The Dhamma and Vinaya impinge in such detail on so many areas of
one's life that no new bhikkhu can be expected to master them in a
short time. For this reason, the Buddha arranged for a period of
apprenticeship -- called //nissaya//, or dependence -- in which
every newly ordained bhikkhu must train under the guidance of an
experienced bhikkhu for at least five years before he can be
considered competent to look after himself.
This apprenticeship has formed the human context in which the
practice of the Buddha's teachings has been passed down for the past
2,600 years. To overlook it is to miss one of the basic parameters
of the life of the Dhamma and Vinaya. Thus we will discuss it here
first, before going on to the individual training rules of the
Dependence is of two sorts: dependence on one's preceptor
(//upajjhaya//) and dependence on a teacher (//acariya//). The
relationships are similar -- and in many details, identical -- so
the following discussion will use the word "mentor" to cover both
preceptor and teacher wherever the pattern applies to both, and will
distinguish them only where the patterns differ.
//Choosing a mentor//. Before ordination, one must choose a
bhikkhu to act as one's preceptor. The Mahavagga (I.36-37) gives a
long list of qualifications a bhikkhu must meet before he can act as
a preceptor, while the Commentary divides the list into two levels:
ideal and minimal qualifications. A bhikkhu who lacks the minimal
qualifications incurs a dukkata if he acts as a preceptor; a bhikkhu
who meets the minimal but lacks the ideal qualifications is not an
ideal person to give guidance, but he incurs no penalty in doing so.
//The ideal qualifications:// The preceptor should have an
arahant's virtue, concentration, discernment, release, and knowledge
of release; and should be able to train another person to the same
level of attainment. He should have faith, a sense of shame, fear of
evil, persistence in the practice, and quick mindfulness (according
to the Subcommentary, this means that he is constantly mindful of
whatever mental object is before the mind). He should be free of
heavy and light offenses and be possessed of right view. (This last
point, the Commentary says, means that he does not adhere to the
extremes of eternalism or annihilationism.) He should be competent
to tend to a sick pupil, or to find someone who will tend to him,
and to allay dissatisfaction in a pupil who wants to leave the
The Mahavagga does not say outright that these are ideal, as
opposed to minimal, qualifications, but the Commentary offers as
proof the fact that one of a pupil's duties is to try to allay any
dissatisfaction that may arise in his preceptor. If all preceptors
were arahants, no case of this sort would ever arise, and there
would be no need to mention it. Thus the Commentary concludes that
arahantship, although ideal in a preceptor, is not necessary.
//The minimal qualifications//: The preceptor must be learned and
intelligent. According to the Commentary, this means that he knows
enough of the Dhamma and Vinaya to govern a following and is
intelligent enough to know what is and is not an offense. He must be
competent enough to allay any anxiety a pupil may have over the
rules, know what is and is not an offense, what is a light offense,
what is a heavy offense, and how an offense may be removed. He must
have detailed knowledge of both Patimokkhas (the one for the
bhikkhus and the one for the bhikkhunis) and be able to train the
pupil in the bhikkhus' customs (Com.: this means that he knows the
Khandhakas), in the basic rules of the chaste life (Subcom.: he
knows both Vibhangas), the higher Dhamma, and the higher Vinaya. He
must be able to dissuade his pupil from adhering to a wrong view, or
find someone who will help dissuade him. And -- the most basic
requirement -- he must have been ordained as a bhikkhu for ten years
If, for some reason, the new bhikkhu lives in a separate monastery
from his preceptor, he must take dependence under a teacher, whose
qualifications are precisely the same as those for a preceptor.
Since the Mahavagga (I.72.1) gives a dukkata for taking dependence
under an unconscientious bhikkhu, the new bhikkhu is allowed four to
five days to observe his potential teacher's conduct before taking
dependence under him (Mv.I.72.2).
//Taking dependence//. Prior to his ordination -- and usually, as
part of the ceremony itself -- the candidate must make a formal
request for dependence from his preceptor. The procedure is as
Arranging his upper robe over his left shoulder, leaving his right
shoulder bare, he bows down to the preceptor and then, kneeling with
his hands palm-to-palm in front of his heart, repeats the following
passage three times:
Upajjhayo me bhante hohi,
which means, "Venerable sir, be my preceptor."
If the preceptor responds with any of these words -- //Sahu
//(very well), //lahu// (certainly), //opayikam// (all right),
//patirupam// (it is proper) or //pasadikena sampadehi// (manage it
amiably) -- the dependence has taken hold. The Mahavagga adds that
if the preceptor indicates any of these meanings by gesture, that
also counts; and according to the Commentary, the same holds true if
he makes any equivalent statement. (Mv.I.25.7)
If, after his ordination, the new bhikkhu needs to request
dependence from a teacher, the procedure is the same, except that
the request he makes three times is this:
Acariyo me bhante hohi; ayasmato nissaya vacchami,
which means, "Venerable sir, be my teacher; I will live in
dependence on you." (Mv.I.32.2)
//Duties//. The Mahavagga (I.25.6; 32.1) states that a pupil
should regard his mentor as a father; and the mentor, the pupil as
his son. It then goes on to delineate this relationship as a set of
The pupil's duties to his mentor fall into the following five
1. //Attending to the mentor's personal needs//. The Mahavagga
goes into great detail on this topic, giving precise instructions
dealing with every conceivable way a pupil can be of service to his
mentor. The Vinaya Mukha tries to reduce these duties to a few
general principles, but this misses much of what the Mahavagga has
to offer, for it is in the details that we can see fine examples of
mindfulness in action -- the best way to fold a robe, clean a
dwelling, and so forth -- as well as indications of how one can use
this aspect of one's training to develop sensitivity to the needs of
others. Still, the detailed instructions are so extensive that they
would overburden the discussion in this chapter, so I have saved
them for Appendix VIII. Here I will simply give them in outline
form. The pupil should:
a. Arrange his mentor's toiletries for his morning wash-up.
b. Arrange his seat and food for his morning conjey (if he has
any), and clean up after he is finished.
c. Arrange his robes and bowl for his alms round.
d. Follow him on his alms round, if the mentor so desires, and
take his robes and bowl when he returns.
e. Arrange his seat and food for his alms meal and clean up
f. Prepare his bath. If he goes to the sauna, go with him and
attend to his needs.
g. Study the Dhamma and Vinaya from him when he is prepared to
teach. (The Mahavagga describes this as "recitation" and
"interrogation." Recitation, according to the Commentary, means
learning to memorize passages; interrogation, learning to
investigate their meaning.)
h. Clean his dwelling and other parts of his dwelling complex,
such as the restroom and storage rooms, when they get dirty.
2. //Assisting the mentor in any problems he may have with regard
to the Dhamma and Vinaya//. The Mahavagga lists the following
a. If the preceptor begins to feel dissatisfaction with the
celibate life, the pupil should try to allay that
dissatisfaction or find someone else who can.
b. If the preceptor begins to feel anxiety over his conduct
with regard to the rules, the pupil should try to allay that
anxiety, or find someone else who can.
c. If the preceptor begins to hold to wrong views, the pupil
should try to dissuade him from those views or find someone
else who can.
d. If the preceptor has committed a sanghadisesa offense, the
pupil should -- to the best of his ability -- help with the
arrangements for penance, probation, and rehabilitation, or
find someone else who can.
e. If the Community is going to carry out a formal act against
the mentor, the pupil should try to dissuade them from it.
According to the Commentary, this means that he should go to
the various members of the Community individually before the
meeting and try to dissuade them from going through with the
act. If he can't dissuade them, he should try to get them to
lessen its severity (say, from an act of banishment to an act
of censure). If they are justified in carrying out the act,
though, he should not object while the meeting is in progress.
Once they have carried out the act, he should concentrate on
helping his mentor behave so that they will rescind the act as
quickly as possible.
3. //Washing, making, and dyeing the mentor's robes.//
4. //Showing loyalty and respect for the mentor//.
a. The pupil should neither give or receive gifts, nor give or
receive services to/from others without first obtaining the
mentor's permission. According to the Commentary, //others //
here refers to people who are on bad terms with the mentor.
b. The pupil should obtain his mentor's permission before
entering a village, going to a cemetery (to meditate, says, the
Commentary), or leaving the district in which they live. The
Commentary notes, though, that if the mentor refuses one's
request the first time, one should ask up to two more times,
presenting one's reasons as best one can. If the mentor still
refuses, the pupil should reflect on his situation. If staying
with the mentor is not helping his education and meditation,
and if the mentor seems to want him to stay simply to have
someone to look after his (the mentor's) needs, the pupil is
justified in leaving and taking dependence with a new mentor in
his new residence.
5. //Caring for the mentor when he falls ill//, not leaving him
until he either recovers or passes away (Mv.I.25).
According to the Commentary, a pupil is freed from these duties
when he is ill. Otherwise, he should observe all the above duties to
his preceptor as long as he is in dependence on him, and the duties
in sections 1-3 even after he is released from dependence, as long
as both he and the preceptor are alive and still ordained.
As for the duties to one's teacher, the Commentary lists four
types of teachers: the going-forth teacher (the one who gives one
the ten precepts during one's ordination ceremony); the acceptance
teacher (the one who chants the motion and announcements during the
ceremony); the Dhamma teacher (the one who teaches one the Pali
language and Canon); and the dependence teacher (the one with whom
one lives in dependence). With the dependence teacher, one must
observe all the above duties only as long as one is living in
dependence on him. As for the other three, one should observe
sections 1-3 as long as both parties are alive and still ordained.
The Commentary adds that if the mentor already has a pupil who is
performing these duties for him, he may inform his remaining pupils
that they need not take them on. This exempts them from having to
observe them. If he neglects to do this, the pupil who is performing
the duties may inform his fellows that he will take responsibility
for looking after the mentor. This also exempts them. Otherwise,
they incur a dukkata for every duty they neglect to perform.
The mentor's duties to his pupil:
1. //Furthering the pupil's education//, teaching him the Dhamma
and Vinaya through recitation, interrogation, exhortation, and
2. //Providing requisites for the pupil//. If the pupil lacks any
of his basic requisites, and the mentor has any to spare, he should
make up the lack.
3. //Attending to the pupil's personal needs when he is ill//,
performing the services mentioned in section 1 under the pupil's
duties to his mentor.
4. //Assisting the pupil in any problems he may have with regard
to the Dhamma and Vinaya//, performing the services mentioned in
section 2 under the pupil's duties to his mentor.
5. //Teaching the pupil how to wash, make, and dye robes//. If for
some reason the pupil is unable to handle these skills, the mentor
should find someone who can help the pupil with them.
6. //Caring for the pupil when he falls ill//, not leaving him
until he either recovers or passes away (Mv.I.26).
According to the Commentary, the preceptor, going-forth teacher,
and acceptance teacher must observe these duties toward the pupil as
long as both parties are alive and still ordained. As for the Dhamma
and dependence teachers, they must observe these duties only as long
as the pupil is living with them.
//Dismissal//. If the pupil does not observe his duties to his
mentor, the mentor is empowered to dismiss him. In fact, if the
pupil deserves dismissal, the mentor incurs a dukkata if for some
reason he does not dismiss him, just as he would for dismissing a
pupil who did not deserve it (MV.I.27.5-8). The grounds for
dismissal are five:
1. The pupil has no affection for his mentor -- i.e., he shows him
2. He has no faith in his mentor -- i.e., he does not regard him
as an example to follow.
3. He has no shame in front of his mentor -- i.e., he openly
disregards the training rules in his mentor's presence.
4. He has no respect for his mentor -- i.e., he does not listen to
what the mentor has to say, and openly disobeys him.
5. He is not developing under his mentor -- the Commentary
translates //developing// here as developing a sense of good will
for his mentor, but it could also mean developing in his general
education and practice of the Dhamma and Vinaya.
The Vinaya Mukha notes that the mentor should reflect on his own
conduct before dismissing such a pupil. If he has done anything that
would give the pupil valid reason for losing affection, etc., he
should first correct his own conduct. Only after reflecting that
there is no longer anything in his own conduct that would give the
pupil valid reason to disregard him should he go ahead with the
The Mahavagga mentions each of the following statements as a valid
means of dismissal: "I dismiss you." "Don't come back here." "Take
away your robes and bowl." "Don't attend to me." It also states that
if the mentor makes any of these meanings known by gesture -- e.g.,
he evicts the pupil from his quarters and throws his robes and bowl
out after him -- that also counts as a valid means of dismissal
(Mv.I.27.2). The Commentary adds that any statement conveying the
same basic meaning as those above would count as well.
Once a pupil has been dismissed, it is his duty to apologize. If
he doesn't, he incurs a dukkata (Mv.I.27.3). Once the pupil has
apologized, the mentor's duty is to forgive him (Mv.I.27.4). If,
however, he sees that the pupil is still unconscientious, he should
not take him back, for a mentor who takes on an unconscientious
pupil incurs a dukkata (Mv.I.72.1.). Thus the mentor may, if he sees
fit, inflict a non-physical punishment on the pupil before taking
him back on the original footing, to make sure that he has actually
seen the error of his ways. An example of such punishment, mentioned
in the Vinaya Mukha, is simply asking to wait to observe the pupil's
behavior for a while to see whether or not his apology is sincere.
The Commentary recommends that if the mentor refuses to forgive
the pupil, the latter should try to get other bhikkhus in the
monastery to intercede for him. If that doesn't work, he should go
stay in another monastery and take dependence under a senior bhikkhu
there who is on friendly terms with the mentor, in hopes that the
mentor will take this as a sign of the pupil's good intentions and
will eventually grant his forgiveness.
//Dependence lapses//. Mv.I.36.1 says that if a pupil is staying
in dependence with his preceptor, the dependence lapses if:
1. He leaves. According to the Subcommentary, this means that the
preceptor goes to spend the night outside the monastery, regardless
of whether or not he plans to return.
2. He disrobes.
3. He dies.
4. He goes over to another side -- according to the Commentary,
this means that he joins another religion.
In all of the above cases, the commentaries interpret "he" as
referring to the preceptor, although it would seem to refer to the
pupil as well. This would fit with the passages from the Mahavagga,
to be mentioned below, that refer to a new bhikkhu on a journey as
not being in dependence. In such cases, the new bhikkhu is most
likely the one who has left the preceptor, and his leaving is what
has caused the dependence to lapse.
5. He gives a command. This is the one alternative where "he"
clearly refers only to the preceptor. The Commentary interprets
//command// here as dismissal, as discussed above, although the
Vinaya Mukha would also include cases where the preceptor sees that
the pupil qualifies to be released from dependence (see below) and
tells him so.
In each of these cases, a pupil who is not yet released from
dependence must find someone else to take dependence under on that
very day, except in the following instances (taken from the
-- The preceptor leaves, saying that he will be away only for a
day or two, and that the pupil need not ask anyone else for
dependence in the meantime. If it so happens that the preceptor's
return is delayed, he should send word to his pupil, saying that he
still intends to come back. If, however, the pupil receives word
from his preceptor that the latter no longer intends to return, he
should immediately look for a teacher to take dependence under.
-- The preceptor leaves, and the only other senior bhikkhu in the
monastery is one whom the pupil does not know well. In this case,
the pupil is allowed four or five days to observe the senior
bhikkhu's behavior (as mentioned above) before requesting dependence
from him. If, though, the pupil already knows the senior bhikkhu
well enough to feel confident in his conduct, he should take
dependence with him on the day of his preceptor's departure.
If the pupil is staying in dependence on a teacher, the dependence
can lapse for any of six reasons. The first five are identical with
those above, although even the Commentary states that "he leaves,"
the first reason, applies not only to cases where the teacher leaves
but also to cases where the pupil leaves. The sixth reason is:
6. The pupil rejoins his preceptor. The Commentary explains this
by saying that, in effect, the pupil's original dependence on his
preceptor always overrides his dependence on a teacher. If the pupil
happens to see his preceptor and recognize him, or to hear and
recognize his voice -- even if they just happen to pass on the
street -- his dependence on his teacher automatically lapses, and
his dependence on his preceptor is reinstated. If he then returns to
live with his teacher, he must ask for dependence from the teacher
all over again.
The Vinaya Mukha objects to his judgment, saying that "rejoins the
preceptor" should refer to the pupil's actually living with the
preceptor, either in another monastery or in the same monastery
where the teacher lives. This, however, is an area where different
Communities differ in their interpretation, and the wise policy is
to follow the interpretation of the Community in which one lives.
//Temporary exemption from dependence//. Normally a junior bhikkhu
is required to live in dependence under a mentor at all times.
However, Mv.I.73 allows him not to take dependence when living in
the following situations if no qualified bhikkhu is available as a
1) He is on a journey.
2) He is ill.
3) He is caring for an ill person who has requested his help (%).
4) He is living alone in the forest, meditating comfortably,
intending to take dependence if a qualified mentor comes along.
The Commentary, in discussing these allowances, makes the
A bhikkhu on a journey is said to have no mentor available if no
qualified senior bhikkhu is traveling with him. In other words, the
fact that he happens to pass by a monastery with a qualified mentor
does not mean that a mentor is available, and he is allowed to
continue traveling without taking dependence. If, however, he spends
the night in a place where he has taken dependence before, he should
take dependence on the day of his arrival. If he reaches a place
where he has never been before and plans to spend only two or three
days, he need not take dependence; but if he plans to spend a week,
he must. If the senior bhikkhu he requests dependence from says,
"What's the use of taking dependence for only a week?" that exempts
him from this requirement.
As for the bhikkhu living alone in the forest, the Commentary says
that "meditating comfortably" means that his tranquility and insight
meditation are going smoothly. For some reason, though, it says that
this allowance applies only to bhikkhus whose meditation is at a
tender stage and might deteriorate if they were to leave the forest;
if a bhikkhu has attained any of the Noble Attainments -- beginning
with Stream-entry -- he may not make use of this allowance. Why the
Commentary limits the allowance in this way, it doesn't say.
At any rate, once the month before the Rains Retreat arrives, and
no suitable mentor appears, the junior bhikkhu must leave his forest
abode and look for a place where he can take dependence for the
//Release from dependence//. According to Mv.I.53.4, a bhikkhu may
be released from dependence after he has been ordained for five
years, on the condition that he be experienced and competent. If he
is not yet experienced and competent, he must remain under
dependency until he is. If he never becomes experienced and
competent, he must remain in dependence for his entire life as a
bhikkhu. The Commentary adds that, in the last case, if he cannot
find a competent experienced bhikkhu who is senior to him, he must
take dependence with a competent, experienced bhikkhu who is his
To be considered competent and experienced enough to deserve
release from dependence, a bhikkhu must meet many of the same
general qualifications as those for a mentor, except that he need
not possess the competence to look after a pupil, and the minimum
number of years he needs as a bhikkhu is five. None of the texts
divide the qualifications here into ideal and minimal
qualifications, as they do for the mentor, but it seems reasonable
that the same division would apply here as well. This would give us
the following list:
//The ideal qualifications//: The bhikkhu should have an arahant's
virtue, concentration, discernment, release, and knowledge of
release. He should have faith, a sense of shame, fear of evil,
persistence in the practice, and quick mindfulness. He should be
free of heavy and light offenses and possess right view.
//The minimal qualifications//: The bhikkhu must be learned and
intelligent, knowing both Patimokkhas in detail, understanding what
is and is not an offense, what is a light offense, what is a heavy
offense, and how an offense may be removed. And -- the most basic
requirement -- he must have been ordained as a bhikkhu for at least
five years (Mv.I.5-13).
The Commentary expands on the term //learned// here, saying that
the bhikkhu must have memorized:
1. Both Patimokkhas.
2. The Four Bhanavaras -- a set of auspicious chants that are
still regularly memorized in Sri Lanka.
3. A discourse that is helpful as a guide for sermon-giving. (The
Commentary lists as examples the Maha-Rahulovada Sutta [M. 62], the
Andhakavinda Sutta, and the Ambattha Sutta [D. 3].)
4. Three kinds of //anumodana //(rejoicing in the merit of others)
chants: for meals; for auspicious merit-making ceremonies, such as
blessing a house; and for non-auspicious ceremonies, i.e., any
relating to a death.
The Commentary adds that he must also know the rules for such
official acts of the Community as the Patimokkha recitation and the
Invitation Ceremony at the end of the Rains, and be acquainted with
themes for tranquility and insight meditation leading to
This definition of //learned// is not universally accepted, and
some traditions have reworked it. As this is another area where
different Communities have different interpretations, the wise
policy is to adhere to the practice followed in one's Community, as
long as it follows the basic requirements in the Canon, mentioned
Once a pupil has been released from dependence, he need no longer
perform the duties mentioned in sections 4 and 5 under the pupil's
duties to his mentor.
//Return to dependence//. The Cullavagga (I.9-12) states that a
bhikkhu released from dependence may be forced, by a formal act of
the Community, to return to dependence if his conduct is so bad as
to warrant it. The qualifying factors are:
1. He is ignorant and inexperienced.
2. He is full of offenses and has not made amends for them.
3. He lives in unbecoming association with lay people.
If these factors apply to a bhikkhu to the extent that the
Community is "fed up with granting him probation, sending him back
to the beginning, imposing penance, and rehabilitating him" -- these
terms refer to the procedures for dealing with a bhikkhu who has
committed repeated sanghadisesa offenses (see Chapter 5) -- then the
Community is justified in imposing a formal "act of dependence" on
him. This is identical with a formal "act for further misbehavior,"
to be discussed in Chapter 11, and carries the same penalties, the
only difference being that the bhikkhu must live in dependence under
a mentor as long as the act of dependence is in effect. If he mends
his ways to the Community's satisfaction, they may rescind the act
and return his independence.
* * *
At any rate, as we mentioned above, regardless of whether a pupil is
under dependence or released from it, he is still expected to
observe certain duties to his preceptor -- and his preceptor,
certain duties to him -- as long as both are alive and ordained.
This is in line with the fact that they are always to regard each
other as father and son: The preceptor is to take a continuing
interest in his pupil's welfare, and the pupil is to show his
continuing gratitude for the initiation his preceptor has given him
into the bhikkhu's life.
* * * * * * * *