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breaking up



all that glitters

is not gold

The vinaya forms one of the three 'baskets' of the Buddhist scriptures. [see: TEACHINGS - TI-PITAKA]. It is part of the way the Buddha defined the religion he developed - the other part being the teachings, the Dhamma, and the couplet dhamma-vinaya is often encountered in scriptures. It is not possible to cultivate Buddhist practice without both of these being present in some way. For lay people basic vinaya takes the form of the five precepts.

"Just as the sea has a single taste, that of salt, so too the Dhamma and Vinaya have a single taste: that of release, nibbana."

The Buddha didn't lay out all the rules at once, they developed over time in response to particular incidents. The vinaya details these incidents along with various 'origin stories' which help in understanding the reasons behind the rules. Some of the stories are classics of Buddhist literature, and show a dry, understated sense of humor together with a perceptive insight into human nature. The number of rules grew and were eventually codified into the 227 rules found in the monks' code of discipline - the patimokkha.
= [that which is] conducive to breaking up or dispelling [hindrances / rebirth]. It is interesting to note that vinayako = spiritual leader, a Buddha.
Patimokkha = thorough bond. - 'that which binds the community together'
Why Rules:
The Buddha, in laying down each rule, gave ten reasons (in 5 pairs) for doing so:
for the excellence and well being of the Community,
the control of ill-behaved monks and the comfort of well-behaved monks,
the restraint of bad habits in this life and the prevention of bad habits in the next,
the arousing of faith in the faithless and the increase of faith in the faithful,
the establishment of the Dhamma and support of vinaya.
So the rules are intended to ensure harmony within the sangha and to foster faith. Overall they are to restrain and prevent mental bad habits within individual monks. This encourages mindfulness and reflection in actions of body and speech - both qualities which enhance the training of the mind.

Rules in general are usually not very popular; often being seen as an impediment to what 'I' want. They get in my way! It is obvious that it would be impossible to have a society without rules - imagine no road rules - but which rules? The monastic standard is set in relation to the patimokkha which provides an objective standard which, allowing it was developed over 2000 years ago and is not subject to change, can't be seen as any particular individual 'laying their trip' on the community. The paradox of rules is that the more precisely a definition is sought to contain a particular situation the less well it may fit other situations. This is where it is important to consider the principles involved. What was the Buddha pointing to when he outlined this rule? For example, the rule about money is literally about 'not handling gold and silver'. So, say the cheeky ones: 'paper money is OK, and, credit cards even better'. The spirit of this rule is about giving up the power that money offers. This challenges my desires and wish for independence which directly supports consideration of the second Noble Truth. This is dhamma-vinaya at work.
Even in the Buddha's time situations arose that weren't exactly covered by a rule and he laid out The Four Great Standards which encourages comparison with existing rules. Determining what situation suitably compares with what rule is not the decision of the individual and generally the consent of the resident community would be needed.

Although the list of 227 rules can seem a bit daunting, most are refinements of the eight precepts kept by anagarikas (novices) and as one commits to the holy life, through the various levels of ordination, the boundaries of behaviour become more contained and limited, the necessity for cultivating restraint is increased. To the desire mind this sounds crippling - I can't sing or dance, I can't have a girl friend, I can't.... and on, and on. The mind feels stiffled and without a sound appreciation of the third Noble Truth - letting go of desire - vinaya becomes a formula for disaster. Renunciation is not supression and there is a vast difference between letting go of desire and suppressing desire.



you know

you want to



Restraint around sexuality may be useful as an example. Because sex is such a major factor in most peoples lives many find it hard to understand celibacy and see it as some kind of repression. I often ask these people what they do when they feel sexually attracted to someone. I mean, do you just jump in there all grabbing and groping? Some do I guess but usually there is some restraint. This can be through fear but it is possible - say, through faithfulness to one's partner - to just let go of the idea of that particular energy finding any expression. The energy may well still be there but it is not 'fed' in any way. Like a dog that runs up to you and wants to play. Yap! Yap! It wants attention. Sorry doggie but I'm not available. Chances are it sees it's not going to get attention right now and wanders off.
There is also a need here to appreciate the principle of anatta - impersonality or not-self. The point is, it's not even my dog. The use of vinaya as part of the process of letting go applies not just socially in relation to 'bad habits' (the conditioning of the mind) but as a reflection on the impersonality of both the mind and the body. The various thoughts, feelings and energies that we experience can be seen arising dependent on various conditions - they arise and pass away. Vinaya contains the habitual response and offers space for reflection. What is this thought? What is this feeling? Do I have to do anything with it? In the space created, one gets the opportunity to investigate and understand the nature of desire.
With a relatively high level of renunciation in a monastery what is available becomes limited and it is often quite absurd to see the levels to which the desire mind will stoop. Monks have alms bowls which sit on nice bamboo stands. Making these stands is quite a process and some can be real works of art. And you're sitting at the meal. The new monk comes in and sets up his bowl. And the bowl stand! Don' t be silly, it's just a bowl stand, you're a grown man and you have a perfectly good stand already. Yes. You know the logic but the desire mind has no pride. It wants something, anything. Food is limited and one can find the mind coveting another monks pear. It becomes so absurd sometimes that it suddenly falls into perspective. Let go. Relax.

The rules themselves can be roughly divided into four groups. See: RESOURCES-READ-patimokkha for details.
4 Rules of defeat - i.e. automatic excommunication. If one of the rules in this group is broken it is not possible for that person to reordain. They are obviously critical and are taught to a new monk literally within minutes of his ordination.
13 with some 'penance'. (penance has the connotation of punishment which is not truely accurate here). This group is seen as major transgressions and the rectification involves quite a process which is aimed not at punishment but at increasing the monks mindfulness around the particular area of fault. Many factors of this process require particular humility on the part of the transgressor which tends to generate a sense of remorse and regret. He is on probation for six days, during which time he loses seniority, lives 'aside' from the community, is not trusted to go anywhere unaccompanied, and daily has to confess his offense to every monk who lives in or happens to visit the monastery. At the end of his probation, twenty monks have to be convened to reinstate him to his original status. What a hassle! Best be a good monk.


30 with forfeiture of some (inappropriate) item. This group deals largely with bowls and robes - significant items in a monk's life. Requisites generally that have been inappropriately acquired must be given up; some can be returned.
All the rest - these are 'confessable'. The word confession has associations with sin but the rules have no 'theistic' connection and are about sangha harmony, faith and mind training. The confession would usually take place fortnightly on the moon day although it can happen any time. Two monks would meet and the junior would pay respects to the senior. The formal ceremony is chanted in Pali but it is not uncommon for a monk to clearly indicate in English the particular rules that he has transgressed; the aim of the confession being to focus the monk's mind on his unskilful tendencies through body, speech and mind. The formla is a simple series of statements and responses repeated four times for each of four classes of rules:

'Venerable Sir, several times I have transgressed these rules and I now confess this to you.'
'Do you clearly see where you have transgressed?'
'Yes, Venerable Sir, I clearly see my faults.'
'In future you should practice restraint in these matters.'
'Well spoken Venerable Sir, I will indeed practice restraint.' [repeated 3 times - to reinforce this intention]

not clearly seen


I see me

The rules are not primarily judicial but aim at illuminating the variety of unskilful mindstates we are suseptible to and, as many of them are minor, the hope is that any regular tendency to transgress - being regularly brought to light - will be clearly seen, understood, and let go of. For example, the second rule of defeat is about stealing and three parts of the definition have to do with the mindstate of the monk.
1) Object: anything belonging to another person, a group of persons, or a location.
2) Perception: One perceives that the object belongs to another person, etc.
3) Intention: One decides to steal it.
4) Effort: One takes possession of it.
Stealing under any circumstances is always an offense. However, the severity of the offense depends on another factor, which is:
5) The value of the object.
Of these five it is intention which acts as a major pivotal point. We all have a degree of mental delusion and do things out of habit or confusion in the 'heat' of a situation. Yes, you did it but, did you mean to do it? Were you quite clear in your mind about what you were doing? Often, with thought in retrospect, the answer is no. OK then, watch out for that tendency - don't do it again.

Vinaya is meant to act as a mirror - to reflect the various mind states that occur - to highlight unskilful mind states (so they might be avoided), and to support the development of the skilful ones. The Buddha's first instruction about behaviour was on the full moon of Magha and is known as the Ovada Patimokkha. [d-load the song] This was the foundation of vinaya. 'Do good, refrain from wrong and purify the mind.' Now, that's not difficult - is it?