The Dhamma and Vinaya impinge in such detail on so many areas of one's
life that no new bhikkhu can be expected to master them in a short
time. For this reason, the Buddha arranged for a period of
apprenticeship called nissaya, or dependence in which every
newly ordained bhikkhu must train under the guidance of an experienced
bhikkhu for at least five years before he can be considered competent
to look after himself.
This apprenticeship has formed the human context in which the
practice of the Buddha's teachings has been passed down for the past
2,600 years. To overlook it is to miss one of the basic parameters of
the life of the Dhamma and Vinaya. Thus we will discuss it here first,
before going on to the individual training rules of the Patimokkha.
Dependence is of two sorts: dependence on one's preceptor (upajjhaya)
and dependence on a teacher (acariya). The relationships are similar
and in many details, identical so the following discussion
will use the word "mentor" to cover both preceptor and
teacher wherever the pattern applies to both, and will distinguish
them only where the patterns differ.
Choosing a mentor
Before ordination, one must choose a bhikkhu to act as one's
preceptor. The Mahavagga (I.36-37) gives a long list of qualifications
a bhikkhu must meet before he can act as a preceptor, while the
Commentary divides the list into two levels: ideal and minimal
qualifications. A bhikkhu who lacks the minimal qualifications incurs
a dukkata if he acts as a preceptor; a bhikkhu who meets the minimal
but lacks the ideal qualifications is not an ideal person to give
guidance, but he incurs no penalty in doing so.
The ideal qualifications: The preceptor should have an arahant's
virtue, concentration, discernment, release, and knowledge of release;
and should be able to train another person to the same level of
attainment. He should have faith, a sense of shame, fear of evil,
persistence in the practice, and quick mindfulness (according to the
Subcommentary, this means that he is constantly mindful of whatever
mental object is before the mind). He should be free of heavy and
light offenses and be possessed of right view. (This last point, the
Commentary says, means that he does not adhere to the extremes of
eternalism or annihilationism.) He should be competent to tend to a
sick pupil, or to find someone who will tend to him, and to allay
dissatisfaction in a pupil who wants to leave the celibate life.
The Mahavagga does not say outright that these are ideal, as
opposed to minimal, qualifications, but the Commentary offers as proof
the fact that one of a pupil's duties is to try to allay any
dissatisfaction that may arise in his preceptor. If all preceptors
were arahants, no case of this sort would ever arise, and there would
be no need to mention it. Thus the Commentary concludes that
arahantship, although ideal in a preceptor, is not necessary.
The minimal qualifications: The preceptor must be learned and
intelligent. According to the Commentary, this means that he knows
enough of the Dhamma and Vinaya to govern a following and is
intelligent enough to know what is and is not an offense. He must be
competent enough to allay any anxiety a pupil may have over the rules,
know what is and is not an offense, what is a light offense, what is a
heavy offense, and how an offense may be removed. He must have
detailed knowledge of both Patimokkhas (the one for the bhikkhus and
the one for the bhikkhunis) and be able to train the pupil in the
bhikkhus' customs (Com.: this means that he knows the Khandhakas), in
the basic rules of the chaste life (Subcom.: he knows both Vibhangas),
the higher Dhamma, and the higher Vinaya. He must be able to dissuade
his pupil from adhering to a wrong view, or find someone who will help
dissuade him. And the most basic requirement he must have been
ordained as a bhikkhu for ten years or more.
If, for some reason, the new bhikkhu lives in a separate monastery
from his preceptor, he must take dependence under a teacher, whose
qualifications are precisely the same as those for a preceptor. Since
the Mahavagga (I.72.1) gives a dukkata for taking dependence under an
unconscientious bhikkhu, the new bhikkhu is allowed four to five days
to observe his potential teacher's conduct before taking dependence
under him (Mv.I.72.2).
Taking dependence. Prior to his ordination and usually, as part
of the ceremony itself the candidate must make a formal request
for dependence from his preceptor. The procedure is as follows:
Arranging his upper robe over his left shoulder, leaving his right
shoulder bare, he bows down to the preceptor and then, kneeling with
his hands palm-to-palm in front of his heart, repeats the following
passage three times:
Upajjhayo me bhante hohi, which means, "Venerable sir, be my
If the preceptor responds with any of these words Sahu (very
well), lahu (certainly), opayikam (all right), patirupam (it is
proper) or pasadikena sampadehi (manage it amiably) the dependence
has taken hold. The Mahavagga adds that if the preceptor indicates any
of these meanings by gesture, that also counts; and according to the
Commentary, the same holds true if he makes any equivalent statement
If, after his ordination, the new bhikkhu needs to request
dependence from a teacher, the procedure is the same, except that the
request he makes three times is this:
Acariyo me bhante hohi; ayasmato nissaya vacchami, which means,
"Venerable sir, be my teacher; I will live in dependence on
The Mahavagga (I.25.6; 32.1) states that a pupil should regard his
mentor as a father; and the mentor, the pupil as his son. It then goes
on to delineate this relationship as a set of reciprocal duties.
The pupil's duties to his mentor fall into the following
1. Attending to the mentor's personal needs. The Mahavagga goes
into great detail on this topic, giving precise instructions dealing
with every conceivable way a pupil can be of service to his mentor.
The Vinaya Mukha tries to reduce these duties to a few general
principles, but this misses much of what the Mahavagga has to offer,
for it is in the details that we can see fine examples of mindfulness
in action the best way to fold a robe, clean a dwelling, and so
forth as well as indications of how one can use this aspect of
one's training to develop sensitivity to the needs of others. Still,
the detailed instructions are so extensive that they would overburden
the discussion in this chapter, so I have saved them for Appendix
VIII. Here I will simply give them in outline form. The pupil should:
a. Arrange his mentor's toiletries for his morning wash-up. b. Arrange
his seat and food for his morning conjey (if he has any) and clean up
after he is finished.
c. Arrange his robes and bowl for his alms round.
d. Follow him on his alms round, if the mentor so desires, and take
his robes and bowl when he returns.
e. Arrange his seat and food for his alms meal and clean up
f. Prepare his bath. If he goes to the sauna, go with him and
attend to his needs.
g. Study the Dhamma and Vinaya from him when he is prepared to
teach. (The Mahavagga describes this as "recitation" and
"interrogation." Recitation, according to the Commentary,
means learning to memorize passages; interrogation, learning to
investigate their meaning.)
h. Clean his dwelling and other parts of his dwelling complex, such
as the restroom and storage rooms, when they get dirty.
2. Assisting the mentor in any problems he may have with regard to
the Dhamma and Vinaya. The Mahavagga lists the following examples:
a. If the preceptor begins to feel dissatisfaction with the
celibate life, the pupil should try to allay that dissatisfaction or
find someone else who can. b. If the preceptor begins to feel anxiety
over his conduct with regard to the rules, the pupil should try to
allay that anxiety, or find someone else who can.
c. If the preceptor begins to hold to wrong views, the pupil should
try to dissuade him from those views or find someone else who can.
d. If the preceptor has committed a sanghadisesa offense, the pupil
should to the best of his ability help with the arrangements
for penance, probation, and rehabilitation, or find someone else who
e. If the Community is going to carry out a formal act against the
mentor, the pupil should try to dissuade them from it. According to
the Commentary, this means that he should go to the various members of
the Community individually before the meeting and try to dissuade them
from going through with the act. If he can't dissuade them, he should
try to get them to lessen its severity (say, from an act of banishment
to an act of censure). If they are justified in carrying out the act,
though, he should not object while the meeting is in progress. Once
they have carried out the act, he should concentrate on helping his
mentor behave so that they will rescind the act as quickly as
3. Washing, making, and dyeing the mentor's robes.
4. Showing loyalty and respect for the mentor.
a. The pupil should neither give or receive gifts, nor give or
receive services to/from others without first obtaining the mentor's
permission. According to the Commentary, others here refers to people
who are on bad terms with the mentor. b. The pupil should obtain his
mentor's permission before entering a village, going to a cemetery (to
meditate, says, the Commentary), or leaving the district in which they
live. The Commentary notes, though, that if the mentor refuses one's
request the first time, one should ask up to two more times,
presenting one's reasons as best one can. If the mentor still refuses,
the pupil should reflect on his situation. If staying with the mentor
is not helping his education and meditation, and if the mentor seems
to want him to stay simply to have someone to look after his (the
mentor's) needs, the pupil is justified in leaving and taking
dependence with a new mentor in his new residence.
5. Caring for the mentor when he falls ill, not leaving him until
he either recovers or passes away (Mv.I.25).
According to the Commentary, a pupil is freed from these duties
when he is ill. Otherwise, he should observe all the above duties to
his preceptor as long as he is in dependence on him, and the duties in
sections 1-3 even after he is released from dependence, as long as
both he and the preceptor are alive and still ordained.
As for the duties to one's teacher, the Commentary lists four types
of teachers: the going-forth teacher (the one who gives one the ten
precepts during one's ordination ceremony); the acceptance teacher
(the one who chants the motion and announcements during the ceremony);
the Dhamma teacher (the one who teaches one the Pali language and
Canon); and the dependence teacher (the one with whom one lives in
dependence). With the dependence teacher, one must observe all the
above duties only as long as one is living in dependence on him. As
for the other three, one should observe sections 1-3 as long as both
parties are alive and still ordained.
The Commentary adds that if the mentor already has a pupil who is
performing these duties for him, he may inform his remaining pupils
that they need not take them on. This exempts them from having to
observe them. If he neglects to do this, the pupil who is performing
the duties may inform his fellows that he will take responsibility for
looking after the mentor. This also exempts them. Otherwise, they
incur a dukkata for every duty they neglect to perform.
The mentor's duties to his pupil:
1. Furthering the pupil's education, teaching him the Dhamma and
Vinaya through recitation, interrogation, exhortation, and
instruction. 2. Providing requisites for the pupil. If the pupil lacks
any of his basic requisites, and the mentor has any to spare, he
should make up the lack.
3. Attending to the pupil's personal needs when he is ill,
performing the services mentioned in section 1 under the pupil's
duties to his mentor.
4. Assisting the pupil in any problems he may have with regard to
the Dhamma and Vinaya, performing the services mentioned in section 2
under the pupil's duties to his mentor.
5. Teaching the pupil how to wash, make, and dye robes. If for some
reason the pupil is unable to handle these skills, the mentor should
find someone who can help the pupil with them.
6. Caring for the pupil when he falls ill, not leaving him until he
either recovers or passes away (Mv.I.26).
According to the Commentary, the preceptor, going-forth teacher,
and acceptance teacher must observe these duties toward the pupil as
long as both parties are alive and still ordained. As for the Dhamma
and dependence teachers, they must observe these duties only as long
as the pupil is living with them.
If the pupil does not observe his duties to his mentor, the mentor
is empowered to dismiss him. In fact, if the pupil deserves dismissal,
the mentor incurs a dukkata if for some reason he does not dismiss
him, just as he would for dismissing a pupil who did not deserve it
(MV.I.27.5-8). The grounds for dismissal are five:
1. The pupil has no affection for his mentor i.e., he shows him
no kindness. 2. He has no faith in his mentor i.e., he does not
regard him as an example to follow.
3. He has no shame in front of his mentor i.e., he openly
disregards the training rules in his mentor's presence.
4. He has no respect for his mentor i.e., he does not listen to
what the mentor has to say, and openly disobeys him.
5. He is not developing under his mentor the Commentary
translates developing here as developing a sense of good will for his
mentor, but it could also mean developing in his general education and
practice of the Dhamma and Vinaya.
The Vinaya Mukha notes that the mentor should reflect on his own
conduct before dismissing such a pupil. If he has done anything that
would give the pupil valid reason for losing affection, etc., he
should first correct his own conduct. Only after reflecting that there
is no longer anything in his own conduct that would give the pupil
valid reason to disregard him should he go ahead with the dismissal.
The Mahavagga mentions each of the following statements as a valid
means of dismissal: "I dismiss you." "Don't come back
here." "Take away your robes and bowl." "Don't
attend to me." It also states that if the mentor makes any of
these meanings known by gesture e.g., he evicts the pupil from his
quarters and throws his robes and bowl out after him that also
counts as a valid means of dismissal (Mv.I.27.2). The Commentary adds
that any statement conveying the same basic meaning as those above
would count as well.
Once a pupil has been dismissed, it is his duty to apologize. If he
doesn't, he incurs a dukkata (Mv.I.27.3). Once the pupil has
apologized, the mentor's duty is to forgive him (Mv.I.27.4). If,
however, he sees that the pupil is still unconscientious, he should
not take him back, for a mentor who takes on an unconscientious pupil
incurs a dukkata (Mv.I.72.1.). Thus the mentor may, if he sees fit,
inflict a non-physical punishment on the pupil before taking him back
on the original footing, to make sure that he has actually seen the
error of his ways. An example of such punishment, mentioned in the
Vinaya Mukha, is simply asking to wait to observe the pupil's behavior
for a while to see whether or not his apology is sincere.
The Commentary recommends that if the mentor refuses to forgive the
pupil, the latter should try to get other bhikkhus in the monastery to
intercede for him. If that doesn't work, he should go stay in another
monastery and take dependence under a senior bhikkhu there who is on
friendly terms with the mentor, in hopes that the mentor will take
this as a sign of the pupil's good intentions and will eventually
grant his forgiveness.
Mv.I.36.1 says that if a pupil is staying in dependence with his
preceptor, the dependence lapses if:
1. He leaves. According to the Subcommentary, this means that the
preceptor goes to spend the night outside the monastery, regardless of
whether or not he plans to return. 2. He disrobes.
3. He dies.
4. He goes over to another side according to the Commentary,
this means that he joins another religion.
In all of the above cases, the commentaries interpret
"he" as referring to the preceptor, although it would seem
to refer to the pupil as well. This would fit with the passages from
the Mahavagga, to be mentioned below, that refer to a new bhikkhu on a
journey as not being in dependence. In such cases, the new bhikkhu is
most likely the one who has left the preceptor, and his leaving is
what has caused the dependence to lapse.
5. He gives a command. This is the one alternative where
"he" clearly refers only to the preceptor. The Commentary
interprets command here as dismissal, as discussed above, although the
Vinaya Mukha would also include cases where the preceptor sees that
the pupil qualifies to be released from dependence (see below) and
tells him so. In each of these cases, a pupil who is not yet released
from dependence must find someone else to take dependence under on
that very day, except in the following instances (taken from the
The preceptor leaves, saying that he will be away only for a
day or two, and that the pupil need not ask anyone else for dependence
in the meantime. If it so happens that the preceptor's return is
delayed, he should send word to his pupil, saying that he still
intends to come back. If, however, the pupil receives word from his
preceptor that the latter no longer intends to return, he should
immediately look for a teacher to take dependence under. The
preceptor leaves, and the only other senior bhikkhu in the monastery
is one whom the pupil does not know well. In this case, the pupil is
allowed four or five days to observe the senior bhikkhu's behavior (as
mentioned above) before requesting dependence from him. If, though,
the pupil already knows the senior bhikkhu well enough to feel
confident in his conduct, he should take dependence with him on the
day of his preceptor's departure.
If the pupil is staying in dependence on a teacher, the dependence
can lapse for any of six reasons. The first five are identical with
those above, although even the Commentary states that "he
leaves," the first reason, applies not only to cases where the
teacher leaves but also to cases where the pupil leaves. The sixth
6. The pupil rejoins his preceptor. The Commentary explains this by
saying that, in effect, the pupil's original dependence on his
preceptor always overrides his dependence on a teacher. If the pupil
happens to see his preceptor and recognize him, or to hear and
recognize his voice even if they just happen to pass on the street
his dependence on his teacher automatically lapses, and his
dependence on his preceptor is reinstated. If he then returns to live
with his teacher, he must ask for dependence from the teacher all over
again. The Vinaya Mukha objects to this judgment, saying that
"rejoins the preceptor" should refer to the pupil's actually
living with the preceptor, either in another monastery or in the same
monastery where the teacher lives. This, however, is an area where
different Communities differ in their interpretation, and the wise
policy is to follow the interpretation of the Community in which one
Temporary exemption from dependence
Normally a junior bhikkhu is required to live in dependence under a
mentor at all times. However, Mv.I.73 allows him not to take
dependence when living in the following situations if no qualified
bhikkhu is available as a mentor:
1) He is on a journey. 2) He is ill.
3) He is caring for an ill person who has requested his help (%).
4) He is living alone in the forest, meditating comfortably,
intending to take dependence if a qualified mentor comes along.
The Commentary, in discussing these allowances, makes the following
A bhikkhu on a journey is said to have no mentor available if no
qualified senior bhikkhu is traveling with him. In other words, the
fact that he happens to pass by a monastery with a qualified mentor
does not mean that a mentor is available, and he is allowed to
continue traveling without taking dependence. If, however, he spends
the night in a place where he has taken dependence before, he should
take dependence on the day of his arrival. If he reaches a place where
he has never been before and plans to spend only two or three days, he
need not take dependence; but if he plans to spend a week, he must. If
the senior bhikkhu he requests dependence from says, "What's the
use of taking dependence for only a week?" that exempts him from
As for the bhikkhu living alone in the forest, the Commentary says
that "meditating comfortably" means that his tranquillity
and insight meditation are going smoothly. For some reason, though, it
says that this allowance applies only to bhikkhus whose meditation is
at a tender stage and might deteriorate if they were to leave the
forest; if a bhikkhu has attained any of the Noble Attainments
beginning with stream-entry he may not make use of this allowance.
Why the Commentary limits the allowance in this way, it doesn't say.
At any rate, once the month before the Rains Retreat arrives, and
no suitable mentor appears, the junior bhikkhu must leave his forest
abode and look for a place where he can take dependence for the Rains.
Release from dependence
According to Mv.I.53.4, a bhikkhu may be released from dependence
after he has been ordained for five years, on the condition that he be
experienced and competent. If he is not yet experienced and competent,
he must remain under dependency until he is. If he never becomes
experienced and competent, he must remain in dependence for his entire
life as a bhikkhu. The Commentary adds that, in the last case, if he
cannot find a competent experienced bhikkhu who is senior to him, he
must take dependence with a competent, experienced bhikkhu who is his
To be considered competent and experienced enough to deserve
release from dependence, a bhikkhu must meet many of the same general
qualifications as those for a mentor, except that he need not possess
the competence to look after a pupil, and the minimum number of years
he needs as a bhikkhu is five. None of the texts divide the
qualifications here into ideal and minimal qualifications, as they do
for the mentor, but it seems reasonable that the same division would
apply here as well. This would give us the following list:
The ideal qualifications: The bhikkhu should have an arahant's
virtue, concentration, discernment, release, and knowledge of release.
He should have faith, a sense of shame, fear of evil, persistence in
the practice, and quick mindfulness. He should be free of heavy and
light offenses and possess right view.
The minimal qualifications: The bhikkhu must be learned and
intelligent, knowing both Patimokkhas in detail, understanding what is
and is not an offense, what is a light offense, what is a heavy
offense, and how an offense may be removed. And the most basic
requirement he must have been ordained as a bhikkhu for at least
five years (Mv.I.5-13).
The Commentary expands on the term learned here, saying that the
bhikkhu must have memorized:
1. Both Patimokkhas. 2. The Four Bhanavaras a set of auspicious
chants that are still regularly memorized in Sri Lanka.
3. A discourse that is helpful as a guide for sermon-giving. (The
Commentary lists as examples the Maha-Rahulovada Sutta [M. 62], the
Andhakavinda Sutta, and the Ambattha Sutta [D. 3].)
4. Three kinds of anumodana (rejoicing in the merit of others)
chants: for meals; for auspicious merit-making ceremonies, such as
blessing a house; and for non-auspicious ceremonies, i.e., any
relating to a death.
The Commentary adds that he must also know the rules for such
official acts of the Community as the Patimokkha recitation and the
Invitation Ceremony at the end of the Rains, and be acquainted with
themes for tranquillity and insight meditation leading to arahantship.
This definition of learned is not universally accepted, and some
traditions have reworked it. As this is another area where different
Communities have different interpretations, the wise policy is to
adhere to the practice followed in one's Community, as long as it
follows the basic requirements in the Canon, mentioned above.
Once a pupil has been released from dependence, he need no longer
perform the duties mentioned in sections 4 and 5 under the pupil's
duties to his mentor.
Return to dependence
The Cullavagga (I.9-12) states that a bhikkhu released from
dependence may be forced, by a formal act of the Community, to return
to dependence if his conduct is so bad as to warrant it. The
qualifying factors are:
1. He is ignorant and inexperienced. 2. He is full of offenses and
has not made amends for them.
3. He lives in unbecoming association with lay people.
If these factors apply to a bhikkhu to the extent that the
"fed up with granting him probation, sending him
back to the beginning, imposing penance, and rehabilitating him"
these terms refer to the procedures for dealing with a bhikkhu who
has committed repeated sanghadisesa offenses (see Chapter 5) then
the Community is justified in imposing a formal "act of
dependence" on him. This is identical with a formal "act for
further misbehavior," to be discussed in Chapter 11, and carries
the same penalties, the only difference being that the bhikkhu must
live in dependence under a mentor as long as the act of dependence is
in effect. If he mends his ways to the Community's satisfaction, they
may rescind the act and return his independence.
* * * At any rate, as we mentioned above, regardless of whether a
pupil is under dependence or released from it, he is still expected to
observe certain duties to his preceptor and his preceptor, certain
duties to him as long as both are alive and ordained. This is in
line with the fact that they are always to regard each other as father
and son: The preceptor is to take a continuing interest in his pupil's
welfare, and the pupil is to show his continuing gratitude for the
initiation his preceptor has given him into the bhikkhu's life.
© 1994 Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Reproduced and reformatted from
Access to Insight edition © 1994For free distribution. This
work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted, and
redistributed in any medium. It is the author's wish, however,
that any such republication and redistribution be made available
to the public on a free and unrestricted basis and that
translations and other derivative works be clearly marked as