The Mass Suicide of Monks in Discourse and Vinaya Literature

Bhikkhu Analayo


In the first part of the present article I examine the canonical accounts of a narrative that accompanies the pārājika rule on killing. The narrative concerns a mass suicide by monks disgusted with their own bodies, which reportedly happened after the Buddha had praised seeing the body as bereft of beauty, aśubha. I argue that this episode needs to be understood in the light of the need of the early Buddhist tradition to demarcate its position in the ancient Indian context vis-à-vis ascetic practices and ideology.

The mass suicide by monks is found in discourse and Vinaya texts. This is significant for appreciating the respective roles of these two types of literature, a topic that I will explore in detail in the second part of this article, in dialogue with observations made in a recent monograph by Shayne Clarke on family matters in Indian Buddhist monasticism.

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