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"Vinaya" means "discipline" in Sanskrit and Pali. The Vinaya, or Vinaya-pitaka ("basket of discipline") is one of the three "baskets" or sections of the Tripitaka. It contains the rules of communal life for monks and nuns.

The rules of the Vinaya are said to come from the historical Buddha. As the number of his disciples grew, and conflicts arose, people would bring accounts of misbehavior to the Buddha. The Buddha would then create rules to address the situation.

These rules were not written down during the Buddha's life. At the First Buddhist Council held shortly after his death, a monk named Upali is said to have recited the rules, and the assembled monks agreed that Upali's recitation was accurate. The rules were remembered by oral tradition until the 1st century BCE, when the Pali Tripitaka, or Pali Canon, was written.

The rules of the Vinaya were also recorded in other languages at other times. For example, an early sect of Buddhism called the Dharmaguptaka also left a written record of the Vinaya, and today most Mahayana monastic orders follow the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya rather than the Pali Vinaya. Tibetan Buddhist also have their own Vinaya, which developed in another early school of Buddhism.

The Pali Vinaya-pitaka contains these sections:

  1. Suttavibhanga. This contains the complete rules of discipline and training for monks and nuns. There are 227 rules for bhikkhus (monks) and 311 rules for bhikkhunis (nuns).
  2. Khandhaka (Mahavagga). This contains an account of the Buddha's life shortly after his enlightenment as well as stories about prominent disciples. The Khandhaka also records rules for ordination and some ritual procedures.
  3. Khandhaka (Cullavagga). This section discusses monastic etiquette and manners. It also contains accounts of the First and Second Buddhist Council.
  4. Parivara. This section is a summary of the rules.
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