Sadhu Sadhu Sadhu for this topic
Would this include the rules relating to travel and living arrangements?
Nuns’ Formal Meeting (Saṅghādisesa) 3
Ekagāmantara Pli Tv Bi Vb Ss 3 Vin iv 228
A nun who walks alone in an uninhabited area or spends the night by herself is to be suspended.
I state up front that I have a limited understanding of the Vinaya and I’m coming from a wholly Practice perspective. As such, I feel that there should be no difference at all between Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis when it comes to practice conditions.
In particular, seclusion is such a central pillar of the Buddhas teachings, that to put any impediments on this is placing an impediment on practice. I was really shocked to see the restrictions placed on Bhikkhunis in this regard. Surely the best and most conducive conditions are the best and most conducive conditions, and should not be varied based on gender (the body).
The imposition of special conditions on a sub-group of practitioners, appears to be prioritizing the ‘protection of the body’ over and above the facilitation of taming the mind. This dynamic of ‘special protection’ of women is very problematic, and originates from perceived dangers that are not static over time and place.
The Buddha made it clear that there are very real dangers associated with some practices, eg seclusion and wandering in the ‘jungle’. One is subject to wild animals and ‘wild’ people. Yet these are risks that need to be assessed and mitigated by individuals in relation to specific circumstances. The Buddha relates this to making wise choices, and MN2, for example, lists things that are to be Avoided eg wisely avoiding, elephants and serpents, bandits etc, and also things that are to be endured and how things like lodgings etc are to be used. While this may not be the best sutta as example, it illustrates a universal principle. There are major problems with the idea that women need special protection (by men- from dangers that may in particular be perpetrated by other men) … It undermines the assumption of responsibility of risk. There is a modern concept in community services, and that is the ‘dignity of risk’ – it is disempowering to enforce a set of ‘protections’ (limitations) on a group. When this is done the sub-ordinate group is treated as less competent - like children.
My argument here, which I hope is coming through, is that it is especially important to allow ALL practitioners to assess risk as it comes up, and to deal with it with wisdom (or not) and to be heirs to their own actions. Gender has nothing at all to do with this capacity. Men and women can both make foolish choices or wise choices that lead to good or bad consequences, even death. There should be no difference what-so-ever, in the rules that govern conditions and opportunities for practice. To enforce ‘protection’ about perceived or potential (not real) dangers for one group is simply discrimination. Note – this means that in dangerous circumstances it is up to the person to make wise choices, to avoid them.
In particular, my concern is all the rules that treat Bhikkhuinis differently when it comes to the ability to practice, including seclusion, travel and living arrangements. The imposed special restrictions are an imposed lessening of practice opportunities, and this is a fundamental flaw in my view. It removes the right to assess risk and to make choices about it. Surely the only non-discriminatory approach is to allow individuals to make this choice. (not for men to impose on women – just in case… something might happen).