Restraint in Accordance with the Patimokkha

Restraint in Accordance with the Patimokkha

By Upāsikā Sabrina Sujata

What we today know as the Buddha’s teaching, is called the Dhamma-Vinaya in the scriptures; and not only in the scriptures do the two have to stay together. The Vinaya is not only relevant to monastics. For lay people also there are many discourses, as inspiring and rich in meaning as we find in the Sutta Pitaka.

When we decide to “venture” on the path that Buddha passed on, we implicitly decide to live according to the Dhamma-Vinaya.

We do not interpret the Vinaya in any way we might want; awareness is given that our interpretation doesn’t give nuances or grades to our restraint. In that sense, as practitioners of what Buddha taught, our practice not only has to be nourished by our own inspiration to attain Nibbana in a simple way, or by what we learn reading Suttas, but nourished also through our deepest wish to practice according to the rules that the Buddha laid down.

Photo © Upāsikā Sabrina Sujata.

Photo © Upāsikā Sabrina Sujata.

We cannot or should not agree with shortening the rules, or agree with only rules that give us some mental satisfaction and comfort. We cannot act as tasters of the Dhamma but we have to “drink” the Dhamma till the last drop. As it is appropriately written “Dhamma which is lovely in its beginning, lovely in its middle and lovely in its ending, in the spirit and in the letter, and he displays the fully-perfected, thoroughly purified holy life.” [1]

There are many passages in which Buddha invites one to live in accordance with the Patimokkha. There He warns us to protect the doors of the sense bases and to commit ourselves to restrict their associated faculties. This is the training of the monastic; the way of the holy life. Not half restraint, not with excuses, not with exceptions.

The Buddha tells us in the Pañña Sutta about the conditions to reach wisdom and, without surprise, to live according to the Patimokkha is the fourth. There, He says:

“He is virtuous. He dwells restrained in accordance with the Patimokkha, consummate in his behavior & sphere of activity. He trains himself, having undertaken the training rules, seeing danger in the slightest faults. This is the fourth cause, the fourth requisite condition that leads to the acquiring of the as-yet-unacquired discernment that is basic to the holy life, and to the increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of that which has already been acquired” [2].

In the first sentence, the Buddha offers us the elixir, essence, seed that one has to cultivate: virtue. The Buddha describes clearly who can be called virtuous in Kalyanasila Sutta: “And how is a monk a person with admirable virtue? There is the case where a monk is virtuous. He dwells restrained in accordance with the Patimokkha, consummate in his behavior & sphere of activity. He trains himself, having undertaken the training rules, seeing danger in the slightest faults. In this way a monk is a person with admirable virtue. Thus he is of admirable virtue”. [3]

And although it seems to be a formula that is repeated again and again, one [the monastic] must dwell in accordance with the Patimokkha. “He trains himself, having undertaken the training rules, seeing danger in the slightest faults”. This is a crucial point, one not only related to the present or to the new millennium. It is an often repeated exhortation to help overcome defilements.

The Dhamma-Vinaya must be taken for what it Is and with humility before the Buddha’s wisdom. Do you see that any one of us has the authority to determine what should be modified or erased? The unscrupulous behavior of removing one rule of the Patimokkha or suggest it is not important for the training, is not for the welfare and the benefit of Dhamma-Vinaya and Sangha.

The Patimokkha that the Buddha laid down has been and will continue being essential to the world, because in present times as in past times, the purpose is one and the same and the training is well established. “For the welfare of the Sangha,… for the benefit of Vinaya,… for the restraining of the pollutions in this present life and for guarding against the pollutions liable to arise in a future life.

Only one who has lived according to the rule, can live beyond it.

[1] “Desanaa Sutta: Teaching” (SN 42.7), translated from the Pali by Maurice O’Connell Walshe. Access to Insight.

[2] “Pañña Sutta: Discernment” (AN 8.2), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight.

[3] “Itivuttaka”, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight.