Should the Vinaya be kept secret from the laity?

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.


I was thinking the same. In Burma I was reminded how the laity should have some knowledge of the rules so they can decide whom they want to support (since more merits are given to support monks that respect the Vinaya). Yet as the venerable said, it is a choice as part of overall Buddhist education. The idea was also that the Vinaya could inspire some to embrace the monastic life. Yet we must remember that temporary ordination up to 3 months is a common experience in Burma for many Buddhists and nearly expected before marriage.


Big thanks to the mods who split this topic into its own thread.

I wanted to clarify that we have been talking about two very different things. One is whether there is a Vinaya rule against teaching the Vinaya to lay people. The other (as the title of the thread states) is if the Vinaya should be kept secret from the laity.

On the first, I want to point out that in the Pali Vinaya at least, there is no rule against teaching Vinaya to lay people. The rule that non-high ordained individuals (so including samaneras) should be outside of the sima for Patimokkha recitation has nothing to do with teaching them Vinaya. Monastics are required to confess offenses that they remember while the recitation is in progress, so it only makes sense that the sanghakamma should be private.

Regarding Mayahana tradition:

This would mean that novices could not be trained in the Vinaya they were expected to keep the moment their high ordination was complete? Even if the parajikas were taught as part of the ordination, this seems unworkable. But perhaps there is more to it than what is quoted.

I fully support any monastic who doesn’t want to speak to scholars! The chances of being misquoted/misunderstood are very high, especially on a topic as complex as the Vinaya. However the alternative of having the researcher simply read the Vinaya on their own seems an unsatisfactory alternative.

In general, following the Vinaya is the responsibility of the monastics. But it’s obvious to me that educating the lay supporters makes it far easier for monastics to keep the precepts. You have to explain that you need to finish eating before noon, etc, etc, etc.

It’s also true that it is easy for anyone to misunderstand the rules and that simply by observing someone you can’t always know if they are breaking a precept or not. The number of exceptions for rules is almost endless. So whenever one does teach lay people about Vinaya, it’s also good to emphasize that it’s not good to be judgemental about what you may see a monastic do, but it’s always fine to ask questions to clarify ones understanding.

One only comes to know part of the Buddha’s genius if you only learn the Dhamma. By learning Vinaya you can see what a well crafted training he gifted to the world and thereby develop saddha.

It’s also a good way to get lay people to keep the five precepts. If they know that monastics have to follow hundreds, five doesn’t seem like much!


The Chinese Wikipedia article for Vinaya Pitaka (律藏) has some helpful details.


The Han transmission of Buddhism (漢傳佛教) has the statements, “Those in white clothes do not hear the precepts” (白衣不得聞律), and, “The precepts are not spoken for those who have not received them in full” (不為未受具足戒者說).

Looking at the footnotes, the first statement is based on the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya (根本說一切有部毘奈耶). The second statement is based on the Mahasamghika Vinaya (摩訶僧祇律). The passages are also given in the footnotes. Since the other Vinaya texts were considered legitimate sources of information on the Vinaya in general, it seems reasonable that these would be points of reference.

The article does not go so far as to say that laypeople are unable to read or study the precepts. It says that for bhiksus (比丘), other people such as bhiksunis (比丘尼), sramaneras (沙彌), sramaneris (沙彌尼), and laypeople (居士), must not attend communal recitation of the precepts.

The article has a section specifically about laypeople reading the Vinaya in Theravada Buddhism. The section header reads:


Laypeople of the southern transmission of Buddhism can read the precepts

The section basically states that for Theravada Buddhism, it is acceptable for laypeople to study the precepts, and the Vinaya Pitaka in general. The article mentions that at Theravada monasteries, there may be handbooks on the subject of interaction between monastics and laypeople.

The article further cites the Anguttara Nikaya (增支部) (AN 3.131), the Digha Nikaya (长部) (DN 2), as well as the Pacittiya (波逸提) section of the Vinaya Pitaka (律藏) of the Pali Canon. The example given from AN 3.131 is the following:


From Bhante Sujato’s translation of AN 3.131:

Three things shine in the open, not under cover. What three? The moon shines in the open, not under cover. The sun shines in the open, not under cover. The teaching and training proclaimed by a Realized One shine in the open, not under cover.

Some other examples are given as well, with the references as previously mentioned. As a side note, the agama parallel of AN 3.131, which is EA 22.4, does mention the Tathagata’s Dharma (如來正法語). However, it does not mention the Vinaya.

It is difficult to judge exactly how the (earlier) passages were interpreted in India among groups like the Mulasarvastivada and the Mahasamghika. But it is interesting that there is some current awareness of differences of interpretation between extant Buddhist traditions, and these are being documented.


The Laity should understand the Vinaya so they are not offer/do/etc against what Bhikkhu/Bhikkuni should do.

For easy example

  1. They do not offer a Bhikkhu dinner for they don’t eat at night.
  2. They do not offer a Bhikkhu money, for they don’t touch money/gold/etc.
  3. etc

The Vinaya are the rules to help the Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni to control their mind.


Can you tell the Sutta of this?

I think because lays people in theravada countries know the vinaya rules that helps keeping the monks in check thus helping the monks keeping the precepts

While northern buddhism instead choose to hide it from lays people, I think because they are corrupt obviously if you don’t do wrong you should not hide anything if the lays are wrong they needs to be taught not to be keeped dumb forever

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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. If not following this rule, one has committed an evil act 墮惡作. The following are from the Chinese translations of the Pali Vinaya:



[0152a11] 爾時,提婆達多于有在家會眾,誦波羅提木叉。彼等以此事白世尊,〔世尊曰:〕「諸比丘!于有在家會眾,不得誦波羅提木叉,誦者墮惡作。」



[0180a03] 「諸比丘!于有比丘尼眾會不得誦波羅提木叉,誦者墮惡作。諸比丘!于式叉摩那……沙彌……沙彌尼……棄學者……犯極罪者在坐眾會,不得誦波羅提木叉,誦者墮惡作。


[0180a06] 于有不見罪而被舉者在坐之眾會,不得誦波羅提木叉,誦者應依法處分。于有不懺悔罪而被舉……于有不捨棄惡見而被舉者之眾會,不得誦波羅提木叉,誦者應依法處分。

[P.136] (三)

[0180a09] 于有黃門之眾會,不得誦波羅提木叉,誦者墮惡作。于有賊住者……乃至……歸于外道者……畜生……殺母者……殺父者……殺阿羅漢者……污染比丘尼者……破和合僧者……出〔佛身〕血者……二根者之眾會,不得誦波羅提木叉,誦者墮惡作。


[0180a13] 諸比丘!除眾會未起之時,不得依與別住者之清淨而行布薩……。諸比丘!非布薩〔日〕不得行布薩,但除得僧伽和合時。」

[0181a01] ———布薩犍度誦品終———


It is important to remind that the Vinaya is a part of a larger category called Sīla (Moral virtues). A lay person definitely should learn and cultivate their moral virtues to the best of their abilities. What essential here, first and foremost, is moral virtue.

And to provide a little bit of information for our community here, the word Pātimokkha (or Prātimokṣa in Sanskrit), the Chinese translators translated it as 別解脱, word by word it means “specific-liberation”. Or perhaps, “specific [for the purpose of] liberation.” The Tibetan also translated it similarly, they explained the “Pāti” part (or Prāti) to have a meaning of “personal”, or “private”.

別解脱 is often explained by monastics in my country as “to keep specifically to the differentiated precepts, in order to gain liberation step by step, in parts, and gradually.”

I think this also answers to the question posed by @Dheerayupa in this thread:


Sorry about that. That was Buddha saying to him. You also search in suttacentral. I think Upali the householder should have a verse that shows that laypersons like him knew vinaya.

I found this,

But I think this verse.

And on the other hand the recitation of the Pātimokkha and the whole of the Vinaya Piṭaka are kept close and secret. But this last is not the case as regards all men.

All men I think means people like Upali the Householder which was considered noble. It’s strange he didn’t explain that part.

Secret Doctrine

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It seems there is a parallel to be drawn here with Military Law. Members of the Armed Forces of most countries serve under a special set of laws which apply to them, over and above the ordinary law of the land. The existence of Military Law is no secret and anyone can read up on it if they wish (eg UK, India) . However, the proceedings of Military Courts (aka ‘recitation’ and ‘confession’) are generally closed to the public, unlike normal courts of law. There are no civilian lawyers either - the defense of the accused member is by a ‘brother officer’ (sometimes trained in law)… it is all usually quick and arbitrary, with the decision for minor offences being rendered by the Commanding Officer (the Abbot? :rofl:) while for serious offences a Court Martial is convened (the members are all military, drawn from within the ‘sima’ of the Command).

(And yes… just as in the Vinaya, there is a proviso for escape, citing ‘Temporary Insanity’! :joy:)