A Manual of the Dhamma

Editor’s Foreword

As the translator says, the purification of the Sangha is now an urgent matter, as the neglect of the Vinaya rules is commonplace. Also, as the Sayādaw says, “If a monk, who is well-trained in the Vinaya, accumulates many followers and great material wealth, he can do much damage to the Buddha dispensation, unlike an ignorant monk.” So books like this are vital.

In the absence of the Buddha, maintaining acceptable standards of conduct for monks is hard, even if there is wide agreement on what acceptable standards are. The monks most in need of restraint are those least amenable to advice. At the first Buddhist Council, even five hundred Arahants could not agree on which offences were lesser and minor. The Milindapañha says that offences of wrong doing (dukkata) and wrong speech (dubhasita) are lesser and minor offences. This is reasonable since offences requiring confession (pācittiya), or confession with forfeiture (nissaggiyā pācittiya) include: killing animals, drinking intoxicants, telling deliberate lies, abusing monks, hitting monks, eating in the afternoon, and using money. All these things are contrary to the precepts observed by lay people or novices. So we cannot regard them as minor, except in comparison to the major offences such as sexual misconduct, stealing, or killing human beings. We could regard telling jokes, making sarcastic remarks, or talking with the mouth full while eating as minor offences, but scrupulous monks will observe even these minor rules out of respect for the Buddha.

Books like this are vital nowadays. Due to lack of knowledge, ignorant lay people will slander shameless monks, shameless monks will criticise scrupulous monks, scrupulous monks will have ill-will towards shameless monks, and many will fall into hell.

As the Sayādaw points out, there are skilful ways to criticise the wrong conduct of shameless monks without making unwholesome kamma. Wise lay people can make merit by donating allowable requisites and paying respect to shameless monks. If asked for unallowable things, they can politely ask, “Is this allowable?” to remind a shameless monk of his remissness without criticising him directly. There are so many rules to observe, that even the most scrupulous monk is likely to overlook some offences. A lay person can give money to a lay attendant, inviting a monk to ask for whatever he needs. If a lay person gives money or other unallowable things to a monk, he or she will make only demerit.1 An attendant is living in dependence on the monk, so he should obey the monk’s instructions, but a lay person does not have to.

Regarding one’s own conduct one should not tolerate the slightest fault, but regarding others’ conduct one should cultivate boundless compassion and tolerance, or practise detachment. When associating with fools, which means all those who do not observe basic morality, one should guard one’s mind and speech very carefully, otherwise one will be sure to make unwholesome kamma. Diamonds, rubies, and emeralds are extremely valuable due to their great rarity. If one is unable to find such precious jewels, one must make do with quartz or marble for ornaments — and even sandstone can be used for grinding knives!

These are very special rare times that we live in. The Buddha’s dispensation is extremely precious, but it is decaying year by year. All Buddhists should strive to maintain the true Dhamma, but they need sufficient knowledge and wisdom to discriminate between true Dhamma and corrupt Dhamma. From corrupt Vinaya comes corrupt Dhamma; from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt Vinaya. Therefore, they should read books such as this carefully, and reflect deeply on their own moral and mental purity. They should practise tranquillity and insight meditation to gain control of the passions. If lay Buddhists have a mature knowledge of Dhamma and Vinaya it can only help to prolong the Buddha’s dispensation. With great compassion they should urge and encourage the monks to promote the essential practices of scriptural study or insight meditation, instead of giving them money or asking them to practise astrology.

The translator’s preference was to leave technical terms untranslated, but in my experience most readers find Pāli words a barrier to understanding. If one insists on one different English word for each Pali term, being consistent is very difficult. The key terms here are few, but their meaning varies according to context. Three very similar Pāli terms — susīla, lajjī, and sīlavanta — could all be translated as “moral” or “virtuous.” To show that “lajjī” has the opposite meaning to “alajjī” — shameless, I have used the translation “scrupulous,” but in some contexts “moral” or “virtuous” is more appropriate. In the Vinaya, “dussīlo — immoral” has the specific meaning of defeated, no longer a monk due to commission of the gravest offence, so one should not use it loosely.

As the Vinaya rules only relate to verbal and physical misdeeds, a scrupulous monk could lack virtue or goodness. It depends on his intention for observing the Vinaya rule. If it is only for the sake of praise and gain, it will not amount to much. However, if he reveres the Buddha and follows the rule out of respect for the Buddha’s command, then he rightly deserves to be called a virtuous monk, not just “scrupulous.” He certainly should not be called “fussy” or “difficult” just because he is not weak-willed and shameless.

A virtuous monk may break rules sometimes due to unmindfulness or strong defilements, but when he realises his offence, or if his fellow monks remind him of it, he readily admits his fault and duly makes amends according to the Vinaya procedure prescribed.

A shameless monk, on the other hand, may be wise in the sense of being learned in Abhidhamma, Sutta, and Vinaya, but he lacks any genuine virtue. He frequently breaks the rules knowingly and deliberately, without any moral scruples or sense of shame. Though he knows his offences clearly, he does not admit that there is any fault in breaking the Buddha’s injunctions. If his fellow monks point out his offences, he either retorts by accusing them of other offences, evades the issue, or follows the rule only while others are looking. Such completely shameless monks lack virtue and moral integrity. They are not just weak or heedless, but truly wicked.

Many modern monks, due to lack of proper training, do not clearly know what is an offence, and what is not. They just follow what their preceptors, teachers, and fellow monks do. Such monks are shameless as well as foolish, though they may sometimes be good-natured. Having become a bhikkhu, one should understand the training that one has undertaken. If one reads just the basic Pātimokkha rule, one will soon realise if one’s teacher or preceptor is shameless. A newly ordained monk is not in a position to correct a shameless preceptor or teacher. He will either have to disrobe and seek re-ordination elsewhere, or ask to study with a famous teacher or meditation master. If he is negligent, he will inevitably become shameless like his teacher.

What the Sayādaw says here applies to lay people too. Lay Buddhists can also be classified as moral or immoral, wise or foolish, good or bad. The texts contain plenty of guidelines for lay Buddhists to become moral, wise, and good devotees. As monks have a duty to study and train in the monastic discipline, lay Buddhists have a duty to study and train in the lay person’s discipline. Detailed guidance can be found in the Singāla, Mangala, and Sāleyyaka Suttas. They should also undertake regular courses in insight meditation, since insight is indispensable to moral purity. If both lay Buddhists and monks strive hard to study and practise the Dhamma and Vinaya, the Buddha’s dispensation will be preserved in its pristine purity. All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.



1 The word “āsādeti” means “invite to accept” or “offer”, so a lay person makes demerit even if a scrupulous monk refuses to accept money. Though the action of giving is incomplete, the action of offering is complete. Any honest person will be insulted if offered a bribe, and one can be arrested and charged with trying to bribe a police officer or customs official. Offering money to a monk is also an insult.

“Yampi so Tathāgatam vā Tathāgatasāvakam vā ākappiyena āsādeti,
iminā pañcamena thānena bahum apuññam pasavati.”

    “Also, whoever offers to the Tathāgata or to the Tathāgata’s disciple what is not allowable, in this fifth case makes much demerit.”
    (Jīvaka Sutta, M. i. 369)

Most Buddhists know that money is not allowable for monks, so why do they offer it? It is better to ask monks what they need. Even if the monk says that he does not need anything at the moment, one makes a great deal of merit by offering what is allowable, because the action of offering is completed. If one is determined to give something, one can give some money to a trusted lay supporter, and invite the monk to ask for whatever he needs up to the amount that one has given: “Venerable sir, I will give £20 to so-and-so, please ask him for whatever you need.”

To avoid being embarrassed by a greedy monk asking for too much, one can specify the value of what one wishes to offer — “Venerable sir, I have twenty pounds. Is there anything that you need?” If a shameless monk then asks for something costing £100, one can say, “I don’t think that can be got for £20, but I will try to find one.” Then the monk will get what he deserves, and the donor will keep his £20.

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