What is the reason for following all the rules of the Vinaya?

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ok I had started reading it I will continue - provided that besides the zoophilia stuff it also avoids the stories of monks being raped by women in their sleep and not waking up during the whole duration of the rape (they must have had very deep sleep!), of monks penetrating themselves and other stories of the same tenor… :wink:


Do they? Perhaps you live in a better organized society than I, but where I live there are thousands, if not millions, of laws actually on the books that have not been updated and rationalized. That is the reality of any legal system. I am not talking about what legal system “should” do in a hypothetical sense, but about what they actually do in the real world.

“Seem”? What I said was:

It is not about whether things change or not. It is about understanding the manner in which they change. You don’t change a 2500 year old sacred text. You just don’t. You change how you understand it, how you interpret it, how you live it. That is what the Buddhist community is.

I mean, I know there are people like that, I just have difficulty believing it. Never forget, these are the community who invented an entirely new system of Vinaya for women. And now they are the bastion of literal unthinking conservatism? :woman_shrugging:

I don’t believe this example supports the point you’re trying to make. The elimination of the Vinaya in Japan happened during the violent suppression of Buddhism during the Meiji restoration. The purpose was to destroy Buddhism, not adapt it for a new era.

The other examples you cite illustrate my point: they are cases where the Sangha has (for better or worse) interpreted the rules differently, not rejected them. The Tibetan Sangha still follows the Mulasarvativada Vinaya, the Thai Sangha follow the Pali Vinaya. The differences all come down to interpretation and practice, not text.

Indeed. The point of all these rules is something that is ever more important. We live in such an age of plenty, in every monastery there is a room full of bowls and robes, you could just about use a different one every day if you want. And our culture conditions us to expect everything to be disposable, to get rid of what we don’t want, to not care about keeping and maintaining old things. Monastic training helps us to learn how to attend to even little details to make sure we take care of the few things in our life.


The funny thing is that when you mention the extreme cases depicted in Vinaya you are highlighting where the Buddha demonstrated his compassion and tolerance for the weird when setting the boundaries of what should or not be done by those taking on robes.

Mind that very much likely the society in which he lived and taught not necessarily saw some of those things as punishable by law or absurd, and yet he is recorded to clearly address it by estipulating how the funny characters who found way into the Sangha or showing up to test the Sangha were to be treated and disciplined.

I still struggle to make sense of what exactly you are trying to get from this discussion @irene.

You seem so certain of where you come from that it’s more likely you’re trying to set on stone and post on the walls of this virtual space your mostly sceptical and negative views and opinions about the rules governing the Sangha.

Wouldn’t a personal blog more efficiently do that job for you or there’s something special about the audience you get here?

Sorry for the direct questions, I’m just trying to understand where you are coming from and what motivates you to take so much time to discuss something you seem so certain about already. :man_shrugging:

All that said, given we are more and more dealing with personal opinions and views and not necessarily discovering what EBTs have to say about what should be the reason to take on the discipline established by the Buddha and earlier Sangha, I feel this topic belongs to the Watercooler category. What do you think?


Could it be that, in many ways, what is more important than the content of Vinaya rules is practicing those rules mindfully? That is to say, one could choose any set of rules and then stress how being mindful of those rules is important for releasing attachments to things that are much more important than the rules themeslves. It’s the practice of mindfulness in following the rules, whatever those rules might be.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a Jewish person who argued that Jewish dietary rules (Kosher, or Kashrut) are outdated. Yet I have spoken with many other Jewish people who keep those dietary rules who talk about how following Kosher practices allows them to be daily reminded of their relationship to their faith. To follow Kosher rules to the letter takes a lot of care and attention. You could call it, mindfulness. It’s an ongoing practice of being aware; of acknowledging with every meal that the act of eating recalls one’s relationship with one’s faith.

I am a lay Buddhist, not a monk. But I do interact with monks on a weekly basis at my local wat. I observe how they live their lives. It’s far more mindful than the way I lead my life. But then again, I have far fewer rules to follow! And yet the monks are a good role model to follow. They exemplify the sort of mindfulness in their adherence to Vinaya rules that I endeavor to emulate in my daily life.


You just said far better something that I was thinking earlier today, @Metaphor. Thanks for this.

I was thinking of British barristers that still wear the powdered wigs to court. Now, it could be easily argued that this practice is no longer necessary, and that the practice is an ancient artifact that is off kilter in modern times. But, with the history of the wearing of wigs in British culture (rampant head lice?), and the eventual adoption of wigs in the judicial system, there are important practical and social reasons for these distinctive wigs and the rules that surround them. The Foremost Reasons Behind the Wearing of Wigs in Court ⋆ The Stuff of Success

There are pragmatic reasons for the monastic rules, and there are cultural and social reasons. Rituals and special rules bind a society together, and send important messages both to the members of the Sangha as well as those outside the community. Even when some rules do not make sense in a pragmatic way, these rules might tend to have psychosocial benefits that maintain community cohesiveness and morale.


Thanks Bikkhu Sujato, I’m interested in your point about the positive qualities of the Vinaya, I wonder if you can point me in the direction of some essays or commentaries for further reading that specifically focus on the “progressive, simpler and more egalitarian aspects” of the Vinaya. Perhaps this is something you have already covered elsewhere.


I’ve discussed it many times, but I can’t think of a specific reference right now. Indeed I think a book on the subject would be great!


My position is this: I have had some peaceful experiences listening to some Dhamma talks and guided meditations, and (to some extent) sitting on my own at a monastery I visited. I really treasure that peace, it is something very hard to find elsewhere in modern life.
At the same time when I read some of the EBT, when I listen to some other monks, when I think about some of the things I have heard or seen, I see a lot of inconsistencies and strange things I don’t like.
I don’t understand for example why some nuns I talked to in the UK dislike @Sujato (and to a lesser extent Ajahn Brahm) so much, and respect Ajahn Sumedho so much instead, even though they are in a subordinate position there.
All this is very strange to me, coming from a religion which is supposed to be about peace.
So this is where I am coming from: on the one hand I am really attracted to the peace I find sometimes in Buddhism, on the other I am wondering: are these teachings really true?
Please reflect on the following: if you faith is unshakeable and these teachings are so solid, my questioning should not cause any problems, as they should withstand any ‘attack’ and ‘provocation’ (if you view my questions and comments in this way) and indeed come out stronger by answering them. So why should you be bothered by my posts?
I will stop here otherwise you’ll probably write that this discussion has no place in this thread - I just answered your question.
And yes I can move this to the Watercooler if you like.


If you stick with these experiences

you can set this all aside

and have the seedlings of a nice practice. That approach is helping me a bunch.
People are inconsistent, not only among, but within, themselves, and frequently make choices that are a mystery to all involved. You’ll make yourself crazy if you try to insist on understanding everyone else’s particular motivations.


that is a good point :pray:


The way I understand it, there was at the time a reason for each rule – and the commentary explains the occasion on which or for which the rule was formulated.

Secondly, per DN 16 the Buddha did allow that the Sangha might change the “minor rules”:

If it wishes, after my passing the Saṅgha may abolish the lesser and minor training rules.
Ākaṅkhamāno, ānanda, saṃgho mamaccayena khuddānukhuddakāni

khuddānukhuddaka: (mfn.) lesser, minor; the least important; the very smallest; the various small or minor …; (n.) a minor disciplinary rule; the basic or minor discipline (mfn. & n.)

And, according to this answer (see also this answer), they decided not to change any, at the first council.


@Irene, I can only speculate, but some people find a measure of psychological comfort being in a subordinate position, or being in a setting where others are controlling their lives. To go to an extreme, there are some victims of domestic violence and emotional abuse that cling to the relationships, even though they are unhealthy. The idea of leaving an abusive situation is more difficult to comprehend than staying in the unhealthy status quo. Making a change, taking that risk, creates fear and a sense of instability.

In a sense, the demon you know might be better than the one you don’t know. I recall watching a doc about the siladhara issue, and some of the women were clearly hurt by the feeling of being subordinated and marginalized. Others likely were accepting, insofar as to seek full ordination might have been outside their psychological comfort zone. The risk that others might see a full Bhikkhuni ordination as invalid was a theme that was promoted within Chithurst, likely causing many women worry that they’d be taking a personal risk by pursuing full ordination. “Rocking the boat” is an expression that describes this feeling.

Going to another extreme by way of making an example, there have been many leaders of change in history that were profoundly disliked by contemporaries. Dr. ML King, Mahatma Ghandi, Susan B. Anthony, and others. Ethical change leaders many times are not popular, but their effect on a social issue is profound.


Thank you for your valuable answer (as always). I did not know about the idea promoted at Chithurst (isn’t this idea, which seems motivated by a desire to subjugate by fear, contrary to the Dhamma? And if so isn’t it strange that it was promoted within a monastery?).
Anyway like Nadine says it’s probably good to concentrate on the positive things I’ve experienced and not too worry too much about these questions.


In light of my previous comments about mindfulness and rule-following, this post might sound a bit inconsistent with my prior observations, but I do think they go together:

Sometimes it is best to be mindful of rules but then just let them go. At the university where I teach there is seemingly an endless stream of paperwork that has to be filled out when making curricular changes. On the one hand, I am meticulous about being attentive to the paperwork, making sure to fill in every field and get all the requisite signatures. Being mindful with menial tasks is good practice for being mindful about other things that we do.

On the other hand, all the paperwork can be maddening. Often it is best, after being mindful about the minutiae, to just let it go. This has happened to me recently. I dutifully (and mindfully) completed a huge pile of paperwork to make some curricular changes, and then was told by the powers-that-be that either I had filled out forms that were unnecessary or had since been simplified, or had filled out forms someone else should fill out. My initial reaction (since I am not enlightened) was to feel upset. However, I soon realized that the response more consistent with my Buddhist practice is simply to note my feelings, and then let them go. It’s part of releasing my attachment to wanting to be a good rule-follower!

So rather than fixating on whether or not the rules make any sense (at large educational institutions the rules often make no sense!), be mindful in carrying out the rules, and then let them go. That’s part of concentrating on the positive elements in one’s practice.


Thanks Bhante, yes wholeheartedly agree, an excellent topic for a book - perhaps to inspire confidence more widely in this beautiful path.


Is it possible that some of these nuns don’t want to follow the Vinaya and are worried they’d be pressured into it if the bhikkhuni order becomes more accepted? It’s an understandable impulse, given how burdensome the vinaya can be. I suspect some Mae Chee feel the same way.


As someone who has spent quite a bit of time at Amaravati, I haven’t necessarily found that the nuns there dislike Ajahn Brahm and Bhante Sujato, so much as that they appreciate the Dhamma taught in a different way. It is also worth mentioning that Ajahn Sumedho is many of their preceptors, he brought that community into existence, and there is still a tremendous amount of gratitude for the creation of the Siladhara lineage.

Ajahn Brahm and Bhante Sujato are also, dare I say, troublemakers* (:smirk:) in that they often go against the grain of traditional Thai forest customs in order to do what they see is right, as is with the case of the ordination of bhikkhunis in Australia. Amaravati is already a bit of a sensitive place concerning the higher ordination of women, and maintaining the wellbeing between monks and nuns is hugely important there. Thus, you can imagine why the kind of gung-ho “LET’S DO IT” attitude of AB/BS is not tremendously popular.

*I say this with the full knowledge that I am absolutely the same way :joy: If you ever are in doubt as to who is spreading bhikkhuni history or passive-aggressively pinning up Alliance for Bhikkhunis pamphlets at Amaravati, it’s me. :raised_hands:


Thank you for sharing your different perspective. I can understand the part about gratitude. The nun I talked to however also considered Ajahn Sumedho a philosopher, which I could not comprehend.
Anyway I think it would not be right speech for me to go into details of the conversations I had, I appreciate your different perspective.
I realize that EBT are a teaching of peace but that in practice peace and mutual respect are just as difficult to realize in the places where people practice these teachings all day.
I’ll just continue to treasure the beautiful fleeting moments I feel sometimes with this practice, without too much hope that it can really be transformative for people’s lives.


Gotta disagree with you on this point, Michael. While I’m sure that there is some level of subordination and comfort with not leaving the Siladhara community, the community as it is (in spite of being a lower form of ordination) is a beautiful one. It is very rare to find a community of Buddhist monastic women that are so self-sufficient and generous. By this I mean, though they receive teachings and ordination from the bhikkhus, the source of inspiration and sustenance on the path comes from within themselves. I can’t stress just how annoying it is to be a woman in a bhikkhu monastery (sorry guys, no disrespect), because the energy is so rough and competitive. So for the Siladhara to be able to create their own space which is completely self-sufficient and nurturing is an incredible task.

That’s why I think it’s a tremendous disservice to liken the Siladhara’s position to being in an abusive relationship. They’ve created their own lovely nook that more women are joining every day; and these women aren’t stupid, they know that they’re receiving a lower form of ordination. I think that the women who felt they were in a subordinate position left a long time ago, and now there is an equanimity around creating their own space and way of practicing the Dhamma.

I don’t know if it’s subjugating by fear so much as subjugating by the truth of the Thai Forest Tradition. If a Siladhara were to take Bhikkhuni ordination their ordination would not be recognized by the Ajahn Chah lineage, that’s just a fact.


@Brenna, thanks for your comment. Of course, I wish for all of the Siladhara to be well and happy, and that this path is working well for them. I am sure that each of them, or many of them, are wise, excellent people and on a very good path. And looking back, perhaps my comments and analogies were strong. I’m sometimes guilty of overreaching with analogies when trying to make a point. Yet, I was impacted by the documentary from some years ago, and felt strongly that the whole Siladhara vehicle was subjugative, and without foundation in the ancient texts. The rules themselves subjugated women, who were given, as we all know, equal and, at times, exalted status in the ancient texts. I also have taken to heart the statements from some leading Bhikkhunis (and former nuns there) who found the whole process to be wrongful.

I still do feel there are strong arguments to be made against the Siladhara process. I will still say that each of these women that have accepted Siladhara status deserve to be on a path to full ordination; the rules they accepted at Chithurst explicitly forbid this. Yet, I certainly don’t want to be a part of causing any harm or hurt feelings among any of the excellent women that choose this path.