JKhedrup wrote:This is true in many respects. At the same time, the culture prevalent in India at the time of Lord Buddha's teachings is connected with some of his discourses, how could it not be? That is why many of the Vinaya rules to a modern audience may seem a bit odd.
Scholarship and archaeology would suggest that a lot of the Vinaya literature was a later development. There is a lot of it that seems to reflect institutional concerns rather than the concerns of homeless mendicants.
Johannes Bronkhorst in Shadow of Brahmanism
I agree with Gregory Schopen (2006: 316; 2007: 61) that this strange state of affairs may mean that Aśoka [304-232 BCE] did not know anything about buddhist monasteries, which indeed may not yet have existed at that time. We know that Buddhism started off as a group of mendicants, and Aśoka’s inscription counts as evidence that this group was still not in a position to receive collective gifts at his time.
Schopen (2006: 317): “If the compilers of the various Vinayas considered it ‘highly important’ to regulate the lives of their monks so as to give no cause for complaint to the laity, and if considerations of this sort could only have assumed high importance after buddhist groups had permanently settled down, then, since the latter almost certainly did not occur until well after Aśoka, it would be obvious that all the Vinayas that we have are late, precisely as both Wassilieff and Lévi have suggested a hundred years ago.”
Schopen, 2007: 61: “Even in the later inscriptions from Bharhut and Sanchi there are no references to vihāras, and they begin to appear—though still rarely—only in Kharosṭḥī records of a little before and a little after the Common Era, about the same time that the first indications of permanent monastic residential quarters begin to appear in the archaeological record for the Northwest, and this is not likely to be mere coincidence.” Buddhist literature also preserves traces of an opposition between monks who lived in monasteries and those who lived in the wild; see Freiberger, 2006. Ray (1994: 399 ff.) suggests that buddhist monasticism arose in emulation of the rival brahmanical tradition; both shared two central preoccupations: a concern for behavioral purity and a preoccupation with the mastery of authoritative religious texts.
Early Mahāyāna literature like Vimalakīrti Sūtra
emerged around the same time and curiously mocks preoccupation with rules (like Śāriputra complaining about being showered with flowers by the goddess and unable to wipe them away).
This is not the say there were no rules in the Buddha's time. It seems likely to me that śramaṇas had unwritten rules of conduct that everyone, Buddhist, Jain or otherwise, would have generally been expected to follow such as abstaining from sex, alcohol, music and so on. It is difficult to imagine how it would have been possible to enact non-violent punitive measures against a homeless beggar short of denying him residence or conversation (in an institutional setting chasing someone out of the sangha would have been possible). The Vinaya literature threatens people with hell, but then I have to wonder if this was the Buddha's own words or not.
It begs the question what's important and what isn't. As the Buddha himself suggested, the disciples were to do away with the "minor rules", but alas Ananda failed to ask which ones were minor. We might also consider that the first three of the seven past buddhas (Vipaśyin, Śikhin and Viśvabhū) never established any precepts as there was no need.
I'm of the mind that someone set on the śramaṇa path will just naturally behave themselves (morality common to the path), but then in an institutional setting with a lot of young men you'll inevitably need house rules and punitive measures in place to deter bad behaviour.