The fourfold restraint of the Jains (DN2 , MN56)

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I don’t know about this rule, but the rule that forbids digging in the ground has been introduced because the bhikkhus digging didn’t take into consideration that they were in a lay jain environment when they did it. So the rule was introduced in order to not upset the local (jain oriented) population - plants are insentient in Buddhism.

This topic has been dissected and analyzed in this forum in much more detail than in any publication I’ve seen - and opinions still differ. It’s great to read up on these, but in the end the jhana formulas might not be as fruitful as they could have been if there was more context in the suttas (others have found their peace with a specific interpretation, which you can also find in the numerous threads about it).

I agree with @Coemgenu on this. Gombrich likes to make us think and see things in a new light, but as with all ideas we should check them first. To me, the story is not to make the audience laugh but to ridicule a Brahmin cosmogony. In that sense it’s not unusual since there are many late suttas which resort to rhetorics of denigration to achieve an effect with the audience - namely to elevate Buddhism and to make other teachings look bad.


I think it’s not unreasonable to answer a made up cosmology, with another made up cosmology. .!


Sorry that was a typo, meant to read filter water. I corrected the original now.

I thought it was because you may kill worms and other creatures by digging. And indeed this does happen. I’m fairly sure it’s not about plants. From Bhikkhu Ariyesako’s ‘The Bhikkhus’ Rules: A Guide for Laypeople’:

“Should any bhikkhu dig soil or have it dug, it is [an offence of Confession.]” (Paac. 10; BMC p.292)

Digging, breaking the surface of the earth, lighting a fire on it, pounding a stake into it are all disallowed. (If such ‘earth’ is more gravel or sand than ‘soil’ — and has no living creatures in it — it may then be dug.)

Now back to the water filtration. Bhikkhu Ariyesako:

One of the bhikkhu’s requisites is a water filter. This is employed to prevent the killing of (visible) waterborne creatures when making use of water from a well or stream. Practically, this also leads bhikkhus to take extra care that they cover water jars or regularly change water so that mosquito larvae do not have opportunity to breed.

Ariyesako seems to think that the mosquito larvae thing is about the monks, preventing them getting bitten more. However seeing the principle of filtering being about not killing, and also the digging thing, and also the rule against sprinking water on the ground that has living beings in it (because they may dry up and die), it seems more likely that preventing mosquitos from laying larvae in the water was because you would then be killing them by drinking it. So again this seems to be about the protection of life.

He goes on:

There are two rules concerned with bhikkhus and their use of water:

One of these offences was originally perpetrated by the notorious ‘group-of-six’ monks who used water that contained living beings. It can be summarized:

“Using water, knowing that it contains living beings that will die from one’s use, is [an offence of Confession.]” (Paac. 62; BMC p.424)

In the second offence the monks of AA.lavii were doing repairs and ‘sprinkled grass and clay’ with water that they knew contained life. It is summarized:

“If a bhikkhu knows that water contains living beings but still pours it out onto grass or earth it is [an offence of Confession.] Also pouring — or having it poured — into such water anything that would kill the beings therein is [an offence of Confession.]” (Paac. 20; See BMC p.319)

If this is the Jain attitude, and we know that the Buddha used to be a Jain, it is reasonable to consider the possibility that he adopted these rules, or at least the principle of them, from Jain practice.

Well if Gombrich’s view is that it ridicules Brahmanic cosmology and also maybe make some people laugh, that doesn’t sound very far off your opinion that it ridicules Brahmanic cosmology and also maybe doesn’t make anyone laugh. No?


I agree that this is very likely, but I wouldn’t trust MN 12 on this, as the language is formulaic and not confirmed by SN or AN to my knowledge. I also assume that the Jains were not the only ahimsa-samanas at that time. After all, going forth in any tradition must have meant a radical departure from mundane life, and Jains surely didn’t have a monopoly on karma considerations.

The humor was Gombrich’s whole point though :slight_smile: That Jains, Brahmins, etc were ridiculed in suttas is long known. Also note that Gombrich sees the Buddha as the originator of the ‘humor’, whereas my assessment is that the ‘ridiculing suttas’ have marks of later compositions - of a time with a harsher competition among teachings, vying for royal patronage. Against common conception the Buddha had mostly a very respectful relationship with even traditional Brahmins - which makes the ridiculing ones stand out even more.


Not sure what you’re referring to. Is that the only place he’s reported to have been with the Jains? Or some other thing?

Yes I also consider that to be a possibility - adopting general samana culture rather than necessarily Jain culture specifically. Although, if he really was a Jain formerly, then that would seem to be his introduction to samana culture, so, if he gets samana culture mainly from his time with the Jains anyway, then there’s no defined line there to be able to say he got it only from the wider culture, since his exposure to the culture may have come primarily directly through Jainism anyway.

What are those marks?
Also, do you have an explanation for nibbāna extinguishing the 3 fires? That seems overtly anti-Brahmanism. Do you feel that that doctrine also is found only in later passages?

I do know some people who are usually very polite and respectful, but then also at times make jokes about a different view, including some Buddhist teachers, either to outline how absurd it is (and therefore why it is to be rejected and the Buddhist doctrine to be acccepted), or to give the truth in a way that can also lighten the mood. Teachings ought not always be solemn - we need joy on the path also. So, we ought not necessarily doubt teachings where the Buddha behaves a little differently to how he does in most suttas.

And another point - some lay people might have been to humorous refutation of the teachings they had always taken for granted, since the humour can make things a bit fun. Also it makes it memorable, and that is really quite important.

I’m not saying I know which side is right. Just offering a counter-argument to what has been said.


I think the problem is deeper than that. It’s the assumption that satire cannot be serious.

We’re dealing with mythology, and myth, like any deep and resonant story, contains worlds. We can look into it and see all kinds of different things. Imagine, for example, someone telling the story of the Aggañña Sutta, sitting around a campfire at night, with an audience in rapt attention. With just a shift of inflection or timing, certain scenes might become a comedy or a tragedy. Which is real? Which is the “true” telling? Well, both; or neither.

Unlike doctrine, myth doesn’t have a single true interpretation (although it may have many false ones). It is suggestive and evocative, allusive and playful. The very fact that the audience is laughing at one line makes them feel the pathos of the next line even more keenly.


What a wonderful metaphor for the relationship between jhāna and paññā! :pray: