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The Pratimokṣa (Sanskrit prātimokṣa) is a list of rules (contained within the vinaya) governing the behaviour of Buddhist monastics (monks or bhikṣus and nuns or bhikṣuṇīs). Prati means "towards" and mokṣa means "liberation" from cyclic existence (saṃsāra).
It became customary to recite these rules once a fortnight at a meeting of the sangha during which confession would traditionally take place. A number of prātimokṣa codes are extant, including those contained in the Theravāda, Mahāsāṃghika, Mahīśāsaka, Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda vinayas. Pratimokṣa texts may also circulate in separate pratimokṣa sūtras, which are extracts from their respective vinayas.
The Pratimokṣa belongs to the Vinaya of the Buddhist doctrine and is seen as the very basis of Buddhism. On the basis of the Prātimokṣa there exist in Mahayana Buddhism two additional set of vows: The Bodhisattva vows and the Vajrayana vows. If these two set of vows are not broken, they are regarded as carrying over to future lives.
The Pratimokṣa is traditionally a section of the Vinaya. The Theravada Vinaya is preserved in the Pāli Canon in the Vinaya Piṭaka. The Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is preserved in both the Tibetan Buddhist canon in the Kangyur, in a Chinese edition, and in an incomplete Sanskrit manuscript. Some other complete vinaya texts are preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon (see: Taishō Tripiṭaka), and these include:
The Patimokkha is the Pali equivalent of Pratimokṣa (Sanskrit). It is being followed by the monks of the Theravada lineage (Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos). It consists of 227 rules for fully ordained monks (bhikkhus) and 311 for nuns (bhikkhunis). The Patimokkha is contained in the Suttavibhanga, a division of the Vinaya Pitaka.
Buddhist traditions in East Asia typically follow the Dharmaguptaka vinaya lineage of the pratimokṣa, and this is standard for the following Buddhist traditions:
Some traditions of Buddhism in Japan and Korea also carry out full monastic ordination, but most do not. Instead, these traditions have priests and monastics who take the Bodhisattva Precepts instead of the tradional pratimokṣa vows.
The pratimokṣa of the Mulasarvastivada lineage followed in Tibetan Buddhism is taken for life unless one or more of the four root vows are broken. In Tibetan Buddhism, there are eight types of Pratimokṣa vows:
The lay pratimokṣa consists of five vows that are also known as the Five Śīlas:
One is not obliged to take all five vows. The commentaries describe seven types of lay followers:
Only full monks and full nuns are seen as full members of the buddhist monastic order. A group of four fully ordained monastics is seen as a sangha. The prātimokṣa tells also how to purify faults, how to solve conflicts and deal with all kinds of situations which can happen in the sangha.