In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Vinaya

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Vinaya-Piṭaka
  • Vinaya Dissemination
  • Mahīśāsaka-Vinaya

Buddhism Vinaya
Klaus Pinte
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 September 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0174


The disciplinary codes for the training of Buddhist monks (Skt. bhikṣus) and nuns (Skt. bhikṣuṇīs), as well as the institutional regulations for the monastic community (Skt. saṃgha) are collected in the vinaya section of the Buddhist canon (Skt. tripiṭaka), next to doctrinal texts (Skt. sūtra) and philosophical treatises (Skt. śāstra). In Chinese, vinaya is translated pínàiyé (毘奈耶/毘那耶/鼻那夜), syn. (律); in Japanese, binaya (毘奈耶/毘那耶/鼻那夜), syn. ritsu (律); and in Tibetan, ’dul-ba. Following Louis Renou and Jean Filliozat, leading vinaya specialists such as Charles Prebish have categorized the vinaya corpus into canonical, paracanonical, and noncanonical literature: (A) canonical literature preserved in the vinaya-piṭaka mainly covers three divisions of texts, generally comprising: (1) sūtravibhaṅga, or the detailed analyses of offenses and respective punitive measures listed in the prātimokṣasūtra, (2) skhandhakas, or regulations for the organization of the Buddhist community, and (3) appendices, mostly comprising summaries of the monastic rules listed in the two previous sections; (B) paracanonical vinaya literature refers to: (1) the set of precepts from the prātimokṣasūtra that is recited every fortnight during the so-called poṣadha ceremony, and (2) karmavācanā texts of correct procedures to settle communal transactions and disputes; and (C) noncanonical vinaya literature covering (1) commentaries and (2) miscellaneous texts, which include translations with unclear school affiliation and other vinaya-related texts. Although they still occupy a rather small niche within the fields of religious or even Buddhist studies, since the 18th century the Buddhist monastic codices—as crystallized in seven seemingly complete vinayas—have been the subject of increasing scholarly attention. These seven vinayas are those of the Theravādins, Mahāsāṃghikas, Mahāsāṃghika-lokottaravādins, Mahīśāsakas, Dharmaguptakas, Sarvāstivādins, and Mūlasarvāstivādins. However, since the Mahāsāṃghika-lokottaravāda tradition may actually be considered an offshoot of the Mahāsāṃghika, the number of schools is sometimes restricted to six or even to five when following the theory on the identity of the Sarvāstivādins and Mūlasarvāstivādis (see Enomoto 2000, cited under Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya). In any case, due to its divergent structure, the Mahāsāṃghika-vinaya is opposed to the other vinayas, which allegedly stem from a presectarian vinaya matrix (Skt. mātṛkā) known as the Sthavira tradition, but this is still under discussion. Although surely not comprehensive and remaining open to updates, the major fruits of past Western-language scholarship in vinaya studies are summarized in the bibliographical survey below. The entry focuses on the above-mentioned text traditions and their history, development, and interrelations. The available academic sources on the respective traditions are discussed by first listing general works related to the respective vinaya in question; then, in case of sufficient scholarly attention, subsections on more specific material are included, retaining the before-mentioned division between canonical and paracanonical literature. Regardless of the assumption that the so-called Kāśyapīya and Saṃmitīya traditions may have produced vinayas of their own, the primary material related to those schools is almost entirely lost and, except from such outstanding articles such as Hinüber 1985 (cited under General Overviews), to date there are no substantial monographs on the these two traditions. They therefore are not treated here. Given the author’s research field and unfamiliarity with the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the primary sources covered in this bibliography are principally Sanskrit fragments and Chinese redactions preserved in the Japanese Taishō period edition of the Buddhist canon.

General Overviews

Gaining insight into the significance of vinaya in the Buddhist community requires a basic understanding of the cultural and historical background of the countries in which monastic disciplinary literature emerged, transformed, flourished, and faded. For the role of vinaya in Indian history, Renou and Filliozat 1953 undoubtedly is a classic point of departure, but one of the standard works on the rise of vinaya literature is Frauwallner 1956, which needs to be studied alongside the critique in Clarke 2004. Hinüber 1985 is one of the few works addressing school affiliation according to linguistic criteria. Holt 1987 is representative of standard encyclopedia entries on the topic. Harvey 1990 is undoubtedly one of the best introductions to Buddhism, while Harvey 1999 focuses on the assessment of ethical appropriateness. Prebish 2000 and Prebish 2003 are among the more recent publications on vinaya by one of the prominent scholars in the field.

  • Clarke, Shayne. “Vinaya-Mātṛkā—Mother of the Monastic Codes, or Just another Set of Lists? A Response to Frauwallner’s Handling of the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya.” Indo-Iranian Journal 47.2 (2004): 77–120.

    DOI: 10.1023/B:INDO.0000044607.76272.3d

    Indispensable reading that discusses the presectarian origins of the vinaya traditions, with special focus on the Mahāsāṃghika-vinaya.

  • Frauwallner, Erich. The Earliest Vinaya and the Beginnings of Buddhist Literature. Serie Orientale Roma 8. Rome: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1956.

    A classic work on early vinaya literature, especially interesting for the history of the early Buddhist councils, but rightfully criticized by Clarke 2004.

  • Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    Undoubtedly one of the best comprehensive introductions to Buddhism. On vinaya, see pp. 73–75 and especially pp. 217–243.

  • Harvey, Peter. “Vinaya Principles for Assigning Degrees of Culpability.” Internet Journal of Buddhist Ethics 6 (1999): 271–291.

    Essay on the Theravāda-vinaya’s attention for mental states in assessing the ethical appropriateness of personal actions. Available online.

  • Holt, John C. “Vinaya.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 15. Edited by Mircea Eliade, 265–268. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

    Provides a general introduction that is useful as a starting point, with a concise bibliography.

  • Hinüber, Oskar von. “Die Bestimmung der Schulzugehörigkeit buddhistischer Texte nach sprachlicher Kriterien.” In Zur Schulzugehörigkeit von Werken der Hīnayāna-Literatur. Edited by Heinz Bechert, 57–75. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1985.

    Linguistic essay with special focus on the term pācittika in different traditions.

  • Prebish, Charles. “From Monastic Ethics to Modern Society.” In Contemporary Buddhist Ethics. Edited by Damien Keown, 37–56. London: Curzon, 2000.

    An interesting essay discussing vinaya-related texts as the foundation of Buddhist ethics, elaborated from the author’s 1993 article “Text and Tradition in the Study of Buddhist Ethics,” Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies 9: 49–68.

  • Prebish, Charles. “Varying the Vinaya: Creative Responses to Modernity.” In: Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition. Edited by Stephen Heine and Charles Prebish, 45–74. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    A highly recommended, concise work on vinaya, largely focusing on the adaptation of vinaya in the light of Buddhist globalization. See p. 49 on “paracanonical” vinaya literature, and pp. 57–60 on the role of vinaya and śīla as the foundations of the Buddhist monastic community.

  • Renou, Louis, and Jean Filliozat. L’Inde classique: manuel des études indiennes, 2 vols. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1953.

    Standard reference work on Indian history. For the concept of “paracanonical” for the categorization of vinaya literature, see p. 351.

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