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In his lecture course Sacred Texts of the World, Grant Hardy said that the Buddha had instructed that the minor rules for monks could be ignored. However the Buddha didn't say which rules he considered minor so when the Vinaya was being compiled all the rules were included just to be sure.

I find this intriguing. Does anyone know where the Buddha said this - is there a reference in the Pali Canon or elsewhere about this. I believe this happened near to the Buddha's death so it could be one of the sutras about his paranirvana.

Also, within the Vinaya or commentaries is there any indications about which rules are considered minor or of lesser importance that the others. Did any of the Buddha's intention in this matter make it into the texts - assuming that Grant Hardy is accurate in this issue.

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The sutta is DN 16, where the Buddha is giving his last instructions. He gives four injunctions in total:

  1. Now the Blessed One spoke to the Venerable Ananda, saying: "It may be, Ananda, that to some among you the thought will come: 'Ended is the word of the Master; we have a Master no longer.' But it should not, Ananda, be so considered. For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone.

  2. "And, Ananda, whereas now the bhikkhus address one another as 'friend,' let it not be so when I am gone. The senior bhikkhus, Ananda, may address the junior ones by their name, their family name, or as 'friend'; but the junior bhikkhus should address the senior ones as 'venerable sir' or 'your reverence.'

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

  4. "Ananda, when I am gone, let the higher penalty be imposed upon the bhikkhu Channa."

    "But what, Lord, is the higher penalty?"

    "The bhikkhu Channa, Ananda, may say what he will, but the bhikkhus should neither converse with him, nor exhort him, nor admonish him."

(source)

It's an interesting allowance, given what he says earlier in the same sutta:

"The growth of the bhikkhus is to be expected, not their decline, bhikkhus, 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;


The vinaya (Culavagga) gives an account of the sangha's decision in regards to this allowance:

Then the venerable Ânanda spake thus to the Thera Bhikkhus: 'The Blessed One, Sirs, at the time of his passing away, spake thus to me "When I am gone, Ânanda, let the Samgha, if it should so wish, revoke all the lesser and minor precepts."'

'Did you then, venerable Ânanda, ask the Blessed One which were the lesser and minor precepts?'

'No, Sirs.'

Some Theras then said that all the rules save the four Pârâgikas; others that all save those and the thirteen Samghâdisesas; others that all save those and the two Aniyatas; others that all save those and the thirty Nissaggiyas; others that all save those and the ninety-two Pâkittiyas; others that all save those and the four Pâtidesaniyas were lesser and minor precepts.

Then the venerable Mahâ Kassapa laid a resolution before the Samgha: 'Let the venerable Samgha hear me. There are certain of our precepts which relate to matters in which the laity are concerned. Now the laity know of us that "such and such things are proper for you Samanas who are Sakyaputtiyas, and such and such things are not." If we were to revoke the lesser and minor precepts, it will be said to us: "A set of precepts was laid down for his disciples by the Samana Gotama to endure until the smoke should rise from his funeral pyre. So long as their teacher remained with these men, so long did they train themselves in the precepts. Since their teacher has passed away from them, no longer do they now train themselves in the precepts.'

'If the time seems meet to the Samgha, not ordaining what has not been ordained, and not revoking what has been ordained, let it take upon itself and ever direct itself in the precepts according as they have been laid down. This is the resolution.

'Let the venerable Samgha hear me. [These things being so] the Samgha takes upon itself the precepts according as they have been laid down. Whosoever of the venerable ones approves thereof, let him keep silence. Whosoever approves not thereof, let him speak. The Samgha has taken upon itself the precepts according as they were laid down. Therefore does it keep silence. Thus do I understand.'

(source)

It is considered meaningful what language the Buddha used to give his allowance ("If it is desired"). The commentary to DN 16, picking up on this, explains the whole issue as a means of showing Maha-Kassapa's strength in leading the sangha to the right decision. The sub-commentary elaborates, explaining it as a means of showing that the sangha followed the Buddha's rules because they wanted to, not because they were forced to.

The commentary also comments on the issue of Nagasena's decisive answer (in the Milindapanha) in regards to what really constitutes "lesser and minor rules" (according to him it was the dukkata and dubhasita offences). It explains that some say Maha-Kassapa didn't know, and that was the reason why he decided they should keep them all. The commentary says this view should not be entertained; that Nagasena gave a decisive answer because he didn't want do give opportunity for debate, whereas Maha-Kassapa simply didn't want to abolish the lesser and minor rules (khuddānukhuddakāpattiṃ na samūhanissāmi).

Either way, the decision reached by the first council with Maha-Kassapa as its head is to be considered authoritative, until and unless someone decides to revoke that sangha-kamma.

  • I think you meant "Ânanda ", not "Nagasena". – ChrisW Apr 18 '15 at 18:44
  • @ChrisW No, Nagasena, in the Milindapanha. – yuttadhammo Apr 18 '15 at 19:55
  • Thank you yes, now I found it: page 89 - 90 of this pdf. – ChrisW Apr 18 '15 at 20:13
  • Would I be correct in assuming that Buddha believed that if one were to follow the major rules in the proper spirit that the minor rules would be be followed without effort? Therefore having the minor rules would be useless? – Yoda Bytes Apr 22 '15 at 16:13
  • Ven. Ananda missed to ask the Buddha of what should be regarded as minor rules, and on that account, not clear on it, good monks follow all rules with care till today. The rest is drifting off. – Samana Johann Jul 10 at 5:47
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Near Parinibbana

After I am gone, the sangha — if it wants — may abolish the lesser & minor training rules

See: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.16.5-6.than.html

There is a confusion about that is minor or not as no body asked the Buddha for clarification on which rules are the minor rules hence it was decided to keep all the rules.

Also see: http://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/148.htm

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Although the Teacher before his Parinibbana spoke thus: "After my passing Ananda, let the Sangha if it so desires abolish the lesser and minor rules of training," no Sangha anywhere actually ventured to do this, partly because of the uncertainty in defining "the lesser and minor rules" and partly because they were constrained out of respect to preserve that which had been instituted by the great Teacher. Acariya Nagasena explains that "the Tathagata spoke thus testing the bhikkhus: 'Will my disciples on being left by me adhere to the passing, or will they repudiate them?'" (Milinda Pañha text, PTS p. 143). There is also the consideration that those of other sects might say, "While the Teacher (Gotama) was alive, his disciples respected and honored his precepts but now that he is no more, they throw off the training." But principally the reason was devotion arising from the successful practice of Dhamma Vinaya. (source)

In the first Buddhist council, it was agreed by all the 500 Arahaths headed by venerable Maha Kassapa to preserve all the vinaya rules. The Theravada tradition has been following this ruling ever since.

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