Should the Vinaya be kept secret from the laity?

Also, in the religious practice Buddhist monks/nuns should not openly talk to laypersons about Vinaya, rules of the Sangha. The practice of Vinaya is only for the Sangha’s monks/nuns.

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As far as I know there’s no fault or offense in bhikkhus and bhikkhunis letting laity know what code of conduct and discipline they’re expected to abide and observe.

Is your statement a personal opinion or do you have a textual reference for that?



That’s the general attitude in Mahayana circles. The Chinese seem especially strict with discussing Vinaya with laity, or allowing Vinaya to be read by the laity.


Sure. But that concern is not traced to the Buddha of the EBTs. :anjal:


No, it is not a Mahayana’s general attitude or a personal opinion, but the Vinaya’s rule (in all Hinayana/Early Buddhist schools).

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In that case you can surely provide some references. :pray:


Please offer a citation for this. It is not true for the Pali Vinaya. There is a rule prohibiting revealing the specific offence of a specific monastic to the unordained, Pc 9.

‘If a monk tells a person who is not fully ordained about a monk’s grave offense, except if the monks have agreed, he commits an offense entailing confession.’”

Otherwise in the Pali Vinaya there is no rule or even hint that it is wrong to talk about Vinaya to lay people. In fact if we look at the formation of the rules we can see that lay people were the cause of many to be laid down.


Well said, @Snowbird.

Maybe this misunderstanding comes from the Milinda Panha.

More specifically, this chapter:

Mil 5.4.2: Dhammavinayapaṭicchannāpaṭicchannapañha—T.W. Rhys Davids (

I haven’t checked, but it may have a parallel in the Chinese version of the text found here:

Which may be a misreading of the text itself.

As far as I understand, the rule is that when bhikkhus are grouped for recitation of the Patimokkha within a sima, no lay disciples are to be in the premises.

I understand this is more for the sake of privacy and confidentiality as the recitation is usually followed by the opening of the floor for individuals to admit and confess their offenses and the bhikkhu-sangha to decide on the procedures.

It is akin to the secrecy at which the board of directors of a company meet to discuss matters nowadays.

It has nothing to do with lay disciples not being supposed to read and understand the ethical principles bhikkhus are supposed to abide and behaviours and acts they are not expected to engage in.



I think it is not just about for the sake of privacy and confidentiality.

Lay disciples can read and understand the texts.

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Sure. Thanks for sharing your personal opinion.
Would you have any textual reference or aspect to support that opinion?
I am just trying to remain true to the spirit of having a discussion rooted or based on EBTs. :slightly_smiling_face:


You may just read the reason why the rule (Pc4) being set up.

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I don’t follow? Would you care to elaborate? :anjal:

No, sorry, just no. You stated definitively that there was a rule that monastics cannot discuss Vinaya with lay people but then all you have provided are things that have nothing to do with this. You are of course welcome to your own opinions, but not your own facts. Besides the fact that Pc 4 deals with the Dhamma and not the Vinaya, Pc4 obviously does not prevent monastics from teaching Dhamma to lay people.

This whole thing has been off topic of the OP and I apologize for perpetuating it, but I thought it might be cleared up quickly. I, very belatedly, suggest starting a new thread if anyone feels this needs to be discussed further, or if the @moderators are able to do so that it all be split off.


In her article, An Overview of Buddhist Precepts in Taiwan and Mainland China, Tzu-Lung Chiu has a footnote giving three sources:

For instance: the Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya (T23.n1442, p672c4–c05: Vinayapiṭaka is for monastics’ rules, lay people should not hear it); the Fenbie gongde lun 分別功德論 (Treatise on Analysing Merit), a commentary on the Ekottarāgama, traditionally said to have been translated into Chinese in the Later Han (25–220 CE) dynasty (T25.n1507, p32a14–a15: Vinayapiṭaka should not be heard or seen by novices or laypeople); or the Da zhi du lun 大智度論, Mahāprajñāparamitāśāstra, attributed to Nāgārjuna and said to have been translated (or compiled) by Kumārajīva in the Later Qin (384–417) dynasty (cf. Williams, 1989:74–75) (T25. n1509, p66a12–a13: Vinayapiṭaka should not be heard by laypeople).

She also tells of how insistent Chinese nuns were on this point:

2.1 Laity Should Not Read Vinaya

During my fieldwork in Mainland China and Taiwan, nearly all my informant nuns repeatedly stressed that laypeople are generally not allowed to read the content of Buddhist precepts for bhikṣus and bhikṣuṇīs. Though it exists everywhere, this consensus appears particularly strong among those monastics who adhere to these rules most strictly. In certain Buddhist canons, laypeople and monastic members who have not yet received full ordination should not read Vinaya rules. Buddhist monks commit an “infringement of the Vinaya” (vinayātikrama 越毗尼) if they discuss bhikṣus’ niḥsargika pācittika and pācittika rules with people who have not yet received full ordination; similar discussion of bhikṣuṇīs’ pārājika26 and saṃghāvaśeṣa27 rules is considered a sthūlātyaya28 offence (T22.n1425, p338a22–29).

Being a scholar, not a Buddhist nun, I have thus inevitably encountered various data-collection difficulties. The majority of my interviewees in Mainland China were initially reluctant or unwilling to talk about Vinaya rules. While nuns in Taiwan appear to enjoy more freedom and a more open environment than those in Mainland China, as DeVido claims (2010: 7), most Taiwanese nuns I interviewed were as opposed to Vinaya rules being read by laypeople as their Mainland counterparts were. At the start of my fieldwork in Taiwan, a few nuns at first agreed to be interviewed but withdrew when they heard that my research questions were about Vinaya rules. A nun at Nanlin (a Vinaya-centric nunnery) finally accepted my request to interview her, but suspended the session prematurely, citing her belief that monastics should not talk about Vinaya to laypeople. If I had any questions about the Vinaya, she said, I would have to read it for myself to find the answers.

Nuns at Pushou Si, Dingguang Si, and Chongfu Si took an even stronger view, explaining that Vinaya should not be read or researched by laypeople. In their views, nuns and monks are ordinary people who, though on a religious path, have not yet attained enlightenment. If (lay)people were to read monastic rules, they might “misinterpret” monastic members’ behaviour as not being in accordance with Buddhist rules, and criticise them inappropriately, speaking negatively about them and accruing bad karma. My informant from Foguangshan even strongly questioned some laypeople’s and researchers’ purposes in reading Vinaya. In her opinion, certain non-monastic readers merely wanted to use Buddhist rules to criticise monastics, or perhaps wished to see them break the precepts. It was clear that, on this matter, Taiwanese and Chinese nuns shared a similar consensus that too much familiarity with monastic rules among laypeople was harmful.


There is a lengthy Theravādin discussion of this issue in Ledi Sayadaw’s Dhammadīpanī. It’s given in answer to a query about whether the phrase vinayo ca susikkhito in the Mangalasutta implies that the laity should study the monastic Vinaya.

The sayadaw’s view is that though it’s not essential for them to do so, nevertheless it’s desirable, provided that the layperson is not someone “of weak character”, “undeveloped in mind” and given to fault-finding.

However, wise lay persons who want to promote the Buddha’s teachings, and are well versed in their own discipline, do need to learn the monks’ Vinaya. Why? Those who are well-trained in the householder’s discipline become truly good people, so their minds and motives are good. If they are well controlled by the lay person’s discipline, after learning the monks’ Vinaya, they will not use their knowledge unwisely. They will not defile themselves with impure physical, vocal, and mental actions. They will not accumulate evil motives and evil kammas because of this new knowledge. In the Commentary it is mentioned that a wise, learned brahmin, after listening to the monks’ Vinaya rules in detail, developed a clear mind and strong faith in the Saṅgha. He appreciated the power and significance of the monks’ Vinaya as clear understanding had revealed its profundity.

One day a devoted brahmin heard the monks reciting their Vinaya rules. Appreciating the benefits of these numerous rules he entered the Saṅgha. Thus one’s own attitude and motive are crucial to evaluate the knowledge of Vinaya rules and the diverse conduct of monks.


Very interesting bhante.
So, we have very contrasting approaches here.
And both based on non-canonical sources, late commentaries. :thinking:



From Dalai Lama’s Book Buddhism: One teacher, Many Traditions, there’s a table comparing the Vinayas.

The main difference between the vinaya of Theravāda, Dharmaguptaka, Mūlasarvāstivāda is on the training rules (sekhiya, śaikṣa), second is lapses expiable by confession (pācittiya, śuddha-pāyattika), the rest has the same number of rules for each section.

“The number and meaning of the precepts in the three vinayas are very similar, and the differences are minor. For example, seven precepts concerning how to wear the lower garment in the Mūlasarvāstivāda are subsumed into one precept in the Theravāda.”

Excerpt From: Dalai Lama. “Buddhism”. Apple Books.

Basically, it’s understandable then that the Chinese Mahayana who had evolved historically to eat dinner, plant food, use money etc do not wish their laity to read the Vinaya cause it’s clear that a lot of the monastics are not following it. There’s some Mahayana monastic who does purposely follow the Vinaya properly too.


I can’t remember the citation off-hand, but I recall reading somewhere that during periods of repression in China, it was common for local officials to harass monastics over their supposed hypocrisy. At one point, a law was passed giving harsh (secular) penalties to any monastic caught breaking even minor precepts. The monastic response to all this was to make their precepts secret.

Am I remembering this story correctly, Bhante? :pray:


Possibly, but I’m afraid I have only a very sketchy knowledge of Chinese Buddhist history, so I can’t really confirm or disconfirm the story .



If the laity had never studied Vinaya, we would not have a Theravada Bhikkhuni ordination. We thank a lot to people like Ute Hueskens and Petra Kieffer as well as other academics at the Numata Center and elsewhere who have done a lot of work on this.