but you will have to be sharp to spot them! For the rest of the Vinaya, the translation in 100 percent mine.

As far as the offline version is concerned, I have no idea.

I wish you all well. :slight_smile:


That sounds like wonderful news, bhanthe. I think it will be very good work for us to see!

with metta

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