Who owns a monastery in the Pali Vinaya?
Here we go, part two of an occasional series on monastery ownership and relevant legal issues. This installment I’ll have a look at some of the relevant passages from the Pali Vinaya. Since this is an ongoing work, I’ll not do too much analysis here, mainly just present and explain the references.
I’ve skimmed the Pali Vinaya to find these passages. I think they are reasonably complete, but I may well have missed some things, so help me out!
All references are to volume and page number of the PTS edition of the Pali text. I have not looked into other Vinayas on this point, or the commentaries.
It’s not always entirely clear what the Pali terms refer to, and they may have different meanings in context. Generally, though, this is my understanding of the terms.
Ārāma: originally ‘park’, then ‘monastery’, since parks (like the Jetavana or Veḷuvana) were frequently offered as monasteries.
Āvāsa: ‘residence’. The most common and general term for a place where monastics stay.
Vihāra: ‘dwelling’. A building, usually in an ārāma/āvāsa where monastics dwell.
Vatthu: ‘site’. The piece of land on which a monastery or dwelling is built.
Kuṭi: ‘hut’. A small dwelling. There are a large range of other kinds of dwelling specified.
The Great Paradigm
Shortly after teaching the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta the Buddha returned to Rajagaha, where King Bimbisāra became a supporter. He offered the first monastery, the Veḷuvana, or ‘Bamboo Grove’.
‘May I give this Bamboo grove pleasure park to the Sangha of bhikkhus with the Buddha at its head?’
‘etāhaṃ, bhante, veḷuvanaṃ uyyānaṃ buddhappamukhassa bhikkhusaṃghassa dammī’ti. Paṭiggahesi bhagavā ārāmaṃ.
This passage is an essential part of the ‘grand story’ of the Buddha’s life, and is clearly intended by the redactors to be the main paradign for offering a monastery. The king ‘gives’ (dadati) the monastery to the Sangha of bhikkhus, with the Buddha as head. The same procedure is found at 1.233, where Ambapālī offers her grove in same words as Bimisāra.
Anathapindika offers Jetavana, using a different formula.
Anāthapiṇḍiko gahapati bhagavato paṭissutvā Jetavanaṁ āgatānāgatacātuddissa saṅghassa patiṭṭhāpesi…
Note that the idea of the ‘sangha of the four quarters, past and future’ has appeared. This is a very significant notion, showing an awareness of the Sangha as spread out in space and lasting in time, rather than simply ‘the group of monks with the Buddha’.
The offering itself uses the word patiṭṭhāpeti (‘establish’) rather than dadati (‘give’); however the verse immediately following refers to ‘giving’ (dadati) a monastery, so the two phrases probably mean the same thing.
A monastery ‘specially for the Sangha’
Another phrasing is used in a passage that discussing the gift of a monastery at length. This deals with the situation where someone wants to offer a place for the Sangha during the vassa, and the Buddha allows that they break their vassa for up to seven days to received the offering.
A dwelling is built by a lay follower specially for the Sangha… [he said:] ‘I wish to give…’
upāsakena saṅghaṁ uddissa viharo kārāpito…. icchāmi dātuṁ…’
The passage is repeated for every possible type of building, monastery (ārāma and ārāmavatthu). It may be offered to a sangha of bhikkhus, a Sangha of bhikkhunis, a group of bhikkhus or bhikkhunis, or a single bhikkhu or bhikkhuni (or indeed, sāmaṇera, sāmaṇerī, or sikkhamānā). The person offering may be a lay man, lay woman, or a monastic.
The phrasing saṅghaṁ uddissa (specially for the Sangha) might be ambiguous – perhaps it could mean simply ‘for the use of the Sangha’; but the passage also says that the donor ‘wishes to give’, icchāmi dātuṁ, so this is clear enough.
Ownership of requisites of departed monastics.
The bowl and robes of departed monastics revert to the Sangha as the owner (sāmī) after the death. But from gratitude, the Sangha should offer them to those monastics who were nursing the sick person.
If there are other requisites left by a departed monk, those that are light requisites (lahubhaṇḍa) should be offered to the present (sammukhībhūta) Sangha; however heavy requisites (garubhaṇḍā) must be for the Sangha of the four quarters, past and future, and are not to be disposed of or divided up.
Garubhaṇḍa includes ārāma, ārāmavatthu, vihāra, vihāravatthu.
Repeats the above principle, saying that a monastery or site or dwelling cannot be given away
This rule is sometimes interpreted to refer to a monastery offered by a lay follower. However it seems to me this is not quite right. It’s not entirely clear to me how it should be rendered, but I would go with something like like this.
bhikkhū aññatarassa upāsakassa vihāraparibhogaṁ senāsanaṁ aññatra paribhunjanti.
A bed & chair that belonged to a certain lay follower was [meant] for use in one dwelling, but the monks used them in another [dwelling].
In other words, a layman brings along a bed or chair, invites the monks in a certain dwelling to make use of them, while not actally giving them to the Sangha; later, the monks take them away from that dwelling and use them elsewhere. If this interpretation is correct, this passage does not refer to a monastery owned by a lay person.
This passage explicitly refers to a dwelling owned by a lay person. A monk says to a layman, ‘Whoever lives in your dwelling (tuyhaṁ vihāre vasati) is an arahant’; of course, it was that monk himself who lived in the dwelling.
Two saṅghādisesa rules discuss the case where a hut or dwelling is built, which may either have an owner (sāmika) or not. The owner may be a woman or man or layman (gahaṭṭho) or one gone forth (pabbajita).
In this context, sāmī mainly means one responsible for the costs of building.
Refers to a variety of places that may be of ‘one family’ (ekakula) or ‘many families’, including a monastery. Does not clarify whether this is a family or clan of lay people only, or could include a monastic family, Sangha.
Talks of a ‘Sangha dwelling’, presumably implying that there might be non-Sangha dwellings. Sangha dwelling is defined as one that has been gifted to the Sangha.
saṅghika nāma saṅghassa dinnaṁ hoti paricattaṁ
‘Sanghika’ means, it is given and relinquished to the Sangha.
The rule analysis contrasts saṅghika with puggalika, ‘individual’. But it does not clarify whether this individual is a lay person or monastic.
The main paradigm is that of a monastery given to the Sangha of the Four Quarters. This means all Buddhist monastics, past and future.
However, it would seem that there are a variety of options and the Vinaya does not legislate on what is possible. A monastery might be owned by the Sangha as a whole, a group of monastics, a single monastic, or by a lay follower.
In the Cūḷasīla section of the Dīgha Nikāya and elsewhere, which constitutes an early description of monastic ethics, a monastic is said to refrain from accepting ‘fields and land’ (Khettavatthupaṭiggahaṇā paṭivirato…). However at 3.50 khetta is defined as a place where grains are produced; in other words, monastics may not accept farmland.
It should be noted that the Vinaya refers to a ‘Sangha’ as either the Sangha as a whole, or the monastics actually within a sīmā (monastic boundary). There is no concept of a ‘Sangha’ consisting of a partial organization within the greater Sangha. When monastics start to think of their group as different from, separate from, and (inevitably) better than, other Sangha members, then sects start to form. When those sects claim exclusive usage over monastery property originally intended for the Sangha of the Four Quarters we are a long way from the Vinaya.