The Compilation of the Pali Vinaya

Avanti and Venerable Mahakaccana

In the Buddha’s day, Ujjeni was the capital of Avanti, and was also where Venerable Mahakaccana was born and raised (Dictionary of Pali Proper Names: DPPN). As a monk, Mahakaccana lived for many years beside a mountain precipice near the town of Osprey’s Haunt in Southern Avanti (kuraraghare papāte pabbate) and at other places, too, like Madhura.

Mahakaccana has been ascribed the authorship of the verses on Pali grammar called the Kaccayana Vyakarana (DPPN). However, this grammar was probably compiled by a school of monks which later traced its descent to him (DPPN). It is unlikely that this school arose in his lifetime, because the Buddha tells us that “the southern region of Avanti is short of monks” (Vin.1.197). It was, indeed, so short of monks, that gathering just ten monks for an ordination ceremony took Mahakaccana three years (Vin.1.195). So it is unlikely that during his lifetime there was any centre of scholarship near Ujjeni.

Vesali and Soreyya: centres of Buddhism

Both in the Buddha's lifetime and afterwards, it seems more likely that the suttas and Vinaya were preserved in other centres, in particular Vesali, because Venerable Sabbakamin, the oldest and most venerated monk on earth was living there at the time of the Second Council, where seven hundred monks gathered in B.E. 101 (for chart of dates see Appendix 6). Soreyya, near Madhura, may also have been important, because that was where Venerable Revata lived. He was not only an arahant, but was also accomplished in Vinaya. Both parties in the dispute of the Second Council sought his support, so he may have been the foremost Vinaya expert in India at that time.

Evacuating Vesali

By the time of the Second Council, however, Vesali had become embroiled in corruption. Monks there were promulgating ten points of wrong Vinaya, including the use of money (Vin.2.294). Avanti, however, was strongly associated with arahants, because we hear of an assembly of eighty-eight arahants from southern Avanti meeting with sixty arahants from Pava, near Kusinara (Vin.2.299). These two groups defeated the corrupt monks of Vesali, but the danger facing the Buddhist religion would have been suddenly obvious to all. Such an important event would possibly have acted as a trigger, inciting well-behaved monks living in Vesali (for instance the disciples of Venerable Sabbakamin) to take on the duty of preserving the scriptures, but not in Vesali. The obvious choices would have been either Pava or Avanti or Madhura. In due course, this movement would be part of the geographical separation of the money-carrying Mahasanghikas from the Sthaviras: Mahasanghika generally to the East (towards Pataliputra, where the Third Council would later purged the Sangha of undesireable monks) and Sthavira to the West (towards Madhura) (says Roth: Bhiksuni Vinaya: manual of discipline for Buddhist nuns, pix-x, Gustav Roth, 1970).

Venerable Mahinda and the Dakkhinagiri Vihara

Near Ujjeni, the capital of Avanti, was Vidisha, the village where Venerable Mahinda was born, approximately 100 years after the Second Council. It was at the Dakkhinagiri Vihara in Ujjeni that Mahinda stayed in the six months before his journey to Sri Lanka in B.E.236 (DPPN). If Dakkhinagiri Vihara was founded at the time of the Second Council by monks from Vesali, it would have been 136 years old when Mahinda visited.

From the same Dakkhinagiri Vihara, in the reign of Sri Lanka’s King Dutthagamani (101-77 B.C./ B.E.388-412), forty thousand monks were present at the foundation of the Maha Thupa in Anuradhapura (DPPN).


It is plausible, then, that Venerable Mahakaccana was the figurehead of the Dakkhinagiri Vihara, a huge centre of Pali studies following the Second Council, and the source of the Kaccayana Vyakarana. Perhaps the growth of the Dakkhinagiri Vihara happened suddenly when many monks arrived from Vesali. Because of their large numbers, it would have been possible for them to not only preserve a canon, by oral tradition, but to unify it into the dialect of Pali, of which they were the masters.

The same Dakkhinagiri monks, living as a large, united community, would have gathered commentarial supplements to the sacred texts, including the rule elaborations and cycle of permutations of the Vinaya texts. Some of these commentarial additions would have been brought from Vesali. Whether the monks of the Dakkhinagiri Vihara added to this commentarial literature is hard to say, but they certainly had all the necessary conditions.

Whoever composed the cycle of permutations, it was certainly complete by the time of the schism of BE 149 - nearly 50 years after the Second Council (see Appendix 6). We know this, because the Vinayas of both schools that arose from the schism include stories, rule elaborations, cycle of permutations and no-offence clauses (see Appendix 14).

The monks of Dakkhinagiri may also have been responsible, or partly responsible, for compiling the Pali Abhidhamma, which first appeared in B.E.114, 14 years after the Second Council, and which continued to appear until it was completed, in roughly the year that Mahinda left for Sri Lanka. Dakkhinagiri would have been the right time, the right place, the right language and would have provided all the right conditions - a new monastery full of the enthusiastic monks from Vesali, far from the escalating troubles of Pataliputra.

Because Venerable Mahinda associated himself with the Dakkhinagiri Vihara, it would be their scriptures, commentarial literature, and Abhidhamma that were taken to Sri Lanka. These would become the Pali scriptures we know today.     |     © 2008, Bhante Varado     |     Install the Gentium font