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Should the Vinaya be kept secret from the laity?

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.

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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!

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

漢傳佛教有「白衣不得聞律」[6]、「不為未受具足戒者說」[7]的說法。

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:

南傳佛教居士可以讀律

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:

諸比丘,這三種東西是亳無隱瞞的照耀給人們看的。三者為何?一為明月、二為炎陽、三為如來經、律也。

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.

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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.

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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:

一六

(八)

[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。」

三六

(一)

[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。

(二)

[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。

(四)

[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———

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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:

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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:)

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This quote is from a text that is dated hundreds of years after the Buddha and in a specific regional manifestation of the medieval Buddhism.
This is not a quote from the Buddha and does not have any support from any that’s found in eithe the suttas or vinaya texts.
I strongly encourage you read the posts above to understand what has so far been discussed. :anjal:

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An article from the CBETA project:

https://www.cbeta.org/data/discuss/vinaya.htm

The article starts by saying that since ancient times, the matter of whether it is appropriate for laity to read the Vinaya has been an issue. But especially now with the Internet, Vinaya texts are all very publicly available. The matter is irrelevant for CBETA, because their goal is an electric Tripitaka, so the texts are published openly.

As a side note, these are all available, along with other texts…

The article goes over five different points of consideration on the matter of whether laity can read the Vinaya. These include communal recitation of the precepts, how ordination is done in Theravada, how people advance and begin their study of the precepts, etc.

Monastics are said to have differing views on whether it is appropriate for laity to study the Vinaya. One opinion is that the Vinaya Pitaka is generally for monastics and not for laity. The other opinion is that the restriction applies primarily to confession, at the time of the communal recitation, with no bearing on whether laypeople may study the precepts.

The article goes over three types of statements from ancient texts on the matter of prohibiting laity from hearing or studying the precepts. The first text cited is Fenbie gongde jing (T 1507), a commentary on the Ekottarika Agama. The second is the Mahaprajnaparamita Upadesa (T 1509). The third is the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya (T 1442). The fourth, with two separate passages, is the Mahasamghika Vinaya (T 1425).

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No one is able to stop laity to read or study the Vinaya Pitaka. Everyone can read and study the text. This is not the issue of education at all.

But in the Buddhist religious practice, the Buddha, without giving any reasons, simply does not allow Bhikkhus to recite Patimokkha with laypeople, non-Bhikkhus, according to all traditions of the Vinaya. If not following this rule, the person has committed an evil act. Also, only in the Uposatha day Bhikkhus are allowed to recite Patimokkha. Both Patimokkha and Uposatha are closely connected in practice and in teaching. So, in this case, laypeople, non-Bhikkhus, are simply unable to know about Patimokkha, a core content of the Vinaya, before they being accepted as Bhikkhus in the Sangha.

The Vinaya and Dhamma in practice and teaching are not the same contents, which the core teachings of the Dhamma are found in the SN/SA suttas. Everyone thus can know, teach, study, and practice the Dhamma for knowing, seeing the Dukkha, its arising, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation for oneself.

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Obviously there is a reason or story why lays people should not listen to patimokha I think Ven @Brahmali can help us here

Probably, the origin story of that rule is given in AN8.20.

“Ānanda, the assembly is not pure.”
… …
Then Venerable Mahāmoggallāna took that person by the arm, ejected him out the gate, and bolted the door. Then he went up to the Buddha, and said to him, “I have ejected that person. The assembly is pure. Please, sir, may the Buddha recite the monastic code to the mendicants.”

“It’s incredible, Moggallāna, it’s amazing, how that silly man waited to be taken by the arm!”

Then the Buddha said to the mendicants:

“Now, mendicants, you should perform the sabbath and recite the monastic code. From this day forth, I will not perform the sabbath or recite the monastic code. It’s impossible, mendicants, it can’t happen that a Realized One could recite the monastic code in an impure assembly.

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This is specifically referring to the full moon/new moon recitation.

You are misunderstanding this. It is referring to holding the official ceremony. Monks can’t just decide to do their communal Patimokkha recitation whenever they want (although I believe it can be done after a reconciliation after a schism, but I’m not sure on the details).

And now, from two misunderstandings you have drawn a completely wrong conclusion. Please stop pushing this wrong information. According to your own logic, reciting patimokkha == teaching Vinaya. Does that therefore mean that the only way someone can learn the Vinaya is at the recitation of the patimokkha? Because that would mean that even for the monks they couldn’t teach Vinaya even to other monk outside of the patimokkha recitation. Absurd. As well, by your logic, even a monk wishing to memorize the patimokkha so he could recite it on the uposatha day would not be allowed to practice reciting it or have someone teach it to him outside of the communal uposatha gathering. Also silly.

All this goes to prove the point that Vinaya should be taught to lay people so they don’t go around spreading wrong information.

I’ll also point out that

The offense for reciting the patimokkha in this situation with lay people present is a dukkata, the very least offense in the Vinaya. So it makes me wonder what the agenda is that you are pushing, saying that any monastic who teaches Vinaya to lay people (including samaneras/samaneris) is committing an evil act.

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I thought @thomaslaw was starting to see his careless wording earlier and clarified that it’s only in the fortnightly recitation of rules that only Bhikkhus can attend? Cause he wrote:

Anyway, here’s more info on the ground. Our vinaya class is 4 times a month, and we have lay people in white (8 precepts) as well as me, a novice monk attending it. It’s actually illogically to expect people to commit to things which they dunno the details of, so it makes sense to have us mentally adjust and learn the details of the rules. We even have Vinaya quiz sessions! Not easy.

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Exactly you got it. That’s it. Monastic code was treated with respect. Meaning the recitation of it was chanted. That’s sacred. Meaning the monastic code itself had to be followed by the ones near the recitation.

Reading and studying it is not like the special act by sangha to recite the monastic code.

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We can refer to vinaya again here at first council

SuttaCentral
Discussion of the lesser training rules
Ānanda said to the senior monks, “At the time of his final extinguishment, the Buddha said to me, ‘After my passing away, Ānanda, if the Sangha wishes, it may abolish the lesser training rules.’”

“But, Ānanda, did you ask the Buddha which are the lesser training rules?”

“No, I didn’t.”

Some senior monks said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion, the rest are the lesser training rules.” Others said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion and the thirteen rules entailing suspension, the rest are the lesser training rules.” Still others said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion, the thirteen rules entailing suspension, and the two undetermined rules, the rest are the lesser training rules.” Still others said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion, the thirteen rules entailing suspension, the two undetermined rules, and the thirty rules entailing relinquishment and confession, the rest are the lesser training rules.” Still others said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion, the thirteen rules entailing suspension, the two undetermined rules, the thirty rules entailing relinquishment and confession, and the ninety-two rules entailing confession, the rest are the lesser training rules.” Still others said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion, the thirteen rules entailing suspension, the two undetermined rules, the thirty rules entailing relinquishment and confession, the ninety-two rules entailing confession, and the four rules entailing acknowledgment, the rest are the lesser training rules.”

Then Venerable Mahākassapa informed the Sangha:

“Please, I ask the Sangha to listen. We have training rules that relate to householders. The householders know what is allowable for us and what is not. If we abolish the lesser training rules, some people will say, ‘The ascetic Gotama laid down training rules for his disciples until the time of his death. But they practice the training rules only as long as their teacher is alive. Since their teacher has now attained final extinguishment, they no longer practice the training rules.’ If it seems appropriate to the Sangha, the Sangha should not lay down new rules, nor get rid of the existing ones, and it should undertake to practice the training rules as they are. This is the motion.

Please, Venerables, I ask the Sangha to listen. We have training rules that relate to householders. The householders know what is allowable for us and what is not. If we abolish the lesser training rules, some people will say, ‘The ascetic Gotama laid down training rules for his disciples until the time of his death. But they practice the training rules only as long as their teacher is alive. Since their teacher has now attained final extinguishment, they no longer practice the training rules.’ The Sangha doesn’t lay down new rules, nor gets rid of the existing ones, and it undertakes to practice the training rules as they are. Any monk who approves of not laying down new rules, nor abolishing the old ones, and of undertaking to practice them as they are should remain silent. Any monk who does not approve should speak up.

The Sangha doesn’t lay down new rules, nor gets rid of the existing ones, and it undertakes to practice the training rules as they are. The Sangha approves and is therefore silent. I will remember it thus.”

The senior monks said, “You have committed an act of wrong conduct, Ānanda, in that you didn’t ask the Buddha which are the lesser training rules. Confess that wrong conduct.”

“It was because of lack of mindfulness that I didn’t ask which are the lesser training rules. I can’t see that I have committed any wrong conduct, but I’ll confess it out of faith in the venerables.”

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