Introduction to the Patimokkha Rules
In recent years more and more Westerners have come into contact with Theravada Buddhist monks, and many have become curious about the rules governing the monks' life. This introduction is meant to help satisfy that curiosity by giving a brief explanation of the rationale behind the rules and their enforcement, and by providing summaries of the rules, classed according to topic. Anyone interested in more information on the rules and their interpretation may look into the book, The Buddhist Monastic Code: The Patimokkha Training Rules Translated and Explained.
One of the first questions that many people ask is why the monks have rules in the first place. Since the Dhamma aims at freedom and depends on self-reliance, wouldn't it be better to let the monks develop their own innate sense of right and wrong unfettered by legalisms?
The answer to this question lies in the fact that the monks form a Community, reliant on the support of lay Buddhists, and anyone who has lived for any time in a communal situation knows that communities need rules in order to function peacefully. The Buddha, in laying down each rule, gave ten reasons for doing so: for the excellence of the Community, the peace of the Community, the curbing of the shameless, the comfort of well-behaved bhikkhus, the restraint of pollutants related to the present life, the prevention of pollutants related to the next life, the arousing of faith in the faithless, the increase of the faithful, the establishment of the true Dhamma and the fostering of discipline.
These reasons fall into three main types. The first two are external: to ensure peace and well-being within the Community itself, and to foster and protect faith among the laity, on whom the monks depend for their support. The third type of reason is internal: to help restrain and prevent mental pollutants within the individual monks. This last point quickly becomes apparent to anyone who seriously tries to keep to the rules, for they encourage mindfulness and circumspection in one's actions, qualities that carry over into the training of the mind.
Rules, however, are not the only way to express ethical norms, and the Buddha also made use of principles and models in teaching the virtues he wanted his following to develop. The rules thus function in a wider context than simple legality, and work together with the principles and models formulated by the Buddha to provide a complete training in behavior, with each side making up for the weaknesses of the other.
Principles and models serve as personal, subjective standards, and tend to be loosely defined. Their interpretation and application are left to the judgment of the individual. Thus they are difficult to enforce when an individual has blatantly overstepped the bounds of proper behavior.
Rules serve as more objective standards, and thus are more enforceable. To work, they must be precisely defined in a way acceptable to the Community at large. This precision, though, accounts for their weakness in general as universal guides to behavior. To begin with, a clear, practical line must be drawn between black and white, i.e., between what is and is not an infraction of the rule. In some cases, it is difficult to find a practical break off point that corresponds exactly to one's intuitive sense of what is right and wrong, so it is sometimes necessary to include the areas of gray either with the black or the white.
Secondly, the more precisely a rule is defined to suit a particular time and place, the less well it may fit other times and places. This is where principles and models come in: They indicate the spirit of the rules and aid in applying them to differing contexts.
Thus as you look at the rules and contemplate them, you should keep in mind that they function in a larger context: the teachings and practice of the Dhamma as a whole. The Buddha's own name for the religion he founded was Dhamma-Vinaya, so remember that neither half was meant to function without the other.
Origin of the Rules
The Buddha did not set out a code of rules all at once. Instead, he formulated rules one by one, in response to particular incidents. The Canon reports these incidents in each case, and often a knowledge of these "origin stories" can help in understanding the reasons behind the rules. For instance, the origin story to the rule forbidding lustful conduct between monks and women shows that the Buddha did not view women as somehow inferior or unclean. Rather, the rule comes from an incident where a monk was fondling the wife of a Brahman who had come to visit his hut, and the Buddha wanted women to feel safe in the knowledge that when visiting monasteries they would not be in danger of being molested.
Some of the stories are classics of Buddhist literature, and show a dry, understated sense of humor together with a perceptive insight into human foibles. The element of humor here is very important, for without it there can be no intelligent set of rules to govern human behavior.
As time passed, and the number of rules grew, some of the Buddha's followers, headed by Ven. Upali, gathered the major rules into a set code — the Patimokkha — that eventually contained 227 rules. The minor rules, which came to number several hundred, they gathered into chapters loosely organized according to topic, called Khandhakas.
The Patimokkha as we now have it is embedded in a text called the Sutta Vibhanga. This presents each rule, preceded by its origin story, and followed by what permutations, if any, it went through before reaching its final form. The rule is then analyzed into its component elements, to show how the factors of effort, object, perception, intention and result do or do not mitigate the penalty assigned by the rule. The discussion then concludes with a list of extenuating circumstances for which there is no offense in breaking the rule.
The system of penalties the Buddha worked out for the rules is based on two principles. The first is that the training aims primarily at the development of the mind. Thus the factors of intention and perception often determine whether or not a particular action is an infringement of a rule. For instance, killing an animal accidentally is, in terms of the mind of the agent, very different from killing it purposefully, and does not count as an infringement of the rule against killing.
There are a few rules where the factors of intention and perception make no difference at all — such as in the rule forbidding a monk to drink alcohol — but they almost always deal with situations where one would be expected to be mindful and perceptive enough to know what's going on, and so these rules too help in the training of the mind.
In any event, the system of analyzing each offense into the factors of effort, object, perception, intention and result shows how adherence to the rules leads directly to the development of concentration and discernment. If a monk is careful to view his actions in terms of these factors, he is developing mindfulness, an analytical approach to events in the present, and persistence. These are the first three factors for Awakening, and form the basis for the remaining four: rapture, serenity, concentration and equanimity.
The second principle used in determining penalties is based on the Buddha's observation to Ananda, one of his chief disciples, that friendship and companionship with the good is the whole of the religious life. Anyone who approaches the Dhamma seriously should be wise enough to realize that without the opportunity of associating and learning from people who are experienced on the path, it is well nigh impossible to make any progress on one's own. The monks are thus expected to value their good standing vis a vis the well-behaved members of their group, and so the system of punishments worked out by the Buddha revolves entirely around affecting the offender's status within the Community.
The Patimokkha classifies its rules into seven levels:
- pārājika, defeat;
- saṅghādisesa, entailing Communal meetings;
- nissaggiya pācittiya, entailing forfeiture and confession;
- pācittiya, entailing confession;
- pāṭidesanīya, entailing acknowledgement;
- sekhiya, trainings; and
- adhikaraṇa samatha, the settlement of issues.
If a monk breaks one of the four most serious rules — the pārājikas (Pr) — he is expelled from the Community for life. If he breaks one of the next most serious classes of the rules — the saṅghādisesas (Sg) — he is put on probation for six days, during which time he is stripped of his seniority, is not trusted to go anywhere unaccompanied by four other monks of regular standing, 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.
The next three levels of rules — nissaggiya pācittiya (NP), pācittiya (Pc), and pāṭidesanīya (Pd) — entail simple confession to a fellow monk, although the NP rules involved an article that has to be forfeited — in most cases temporarily, although in a few cases the object has to be forfeited for good, in which case the offender has to confess his offense to the entire Community.
If a monk commits an offense and refuses to undergo the penalty, the Community may decide how seriously they take the matter. Since there is no monks' police beyond the individual's conscience, it may often happen that no one else knows of the offense to begin with, and nothing is done. If however it becomes common knowledge, and the Community regards it as a serious matter, they should talk privately with the monk to help him see the error of his ways. If he is recalcitrant, they may strip him temporarily of his status, either by censuring him, stripping him of his seniority, driving him from the Community, or suspending him from the Order of monks as a whole. If the offender sees the error of his ways and reforms his behavior accordingly, the Community may return him to his former status.
Now of course there may be some hardened souls among the monks who are unfazed by punishments of this sort, but we should note that the Buddha saw no use for physical coercion in enforcing his rules. If a monk had to be physically forced into abiding by the training, his heart wouldn't be in it, and there is no way that he could benefit from it. Such monks the Buddha considered beyond the pale, although he allowed them to stay on in the Community in hopes that eventually their conscience would get the better of them. In the meantime, the law of karma would guarantee that in the long run, they would not be getting away with anything at all.
The final two levels of rules in the Patimokkha do not give a particular penalty. The sekhiya (Sk) rules — dealing primarily with etiquette — simply state that one should work at following them. The Sutta Vibhanga explains that if one oversteps them out of disrespect, one should confess the fact. The adhikaraṇa samatha (As) rules are not so much rules as they are principles to follow in dealing with issues that arise in the Community. If monks try to settle an issue without following these principles, their decision is invalid, and they must confess their wrongdoing to other monks who took no part in the decision.
With this background, we may now look at the content of the rules. What follows is a list summarizing the basic meanings of the rules, organized into five major categories: dealing with Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Communal harmony and the etiquette of a contemplative. The first three categories — the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path that make up the training in heightened virtue — are especially useful for showing how the rules relate to the Buddhist path as a whole.
These five categories are not sharply distinct types. Instead, they are more like the colors in the band of light thrown off by a prism — discernably different, but shading into one another with no sharp dividing lines. Right Speech, for instance, often shades into Communal harmony, just as Right Livelihood shades into personal etiquette. Thus the placement of a particular rule in one category rather than another has been a somewhat arbitrary process. There are a few cases — such as Pācittiyas 46 & 84 — where the reason for placing the rule in a particular category will become clear only after reading the detailed discussions in BMC.
Each rule is followed by a code giving the rule's number in its section of the Patimokkha.
If you count the number of rules in the list, you will see that they do not quite equal 227. This is because there are a couple of cases where I have condensed two or three Sekhiya rules into one summary.
Visiting lay families — without having informed an available bhikkhu — before or after a meal to which one has been invited is a pācittiya offense except during the robe season or any time one is making a robe. (Pc 46)
Entering a village, town, or city during the period after noon until the following dawn, without having taken leave of an available bhikkhu — unless there is an emergency — is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 85)
Intentionally bringing about the death of a human being, even if it is still a fetus — whether by killing the person, arranging for an assassin to kill the person, inciting the person to die, or describing the advantages of death — is a pārājika offense. (Pr 3)
Pouring water that one knows to contain living beings — or having it poured — on grass or clay is a pācittiya offense. Pouring anything that would kill the beings into such water — or having it poured — is also a pācittiya offense. (Pc 20)
Taking what is not given
When aiming at privacy, sitting or lying down alone with a woman in an unsecluded but private place is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 45)
Traveling by arrangement with a woman from one village to another is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 67)
MN 117 defines wrong livelihood as scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling, and pursuing gain with gain.
Acting as a go-between to arrange a marriage, an affair, or a date between a man and a woman not married to each other is a saṇghādisesa offense. (Sg 5)
Engaging in trade with anyone except one's co-religionists is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 20)
Keeping a piece of robe-cloth for more than ten days without determining it for use or placing it under shared ownership — except when the robe-season or kathina privileges are in effect — is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 1)
Being in a separate zone from any of one's three robes at dawn — except when one's kathina privileges are in effect or one has received formal authorization from the Community — is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 2)
Keeping out-of-season robe-cloth for more than 30 days when it is not enough to make a requisite and one has expectation for more — except when the robe-season and kathina privileges are in effect — is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 3)
When a lay person who is not a relative is planning to get a robe for one but has yet to ask one what kind of robe one wants: Receiving the robe after making a request that would improve it is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 8)
When two or more lay people who are not one's relatives are planning to get separate robes for one but have yet to ask one what kind of robe one wants: Receiving a robe from them after asking them to pool their funds to get one robe — out of a desire for something fine — is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 9)
Making a felt blanket/rug entirely of black wool for one's own use — or having it made — is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 12)
Making a felt blanket/rug that is more than one-half black wool for one's own use — or having it made — is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 13)
Unless one has received authorization to do so from the Community, making a felt blanket/rug for one's own use — or having it made — less than six years after one's last one was made is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 14)
Making a felt sitting rug for one's own use — or having it made — without incorporating a one-span piece of old felt is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 15)
Seeking and receiving a rains-bathing cloth before the fourth month of the hot season is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. Using a rains-bathing cloth before the last two weeks of the fourth month of the hot season is also a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 24)
Taking thread that one has asked for improperly and getting weavers to weave cloth from it — when they are unrelated and have not made a previous offer to weave — is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 26)
When donors who are not relatives — and have not invited one to ask — have arranged for weavers to weave robe-cloth intended for one: Receiving the cloth after getting the weavers to improve it is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 27)
When one is living in a dangerous wilderness abode during the month after the Rains-residence and has left one of one's robes in the village where one normally goes for alms: Being away from the abode and the village for more than six nights at a stretch — except when authorized by the Community — is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 29)
Wearing an unmarked robe is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 58)
Acquiring an overly large sitting cloth after making it — or having it made — for one's own use is a pācittiya offense requiring that one cut the cloth down to size before confessing the offense. (Pc 89)
Acquiring an overly large skin-eruption covering cloth after making it — or having it made — for one's own use is a pācittiya offense requiring that one cut the cloth down to size before confessing the offense. (Pc 90)
Acquiring an overly large rains-bathing cloth after making it — or having it made — for one's own use is a pācittiya offense requiring that one cut the cloth down to size before confessing the offense. (Pc 91)
Acquiring an overly large robe after making it — or having it made — for one's own use is a pācittiya offense requiring that one cut the robe down to size before confessing the offense. (Pc 92)
Eating any of the five staple foods that a lay person has offered as the result of a bhikkhunī's prompting — unless the lay person was already planning to offer the food before her prompting — is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 29)
Eating a meal before going to another meal to which one was invited, or accepting an invitation to one meal and eating elsewhere instead, is a pācittiya offense except when one is ill or during the time of giving cloth or making robes. (Pc 33)
Eating staple or non-staple food that is not left-over, after having earlier in the day finished a meal during which one turned down an offer to eat further staple food, is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 35)
Eating staple food accepted at a meal to which one has been invited and where a bhikkhunī has given directions, based on favoritism, as to which bhikkhu should get which food, and none of the bhikkhus have dismissed her, is a pāṭidesanīya offense. (Pd 2)
Building a plastered hut — or having it built — without a sponsor, destined for one's own use, without having obtained the Community's approval, is a saṇghādisesa offense. Building a plastered hut — or having it built — without a sponsor, destined for one's own use, exceeding the standard measurements, is also a saṇghādisesa offense. (Sg 6)
Building a hut with a sponsor — or having it built — destined for one's own use, without having obtained the Community's approval, is a saṇghādisesa offense. (Sg 7)
When a bhikkhu is building or repairing a large dwelling for his own use, using resources donated by another, he may not reinforce the window or door frames with more than three layers of roofing material or plaster. To exceed this is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 19)
Acquiring a bed or bench with legs longer than eight sugata fingerbreadths after making it — or having it made — for one's own use is a pācittiya offense requiring that one cut the legs down before confessing the offense. (Pc 87)
Acquiring a bed or bench stuffed with cotton down after making it — or having it made — for one's own use is a pācittiya offense requiring that one remove the stuffing before confessing the offense. (Pc 88)
Keeping any of the five tonics — ghee, fresh butter, oil, honey, or sugar/molasses — for more than seven days, unless one determines to use them only externally, is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 23)
When a fund for one's individual use has been set up with a steward, obtaining an article from the fund as a result of having prompted the steward more than the allowable number of times is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 10)
Bowls and other requisites
Carrying wool that has not been made into cloth or yarn for more than three leagues is a nissaggiya pācittiya offense. (NP 16)
Acquiring a needle box made of bone, ivory, or horn after making it — or having it made — for one's own use is a pācittiya offense requiring that one break the box before confessing the offense. (Pc 86)
To persist — after the third announcement of a formal rebuke in the Community — in trying to form a schismatic group or in taking up a position that can lead to schism is a saṇghādisesa offense. (Sg 10)
To persist — after the third announcement of a formal rebuke in the Community — in supporting a potential schismatic is a saṇghādisesa offense. (Sg 11)
To persist — after the third announcement of a formal rebuke in the Community — in being difficult to admonish is a saṇghādisesa offense. (Sg 12)
To persist — after the third announcement of a formal rebuke in the Community — in criticizing a banishment transaction performed against oneself is a saṇghādisesa offense. (Sg 13)
When a trustworthy female lay follower accuses a bhikkhu of having committed a pārājika, saṇghādisesa, or pācittiya offense while sitting alone with a woman in a private, secluded place, the Community should investigate the charge and deal with the bhikkhu in accordance with whatever he admits to having done. (Ay 1)
When a trustworthy female lay follower accuses a bhikkhu of having committed a saṇghādisesa or pācittiya offense while sitting alone with a woman in an unsecluded but private place, the Community should investigate the charge and deal with the bhikkhu in accordance with whatever he admits to having done. (Ay 2)
Persistently replying evasively or keeping silent in order to conceal one's own offenses when being questioned in a meeting of the Community — after a formal charge of evasive speech or being frustrating has been brought against one — is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 12)
When one has set a bed, bench, mattress, or stool belonging to the Community out in the open: Leaving its immediate vicinity without putting it away, arranging to have it put away, or taking leave is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 14)
When one has spread bedding out in a dwelling belonging to the Community: Departing from the monastery without putting it away, arranging to have it put away, or taking leave is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 15)
Intruding on another bhikkhu's sleeping or sitting place in a dwelling belonging to the Community, with the sole purpose of making him uncomfortable and forcing him to leave, is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 16)
Not informing another bhikkhu of a serious offense that one knows a third bhikkhu has committed — out of a desire to protect the third bhikkhu either from having to undergo the penalty or from the jeering remarks of other bhikkhus — is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 64)
Refusing — after the third announcement of a formal rebuke in a meeting of the Community — to relinquish the evil view that there is nothing wrong in intentionally transgressing the Buddha's ordinances is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 68)
When being admonished by another bhikkhu with regard to a training rule formulated in the Vinaya, saying something as a ploy to excuse oneself from training under the rule is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 71)
Using half-truths to deceive others into believing that one is ignorant of the rules in the Pāṭimokkha — after one has already heard the Pāṭimokkha in full three times, and a transaction exposing one's deceit has been brought against one — is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 73)
Getting up and leaving a meeting of the Community in the midst of a valid transaction that one knows to be valid — without having first given one's consent to the transaction and with the intention of invalidating it — is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 80)
When the Community is dealing formally with an issue, the full Community must be present, as must all the individuals involved in the issue; the proceedings must follow the patterns set out in the Dhamma and Vinaya. (As 1)
If a bhikkhu commits an offense, he should willingly undergo the appropriate penalty in line with what he actually did and the actual seriousness of the offense. (As 4)
If an important dispute cannot be settled by a unanimous decision, it should be submitted to a vote. The opinion of the majority, if in accord with the Dhamma and Vinaya, is then considered decisive. (As 5)
If a bhikkhu admits to an offense only after being interrogated in a formal meeting, the Community should carry out a further-punishment transaction against him, rescinding it only when he has mended his ways. (As 6)
If, in the course of a dispute, both sides act in ways unworthy of contemplatives, and the sorting out of the penalties would only prolong the dispute, the Community as a whole may make a blanket confession of its light offenses. (As 7)
The Etiquette of a Contemplative
Digging soil or commanding that it be dug is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 10)
Intentionally cutting, burning, or killing a living plant is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 11)
Picking up a valuable, or having it picked up, with the intention of putting it in safe keeping for the owner — except when one finds it in a monastery or in a dwelling one is visiting — is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 84)
Etiquette in inhabited areas
When going or sitting in inhabited areas, a bhikkhu should:
wear his robes so that they hang down evenly, covering his chest, knees, wrists, and everything in between.
refrain from playing with his hands or feet.
keep his gaze lowered except when it is necessary to look up.
refrain from hitching up his robe so that it exposes the side of his body.
refrain from laughing loudly or speaking loudly.
refrain from swinging his body, arms or head.
refrain from putting his arms akimbo.
refrain from covering his head unless the weather is unbearably cold or hot.
refrain from walking on tiptoe or just on his heels.
refrain from sitting with his knees held up, either by hugging them or by surrounding them with a strip of cloth. (Sk 3-26)
Receiving and eating almsfood
be mindful to receive them appreciatively.
focus his attention on the alms bowl.
take bean curry only in proper proportion to the rice.
accept no more food than will fill the bowl level to the bottom edge of the top rim. (Sk 27-30)
When eating, a bhikkhu should:
be mindful to eat his food appreciatively.
focus his attention on the bowl.
eat his food methodically, from one side of the bowl to the other.
eat bean curry only in proper proportion to the rice.
refrain from taking food from the middle of the heap in his bowl.
refrain from hiding his substantial food with rice, out of a hope of getting more.
refrain from looking at another bhikkhu's bowl intent on finding fault with him for not sharing his food.
refrain from making extra-large mouthfuls.
eat his rice in rounded mouthfuls.
refrain from opening his mouth until he has brought food to it.
refrain from putting his whole hand in his mouth.
refrain from speaking when there is so much food in his mouth that it affects his pronunciation.
refrain from lifting a large handful of food from his bowl and breaking off mouthfuls with the other hand.
refrain from nibbling bit by bit at his mouthfuls of food.
refrain from stuffing out his cheeks.
refrain from shaking food off his hands or scattering rice about.
refrain from sticking out his tongue or smacking his lips.
refrain from making a slurping noise.
refrain from licking his hands, his bowl or his lips.
refrain from accepting a water vessel with a hand soiled by food.
refrain from throwing away — in an inhabited area — bowl-rinsing water that has grains of rice in it.(Sk 31-36, 38-56)
has an umbrella in his/her hand.
has a staff in his/her hand.
has a knife in his/her hand.
has a weapon in his/her hand.
is wearing shoes, boots or sandals.
is sitting in a vehicle when the bhikkhu is in a lower vehicle or not in a vehicle at all.
is lying down when the bhikkhu is sitting or standing.
is sitting holding his/her knees.
is wearing a hat or a turban, or has covered his/her head with a scarf or shawl.
is sitting on a seat while the bhikkhu is sitting on the ground.
is sitting on a high seat while the bhikkhu is sitting on a lower seat.
is sitting while the bhikkhu is standing.
is walking ahead of the bhikkhu.
is walking on a path while the bhikkhu is walking beside the path. (Sk 57-72)
Urinating, defecating & spitting
- Introduction to the Patimokkha Rules
- Bhikkhu Pāṭimokkha - The Bhikkhus' Code of Discipline
- Bhikkhunī Pāṭimokkha - The Bhikkhunīs' Code of Discipline
"Introduction to the Patimokkha Rules", by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 23 April 2012, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/vin/sv/bhikkhu-pati-intro.html . Retrieved on 10 June 2013.