The Vinaya, "discipline" in Pali and Sanskrit (ch: jièlǜ 戒律; ja: kairitsu 戒律; ti: dulwa or'dul ba), is the corpus of Buddhist texts dealing with the practices of the monastic community or noble sangha.
Together with the dharma, a corpus more focused on theory and essentially made up of sutras, it constitutes the essential part of the teaching that the Buddha declares to leave to his disciples in his "testament", the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta.
The vinaya was first transmitted orally for a few centuries, diversifying according to place and school, although the differences are generally considered minor. Its main part consists of the numerous rules governing monastic life, called patimokkha in Pali and pratimoksha in Sanskrit.
The vinaya also contains additional rules, sanctions in case of infringement, modalities for the resolution of conflicts, texts explaining the origin of the articles of the patimokkha and details on their application. There are also some sutras and biographies of great disciples.
Three vinayas are still in use today:
Vinaya Pitaka of the Theravadin (Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Thailand); the patimokkha includes 227 rules for monks and 311 for nuns. Dharmaguptaka Vinaya or Dharmagupta Vinaya, in Chinese 四分律, sìfēnlǜ (practiced in the māhāyana, China (including Taiwan), Korea, Japan, Vietnam); the patimokkha provides 250 rules for monks and 348 for nuns.
Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, (vajrayana, in Bhutan, among Tibetans, other Himalayan Buddhist peoples, and Mongolian Buddhists (from Mongolia, Mongolian regions of China and Russian Federation (Buryatia, Kalmykia,) and Afghanistan, and rarer practice in the rest of China and Japan); the patimokkha mandates 253 rules for monks and 364 for nuns, limited to a few recently ordained Westerners.
Monasteries generally belong to a particular stream and prefer to receive people who have received ordination from their lineage. Nevertheless, they are not necessarily exclusive and may accept monks or nuns following another vinaya. This type of cohabitation was common in certain regions in the past.
Theravada monasteries are in principle exclusive; this restriction constitutes an obstacle for aspiring nuns. Novices must take their nun's vows with confirmed nuns, and the female Theravada order disappeared in the tenth century, theoretically preventing any new ordination.
A number of women have been ordained by Taiwanese and Korean mahāyāna nuns following the Dharmagupta Vinaya, relying on the fact that the founders of the Chinese women's orders were in fact Theravada nuns from Sri Lanka.
Nevertheless, the legitimacy of their ordination was not accepted by the male clergy as a whole, who were generally not in favor of women entering the orders.
The vajrayāna streams also traditionally lacked confirmed nuns, with women entering monasteries remaining at the novice stage. However, ordination according to the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya is sometimes accepted there, and the first confirmed nuns have appeared recently.
Birth of the vinaya according to tradition
Tradition claims that no vinaya was necessary at the beginning of Gautama's preaching activities, when the monks were still few in number; it proved indispensable in the face of the general decline in the quality of disciples following the expansion of the monastic community.
It is said that just after the death of the Buddha, on hearing the monk Subhadra rejoice at being able to live more freely, Mahakashyapa decided to convene the first council to have Upali recite the rules of the Vinaya Pitaka.
Not all the Buddhas of the past would have left a vinaya, but the teachings of those who had left one would have lasted longer. The patimokkha must have initially exhibited some flexibility because the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta mentions that minor rules can be dropped.
Nevertheless, Ananda, the main repository of Gautama's words, would have neglected to be told which ones they were, so all the rules were retained and Ananda was reprimanded.