A brief look at the Vinaya


“Resolutely train yourself to attain peace.”

Utthana Sutta

His Holiness the Dalai Lama feels that it is important to know that nuns and monks ordained in the Tibetan tradition follow the vows set forth in the Mulasarvastivadin school of monastic codes. The gelong/gelongma (bhikshu/bhikshuni–the fully ordained monk/nun) level are recorded in the Mulasarvastivadin school’s Individual Liberation Sutras. Interspersed throughout their Tibetan translation are easy to remember chantable verses summarising the gelong or gelongma vows. These versified mnemonics are known as the “Interleaved Summaries of the Vinaya Discourse”.  In 1973 His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote the Direct Instruction From Shakyamuni Buddha — A Gelong’s Training in Brief, a Vinaya text based on the Interleaved Summaries presenting the fully ordained monk’s vows. In this commentary His Holiness comments on the 253 vows of a fully ordained monk according to the Mulasarvativadin school of Vinaya.

Mulasarvativadin school of Vinaya was brought to Tibet by the Indian Abbot Shantarakshita in the 8th century who visited there at the invitation of the Tibetan Monarch Trisong Détsen. At the request of the Tibetans, he founded the first monastic community by first ordaining seven young and promising Tibetans. Gradually more monks were ordained by him, thereby establishing the Buddhist monastic order of the Mulasarvastivadin system in Tibet. We are now in the 2554th year since the Buddha passed away beyond sorrow. Ever since the Buddhist monastic lineage of this tradition was established in Tibet it has continued unbroken despite great difficulties in the century following Udum Tsanpo’s persecution of Buddhist monastics and Buddhists during his reign.

The getsuls/getsulmas (novice monks and nuns) keep vows similar to the fully ordained monks. All the eight different pratimoksha vows are meant for the whole and not just part of one’s life, except for the one-day fasting upavasa vows. Therefore, the motivation must be for the rest of one’s life while taking the getsul, getsulma, and gelong ordinations.

The 253 vows of a fully ordained monk–these are the ones explicitly prescribed for the ordained persons by the Buddha himself in the Vinaya scriptures–in the Mulasarvastivadin school of Vinaya are broadly divided into five categories or classes with sets of ten, twenty and so forth.

Monasticism is regarded with the highest reverence as the foundation of the teaching of the Buddha.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama says:
In particular the moral code of individual liberation is the essence of Buddha’s teachings, such that it is said that wherever there is gelong, a holder of the Vinaya, there the teachings of Buddha abide and that place is not devoid of the Teacher himself.

Lord Buddha himself says in the Vinaya Bases:
Wherever there is a gelong, a holder of the Vinaya, that place is luminous; that place is illuminated. See that place as not devoid of me. I also abide unperturbed in that place.

Sutra Beloved of Monks reads:
For some morality is joy.
For some morality is pain.
Morality possessed is joy.
Morality transgressed is pain.
In order to keep morality pure the monastics must know these four doors through which infractions occur and close them off:
Not knowing, Disrespect, Heedlessness, Abundance of afflictions

Morality is the foundation of Buddhadharma. It is essential to the trainings of higher concentration and higher wisdom. Therefore, it is important to guard morality to progress through the dharma path and reach the ultimate goal of enlightenment.

If we go right to the very base and foundation of all the good qualities set out above, we come down just to morality. Therefore, the exceptional basis and foundation for fulfilling the twin purposes of yourself and others is the moral code of individual liberation in your continuum, please endeavour with every effort to maintain purely, unsoiled by the faults of the stains of misdemeanours or infractions.