9 years, 4 months ago

The Group of Six

According to Buddhist tradition, there was a group of six monks who constantly behaved in ways that exasperated the Buddha, causing him to produce a series of monastic rules to regulate their conduct.

    “Six bhikkhus wearing wooden sandals, and each holding a staff with both hands, were walking to and fro on a big stone slab, making much noise. The Buddha hearing the noises asked Thera Ananda what was going on, and Thera Ananda told him about the six bhikkhus. The Buddha then prohibited the bhikkhus from wearing wooden sandals. He further exhorted the bhikkhus to restrain themselves both in words and deeds.” Khuddaka Nikaya. The Dhammapada Stories. Translated by Daw Mya Tin, M.A., Burma Pitaka Association (1986)
    “…when the group-of-six bhikkhus went in a vehicle yoked with cows and bulls, they were criticized by the lay people. The Buddha then established a fault of Wrong-doing for a bhikkhu to travel in a vehicle; later illness was exempted from this guideline…” The Bhikkhus’ Rules. A Guide for Laypeople compiled and explained by Bhikkhu Ariyesako 
    “when the general guidelines were first worked out, some group-of-six bhikkhus abused the system to impose penalties on innocent bhikkhus they didn’t like (Mv.IX.3.1), so the Buddha formulated a number of checks to prevent the system from working against the innocent.” Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Buddhist Monastic Code I, Chapter 6 Aniyata

See also “Six Monks, Group Of” in The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism.

What puzzles me in this tradition is the apparent repetition of the Buddha’s behaviour. Why does he keep defining more rules to guide the behaviour of the six errant monks (bhikkhus), when it is surely apparent that a more profound intervention (“enlightenment” perhaps) is required. Or is this tradition intended to demonstrate exactly that – the inadequacy of rules?