1. Was Sakyamuni an itinerant practitioner?
2. Regulations in the Vinaya and the wanderings of the Buddha's disciples as seen in the early Buddhist scriptural sources
3. The four regulations and the practice of dhūta
4. Jain practitioners and their itinerancy
5. The parivrājaka ("wanderer") of Brahmanism and his itinerancy
6. Buddhist practitioners as they appear in the verse sections of the early Buddhist scriptural sources
7. The building of monasteries
8. The formation of the Saṃgha
9. Itinerancy, the building of monasteries and the formation of the Saṃgha in view of basic Buddhist thought
wandering, religious itinerancy, Jainism, Hinduism, the four stages of life, itinerant practitioner, monastery, Sangha, the four regulations, the practice of dhūta, the Middle Way, taking refuge in the Three Treasures, the full precepts, the one announcement and three responses ceremony, uposatha, rainy season retreat
Japanese academic circles are accustomed to describe Sakyamuni's disciples during the first period of his life as "wanderers" with no abode, similar to the samanas (wandering ascetics) of Jainism and the Ajivaka movement, or the brahmanas (itinerants) of Brahmanism. Thus they view the construction of "monasteries" as signalling the beginning of settled, group life, out of which the Saṃgha was eventually formed. This can be said to be the commonly accepted view, but I would like in this article to propose an alternative, based on a study of the basic pattern of how Sakyamuni and his disciples led their lives, on a daily basis and over the year.
My conclusions are as follows:
(1) We cannot find any evidence in the prose sections of the early Buddhist scriptural sources that Sakyamuni himself, or his disciples, led an aimless, solitary wandering life without abode in either the early or the late period of his life.
(2) Sakyamuni himself, and his disciples, had a purpose and a destination on their "wanderings." It was thought desirable that they would stay overnight at a proper lodging, if possible, and they travelled for no more than two months at a time. We have to pay attention to these details, since the distinction between "religious itinerancy" (Jpn. henreki) and "ascetic wandering" (Jpn. yugyō) has not been sufficiently recognized in academic discussion, leading to the possibility of confusion.
(3) Nevertheless, in the verse sections of the scriptures, "religious itinerancy" is praised, which implies that Buddhist practitioners following this way of life existed. Does this mean that some Buddhist practitioners were "itinerants"? However we interpret this, we cannot say that this is what Buddhist practitioners of the early period should have been. Perhaps such itinerants were a special group of Buddhist practitioner, and they may have made up a good proportion of Buddhists in the early period especially. There is no reason to think they did not exist in the later period as well.
(4) In the early period, before monasteries were established, Buddhist practitioners lived in secluded resting places such as the forest, the root of a tree, a mountain, a cavern, a hillside cave, a charnel ground, a jungle thicket, an open space or a heap of straw. But they were not moving from place to place, with no fixed dwelling; these were permanent places of dwelling, and they would journey into towns and villages from there each day to seek alms. The places where Jains begged temporary lodging, on the other hand, included workshops, meeting halls, huts where water was placed, markets, mills, thatched huts, travellers' lodgings, gardens, graveyards, vacant houses and the root of trees.
(5) Sakyamuni advocated the Middle Way; religious itinerancy was disavowed as an ascetic practice. The enlightenment sought in Buddhism was to perfect wisdom, for which dhyāna (meditation) was essential, and this necessitated a stable lifestyle, which religious itinerancy could not necessarily provide. "Religious itinerancy," like the ascetic exercises of mendicants called dhūta, (but which was even more distinct since dhūta did not contain elements of itinerancy), was something that could be practiced if desired.
(6) Jain wandering practitioners, and the brahmanas who appeared around the same time as Sakyamuni, may have been in fact more general than the itinerants in Buddhism. However the fact that the practice of "religious itinerancy" as generally understood was not the norm can be inferred from the scriptures themselves. That we cannot tell what form it took from descriptions in the early Buddhist sutras perhaps too reflects this state of affairs.
(7) Thus it is a mistake to understand Buddhist practitioners in the very earliest period of Sakyamuni's teaching to have undertaken religious itinerancy in the same way as practitioners of Jainism and other religions, such as samanas. Therefore it must be said that the common understanding that Buddhist practitioners started living a settled group life only after monasteries (vihāra) were built, and this led to the formation of the Saṃgha, is an error in understanding the facts.
(8) What is fact is that from the very beginning Buddhist practitioners lived permanent lives under trees or in simple huts. The prototype of the Saṃgha was formed when Sakyamuni permitted his disciples to take their own followers in various places by means of taking refuge in the Three Treasures and taking the full precepts. The proper Saṃgha was established once the ceremony conducted by ten ordained people conferring the full precepts with an announcement of the candidate's suitability and three requests for approval was set forth. The "Saṃgha headed by the Buddha's disciples" were organized groups, and the basic governing principles for their running were determined by the meeting of their members. These meetings were held according to strict regulations. For the Saṃghas of the Buddha's disciples in various places to unite as the "Saṃgha of Sakyamuni" it was necessary to hold these regulations, revised for everyday use, in common. As a result, the uposatha meeting, the rainy-season retreat and ascetic wandering became subject to written or customary law. Since these demanded facilities for group living, monasteries came to be built. Without a doubt Buddhism in its early stages shared much in common with other samana-type religions. However the de-emphasis of religious itinerancy, the formation of the Saṃgha, and the construction of monasteries were all based on Sakyamuni's own values system, and on his view of the world and human beings that was formed out of his enlightenment. We can say that they were all conspicuously "Buddhist" features.