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Q&A with Dr. Pruitt

Upon publication of The Patimokkha, I managed to pursauade Dr. Pruitt to answer questions about this work. Two people, myself and V, took advantage:

 


 

MO: Is there anything in your research which would help us understand what might have been meant by the term "Lesser and Minor Offenses" use by the Buddha at the time of his death when he said that such rules could be abandoned?

I am wondering what the kamma is (as opposed to what the rules are) of one who breaks a lesser offense. Specifically I am wondering about the dangers of Bhikkhus today who are handling money and eating at improper times because of the fact of living here in the west where living according to such rules is next to impossible.

WP: The arahant monks after the Buddha's death could not agree as to which of the rules concerned lesser and minor offenses, so they decided not to leave to one side any of the rules in the Patimokkha. I wouldn't presume to know more than they did.

The rules of the Patimokkha are not given in terms of kamma — by that I mean there is no discussion of what the results in future lives will be in the Vinaya. From other parts of the Pali canon, we know that, for example, creating a schism in the Sangha leads to incredible suffering in future lives. So breaking that rule in the Patimokkha will have dire consequences for the offender.

The purpose of many of the rules in the Patimokkha, however, are clearly meant to help the smooth-running of the institutions of the Bhikkhu Sangha and Bhikkhuni Sangha. This is especially true for the training rules such as not licking one's fingers when eating. So I would venture to say that the future consequences (suffering in future lives) would not be all that significant. But we should bear in mind, that according to stories found in the commentaries, even mild jokes such as stealing people's clothes when they're bathing in the river can have consequences (in that case, being naked in a future life).

I would not wish to judge actions by monks today. It is not a layman's place to judge monks — only fellow monks can do that. And we must remember that the Patimokkha only serves as an outline. There are many sub-rules that take into account extenuating circumstances (such as when the wrong time to eat is), and only a monk who is a Vinaya expert is competent to pass judgement on such questions.

 


 

V: Hello Dr. Pruitt, ... I wonder if you could comment whether the Patimokkha has any rules for Bhikkhus regarding abstaining from sleep.

WP: There are no rules in the Theravada Patimokkhs about abstaining from sleep. You will find references to staying awake in connection with practising meditation, but the monks' and nuns' rules do not directly relate to meditation.


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