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The Essence of the Vinaya Ocean

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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by Lama Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419)

OM. May it be well.

Homage to the Omniscient One.

The means dependent on which one goes With ease to liberation’s city, The Sugata’s doctrine’s supreme essence, Which is known as pratimoksha,

I shall explain in six parts: nature, Divisions, the recognition of each, Bases in which it is produced, Causes of loss, and benefits.


It is, with thought of renunciation Acting as cause, to turn away From harm to others and its base.

Our higher and lower schools have two Modes of assertion: that it has form, Being karma of body and speech; Or that it is the constantly coming Will to abandon, with its seed.


Pratimoksha is of eight types: Fasting, layman and laywoman, Male and female novices, Nun probationer, full nun, full monk.

The first three are householders’vows, The last five, vows of those gone forth.

The Recognition of Each

Fasting (Upavasa) Vows

Fasting vows are to abandon Eight things – four roots and four branches.

Incontinence, to take the ungiven, Killing and false speech are four roots. Great or high beds, drinking liquor, Dance, song, garlands and so forth, And afternoon eating are four branches.

Lay-Followers’ (Upasaka & Upasika) Vows

Vows of lay-followers are to abandon Killing, theft, lies, sexual misconduct, and intoxicating drink.

Six lay-followers: those who practise One, some, most rules, or completely, The continent, and those of refuge.

They are lay-followers who, in order, Abandon one, two, three of the four roots, Sexuall misconduct, and incontinence; Or just of refuge, we assert.

Novices’ (Sramanera & Sramanerika) Vows

Novice vows are to abandon Ten things – four roots and six branches.

Amusements and adornments, as two; Three; and accepting gold and silver – This division makes six branches.

Adding three kinds of falling away – From making request to one’s preceptor – Leaving aside householder’s marks, And wearing the marks of one gone forth – Thirteen things are to be abandoned.

Probationer Nun’s (Siksamana) Vows

The discipline of a probationer nun Is, after taking novice vows, Vow of avoidance – six root rules And six secondary rules.

Not to go on the road alone, Not to swim across a river, Not to touch a male person, Not to sit with a male alone, Not to act as go-between, And not to conceal non-virtue Are the six root rules of avoidance.

Not to pick up golden treasure, Not to shave one’s pubic hair, Not to eat food not received, Not to eat what has been hoarded, Not to excrete on green herbage, Not to dig the soil – these six Abandonments are the secondary rules.

Full Nun’s (Bhikshuni) Vows

Eight defeats, twenty suspensions, Thirty-three lapses with forfeiture, A hundred and eighty simple lapses, Eleven offences to be confessed And the hundred and twelve misdeeds Make three hundred and sixty-four Things the bhikshuni abandons.

Full Monk’s (Bhikshu) Vows

Four defeats, thirteen suspensions, Thirty lapses with forfeiture, Ninety simple lapses, then Four offences to be confessed And the hundred and twelve misdeeds – Added together, two hundred and Fifty-three things the bhikshu avoids.

Bases in which it is Produced

These eight types of pratimoksha are produced in the bases of men and women of three continents, except Kuru, but not such as eunuchs, hermaphrodites and neuters.

Causes of Loss

Causes of losing vows are two

Common Causes

Giving back the training, death, two sexes appearing, changing thrice, and cutting one’s roots of virtue are common.

Special Causes

Learning one was not yet twenty, agreeing to serve, and the day’s elapsing are special to, respectively, bhikshus, probationer nuns, and fasters. Some assert the vows are lost if one commits a root offence or if the holy Dharma vanishes. Vaibhashikas of Kashmir assert one with vows with a root offence is like a rich man with a debt.


From keeping these vows, one will gain the temporal fruit, divine or human birth, and the ultimate fruit, the three awakenings. Since this is taught, the energetic always keep the pratimoksha, devotedly striving.


By this virtue, may embodied beings throughout their rebirths live in pure conduct.

© Nalanda Monastery (France)

Offered with kind permission.

Header image: Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419).

Though Tsongkhapa is generally considered to be the founder of the Gelug school, Daniel Cozort and Craig Preston comment with respect to this:

Tsongkhapa never announced the establishment of a new monastic order, but it began to form following on his founding of Ganden Monastery near Lhasa in 1410. Others started to call his followers ‘Gandenpas.’ It was not until later, when Tsongkhapa’s writings were criticized by writers of the Sakya order, that the Gandenpas distinguished themselves from Sakya by calling

themselves, somewhat immodestly, Gelugpas (‘virtuous ones’). They were also called the ‘New Kadampa,’ harking back to the Kadampa order established by Atisha’s disciple Dromtönpa (1005–1064). Like Atisha, Dromtönpa, and especially the great scholar and translator Ngok Loden Sherab (1059–1109), Tsongkhapa emphasized that monasticism should not be only about ritual but should involve the rigorous study of Buddhist Philosophy.