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dhutaṅga rukkhamūla

Meaning of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga

The Pali term "rukkhamūla" means "the fact to remain beneath a tree".

"rukkha" = "tree"; "mūla" = "root"

The bhikkhu who takes the habit to remain beneath a tree is called a "rukkha mūlika". When this practice is conveniently put into practice, with steadiness and diligence, with the determination of not breaking it, we say that there is "rukkhamūlikaṅga" (a state of mind of the abode beneath a tree).

Adoption of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga

For adopting this dhutaṅga, it is convenient to pronounce the following phrase whether in Pali, whether in the language of one's choice...

In Pali:

«channaṃ paṭikkhipāmi, rukkhamūlikaṅgaṃ samādhiyāmi.»

In English:

«I renounce to the spots sheltered by a roof, I will train into dwelling beneath a tree.»

The three kinds of practitioners of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga

  1. ukkaṭṭha rukkhamūla, the noble practitioner of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga
  2. majjhima rukkhamūla, the intermediate practitioner of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga
  3. mudu rukkhamūla, the ordinary practitioner of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga

1. the noble practitioner

The bhikkhu who is a noble practitioner of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga is not authorised to choose a tree that is convenient for himself, neither to prepare (cleaning, sweeping the leaves and the stones, etc.) the spot that he is about to occupy beneath a tree. On the other hand, he can set apart the leaves (from the spot where he is about to settle himself) by means of the foot.

2. the intermediate practitioner

The bhikkhu who is an intermediate practitioner of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga get prepared for himself (cleaning, sweeping the leaves and the stones, etc.), by person of passage, the spot that he is about to occupy beneath a tree. He cannot however call a person specially allotted for this duty. The intermediate practitioner (and in stronger reason the ordinary one) can also erect a folding screen, walls and doors, but obviously no roof.

3. the ordinary practitioner

The bhikkhu who is an ordinary practitioner of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga can get levelled the earth (from the spot where he is intending to settle himself) in order to make it regular, installed a mat, he can arrange his sitting spot (beneath the tree where he dwells) in the way he finds suitable for himself. Contrary to the intermediate practitioner, he can make a special request to a person (laity, novice, etc.) so as to ask him to perform one of these duties.

The advantages of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga

By practising the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga, we can benefit of one the following advantages...

  1. Respect towards the fourth among the four autonomies praised by Buddha: «It is convenient to be self-contented, about lodging, to dwell beneath a tree (without having to depend on a donor)».
  2. Devoid of value, such a lodging is being obtained with great easiness, enabling one to be spared of committing any fault (regarding the lodging).
  3. By seeing leaves growing, getting yellow and falling, we become fully aware of anicca.
  4. We are spared of jealousy stirred up by a monastery.
  5. We are spared of any maintenance work required by a monastery.
  6. We live surrounded by devas who indwell trees.
  7. We benefit with a convenient means to provide for what we need, while being able to be satisfied with little.

Remark: the practice of a dhutaṅga alone enables one to understand its advantages.

The way to break the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga

If a bhikkhu who practises the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga, with the intention to be sheltered by a roof, enter under a roof, even for listening to the dhamma, as soon as he becomes aware that dawn is drawing near, if he ever remains a single moment more under this roof, he breaks his dhutaṅga. Under such circumstances, he must go out and install himself whether beneath a tree, whether on the bare earth (on an unsheltered spot), and he will thus avoid to break his dhutaṅga.

Encouragement to the practise of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga

Buddha told that living at the foot of a tree requires no expenses, we are blameless, we agree with the fourth among the four autonomies (managing to contented by what we have, without having to depend on a donor). There is no better spot for that. We enjoy a calm atmosphere, the mind is serene, in peace with itself.

Buddha, during his last existence, took birth beneath a tree, reached omniscience beneath a tree, gave his first teaching beneath a tree, and finally, he got extinct into parinibbāna beneath a tree. The spot situated at the foot of a tree is the chosen one of Buddha and ariyās.

For all the above mentioned reasons, given that it (the foot of a tree) is a noble spot by itself, bhikkhus who grew mature in wisdom, it is convenient for them to adopt this dhutaṅga.

The seven kinds of trees to avoid

According to the "visuddhi magga", there are trees at whose feet it is convenient to dwell, and others beneath which it is not convenient to dwell. Here are the trees beneath which it is not proper that a bhikkhu, practising the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga, dwells:

  1. Trees being utilised as bench/border marks between two states.
  2. Trees being worshipped by people believing it to be inhabited by one or several devas.
  3. Tree whose resin is being recuperated.
  4. Fruit trees (whose fruits are consumed by human beings).
  5. Trees inhabited by bats.
  6. Trees having a hollow likely to let enter some animals such as snakes scorpions...
  7. Trees situated within the boundary of a monastery.

It is not proper that a bhikkhu who practises the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga, dwells at the foot of one of these 7 kinds of trees, as they are likely to put him into danger, cause him hassles, undermine his concentration, but not incite him to break his dhutaṅga.

The bhikkhu who practises the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga is liable to dwell at the foot of the tree that doesn't belong to the category of the 7 kinds of above mentioned trees, and on a spot where no danger, agitation or noise do prevail, so that his samādhi may be properly developed.

The 10 virtues cultivated by the dwelling at the foot of a tree

In the "buddhavaṃsa" commentaries, are expounded the 10 virtues cultivated through the practice of dwelling at the foot of a tree:

  1. We are spared of building anything, we can directly dwell somewhere, without having to expect anything else whatsoever.
  2. Sweeping and cleaning are useless.
  3. It is not necessary to stand up for giving the seat to an elder.
  4. Being constantly within the reach of everybody's sight, we are incited not to do shameful or blameworthy things.
  5. By living outdoor, we can have numerous aches and stiffness all over, but by living beneath a tree, these things do no longer manifest.
  6. We are spared from any hassle likely to be caused by any authority, we do not fear to be expelled out of a sheltered spot.
  7. We are free from any feeling of attachment to a place, such as the fact to tell oneself "that's my home".
  8. It is not necessary to ask anyone whosoever to leave the spot for cleaning, etc.
  9. We can experience a feeling of deep joy (pīti).
  10. As such a lodging is easy to find, there cannot be any feeling attachment to the spot where he dwells.

The 8 inconveniences of a lodging sheltered by a roof

In the commentaries "buddhavaṃsa", are expounded the 8 inconveniences of a sheltered lodging, or having at least one roof (wooden, made of leaves, etc.):

  1. A lodging made of food requires big efforts to search for and gather some wood.
  2. One must always keep it up, otherwise it can get rotten, go rusty, etc.
  3. At any time, a bhikkhu having more seniority than oneself can arrive. It is therefore necessary to give him one's seat and look after him, which can undermine the least or the most the growth of his samādhi.
  4. Development of attachment to comfort and to much time spent in looking after oneself.
  5. Should an individual enter the abode of the bhikkhu, closed by a roof and some walls, and do bad things, people can believe that the bhikkhu promotes the evil actions of the said individual by allowing him to hide out in his abode.
  6. We may get attached to one's lodging ("this is my lodging").
  7. The fact to have a lodging closed equates with having a home, the life of a married man.
  8. We come across all kinds of problems caused by louses, bugs, lizards, rats, etc.

The rukkhamūla and abbhokāsika dhutaṅga during the monsoon

In order to divide the saṃgha, the monk Devadata had formulated five requirements before Buddha, one of them being: «(...) May all the monks sleep beneath a tree. Do decree it to be a great offence should any monk spend overnight under a roof.» Buddha had replied to him: «(...) May the monks wishing to sleep beneath a tree sleep there! May the monks wishing to sleep under a roof sleep there!» When he gave his answer in detail, he specified: «I have authorised bhikkhus who practise the rukkhamūlika dhutaṅga to dwell in a monastery up to eight months a year.»

In the commentaries (aṭṭhakathās), it is written: «The one who chooses to dwell beneath a tree can however reside within a monastery (all over the year), except four months at once.»

In the vinaya, it is also told: «During the monsoon (the four months of the rainy season), he cannot live outside of a monastery, beneath a tree.» and «During the eight other months (cold and hot season), it is permitted to remain beneath a tree.»

Regarding the abbhokāsika dhutaṅga, it is outlined in the vinaya: «Should a bhikkhu spend the vassa on the bare earth, he commits a dukkaṭa.» It is therefore impossible to practise the abbhokāsika dhutaṅga during the vassa. During the monsoon, a bhikkhu who practises the rukkhamūlika or abbhokāsika dhutaṅga is therefore supposed to dwell in a sheltered lodging.

Besides, the «visuddhi magga» is telling us: «The (rukkhamūlika or abbhokāsika dhutaṅga) cannot be broken by the fact to remain under a roof. It is convenient (for the practitioner of these dhutaṅgas) to proceed under a roof in order to listen to the dhamma or to satisfy various needs. However, by remaining under a roof at the time of dawn, the dhutaṅga(s) is (are) broken.»

According to these assertions, the practice of the abbhokāsika dhutaṅga doesn't mean that we constantly remain on the bare earth; we can proceed under a roof in order to study the dhamma teachings, perform various monastic procedures such as the uposatha, the pavāraṇā..., listen to some teachings, etc., without necessarily breaking this dhutaṅga. The same thing exactly applies for the rukkhamūlika dhutaṅga.

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Origin: Book in Burmese language

Author: Monk Devinda

Date: 2001

Translator: Monk Dhamma Sāmi

Date of translation: 2004, January

Update: 2005, June the 18th