Saṅghādisesa - Thanissaro claims the Commentary has it wrong

Saṅghādisesa | The Buddhist Monastic Code, Volumes I & II


The Vibhaṅga defines intentionally as “having willed, having made the decision knowingly and consciously.” The Commentary explains these terms as follows: Having willed means having willed, having planned, with the intention of enjoying bringing about an emission. Having made the decision means having summoned up a reckless mind state, “crushing” through the power of an attack. (These are the same terms it uses to explain the same phrase under Pr 3, Pc 61, and Pc 77. The meaning is that one is not simply toying with the idea. One has definitely made up one’s mind to overcome all hesitation by aggressively setting upon an action aimed at causing emission.) Knowingly means knowing that, “I am making an exertion”—which the Sub-commentary explains as knowing that, “I am making an exertion for the sake of an emission.” Consciously means being aware that one’s efforts are bringing about an emission of semen.

The Commentary’s definition of “having willed” is where it deviates from the Vibhaṅga’s discussion of the factor of intention. The Vibhaṅga, throughout its analysis, expresses this factor simply as “aiming at causing an emission,” and it lists ten possible motives for wanting to bring the emission about:

for the sake of health,

for the sake of pleasure,

for the sake of a medicine,

for the sake of a gift (to insects, says the Commentary, although producing semen as a gift to one’s partner in a tantric ritual would also come under this category),

for the sake of merit,

for the sake of a sacrifice,

for the sake of heaven,

for the sake of seed (to produce a child—a bhikkhu who gave semen to be used in artificial insemination would fit in this category),

for the sake of investigating (e.g., to diagnose one’s health), or

for the sake of playfulness or fun.

Each of these motives, the Vibhaṅga says, fulfills the factor of intention here. Thus for the Commentary to limit the question of “deliberate intention” strictly to the enjoyment of the act of bringing about an emission (numbers 2 and 10 in the Vibhaṅga’s list) has no basis in the Canon.

I am skeptical of Thanissaro’s interpretation of what the Commentary means by ‘enjoyment’ as to excluding most of the examples given in the Vibhanga. Obviously the Commentator would not dispute with the list in the Vibhanga.
Perhaps some of the pali scholars can comment.


Reading this, It seems that the problem lies in the fact that venerable Thanissaro thinks that you can emit semen without any lust, i.e. without lobhamula cittas, as if it is some rupa-only process. In fact, semen is cittaja (mind-born) rupa of lobhamula cittas (sensual lust), and a male cannot ejaculate without any previous lobhamula cittas. I.e., even if somebody decides to ejaculate "for the sake of [insert any line of the list of Vibhanga], the ejaculation itself will come only through [mental sexual] “enjoyment”, not otherwise. Abhidhamma would have helpled here, but alas. It should be mentioned, that, in general, the venerable, owing to the particular disbalance in Indriyas, clearly has inclination to cast a negative light on “non-EBT texts” (not a secret though), which results in various distortions in his translations of the atthakatha portions, mainly not in the field of bare meaning of words, but in the field of further interpretations of them (here he follows thai Vinaya-Mukkha, it seems). An notorious example from BMC - “sugata controversy”, of which he concludes that “The Commentary states that the Buddha’s cubit—the distance from his bent elbow to the tips of his fingers—was three times that of a normal man”, but the commentary itself only states that sugata span consist of “3 spans of majjhimapurisa”, which means the standart definition of span (the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger, which is, by the way, always contextual and depends on the hands of a concrete person measuring, as well as all such units) of vedic literature (vastu shastra?) ((this is what “of majjhimapurisa” really should mean here, i.e. “of accepted system of those times”)), but x3; he eventually decided to set up some fixed figures of always contextual units as “the sugata cubit = 50 cm …” and so on (I imagine, for example, arahant Bhaddiya with dwarfism utilizing a civara of such fixed measurements as ven. Thanissaro is giving; it’s a mere extrapolation of the western metric system). I.e. nothing in the Commentary is said about the concrete reason of why we get x3 multiplication, but it hardly has something to do with the size of the Buddha’s body, rather with something else, which is more “abstract”, and might not have been connected with the meaning of “sugata” as a Buddha’s epithet, but with more general sense of “standart measure”. I mean, really, why would Buddha set up strictly-fixed units based on his own body [!] amongst the culture which had only contextual units [!]. And, by the way, the bare measurements of the Commentary, if we mind the above considerations (especially that you have to measure with your own body), perfectly fit (in terms of suitability) any things to be measured by a bhikkhu. And so on. Eventually, we can conclude that even Vinaya is to be analysed with sound Abhidhamma knowledge, otherwise you can get some “surprises”, so to speak.


Yes exactly what I thought.
Thank you Venerable, and thank you for joining this forum.

Eventually, we can conclude that even Vinaya is to be analysed with sound Abhidhamma knowledge, otherwise you can get some “surprises”, so to speak.

:pray: :pray: :pray:
with respect

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Yes exactly what I thought

I mean, it looks like that (reading the text), that he thinks in such way, even if he doesn’t recognize it clearly as a separate idea of his. Perhaps I’m missing something of his position, but the bare statement itself is still odd, and it is worth noticing in any case.

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TO add more

Thanissaro decides that “having willed… enjoying” is materially different from “aiming at causing an emission”. I think he misunderstands this. Mental states arise very quickly and cetana is involved. The Commentary is not disagreeing with the Vibhanga - rather it is bringing attention to the (pleasant) feeling associated with lobha arising with any act of purposeful emission.

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Saṅghādisesa 2.
Ṭhānissaro’s explanation in the BMC:

These penalties for indirect contact have inspired the Commentary to say that if a bhikkhu makes contact with a clothed portion of a woman’s body or uses a clothed portion of his body to make contact with hers, and the cloth is so thick that neither his body hairs nor hers can penetrate it, the penalty is only a thullaccaya because he is not making direct contact. Only if the contact is skin-to-skin, skin-to-hair, or hair-to-hair (as might be possible through thin cloth) does he commit the full offense. Thus a bhikkhu who fondles the breasts, buttocks, or crotch of a fully clothed woman would incur only a thullaccaya because the contact was indirect.

There is a certain logic to the commentators’ assertion here, but why they adopted it is unclear. Perhaps they drew a parallel to the following rule—concerning lustful remarks made to a woman—which also contains derived offenses for remarks directed at items “connected with the body.” In that case, defining connected with the body to include clothing worn by the woman does no violence to the nature of the activity covered by the rule, for it is possible to make remarks about a woman’s clothing without using words that touch on her body at all.

Here, however, the nature of the activity is different. If one pushes a woman, it does not matter how many layers of cloth lie between her body and one’s hand: One is pushing both the cloth and her. If one squeezes her fully clothed breasts, again, one is squeezing both the cloth and the breasts. To say that one is pushing or squeezing only the cloth is a denial of the true nature of the action. Also, if one stroked a woman’s fully clothed thigh, it is unlikely that the strength of her reaction would depend on whether her body hairs penetrated the cloth, or if one was wearing latex gloves that prevented her hair from touching one’s skin. Common linguistic usage reflects these facts, as does the law.

The question is, does the Vibhaṅga follow this common linguistic usage, and the answer appears to be Yes. In none of the Vinīta-vatthu cases concerning physical contact with women does the Buddha ever ask the bhikkhu if he made contact with the clothed or unclothed portions of the woman’s body. This suggests that the question of whether she was clothed or unclothed is irrelevant to the offense. In one of the cases, “a certain bhikkhu, seeing a woman he encountered coming in the opposite direction, was impassioned and gave her a blow with his shoulder.” Now, bhikkhus sometimes have their shoulders bared and sometimes robed; women walking along a road may have different parts of their body clothed or bared. If the presence or absence of a layer or two of cloth between the bhikkhu’s shoulder and the woman’s body were relevant to the severity of the offense, then given the Buddha’s usual thoroughness in cases like this he would have asked about the amount, location, and thickness of clothing on both the bhikkhu and the woman, to determine if the offense was a dukkaṭa, a thullaccaya, or a saṅghādisesa. But he didn’t. He simply penalized the bhikkhu with a saṅghādisesa, which again suggests that the presence or absence of cloth between the bhikkhu and the woman is irrelevant in all cases under this rule.

The only cases of indirect contact mentioned in the Vinīta-vatthu refer to contact of a much more remote sort: A bhikkhu pulls a cord of which a woman is holding the other end, pulls a stick of which she is holding the other end, or gives her a playful push with his bowl.

Thus in the context of this rule the Vibhaṅga defines “object connected to the body,” through which indirect contact is made, with examples of things that the person is holding. The Vinaya-mukha adds things that are hanging from the person, like the hem of a robe or a dress. In this context, contact made through cloth that the person is wearing would be classed as direct. This would parallel Pr 1, in which the question of whether there is anything covering either of the organs involved in intercourse is completely irrelevant to the offense. Thus the concept of direct and indirect contact here would seem to follow general linguistic usage: If a woman is wearing a long-sleeved shirt, for instance, grabbing her by the arm and grabbing her by the cuff of her shirt are two different things, and would receive different penalties under this rule.

Thullacaya, grave offense, is the closest to Saṅghādisesa. It is no light offense although of course not as severe as the sanghadisesa.

As I read it in the Vibhaṅga (not the Commentary) it indicates that a lustful bhikkhu who mistakes a woman as a transexual - although she is a woman- could perform all sorts of touching while she is naked but only incures a thullacaya, not a sanghadisesa.The relevant pali is

Itthī ca hoti vematiko sāratto ca.
Bhikkhu ca naṁ itthiyā kāyena kāyaṁ āmasati parāmasati …pe…
gaṇhāti chupati, āpatti thullaccayassa

Thanissaro: The Vibhaṅga shows that misperception affects the severity of the offense only in the cases of women and paṇḍakas**. A bhikkhu who makes lustful bodily contact with a woman while under the impression that she is something else—a paṇḍaka, a man, or an animal—incurs a thullaccaya.** If he makes lustful bodily contact with a paṇḍaka while under the impression that the paṇḍaka is a woman, a man, or an animal, the penalty is a dukkaṭa. In the cases of men and animals, misperception has no effect on the severity of the case: Lustful bodily contact—e.g., with a male transvestite whom one thinks to be a woman—still results in a dukkaṭa.

We might wonder why the Buddha gave only a Thullacaya - why not a sanghadisesa- but of course we cannot fathom the depth of the Vinaya.

In a like vein I find Thanissaro’s speculations about the thinking of the Commentary unconvincing.
If the women is wearing thick covering and he touches her this does seem to be less lewd than if she was wearing sheer panties for example .

This requirement of needing skin to skin contact is definitely a lifesaver for going to the doctor’s or dentist’s office. The lady wears gloves and the monks do not have to worry. While this is my own perspective, and I could be wrong, I think that quite a number of those who actually do the penance and probation are those who get doubt during innocent things, such as waking up during or post nocturnal emissions, having a doctor, or dental hygienist touches you and perhaps lust arises at the same time. The gloves is a lifesaver.

I often try my hardest not to sit next to woman on a plane. So far, so good. It takes a lot of work to do that, and pre-planning. (best thing to do is go to the gate 3 hours ahead). In any case. Because monks are fully robed, that could also help prevent skin to skin contact if needed. While a grave offense is very strong, there is no real difference in what one does to get rid of the grave offence versus a slight (dukkaṭa) offence, like “making a joke”. Both are resolved with confession and that is where some who only look at that aspect might complain.

However, if a monk is fondling a woman intimately with clothes (and she is okay with that). That behavior will escalate quite quickly and eventually become a saṅghadisesa offence or even pārājika (defeat). The thullaccaya often mark cases where one is “merely one factor away” from a full heavy offence. It is very dangerous to break these rules because they can or will lead to pārājika.

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