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Monastic Organizational Guidelines

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Monastic rulebooks, regulations, or codes exist wherever there are Buddhist monasteries. Rather than being commentaries to or explanations of the vinaya or the pratimokṣa vows, these works mostly pertain to the physical space of the monastic com- pound and its inhabitants.

Their rules are often perceived to be more provisional, more flexible, and more temporary than the rules or vows found in formal Vinaya literature.

This makes these works valuable for a study of the historical development of Buddhist monasteries and their organization.


Just as there are large differences among Buddhist monastic communities throughout Asia in terms of organization, layout, population, and so on, their regulations and rules also vary significantly.

The commonality among these diverse monastic regulations is that they deal either with the conduct, organization, and management of the population of monks at a monastery or with a combination of the above.

The authors of these texts are more often than not individuals with a certain level of author- ity, be it religious, political, or both. Therefore, such texts are frequently witness to the existing power relations at a given monastery at a certain time.

The intended audience of the texts can differ: certain monastic regulations meticulously prescribe the daily activities of monks (e.g. the Chanyuan qinggui [禪苑清規]; Yifa, 2002), whereas others appear to concern themselves only with the day-to-day management of the monastery.

Yet other monastic regulations are combinations of both and appear to address the monastic community as a whole, while occasionally singling out a certain segment of the monk population.


Possibly the earliest references to the organization and management of monks and monasteries can be found in Buddhist canonical works (e.g. Silk, 2008). These often consist of mere allusions to monastic organization contained within narratives.

Extant works that explicitly target monastic organization or the behavior of monks within the context of a monastic compound are of a later date, but there are indications that formal codes for local vihāras (taking this term in a broad sense) were in place at an early stage in the development of Buddhist monasticism.

The Sanskrit term kriyākāra (Tib. khrims su bca’ ba), translated as “local monasic ordinance” (Schopen, 2002), can be found in the Varṣāvastu section of the Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya



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