Thought experiment - a genderless vinaya

To the Great Buddhist Schism :grinning:


From your source:

Most sources place the origin of the Mahāsāṃghikas to the Second Buddhist council. Traditions regarding the Second Council are confusing and ambiguous, but it is agreed that the overall result was the first schism in the Sangha between the Sthavira nikāya and the Mahāsāṃghika nikāya, although it is not agreed upon by all what the cause of this split was.

This is not agreed by all scholars. See Bhante Sujato’s Sects & Sectarianism:


There is good reason to think that the development of schools was not due to schism. Anyway, it has nothing to do with this thread, and what I am suggesting is not schismatic. This is a completely unjustified analogy.
We clearly disagree on some things, and that’s fine, but this is really crossing a line.


I am not suggesting you are schismatic and don’t consider you as such, don’t get me wrong, I am just being realistic: any big reform of the patimokkha, any introduction of communal reponsibility for defining the local redaction of the Vinaya, however well intended, will sooner or later result in a schism or at least a very, very strained relationship between various Vinaya traditions. Other case in point: struggle between the one-shoulder and two-shoulder Sanghas in the 18th century Burma. I mean, this is just how it is, whetehr we like it or not.


But, is it “how it is” whether we act to change it or not? I think this sort of defeatism about human groups & communication is very harmful. (I nevertheless know the feeling, e.g. with respect to climate science & discussions.)

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Schism in the vinaya sense can only occur if a single community within the same boundary splits into two. Not if other communities don’t like what you are doing.

Every monastery is independent and responsible for their own rules. Others might disagree, and are free to do things differently in their communities. That they try to control others is their problem.

What I am suggesting is in line with the EBTs and worth considering. Everyone is free to make their own decisions afterwards. The fact that others might not like them and start criticizing you should not stop you from doing what you think is right, especially if you can find precedents in the EBTs. Most sanghas don’t follow the Buddha’s teaching as given in the EBTs nowadays, so their opinions can’t carry that much weight.


I think that sectarianism is inherent in any religious movement, reforms merely accelerate it. I mean, could you give me one single example in the hsitory of world religions when it was not the case? Whether or not something should be changed is a matter of carefully calculating all pros and cons. I believe reforms should be initiated only when it is absolutely necessary, as arguably when it comes to gender issues in the modern monasticism. As we have all seen, reforms in that direction will lead to more conflicts among the Sangha members, but I think very many people would agree this is a price they are ready to pay for more gender equality in the Viharas. At the same time, are such rules as the height of one’s bed really worth it?

Personally, I have very little sense of the impact of the Great Schism on my own practice of the path and connection to a sangha, and so don’t know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing.

Lay people don’t participate in the patimokkha recitation, so what precise rules the monks are following is not immediately apparent anyway. We tend to judge the bhikkhus according to observable general standards: Are the monks in this place living a restrained and secluded holy life? Is this place permeated by a genuine sense of peace, sense restraint, noble aspiration and renunciation, or is it filled with a lot of worldly business?

I suppose one reason for preferring a rigid preservation of the rules is that it gives adherents to the sangha a feeling of authenticity, and confidence that something important has been transmitted in an unbroken lineage. But the teachings themselves testify that the Buddha gave the monks permission to change the minor rules, and the only reason they didn’t is because they couldn’t all agree at the time on what was minor and what wasn’t. But can’t contemporary monks regard that permission as still standing?


The very same Sutta that has this permission contains an explicit prohibition to change any rule that has been given by the Buddha, so it is a little bit complicated :grinning:

DN 16

For as long, monks, as the monks do not establish new laws that were not established, or cut off old laws that were established, and they carry on with such training-rules as have been accepted, surely growth, monks, is to be expected for the monks, not decline.

Desiring to do so, Ānanda, the Community after my passing away, can abolish the minor and subsidiary training rules.

We tend to judge the bhikkhus according to observable general standards: Are the monks in this place living a restrained and secluded holy life? Is this place permeated by a genuine sense of peace, sense restraint, noble aspiration and renunciation, or is it filled with a lot of worldly business?

This is not always the case, for example with many Eastern viharas. Whether it is good or not, is another issue altogether.

Oh, sure. Another frequent reason for sectarian splits is the issue of succession: Shia and Sunni Muslims, various factions within the Ismaili Muslims, multiple schisms within the conservative Orthodox Christian movement in Russia (that is not part of the Russian Orthodox church and the Old Believers’ movement), sectarian splits between various early Mormon sects, etc. Other possible reason could be doctrinal disagreement, and I think you would agree there is a difference between the outward forms of practice and doctrinal disagreement.

Just as I told you, there may be cases where the accelerations of sectarian splits could be an affordable price, e.g. arguably when it comes to women in the modern Theravada monasticism, which is why I repeatedly excluded this issue from the discussion. There are cases when it would be just absurd to risk encouraging the conflict just because you don’t like the rule about the permitted measurements of a monastic hut, permitted size of the outer robe or text recited every fortnight…

This is something I’ve heard from many women. Women who come from a progressive lay-environment would think twice about joining the Sangha. If I’m asked by a woman how she can join the Sangha, I never really know what to say because on the one hand I would of course applaude such a wholesome aspiration, but in practice I would not advice this for anybody. For me it has been a very hard and difficult, and often lonely, ride and not something I would wish for others. On the other hand, the hardships have also had a positive effect and have been a learning environment that has been invaluable. But I could not have done that without a few good friends on the path to help me.


Well, let me ask a counter-question: is there anything in the history of world religions indicating a sectarian split not based on reforms?

No, because reforms and sectarianism are two sides of the same coin. The orthodox and the avant-garde don’t tend to agree. But is it the case that this disagreement is worse than the rough work of coming to terms? Is disagreement so troubling that we should say, “let’s just keep subjugating certain sorts of people because we don’t want to rock the boat; this’ll work itself out”?




Sure, there are plenty of such cases. Two other reasons coming to my mind are issues of succession (Shia vs. Sunni, splits in the Ismaili Muslim community, splits after the disappearance of the Twelth Shia imam, splits among the conservative Russian Orthodox Christian outside the Russian Orthodox Church, splits between early Mormon communities, splits in the early Sikh community) and doctrinal disagreements (filioque, splits between later Mormon communities, etc.). The latter reason can be said to be a reform of a kind, but I think you would agree there is a huge difference between a doctrinal reform and a reform of a Vinaya counterpart.

Just as I said, gender equality in the modern Buddhist monasticism is for many people a cause noble enough to risk possible conflicts and sectarian splits, which is why I repeatedly excluded this issue from the discussion. On the other hand, rules about the height of your bed or size of your outer robe as well as the use of the patimokkha as the foundational Vinaya text are really really not worth it, I think. The very fact that we have disagreements about this is rather telling.

Besides, I am afraid that if we start the reforms, people like myself who would love to retain the Patimokkha as is will be frowned upon as ‘regressives’, I mean sticking to the old ways will just not be a viable option in the eyes of the avant-garde Vinaya community (and vice versa, of course).

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These reforms have already started decades ago. For example, the Thich Nhat Hanh community follow two completely revised patimokkhas. Many communities don’t follow rules from the patimokkha and/or have introduced their own monastery rules (kor wat), including almost all forest monasteries. None of these practises have a basis in the EBTs, while my suggestion actually has.

Edit: I shouldn’t have said “decades ago”. New rules were created and old ones fell out of use ever since the Buddha passed away. The khandhakas are a collection of later rules, for example, that were compiled pretty soon after his parinibbana.

I don’t think you have to worry. There will be plenty of monasteries who prefer to stick to the traditional patimokkha.
But lets face it, almost all of these monasteries have a created new rules in their kor wat, a practise that the Buddha explicitly prohibited. It’s up to everyone themselves whether that is actually the better model.


I would be grateful if you can provide any links or resources on such Christian Canonic Law. Thanks.

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Eh, succession is doctrinal 're-'form as well, having to do with disagreements about the proper rules of it, founder intent, and so on. Sects occur as past shared religious behaviors deviate sufficiently from each other; even simple chrono-geographical distance amounts to reform by drift.

But who argues about bed height? I’m not in touch with this sort of thing… it seems absurd…

Good. That’s exactly the whole point about the Vinaya and about being a Buddhist monk/nun. Even mundane disciplines have standards. If you want to join the US Navy Seal, you’ll have to successfully complete certain requirements to qualify. If for some reason, men of future generations, due to over-indulging in smoke, drink, or sex and become too weak to pass the tests, then it’s not the fault of the original test standards, it is the fault of the men themselves. Now it’d be an utter disaster to lower the standard of the Navy Seal test just so that the headcount quotas can be met. It’d be the end of a nation where there’re thousands of “Navy Seals” who simply are not up to the task compared to the few hundreds truly qualified brave men of previous generations. And we’re only talking about a mundane discipline right now…


I am worrying that the monasteries sticking to the traditional patimokkha will declare the reformed ones to heretics or schismatics or what have you. I am afraid of the potential conflicts between these communities, I don’t want them.

In that case we can hardly appeal to the authority of the Buddha, since, as I said before, a single Sutta contains two contradicting statements ascribed to the Buddha, which means that an appeal to His authority is not possible without a very solid scholarly argumentation :grinning:

I think you are stretching the definition of ‘reform’ a little bit :grinning: As a rule, in case of succession conflicts doctrinal justifications come as an afterthought, power struggle is primary most of the time.Doctrinal conflicts are also frequently just justifications for power struggle, but sometimes not (cf. the early Christian heresies where doctrinal disagreements were primary).

This is my point. If you leave the gender issue aside, what remains are basic ethical prescriptions and minor things like the height of beds or not harming plant or disposal of water, etc. So why should we substitute the Patimokkha for the gradual training passages, then? :grin:

I think this is a good starting point.

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I don’t think there is any contradiction in regard to whether we can introduce new rules. There is no statement that we can. The contradiction concerns only the question if we can abandon minor rules or not.


This is even more literalistic than stitcking to the original Patimokkha :grinning: :pray: Well, applying the Four Great Standards, if we think it is allowable to abandon minor rules it is allowable to introduce new ones because of the reasoning behind this opinion. However, if we think it is not allowable to abandon the minor rules, it is hardly allowable to introduce new ones. Of course one can say that we can abandon minor rules but cannot introduce new ones and vice versa, but whether this would be compatible with the Four Great Standards is a difficult question in and of itself.

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