Jotiya dhirasekera

CHAPTER VI The New Role of Sīla in Buddhist Monasticism

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The New Role of Sīla in Buddhist Monasticism

The final and what is claimed to be the most comprehensive code of monastic discipline is brought under the fourfold division of sīla known as the Catupārisuddhisīla. Buddhaghosa begins his Visuddhimagga, more or less, with a detailed analysis of this classification.1 Like the earlier lists of sīla which had indriyasavara closely appended to it,2 this classification seems to recognise the basic importance of the two items of sīla and indriyasavara. Buddhaghosa goes so far as to say that no perfection in sīla could be achieved without stability in indriyasavara (Evam asampādite hi etasmim pātimokkhasavarasīlam'pi anaddhaniya hoti aciraṭṭhitika... Vism.I.37). However, the earlier concept of sīla as expressed in the Suttas in the reference iminā ariyena sīlakkhandhena samannāgato now forms only one single fragment in this larger fourfold classification. The earlier concept is narrowed down and is specifically referred to as Pātimokkhasaṃvarasīla. In this division of sīla the emphasis is more on the codified legalised precepts. The sole basis of monastic discipline now seems to be the code of the Pātimokkha which is aptly described by Buddhaghosa as the sikkhāpada-sīla.3 Here one immediately feels that there is a complete disregard of the role of the Dhamma as a disciplinary force among the disciples. This new attitude is perhaps resonant of an age in which the Vinaya dominated. Buddhaghosa does bring before us in clearer relief the tendency of his day when he says that the Vinaya constitutes the life-blood of the Sāsana.1 However, it is interesting to note that the Vimuttimagga which is claimed to be a pre-Buddhaghosa work2 adds the following remarks after its definition of pātimokkhasavara: This is the entrance into the doctrines. By this the Good Law (saddhamma) is accepted.'3 One is tempted by this to ask whether the reference to the Good Law (saddhamma) under the definition of pātimokkhasavara implies in this context a recognition of the wide range of monastic discipline and a desire to infuse the spirit of the Dhamma into the legal machinery of the Vinaya which tended to be exclusive in character in the regulation of monastic life.

Indriyasaṃvarasīla forms the second item in this fourfold classification. It has retained its character, more or less unmodified in the new classification.4 Ājīvapārisuddhisīla and Paccayasannissitasīla form the last two items. These are concerned with the daily life of the disciple, specially in relation to his food and clothing. The Suttas too are adequately concerned with this aspect of monastic discipline although it had not come to be laid down in the form of a division of sīla. The ājīvapārisuddhi, as a separate item of sīla in the new fourfold category, claims to safeguard the way in which a disciple `earns his living' without fraud and deceit, and greed for gain, and thus renders him blameless with regard to his livelihood. It is possible to infer from Buddhaghosa's definition of Ājīvapārisuddhisīla1 that the origin of this special branch of sīla lay primarily in the last item of Majjhimasīla given in the Brahmajāla and the Sāmaññaphala Suttas.2 Buddhaghosa quotes it as follows: ... kuhanā lapanā nemittakatā neppesikatā lābhena lābha nijigisanatā'ti evam ādīnañ ca pāpadhammāna vasena pavattā micchājīvā virati. Vism.I.16. It is also of interest to note that the Mahācattārīsaka Sutta defines micchājīva solely in terms of this item of sīla.3 Buddhaghosa further suggests that along with this are also to be taken the different forms of unworthy professional practices or micchājīva which are elaborated under the mahāsīla.4 To supplement this concept of Ājīvapārisuddhi Buddhaghosa also draws reinforcements from the Vinaya. These consist of six sikkhāpada from the Suttavibhaṅga and Buddhaghosa describes them as being `laid down for the guidance of the livelihood of the monk ': ājīvahetu paññattāna channa sikkhāpadānan'ti yāni tāni ... eva paññattāni cha sikkhāpadāni. Vism.I.22. They occur already together in a group in the Parivāra as constituting in their violation ājīvavipatti or damage to the purity of livelihood.5

Of these, five sikkhāpada are primary regulations directly traceable to the Pātimokkha. The other is a Thullaccaya offence derived from the fourth Pārājika. The Dukkaṭa offence is in terms of Sekhiyadhamma 37. In their gravity, these sikkhāpada range from a Pārājika to a Dukkaṭa offence. Three minor rules, a Pācittiya (Vin.IV.88), Pāṭidesanīya (Vin.IV.347f.) and a Dukkaṭa (Vin.IV.193) are concerned with irregular appropriation of food. Two rules, a Pārājika (Vin.III.91) and a Thullaccaya (Vin.III.102 Sec.7) deal with claims to spiritual powers which are made with a view to increase the support from laymen. One rule, a Saṅghādisesa (Vin.III.139) proscribes the transaction of the affairs of laymen with a similar motive of personal gain. It is also interesting to note that Buddhaghosa bundles up under the one Pāṭidesanīya sikkhāpada all the eight Pāṭidesanīya rules of the Bhikkhunis.1 He is perhaps here influenced by the single Pācittiya rule (no. 39) of the Bhikkhus which covers the same ground. Thus the ājīvapārisuddhi is judged in terms of both sīla and the codified rules of the Vinaya.2 On the other hand, we notice that in the earlier texts, the concept of ājīvapārisuddhi was brought within the scope of sīla itself.3 Its aim was to make the disciples purge themselves of such mean traits of character (pāpadhammā) as fraud and deceit,4 as well as to make them abstain from blamable forms of livelihood (micchājīva) which are unworthy of a monk. But Buddhaghosa makes a further distinct group of micchājiva in terms of the transgression of the rules of the Pātimokkha: ājīvahetupaññattāna channa sikkhāpadāna vītikkamavasena. (Vism.I.30).

As far as the disciples of the Buddha were concerned, the items of micchājīva which are more or less professional practices were firstly considered stupid (tiracchāna-vijjā), perhaps because they exploited the credulity and the superstitious character of the public on whom they were dependent. Secondly, they were irregular practices for the monk (micchājīva), for they were not conducive to his spiritual progress. It would be a misuse of his life if he engaged himself in such activities. There can be little doubt that kāyakamma-vacīkammena samannāgato kusalena served as a warning against such irregular ways of members of the monastic community.1 Thus we notice parisuddhājīvo being rightly equated by Buddhaghosa to kāyakamma-vacīkammena samannāgato kusalena.2 It must be observed that the Ājīvapārisuddhisīla as described by Buddhaghosa overlaps to some extent the Pātimokkhasaṃvarasīla in that Buddhaghosa while recognising the various irregular ways of a monk enumerated under sīla (kuhanā lapanā etc.) draws also on the contents of the Pātimokkha.3

The last item in this fourfold classification is the Paccayasannissitasīla. While the Ājīvapārisuddhisīla is concerned with the correctness of the method whereby the monk obtains his requisites, the Paccayasannissitasīla determines the correct attitude of mind in the use of these.4 The Sabbāsava Sutta deals comprehensively with this consideration in relation to the use of the four paccaya.1 Buddhaghosa quotes freely from this Sutta in his description of the Paccayasannissitasīla.2 Bhojane mattaññutā which was discussed earlier,3 tended to single out food from among these four requisites and lays special emphasis on moderation in eating as a monastic virtue. The Paccayasannissitasīla seems to reintroduce to monastic life the above considerations of the Sabbāsava Sutta in their widest application.4

Canonical Pali literature does not make any reference to this fourfold classification of Catupārisuddhisīla. The Paṭisambhidāmagga knows the term Pārisuddhisīla but it is used in the very general sense of a 'code of good living leading to purity'.5 It is presented there in five categories which are graded according to the degree of perfection of each. Speaking of a fivefold classification of sīla in the Visuddhimagga, Buddhaghosa reproduces this division of Pārisuddhisīla of the Paṭisambhidāmaga.6 The classification is as follows:



- anupasampannāna pariyantasikkhāna



- upasampannāna apariyantasikkhāna



- puthujjanakalyāṇakāna kusaladhamme yuttānam sekhapariyante paripūrakārinam kāye ca jivite ca anapekkhānam pariccattajīvitāna



- sattana sekhāna



- tathāgatasāvakāna khīṇāsavāna paccekabuddhāna tathāgatāna arahantāna sammāsambuddhaāna1

These refer to the various stages in the development of sīla or moral virtue in Buddhism, from the uninitiated disciple to the Tathāgatas. It is difficult to determine with any certainty whether the concept of pārisuddhisīla as the 'code of good living leading to purity' heralded the later classification of the Catupārisuddhisīla. However, it has already been pointed out that the aspects of monastic discipline contained under the Catupārisuddhisīla are of Canonical origin.2 Like sīla, they were considered among the necessary accomplishments of monastic life, and as such some of them stood beside sīla under their own name. Thus they were never reckoned as divisions of sīla. Nevertheless, with the lapse of time, we witness the expansion of the scope and function of sīla as it brings within its fold the entire range of monastic development which culminates in the attainment of Arahantship.3 Thus sīla, from its position of being the first and basic stage in the threefold training of a disciple (tisso sikkhā) came, more or less, to be identified with the complete concept of sīkkhā itself. The first clear indication of an adequate elaboration of sīla capable of accomodating the new element is seen in the Milindapañha where the venerable Nāgasena tells King Milinda that the sīlaratana of the Buddha consists of Pātimokkhasaṃvara, Indriyasaṃvara Ājīvapārisuddhi and Paccayasannissita sīlas as well as of the Cūlla, Majjhima, Mahā and Magga and Phala sīlas (Katama mahārāja bhagavato sīlaratana. Pātimokkhasavara-sīlam indriyasavarasīlam ājīvapārisuddhisīlam paccayasannissitasīlam cullasīlam majjhimasīlam mahāsīlam maggasīlam phalasīlam - Miln.336). It also occurs in a statement by King Milinda where he refers to the development of a disciple in terms of the four categories of sīla: catusu sīlakkhandhesu sammā paripūrakāri. Miln.243. Although the term Catupārisuddhisīla is not used here, there is no doubt that the fourfold classification had already gained considerable recognition, for the threefold division of Cūla, Majjhima and Mahā sīlas which is the Canonical classification is accorded here the second place after the enumeration of the four items of sīla which constitute the Catupārisuddhisīla.

This fourfold classification of sīla which evidently is one of post-canonical origin seems to have been a subject of great controversy in later monastic history. Even during the time of Buddhaghosa the Catupārisuddhisīla does not seem to have enjoyed an unchallenged position. Buddhaghosa who describes it in great detail in the Visuddhimagga also records elsewhere the disputes which seem to have arisen on this subject. According to him, a learned Buddhist monk of Sri Lanka by the name of Culābhaya Thera who was a Master of the Tipiṭaka [Tipika Culābhaya Thera] refused to accept, in the absence of Canonical authority, the importance attached to Indriyasaṃvara, Ājīvapārisuddhi and Paccayasannissita as separate items of sīla. He challenged the view of his teacher, Sumana Thera of Dīpavihāra, who held that the term sīla was used in the Canonical texts to mean implicitly the wider concept covered under the fourfold classification. To Sumana Thera sīla meant something more than the discipline brought about by the Pātimokkha, although he was quick and ready to recognise the very significant part it played in the life of a monk. Commenting on the term sampannasīla in the Ākankheyya Sutta,1 Buddhaghosa brings to light these differences of opinion (Tattha sampannasīlā'ti ettāvatā kira bhagavā catupārisuddhi-sīla uddisitvā pātimokkhasavarasampannā'ti iminā tattha jeṭṭhakasīla vitthāretvā dassesī'ti dīpavihāravāsī sumanatthero āha. Antevāsiko pana 'ssa tipiakacūlābhayatthero āha. Ubhayatthā'pi pātimokkhasavaro bhagavatā vutto. Pātimokkhasavaro y 'eva hi sīla. Itarāni pana tīni sīlan'ti vuttaṭṭhāna nāma atthī'ti ananujānanto vatvā āha. MA.I.155)2

Even if we would agree with the learned Cūlābhaya Thera and argue that the recognition of such items as Paccayasannissita and Ājivapārisudhi as separate items of sīla is a matter of post-Canonical origin, Cūlābhaya Thera is himself liable to be accused of viewing sīla too narrowly by identifying it totally with the Pātimokkha. Sīla would thereby be robbed of its spirit to some extent and be made effective only by the mechanism of the Pātimokkha. However, the Pātimokkha was only an aid to the perfection of sīla and therefore the old stereotyped description of a sīlasampanno invariably mentions sīla first and then follows it with Pātimokkhasaṃvara etc. (Kathañ ca mahānāma ariyasāvako sīlasampanno hoti. Idha mahānāma ariyasāvako sīlavā hoti pātimokkhasavarasavuto viharati... M.I.355).

But with the increasing importance which the text and the ritual of the Pātimokkha gradually assumed in the early days of Buddhist monasticism we are not surprised to find in the Canonical texts themselves a virtual identification of the very comprehensive concept of sīla with the Pātimokkha. In doing so, at least theoretically, the scope of the Pātimokkha was considerably widened. A passage in the Aṅguttara Nikāya refers to the complete grounding in sīla simply as pātimokkhasavara (Etha tumhe āvuso sīlavā hotha pātimokkhasavarasavutā viharatha ācāragocarasampannā anumattesu vajjesu bhayadassāvino samādaya sikkhatha sikkhāpadesū'ti. Iti pātimokkhasavare samādapetabbā nivesetabbā patiṭṭhāpetabbā. A.III.138). On the other hand, we find in the Saṃyutta Nikāya a passage which describes the discipline of a monk with the rest of the above phraseology, leaving out the reference to sīla. However, the discipline so described is recognised in the end as the grounding in sīla (Yato kho tvam bhikkhu pātimokkhasavarasavuto viharissasi ācāragocarasampanno anumattesu vajjesu bhayadassāvī samādāya sikkhasi sikkhāpadesu tato tvam bhikkhu sīla nissāya sīle patiṭṭhāya cattāro satipaṭṭhāne bhāveyyāsi - S.V.187) Thus there seems to be a mutual identification of sīla and the Pātimokkha. Evidently, Cūlābhaya Thera found here a point in his favour and Buddhaghosa himself remarks that this establishes the superiority of the Pātimokkhasaṃvarasīla over the other sīlas in the fourfold classification.1 Cūlābhaya Thera argues that the other three items of this classification are never referred to as sīla and dismisses them as elementary considerations relating to the control of sense faculties and to the acceptance and use of a disciple's food and raiment.1 Nevertheless, Buddhaghosa is anxious to maintain that the Pātimokkha by itself does not complete the discipline of a monk.2 The Pātimokkha being essentially an organ of Buddhist Vinaya aimed at the correction only of word and deed. This is clearly stated to be the avowed purpose of the Vinaya Piṭaka as is borne out by the definitions of Vinaya given by Buddhaghosa.3 But the complete development of a Buddhist disciple included the discipline of his mind as well. As the Catupārisuddhi-sīla was meant to be the complete and comprehensive code of Buddhist monastic discipline, it was argued that the development of the mind of the disciple which the Pātimokkha did not take within its fold was brought about by the rest of these divisions of sīla.4 Thus Buddhaghosa would speak of the good disciples as being established in this fourfold sīla for the perfection of their religious life.5

This deficiency of the Pātimokkha, and therefore also of the earlier sīlakkhandha referred to in the Suttas, which is pointed out here had been remedied to some extent by the discipline of indriyasavara which was closely coupled with sīla from the earliest times. Hence we would readily concede the elaboration of the indriyasavara into a separate item of sīla which contributes to the mental discipline of a monk. But the formulation of Ājīvapārisuddhi and Paccayasannissita in their present form in the Catupārisuddhisīla seems more to hint at the concern over the behaviour of the growing monastic community.

It is of interest to note that while Buddhaghosa records the divergent evaluations of the Catupārisuddhisīla. he also makes a genuine attempt to place before us this fourfold classification with a definite note of recommendation. In the Visuddhimagga he shows us how these four items of sīla bring into play essential monastic virtues like saddhā, sati, viriya and paññā.1 It is also shown that they contribute towards a fourfold purification in the life of the monk: catubbidhā hi suddhi.2 In terms of the sīla which bring about these aspects of purification they are:

  1. Desanāsuddhi : Pātimokkhasaṃvarasīla.

  2. Savarasuddhi : Indriyasaṃvarasīla.

  3. Pariyeṭṭhisuddhi : Ājīvapārisuddhisīla.

  4. Paccavekkhaasuddhi : Paccayasannissitasīla3

There is a passage in the Dhammapadaṭṭhakathā which in its comment on a verse in the Bhikkhuvagga,4 attempts to equate the Catupārisuddhisīla to the three items of pātimokkhasavara, indriyagutti and santuṭṭhi of Canonical antiquity. In doing so it is constrained to accommodate both Ājīvapārisuddhi and Paccayasannissita sīlas under santuṭṭhi which is explained as contentment with regard to the four requisites.5 The Vimuttimagga6 seems to go a step further in that it tries to establish with finality the significance of the Catupārisuddhisīla in Buddhist monasticism by equating the four items of sīla to the three sikkhā of sīla, samādhi and paññā. In the light of all these observations it becomes clear that the Catupārisuddhisīla has acquired in Buddhist monasticism a validity and significance which cannot easily be underrated.

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