CHAPTER ONE Patimokkha The Patimokkha is available to us in several recensions, some in In
The Patimokkha is available to us in several recensions, some in
Indic languages, others in Tibetan or Chinese translations. However,
of the Indic recensions, only one -- the Pali -- is still a living
tradition, recited fortnightly, and put into practice by Theravadin
bhikkhus throughout the world. This is the recension translated and
explained in this book.
The meaning of the term //patimokkha// is a matter of conjecture.
According to the Mahavagga, it means "the beginning, the head (or
entrance -- //mukha//), the foremost (//pamukha//) of skillful
qualities." (Mv.II.3.4) The term serves as the name not only of the
basic code of training rules, but also of a sermon in which the
Buddha enumerated the basic principles common to the teachings of
all Buddhas: "The non-doing of all evil, the performance of what is
skillful, and the purification of one's heart: this is the Buddhas'
message." (Dhp.183) Thus whatever the etymology of the term
//patimokkha//, it denotes a set of principles basic to the practice
of the religion.
The basic code of training rules for bhikkhus, in its Pali
recension, contains 227 rules, divided into eight sections in
accordance with the penalty assigned by each rule: //parajika//,
defeat; //sanghadisesa//, formal meeting; //aniyata//, undetermined;
//nissaggiya pacittiya//, forfeiture and confession; //pacittiya//,
confession; //patidesaniya//, acknowledgement; //sekhiya//,
training; and //adhikarana-samatha//, settlement of issues. The
following chapters will discuss the precise meanings of these terms.
Three of these terms, though, do not denote penalties. The aniyata
rules give directions for judging uncertain cases; the sekhiya rules
simply say, "(This is) a training to be followed," without assigning
a particular penalty for not following them; and the
adhikarana-samatha rules give procedures to follow in settling
issues that may arise in the Community. Thus there are only five
types of penalty mentioned in the Patimokkha rules themselves,
ranging from permanent expulsion from the Community to simple
confession in the presence of another bhikkhu. None of the
penalties, we should note, involve physical punishment of any kind.
And we should further note that the purpose of undergoing the
penalties is not somehow to absolve one from guilt or to erase any
bad kamma one may incur by breaking the rules; rather, the purpose
is both personal and social: to strengthen one's resolve to refrain
from such behavior in the future, and to reassure the other bhikkhus
that one is still serious about following the training.
In addition to the penalties directly mentioned in the rules,
there are also penalties derived from the rules by the Vibhanga and
commentaries. These derived penalties deal with two sorts of cases:
1) A bhikkhu tries to commit an action mentioned in one of the
rules, but the action for one reason or another does not reach
completion (e.g., he tries to kill a person, but the person doesn't
die). 2) A bhikkhu commits an action not directly covered in any
rule, but similar to one that is (e.g., he strikes an unordained
person, which is not directly covered in a rule, while the act of
striking a bhikkhu is).
Penalties of this sort, when derived from the parajika and
sanghadisesa rules, include thullaccaya (grave offense) and dukkata
(wrong doing); those derived from the nissaggiya pacittiya,
pacittiya, and patidesaniya rules -- except for the rule against
speaking insults -- include only the dukkata. The penalties derived
from the rule against speaking insults include dubbhasita (wrong
speech) as well. As for the sekhiya rules, the Vibhanga states that
to disobey any of them out of disrespect entails a dukkata. All of
these derived penalties may be cleared through confession.
There may, of course, be times when the assigned penalties are not
enough to deter an unconscientious bhikkhu from committing an
offense repeatedly. In such cases, the Community in which he is
living may, if it sees fit, formally impose additional penalties on
him as a means of bringing him into line. These formal acts range
from stripping him of some of the privileges of seniority, to
banishment from that particular Community, and on to suspension from
the Bhikkhu Sangha as a whole. In each case the punishment is
temporary; if the bhikkhu realizes his errors and mends his ways,
the Community is to revoke the act against him and return him to his
Thus, taken as a whole, the Vinaya's system of penalties makes use
of three basic principles -- confession, forfeiture, and various
degrees of ostracism from the Community -- as means of enforcing the
rules. To understand the wisdom of this system, it is important to
realize how each of these principles is related to the practice of
the Dhamma and the training of the mind.
//Confession//: There are several spots in the discourses (e.g.,
D.2, M.140) where the Buddha states, 'It is growth in the discipline
of a Noble One that a person sees a transgression (of his own) as a
transgression, makes amends for it in accordance with the Dhamma,
and achieves restraint in the future.' From the context each time
the Buddha makes this statement, it is clear that "makes amends"
means confessing one's mistakes. In another passage (M.61), the
Buddha informs his son, Rahula, that if one sees that one's words or
deeds have harmed oneself or others, one should confess them to a
knowledgeable companion in the Holy Life. All those who have
purified their thoughts, words, and deeds in the past, all those who
are doing so in the present, and all those who will do so in the
future, he adds, have acted, are acting, and will act in just this
way. In addition, one of the basic requisites for exerting oneself
in the practice is that one not be fraudulent or deceitful, and that
one declare oneself to one's knowledgeable companions in the Holy
Life in line with one's actual behavior (A.V.53). Thus a willingness
to confess one's misdeeds is an essential factor in progress along
//Forfeiture//, in most cases, is simply a symbolic adjunct to
confession. One forfeits the object in question, confesses the
offense, and then receives the object in return. In a few cases,
though -- where the object is improper for a bhikkhu to use or own
-- one must break it or forfeit it for good. In these cases,
forfeiture serves as a check against greed and as a reminder of two
essential principles -- contentment with little and fewness of wants
-- that are absolutely basic to the practice.
//Ostracism//: In a famous passage (S.XLV.2), the Buddha tells
Ven. Ananda, "Being a friend, a companion, a colleague with
admirable people is the entirety of the Holy Life. When a bhikkhu is
a friend, a companion, a colleague with admirable people, he can be
expected to develop the Noble Eightfold Path and make much of it."
Thus one of the few things a bhikkhu serious about the practice
would naturally fear would be to be ostracized by the well-behaved
members of the Community, for that would be a true barrier to his
spiritual progress. This fear would then help deter him from any
action that might entail such ostracism.
In this way, the Vinaya's system of penalties provides
rehabilitation for offenders and deterrence against offenses -- with
confession the means of rehabilitation, and ostracism the deterrent
-- growing directly out of principles basic to the practice of the
Offenses. In analyzing offenses for the purpose of determining
penalties, the Vibhanga divides an action into five factors: the
object, the perception, the intent, the effort, and the result. In
some of the rules, all five factors play a role in determining what
is and is not a full offense. In others, only two, three or four
play a role. For example, under the parajika rule forbidding murder,
all five factors have to be present for a full offense: The object
has to be a human being, the bhikkhu has to perceive him/her as a
living being, he has to have murderous intent, he has to make an
effort for the person to die, and the person has to die.
If any of these factors are missing, the penalty changes. For
instance, object: If the bhikkhu kills a dog, the penalty is a
pacittiya. Perception: If he cremates a friend, thinking that the
friend is dead, then even if the friend is actually alive but
severely comatose, the bhikkhu incurs no penalty. Intent: If he
accidentally drops a rock on a person standing below him, he incurs
no penalty even if the person dies. Effort: If he sees a person fall
into the river, but makes no effort to save the person, he incurs no
penalty even if the person drowns. Result: If he tries to kill a
person, but only succeeds in injuring him, he incurs a thullaccaya.
There are some rules, though, where the factors of intention,
perception, and result do not make any difference in determining
offenses. For example, if a bhikkhu is sleeping alone in a room and
a woman comes in and lies down in the room with him, he incurs the
pacittiya for lying down in the same lodging as a woman even though
his intention was to lie down alone and he was unaware of her
presence. A bhikkhu who drinks a glass of wine, thinking it to be
grape juice, incurs the pacittiya for taking intoxicants all the
same. A bhikkhu who tries to frighten another bhikkhu incurs a
pacittiya regardless of whether or not the other bhikkhu is actually
Another variation is that in rules where a bhikkhu may be put into
a passive role in committing an act that would fulfill the factor of
effort, the factor of intention is changed to consent: mental
acquiescence to the act combined with a physical or verbal
expression of that acquiescence. Under some rules, such as the rule
against sexual intercourse, simply letting the act happen counts as
physical acquiescence even if one lies perfectly still, and the
question of whether or not one incurs a penalty depends entirely on
the state of one's mind. Under other rules, though -- such as the
rule against lustful contact with a woman, which includes cases
where the woman is the agent making the contact -- simply lying
still is not enough to count as a physical sign of acquiescence, and
even if one consents mentally, say, to a woman's fondling, one would
incur a penalty only if one says something or responds with a
physical movement to what she is doing.
The factor of effort is basic to every rule and is also used to
determine offenses in cases where a bhikkhu intends to break a rule
but does not complete the action. For instance, in the case of
stealing, the efforts involved are said to begin when, acting under
the intent to steal, a bhikkhu gets dressed and starts walking to
the object. With each of these preliminary efforts -- literally,
with every step -- he incurs a dukkata. At first glance, this may
seem extreme, but when we view his state of mind as having ultimate
importance, this system of assigning penalties is appropriate. In
cases like this, if the bhikkhu completes the act, the penalties he
incurred in the preliminary efforts are nullified, and he is left
with only the penalty imposed by the rule.
Thus it is important, when reading about each training rule, to
pay attention to what role these five factors play in determining
the offenses related to the rule. And, of course, it is important
for each bhikkhu to pay attention to all five of these factors in
all of his actions to make sure that he does not fall at any time
into an offense. This is where training in discipline becomes part
of the training of the mind leading to Awakening. A bhikkhu who is
mindful to analyze his actions into these five factors, to be aware
of them as they arise, and to behave consistently in such a manner
that he avoids committing any offenses, is developing three
qualities: mindfulness; an analytical attitude towards phenomena in
his thoughts, words, and deeds; and persistence in abandoning
unskillful qualities and developing skillful ones within himself.
These are the first three of the seven factors of Awakening, and
form the basis for the remaining four: rapture, tranquility,
concentration, and equanimity.
The Parivara (VI.4), in reviewing the Vibhanga's five factors for
analyzing offenses, devises a number of categories for classifying
offenses, the most important being the distinction between rules
carrying a penalty only when broken intentionally through correct
perception (//sacittaka//), and those carrying a penalty even when
broken unintentionally or through misperception (//acittaka//).
Although it may seem harsh to impose penalties for unintentional
actions, we must again reflect on the state of mind that leads to
such actions. In some acts, of course, the intention makes all the
difference between guilt and innocence. Taking an article with
intent to return it, for example, is something else entirely from
taking it with intent to steal. There are, however, other acts with
damaging consequences that, when performed unintentionally, reveal
carelessness and lack of circumspection in areas where a person may
reasonably be held responsible. Many of the rules dealing with the
proper care of communal property and one's basic requisites fall in
this category. Except for one very unlikely situation, though, none
of the major rules carry a penalty if broken unintentionally, while
the minor rules that do carry such penalties may be regarded as
useful lessons in mindfulness.
The Parivara (IV.7.4) also lists six ways in which offenses can be
1) //unconscientiously//, i.e., knowing that an action is contrary
to the rules, but going ahead with it anyway;
2) //unknowingly//, i.e., not realizing that the action is
contrary to the rules;
4) //assuming something improper to be proper//, e.g., drinking a
glass of apple wine perceiving it to be apple juice;
5) //assuming something proper to be improper//, e.g., perceiving
a glass of apple juice to be apple wine, and drinking it
6) //acting out of uncertainty//, i.e., not being sure if an
action is proper, but going ahead with it anyway. In this last case,
if the action is improper, one is to be treated according to the
relevant rule. If it is proper, one incurs a dukkata in any event
for having acted irresponsibly.
Another scheme introduced in the ancient commentaries for
classifying offenses is the distinction between those that the world
criticizes (//loka-vajja//) and those that only the rules criticize
(//pannati-vajja//). The Commentary defines this distinction by
saying that loka-vajja offenses are committed with an unskillful
state of mind (i.e., greed, anger or delusion), whereas
pannati-vajja offenses are committed with a skillful state of mind.
Thus the concepts would seem to have been developed originally to
deal with the exceptional cases in which a bhikkhu would be led by
mature consideration to break a rule -- e.g., where another person's
life would be at stake. Under such circumstances, the world at large
would not criticize his actions, although the rules would impose a
As these concepts finally took shape in the ancient commentaries,
though, they became a way of classifying rules. The compilers
apparently felt that some of the rules forbade actions that
necessarily were motivated by an unskillful state of mind, whereas
others forbade actions that might be motivated by skillful states of
mind. Given this use of the distinction, the Vinaya Mukha redefines
the terms as follows:
"Some offenses are faults as far as the world is concerned --
wrong and damaging even if committed by ordinary people who are
not bhikkhus -- examples being robbery and murder, as well as
such lesser faults as assault and verbal abuse. Offenses of
this sort are termed loka-vajja. There are also offenses that
are faults only as far as the Buddha's ordinances are concerned
-- neither wrong nor damaging if committed by ordinary people;
wrong only if committed by bhikkhus, on the grounds that they
run counter to the Buddha's ordinances. Offenses of this sort
are termed pannati-vajja."
Even a cursory glance at the Patimokkha rules will show that many
of them deal with the latter sort of offense, and that such offenses
concern relatively minor matters. The question often arises, then:
Why this concern with minutiae? The answer is that the rules deal
with social relationships -- among the bhikkhus themselves and
between the bhikkhus and the laity -- and that social relationships
are defined by seemingly minor points.
Take, for instance, the rule that a bhikkhu may not eat food
unless it is handed to him or to a fellow bhikkhu by an unordained
person on that day. This rule has wide-ranging ramifications. It
means, among other things, that a bhikkhu may not leave human
society to lead a solitary hermit's existence, foraging for food on
his own. He must have frequent contact with humanity, however
minimal, and in that contact he performs a service to others, even
if simply offering them a noble example of conduct and giving them
an opportunity to develop the virtue of generosity. Many of the
other seemingly trivial rules -- such as those forbidding digging in
the soil and damaging plant life -- will reveal, on reflection,
implications of a similar scope.
The Great Standards. Although the Vibhanga and Khandhakas cover an
enormous number of cases, they do not, of course, cover every
possible contingency in the world; and from what we have seen of the
way in which the Buddha formulated the rules -- dealing with cases
as they arose -- there is reason to doubt that he himself wanted
them to form an airtight system. As for cases that did not arise
during his lifetime, he established the following four guidelines
for judgment -- called the Great Standards (a separate set from
those he formulated at Bhoganagara) -- for judging cases not
mentioned in the rules:
"Bhikkhus, whatever I have not objected to, saying, 'This is
not allowable,' if it fits in with what is not allowable, if it
goes against what is allowable, that is not allowable for you.
"Whatever I have not objected to, saying, 'This is not
allowable,' if it fits in with what is allowable, if it goes
against what is not allowable, that is allowable for you.
"And whatever I have not permitted, saying, 'This is
allowable,' if it fits in with what is not allowable, if it
goes against what is allowable, that is not allowable for you.
"And whatever I have not permitted, saying, 'This is
allowable,' if it fits in with what is allowable, if it goes
against what is not allowable, that is allowable for you."
These four Great Standards, when properly applied, are an
important tool for extending the principles of discipline into
situations unknown in the Buddha's time. We will have occasion to
refer to them frequently in the course of this book.
There is evidence in the Canon that the Buddha's own attitude
towards discipline was not one of strict legalism. Take, for
instance, this discourse:
"At one time the Blessed One was living in Vesali, in the Great
Wood. Then a certain Vajjian bhikkhu went to him...and said:
'Lord, more than 150 training rules come up for recitation
every fortnight. I cannot train in reference to them.'
"'Bhikkhu, can you train in reference to the three trainings:
the training in heightened virtue, the training in heightened
mind, the training in heightened discernment?'
"'Yes, Lord, I can....'
"'Then train in reference to those three trainings....When you
train in reference to the training in heightened virtue...
heightened mind...heightened discernment, passion will be
abandoned in you, aversion...delusion will be abandoned in you.
Then with the abandoning of passion...aversion... delusion, you
will not do anything unskillful or engage in any evil.'
"Later on, that bhikkhu trained in heightened virtue...
heightened mind...heightened discernment....Passion...
aversion...delusion were abandoned in him....He did not do
anything unskillful or engage in any evil." (A.III.85)
Another discourse with a similar point:
"'Bhikkhus, more than 150 training rules come up for recitation
every fortnight, in reference to which young men desiring the
goal train themselves. There are these three trainings in which
they (the training rules) are all contained. What three? The
training in heightened virtue, the training in heightened mind,
the training in heightened discernment. These are the three
trainings in which they are all contained....
"'There is the case, bhikkhus, where a bhikkhu is fully
accomplished in virtue, concentration, and discernment (i.e.,
is an arahant). With reference to the lesser and minor training
rules, he falls into offenses and rehabilitates himself. Why is
that? Because it is not said to be an impossibility. But as for
the training rules that are basic to the holy life and proper
to the holy life, his virtue is steadfast and firm. Having
undertaken them, he trains in reference to the training rules.
Because of the ending of (mental) effluents, he dwells in the
release of awareness and release of discernment that are free
from effluent, having known and made them manifest for himself
right in the present....
"'Those who are partially accomplished attain a part; those who
are wholly accomplished, the whole. The training rules, I say,
are not in vain.'" (A.III.88)
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