The first rule in the Patimokkha opens with the statement that it --
and, by extension, every other rule in the Patimokkha -- applies to
all bhikkhus who have not disrobed by renouncing the training and
returning to the lay life. Thus the Vibhanga begins its explanations
by discussing what does and does not count as a valid act of
disrobing. Because this is, in effect, the escape clause for all the
rules, I am discussing it first as a separate chapter, for if a
bhikkhu disrobes in an invalid manner, he still counts as a bhikkhu
and is subject to the rules whether he realizes it or not. If he
then were to break any of the Parajika rules, he would be
disqualified from ever becoming a bhikkhu again in this lifetime.
To disrobe, a bhikkhu with firm intent states in the presence of a
witness words to the effect that he is renouncing the training. The
validity of the act depends on four factors:
1. The bhikkhu's state of mind.
2. His intention.
3. His statement.
4. The witness to his statement.
State of mind. The bhikkhu must be in his right mind. Any
statement he makes while insane, crazed with pain, or possessed by
spirits does not count.
Intention. He must seriously desire to leave the Community. If,
without actually intending to disrobe, he makes any of the
statements usually used for disrobing, it does not count as an act
of disrobing. For example, if he makes the statement in jest or is
telling someone else how to disrobe, the fact that he mentions the
words does not mean that he has disrobed. Also, if he says one thing
and means something else -- e.g., if he makes a slip of the tongue
-- that too does not count.
The statement. The Vibhanga gives a wide variety of statements
that one may use to renounce the training. The most basic one
follows the form, "I renounce //x//," where //x// may be replaced
with the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, the training, the
discipline (//vinaya//), the Patimokkha, the chaste life, one's
preceptor, one's teacher, one's fellow bhikkhus, or any equivalent
terms. Other examples follow similar forms, such as, "I am tired of
//x//," "What is //x// to me?" "//X// means nothing to me," or "I am
well freed of //x//." A separate form follows the pattern, "I will
be //y//," where //y// may be replaced with a householder, a lay
follower, a novice, a member of another sect, an adherent of another
sect, or any other equivalent term.
The Vibhanga stipulates that the statement may //not// be put in
the conditional tense ("Suppose I were to renounce the training"),
and the Commentary further stipulates that the "//x//" statements
must be in the //present// tense. Thus to say, "I have renounced the
training," or "I will renounce the training," would not be a valid
statement of disrobing.
The witness must be a human being in his or her right mind, and
must understand what the bhikkhu says. This rules out the practice
legendary in Thailand of bhikkhus who disrobe by taking a Buddha
image as their witness, or who disrobe in front of a Bodhi tree on
the assumption that the tree deity counts.
These four factors cover all that is absolutely necessary for an
act of disrobing to be valid. However, each of the different
national traditions has developed a set of formal ceremonies to
surround the act -- such as making a final confession of all one's
offenses and reciting the passage for reflection on one's past use
of the four requisites -- to give psychological weight to the
occasion and to help minimize any sense of remorse one may feel
Because disrobing is a serious act with strong consequences for
one's mental and spiritual well being, it should be done only after
due consideration. Once a bhikkhu decides that he //does// want to
disrobe, he would be wise to follow not only the stipulations given
in the texts but also any additional customs dictated by the
traditions of his particular Community, as a sign to himself and to
others that he is acting seriously and with due respect both for the
religion and for himself.
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