Vinaya Pitaka
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The Vinaya Pitaka, the first division of the Tipitaka , is the textual framework upon which the monastic community (Sangha) is built, and includes the code of rules that defines the way of life of Theravada bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkhunis (nuns). It also details the many rules, procedures, and forms of etiquette that are necessary to support harmonious relations, both among the monastics themselves, and between the monastics and their lay supporters, upon whom they depend.

For a time after the Buddha first established the Sangha, the community lived in harmony without any codified rules of conduct. Over time, however, as the Sangha grew in number and evolved into a more complex society, occasions inevitably arose when some members would act in unskillful ways. 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. The Buddha's usual reprimand was itself a powerful corrective: It is not fit, foolish man, it is not becoming, it is not proper, it is unworthy of a recluse, it is not lawful, it ought not to be done. How could you, foolish man, having gone forth under this Dhamma and Discipline which are well-taught, [commit such and such offense]?... It is not, foolish man, for the benefit of un-believers, nor for the increase in the number of believers, but, foolish man, it is to the detriment of both unbelievers and believers, and it causes wavering in some. (The Book of the Discipline, Part I, by I.B. Horner (London: Pali Text Society, 1982), pp. 36-7.)

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 that only obscure the essence of "true" Buddhist practice. This unfortunate view misses 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 indispensible 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 the Vinaya Pitaka filled with valuable practical lessons concerning human nature, guidance on how to establish and maintain a harmonious community or organization, as well as profound teachings of the Dhamma itself. But its greatest value, perhaps, lies in its power to inspire the layperson to consider the extraordinary possibilities offered by a life of true renunciation, lived in harmony with the Dhamma.

The Three Divisions of the
Vinaya Pitaka
I. Suttavibhanga

This section includes the basic training rules for bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, along with the "origin story" for each one. These rules are summarized in the Patimokkha , and amount to 227 rules for the bhikkhus, 311 for the bhikkhunis.

II. Khandhaka

A. Mahavagga

This includes several 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. Also included are the rules for ordination, for reciting the Patimokkha during uposatha days , and various procedures that monks are to perform during formal gatherings of the community.

III. Parivara

A recapitulation of the previous sections, with summaries of the rules classified and re-classified in various ways for instructional purposes.

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