A Manual of the Dhamma
Translated by U Han Htay
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- Editor’s Foreword
- Translator’s Preface
- A Manual of the Dhamma
- The Thirteen Questions
- The Three Types of Monks Defined
- Should One Avoid Shameless and Immoral Monks?
- Should One Honour Shameless and Immoral Monks?
- Should One Worship Shameless and Immoral Monks?
- Should One Criticise Shameless and Immoral Monks?
- Can A Shameless Monk Become Scrupulous?
- Should Lay Persons Learn the Vinaya?
- The Four Purifying Moralities
- What Are the Effects of Transgressing Morality?
- What Are the Factors of Saṅghikadāna?
- Cultivating A Skilful Attitude
As the translator says, the purification of the Saṅgha is now an urgent matter, as the neglect of the Vinaya rules is commonplace. Also, as the Sayādaw says, “If a monk, who is well-trained in the Vinaya, accumulates many followers and great material wealth, he can do much damage to the Buddha dispensation, unlike an ignorant monk.” So books like this are vital.
In the absence of the Buddha, maintaining acceptable standards of conduct for monks is hard, even if there is wide agreement on what acceptable standards are. The monks most in need of restraint are those least amenable to advice. At the first Buddhist Council, even five hundred Arahants could not agree on which offences were lesser and minor (Vin. ii. 288). The Milindapañha says that offences of wrong doing (dukkaṭa) and wrong speech (dubhāsita) are lesser and minor offences. This is reasonable since offences requiring confession (pācittiya), or confession with forfeiture (nissaggiyā pācittiya) include: killing animals, drinking intoxicants, telling deliberate lies, abusing monks, hitting monks, eating in the afternoon, and using money. All these things are contrary to the precepts observed by lay people or novices. So we cannot regard them as minor, except in comparison to the major offences such as sexual misconduct, stealing, or killing human beings. We could regard telling jokes, making sarcastic remarks, or talking with the mouth full while eating as minor offences, but scrupulous monks will observe even these minor rules out of respect for the Buddha.
Books like this are vital. Due to lack of knowledge, unwise lay people will slander monks, shameless monks will abuse scrupulous monks, scrupulous monks will have ill-will towards shameless monks, and many may fall into hell.
As the Sayādaw points out, there are skilful ways to criticise the wrong conduct of shameless monks without making unwholesome kamma. Wise lay people can make merit by donating allowable requisites and paying respect to shameless monks. If asked for unallowable things, they can politely ask, “Is this allowable?” to remind a shameless monk of his remissness without criticising him directly. There are so many rules to observe, that even the most scrupulous monk is likely to overlook some offences. A lay person can give money to a lay attendant, inviting a monk to ask for whatever he needs. If a lay person gives money or other unallowable things to a monk, he or she will make only demerit.¹ An attendant is living in dependence on the monk, so he should obey the monk’s instructions, but a lay person does not have to.
Regarding one’s own conduct one should not tolerate the slightest fault, but regarding others’ conduct one should cultivate boundless compassion and tolerance, or practise detachment. When associating with fools, which means all those who do not observe basic morality, one should guard one’s mind and speech very carefully, otherwise one will be sure to make unwholesome kamma. Diamonds, rubies, and emeralds are extremely valuable due to their great rarity. If one is unable to find such precious jewels, one must make do with quartz or marble for ornaments — and even sandstone can be used for grinding knives!
These are very special rare times that we live in. The Buddha’s dispensation is extremely precious, but it is decaying year by year. All Buddhists should strive to maintain the true Dhamma, but they need sufficient knowledge and wisdom to discriminate between true Dhamma and corrupt Dhamma. From corrupt Vinaya comes corrupt Dhamma; from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt Vinaya. Therefore, they should read books such as this carefully, and reflect deeply on their own moral and mental purity. They should practise tranquillity and insight meditation to gain control of the passions. If lay Buddhists have a mature knowledge of Dhamma and Vinaya, it can only help to prolong the Buddha’s dispensation. With great compassion they should urge and encourage the monks to promote the essential practices of scriptural study or insight meditation, instead of giving them money or asking them to practise astrology.
The translator’s preference was to leave technical terms untranslated, but in my experience most readers find Pāḷi words a barrier to understanding. If one insists on one different English word for each Pāḷi term, being consistent is very difficult. The key terms here are few, but their meaning varies according to context. Three very similar Pāḷi terms — susīla, lajjī, and sīlavanta — could all be translated as “moral” or “virtuous.” To show that “lajjī” has the opposite meaning to “alajjī” — shameless, I have used the translation “scrupulous,” but in some contexts “moral” or “virtuous” is more appropriate. In the Vinaya, “dussīlo — immoral” has the specific meaning of defeated, no longer a monk due to commission of the gravest offence, so one should not use it loosely.
As the Vinaya rules only relate to verbal and physical misdeeds, a scrupulous monk could lack virtue or goodness. It depends on his intention for observing the Vinaya rule. If it is only for the sake of praise and gain, it will not amount to much. However, if he reveres the Buddha and follows the rule out of respect for the Buddha’s command, then he rightly deserves to be called a virtuous monk, not just “scrupulous.” He certainly should not be called “fussy” or “difficult” just because he is not weak-willed and shameless. A virtuous monk may break rules sometimes due to unmindfulness or strong defilements, but when he realises his offence, or if his fellow monks remind him of it, he readily admits his fault and duly makes amends according to the Vinaya procedure prescribed.
A shameless monk, on the other hand, may be wise in the sense of being learned in Abhidhamma, Sutta, and Vinaya, but he lacks any genuine virtue. He frequently breaks the rules knowingly and deliberately, without any moral scruples or sense of shame. Though he knows his offences clearly, he does not admit that there is any fault in breaking the Buddha’s injunctions. If his fellow monks point out his offences, he either retorts by accusing them of other offences, evades the issue, or follows the rule only while others are looking. Such completely shameless monks lack virtue and moral integrity. They are not just weak or heedless, but truly wicked.
Many modern monks, due to lack of proper training, do not clearly know what is an offence, and what is not. They just follow what their preceptors, teachers, and fellow monks do. Such monks are shameless as well as foolish, though they may sometimes be good-natured. Having become a bhikkhu, one should understand the training that one has undertaken. If one reads just the basic Pātimokkha rule, one will soon realise if one’s teacher or preceptor is shameless. A newly ordained monk is not in a position to correct a shameless preceptor or teacher. He will either have to disrobe and seek re-ordination elsewhere, or ask to study with a famous teacher or meditation master. If he is negligent, he will inevitably become shameless like his teacher.
What the Sayādaw says here applies to lay people too. Lay Buddhists can also be classified as moral or immoral, wise or foolish, good or bad. The texts contain plenty of guidelines for lay Buddhists to become moral, wise, and good devotees. As monks have a duty to study and train in the monastic discipline, lay Buddhists have a duty to study and train in the lay person’s discipline. Detailed guidance can be found in the Siṅgālovada, Maṅgala, and Sāleyyaka Suttas. They should also undertake regular courses in insight meditation, since insight is indispensable to moral purity. If both lay Buddhists and monks strive hard to study and practise the Dhamma and Vinaya, the Buddha’s dispensation will be preserved in its pristine purity. All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.
The Dhamma Dīpanī, written in Burmese by the late Venerable Ledi Sayādaw, a famous scholar and meditation master, is, I think, the best of his many expositions (Dīpanī). This work concerns the Vinaya. The survival of the Buddha’s Dispensation depends on the survival of the Vinaya. The Sayādaw answered thirteen questions asked by devoted lay persons in 1901. All lay supporters want to see virtuous monks guiding the people and serving the dispensation effectively, for the Saṅgha is the mainstay of the Buddha’s teachings. To prolong the Buddha’s dispensation, all well-wishers want to purify the Saṅgha by suppressing immoral monks. Nowadays, the purification of the Saṅgha is an urgent matter, as neglect of the Vinaya rules is commonplace.
Moreover, the monks who scrupulously observe the Vinaya are the best ones to guide the laity in the attainment of the highest merit. It is hardly surprising that lay disciples do not want sham monks to prosper and wield influence among ignorant lay Buddhists. Thus the regulations of the Saṅgha, especially the guidelines for lay-monk relationships, are of universal interest. All Buddhists should ponder the questions and answers in this book. Because they are subtle, they should contemplate them very deeply.
Since these problems are of practical and fundamental importance for both the laity and Saṅgha, an expositor must possess genuine insight and a comprehensive knowledge of Vinaya. Fortunately, the Sayādaw fulfilled these qualifications. All his expositions display not only his academic mastery, but also his practical inclination. Though knowledge is important, mere learning leads us nowhere. His well-reasoned answers, with relevant quotations from the texts, reveal his many-faceted ability.
In the affairs of monastic discipline, partial knowledge and facile solutions will only harm the Buddha’s dispensation, in which the Saṅgha plays the central role. It is due to monks who respect the Vinaya that the true Dhamma and the correct way to salvation still exist. Some think that the Vinaya is unimportant, maintaining that many rules should now be amended. Such people lack the correct understanding of the authority of the Buddha in prescribing the discipline. They fail to appreciate the profound nature of the Buddha’s command and its sanctity. If they study the five books of Vinaya and their Commentaries in detail, a strong faith in the Vinaya will emerge. Confidence is fundamental for monks, and wide-ranging knowledge is essential for scholars.
The readers will find profound thoughts in each answer expressed by the Venerable Sayādaw. Though profound, the explanations are clear. The Sayādaw explains the classification of all types of monks, past and present. The reader will gain much useful information and wise guidance from this book as it deals with the laity’s difficulties too. Ignorance of the Vinaya among the laity hastens the decline in the moral standards of the monks. Intelligent lay people should promote good standards by skilful actions as explained herein.
Because of the great significance of the thirteen questions, the Primate of the Shwegyin sect, the most Venerable Mahāvisuddhārāma Sayādaw of Mandalay, asked Venerable Ledi Sayādaw to answer them. After examining the Vinaya texts, Commentaries, and Subcommentaries, the Venerable Sayādaw gave comprehensive answers correctly and wisely, for he had analysed the problems in great depth. Those who adopt unskilful attitudes towards scrupulous monks (lajjī), shameless monks (alajjī), and immoral monks (dussīlo) will adjust their views after carefully reading this exposition.
The great merit of this book consists in its sound advice, caution, and warning. Moreover, skilful ways to deal with all types of monks are given for the benefit of the laity. The most important point lies, I think, in the well-defined classification of monks, along with the factors and characteristics required to evaluate a monk in question. The profundity and sacredness of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha are also clearly explained for ordinary lay people. Monks, too, will gain new insights if they appreciate the intrinsic power of Vinaya, which displays the supreme authority of the Buddha himself. Then their behaviour and outlook will improve.
As the book deals with Vinaya matters, some technical terms are difficult to translate. To avoid misunderstanding, I have purposely retained some original Pāḷi terms and Vinaya categories. After repeated study I hope these basic terms will become familiar and meaningful, like the Pāḷi words kusala, akusala, Dhamma, Saṅgha, or kamma, which are now in common usage. They have gained wide currency in many countries and retain their original meanings without any need for explanation.
I have tried to follow the original Burmese text closely so that the author’s profound answers, warnings, remarks, and guidelines will remain faithful in the translation. In a technical book like this some inaccuracies of translation can occur for which I crave the indulgence of the reader. Polishing is an endless job, but one has to stop somewhere. I have tried to make the work both readable and accurate. The ordinary reader can consult other translations of the Vinaya texts, but scholars may wish to study further. For them the Vinaya Commentaries will be helpful.
I have to thank James Ross for his urgent and repeated request to translate this most important work of the international scholar-monk. The staff of the library department of the Religious Affairs Directorate at Kabā-Aye, Rangoon, gave me vital assistance in checking references and quotations. I owe them a deep debt of gratitude.
I am sure that the dispensation will continue to shine in many countries with the spread of the original Vinaya texts and explanatory books like this. Buddhism has attracted many students and scholars everywhere. Scientists especially are researching Buddhism as it conforms with scientific principles and methods. A deep sense of joy arising from sublime, noble conduct will result if they develop morality, concentration, and wisdom.
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