No-offence clauses: the four 'terminal terms'


The no-offence clause says it is no offence for a monk to break each and every Patimokkha rule under the following four conditions: if done when mad, deranged, in severe pain, or if he is the first offender (ummattakassa, khittacittassa, vedanāṭṭassa, ādikammikassāti). I call these four terms the 'terminal terms' because they always lie at the end of the no-offence clause.

Origin of the terminal terms

The no-offence clause seems to be a summary of the illustrative stories, possibly written soon after the Parinibbana (see Appendix 27). However, the four terminal terms do not occur in the illustrative stories. Therefore, the terms must have another source, which may be as follows:

  • ummattakassa, khittacittassa, vedanāṭṭassa: either from the Mahavagga or Cullavagga or the word analysis to Parajika 1.
  • ādikammikassāti: source unknown.

Elision of the terminal terms

The terminal terms occur in each and every Patimokkha rule, though in most rules the sequence is elided to ummattakassa ādikammikassai. For notes on elision see Appendix 9.

Occurrence of the terminal terms in Vinaya

The term ādikammikassāti does not occur in Vinaya apart from the no-offence clauses. The other three terms occur elsewhere in Vinaya, often together as a triad, as follows:

  • making statements of disrobal: the word analysis to Parajika 1 says that statements of disrobal by a monk is invalid (apaccakkhātā hoti sikkhā) if the monk is insane (ummattakassa, khittacittassa) or in severe pain (vedanāṭṭassa), presumably because, when monks are insane or in severe pain, their statements are likely to be ill-considered and unreliable (Vin.3.27).
  • receiving statements of disrobal: the word analysis says that disrobal is invalid if announced to someone afflicted by these three states (ummattakassa... khittacittassa...  vedanaṭṭassa santike sikkhaṃ paccakkhāti, apaccakkhātā hoti sikkhā) presumably because such people cannot absorb the significance of the statements (Vin.3.27).
  • protesting Sanghakamma is not valid if done by monks in the three states (ummattakassa... khittacittassa...  vedanaṭṭassa bhikkhave saṅghamajjhe paṭikkosanā na rūhati) – presumably because in such states, their protests would not be reliable (Vin.1.321).
  • penalties for Sanghadisesa offences: all the following Sanghaadisesa procedures are invalid if a monk is afflicted by the three states: probation (parivāso), being sent back to the beginning (mūlāya paṭikassanā), accepting penanace (mānattadānaṃ), doing penance (mānattacariyā) (ummattakassa... khittacittassa...  vedanaṭṭassa bhikkhave mānattacariyā na rūhati... parivāso na rūhati). The probation and penance of monks afflicted with the three states can continue once they recover (Vin.2.60-1) - presumably because in such states, people would not properly engage with the procedures. It would be foolish to proceed with the penalties.
  • conveying messages to the Sangha: a monk in any of these three states cannot act as a conveyor of a monk’s statement of purity (parisuddhīhārako) or as a conveyor of consent (chandahārako) or pavarana (pavāraṇāhārako) (Vin.1.121; Vin.1.161) – presumably because in such states they are not reliable messengers. And it would be irresponsible to ask them.

Meaning of the four terms

Ummattaka: mental disturbance, forgetfulness, personality disorder, dementia

Ummattaka sometimes means a mental disturbance, in which, when one’s dear relatives die, one wanders the streets asking people: “Have you seen my relative? Have you seen my relative?” (M.2.108).

Sometimes it means either forgetfulness – in which a ‘madman’ (ummattakā) keeps forgetting to come for Sangha meetings – or it means a kind of personality disorder in which, even though one remembers when the meetings are, one nonetheless misses them. In these two cases the Sangha can pass a motion, that whether or not these two madmen come to Sangha meetings, any business the Sangha perform is legitimate (Vin.1.123) – because usually Sangha business is not legitimate if performed in an incomplete assembly.

Sometimes ummattaka means dementia in which one commits serious offences which one cannot remember committing (asaramāno), or one remembers as if it were a dream (yathāsupinantenāti). In such cases, one can be acquitted of the offences under Sattādhikaraṇasamathā Dhammā 3 which says “If a monk is mad, out of his mind (ummattako hoti cittavipariyāsakato) and says and does much that is unworthy of a recluse..., if the Sangha gives him an acquittal due to past insanity, the verdict is legitimate (dhammikaṃ amūḷhavinayassa dānaṃ)”.

Khittacitta: mental disturbance, bewilderment, distraction

At M.2.108, mentioned above, khittacitta is a synonym of ummattaka, where one wanders the street asking after one's relatives. The word was used similarly by the nun Vasitthi who experienced khittacitta when her baby died. (Thi p136). For three years she wandered the streets, naked, starving and thirsty, mentally disturbed and with distorted perceptions (khittacittā visaññinī), mourning her child.

Khittacitta is sometimes the average man’s consciousness, the consciousness of those people who see permanence in impermanence, happiness in suffering, and Self in not-Self (anicce niccasaññino dukkhe ca sukhasaññino, anattani ca attāti asubhe subhasaññino; micchādiṭṭhigatā sattā khittacittā visaññino) (A.2.52).

Sometimes, khittacitta means the mental distraction with which one might listen to a Dhamma talk (vikkhittacitto dhammaṃ suṇāti anekaggacitto) and which prevents one entering the right way (niyāmaṃ) (A.3.174).

Given that a monk cannot disrobe in the presence of someone who has khittacitta, nor can one with khittacitta disrobe, it is rather worrying to see how broad the definition of khittacitta can be. According to some of these definitions, the only person who could properly disrobe would be an arahant disrobing with an arahant. The reasonable solution to this, in the context of disrobing, is to take khittacitta to mean the mental disturbance for which one would be acquitted of offences against Vinaya - offences which one cannot remember committing, or one remembers as if it were a dream. If one took it to mean lower levels of derangement, the Sangha would have to give a personality test to disrobing monks, and another one to their witnesses.

Vedanaṭṭa: mortal pain

Although vedana usually means ‘feeling’, where it means ‘pain’, it implies severe illness and even death. For instance, during his last rains, the Buddha was attacked by a severe sickness with sharp pains, as if he were about to die: atha kho bhagavato vassūpagatassa kharo ābādho uppajji; bāḷhā vedanā vattanti māraṇantikā (D.2.99; D.2.127). Similarly, the king of Kuru had an illness, such that his relatives thought he might die (kālaṃ karissati). He admitted to Venerable Ratthapala that he was unable to share these painful feelings (imaṃ vedanaṃ) with other people, so as to make them easier for himself to bear (M.2.70).

Ādikammika: rule-initiator

The term ādikammikassā is usually translated as “if he is the first offender” – for whom, in most rules, there is said to be “no offence” (anāpatti). The term ādikammika occurs nowhere in the scriptures but the no-offence clauses. Nowhere in the scriptures is the Buddha himself quoted as saying there is no offence for first offender. This is hardly surprising: the phrase is a misnomer.

If a rule does not exist, to say that a certain act is no offence against that rule is a statement of the obvious. Therefore it is foolish to call the rule-initiator’s act 'no-offence' against the rule. Even the term ‘first offender’ is misleading, because it implies that someone is the first offender against an existing rule. The term ‘rule-initiator’ seems better, because it means someone whose act initiates the rule.

The usefulness of the four terms

Ummattaka: mental disturbance, forgetfulness, personality disorder, dementia

The no-offence clauses say that any conduct done by a monk who is mad is no offence. In fact, acquittal of offences by the insane is not the province of the no-offence clause, but of Sattādhikaraṇasamathā Dhammā Three. This Sattādhikaraṇasamathā Dhammā Three does not call offences committed by the insane 'no offence'. It says that offences done when insane can be acquitted in a formal Sangha procedure. Obviously, not all procedures necessarily lead to acquittal of offences. The only offences that can be acquitted are those of which one has no recollection of doing:

"If a monk is mad, out of his mind (ummattako hoti cittavipariyāsakato), and says and does much that is unworthy of a recluse. If he is accused of the offences, and not remembering them, he says:

  • I do not remember falling into an offence like this.
  • I remember it as if it were a dream.
  • I act thus, so do you. This is allowable for me, and it is allowable for you too.

If the Sangha gives him an acquittal due to past insanity, the verdict is legitimate" (dhammikaṃ amūḷhavinayassa dānaṃ). Otherwise it is not legitimate.

Khittacitta: mental disturbance, bewilderment, distraction

There seems no reason why a second term for mental illness was included in the no-offence clause - except that this is a habit of the Pali language. This habit repeats itself in the Sattādhikaraṇasamathā Dhamma 3, which allows the acquittal of a monk who is "mad, out of his mind" (ummattako hoti cittavipariyāsakato).

For someone with any kind of mental disturbance to be acquitted of offences, either khittacitta or ummattaka, they would have to go through the procedure of Sattādhikaraṇasamathā Dhammā 3. But because khittacitta seems to sometimes imply forms of mental illness that are milder than ummattaka, it might not always warrant aquittal.

Vedanaṭṭa: mortal pain

Although the term vedanāṭṭassa is not foreign to Vinaya - see list of usages above - its usage as a basis of no-offence is somewhat original. It is perhaps included here because severe pain may lead to irrational behaviour. But offences committed by those in mortal pain would surely be dealt with as a type of madness under the Sattādhikaraṇasamathā Dhammā.

Ādikammika: rule-initiator

The term ādikammikassā implies that once a rule has been established, it is not back-dated. Therefore, the rule-initiator is not obliged to confess previous conduct under subsequent rules. The only case of back-dating of offences in Vinaya occurred at the First Council, where the monks created three new dukkata offences, and then asked Venerable Ananda to confess to having previously infringed them.

But the no offence clause, in calling a rule-initiator’s act “no offence” implies that there is no penalty for rule-initiators. However, this is never the case. At the very least, offenders were scolded by the Buddha, often severely, in front of the Sangha. For example, to Venerable Sudinna, the first offender for sexual intercourse, the Buddha said “It were better for you, foolish man, that your penis entered the mouth of a deadly poisonous snake than it entered a woman” (Vin.3.21). It is hard to equate this with ‘no offence’.

It is true, however, that some rule-initiators receive reduced penalties – especially with parajika offences. For instance, the nun Thullananda was not expelled as the first wrong-doer of the parajika offence of not informing on a nun who is parajika. Although she received a scolding from the Buddha (Vin.4.216) she was able to continue as the first-offender in other cases, until she disrobed on her her own accord (S.2.222).

Some rule-initiators receive more severe penalties than subsequent offenders. For instance, when Venerable Dhaniya built a hut of pure mud, the Buddha, having ordered that it be destroyed, then established the rule that building a hut of pure mud is a dukkata offence (Vin.3.42). Therefore, because his conduct preceded the rule, it would not be a dukkata offence for Venerable Dhaniyo to have built the hut. But one could not call his conduct no offence either, because of the serious penalties involved: the Buddha's criticism, and the loss of the hut.

Similarly, when Venerable Upananda reserved two lodgings for the rains residence period, the Buddha said he had thereby forfeited both lodgings: “Thus are you, foolish man, excluded from both”. Then he established the rule: “If a monk reserves two lodgings, it is a dukkata offence” (Vin.2.168). So, again, the rule-initiator received a worse penalty; subsequent offenders would probably not be obliged to give up both lodgings. Neither would they have the Buddha calling them 'foolish'. But, unlike the rule-initiator, they would have to confess a dukkata offence.

There are cases where serious offenders are expelled immediately; for example, Mettiya the nun (Vin.2.79) and the monk expelled by Venerable Mahamoggallana (Vin.2.237). But, by the principles established here, it would seem that these offences occurred after rules had been established. They were rule-breakers, not rule-initiators.     |     © 2008, Bhante Varado     |     Install the Gentium font