The Vinaya (Pali & Sanskrit) is the division of the Buddhist canon (Tripitaka) containing the rules and procedures that govern the Buddhist monastic community, or sangha. Three parallel Vinaya traditions remain in use by modern monastic communities: the Theravada (Sri Lanka & Southeast Asia), Mulasarvastivada (Tibetan Buddhism and the Himalayan region) and Dharmaguptaka (East Asian Buddhism). In addition to these Vinaya traditions, Vinaya texts of several extinct schools of Indian Buddhism are preserved in the Tibetan and East Asian canons, including those of the Kyap?ya, the Mah?sghika, the Mahsaka, and the Sarv?stiv?da
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. 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.
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. As the sangha expanded, situations arose which the Buddha and the lay community felt were inappropriate for mendicants.
According to Buddhist tradition, the complete Vinaya Pi?aka was recited by Up?li 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.
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. While the early Buddhist community seems to have lived primarily as wandering monks who begged for alms, many Vinaya rules in every tradition assumes settled monasticism to be the norm, along with regular collective meals organized by lay donors or funded by monastic wealth. The earliest dates that can be established for most Vinaya texts is their translation into Chinese around the 5th Century CE. 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. The Mulasarvastivada Vinaya was translated into Chinese in the 8th Century and Tibetan in the 9th Century but Sanskrit manuscripts exist from the 5th - 7th Century. Scholarly consensus places the composition of the M?lasarv?stiv?da Vinaya in the early centuries of the first millennium, though all the manuscripts and translations are relatively late.
The core of the Vinaya is a set of rules known as Patimokkha in P?li and Pr?timok?a in Sanskrit. This is the shortest portion of every Vinaya, and universally regarded as the earliest. This collection of rules is recited by the gathered Sangha at the new and full moon. Rules are listed in descending order, from the most serious (four rules that entail expulsion), followed by five further categories of more minor offenses. Most traditions include an explicit listing of rules intended for recitation, called Pr?timok?a-sutra, but in the Theravada tradition the Patimokkha rules occur in writing only alongside their exegesis and commentary, the Vibhanga described below. While the Pr?timok?a 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.
The second major component of the Vinaya is the Vibhanga or Suttavibhanga, which provides commentary on each of the rules listed in the Pr?timok?a. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Parallel and independent Pr?timok?a rules and Vibhnagas exist in each tradition for bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. The majority of rules for monks and nuns are identical, but the bhikkhuni Pr?timok?a and Vibhanga includes additional rules that are specific to nuns, including the Eight Garudhammas. In the Pali tradition, a specific chapter of the Khandhaka deals with issues pertaining specifically to nuns, and in the Mulasarvastivada tradition devotes most of one of the two volumes of its Ksudrakavastu to issues pertaining to nuns.
Beyond this point, the distinct Vinaya traditions differ in their organization. The Pali Vinaya includes a text known as the Pariv?ra 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. 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.
The Theravada Vinaya is preserved in the P?li Canon in the Vinaya Pi?aka. The M?lasarv?stiv?da 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: Taish? Tripi?aka), 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.
Buddhism in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand followed the Theravadin Vinaya, which has 227 rules for bhikkhus and 311 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
Buddhists in China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam follow the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya (), which has 253 rules for the bhikkhus and 348 rules 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 Mah?y?na version of Brahmaj?lasutra (). 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 Bhikkhun? Precepts] first.
Tibetan Buddhists in Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, Nepal, Ladakh and other places follow the M?lasarv?stiv?da Vinaya, which has 253 rules for the bhiksus and 364 rules for bhiksunis. In addition to these pratimok?a rules, there are many supplementary ones.
The full nun's lineage of the M?lasarv?stiv?da Vinaya was never transmitted to Tibet, and traditionally, Tibetan "nuns" were ?rama?er?s or simply took eight or ten Precepts, see ordination of women in Buddhism.
Louis de La Vallée-Poussin wrote that the Mah?y?na 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:
From the disciplinary point of view, the Mah?y?na is not autonomous. The adherents of the Mah?y?na are monks of the Mah?sghika, Dharmaguptaka, Sarv?stiv?din 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].
The P?li Vinaya has been critically edited and translated in its entirety and will serve as a point of comparison with the Northern M?lasarv?stiv?da tradition that is the focus of this study.
Dating the M?lasarv?stiv?da 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 Kua emperor Kani?ka.