Gombrich, Richard F., Theravada Buddhism: a social history from ancient Benares to modern Colombo, Chapter 4 (pp. 89- 118) London: Routledge, 1988. LICL-Buddhist Studies Fl.3 BQ7185 G632T1988.
This is a detailed account taken from the point of view of the tradition itself, that which the anthropologists commonly refer to as an emic approach, Gombrich describes the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, product of texts composed by and for monks / nuns. This is a path to salvation based on morality, meditation and wisdom.
General Principles of the vinaya
The vinaya pittaka is a detailed handbook of the way of life of the monastic orders mostly, giving a rule of conduct along with a rule for a complete way of life. The spirit of the text is to show a way to achieve victory over cravings, and of being content with little. In fact in some ways the monk’s way of life is “not merely a means to an end, rather it is nearly the end in itself” (p 91). This is practically embodied in the monk’s sila, the prerequisite for meditation, wisdom and enlightment. “To understand suffering in oneself is to understand it equally in all living beings and to wish them as well as one wishes oneself.”
For the good of the monks / nuns they are to practice chastity and poverty. In contrast to the silent monks that the Jain are for example, or the muni, Theravada encourages monks to spread the word of the Sangha to the laity.
Dating and development of the rules
Modern scholars disagree yet it seems that the vinaya developed over decades if not over centuries. The vinaya pitaka, like the rest of the canon survives in various versions. The list of rules and personal conduct of the monks / nuns is defined in the patimokkha, recited over a fortnight. Half, called the sutta-vibhanga, consists of a commentary to this code, and the other half, the khandhaka, deals with the rules of the community life.
The middle way between discomfort and indulgence
The Buddha advocated a middle way, of neither comfort nor discomfort. Meditation requires a life of solitude but even solitude is not to be taken too literary. Discomfort is an obstacle to the path of internal progress.
During ordination the monk is part of a ceremony that has four resorts, nissaya, i.e. things to depend on: (a) eating food got by begging, (b) wearing rags from dust heaps, (c) living at the foot of a tree, (d) using fermented cattle urine as medicine. The list of further ascetics options came to be later classified as dhutanga representing the limit of what the tradition will sanction by way of mortifying the flesh.
“Lord Buddha” defined a path for monks to attain nibanna and for laity to attain merits. Rules for how the monasteries are to be organized are defined. In different countries over time the rules differ: wandering monks are not seen in Sri Lanka, decorum seems of importance to Singhalese monks. Washing is a point of contention yet washing with special clothing so as not to go naked seems a part of the rules, as the Buddha frowned on nudity. Shaving the head and sometimes the eyebrows seems to be giving way to vanity. Although the sangha started with finding robes from rags that were discarded, even during the life of the Buddha, he accepted robes as a gift from his doctor, so this became acceptable. Monks are allowed to have 3 robes and nuns 3 additional pieces of clothing. The kathina festival celebrates piety of a monk during the rainy season where he is presented with material for new robes by the laity. Sandals for walking outside are acceptable, umbrellas are not, yet in Sri Lanka there are special umbrellas for monks. Each monk possesses an alms bowl and is not allowed to eat after noon, with the exception a small liquid snack at 6pm. The total dependency of the monks to the laity is defined as the idea that no monk may consume food that he has not received. Yet the food is not to be stored, although this rule was relaxed in times of famine in large monasteries for example. The use of aranika, slaves, seems problematic of course, yet it seems consistent with the time of the creation of the sangha. The kapiya-karaka or legitimizers, are also a controversial point. Allowing money seems prohibited, yet in reality allowing or not allowing money that is received by a proxy becomes a thin line.
Disbarring offenses – parajika
This is the gravest category of offenses for monks and nuns. For monks:
1. No sexual intercourse
2. Not taking something not given
3. Not killing or causing to kill another human being
4. Not falsely claiming supernatural powers
And a few additional for nuns
5. Not touching a man between shoulder and knee
6. Not allowing various forms of contact with men
7. Not condoning or concealing another nun’s parajika offence
8. Not persisting of taking the side of a suspended monk
The Buddha condemned sexual desire and passion, kama, in all its forms.
Hierarchies of age and sex
The Lord Buddha questioned all hierarchies and yet condoned the hierarchies of age and sex. Nuns are always below monks for example. There is also a complex relationship between teacher and pupil.
The formal organization of the Sangas
There are communal ceremonies, ordinations, The initial ordination pabbajja can happen as early as the boy is old enough to scare crows, generally regarded as age seven or eight, where the boy becomes a nonive, samanera. Later, at age 20, a higher ordination is allowed, the upasampada, can be performed. The monk cannot be a soldier, a criminal, a doctor, a slave, deformed or crippled.
The Sangha has only one saction: expulsion. For the list of the other 227 lesser offenses listed in the patimokkha there is compulsory confession, technically to the whole sangha but practically to a group of 2 or 3 monks so as not to lose face.
The sangha holds regular meetings to enforce the sense of community it encompasses.
Sect formation: Theravada defined
The Sangha did in fact split into sects. The minimum size for a new group seems to be 4, since this is the number required to hold the parrimokkha ceremony.
Theravada, or “the doctrine of the elders” defines the group that preserves the pristine doctrine. In doctrinal terms theravadins specified that they were vibbhajja-vadin, analysts, that delighted in calssififying psychological states. A Theravadin monk is one who adheres to the Pali verion of the Pattimokkha with its 227 rules.
Conformity is maintained through gerontocracy.
Relations between ordained and laity
The Sangha is a missionary organization. The Sangha gave the Dhamma and the laity gave the material support. The Sangha also rejoiced of king’s support. And as such accommodates to political power, amd meets king’s wishes.