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The Theravada Attitude to Discipline

Bhikkhu Nyanarama

The Mahaparinibbana Sutta deals with some important points in respect of the attitude of the theras towards the Vinaya which was considered by them the lifeblood of the dispensation. When the Vinaya and the Sutta rehearsals were over, Ananda informed the assembly that the Buddha had enjoined the Sangha to abrogate the lesser and minor rules if they so desired. The Mahaparinibbana Sutta and the Cullavagga record this incident in two different ways. The Sutta states this in a verb of the imperative mood while the Cullavagga uses an optative, thereby revealing, as it were, Ananda's willingness as such, to the abrogation of the rules in question.

The problematic situation created in the first council with reference to the identity of the lesser and minor rules, clearly indicates the position taken up by the theras headed by Mahakassapa who chaired the first council. As recorded in the Cullavagga, altogether five charges were levelled against Ananda when the rehearsal of the Dhamma-vinaya was over.

1. Ananda's failure to ask the Buddha as to the contents of lesser and minor rules.
2. Sewing the Master's garment used for the rainy season by resting his feet upon it.
3. Permitting women to worship the body of the Master and thereby allowing the body to be defiled by the tears shed by them.
4. Negligence displayed in not requesting the Master to live for an aeon (kappa).
5. Persuading the Buddha to admit womankind into the dispensation by speaking on behalf of them before the Buddha.

But the most striking thing is, according to Rockhill, who gives a record of the first council as found in the Tibetan sources, Ananda had been charged *before* the council proper, which was held for the purpose of rehearsing the word of the Buddha and was sent away being asked to attain sainthood before returning. This very Ananda without whom the rehearsal of the Dhamma could not have been accomplished! Rockhill gives seven charges in all.

The fourth and the sixth of his list are not found in the Pali record. However they are not of special significance. The reasons for not providing the Buddha with pure water when He was thirsty have been recorded in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta in detail, which is the fourth charge levelled against Ananda in Rockhill's list. The sixth is the exhibition of the secret parts of the Buddha's body, which the Buddha Himself had done when He was alive, in order to dispel doubts in the mind of a brahmin.

What is significant is the fifth charge given in the Rockhill's list which is the first in the Theravada list found in the Cullavagga. Notably, the Theravadins gave precedence to a charge that dealt directly with the disciplinary code.

The Buddha who enjoined the disciples to regard the Dhammavinaya as the Teacher when He is no more, further asked them to abrogate the lesser and minor rules after His demise if they desired to do so. Could there be any reason for this pronouncement? What was the purpose of it? What prompted the Buddha to permit them to abrogate those rules?

As found in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta when the Buddha asked Ananda to levy brahmadanda to Channa, Ananda was mindful enough to beg for an explanation of brahmadanda from the Buddha. But in this particular case why did Ananda not inquire from the Buddha what those lesser and minor rules were. The problem has to be investigated comparatively, because the step taken in this regard has paved the way subsequently for lasting consequences resulting in the division of the original Sangha into different schools.

Ananda placed the problem of lesser and minor rules just after the rehearsal of Dhammavinaya. He informed the assembly that the Buddha had given permission to abrogate them after the Buddha's demise if the Sangha so desired. Then the question was discussed at length and ultimately, as opinions differed, they came to the conclusion that they would not repeal any of the lesser and minor rules. What is more relevant in this connection is the different opinions expressed in regard to the rules under discussion. Some of the participants went to the extent of declaring that most rules other than the four defeats (Parajikas) were lesser and minor rules.

Were the theras who took part in the council ignorant of the rules in question? Certainly it would be much more plausible to place the problem in historical perspective. Jotiya Dhirasekera, approaching the problem from a different angle, states: "It is important to recognise the fact that there seems to have existed even during the time of the Buddha, a category of sikkhapadas carrying the designation of lesser and minor rules or khuddanukhuddaka", which probably suggests the existence of a code of discipline where rules were codified in respect of the gravity of the offence involved.

The second of the Sahadhammika Vagga of the pacittiya rules directly deals with these lesser and minor rules which says that if any monk 'voices dissatisfaction' when the Patimokkha is being recited, saying what is the use of these lesser and minor rules which result in remorse, weariness and perplexity, commits a pacittiya offence. Evidently, when the Vinayapitaka, where the above rule is included, was being recited at the council, Upali who had been assigned the pre-eminent position among Vinayadharas as well as Ananda along with other theras were present with Thera Mahakassapa in the chair. But nobody posed the question as to what were the rules intended by the phrase 'khuddanukhuddaka'. The silence on the part of the participants show that they were well aware of the nature of khuddanukhuddakas or lesser and minor rules.

However one thing is clear from the rule. The lesser and minor rules are part and parcel of the Patimokkha and that they are to be recited fortnightly at the Patimokkha recital along with the rest of the rules. The present Patimokkha consists of the following rules : parajikas, sanghadisesa, aniyatas, nissaggiya pacittiyas, patidesaniyas, sekhiyas and adhikarana samathas.

As both the Mahavagga and the Cullavagga are not recited at the Uposatha ceremony held fortnightly, the rules in question should be in one of these groups. It is said in the Pacittiya Pali that the group of six (Chabbaggiyas) are the cause of levying this Vinaya rule. Further it is said that they, giving popularity to this idea in order to discourage the monks, caused them to refrain from Vinaya study; but what we understand from the rule is that it is a pacittiya offence to voice dissatisfaction while the Patimokkha recitation is in progress. This discrepancy however reveals, on the other hand, that there were some monks who wanted to leave out the lesser and minor rules not only from the fortnightly recital but from the Vinaya Pitaka as well.

When the question of their identity arose at the end of the council, Upali the Vinaya expert, should have been consulted by the theras. But according to Cullavagga, Upali's opinion was not sought. The old commentary embedded in the Pacittiya Pali also does not comment on the phrase, 'khuddanukhuddaka'. Even Buddhaghosa in his Vinaya commentary Samantapasadika dismisses the expression by merely saying 'with lesser and minor rules (khuddakehi ca anukhuddakehi ca)'. Neither the Pacittiya Pali nor the Samantapasadika are helpful in getting the import of the phrase clarified.

Nevertheless, the same problem was placed before Nagasena by Milinda some five centuries after the rehearsal, which Nagasena solved by giving a very terse reply:

"O King; wrong doings are the lesser rules, wrong utterances are the minor rules."

The most striking incident in the record of the first council is the silence of the theras in regard to the Pacittiya rule. When it was being rehearsed, as it seems, there was no question as to the definition of lesser and minor rules at all which shows that the rules in question were known to them. But the paradox is at the end of the council, when they could not even come to a decision as to the identity of those rules. However, it is noteworthy how Nagasena came out with a ready reply with a precise definition.

The Buddha's intention was to hand over the controlling power of the Sangha to the Sangha themselves. He wanted to create an atmosphere amicable for free administration and growth of the dispensation. Therefore not only legislative but executive power as well were relegated to the Sangha themselves. Nevertheless, when the Buddha was alive the Sangha had no authority to levy disciplinary rules and in every way the Buddha was held supreme. It was the Buddha who had the authority to levy disciplinary rules when there were complaints in regard to the misconduct of individual monks. Conflicting views that could arise by the account of the Cullavagga and the Mahaparinibbana Sutta could be dispelled by discerning the Buddha's attitude towards monastic discipline.

How far is it reasonable to charge Ananda at the end of the council for not inquiring from the Buddha as to what were the lesser and the minor rules? Buddhaghosa, commenting upon the incident, points out: "The import is, if the Sangha desires, let the Sangha repeal them. Why did the Buddha, without directly asking them to repeal them, use these optional terms? Because He foresaw the power of Mahakassapa. Indeed even the Buddha though enjoining the Sangha to repeal them after His demise realised that Mahakassapa would not do away with those rules in question. Hence the Buddha left the problem to be decided by the Sangha". He further states that Thera Nagasena has replied in order to ensure that there should be no opportunity for opponents. Buddhaghosa therefore concludes: "This being the case Mahakassapa suggested that they should not repeal the lesser and minor rules." Thereupon the assembly agreed to leave them as they were. As commented upon by Buddhaghosa, what we can understand is, Ananda would not have been charged at the council for the question of lesser and minor rules.

Dhammapala in his sub-commentary, commenting upon the problem, states three opinions that could be deduced from the decision of the council:

1. There shall be monks who do not like to observe the lesser and minor rules but they will be prompted to think that even though the Buddha had enjoined them to repeal them they are bound by them because of the decision of the Sangha at the first council.

2. The entire dispensation belongs to the monks themselves. It is clear from the fact that even though they had been allowed by the Buddha, they did not like to repeal the lesser and the minor rules.

3. The monks prefer to observe these rules even though the Buddha had asked them to do away with them. This is clear evidence to the magnanimity of the Sangha.

Now, it is clear from the above discussion that both Buddhaghosa and Dhammapala do not in any measure level a charge against Ananda in regard to the so-called negligence shown by him in not inquiring from the Buddha as to what those rules were. If this is the case it is very difficult to justify the accusation against Ananda at the first council. Indeed, with the demise of the Buddha, the Thera Mahakassapa had to act responsibly which he did. The enthusiasm shown by him just after the cremation is commendable and he continued to put forth his effort to maintain peace and unity in the order.

After the demise of the Buddha, he had determined to convene a council in order to conserve the doctrine and discipline and hand it over to future generations undistorted and intact. A statement found in the Digha Nikaya could be cited in this connection, where it is stated categorically that the monks of the Buddhist order would not at any cost transgress those obligatory rules levied by the Buddha. It runs thus: "It may happen Chunda; the wanderers teaching other views than ours may declare: the Sakyan recluses are inconsistent in the doctrine they hold. To them thus declaring this might be replied: Brother, the Exalted One who sees, Worthy, Supremely Enlightened hath taught and made known to His disciples doctrines not to be transgressed so long as life shall last. Just as a pillar of stone or iron, with base deep-planted, well fixed, unshaking, unquivering even so are those doctrines."

This clearly depicts the attitude of the theras in regard to the rules in question. It would actually mean that the disciples of the Buddha, unlike the disciples of Niganthanataputta do not transgress the rules laid down by the Master even under provocation.

Even though the Buddha had not appointed a successor, the solidarity seen in the community of monks after His demise was commendable. It was a matter of grave concern for those who anticipated a decline in the order with the demise of the Teacher. When this question was raised by the brahmin Vassakara, Ananda replied: "O Brahmana; rules have been levied by the Buddha, the Fully Enlightened, Omniscient and Perfect One for monks and the recitation of the same is enjoined and we who live in each locality get together and recite the rules which are obligatory. When we come across anyone who has transgressed, we deal with him in accordance with the Dhamma, in accordance with Vinaya. It is not that we deal with him, it is the law that deals with him."

The Sangha depend on the laity for their sustenance. The goodwill and munificence of the laity are directed towards them only when they are convinced of the piety and demeanour of Sangha living up to the disciplinary measures in force. Therefore the disciples who disregard the discipline and live on their own accord, will undoubtedly subject themselves to despise and scorn. Hence it is clear from Ananda's reply to Vassakara that even Ananda had the impression that the solidarity would prevail among the Sangha as long as the discipline stands as the guideline for them.

Nagasena, in replying to Milinda with reference to lesser and minor rules, says that the Buddha's concern was the response of the theras and states further: "The monks, the sons of Sakya, will observe an even extra hundred and fifty rules with the intention of getting rid of suffering. If this is the case, how could one think of repealing the already levied hundred and fifty rules?" When we take these into account it is extremely clear as to what the theras wanted to emphasise. After the recital of Dhammavinaya, Mahakassapa and the theras put off the question of lesser and minor rules as they could not come to a decision with regard to their identity. This is what we find in the Cullavagga account dealing with the first council held at Rajagaha, just three months after the demise of the Buddha. Different views have been put forward in regard to the apparent riddle of lesser and minor rules, a problem already solved by a resolution unanimously voted for, stating the intention of not repealing any of them.

These views seem contradictory and meaningless, because one will not be able to repeal any law if he is not aware what sort of law it is. Therefore it is plausible to think that if those theras who participated in the council did not know what these rules were in the real sense of the phrase, they should have declared that those rules were not known to them.

The history of Buddhism in India shows that the question of lesser and minor rules subsequently contributed to the breaking away of Mahasanghikas from original Sangha thereby giving birth to two different sects or schools of Buddhis viz.: Theravada and Mahasanghika. Thereafter on various doctrinal issues many Buddhist sects came into being and during the time of Asoka in the 3rd century B.C. it is said that there were not less than eighteen schools.

Had the theras abrogated those lesser and minor rules at the First Council, the question of the ten points practised by Vajjian monks would not have arisen and the Sangha would have remained one and the theras of the second council would not have taken such strict measures to prevent the practice of ten points professed by the monks of the Vajjian confederacy which had been governed by democratic principles. Moreover the unity of the Sangha would have prevailed and the history of Buddhist thought would have taken a different course.

The intention of Mahakassapa is distinctly seen in this connection. To put it in his own words: "Not to enforce new rules and not to do away with those that are in force" was the motive of Mahakassapa, to which he managed to get the consent of the other participants, too. He had been commended even by the Buddha for his austere life. Evidently, by the time of the Buddha's demise, what was proper and improper for the monks and what were the obligatory rules for them had been known even to the lay followers. Negligence in this regard therefore would naturally lead to an unbecoming repercussion on the order. People would be in an uproar, that the discipline existed only as long as the funeral pyre was burning. Therefore it was incumbent on them to devise ways and means to win the confidence of the laity at large, for the sustenance and growth of the dispensation wholly depended upon the liberality of the lay followers.

According to Sarvastivada, Mahisasaka and Dharmaguptaka sources, Ananda reports the Buddha's request to the assembly and adds further that the ill-health of the Master prevented him getting a clarification as to the identity of the lesser and minor rules. The Mahasanghikas however state that though the Buddha had asked Ananda to remind Him of abrogating these rules before His demise Ananda had not complied with the request. Although the opinions are divergent in regard to the lesser and minor rules, all these schools including Theravada are unanimous in stating that the intention of the Buddha was to do away with them if the Sangha desired to do so.

In this context it would be very interesting to note how the two works, the Mahaparinibbana Sutta and the Cullavagga, refer to the abrogation of the lesser and minor rules. The Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta enjoined Ananda to remove or to abolish (samuhanatu = sam + aahana + tu, from the root 'han' to kill, imperative 3rd person singular) the rules in question if the monks so desire after His demise. But Mahakassapa as found in the Cullavagga categorically states that they are not to break up or to extirpate (samucchindeyya = sam + ud + chid + eyya; from the root 'chid' to cut; optative 3rd person singular) the rules already in existence.

So his determination of keeping the rules as they were is clearly seen in his attempt at shifting the emphasis from 'samuhanatu' to 'samucchindeyya'. His attitude towards the discipline is also worthy of note, for he had to bear the responsibility with none to share it all railing round him for guidance and patronage. Ultimately, at the end of the proceedings, all agreed "to establish nothing that has not been prescribed and abrogate nothing that has already been established and act in accordance with the rules of the order as now laid down."

Now we have come to a position where we are capable of analysing a statement which seems to be a factual interpolation, found in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta referring to the enforcing of new rules for the order. The foregoing discussion would undoubtedly throw a flood of light on the matter in scrutinising new material which found its way into the Sutta due to a particular preventive measure taken by the redactors of the canon. The statement: "So long as the brethren shall establish nothing that has not been prescribed and abrogate nothing that has already been established" comes in an appropriate context in the Cullavagga, because levying new rules by the monks is a situation contemplated to have been, after the demise of the Teacher. Therefore evidently, the above reference in the Cullavagga is befitting the context, for it was not necessary to formulate rules by the monks for the order when the Buddha was still living. But how far is the statement relevant to the narrative of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta? The commentary on the Mahaparinibbana Sutta is also not capable of dispelling our doubts arising from the context in which it occurs.

The Buddha in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta preaches seven conditions of welfare to the Licchavis of Vesali as found in the Anguttara Nikaya. He preached these conditions to the Licchavis when He was residing at the Sarandada Shrine in Vesali. When the brahmin Vassakara visited the Buddha at Rajagaha and intimated to the Buddha as to King Ajatasattu's intention of building a fortress in order to conquer the Vajjians, the Buddha questioned Ananda as to whether they were practising the seven conditions of welfare He had preached to them on a previous occasion. This is found in detail in the Anguttara Nikaya, but the Mahaparinibbana Sutta excludes the first part of the discourse and continues the story beginning from the inquiry of the Buddha. Obviously the Mahaparinibbana Sutta is not worried about the first part of the discourse, only the appropriate portio having been quoted and inserted in it.

Some ideas pertaining to the political and social philosophies of the Buddha can be seen in these seven conditions of welfare. According to Mahaparinibbana Sutta when Vassakara went away, the Buddha asked Ananda to assemble all the monks residing in Rajagaha and preached to them five sets of seven conditions of welfare along with a set of six conditions. Though the first set of seven has a direct bearing on our present discussion the rest are quite out of context. Both are found in the Anguttara Nikaya as well.

In one of these conditions of welfare it is stated that the approval given to elderly monks, who bear the burden of the order, to perform procedural acts, result in the progress of individual monks who are still being disciplined in the Path. This indirectly suggests that there had been a considerable amount of conflicting opinions among the Sangha by that time, and both the conservatives and the liberal new entrants to the order were contesting each other in order to establish their own way of thinking and interpretation. Probably with the demise of the Buddha there might have been the temptation to effect internal changes to the discipline in the order. Hence it is reasonable to think that these conditions of welfare for the order must have been taken from the Anguttara Nikaya and included in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta by the unknown compiler of the discourse.

How did the third in the first set of seven conditions of welfare of the order, which reads: "So long as the brethren shall establish nothing that has not been already prescribed and abrogate nothing that has already been established and act in accordance with the rules of the order as now laid down" find a place in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta? This seems to be an anachronism. This actually is the point expressed by Mahakassapa at the end of the first council held three months after the Buddha's demise. On the other hand it goes against the Buddha who permitted Ananda to do away with the lesser and minor rules after His demise.

Even during the life time of the Buddha the order of monks was taking a monastic turn. The early itinerant mendicant life was gradually evolving into a settled life in monasteries. King Bimbisara, with the permission of the Buddha offered Veluvana in Rajagaha to the Buddha, to be used it as a resort for the Buddha and the community of monks. Since then monasteries were built by the laity and offered to the community. Consequently life in monasteries evolved in a certain pattern and with more leisure and comfort the monks took themselves to literary and religious activities and much later in history to social activity as well. Forest dwelling though regarded as the ideal life of a monk, in the succeeding centuries it was practised less and less. Very many preferred to live in monasteries in constant association with lay followers.

There were of course some who resorted to forest life. Besides, the theras always encouraged the initiates to take up forest dwelling. Mahakassapa who had spent the greater part of his life in forests is foremost among them. The attitude to forest life is clearly seen in the sixth condition of welfare meant for monks: "So long as the brethren delighted in a life in the forest so long may the brethren may be expected not to decline but to prosper." Moreover there was a conscious attempt on the part of the theras to create an atmosphere for discipline and control, for it is said in the fourth condition of welfare: "So long as the brethren honour and esteem, revere and support the elders of experience and long standing, the fathers and leaders of the order and hold it a point to listen to their words, the brethren may be expected not to decline but to prosper."

Therefore it could be surmised that the first set of seven conditions of welfare found in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta meant for monks must have been modelled on the conditions preached to the Vajjians by the Buddha. Also these conditions could have been used as guidelines to overcome diverse views arising in the community. The rest of the sets of conditions could have been taken from the Anguttara Nikaya or from some other source unknown to us and included here to make the episode a relevant whole. It should be stated that a good number of these forty-one conditions of welfare must have been preached by the Buddha and included in the discourse in its historical development. It may be a period anterior to the first schism in the community. If they had taken them from the Anguttara Nikaya and interpolated them in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, one may naturally ask why those which had direct relevance to our discussion have not been taken from the Anguttara Nikaya; the clarification of which is to be attempted after a structural analysis of the Anguttara Nikaya.

The fact that the theras did not tolerate changes effecting the order in any way, could be seen in many instances. Mahakassapa on one occasion expressed his grave concern in regard to the bare fact that there were few who attained realisation when there were so many precepts whereas there were many who attained realisation when there were few precepts. Yet another thera, called Parapariya, totally condemned the behaviour of the monks saying that they were then different in conduct. Therefore it was necessary to devise ways and means to make the monks live in accordance with the ancient traditions. Hence the word of the "theras who have experience and who are long-standing, the leaders of the order" had to be pinpointed along with the relative importance of listening to them.

The points so far discussed could be summarized thus: There was a decision as to what the lesser and minor rules were. This decision had been taken even during the life time of the Buddha. It had been known even to Ananda. Therefore he did not think of asking the Buddha for clarification as to what was meant by the phrase "Khuddanukkhuddaka". Subhadda's utterance, too, could be taken as suggestive of the widespread opinion that these rules had to be done away with. The theras who knew what had happened to the Jain Order after the passing away of Mahavira inclined to take measures to conserve the discipline intact. Therefore, Ananda who intimated to the assembly what the Buddha had asked him, was lingering between two worlds. He was certainly facing an embarrassing situation; on the one hand his utmost respect towards the theras and on the other hand the responsibility arising from the permission given to him by the Buddha in regard to the rules in question tormented him. But in the end he was asked to admit an offence of wrong doing which he admitted in view of his respect towards the theras.

Both Nagasena and Buddhaghosa looked at the problem with the responsibility of upholding the tradition, whereas Dhammapala commented upon the phrase very freely. Conditions of welfare meant for the order also an echo of the procedure adopted at the council, must have been included in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta in order to give authority to the word of the theras. Nevertheless we do not know for certain whether these conditions have been taken from the Anguttara Nikaya or from any other source by the redactors of the canon.


Source: Dhamma-List, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dhamma-list/, Wed Aug 13, 2003
(posted by Robert T Eddison)

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