Eight Principles for Recognizing Dhamma and Vinaya

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

Eight Principles for Recognizing Dhamma and Vinaya

Shortly after her ordination, the Buddha’s step-mother Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī asked him for a short Dhamma-instruction that would guide her in her solitary practice. He responded with eight principles for recognizing what qualifies as Dhamma and Vinaya, and what does not. The commentary tells us that after her instruction, Mahāpajāpati Gotamī in no long time became an arahant.

The eight principles have been widely cited ever since. One Thai writer has called them the “constitution of Buddhism,” as they form the standards against which the validity of any interpretation of the Dhamma or Vinaya must be judged.

Perhaps the most important point that these principles make is that any teaching has to be judged by the results that come when putting it into practice. They are an excellent illustration of the teachings given in the well-known Kālāma Sutta (AN 3:66) as well as in the teachings that the Buddha gave to his son Rāhula (MN 61).

These eight principles can be divided into three groups as to their focus. The first two—dispassion and being unfettered—focus on the final goal of the practice. Three principles—contentment, persistence, and shedding—focus on internal means to the goal. The remaining three— seclusion, modesty, and being unburdensome—focus on the impact one’s practice has on other people.

In this way these principles foster a fully rounded perspective on how one’s practice should be judged.

This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the Study Guides book, Recognizing the Dhamma: A Study Guide, “Introduction.”