Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, Vol 28, No 1 (2015)

The Presentation of the Vinaya within Forms of Western Scholarship

Malcolm Voyce
Issued Date: 31 Aug 2015


This article examines the presentation of the Pali Vinaya within a particular form of Western scholarship. The objective is to show how this presentation of ‘Vinaya as law’ promulgated the understanding that the Vinaya was an applicable code for all monastics, that the Buddha was a judge or legislator, and that rules embodied in this ‘code’ set out a compulsory form of identifiable behaviour.

My argument is that to understand Buddhism and the Vinaya, we need to comprehend ideas of European law through which the Vinaya was interpreted. Accordingly, it is demonstrated how the Vinaya was presented as a rational and self-sufficient code that required obedience and conformity of behaviour. This form of presentation is called ‘Buddhist Legal Rationalism’. I regard the work of Oldenberg, and Thomas and Caroline Rhys Davids (1843–1922 and 1857–1942, respectively) as emblematic of this European form of presenting the Vinaya. I also include Sri Lankan and Indian scholars such as Dutt and Dhirasekera, because their analyses of the Vinaya were made within the Western framework of law.

The Vinaya was misrepresented by being viewed through this Eurocentric lens as a code or form of regulation, but recent commentators have made a correction to this approach. I suggest it is now more appropriate to see the Vinaya as a ‘training scheme’ or like a form of medication to be prescribed for each monastic as needed. The codification of what are best called suggestions, in their present form, reflects a contingency that the rules were made for that one occasion and not necessarily for all other occasions: the rules are only a record of a choice made on a particular occasion.

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DOI: 10.1558/jasr.v28i1.18807


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