The Abolition of the Lesser and
Minor Rules of Training
The history of the Sāsana, both in the Sutta and the Vinaya Piṭakas, shows that there were rebellious monks in the Order. Their protests against the disciplinary measures adopted by the Buddha are widely scattered in the Pali texts where such monks are described as being militant and intolerant of any advice (Dubbacā kho bhante etarahi bhikkhū dovacassakaraṇehi dhammehi samannāgatā akkhamā appadakkhiṇaggāhino anusāsaniṃ. S.II.204).1 The words of Subhadda, who was discovered expressing his joy on the passing away of the Buddha, mark the climax of this tendency.2 There was a formidable move in this direction even during the life time of the Buddha and he was well aware of it. In the Laṭukikopama Sutta, the Buddha states very clearly that there exists a group of misguided disciples who when being told by him to give up certain ways of life which are unworthy of a monk refuse to do so. They in turn accuse the Buddha of being meticulous and pronounce judgement on him that he worries over worthless trifles. They show their displeasure not only at him as the law-giver but also at the other good disciples who abide by these laws (Evaṃ eva kho udāyi idh'ekacce moghapurisā idaṃ pajahathā'ti mayā vuccamānā te evaṃāhaṃsu kiṃ pan'imassa appamattakassa oramattakassa adhisallikhat'evā'yaṃ samano'ti. Te tañ c'eva nappajahanti mayi ca appaccayaṃ upaṭṭhāpenti ye ca bhikkhū sikkhākāmā. M.I.449).
A specific instance of such accusation against the Buddha is recorded in the Aṅguttara Nikāya where a Bhikkhu named Kassapagotta of Paṅkadha protests at a discourse of the Buddha in which he deals with monastic discipline (Atha kho kassapagottassa bhikkhunobhagavatā sikkhāpadapaṭisaṃyuttāya dhammiyā kathāya bhikkhū sandassante samādapente samuttejente ahud'eva akkhanti ahu appaccayo adhisallikhat'evā'yaṃ samaṇo'ti. A.I.236). Regardless of the avowed purpose of Buddhist monasticism these rebels appear to have looked upon sikkhāpadaas measures calculated to restrict their freedom and the liberty to do things as they wish. This is clearly evident from the history and the text of Pācittiya 72 which is laid down against the disciples who speak disparagingly of the sikkhāpada of the Vinaya Piṭaka (Sace ime vinaye pakataññuno bhavissanti amhe yena icchakaṃ yad'icchakaṃ yāvad'icchakaṃākaḍḍhissanti parikaḍḍhissanti. Handa mayaṃāvuso vinayaṃ vivaṇṇemā'ti.).Also:(Yo pana bhikkhu pātimokkhe uddissamāne evaṃ vadeyya kiṃ pan'imehi khuddānu-khuddakehi sikkhāpadehi udduṭṭhehi yāvad'eva kukkuccāya vihesāya vilekhāya saṃvattantī'ti sikkhāpadavivaṇṇake pācittiyaṃ. Vin.IV.143). This is undoubtedly the reason why a section of the monastic community expressed their sense of freedom on the death of the Master and stated in no uncertain terms that they were in a position to act on their own choice and would not be pestered any more with instructions on propriety and procedure (Sumuttā mayaṃ tena mahāsamaṇena. Upaddutā ca mayaṃ homa idaṃ vo kappati idaṃ vo na kappatī'ti. Idāni pana mayaṃ yaṃ icchissāma taṃ karissāma yaṃ na icchissāma na taṃ karissāmā'ti. Vin.II.284).
The Buddha was not only aware of the gathering momentum against the organization of discipline but also felt it necessary to pay sufficient heed to it. On the one hand, he would keep the good disciples informed of this calamitous situation as is clear from the words of the Buddha to Udāyi in the Laṭukikopama Sutta.1 He would praise the virtues of the law-abiding Bhikkhus as he did when he discovered the attitude of the venerable Upasena Vaṅgantaputta to the code of monastic discipline (Sādhu sādhu upasena na apaññattaṃ paññāpetabbaṃ paññattaṃ vā na samucchinditabbaṃ yathāpaññattesu sikkhāpadesu samādāya vattitabbaṃ. Vin.III.231). Such willing submission to monastic discipline was a cause of joy to the founder of the Order. In the Kakacūpama Sutta the Buddha is happy to recollect his associations with such disciples. There was a time, says the Buddha, when the monks won his heart by their good behaviour. He also often held out such good monks as an example to the rest. The venerable Mahā Kassapa was a dominant personality of that category about whose exemplary character the Buddha repeatedly mentioned (Kassapena vā hi vo bhikkhave ovadissāmi yo vā kassapasadiso. Ovaditehi ca pana vo tathattāya paṭipajjitabban'ti. S.II.195).
On the other hand, the Buddha also took more active disciplinary measures by incorporating in the code of discipline itself legislation against such vicious moves to undermine monastic discipline. The rebels directed their attack against the regulations of the Vinaya, their main target being the sikkhāpadaof the Pātimokkha. Out of a sense of fear of prosecution the miscreants thought it advantageous to keep as many members of the Order as possible ignorant of the contents of the Vinaya. It is said that they therefore spoke very disparagingly of the Vinaya to every one.1 They challenged the usefulness of the recital of the lesser and minor rules (khuddānukhuddakāni sikkhāpadāni) at the ritual of the Pātimokkha. It only wearies and vexes the listeners, they said (Kiṃ pan'imehi khuddānukhuddakehi sikkhāpadehi uddiṭṭhehi. Yāvad'eva kukkuccāya vihesāya vilekhāya saṃvattatī'ti. Vin.IV.143). They oppose the recital at the Uposatha of the whole code of Pātimokkha regulations. The lesser and minor rules are slighted and an attempt is made to eliminate them from the Pātimokkha recital. This means that the conduct of no monk would be questioned any more in terms of these sikkhāpada. This attitude would stand in marked contrast to the assumption of the Vajjiputtaka monk who thought that he had to discipline himself in terms of all the sikkhpada which were being recited fortnightly at the Uposatha ceremony and which he said were over a hundred and fifty in number.2 It is unmistakably clear that this is one of the first attempts to get rid of some of the monastic regulations which had found a place in the code of the Pātimokkha. According to the Suttavibhaṅga this move was headed by the Chabbaggiya monks and their followers who in the history of the Sāsana had gained a fair degree of notoriety by their self-willed actions.3 Even if one would attempt to dismiss this gang as a fictitious group, they are no doubt symbolic of the rebels in the Sāsana who were unworthy of their monastic garb and were a constant cause of irritation both to the good monks and the laymen.
This same tendency of the miscreants to resist correction by fellow members of the monastic community in terms of the regulations of the Pātimokkha is also clearly evident in Saṅghādisesa 12.1 These two sikkhāpada(Saṅghādisesa 12 and Pācittiya 72) are clear proof of a two-pronged attack launched by the champions of lawlessness and anarchy. Rules of propriety and good behaviour which require conformity to fixed standards are either to be rejected or, on a policy of 'strict non-interference ', the offenders who violate these regulations are not to be questioned. But the Buddha was not to be led into believing in the sincerity or the correctness of such suggestions and we see him legislate against them with firm determination. Any monk who challenges the right of other Bhikkhus to offer counsel in terms of the regulations of the Pātimokkha and who stubbornly offers resistance does so under the pain of a Saṅghādisesa.2 No monk shall also speak of the regulations of the Pātimokkha in a disparaging manner, referring to their recital as being of no consequence.3
It is important to recognise the fact that there seems to have existed even during the time of the Buddha a category of sikkhāpadawhich carried the designation `lesser and minor' or khuddānukhuddaka. It is reasonable to believe that the inviolable rules of the Pārājika group would have been in a class by themselves in marked contrast to the rest. No remedy or redress was possible with the offenders of this category. This is perhaps why the Vinaya makes special mention that every monk, on being conferred the higher status of Upasampadā, should be told of these four inviolable rules: anujānāmi bhikkhave upasampādetvā dutiyaṃ dātuṃ cattāri ca akaraṇīyāni ācikkhituṃ. in.I.96. Hence the four Pārājikas would naturally form the group of major rules. The Aṅguttara makes repeated reference to a group of `lesser and minor' rules. These are regarded as being a part of the disciplinary code of the monk. These deal with offences of which any monk could be guilty but for which he could make amends and be absolved therefrom. For they are not declared to be inviolable (So yāni tāni khuddānukhuddakāni sikkhāpadāni tāni āpajjati'pi vuṭṭhāti'pi. Taṃ kissa hetu. Na hi m'ettha bhikkhave abhabbatā vuttā. A.1.231f.). Besides these, the Aṅguttara mentions another set of sikkhāpada which have to be inviolably perfected. They would therefore naturally be regarded as the only major ones (Yāni kho tāni sikkhāpadāni ādibrahmacariyikāni brahmacariyasāruppāni tattha dhuvasīlo ca hoti ṭhitasīlo ca samādāya sikkhati sikkhāpadesu. A.I. 231ff.)1
The distinction between the major and the minor rules thus seems to be a valid one. As Pārājika or Akaraṇīya these major items of discipline are the primary requirements without which the monastic life in Buddhism could not be contemplated. Hence they are called ādibrahmacariyikāni. However, this does not amount to a denial of the validity of the other group of sikkhāpadawhich are called `lesser and minor' or khuddā-nukhuddaka. On the other hand, the need to regulate the life of a monk in terms of those regulations is fully recognised. For along with the possibility that a monk may violate any one of these rules is also mentioned the possibility of his absolution from the consequent guilt through correction: āpajjati'pi vuṭṭhāti'pi. Hence a disciple has to face them and adjust himself accordingly and not attempt stubbornly to resist them. This accords well with the spirit of Pācittiya 72 which, though negatively, recognises the usefulness of the recital of even the minor rules at the Pātimokkha ritual.
However, the rebellious monks too, appear to have carried on a ceaseless campaign to achieve their end. Their propaganda for the abolition of the `lesser and minor' rules was evidently gaining more and more ground towards the last days of the Buddha. The Mahāparinibbāna Sutta opens, more or less, with the Buddha's advice to his disciples regarding the conditions which lead to their progress and well-being. Under these aparihāniya dhamma the Buddha includes what he appears to consider to be the healthy attitude of the disciples towards the regulations governing their monastic life (Yāvakīvañ ca bhikkhave bhikkhū apaññattaṃ na paññāpessanti paññattaṃ na samucchindissanti yathāpaññattesu sikkhāpadesu samādāya vattissanti vuddhi y'eva bhikkhave bhikkhūnaṃ pāṭikaṅkhā no parihāni. D.II.77). This concern of the Buddha for the recognition of the code of monastic discipline as a whole is clearly evident in his remarks to the venerable Upasena Vaṅgantaputta who maintained that nothing should be added to or removed from the codified law, and that one should conduct oneself in accordance with it (Sādhu sādhu upasena na apaññattaṃ paññāpetabbaṃ paññattaṃ vā na samucchinditabbaṃ yathāpaññattesu sikkhāpadesu samādāya vattitabbaṃ. Vin.III.231).
As the Buddha finally lay in his deathbed, during the last moments of his life, it is said that the Buddha indicated to Ānanda that as he had not chosen to appoint an heir to succeed him as the leader of the Sāsana, the Dhamma and the Vinaya would succeed him as their guide (satthā).1 The Mahāparinibbāna Sutta which records this statement has also three other last-minute communications of the Buddha to the Saṅgha. Among them we discover a very abrupt and unprefaced suggestion which is ascribed to the Buddha. The Buddha is said to have told Ānanda that the Saṅgha, if it so desires, may on his death do away with `lesser and minor' rules (Ākaṅkhamāno ānanda saṅgho mamaccayena khuddānukhuddakāni sikkhāpadāni samūhanatu.. D.II.154).
In the light of what we have discussed so far regarding the history of the khuddānukhuddaka sikkhāpadain monastic discipline this appears to be a very strange suggestion. It is almost incredible that a person of the Buddha's calibre should have conceded such a laxity to be effective only after his death. We cannot understand it either as an expression of the wisdom of his last days or as an attempt to wash his hands of the guilt of a possible catastrophe in the monsastic order as a result of the abolition of some of the rules of discipline. Before we proceed to examine the historical significance of these statements which are recorded in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta it should be pointed out that in the Pañcasatikakkhandhaka of the Cullavagga we find the venerable Ānanda reporting to the assembly of the First Council two out of these four statements.2 After reciting the contents of the Dhamma before the assembly he places before them `the suggestion of the Buddha that the Saṅgha may, if it so desires, do away with the 'lesser and minor' rules. He is promptly asked by the members of the Saṅgha whether he ascertained from the Buddha the identity of these `lesser and minor' rules. He had failed to do so and when he is found fault with for this omission he simply confesses that it did not occur to him that he should do so (Ahaṃ kho bhante asatiyā bhagavantaṃ na pucchiṃ. Vin.II.289). According to the Cullavagga, diverse opinions are thereupon expressed by the members of the assembly as to what constitute the `lesser and minor' rules. But when we discover that reference to `lesser and minor' rules has already been made elsewhere with a fair degree of certainty as to their identity,1 it becomes somewhat dificult to explain this assumed ignorance or the diversity of opinion regarding this matter.
Assuming that at least a section of the Saṅgha was agreed on the abolition of the `lesser and minor' rules and was anxious about it we could argue that even they would have been hesitant to support the abolition of these rules in their entirety as they would have been understood at the time. Some of those rules were certainly regarded as sufficiently important to command recognition throughout the history of the Sāsana. That being so the real question would have been as to which of these `lesser and minor' rules could, in course of time, be dispensed with. As the arguments of the venerable Mahā Kassapa at the First Council show this would have been undoubtedly a question which few would have dared to answer in public for fear of serious repercussions among the laity (Sant'amhākaṃ sikkhāpadāni gihigatāni gihī pi no jānanti idaṃ vo samaṇānaṃ sakyaputiyānaṃ kappati idaṃ vo na kappatī'ti. Sace mayaṃ khuddānukhuddakāni sikkhāpadāni samūhanissāma bhavissanti vattāro dhūmakālikaṃ samaṇena gotamena sāvakānaṃ sikkhāpadaṃ paññattaṃ yāv'imesaṃ satthā aṭṭhāsi tāv'ime sikkhāpadesu sikkhiṃsu. Yato imesaṃ satthā parinibbuto na'dān'i me sikkhā-padesu sikkhantī'ti. Vin.II.288).
Let su now examine the statement recorded in the Theriya tradition that the Buddha did tell Ānanda that the Saṅgha, after his death, could do away with the `lesser and minor' rules if it so desired.1 In both places where this statement occurs it is Ānanda himself who states that the Buddha told him so. A comparative study we made of the Chinese versions which are parallel to the Pali Vinaya account has yielded us some valuable evidence. In the Sarvāstivāda,2 Mahīśāsaka3, and Dharmaguptaka4accounts, as in the Pali text, Ānanda himself reports that the Buddha made this sugestion. In all the three Chinese texts Ānanda gives the deteriorating physical condition of the Buddha in his deathbed and the consequent pain which he was suffering as an excuse for not interrogating him further regarding the identity of these rules. In the Sarvāstivāda and Mahīśāsaka accounts he gives the high regard in which he held the sikkhāpadaas another reason for not pursuing this matter any further. This makes it quite clear that Ānanda did not obviously belong to the camp which championed this move. The texts of the Sarvāstivādins and the Mahīśāsakas represent Ānanda as being reluctant to sponsor such a move. Thus we are more or less compelled to observe that we detect here the results of an attempt to make a cat's paw of Ānanda in this manoeuvre. What we would consider to be the most convincing evidence for this assumption comes to us from the Mahāsaṅghika version of this incident in the Chinese texts.1 Strangely enough the Mahāsaṅghikas do not present Ānanda as conveying this information to the Saṅgha himself. In fact, he appears to know nothing about it and plays a perfectly silent role throughout this episode. He suffers it all in silence for it is the others who seem to know and talk about the task which is said to have been assigned to him.
Feeling diffident as it were, even with the authority which the Buddha is supposed to have given them to abolish the `lesser and minor' rules, the Mahāsaṅghikas make an attempt to say in a convincing manner that the Buddha had planned to do it himself before his death. But now it is Ānanda's responsibility that it did not happen so, for he had been asked by the Buddha to remind him about it before his death and he failed to do it. The following is the statement in the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya in the Chinese versions:
'Upāli tells the assembly: "The Buddha told Ānanda thus. `When I am about to enter into Nirvāṇa you should remind me so that I may repeal for the sake of the Bhikṣus the minor and insignificant rules.' But you did not tell him." '2
The Mahāsaṅghika account carries a further statement which attempts to reinforce this idea.
There is a Bhikṣu who says: "Venerable Sirs, the Tathāgata earlier told Ānanda that he was desirous of repealing the minor and insignificant rules for the Bhikṣus." 1
Now we come to what may be regarded as the most significant statement of all in the Mahāsaṅghika account. In the discussion that followed the announcement about the abolition of `lesser and minor' rules there was diversity of opinion as to their identity, and the congregation was drifting further and further away from any finality of decision. In the Mahāsaṅghika account alone we discover that at this stage the Chabbaggiya Bhikkhus were most dismayed at the failure to implement this suggestion. It was obviously their cause which was being defeated. In an attempt to rescue it from this plight the Chabbaggiya Bhikkhus darted forth to announce in the assembly that if the Buddha were living all the rules would have been given up.2
In view of the marked divergence in the traditions of the Mahāsaṅghikas and the Theravādins on this matter let us probe further to discover the loyalties and leanings of each group. In the Mahāsaṅghika account, when the venerable Mahā Kassapa asks the assembly as to which collection of scriptures they should recite first it is the unanimous opinion of the Saṅgha that it should be the Dharma Piṭaka.3 We know that this is completely at variance with the Theriya tradition which seems to emphasise more the importance of the Vinaya. Considering the attempts made by them to safeguard the proper maintenance of monastic discipline at all stages in the history of the Sāsana it could unhesitatingly be said of them that they had a very high regard for the Vinaya. What Buddhaghosa records as having been said at the First Council that the Vinaya is the life-blood of the Sāsana (vinayo nāma buddhasāsanassa āyu)is reminiscent of this attitude.1 Thus we see a very clear line of division between these two groups.
One would hardly be surprised to find among the Mahāsaṅghikas a tendency to bring about a laxity in monastic discipline. It accords well with what is alleged to be their attitude to the Vinaya.2 The account in their Vinaya texts which we have discussed above shows the ingenuity with which they introduce the story which discloses the wish of the Buddha to repeal the minor rules himself. On the other hand, one does feel that this alleged suggestion by the Buddha to repeal the minor rules strikes a harsh and discordant note in the Theriya tradition. It is perhaps this unacceptability to the orthodox tradition which made it to be brought up as a dilemmatic problem by King Milinda before the venerable Nāgasena. `Were then these lesser and minor precepts wrongly laid down, or established in ignorance and without due cause, that the Blessed One allowed them to be revoked after his death ?'3 (Kin nu kho bhante nāgasena khuddānukhuddakāni sikkhāpadāni duppaññattāni udāhu avatthusmiṃ ajānitvā paññattāni yaṃ bhagavā attano accayena khuddānukhuddakāni sikkhāpadāni samūhanāpeti. Trenckner, Milindapañho,p.142).
The problem that is posed here is if the Buddha wished these rules to be revoked after his death then they cannot really be important rules which were laid down after careful consideration. On the other hand, if they were really such important rules he could not possibly allow the Bhikkhus to revoke them after his death. Nāgasena attempts to solve the problem by admitting both propositions. i.e. that the rules were well laid down and that the Buddha had ordered the Bhikkhus to revoke them if they so desired. But Nāgasena adds that this order of the Buddha was only to test his disciples. `But in the second case it was to test the Bhikkhus that he said it, to try wherher, if leave were granted them, they would, after his death, revoke the lesser and minor regulations, or still adhere to them.'1 (Taṃ pana mahārāja tathāgato bhikkhū vīmaṃsamāno āha ukkalissanti nu kho mama sāvakā mayā vissajjāpiyamānā mam'accayena khuddā-nukhuddakāni sikkhāpadāni udāhu ādiyissantī'ti. Miln.143).
It is clear from the above statements that the venerable Nāgasena is of the view that an abolition of any rule laid down by the Buddha for the guidance of his disciples does not accord with the true Theriya tradition. We find that Buddhaghosa reiterates the same. He says that the Buddha himself knew that even if he had made a specific order for the abolition of the lesser and minor rules, without leaving it to the option of the Saṅgha, the venerable Mahā Kassapa would not abolish them at the time of the first Council (Passati hi bhagavā samūhanathā'ti vutte'pi saṅgītikāle kassapo na samūhanissatī 'ti. Tasmā vikappena eva ṭhapesi. DA.II.592). Therefore the Buddha left it to the option of the Saṅgha.
Following the statements of the venerable Nāgasena in the Milindapañha if we take this suggestion for the abolition of the lesser and minor rules to be a test of the attitude of the disciples who survived the Buddha, then we would discover to our utter dismay that none, perhaps other than the venerable Mahā Kassapa, would show themselves to be true disciples of the Buddha. For not only were the members of the First Council quick to chastise Ānanda for not ascertaining from the Buddha the identity of the rules which they may revoke but also were quick to propose the abolition of various categories of rules. Not one, out of respect for the law laid down by the Buddha, proposed its acceptance in toto. It was the venerable Mahā Kassapa who, as the President of the Council, finally proposed that the suggestion for the abolition of the lesser and minor rules be rejected and that the law as laid down by the Buddha be accepted in toto.
However, there seems to be a post-Milindapañha tradition which, more or less, stigmatizes the venerable Mahā Kassapa saying that he did so because he was ignorant as to what the lesser and minor rules were. It praises, on the other hand, the venerable Nāgasena who very categorically identifies khuddaka and anukhuddaka with Dukkaṭa and Dubhāsita respectively.1 This interpretation of Nāgasena, it would appear, could absolve to some extent those who championed the abolition of the khuddānukhuddaka sikkhāpadafrom the charge of being unorthodox. For they would not then be directing their assault against any real sikkhāpada except the Sekhiyas violation of which also constitute Dukkaṭa offences. Barring this group of Dukkaṭas, both Dukkaṭa and Dubbhāsita are derivative offences and are not the direct outcome of the violation of any sikkhāpada. But Buddhaghosa warns us against taking the words of Nāgasena to serve as a defence. We are told that he was only being tactful in his conversation with non-believers (Nāgasena-tthero hi paravādino okāso mā ahosī'ti evaṃāha. DA.II.593).
Thus we feel that even among the followers of the Theriya tradition certain sections seem to have supported the suggestion for the abolition of the lesser and minor rules and at times even frowned on the stalwarts of the Theriya group who upheld the orthodox views. However, this suggestion, when placed in the context of the Theriya Vinaya traditions, sounds unmistakably to be of Chabbaggiya origin, for the Chabbaggiyas as we have shown, on the evidence of both the Theriya and Mahāsaṅghika records, have always been the symbol of the dissentients.
This brings us to yet another problem. How did such a statement which does not accord with the traditions of the Theriya school come to be recorded in their literature? In answer to this we would commend the following points for consideration.
The first observations to be made on this is the fact that the two works in which this statement is recorded, viz. the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta and the Saṅgītikkhandhaka of the Cullavagga, both belong to a relatively later stratum in the Canonical Pali literature.
The two Khandhakas of the Cullavagga which deal with the two Saṅgīti are both in point of time and contents relatively outside the scope of the Vinaya Piṭaka.
The Cullavagga account of the first Saṅgīti includes besides this statement on the abolition of the leser and minor rules another statement which records a dissent and is not wholly favourable to the Theriya tradition. This is the refusal of the venerable Purāṇa to accord fully with the recital of the Dhamma and the Vinaya which the monks of the Theriya group had carried out in his absence.1
Even the Khandhakas show traces of the presence of traditions which at times appear to be far removed from the original spirit of the Vinaya. These become very glaring when the older tradition happens to be preserved intact, at times, in the Vinaya texts of other schools. This points to the fact that the stratification of the contents of the Khandhakas did spread over a period of time which was long enough to allow the adoption of discordant traditions either out of choice or under pressure from within or without. Unlike the Suttavibhaṅga, the nature of the contents of the Khandhakas also would have made this process of assimilation possible.