The vinaya as is is faces some significant problems. For those with serious aspirations to ordain, the gender discrimination can be a huge barrier, and raise many doubts and questions as to the Buddha’s wisdom in establishing such rules, and the current sangha’s wisdom in following them. This is not only an issue for nuns, who are subjugated, but also for monks, who don’t want to be put in the role of the oppressor; and a gendered patimokkha leaves no place at all for people who don’t identify with either gender. It also destroys faith in the sangha among laypeople who do not want to support such a system, and thus is a major impediment to the flourishing of Buddhism.
Many feel that the patimokkha is such a misfit in today’s world that they have put it aside altogether. Such monastics often find it hard to keep up the discipline of serious practise and end up leading lifes not much different from lay people.
We’ve had many discussions about the patimokkha rules already on this forum. But are there actual alternatives?
Then a certain Vajjian monk … said to the Blessed One, “Lord, this recitation of more than 150 training rules comes every fortnight. I cannot train in reference to them.” … “Then train in reference to those three trainings: the training in heightened virtue, the training in heightened mind, the training in heightened discernment. (AN3.84)
In the early suttas there are many descriptions of “heightened virtue” for monastics, most prominently repeated over and over again in the gradual training. These are ungendered, fairly comprehensive, and are at least as early, if not earlier, than the patimokkhas. To a large extend, these passages are also applicable universally, independent of culture and modern developments. And it would be quite easy to recite these passages on uposatha days, and confess transgressions of the rules mentioned there.
Since every Buddhist monastery is independent and local sanghas make their own choices, any monastery could decide on its own to switch over to keeping these rules instead. There would be no need to wait for any universal approval. Of course, most monasteries would still prefer to keep the standard patimokkha, so practitioners could freely choose where they would like to ordain and what method would suit them best.
The Buddha allowed for minor rules to be abandoned after his passing (DN16), and stated that disputes about livelihood and patimokkha should be considered as mere trifles (MN104). So in adapting rules that no longer fit today’s society, we would be following the Buddha’s instructions. These questions don’t imply the the monastics who discuss them are not serious about vinaya. In fact, it is because they are very serious about vinaya, that they are concerned with its problems and try to find solutions that are within the scope of what is covered by the EBTs.
Here’s the passage on morality from the gradual training, p. ex. at MN27:
“Having thus gone forth and possessing the monastic’s training and way of life, abandoning the killing of living beings, they abstain from killing living beings; with rod and weapon laid aside, conscientious, merciful, they abide compassionate to all living beings. Abandoning the taking of what is not given, they abstain from taking what is not given; taking only what is given, expecting only what is given, by not stealing they abide in purity. Abandoning incelibacy, they observe celibacy, living apart, abstaining from the vulgar practice of sexual intercourse.
“Abandoning false speech, they abstain from false speech; they speak truth, adhere to truth, are trustworthy and reliable, persons who are no deceivers of the world. Abandoning malicious speech, they abstain from malicious speech; they do not repeat elsewhere what they have heard here in order to divide [those people] from these, nor do they repeat to these people what they have heard elsewhere in order to divide [these people] from those; thus they are persons who reunite those who are divided, promoters of friendships, who enjoy concord, rejoice in concord, delight in concord, speakers of words that promote concord. Abandoning harsh speech, they abstain from harsh speech; they speak such words as are gentle, pleasing to the ear, and loveable, as go to the heart, are courteous, desired by many and agreeable to many. Abandoning gossip, they abstain from gossip; they speak at the right time, speak what is fact, speak on what is good, speak on the Dhamma and the Discipline; at the right time they speak such words as are worth recording, reasonable, moderate, and beneficial.
“They abstain from injuring seeds and plants. They practise eating only one meal a day, abstaining from eating at night and outside the proper time. They abstain from dancing, singing, music, and theatrical shows. They abstain from wearing garlands, smartening themselves with scent, and embellishing themselves with unguents. They abstain from high and large couches. They abstain from accepting gold and silver. They abstain from accepting raw grain. They abstain from accepting raw meat. They abstain from accepting sex and marriage partners. They abstain from accepting men and women slaves. They abstain from accepting goats and sheep. They abstain from accepting fowl and pigs. They abstain from accepting elephants, cattle, horses, and mares. They abstain from accepting fields and land. They abstain from going on errands and running messages. They abstain from buying and selling. They abstain from false weights, false metals, and false measures. They abstain from accepting bribes, deceiving, defrauding, and trickery. They abstain from wounding, murdering, binding, brigandage, plunder, and violence.
“They become content with robes to protect their body and with almsfood to maintain their stomach, and wherever they go, they set out taking only these with them. Just as a bird, wherever it goes, flies with its wings as its only burden, so too the monastics become content with robes to protect their body and with almsfood to maintain their stomach, and wherever they go, they set out taking only these with them. Possessing this aggregate of noble virtue, they experience within themselves a bliss that is blameless.
There is also p. ex. the passage on morality from DN1, sections 1.8-1.28, which goes into more detail.