The vinaya contains a section, called the vibhanga, which is of great interest because it contains stories that communicate for each pratimoksha rule a “case history” or a reason why it has been issued by the Buddha. Western researchers have usually maintained that these stories have been added later to the rules (e.g. Stache-Rosen 1984: 30; Rosen 1959: 16). Sometimes these case histories differ to some extant between the various vinaya traditions. The case histories found in the vinaya of the Tibetan Mulasarvastivadin tradition, for instance, are more elaborate than those of other traditions. One can also find sometimes more serious differences betweent the case histories of the different traditions. However that may be, even if added later to the narration, in my opinion these case histories are much too lively, varied, and specific, and obviously not following a pattern, to have been entirely “made up.” In any case, for the Buddhist tradition they are inseparably intermingled with the actual promulgation of the rules. And as we will see, for Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön they are an essential element of the argument regarding the range of application of the vinaya that will be investigated below.
Rosen (1959: 17) says that the rules of the pratimoksha as such of the different schools are in substance largely in agreement. This may be a little too optimistic, but in general one might indeed say that the numbers and the contents of the rules are a relatively stable factor within the vast literature of the different vinayas. The nature of many of these rules and the circumstances of their origination (as reported in the case histories) suggest that they were not issued with any idea of systematically covering certain categories of faults. If one analyses the rules and their case histories alone, the impression is rather that most—if not all—of them depended on a random event where a monk (or a group of monks) behaved in a certain manner that was seen as a problem internally within the community of monks or for the Sangha’s relation to the society surrounding them. At some point during the compilation of the vinaya these rules were organised into categories, mostly, it seems, according to the heaviness of the punishment in case of an infraction, but not so much in accordance to thematic categories of faults.
The fact that the vinaya regulates behaviour within the community of ordained persons and towards the outside world has from early on let to the belief among Western researchers that the sutra pitaka deals with the inner life and believes of Buddhism, while the vinaya pitaka focusses (merely) on the outward life and conduct of the ordained. I. B. Horner says (1938: ix):
Thus a standard of conduct is imposed from the outside, and for external impersonal reasons, instead of insistence being laid, as in the Nikaya teaching, on the great subjective states attainable through a man’s [sic!] own efforts of will.
Such a reduction of the vinaya to a mere sociological phenomenon was not accepted by Holt, who said (1994: 57):
My basic contention is that the Buddhist monastic discipline is most fully understood when it is considered as a purposive affective expression of the Buddha’s dhamma, that dhamma and vinaya are by no means separate constructs.
In this he draws (in ftn. 8) from Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga, which quotes a sutta verse (SN i 13) as saying (with my square brackets):
When a wise man, established well in Virtue [i.e. the conduct according to rules],
develops Consciousness and Understanding [i.e. samadhi and prajña],
then as a bhikkhu ardent and sagacious,
he succeeds in disentangling this tangle.
This is to say that the vinaya rules, meditation, and wisdom have the same goal: liberation. In the Same Intention of the Drikungpa a very similar passage from the Arya Kashyapaparivarta Mahayanasutra is quoted (D 44/146v):
If you remain within the disciplined conduct, the samadhis are obtained.
If you remain within samadhi, discriminating knowledge is practised very effectively.
Through discriminating knowledge, perfect primordial wisdom is obtained.
If the primordial wisdom is pure, the disciplined conduct is perfect.
Holt aims in his paper at demonstrating (ibid.):
… how an early Buddhist theory of action is explicit in these stories [i.e. the case histories of the vibhanga], stories that clearly illustrate, via negativa, how internally disciplined volition is reflected in the forms of interpersonal conduct advocated by the vinaya code, how dhamma and vinaya are part and parcel of an integrated religious life.
I think that Holt correctly criticises a too narrow view of the vinaya, where vinaya is seen as mere accumulation of rules of proper conduct—i.e. “proper” in the eyes of the people, or as a mere instruction for an ascetic and restrained life style. However, the Buddha does not teach a mere restraint of non-action, annihilationism, and asceticism. His dharma as a whole, i.e. including the vinaya, aims at a spiritual goal (Horner 1938: 4-5, Holt 1994: 60):
I teach dhamma for the restraint of passion, of hatred and of confusion. I teach dhamma for the restraint of manifold evil wrong states [asavas] … which are searing [tapaniya], of offenses of body, speech and thought.
In other words: dharma and vinaya, and shila, samadhi, and prajña appear to be the same project. I would argue that a larger vision of the vinaya is also visible in passage such as DN 2.154, which is an instruction in the Pali canon to take the vinaya as the teacher after the Buddha’s passing (trl. Thanissaro Bhikkhu):
Then the Blessed One said to Ven. Ananda: Now, if it occurs to any of you — “The teaching has lost its authority; we are without a Teacher” — do not view it in that way. Whatever Dhamma and Vinaya I have pointed out and formulated for you, that will be your Teacher when I am gone.
Even though it might be argued that dharma and vinaya are here mentioned as two (different?) items, the vinaya is nevertheless, like dharma, depicted as a teacher, not as a mere policeman. It could be argued that the vinaya has a message that is larger than the keeping of the ordained ones under control, and it is exactly such a view of the vinaya that Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön has in mind in his Single Intention.
Although his teacher Phagmodrupa had urged Jigten Sumgön on several occasions to take ordination, the latter remained reluctant to do that (Sommerschuh, p. 90). Only on the occasion of a gancakra (Tib. tshogs) in the memory of his teacher, when a woman behaved indecent in the presence of Jigten Sumgön, did he begin to seriously consider ordination in order to make his renounced state visible to the world (p. 123). But it was not until his experiences in his first meditation retreat in E-chung in the early 1170s that he completely understood the fundamental nature of virtue and non-virtue, and thereby of ordination and of the vinaya (p. 104). He then took simultaneously the vows of a novice and a full monk at the age of 35 in ca. 1177 (p. 122 ff.). It is for the following perhaps important to keep in mind that Jigten Sumgön’s understanding of monastic discipline arose primarily from his meditative practise.
Within the vinaya-pratimoksha chapter of the Jigten Sumgön’s Single Intention, we find a number of remarkable statements. Most of these are indicators of the great importance the vinaya now had for the author of the Single Intention and his teachings, and some are certainly astounding. Thus he states that the vinaya is not a teaching of the shravaka’s vehicle alone, but of all three vehicles, including mantra. It is furthermore stated here to arise from primordial wisdom and therefore of being itself wisdom, and when even only a single vow is guarded, nirvana will be obtained by that, to provide just a few noteworthy examples.
I would like to briefly introduce in the following one cluster of statements, namely 3.10-15 of the Single Intention, where it is not accepted that there are different statuses of rules. Accordingly, the concept of something being a “misdeed by nature” and of something being a “misdeed by rule,” 1 where in the first case it is always prohibited and never permitted, whereas in the second case there are occasions where it is permitted and occasions where it is prohibited, is rejected. Jigten Sumgön’s negation of a real function of such concepts of discernment has the consequence that for him the observance of all kinds of rules is virtuous for all beings and not only for limited groups such as only for ordained people. Furthermore he therefore also rejects that there exists a substantial difference between general “evil” (sdig pa) on the one hand and “infraction” (ltung byed) on the other, since according to him whatever is prohibited because it is non-virtuous is “inveterately prohibited” (ye bkag) and therefore evil at all times and for everyone, and whatever is permitted because it is virtuous is “inveterately permitted” (ye gnang) and therefore to be practised at all times and by everyone. It furthermore follows that whichever being avoids non-virtue and thereby avoids a prohibition will acquire a benefit from that, and whichever being commits non-virtue — possessing vows or not — will experience negative results from that.
The first of these points is dealt with in the Single Intention’s vajra-statement 3.10, 2 according to which “misdeed by rule” and “misdeed by nature” are one and the same thing, even though in general some people say that whatever is a “misdeed by nature” is always prohibited and never permitted, whereas in the case of a “misdeed by rule” there are occasions where they are permitted and occasions where they are prohibited. 3 These terms, whose distinguishing function is here refuted, can only be found in the commentarial literature of Buddhagosa, Vasubandhu, Asanga, or Pang Lotsava. According to the views of these commentators, the four basic infractions such as killing are prohibited by nature, whereas such things as needlessly digging in the earth, touching fire, and playing with water, 4 which are all from the “infraction only” section (ltung byed ‘ba’ zhig) of ordination, are only prohibited by a rule and therefore only for ordained persons. That is to say that they are not faults in themselves, but could cause problems indirectly (for instance because people complain about monks or nuns who behave in such a manner), and thus it is said that there is no fault in that kind of conduct itself, but merely in the transgression of the rule, provided one has accepted that rule through ordination.
Jigten Sumgön, however, denied the validity of this distinction into “by nature” and “by rule.” Instead he maintains that the Buddha issued each single rule he pronounced based on his realisation of true reality, that is, he issued the rules in accordance to his complete understanding of dependent origination of causes and conditions and his realisation of all knowledge objects. Thus, not being an oracle or a creator god (cf. Single Intention 1.1), he did not issue rules according to his will, but due to his awakening to the nature of all phenomena. And since he furthermore has equal love for all sentient beings, he does not prefer one group of beings over others, but instead tries to lead them all without differentiation onto the path of benefit and bliss.
The commentaries refer in this context to the story of the Tirthika teacher Mukapangu and the abandoning of surplus wealth, whereby mundane or transmundane qualities are achieved. 5 The rules concerning not eating food that was not given and concerning surplus wealth and hoarding are explained through the following context. 6 During the first eon the luminous gods were born here in this world of men. Growing attached to the taste of the foods in this world, some of them ate much. The earth element came into their bodies, they became unable to walk through the sky, and the light, too, vanished from their bodies. The others said to them: “You have a bad complexion and we are the ones with good complexion.” In that way these gods accumulated the karma of attachment and aversion based on their differentiation into self and other. The supreme fruits, i.e. tasty fruits that don’t need cultivation, were much in demand and some started to hoard them. Then the fields were divided into individual ones and demarcations were made. In short, from all this developed desire, jealousy, improper conduct such as stealing and lying etc., and the lifespan decreased. One of the chief causes for the worsening of the conditions was the hoarding of food. 7 For this reason the non-virtuous effects of hoarding food applies to all, whether householder or ordained person. On the other hand, to guard against that, which is prohibited for fully ordained people by rule constitutes a benefit also for householders. Furthermore, no matter whether a Buddha has already appeared or not, or whether the prohibitions were already announced or not, hoarding naturally causes all the above problems and to abandon hoarding is naturally beneficial for all beings. All this is perceived by the Buddha through his gnosis of omniscience, and whichever rule is issued thereby is in accordance to the nature of reality.
In the following vajra-statement (Single Intention 3.11), it is argued that if everything that is prohibited is not permitted because it is non-virtuous by nature, it follows that the distinction into groups of beings for whom the transgression of these prohibitions constitutes or doesn’t constitute a fault is false. Here the commentator Rinchen Jangchub points out that (similar to the Buddha’s statement quoted above: “I teach dhamma for the restraint of passion …”) “whichever Dharma wheel that is turned by the Tathagata is a way of abandoning and accomplishing” and that
through the primordial wisdom that realises sameness [the Buddha has] defeated the thing to be abandoned—the afflictions—and he has identified that [act] as constituting the [rules concerning] abandoning (dgag bcas). And within that state [of abandoning afflictions], to make use of immeasurable qualities is constituting [the rules concerning] accomplishing (sgrub bcas). Accordingly, all the Buddha’s teachings are taught to sentient beings in the manner of abandoning and accomplishing.
This is the principle argument, namely that all teachings, which are nothing but the abandoning and accomplishing, concern all beings in general, because what is explained by the Buddha as that which is to be abandoned and accomplished is in accordance with the nature as it is realised by wisdom. Whatever is the nature of reality concerns all beings without differentiation. ‘Evil’ and ‘infraction’ is thus only a terminological difference, the first being used for misdeeds of people without commitments and the second for misdeeds of people with commitments (Single Intention 3.12). Dorje Sherab offers the following analogy: “One says ‘dish’ (bshos) when it is offered to high class persons and ‘food’ (zan) when offered to common people.”
Furthermore, one of the most controversial views maintained in the Single Intention (3.13) is that whatever is prohibited because it is non-virtuous is “inveterately prohibited” (ye bkag) and therefore evil at all times and for everyone, and whatever is permitted because it is virtuous is “inveterately permitted” (ye gnang) and therefore to be practised at all times and by everyone. This point is according to Dorje Sherab brought up primarily against those people who hold that the foundation or root of the rules, i.e. that what they are about, is in itself neutral and is only prohibited when a rule about it has been issued by the Buddha. In that case, since the foundation or root of the rule would not be about something that is a non-virtue by nature, exceptions from such rules are possible, for instance when the Buddha allows to eat after noon if someone is sick. When such an an exception is granted, no harm is caused because there is no infraction of the rule. In this example, people argue, the Buddha shows moderation in that he softens an ascetic rule for the benefit of someone who is weakened by illness.
The second example provided is that of Arya Shariputra, who is said to have taught the Dharma until after sundown to the lady Dampa Päldenmo. This example seems to be based either on the rule that a monk should not stay with a woman after sundown, or that he is not supposed to stay with a woman alone in a house, hidden from others, or perhaps both. 8 Here, however, an exception is granted, because teaching the Dharma and listening to it is without fault, because there are no afflictions involved and the woman developed an understanding of the truth. Thirdly, to touch a woman with a desirous intention is normally prohibited, but it is allowed to touch her in order to save her from danger. 9 According to the story that is told by Dorje Sherab (where he explains the “general view”), when a woman was drowning the Buddha permitted to touch her, saying: “Produce the notion of a clot of earth with regard to the woman that is taken away by a river, grasp her by her hair and braids and pull her out!” Therefore, according to these three examples, what is first prohibited is later permitted depending on conditions. No harm is caused, because that, what the rule is about, is not in itself or naturally non-virtuous, but only prohibited because the Buddha had issued a rule for the monks as a reaction to a particular event that had caused trouble.
This view, however, is not shared by Jigten Sumgön, who maintains that whatever is prohibited is inveterately prohibited (ye bkag) and whatever is permitted is inveterately permitted (ye gnang). According to the commentator Rinchen Jangchub, this terminology goes back to Phagmodrupa, who is quoted with these words:
If a mind is associated with afflictions, an act is non-virtuous, and temporary and ultimate results [are the arising of] suffering, the prohibition is ‘inveterately prohibited’ (bkag pa ye bkag). If a mind is not associated with afflictions, an act is not non-virtuous, and temporary and ultimate results are the arising of happiness, the permission is ‘inveterately permitted’ (gnang ba ye gnang).
In one of Jigten Sumgön’s works “inveterately prohibited” is glossed as “natural non-virtue” (gshis mi dge ba). 10 The point is that it is within the powers of the Buddha to recognise what is virtuous by nature and what is not virtuous by nature, because he possesses the ten powers of the Tathagata, one of which is “the primordial wisdom that perceives what is and what is not appropriate.” Thereby the Buddha is an expert in instructing the beings, since, as it is expressed by Rinchen Jangchub, “having connected to the mind of an individual who is the basis, the Tathagata teaches a training fitting to him and he defines the levels of permission and prohibition.” The Buddha’s particular ability is, so to speak, the result of a combination of his knowledge of the nature of reality and of the minds of the beings. Thereby, for instance, he understands that hoarding and eating food with desire is non-virtuous, and he explains how food should be eaten just as it is received (i.e. without further evaluation of its quality, etc.) and that it is not to be kept for a later time.
Now, as mentioned above, some people hold that he has allowed exceptions from this rule, allowing for instance the sick to take meals also after noon. But Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön denies that hoarding food for a later time and eating it with desire can be anything but non-virtuous. Therefore the Buddha would also be unable to make an exception for the ill—we have to remember here that according to Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön all the rules are based on the Buddha’s understanding of the nature of reality, they are not his inventions and he is not a god. Therefore the Buddha explains that when food that is eaten with the intention of taking a medicine that cures diseases, it is permitted in all respects and at all times. In other words, if a person cultivates a mind to eat with such an intention, that mind is free from the desire to enjoy pleasurable taste and it is free from the greed of hoarding. This view of things is illustrated through examples.
Shariputra’s teaching the Lady until after dawn was ruled to be without infraction, since their minds were free from afflictions and endowed with the Dharma. The activity (“teaching the Dharma”) was also faultless, and the result—the Lady’s perception of the truth—was also virtuous. Such activities are never prohibited. On the other hand, afflicted activities are never permitted. The commentator Dorje Sherab adds here the point that if in general it is taught that there is no transgression when from among the four limbs “basis (or object), intention, execution, and completion” even only one is not complete, the permission in a case where all are incomplete does not need to be further discussed. This is here related to Shariputra’s teaching to the lady after dawn, where they did not perceive each other as objects of desire, where the intention was to teach or learn Dharma, free from affliction, where the action was also executed free from affliction, and where the result was her understanding of the Dharma. In other words, this case is not an exception from the rule, because it is not a case where afflicted activity was permitted. Instead it is an entirely different case than the one that is prohibited to the monks by rule, namely to spent time with a lady after sundown, or to stay with her alone in a house hidden from others.
The second example is interesting not only as a further illustration of the point, but also because the concept of the notion of an object plays a role. Here it is the notion (Tib. ‘du shes, Skt. samjña) of a woman that is to be wilfully superposed by the notion of a lump of earth or clay, so that it is allowed for a monk to touch a drowning woman when pulling her out of the water. Yet although the manipulation of the notion of the object is clearly a key point in this case, it also is explicitly mentioned by the later commentator Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa that this skilful means of manipulation is furthermore to be coupled with the special mahayana intention of benefiting another being. It seems that Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa is presenting here “intention” as the principle point and the “notion” that is produced only as a secondary matter, namely a skilful means. This however, seems to be a later development, since such an explicit mahayana motivation is not mentioned in the earlier commentaries of Dorje Sherab and Rinchen Jangchub. The key point here is to show that skilful means are not allowing for an exception to the rule, but constitute an entirely different case. To touch a woman out of desire is prohibited in all respects, whereas to touch a clot of earth is not prohibited in any respect.
The third and fourth illustration are those through the rule prohibiting alcohol, which is connected with an incident involving Arya Svagata, 11 and the rule prohibiting the lying together with women, which the Buddha issued in the context of incidents involving Maudgalyayana, Aniruddha, and others. These issues, however, are too vast to be discussed here.
The two remaining points of this cluster of vajra-statements in the third chapter of the Single Intention, namely 3.14-15, are merely conclusions of the above statement, and thus they can be merely summarised here as stating that “benefit will arise indeed [through] the guarding [of vows] by whichever of the beings of the six realms” and that “the transgressing of the rules by whichever being of the six realms is an occurring of faults.”
In final conclusion it can be said that Jigten Sumgön offers an alternative view of the vinaya, according to which
- “misdeed by rule” and “misdeed by nature” refer to one and the same act, with the first term referring to that act done by a person possessing commitments and the second to the same act done by a person without commitments;
– the Buddha bestowed the rules to the beings in general (and not the group of ordained ones alone);
– evil and infraction is not different, but the same;
– the benefit through following the rules will arise for all beings (again not only for the group of ordained ones alone); and
– transgression of the rules constitutes a fault for all beings.
According to the biography of Jigten Sumgön he came to this realisation while he practised for several years in the solitude mountain retreat, understanding thereby teachings he had received from his guru Phagmodrupa. As in many other cases of views presented in the Single Intention, what can be realised from (1) own experience, (2) instructions of the guru, (3) Buddha word, and (4) examples found (in this case) primarily in the sutras, supersedes in any case teachings as found in the Indian commentary tradition. 12 Such a view, where the instructions of the Buddha have a single intention, namely to abandon what is by nature non-virtuous and to practise what is by nature virtuous, is the heart of Jigten Sumgön’s main teaching, the Single Intention. It is just one more case of his attempt to point out the nucleus of the Buddha’s teachings, rather than to show what differentiates them.
1 “Misdeed by nature” (Skt. pratikshepana-savadya, Tib. rang bzhin gyi kha na ma tho ba) and “misdeed by rule” (Pali pannatti-vajja, Skt. prajñapti-savadya, Tib. bcas pa’i kha na ma tho ba).
2 I follow basically the commentary of Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa, the Nyi ma’i snang ba, when I refer to a commentary of the Single Intention, unless otherwise noted.
3 Schmithausen (1991: 16, ftn. 93) identifies these terms as (Pali) panatti-vajja, (Skt.) prajñapti-savadya “fault because [the Buddha] has declared or decided it to be so [for monks]” and (Skt.) pratikshepana-savadya “fault by nature, or for ordinary people [too].” These terms can only be found in the commentarial literature such as Buddhagosa’s Samantapasadika (228), the Milindapañha (266,18 ff.), Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakoshabhashya (218,15 ff.), the Bodhisattvabhumi (Dutt 112,20 ff., 113,17—all references by Schmithausen); or in Asanga’s rNal ‘byor spyod pa’i sa las ‘dul ba bsdu ba (Yogacarabhumau-vinayasamgrahani), D no. 4040, fols. 7r7 -7v2 and in dPang Lotsaba Blo-gros-brtan-pa’s Chos mngon pa kun las btus pa’i rgya cher ‘grel pa (fol. 247v6—references by Bayer 410, ftn. 390).
4 For s “needlessly digging in the earth,” cf. Rosen (1959: 200), Patayantika-Dharma 73; for “touching fire,” cf. Rosen (1959: 177), Patayantika-Dharma 52, and for “playing with water,” cf. Rosen (1959: 191), Patayantika-Dharma 64.
5 P vol. 41, fol. 342r. See also Panglung (1981: 48).
6 For “not eating food that was not given,” cf. Rosen (1959: 159), Patayantika-Dharma 39;
the rules concerning surplus wealth and hoarding are many, see for instance Rosen (1959: 111), Naihsargika-Patayantika-Dharma 21, where the keeping of surplus alms bowls is prohibited, p. 123, Naihsargika-Patayantika-Dharma 30, where the hoarding of medicine beyond seven days is prohibited, and concerning the hoarding of cloth, p. 79, Naihsargika-Patayantika-Dharma 3, and concerning the hoarding of food, p. 157, Patayantika-Dharma 38.
7 My summary of this account is additionally based on the commentaries by Dorje Sherab and Rinchen Jangchub, Single Intention 2.9. The connection with the hoarding of food for more than one day is also explicitly made in the Aggañña Sutta (D iii 80-98, this passage 85 f.) of the Pali tradition.
8 I am not exactly certain which rule is at stake here. According to the Patayantika-Dharma 65 (Rosen 1959: 192), a monk is not allowed to stay in a woman’s house over night. According to one of the two Aniyata-Dharmas (Rosen 1959: 76 f.), a monk is not allowed to sit with a woman in a house hidden from others.
9 Cf. Rosen (1959: 58 f.), Samghavashesha-Dharma 2.
10 Collected Works, vol. 5, pp. 452-460, bKag pa ye bkag gnang ba ye gnang gi skor bstan pa, p. 460.
11 Svagata had, due to ignorance, taken food (in some versions drink) mixed with alcohol and had become heavily intoxicated. On that occasion, the Buddha provided the rule concerning intoxicants. For the story of Arya Svagata (Tib. ‘Phags-pa Legs-‘ong) in detail, see Ch’en (1947: 207-314, esp. p. 242 ff.).
12 These four points are called the “four authentic qualities” (tshad ma bzhi), on which I plan to publish a separate article, comparing the tshad ma bzhi in the teachings of the Sakyapas and the Drikungpas.
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Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org) (DN 2.154)
Yamagiwa, Nobuyuki (1994) “The Importance of Vinaya in the Study of Indian Buddhism, with Special Reference to Chinese Sources,” Buddhist Behavioral Codes and the Modern World, Charles Wei-hsun-Fu and Sandra A. Wawrytko (eds.), (Contributions to the Study of Religions 38), Westport, Conneticut: Greewood Press, pp. 101-109.