Translation of the five Chinese Bhikkhuni Patimokkhas

Last year, I have started translating the five Chinese bhikkhuni patimokkhas of the Mahasanghika, Dharmaguptaka, Mahisasaka, Sarvastivada and Mulasarvastivada schools into English. Unfortunately, I had to stop translating after I had nearly finished the Sanghadisesas because of the Tilorien building project and some other things. But now that Tilorien is nearly finished, I’m back translating! :tada:

Some people have asked me to share some of my findings during the translation process, such as quirks in the language, fun facts, mistakes, and anything else of interest here. I’m now in the middle of the nissaggiya pacittiyas, so that’s where I’ll start my comments. If I feel like it, I might add some stuff about parajikas and sanghadisesas later.

Maybe I should describe my translation process first. I translate all the five patimokkhas at the same time, because I’m doing the parallel rules together. This way, I can directly compare all the similarities and differences, and it’s easier to use consistent terminology. I can also determine more easily if differences are just different choices of vocabulary by the Chinese translators, or genuine differences in meaning.
I usually group the rules together in small chunks of about three rules that often cover the same topic, identify the parallels of these three rules in all the patimokkhas, and then translate them together.

If I encounter unclear passages, I try to clarify them with the help of the extant Pali and Sanskrit patimokkhas / vibhangas, or see how previous translators made sense of them. Unfortunately, much of this material has not been translated properly before, and even if it has, previous translators were sometimes equally puzzled by the original texts as I am. :grin:


This morning, I have translated the three np rules that concern money usage and trading activities. In the Pali, that would be bi np 21-23.

Generally they are about

  1. Accepting money / gold / silver, or any combination of these three
  2. Engaging in sales activities
  3. Engaging in trade (not necessarily with money)

The Sarvastivada doesn’t have the rule about not accepting money and talks only about “gems”. The trade rule thus also only covers using gems.

The Mahasanghika has a very quirky way of referring to gold and silver: 生色似色 (which literally means something like: born-form-similar-form).
Lucky for me, Pachow (1955) already tripped over the same issue, figured it out, and left a comment in his book. It’s apparently a direct translation of the Pali:
Jāta-rūpa-rajata (Born-form-bleached), which of course means gold and silver. :roll_eyes: :sweat_smile:

These kinds of direct translations from Indic originals which lead to Buddhist hybrid nonsense Chinese are quite frequent. I’m slowly getting used to it. Just wish my Pali / Sanskrit was better, so I’d have less trouble identifying this sort of stuff.


This is a wonderful example of the difficulties in reading the Chinese Agamas. Most Chinese Buddhists do not read the Agamas, because Mahayana is dominant in Chinese Buddhism and the early texts are loathed as Small Vehicle (Hinayana) teachings. For the few who do, such literal word-for-word translated passage poses a huge hurdle to overcome because most Chinese readers are unaware of the equivalent Pali passages. They can only “guess” at the meaning. It would be a great service for the generations to come to compile these peculiar passages in the Chinese Triptaka with commentary to clarify the meaning.

Wishing you good progress in this excellent endeavor.


A Buddhist Hybrid Chinese dictionary that is stratified chronologically, so that one can tell old coinages from EBTs from newer ones from different layers of translation. That would be fascinating.


I came across another strange Chinese word: 檀越 (sandalwood-exceed) pronounced in modern Chinese as tán-yuè, from Mahisasaka np 12.
It is a transliteration of dānapati, and means chief donor.

Some observations about “shared rules”:

I have now finished translating the “shared” rules of the nissaggiya pacittiyas, i. e. the rules that bhikkhus and bhikkhunis (theoretically) have in common. In the Pali version, all shared rules except for parajika 1 are in fact identical, except for changing the word “bhikkhu” to “bhikkhuni” and making appropriate adjustments for gendered pronouns and word endings.
In other traditions, “shared” often just means that these rules are similar and cover the same topic. But the wording is distinctly different, and the bhikkhu and bhikkhuni patimokkhas clearly have been transmitted independently from each other.

Moreover, in the Pali canonical vinaya, we do not have separate patimokkha texts. We only have the rules embedded in the vibhanga material. In the Chinese traditions, we have both patimokkhas and vibhangas, and they have been transmitted independently as well. Regularly, there are variances in the wording, although usually it doesn’t affect the meaning. Sometimes it does though… :sweat_smile:. Waldschmidt (1926) even found a case where the patimokkha and the vibhanga have two totally different rules in the same place. (It’s a pacittiya - I’ll write more about it when I get there with my translation.)
So within the same Chinese school, we regularly have four different versions of the same rule…
Since we have five Chinese schools, we might have up to 20 versions in Chinese per rule… Lots of material for comparative studies. :sweat_smile: :sweat_smile:

Here’s an example of a “shared” rule from the Sarvastivada patimokkhas:

Sarv bi np 18: 若比丘尼病。聽服四種含消藥。酥油蜜石蜜。共宿至七日得服。過是服者。尼薩耆波夜提。
Sarv bu np 30: 若比丘。佛聽諸病比丘。服四種含消藥。酥 油蜜石蜜。是藥病比丘殘共宿。極至七日應 服。若過七日。尼薩耆波夜提。


Too bad that I can’t read your example! :disappointed_relieved:

They don’t look very similar, though, except probably for the beginning.

:grin: :grin:
The beginning just says : If a bhikkhu/ni… 若比丘/尼
Pretty much every rule begins like this. It’s not a sign for any special similarity… :wink:

The content of these two rules isn’t that far apart. After all, it’s a shared rule. Just expressed with different wording, and different details, that show that they were probably transmitted separately.


So your example is only for those who can read Chinese, and I have to wait and practise patience until your translation is finished. :meditation:


On emergency cloth and the right time to receive it:
Bhikkhus and bhikkhunis have strict rules for storing extra cloth / robes. But during the robe-making season these rules are not in effect. There is a rule that deals with cloth that was offered just before the robe-making season begins, and how long that cloth may then be stored (–> until the end of the robe-making season.) In the Pali tradition, the robe-making season begins with the fourth month of the rainy season (bi np 29).

In the Chinese traditions, it is not quite so clear when the robe season is. The Mulasarvastivada bhikkhunis don’t have the rule at all. The Sarvastivada has the rule, but doesn’t specify a month or season. The Dharmaguptaka and the Mahasanghika say it’s after the three summer months. Only the Mahisasaka states that it is after the “peaceful retreat” which seems to refer to the vassa…

In the Pali tradition, there are three seasons of four months each: hot (~ Mar - Jun), rains (~ Jul - Oct), and cold (~ Nov - Feb), sometimes also called summer, rains, and winter. It could be that the Chinese have replaced that system with the traditional four seasons, which may be why some Chinese patimokkhas refer to the Pali “rainy season” as the “summer months”. In this case, the patimokkhas would probably talk about the same date with different terminology.
But it is also possible that they call the Pali “hot season” the “summer months.” Then they are really talking about different times of the year.
I assume someone must have done research about this, or maybe it’s obvious for people who practise with the Dharmaguptaka patimokkha. If someone knows, please post a reply.

On spare bowls:
There are rules in the patimokkhas that are not technically shared between bhikkhunis and bhikkhus, but that still deal with similar issues, such as Pali bi np 1 and bu np 21. They are about storing a spare bowl. Bhikkhunis in all traditions cannot store them at all, or just for one night. Bhikkhus of all traditions may store them for 10 days. And Mahasanghika bhikkhunis have both rules (np 14 and 21). :open_mouth: :grin:


Fun fact about spare bowls:

I am still puzzled by this weird situation in the Mahasanghika patimokkha. So I just checked the translations of the Chinese Mahasanghika bhikkhuni vibhanga and the Sanskrit Mahasanghika-Lokuttaravada bhikkhuni vibhanga (a sub-school of the Mahasanghikas with a vinaya that is relatively similar to the main school). I thought maybe it will clarify the matter, but in fact, it got even weirder…

In both cases, the vibhanga to NP 14 says that a bhikkhuni may have up to 16 (!!) bowls. Only if she exceeds that number does it count as a spare bowl that needs to be relinquished. :open_mouth: :face_with_raised_eyebrow::stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

It also mentions that for monks, there is no upper limit of bowls at all. :rofl: At first it looked as if it was a little inconsistent, because monks also have the rule about not storing spare bowls for more than 10 days… But it seems that there is a workaround: You just determine multiple bowls as bowls for your friends, so that there is no “spare bowl”… :woman_shrugging:


On Kathina

It seems that modern translators of the Pali vinaya are sometimes unsure how to translate Kathina. Ajahn Thanissaro translates it as “frame”, and the expression ubbhatasmiṃ kathine as “when the frame is destroyed”. Ajahn Brahmali says: “when the robe-making season has ended”, I. B. Horner writes : “when a monk’s kaṭhina (privileges) have been removed”. (See Pali bu np 2 and 3, bi 13 and 14.)

The five Chinese patimokkhas in unusual unanimity render this term consistently as “when the Kathina robe has been given up”. They all simply transliterate Kathina (迦絺那 – jiā-chī-nà), and add “robe”, 衣. Seems like it was consistently treated as a fixed expression or a name that didn’t need translation.
Sarv: 已捨迦絺那衣
Dg: 迦絺那衣已捨
Mi: 捨迦絺那衣已
Mg: 迦絺那衣已捨
Mu: 羯恥那衣復出

Note that as usual, the Mulasarvastivada uses different terminology from the other four schools to refer to the same thing (羯恥那 – jié-chǐ-nà – Kathina).

In the Pali tradition, the Kathina robe plays a part in establishing the Kathina / robe-making season. It has no role in the procedures to end Kathina though, and is not relinquished in the end. The person who got the Kathina robe simply keeps it as a normal monastic robe.

More rules about Kathina will come up in the pacittiyas. If I find out more about the Chinese procedures for ending Kathina and how they use the Kathina robe there, I’ll let you know. Also, if someone knows, please post a reply.


Again on the seasons

As explained above, the Mahisasaka pm used the expression 安居 (peaceful retreat) to refer to the vassa in NP 14.
The same expression is used by the Mulasarvastivada together with 夏 (summer): 夏安居 – the summer vassa in NP 28. “Summer vassa” also occurs in Mu pc 101 and 102, as well as Dg pc 96, 142 and 143.

This seems to support the theory that the Chinese used a system based on the four seasons, not on the three seasons of the Pali. So in the discussion above, that would mean that the robe season was in fact at the same time as the Pali, and the differences are merely due to different terminology.


I have finished translating the nissaggiya pacittiyas now. :tada:

Bhikkhunis and bhikkhus both have 30 nissaggiya pacittiya rules (except for the Mulasarvastivada bhikkhunis, who have 33), of which about 18 are shared rules, and about 12 are just for bhikkhunis or bhikkhus.

There is a good agreement between the schools about which rules are the shared rules. The Mahasanghika shares one more rule, thus 19 in total, and the Mulasarvastivada omits one rule shared in other traditions, and shares two others instead.

But the bhikkhuni-specific rules are quite messy. A good number of them have parallels in most or all other traditions, but every school has a few rules that are not found in other schools. Many rules also have parallels among the (suddha) pacittiyas in other schools. One gets the impression that the schools tried to fill up the bhikkhuni nissaggiya pacittiyas to get to a number of 30 - like the monks have -, but each school took a few rules from elsewhere seemingly more or less at random, or split existing rules into several pieces. So we end up with patimokkhas that all have 30 nps, but that doesn’t mean that they all have the same 30 rules…


Dear Ayye, Thank you so much for sharing your translation work. I’ve just discovered the thread and will be following it.

I wonder if you could keep an eye out for any patimokkha precepts or nissaggiya pacittiyas that you feel are quite relevant to laypeople, and consistent among the versions you are translating?

Recently a few of us lay practitioners in the UK have taken on a few extra precepts (like receiving food appreciatively). It’s a way to deepen our practice, bridging the wide chasm between 5 or 8 lay precepts and the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha. [It’s a model roughly based on ‘Shukke’ in Heian Japan, who were serious laywomen who took extra precepts.]

With thanks and metta!


Hi @Claralynn,

I’ve just looked through the Nissaggiya Pacittiyas, and maybe these rules could be adapted for lay practise:

If a bhikkhuni stores a spare bowl, it is a np. (All schools)
If a bhikkhuni stores a spare robe, it is a np. (Mg and Lk 15)
If a bhikkhuni stores and accumulates utensils, it is a np. (Mi 29 / Dg 25)

They are about practising contentment, relinquishing too many possessions, and not buying into a materialist worldview that more stuff makes you happier.

If I come across something of interest in the pacittiyas or sekhiyas, I’ll let you know. Good luck with your practise!


It’s an interesting expression- do the texts or dictionaries give any hint of where this expression comes from? The assonance suggests poetic euphemism or some kind of slang to me. ‘Bleached’ referring to silver makes a certain sense since silver is a ‘white metal’; ‘born form’ is much more obscure, unless it’s a reference to infantile jaundice!


I didn’t find anything useful in the dictionaries. Maybe Bhante @Sujato or Ajahn @Brahmali can help here.
raj* and rañj* seem to have another meaning “to shine, to be bright” as well, which makes sense in this context.


On determining parallels

It is quite difficult to establish the parallels between the bhikkhuni patimokkhas of the different schools. There are a lot of ambivalent cases and uncertainties involved.

These kinds of difficulties are to be expected between the vinayas of different schools. But it is sometimes even tricky to determine the parallels within the same school, for the shared rules between the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis.

Just to show you an example picked more or less at random: the rule about not accepting money. Bhikkhunis and bhikkhus of all schools share this rule with small variances in the wording, such as gold, silver, money, or any combination of the three. The only exception are the Sarvastivada bhikkhunis, whose rule only mentions “gems”:

Sarv bu np 18: 若比丘。自手取金銀。若使人取。若教他取。尼 薩耆波夜提。
If a bhikkhu receives gold and silver with his own hands, or has someone else receive it, or instructs someone to receive it, it is a np.

Sarv bi np 9: 若比丘尼。自手取寶。若使人取。尼薩耆波夜提。
If a bhikkhuni receives gems with her own hands, or has someone else receive them, it is a np."

So this is again a case where the shared rules differ from each other within the same school. However, it gets more complicated: The bhikkhunis have another rule that is not found in any other patimokkha:

Sarv bi np 24: 若比丘尼。自為乞金銀。尼薩耆波夜提。
If a bhikkhuni asks for gold and silver for herself, it is a np.

So, is that a rule without parallel? Or the rule of the bhikkhus broken in two pieces, and therefore a partial parallel? Or should it be considered a full parallel, because “asking for” and “receiving” money are really not that different?

Other factors, such as similar rules (the rules on trade and sales activities), and the order of these particular rules within the nissaggiya pacittiyas, would support the conclusion that bi np 24 is not a parallel. (The trade rule also only talks about gems, and the order of the rules in the Chinese bhikkhuni patimokkhas is shared rules first, unshared rules afterwards - opposite to the Pali.)
Then again, the preceding rule, bi np 23, is a shared rule with the bhikkhus that fell out of the usual order as well. So maybe these two rules broke off together and got stuck in the middle of the unshared rules… :exploding_head:


One of the many terms for “gold” (hirañña, suvaṇṇa, etc.). It literally means something like “natural form”. I suspect it may have to do with the fact that gold appears in nature as shining and perfect in nuggets, as opposed to other metals that must be smelted.


Thank you Ayya for the clarification. Without it I would have wondered if this had something about “beyond sandalwood” or some nonsense like that!

Personally for me, when reading the Agamas in the original, I find it quite hard to figure out exactly when the Chinese translators transliterated, unless you have the understanding of the pali equivalent of the same term. Another example I can think of is “Samana”, which is transliterated, and has to be explained to modern Chinese Buddhist audiences who have no idea what that means.

I’m still looking for a good modern Chinese commentary of the Agamas.