Since this is an important issue regarding a Vinaya rule, I thought of taking a closer look at the issue.
Most Vinaya rules were setup to handle particular situations where one or more bhikkhus had done things that were not appropriate. The link given by y not provides the background for the Vinaya rule in question here.
The training rule on telling truthfully
– I am reproducing that below so that we can discuss it.
At one time the Buddha was staying at Vesālī in the hall with the peaked roof in the Great Wood. At that time a number of monks who were friends had entered the rains on the banks of the river Vaggumudā. Just then Vajjī was short of food and afflicted with hunger, with crops blighted and turned to straw, and it was not easy to get by on almsfood.
The monks considered the difficult circumstances, and they thought, “How can we remain united and in harmony, have a comfortable rains, and get almsfood without problems?”
Some said, “We could do work for the lay people, and they’ll give something in return. In this way we’ll be united and in harmony, and we’ll spend the rains in comfort and have no problems getting almsfood.”
Some said, “There’s no need to do work for the lay people. Let’s instead take messages for them, and they’ll give something in return. In this way we’ll be united and in harmony, and we’ll spend the rains in comfort and have no problems getting almsfood.”
Some said, “There’s no need to do work for the lay people, nor to take messages for them. Let’s instead praise one another’s superhuman qualities to the lay people, ‘Such a monk has the first absorption, such a monk the second absorption, such a monk the third, such a monk the fourth; such a monk is a stream-enterer, such a monk a once-returner, such a non-returner, such a perfected one; such a monk has the three true insights, and such the six direct knowledges.’ Then they’ll give to us. In this way we’ll be united and in harmony, and we’ll spend the rains in comfort and have no problems getting almsfood. Indeed, this is the better way, that we praise one another’s superhuman qualities to the lay people.”
Then they praised each other’s superhuman qualities to the lay people, “Such a monk has the first absorption … such a monk has the six direct knowledges.” And those people thought, “We’re fortunate that such monks have come to us for the rains. Such monks as these, who are virtuous and of good character, have never before entered the rains with us.” And they gave such food and drink to those monks that they did not even eat and drink themselves, or give to their parents, to their wives and children, to their slaves, servants, and workers, to their friends and companions, or to their relatives. In this way those monks became handsome, with rounded features, bright faces, and clear skin.
Now it was the custom for monks who had finished keeping the rains to go and see the Master. So when the rainy-season residence was completed and the three months had elapsed, those monks put their dwellings in order, took their bowls and robes, and departed for Vesālī. When they eventually arrived at Vesālī, they went to the hall with the peaked roof in the Great Wood. There they approached the Master, bowed down to him, and sat down to one side.
At that time the monks who had completed the rainy-season residence in that region were thin, haggard and pale, their veins protruding all over their limbs. But the monks from the banks of the Vaggumudā were handsome, with rounded features, bright faces, and clear skin.
It is the custom for Buddhas to greet newly arrived monks, and so the Master said to them, “I hope you’re keeping well, monks, I hope you’re comfortable; I hope you spent the rains at ease, in concord and harmony, without dispute, and that you had no trouble getting almsfood?”
“We’re keeping well, Master, we’re comfortable; we spent the rains at ease, in concord and harmony, without dispute, and we had no trouble getting almsfood.”
Buddhas sometimes ask knowing, and knowing sometimes do not ask; they ask knowing the right time to ask, and they ask knowing the right time not to ask. Buddhas ask when it is beneficial, not when it is unbeneficial; in regard to what is unbeneficial, the Buddhas have destroyed the bridge. Buddhas question the monks for two reasons: to give a teaching or to lay down a training rule.
And the Master said to those monks, “In what way, monks, did you spend the rains at ease, without having any trouble getting almsfood?”
And they told the Master what had happened.
“But had you really achieved those superhuman qualities?”
The Buddha rebuked them, “Monks, how can you for the sake of your stomachs praise one another’s superhuman qualities to lay people? This will not give rise to confidence in those without it … And, monks, this training rule should be recited thus:
‘If a monk truthfully tells a person who is not fully ordained of a superhuman quality, he commits an offense entailing confession.’”
That is exactly how it appears at that website.
I have highlighted the incorrect translation of a segment of the “story behind the rule”, as well as the reported “Final Ruling”.
In the Pali version, this is how that particular section is: “Atha kho te bhikkhū bhagavato etamatthaṃ ārocesuṃ. “Kacci pana vo, bhikkhave, bhūtan”ti? “Bhūtaṃ, bhagavā”ti.”
The first part “Atha kho te bhikkhū bhagavato etamatthaṃ ārocesuṃ” does mean “And they (bhikkhus) told the Master what had happened”.
However, the correct translation of the rest “Kacci pana vo, bhikkhave, bhūtan”ti?” “Bhūtaṃ, bhagavā”ti SHOULD BE:
“Bhikkhus, was that a lie? (meaning the attainments that they claimed)”. And the bhikkhus replied that indeed they had lied (“Bhūtaṃ, bhagavā”ti.).
Here, both English and Chinese translators (per account of Puthujjana) had incorrectly translated the question by the Buddha and the answer by the bhikkhus.
Bhuta means something that does not have real existence, and here it means a lie.
– Even today, the Sinhala word for ghost is “a bhuta”, since most people do not believe in the existence of ghosts.
– Patavi, apo, tejo, vayo are called “cattari maha bhutani” because their origins are the non-matter, i.e., gati and are really mind-created; see, “The Origin of Matter – Suddhātthaka ”. They all are going to be destroyed at the end of the Maha Kappa.
However, this real meaning of the bhuta in this context is not appreciated by most people today. Thus the wrong translation.
One can see that the real explanation based on the story makes more sense, and thus the Vinaya rule should be (and is per correct translation of “Yo pana bhikkhu anupasampannassa uttarimanussadhammaṃ āroceyya bhūtasmiṃ, pācittiyan”ti.
– The key is “anupasampannassa uttarimanussadhammaṃ” which means a bhikkhu who has NOT attained those claimed attainments (uttarimanussadhamma).
– Anupasampannassa comes from “na + upasampannassa” or “not attained”, just like Anāgāmi comes from “na + āgāmi” or “not coming back (to kāma loka)”.
Those bhikkhus falsely declared attainments in order to be treated well.
– A related key point is that one with such attainments would not have made such declarations with the intention of getting a better treatment (even if they had attainments). They knew that people offered the best they had to them (because of the declared attainments) even without feeding their families properly.
The correct rule is: “‘If a bhikkhu untruthfully declares a high-achievement (i.e., magga phala or jhana), he commits an offense’”