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Pāṭimokkha

The name given to the two hundred and twenty-seven rules to be observed by fully ordained bhikkhus. The rules are not only ethical, but are mostly economic, regulating the behaviour of the members of the Order in respect of robes, dwellings, furniture, medicine, etc., held in common. The punishment for infringement of any of the four Pārājikā Dhammā is expulsion from the Order; for the thirteen Saṅghādisesā offences it is suspension of the full bhikkhu’s status for some time. The remaining offences require confession, and in the case of the thirty Nissaggiyāpācittiyā Dhammā, the forfeiture of some property. The seventy-five Sekhiyā Dhammā (training rules) must also be observed by novices (sāmaṇera), who abide by the ten precepts.

The rules are arranged in seven sections:

  1. Pārājikā Dhammā
  2. Saṅghādisesā Dhammā
  3. Aniyatā Dhammā
  4. Nissaggiyāpācittiyā Dhammā
  5. Pācittiyā Dhammā
  6. Paṭidesanīyā Dhammā
  7. Sekhiyā Dhammā

The order corresponding roughly to the weight attached to their observance.

The Pāṭimokkha is not included in the extant Buddhist Canon. The rules are included, in the Sutta Vibhaṅga (“sutta” here meaning “rule”), which contains, besides the rules themselves, an old Commentary explaining them and a new Commentary containing further supplementary information concerning them.

The rules are divided into two parts: one for the monks (Bhikkhu Pāṭimokkha) and the other for the nuns (Bhikkhuṇī Pāṭimokkha). It is a moot point whether the rules originally appeared with the explanatory notes (as in the Vibhaṅga), the Pāṭimokkha being subsequently extracted, or whether the Pāṭimokkha alone was the older portion, the additional matter of the Vibhaṅga being the work of a subsequent revision. For a discussion of this, see Vin.i. Introd.xvi; Law: Pāḷi. Lit. 2 ff; Hastings: Encyclopaedia under Pāṭimokkha.

It is sometimes suggested (Law: op.cit., p.2) that the original number of Pāṭimokkha rules numbered only about one hundred and fifty. A passage in the Aṅguttaranikāya (i.231‑232) is quoted in support of this suggestion (sādhikaṃ diyaddha sikkhāpada sataṃ). According to this theory the seventy-five Sekhiyā rules were added later. See Law: op.cit., 19 f; Law’s argument, however, that the Pāṭimokkha rules were among the texts not recited at the First Council, is due to a wrong understanding of the Sumaṅgalavilāsiṇī passage (i.17).

The rules were recited at the gatherings of members of the Order (the Uposathakhandhaka of the Mahā Vagga (Vin.i.101‑36) gives details of the procedure at these gatherings) in their respective districts on uposatha days (the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month). Each section of the rules is recited and, at the end of such recital, the reciter asks the members of the Order who are present if any one of them has infringed any of the rules. Silence implies absence of guilt. This practice of interrupting the recital seems to have been changed later (see Vin.ii.240 ff.) even though the old formula, asking the members to speak, continued as a part of the recital.

The word “pāṭimokkha” is variously explained, the oldest explanation being that the observance of the rules is the face (mukhaṃ), the chief (pamukhaṃ) of good qualities. The Sanskritised form of the word being prātimoksa, this led to a change in its significance, the completion of the recital being evidence that all those who have taken part are pure in respect of the specified offences — “pāṭimokkha” thus meaning acquittal, deliverance or discharge. However, in most contexts the word simply means code — i.e., code of verses for the members of the Order.

For a detailed account of the Pāṭimokkha rules see Law: Pāḷi Literature, 49 ff.

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