The Buddhas’ Disciplinary Advice

Translator’s Note: This is the short advice taught by the Buddhas who do not teach the full Disciplinary Code (Pātimokkha). It is said that when only this advice is given the Dispensation (Sāsana) does not last long, but as a rule of thumb it is nevertheless hard to beat.

This extract comes from the Mahāpadānasutta (The Discourse on the Great Instruction) in the Dīghanikāya, which was related by our Buddha Gotama (who did teach the full Discipline) to the monks:

…atha kho, bhikkhave, Vipassī Bhagavā Arahaṁ Sammāsambuddho,
…then at that time, monks, the Gracious One Vipassī, the Worthy One the Perfect Sambuddha,

sāyanhasamayaṁ paṭisallānā vuṭṭhito bhikkhū āmantesi:
having risen from seclusion in the evening time, addressed the monks (saying):

“Anujānāmi, bhikkhave, caratha cārikaṁ
“I allow you, monks, to go on a walk

bahujanahitāya bahujanasukhāya,
for the benefit of many people, for the happiness of many people,

lokānukampāya atthāya hitāya sukhāya devamanussānaṁ.
out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, benefit, and happiness of gods and men.

Mā ekena dve agamittha, desetha, bhikkhave, Dhammaṁ
Do not let two go by one (way), teach the Dhamma, monks,

ādikalyāṇaṁ majjhekalyāṇaṁ pariyosānakalyāṇaṁ, sātthaṁ sabyañjanaṁ
(which is) good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end, with its meaning, with its (proper) phrasing;

kevalaparipuṇṇaṁ parisuddhaṁ brahmacariyaṁ pakāsetha,
explain the spiritual life which is complete, full and pure,

santi sattā apparajakkhajātikā assavanatā Dhammassa parihāyanti,
there are beings with little dust on the eyes who are perishing through not hearing the Dhamma,

bhavissanti Dhammassa aññātāro.
there will be those who will understand the Dhamma.

Api ca, bhikkhave, channaṁ vassānaṁ accayena
Then, monks at the end of six years

Bandhumatī Rājadhānī upasaṅkamitabbā Pātimokkhuddesāyā” ti.
go to the Royal City of Bandhumatī for the recital of the Discipline.”

Atha kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhū yebhuyyena
Then, monks, nearly all the monks

ekāheneva janapadacārikaṁ pakkamiṁsu.
departed one by one and walked in the country (teaching).

Tena kho pana samayena Jambudīpe caturāsīti āvāsasahassāni honti.
Then at that time in the Rose-Apple Island (India) there were eighty-four thousand monasteries.

Ekamhi hi vasse nikkhante devatā saddam-anussāvesuṁ:
When one year had passed the gods let loose a cry:

‘Nikkhantaṁ kho, Mārisā, ekaṁ vassaṁ, pañca dāni vassāni sesāni,
‘One year has passed, dear Sirs, there are now (only) five years remaining,

pañcannaṁ vassānaṁ accayena
at the end of five years

Bandhumatī Rājadhānī upasaṅkamitabbā Pātimokkhuddesāyā.’ ti
go to the Royal City of Bandhumatī for the recital of the Discipline.’

Dvīsu vassesu nikkhantesu…
When two years had passed…

Tīsu vassesu nikkhantesu…
When three years had passed…

Catūsu vassesu nikkhantesu…
When four years had passed…

Pañcasu vassesu nikkhantesu devatā saddamanussāvesuṁ:
When five years had passed the gods let loose a cry:

‘Nikkhantāni kho, mārisā, pañcavassāni, ekaṁ dāni vassaṁ sesaṁ,
‘Five years have passed, dear Sirs, there is now (only) one year remaining,

ekassa vassassa accayena
at the end of one year

Bandhumatī Rājadhānī upasaṅkamitabbā Pātimokkhuddesāyā.’ ti
go to the Royal City of Bandhumatī for the recital of the Discipline.’

Chasu vassesu nikkhantesu devatā saddamanussāvesuṁ:
When six years had passed the gods let loose a cry:

‘Nikkhantāni kho, mārisā, chabbassāni, samayo dāni,
‘Six years have passed, dear Sirs, now is the time,

Bandhumatī Rājadhānī upasaṅkamitabbā Pātimokkhuddesāyā.’ ti
go to the Royal City of Bandhumatī for the recital of the Discipline.’

Atha kho te, bhikkhave, bhikkhū appekacce sakena iddhānubhāvena,
Then, monks, some monks through their own spiritual power,

appekacce devatānaṁ iddhānubhāvena,
some through the spiritual power of the gods,

ekāheneva Bandhumatiṁ Rājadhāniṁ upasaṅkamiṁsu pātimokkhuddesāyā.” ti
one by one went to the Royal City of Bandhumatī for the recital of the Discipline.”

“Tatra sudaṁ, bhikkhave, Vipassī Bhagavā Arahaṁ Sammāsambuddho
“Right there, monks, the Gracious One Vipassī, the Worthy One the Perfect Sambuddha,

Bhikkhusaṅghe evaṁ Pātimokkhaṁ uddisati:
in the midst of the Community of monks recited the Discipline thus:

‘Khantī paramaṁ tapo titikkhā, Nibbānaṁ paramaṁ vadanti Buddhā.
‘Forbearing patience is the supreme austerity, Nibbāna is supreme say the Buddhas.

Na hi pabbajito parūpaghāti, samaṇo hoti paraṁ viheṭhayanto.
One gone forth does not hurt another, (nor does) an ascetic harass another.

Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṁ, kusalassa upasampadā,
Not doing any bad deeds, undertaking wholesome (deeds),

Sacittapariyodapanaṁ – etaṁ Buddhāna’ sāsanaṁ.
And purifying one’s mind – this is the teaching of the Buddhas.

Anūpavādo anūpaghāto, Pātimokkhe ca saṁvaro.
Not finding fault, not hurting, restraint in regard to the Discipline,

Mattaññutā ca bhattasmiṁ, pantañ-ca sayanāsanaṁ.
Knowing the correct measure in food, (living in) a remote dwelling place,

Adhicitte ca āyogo – etaṁ Buddhāna’ sāsanan.’-ti
Being devoted to meditation – this is the teaching of the Buddhas.’


Disciplinary Advice


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5 comments to The Buddhas’ Disciplinary Advice

  • A short question and a long complaint:

    1. What do you think the Buddha meant by “Mā ekena dve agamittha”?

    2. As a translation of brahmacariyaṁ, “the spiritual life” offends me. Like an elephant hitting himself with dust, I continue to hate it.

    The universal precept of the seven buddhas, as transmitted from India through China to Japan, is as follows:

    Not doing any bad deeds

    Carrying out masses of good

    Purifying one’s own mind:

    This is the teaching of the buddhas.

    Why should this work be called “spiritual”?

    Is the not-doing of wrong a spiritual problem? Or is it a real problem?

    Isn’t it as real as fences, walls, tiles and pebbles?

    To translate brahmacariyaṁ as “the spiritual life,” in my book, is off the middle way. I see a fault in that translation.

    If we can agree that purifying one’s own mind means using the wisdom of the four noble truths to free the mind from polluting influences like greed, hatred and ignorance, what kind of problem is that? A spiritual one? Or a real one?

    All the best,


  • Anandajoti

    Dear Mike, always good to be questioned and complained to by your good self.

    As to the question, I translate it above as: “Do not let two go by one (way)”, which is in line with the commentary, with paraphrases: ekena maggena dve mā agamittha. This has always seemed odd to me, why would the Buddha send them out by different roads?

    We could say that he was concerned with the spread of the teachings, and there were very few monks at that time, so if they went in different directions more people can benefit, but I find this somehow unconvincing.

    But there are many problems with the memories of the early period. For instance at the same time the monks go out, the Buddha, by himself apparently, returns to the area of Gayā, and virtually no one from that first Rains retreat is ever mentioned again in the discourses. Strange, no?

    * * *

    In the early texts a broad distinction is drawn between householders who are mainly concerned with material rewards, and monastics are supposed to have put material comfort aside and be orientated towards more ultimate goals.

    Of course monastics do have to do deal with the material realities of life, but they do so with a different mind-set, seeing not the comfort, but the Dharma in them. It is this that I indicate by translating brahmacariya as “the spiritual life”.

    I do not accept therefore that this orientation somehow precludes being concerned with everyday life, and I do not see the dichotomy between the “spiritual” and the “real” that you apparently see, which is possibly why I am comfortable with the translation and you are not.

  • I think part of the reason for my discomfort with the translation “the spiritual life,” is the difficulty of finding a better translation — one that would ideally convey some sense of abstinence, and at the same time some sense of the original meaning of the root √bṛh, to be thick, to grow great or strong, to develop.

    Working with children with developmental problems, as manifested in the symptoms of dyslexia and dyspraxia, I am keenly aware that the root causes of those problems are not spiritual — though deluded religiosos through the ages have been known to see left-handedness as diabolical, and other such nonsense. What helps children with those problems is not belief or prayer or other spiritual activities; what helps those children is movement, preferably slow, mindful movement recapitulating the kind of movements that babies experience, in the womb and on their tummies.

    I don’t see anything called spirit. No dichotomy. Just nothing called spirit. That reality is not sacred or spiritual, but rather just blindingly bleeding obvious, was the fundametnal teaching of Bodhidharma who transmitted the buddha-dharma from India into China.

    But to the extent that “spiritual” means concerned with higher things, and looking at how the Sanskrit word brahmacarya is defined in the dictionary, I have to admit that “the spiritual life” is a translation that is hard to beat. But that doesn’t stop me hating it and wanting to beat it. I dare say that if you can’t see anything wrong with “the spiritual life” as a translation, that you can’t see how it might create a misleading impression of what the Buddha’s teaching is really all about, then you might be at fault! So there!

    Reading your explanation of mā ekena dve agamittha, it occurs to me that the Buddha might have been affirming the autonomy of each individual monk. I have been struggling for months with how to translate the title of the final canto of Saundara-nanda, which is ājñā-vyākaraṇaḥ (EHJ: “The Declaration of Insight”). ājñā is given in the dictionary as “order, command, authority, unlimited power, but EHJ argues that, coming as it does from the root jñā, to know or apprehend, ājñā expresses the special knowledge of one who attained salvation. As I say I was thrown for several months by EHJ’s explanation. But when I went back to the dictionary and thought about the actual content of Nanda’s story and its conclusion, it struck me forcibly that the Buddha was affirming Nanda’s full autonomy. The Buddha confirms to Nanda that Nanda has done what was for him to do and there is nothing for him to do, except to roam freely and talk the talk of liberation as he sees fit, with full individual autonomy. Don’t know if you think this is on the right track?

    In any case it is always a pleasure to disagree with you!

    All the best,


  • Anandajoti

    Dear Mike, thanks for your replections and sharing. In certain contexts I translate brahmacariya as the celibate life, when we are clearly referring to monastics, but there are other contexts where we have a broader sense to the term as obviously monastics may not be orientated towards ultimate ends and lay people may be (this is clear even in the early discourses). I think where we differ is not on substance but only on terminology: for you talking about the spiritual life brings in a dualism it fails to do for me. Another and completely valid translation might be ‘the hgher life’, if that avoids the dichotomy.

    In Monier Williams there are two concise entries for ājñā:

    ājñā — ā-jñā, 1 -jānāti (Impv. 2. pl. -jānīta; perf. -jajñau; p. jānát) to mind, perceive, notice, understand RV. i, 94, 8; 156, 3 ŚBr. TāṇḍyaBr.; (cf. án-ājānat): Caus. -jñāpayati, -te (Inf. -jñaptum R. iv, 40, 8) to order, command, direct MBh. &c.; to assure R. vi, 103, 10. [133,2]

    ājñā — ā-jñā, 2 f. order, command Mn. x, 56 MBh. &c.; authority, unlimited power Bālar.; Name of the tenth lunar mansion VarB.; permission (neg. anājñayā instr. ind. without permission of (gen.) Mn. ix, 199).

    What we are dealing with in the final canto is the first, usually translated as something like final or deep knowledge (liberating knowledge, or knowledge of liberation). However once liberated one is indeed autonomous: “Then the venerable Aññā Koṇḍañña, having seen the Dhamma, attained the Dhamma, understood the Dhamma, penetrated the Dhamma, crossed over uncertainty, being without doubts, having attained full confidence, having become independent of others in the Teacher’s teaching…” so it may be that the Buddha had both in mind when using that particular form of the word.

  • Dear Ānandajoti,

    On reflection, my original question and complaint seem related — the desirability of more than one valid translation of brahmacariya might be exactly within the spirit of the Buddha’s Mā ekena dve agamittha.

    I did not know that the Buddha specifically chose the word ājñā for “final knowledge” — which goes to show how much more there is for me to find out about what lay behind Aśvaghoṣa’s writing. With regard to the ambiguity of ājñā, I opted for and attached to the meaning that suited my own view — ever the temptation for the lazy and unwary translator!

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