October 27, 2009

If you know the Vinaya you can kill a chicken

As I sit here waiting, I’ve had the opportunity to start stepping through Sects and Sectarianism: the Origins of Buddhist Schools, and loved this quote on the Vinaya.
Actually, for those of us who live the Vinaya every day, it is obvious that much of it operates as guidelines. There are countless situations that crop up constantly which are not explicitly dealt with in the Vinaya. The Vinaya itself includes principles for how to apply precedents in new situations. Very often, the rules of Vinaya are phrased in a legalistic manner which makes them quite easy to get around in practice, if one is so inclined. And so in Myanmar they say: ‘If you know the Vinaya you can kill a chicken’. It is, perhaps, only in the minds of academics that the Vinaya minutely governs every facet of a monk’s life. In real life this is simply impossible. This has nothing to do with the question of whether one takes a rigorist or laxist approach to the rules, emphasizing the letter or the spirit. It is simply to acknowledge the plain fact that the rules only cover a limited amount of contexts, and beyond that we must use our best judgement.
You will hear this quite a bit from monks. This reminds me of some thoughts from Ven. Dhammika in response to Ven. Ming Yi’s trial a couple months ago. Back to waiting...

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