An examination of the Pali texts reveals the fact that we are not without Canonical Sutta references which speak of the existence of the Pātimokkha recital even during the lifetime of the Buddha.1 In the Mahāsakuludāyī Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya, the Buddha himself tells Sakuludāyī Paribbājaka how the solitude of his forest-dwelling monks is regularly interrupted by their attendance at the fortnightly recital of the Pātimokkha in the assembly of the Saṅgha. (Santi kho pana me udāyi sāvakāāraññakā pantasenāsanā araññavanapatthāni pantāni senāsanāni ajjhogahetvā viharanti. Te anvaddhamāsaṃ saṅghamajjhe osaranti pātimokkhuddesāya. M. II. 8). This is quite an incidental reference and no more is said in the Sutta thereafter about the Pātimokkha ritual.
The Aṅguttara Nikāya records the words of the Vajjiputtaka monk who comes before the Buddha and confesses his inability to discipline himself in terms of the sikkhāpadawhich are being regularly recited in the assembly of the Saṅgha every fortnight (Atha kho aññataro vajjiputtako bhikkhu yena bhagavā tenupasaṅkami.... Ekamantaṃ nisinno kho so vajjiputtako bhikkhu bhagavantaṃ etad 'avoca. Sādhikaṃ idaṃ bhante diyaḍḍhasikkhāpadasatam anvaddhamāsaṃ uddesaṃāgacchati. Nā'haṃ bhante ettha sakkomi sikkhitun'ti. A.I.230). But the word Pātimokkha is not used in this context. However, there is no doubt that the uddesa here referred to as a fortnightly event is nothing other than what is spoken of elsewhere as the recital of the Pātimokkha (Pātimokkhuddesaand suttuddesa). The Vinaya too, uses the term uddesa in the sense of the Pātimokkha and its recital. (Uddesapariyāpannesu sikkhāpadesū'ti pātimokkhapariyāpannesu sikkhāpadesu. Vin.III.178).
On the other hand, the Gopakamoggallāna Sutta which comes down to us as a post-parinibbāna composition of fair antiquity, gives us more details regarding the ritual of the Pātimokkha.1 According to the Suttta, this ritual seems to have been vital to the early Buddhist monastic community to maintain and establish its purity and exercise control over its miscreants. (Atthi kho brāhmaṇa tena bhagavatā jānatā arahatā passatā sammāsambuddhena bhikkhūnaṃ sikkhāpadaṃ paññattaṃ pātimokkhaṃ uddiṭṭhaṃ. Te mayaṃ tad'ah'uposathe yāvatikā ekaṃ gāmakkhettaṃ upanissāya viharāma te sabbe ekajjhaṃ sannipatāma sannipatitvā yassa taṃ vattati taṃ ajjhesāma. Tasmin ce bhaññamāne hoti bhikkhussa āpatti hoti vītikkamo taṃ mayaṃ yathādhammaṃ yathāsatthaṃ kāremā'ti. Na kira no bhavanto kārenti dhammo no kāretī'ti. M.III.10). Thus Pātimokkha undoubtedly became the most dynamic institution in the early history of the Sāsana. It also soon roused endless opposition from members of the monastic community on account of its uncompromising spirit of correction and reform. On the other hand, the Pātimokkha ritual itself lost its dynamism in course of time and there is evidence to believe that in its struggle for survival it lent itself to considerable modification.
It is with regret that we note that the translation of the above passage in the Further Dialogues of the Buddha is extremely misleading.
For the benefit of researchers, we reproduce it here in full.
"Lord who knew and saw, the Arahat all-enlightened, prescribed a rule of life and laid down canon law. Every sabbath all of us who live in the precincts of a village meet as a body and in meeting enquire what each is doing. If, when this is being told us, an offence or a transgression by an Almsman is disclosed, we make him act according to the Doctrine and according to book. It is not by us, we hold, but by the Doctrine that he is constrained." Further Dialogues II [SBB.VI], p.160.
We would translate the passage as follows:
"O Brahmin, the Exalted One has laid down sikkhāpada and instituted the Pātimokkha for the use of the Bhikkhus. We are the Bhikkhus for whom they were laid down and all of us who live by a single village unit assemble ourselves together on the day of the Uposatha and whosover amongst us knows it, i.e. the Pātimokkha (yassa taṃ vattati), we request him to recite it (taṃ ajjhesāma). While it is being recited if (it is discovered that) a Bhikkhu has an offence or a transgression of which he is guilty, then we deal with him (kārema) according to the Dhamma and the injunctions (yathādhammam yathāsatthaṃ). It is not the monks who punish us but the Dhamma which punishes us"
Sukumar Dutt, in his The Buddha And Five After-Centuries,has made use of the translation of this passage in the Further Dialogues of the Buddha which we have refered to above.1 Dutt has certainly attempted to improve on the choice of words in the translation. He replaces almsman with Bhikkhu, Doctrine with Dhamma and `according to book' with `scriptural ordinances'. But these changes do not add any more sense to the translation. If the statement yassa taṃ vattati taṃ ajjhesāma of the passage quoted above which we have translated as `whosoever knows it (Pātimokkha), we request him (to recite it)' still baffles the reader we would refer him to Vin.I.116 where it occurs in a clearer context. (Te theraṃ ajjhesiṃsu uddisatu bhante thero pātimokkhan'ti. So evaṃāha na me āvuso vattatī'ti. Vin.I.116).
Placed in such a situation, it is not at all surprising that Dutt came to the following conclusion: "The periodical assembly mentioned by Ānanda seems to have been the primitive bond of the Buddhist sect after the extinction of personal leadership on the Lord's decease ... It is not known when exactly a disciplinary code ascribed traditionally to the Lord himself, of which the Pātimokkha was the final development, was first devised in the Buddhist community.'2 His theories which resulted from this assumption are examined in the relevant places.
We are ccompelled to include here [at the stage of this second edition] an equally serious misunderstanding of the Gopakamoggalāna Sutta in the hands of renowned scholars which has led to disastrous conclusions Here is Professor Nalinaksa Dutt.
"Ananda replied. We are not without a refuge (appaṭisaraṇā), dhamma is our refuge. There is a treatise called Pātimokkha which has been formulated by the omniscient Teacher and which all the monks living in the same parish (gāmakkhetta) have to recite in a monastery where they assemble on the uposatha days. Should there occur any difference or doubt in the recitation, the bhikkhus present explain them in accordance with the dhamma (hence they have dhamma as their refuge)." [Note: Translation errors are highlighted.]. Majjhima, III. pp. 7ff. N. Dutt, Buddhist Sects in India, 1970, p.43 and p.40 in 1998 edition.
We observe further that this is a tragic misunderstanding of the Pali text quoted, specially in the hands of a reputed scholar. The resulting errors of interpretation are extremely misleading.
Here are our comments.
"All monks living in the same parish and assembled in a monastery do not recite the Pātimokkha on the uposatha day. It is not all monks who recite. It is the Reciter [i.e. Pātimokkhuddesaka ] who recites. Others only listen to him attentively and keep track of what is being recited [Taṃ sādhukaṃ suṇoma manasi karoma.]."
There is no reference whatsoever to 'there being any difference or doubt in the recitation'. It is the discovery of any offence committed by a bhikkhu in terms of the sikkhāpadarecited - tasmiñ ce bhaññamāne hoti bhikkhussa āpatii hoti bhikkhussa vītikkamo.
Deriving from his second wrong assumption above, the writer makes the following most serious error. He says: "... the bhikkhus present explain them in accordance with the dhamma(hence they have dhamma as their refuge)". This error betrays a complete ignorance of what the function of the Pātimokkha recital was expected to be. Yathādhammameans according to tradition as already laid down. It is supported by the accompanying phrase yathāsatthaṃwhich simply means as instructed.
In the Gopakamoggallāna Sutta, the declaration of the venerable Ānanda to the Brahmin Vassakāra is in answer to the question whether the monastic community was without guidance on the death of the Master who appointed no successor. It is interesting that both in the proper care of the monastic community and the spiritual welfare of its members, it is the Dhamma which embodies the spirit of the Buddha's teaching which Ānanda claims to be their leader and guide (Na kho mayaṃ brāhmaṇa appaṭisaraṇā sappaṭisaraṇā mayaṃ brāhmaṇa dhammapaṭisaraṇā. M. III. 9).
This regard and respect which the disciples still seem to have for the Dhamma even after the demise of the Master is reminiscent of the advice given by the Buddha to his disciples in the Kakacūpama Sutta. (Tasmāt'iha bhikkhave dhammaṃ y'eva sakkaronto dhammaṃ garukaronto dhammaṃ apacāyamānā suvacā bhavissāma sovacassataṃāpajjissāmā'ti evaṃ hi vo bhikkhave sikkhitabbaṃ- M.I.126). It also reminds us of his sdvice to Ānanda in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (Tasmāt'iha ānanda attadīpā viharatha attasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā dhammadīpā dhammasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā ...Ye hi ke ci ānanda etarahi vā mamaṃ vā accayena attadīpā viharissanti.....anaññasaraṇā tamatagge me te ānanda bhikkhū bhavissanti ye ke ci sikkhākāmā'ti. D.II.100). In both these cases, which on the authority of internal evidence mark a relatively early and a very late stage in the history of the Sāsana, the disciples are advised by the Buddha to be guided by the Dhamma and to respect its leadership. But the increasing need for regulations, with greater concern for the letter of the law, is already evident in the Sutta Piṭaka. We have already witnessed in the Bhaddāli Sutta the introduction of sikkhāpadainto the sphere of Buddhist monastic discipline.1 In the Gopakamoggallāna Sutta, Ānanda makes pointed reference to the existence of the sikkhāpada as well as of the ritual Pātimokkha.2
What appears to be the most complete account of the recital of the Pātimokkha occurs in the Uposathakkhandhaka of the Mahāvagga.3 This account, which is very composite in character, including commentarial notes which are of a relatively later date, attempts to place the inauguration of the ritual in a convincing historical situation. It introduces the establishment of the recital of the Pātimokkha through several preliminary stages not all of which seem to be really necessary. This is perhaps the result of the editor of the text following too closely the formulation of sikkhāpadas and their modified versions in successive stages in the Suttavibaṅga where a historical or imaginary situation is provided for every addition or change. It is said that King Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha brought to the notice of the Buddha the fact that the Paribbājakas met regularly on the 8th, 14th and 15th days of the fortnight and preached their Dhamma (dhammaṃ bhāsanti) as a result of which they gained fame and popularity and grew in strength. So he wished that the disciples of the Buddha, too, did the same.1
In response to this the Buddha instructed his disciples to meet accordingly, hoping perhaps that they would engage themselves in some religious activity at such assemblies. But we are told that in the absence of specific instructions from the Master they sat in the assembly and remained silent like `dumb creatures.' However, it is stated that the people were wise enough to remind the disciples that it was their duty to preach the Dhamma when they met (Nanu nāma sannipatitehi dhammo bhāsitabbo'ti. Vin.I.102). Thereupon the Buddha recommended that it should be so (Anujānāmi bhikkhave cātuddase pannarase aṭṭhamiyā ca pakkhassa sannipatitvā dhammaṃ bhāsitun'ti. Ibid.)But it must be mentioned at this stage that the Mahāvagga does not refer to these assemblies of the Buddhist Saṅgha or of the Paribbājakas as Uposatha. They are no more than regular meetings of those who had renounced the household life at which, even the laymen knew, the Dhamma would be preached. The laymen attended those meetings for the purpose of listening to the Dhamma. Nor do we find the term Pātimokkha associated with these meetings. But as a modification to these regular meetings of religious men at which their special doctrines were preached before laymen the Buddha is said to have suggested the idea that his disciples should perform the Pātimokkha recital as a religious duty on the day of the Uposatha. He appears to sanction for this purpose the recital of the body of sikkhāpadawhich he had already laid down for the guidance of his disciples.2
But the recital of the Pātimmokkha assumes a more positive and definite character where it is presented as closely following the promulgation of the sikkhāpadain the attempt to arrest the decline in monastic discipline. That this was undoubtedly the primary function of the Pātimokkha is clear from the request of the venerable Sāriputta in the Suttavibhaṅga pertaining to the institution of sikkhāpada and the recital of the Pātimokkha and from the reply given to him by Buddha.1 The ritual of the Pātimokkha empowers the collective organization of the Saṅgha, on the authority of the `dhamma and the instructions' (yathādhammaṃ yathāsatthaṃ), to sit in judgement over the conduct of its members.2 The sikkhāpada of which the text of the Pātimokkha is constituted form the criteria. One should also take note of the procedure adopted by the senior monk (thera) who recites the Pātimokkha in the assembly (pātimokkhuddesaka) in questioning the members of the assembly with regard to their purity in terms of each group of sikkhāpada recited by him. In the light of evidence from the Suttas which we have already examined there does not appear to be any justification to regard this aspect of the Pātimokkha recital as being of later origin.
But Sukumar Dutt calls this `the present ritual form of the Pātimokkha' and says that it `was not its original form - the original was a disciplinary code.'3 Dutt presumes the existence of the `original Pātimokkha' in the bare form of a code.4 He says that the Suttavibhaṅga contemplates it as such, and goes on to add the following remarks: `In the Suttavibhaṅga there is not the usual word-for-word commentary on the "introductory formular" of the Pātimokkha as we now have it - as text for a ritual.' A few lines below he concludes as follows: `The Suttavibhaṅga, in fact, regards the Pātimokkha as a mere code, while the Mahāvagga regards it as a liturgy.' But how does one arrive at such a conclusion ? When Dutt speaks of the Pātimokkha as a mere code does he mean that it was not used for the purpose of a recital? Apparently he does so, for the only argument he adduces in support of his thesis is that the Suttavibhaṅga does not provide a word-for-word commentary on the "introductory forlmular" of the Pātimokkha which is now used as the introduction to the recital. We should point out here that not only is there no commentary on the "introductory formular" in the Suttavibhaṅga, but the "introductory formular" itself is not found in the Suttavibhaṅga. But this does not prove that the recital of the Pātimokkha was not known to the Suttavibhaṅga. On the other hand, the evidence proves the contrary.
At a stage when the true spirit of the Uddesa or the recital of the Pātimokkha was well known there would hardly have been a need for the incorporation of such a formal introduction in the Suttavibhaṅga.1 Nevertheless, one cannot forget the fact that every sikkhāpada in the Suttavibhanga is introduced in a manner as though it were intended to be recited: Evañ ca pana bhikkhave imaṃ sikkhāpadaṃ uddiseyyātha. On the other hand, the text of the Pātimokkha, which contains only the sikkhāpada without any details about them, and which we believe was extracted from the Suttavibhaṅga to serve the needs of the recital, carries this "introductory formular". It is misleading to refer to the Pātimokkha which is known to the Suttavibhaṅga as a mere code. The Suttavibhaṅga knows fully well the functions of the Pātimokkha recital as is evident from Pācittiyas 72 and 73.2 The Pātimokkha recital which is known to the Suttavibhaṅga and to some of the Suttas in the Nikāyas is a dynamic function where a close watch is kept over the conduct of the members of the Saṅgha, the miscreants are detected and are dealt with according to the law. If Dutt attaches so much importance to the negative evidence of the absence of the commentary to the "introductory formular" in the Suttavibhaṅga, then it seems hardly justifiable to pay no attention to the positive evidence which points to a different conclusion.
This being so, where does one find the `original form' of the Pātimokkha as a `bare code'? Does one find such a code referred to by the name of Pātimokkha divorced from the confessional meeting of the Uposatha ? What did apparently exist prior to the institution of the recital of the Pātimokkha was the body of sikkhāpada. After his remarks on what appears to him to be the form of the Pātimokkha, Dutt proceeds to comment on the Pātimokkha as a monastic function. In his search for the `missing link' Dutt is prepared to see in the story of Buddha Vipassi in the Mahāpadāna Sutta `an earlier rite'.1 This he calls `the archaic practice among the Buddhists'2 and says that the recital of the Pātimokkha replaced it at a comparatively late stage of the growth of the Saṅgha.3
It is also difficult to see how Dutt comes to the conclusion that `the rudimentary idea in the Buddhist Uposatha service seems to have been a ritualistic one, - the observance of sacred days'.4 On the other hand, we have already shown how the Uposatha and the Pātimokkha recital of the Buddhist Saṅgha are closely identified. Besides, we fail to detect the sacredness associated with these `days' which the Buddhist Saṅgha was expected to observe. No matter to whom they were sacred, they were accepted by the Buddhists too, because it was convenient to use for the purpose of religious observances these conventionally recognised days. Further, as is clear from the Mahāvagga, additional religious activities on the part of the Buddhist Saṅgha on these popularly respected days of the moon would have elevated them in the esteem of the people.1
Dutt is obviously making a needless search when he attempts to find a reason for the preaching of the Dhamma by religious mendicants when they meet on those specified days.2 This is what he says:
`It is curious to observe the closeness between the Vrata ceremonies of the Vedic sacrificer and the Posadha ceremonies of the Jaina, though the reason, as given in the Satapatha-Brāhmaṇa, for such observances has no relevance to Jaina faith. The Jainas retire on these sacred days into their Posadha-sālā, as the Vedic sacrificer would go into the Agnyāgāra, and they take upon themselves the vow of the four abstinences (Upavāsa), viz. from eating (āhāra), from luxuries (sarīrasatkāra), from sexual intercourse (abrahma), and daily work (vyāpāra). Similar abstinences are prescribed also for Buddhist laymen who celebrate the day of Uposatha by the observance of the Eight Sīlas.'
`Among religious mendicants, however, the custom seems to have been different from that which prevailed among laity. It is another form of sacred day observance that is related of them in Mahāvagga, ii. i. The reason for this different form is not far to seek. The `abstinences' were already implied in the norm of life of the religious mendicant, and some substitute had to be found among them for the Vrata abstinences observed by lay folk. Such substitute was found in religious discourse.'1
It should be clear to every student of Buddhism that the abstinences referred to by Dutt in relation to the Eight Sīla are only a continuation of the spirit of abstinence and renunciation which is characteristic of all sīlafrom the five sīla of the layman to the major sīla of the pabbajita. The similarity noted here is only a coincidence and shows nothing in common with the Vrata ceremonies of the Vedic ritualist. Hence one cannot find any basis for this forced remark which is made about religious mendicants that 'some substitute had to be found among them for the Vrata abstinences observed by lay folk.'