Synopsis of the Vinaya

Six Vinayas are known,[1] and three are still followed,[2] consisting of various numbers of rules (200 to 250 approximately; the suttas refer to 150 rules), called the pratimoksha, but all of the rules boil down to an essential set, as shown below (numbered references are to the Theravada version of the patimokkha). Thus, the pratimoksha is nothing more than a working out in practice of the essential rules, which resemble nothing so much as the Bodhisattva Precepts. Much of the multiplication is due to the division into different degrees of seriousness, corresponding to different sorts of penalties, depending on the severity of the infraction, including defeat, meeting, confession with forfeiture, confession, and  verbal acknowledgment. At the end of his life the Buddha said that no rules were to be added to the pratimoksha, but that the minor rules could be ignored. Thus, what the Buddha actually advocated – as distinct from what his immediate successors actually did – appears to have been a succinct and permanent statement of essential universal principles that would become the norm. The Buddha also stated that disputes about Vinaya are trivial.[3] However, as Buddhism became more and more organizationalist and religious, the rules themselves became more and more emphasized, resulting in the situation we see today. The academic consensus is that the Mahasamghika Vinaya is the oldest extant Vinaya.

Since the Buddha clearly disdained “rules for rules’ sake” (DN 1), I respectfully submit that this list of eight precepts fulfils the spirit of the Vinaya and the Higher Training. This view unites the Vinayas of all schools, which are highly similar in any case.

NOTE: The intention of some of the rules is obscure. Some rules also appertain to more than one category. I am continuing to streamline the following classification as I do more research into the Vinaya.

  1. No inappropriate erotic behaviour. 1, 5, 6-9, 18-19, 24, 36, 54-56, 70-72, 74-79, 92- 94, 116-117, 132, 142-143
  2. No taking what is not given. 2, 44, 49, 63, 64, 80, 89, 96, 108-109, 115, 131, 144
  3. No harming living beings. 3, 11. 59-60, 69, 97-99, 102, 104-105, 110-111, 123-124
  4. No wrongful speech. 4, 7-8, 12-17, 25-28, 50-53, 56-58, 61-62, 65- 66, 70-71, 73, 90, 103, 112-113, 117, 120-122, 125-127, 128-130, 145
  5. Not to engage in business, trade, commerce, or hoard or acquire money, wealth or possessions. 20, 22, 26, 27, 30-35, 37-43, 45-47, 68, 115, 133, 135, 137-141
  6. No immoderate eating. 81-89, 91, 95
  7. No drunkenness. 100
  8. No pridefulness. 10, 29, 106, 136

Unclassified: 21, 48, 67, 101, 107, 114, 118, 119, 134, 146-227[4]

Rules that are impossible to fulfil: 11, 111

Categories of Penalties 

Parajikas (defeat): 1-4

Samghadiseass (meeting): 5-17

Aniyatas (indefinite): 18-19

Nissaggiyas (confession with forfeiture): 20-49

Pacittiyas (confession): 50-141

Patidesaniyas (verbal acknowledgement): 142-145

Sekhiyas (rules of training): 146-220

Adhikaranasamathas (settlement of legal processes): 221-227

Conditions Required for There to Be a Downfall 

For a violation to occur the following conditions must be present:

  1. The conditions for there to be a violation must be present.
  2. The knowledge that the violation is a violation must be present.
  3. The violation must not be trivial.
  4. The intention for there to be a violation must be present.
  5. The violation must occur.

A violation also occurs if one is the knowing cause of a violation. The famous example, of course, is that one can eat meat provided the animal is not killed for one or at one’s behest.

 Bodhisattva Precepts (Brahma Net Sutra) 

  1. Not to kill or encourage others to kill.
  2. Not to steal or encourage others to steal.
  3. Not to engage in licentious acts or encourage others to do so. A monk is expected to abstain from sexual conduct entirely.
  4. Not to use false words and speech, or encourage others to do so.
  5. Not to trade or sell alcoholic beverages or encourage others to do so.
  6. Not to broadcast the misdeeds or faults of the Buddhist assembly, nor encourage others to do so.
  7. Not to praise oneself and speak ill of others, or encourage others to do so.
  8. Not to be stingy, or encourage others to be so.
  9. Not to harbor anger or encourage others to be angry.
  10. Not to speak ill of the Buddha, the Dharma or the Sangha (lit. the Triple Jewel) or encourage others to do so.


1. Theravada, Mahasamghika, Mahisasaka, Dharmaguptaka, Sarvastivada, Mulasarvastivada.

2. Theravada, Dharmaguptaka, Mulasarvastivada.

3. “A dispute about livelihood or about the Patimokkha would be trifling, Ananda. But should a dispute arise in the Sangha about the path or the way, such a dispute would be for the loss,. harm, and suffering of gods [devas] and humans” (MN 104.5). (Thanks to Bhikku Sujato for this reference at

4. These include not spending the night far from one’s robes or leaving one’s robes for more than six days in a village, not to sit or lie on a chair or a bed on a floor with broken planks, not to tickle, not to use an unmarked robe, not to initiate anyone under 20 years old, not to associate with an excommunicated monastic or a novice who has developed erroneous views, not to enter a town or a village after noon without approval, seventy-five rules of training, and seven legal processes to settle disputes. The rules of training include various rules of public decorum. While some of these rules may be practical or even necessary from an organizational point of view (such as setting a minimum age for ordination), none can be considered vital or essential for spiritual development. I challenge anyone to argue otherwise.

Bibliography, “List of the 227 Rules of Patimokkha,”

Janice J. Nattier and Charles S. Prebish, “Mahasamghika Origins: The Beginnings of Buddhist Sectarianism,”