Jotiya dhirasekera



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The Gopakamoggallāna Sutta which makes a brief but comprehensive statement about the recital of the Pātimokkha speaks of the `single village unit' (eka gāmakkhetta) as its proper sphere of operation.2 The gāmakkhetta seems to have served as a convenient unit for the collective organization of the disciples for their monastic activities. The rigid divisions and technicalities of Sīmā which abound in the Mahāvagga3 are conspicuous by their absence in the Suttas. Both in the Gopakamoggallāna and the Mahāsakuludāyī Suttas, participation in the ritual of the Pātimokkha, referred to there under the name of Uddesa, is looked upon as a regular duty which is voluntarily performed by the members of the monastic community as a collective body. It was looked upon as a ritual which was inseparable from Buddhist monasticism. Participation in it was a legitimate right of the members of the Saṅgha which was withdrawn only on the commission of a Pārājika offence. The following explanation of the term asavāso, which refers to the penalty incurred by one who is guilty of a Pārājika offence or for one suspended, makes it abundantly clear: asavāso'ti savāso nāma ekakamma ekuddeso samasikkhātā eso savāso nāma. Vin.III.28. This complete and total participation in the Uddesa (ekuddeso) also implies the solidarity of the monastic group, in addition to ascertaining and safeguarding its purity (Samaggo hi sagho sammodamāno avivadamāno ekuddeso phāsu viharati. Vin.III.172). According to a statement in the Mahāvagga the performance of the Uposatha implies the unity and solidarity of the body of Bhikkhus who are participating in it. (Anujānāmi bhikkhave samaggānam uposathakamman'ti. Vin.I.105).

The solidarity which the ritual of the Pātimokkha thus gives to the monastic group seems secondary to the other, perhaps earlier, ideal of the purity of the individual monk and hence of the group as a whole. In the Gopakamoggallāna Sutta the recital itself is referred to very briefly in non-technical terms.1 But it has a very definite standpoint with regard to the miscreants in the monastic circles and their prosecution and punishment. It is clear from the evidence of the Vinaya too, that the recital of the Pātimokkha had this end in view. During the recital of the Pātimokkha no monk shall, on grounds of ignorance, claim forgiveness for an offence committed by him, if he had been present at least at two earlier recitals of the Pātimokkha. (... tañ ce bhikkhu aññe bhikkhū jāneyyu nisinnapubba iminā bhikkhunā dvikkhattu pātimokkhe uddissamāne ko pana vādo bhiyyo na ca tassa bhikkhuno aññāṇakena mutti atthi yañ ca tattha āpatti āpanno tañ ca yathādhammo kāretabbo ...Vin.IV.144). He is to be dealt with for the offence according to the law. He is also further guilty of not being alert and attentive during the recital. (... uttari c'assa moho āropetabbo tassa te āvuso alābhā tassa te dulladdha ya tva pātimokkhe uddissamāne na sādhuka aṭṭhikatvā manasikarosī'ti. Ida tasmi mohanake pācittiya. Vin.IV.144). Thus he has failed to comply with the requirements of the ritual which are specifically laid down elsewhere. (Pātimokkha uddisissāmi ta sabbe'va santā sādhuka suoma manasikaroma. Vin.I.103).

On the other hand, the Mahāvagga gives us an account of the Pātimokkha recital with a far greater concern for details. Procedure assumes here a great deal more of importance. (Evañ ca pana bhikkhave uddisitabba. Vyattena bhikkuhnā paibalena sagho ñāpetabbo. Suṇātu me bhante sagho. Ajj'uposatho paṇṇaraso. Yadi saghassa pattakalla sagho uposatha kareyya pātimokkha uddiseyya. Ki saghassa pubbakicca. Pārisuddhim āyasmanto ārocetha. Pātimokkha uddisissāmi. Ta sabbe'va santā sādhuka suoma manasikaroma. Yassa siyā āpatti so āvikareyya. Asantiyā āpattiyā tuhī bhavitabba. Tuhībhāvena kho panāyasmante parisuddhā'ti vedissāmi. Vin.I.102).

The recital of the Pātimokkha must first be formally proposed before the assembly of the Saṅgha. In the absence of any objections from the members of the congregation the approval of the Saṅgha is assumed and the Pātimokkha-reciter commences the recital. It is on behalf of the Saṅgha that he does so and his action is made to be representative of the wish of the Saṅgha. The Pātimokkha-reciter announces that he is ready to commence the recital. However, he identifies himself with the whole group in the performance of the ritual. In the Kaṅkhāvitaranī, Buddhaghosa attempts to safeguard against a possible misinterpretation of the phrase pātimokkha uddisissāmi which occurs in the Mahāvagga.1 It could be argued that the Pātimokkha-reciter would be excluded thereby from active participation in the ritual on the grounds that he is conducting the ceremony and is therefore outside it. But as pointed out earlier the recital of the Pātimokkha is a ritual to be undertaken and performed by all members of the Saṅgha living within a specified area.2 Therefore participation in it, either by being personally present or in absentia, was incumbent on every monk (Ettha ca kiñcā'pi pātimokkha uddisissāmī'ti vuttattā suotha manasikarothā'ti vattu yutta viya dissati. Sagho uposatha kareyyā'ti iminā pana na sameti. Samaggassa hi saghassa eta uposathakaraa. Pātimokkuddesako ca saghapariyāpanno'va. Iccassa saghapariyāpannattā suoma manasikaromā'it vattu yutta. Kkvt.14).

The Mahāvagga has also a few remarks concerning the preliminaries to be observed by the Saṅgha before the Pātimokkha-reciter commences the recital (Ki sanghassa pubbakicca. Pārisuddhi āyasmanto ārocetha. Pātimokkha uddisissāmi. Vin.I.102). Strangely enough, the old commentary which is appended to the text has no comment whatsoever on these ideas of preliminary duties which the Saṅgha is called upon to perform. The atatement which requires the declaration of purity - Pārisuddhi āyasmanto ārocetha - does not get a single word of comment. On the other hand, it picks up such words as āyasmanto for comment. The Samantapāsādikā too, makes no comment at all on any of the details of procedure given in the Mahāvagga, although it elaborates on a few ideas picked out from the Old Commentary.3 However, the Kaṅkhāvitaranī explains kim saghassa pubbakicca as an inquiry made by the Pātimokkha-reciter before commencing the recital as to whether the preliminary duties to be performed by the Saṅgha had been done (Kim ta katan'ti pucchati. Kkvt.11). It further explains these duties with the aid of both Canonical texts and commentaries (Ki saghassa pubbakiccan'ti sagho uposatha kareyyā'ti eva uposathakaraasabandhena vuttassa saghassa uposathe kattabbe ya ta anujānāmi bhikkhave uposathāgāra sammajjitun'ti ādinā nayena pāliya āgata aṭṭhakathāsu ca

Sammajjanī padīpo ca udakaṃ āsanena ca
uposathassa etāni pubbakaraṇan'ti vuccati.
Chandapārisuddhi utukkhānaṃ bhikkhugaṇanā ca ovādo
uposathassa etāni pubbakiccan'ti vuccati.


Evaṃ dvīhi nāmehi navavidhaṃ pubbakiccaṃ dassitaṃ.

Kkvt.10f.).


We notice here that Buddhaghosa, following the earlier commetarial tradition, takes the Canonical statement anujānāmi bhikkhave uposathāgāra sammajjitu...1 to mean the preliminary duties incumbent on the Saṅgha who are participating in the recital of the Pātimokkha. But as we examine these directions in their context we notice that this preparation of the venue of the recital constitutes the preliminary duties to be undertaken and supervised by the monks who act the host for the occasion. What is given there as most binding is that no junior monk shall, except in case of illness, fail to execute these duties when ordered to do so by a senior monk. The failure to do so results in a Dukkaṭa offence. It is in the same spirit that these preliminary duties (pubbakaraṇāni) are recommended to a monk who is the sole occupant of a monastery to prepare for the Uposatha with the hope that other monks will arrive on the scene.1 It is here, in commenting on this that Buddhaghosa incorporates in the Samanatapāsādikā the commentarial tradition which he inherits from the Aṭṭhakathācariyā regarding these preliminaries.2 Thus one cannot fail to take note of this discrepancy. A later tradition, however, tries to explain how these preliminary duties, though performed by an individual, come to be reckoned as the lot of the Saṅgha: Navavidha pubbakicca therena āṇattena katattā saghena kata nāma hoti.3

On the other hand, chandapārisuddhi which is mentioned in the second list of preliminary duties known as pubbakicca occupies a place of real importance in the early history of the ritual. As the innocence of every member was tested during the recital in the full assembly of the Saṅgha and the miscreants were punished, the presence of every member who belongs to that assembly was absolutely essential. We use the word assembly here to mean the totality of the disciples who live within the formally accepted region of samāna sīmā or common communal activity. The Suttas depict such a region as a very natural division of residence like a village (... yāvatikā eka gāmakkhetta upanissāya viharāma te sabbe ekajjha sannipatāma... M.III.10). However, with the expansion of community life the use of such natural divisions would have become impracticable. Thus we find in the Mahāvagga the origin of a formally accepted region of such co-residence or ekāvāsa.4 Through a Saṅghakamma such a unit of communal activity is demarcated and agreed upon by the Saṅgha. Under the injunctions of the Vinaya no monk shall fail to co-operate for the perfect execution of this arrangement except under the pain of a Dukkata (Na tv'eva vaggena saghena uposatho kātabbo. Yo kareyya āpatti dukkaassa. Vin.I.108, 120). We notice a very rigid ritualistic interpretation of this principle at Vin.I.122. There it is deemed possible to give validity to the Uposathakamma by removing the non-participating monk temporarily out of the region of common communal activity which has been designated as the sīmā (Igha tumhe āyasmanto ima bhikkhu nissīma netha yāva sagho uposatha karotī'ti. Vin.I.122).

Under normal conditions the ritual could not be carried out or would be considered ineffective in the absence of even one member. This, in fact, seems to have been the accepted position in the early days of the Buddhist Saṅgha.1 The Buddha once ordered the monks to assemble so that the Saṅgha might collectively perform the Uposatha. Then it was brought to his notice that one monk was absent from the assembly on account of illness. The Buddha decreed on this occasion that any monk who absents himself from the assembly should convey his innocence to the members of that assembly (Anujānāmi bhikkhave gilānena bhikkhunā pārisuddhi dātu. Vin.1.120). He further indicated different ways in which it could be done. Here he definitely insisted that any performance of the ritual without the full assembly or without ascertaining the purity of the absentee members of the Saṅgha would not only be invalid but would also be a definite offence (Na tv 'eva vaggena saghena uposatho kātabbo. Kareyya ce āpatti dukkaassa. Vin.I.120). This act of legislation is further proof of the fact that ascertaining and establishing the purity of the members of the Saṅgha, both present as well as absent, was the major function of the Pātimokkha recital.

Once the assembly of the Saṅgha has met in full membership for the recital of the Pātimokkha and the preliminary duty of communicating the purity and the consent of the absentees has been performed, the Pātimokkha-reciter proceeds thereafter with the recital. According to the statement in the Suttas the miscreants in the monastic circle were discovered and punished during this recital.1 The text of the Pātimokkha too, reveals the fact that the purity of the monks was tested and established during the recital and that disciplinary action was also taken against the transgressing monks at the same time (Tena kho pana samayena chabbaggiyā bhikkhū anācāra ācaritvā aññāṇakena āpannā'ti jānantū'ti pātimokkhe uddissamāne eva vadenti idān'eva kho maya jānāma ayam'pi kira dhammo suttāgato suttapariyāpanno anvaddhamāsa uddesa āgacchatī'ti ... na ca tassa bhikkhuno aññāṇakena mutti atthi yañ ca tattha āpatti āpanno tañ ca yathādhammo kāretabbo ...Vin.IV.144).

It is also clear that the testing was done in terms of each group of sikkhāpada after its recital. The monks are called upon to confess if they have violated any of the said rules under each group (Uddiṭṭhā kho āyasmanto cattāro pārājikā dhammā yesa bhikkhu aññatara vā aññatara vā āpajjitvā na labhati bhikkhūhi saddhi savāsa yathā pure tathā pacchā pārājiko hoti asavāso. Tatthā'yasmante pucchāmi kacci'ttha parisuddhā dutiyam ... tatiya ... parisuddhā. Parisuddhā etth'āyasmanto. Tasmā tuhī. Evameta dhārayāmī'ti. Vin.III.109).2 All these accounts seem to agree on the point that the confession of guilt and the establishment of the purity of the members of the congregation as well as the punishment of the offenders were carried out at the assembly which met fortnightly for the recital of the Pātimokkha.

The Mahāvagga account of the Pātimokkha recital categorically states that during the recital all members of the congregation should listen attentively to it and ponder over its contents and whosoever discovers himself to be guilty of any transgression should confess the same before the Saṅgha.1 This regular scrutiny would have served to ensure the purity of individual monks and also would have kept the community of monks as a whole above suspicion, as the innocence of every member in terms of the code of monastic discipline was tested in the assembly and the purity of the Sangha was thus established (Pātimokkham uddisissāmi. Ta sabbe'va santā sādhukam suoma manasikaroma. Yassa siyā āpatti so āvikareyya. Asantiyā āpattiyā tuhī bhavitabba. Tuhībhāvena kho pana āyasmante parisuddhā'ti vedissāmi. Vin.I.103f.).

Yet another, and a very distinctly different function of this ritual is envisaged in the Mahāvagga. It appears that the confession of guilt, if any, by the monks during the recital of the Pātimokkha is insisted upon not only because no miscreant should go unpunished for his offence and thereby help to perpetuate such offences, but also because this confession is said to bring about the disburdening of the offender of the sense of guilt without which no spiritual progress could be made. The Mahāvagga states that this absolution through confession is essential as a prelude to all spiritual attainments (Tasmā saramānena bhikkhunā āpannena visuddhāpekkhena santi āpatti āvikātabbā. Āvikatā hi 'ssa phāsu hoti. Vin.I.103). In the ritual of the Pātimokkha, it is evidently this role of 'the purge from guilt' (āvikatā hi'ssa phāsu hoti) which earned for itself the title of Pātimokkha, and perhaps through this the text too, which is recited at the ritual of the Uposatha came to be known by the same name.1 The confession removes the sense of guilt from standing as an impediment on the path to higher spiritual attainment (Āvikatā hi'ssa phāsu hotī 'ti kissa phāsu hoti. Pahamassa jhānassa adhigamāya ... kusalāna dhammāna adhigamāya phāsu hotī'ti - Ibid.104).

However, the virtue of confession cannot be in the mere act of owning one's guilt. We should really seek it in the acceptance of penalties and punishments by the offender and in his determination to abstain from the repetition of such offences in the future (āyati savarāya). It is also declared by the Buddha both in the Suttas and in the Vinaya that the ability to admit and accept one's error and make amends for it as well as safeguard against its recurrence is the basis of progress (Vuddhi hi esā bhikkhave ariyassa vinaye yo accaya accayato disvā yathādhamma paikaroti āyati savara āpajjati. Vin.I.315).2 That this attitude to crime and its correction was not restricted to monastic discipline alone is clear from the Buddha's advice to king Ajātasatthu in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta.3 The Vinaya too, records a similar incident where the Buddha advises the man, who being instigated by Devadatta, lay in ambush to assassinate him.4 This comprehensive process of confession, however, seems to have undergone considerable change in the history of the Pātimokkha recital.

It is interesting to note that we discover, both in the Suttas and in the Vinaya, a tendency on the part of some transgressing monks to suppress and conceal any lapses in discipline into which they have slipped (hāna kho pan'eta āvuso vijjati ya idh'ekaccassa bhikkhuno evam icchā uppajjeyya āpattiñ ca vata āpanno assa na ca ma bhikkhū jāneyyu. M.I.27). The fear and dislike of consequent punishment and loss of personal reputation may be considered as being responsible for this. There also seem to have been others who, though their guilt was known to fellow members and they themselves were willing to admit it, wished that they might not be prosecuted in public (Anuraho ma bhikkhū codeyyu no saghamajjhe. Ibid.).

The Posadhasthāpanavastu of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya records an incident which reflects this tendency.1 A monk objects to the declaration of his guilt before the whole assembly by the Pātimokkha-reciter and adds that it would have been best done in private. It is also stated there that the Buddha sanctioned this request. (Sthavira prātimokasūtroddeśamuddiśeti. Sa kathayati. Āyumannapariśuddhā tāvadbhikuparat. Sthavira ko' trāpariśuddhah. Tvameva tāvat. Sthavira katha nāma tvayā saghamadhye mama śirasi muṣṭir nipātitā. Aho vatā'ham tvayā ekānte coditah syām'iti. Sa tunīmavasthitah. Etatprakaraa bhikavo bhagavata ārocayanti. Bhagavānāha. Ekānte codayitavyo na saghamadhye. Gilgit MSS.III.3. 107 f.).

It is clear from evidence in the Pali Vinaya too, that there was opposition to prosecution and disciplinary action from certain individuals and groups in the monastic community (Sace ime vinaye pakataññuno bhavissanti amhe yen'icchaka yad'icchaka yāvad'icchaka ākaḍḍhissanti parikaḍḍhissanti. Handa maya āvuso vinaya vivaṇṇemā'ti. Vin.IV.143. Also: Bhikkhu pan'eva dubbacajātiko hoti uddesapariyāpannesu sikkhāpadesu bhikkhūhi sahadhammika vuccamāno attāna avacanīya karoti mā ma kiñ ci avacuttha kalyāṇa vā pāpaka vā aham'pi āyasmante na kiñ ci vakkhāmi kalyāṇa vā pāpaka vā.Viramathā 'yasmanto mama vacanāyā'ti. Vin.III.178).1 Therefore, even where the members of the Saṅgha were physically present at the Pātimokkha recital, compelled by the regulations which required them to be present there, yet the miscreants could be non-co-operative in not admitting their transgressions when called upon to do so (Yo pana bhikkhu yāvatatiya anussāviyamāne saramāno santi āpatti na āvikareyya. Vin.I.103). This would completely nullify the purpose of the recital where the purity of the Saṅgha is assumed by their silence (Tuhībhāvena kho pana āyasmante parisuddhā'ti vedissāmi. Vin.I.103). Consequently the purity of the Saṅgha which is thus assumed would be far from being real.

In an attempt to steer clear of such a situation special emphasis has been laid on the honesty and integrity of the participants. Wilful suppression of a transgression of which one is guilty is deemed a serious offence hindering one's spiritual progress (Sampajānamusāvādo kho panāyasmanto anatarāyiko dhammo vutto bhagavatā. Vin.I.103f.). These words of warning seem to have been uttered regularly at the Uposatha as a prelude to the recital of the Pātimokkha.1 It is also laid down in the laws of the Pātimokkha that it is an offence involving expiation to help a fellow-member to conceal from the Saṅgha a grave offence, i.e. a Pārājika or Saṅghādisesa, which he has committed (Yo pana bhikkhu bhikkhussa jāna duṭṭhulla āpatti paicchādeyya pācittiya. Vin.IV.127).

We also notice in the Khandhakas what appears to be the development of a new tradition regarding the recital of the Pātimokkha. It is stated in the Mahāvagga that the Buddha has decreed that no monk who is guilty of any transgression should perform the Uposatha (Bhagavatā paññatta na sāpattikena uposatho kātabbo'ti. Vin.I.125). In the Cullavagga it is reaffirmed that such a monk should not listen to the recital of the Pātimokkha (Na ca bhikkhave sāpattikena pātimokkha sotabba. Vin.II.240). Both these injunctions, in practice, really serve the same purpose as is clear from the following statement which identifies the Uposatha with the recital of the Pātimokkha: Sammatāya vā bhikkhave bhūmiyā nisinnā asammatāya vā yato pātimokkha suṇāti kato' v'assa uposatho. Vin.I.108. Both these statements evidently derive their authority from the story of the Suspension of the Pātimokkha in the Cullavagga.2

This brings us to a very paradoxical position. The Mahāvagga tells us in its details regarding the Pātimokkha recital that any monk in the assembly who is guilty of an offence and who remembers it during the recital should make it known. By the failure to do so he shall incur the further guilt of deliberate lying (Yo pana bhikkhu yāvatatiya anussāviyamāne saramāno santi āpatti n'āvikareyya sampajānamusāvād'assa hoti. Vin.I.103). However, at Vin.I.126 the Bhikkhu who recollects during the recital of the Pātimokkha an offence which he has committed seems to be at a loss as to what he should do. He seems to be put into a very dilemmatic position by the apparently subsequent legislation that no guilty monk should participate in the Pātimokkha recital (Tena kho pana samayena aññataro bhikkhu pātimokkhe uddissamāne āpatti sarati. Atha kho tassa bhikkhuno etadahosi bhagavatā paññatta na sāpattikena uposatho kātabbo'ti. Ahañ c'amhi āpatti āpanno kathan nu kho mayā paipajjitabban'ti. Vin.I.126).

On the other hand, side by side with this exclusion of a guilty monk from the recital of the Pātimokkha it is also insisted on that no monk should let the performance of his Uposatha lapse (Na tv'eva tappaccayā uposathassa antarāyo kātabbo. Vin.I.126f.). Even a monk who on account of illness is unable to be physically present at the ritual was expected to communicate to the Saṅgha his purity so that it may be declared in the assembly before the recital.1 For it is the purity of all members concerned which is to be ascertained and established at this fortnightly congregation of the Saṅgha. Therefore it could not be properly performed in the absence of even one member of the group if the Saṅgha had not been authoritatively informed of his purity prior to the recital. It is even suggested that a sick monk who has been unable to communicate his purity to the Saṅgha may be conveyed in a bed or a seat before the assembly for the valid performance of the ritual.2 If he is too ill to be moved without danger to his life, the Saṅgha is then called upon to go to him and perform the Uposatha there lest they be guilty of a ritual of incomplete membership.1

Thus we see the very dilemmatic position in which a guilty monk is placed in the light of the ruling that no guilty monk has the right to listen to the Pātimokkha or perform the Uposatha and the injunction that no monk shall fail to perform the Uposatha. This would first eliminate the possibility of a guilty monk who could suppress his guilt and sit silently through the recital of the Pātimokkha. Secondly, such a monk, on that account, could not also keep out of the Uposatha. The only solution that seems to be offered to this compels the monk to confess his guilt to another beforehand. Prior to his attendance at the ritual the guilty monk is expected to go before a fellow member and submit very respectfully that he is guilty of a specific offence and that he wishes to admit it.2 On his admission of guilt and his being advised to safeguard against its recurrence the guilty monk gains absolution which entitles him to participate in the ritual. Thus we feel that confession of one's guilt prior to participation in the ritual was necessitated by the exclusion of guilty monks from the ritual of the Pātimokkha.3

From what we have indicated it should be clear that confession of the type contemplated here does not absolve an offender from the guilt of a Pārājika or Saṅghādisesa. Nevertheless we are told that this form of confession gives an offender sufficient purity to enable him to participate in the ritual.4 Hence we are compelled to observe that what is conceded here is, more or less, a ritualistic purge. On the other hand, it seems to offer to the transgressing monks complete shelter from public scrutiny to which they would have ben subjected if they had to confess their guilt at the time of the recital. For now the confession may be made before a group or even a single individual who may possibly be selected on partisan loyalties.1 Thus it may be argued that this form of private confession prior to the recital was intended to remove the alleged harshness of the jurisdiction of the Pātimokkha ritual.

Certain incidents which are referred to in the Cullavagga, in the chapter on the Suspension of the Pātimokkha, seem to indicate the fact that there were certain members in the monastic community who were so rebellious in character that they did not choose to make use of this concession. That alone would account for the presence of the Chabbaggiyā as guilty monks (sāpattika) at the recital of the Pātimokkha.2 The Suspension of the Pātimokkha would then appear to serve the purpose of dealing effectively with such miscreants who tend to break the law flagrantly at every turn.

We discover that through the act of suspending the Pātimokkha the ritual of the Pātimokkha comes to acquire a new emphasis. Any member of the Pātimokkha assembly who knows through seeing, hearing or suspicion (diṭṭhena sutena parisakhāya) about the commission of an offence by any participant would, on seeing that individual, declare it in the assembly and call for the suspension of his Pātimokkha, which in effect means that the Pātimokkha shall not be recited in his company.3 Inspite of all the taboos and restrictions relating to the recital of the Pātimokkha which are indicated in the Vinaya Piṭaka, the possibility is here contemplated of the presence of a Pārājika offender in the assembly which meets to recite the Pātimokkha.1 It is also declared possible that there may be offenders in terms of all the seven groups of Āpatti. Nevertheless, in all these cases, the detection and chastisement of offenders take place. if ever at all, not through voluntary confession during the recital of the Pātimokkha but through report and other indirect sources of information with which the Saṅgha has been acquainted, and that too, prior to the recital with a view to denying them the right of participation in it.

However, the ritualistic purge from guilt, resulting from confession at and before the recital, became a reality in the history of Buddhist monasticism. The Vimativinodanī records the view of some section of the monastic community who actually maintained that even the greater offences were remedied by mere confession. But the author goes on to point out that this view is completely at variance with the text of the Pātimokkha which prescribes penalties for the greater offences (Āvikatā hi'ssa phāsu hotī'ti vuttattā garukāpatti'pi āvikaraamattena vuṭṭhātī'ti keci vadanti. Ta tesa matimatta parivāsādividhānasuttehi virujjhanato. Aya pan'ettha adhippāyo. Yathābhūta hi attāna āvikaronta pesala bhikkhu akāmā parivatthabban'ti ādivacana nissāya anicchamāna'pi na upāyena parivāsādi dāpetvā anassa suddhante patiṭṭhapessanti. Tato tassa avippaisārādīna vasena phāsu hoti. Vimt.396).

It is elear, however, that the changing outlook and the concessions made in the sphere of monastic discipline led to this position. We see here an attempt to extract a new concession from the old idea of confession of guilt at the Pātimokkha recital which included payment of penalties besides cofession. The reduction of the ritual of the Pārimokkha to a mere confession for the sake of absolution was undoubtedly a sectarian move as pointed out in the Vimativinodanī.

But we discover that some scholars have mistaken this aspect of confession to be the original concept in early Buddhist monasticism. There is clear evidence that Sukumar Dutt did not fully appreciate the scope of confession of guilt by the Buddhist disciples.1 This has resulted from the incorrect translations of two Pali passages which he quotes. His first quotation (Cullavagga,v.20.5) suffers on two accounts. Firstly, it is mutilated in that a vital portion of the quotation - vuddhi hi esā - has been left out. Dutt also seems to lose sight of another important condition governing this confession. It is the reminder to the transgressing monk regarding future restraint which is part and parcel of this process of confession and self- correction (āyati savareyyāsi. Vin.II.102: āyati savara āpajjati. Ibid.126). Secondly, these omissions made the rest of the quotation meaningless and drove the translator to force a garbled meaning out of it. Hence this translation: 'In these Rules laid down by the Venerable One, he who realises his lapse to be such and remedies it according to law, obtains absolution at once.' But we regret to say that there is no notion of absolution whatsoever here. How far from the real state of affairs would it be to say `he ... absolution at once.' In the second quotation he gives the translation `Unconfessed offences are cleared up on confession' for the phrase āvikatā hi'ssa phāsu hoti. Here too, we fail to detect any indication of the `clearance of an offence.'

Based on this mistaken notion of absolution through confession, Dutt assumes that there was in the early days of the Sāsana `a mere religious confession which led to absolution from the guilt confessed.'1 This, he would have us believe, was the earlier aspect of the Pātimokkha ritual. However, he is quick to detect the dynamic function of what he calls the legal confession. Its importance is equally admitted by him. For he says: `The incorporation of the concept of legal confession with the code was a necessity, as without it most parts of the code would remain inoperative and disciplinary proceedings could not be taken. Hence emphasis is laid on the duty of confession.'2 It is for these same reasons, as we have already pointed out, that confession and punishment became the essential core of the earliest Pātimokkha ritual. The text of the Pātimokkha too, which has a better claim to be more authentic than the Mahāvagga, records in Pācittiya 73 evidence to the effect that if a monk is discovered during the fortnightly recital of the Pātimokkha to be guilty of a transgression, charges are to be framed and disciplinary action taken against him.3

At the same time, it is also clear that if a guilty monk could not take part in the ritual because of his guilt and he therefore absolves himself of it through confession prior to his attendance at the ritual, then no participant would really be guilty of any Āpatti of which he could confess during the recital. But the ritual of the Pātimokkha in its early phase countenanced the presence of both innocent and guilty monks (Yassa siyā āpatti so āvikareyya asantiyā āpattiyā tuhī bhavitabba. Vin.I.103. Also: Tasmiñ ce bhaññamāne hoti bhikkhussa āpatti hoti vītikkamo. M.III.10.).4 As far as we could infer, the phrase asantiyā āpattiyā which occurs in the Mahāvagga side by side with yassa siyā āpatti, should really mean complete absence of guilt. But the Mahāvagga itself, which appears to have recognised and accepted the new turn of the ritual, explains asantī āpatti in keeping with the new tradition of absolution through prior confession (asantī nāma āpatti anajjhāpannā vā āpajjitvā vā vuṭṭhitā. Vin.I.103). The Kaṅkhāvitaranī subscribes to the same view and maintains that an āpatti which has been declared and accepted really amounts to no āpatti (Asantiyā āpattiyā'ti yassa pana eva anāpannā vā āpatti āpajjitvā ca puna vuṭṭhitā vā desitā vā ārocitā vā āpatti tassa sā āpatti asantī nāma hoti. Kkvt.15). What purpose does it serve then to say as an introduction to the recital that any one who is guilty of an offence shall confess it during the recital? For no monk, according to this latter tradition, who is guilty of an Āpatti could be present at the recital. Has not this statement in the Mahāvagga, yassa siyā āpatti so āvikareyya, already lost its original significance and does it not appear as a mere fossil embedded in the old formula?

A similar significant deviation from what we would consider to be the older tradition is noticeable under the pubbakicca or preliminary duties which needed to be performed before the recital of the Pātimokkha. The Mahāvagga which describes the ritual of the Pātimokkha recital introduces what it considers to be the preliminary duty to be performed before the commencement of the recital in the following words: `What is the preliminary duty of the Saṅgha? Let the venerable ones inform the purity.' (Ki saghassa pubbakicca. Pārisuddhi āyasmanto ārocetha. Vin.I.102). 3 Elsewhere in the Mahāvagga, the joint communication of chanda (consent) and pārisuddhi (purity) of those who are unable to be present at the recital is given as a general condition to be fulfilled before the assembly which meets for the recital of the Pātimokkha.1 The inclusion of chanda here is said to be done on the assumption that the Saṅgha might have besides the recital of the Pātimokkha other monastic duties for the performance of which the unanimous agreement of the Saṅgha was needed (Anujānāmi bhikkhave tad'ah'uposathe pārisuddhi dentena chandam'pi dātu santi saghassa karaṇīyan'ti. Vin.I.122).

In the context of this passage it is manifestly clear that the pārisuddhi which is communicated to the assembly of the Pātimokkha recital is that of the absentee monks. Therefore we would have to take the earlier statement pārisuddhi āyasmanto ārocetha to mean the announcement of the purity of the absentees, i.e. the members who have assembled for the recital should announce before the Saṅgha any information they have regarding the purity of the absentees who are expected to convey it through a competent fellow member (pārisuddhi-hāraka). For the Pātimokkha recital, this information more than the chanda, is of vital consideration. However, we notice that the Mahāvagga gives no explanation whatsoever about this phrase pārisuddhi āyasmanto ārocetha even in the portion of the text which is regarded as the Old Commentary. On the other hand, Buddhaghosa hastens to explain this with the comment attano parisuddha-bhāva ārocetha.2 This makes the purity which is announced before the commencement of the recital to be that of the monks present. But what we have shown so far from internal evidence in the Mahāvagga points to the contrary. It is difficult to say with any certainty whether during the time of Buddhaghosa the practice of communicating to the Pātimokkha assembly the purity of the absentee monks had gone out of vogue. What is more clearly evident is the fact that the ritualistic significance of the purity of the participants at the Pātimokkha recital had assumed overwhelming authority. It is in the light of this new change that Buddhaghosa offers the above comment. For he supports it with a statement which he has picked up from the Cullavagga which bars a guilty monk from participating in the Pātimokkha recital (Na bhikkhave sāpattikena pātimokkha sotabba yo sueyya āpatti dukkaassā'ti vacanato aparisuddhehi pātimokkha sotu na vaṭṭati. Tena vutta pārisuddhi āyasmanto ārocetha pātimokkha uddisissāmī'ti. Kvt.14).1

But our assumption which is based on co-ordinated evidence from the Vinaya that what should mean here is 'the communication of the purity of the absentees' appears to be further supported by the Vinaya traditions of other schools besides the Theriya. On a careful scrutiny of the Vinaya texts of several other schools which are preserved both in Sanskrit and Chinese we discover that they all seem to agree with us in this interpretation of the declaration of purity at the Pātimokkha recital. They specifically state that it is the purity of the absentees which is declared, as a preliminary duty, for the information of the members of the assembly. The Poṣadhavastu of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, which agrees for the most part with the Uposathakkhandhaka of the Mahāvagga, contains a very clear and definite statement on this point (Yadā saghasthavirah kathayati anāgamanāya āyumantas chanda ca pāriśuddhi ca ārocayata ārocita ca pravedayate'ti. Tena antarikasya bhikoh puratah sthitvā vaktavya. Samanvāhara āyuman amusmin 'n 'āvāse bhikur ābādhiko duhkhito vāḍhaglānah. Adya saghasya poadhapacadaśikā tasyā'pi bhikoh poadhapacadaśikā. So'yam evanāmā bhikuh pariśuddham āntarāyikaih dharmair'ātmāna vedayati poadhe'sya pāriśuddhim ārocayāmi ārocitāṃ ca pravedayāmi. Gilgit MSS. III.4.p.100).

According to the above statement the Pātimokkha-reciter addresses the members of the assembly and makes a clear request to announce before the Saṅgha the purity and the consent of the absentees. Whosoever in the assembly has chosen to play the role of messenger to carry to the Saṅgha the pārisuddhi on behalf of an absentee, he shall make it known to the Saṅgha that the absentee has intimated that he is pure and is not guilty of any transgressions which are detrimental to his religious life: pariśuddha antarāyikaih dharmairātmāna vedayati. In the above passage anāgamanāya stands for `the absence from the assembly of possible participants '. That it is so is further supported by the statement in the Prātimokṣasūtra of the same school which in its comments on the preliminary duties uses the very specific term anāgatānāṃ which means `of those who are not present.' (Ki bhagavatah śrāvakasaghasya pūrvakāla-karaṇīya alpo 'rtho 'lpaktya. Anāgatānām āyumantaś chandapāriśuddhi c' ārocayata ārocita ca pravedayata. IHQ.vol.XXIX.2.167). The Prātimokṣasūtra of the Mahāsaṅghikas too, states the same under its instructions for the Prātimokṣa recital (Anāgatānām āyumanto bhikunācchanda-pāriśuddhimārocetha. Ārocitañ ca prativedetha - Journal of the Ganganath Jha Research Institute, vol.X. Appendix, p. 3). The Mahīśāsaka Vinaya which is preserved to us in Chinese expresses the same idea of communicating to the assembly of the Saṅgha the purity and the consent of the absentees before the commencement of the Pātimokkha recital.1



In the light of all this evidence we feel inclined to infer that this is the true spirit and the older sense in which the statement pārisuddhi āyasmanto ārocetha of the Mahāvagga is to be taken. Nevertheless, we believe that here too, the Theriya tradition has conceded certain changes in the process of evolution. The accomodation of such changes perhaps became more possible with the Theriya group whose Vinaya traditions did not get petrified through disuse but continued to be live and dynamic. Yet one cannot fail to observe that these changes robbed the Pātimokkha ritual of its vigour and vitality. For there seems to be no more need for confession of guilt in the assembly of the Saṅgha. It is assured that the participants are pure in character. The Saṅgha does not collectively engage itself to punish and deal with offenders, exercising over its membership the authority of the Dhamma. The ritual as described in the Mahāvagga does not seem to provide for this. The instructions given in the Pātimokkha with regard to penalties and punishments are left with a merely theoretical value at the recital.2 The erring individuals do not need any more to face the judiciary at the Pātimokkha recital. For the confession of guilt can now be made before a single individual.3 Even if one remembers during the recital of the Pātimokkha an offence he had committed he needs confess it only to a single Bhikkhu who sits beside him and promise to make amends for it after the conclusion of the ritual.4 On the other hand, the ritual is prefaced with a number of formalities by way of preliminary duties, pubbakicca and pubbakaraa, which assume considerable ritualistic importance.1 They completely outweigh the recital and the consequent confession which formed the core of the ritual. The Pātimokkha recital thereafter ceases to be a powerful instrument in the proper maintenance of monastic discipline. While we witness here, on the one hand, the break down of the centralised administration of this monastic institution, the ritual of the Pātimokkha, we discover on the other the emergence of a completely decentralised system of the same. It has been made possible for a minimum of four Bhikkhus, without any reference to the membership of a Sīmā, to undertake collectively the recital of the Pātimokkha: Anujānāmi bhikkhave catunna pātimokkha uddisitun'ti. Vin.I.124. This gives the Pātimokkha recital a very provincial character and robs it of its stature and dignity. But it would be clear from what has been said so far that the crystallized tradition of the Suttas contemplates a different position. But it also seems to be clear that the tradition of the Suttas regarding the Pātimokkha recital, like many other Sutta traditions pertaining to problems of Vinaya, soon became a thing of the past.

It is probably at such a stage in the history of the Pātimokkha ritual that it became possible to say that the Pātimokkha or the Uposatha is intended for the purpose of bringing about monastic unity while the purity of the Saṅgha is the burden of the Pavāraṇā (Uposatho samaggattho visuddhatthā pavāraṇā. Vinvi.p.190.v.2599). Hence we would choose to conclude with a few observations on the Pavāraṇā.

The Pavāraṇā is the ritual which comes usually at the end of the third month of the rains-retreat and is a part of the observance of the Vassāvāsa. It is used like the ritual of the Pātimokkha as a means of safeguarding monastic discipline. The Pavāraṇā, as the name itself suggests, is the request which a Bhikkhu makes to the Saṅgha with whom he has spent the rains-retreat to judge his conduct and declare according to what the Saṅgha has seen, heard or suspected whether he is guilty of any transgressions. This request for the public scrutiny of one's conduct is made by every member of the Saṅgha, irrespective of seniority, on the definite understanding that whosoever stands accused would make amends for his errors when he recognises them as such (Sangha āvuso pavāremi diṭṭhena vā sutena vā parisakhāya vā. Vadantu ma āyasmanto anukampa upādāya. Passanto paikarissāmi. Vin.I.159). The benefits resulting from this form of self-correction are gives as:


  1. being agreeable to and tolerant of one another: aññamaññānulomatā

  2. making amends for the wrongs done by safeguarding against their recurrence: āpattivuṭṭhānatā.

  3. developing a regard and respect for the rules of discipline: vinayapurekkhāratā. 1

It is evident that the disciplinary function of the Pavāraṇā is very similar to that of the Pātimokkha ritual and hence the details of procedure in both rituals are for the most part identical. A monk who is prevented from patricipating in the Pavāraṇā on account of illness is expected, as in the case of the Pātimokkha ritual, to communicate to the Saṅgha through another his request for the judgement of his conduct (Pavāraa dammi pavāraa me hara mamatthāya pavārehī'ti. Vin.I.161).2 Although total and complete participation would have been the ideal aimed at in these two rituals, yet under circumstances very similar to those connected with the recital of the Pātimokkha, the quorum for the performance of this ceremony in the assembly of the Saṅgha (saghe pavāretu) is fixed at five.1 Any number of monks below this and down to two persons are expected to perform this ritual among themselves (aññamañña pavāretu). A solitary monk who is left to himself must make a personal resolve (adhiṭṭhāna) on this matter, similar to the Adhiṭṭhāna Uposatha of the Pātimokkha ritual. The position of monks who are guilty of offences which exclude them from participation in the ritual of the Pavāraṇā is identical with similar situations in the ritual of the Pātimokkha.2

However, a very distinct feature of the ritual of the Pavāraṇā is its dynamic character, specially in contrast to the Pātimokkha which already in the Mahāvagga has lost its vitality and appears to have only a ceremonial significance. When, for instance, a monk is charged at the Pavāraṇā with a Pārājika offence, if he were to admit that he is guilty of it, then disciplinary action is promptly taken against him (So ce bhikkhave cudito bhikkhu pārājika ajjhāpanno'ti paijānāti nāsetvā saghena pavāretabba. Vin.I.173), unlike at the ritual of the Pātimokkha where suspension of the Pātimokkha, without any reference to the admission or denial of guilt by the accused, is the only course of action recommended.3 Likewise, in the case of a Saṅghādisesa offence, the charge is laid on the offender on his admission of guilt. For all other offences too, necessary disciplinary action is taken according to the prescriptions of the law and the Saṅgha thereafter proceeds with the ritual of the Pavāraṇā: yathā-dhamma kārāpetvā saghena pavāretabba. Vin.I.173. There is evidence to show that the ritual is, in fact, temporarily suspended in certain cases until necessary action is taken against the offender and he makes amends for his mistake (Ye te bhikkhave bhikkhu thullaccayadiṭṭhino tehi so bhikkhave bhikkhu ekamanta apanetvā yathādhamma kārāpetvā sagha upasakamitvā eva assa vacanīyo ya kho so āvuso bhikkhu āpatti āpanno sā 'ssa yathādhamma paikatā. Yadi saghassa pattakalla sagho pavāreyyā'ti. Vin.I.173).

Leaving all details aside, when we compare the two institutions of Pātimokkha and Pavāraṇā, we note one important distinction. In the early Pātimokkha recital it was the individual Bhikkhu who judged his guilt or innocence in terms of the regulations of the Pātimokkha. The assembly of the Saṅgha had to rely on the bona fide of the individuals. The accusation, if any at all, was pronounced in consequence of the confession of the erring member. At the Pavāraṇā, the request made individually by the members of the assembly transfers this initiative to the collctive body of the Saṅgha. This arrangement to face the scrutiny by the Saṅgha which is implied here, although occurring only as an annual event, shows itself as an additional safeguard in the maintenance of good monastic discipline.

Nevertheless, the Pavāraṇā too, shows signs of acquiring a more and more ritualistic character. As in the case of the Pātimokkha, an idea seems to be gaining ground that the Pavāraṇā is to be performed only by the monks who are pure. The Buddha, it is said, meant it to be so: bhagavatā kho āvuso visuddhāna pavāraṇā paññattā. Vin.I.174. It is also said that the Buddha legislated for the exclusion of guilty monks from the Pavāraṇā.1 This gives the Pavāraṇā the appearance of a solemn conclave for it is said that the Pavāraṇā is laid down only for the Saṅgha who are united: bhagavatā kho āvuso samaggāna pavāraṇā paññattā. Vin.I.174. The same idea of ritualistic purity which came to be associated with the recital of the Pātimokkha seems also to be at work in the Pavāraṇā. The request made to the Saṅgha at the Pavāraṇā to sit in judgement over one's conduct (sagha āvuso pavāremi ... Vin.I.159) would thus be made a formal and meaningless one. We would refer the reader to Vin.I.175. for various other details concerning the ritual of the Pavāraṇā.

What becomes clear from all these is the fact that both these rituals of Pātimokkha and Pavāraṇā had, at the time of their origin, a similarity of purpose. They both strove for the maintenance of good monastic discipline and communal harmony. As such, they counted on the loyal co-operation and the sincerity and the integrity of the members of the Saṅgha. Partisan rivalries and petty considerations were not provided for. But the history of these two institutions as recorded in the Vinaya Piṭaka shows that, contrary to expectations, these disruptive forces contributed considerably to the modification of the character of these institutions. The Pātimokkha and the Pavāraṇā, we are compelled to regard as being extremely simple in their origin and they also appear to have been characteristically direct in operation. We have shown in this essay, as far as possible, how changes set in ere long, prompted by diverse circumstances, and how the Pātimokkha and the Pavāraṇā acquired in course of time a very formal and rigidly ritualistic character so divorced from their original spirit. The fossilised remains of the older versions which are embedded in places in the present form of these rituals reveal, even though unwittingly, these marked divergences.




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