The Vinaya texts (Pali and Sanskrit: विनय) are texts of the Buddhist canon (Tripitaka) that also contain the rules and precepts for fully ordained monks and nuns of Buddhist Sanghas (community of like-minded sramanas). The precepts were initially developed thirteen years after the Buddha's enlightenment.[1] Three parallel Vinaya school traditions remain in use by modern ordained sanghas: the Theravada (Sri Lanka & Southeast Asia), Mulasarvastivada (Tibetan Buddhism and the Himalayan region) and Dharmaguptaka (Taiwan and East Asian Buddhism). In addition to these three Vinaya traditions, five other Vinaya schools of Indian Buddhism are preserved in Asian canonical manuscripts, including those of the Kāśyapīya, the Mahāsāṃghika, the Mahīśāsaka, the Sammatīya, and the Sarvāstivāda.[1][2]

The word Vinaya is derived from a Sanskrit verb that can mean to lead, take away, train, tame, or guide, or alternately to educate or teach.[3] It is often translated as 'discipline', with Dhamma-vinaya, 'doctrine and discipline', used by the Buddha to refer to his complete teachings, suggesting its integral role in Buddhist practice.[4]


According to an origin story prefaced to the Theravada Bhikkhu Suttavibhanga, in the early years of the Buddha's teaching the sangha lived together in harmony with no vinaya, as there was no need, because all of the Buddha's early disciples were highly realized if not fully enlightened. After thirteen years[1] and as the sangha expanded, situations arose which the Buddha and the lay community felt were inappropriate for mendicants.[5]

According to Buddhist tradition, the complete Vinaya Piṭaka was recited by Upāli at the First Council shortly after the Buddha's death. All of the known Vinaya texts use the same system of organizing rules and contain the same sections, leading scholars to believe that the fundamental organization of the Vinaya must date from before the separation of schools.[6][3]

While traditional accounts fix the origins of the Vinaya during the lifetime of the Buddha, all of the existing manuscript traditions are from significantly later- most around the 5th century CE.[3] While the early Buddhist community seems to have lived primarily as wandering monks who begged for alms, many Vinaya rules in every tradition assume settled monasticism to be the norm, along with regular collective meals organized by lay donors or funded by monastic wealth.[3] The earliest dates that can be established for most Vinaya texts is their translation into Chinese around the 5th century CE.[3] The earliest established dates of the Theravada Vinaya stem from the composition of Buddhaghosa's commentaries in the 5th century, and became known to Western scholarship through 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts.[3] The Mulasarvastivada Vinaya was brought to Tibet by Khenpo Shantarakshita[7] by c. 763, when the first Tibetan Buddhist monks were ordained, and was translated into Chinese by the 8th century. Earlier Sanskrit manuscripts exist from the 5th to the 7th century.[3] Scholarly consensus places the composition of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya in the early centuries of the first millennium, though all the manuscripts and translations are relatively late.[8]


The core of the Vinaya is a set of rules known as Patimokkha in Pāli and Prātimokṣa in Sanskrit.[3] This is the shortest portion of every Vinaya, and universally regarded as the earliest.[3] This collection of rules is recited by the gathered Sangha at the new and full moon.[3] Rules are listed in descending order, from the most serious (four rules that entail expulsion), followed by five further categories of more minor offenses.[3] Most traditions include an explicit listing of rules intended for recitation, called Prātimokṣa-sutra, but in the Theravada tradition the Patimokkha rules occur in writing only alongside their exegesis and commentary, the Vibhanga described below. While the Prātimokṣa is preserved independent of the Vibhanga in many traditions, scholars generally do not believe that the rules it contains were observed and enforced without the context provided by an interpretive tradition, even in the early era- many of the exceptions and opinions of the Vibhanga seem to stem from older customs regarding what was and wasn't permissible for wandering ascetics in the Indian tradition.[3]

The second major component of the Vinaya is the Vibhanga or Suttavibhanga, which provides commentary on each of the rules listed in the Prātimokṣa.[3] This typically includes the origin of the rule in a specific incident or dispute, along with variations that indicate related situations covered by the rule, as well as exceptions that account for situations that are not to be regarded as violations of a more general rule.[3]

The third division of the Vinaya is known as the Vinayavastu, Skandhaka, or Khandhaka, meaning 'divisions' or 'chapters'. Each section of these texts deals with a specific aspect of monastic life, containing, for instance, procedures and regulations related to ordination, obtaining and storing medical supplies, and the procurement and distribution of robes.[3] The final segment of this division, the Ksudrakavastu ("Minor division") contains miscellanea that does not belong to other sections, and in some traditions is so large that it is treated as a separate work.[3] Strong agreement between multiple different recensions of the Skandhaka across different traditions and language with respect to the number of chapters (generally 20) and their topics and contents has led scholars to the conclusion that they must stem from a common origin.[9]

Parallel and independent Prātimokṣa rules and Vibhnagas exist in each tradition for bhikkhus and bhikkhunis.[3] The majority of rules for monks and nuns are identical, but the bhikkhuni Prātimokṣa and Vibhanga includes additional rules that are specific to nuns, including the controversial Eight Garudhammas whose authorship is not attributed to the Buddha.[10][11][12][3] In the Pali tradition, a specific chapter of the Khandhaka deals with issues pertaining specifically to nuns, and the Mulasarvastivada tradition devotes most of one of the two volumes of its Ksudrakavastu to issues pertaining to nuns.[3]

Beyond this point, the distinct Vinaya traditions differ in their organization. The Pali Vinaya includes a text known as the Parivāra that contains a question-and-answer format that recapitulates various rules in different groupings, as well as a variety of analyses. The Chinese texts include two sections not found in the Pali tradition, the Niddanas and Matrkas that have counterparts in the Tibetan tradition's Uttaragrantha.[3] Relatively little analysis of these texts have been conducted, but they seem to contain an independent reorganization of the Vinaya rules that may be an earlier strata of texts.[3]


The Theravada Vinaya is preserved in the Pāli Canon in the Vinaya Piṭaka. The Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is preserved in both the Tibetan Buddhist canon in the Kangyur, in a Chinese edition, and in an incomplete Sanskrit manuscript. Some other complete vinaya texts are preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon (see: Taishō Tripiṭaka), and these include:

Six complete versions are extant. Fragments of the remaining versions survive in various languages. The first three listed below are still in use.



Main article: Vinaya Pitaka

Buddhism in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand followed the Theravadin Vinaya, which has 227 rules[14] for bhikkhus and 311[15] for bhikkhunis. As the nun's lineage died out in all areas of the Theravada school, traditionally women's roles as renunciates were limited to taking eight or ten Precepts: see women in Buddhism. Such women appears as maechi in Thai Buddhism, dasa sil mata in Sri Lanka, thilashin in Burma and siladharas at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in England. More recently, women have been undergoing upasampada as full ordination as bhikkhuni, although this is a highly charged topic within Theravadin communities: see ordination of women in Buddhism

East Asian Buddhism

Buddhists in China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam follow the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya (四分律),[16][17] which has 253 rules[18] for the bhikkhus and 348 rules[19] for the bhikkhunis. Some schools in Japan technically follow this, but many monks there are married, which can be considered a violation of the rules. Other Japanese monks follow the Bodhisattva Precepts only, which was excerpted from the Mahāyāna version of Brahmajālasutra (梵網經). And the Bodhisattva Precepts contains two parts of precepts: for lay and clergy. According to Chinese Buddhist tradition, one who wants to observe the Bodhisattva Precepts for clergy, must observe the Ten Precepts and High Ordination [Bhikkhu or Bhikkhunī Precepts] first.

Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhists in Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, Nepal, Ladakh and other Himalayan regions follow the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, which has 253 rules for the bhiksus (monks) and 364 rules for bhiksunis (nuns). In addition to these pratimokṣa precepts, there are many supplementary ones.

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition of fully ordained bhikṣuṇī nuns officially recommenced in Bhutan on 23 June 2022, when 144 women were ordained.[20] According to Nyingma school and Kagyu school scholars, the full ordination lineage of bhikkhuni for nuns within the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya was transmitted in Tibet by Shantarakshita,[21] but did not survive the later persecution of Tibetan Buddhists undertaken by Udum Tsenpo.[22] Afterwards, Tibetan nuns were getsunma (Tib. novice) nuns (Skt. śramaṇerīs) only, after taking the lay vows of eight or ten Precepts, see ordination of women in Buddhism.

Role in Mahāyāna Buddhism

The Mahāyāna Bodhisattvabhūmi, part of the Yogācārabhūmi Śāstra, regards it an offense for monastics following the Mahāyāna to reject the traditional rules of the Vinaya:[23]

If he thinks or says, "A future buddha has nothing to do with learning or observing the law of the Vehicle of the Śrāvakas," he commits a sin of pollution (kliṣṭā āpatti).

Louis de La Vallée-Poussin wrote that the Mahāyāna relies on traditional full ordination of monastics, and in doing so is "perfectly orthodox" according to the monastic vows and rules of the early Buddhist traditions:[24]

From the disciplinary point of view, the Mahāyāna is not autonomous. The adherents of the Mahāyāna are monks of the Mahāsāṃghika, Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivādin and other traditions, who undertake the vows and rules of the bodhisattvas without abandoning the monastic vows and rules fixed by the tradition with which they are associated on the day of their Upasampad [full ordination].

See also


  1. ^ a b c The 17th Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje. "The development of the Vinaya rules for monastics and the Pratimoksha Sutra precepts". August 2022. Transcribed by Adele Tomlin, Dakini Translations, 02 September 2022.
  2. ^ Keown, Damien. Dictionary of Buddhism. 2003. p. 220.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Schopen, Gregory (2004). "Vinaya". MacMillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 1. New York: MacMillan Reference USA. pp. 885–89. ISBN 0-02-865719-5.
  4. ^ Access to Insight: Vinaya Pitaka: The Basket of Discipline
  5. ^ Introductory story of the Theravada Bhikkhu Vibhanga
  6. ^ New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions, page 380
  7. ^ H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama, "Ordination in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition". Excerpts from Direct Instruction From Shakyamuni Buddha – A Gelong's Training in Brief. 1973. Translated by Geshe Graham Woodhouse, Himachal Pradesh: Institute of Buddhist Dialects, 2009.
  8. ^ Sasson, Vanessa R. (2012). Little Buddhas: Children and Childhoods in Buddhist Texts and Traditions. Oxford University Press. p. 46. ISBN 9780199979929. The Pāli Vinaya has been critically edited and translated in its entirety and will serve as a point of comparison with the Northern Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition that is the focus of this study.
    Dating the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is problematic, since all the manuscripts and translations are relatively late. Scholarly consensus places it in the early centuries of the first millennium, probably around the time of the Kuṣāṇa emperor Kaniṣka.
  9. ^ Frauwallner, Erich (1956). The Earliest Vinaya and the Beginnings of Buddhist Literature. Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. pp. 1–6. ISBN 8857526798.
  10. ^ Kusuma, Bhikuni (2000). "Inaccuracies in Buddhist Women's History". In Karma Lekshe Tsomo (ed.). Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming Against the Stream. Routledge. pp. 5–13. ISBN 978-0-7007-1219-9.
  11. ^ "A conversation with a sceptic – Bhikkhuni FAQ". Buddhanet. Archived from the original on 9 January 2009.
  12. ^ Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni. "On the Apparent Non-historicity of the Eight Garudhammas Story As It Stands in the Pali-text Culavagga and Contemporary Vinaya Scholarship" (PDF).
  13. ^ Hirakawa, Akira (1999). Monastic Discipline for the Buddhist Nuns: An English Translation of the Chinese Text of the Mahāsāṃghika-Bhikṣuṇī-Vinaya (2 ed.). Patna, India: Kashi Prasad Jayaswal Research Institute.
  14. ^ "Bhikkhu Pāṭimokkha: The Bhikkhus' Code of Discipline". Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  15. ^ "Bhikkhunī Pāṭimokkha: The Bhikkhunīs' Code of Discipline". Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  16. ^ 四分律 Archived 2008-12-23 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ 解脫戒經 Archived 2011-06-15 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ (四分律比丘戒本) Archived 2010-12-24 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ (摩訶僧祇比丘尼戒本) Archived 2011-06-15 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ DAMCHÖ DIANA FINNEGAN and CAROLA ROLOFF (BHIKṢUṆĪ JAMPA TSEDROEN). "Women Receive Full Ordination in Bhutan For First Time in Modern History", Lion's Roar, JUNE 27, 2022.
  21. ^ Bhiksuni Thubten Choedron, "Brief History of Bhiksunis", Committee for the Bhiksuni Ordination in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition, 2017.
  22. ^ Venerable Jampa Tsedroen, "Ordination of buddhist nuns", 27 May 2013.
  23. ^ Silk, Jonathan. The Maharatnakuta Tradition: A Study of the Ratnarasi Sutra. Volume 1. 1994. pp. 9–10
  24. ^ Silk, Jonathan. The Maharatnakuta Tradition: A Study of the Ratnarasi Sutra. Volume 1. 1994. p. 10



Theravada Vinaya Pitaka