illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
After writing on clinging to a particular translation of the "four noble truths" (http://gplus.wallez.name/65Yw2aukGKN), I'll quote Damchö Diana Finnegan on the clinging to precepts and rules —the bold highlights are mine:
"Some stories in the Vinaya depict the first instance a precept or procedural rule was articulated. In these cases, the story serves as a sort of precedent for each rule, providing some context for later legal interpreters to draw on when seeking to implement the rules. However, in the case of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, the narratives go far beyond a jurisprudential tool to aid in implementing Vinaya rules or procedures. This massive text includes a tremendous amount of narrative material that is entirely unconnected to any monastic rule or code of conduct. Instead, there are stories that purport to describe the comings and goings of the Buddha and his monastic assembly as they wandered from town to town, the deeds and misdeeds of various monks and nuns, and the biographies and past-life stories of monks and nuns and of the Buddha. The Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya's narratives thus offer an imaginative vision of a full and complex community life in which particular actions are thoroughly contextualized within an equally full and complex social world. As a result of the fullness of its narrative reach, the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya runs to many thousands of pages in the Tibetan translation. Compared with other lineages, the root text of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya preserves a vastly greater body of narrative material, more perhaps than all the other Vinayas combined. In fact, when it comes to the life of the monastic community, it appears that the Mūlasarvāstivāda was a tradition that particularly valued narrative contextualization. In those stories that do depict the creation of behavioral guidelines, rules frequently prove inadequate as new situations arise. We therefore read of Buddha Śākyamuni revising the behavioral advice and rules he had previously given, qualifying them, limiting them, or even abandoning them outright as the shifting context requires. What emerges in the narratives of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is a community life evidently guided more by sensitivity to the particulars of each situation and responsiveness to changing contexts than by any concern for formulating universal rules or by a valuing of the sanctity of rules per se.
"Nevertheless, in the centuries that followed, monastic communities generally preserved the precepts and other advice for community life in whatever form they were last stated by the Buddha according to the texts they considered canonical. They did so even as they preserved other canonical texts that quote Buddha Śākyamuni as saying that changes could be made to all but the most basic rules, in response to changing historical and cultural circumstances. We may say that although the Buddha himself was a practitioner of situational ethics, the monastic institutions that followed him adhered to a rule-based understanding of the Vinaya. The narratives of the Vinaya argue for a great deal of responsiveness and adaptability; even as commentarial traditions tend to identify and isolate the rules embedded in that mass of narratives.
"The study of these narratives with their attention to particulars is rare in Tibetan monasteries, because the root Vinaya text that contains these narratives is no longer read by most Tibetan monks or scholars. Instead, Vinaya education and the regulation of monastic life are centered on Guṇaprabha's highly condensed interpretive digest and the vast commentarial tradition based on his work, along with local monastic constitutions, or bca' yig. These secondary and derivative works have effectively replaced the root text (Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya) as the locus of authority for most discussions of Vinaya matters in the Tibetan lineages."
photo: 'White Marble Buddha 'Prayer'', ©
The quote of Damchö Diana Finnegan is from "A `Flawless' Ordination: some narratives of nuns' ordinations in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya", pp. 195–206 in "Dignity and Discipline: Reviving Full Ordination for Buddhist Nuns" edited by Thea Mohr and Jampa Tsedroen.