When did Buddhist monastics first use dwellings?


I’m very surprised with this statement as pīti and sukha are experienced in the body as the jhanas similes clearly indicate.


I recall some of the older Ajahn Chah monks like Ajahn Sumedho saying they experienced meditating and sitting on concrete floors as well, though they might have had a thin mat between their body and the concrete.


One motivation for asceticism is to imitate whatever seemed to work for the Buddha. After the Buddha stopped practicing extreme self-mortification, his lifestyle before awakening was still an ascetic one.

My understanding is that learning to deal with discomfort and annoyances like flies, mosquitos, bodily aches etc. was part of the practice, and that an austere life is useful for avoiding temptations to luxury, overeating, etc.


I have stopped eating dinner to develop my understanding of the EBT’s. Since then, the fat cat and I have both lost weight and seem to be just fine. And moderation is actually key here because cramming two meals into one would be cheating as you’ve mentioned. What had NOT worked for many years was moderation at every meal. Both the fat cat and I slowly gained weight. From this I conclude that the middle way does indeed require a moderate ascetism (i.e., mindful restraint) as well. Not eating dinner is moderate ascetism.


This seems to have the potential for horribly cruelty in the pursuit of excess adherence to practices. There is a vast difference sitting on a sun-warmed rock and cold northern concrete. There is also a vast difference in our individual bodies and their ability to fold themselves into meditation poses. And it would make impossible the kind gesture of giving one’s neighbor the only mat in the room.


Collecting EBT material in favor of what-seems-to-us-today-asceticism, I can refer to a pericope that originated in the AN and was transfered to the MN, appearing in AN 4.114, AN 4.157, AN 4.165, AN 5.140, AN 6.58, AN 10.71, MN 2, MN 119, MN 125, Snp 1.3:

Take a mendicant who, reflecting properly, endures cold, heat, hunger, and thirst. They endure the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and reptiles. They endure rude and unwelcome criticism. And they put up with physical pain—sharp, severe, acute, unpleasant, disagreeable, and life-threatening.

Is it essential of course that monastics don’t inflict these things on themselves, and in fact use clothing and lodgings wisely to avoid them, as the Suttas say. And yet, there seems to be a certain value in the ability to patiently endure these discomforts and pains. I think we agree that most people nowadays (at least in the middle-class) would consider these to be unbeneficial hardships and excessive asceticism. The ability to endure pain also leads to the simile of the saw…


I’m very surprised with this statement as pīti and sukha are experienced in the body as the jhanas similes clearly indicate.

As I have said elsewhere on this forum, I disagree with this. But it’s really a discussion for another thread.

They did, but in retrospect many of them realised it was too much and that it was not conducive to success in meditation.


Since there appears to be at least a few people here who are sincerely interested in comparative study, I would like to make one more post providing further evidence to support my claim of the Theravada tradition’s ambivalence towards asceticism, centering around the interpretation of Pali Nissaggiyā Pācittiyā 23.

Pali Nissaggiyā Pācittiyā 23 allows monks who are ill (gilānā) to take five ‘tonics’ (bhesajjāni) which are ghee, butter, oil, honey, and sugar. However, what it means to be ‘ill’ is not defined in the vibhaṅga to the rule, so the definition of gilānā from other parts of the Vinaya are substituted. In his Vinaya Notes (pg 186), Ajahn Brahm provides definitions of gilānā from Pācittiyā 33 (‘he is not able to eat as much as he pleases in one sitting’) and Pācittiyās 39, 56 and 57 (for all three something very close to ‘for whom there does not come to be comfort’ is given) as examples of gilānā being used in instances of physical discomfort and it is on this basis that members of the Theravada tradition justify their consumption of various sweet/rich things in the afternoon. As always, it is helpful to see what the other Vinayas have to say. In particular, do any of the parallels define illness as “for whom there does not come to be comfort”?

The Mahīśāsaka Vinaya can be covered very quickly because none of the parallels specifically defines illness (病). See: parallel to Pali Nissaggiyā Pācittiyā 23 (CBETA) T1421 [0031c11] , parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 33 [0050a26], parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 39 [0055b22], parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 56 [0064c03] and parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 57 [0066b05]. Of course, this also means that the definitions of illness from the Pali Vinaya are not supported.

The Mahāsaṅghika parallel to Pali Nissaggiyā Pācittiyā 23 (CBETA T1425 [0316c20]) was recently translated by Robban Toleno in the article “Medicine in the Chinese Buddhist Canon” in Asian Medicine 12 (2017) pg.281 so I will quote it here:
“As for “illnesses,” there are 404 [in total]: 101 wind illnesses ( fengbing 風病; Skt. vāta doṣa), 101 fire illnesses (huobing 火病; Skt. pitta doṣa), 101 water illnesses (shuibing 水病; Skt. śleṣman doṣa), and 101 mixed illnesses (zabing 雜病; Skt. sannipāta doṣa). Treat wind illnesses through use of vegetable oil and animal fat. Treat heat illnesses (rebing 熱病) using ghee. Treat water illnesses using honey. Treat mixed illnesses by exhaustively [combining] the above three types of medicine.”

The Mahāsaṅghika parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 33 [0353c07] defines illness as fever, wind, and cold (熱病風冷); the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 39 [0362a02] defines illness as yellow(-colored) swollen tumors? (黃爛癰痤), unbearable sores (痔病不禁), jaundice (黃病), fever (瘧病), cough (咳嗽), migraines [which make one] weak (痟羸), wind illness (風腫) and dropsy (水腫); the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 56 [0365a09] defines illness as ringworm (癬), itchy scabies? (疥瘙), yellow (colored) swellings (黃爛) and wind illness (風病); and the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 57 [0372b27] defines illness as ringworm (癬), itchy scabies? (疥瘙), and tumor(s) (癰痤).

The Dharmaguptaka parallel to Pali Nissaggiyā Pācittiyā 23 (CBETA T1428 [0628a17]) defines illness as ‘when the doctor instructs you to take various types of medicine’ (醫教服爾所種藥也); the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 33 [0657a22] is almost exactly the same as the Pali and defines illness as being ‘unable to eat as much food as desired in one sitting’; the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 39 [0664b12] defines illness as ‘being unable to finish one’s food in one sitting’; the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 56 [0675b23] defines illness as ‘if fire is necessary to heat the body’ and the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 57 [0675a05] defines illness as ‘if the lower body is foul-smelling’.

The Sarvāstivāda parallel to Pali Nissaggiyā Pācittiyā 23 (CBETA T1435 [0061a16]) defines illness as ‘if wind, heat or cold arises, one may take the four types of medicine to recover from illness’; the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 33 [0088b18] does not specifically define ‘illness’ (病), although it does say at [0089a17] that there is no pāyattika offense if [a bhiksu] is 實病 (honestly/sincerely sick); the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 39 [0097a13] defines illness as ‘if wind arises, heat arises, cold arises, if the sick person eats this food and recovers from illness’; the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 56 [0104c17] defines illness as ‘if cold, heat, or wind arises, if one recovers from illness by facing a fire’; and the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 57 [0110a17] defines illness as ‘if cold, wind or heat arises, if one recovers from illness by taking a bath.’

The Mūlasarvāstivāda parallel to Pali Nissaggiyā Pācittiyā 23 (CBETA T1442 [0759b24]) does not give a specific definition for illness (疾病); the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 33 [0824a15] defines illness as ‘incapable of being able to sit peacefully during one meal’; the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 39 [0828a27] defines ‘without illness’ as 'without suffering from illness" (無病苦); the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 56 [0837c17] does not specifically define illness; and, quite notably, the parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 57 [0847b22] defines ‘times of illness’ as ‘if a sick bhiksu is incapable of comfort (安隱) without taking many baths’ (若苾芻有病除多洗浴不能安隱者是).

As we have seen, the only instance preserved in the different Vinayas of “for whom there does not come to be comfort” is found in the Mūlasarvāstivāda parallel to Pali Pācittiyā 57, but unlike the Mūlasarvāstivāda version which specifically limits it to taking a bath, the scope of the Pali version is not limited at all and it is by this rather unusual definition of gilānā that members of the Theravada community are able to consume ‘tonics’ without actually being ill. Since the parallels to Pali Nissaggiyā Pācittiyā 23 which specifically define ‘illness’ make it clear that it is referring to a condition much more substantial than the physical discomfort of being hungry, the Pali tradition seems to support a significantly more flexible interpretation. Additionally, the commentary at one point says that a monk can consume tonics without being sick at all and the sub-commentary interprets ‘a reason’ for taking a tonic as hunger or weakness (Buddhist Monastic Code 1, pg.224), so the Theravada tradition’s practice of the rule seems comparatively lax.

While it is true that the definition of illness from Pali Pācittiyā 33 is similar to those found in the Dharmaguptaka and Mūlasarvāstivāda versions, the only reason why Pali Pācittiyā 33 was consulted in the first place was to provide the definition of gilānā which was missing from Pali Nissaggiyā Pācittiyā 23. The Dharmaguptaka parallel to Pali NP 23 makes it clear that ‘illness’ is defined by a doctor’s judgement (and prescription to take medicine) and does not support the Theravadin interpretation of illness as uncomfortable physical feelings due to hunger. The Mūlasarvāstivāda parallels are generally quite similar to the Pali, but it preserves more diverse explanations of ‘illness’ and does not follow the Pali tradition’s broad use of “for whom there does not come to be comfort” for almost all of its definitions of ‘illness’.

Quite interestingly, the only non-Sthaviran school, the Mahāsaṅghikas, preserve the most strict interpretation of the term ‘illness’ and they even go as far as to prescribe specific medicines for specific illnesses; there seems to be very little chance of anything close to the creative reimagination of the term as exhibited in the Pali Vinaya. Given that the Mahāsaṅghikas are essentially accused of making up a fake Vinaya in Dipavamsa V.36, when, at least in this case, it seems that they have preserved a more conservative reading, the views attributed to rival schools in the context of sectarian polemics are not a reliable source of information and one can only begin to understand what the different groups actually thought by reading their respective works.

Finally, the highest praise of the dhutaṅgas I have been able to find in the Early Buddhist literature are the Chinese parallels to SN 16.5, where the Buddha is portrayed as saying: 'if one were to criticize the dhutaṅgas, then they would be criticizing me; if they were to praise the dhutaṅgas, they would be praising me (SA 1141 CBETA T99 [0301c24]). SA-2 116 (CBETA T100 [0416b26]) is similar: 'if there are Śramaṇas or Brahmanas who insult the dhutaṅgas, it is similar to insulting me; if they were to praise the merits of the dhutaṅgas, it is similar to praising me. Also in EA 12.5 (CBETA T125 [0570a15]): ‘I have explained and praised the many dhutaṅgas; the one who reviles the dhutaṅga practioner reviles me’.
Although in SN 16.5 the Buddha is portrayed as praising the dhutaṅgas, the aforementioned enthusiastic passages are completely missing in the Pali. What are we to make of this? Are we to take this as mere coincidence?


I think sub-optimal practice was present during the time of the Buddha : SuttaCentral

The ‘warrior spirit’ was always encouraged, not the ‘pea under 7 mattresses’ level of sensitiveness:

"Monks, I have known two qualities through experience: discontent with regard to skillful qualities and unrelenting exertion. Relentlessly I exerted myself, ‘Gladly would I let the flesh & blood in my body dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, but if I have not attained what can be reached through human firmness, human persistence, human striving, there will be no relaxing my persistence.’ From this heedfulness of mine was attained Awakening. From this heedfulness of mine was attained the unexcelled freedom from bondage. A.2.5



“There are cases in which the greatest daring is the greatest wisdom.”

-Carl Von Clausewitz


Isn’t the Theravāda’s tradition of interpreting vinaya though also influenced by the locality of the Theravāda sect in it’s infancy as a “sect” so-to-speak?

For instance, are these reasonable reasons as to why it could have been considerably harsher at the time, perhaps, to spend the vassa period under or inside trees in Sri Lanka? Perhaps central and more northerly India was suited for spending long times, such as including the vassa period, under or inside trees?

Sometimes we may never know. Perhaps during the formation of these interpretations and rulings the earth was undergoing a small warming period, a particularly powerful el niño maybe even, and weather became significantly more adverse, perhaps even significantly more adverse for the island particularly. There has been study of the history of weather, but, the precise and exact dates of these rulings and decisions is unknown at a precise level, and I am certain that no one has tried to extensively map meteorological history onto Buddhist history with regards to this. There are so many factors and variables that could have gone into these decisions.


Not to take the discussion too afar field from the question of dwellings, but as long as the conversation includes consideration of asceticism, here is an interesting essay in The New York Times about the relationship between artistic creation and asceticism. One of the more interesting quotes: “Work consumes what the artist forgoes.”


Ensō it is.
Ensō it shall be.


Renunciation (nekkhamma) or the intention to (or seeing what is positive about simplifying, sparsenses and the downside of sensual indulgence) is mentioned under Right intention; and that informs the rest of the path factors. There’s the understanding of the peril of repetitive rebirth that provides the motivation for such intense practice. This comes under Right view. It’s fairly advanced and good for short durations to start with and longer later IMO.


DN 8, SN 42.12 and AN 10.94, even if they start with the same premise (“I don’t condemn all tapas”) end up quite differently.

In DN 8, SN 42.12 if one reads on actually all tapas does get criticized. The introduction is neutral, but all following examples of tapas are rendered useless and harmful.

Whereas AN 10.94 is truly neutral and allows tapas that makes kusalā dhammā arise.

The EBT are indeed a mixed bag when it comes to tapas, but the majority of instances is critical of it. We find a few positive mentions though (SN 1.58, SN 1.76, SN 2.17, SN 7.11, AN 6.43, MN 98, DN 14, Dhp 14, Snp 1.4, Snp 3.9).

The negative ones are in the majority because of the associations with jains and also brahmins (as in a sceptical pericope found in SN 24.8, SN 35.241, AN 5.206, AN 7.50, AN 9.72, AN 10.14, MN 16, MN 57, MN 76, DN 2, DN 33): "By this sila or vata or tapa or brahmacariya, may I become one of the gods!’


I understand this pericope to be concerned with sīlabbataparāmāsa, in which case the fault would lie in the parāmāsa, not in the sīla, vata, tapa or brahmacariyā (unless these four entailed something intrinsically useless like ox-duty asceticism).


Why I take it as a skeptical and not overly critical pericope is because it works with insinuation rather than overt criticism. There are just the very few positive contexts in which tapas is mentioned, and only one neutral context (AN 10.94).

By proximity and association tapas is mostly bundled with useless or harmul activities, up to ones that lead to hell.

We get a clear image of what is un-wholesome about tapas (the many specific practices of Jains and wanderers) and get only vague ideas what could be positive about it. Here is the only definition of positive tapas I found, in Dhp 14 & DN 14:

Patient endurance is the highest austerity. (Or: Patience is the highest austere endurance / Khantī paramaṃ tapo titikkhā)

The other positive examples put tapas in a positive light, but don’t define an actual practice. Also it’s interesting that many of the positive contexts are in verse, not in prose.

So coming back to the OP, it might well be that there were more positive depictions of tapas in the oldest material and that they were not reinforced, repeated and taught. That historically it became more important to emphasize the different ascetic profile against the Jains and wanderers than to point out their similarities.

I’m not saying that tapas is great, what do I know. But as I see it there was a competition of ideas of how to represent Early Buddhism, and tapas as an element was not deleted but still muted and neglected over time.


The influence of local environmental conditions on the formation of Vinaya rules is a really interesting topic.

In the Mahīśāsaka Vinaya (CBETA T1421 [0146c21]), the Buddha allows monks to wear 富羅 (Skt. pūla, meaning short boots) and leather sandals (革屣) in cold and snowy lands (jānapada). After a monk reports that his feet were frozen and deteriorated after walking in cold snow, the Buddha allows monks to smear curd, salt and bear fat on a bear skin to make boots (鞾) [0146c27].

In the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya (CBETA T1428 [0849a23]), the Buddha allows monks in cold and snowy lands to wear leather pūla (富羅) and also socks (靺).

In the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya (CBETA T1435 [0287a04]), the Buddha allows monks in very snowy lands to wear 白衣 (literally ‘white robed’, meaning lay or secular) 鞾 (boots) [i.e. boots that are worn by laypeople].

In the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya Carmavastu (CBETA T1447 [1057a15]), the Buddha allows monks in cold and snowy places to wear pūla (富羅) and he defines a ‘cold and snowy land’ as a place where the water contained inside of a bowl freezes [1057b01].

Snow boots are not explicitly permitted or prohibited in the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya, but not only is snow mentioned in the narrative portions, it also factors into several of the rules. For example, in the parallel (CBETA T1425 [0360a17]) to Pali Pācittiya 37 (about eating at the wrong time), a monk who wishes to eat snow is instructed to receive it from a 淨人 (upāsaka/ārāmika). However, if a 淨人 (upāsaka/ārāmika) is not around, a monk, after washing his hands, is able to grasp it himself and eat it. Ice and hail are also allowed in the same way.

There is mention of snow in the Early Pali literature (usually in the phrase ‘antaraṭṭhaka himapātasamaya’), but the Ekottarika-Āgama preserves instances where the Buddha actually uses it in his teachings. For example in EA 37.10 (CBETA T125 [0715c24]), the Buddha compares the impermanence of material form with a snow-lump which is subject to extinction and change (see Tse-Fu Kuan’s ‘Rethinking Non-Self: A New Perspective from the Ekottarika-āgama’ pg.159) and in EA 46.10 (CBETA T125 [0780a28]), the Buddha gives the following simile: ‘desire is illusory, like snow melting in the sun’.

It is not surprising that the Pali Vinaya lacks any regulations concerning snow, given how rare of a phenomena it is in Sri Lanka. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that many people living at that period of time (who never had the opportunity to travel outside the island) simply would not have known what it was. In any case, I’m not sure if any Sri Lankan weather events would be as harsh as spending the rains retreat under a tree in a very cold (and perhaps snowy) area in Northern India (as seen in the examples given in the other Vinayas), and yet only the Pali Vinaya restricts such a practice. In my opinion, a more convincing interpretation is that the redactors of the Pali Vinaya were not very interested in asceticism (which, at its core, is dangerously individualistic) and wanted to encourage monks to live in more communal and sedentary arrangements.


1435“Struck by a wind ailment,
While staying in a forest grove;
You’ve gone into a tough place for gathering alms:
How will you get by, monk?”

2436“Pervading my body
With lots of rapture and happiness,
Putting up with what’s tough,
I’ll dwell in the forest.

3437Developing the seven factors of awakening,
The faculties and the powers,
Endowed with subtle jhānas ,
I’ll dwell without defilements.

This shows how jhana helped in difficult situations- revisiting jhana helped the Buddha soon after he practiced the austerities. By the way austerities are of the kind mentioned here:

‘Suppose I were to take only a little food at a time, only a handful at a time of bean soup, lentil soup, vetch soup, or pea soup.’ So I took only a little food at a time, only a handful at a time of bean soup, lentil soup, vetch soup, or pea soup. My body became extremely emaciated. Simply from my eating so little, my limbs became like the jointed segments of vine stems or bamboo stems… My backside became like a camel’s hoof… My spine stood out like a string of beads… My ribs jutted out like the jutting rafters of an old, run-down barn… The gleam of my eyes appeared to be sunk deep in my eye sockets like the gleam of water deep in a well… My scalp shriveled & withered like a green bitter gourd, shriveled & withered in the heat & the wind… The skin of my belly became so stuck to my spine that when I thought of touching my belly, I grabbed hold of my spine as well; and when I thought of touching my spine, I grabbed hold of the skin of my belly as well… If I urinated or defecated, I fell over on my face right there… Simply from my eating so little, if I tried to ease my body by rubbing my limbs with my hands, the hair — rotted at its roots — fell from my body as I rubbed, simply from eating so little. MN36


Oho! So we don’t always have to walk barefoot meditating? Yippee! :footprints:


In the final installment of ‘the Pali Vinaya vs. asceticism’ I would like to offer a comparative study of Pali Pācittiya 40, with an emphasis on trying to decipher the meaning of ‘sabbapaṃsukūlika’.

In the Mahīśāsaka Vinaya (CBETA T1421 [0053a20]), Mahākāśyapa [while wearing pāṃśu (糞掃) robes (衣)] is depicted as picking up thrown-away food from the street and eating it. Lay people see him and and they say ‘this śramaṇa looks exactly like a dog! [His] way of getting food to eat is dirty and disgusting’. After the Buddha hears about this, he tells Mahākāśyapa that although he has shown ‘fewness of wishes’, his behavior causes people to hate and despise him so he should not eat discarded food.

In the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya (CBETA T1425 [0357a05]), the Venerable Aniruddha is said to have been using 一切糞掃 (sarvā-pāṃśu): his bowl, robe, food and leather sandals were all pāṃśu. A pāṃśu bowl (pātra) is defined as a broken bowl covered with more than five mends (that another bhikṣu has thrown away) which is picked up and mended further; a pāṃśu robe (kūla) is one made from old and filthy cloth thrown away in a village alleyway which is picked up, washed clean, patched, dyed and worn; pāṃśu food is food for the departed spirits which is discarded after the ancestral festival (which is then picked up and eaten), and pāṃśu leather sandals are torn leather sandals (that another bhikṣu has thrown away) which are picked up, taken, mended, treated, and worn. The story ends by the Buddha saying that while the Venerable Aniruddha has shown ‘fewness of wishes’, monks should not grasp with their own hands what has not been given.

The Dharmaguptaka Vinaya parallel (CBETA T1428 [0663b18]) is very similar to the Pali version, although it lacks the accusation against the monk of eating human flesh.

In the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya (CBETA T1435 [0095c25]), the Venerable Mahākāla is said to only be keeping 一切糞掃 (sarvā-pāṃśu) things: his robes, bowl, staff, leather sandals, and food were all pāṃśu. A pāṃśu saṃghāṭī is one where pieces of filthy cloth from a garbage pile in an alleyway or a cemetery are picked up, kept, washed clean in water, treated and made into a saṃghāṭī (the same for uttarāsangha and antaravāsaka); a pāṃśu pātra is an abandoned undesirable container from a garbage pile in an alleyway or a cemetery which is picked up, kept, washed in water, treated, and used; a pāṃśu staff is an abandoned staff from a garbage pile in an alleyway or a cemetery which is picked up, kept, washed in water, treated and used; pāṃśu leather sandals are abandoned leather sandals from a garbage pile in an alleyway or cemetery which are picked up, kept, washed clean in water, stitched, treated and used; and pāṃśu food are radish (羅蔔) leaf, coriander (胡荽) leaf, basil (羅勒) leaf and foul-smelling cakes (糒) which are picked up with one’s own hand from a garbage pile in an alleyway or a cemetery, kept, washed clean in water, treated, and promptly eaten.

The Mūlasarvāstivāda version (CBETA T1442 [0825a26]) is unique in replacing the terms ‘sarvā-pāṃśu’ or some form of ‘sabbapaṃsukūlika’ as found in the other versions with ‘śmaśāna’ (深摩舍那) and so it is not very helpful for understanding the meaning of the term in question. Gregory Schopen has translated the Tibetan version in his paper “A Well-Sanitized Shroud: Asceticism and Institutional Values in the Middle Period of Buddhist Monasticism” (pg.329-330) so I will quote it here for the sake of completeness:
“The Buddha, the Blessed One, was staying in Śrāvastī, in the Park of Prince Jeta, the Garden of Anāthapiṇḍada. The Venerable Mahākāla then was one who obtained everything from the cemetery. His alms bowl was from the cemetery (dur khrod pa = śmāśānika); his robe too was from the cemetery; his alms, his bedding and seat were all from the cemetery as well.
And what is an alms bowl from a cemetery? It is like this— the relatives cast the pot of one who has died and passed away into the cemetery. Then the Venerable Mahākāla, squaring the pieces and having heated them, takes possession of it (byin gyis brlabs pa = adhitiṣṭhati) as an alms bowl and keeps it. Just so is an alms bowl from a cemetery.
What is a robe from a cemetery? It is like this— the relatives cast the garments (gos dag = vastra) of one who has died and passed away into the cemetery. The Venerable Mahākāla washes and stitches them and, having altered them,he takes possession of them as a robe and keeps them. Just so is a robe from a cemetery.
What are alms from a cemetery? It is like this— the relatives cast five balls of food (zas = piṇḍaka) for one who has died and passed away into the cemetery.
The Venerable Mahākāla takes them and makes them his food. Just so are alms from a cemetery.
What are bedding and seat from a cemetery? It is like this— the Venerable Mahākāla lives in the cemetery. Just so are bedding and seat from a cemetery.”

The definition of ‘sabbapaṃsukūlika’ is important because the Pali Khuddaka Khandaka (Vin II 115) contains a very strange story about a monk who ‘came to be a wearer of nothing but rag-robes’ (Horner). He was also using a skull as a bowl, and the story relates that a woman was frightened by seeing him and criticized the ‘sons of the Sakyans’ for adopting a similar practice as the ‘demon-worshippers’ by carrying a skull. The Buddha is then portrayed as forbidding the practice of carrying a skull and also ‘sabbapaṃsukūlika’; both behaviors are said to incur a dukkaṭa offense.

According to Horner, Buddhaghosa explains that the ‘sabbapaṃsukūlika’ monk had his robes, couch, and chair made from a rag-heap and this seems to imply that a monk would not be fulfilling the definition of ‘sabbapaṃsukūlika’ if he were only using one or two (but not all three) of the stated items as ‘paṃsukūlika’. However, it has already been shown by the Mahāsāṃghika and Sarvāstivāda parallels that something like ‘sarvā-pāṃśu’ would be expected if it were referring to all of the monk’s possessions being pāṃśu [The ‘pāṃśu’ (糞掃) in ‘sarvā-pāṃśu’ (一切糞掃) should be distinguished from 'pāṃśukūlika (糞掃衣) since the Mahāsāṃghika and Sarvāstivāda Vinayas regularly translate ‘pāṃśukūlika’ as 糞掃衣], and the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya’s translation of the Indic equivalent to Pali ‘sabbapaṃsukūlika’ as 糞掃衣(pāṃśu robes), makes it clear that it is referring specifically to the practice of wearing rag robes. Buddhaghosa’s explanation, while an impressive example of legal casuistry, seems to be an instance of a traditional commentator struggling to explain away the radical implications of a controversial passage.

The Pali Vinaya’s deliberate and hostile attack on [sabba]paṃsukūlika is shocking not only because wearing rag robes is considered to be one of the fundamental nissayā practices, but also because paṃsukūlika is one of the most visible and therefore emblematic signs of a dhutaṅga practitioner (the others are much more private) and this can easily be taken as an attack on the dhutaṅgas themselves. It is interesting to note that the woman in the origin story does not complain about the practice of ‘sabbapaṃsukūlika’, but the prohibition is tacked on at the end anyway with ‘na ca’ (like a legislative rider) right after the prohibition against carrying a skull. Perhaps the redactors thought that adding the prefix ‘sabba’ would make the rule vague enough to be difficult to practice and therefore would be glossed over more easily (the permutations for what constitutes ‘sabba’ could be multiplied endlessly) while adding yet another negative voice against ascetic practice.

There is an example of another Vinaya restricting ascetic practices, although not in the same wording as the Pali. In the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya (CBETA T1435 [0429a11]), there is an instance where the devas and Vajrapāṇis, upon seeing monks wearing unclean and filthy patchwork robes (納衣), were not happy and lost respect [for them]. After the Buddha is informed, monks who wear unclean and filthy patchwork robes are guilty of a duṣkṛta. However, it should be noted that the section in which this rule is found is related to the Uttaragrantha section as found in the Tibetan translation of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya (these sections are only found in the Sarvāstivāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda literature; see Ryoji Kishino’s PhD thesis ‘A Study of the Nidana - An Underrated Canonical Text of the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya’, pg.35), which notably (or notoriously) exhibits all the signs of late and landed institutionalized Buddhism and can hardly be considered as ‘early’ as the texts allow us to go. Examples include things like: the Buddha supposedly advising monks how to properly take out a loan (see Gregory Schopen’s ‘Art, Beauty, and the Business of Running a Buddhist Monastery’; Buddhist Monks and Business Matters, pg.30), what to do when a monk borrows money from a layperson but dies before being able to pay it back (see Gregory Schopen’s Dead Monks and Bad Debts; Buddhist Monks and Business Matters, pg.129), and the ruling that the possessions of a dead monk should not be thrown away but should rather be auctioned off (and monks should not make bids to artificially raise the price! see Gregory Schopen’s Dead Monks and Bad Debts; Buddhist Monks and Business Matters, pg.154 and footnote 81).

For a tradition whose source of self-identity stems from supposedly preserving a more ‘pristine’ form of Buddhism than its rivals, the Pali Vinaya’s decision to compromise this most important aspect of the original inspiration of Buddhism in order to curry the favor of laypeople is extremely disappointing. How indignant would the Mahāsāṃghikas (a favorite target of the Theravadins) be when we once again have another instance where the so-called ‘authenticity’ of the Theravada Vinaya turns out to be nothing more than hot air? It is an unfortunate but necessary reminder that we do not have a direct connection between the extant Early Buddhist literature and the Buddha himself. The texts were preserved, transmitted and therefore strained through the filter of the various groups who had their own sectarian and personal motivations for redacting texts. It goes without saying that simply using one version to make comments about ‘Early Buddhism’ tells us more about the redactors than anything close to ‘what actually happened’.