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date: 10 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Vinaya rules are stipulations and advice that guide the Buddhist community (saṃgha) of monks and nuns. They are generally considered to be the basis of monastic life. Without these rules, there is no saṃgha; and without the saṃgha, so it is said, there is no dharma (doctrine). While the rules are attributed to the Buddha, it is clear that they developed over time, influenced by the continuous spread of the Buddhist community throughout the Indian subcontinent in the centuries following the Buddha’s demise. Different traditions gradually arose, each with its own set of vinaya rules. These rules display many similarities, but also differ in some significant respects.

With the spread of the Buddhist saṃgha in South, Southeast, and East Asia in the first centuries ce, new guidelines were added to the traditional Indian vinaya rules. Although these rules have their own identifying terms—such as “bodhisattva rules” or “rules of purity”—they are often also designated by the term “vinaya,” in modern times used as a concept that encompasses all monastic, and sometimes even lay, Buddhist guidelines. In addition, many manuals and commentaries were written, adding further guiding principles. When written by very inspirational masters, these commentaries sometimes superseded the original vinaya guidelines. This phenomenon led to greater regional interpretation of how vinaya ought to be understood.

Keywords: vinaya, discipline, saṃgha, monastic community, monks, nuns, bodhisattva rules, rules of purity

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