THE VINAYA: Its After-history
THE Vinaya laws constituted, as we have seen, the charter of primitive Saṇgha life: they evolved completely in the āvāsas and ārāmas. The initial aim and object of these laws had been organizational-- their main purpose to form a settled Order out of a wandering Sect.1
By regulating not merely the monk's personal life, but also his relations to others and his rights and duties as member of a corporate body, the Vinaya aimed to establish a new pattern of collective and organized life for the Bhikkhus. A Saṇgha was to function within the scope of these laws; of its existence as an Order the Vinaya was the bond. It is possible therefore to frame in the setting of the Vinaya laws a picture of Saṇgha organization as it had existed in the early centuries of Buddhism. But in the centuries that followed the picture did not remain the same. When the Order had attained to a norm and pattern, the Vinaya laws outgrew their original purpose: no longer was there a need for the pressure of the mould in which it had been brought already into a consistent shape.
Whether Saṇgha life was coincident and conterminous with the system of Vinaya as it had developed became a debatable matter very early in the monk-community.
The Vinaya, as we have seen, stemmed from the Pātimokkha code, and so long as the Pātimokkha did not become a fixed-word liturgy, it was elastic in its contents. It admitted additions and alterations to its Sikkhāpadas,2 so that a number of these accreted which were of minor importance (e.g. the Sekhiyas) and for breach of which mere admission sufficed for atonement. With this state of things the question cropped up naturally whether all the Sikkhāpadas in the code would be binding. In the Theravāda canon there is implicit evidence of a contention over the question and a bifurcation of views that persisted for a whole century after the Founder's decease (down to the Vesālī 'council').
The Mahāparinibbāna Suttanta, VI, 3, records that before his expiry at Kusinārā, the Buddha had given permission to the monks to dispense, if they liked, with the 'minor and very minor precepts'____________________