What is Vinaya Pitaka? | Overview


Vinaya Piṭaka – Monastic rules of Buddhist monks and nuns.

The Vinaya Piṭaka is made up of rules of discipline laid down for regulating the conduct of the Buddha's disciples who have been admitted as bhikkhus and bhikkhunnīs into the Order.

These rules embody authoritative injunctions of the Buddha on modes of conduct and restraints on both physical and verbal actions.

They deal with transgressions of discipline, and with various categories of restraints and admonitions in accordance with the nature of the offence.

(a)Seven Kinds of Transgression or Offence, Āpatti

The rules of discipline first laid down by the Buddha are called Mūlapaññatti (the root regulation); those supplemented later are known as Anupaññatti. Together they are known as Sikkhāpadas, rules of discipline.

The act of transgressing these rules of discipline, thereby incurring a penalty by the guilty bhikkhu, is called Āpatti, which means “reaching, committing”.

The offences for which penalties are laid down may be classified under seven categories depending on their nature:

1. Pārājika
2. Saṁghādisesa
3. Thullaccaya
4. Pācittiya
5. Pāṭidesanīya
6. Dukkaṭa
7. Dubbhāsita.

An offence in the first category of offences, Pārājika, is classified as a grave offence, garukāpatti, which is irremediable, atekicchā and entails the falling off of the offender from bhikkhuhood.

An offence in the second category, Saṁghādisesa, is also classified as a grave offence but it is remediable, satekicchā. The offender is put on a probationary period of penance, during which he has to undertake certain difficult practices and after which he is rehabilitated by the Sangha assembly.

The remaining five categories consist of light offences, lahukāpatti, which are remediable and incur the penalty of having to confess the transgression to another bhikkhu. After carrying out the prescribed penalty, the bhikkhu transgressor becomes cleansed of the offence.

(b)When and how the disciplinary rules were laid down.

For twenty years after the establishment of the Order there was neither injunction nor rule concerning Pārājika and Saṁghādisesa offences.

The members of the Order of the early days were all Ariyas, the least advanced of whom was a Stream-winner, one who had attained the first Magga and Fruition, and there was no need for prescribing rules relating to grave offences.

But as the years went by, the Sangha grew in strength.

Undesirable elements not having the purest of motives but attracted only by the fame and gain of the bhikkhus began to get into the Buddha's Order. Some twenty years after the founding of the Order, it became necessary to begin establishing rules relating to grave offences.

It was through Bhikkhu Sudinna, a native of Kalanda Village near Vesālī, who committed the offence of having sexual intercourse with his ex-wife, that the first Pārājika rule came to be promulgated. It was laid down to deter bhikkhus from indulging in sexual intercourse.

When such a grave cause had arisen for which the laying down of a prohibitory rule became necessary, the Buddha convened an assembly of the bhikkhus.

It was only after questioning the bhikkhu concerned and after the undesirability of committing such an offence had been made clear that a certain rule was laid down in order to prevent future lapses of similar nature.

The Buddha also followed the precedence set by earlier Buddhas. Using his supernormal powers, he reflected on what rules the earlier Buddhas would lay down under certain given conditions. Then he adopt­ed similar regulations to meet the situation that had arisen in his time.

(c)Admission of bhikkhunnīs into the Order

After spending four vassas (residence period during the rains) after his Enlightenment, the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu, his native royal city, at the request of his ailing father, King Suddhodana.

At that time, Mahāpajāpati, Buddha's foster mother, requested him to admit her into the Order.

Mahāpajāpati was not alone in desiring to join the Order. Five hundred Sakyan ladies whose husbands had left the household life were also eager to be admitted into the Order.

After his father’s death, the Buddha went back to Vesālī, refusing the repeated request of Mahāpajāpati for admission into the Order.

The determined foster mother of the Buddha and widow of the recently de­ceased King Suddhodana, having cut off  her hair and put on bark-dyed clothes, accompanied by five hundred Sakyan ladies, made her way to Vesālī where the Buddha was staying in the Mahāvana, in the Kūṭāgāra Hall.

The Venerable Ānanda saw them outside the gateway of the Kūṭāgāra Hall, dust-laden with swollen feet, dejected, tearful, standing and weeping.

Out of great compassion for the ladies, the Venerable Ānanda interceded with the Buddha on their behalf and entreated him to accept them in the Order. The Buddha continued to stand firm.

But when the Venerable Ānanda asked the Buddha whether women were not capable of attaining Magga and Phala Insight, the Buddha replied that women were indeed capable of doing so, provided they left the household life like their menfolk.

Thereupon Ānanda made his entreaties again saying that Mahāpajāpati had been of great service to the Buddha waiting on him as his guardian and nurse, suckling him when his mother died.

And as women were capable of attaining the Magga and Phala Insight, she should be permitted to Join the Order and become a bhikkhunī.

The Buddha finally acceded to Ānanda’s entreaties:

“Ānanda, if Mahāpajāpati accepts eight special rules, garu-dhamma, let such acceptance mean her admission to the Order."

The eight special rules are:

1. A bhikkhunī, even if she enjoys a seniority of a hundred years in the Order, must pay respect to a bhikkhu though he may have been a bhikkhu only for a day.

2. A bhikkhunī must not keep her rains-residence in a place where there are no bhikkhus.

3. Every fortnight a bhikkhunī must do two things: To ask the bhikkhu Sangha the day of uposatha, and to approach the bhikkhu Sangha for instruction and admonition.

4. When the rains-residence period is over, a bhikkhunī must attend the pavāraṇā ceremony conducted at both the assemblies of bhikkhus and bhikkhunnīs, in each of which she must invite criticism on what has been seen, what has been heard or what has been suspected of her.

5. A bhikkhunī who has committed a Saṁghādisesa offence must undergo penance for a half-month, pakkha mānatta, in each assembly of bhikkhus and bhikkhunnīs.

6. Admission to the Order must be sought, from both assemblies, by a woman novice only after two years probationary training as a candidate.

7. A bhikkhunī should not revile a bhikkhu in any way, not even obliquely.

8. A bhikkhunī must abide by instructions given her by bhikkhus, but must not give instructions or advice to bhikkhus.

Mahāpajāpati accepted unhesitatingly these eight conditions imposed by the Buddha and was consequently admitted into the Order.


The Vinaya Piṭaka is made up of five books:

(1) Pārājika Pāḷi
(2) Pācittiya Pāḷi
(3) Mahāvagga Pāḷi
(4) Cūḷavagga Pāḷi
(5) Parivāra Pāḷi

1. Pārājika Pāḷi

Pārājika Pāḷi which is Book I of the Vinaya Piṭaka gives an elaborate explanation of the important rules of discipline concerning Pārājika and Saṁghādisesa, as well as Aniyata and Nissaggiya which are minor offences.

(a) Pārājika offences and penalties.

Pārājika discipline consists of four sets of rules laid down to prevent four grave offences. Any transgressor of these rules is defeated in his purpose in becoming a bhikkhu.

In the parlance of Vinaya, the Pārājika Āpatti falls upon him; he automatically loses the status of a bhikkhu; he is no longer recognized as a member of the community of bhikkhus and is not permitted to become a bhikkhu again.

He has either to go back to the household life as a layman or revert back to the status of a sāmaṇera, a novice.

One who has lost the status of a bhikkhu for transgression of any of these rules is likened to:

(1) a person whose head has been cut off from his body; he cannot become alive even if the head is fixed back on the body;

(2) leaves which have fallen off the branches of the tree; they will not become green again even if they are attached back to the leaf-stalks;

(3) a flat rock which has been split; it cannot be made whole again;

(4) a palm tree which has been cut off from its stem; it will never grow again.

Four Pārājika offences which lead to loss of status as a bhikkhu:

(1)The first Pārājika: Whatever bhikkhu should indulge in sexual intercourse loses his bhikkhuhood.

(2)The second Pārājika: Whatever bhikkhu should take with intention to steal what is not given loses his bhikkhuhood.

(3)The third Pārājika: Whatever bhikkhu should intentionally deprive a human being of life loses his bhikkhuhood.

(4)The fourth Pārājika: Whatever bhikkhu claims to attainments he does not really possess, namely, attainments to jhāna or Magga and Phala Insight loses his bhikkhuhood.

The Pārājika offender is guilty of a very grave transgression. He ceases to be a bhikkhu. His offence, Āpatti, is irremediable.

(b) Thirteen Saṁghādisesa offences and penalties.

Saṁghādisesa discipline consists of a set of thirteen rules which require formal participation of the Sangha from beginning to end in the process of making him free from the guilt of transgression.

(I) A bhikkhu having transgressed these rules, and wishing to be free from his offence must first approach the Sangha and confess having committed the offence.

The Sangha determines his offence and orders him to observe the parivāsa penance, a penalty requiring him to live under suspension from association with the rest of the Sangha, for as many days as he has knowingly concealed his offence.

(II) At the end of the parivāsa observance he undergoes a further period of penance, mānatta, for six days to gain approbation of the Sangha.

(III) Having carried out the mānatta penance, the bhikkhu requests the Sangha to reinstate him to full association with the rest of the Sangha.

Being now convinced of the purity of his conduct as before, the Sangha lifts the Āpatti at a special congregation attended by at least twenty bhikkhus, where ñatti, the motion for his reinstatement, is recited followed by three recitals of kammavācā, procedural text for formal acts of the Sangha.

Some examples of the Saṁghādisesa offences.

(1) Kāyasaṁsagga offence:

If any bhikkhu with lustful, perverted thoughts engages in bodily contact with a woman, such as holding of hands, caressing the tresses of hair or touching any part of her body, he commits the Kāyasaṁsagga Saṁghādisesa offence.

(2) Sañcaritta offence:

If any bhikkhu acts as a go-between between a man and a woman for their lawful living together as husband and wife or for temporary arrangement as man and mistress or woman and lover, he is guilty of Sañcaritta Saṁghādisesa offence.

(c) Two Aniyata offences and penalties.

Aniyata means indefinite, uncertain.

There are two Aniyata offences the nature of which is uncertain and indefinite as to whether it is a Pārājika offence, a Saṁghādisesa offence or a Pācittiya offence.

It is to be determined according to provisions in the following rules:

(I) If a bhikkhu sits down privately alone with a woman in a place which is secluded and hidden from view, and convenient for an immoral purpose

and if a trustworthy lay woman (i.e., an Ariya), seeing him, accuses him of any one of the three offences: (1) a Pārājika offence (2) a Saṁghādisesa offence (3) a Pācittiya offence,

and the bhikkhu himself admits that he was so sitting, he should be found guilty of one of these three offences as accused by the trustworthy lay woman.

(II) If a bhikkhu sits down privately alone with a woman in a place which is not hidden from view and not convenient for an immoral purpose but convenient for talking lewd words to her,

and if a trustworthy lay woman (i.e., an Ariya), seeing him, accuses him of any one of the two offences (1) a Saṁghādisesa offence (2) a Pācittiya offence,

and the bhikkhu himself admits that he was so sitting, he should be found guilty of one of these two offences as accused by the trustworthy lay woman.

(d) Thirty Nissaggiya Pācittiya offences and penalties.

There are thirty rules under the Nissaggiya category of offences and penalties which are laid down to curb inordinate greed in bhikkhus for possession of material things such as robes, bowls etc.

To give an example, an offence is done under these rules when objects not permitted are acquired, or when objects are acquired in more than the permitted quantity.

The penalty consists firstly of giving up the objects in respect of which the offence has been committed.

Then it is followed by confession of the breach of the rule, together with an undertaking not to repeat the same offence, to the Sangha as a whole, or to a group of bhikkhus, or to an individual bhikkhu to whom the wrongfully acquired objects have been surrendered.

Some examples of the Nissaggiya Pācittiya offences.

(I) First Nissaggiya Sikkhāpada.

If any bhikkhu keeps more than the permissible number of robes, namely, the lower robe, the upper robe and the great robe, he commits an offence for which he has to surrender the extra robes and confess his offence.

(II) Cīvara Acchindana Sikkhāpada.

If any bhikkhu gives away his own robe to another bhikkhu and after­wards, being angry or displeased, takes it back forcibly or causes it to be taken away by someone else, he commits a Nissaggiya Pācittiya offence.

Nissaggiya offences are light offences compared with the grave offences of Pārājika Āpatti or Saṁghādisesa Āpatti.

2. Pācittiya Pāḷi

The Pācittiya Pāḷi which is Book II of the Vinaya Piṭaka deals with the remaining sets of rules for the bhikkhus, namely, the Pācittiya, the Pāṭidesanīya, Sekhiya, Adhikaraṇasamatha and the corresponding disciplinary rules for the bhikkhunnīs.

Although it is called in Pāḷi just Pācittiya, it has the distinctive name of Suddha Pācittiya, ordinary Pācittiya, to distinguish it from Nissaggiya Pācittiya, described above.

(a) Ninety-two Pācittiya offences and penalties.

There are ninety-two rules under this class of offences classified in nine sections. A few examples of this type of offences:

(I) Telling a lie deliberately is a Pācittiya offence.

(II) A bhikkhu who sleeps under the same roof and within the walls along with a woman commits a Pācittiya offence.

(III) A bhikkhu who digs the ground or causes it to be dug commits a Pācittiya offence.

A Pācittiya offence is remedied merely by admission of the offence to a bhikkhu.

(b) Four Pāṭidesanīya offences and penalties.

There are four offences under this classification and they all deal with the bhikkhu's conduct in accepting and eating alms-food offered to him. The bhikkhu transgressing any of these rules, in making admission of his offence, must use a special formula stating the nature of his fault.

The first rule of Pāṭidesanīya offence reads:

should a bhikkhu eat hard food or soft food having accepted it with his own hand from a bhikkhunī who is not his relation and who has gone among the houses for alms-food,

it should be admitted to another bhikkhu by the bhikkhu saying: “Friend, I have done a censurable thing which is unbecoming and which should be admitted. I admit having committed a Pāṭidesanīya offence."

The events that led to the laying down of the first of these rules happened in Sāvatthi, where one morning bhikkhus and bhikkhunnīs were going round for alms-food. A certain bhikkhunī offered the food she had received to a certain bhikkhu who took away all that was in her bowl.

The bhikkhunī had to go without any food for the day.

Three days in succession she offered to give her alms-food to the same bhikkhu who on all the three days deprived her of her entire alms-food. Consequently she became famished.

On the fourth day while going on the alms round she fainted and fell down through weakness.

When the Buddha came to hear about this, he censured the bhikkhu who was guilty of the wrong deed and laid down the above rule.

(c) Seventy-five Sekhiya rules of polite behaviour.

These seventy-five rules laid down originally for the proper behaviour of bhikkhus also apply to novices who seek admission to the Order. Most of these rules were all laid down at Sāvatthi on account of undisciplined behaviour on the part of a group of six bhikkhus.

The rules can be divided into four groups:

The first group of twenty-six rules is concerned with good conduct and behaviour when going into towns and villages.
The second group of thirty rules deals with polite manners when accepting alms-food and when eating meals.
The third group of sixteen rules contains rules which prohibit teaching of the Dhamma to disrespectful people.
The fourth group of three rules relates to unbecoming ways of answering the calls of nature and of spitting.

(d) Seven ways of settling disputes, Adhikaraṇasamatha.

Pācittiya Pāḷi concludes the disciplinary rules for bhikkhus with a Chapter on seven ways of settling cases, Adhikaraṇasamatha.

Four kinds of cases are listed:

(I) Vivādādhikaraṇa — Disputes as to what is dhamma, what is not dhamma; what is Vinaya, what is not Vinaya; what the Buddha said, what the Buddha did not say; and what constitutes an offence, what is not an offence.

(II) Anuvādādhikaraṇa — Accusations and disputes arising out of them concerning the virtue, practice, views and way of living of a bhikkhu.

(III) Āpattādhikaraṇa — Infringement of any disciplinary rule.

(IV) Kiccādhikaraṇa — Formal meeting or decisions made by the Sangha.

For settlement of such disputes that may arise from time to time amongst the Order, precise and detailed methods are prescribed under seven heads:

(1) Sammukha Vinaya — before coming to a decision, conducting an enquiry in the presence of both parties in accordance with the rules of Vinaya.

(2) Sati Vinaya — making a declaration by the Sangha of the innocence of an Arahat against whom some allegations have been made, after asking him if he remembers having committed the offence.

(3) Amūḷha Vinaya — making a declaration by the Sangha when the accused is found to be insane.

(4) Patiññāta Karaṇa — making a decision after admission by the party concerned.

(5) Yebhuyyasika Kamma — making a decision in accordance with the majority vote.

(6) Tassapāpiyasika Kamma — making a declaration by the Sangha when the accused proves to be unreliable, making admissions only to retract them, evading questions and telling lies.

(7) Tiṇavatthāraka Kamma — “the act of covering up with grass” — exonerating all offences except the offences of Pārājika, Saṁghādisesa and those in connection with laymen and laywomen, when the disputing parties are made to reconcile by the Sangha.

(e) Rules of Discipline for the bhikkhunīs.

The concluding chapters in the Pācittiya Pāḷi are devoted to the rules of Discipline for the bhikkhunīs. The list of rules for bhikkhunīs runs longer than that for the bhikkhus. The bhikkhunī rules were drawn

up on exactly the same lines as those for the bhikkhus, with the exception of the two Aniyata rules which are not laid down for the bhikkhunī Order.




1) Pārājika

4 8

2) Saṁghādisesa

13 17

3) Aniyata

2 -

4) Nissaggiya Pācittiya

30 30

5) Suddha Pācittiya

92 166

6) Pāṭidesanīya

4 8

7) Sekhiya

75 75

8) Adhikaraṇasamatha

7 7
  227 311

These eight categories of disciplinary rules for bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs of the Order are treated in detail in the first two books of the Vinaya Piṭaka.

For each rule an historical account is given as to how it comes to be laid down, followed by an exhortation of the Buddha ending with

“This offence does not lead to rousing of faith in those who are not convinced of the Teaching, or to increase of faith in those who are convinced”.

After the exhortation comes the particular rule laid down by the Buddha followed by word for word commentary on the rule.

3. Mahāvagga Pāḷi.

The next two books, namely, Mahāvagga Pāḷi which is Book III and Cūḷavagga Pāḷi which is Book IV of the Vinaya Piṭaka, deal with all those matters relating to the Sangha which have not been dealt with in the first two books.

Mahāvagga Pāḷi, made up of ten sections known as Khandhakas, opens with an historical account of how the Buddha attained Supreme Enlightenment at the foot of the Bodhi Tree,

how he discovered the famous law of Dependent Origination, how he gave his first sermon to the Group of Five Bhikkhus on the discovery of the Four Noble Truths, namely, the great Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.

This was followed by another great discourse, the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta. These two suttas may be described as the Compendium of the Teaching of the Buddha.

The first section continues to describe how young men of good families like Yasa sought refuge in him as a Buddha and embraced his Teaching;

how the Buddha embarked upon the unique mission of spreading the Dhamma for the welfare and happiness of the many' when he had collected round him sixty disciples who were well established in the Dhamma and had become Arahats;

how he began to establish the Order of the Sangha to serve as a living example of the Truth he preached; and how his famous disciples like Sāriputta, Moggallāna, Maha Kassapa, Ānanda, Upāli, Aṅgulimāla became members of the Order.

The same section then deals with the rules for formal admission to the Order, (Upasampadā), giving precise conditions to be fulfilled before any person can gain admission to the Order and the procedure to be followed for each admission.

Mahāvagga further deals with procedures for an Uposatha meeting, the assembly of the Sangha on every full moon day and on the fourteenth or fifteenth waning day of the lunar month when Pātimokkha, a summary of the Vinaya rules, is recited.

Then there are rules to be observed for rains retreat (vassa) during the rainy season as well as those for the formal ceremony of pavāraṇā concluding the rains retreat, in which a bhikkhu invites criticism from his brethren in respect of what has been seen, heard or suspected about his conduct.

There are also rules concerning sick bhikkhus, the use of leather for footwear and furniture, materials for robes, and those concerning medicine and food. A separate section deals with the Kathina ceremonies where annual making and offering of robes take place.

4. Cūḷavagga Pāḷi

Cūḷavagga Pāḷi which is Book IV of the Vinaya Piṭaka continues to deal with more rules and procedures for institutional acts or functions known as Saṁghakamma.

The twelve sections in this book deal with rules for offences such as Saṁghādisesa that come before the Sangha; rules for observance of penances such as parivāsa and mānatta and rules for reinstatement of a bhikkhu.

There are also miscellaneous rules concerning bathing, dress, dwellings and furniture and those dealing with treatment of visiting bhikkhus, and duties of tutors and novices.

Some of the important enactments are concerned with Tajjanīya Kamma, formal act of censure by the Sangha taken against those bhikkhus who cause strife, quarrels, disputes, who associate familiarly with lay people and who speak in dispraise of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha;

Ukkhepanīya Kamma, formal act of suspension to be taken against those who having committed an offence do not want to admit it;

and Pakāsanīya Kamma taken against Devadatta announcing publicly that –

“Whatever Devadatta does by deed or word, should be seen as Devadatta’s own and has nothing to do with the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha."

The account of this action is followed by the story of Devadatta's three attempts on the life of the Buddha and the schism caused by Devadatta among the Sangha.

There is, in section ten, the story of how Mahāpajāpati, the Buddha's foster mother, requested admission into the Order, how the Buddha refused permission at first, and how he finally acceded to the request because of Ānanda's entreaties on her behalf.

The last two sections describe two important events of historical interest, namely, the holding of the first Synod at Rājagaha and of the second Synod at Vesālī.

5. Parivāra Pāḷi

Parivāra Pāḷi which is Book V and the last book of the Vinaya Piṭaka serves as a kind of manual. It is compiled in the form of a catechism, enabling the reader to make an analytical survey of the Vinaya Piṭaka.

All the rules, official acts, and other matters of the Vinaya are classified under separate categories according to subjects dealt with.

Parivāra explains how rules of the Order are drawn up to regulate the conduct of the bhikkhus as well as the administrative affairs of the Order.

Precise procedures are prescribed for settling of disputes and handling matters of jurisprudence, for formation of Sangha courts and appointment of well-qualified Sangha judges.

It lays down how Sangha Vinicchaya Committee, the Sangha court, is to be constituted with a body of learned Vinayadharas, experts in Vinaya rules, to hear and decide all kinds of monastic disputes.

The Parivāra Pāḷi provides general principles and guidance in the spirit of which all the Sangha Vinicchaya proceedings are to be conducted for settlement of monastic disputes.