It was compiled at the First Council shortly after the Buddha’s death, and recited by Upali, with little later addition. Most of the different versions are fairly similar, most scholars consider most of the Vinaya to be fairly early, that is, dating from before the separation of schools
The Pali version of the Patimokkha, the code of conduct that applies to Buddhist monastics, contains 227 major rules for bhikkhus and 311 major rules for bhikkhunis. The Vibhanga section(s) of Vinaya Pitaka constitute(s) a commentary on these rules, giving detailed explanations of them along with the origin stories for each rule. The Khandhaka/Skandhaka sections give numerous supplementary rules grouped by subject, again with origin stories. The Buddha called his teaching the “Dhamma-Vinaya”, emphasizing both the philosophical teachings of Buddhism as well as the training in virtue that embodies that philosophy.
The Vinaya Pitaka, the first division of the Tipitaka, is the textual framework upon which the monastic community (Sangha) is built. It includes not only the rules governing the life of every Theravada bhikkhu (monk) and bhikkhuni (nun), but also a host of procedures and conventions of etiquette that support harmonious relations, both among the monastics themselves, and between the monastics and their lay supporters, upon whom they depend for all their material needs.
When the Buddha first established the Sangha, the community initially lived in harmony without any codified rules of conduct. As the Sangha gradually grew in number and evolved into a more complex society, occasions inevitably arose when a member would act in an unskillful way. Whenever one of these cases was brought to the Buddha’s attention, he would lay down a rule establishing a suitable punishment for the offense, as a deterrent to future misconduct.
According to the scriptures, in the first 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. As the sangha expanded situations arose which the Buddha and the lay community felt were inappropriate for samanas. According to tradition, the first rule to be established was the prohibition against sexual acts. The origin story tells of an earnest monk whose family was distraught that there was no male heir and so persuaded the monk to impregnate his wife. All three, the monk, his wife and son who both later ordained, eventually became fully enlightened arahants.
The monastic tradition and the rules upon which it is built are sometimes naïvely criticized — particularly here in the West — as irrelevant to the “modern” practice of Buddhism. Some see the Vinaya as a throwback to an archaic patriarchy, based on a hodge-podge of ancient rules and customs — quaint cultural relics that only obscure the essence of “true” Buddhist practice. This misguided view overlooks one crucial fact: it is thanks to the unbroken lineage of monastics who have consistently upheld and protected the rules of the Vinaya for almost 2,600 years that we find ourselves today with the luxury of receiving the priceless teachings of Dhamma. Were it not for the Vinaya, and for those who continue to keep it alive to this day, there would be no Buddhism.
It helps to keep in mind that the name the Buddha gave to the spiritual path he taught was “Dhamma-vinaya” — the Doctrine (Dhamma) and Discipline (Vinaya) — suggesting an integrated body of wisdom and ethical training. The Vinaya is thus an indispensable facet and foundation of all the Buddha’s teachings, inseparable from the Dhamma, and worthy of study by all followers — lay and ordained, alike. Lay practitioners will find in the Vinaya Pitaka many valuable lessons concerning human nature, guidance on how to establish and maintain a harmonious community or organization, and many profound teachings of the Dhamma itself. But its greatest value, perhaps, lies in its power to inspire the layperson to consider the extraordinary possibilities presented by a life of true renunciation, a life lived fully in tune with the Dhamma.
I. Suttavibhanga — the basic rules of conduct (Patimokkha) for bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, along with the “origin story” for each one.
A. Mahavagga — in addition to rules of conduct and etiquette for the Sangha, this section contains several important sutta-like texts, including an account of the period immediately following the Buddha’s Awakening, his first sermons to the group of five monks, and stories of how some of his great disciples joined the Sangha and themselves attained Awakening.
B. Cullavagga — an elaboration of the bhikkhus’ etiquette and duties, as well as the rules and procedures for addressing offences that may be committed within the Sangha.
III. Parivara — A recapitulation of the previous sections, with summaries of the rules classified and re-classified in various ways for instructional purposes.
Also like the Sutta-pitaka, the Vinaya was preserved by being memorized and chanted by generations of monks and nuns. Eventually the rules were being chanted by widely separated groups of early Buddhists, in different languages. As a result, over the centuries there came to be several somewhat different versions of the Vinaya.
Of these, three are still in use.
The Pali Vinaya-pitaka. This version is part of the Pali Canon and is followed by Theravada Buddhists. Scholars say this is the only version that has survived in its original language.
The Tibetan Vinaya-pitaka. This is a Tibetan translation of a Vinaya originally preserved by an early school of Buddhism called Mulasarvastivada. Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns go by this version.
A Chinese translation of a Vinaya preserved by the Dharmaguptaka, another early Buddhist school. For the most part, schools of Buddhism that originated in China use this version of the Vinaya. This would include Buddhism practiced in Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. Since the 19th century, however, Japanese Buddhism has followed only a part of this Vinaya.
The Tibetan Vinaya
The Mulasarvativadin Vinaya was brought to Tibet in the 8th century by the Indian scholar Shantarakshita. It takes up thirteen volumes of the 103 volumes of the Tibetan Buddhist canon (Kangyur). The Tibetan Vinaya also contains rules of conduct (Patimokkha) for monks and nuns; Skandhakas, which corresponds to the Pali Khandhaka; and appendices that partly correspond to the Pali Parivara.
The Chinese (Dharmaguptaka) Vinaya
This Vinaya was translated into Chinese in the early 5th century. It is sometimes called “the Vinaya in four parts.” Its sections also correspond generally to the Pali.
These three versions of the Vinaya are sometimes referred to as lineages. This refers to a practice initiated by the Buddha.
When the Buddha first began to ordain monks and nuns, he performed a simple ceremony himself. As the monastic sangha grew, there came a time when this was no longer practical. So, he allowed ordinations to be performed by others under certain rules, which are explained in the three Vinayas. Among the conditions is that a certain number of ordained monastics must be present at each ordination. In this way, it is believed there is an unbroken lineage of ordinations going back to the Buddha himself.
The three Vinayas have similar, but not identical, rules. For this reason, Tibetan monastics sometimes say they are of the Mulasarvastivada lineage. Chinese, Tibetan, Taiwanese, etc. monks and nuns are of the Dharmaguptaka lineage.
In recent years, this has come to be an issue within Theravada Buddhism, because in most Theravada countries the lineages of nuns came to an end centuries ago. Today women in those countries are allowed to be something like honorary nuns, but full ordination is denied to them because there are no ordained nuns to attend the ordinations, as called for in the Vinaya.
Some would-be nuns have tried to get around this technicality by importing nuns from Mahayana countries, such as Taiwan, to attend the ordinations. But the Theravada sticklers do not recogize Dharmaguptaka lineage ordinations.
Pārājika discipline consists of four sets of rules laid down to prevent four grave offences. Any transgressor of these rules is defeated in his purpose in becoming a bhikkhu.
In the parlance of Vinaya, the Pārājika Āpatti falls upon him; he automatically loses the status of a bhikkhu; he is no longer recognized as a member of the community of bhikkhus and is not permitted to become a bhikkhu again.
Saṁghādisesa discipline consists of a set of thirteen rules which require formal participation of the Sangha from beginning to end in the process of making him free from the guilt of transgression.
Aniyata means indefinite, uncertain.
There are thirty rules under the Nissaggiya category of offences and penalties which are laid down to curb inordinate greed in bhikkhus for possession of material things such as robes, bowls etc.
The Pācittiya Pāḷi which is Book II of the Vinaya Piṭaka deals with the remaining sets of rules for the bhikkhus, namely, the Pācittiya, the Pāṭidesanīya, Sekhiya, Adhikaraṇasamatha and the corresponding disciplinary rules for the bhikkhunnīs.
These seventy-five rules laid down originally for the proper behaviour of bhikkhus also apply to novices who seek admission to the Order. Most of these rules were all laid down at Sāvatthi on account of undisciplined behaviour on the part of a group of six bhikkhus.
Pācittiya Pāḷi concludes the disciplinary rules for bhikkhus with a Chapter on seven ways of settling cases, Adhikaraṇasamatha.
The concluding chapters in the Pācittiya Pāḷi are devoted to the rules of Discipline for the bhikkhunīs. The list of rules for bhikkhunīs runs longer than that for the bhikkhus.
Mahāvagga Pāḷi, made up of ten sections known as Khandhakas, opens with an historical account of how the Buddha attained Supreme Enlightenment at the foot of the Bodhi Tree,
how he discovered the famous law of Dependent Origination, how he gave his first sermon to the Group of Five Bhikkhus on the discovery of the Four Noble Truths, namely, the great Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.
Cūḷavagga Pāḷi which is Book IV of the Vinaya Piṭaka continues to deal with more rules and procedures for institutional acts or functions known as Saṁghakamma.
The twelve sections in this book deal with rules for offences such as Saṁghādisesa that come before the Sangha; rules for observance of penances such as parivāsa and mānatta and rules for reinstatement of a bhikkhu.
Parivāra Pāḷi which is Book V and the last book of the Vinaya Piṭaka serves as a kind of manual. It is compiled in the form of a catechism, enabling the reader to make an analytical survey of the Vinaya Piṭaka.
All the rules, official acts, and other matters of the Vinaya are classified under separate categories according to subjects dealt with.
Parivāra explains how rules of the Order are drawn up to regulate the conduct of the bhikkhus as well as the administrative affairs of the Order.
The Sutta Pitaka (suttapiṭaka; or Suttanta Pitaka; cf Sanskrit सूत्र पिटक Sūtra Piṭaka) is the second of the three divisions of the Tripitaka or Pali Canon, the Pali collection of Buddhist writings, the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism. The Sutta Pitaka contains more than 10,000 suttas (teachings) attributed to the Buddha or his close companions.The scriptures tell how the First Council held shortly after the Buddha’s death collected together the discipline (vinaya), and the dharma in five collections. Tradition holds that little was added to the Canon after this. Scholars are more skeptical, but differ in their degrees of skepticism. Richard Gombrich thinks most of the first four nikayas (see below) go back to the Buddha, in content but not in form. The late Professor Hirakawa Akira says that the First Council collected only short prose passages or verses expressing important doctrines, and that these were expanded into full length suttas over the next century.
The Sutta Pitaka (“Basket of Discourse, Sutra”) is the largest of the “three baskets” (Tipitaka). It consists of five collections (nikayas) that contain prose discourses attributed to Buddha, as spoken on various occasions. There are also a few discourses delivered by some of his better known disciples such as Sariputta, Ananda, and Moggallana in it. There may be seemingly contradictory statements. Most of the sermons were intended mainly for the benefit of Bhikkhus [ascetic monks]. There are several other discourses which deal with both the material and moral progress of His lay followers.
Interspersed are stanzas to illustrate or sum up particular points. Many of the discourses seem drawn out and repetitive, but they were actually made to serve oral transmission and – yes – propaganda. Also, they are hints on how to meditate, with illustrations by excellent similies.
All the sayings of these discourses hardly represent the exact words of Buddha, although some phrases may have been accurately remembered. They can reveal glimpses of the personality and soaring spirit of Buddha.
The grouping of the discourses into collections (nikayas) has no topical basis. The third and fourth nikayas (Samyutta and Anguttara) seem to reflect a later development, they serve to rearrange the topics dealt with in the Digha and Majjhima Nikayas
The five nikayas or collections are:
Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses).
Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Middle-Length Discourses).
Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Kindred Sayings).
Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses arranged in accordance with numbers).
Khuddaka Nikaya (Smaller Collection).
2.1.1 The Digha Nikaya (“Collection of Long Discourses”) contains 34 suttas, some of considerable length, presenting a vivid picture of the different aspects of life and thought at Buddha’s time. Divided into three books, it contrasts superstitious beliefs, various doctrinal and philosophical speculations, and ascetic practices with Buddhist ethical ideas, which are elucidated with the help of similes and examples taken from the everyday life of the people. One of the most interesting suttantas (“discourses”) is the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, which gives an account of the last days of Buddha and stresses the importance of striving for emancipation.
2.1.2 The Majjhima Nikaya (“Collection of the Middle Length Sayings”) contains 152 suttas in its present version, while the Chinese one, preserving the lost Sarvastivada collection, has 222, some of which are also found in other nikayas (collections) of the Pali canon. Like the Digha, the suttas in the Majjhima present Buddhist ideas and ideals, illustrating them by profound similes of beauty.
2.1.3 The Samyutta Nikaya (“Collection of Kindred Discourses”) has altogether 2,941 suttas, classed in 59 divisions (called samyutta) grouped in five parts (vaggas).
220.127.116.11 The first vagga (part) has suttas that contain stanzas. The suttas begin with a description of the particular occasion when the stanzas were spoken; the stanzas themselves represent a kind of questioning and answering.
18.104.22.168 The second vagga deals with the important principle of dependent origination – the chain of cause and effect affecting all things.
22.214.171.124 The third vagga presents the anatman (no-self) doctrine, which is the rejection of an abiding principle that could be termed a self or a pure ego.
126.96.36.199 The fourth vagga is very similar to the previous one, but here it is not the philosophical principle underlying the analysis that is stressed but the transitoriness of the elements constituting reality.
188.8.131.52 The fifth vagga is devoted to a discussion of the basic principles of Buddhist philosophy, religion, and culture.
2.1.4 The Anguttara Nikaya (“Collection of the Gradual Sayings”) contains as many as 2,308 small suttas arranged according to the number of topics discussed, ranging from one to eleven. There are three areas in which training is needed: in conduct, concentration, and insight – and [at least] eight worldly concerns: gain, loss, fame, blame, rebuke, praise, pleasure, and pain. Here, too, similes enliven the presentation.
2.1.5 The Khuddaka Nikaya (“Collection of Small Texts”) is subdivided into fifteen books:
Khuddaka-patha (“Small Reading”, or Shorter Texts). This is the smallest book in the entire Tipitaka. Compiled for use by primary trainees, its contents are used on various occasions. Two suttas have been borrowed from the Suttanipata (see below), and their recitation is regarded as very auspicious.
Dhammapada (Way of Truth), also called “Verses on the Dhamma” – This work contains 423 verses in 26 chapters. Presenting maxims of Buddhist ethics, it not only occupies an eminent place in the religious life of the peoples in Buddhist countries but is also of universal appeal, as it recommends a life of peace and nonviolence and declares that enmity can never be overcome by enmity, only by kindness.
Udana (Paeans of Joy), or “Utterances”. This contains 80 utterances attributed to Buddha or his chief disciples, when they had achieved the bliss of their emancipation or spoke in appreciation of a sublime state.
Iti Vuttaka (“Thus said” Discourses), or “Thus Said” – This contains 112 short pieces dealing with ethical principles, such as generosity, good and evil, greed, passion, and malice.
Sutta Nipata (Collected Discourses), or “Collection of suttas” – This is one of the oldest Buddhist texts in existence today. It is partly in verse, partly in a mixed style of prose and verse. The verse part is of high poetic quality.
Vimana Vatthu (Stories of Celestial Mansions), or “Tales of Heavenly Mansions” – This book describes the different abodes of deities, male and female, who are born in the heavens as a result of their former meritorious deeds.
Peta Vatthu (Stories of Petas), or “Tales of Ghosts” – This work gives an account of the various purgatories and the woes of the beings reborn there as a result of their wicked deeds.
Theragatha (Psalms of the Brethren), or “Hymns of the Elders” – This collection contains songs attributed to 264 personal disciples of Buddha. The songs are said to have been composed when their authors experienced the bliss of emancipation.
Therigatha (Psalms of the Sisters), or “Hymns of the Senior Nuns” – These are the songs attributed to about 100 female disciples of Buddha. They provide rich material for the study of the position of women at the time of Buddha. Their merit consists in their revealing the deep impression Buddha’s teaching made upon their life. A personal tone is unmistakable.
Jataka (Birth Stories), or “Lives [of Buddha]” – Only the verses are considered to be canonical, while the 547 tales of Buddha’s previous lives are considered a later addition. The prose stories contain legends, fables, humorous anecdotes, and short sayings, as well as lengthy romances.
Niddesa (Expositions), or “Exposition” – This work, consisting of two parts, Mahaniddesa and Cullaniddesa, actually belongs to the group of commentaries. The last two chapters comment on the Suttanipata.
Patisambhida Magga (Analytical Knowledge), or “The Way of Analysis” – This is a kind of encyclopaedia of the philosophical ideas in the Sutta Pitaka. It is primarily meant for reference and intensive study.
Apadana (Lives of Arahats), or “Stories” – This is a collection of stories of the previous lives of Buddha, the pratyeka buddhas (who attain enlightenment by themselves and are unconcerned about the enlightenment of others), and the arhats of the early Buddhist sangha, whose Theragatha and Therigatha songs are incorporated and embellished with rich biographical detail. The concluding sentence of each apadana in the collection is intended to show that even the smallest meritorious act has the potentiality of giving vast positive results even after a long time. All the stories are in verse.
Buddhavamsa (The History of Buddha), or “Lineage of Buddha” – This work relates the lives of 24 previous buddhas, of Gotama (the historical Buddha), and of Metteyya (Sanskrit: Maitreya; the future buddha). According to the text, the stories are told by the historical Buddha himself.
Cariya Pitaka (Modes of Conduct), or “Basket of Conduct” – This collection retells 35 Jatakas (stories of Buddha’s previous lives) in verse form, illustrating the bodhisattva’s practice of the 10 perfections (paramitas) necessary for the attainment of Buddhahood.
In addition to the above come: Nettippakarana (Burmese Tipitaka only); Petakopadesa (Burmese Tipitaka only): and Milindapanha (Questions of Milinda) (Burmese Tipitaka only)
The Sutta Pitaka, the second division of the Tipitaka, consists of more than 10,000 suttas (discourses) delivered by the Buddha and his close disciples during and shortly after the Buddha’s forty-five year teaching career, as well as many additional verses by other members of the Sangha.
The Abhidhamma Pitaka (abhidhammapiṭaka) is the last of the three pitakas (Pali for “baskets”) constituting the Pali Canon, the scriptures of Theravāda Buddhism.
The Abhidhamma Pitaka is a detailed scholastic reworking of material appearing in the Suttas, according to schematic classifications. It does not contain systematic philosophical treatises, but summaries or enumerated lists
As the last major division of the canon, the Abhidhamma Pitaka has had a checkered history. It was not accepted as canonical by the Mahasanghika school[dubious – discuss] and several other schools[dubious – discuss]. Another school included most of the Khuddaka Nikaya within the Abhidhamma Pitaka. Also, the Pali version of the Abhidhamma is a strictly Theravada collection, and has little in common with the Abhidhamma works recognized by other Buddhist schools. The various Abhidhamma philosophies of the various early schools have no agreement on doctrine and belong to the period of ‘Divided Buddhism' (as opposed to Undivided Buddhism). The earliest texts of the Pali Canon have no mention of (the texts of) the Abhidhamma Pitaka. The Abhidhamma is also not mentioned in some reports of the First Buddhist Council, which do mention the existence of the texts of the Vinaya and either the five Nikayas or the four Agamas, although it may be noted that the Venerable [Sariputra] foremost in Abhidhamma had passed on before the Buddha before the First Council took place. Other accounts do include the Abhidhamma.
The seven books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the third division of the Tipitaka, offer an extraordinarily detailed analysis of the basic natural principles that govern mental and physical processes. Whereas the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas lay out the practical aspects of the Buddhist path to Awakening, the Abhidhamma Pitaka provides a theoretical framework to explain the causal underpinnings of that very path. In Abhidhamma philosophy the familiar psycho-physical universe (our world of “trees” and “rocks,” “I” and “you”) is distilled to its essence: an intricate web of impersonal phenomena and processes unfolding at an inconceivably rapid pace from moment to moment, according to precisely defined natural laws.
According to tradition, the essence of the Abhidhamma was formulated by the Buddha during the fourth week after his Enlightenment. Seven years later he is said to have spent three consecutive months preaching it in its entirety in one of the deva realms, before an audience of thousands of devas (including his late mother, the former Queen Maya), each day briefly commuting back to the human realm to convey to Ven. Sariputta the essence of what he had just taught. Sariputta mastered the Abhidhamma and codified it into roughly its present form. Although parts of the Abhidhamma were recited at the earlier Buddhist Councils, it wasn’t until the Third Council (ca. 250 BCE) that it became fixed into its present form as the third and final Pitaka of the canon.
Despite its relatively late entrance into the Canon, the Abhidhamma stands as an essential pillar of classical Theravada Buddhist thought. Its significance does, however, vary considerably across regional and cultural boundaries. In Thai Buddhism, for example, the Abhidhamma (and, for that matter, many of the Commentaries as well) play a relatively minor role in Buddhist doctrine and practice. In Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma), however, they hold the same venerated status as the Vinaya and Sutta Pitakas themselves. The modern Burmese approach to the teaching and practice of Satipatthana meditation, in particular, relies heavily on an Abhidhammic interpretation of meditative experience. Regardless of the Abhidhamma’s position on the shelf of Buddhist canonical texts, the astonishing detail with which it methodically constructs a quasi-scientific model of mind (enough, by far, to make a modern systems theorist or cognitive scientist gasp in awe), insures its place in history as a monumental feat of intellectual genius.
The seven books
The Abhidhamma Pitaka is divided into seven books, although it is the first (Dhammasangani) and last (Patthana) that together lay out the essence of Abhidhamma philosophy. The seven books are:
I. Dhammasangani (“Enumeration of Phenomena”).
This book enumerates all the paramattha dhamma (ultimate realities) to be found in the world. According to one such enumeration these amount to:
52 cetasikas (mental factors), which, arising together in various combination, give rise to any one of…
…89 different possible cittas (states of consciousness)
4 primary physical elements, and 23 physical phenomena derived from them
II. Vibhanga (“The Book of Treatises”).
This book continues the analysis of the Dhammasangani, here in the form of a catechism.
III. Dhatukatha (“Discussion with Reference to the Elements”).
A reiteration of the foregoing, in the form of questions and answers.
IV. Puggalapaññatti (“Description of Individuals”).
Somewhat out of place in the Abhidhamma Pitaka, this book contains descriptions of a number of personality-types.
V. Kathavatthu (“Points of Controversy”).
Another odd inclusion in the Abhidhamma, this book contains questions and answers that were compiled by Moggaliputta Tissa in the 3rd century BCE, in order to help clarify points of controversy that existed between the various “Hinayana” schools of Buddhism at the time.
VI. Yamaka (“The Book of Pairs”).
This book is a logical analysis of many concepts presented in the earlier books. In the words of Mrs. Rhys Davids, an eminent 20th century Pali scholar, the ten chapters of the Yamaka amount to little more than “ten valleys of dry bones.”
VII. Patthana (“The Book of Relations”).
This book, by far the longest single volume in the Tipitaka (over 6,000 pages in the Siamese edition), describes the 24 paccayas, or laws of conditionality, through which the dhammas interact. These laws, when applied in every possible permutation with the dhammas described in the Dhammasangani, give rise to all knowable experience.