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 Vinaya,
- Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya,
- Mahīśāsaka Vinaya,
- Dharmaguptaka Vinaya,
- Sarvāstivāda Vinaya,
- and the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya.
- Mahīśāsaka Vinaya (T. 1421)
- Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya (T. 1425)
- Dharmaguptaka Vinaya (T. 1428)
- Sarvāstivāda Vinaya (T. 1435)
- Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya (T. 1442)
Some traditions of Japanese Buddhism also carry out full monastic ordination, but most Japanese traditions do not. Instead, these traditions of Japanese Buddhism have priests who take Bodhisattva vows, but not full monastic vows (i.e. Prātimokṣa).
The rules are included, in the Sutta Vibhanga ("sutta" here meaning "rule"), which contains besides the rules themselves, an old Commentary explaining them and a new Commentary containing further supplementary information concerning them.
It is a moot point whether the rules originally appeared with the explanatory notes (as in the Vibhanga), the Pātimokkha being subsequently extracted, or whether the Pātimokkha alone was the older portion, the additional matter of the Vibhanga being the work of a subsequent revision.
It is sometimes suggested (Law: op. cit., p.2) that the original number of [[Pātimokkha rules}} numbered only about one hundred and fifty.
The rules were recited at the gatherings of members of the Order (the Uposatha khandha of the Mahā Vagga (Vin.i.101 36) gives details of the procedure at these gatherings) in their respective districts on uposatha days (the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month).
Each section of the rules is recited and, at the end of such recital, the reciter asks the members of the Order who are present if any one of them has infringed any of the rules. Silence implies absence of guilt.
This practice of interrupting the recital seems to have been changed later (see Vin.ii.240 ff.) even though the old formula, asking the members to speak, continued as a part of the recital.
The Sanskritised form of the word being prātimoksa, this led to a change in its significance, the completion of the recital being evidence that all those who have taken part are pure in respect of the specified offenses - pātimokkha thus meaning acquittal, deliverance or discharge.
But in most contexts the word simply means code - i.e., code of verses for the members of the Order.
The Prātimokṣa of the Mulasarvastavada lineage, followed in Tibetan Buddhism, is taken for the whole life and the vows end when the person who received it died or has broken one or more of the four root vows.
Vows for laity
- Fasting Vows (skt. Upavasa; tib. Nyung ne) — 8 vows
- Laymans' Vows (skt. Upasaka; tib. Genyen) — 5 vows
- Laywomans' Vows (skt. Upasika) — 5 vows
- To refrain from killing.
- To refrain from stealing.
- To refrain from false speech.
- To refrain from sexual misconduct.
- To refrain from using intoxicants.
One is not obliged to take all five vows. The commentaries describe seven types of lay followers:
- Promising to keep just one vow.
- Promising to keep certain vows.
- Promising to keep most of them.
- Promising to keep all five.
- Keeping all five and also promising to keep the pure conduct of avoiding sexual contact.
- Keeping all five, pure conduct, and wearing robes with the promise to behave like a monk or a nun.
- Lay follower of mere refuge. This person is unable to keep the vows but he promises to go for refuge to the triple gem until death.
- Male Novices' Vows (skt. Sramanera, tib. Getsul) — 36 vows
- Female Novices' Vow (skt. Sramanerika, tib. Getsulma) — 36 vows
- Probationer Nun's Vows (skt. Siksamana)
- Full Nun's Vows (skt. Bhikshuni, tib. Gelongma) — 364 vows
- Full Monk's Vows (skt. Bhikshu, tib. Gelong) — 253 vows
- "Buddhist Monastic Discipline: The Sanskrit Pratimoksha Sutras of the Mahasamghikas and Mulasarvastavadins" by Charles S. Prebish, India, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-1339-1
- Novice Vows: Lama Mipham's commentary to Nagarjunas "Stanzas for a Novice Monk" together with "Essence of the ocean of Vinaya" by Tsongkhapa ISBN 81-86470-15-8 (LTWA India)
- Full Monk Vows: "Advice from Buddha Sahkyamuni" by HH the 14th Dalai Lama, ISBN 81-86470-07-7 (LTWA India)
- Complete Explanation of the Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva and Vajrayana Vows: "Buddhist Ethics" (Treasury of Knowledge: Book Five), Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye, ISBN 1-55939-191-X, Snow Lion Publications
- Ngari Panchen: Perfect Conduct: Ascertaining the Three Vows, Wisdom Publication, ISBN 0-86171-083-5 (Commentary on the three sets of vows by Dudjom Rinpoche)