IN the present MSS. the Vinaya Pitaka is divided into the following books:
Called collectively the Sutta-vibhanga.
Called collectively the Khandhakas.
These books constitute that part of the sacred literature of the Buddhists which contains the regulations for the outward life of the members of the Buddhist Samgha—nearly the oldest, and probably the most influential, of all Fraternities of monks.
It is impossible to frame any narrower definition of the Vinaya than this, since the gradual change of circumstances in the Fraternity resulted in a gradual change also in the Vinaya itself. To give any more detailed account of what the Vinaya is, it will be necessary to trace what can be at present ascertained of its history; to show—that is, so far as it is yet possible to do so—the causes which led to the establishment of the oldest Rules and Ceremonies of the Order, and to follow step by step the accretions of new literary work around this older nucleus.
For this purpose we propose to consider first the Rules of the work called the Patimokkha; for the later texts presuppose its existence. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of all Buddhist text-books; and it has been inserted in its entirety into the first part of the Vinaya, the Vibhanga.
The Patimokkha—the meaning of the name will be discussed later on—seems to have owed its existence to the ancient Indian custom of holding sacred two periods in each month, the times of the Full Moon and of the New Moon.
The Vedic ceremonies of the Darsapurnamasa sacrifice, and of the feast or sacred day (Upavasatha) connected with it, are known to have been very old, and the custom of celebrating these days would naturally be handed on from the Brahmans to the different Samanas, and be modified and simplified (though, as it seems, sometimes increased in number) by them, in accordance with their creeds and their views of religious duty. According to Buddhist tradition—and we see no sufficient reason for doubting the correctness of the account—the monks of other, that is, of non-Buddhistic sects, used to meet together at the middle and at the close of every half-month, and were accustomed then to proclaim their new teaching in public. At such times the people would crowd together; and the different sects found an opportunity of increasing their numbers and their influence.
The Buddhists also adopted the custom of these periodical meetings, but confined themselves to meeting twice in each month3. And the peculiarity which gave to these meetings among the Buddhists their distinguishing character seems to have been borrowed by them neither from the Brahmans nor from other dissenters, but to have been an original invention of the Buddhists themselves. The Brethren and Sisters made use of these half-monthly gatherings to confess to the assembled Order the sins and faults which each of them had committed; and to take upon himself, or herself, the penance which the transgressor had thereby incurred. It would be unnecessary to dwell here upon the details of these penitential meetings, as we can refer the reader to the second book of the Mahavagga, where he will find them fully set out.
It was for use at such penitential gatherings that the text, now known as the Patimokkha, was composed. A list was drawn up—which of course it would be necessary from time to time to complete, and rectify— of those offences which ought to be confessed and atoned for; this list was read out in the half-monthly meetings of the Order; and the Brethren and Sisters who were present were asked if they were innocent of each one of the offences therein mentioned.
The use of such a list must have already begun in very early times. Tradition even ascribes the first laying down of each clause to the Buddha himself. This tradition is of course very far from being conclusive; but neither should we hold it impossible that the Patimokkha, either in its present shape, or at least in its most essential parts, can reach back to the Buddha’s own time, or to that of his personal disciples.
It is no doubt natural, through the influence of the history of early Christianity, or perhaps of the school of Socrates, to imagine that early Buddhism was far removed from all fixed and absolute forms, either of creed or of liturgy; and to represent the intercourse of Gotama and his disciples as purely and simply an interchange of spiritual edification, where the spirit was all in all, and the letter was nothing. But it should be remembered that Gotama continued to live for many years, almost for two generations, after he had formulated the essential points of his system, and after he had founded the brotherhood of his Order. And at that time the stream of scholastic and legal ideas which emanated from the earlier Brahmanism was flowing in full force through the religious circles of India. A rich phraseology of sacred and ecclesiastical expressions, an armory of technical terms in philosophy and in theology (still preserved in the Brahmanas and Upanishads), had been developed and made ready for the use of the Buddhists, and Gainas, and other reforming schools. And earlier speculation had raised a whole series of problems, and long-continued custom had elaborated a multifarious system of ecclesiastical observances, which the newly risen sects, orthodox or heretical, could grapple with, or could adopt. It seems to us that Gotama’s disciples, from the very beginning, were much more than a free and unformal union of men held together merely through their common reverence for their Master, and through a common spiritual aim. They formed rather, and from the first, an organised Brotherhood.
But if we look upon the Sakyaputtiya Samanas— for that is the name which the people in the earliest times gave to the community—as from the first an organised body, it is highly probable that the earliest formularies, both of their creeds and of their liturgies, arose in a lime, if not during the life of Gotama, yet at most not long after his decease. Now among the oldest expressions of belief we may with certainty rank the four sentences known as the Four Noble Truths and the summary of the so-called Noble Eightfold Path: and the oldest liturgical formularies preserved to us are, without any doubt, the Patimokkha and the various Kammavakas. It is true that these liturgical formularies, being so much more extensive, may possibly have been modified or added to before they reached the form in which we now possess them; but there is not the slightest trace of any other liturgies having ever been in use in the Buddhist fraternity.
It is of course impossible to attempt to draw a line between the part which Gotama himself may have had in the settlement of the list of offences contained in the Patimokkha, and the part that may have been taken by his disciples. Nor indeed, considering the limited character of our knowledge, is that a point of much importance. But it should perhaps be noticed in tins connection that Buddhist tradition does ascribe to one among Gotama’s disciples—to Upali—an especial connection with the Vinaya. This tradition reaches back at least as far as the time when the existing recension of the Pali Pitakas was made, for we find it both in the Sutta- and in the Vinaya-Pitakas.
Thus in the Kullavagga (VI, 13, I) we find the passage -‘At that time the Blessed One proclaimed the Vinaya in many a way to the Bhikkhus, exalted the Vinaya, exalted the learning of the Vinaya, exalted again and again the venerable Upali. Then thought the Bhikkhus, “The Blessed One hash proclaimed the Vinaya in many a way, hath exalted the Vinaya, hash exalted the learning of the Vinaya, hath exalted again and again the venerable Upali. Come now let us learn the Vinaya from the venerable Upali.” And so many Bhikkhus, old and middle aged and young, learnt the Vinaya from the venerable Upali.’
And again in a Sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya’, where those Bhikkhus are enumerated who, in any particular respect, are the first and foremost in the Brotherhood, Upali is mentioned as the first among the custodians of the Vinaya (the Vinaya-dhara). And further, as is well known, it is Upali who, according to the tradition, plays, at the First Council, the same part of profounder with regard to the Vinaya Texts which Ananda does with regard to the Dhamma Texts. There may well be some truth in this very ancient tradition that Upali was specially conversant with the Rules of the Order; but it would be hazardous on that account to ascribe to Upali a share, not only in the handing down of existing Rules, but in the composition of the Patimokkha itself.
As regards the order in which the various offences are arranged in the Patimokkha, the principal division corresponds to the division of the Order into Brethren and Sisters: there is a Bhikkhupatimokkha and a Bhikkhuni-patimokkha In each of these two chief divisions the offences are divided into various classes, beginning with the heaviest —with those, that is, that result in the exclusion of the offender from the Order. Inside each class the sequence of the clauses follows no invariable rule. Sometimes offences of a related character are placed together in groups’, but sometimes those which would naturally come together are found scattered in quite different parts of the same class2. It is perhaps worthy of notice that there sometimes seems, as in the two cases first mentioned in the last note, to be an effort to arrange the offences in groups (vagga) often: and in three cases we find regulations formulated with the utmost brevity (the offences being merely expressed by a locative case dependent upon pakittiyam) at the commencement of such a vagga. It seems to us, at least in the present state of our knowledge, quite impossible to draw any conclusions from such peculiarities as to the comparative age of any different parts of the Patimokkha. The irregularities in arrangement may very well be due to want of literary clearness in the compilers of the present Form of Confession, and it would be hazardous to attempt to trace in it any historical argument.
The various points in regard to the Patimokkha dealt with in the foregoing paragraphs do not of themselves show that it was at all older than the rest of the Vinaya Pi/aka; and indeed the work, as a separate work, is not considered among Buddhists to belong to the Pitakas at all, and is therefore not included in the list of works of which the Pitakas consist. But every single Rule or Clause in the Patimokkha is in fact found word for word in the Sutta-vibhanga, the quotations being so complete that the Patimokkha might be entirely put together again by piecing together extracts from the Vinaya Pi/aka. And it is not possible that the Patimokkha originated merely by such a process of dovetailing; for the quotations in the Vinaya Pi/aka, though not actually called quotations, bear the tin- mistakable stamp of being taken from some pre-existing work. The cause which led to the Patimokkha, and the Upasampada-kammavaka, being separately preserved at all, is the same as the cause which led to their exclusion from the lists of the Pitaka texts – the fact, that is, of their being liturgical compositions.
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