Posted in On the Path, Precepts Holders, Vinaya

More on Precept Levels See Sept 29

Thank you Lee for your questions about the precepts. Yes, there are a variety of choices regarding the precepts for laity and those interested in monastic life may consider variations on what level they want to achieve.


Beginners – 3 Refuges (in the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha)
and the 5 precepts (no killing, no stealing, no lying, to sexual misconduct, no intoxicants). This starts your offical life as a Buddhist…. and usually the temple offers both together and some may choose to wait until they study Buddhism more to accept the 5 precepts separately.

PERMIT me a RAMBLE…. This category of people are not automatically Buddhists: scholars of Buddhism, students of Buddhism, admirers of Buddha, people who know who Buddha is, tourists, members of Buddhist forums, friends of Buddhists, catholic priests and nuns, ex-monks, ex-nuns, temporary ordained for: a day, a hour, a week, a month, a year type layperson; those christian pastors/reverends who spent a days’ visit in a temple and are claiming expertise or ordination, one who meditates or used Buddhist methods, anyone confusing hari-krishna or hindu practice with being a buddhist monk or nun, anyone who reads Vinaya is NOT automatically Buddhist or ordained in anyway whatsoever by wish, thought or deed, etc. You need to take the 3 Refuges and the 5 Precepts to be considered Buddhist and seek out proper training on your role as Buddhist laity….and then progress under a great deal of real supervision by proper Sangha monks or nuns. Nothing is immediate; it’s all properly guided and in due time. UNramble.

Bodhisattva precepts – laity may take 48 precepts for guidance not for ordination, it means they get to use a blank robe (laity having taken the 8 precepts may be issued or not a 3 or 5 strip robe) depending upon the temple conferring the precepts… MOST just issue a blank robe with no strips at all…

Laity living in a temple

Must agree to observe the 6 harmony rules, may be offered 8 laity monastic precepts (Shegu-women, forgot the word for layman… foguang shan has this group). This group wears modest street clothes, or gray laity clothing as designated by the temple itself… not monastic wear nor may they be allowed to wear monastic shirts and trousers or vests or overcoats, they do not shave their heads nor look like monks or nuns; nor may they claim to be monks or nuns. They are more often stewards or liason officers for the general town or visitors.

10 precepts of novice are offered to laity after observing their life in the temple and by agreement of their division monastic leader or community vote of monastic sangha.

Monastic Life continues for the novice from this point

10 precepts and 6 harmonies are important to be able to get along as well as are the special temple rules set up by the common vote of the monastic resident sangha.

If the novice is not willing to or is unqualified to undertake higher ordination then they may with temple consent remain a novice for their monastic life. This is a case by case basis and determined by monastic consent of the temple.

Novices for life

This category of monastics are found in Theravada and Mahayana… they are special group of men and women who have realized they do not want to progress in their precepts nor return to lay life.

Due to lack of higher ordinations in Theravada orders for women you find there are novices of considerable years more than 10 many over 20 years before they cross into higher ordination due to unfavorable rulings by the Theravada councils against ordaining women after it was destroyed in 10th or 11th centuries CE, even this is largely unavalable to theravadan laywomen…

You find this also true for Tibetan Buddhist order in the Mahayana tradition as well.. In order for them to become ordained they must go to Taiwan, Korea or Vietnam for bhikshuni ordinatin.

Novices returning 10 precepts to 8 laity precepts or returning to laylife. Once one is done it’s done… Then the layperson can ask to become novice again in the same place or different place. Nobody will mind unless there is a fault of a major nature like breaking the 5 precepts, or being forced to leave the temple. The fault should not be hidden for that would be lying, so be sure to reveal any type of dismissal with the new temple or when seeking novice ordination at the same temple.

Higher ordination

This level is purely monastic Sangha level and gender based, preceptors are the sponsors for the male novice or the female siksmana (novice of 2 years study of bhikshuni precepts), application is formal and requested of a elder Sangha council (not the temple itself, unless it has enough qualified elder Sangha members to conduct the ordination) and by admission to the training program before the ordination itself takes place. During the training period, the candidate may be re-ordained as novice or not, may be dismissed for being unqualified or inappropriate during training, may quit the training and forfeit the ordination (this requires home temple to act whether they accept the candidate back or the candidate returns to laylife or remains a novice upon returning… DO not just quit like a job… risking expulsion from your preceptor. There are monastic helpers around during training if you find your confused or need help… quickly ask and they will guide you or contact your sponsor for you… don’t do it alone.. or you will be alone!)

If a novice doesn’t observe specific guidelines like separation from opposite sex: going with someone, even going for coffee or lunch is being with opposite sex person; this is the core of monastic protocol… we just don’t mix the genders due to the training rules and that includes in person conversations with opposite gendered persons including higher ordained Sangha members… If your meeting your classmates in mixed company then it’s seen as a potential flaw… you can’t continue to do this as a monk or nun without proper monastic companions.

OK HIGHEST ordained

Once you get your bhikshuni or bhikshu ordination no matter whether it’s Theravada or Mahayana; you get to keep it voluntarily for your life as long as your observing the vinaya precepts…

Exceptions… you know you don’t want to be a monk or nun anymore and want to give back your precepts… You can absolutely do this… Your not locked in for life unless you are capable and want to.

Parajika a defeat, is immediately upon the act and confession or revelation of the defeat.. Robes are surrendered, immediately returned to lay life and not able in this life to return as a monk or nun in any Buddhist Vinaya tradition.

Parajika learner a special unsual category of monastic who is defeated but wishes to avoid being disrobed declares an intention to become a parjika-learner to the monastic Sangha. This is a very serious matter that Sangha is required to review and decide whether it would be granted or not. I’ve not ever met anyone of this status in my young years as Bhikshuni. And I would think the person undergoing this status is under hardship and would remain humble in their community. I would think that this would be like being in living limbo… but the good karma of the parajika-learner would be an intensive lifelong study of Vinaya thus improving the next life chance for encountering Buddhism and hopefully a return to proper monastic conduct in the next possible life.

CHALLENGES to Higher Ordinatinon

This is done usually by temples or competing orders or due to lack of information or mis-information by Sangha members only. Protocol demands exploration into the history of newly arrived Sangha members or those requesting higher ordiantion… This is to protect the Sangha order, never is it done out of politics or spite…

A bhikshu or bhikshuni may challenge another’s ordiantion only to clarify and in cases where it will damange the Maha Sangha reputation, cause harm to the order, cause harm to the orginal ordination, in evidence of a crime, in cases where inapropriate claim of seniority, use of conflabulated titles, use of extrodinary claims of exceptional abilities, mental illness manifesting in a way that is immediately harmful to Sangha; lack of evidence of ordination having taken place, fakery of any kind, lack of qualifications in public and private conduct of the bhikshu or bhikshuni, obvious breaking of parjika precepts, criminal convinction requiring meetings about status. THIS IS SANGHA TO SANGHA NOT LAITY TO SANGHA EVER…

Sangha members are obligated to speak up to support their brothers and sisters it’s in our Vinaya precepts. Bhikshuni may address only bhikshuni/bhikkhuni and bhikshu may address only bhikshu/bhikkhu. Abbot/Abbess trumps everyone, and the legal system of your resident country trumps them.

IN THE WEST – There is no Country Sangha council in places like the USA… therefor the Sangha is not guided by anything other than Vinaya and their own best judgement in temples (guided by overseas national councils in their own countries culture) or monasteries or living in solitude doing dharma study or dharma work…. It’s still developing here.

There are new orders appearing in a new form of Theravada for bhikkhunis now, since 2009 there have been many sudden ordinations within the USA (three maybe four in 2010 alone) and in the western countries. This is an unsual trend and worth watching. It’s also encouraging that new statement by the Tibetan Karmapa to offer Tibetan Buddhist women a chance to ordain within the Tibetan Buddhist Vinaya…


I am a Bhikshuni ordained in Mahayana Chinese Buddhist tradition. I'm currently translating Vinaya sutras from the Chinese Mahayana Tripitaka.

3 thoughts on “More on Precept Levels See Sept 29

  1. So if someone practices Zen Buddhism in a Japanese lineage, which you don’t consider to be real Buddhism, what are the consequences? Do people like that go to some sort of Buddhist hell after they die?


    1. Not at all, just that they are not a Vinaya tradition. Buddhism is not Christian and none of the writings do teachers or the Buddha condem people to hell because they lack Vinaya in their monastic tradition, that’s a Christian fault you wrote of. No, rather getting to hell is univerally a cause of Karma; bad cause and effect gets you there.

      Lacking the Vinaya tradition in Japanese monastic Buddhism well, that is through no fault of their own, rather just purely political manuevering by the Japanese Emperor in the Meiji period who decreed that there cannot be Vinaya monastics and close the opportunity to become bhikshu or bhikshuni forever. Maybe doing so was an effort to help preserve the native religions of the time and to stop “foreign” influence from outside monks bringing the Vinaya to Japan. But politics was and is so complicated.

      There are married clergy and monastics in various Japanese schools and not one can and should not claim to be Vinaya based even today. But that is not to say they are not good dharma teachers because very many are. And that is not putting them in an inferior position just a different one. The monastics who are ordained in Japanese Buddhism do have additional temple rules that are based on Vinaya but they cannot hold Vinaya ordination and remain in their traditions according to their own rules.

      Real, real enough to establish their rich traditions and teachings overseas and carry on their lineages properly. Wonderful dharma teachers and many are my friends. They have also a rich scholarship on Buddhism as you know. Noboday wrote of “real” Buddhism, just what is Vinaya based and what is not. There is no claim to what is real or not real in my writings. Infact, there is a genuine mix of all traditions among us monastics when we gather for our meetings here in the USA and elsewhere; we are eager to meet and discuss our own traditions and lineages, it’s how we learn from each other, where we gather determines how we follow our seniority and grade as per host temple rules. All is respectfully done without any idea ever of inferiority or division, it’s just how we ‘role’.

      However, many Americans assume Sangha is anyone coming together for a Buddhist teaching or center; when it’s not that but a 2-part Vinaya Sangha of bhikshu and bhikshuni who is joined by 2-part laity refuge taken 5 precept holding householders.

      Trying to set apart Vinaya and non-Vinaya is like comparing peas to grapes; both are good for you, pleasing to consume, and processed through our bodies with as much effort as any other but one is vegetable and another is fruit both are sweet. When you study Buddhist history, the Vinaya as the Buddha taught has been continuously handed down from him to his students carried through time master to student who becomes a master (bhikshu/bhikshuni) for over 2592 years now.

      It succeed into entry in Japan but was not sustained as it lacked imperial support, even today the few monks with bhikshu ordination overseas are not supported or cherished by the Japanese people. They can be roughly treated and critisized, the people support the non-Vinaya tradition of Buddhism there, a lovely pious people strong in their studies and practice. Buddha said to us Sangha that we must accomodate the conditions of the countries we travel in, climate, food, customs, etc. So for Japan we can see clearly the change necessary for Buddhism to flourish there and from there travel to other countries.

      If you are following the Japanese tradition don’t despair you have the joy of having a good sound lineage in that lay Buddhist tradition that is well respected. And if you renounce you can be sure the training you receive in the Japanese Buddhist tradition will be very beneficial to your practice and later when you become dharma teacher or if you are already, please don’t give it up if that is your path. Not bad at all, just not Vinaya. Good people, good dharma work, very valuable.


  2. Ven. Hong Yang,

    This is very interesting! I didn’t know a lot of this information and I plan to look at the post from September 29. Thank you for posting this!

    Chan Ping


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