Articles by alphabetic order
 Ā Ī Ñ Ś Ū Ö Ō
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

Manual of Vinaya - Reading Four: A General Description of the Vows, Part One

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The following selection consists of the second major section of Daymaker (Nyinbyed), composed by Master Ngulchu Dharma Bhadra (1772-1851) as a commentary to the Essence of the Ocean of Discipline (‘Dul-ba rgya-mtso’i snyingpo), a summary of the vinaya teachings by Je Tsongkapa (1357-1419).

The grouping of the vows is given here:

The first three vows are for laypeople,

The last five vows for the ordained.

Moreover, the eight classes of individual freedom vows mentioned above can be grouped according to who can take them. Here there are two broad groups: the vows which relate to laypeople, and the vows which relate to ordained people. The kinds of vows which relate to laypeople are the first three: one-day vows, the layman’s lifetime vows, and laywoman’s lifetime vows. The kind of vows which relate to those who are ordained are the last five: the vows of male novices, female novices, intermediate nuns, fully ordained nuns, and fully ordained monks.


The individual descriptions of the eight types of individual-freedom vows will subsume six sections: an identification of the one-day vows; the layperson’s lifetime vows; the novice vows; the vows of an intermediate nun; the vows of a fully ordained nun; and the vows of a fully ordained monk.

One-Day Vows

The first section, the explanation of the one-day vows, has two points: an identification of what the one-day vow is, and an outline of the eight components which you agree to give up.

These lines of the root text identify the vow:

The one-day vow is to give up eight:

The root four and the secondary four.

The one-day vow is to agree to give up, for the length of a single twenty-four hour period, the eight components to be abandoned: sexual activity and the rest of the root four components, as well as the use of high or valuable seats, along with the rest of the secondary four components. This vow can be taken from someone who has already taken the one-day vow, and who holds either the lifetime vow of a layperson, or any higher freedom vow.

The eight components to give up are enumerated in these lines:

The root four are sexual activity,

Stealing, killing, and speaking lies.

The secondary four are high valuable seats,

Drinking alcohol, dancing and so on,

Ornamentation and such, and food after noon.

The root four are sexual activity, stealing something of value, killing a human or a human fetus, and speaking lies about your spiritual realizations. The secondary four are (1) making use of a seat or bed which is valuable in that it incorporates jewels or some other precious substance, or else which is higher than a cubit; (2) drinking alcohol or any brewed or concocted substance which causes an intoxicated state; (3) dancing and “so on,” which refers to singing and playing music, or else ornamenting yourself and “such”—that is, wearing jewelry or makeup; and finally (4) eating food after noon.

Lifetime Vows of a Layperson

The explanation of the lifetime vows of a layperson contains two points: the actual identification of these vows, and an explanation of the different categories of the vow. Here first is the identification of the vows:

The lifetime layperson’s vow is to give up

The five of killing, stealing, and lying,

Adultery, and drinking intoxicants.

The procedure for taking the lifetime vows of a layperson is as follows. In the presence of a preceptor who holds at least these same vows, you begin with formally taking refuge. You next pledge that, for the length of your entire life, you will give up breaking the five basic rules, and avoid as well those actions which are inconsistent with the advices on going for refuge. The five rules here are to give up killing a human or human fetus; stealing anything of significant value (that is, anything worth more than a quarter of a karshapana [somewhere between an American quarter and a dollar]); lying about your spiritual attainments; committing adultery by having sexual relations with someone else’s spouse; and drinking alcohol, or any substance which makes you intoxicated.


The different categories of lifetime layperson’s vows are presented in the following verse:

Keeping one of them, a couple, most,

And keeping all; keeping celibacy,

And a refuge layperson: these are the six.

These consist respectively of agreeing

To give up one, two, or three of the root four;

To give up adultery and all sexual activity,

And to keep just the lay vow of going for refuge.

There are six different categories of people who have lifetime layperson’s vows: laypeople who are keeping only one component, those who are keeping a couple of them, those who are keeping most of them, those who are keeping all of them, those who are keeping celibacy, and lastly those called “refuge laypeople” who are keeping only a vow of refuge.

These six categories of laypeople’s vows consist respectively of agreeing to the six things which are listed after them in the root text. The first category of laypeople have agreed to give up killing humans or any other one of the root four. The second category of laypeople have given up two of the root four, and the third have given up three of them. The fourth category of laypeople are those who have agreed to give up breaking all five of the basic rules, which includes not committing adultery. The fifth category consists of those who have additionally agreed to give up all sexual activity. The sixth kind of laypeople have agreed to keep just the lay vow of going for refuge to the Three Jewels.

Everyone with lifetime layperson’s vows must give up alcohol and keep the advices on taking refuge.

The Commentary on the Eight Lifetime Layperson’s Vows and the Jewel of the True Thought of the Able Ones mention another kind of lifetime layperson called a “gomi” layperson. The word gomi means “venerable”; according to Tsonawa, this is a vow which is recognized in the system of the Majority School, and refers to those who wear the robes of an ordained or “venerableperson, and who take the one-day vows every day for as long as they live. In this text our precious Lord does not mention this vow explicitly, probably because it is not included in the system of the Entirist School. The reverend Lobsang Palden Yeshe says that the great translator Gu mentions a kind of “higher” layperson. This should be investigated at some future time.

Novice Vows

The third section on the vows of a novice will have two points: an identification of the novice vows, and a description of the novice’s rules. The identification of the novice vow is expressed in these lines:

The novice vow is giving up ten:

The root four and the secondary six.

The novice vow is agreeing to give up, for as long as you live, ten different things to be abandoned: the root four of killing and the rest, and the secondary six of dancing and so on. The vow must be taken with a motivation of renunciation, in the presence of a preceptor, a ceremonial assistant, and a quorum of ordained people.

The description of the novice vows is given in the following verse:

The secondary come to six, by dividing into two

Dancing and so on, and ornamentation and such,

and then adding handling money to make three.

To arrive at the thirteen things to give up

On these then add the three failures:

Not making supplications to your preceptor,

Giving up the appearance of a layperson,

And taking on the appearance of the ordained.


The secondary vows come to six, in the following way. We first divide into two the vow of giving up dancing and so on, and ornamentation and such. Then we add the rule about not handling money, and this makes three. If on top of these we add the three that concern drinking alcohol, eating food after noon, and using high valuable seats, the total is six.

By adding these to the root four that prohibit killing, stealing, sexual activity, and lying, we come to ten main things which must be given up. (Je Tsongkapa does not explicitly mention certain of the secondary six, nor the root four, at this point in his text because he already covered them in the section on the one-day vow.)

Over and above these ten we add the three failures of not making supplications to your preceptor, not giving up the appearance of a layperson, and not taking on the appearance of the ordained; we thus arrive at a total of thirteen. The vow of a novice is to give up these thirteen, which are known as “transgressions of the vow taken directly from the preceptor.”

See also