Pali, lit. "basket of discipline"

The division of the Pali Canon (see Tipitaka) which contains the vinaya, the Buddha's teachings concerning discipline. The texts in the Vinaya Pitaka are among the oldest teachings in the Pali Canon, and are concerned primarily with the behavior of monks and nuns. The rules governing their behavior, the Buddhist monastic code called the Patimokkha, are included in the Vinaya Pitaka, as are the origins and modifications to these rules dating to the time of the Buddha.

Also contained within the Vinaya Pitaka are the regulations concerning the organization of the Sangha- procedures for addressing conflicts or disputes, the enactment of certain ritual duties (such as the ordination of a new bhikkhu, or an Uposatha day), and guidelines for creating a just and harmonious community.

The Vinaya Pitaka also includes a number of suttas-type discourses, similar to those found in the Sutta Pitaka. These discourses include accounts of some of the Buddha's first actions after his awakening, including his first discourse and the founding of the Buddhist Sangha. Several of these scriptures were selected by King Asoka as teachings to be studied and reflected upon regularly by all Buddhists.

Lastly, the Vinaya contains a number of historical records, such as accounts of the first two Great Councils (see Buddhist Councils) and the creation of the order of nuns (see bhikkhuni).

While the Vinaya Pitaka is aimed primarily at the monastic community, it continues to hold relevance for lay Buddhists. The Buddha regarded discipline to be as important to the attainment of awakening as any other aspect of Buddhist practice- and perhaps even more important. The Buddha spoke of sila, morality], as being the foundation or root of all other achievement, without which all other endeavors will fail. While most of the rules regarding behavior are not an obligation for lay followers, some (such as the Five Precepts) are, and their complete analysis and explanation can be found in the Vinaya. Furthermore, the extra guidelines provide a nice guide to peaceful, frugal living, and yield important lessons in human nature, behavior, and community.

Organization of the Vinaya Pitaka

The Vinaya is usually organized into three sections:

  • Suttavibhanga: Includes the Patimokkha (the monastic code), all the rules governing the behavior of monks and nuns, as well as the origins of these rules. Also included are procedures for resolving doctrinal or personal disputes.
  • Khandhaka: Two sections:
    • Mahavagga: Sutta-like texts, rules for ordination and Uposatha days, and procedures for formal meetings of the Sangha.
    • Cullavagga: More complex rules than those in the Suttavibhanga governing the behavior of monks. While the rules above mostly focus on what monks are forbidden from doing, many of these rules concern more detailed matters, and constitute advice as to what is and is not proper behavior for a monk- personal grooming, duties of a student to his teacher and vice versa, rules on acting as the attendant of a senior monk. Generally more subtle and less focused on disciplinary violations than the Suttavibhanga.
  • Parivara: Same content as the above two sections, but with summaries of many of the rules, and re-classification of these rules for purposes of instruction and recollection.

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