Monday, May 10, 2010

Seeds of Vinay Pitaka

The Buddha’s teachings were very popular during his lifetime and he had many disciples and several other lay persons visiting to listen to him teach. With the popularity, Sangha grew multifold and the continued stay of various disciples at Veluvana led to formation of monastic rules and guidelines in the early years and the compilation was called “Patimokkha”.

Sariputra disturbed by the moral dissimilarity of various people asked the Buddha to formulate the rules for a code of monastic discipline so that the conduct expected from a monk is clear in everybody’s mind. The Buddha, however didn’t want to impose rules with anticipating problems that might occur and decided to wait until specific problems arose and then to institute a vow to avoid any recurrence of a similar incident. The Buddha followed this policy with respect to both naturally destructive actions, which were harmful for anyone committing them, and also ethically neutral actions which prohibited for certain people in certain situations and for certain reasons. Thus, the rules of discipline were pragmatic and formulated ad hoc, with the Buddha’s main considerations being to avoid problems and not cause offense.

He offered them not as a coherent, systematic code of behavior, but one by one, and only as the monks went astray. When the monks behaved in ways that led them away from liberation and obstructed their path to the ultimate destination, the Buddha said, “Ah! Bhikkhus! Avoid this behavior because it will hinder your path to liberation.” Those there were many incidents that gave rise to the code of conducts; we visit a few just for an example.

King Bimbisara was a great benefactor of Buddhism and he always watched out for the best interest of the Buddha’s teaching’s being recognized and the Sangha establishing respect and regard in the common people and this reinforcing the Dhamma. During the course of his observations, the king realized that few wanderers from other sect gathered on "upavasatha," days, which were the days reserved for fast and sacrifice from the Vedic traditions and preached about their philosophies. The lay people really enjoyed these discussions and frequented such meetings thus increasing their popularity. Bimbisara thought it would be favorable for Buddhism to adopt this ritual and spread the teachings within the boundaries of established culture. Bimbisara proposed this idea to the Buddha and as the sequence of events were falling in place, there were the rules of conduct that were to be memorized keeping in with the oral learning traditions of the time. The Buddha advised the Sangha to recite the ‘Patimokkha’, which would serve as a reminder for all of them about the righteous behavior and help them meditate together on the Buddha’s teachings. (Vin.i.116f). The Sangha started reciting the Patimokkha and before the recitations, the monks used to confess any violations of the disciplinary rules to another monk or to the Sangha. Buddha continued to support this mode of exchanging information and thus the tradition of reciting Patimokkha on the 6 Uposatha days, the 8th, 14th, 15th, 23rd and final two days of each lunar month.

Vinaya rules were made as the need arose and many a times the suggestion would come from the monks themselves. Once while the Buddha was taking refuge at Codanāvatthu (Rajgir) he met with a group of monks who requested his permission to be able practice a group meditation of sorts where they would appoint a qualified monk as leader and under his guidance recite Buddha’s teachings. (Vin.i.116f). Buddha found it appropriate and allowed.

Besides constantly watching out for reinforcing the Buddha’s teachings in the lay community, King Bimbisara had also issued special decree to not punish the monks of the Buddha’s order. Although there were almost never any incident when the official have to forgo rules for a monk but one time a monk named Dhaniya did lie so that he could use royal timber to build his hut. When the matter was disclosed in public it was a cause of embarrassment for everyone, and despite being pardoned by the king with a word of warning, the Buddha reprimanded Dhaniya and also new set of rules were incorporated to prevent such misuse in future. (Vin.iii.41-5; Sp.ii.286)

Next Post: In vicinity of Veluvana

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