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Buddhist Monastic Code I
Chapter 11
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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This term means "the settling of issues." The seven rules in this section are actually principles and procedures for settling the four sorts of issues mentioned under Pc 63: dispute-issues (vivādādhikaraṇa), accusation-issues (anuvādādhikaraṇa), offense-issues (āpattādhikaraṇa), and duty-issues (kiccādhikaraṇa. The Canon's explanations of these procedures are given not in the Vibhaṅga but in Cullavagga IV, which starts with a sketch of the procedures, followed by a detailed discussion of how to apply them to each of the four types of issues. We will follow the same mode of presentation here.

For the settling, the resolution of issues that arise:

1. A verdict "in the presence of" should be given. This means that the transaction settling the issue must be carried out in the presence of the Community, in the presence of the individuals, and in the presence of the Dhamma and Vinaya.

In the presence of the Community means that the group of bhikkhus that has gathered is competent to carry out the transaction in question. In other words, it contains the minimum number of bhikkhus required, all the qualified bhikkhus in the valid territory (sīmā) in which the meeting is held are either are present or have sent their consent, and none of the qualified bhikkhus in the meeting makes protest against having the matter settled by the group — although as we noticed under Pc 80, if a transaction is being carried out against a bhikkhu, his protest does not invalidate the act; any protest made by any other member of the group, though, would invalidate it, even if he only informs the bhikkhu sitting next to him (Mv.IX.4.8).

In the presence of the individuals means that all the individuals involved in the matter are present. For instance, in a dispute-issue, both sides of the dispute must be in the meeting; when the Community is carrying out a transaction against one of its members, the accused must be there; in an ordination, the bhikkhu-to-be must be present. There are a few cases where this factor is not followed — such as the ordination of a bhikkhunī by messenger and the act of turning the bowl upside down (refusing to accept donations from a lay person who has mistreated the Community) — but these are rare.

In the presence of the Dhamma and Vinaya means that all the proper procedures laid down in the Vinaya are followed (see BMC2, Part II), and that bhikkhus who advocate what is not truly Dhamma or Vinaya are not holding sway over the group.

2. A verdict of mindfulness may be given. This is the verdict of innocence given in response to an accusation, based on the fact that the accused remembers fully that he did not commit the offense in question.

This verdict is valid only if —

  • 1) The bhikkhu is pure and without offense.
  • 2) He is accused of an offense.
  • 3) He asks for the verdict.
  • 4) The Community gives him the verdict.
  • 5) It is in accordance with the Dhamma, the assembly of bhikkhus being united and competent to give it (Cv.IV.4.11).

According to the Commentary, factor (1) here — the bhikkhu is pure and without offense — applies only to arahants, but the Canon makes no mention of this point. There are other places in the Khandhakas where the phrase "pure and without offense" is used to refer to any bhikkhu who has not committed the offense of which he is accused (e.g., Mv.IX.1.7; Mv.IX.4.9), with nothing to indicate that he would have to be an arahant as well. If the Commentary's interpretation were correct here, there would be no way that a bhikkhu in his right mind who is not an arahant could be declared innocent of an offense at all, for the only three verdicts that may settle an accusation-issue are this one, the verdict of past insanity (for a bhikkhu who was insane when he committed the offense in question), and the transaction for further punishment (literally, "making it worse for him,") for a bhikkhu who committed the offense in question when he was in his right mind. The fourth rule below — acting in accordance with what is admitted — which is sometimes assumed to cover cases of innocence, actually applies only to cases where the bhikkhu admits to having committed an offense, and not to cases where he is innocent and asserts his innocence.

Thus we will follow the general usage in the Khandhakas and say that the factor "pure and without offense" is fulfilled by any bhikkhu — arahant or not — who has not committed the offense in question.

3. A verdict of past insanity may be given. This is another verdict of innocence given in an accusation, based on the fact that the accused was out of his mind when he committed the offense in question and so is absolved of any responsibility for it.

This verdict is valid only if given to a bhikkhu who:

  • 1) does not remember what he did while insane;
  • 2) remembers, but only as if in a dream; or
  • 3) is still insane enough to believe that his behavior is proper. ("I act that way and so do you. It's allowable for me and allowable for you!") (Cv.IV.6.2).

4. Acting in accordance with what is admitted. This refers to two types of situations. The first is the ordinary confession of offenses, where no formal interrogation is involved. The confession is valid only if in accord with the facts, e.g., a bhikkhu actually commits a pācittiya offense and then confesses it as such, and not as a heavier or lighter offense. If he were to confess it as a dukkaṭa or a saṅghādisesa, that would be invalid.

The second situation is when, following on an accusation, the Community has met to interrogate the bhikkhu in question and he has admitted to doing the action in question (although he may still not see the action as an offense or, if he does, may still refuse to undergo the penalty for it). Only then, after convicting him — formally finding him guilty — of the offense, can the Community impose a disciplinary transaction on him, in line with what he has admitted to doing (Cv.IV.7). Because Cv.IV.14.27 does not list "acting in accordance with what is admitted" as a procedure for settling accusation-issues, this means that once the bhikkhu makes an admission that the Community accepts, the issue has changed from an accusation-issue to an offense-issue.

5. Acting in accordance with the majority. This refers to cases in which bhikkhus are unable to settle a dispute unanimously, even after all the proper procedures are followed, and — in the words of the Canon — are "wounding one another with weapons of the tongue." In cases such as these, decisions can be made by majority vote.

Such a vote is valid only if —

  • 1) The issue is important.
  • 2) The procedures of "in the presence of" have all been followed but have not succeeded in settling the issue. (The discussion in the Cullavagga indicates that at least two Communities have tried settling the issue; the Commentary recommends trying the normal procedures in at least two or three.)
  • 3) Both sides have been made to reflect on their position.
  • 4) The distributor of voting tickets knows that the majority sides with the Dhamma.
  • 5) He hopes (§) that the majority sides with the Dhamma.
  • 6) The distributor of voting tickets knows that the procedure will not lead to a split in the Saṅgha.
  • 7) He hopes (§) that the procedure will not lead to a split in the Saṅgha.
  • 8) The tickets are taken in accordance with the Dhamma (according to the Commentary, this means that there is no cheating — e.g., one bhikkhu taking two tickets — and the Dhamma side wins).
  • 9) The assembly is complete.
  • 10) The bhikkhus take the tickets in accordance with their views (and not, for example, under fear of intimidation or coercion). (Cv.IV.10)

6. Acting for his further punishment. This refers to cases where a bhikkhu admits to having committed the offense in question only after being formally interrogated about it. After convicting him of the offense, the Community is to carry out a "further-punishment" transaction against him for being so uncooperative as to require the formal interrogation in the first place.

The Cullavagga (IV.11.2-12.3) contains two separate discussions of the conditions that are necessary for the act to be valid. The discussions overlap, but can be summarized as follows:

  • 1) The accused is impure (i.e., he actually did commit the offense, and it is an offense that requires confession).
  • 2) He is unconscientious (i.e., he didn't voluntarily confess the offense on his own in the first place).
  • 3) He is accused of the offense. (The Commentary translates this word — sānuvāda, with an accusation — as meaning argumentative — sa-upavāda — which also fits the context. If the bhikkhu has been accused of the offense but at first denies it, that would fulfill this factor.)
  • 4) A formal meeting has been called in which he is present and has been interrogated: charged with the offense and made to testify (literally, "made to remember") as to whether he performed the action with which he is charged.
  • 5) He admits to having done the action.
  • 6) The Community convicts him of the offense
  • 7) and carries out the transaction
  • 8) in accordance with the Dhamma and Vinaya, and with a united assembly.

What makes this transaction special is that — unlike other disciplinary transactions, which the Community can impose or not at its discretion — this act must be imposed on a bhikkhu who has committed an offense that requires confession but does not admit to the action until having been formally interrogated (Cv.IV.14.27). In addition, though, Cv.IV.12.3 states that, if the Community wants to, it may also impose the act on a bhikkhu who:

  • 1) is a maker of strife, quarrels, and dissension in the Community;
  • 2) is inexperienced, incompetent, indiscriminately (§) full of offenses; or
  • 3) lives in unbecoming association with lay people.

However, if the Community wants to, it may also impose a censure transaction on the bhikkhu who meets either of these sets of qualifications (Cv.I.2; Cv.I.4). Given that the prohibitions imposed by both the censure and the further-punishment transactions are identical, it is hard to understand why there are two separate transactions that, for all intents and purposes, are essentially the same.

Once a further-punishment transaction has been carried out against a bhikkhu, he must observe the following prohibitions:

  • 1) He may not act as preceptor or teacher for another bhikkhu, nor is he to have a novice attend to him.
  • 2) He may not accept authorization to exhort bhikkhunīs; even if authorized, he is not to exhort them.
  • 3) He should not commit the offense for which he is being punished, a similar offense, or a worse one.
  • 4) He should not find fault with the transaction or with those who carried it out.
  • 5) He should not accuse others of offenses or participate actively in any of the procedures involved in or leading up to a formal accusation — i.e., canceling another bhikkhu's right to join in the Pāṭimokkha recitation, canceling his invitation at the end of the Rains, setting up an accusation, asking his leave to accuse, reprimanding him, making him testify.
  • 6) He should not join bhikkhus in quarreling with other bhikkhus (following the Thai edition of the Canon, which reads, "na bhikkhū bhikkhūhi sampayojetabbanti"). (Cv.IV.12.4).

If he abides by all these prohibitions, and the Community is satisfied that he has seen the error of his ways, they are to rescind the transaction and restore him to his former status as a full-fledged bhikkhu.

7. Covering over as with grass. This refers to situations in which both sides of a dispute realize that, in the course of their dispute, they have done much that is unworthy of a contemplative. If they were to deal with one another for their offenses, the result would be greater divisiveness, even to the point of schism. Thus if both sides agree, all the bhikkhus gather in one place. (According to the Commentary, this means that all bhikkhus in the territory must attend. No one should send his consent, and even sick bhikkhus must go.) A motion is made to the entire group that this procedure will be followed. One member of each side then makes a formal motion to the members of his faction that he will make a confession for them. When both sides are ready, the representative of each side addresses the entire group and makes the blanket confession, using the form of a motion and one announcement (ñatti-dutiya-kamma).

This clears all offenses except for —

  • 1) any grave fault (pārājika or saṅghādisesa offense, says the Commentary) committed by anyone in the group;
  • 2) any offenses dealing with the laity;
  • 3) any offenses of any member of either side who does not approve of the procedure; and
  • 4) any offenses of any bhikkhu who does not attend the meeting. (This is the reason for the Commentary's statement that even sick bhikkhus must attend.) (Cv.IV.13.4)

Point (3) here is interesting. If any member of either side were to dissent, that would invalidate the whole procedure. This point is thus probably added as a reminder to any bhikkhu who might be vindictive enough to want to deal with his enemies case-by-case, that his offenses will have to be dealt with case-by-case as well. This might be enough to discourage him from dissenting.

The Commentary explains the name of this procedure by comparing the offenses cleared in this way to excrement that has been so thoroughly covered with grass that it can no longer send an oppressive smell.

According to Cv.IV.14 — sections 16, 27, 30, and 34 — the principle of "in the presence of" applies to all four types of issues: dispute-issues, accusation-issues, offense-issues, and duty-issues. In addition, dispute-issues must be settled "in accordance with the majority"; accusation-issues, either by a verdict of mindfulness, a verdict of past insanity, or an act of further punishment; and offense-issues, by acting in accordance with what is admitted or by covering them over as with grass.

What follows is a more detailed discussion of how these principles and procedures apply in each of the four cases:

Disputes are heated disagreements over what the Buddha did and did not teach, or — in the words of the Cullavagga — "when bhikkhus dispute, saying:

Thus not all disagreements on these matters are classed as issues. Friendly disagreements or differences of interpretation aren't; heated and abusive disagreements are.

The Buddha advises that a bhikkhu who wants to bring up such questions for discussion should first consider five points:

If the answer to the first four questions is Yes, and to the fifth question No (i.e., the discussion is not likely to lead to strife), he may then go ahead and start the discussion. Otherwise, he should let the matter rest for the time being (Cv.IX.4).

The Cullavagga quotes the Buddha as saying that two sorts of mental states — skillful and unskillful — can turn disputes into issues. The unskillful states are covetous, corrupt, or confused states of mind; the skillful ones, states of mind that are not covetous, not corrupt, and not confused. The Buddha adds, however, that six character traits can lead to issues arising from disputes that will act toward the detriment of many people. They are when a bhikkhu:

Such a bhikkhu, he says, lives without deference or respect for the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Saṅgha, and does not complete the training. If one should see any of these traits within oneself or others, one should strive for their abandoning. If no such traits are present, one should make sure that they don't arise in the future (Cv.IV.14.3).

Although the source of a dispute-issue may be in skillful or unskillful mind states, Cv.IV.14.8 states that the actual conduct of the issue may be skillful, unskillful, or neutral — apparently, depending on the mind states of the bhikkhus as they get involved.

As noted under Sg 10, when a dispute is still small but threatens to become schismatic, a Community may use the procedures described under Sg 10 & 11. Once it has become a major issue, however, the procedures to follow are these:

In the presence of — Step 1: a) The Community meets, with at least four bhikkhus — the minimum to form a quorum — present. All of the bhikkhus in the territory are either present or have sent their consent, and none of the bhikkhus present protests having the matter settled by the group.
b) Both sides of the dispute are present.
c) The meeting is carried out in a way that does not transgress any of the rules laid down by the Buddha, and the unanimous decision of the Community is in line with what the Buddha actually laid down. This point is important: It means that no Community — even if it follows the proper form for the meeting — can legitimately replace the Buddha's teachings with its own preferences on any point.

If the Community can settle the matter in this way, it is properly settled and should not be reopened.

Step 2: If the Community cannot settle the matter, they should go to a monastery where there are more bhikkhus and ask them to help settle the matter. If the group can settle the matter among themselves on the way to the other monastery, then it is properly settled, and they may return home to their own monastery.

Step 3: If the matter is still unsettled by the time they reach the second monastery, they should ask the resident bhikkhus there to help settle the matter. The resident bhikkhus should then meet and consider among themselves whether they are competent to do so. If they feel they aren't, they shouldn't take it on. If they feel they are, they should then ask the incoming bhikkhus how the dispute arose. (The Commentary here adds that the residents should first stall for two or three days — saying that they have to wash their robes or fire their bowls first — as a way of subduing the pride of the incoming bhikkhus.)

Once the resident bhikkhus have asked the history of the dispute, the incoming bhikkhus are to say that if the resident bhikkhus can settle the dispute, they (the incoming bhikkhus) will hand it over to them; if they can't settle it, the incoming bhikkhus will still be in charge of the matter.

If the resident bhikkhus can then settle the dispute, it is properly settled.

Step 4: If they can't settle it in this way — and, in the words of the Canon, "endless disputes arise, and there is no discerning the meaning of a single statement" — the disputants should, with a motion and announcement, hand the matter over to a panel of experts (§). The Commentary recommends a panel of ten. Each member of the panel must, in brief, meet the following qualifications:

The Commentary notes that while the panel is discussing the issue, none of the other bhikkhus is to speak. If the panel can settle the issue, it is properly settled and should not be reopened.

Step 5: If the panel has trouble settling the issue, and there are members of the panel who "hide the Dhamma under the shadow of the letter" — i.e., use the letter of the rules to go against the spirit — they may be removed from the panel through a formal motion. If the panel can then settle the issue, it is properly settled.

If not — and by this time, the Commentary says, at least two or three monasteries have become involved — the procedures of "in the presence of" have been exhausted, and the dispute must go on to a settlement "in accordance with the majority."

In accordance with the majority: A decision by majority vote is valid only when it meets the ten qualifying factors listed above, under As 5. When these factors are all present, the group should first ask one of its members to act as a distributor of voting tickets. He should be free of the four kinds of bias (from desire, aversion, delusion, and fear), and know what does and does not constitute the proper taking of a voting ticket. Before accepting the role, he should reflect on whether the situation meets the ten qualifying factors, and accept only when it does. Once he accepts the role, he is to be authorized by means of a formal motion and announcement.

He is then to have voting tickets made — a different color for each side — and conduct the ballot in one of three ways: secretly, by whispering in the ear, or openly.

In secret balloting, he is to tell each bhikkhu, "This color is for this side, and that color for that. Take one, but don't show it to anyone." According to the Commentary, this method is to be used when there are many unconscientious bhikkhus in the assembly.

In "whispering in the ear" balloting, he is to whisper to each bhikkhu, "This color is for this side, and that color for that. Take one, but don't tell anyone." This method, the Commentary says, is for assemblies in which there are many foolish or trouble-making bhikkhus.

In open balloting, the bhikkhus are to take the voting tickets openly. This method is for assemblies where the distributor is certain that the conscientious bhikkhus are in the majority.

Once the vote is taken, the distributor is to assess the result before announcing it. If he sees that the anti-Dhamma side has won, he is to annul the balloting and take the vote all over again. According to the Commentary, he may take the vote up to three times. If the anti-Dhamma side is still in the majority, he should announce that the time is not right for a vote, adjourn the meeting, and try to find more bhikkhus on the side of the Dhamma to join the next meeting.

These procedures make two interesting assumptions: One side of the dispute is clearly in the right, and the distributor must belong to the right side. If he belongs to the wrong side, the balloting is invalid and the issue may later be reopened without penalty. If neither side is clearly in the right, the compilers of the Cullavagga would probably consider the issue unimportant and not worthy of a vote in the first place. If this is true, then even if a vote is taken, it would not be a valid use of the procedure, and the results would not be binding.

In all of these steps for settling dispute-issues, the important point to remember is that in no way is a group of bhikkhus to rewrite the Dhamma or Vinaya in line with their views. Even if they attempt it, following the procedures to the letter, the fact that their decision goes against the Buddha's teachings invalidates their efforts, and the issue may be reopened at any time without penalty.

Accusations. When a bhikkhu has committed an offense, it is his responsibility to undergo the attendant penalty voluntarily so as to make amends for it. If his fellow bhikkhus see, hear, or suspect that he has committed an offense without undergoing the penalty, it is their duty to question and admonish him in private, in accordance with the procedures discussed under Sg 8. The issue may be settled informally in one of three ways: (1) The accused admits to the act, sees it as an offense, and undergoes the penalty. (2) He is truly innocent, professes his innocence, and can convince his admonishers that their suspicions were ungrounded. (3) He committed the action in question but was insane at the time, and can convince his accusers that this was the case.

If both sides act in good faith and without prejudice, issues of this sort are relatively easy to settle informally in this way. If the issue can't be settled informally, it should be taken to a meeting of the Community for a formal interrogation and verdict.

When the Community meets, both the accuser (X) and the accused (Y) must be present. (If the original accuser is a lay person, one of the bhikkhus is to take up the accusation.) If they meet during the regular time for the Pāṭimokkha (see BMC2, Chapter 15), the accusation must first be preceded by a formal period of questions and answers about Vinaya matters touching on the accusation (Mv.II.15.6-11). This is to educate the group as a whole so that they will be ready to judge the case. This also gives Y the chance to speak up and confess the offense, if he is guilty of it, so as to eliminate the need for any further interrogation. However, Mv.II.15.8 and Mv.II.15.11 indicate that the bhikkhus who are to ask and answer Vinaya questions should first assess the assembly to see if it is safe and advisable to bring the issue up, for there may be bhikkhus present who might react violently if the matters under discussion touch too closely on their own misbehavior or that of their friends.

If, after the conclusion of the Vinaya questions and answers, Y has not confessed an offense, X — while the motion for the Pāṭimokkha is being recited — may interrupt it with the announcement that Y has an offense and that the Pāṭimokkha should not be recited in his presence (see BMC2, Chapter 15, for the formal statement). Then, after assessing Y's state of mind — to ensure that he won't act in a threatening way if accused — X asks formal leave to speak to Y about the offense, saying, "May the venerable one give leave. I want to speak with you — Karotu āyasmā okāsaṃ. Ahan-taṃ vattukāmo." Y, after assessing his accuser and the assembly, may choose to give leave or not. (See the discussion of this point under Sg 8.) If he chooses not to, the Pāṭimokkha will not be recited that day. The issue is left hanging for the time being and can be brought up at a later date.

If X brings up the issue during the Invitation (see BMC2, Chapter 16), a similar process is followed, although this time there is no need for the preliminary session of questions and answers. X can simply ask Y's leave to speak about the accusation; if Y doesn't give leave, X can cancel his invitation, and the Community has to look into the matter. If they know that X is incompetent or ignorant, they will override his cancellation and continue with the Invitation. Otherwise, they will question him about his planned accusation. If they find his answers ignorant and inconsistent, they can override the cancellation. If, however, they find his answers knowledgeable and consistent, they should look into the matter. Still, Y has the right not to give leave to his accuser if he feels that the Community will not give him a fair hearing. That means that the Invitation will not continue and that the issue can be brought up again at a later time.

It is also possible to bring up an accusation in a Community meeting on a day other than the uposatha or the Invitation, but the Canon does not prescribe any special preliminaries for this case. Given the need to have a well-informed assembly, it would be wise to follow the pattern for the Pāṭimokkha and to begin the proceedings with a period of questions and answers about Vinaya rules touching on the proposed accusation.

If, in any of these situations, Y does give leave to X, the next step is for X formally to level his charge against Y, after which Y is made to testify — literally, "made to remember" — whether he can recall having committed the offense in question. Although he can be dealt with only in accordance with what he admits to having done (Mv.IX.6.1-4), Cv.IV.14.29 shows that the other bhikkhus are not to take his first statement at face value.

"There is the case where a bhikkhu, in the midst of the Community, charges (another) bhikkhu with a heavy offense: 'Does the venerable one recall having committed a heavy offense of this sort, a pārājika or bordering on a pārājika?' He (the other) says, 'No...' He (the first) presses the one who denies this, 'Please, venerable sir, very carefully ascertain whether you recall having committed a heavy offense of this sort, a pārājika or bordering on a pārājika.' The second one says, 'I don't recall having committed a heavy offense of this sort... but I do remember having committed a trifling offense of this sort.' The first one presses the one who denies this, 'Please, venerable sir, very carefully ascertain whether you recall having committed a heavy offense of this sort, a pārājika or bordering on a pārājika.' The second one says, 'Look. Unasked, I have admitted to having committed a trifling offense. How would I, when asked, not admit to having committed a heavy offense...?' The first one says, 'You look, friend. (Before,) when you were unasked, you didn't admit to having committed (your) trifling offense. So how would you, when unasked, admit to having committed a heavy offense?"

The accuser should press and cross-examine the accused in this way until the Community is satisfied that the accused is telling the truth, and only then may they pass one of three verdicts:

As we noted above, each of these three verdicts is valid only if in line with the truth. If it so happens that a guilty bhikkhu is given a verdict of mindfulness, a bhikkhu who committed the offense in question while he was in his right mind is given a verdict of past insanity, or an innocent bhikkhu receives a further-punishment transaction, the verdict is invalid. When new evidence surfaces, the case may be reopened and a new verdict arrived at.

There are, however, two situations in which none of these three verdicts applies, and the accusation-issue — at least for the time being — remains unsettled:

Offenses. All offense-issues are settled by means of the principle of in the presence of. Most are also settled by means of the procedure of in accordance with what is admitted. Rare cases may be settled by covering over as with grass.

In accordance with what is admitted: When a bhikkhu has committed an offense requiring confession and then confesses it truthfully in the presence of another bhikkhu, a group of bhikkhus, or a complete Community, that is called settling in accordance with what is admitted. It also counts as having been settled in the presence of the Dhamma and Vinaya and the individuals — i.e., the bhikkhu making the confession and the bhikkhu(s) witnessing it are face to face.

If a bhikkhu has committed a saṅghādisesa offense, it is settled only after he has confessed it and undergone penance — and, if necessary, probation — both of which require further confessions. Only then, when a Community of at least 20 bhikkhus has met to lift the penalty from him, is the offense settled. Here, in the presence of would include not only the Dhamma, Vinaya, and individuals, but also the Community, when it imposes the penance and/or probation, and again when it lifts the penalty.

If a bhikkhu has committed a pārājika offense, it is settled only when he admits that he is no longer a bhikkhu and returns to lay life. Here, in the presence of would have the same factors as under confessable offenses, above.

Covering over as with grass: This procedure has already been discussed in detail above. In the presence of, here, means in the presence of the Dhamma, Vinaya, individuals, and the Community. In the presence of the individuals means that those who make the blanket confession and those who witness it are face to face. In the presence of the Community means that enough bhikkhus for a quorum (four) have arrived, and the assembly is united — all the qualified bhikkhus in the territory have joined the meeting, and none of the bhikkhus, having met, makes protest.

Duty-issues are settled in the presence of —