Theravada monks have to follow the 227 Patimokkha rules and the Vinaya Pitaka from the Pali Canon.

But how is it for monks from the other traditions like East Asian Mahayana, Zen and Vajrayana traditions?

I read online that Tibetan monks have dinner after 5pm, which is clearly not allowed by Theravada rules. They don't seem to have to do alms rounds, and they can take Tuesdays off.

In certain traditions, can monks receive raw cooking materials and cook food themselves? Can they grow their own food? Can they manage the finances of their monastery?

And why are they different? Do different traditions decide for e.g. that the rules should be made more relaxed, more strict or more adapted to their local circumstances or to modernity?

In the Maha-parinibbana Sutta, the Buddha did say:

"The growth of the bhikkhus is to be expected, not their decline, ... so long as they appoint no new rules, and do not abolish the existing ones, but proceed in accordance with the code of training (Vinaya) laid down"

But the Buddha also said:

"If it is desired, Ananda, the Sangha may, when I am gone, abolish the lesser and minor rules.

  • This isn't a strict duplicate, so I don't see a reason to flag it, but you can find some of that information here - buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/3108/…
    – user698
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 18:49
  • I read (I no longer remember where) that in a country where the lay society couldn't be relied on to feed the monks, the monks/monasteries were allowed (or required) to grow their own food. Probably Zen Chinese, and the origin of the phrase No Work, No Food.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 7:06
  • That's a good point since there are also monks in non-Buddhist countries
    – ruben2020
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 7:13

2 Answers 2


All Buddhist traditions including the now extinct ones derived their rules from the original Prātimokṣa (path to liberation).

A number of prātimokṣa codes are extant, including those contained in the Theravāda, Mahāsāṃghika, Mahīśāsaka, Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda vinayas. Prātimokṣa texts may also circulate in separate prātimokṣa sūtras, which are extracts from their respective vinayas.

The Wikipedia article on the Prātimokṣa covers the current and extinct derivatives in a little detail.

The monastic rules aren't inviolable, though generally through the ages their importance has been largely respected, and only modified in exigent circumstances. Philosophical stances of the founders have often influenced how closely they stayed to the original.

For example,

The Dharmaguptaka sect are known to have rejected the authority of the Sarvāstivāda pratimokṣa rules on the grounds that the original teachings of the Buddha had been lost.

When the Buddha began teaching there were no rules, the rules were added on as the need arose. For example, the prohibition on alcohol began when there was an incident of drunkenness that reflected badly on the monks.

Given the organic growth of these rules, as times and cultures changed some might have felt the need to change the rules to keep the tradition living and not turn into an anachronism. As Buddhism spread to new cultures the original rules as they applied to the Gangetic plains of India may not have made sense. For example, in lands with snowy winters like Japan obviously the robes needed to be warmer and with more layers than in India.

One other example would be the leave to allow monks to cook for themselves when Buddhism had just entered China. There was no Chinese precedent of donating food to mendicants and beggars like in India, so in order to maintain the respect of the monks in the eyes of the community, cooking was allowed. This continues today in modern Zen monasteries, like Plum Village in France, for much the same reason.

Some other times it may have been corrupted transmission or interpretation as the religion traveled across hundreds of years, several thousand miles and cultures.

The Buddhist scholar Tripitakamala felt the overall goal of Buddhahood overrides concerns for monastic vows.

cite: Gray, David (2007). The Cakrasamvara Tantra. New York, NY: Columbia University. p. 124.

Buddhism continues to evolve even today. The spread of Dharma in the West has brought with it changes to meet the unique challenges of the West. For example many modern Zen roshis in the US have dispensed with their robes except on ceremonial occasions, and wear every day lay person clothes. Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan master was a firm believer in such pragmatic change when he set up Naropa University and wore suits to lectures.


The different in practices came shortly after Buddha's Parinibbana. That's is the reason First Buddhist council was convened. Ref Link: First Buddhist Council

According to this record the incident which prompted the Elder Mahakassapa to call this meeting was his hearing a disparaging remark about the strict rule of life for monks. The monk Subhadda, who had ordained late in life, upon hearing that the Buddha had expired, voiced his resentment at having to abide by all the rules for monks laid down by the Buddha. Many monks lamented the passing of the Buddha and were deeply grieved but Subhadda spoke up to show happiness and relief that Buddha was gone.

And Subhadda, the late-received one, said to the Bhikkhus: "Enough, Sirs! Weep not, neither lament! We are well rid of the great Samana. We used to be annoyed by being told, 'This beseems you, this beseems you not.' But now we shall be able to do whatever we like; and what we do not like, that we shall not have to do."

Let's go back to the basic that every Buddhist knows. According to The Nine Special Qualities of the Buddha, there are 'The Six kinds of Speech'. Whether the speech is disagreeable to others or not, Buddha only speaks true AND beneficial. If you believe in it, Buddha mentioned 227 Patimokkha rules which are true and beneficial for monk. It is also beneficial for those who makes offerings to monks who live by those Patimokkha rules. Please look at Qualities of the Sangha also.

  • Please see my Maha-parinibbana quotes in the question. The Buddha preferred the Sangha to maintain all the rules, but also allowed the Sangha to abolish the minor and lesser rules, without stating which ones are minor. Again, this does not answer my question, because I'm seeking a comparison between traditions and not on whether changing the rules is right or wrong.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 4:37
  • @ruben2022 Mahakassapa was alarmed by his remark and feared that the dhamma and Vinaya might be corrupted and not survive intact if other monks were to behave like Subhadda and interpret the Dhamma and the Vinaya rules as they pleased. To avoid this he decided that the Dhamma must be preserved and protected. To this end after gaining the Sangha's approval he called to council five hundred Arahants.Ananda was to be included in this provided he attained the state of the arahant by the time the council convened. Taken from same link of first buddhist council.
    – aknay
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 12:20
  • @ruben2020 eating dinner is not a minor rule to be broken. It is in eight precepts. It is for layman also. Even layman in our country can keep it, why not for those who declare as monk.
    – aknay
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 12:31
  • I think that ruben isn't asking "how come or why are they different", and isn't asking "when did they begin to differ?" Instead I think the question is, "how or in what ways are they different, what specifically are the various differences?"
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 16:02

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