Are the NKT vows an authentic presentation of the Vinaya?

In the Vinaya Sutras, Buddha says that through moral discipline we shall attain concentration, and through concentration we shall attain wisdom. Therefore, the purpose of the Vinaya (Tib. dulwa) is “to control [the mind]” through higher moral discipline, as this is the foundation for developing pure concentration (i.e., tranquil abiding), and in turn profound wisdom (i.e., superior seeing). Je Phabongkhapa said, “Nothing is said to be better than Lamrim for taming the mind.” About the 10 ordination vows of the New Kadampa Tradition, Geshe Kelsang has said:

These ten commitments that you promise to keep are a condensation of the entire Lamrim teachings. Although we can finish a verbal explanation of these vows in a few hours, their practice is all embracing. You should do this—few words but always practice, practice extensively. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, The Ordination Handbook)

While the first five Kadampa vows (“Throughout my life I will abandon killing, stealing, sexual activity, lying and taking intoxicants”) are common to all Vinaya lineages, the latter five (“I will practise contentment, reduce my desire for worldly pleasures, abandon engaging in meaningless activities, maintain the commitments of refuge, and practise the three trainings of pure moral discipline, concentration and wisdom”) are taken from the Mahayana Perfection of Wisdom Sutra and its commentaries such as Atisha’s Lamrim text Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, which references Arya Asanga’s The Bodhisattva’s Grounds (Skt. Bodhisattvabhumi) listing the six ‘branches’ or necessary conditions for attaining tranquil abiding, including these five internal conditions:

  1. little desire
  2. contentment
  3. no distracting activities
  4. pure moral discipline
  5. no distracting conceptions

Look familiar? These preparatory practices are methods of training the mind—methods of moral discipline. The very purpose of becoming ordained is to practice a moral discipline that would enable one to achieve tranquil abiding. With tranquil abiding, one can attain superior seeing. These three higher trainings—moral discipline, concentration and wisdom—are the path to liberation from samsara. In his text, Atisha says, “One who neglects the branches of tranquil abiding will never attain concentration, even if he meditates with great effort for a thousand years.”

Yet some legalists still reject the latter five Kadampa ordination vows simply because they do not appear worded as such in the Vinaya or Pratimoksha Sutras. For example, they would say that, even though it is more succinct, the vow “to practice contentment” just is not to be found in traditional ordination texts. I would say they cannot see the forest for the trees. For example, vow #31—to not get a new mat before six years are up—is obviously a particular instance of the more general principle to practice contentment. Buddha taught the necessity of following the meaning and not merely the words of the practice. Recognizing and appreciating the ‘spirit’ of the individual precepts of the Vinaya is how all the Kadampa ordination vows are to be understood and practiced.

“Practically speaking, all the 253 vows explained in the Vinaya Sutra are included within the ten commitments.” — Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Another mistake made by legalists is when they try to pigeonhole the 10 Kadampa vows into either the 5 vows of a layperson, the 8 vows of a renunciate (Tib. Rabjung), the 10 or 36 vows of a novice monk (Tib. Gestul), or the 253 vows of a fully ordained monk (Tib. Gelong). However, the vows of Kadampa ordination are to be regarded as a practical condensation of the essential meaning of each of these sets of vows. As such, we should look to see how the 253 vows of a Gelong, for example, are subsumed under the more broadly encompassing 10 vows, rather than the other way around.

The following is my own attempt to show how all the monastic vows—whether initial, novice, or full ordination—are naturally included within the comprehensive vows of Kadampa ordination. There are no doubt different ways of doing this, and many of the 253 vows will fall under more than one of the 10 Kadampa vows. I used The Sramanera/Sramanerika Precepts as the reference for the novice vows, and Buddhist Ethics as the reference for the full ordination vows.

See also Are the NKT’s ordination vows in keeping with the Vinaya?

Rabjung Vows

1. Abandon Killing

1. Not killing human beings

2. Abandon Stealing

2. Not stealing

3. Abandon Sexual Activity

4. Vow of celibacy

4. Abandon Lying

3. Not lying

5. Abandon Taking Intoxicants

5. Not becoming intoxicated (drugs, alcohol)

6. Practice Contentment

7. Wear the robes of an ordained person and shave one’s head

7. Reduce One’s Desire for Worldly Pleasures

6. Leave behind lay clothes and signs

8. Abandon Engaging in Meaningless Activities
9. Maintain the Commitments of Refuge
10. Practise the Three Trainings of Pure Moral Discipline, Concentration, and Wisdom

8. Follow the Buddha’s teachings

Novice Vows

1. Abandon Killing

1. One should avoid taking a human life
2. One should avoid killing an animal or insect
3. One should avoid for selfish reasons, doing an action which may kill an animal or insect and not caring about it; for example, using water that contains insects without straining it; digging a hole in the earth without considering the creatures that might die as a result; cutting grass; overburdening an animal, which causes its death
4. One should avoid while doing something for others, doing an action which may kill an animal or insect and not caring about it; for example, splashing water which has insects on a dry place

2. Abandon Stealing

6. One should avoid stealing, taking what has not been given. This includes borrowing things and not returning them, not paying fees and taxes one is required to

3. Abandon Sexual Activity

5. One should avoid sexual intercourse

4. Abandon Lying

7. One should avoid lying in which one claims to have spiritual realizations or powers that one does not have
8. One should avoid accusing a pure monk or nun of transgressing one of the four root precepts (parajika) when he or she has not
9. One should avoid insinuating that a pure monk or nun has transgressed one of the four root precepts when he or she has not
10. One should avoid causing disunity among the sangha community through untrue slander or taking sides in a disagreement
13. One should avoid telling others lies
14. One should avoid criticizing the storekeeper in the monastery of giving more to those who are near to him or her instead of sharing them with all, when this is not the case
15. One should avoid criticizing directly or by insinuation that the storekeeper in the monastery of not giving oneself a share of the food or other things equal to that given to other monastics, when this is not the case
16. One should avoid claiming that a monastic gave a teaching in return for a little food, which is not the case
17. One should avoid criticizing a monk or nun by saying that he or she transgressed a precept in the second group (sanghavasesa) when this is not the case

5. Abandon Taking Intoxicants

20. One should avoid taking intoxicants

6. Practice Contentment

19. One should avoid covering the vegetables with rice; covering the rice with vegetables
28. One should avoid sitting on an expensive throne
29. One should avoid sitting on an expensive bed
30. One should avoid sitting on a high throne
31. One should avoid sitting on a high bed
32. One should avoid eating after midday (Exceptions: if one is ill, if one is traveling, or if one cannot meditate properly without food.)
33. One should avoid touching gold, silver or precious jewels (includes money)

7. Reduce One’s Desire for Worldly Pleasures

24. One should avoid wearing ornaments
25. One should avoid wearing cosmetics
26. One should avoid wearing perfumes
27. One should avoid wearing the rosary like jewelry, wearing flower garlands
34. One should avoid wearing lay people’s clothing and ornaments; letting one’s hair grow long

8. Abandon Engaging in Meaningless Activities

21. One should avoid singing with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons
22. One should avoid dancing with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons
23. One should avoid playing music with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons

9. Maintain the Commitments of Refuge

11. One should avoid supporting someone who is creating disunity in the sangha community, taking sides in the dispute
12. One should avoid doing actions which obliterate lay people’s faith in the sangha; for example complaining untruthfully to lay people that action brought by the sangha against oneself was unfair
36. One should avoid disrespecting or not following the guidance of one’s ordination master

10. Practise the Three Trainings of Pure Moral Discipline, Concentration, and Wisdom

18. One should avoid abandoning the training, for example, rejecting the good advice of a nun or monk; criticizing the Pratimoksha Sutra
35. One should avoid not wearing the robes of a Buddhist monastic

Full Ordination Vows

1. Abandon Killing

3. murder
58. destroying vegetation
66. casting water containing living beings
88. using water that contains life
108. killing an animal

2. Abandon Stealing

2. theft
46. redirecting dedicated offerings
63. evicting a monk out of anger
115. using without permission
121. overstaying one’s welcome

3. Abandon Sexual Activity

1. sexual intercourse
5. ejaculation
6. touching or holding the bare skin of a woman motivated by sexual desire
7. speaking of sexual intercourse with a woman
8. extolling sexual intercourse
9. matchmaking
21. having one’s robes washed by an unrelated nun
22. accepting cloth from an unrelated nun
34. having wool washed by an unrelated nun
52. teaching Dharma to a laywoman in private
53. reciting or chanting scriptures out of vanity
68. teaching the Dharma to a nun without having been appointed
69. teaching the Dharma to a nun after sunset
71. giving a Dharma robe to an unrelated nun
72. making a Dharma robe for an unrelated nun
73. walking together on a road with a nun
74. going with a nun in a boat
75. sitting in a secluded and sheltered place with an unrelated woman
76. standing in a secluded and sheltered place with an unrelated woman
77. persuading a householder to prepare food via a nun
89. sitting in the home of those engaging in intercourse
90. standing in the home of those engaging in intercourse
91. serving food to a naked ascetic
101. sleeping more than two nights with someone not fully ordained
112. sleeping in the same place as a woman
117. accompanying a woman on the road
124. leaving without informing one’s fellow monks
127. going to town and staying overnight with an unrelated layperson
129. visiting the royal apartment in the night
138. requesting an unrelated nun’s alms

4. Abandon Lying

4. telling lies about one’s level of spiritual attainment
12. making a groundless accusation defaming a fellow monk
13. making an accusation against a fellow monk for a trivial reason
48. lying
56. accusing a steward of favortism
59. censuring through devious slander an honest caretaker of the community
70. jealously accusing a monk of teaching a nun to get a little food
109. causing regret is to sadden a fellow monk by denigrating the benefits of entering the monastic life or by saying that he has not received vows [i.e., he is not actually a monk]
116. defaming a monk without evidence

5. Abandon Taking Intoxicants

126. drinking alcohol or any kind of intoxicant leading to negligent behavior

6. Practice Contentment

10. constructing a hut exceeding the prescribed size
11. constructing a dwelling larged than for four monks
18. keeping extra cloth not intended for one’s robes for more than 10 days
20. retaining extra cloth intended for one’s robes for more than 30 days
23. requesting cloth from an unrelated layperson when one already has the three monastic robes
24. requesting excess cloth from an unrelated layperson when one lacks the three monastic robes
25. requesting from an unrelated layperson robe materal of a fine quality, more valuable than that which the layperson had intended to offer
26. requesting finer quality than two donors have prepared to offer
27. accepting a robe after one has insistently asked for it more than 3 times
28. making for oneself a mat out of a valuable material such as silk
29. making a mat out of only black sheep’s wool
30. making a mat of white and black wool containing more than half black wool
31. making a new mat while the old one has not yet been used for 6 years
32. using a new mat that has not been sewn with a handpsan patch from the old one
33. carrying wool on the road motivated by acquisitiveness
35. handling gold or other precious substances motivated by acquisitiveness
36. lending gold or other commodities to make a profit, motivated by acquisitiveness
37. trading non-precious items such as grain in order to make a profit
38. keeping an unconsecrated begging bowl for more than 10 days
39. requesting an extra begging bowl from an unrelated layperson
40. engaging an unrelated weaver to make cloth for one’s robes without payment or remuneration
41. engaging a weaver to make finer and more valuable cloth for one’s robes
42. taking back gifts from a fellow monk
43. using rainy season retreat offerings before the retreat ends
45. keeping the large rain cloak for too long
47. storing foods and medicines for more than 7 days
64. harrassing a fellow monk who had taken up residence in the monastery earlier than onself
78. accepting alms of food 2 or 3 times in one day from unrelated householders
80. taking excess food
81. resuming eating a meal after thinking and saying, “I have finished”
82. giving food to a monk who has finished eating
83. gathering to eat with 3 or more monks in a place other than the communal dining hall out of disharmony
84. eating in the afternoon foods that are permissible only from dawn until noon
85. partaking of stored foods and medicines
86. eating what has not been offered and accepted
87. asking an unrelated householder for good foods without the host’s invitation, motivated by greed
105. wearing undyed clothing
131. accepting from an unrelated layperson a needlecase of fine materials which was made for oneself
132. making a seat for the monastic community with legs higher than a cubit
133. covering the seats of the monastic community with cotton
134. using a mat that exceeds the precribed length or width
135. exceeding the size for the flannel to relieve skin rash
136. exceeding the size for the large rain cloak
137. exceeding the size for the robes

7. Reduce One’s Desire for Worldly Pleasures

106. handling treasures or other precious articles that may cause pride
107. bathing more than once every two weeks
128. wandering into the village and not returning before the mealtime of the community

8. Abandon Engaging in Meaningless Activities

65. sitting down heavily upon a chair with pointed legs on the soft roof of the monastery
92. watching an army
93. staying in an army camp
94. inciting war preparations
99. lighting a fire
110. tickling a fellow monk with the intention of provoking a reaction
111. playing in water frivolously
113. frightening a fellow monk out of scorn
114. hiding any of the articles of a fellow monk out of scorn
120. tilling the soil without a special necessity

9. Maintain the Commitments of Refuge

14. causing a schism
15. taking sides with a monk who is trying to create a schism
16. causing a layperson to lose faith
79. eating for a second day at the home of an unrelated householder who hosts non-Buddhist renunciates
100. later withdrawing one’s assent to a formal procedure of the monastic community
103. sharing spiritual instructions and material things with a monk who has been expelled from the monastery
104. sharing spiritual instructions and material things with a novice who has been expelled from the monastery
118. traveling with a thief
119. conferring full ordination on someone under the age of 20
122. rejecting advice concerning monastic discipline
125. disrespectfully refusing to perform a religious duty for which one has been appointed
139. accepting food without regard to seniority
140. transgression the rule not to beg at a particular household
141. eating without checking the safety of the forest when one has been appointed to do so

10. Practise the Three Trainings of Pure Moral Discipline, Concentration, and Wisdom

17. defiance when one has incurred a downfall
19. separation from one’s robes for more than a day
44. separation from one’s robes for more than 7 days when one is living in seclusion
49. criticizing the faults of a fellow monk such as his being from a bad lineage or not having all his faculties intact
50. slandering two or more fellow monks with the intention to cause discord among them
51. reviving a quarrel between monks that has already been settled
54. revealing a fellow monk’s lapses in discipline to a layperson and others when one has not been appointed to bring forth the allegation in the appropriate ceremony
55. declaring that one has developed superhuman powers to someone who is not a monk, without a specific necessity
57. scorning the monastic discipline
60. refusing to comply, denying the allegation of a downfall
61. leaving communal bedding or seats that one has used where sun, wind, rain, etc. can spoil them
62. leaving the temple without clearing up the grass and leaves that one has spread under the mat
67. laying more than 3 layers of unbaked bricks in one day
95. striking a fellow monk
96. threatening to strike a fellow monk
97. concealing a fellow monk’s lapse of discipline
98. preventing alms to a fellow monk, due to enmity
102. not giving up erroneous views
123. eavesdropping in on secret conversations of fellow monks with whom one has a dispute with the intention to increase it
130. purposefully disparaging the rules of discipline as they are being recited during confession

And so forth…

142. wearing the lower robe unevenly, high in one place and low in another
143. wearing the lower robe raised up so that it is too high
144. wearing the lower robe trailing so that it is too low
145. wearing the lower robe with the bottom edge hanging to one side
146. wearing the lower robe with the top folded over
147. wearing the lower robe gathered unevenly at the belt
148. wearing the lower robe with it hanging over the top of the belt
149. not wearing the upper robes even all around
150. wearing the upper robes too low
151. wearing the upper robes too high
152. not controlling body and speech with mindfulness while travelling
153. dressing with indignity while travelling
154. idle chatter while travelling
155. letting one’s eyes wander while travelling
156. gazing more than yoke’s length ahead while travelling
157. covering the head while travelling
158. hoisting the lower robe
159. draping the upper robe over both shoulders
160. walking with the hands clasping the nape of the neck
161. walking with the hands clasped behind the bead
162. going about jumping
163. strutting
164. walking only on the heels
165. walking only on tiptoes
166. walking with the hands on one’s hips, elbows extended
167. walking with the body bent
168. swinging or waving the arms while walking
169. wagging the head while walking
170. touching shoulders with others while walking
171. walking around holding another’s hand
172. sitting before the patron or host has invited one to sit
173. sitting without checking whether or not there are living beings on the seat
174. sitting down heavily
175. sitting with the legs stretched out and the feet crossed
176. sitting with the thighs crossed 177. sitting with one ankle on top of the other
178. tucking the legs under the seat while sitting
179. sitting with legs outspread
180. sitting with the private parts exposed
181. filling the begging bowl to the brim
182. taking equal amounts of rice and vegetables
183. accepting food out of order of seniority
184. not paying attention to the begging bowl when accepting food
185. holding out the begging bowl before food is offered
186. covering the vegetables with rice when wanting more vegetables
187. covering the rice with vegetables when wanting more rice
188. holding the begging bowl higher than the serving dishes
189. eating food with poor manners
190. eating very large mouthfulls
191. eating very small mouthfulls
192. not eating in moderation, according to etiquette
193. opening the mouth before bringing food to it
194. speaking with the mouth full
195. making blah blah sounds when food is not tasty
196. making yum yum sounds when food is tasty
197. making brr brr sounds when food is cold
198. making phff phff sounds when the foot is hot
199. poking out the tongue while eating
200. eating rice one grain at a time
201. criticizing the quality of the food
202. chewing the food on the right and then the left cheek
203. making a smacking sound against the palate
204. biting off part of a mouthful of food
205. licking food off one’s hands after wiping the begging bowl
206. licking food from the begging bowl
207. shaking off food that is tuck to one’s hand
208. shaking the begging bowl while eating
209. making the food into the shape of a stupa
210. scorning the begging bowl of another monk
211. touching the water container with food stuck to the hands
212. tossing dishwater at another monk
213. throwing dishwater into the grounds of a household without permission
214. putting leftover food into one’s begging bowl
215. putting down the begging bowl on bare earth without a support beneath it
216. putting down the begging bowl at the edge of a ravine
217. putting down the begging bowl at the edge of a crevice
218. putting down the begging bowl near a slope or steps
219. washing the begging bowl at the edge of a ravine
220. washing the begging bowl at the edge of a crevice
221. washing the begging bowl near a slope or steps
222. washing the begging bowl while standing
223. scooping water by holding the begging bowl against the current of the river
224. teaching the doctrine while standing up to a person who is seated as though sick
225. teaching while sitting to someone lying down
226. teaching to a person who is seated on a high or rich seat
227. teaching someone when walking behind him
228. teaching someone walking in the center of the road when you are on the side
229. teaching those with covered heads
230. teaching those with their clothes hoisted up
231. teaching those with their upper robes draped over both shoulders
232. teaching those with arms crossed holding the neck
233. teaching those with hands clasped behind
234. teaching those wearing topknots
235. teaching those wearing hats
236. teaching those wearing crowns
237. teaching those wearing flower garlands
238. teaching those wearing silk veils
239. teaching those mounted on elephants
240. teaching those mounted on horses
241. teaching those riding a palanquin
242. teaching those riding in a vehicle
243. teaching those wearing shoes
244. teaching those holding staffs
245. teaching those wearing umbrellas
246. teaching those holding weapons
247. teaching those holding swords
248. teaching those holding bows and arrows
249. teaching those wearing armor
250. defecating or urinating while standing
251. throwing feces or urine into water or onto grass
252. spitting or cleaning the nose, or vomitting into water, unless ill
253. climbing trees taller than a man, unless in danger