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On the Restoration of Bhikkhuni Order (2)
 Selected articles

[1] A conversation with a sceptic – Bhikkhuni FAQ. Bhikkhu Sujato.
[2] Glimmers of a Thai Bhikkhuni Sangha History. Ayya Tathaaloka.
[3] Research regarding the lineage of bhikkhuni ordination. Committee of Western Bhiksunis.
[4] First Thai woman ordained. Sanitsuda Ekachai.
[5] The rules are there to be tested. Sanitsuda Ekachai.
[6] Make way for the women. Sanitsuda Ekachai.



A conversation with a sceptic – Bhikkhuni FAQ

Bhikkhu Sujato

What is a bhikkhuni?

A bhikkhuni is a fully ordained Buddhist nun. (Bhikkhunī is a Pali word, used by the Theravada tradition in South Asia. Other traditions use the Sanskrit equivalent bhiksunī, pronounced ‘bhik-shoo-nee’)

Where did the bhikkhuni order come from?

The bhikkhuni order (‘Sangha’) was started by the Buddha himself. When women came to him seeking to live the renunciate life, the Buddha allowed them to go forth in his religion. At that time, the order of bhikkhus (Buddhist monks) already existed, so the Buddha adopted the  code of discipline and way of community life from the bhikkhus and changed it as necessary.

What do we know about bhikkhunis in ancient times?

Most Buddhist texts are told from the bhikkhus’ point of view, so there is not a lot of information about bhikkhunis. But there are several works composed by or about the bhikkhunis in the time of the Buddha. The bhikkhuni Sangha is mentioned throughout the Buddhist disciplinary texts (Vinayas) of all schools. In later years, the inscriptions on Buddhist monuments mention bhikkhunis nearly as often as bhikkhus. They often played important roles, such as donors, scholars, and teachers.

What do bhikkhunis do?

The same things as the bhikkhus. That is, they meditate, study and teach the Dhamma, run monasteries, act as counsellors, participate in ritual and community activities, engage in social service, and so on. 

How do bhikkhunis live?

The ancient texts show that the bhikkhunis’ life was oriented towards seclusion and meditation, but also had a strong community involvement. Each new bhikkhuni must study for several years under a qualified teacher until they are ready to be independent. Like the bhikkhus, the bhikkhunis live entirely on alms offerings, and may not use personal funds. They are supported by donors who supply food, medicines, dwelling, robes, and other needs.

Are there bhikkhunis in all traditions of Buddhism?

There is no simple answer to this question. In ancient times, the Buddhist community was unified, and the bhikkhunis simply formed one part of this earliest Buddhism. Later, as Buddhism diverged into different schools (which happened about 200-400 years after the Buddha), each school had its own bhikkhuni community.     The bhikkhuni Sangha was introduced to Sri Lanka by Venerable Sanghamitta, the daughter of King Ashoka, about 250 BCE. It flourished in Sri Lanka until around 1100 CE, a time of war and famine, and then disappeared. No-one knows exactly why this happened.

But the bhikkhuni lineage was taken from Sri Lanka to China in 443 CE. From there it spread through the East Asian area. Today bhikkhunis are found in China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.

The bhikkhuni lineage was never introduced into Tibet, but in modern times some women practising within the Tibetan tradition have taken bhikkhuni ordination from the East Asian Sangha. These bhikkhunis, such as Ven. Tenzin Palmo, Ven. Thubten Chodren, Ven. Lekshe Tsomo, and others, have gone on to become respected practitioners and teachers in world Buddhism.

In the Theravadin regions of South-east Asia there are occasional references to bhikkhunis through history, but no living bhikkhuni community has survived until today. Like those practising within the Tibetan tradition, women who wish to practice within the Theravada tradition have taken bhikkhuni ordination from the East Asian bhikkhuni Sangha, sometimes together with Theravada bhikkhus. Today there are many hundreds of bhikkhunis living in Sri Lanka. In Thailand there are a few bhikkhunis, who are generally well accepted by the community, but are denied official support from the Sangha administration. In Cambodia, one of the Sangharajas (Leaders of the Sangha) is personally supporting a bhikkhuni community. Two years ago a Myanmar bhikkhuni was thrown in jail due to the objections of the monks. Suffering from post-traumatic stress, she subsequently disrobed. Hence there are no bhikkhunis in Myanmar.

Why do we need bhikkhuni ordination?

There are three essential reasons why bhikkhuni ordination is so important.

1. The bhikkhuni ordination was designed by the Buddha himself to provide the ideal platform for women to seek full liberation. As bhikkhus, we are reminded every day of the Buddha’s consummate skill in understanding the needs of monastics, and establishing a way of training that is finely tuned to support the holy life. We feel nurtured and supported by the knowledge that we have fully entered into the Sangha, and are practising within the same community as the arahants of old.

2. From the time of his Enlightenment to the time of his Parinibbana, the Buddha consistently stated that for his religion to be complete and successful, it must consist of the four-fold assembly: bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, laymen, and laywomen. Any other arrangement is imbalanced and incomplete. Without the bhikkhuni Sangha, Buddhism is deprived of a tremendously powerful spiritual component. In virtually all meditation retreats, the women far outnumber the men. Imagine the loss of spiritual leadership the Buddhist community has suffered by denying these sincere practitioners a role in leading the Buddhist community.

3. If Buddhist institutions remain male-only, they will become increasingly marginalized in a world that accepts the equality of women. Rather than falling behind the rest of the world in our spiritual values, we should recognize that the principle of equality for all is based on the same ethical values that inform the heart of true Buddhism: universal loving-kindness and compassion.

Is it really true that women have bad kamma and can’t get enlightened?

Of course not. The Buddha emphatically stated that if when go forth they have exactly the same potential as men, and are fully capable of even the highest level of arahantship. The original Buddhist texts contain verses by enlightened bhikkhunis such as Venerable Uppalavaṇṇā, Venerable Khemā, and many others. In fact, this literature forms one of the oldest records of women’s spiritual accomplishments found anywhere in the world.

But can’t the women just be happy to have 10-precept ordination (as a samaneri)?

The samaneri ordination, as it is presented in the Vinaya, is for girls who were too immature to take on the full training. It was never meant for mature women. The Buddha established only one framework for mature renunciate women, and that is the bhikkhuni Sangha. Attempts to invent new ordination platforms will never gain the acceptance of the Buddhist community at large. The end result is a proliferation of incompatible models, which further weakens the already fragmented nuns’ community. In Buddhist nations, it is only within those countries that support bhikkhuni ordination that women have a leading and recognized role.

I’ve heard that Theravada monks will never accept bhikkhunis. Is this true?

No. Some monks support, some oppose. In a conservative body like the Sangha, which is, after all, made up of human beings, there are many who would prefer to cling to what they know and are comfortable with. Sometimes it seems that Buddhist monks will tell you that everything is impermanent; yet they never want anything to change!

Part of the problem is that bhikkhus do not know very much about the position of bhikkhunis within original Buddhism. Sangha education is still largely based on traditional materials, and this tends to create a culture which values preservation rather than reformation.

But we can understand the process better when we reflect that similar situations are found in all the major world religions. In every religion, a vital message of freedom has become the basis for wealthy and powerful religious institutions. These are owned and run exclusively by men who believe they have a sacred right to inherit both the material property and the spiritual authority of those institutions. Whenever this is challenged, those who benefit from the old arrangement will resist change. Invariably, they produce a religious text which they claim provides an ancient, irrevocable mandate for their monopoly. Such arguments, however, are usually only persuasive to those who benefit from them, for a number of very good reasons:

1. Any ancient text is subject to a number of different interpretations, and rarely is there an unambiguous case to support the male monopoly.
2. The ancient texts were composed long ago in a limited historical and cultural context, and the authors could not have envisaged our present day social conditions.
3. Refusing to support the religious aspirations of women because of legalistic details contradicts the luminous spiritual values of compassion and wisdom.

This explains the fact, which I have repeatedly heard from nuns living in Thailand, that they have not experienced opposition from the individual monks so much, but mainly with the Sangha administration. Opposition to bhikkhunis does not arise spontaneously from the ground up, as some sort of genetic predisposition. It must be strenuously maintained from the top down, as an ideological imposition.

But the Buddha tried to prevent the ordination of women!

This refers to the legend of the request by Mahapajapati, the Buddha’s foster-mother, to gain ordination as the first nun. Modern scholars have shown that this story abounds in textual problems, and cannot possibly be a factual account. It is not sure exactly why it took shape in this form. But perhaps it originally stemmed from personal difficulties concerning Mahapajapati, which were later taken to apply to the bhikkhunis as a whole.

So isn’t it the case that the Buddha said that if bhikkhunis were ordained, Buddhism would die out after 500 years?

This prophecy is part of the same legend, and the text depicts the Buddha making this prophecy after accepting Mahapajapati as a bhikkhuni. Obviously, it’s been a lot more than 500 years since then, and Buddhism has not yet died out! Either this statement was not spoken by the Buddha, or else he made a serious mistake. But given that nowhere else does the Buddha claim to be able to predict the future in this way, it seems certain that this is not an authentic saying. Anyone who is familiar with ancient mythic texts would know that, invariably, prophecies are a disguised way of referring to their own time, and only on the surface do they refer to the future.

Sometimes you might hear that the Buddha predicted that the Bhikkhuni Sangha would die out after 500 years, and it is argued from this that the Buddha intended the bhikkhunis to disappear. This is incorrect. The supposed prophecy refers to Buddhism as a whole, not to the bhikkhunis, as anyone who takes the time to read the text would know. In fact, it is now 2500 years, and neither the Bhikkhuni Sangha nor Buddhism look like vanishing any time soon.

Didn’t the Buddha make all sorts of extra, difficult rules for the nuns?

It is true that the list of rules for nuns is longer that that for monks. But this is for many reasons. In some cases, the monks actually have the same rules, but they are just not included in the main list. In other cases, the number of rules is simply multiplied due to repetition. In such cases the practical effect of the rule is not changed. In other cases the rules address specific feminine issues, such as ensuring menstrual hygiene, or guaranteeing the safety of the nuns. But where there are genuine differences between the sets of rules, there is no hard and fast principle: in some cases the monks’ rules are stricter, and in some cases the nuns’ rules are stricter.

But the rules do subordinate the nuns to the monks, don’t they?

No. The Vinaya does not allow for any power-based relationship between the monks and nuns. In other words, no monk, not even the entire community of monks, has the right to order a bhikkhuni to do anything. In fact, there are many rules that protect the nuns, for example, by forbidding the monks to use nuns as domestic servants by having them wash or sew their robes for them.

The Buddha set up the relationships between the male and female Sangha based on mutual respect under the Vinaya. Bhikkhunis are included within the original ‘Dual Sangha’ as set up by the Buddha, and managed according to the ‘Dual Vinaya’ accepted among all schools. So, in the relationships between the male and female Sanghas, Vinaya is the guide. Each monk or nun must take the Dhamma & Vinaya as the final authority, not the statements of any individual monks.

There is a rule, however, that requires that the bhikkhunis bow to the monks. This is a matter of etiquette, not power. Many bhikkhunis sincerely respect this rule, as it honours the Bhikkhu Sangha, which was originally the senior community. However, the authenticity of this rule is doubted by modern scholars. In any case, the Buddha stated that this rule was laid down in accord with the customs of the time, so many people believe this should not apply today.

Anyway, the bhikkhunis are forbidden from teaching the bhikkhus, aren’t they?

No. This is a misunderstanding based on a mistranslation of one of the special rules for bhikkhunis. In fact, the rule forbids bhikkhunis from criticizing bhikkhus, which probably refers to making accusations about Vinaya matters. As far as teaching is concerned, there is no prohibition in Vinaya. How could there be? The Buddha always encouraged us to learn Dhamma whenever we can.

The bhikkhunis from the East Asian countries are Mahayana, so how can they give ordination to Theravada bhikkhunis? After all, a chicken can’t lay a duck egg!

This is an ideological position based on a series of misunderstandings. Ideas such as ‘Theravada’ and ‘Mahayana’ are not found in the Vinaya, they were invented by later generations. The actual historical situation is as follows.

Originally the Sangha lived as one, following a unified code of conduct (Vinaya) as prescribed by the Buddha. A few centuries after the Buddha’s Parinibbana, the unified community broke up, forming the ‘18 schools’ of Early Buddhism, one of which was the Theravada of Sri Lanka. (At this time, Mahayana had not yet appeared.) Each school inherited the original Vinaya and adapted it in minor details. But all Vinaya scholars who have studied the matter, whether lay or monastic, agree that the essential aspects of the Vinayas are compatible .

All bhikkhus and bhikkhunis are ordained under the ordination lineage and procedures of the Vinayas of these early schools. The East Asian traditions owe their lineage to the Dharmaguptaka school, while the Central Asian traditions stem from the Mulasarvastivada. Hence from the Vinaya point of view, there is no such thing as a ‘Mahayana’ bhikkhu or bhikkhuni. ‘Mahayana’ is a set of texts, doctrines, beliefs, and practices, but it has never been an ordination lineage.

As we have seen, the ordination lineage of the bhikkhunis stems from Sri Lanka, so it is a part of the same broad community as the Theravada. When this lineage was introduced into China, the Vinaya masters of China and Sri Lanka obviously decided that the ordination procedures of the schools were compatible. Hence the first Chinese bhikkhuni ordinations were conducted with Sri Lankan bhikkhunis using Dharmaguptaka rites.

Bhikkhuni ordinations in modern times simply reverse this ancient precedent: bhikkhunis from the East Asian tradition, together with Theravada bhikkhus, perform the ordination for women wishing to practice within the Theravada tradition.

Bhikkhuni ordination is just a Western feminist imposition on Buddhist culture!

As we have seen, bhikkhuni ordination is an intrinsic part of all Buddhism since the beginning. This lapsed during medieval times, as Buddhism slowly drifted away from its roots. In modern times, due to advances in communication and learning, those roots are being rediscovered and the value of the original teachings is increasingly recognized.

Of course, Western education and ideas have played a positive role in this process. But by far the strongest bhikkhuni movements are in Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. The Western Sangha, in Theravada at least, lags far behind Asia in accepting bhikkhunis.

And we must be careful how we use the word ‘feminist’. If we understand feminism to mean a compassionate understanding of the special kinds of suffering endured by women, and a positive effort to redress such suffering, then the Buddha was the first feminist!

If the case for bhikkhunis is as compelling as you say, why do even great meditation masters oppose bhikkhuni ordination?

This is a difficult question, one that I have struggled with for years. I find a key to understanding in some texts where the arahants are criticized by the Buddha. We read of the Buddha admonishing, say, Venerable Sariputta, or Venerable Moggallana, or other the great disciples, for their lack of understanding in matters relating to the organization and management of the Sangha, or its relations with the lay community. It seems that, while they have full understanding as to their own minds, even awakened beings can lack full insight into matters of social dynamics.

The Buddhist Sangha forms its own culture, with its own language, ideology, history, and forms. All those who enter this culture are immersed in these values. Such views, inherited in the early years of monastic life, will tend to remain and no amount of meditation will change them, until there is an active process of dialogue and questioning within the community. The very fact that meditation prowess is revered so highly makes it very difficult to challenge the opinions of the masters, even when those opinions relate to matters other than meditation, such as the history of ordination lineages.

This is not to say that meditation is useless in this context. It is only that meditation by itself cannot change our views. What it can do, however, is to enable us to be more open and reflective around our views. We will understand the conditioned and provisional nature of our opinions, and be much more accepting of other perspectives.

But you have to admit that if there are bhikkhunis in a monastery, there is a big danger that the passions will be aroused?

This is usually not a problem, for we have the Vinaya as our protection. This ensures that monks and nuns can never enter into a situation of intimacy. Monks and nuns live in separate monasteries, or else in the same monastery, but in separate quarters.

Of course, no protection is total, and it is inevitable that from time to time monks and nuns will fall in love and disrobe. But this happens all the time anyway. Monks fall in love with laywomen, nuns with laymen, monks with laymen, nuns with laywomen, and all the other lurid combinations best left unimagined. Experience shows that, in a committed monastic environment, the proportion of monks who disrobe to get together with a nun is minimal. In the very rare cases when it happens, we should simply wish them the best, and hope they can continue to thrive in the Dhamma.

To my mind, a far bigger problem is that, when entirely separated from nuns, monks may not learn to respect women as equal partners in the spiritual life. Monks are able to relate to women as a mother: the wonderful donors who bring food every day. We see women who are like a daughter: the enthusiastic girls and young women who come to learn and meditate. We treat women like a lover: the temptress, the danger to be feared and guarded against. But never can we relate to women as a sister: a friend as we grow together through life. I think this is very sad, and is our great loss.

Actually I was convinced about how wonderful the idea of bhikkhunis was as soon as I heard of their existence. I only asked those questions to stir you up!

Well, that’s good, I enjoy a good stirring. But make sure you also stir up any monks who don’t support bhikkhunis!  [^]

Source: Santi Forest Monastery, https://santifm1.0.googlepages.com


Glimmers of a Thai Bhikkhuni Sangha History

Ayya Tathaaloka
Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Although history would indicate that in the past there have been both bhikkhunis and samaneris in [the lands now known as] Thailand, from the time of the Ashokan missions of Arahantas Sona and Uttara to Suvannabhumi, up until the Ayutthaya Period, and even into the twentieth century [in the northern regions], there is little or no public knowledge nor a sense of connectedness to this distant and more recent past."

This sentence within "Mining for Gold" has elicited significant surprise, interest and curiosity amongst both friends and eminent fellow monastic Sangha members who have read it, particularly those who have lived in Thailand for many years, but "never had a clue." The information that I've come upon in the past years has largely been brought forth by the simple merit of the interest stimulated by the rare appearance of a female form clothed in the patchwork saffron robe, both during my time in Thailand and elsewhere amongst the Thai people, scholars and Sangha members. For those mentioned above who have requested sharing knowledge of the details, they are laid forth here for reflection and consideration. As the information is substantial and deviates from the main theme and flow of "Mining for Gold" it is set forth separately in this appendix. Recognizing that the work shown here with this important subject is barely a beginning and highly inadequate, it is my hope that, as a beginning, it might at least encourage an opening of ideas and views, as well as further research and publication.

A Weaving of Threads

Like weaving threads together, the lines of a sketch or beginning to lay out pieces of a puzzle, I will lay out what I have come across for consideration. The clues span a vast period of time, from roughly the 3rd century BCE through to the 20th century, a period of perhaps 2,300 years, nearly as long as Buddhist history itself. I will divide it roughly into three sections as mentioned in the "Mining for Gold" text: (1) the Ancient period or time of the Ashokan missions of Sona and Uttara to Suvannabhumi, (2) the middle period of various "Thai" kingdoms up until the founding of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, and (3) the period of more recent history reaching into the twentieth century and modern times.

Ancient Period

The first references to bhikkhunis in the lands now known as Thailand come from the records of the Ashokan missions of the Arahanta Theras Sona and Uttara to Suvannabhumi, the ancient and famed "Land of Gold." Although the exact boundaries of the ancient Land of Gold are unknown, the Thai people have strong emotional ties to the history of this land that may be seen in many facets of their culture, in the ancient name of one of their provinces, Suphanbhuri, and the modern, new Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Historians say the Land of Gold roughly covered the territories now known as Burma, Thailand and Laos, as well as parts of Southern China, Cambodia and Northern Malaysia.

The journey of Sona and Uttara Thera to Suvannabhumi is recorded in the important Pali text the Samantapasadika, in the ancient Sri Lankan chronicles the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa as well as in the Vinaya commentary Sudassanavinayavibhasa. [1] According to the Samantapasadika, the Theras "ordained 3,500 men and 1,500 women, establishing the Buddhadhamma." In Thai Buddhist historical texts, this record appears in the Thai Ruan Song Pra Thera Bye Prakat Pra Sasana Ni Thang PrathetAbout Theras Going to Teach Buddhism Abroad where we find that:

"Youths in the group of royal males of the number of 3,500 ordained. The royal female youths in the number of 1,500 ordained. Thus, the Theras firmly established Buddhism in the area of Suvannabhumi. Thereafter, the young people of the royal heritage received the Dhamma lineage of Sona and Uttara." [2]

The exact location of the ordinations is disputed. I have no intent to propose which site might have actually been the real and true location of the Suvannabhumi bhikkhus' and bhikkhunis' ordination or whether the Ashokan Missions really happened as recorded, but rather to show that the Thai people themselves lay both historical and emotional claim to the site that their own Buddhist textual records indicate was the place where 1,500 women were ordained as bhikkhunis from the very beginning of the recorded establishment of Buddhism in their land.

The Thai people regularly speak of the location of this great happening, the foundation of the Buddhism in their land, as having occurred at the "First Chedi" Nakhon Pathom, thousands of people coming to pay their reverence to the site daily for this reason. The Burmese people locate the site in Burma at Thaton where there is also a shrine devoted to this most famous and venerable of occurrences. However, according to research done by Ven. Ratanavali Bhikkhuni, contemporary Thai Buddhist historians locate the site of the first ordinations at the ancient Thai city of Nakonsi Thammarat (Nagara Sri Dharmarajasima). According to interviews conducted with local Nakonsi Thammarat historians, it is well known that Buddhism first entered Suvannabhumi in what is now known as Nakonsi Thammarat, not Nakhon Pathom. The Thai Tipitaka reference above is anthropologically linked to the Nakonsi Thammarat Yak Chedi (Yaksa Chaitya) through the accompanying Tipitaka story of the Theras displaying their power over the supernatural forces the people had feared and worshipped by subduing the Yaksas (ogres, cannibals, flesh-eating giants) before teaching the Dhamma and giving ordination. The main Nakonsi Thammarat Chedi, built in Sri Lankan style, is also linked by local history directly to the Tipitaka history and the arrival of the Theras Sona and Uttara. It is recorded to have been built in conjuct with the Sri Lankans to commemorate the site where Indian Prince Kumar and Indian Princess Hemachala (whose statuary images remain there) came with a tooth relic of the Buddha, now enshrined there in memory of it being the site of the establishment of the Buddha Sasana. This is confirmed by Phra Raj Suwan Maytee in Pan Din Ton: Nakon Pathom dan gert Prabuddhasasana.

Neither the Samantapasadika Pali nor the Thai account say what the noblemen and women were "ordained" (Thai: buat) as. However, by the famed statement that "Buddhism has only been established in a land when both sons and daughters of that land have been ordained [as bhikkhus and bhikkhunis,]"[3] it may be inferred that it was upon such ordination that the pronouncement "the Buddhadhamma has been established" was made in the end of the Samantapasadika account. This is confirmed by the less well-known Sudassanavinayavibhasa which does specify that the men and women were in fact ordained as bhikkhus and bhikkhunis.

Another point of interest is that according to the Thai Vinaya Pitaka version of the Samantapasadika, as related by former Thai Senator Rabiaprat Pongpanit in her 2002 report to the Thai Senate, both men and women appear to have been ordained by the Bhikkhu Sangha alone, as there is no mention of bhikkhunis among the "five bhikkhus, samaneras, upasakas, brahmans, high ranking government officials and members of royalty totaling thirty-eight persons" [4] who comprised the Ashokan mission. In fact, all of the Ashokan mission records in which both men and women are recorded as ordained in various countries surrounding India by the Arahanta missionaries following their teaching, other than the Sri Lankan record, follow this same pattern. This does not mean that the calling upon of bhikkhunis to perform the dual ordination did not happen, as this part of the historical records could certainly have been lost in many cases. However, the history in its current form could also be seen as giving precedent, in the behavior of numerous Arahanta Dhamma teachers of great renown, to the ordination of both women and men as bhikkhus and bhikkhunis by the Bhikkhu Sangha in the absence of a Bhikkhuni Sangha.

The Middle Period: the Kingdoms of Pattani, Sukhothai, Lanna-thai and Ayutthaya

According to the general Buddhist history of this area in the middle period, there were bhikkhus and bhikkhunis of various Buddhist schools and traditions – Theravada (Sthaviravada or Hinayana), Mahayana and Vajrayana – throughout the lands of South and Southeast Asia. Middle period references specifically to bhikkhunis in the area that is now named Thailand come from the Pattani, Lanna-thai and Sukhothai periods as well as the Ayutthaya period.

Pattani (3rd – 17th Century CE)

Moving through time, we come to the Kingdom of Pan Pan, not far removed from modern Nakonsi Thammarat. Pan Pan was later know by the Thais as Pattani and is considered by them to be one of their ancient historic kingdoms. Earlier historical records of Pan Pan span the 3rd through the 7th centuries of the Common Era; later records of Pattani extend through the 17th century, up until the absorption of the kingdom in the modern Bangkok period.

In his work Nuns of Southeast Asia (3.6), Peter Skilling relates this finding:

"[In] Ma Tuan-lin's description of the Kingdom of P'an P'an in his Wen-hsien Tung-k'ao: 'There are ten monasteries where Buddhist monks and nuns study their canon. They eat all types of meat, but restrain from wine.' Wheatley and others have concluded that P'an-p'an was located in the vicinity of the Bay of Bandon in peninsular Siam."

The record is estimated to be related to the 7th century CE. The word "nun" in the record is the Chinese character ni commonly used as an abbreviation of the three Chinese characters bi-ku-ni. Although the record is Chinese, the description of the food consumed by the monks and nuns does not bear the marks of the discipline of the Chinese Mahayana schools, thus it seems that these female Buddhist monastics would have belonged to one of the Sthaviravadan or Theravadan schools.

Sukhothai (13th – 15th Century CE)

According to Thai records as related by the Research Department of Rajavidyalaya Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya Royal Thai University (hereafter abbreviated as "Mahachula") there are Sukhothai records of bhikkhunis ordained by the Bhikkhu Sangha alone. The question has been raised by scholars whether the (perhaps) original practice of ordaining bhikkhunis by the Bhikkhu Sangha alone may have continued in Thailand from the Ashokan period, rather than being replaced shortly after the original ordinations by the dual-ordination practice. Since these bhikkhunis did not have dual ordination, modern monastic and lay Thai Buddhist scholars have affirmed they may not be considered to have constituted a legitimate historical Bhikkhuni Sangha, having not met the full criteria for ordination as bhikkhunis. However, it may be noted that according to Vinaya, in the time of the Buddha, neither early bhikkhunis ordained by the Bhikkhu Sangha alone nor even those ordained by the "bhikkhu rite," rather than the "bhikkhuni rite," were to be considered not ordained.

Lanna-thai (13th – 16th Century CE)

In Nuns of Southeast Asia at 3.6, Skilling further relates that:

"in Lanna Thai literature (Catalogue of Palm Leaf Texts on Microfilm at the Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai) there are two texts entitled Tamnan Bhikkhuni Dona and Tamnan Sindu Bhikkhuni, which from their titles are the biographies of bhikkhunis. These bhikkhunis do not seem to be listed in the Tipitaka – at least they are not listed in Malasekara's DPPN, thus there is the speculation that they might be later bhikkhunis' histories." [5]

As these bhikkhunis' names appear to not be among those dating from the earliest days of the Indian Sangha, there is the expectation that rare and precious records of later bhikkhunis, whether from Thailand or from other locales may have been discovered. It was also in the Lanna-thai period that Sanghanusati chants including the recollection of the virtues of the Thirteen Foremost Bhikkhuni Disciples were composed and their recitation called for by the royalty for the blessings of the populace and nation. Considering the formal veneration payed to the Arahant bhikkhunis by even the great kings of the Buddha's time, it might be seen as ironic that in 2007 CE, bhikkhuni Arahanta statuary images from the Lanna-thai period were removed to Wat Songdhammakalyani (a bhikkhuni temple) from the Lanna-thai monastery where they were long enshrined, as modern local monks felt it inappropriate for men to show veneration to their female forms.

Ayutthaya Period (14th – 18th Century CE)

Further bhikkhuni records were spoken of at Mahachula, recovered incidentally while conducting research related to the exchange of the upasampada ordination between Thailand and Sri Lanka, in particular the ordinations which facilitated the (re)establishment of the Thai Sangha upon the founding of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. These records indicate the existence of pre-Lankavamsa Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Sanghas in Thailand, up to the entry into the Ayutthaya period, at which time these Sanghas were ended and a new Bhikkhu-only Sangha established with royal patronage and support from the Bhikkhu Sangha lineage of Sri Lanka.

By way of explanation, it is recorded that the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was named after the Indian Kingdom of Ayodhya, famed birthplace of the Hindu God Rama and the "first man" Manu. In its ruling secular and religious leadership structure, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya showed a great harmonizing of the religious teachings and practices of its time: Brahmanistic or Hindu, and both Mahayana and Theravadan Buddhist. The king was thus availed of both the divine right to rule via the Brahman priests as well as the Buddhist messianic right as a "wheel turning monarch" and an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Phra Ariya Maitreya – the future Buddha. These hardly seem to have been unique ideas; in the centuries both preceding and following, history records many Asian rulers, both Thai and non-Thai, adopting similar means in various combinations of these same prevailing teachings.

The records relate the causal reasoning behind the ending of the Bhikkhuni Sangha as "inappropriate relationship" with men and the Bhikkhu Sangha. This is interpreted by some scholars to mean that there were allegations of sexual misconduct. Indeed, this seems to have been a topic of literally mortal concern during the Ayutthaya period, as Skilling has found records of Buddhist monks being regularly punished to death by public roasting over fire for allegations made of sexual misconduct. For this reason, foreign documenters observed and noted that only women past their childbearing years were allowed to respectably don even white robes in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. [6] Other scholars understand this statement regarding "inappropriateness of the bhikkhunis" to mean that it was considered inappropriate for women to have the status of Brahman priests [7] within the social/religious/ideological framework of the Ayodhyan Brahmanical tenants of the Manudharmashastra, a system of philosophy and social order which had spread at that time from India to Thailand. This system by law subordinates women first to their fathers, then husbands and finally sons, and does not allow for the possibility of women's salvation other than through the "sacrifices" or the merit offered by their sons. Finally, there has been the further speculation that the cessation of the previous Sangha was simply, if nothing else, an oft-repeated political move to ensure the loyalty of the clergy to the sovereign, and thus the solidarity of the kingdom.

As apparent in the Kingdom of Siam exhibit shown in 2004 CE in the United States at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the writings and meticulous drawings of at least one foreign Jesuit missionary in Ayutthaya nonetheless still record the presence of undoubtedly feminine, [8] saffron-robed, shaven-headed monastics sitting on raised-platform seats in distinctly Thai-temple environs during that period. [9] Skilling finds records of robed Buddhist renunciate women in those times still addressed as bhagini – "sisters," the Pali/Sanskrit form of respectful address used by both the Buddha and Theras, as well as called nang-chee – "lady renunciates," a melding of Thai and Brahmanical terms and the precursor of the modern, white-robed mae-chee.

According to scholars, it may be reasonably assumed that some numbers of both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis of lineages and traditions from the pre-Ayutthaya period would have continued to survive in areas of what is now known as Thailand outside of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. This may be confirmed by later records of Bhikkhuni Sangha in the regions that are now known as the surrounding countries of Burma, China and Cambodia.

Pre-modern and Modern Period

Looking for evidence of the continuation of kasaya-robed Buddhist monastic women beyond the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, such evidence may be found in nearly all directions.

In the northwest of what is now Thailand, Mon records include bhikkhunis into the 14th century CE. In the northeast, records from Lao territories show yellow-robed female monastics into the 20th century. In the north, Thai-Yuan records of the Yuan Special Autonomous District in Southern China show bhikkhunis contemporarily. The Thai peoples of at least one locale in India also preserve the last remnants of a yellow-robed women's monastic tradition.

To the west in neighboring Myanmar, the Burmese Chronicles of the King's Proclamations, as translated by Dr. Tan Tun in Ideas and Views, shows royal permission granted as late as 1788 CE to women over age nineteen to ordain as bhikkhunis. Additional laws prevented the king's slaves from becoming bhikkhunis and, as late as 1810 CE, required both the bhikkhus' and bhikkhunis' discipline to be royally monitored. It may be noted here that, rather than the "thousand year gap" regularly spoken of, these records leave a gap of less than 200 years [10] in the tradition of full ordination for women in Southeast Asia.

To the east there are more recent Thai-Lao records as well. Most well-known is the travel diary of Hermann Norden, as published by Kamala Tiyavanich in the chapter "Sisterhood of the Yellow Robe" in her book Buddha in the Jungle. Norden writes in his 1920s travel diary for the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britian of his visit to the isolated Muang You people:

"At the bonzerie (monastery or nunnery), I was astonished to see young women in yellow robes and with shaven heads; a Buddhist Sisterhood. They were busily sweeping an already tidy yard; an older woman superintending the work."

To the north, the records are not only recent, but contemporary. Dr. Hua Che Min, a Chinese scholar of Sinhalese language affiliated with the language department at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, has authored a book in Sinhalese about the Thai-lue people's religious lives and practices in the Sip Song Panna Special Autonomous Region in Yunnan Province, Southern China. This book, Theravada Buddhism in China (in Singhalese), records, as of the year 1991 CE, the number of temples and bhikkhus and bhikkhunis of both Mahayana and Theravada traditions, reporting that they have been largely untouched by the Chinese government. Phra Vutthichai Bhikkhu, in his 2006 visit to the area to support the renovation of the Thai people's Theravadan temples, confirmed the reports of the book and reported that the temples look remarkably Thai.

Not only in China and in the regions surrounding modern Thailand, but in the homeland of Buddhism as well, the ethnic Thai peoples seem to have been among the last to devotedly preserve the remnants of their yellow-robed monastic traditions for women. In Yasodhara Magazine, Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni reports her recent discovery of the presence of a tradition of saffron-robed female monastics in at least one ethnic Thai people's community in India. [11]

Once again returning to within the heart of the Thai Kingdom, images of saffron-robed women in Buddhist monastic life do not entirely disappear in the Ratanakosin Era, but may be found in the arts and histories related to the Royal Family.

Many Thais might be surprised to learn that the heritage of the early Arahanta bhikkhunis and the later bhikkhunis' missions were both affirmed and royally honored in Thailand. In 1836 CE, King Nang Klao – Rama III, established Wat Thepthidarom (Pali: Devadhita-arama) in Bangkok, the Monastery of the Heavenly Daughter, named for his beloved eldest daughter who served efficiently as his personal secretary, Crown Princess Apsonsudathep. The monastery's bhikkhuni Vihara houses statuary images of the Founding Mother of the Bhikkhuni Sangha Mahapajapati Gotami and fifty-two bhikkhuni Arahantas, the images dedicated to his daughter (whose health was ailing) and his fifty-two children. The princess also contributed from her personal fortune to the construction. King Rama III also undertook the 16 year 7 month restoration of the Ayutthayan period monastery Wat Bodharam (commonly known as Wat Pho), initially begun by King Rama I when he established it as a first grade royal monastery in 1788 CE. King Rama III's son Prince Laddawan led in the restoration of the Western Vihara, the famed Temple of the Reclining Buddha, on whose walls may still be found the Mahavamsa mural paintings of the arrival of Ashokan daughter Sanghamitta with the Bodhi tree to Sri Lanka, her meeting with King Devanampiyatissa and her ordination of Queen Anula with her company of 500 women, establishing the Buddhasasana. Other walls in the sanctuary of the Reclining Buddha are covered by extensive and elaborate mural paintings of the thirteen foremost bhikkhuni disciples of the Buddha and their stories, as well as paintings of the ten foremost laymen and laywomen disciples. This great restoration was undertaken by the king to maintain Wat Pho as "a center of both arts and knowledge for the Thai people, where descendants could look indefinitely."

In the years that followed however, few have even known to look. The doors of the Bhikkhuni Vihara in the Monastery of the Heavenly Daughter generally remain locked. As robed, shaven-headed images of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis may look similar without close examination, even well-educated monks living for years at Wat Pho may never know of the content and meaning of its full-wall mural paintings, not to mention the throngs of tourists that pass through its halls each day. The majority of modern records that are often seen related to ordained women in the saffron robes and the Thai royalty might be considered tragic.

Perhaps the most famous is the diary of Anna Leonowens and the Western movies The King and I and Anna and the King based upon it. Anna Owens was the British governess to the Royal court of Siam from 1862-1865 CE, during the reign of King Mongkut – Rama IV, who was a highly-disciplined Buddhist monk himself for many years and founder of the Dhammayuta Nikaya (a reformed monastic order) before ascending to the throne. In her book Romance of the Harem, she relates the pitiful story of the favorite consort-wife of the king, Lady Tuptim, who was engaged to be married when she was chosen for the royal harem. Her fiancé, Pilat, ordained as a Buddhist monk after her leaving, and when Lady Tuptim felt trapped by the confines of her palace life she escaped and secretly ordained as a novice at Phra Pilat's temple. Upon her discovery there, although affirming purity, the two were tried and sentenced to death by fire. We can only guess the impact that such an event may have had upon the thoughts and views of the royal princes and their heirs, amongst them, Prince Chulalongkorn, the son of King Mongkut who was later to become Rama V, the king to follow, and Prince Wachirayan, the son who was to become Sangharaja.

Under the reign of the beloved and revered King Chulalongkorn – Rama V (the son of King Mongkut tutored by Anna Leonowens while a prince) – Siam lost border territories to colonial powers, to France for Laos and Cambodia, to Britain for Burma. However the King was able to maintain independence, declaring Siam an independent kingdom in 1886. A son of King Chulalongkorn's, Rama VI – King Vajiravudh – reigned from 1910 to 1925, during which time he increased the westernization begun by his father and grandfather, including mandatory primary school education and a system of standardized basic education for the Buddhist monastic Sangha. Prince Wachirayan (Vajirananavarovasa) was appointed and empowered by King Vajiravudh as Sangharaja – "Sangha King" or "Supreme Patriarch" of Siam.

Texts authored by Prince Patriarch Vajirananavarorasa for the progress and knowledge of Buddhism and education of the Sangha in the monastic discipline of the Vinaya included the Vinaya Mukha and its English-language translation Entrance to the Vinaya. As these texts are often studied in place of the Vinaya itself, they have led (and still continue to lead) the vast majority of Thai-educated Buddhist monks to hold beliefs expressed therein, such as: a "person who wishes for upasampada (full bhikkhu or bhikkhuni ordination) must be male" and "if one has committed serious offences or one is a woman, then such persons cannot receive the upasampada and their ordination would be known as vatthu-vipatti, literally, defect[ive]." [12] Later, in Volume III of the Vinaya Mukha we find two personal speculative theories propounded by its author: the first, that the Bhikkhuni Sangha "existed temporarily, for no great length of time… [and] probably disappeared in Lord Buddha's own days;" [13] and the second, that from the time of Sanghamitta Theri, daughter of Emperor Ashoka, "it is agreed that the bhikkhunis disappeared." [14] In this case, the "agreement" would seem to have become the self-fulfilling prophecy for a nation. With a concerted effort made to spread and establish a statewide system of secular and monastic education, lay children, samaneras, and bhikkhus, from the early 1900s until the present, all came to be educated that the Bhikkhuni Sasana had died out in India not long after the Buddha's time, the last bhikkhuni being Sanghamitta Theri.

Additionally, according to both Buddhist monastic scholars and Buddhist historians such as Tiyavanich, in the twentieth century, diverse, local, ethnic traditions of Buddhism in Thailand were legally replaced by State Buddhism for the sake of a Unified Thai Nation and Sangha. Empowered by the Sangha Acts of 1903 and 1928, both secular and religious laws were made forbidding the ordination of women due to a perceived political threat. [15] For the sake of a centralized Thai State and uniformity of Sangha standards, although a divergence from the Vinaya, from that time it became illegal for local Elder Buddhist monks to give ordination within their local Sangha traditions and lineages to even men, unless they were approved, trained and certified as Upajjhayas (preceptors) by State Authority.

As a final note, scholar Peter Koret is currently working on the histories of several Thai women ordained as bhikkhunis and disrobed by law during the early 1900s in the Sangha Acts period above. These include the two daughters of outspoken political critic Narin Klung (one of the political threats mentioned above) who were ordained as bhikkhuni and samaneri along with a number of other women. Due to their father's political conflicts, the daughters, Sara and Jongdi, were arrested and most of their Sangha disrobed, while the two sisters were taken to prison where the elder sister was disrobed by force. When released from prison the daughters maintained their monastic life but changed the color of their robes. Their Sangha ended one day when the elder sister, Phra Bhikkhuni Sara, was kidnapped by a rider on horseback while she was walking on almsround. Due to the negative reaction to that event within the Sangha, the then Sangharaja of Thailand passed a law forbidding any and all Thai bhikkhus from acting as preceptors in ordaining women as either samaneris, sikkhamanas, or bhikkhunis.

Nonetheless, twenty-eight years later, in 1956 CE, Thai lady Voramai Kabilsingh received ordination as a samaneri from Phra Prommuni of Wat Bawanniwet, the King's own ordination master. Although she wore light yellow robes of a different color than Thai bhikkhus, in the 1960s she was charged with the illegal act of impersonating a bhikkhu. After learning of the continuation of Sanghamitta Theri's line in the Chinese Dharmagupta bhikkhuni lineage of Taiwan, in 1971 she traveled for the full bhikkhuni ordination there, receiving the ordained name of Shih Ta-Tao Fa-Shr – Venerable Mahabodhi Dhammacarya. In the year 2001, thirty years after her full ordination, Venerable Mother Mahabodhi's daughter Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, herself a respected Buddhist scholar and teacher, traveled to Sri Lanka to receive samaneri ordination and two years later the bhikkhuni ordination upon the revival of the tradition of the bhikkhuni upasampada there. Given the ordained name Bhikkhuni Dhammananda, her ordination together with the beneficent works of others, has paved the way for a gradually but steadily increasing number of Thai women, both Theravadan and Mahayana, to be ordained as samaneris and bhikkhunis both in Sri Lanka, in Taiwan, and once again in Thailand. As their stories are many, they will not be told here. [16] Fortunately, it is the very spirit of further research into the Buddhist texts coupled with dedication to the higher purpose of the Buddhasasana and the welfare of the Monastic Sangha, so championed by Kings Mongkut and his sons King Chulalongkorn and Prince Patriarch Vajirananavarorasa, which has brought this about. In the year 2003 CE, after extensive research and review by the Thai Senate, the secular law banning women's ordination in Thailand was found unconstitutional and revoked as contrary to freedom of religion.

In Conclusion: A Different Definition

Thus, as I have been told by knowledgeable Thai researchers and Buddhist academics, the common statement "Thailand has never had a Bhikkhuni Sangha" or "Thailand has never had bhikkhunis," to current knowledge, might be more accurately and correctly stated as:

Within the domains of the current Chakri dynasty of Rama kings, since its foundation; that is, in the Ratanakosin Era from the Ayutthaya Period through the Bangkok period (1782 CE –present), Thailand has not yet had a royally- or State-sanctioned and supported Bhikkhuni Sangha with dual ordination.

This is not to say that there have never been bhikkhunis amongst the ethnic Thai peoples, nor that the lands, now known as Thailand, have never been host to the Bhikkhuni Sangha.

In fact, the pattern that appears within the historical threads, when woven together, does seem to tell quite a different story.  [^]



[1] A text of Sri Lankan origin taken to China and translated by Sanghabhadra about the time of Buddhagosa. The Chinese translation of the title of this Singhalese Vinaya commentary has been retranslated into Pali as the Sudassanavinayavibhasa.

[2] Ruan Song Pra Thera Bye Prakat Pra Sasana Ni Thang Prathet – p 119: "Puak dek ni tragoon praman 3,500 buat laew. Khuntida praman 1,500 nang gan buat laew. Pra thera nan dye pradit tan prasasana hye damrong man yu ni kwan suvanabum nan laew doy prakan cha ni. Jam derm ther nan ma chon [p 120] chow suvanabum gau dye thang cheu pauk dek ti gert ni ratchathragoon wa Sonuttara serp ma."

[3] Although this statement has been attributed to Ashokan son Mahinda Thera in his words to Sri Lankan King Devanampiyatissa regarding his reason for calling for his bhikkhuni sister Sanghamitta Theri and her peers to establish the Bhikkhuni Sangha, it is based upon various quotations from the Tipitaka. As amalgamated and paraphrased briefly from Analayo's Women's Renunciation in Early Buddhism:

Numerous early canonical passages concur with the clear statement given in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta that the Bhikkhuni Sangha is an integral part of Buddhist community, particularly the Lakkhana Sutta and the Pasadika Sutta of the Digha Nikaya. Even those outside the Buddhist order apparently perceived the existence of proficient female Buddhist monastics [bhikkhunis] as indispensable for the completeness of the Buddha's Sasana, as in the Mahavaccagotta Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya, were we find the wanderer Vaccagotta, soon to enter the Buddhist Sangha and become an Arahanta, proclaiming that: "If, in this teaching, only the Reverend Gotama and the bhikkhus were accomplished, but there would not be accomplished bhikkhunis, then this Holy Life, would be deficient in that respect" – (sace ... imam dhammam bhavañc' eva Gotamo aradhako abhavissa bhikkhu ca ... no ca kho bhikkhuniyo aradhika abhavimsu, evam idam brahmacariyam aparipuram abhavissa ten' angena.) The degree to which the existence of the bhikkhunis is integral to the welfare of the Buddha Sasana is highlighted in Samyutta Nikaya 16.13: "bhikkhu bhikkhuniyo upasaka upasikayo satthari ... dhamme ... sanghe ... sikkhaya ...samadhismim sagarava viharanti sappatissa. Ime kho ... pañca dhamma saddhammassa hitiya asammosaya anantaradhanaya samvattanti." The conditions that lead to the duration of the Dhamma after the Buddha has passed away are treated in the Anguttara Nikaya which states these requisite conditions to be that "the four assemblies be respectful towards the Teacher, the Teaching, the Community, the training and towards each other" – (bhikkhu bhikkhuniyo upasaka upasikayo satthari ... dhamme ... sanghe ... sikkhaya... aññamaññam sagarava viharanti sappa issa. Ayam kho ... paccayo yena Tathagate parinibbute saddhammo cira hitiko hoti.) According to the Dakkhinavibhanga Sutta, from the perspective of merit, a gift given to the Ubhoto Sangha comprised of both bhikkhus and bhikkhus is superior to that given to the Bhikkhu Sangha alone, thus the absence of the Bhikkhuni Sangha would result in a deficiency of the Order as a recipient of gifts. Finally, in Samyutta Nikaya 42.7 we find that, in addition to being treated as superior recipients of offerings, the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis are reckoned together when it comes to receiving teachings, as they constitute the superior field for the Buddha's instructions – ("seyyathapi ... khettam aggam evam eva mayham bhikkhu-bhikkhuniyo.")

[4] Samantapasadika 62-63.

[5] The translation of these texts into Thai was commissioned by Ven. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni in July 2007.

[6] Skilling – Nuns of Southeast Asia

[7] In the Buddha's teaching, a person rightly becomes a Brahman (holy) neither by birth-caste nor by gender, but rather by their own virtuous and noble deeds.

[8] Due to the distinctive double circle breast motif

[9] The author here wonders whether this may have been a drawing of the fabled royal Ayutthayan princess who secretly fled the palace life to be ordained as a bhikkhuni and live the monastic life against the wishes of her father the King.

[10] The eminent teacher of Burmese Master Mahasi Sayadaw, Mingun Jetavan Sayadaw's 1949 CE reasoned proposal for the reestablishment of the Bhikkhuni Sasana in Burma (although not accepted at that time) thus seems to have followed upon no more than 139 years lapse of the Southeast Asian Bhikkhuni Sangha.

[11] See www.thaibhikkhunis.org – Yasodhara Magazine, "back issues."

[12] Entrance to the Vinaya I, pgs 4-5 on fulfilling conditions (sampatti) for ordination. Thai version published in 1903.

[13] Entrance to the Vinaya III, pg 268. Thai version published in 1921, English in 1983.

[14] Entrance to the Vinaya III, pg 269. ""

[15] According to Mahachula, until that time Chinese Mahayana traditions in Thailand still had both Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Sanghas in Thailand, but with the establishment of these laws, they voluntarily gave up their practice of ordaining women.

[16] Many of these women have been awarded as "Outstanding Women in Buddhism" in observance of the United Nation's International Women's Day at the United Nations in Bangkok. Their information may be available through Outstanding Women in Buddhism Awards Secretary General Dr. Tavivat Puntarigvivat or Founder Venerable Rattanavali Bhikkhuni.  [^]



A Response to Necessary Research Regarding the Lineage of Bhiksuni Vinaya

by the Committee of Western Bhiksunis

Source: Sakyadhita, https://www.sakyadhita.org


A. Question: Is it possible to establish full bhiksuni ordination in accordance with the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya tradition that flourished in Tibet?

Yes, the bhiksuni ordination could be performed in one of two ways:

1. Bhiksuni Ordination by Mulasarvastivada Bhiksus Alone

The Buddha allowed bhiksus to ordain bhiksunis as shown by the following Vinaya quotations:

a. Pali Theravada Vinaya

Mahaprajapti was ordained by receiving the eight gurudharmas from the Buddha. Mahaprajapati then asked the Buddha how her 500 women followers should be ordained and the Buddha said, "O monks, I allow bhikkhunis to receive the upasampada from bhikkhus". (1)

b. Mulasarvastivada Vinaya


The first gurudharma is, "O Ananda, after women have received ordination (pravrajya) and full ordination (upasanpada) from the bhiksus, they should thoroughly understand the matter of being a bhiksuni. O Ananda, in this regard, so that women may avoid faults and not transgress, I announce this as the first gurudharma; women should follow this training throughout their lives". (2)


Same as above.(3)


Same as above.(4)

c. Chinese Dharmagupta Vinaya

The fourth gurudharma is: "After having learned the precepts [for two years], a Siksamana should take the full ordination (upasanpada) from the Bhiksu Sangha". (5)

d. Chinese Sarvastivada Vinaya

The second gurudharma is: "A bhiksuni should take full ordination from the Bhiksu Sangha". (6) In this case, bhiksus of the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada Vinaya tradition alone could conduct the bhiksuni ordination.

a. The advantage of this procedure is that it is simple and does not require the involvement of other Buddhist traditions.

b. The disadvantage of this procedure is that the Vinaya sources do not specify that bhiksunis can be ordained by bhiksus alone. Furthermore, this procedure may be criticized as being incomplete by later generations, just like the first ordination of Chinese bhiksunis in 357 C.E.

2. Bhiksuni Ordination by a Dual Sangha of Dharmagupta Bhiksunis and Mulasarvastivada Bhiksus

a. Pali Theravada Vinaya

i. The sixth gurudharma is, "When, as a probationer, she has trained in the six [sikkhamana] rules for two years, she should seek the ordination from both Sanghas". (7)

ii. The dual ordination procedure is prescribed for bhiksunis.(8)

b. Mulasarvastivada Vinaya


The dual ordination procedure is prescribed for bhiksunis. The Blessed One said, "Because Mahaprajapati and the other 500 Sakya women accepted the eight gurudharmas, they went forth and took full ordination; thus, they became bhiksunis. The other women need to be ordained gradually". (9) It follows the karmavacana, i.e., the procedure in which a woman becomes a Buddhist, an upasika, and a monastic, including the gradual stages of ordination up to bhiksuni. First, she is given the [basic] brahmacarya precept by a Sangha of at least 12 bhiksunis, followed by ordination by two Sanghas: a Bhiksuni Sangha of at least twelve bhiksunis and a Bhiksu Sangha of at least ten bhiksus, in front of a karmakaraka who is a bhiksu, by stating the name of her abbess (upadhyayika), etc.(10)


Same as above.(11)


The dual ordination procedure is prescribed for bhiksunis.(12) Mahaprajapati accepted the eight gurudharmas together with 500 women. After that, the Elder Upali asked the Buddha, and the Buddha said, "Mahaprajapati accepted the eight gurudharmas as her going forth and as her full bhiksuni ordination. What about other women? How shall they go about it?" And the Buddha said, "After this, the women should follow the sequence, according to the Dharma, to go forth and receive ordination". But the women did not understand what was meant by "go in sequence," so they asked the Buddha. And the Buddha said, "Mahaprajapati, as the head and together with the 500 Sakya women, accepted the eight gurudharmas and, in that way, went forth and became fully ordained as bhiksunis. After that, the other women who seek to go forth should do likewise and follow the sequence. If a woman wants to go forth, she should go to a bhiksuni, pay respect to her, and that bhiksuni should ask her whether there are any hindrances. If there are no hindrances, she should accept her, give her three refuges and the five precepts. [There follows an explanation of the three refuges, five precepts] Eventually, she gives her full bhiksuni ordination".(13)

c. Chinese Mahisasaka Vinaya

i. The fourth gurudharma is: "A Siksamana, after learning the precepts, should take full ordination from both Sanghas". (14) Mahaprajapati was ordained by receiving the eight gurudharmas. After her, the next group of nuns was ordained by Mahaprajapati together with ten bhiksus.

ii. The dual ordination procedure is prescribed for bhiksunis.(15)

d. Chinese Mahasanghika Vinaya

i. The second gurudharma is: "After two years of learning the [Siksamana] precepts, a bhiksuni should take full ordination from both Sanghas". (16)

ii. The dual ordination procedure is prescribed for bhiksunis.(17)

e. Chinese Sarvastivada Vinaya

The dual ordination procedure is prescribed for bhiksunis.(18)

f. Chinese Theravada Vinaya

i. The sixth gurudharma is: "After a sikkhamana has trained in the six rules for two years, she should seek ordination from both Sanghas". (19)

ii. The dual ordination procedure is prescribed for bhikkhunis.(20)

g. Chinese Dharmagupta Vinaya

The dual ordination procedure is prescribed for bhiksunis.(21). In this case, ten Tibetan Mulasarvastivada bhiksus could conduct an ordination together with twelve Dharmagupta bhiksunis. The bhiksuni ordination rite could be recited in Tibetan, either using the bhiksuni dual ordination manual that has been translated from Chinese to Tibetan, or an ordination procedure compiled by Tibetan bhiksus based on Tibetan sources. In the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada Vinaya, the bhiksunis are ordained by twelve bhiksunis first, i.e. the Bhiksuni Sangha transmits to the candidate the brahmacaryopasthana vow.(22) Then ten bhiksus join the twelve bhiksunis together to conduct the final bhiksuni ordination rite. Because the eight parajikas and the three reliances, etc., are recited only by the bhiksus, and are the same in the Dharmagupta and Mulasarvastivada, the candidates can be said to receive the Mulasarvastivada precepts.

B. Question: To transmit the precepts, one must have those precepts oneself or have precepts that are higher than those. Is the Bhiksu Sangha alone, then, allowed to transmit the bhiksuni precepts?

Yes, because the bhiksu precepts are either considered to be higher than the bhiksuni precepts or to be of one nature (ngo bo gcig; ekabhava) with the bhiksuni precepts. This is so because:

1. It is said that if a bhiksu transforms into a female, then that bhiksu automatically has the bhiksuni precepts and does not need to receive ordination again. Similarly, if a bhiksuni transforms into a male, he automatically has the bhiksu precepts and does not need to receive them anew. (See addendum on gender transformation, with a translation from the Pali canon, Vin. III 35, 1224.) This is a similar passage in the Dharmagupta Vinaya: .At that time, a bhiksu transformed into a female. The bhiksus asked the Buddha, "Should he be expelled [from the Sangha]?" The Buddha said, "No, he should not be expelled. He is allowed to be sent to the Bhiksuni Sangha, and keeps his upadhyaya, his acarya and his previous ordination seniority". (23)

2. In the Pali Vinaya, it is said that the Bhikkhu Sangha alone ordained the 500 women accompanying Mahapajapati and other women, too. These ordinations were conducted on the advice of the Buddha himself. To transmit these precepts, they did not need to be bhikkhunis. Later, after some women felt embarrassed answering intimate questions in front of bhikkhus, the Buddha is said to have instituted the procedure of having bhikkhuni masters ask these questions, etc. This is clear from the Pali Vinaya, considered by historians to be the earliest version of the Vinaya to be written down.

3. At the First Council after the Buddha’s parinirvana, Bhiksu Upali is said to have recited the whole Vinaya Pitaka. In this case, he must have recited the Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutra, too. Upali was not leading the posadha, but he recited the Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutra as part of the compilation of the Buddha.s teachings. He was allowed to do so, although he did not have the bhiksuni precepts. Similarly, the Tibetan geshe studies include the study of the Bhiksuni Vinaya.

C. Question: Is it possible for Tibetan nuns to receive full bhiksuni ordination in accordance with the Dharmagupta Vinaya tradition that flourished in China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, etc.?

Yes. The ordination could be performed by ten bhiksus and ten bhiksunis of the Dharmagupta Vinaya tradition, whether from Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, or other countries, in accordance with the bhiksuni upasanpada rite. In the Dharmagupta Vinaya, the bhiksunis are first ordained by ten bhiksunis. Then these . basic Dharma. bhiksunis (penfani) and the bhiksuni precept master go before an assembly of ten bhiksus on the same day. Such an ordination would be very easy to arrange.

Bhiksuni Ordination by Dharmagupta Bhiksus and Dharmagupta Bhiksunis

The bhiksuni ordination could be performed by bhiksus and bhiksunis of the Dharmagupta tradition in accordance with the bhiksuni upasanpada rite. In the Dharmagupta Vinaya, the bhiksunis are ordained by ten bhiksunis and then go before an assembly of ten bhiksus on the same day.

In this case, nuns of the Tibetan tradition could be ordained by bhiksus and bhiksunis of the Dharmagupta Vinaya tradition. This is the procedure that has been used to reestablish the Bhiksuni Sangha in Sri Lanka. The first three groups of Sri Lankan bhiksunis were ordained by bhiksus and bhiksunis of the Chinese or Korean traditions.

Since 1998, ordinations have been conducted by Sri Lankan Theravada bhikkhus together with Sri Lankan bhikkhunis, in accordance with the Theravada bhikkhuni ordination rite. The Sri Lankan monks made allowances for the newly ordained bhikkhunis to act as ordination masters due to the special circumstances and because many of these bhikkhunis had been ordained as ten precept nuns for 20 or more years. The Sri Lankan bhikkhunis are now observing the 311 bhikkhuni precepts of the Theravada tradition and are accepted in Sri Lankan society as Theravada bhikkhunis. In the same way, nuns of the Tibetan tradition could receive the bhiksuni ordination in the Dharmagupta tradition and practice according to the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. After twelve years, they could perform the bhiksuni ordination together with bhiksus of the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada tradition.

D. Question: Are there clear records indicating that the bhiksu and bhiksuni lineages exist unbroken in East Asia?

Yes. Attached are texts documenting that: (1) the Chinese bhiksu lineage that flourished in East Asia can be traced to Buddha Sakyamuni himself;(24) and (2) the bhiksuni lineage can be traced to the first Chinese bhiksuni Ching Chien (Jingjian) in 357 C.E. Texts documenting both of these lineages are enclosed herewith.(25)

The Chinese master Daohai (Taohai) asserts that . In a word, the lineage of bhiksuni ordination in China has clearly been broken (to receive base rules from a sangha consisting of bhiksunis only, not to mention receiving 1group ordination from bhiksus) during Sung Dynasty (around A.D. 972).. (26) This assertion is refuted by clear documentation. During the Northern Sung dynasty, Emperor T.aitsu (Taizu) began a persecution of Buddhism and prohibited bhiksunis from traveling to bhiksu monasteries to receive ordination. However, this prohibition was not in effect for long. After Emperor T.aitsu (Taizu) died in 976, his son T.aitsung (Taizong) came to power and was well disposed toward Buddhism.(27) This can be proven from historical records documenting that T.aitsung (Taizong) established an ordination platform in the year 978. Additional ordination platforms were erected in 980, 1001, 1009, and 1010.(28) The year 1010 was especially important, because 72 ordination platforms were erected throughout the country. (See attached documents).

E. Question: How should the Siksamana ordination be performed?

1. The Siksamana precepts could be given by Dharmagupta bhiksunis according to the Mulasarvastivada tradition, using the siksamana precepts from the Mulasarvastivada tradition. This is possible because bhiksunis ordained according to the Dharmagupta Vinaya have all the Siksamana precepts as explained in the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. The siksamana precepts could be explained by the bhiksunis in Tibetan, by using the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada text.

2. The training of nuns in the bhiksuni precepts could be explained to the candidates during these two years of Siksamana training, because Siksamanas are permitted to study the bhiksuni precepts. The training of nuns in the Siksamana precepts for two years could be done in one of three ways:

a. Training in India or Nepal: Bhiksunis from Taiwan, Korea, and other countries can assist with the training of candidates in India and Nepal.

b. Training in Taiwan, Korea, or Vietnam: The advantage of this option is that the candidates would get excellent training in monastic discipline and get the experience of living with senior bhiksunis. The disadvantage is that many of the candidates for bhiksuni ordination in the Tibetan tradition are in the midst of an intensive education program. It would be an interruption to have these candidates go to Taiwan or elsewhere to train in the precepts. Furthermore, the training is conducted in an unfamiliar language and culture.

c. Tibetan bhiksus could also teach the Siksamana precepts, based on the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya.

3. It is clear in the texts of all Vinaya traditions that the . ramanerika and Siksamana precepts are to be given by bhiksunis. The training of nuns in the bhiksuni precepts could be explained to the candidates during these two years of Siksamana training, because siksamanas are permitted to study the bhiksuni precepts. According to the Dharmagupta Vinaya, a Siksamana has to study the bhiksuni precepts for two years.(29).

This training could be conducted in two ways:

a. Tibetan bhiksus could teach the Bhiksuni Pratimoksa according to the Mulasarvastivada tradition.

b. Bhiksunis of the Chinese, Korean, or other countries could be invited to explain the bhiksuni precepts, using both the Dharmagupta and Mulasarvastivada texts.

4. Exceptions with regard to Siksamana ordination are possible under certain circumstances. In Kunkhyen Tsonaba Sherab Zangpo.s Dulwa Tsotik,(30) in the context of the twoyear training of a siksamana, it says that a Siksamana needs to take the precepts . from an upadhyayika and karmakarika, together with a sangha of bhiksunis. The female sangha must be comprised of twelve bhiksunis in a . central land.. In a . border land,. where twelve bhiksunis are not available, six bhiksunis need to be present. If this number of bhiksunis is not complete and the precepts are given by a community of four bhiksunis, the precepts are said to arise, although those who conduct the ordination commit a fault (nyes byas; duskrta). The same text says, . If one cannot find the required bhiksunis, it is even permissible for the Bhiksu Sangha to give the Siksamana precepts (dge slong ma de dag ma rnyed na/ dge slong pha'i dge 'dun gyis kyang dge slob ma'i bslab pa sbyin du rung ste).. (31)

F. Question: Is there one bhiksuni lineage in China or two?

There is one bhiksuni lineage in the Dharmagupta tradition, not two. In 357 CE, Ching Chien (Jingjian) was ordained as a bhiksuni by bhiksus alone, because there were no bhiksunis in China at that time. Chinese Buddhists traditionally regard this as the beginning of the bhiksuni ordination in China. After the arrival of Bhiksuni Devasara and other bhiksunis from Sri Lanka, Huikuo (Huiguo) and other Chinese bhiksunis were reordained by both bhiksus and bhiksunis, in a ceremony led by the bhiksu master Sanghavarman and the bhiksuni master Devasara (Pali. Tessara, Chin. Tiehsolo) in 434 C.E. Although the ordination of bhiksunis by bhiksus only is a flawed procedure, it is considered valid. Even the senior Vinaya master Dao Hai (Taohai), who is concerned about the state of Vinaya practice in general these days, agrees that a bhiksuni ordination by bhiksus alone is valid, even though the bhiksus who conduct such an ordination commit a minor transgression. The Dharmagupta Vinaya Pitaka source for the ordination of bhiksunis by bhiksus alone is the fourth gurudharma, as explained above. This is equivalent to the first gurudharma of the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. As mentioned by Bhiksu Dao Hai (Taohai), the fourthcentury Vinaya master Gunavarman and the seventhcentury Dharmagupta master TaoHsuan (Taoxuan) agreed that a bhiksuni ordination by bhiksus alone is valid.(32)

The lineage that began with Ching Chien (Jingjian) was strengthened through the reordination of the bhiksunis by a dual ordination ceremony conducted in 434 C.E by bhiksunis from Sri Lanka, together with Chinese bhiksus, headed by Sanghavarman. This was done to remove the doubts of the nuns who had earlier been ordained by bhiksus alone and who questioned whether the ordination they had received from bhiksus only was sufficient. The history of how the bhiksuni lineage, starting with Mahaprajapati, was transmitted from India to Sri Lanka by King Asoka.s daughter Sanghamitta, and was then transmitted by Devasara and eleven other bhiksunis from Sri Lanka to China, is well documented and can be requested from the Board of Sri Lanka Bhikkhuni Order. At present, in East Asia, when a bhiksuni is invited to serve as a bhiksuni ordination master, she is not asked whether she was ordained in a single or a dual ordination ceremony. Both types of ordination are considered valid. Thus, there is only one lineage of bhiksuni ordination, not two.

G. Question: Are Documents Available that Record of the Lineage of the Dharmagupta Bhiksuni Vinaya?

The bhiksu lineage in China can be documented all the way back to the Buddha. The bhiksuni lineage in China can be documented from the time of Ching Chien (Jingjian), the first Chinese bhiksuni, in 357 C.E. The text that documents the bhiksu lineage back to the time of Buddha Sakyamuni is enclosed herewith. The text that documents the bhiksuni lineage in China from the time of the first Chinese bhiksunis up to the present day is also enclosed herewith. Vinaya sources documenting the validity of the Dharmagupta bhiksuni ordination are provided above, including (1) bhiksuni ordination by bhiksus alone, and (2) bhiksuni ordination by a dual Sangha of bhiksunis and bhiksus (see pp. 13 of this paper).

H. Question: Are bhikshuni ordination ceremonies as conducted in East Asia done in compliance with instructions set out in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya?

1. In the bhiksuni ordination ceremonies that are held in Taiwan, nuns are ordained in groups of three, not in groups of one or two hundred. There are numerous candidates, who are divided into groups of three, just as in the Tibetan tradition, which is why the ordination ceremony takes a long time. The procedure is conducted in accordance with the full bhiksuni ordination rite as given in the Vinaya texts. The newly ordained bhiksunis are individually informed three by three of the exact time of their ordination, to determine their seniority. To know who is senior to oneself is considered very important in daily life in the Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese traditions. Bhiksus and bhiksunis are keenly aware of monastic seniority, and stand, walk, and sit according to seniority, as determined by the time of their ordination.

2. The Sanskrit term pathati (Tib. .don pa, Chin. nien/nian) actually has two meanings: "to read (aloud)" and "to recite (aloud)". The word may be interpreted in both ways, to recite by heart or to read aloud from a text. In Chinese, . to recite sutras. is usually . nien ching (nianjing). and, like the Sanskrit, may refer to both . reading aloud (from a text). or . reciting aloud (by heart).. In Tibetan, . to recite the Pratimoksa Sutra is . so sor thar paSi mdo .don pa; in Chinese, sou polo timuchai or sung polotimuchai (both sou and sung mean to read aloud). The discrepancy between the practice in early times and today is easy to explain. It is true that, at the time of the Buddha and when the Vinaya texts were compiled, writing was not common in society. Therefore, the texts were transmitted orally, by memory, at that time. In modern Taiwan, it is considered appropriate for the precept master to read certain parts of the ritual aloud during the ordination procedure, although the candidates must learn the rituals by heart and are not allowed to rely on any texts during the rite. They either recite the appropriate sections of the text by heart or repeat them after the master. Learning portions of the texts by heart is an integral part of the preparation of candidates during the thirty or fortyfive days of the Triple Platform Ordination Ceremony. Western candidates for bhiksuni ordination are also asked to learn certain parts of the rite (for example, the questions about the hindrances) by heart.


It is clear that a living lineage of bhiksunis exists today, with over 58,000 bhiksunis in China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and elsewhere. This lineage dates back to Buddha Sakyamuni and the first nun, Mahaprajapati. The lineage was transmitted from India to Sri Lanka by Sanghamitta, and then from Sri Lanka to China by Devasara, where it merged with the already existing lineage of bhiksunis who had been ordained by bhiksus only. The lineage then flourished in China and was transmitted from there to Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and other countries. Although it is true that not every bhiksuni ordination has been performed in a dual ordination procedure, it is an indisputable fact that the Chinese bhiksuni lineage has continued unbroken and flourished until the present day. Therefore, there exists no obstacle to conducting a bhiksuni ordination for nuns in the Tibetan tradition.  [^]



1. Cullavagga X.2.1 (Vin II 257,79). For a complete list of the references for these eight gurudharmas in the different renditions of the Vinaya and a table of their different order and deviations see, Jinil Chung, "Gurudharma und Astau Gurudharmah," Indo-Iranian Journal 42 (1999), pp. 22734.

2. Bla maSi chos brgyad (also known as: lCi baSi chos brgyad). Tibetan Mulasarvastivada Vinaya, Lhasa Kangyur, Delhi, .Dul ba, vol. Da (11), p. 154a57: dge slong rnam las bud med rnams kyis rab tu 'byung ba dang/ bsnyen par rdzogs nas/ dge slong ma'i dngos por 'gyur ba rab tu rtogs par bya'o/ kun dga' bo ngas 'di ni/ bud med rnams kyi nyes pa dgag cing mi 'da' bar bya ba'i phyir/ bla ma'i chos dang por bcas te/ de la bud med rnams kyis nam 'tsho'i bar du bslab par bya'o//. Same in Peking Kangyur, .Dul ba, vol. Ne 99b101b, p. 162, folio 99b12 ff.

3. A partial English translation is found in Diana Paul, Women in Buddhism, p. 85. "In the presence of monks, O Ananda, women are expected to request ordination to go forth as nuns. I announce this as the first important rule for women to overcome the obstructions, so that instruction can be maintained throughout life". This translation is based on C. M. Ridding and Louis de la Vallée Poussin, "A Fragment of the Sanskrit Vinaya. Bhiksunikarmavacana," Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies 1:3(1920) 12343. Cf. Michael Schmidt, "Bhiksuni Karmavacana. Die Handschrift Sansk. c.25(R) der Bodlein Library Oxford," in Studien zur Indologie und Buddhismuskunde. Festgabe des Seminars für Indologie und Buddhismuskunde für Prof. Dr. Heinz Bechert zum 60. Geburtstag am 26. Juni 1992 (Bonn: Indica et Tibetica, 1993, pp. 23988). The corresponding first gurudharma in the Mulasarvastivada Sanskrit text BhiKaVa(S), folio 4b55a1, reads: bhiksubhyah sakasad ananda matrgramena pravrajyopasanpad bhiksunibhavah pratikanksitavya imam aham ananda matrgramasya prathaman gurudharmman prajñapayamy avaranayanatikrama (5a1) (n)aya yatra matrgramena yavajjivan siksa karaniya. Cf. Michael Schmidt, "Zur Schulzugehörigkeit einer nepalesischen Handschrift der BhikshuniKarmavacana," in Untersuchungen zur buddhistischen Literatur (SanskritWorterbuch der buddhistischen Texte aus den TurfanFunden, Beiheft 5) (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994).

4. The texts of six schools of Vinaya are found in Chinese translation: Dharmagupta, Mahi.asaka, Mahasanghika, Theravada, Sarvastivada, and Mulasarvastivada. Mulasarvastivada: Taisho 24, T.1451, p. 351b, line 19. "A bhiksuni should request going forth and full ordination to become the nature of a bhiksuni from the bhiksus".

5. Dharmagupta: Taisho 22, T.1428 , 923b, line 8.

6. Sarvastivadaastivada: Taisho 23, T. 1435, p. 345c.

7. Cullavagga X, I. B. Horner, The Book of the Discipline, vol. 5, p. 355.

8. Cullavagga X, I.B. Horner, The Book of the Discipline, vol. 5, pp.375379.

9. Lhasa Kangyur, Vol. Da [11] p. 158a67 bcom ldan 'das kyis bka' stsal pa/ go'u ta mi skye dgu'i bdag mo chen mo la sogs pa shakya mo lnga brgya rnams ni/ bla ma'i chos rnams khas blangs pas/ rab tu byung zhing bsnyen par rdzogs te/ dge slong ma' dngos por gyur to/ bud med gzhan ni rim bzhin bya ste/.

10. Ibid., p. pp. 158a7181a4.

11. Paul, Women in Buddhism, p. 8694.

12. T.24, p.459c, line 10 through p.465a, line 20.

13. Mulasarvastivada: Taisho 24, p. 351c.

14. Dharmagupta: Taisho 22, T. p. 185b.

15. T.22, p.218b, line 9.

16. Taisho 22, T.1425, p. 474.

17. T.22, p.471b, line 12.

18. T.23, p.331b, line15.

19. Nanchuan Datsang Ching, vol.4, p.341.

20. Nanchuan Datsang Ching, vol.4, p.360364.

21. T22. p.1065b, line 11.

22. Tib. tshangs spyod nyer gnas kyi sdom pa.

23. T22, p. 813b, line 15.

24. Lutsung t’epu (The Lineage of the Vinaya School), compiled by Yuanliang during the Ching (Qing) Dynasty (Taipei: Hsinwenfong Publications, 1987).

25. Complete Records of the Biographies of Bbiksunis (Taipei: Fochiao Publications, 1988). This work includes two compilations: (1) Pichiuni chuan (The Biographies of Bhiksunis), compiled by Paochiang in the sixth century, and (2) Hsu Pichiuni chuan (The Sequel Biographies of Bhiksunis), compiled by Chenhua (1911).

26. See Bhikkhu Taohai, "Discussion of Bhiksuni Ordination and Its Lineage in China: Based on Scriptures of Chinese Vinaya and Historical Facts," Paper given at the Vinaya conference held in Dharamsala in 1998, pp. 1718.

27. Hengching Shih, "Lineage and Transmission: Integrating the Chinese and Tibetan Orders of Buddhist Nuns," Chunghwa Buddhist Journal I, No.13 (2000): 52931. 28. Sik Chienyi, Three Chapters on the Refreshing Sound of the Dharma: The Collective Essays of the "Re-Ordination of Nun," (Nantou: Dakinava Press, 2002), p. 13.

29. T.22, p. 1048c, line 8.

30. Tibetan commentary 'Dul ba mtsho tik’, by mTso sna ba shes rab bzang po (b. 13th cent.). The full title of the text is, Dul ba mdo rtsa'i 'grel pa legs bshad nyi ma'i 'od zer (TBRC Code W12567),Vol. Ka (1), p. 120a45.

31. Vol. Ka (1), p. 120a56.

32. Ibid., p. 6.  [^]


First Thai woman ordained

Sanitsuda Ekachai
Bangkok Post, 11 February 2002

Thailand yesterday hosted its first ever ordination ceremony for women, marking a new chapter in Thai Buddhism.

Mae Chee Varangghana Vanavichayen, 56, became Dhammarakhita Samaneri when she was ordained by her Sri Lankan preceptor Ven Bhikkhuni Saddha Sumana at Wat Songdhamkalayanee, in Nakhon Pathom.

The ceremony, which was conducted in the Sri Lankan tradition, was presided over by eight Bhikkhuni from Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Indonesia. Two monks from Tibet and six from Thailand also attended the historic event.

"I used to think that female clergy was a thing of the past,'' said Dhammarakhita, who spent her last nine years as a white-robed nun.

"But when I learned of the revival of the Bhikkhuni order, I decided to get ordained because I believe it is the right thing to serve Buddhism.''

She likened Buddhism to a house. "It must have four supporting pillars to become stable and strong. But now we only have three, namely monks, male and female supporters. Having female monastics will give us the missing pillar,'' said Dhammarakhita, whose name means "one who is protected by dhamma''.

Sri Lanka revived female ordinations in the Theravada Buddhism tradition in 1998. Two Thai women have previously sought novice ordination from the Sri Lankan female clergy but both were ordained in Sri Lanka.

Dhammarakhita's was the first ever held in Thailand.

Preceptor Bhikkhuni Saddha Sumana said the ceremony marked the long religious exchange between Thailand and Sri Lanka.

When Sri Lanka's clergy disappeared in the 11th century, the Thai clergy sent a delegation of monks to re-establish Theravada Buddhism there. Now that Thailand wants to set up the female clergy, it is Sri Lanka's turn to help.

She said the Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni also faced resistance when the order was revived a few years ago, but very little now. "I certainly hope Thailand will support more female ordinations.''

At present, white-robed nuns in Thailand are not considered monastics. They also suffer discrimination and lack of support.

The Thai clergy always insists that it is impossible to set up the female clergy in Thailand because the Bhikkhuni lineage in the Theravada tradition was long extinct.

They also prohibited Thai monks from ordaining samaneri and bhikkhuni.

Samaneri Dhammananda, however, said the present female order in the Mahayana tradition is historically dated back to the Theravada Bhikkhuni order in Sri Lanka.

It was then legitimate for the Mahayana bhikkhuni to help the Sri Lankan sisters revive its female order.

"In terms of vinaya or discipline, it is the same lineage,'' she said.

Like her predecessors, Dhammarakhita Samaneri must complete her two-year novicehood before seeking Bhikkhuni ordination in Sri Lanka.

"I know that there might be resistance,'' she said. "But I am prepared, knowing that I am doing the right thing.''

Before her nine years in nunhood, Dhammarakhita worked as a secretary and translator.

She graduated with a diploma in business from Australia.

"I quit the worldly life because I want to break the chain of lifetimes by practicing dhamma,'' she said.

Her two children, she said, were supportive of her decision to live a religious life.

She also sought a divorce from her husband in order to be eligible for the novice ordination and to join the female clergy.  [^]


The rules are there to be tested

Sanitsuda Ekachai
Bangkok Post, 03 May 2001

When Buddhist scholar Chatsumarn Kabilsingh became a female novice monk, or samaneri, in preparation for full ordination as a bhikkhuni, or female monk, she said she received two main reactions. One was admiration, the other the awkward silence of disapproval.

Now she must learn to deal with what most pioneers of change cannot avoid-persecution.

Her TV interviews were banned. Religious affairs officials issued threats that her temple would be in hot water if it was not properly registered or if the temple's financial accounts were cloudy.

Ms Chatsumarn, who has now adopted the Buddhist name of Dhammananda, remains calm. And humble. "My mind is firm and clear as to why I want to live a religious life as well as to why women should get ordained," she said.

Given the clergy's patriarchal system, Dhammananda Samaneri knew beforehand that her ordination might make the establishment edgy.

But should things get rough, she said, her clear conscience, the determination to continue the Lord Buddha's legacy for women's spirituality-and the understanding that it is natural for any establishment to be angry with perceived threat-will eventually save her from losing her inner calm.

Dhammananda Samaneri's first spiritual test has begun.

Looked on from the bright side, the TV ban and the threats are nothing compared to what happened in the 1920s. Social critic Narin Klueng had his daughters Sara and Chongdee ordained as novices, but they were immediately arrested, defrocked and temporarily jailed.

Backed by a sensational media, the incensed clergy then declared female ordination illegal. That's why Thai women who want to live a religious life have no choice but to become the head-shaven, white-robed mae chi despite the low social status, the lack of legal recognition for nunhood and zero support.

Next, the clergy has begun using the Vinaya to back its opposition to bhikkhuni ordination.

The Vinaya demands dual ordination for bhikkhunis. Since the bhikkhuni lineage in the Theravada tradition disappeared long ago, they argue that it is simply impossible to ordain women as female monks, ever again.

The clergy also often dish out the patronising consolation to women that, ordination or not, women still can pursue spiritual development. It does not occur to them that if ordination is indeed unnecessary, why do men need to become monks?The clergy's other strategy is to make women feel bad about their religious rights. By portraying women who want to become bhikkhunis as greedy for status and recognition-a sign of spiritual unreadiness-many nuns remain silent about their wishes.

Unlike Ms Sara and Ms Chongdee, who were defrocked, Dhammananda Samaneri has many things going for her. The media is largely positive. Although the army-run TV Channel 5 has banned her, Channel 11 and UBC 8 have invited her for TV interviews.

Also, female ordination is no longer a taboo subject, thanks to the strong women's movement worldwide. And the clergy has lost much of its credibility due to laxity and endless scandals. This is probably why many monks have dared to voice their public support for female ordination, something unimaginable just a decade ago.

In addition, the Thai clergy's demand for bhikkhunis' dual ordination is wearing thin; the Buddha permitted the removal of minor monastic rules should they prove cumbersome for the bhikkhu and bhikkhuni Sanghas.

So if the clergy's insistence on the rule of dual ordination for bhikkhunis has robbed women of their spiritual path as well as their opportunity to help one another practise dhamma better in a female Sangha, the solution is simple: These rules must go.  [^]


Make way for the women

Sanitsuda Ekachai
Bangkok Post, 15 March 2001

'Have all the Buddhas come into being for men's benefit alone? Definitely not. They also are for the benefit of women. The path of liberation is open to both men and women."So said the Lord Buddha over 2,500 years ago when he set up the Bhikkhuni order to allow women equal opportunity for spiritual practices.

The Buddha also cautioned that the health of Buddhism depended on the existence and strength of four pillars: bhikkhu (monks), bhikkhuni (female monks), upasaka (male lay devotees), and upasika (female lay devotees).

No wonder the Thai Sangha is in deep crisis. Apart from the monks' laxity and devotees' negligence, one of the causes of the Sangha decline is its discrimination against women.

Although temples depend primarily on Thai women for alms and donations, the clergy's patriarchal system has been hostile to women's quest for spiritual lives. Forget about the Bhikkhuni order; the clergy is determined not to let it see the light of day. Meanwhile, most white-robed, head-shaven "mae chi", or nuns, are kept down as temple servants with no legal status as religious persons. They also suffer low social status and stereotyping as broken-hearted women or as fleeing something.

For women who need serious religious practice, they have very few temples to which they can turn. Most go to nunneries which, like the nuns themselves, must struggle to pursue a religious life without any state or cleric support.

This is the clergy's standard argument against Bhikkhuni ordination: Female monks must be ordained by both the Bhikkhu and Bhikhuni orders according to the Vinaya, or Buddhist discipline. Since the Theravada Bhikkhuni lineage became extinct more than 1,000 years ago, it's just not possible to ordain female monks. End of story.

Last month, a prominent Thai Buddhist scholar, Chartsumarn Kabilsingh, did what more women will soon do; when she could not get any sympathy from the Thai Sangha, she turned elsewhere. She was ordained by the Sri Lankan clergy as a novice and adopted a new religious name, Dhammananda. When the two preparatory years as a novice are completed, she will be ordained as a Theravada bhikkhuni.

Although Thai law allows only two sects in Theravada Buddhism, it's unlikely that the clergy will dare outlaw female monks ordained in Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism given their close historical ties.

In the 18th century, when Buddhism in Sri Lanka was in decay and there were not even monks to perform ordinations, Siam sent a delegation of monks to ordain and continue the Theravada lineage there. Hence its name, Siyamnikaya.

Now that Sri Lanka has restored the Bhikkhuni order, it is Thailand's turn to seek help.

Reformist monks and scholars in Sri Lanka argue that the Theravada Bhikkhuni lineage has not been broken. Although the Bhikkhuni order now remains only in the Mahayana tradition in East Asian countries, it actually originated from Theravada Buddhism when female monks from Sri Lanka travelled to China to establish the Bhikkhuni order there in the 5th century. Given the same origins, Mahayana bhikkhunis then can help ordain and revive the Bhikkhuni order in the Theravada tradition, they said.

The Vinaya requires the presence of at least five bhikkhunis and five bhikkhus to ordain female monks. We now need only four women to follow in Dhammananda Bhikkhuni's footsteps-and five Thai monks who have the courage to go against the elders-to see the birth of the Bhikkhuni order in Thailand.

If the feudal Thai clergy refuses to wake up to women's rightful position in the religious realm, it soon will become irrelevant  [^]


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updated: 05-05-2008