A proposal for the reform of discriminatory bhikkhunī rules (part 2)

In the present essay I wish to flesh out the ideas presented in my earlier proposal. I do not wish so much to expand the topic, at least not yet, as to take a deeper look at what it would entail to abolish some or all of the lesser rules for bhikkhunīs, as well as the rationale for doing so.

Once again, does the Canon allow for the abolishing of certain rules?

As I mentioned in my previous mini-essay, any reform is more likely to succeed, or at least be grudgingly accepted, if it is based on a solid reading of the Suttas and Vinaya. So, although the Buddha had given an allowance for abolishing the minor rules, the monks at the first Council, saṅgīti, decided it should not be done. But is this a once-and-for-all decision? And does it, perhaps, have any other constraints on it? Let us look at the relevant passage from the Vinaya Piṭaka:

Discussion of the lesser training rules

Ānanda said to the senior monks, “At the time of his final extinguishment, the Buddha said to me, ‘After my passing away, Ānanda, if the Sangha wishes, it may abolish the lesser training rules.’”

“But, Ānanda, did you ask the Buddha which are the lesser training rules?”

“No, I didn’t.”

Some senior monks said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion, the rest are the lesser training rules.”

Others said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion and the thirteen rules entailing suspension, the rest are the lesser training rules.”

Still others said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion, the thirteen rules entailing suspension, and the two undetermined rules, the rest are the lesser training rules.”

Still others said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion, the thirteen rules entailing suspension, the two undetermined rules, and the thirty rules entailing relinquishment and confession, the rest are the lesser training rules.”

Still others said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion, the thirteen rules entailing suspension, the two undetermined rules, the thirty rules entailing relinquishment and confession, and the ninety-two rules entailing confession, the rest are the lesser training rules.”

Still others said, “Apart from the four rules entailing expulsion, the thirteen rules entailing suspension, the two undetermined rules, the thirty rules entailing relinquishment and confession, the ninety-two rules entailing confession, and the four rules entailing acknowledgment, the rest are the lesser training rules.”

Then Venerable Mahākassapa informed the Sangha:

“Please, I ask the Sangha to listen. We have training rules that relate to householders. The householders know what is allowable for us and what is not. If we abolish the lesser training rules, some people will say, ‘The ascetic Gotama laid down training rules for his disciples until the time of his death. But they practice the training rules only as long as their teacher is alive. Since their teacher has now attained final extinguishment, they no longer practice the training rules.’ If it seems appropriate to the Sangha, the Sangha should not lay down new rules, nor get rid of the existing ones, and it should undertake to practice the training rules as they are. This is the motion.

Please, Venerables, I ask the Sangha to listen. We have training rules that relate to householders. The householders know what is allowable for us and what is not. If we abolish the lesser training rules, some people will say, ‘The ascetic Gotama laid down training rules for his disciples until the time of his death. But they practice the training rules only as long as their teacher is alive. Since their teacher has now attained final extinguishment, they no longer practice the training rules.’ The Sangha doesn’t lay down new rules, nor gets rid of the existing ones, and it undertakes to practice the training rules as they are. Any monk who approves of not laying down new rules, nor abolishing the old ones, and of undertaking to practice them as they are should remain silent. Any monk who does not approve should speak up.

The Sangha doesn’t lay down new rules, nor gets rid of the existing ones, and it undertakes to practice the training rules as they are. The Sangha approves and is therefore silent. I will remember it thus.”

To start with, we here have the curious case of 500 arahants not being able to decide which are the lesser rules. According to this text, some of these arahants claimed that the saṅghādisesa offences are minor rules. It is hard to take this seriously. There is ample evidence in the Vinaya Piṭaka that the pārājikas and saṅghādisesas are heavy offences, garukāpatti, whereas the rest are light, lahukāpatti. The passage seems contrived. It is, perhaps, no more than a rhetorical device, not meant to be taken literally, but to give a plausible reason for the decision made.

Once the scene has been set, Ven. Mahākassapa proposes that all the rules be kept. This proposal is in the form of a saṅghakamma, a legal procedure that is binding on the Sangha. When a saṅghakamma has been unanimously approved, it is illegal to challenge it, except if the procedure itself is flawed. In the present case we have no basis for thinking the procedure was flawed. Still, we may ask whether the decision covers the bhikkhunī rules.

The text of the above saṅghakamma includes the following clauses that are relevant to our present concerns:

The ascetic Gotama laid down training rules for his disciples until the time of his death. But they practice the training rules only as long as their teacher is alive. Since their teacher has now attained final extinguishment, they no longer practice the training rules.


The Sangha doesn’t lay down new rules, nor gets rid of the existing ones, and it undertakes to practice the training rules as they are.

This saṅghakamma is therefore predicated on the idea that one should practice what was laid down by the Buddha and that no new rules should be made. According to its own wording, this saṅghakamma does not apply to rules laid down after the Buddha’s passing. If we can be confident that many or all of the minor rules that apply to bhikkhunīs were not laid down by the Buddha, there is no barrier to abolishing them. In fact, if we are to follow the injunction made in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (DN16)—which seems to imply that adding rules may lead to the decline of the Dhamma—then it could be argued that these rules should be abolished. Here is that injunction once again:

As long as the mendicants don’t make new decrees or abolish existing decrees, but undertake and follow the training rules as they have been decreed, they can expect growth, not decline.

But this is not all. As pointed out by Ven. Vimalanyani, all sanghakamma is local and only affects the monastery in which it is carried out. And this is true regardless of the eminence of the gathering. In practice this means that the decisions made at the first saṅgīti only applies within the large monastic boundary that probably included Rājagaha and the Sattapaṇṇi Cave. Given the prestige of the first saṅgīti, its decision could, of course, be regarded as a guiding principle by other monastics. Yet it would have no legal force outside of the ancient capital of Magadha. And most importantly, it has no bearing on the bhikkhunīs, who form a separate Sangha with separate sanghakammas.

The more closely I look at these texts, the fewer impediments I can see to abolishing these rules. I would go so far as to say that in abolishing them, we would be in line with the Buddha’s intention.

Which rules should be abolished?

In part 1 of this essay I made three suggestions for which rules to abolish. Here they are again:

  1. The rules that the bhikkhunīs do not share with the monks are inoperative, except the pārājikas and saṅghādisesas.
  2. The rules that the bhikkhunīs do not share with the monks are inoperative, except the pārājikas, the saṅghādisesas, and those rules that are shared among most early schools of Buddhism.
  3. The rules that the bhikkhunīs do not share with the monks are inoperative, except the pārājikas, the saṅghādisesas, and those rules that concern morality as defined in the commentaries. (The commentary makes the distinction between rules that are loka-vajja and paṇṇatti-vajja, “faults of morality” and “faults by convention”.)

In her reply to my little essay, Ven. Vimalanyani argued that only options 1 or 3 would be workable. I now think option 3, too, is problematic. When I rendered lokavajja as “faults of morality” I was not being precise enough. Quite literally lokavajja means “fault according to the world”, and it refers to what is considered bad conduct in society at large. Such faults are obviously going to be heavily influenced by culture—that is, by time and place—which means the concept of lokavajja is not a suitable criterion for deciding which rules are applicable in a modern context. This leaves us with option 1.

If we focus on the pācittiyas, which form the bulk of the minor rules, are we able to be more specific about the case for abolishing all those that relate to the bhikkhunīs? In her PhD thesis “A Comparative Study of Bhikkhunī Pāṭimokkha”, Chatsumarn Kabilsingh (now Bhikkhunī Dhammanandā) arrives at 71 bhikkhunī pācittiyas that are common to all schools of Buddhism for which we still have manuscripts. Of these, 51 rules are in held common with the bhikkhus, leaving only 20 bhikkhunī pācittiyas that have a potential claim to authenticity. Considering that the Pali Vinaya contains 96 pācittiyas that are exclusive to the bhikkhunīs, 20 rules constitutes only a small minority.

Yet even this small number of rules cannot reliably be attributed to the Buddha, quite the contrary. If we assume, conservatively, that the pre-sectarian period of Buddhism lasted 100 years after the Buddha’s passing (see Bhante Sujato’s “Sects and Sectarianism”), we have a considerable period during which bhikkhunī pācittiya rules may have been added and yet incorporated into the Pātimokkhas of all schools. In other words, it is quite conceivable that the Buddha did not lay down any pācittiyas at all specifically for the bhikkhunīs, or if he did, that the number is tiny.

We may now return to the Buddha’s injunction in DN16 that we should not change his teachings, including the Monastic Codes (the Pātimokkhas) that he laid down. If, as seems likely, he lay down few, if any, pācittiyas for the bhikkhunīs, we are on solid ground in disregarding these rules. They do not constitute our shared Buddhist heritage as bequeathed by the Buddha, but were authored by anonymous people, some of whom may have been outrightly deluded, but all of whom would have lacked the wisdom and foresight of the Buddha. Many of these rules are likely to be no more than cultural norms that lost their relevance long ago. We need not hesitate in abandoning such rules, for it seems the Buddha himself urged us to do so.


Ajahn, this sanghakamma was done by the bhikkhu sangha. The bhikkhuni sangha carries out their sanghakammas separately and the bhikkhus have no authority over them. As abolishing bhikkhuni rules is a decision of bhikkhunis, not bhikkhus, the decision of the first council is not binding in any way.


Ajahn, I’ve thought about this some more and I believe that the sanghakamma of the first council isn’t even binding for modern day monks, let alone nuns.

Sanghakammas are done with the consent of monks or nuns in a specific place and are just binding for that particular place. It’s not possible to impose one’s sanghakamma on monastics of other places.

Even straight after the first council, a monk not present at the meeting pointed out that what they did was nice, but didn’t apply to him:

Now at that time the venerable Purāṇa was walking on almstour in the Southern Hills together with a large Order of monks, with at least five hundred monks. Then the venerable Purāṇa, having stayed in the Southern Hills for as long as he found suiting, after the monks who were elders had chanted dhamma and discipline , approached Rājagaha, the Bamboo Grove, the squirrels’ feeding place, and the monks who were elders; having approached, having exchanged friendly greetings with the monks who were elders, he sat down at a respectful distance. The monks who were elders spoke thus to the venerable Purāṇa as he was sitting down at a respectful distance:
“Reverend Purāṇa, dhamma and discipline have been chanted by monks who are elders. Submit yourself to this chanting.”
“Your reverences, well chanted by the elders are dhamma and discipline, but in that way that I heard it in the Lord’s presence, that I received it in his presence, in that same way will I bear it in mind.”

So unless someone lives in the sattapanni cave, the sanghakamma does not apply to him. Therefore, if any monk wanted to abolish minor rules, he could also do so.


Thanks so much Venerables for opening up this conversation. I don’t have any specific ideas on the proposals, other than to say that they sound reasonable.

One thing I did want to address is the issue, raised here and in the former thread, about the apparently conflicting proposals for the abolition and/or preservation of rules. I’ve addressed this long ago in some book or something, I can’t remember!

This vacillation can, in my view, only be properly understood when the texts in which they are contained are seen for what they are: a mythic narrative whose purpose was to establish the authority of the (presumably male) Sangha, around the time of the Second Council.

The narrative begins with the first chapter of the Khandhakas, which establishes two things:

  • that the Vinaya rules are ultimately grounded in the awakening of the Buddha
  • that the Buddha immediately began conferring critical authority on the Sangha

Clearly there can be a tension between these two, which is why later the Buddha had to make specifications regarding the Sangha changing the rules.

This tension then becomes the single most critical point of dramatic inflection in the narrative of the last days of the Buddha and beyond. It is raised at the beginning of the Mahaparinibbana, where the Buddha emphasizes preserving the rules. Did you ever think how odd this is? The whole theme of the MPS is, or should be, the passing of the Buddha and the reflection on impermanence. Yet the story starts with a teaching all about community management, the importance of meetings, and not abolishing rules. Why? Because of the Second Council.

Then the tension is raised on the Buddha’s deathbed: “Okay, you can let go some of the rules.” The whole setting is clearly designed from a narrative point of view to maximize the dramatic tension.

It is informed by the behavior of the bad Subhadda who rejoiced at the news of the Buddha’s passing, since they could now get rid of the rules. This was the direct impulse for Mahakassapa’s journey to the funeral and later his role at the First Council.

At the First Council, the issue was raised again and resolved by the Sangha choosing to keep all the rules. Thus the Sangha is positioning itself as the direct heir and authority, preserving what was laid down by the Buddha.

That this was not universally accepted is shown by the events a hundred years later at the Second Council, where the “rigorist” narrative was affirmed once more. The victorious party at the Second Council thus showed that it acted with the authority of the original Sangha, which ultimately stems back to the Buddha’s awakening. And thus Yasa echoes the words used at the start of the MPS, and at the First Council.

I believe that the overarching narrative structure was created or shaped by the Second Council for this very purpose. Not to say that it was invented out of nothing, of course. Many, perhaps all, the parts were there, and they would already have been organized in some way. Yet the overarching purpose and narrative drive is so specific and focused, it must have been decisively shaped in order to authorize the decisions at the Second Council, and settle the supremacy of the faction that was triumphant there.

This understanding doesn’t necessarily change any of our conclusions. But it is critical to understand the role of contrast or tension properly. Seen as abstract rules or proclamations out of context, tension or contradiction seems bad. But in a narrative, it is essential. It’s not that there’s a possible tension that we may be misreading and which needs explaining away. The tension is precisely the point. It’s what drives the narrative from episode to episode. An apparent contradiction is set up deliberately in order to force a resolution in a later chapter.

This is what makes the story so satisfying and convincing. It’s not just a set of rules. It’s life, and life is messy.


Excellent points! I think the eminence of the first Council is such that it is hard to see it for what it actually is, just another sanghakamma. As you point out, the case of Purāṇa seals the issue. If you don’t mind, I will steal your points and incorporate them in the OP.

Right. History is not just set of facts, but facts placed in a particular order, in a particular context, and with a particular emphasis. Nothing is neutral, and almost everything—except perhaps the early suttas—is political.

Having said which, I am sceptical of actually abolishing any of the bhikkhu pātimokkha rules. True, there are rules that are largely irrelevant or inapplicable. Yet there is little in these rules—in contrast to the rules for bhikkhunīs—that is truly problematic. In fact, a much greater problem than keeping too many rules is not keeping enough rules, especially those that are fundamental to oil the machinery of Buddhist institutions, specifically the Sangha. A greater emphasis on proper governance might just be what is needed to breathe some life into our moribound institutions.

The situation for bhikkhunīs is very different. Reform is required for the Bhikkhhunī-sangha to remain relevant. We have the tools and ancient encouragement for doing this. It’s for the bhikkhunīs to decide, but I am beginning to believe that not making changes is a far greater threat to the Dhamma than making them.


I don’t know why, but I laughed out loud when I read this. He was so earnest! Would you happen to have a direct link to the source, Venerable?

I have to say, though, it is very inspiring to me as a young monk to see these conversations happening among seniors, juniors, and lay people alike. It actually increases my faith in Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.

:pray:t5: :pray:t5: :pray:t5:


It’s here:

If people know how to turn on textual information, it’s at PTS cs Kd.21.1.11.
If you don’t, then scroll down about 2/3 of the text, and the section about Purāṇa is just above the heading “On the higher penalty”.

This is not the only instance in the vinaya where monks or the Buddha criticize other monks for altering the rules in some way. It seems that monks tried that from time to time, and people were very conscious back then that such monks were overstepping their authority. Some examples were collected here:


Here’s the direct link:

Just added a #Kd.21.1.11 to the end of the url and it’ll scroll down to the right spot :slight_smile:


Thanks! :heart:


And here is a more modern translation by yours truly:

At that time Venerable Purāṇa was wandering in the Southern Hills with a large sangha of five hundred monks. When the senior monks had concluded the communal recitation of the Teaching and the Monastic Law, and when Purāṇa had stayed in the Southern Hills for as long as he liked, he went to the Bamboo Grove at Rājagaha. There he approached the senior monks, exchanged pleasantries with them, and sat down. And they said to him, “Purāṇa, the senior monks have jointly recited the Teaching and the Monastic Law. Please accept that communal recitation.”

“The Teaching and the Monastic Law have been well-recited by the senior monks. Nevertheless, I’ll remember what I myself have received in the presence of the Buddha.”


when the records of different Buddhist schools agree substantially, we cannot say with any amount of confidence that these rules were interpolated by deluded monks or anonymous people just within a few decades after the passing of our Teacher, or that this is even likely. Especially so within the Theravāda (I refer to the notion of a lineage which identifies with the first council), which just a little earlier accepted the authority of the first council (to this day) in their decisions not to change any rules, incl. the minor ones. How likely is it that they, or the pre-sectarian saṅgha as you would argue, would invent nearly half of the bhikkhunīvinaya out of the blue just to make it harder for women? This is a serious accusation which would require unambiguous evidence and absolute certainty. I don’t see any room for that and find this personally unlikely.

I don’t think that this kind of agreement among schools would in the context of other topics be questioned and I see a bias in that, in favor of twenty-first century egalitarian viewpoints.

I personally would trust that those elders, because of their direct proximity in time to the early saṅgha, had a better understanding of what constituted buddhavacana and what not and that they acted with largely pure intentions without wanting to establish male authority, as you hinted at, other than that what our Teacher himself intended. It is strange that we can accept that the Pāḷi canon was, at least from the time of Asoka, in essence faithfully transmitted, the saṅgha to the present day being anxious to change even a single letter, yet we rely on assumptions that within a few decades the saṅgha was so corrupt as to follow a wrong course through greed, hatred, delusion and fear. The term “mythic” is polemic …

I find this all remarkable and I believe that it is just a matter of time until all the hierarchy (and more than that) established by the Buddha will vanish; that’s how it will eventually be with the sāsana, it will vanish. There will probably come a time when the junior bhikkhus will feel oppressed by having to bow down to the seniors, despite their being better qualified and more advanced at times, and having to perform other, deeply humiliating acts, having to serve autocratic abbots, having to massage their feet and more. Next are the sāmaṇeras, even they, after hundred years in robes, have to bow down to a junior bhikkhu. The most oppressed of all is the laity, no matter what they do, they always come last, having to sit at the back and are almost never supported or rarely given the chance to preach the dhamma. They are also humiliated by being expected to bow down, for example or take their food (when residing in a monastery), even after the sāmaṇeras and postulants. They are certainly often considered second class, at best. What outrageous an inequality, some may say and some actually do! The Buddha didn’t allow for bhikkhus to show respect to laity, to even raise one’s palms in añjali, what else is that other than discrimination? Surely this can’t be from the Buddha, or can it? I believe it is and that it is better left unadulterated.

Not much talk of that being a very beautiful way to develop ones obedience, the faculty of care and reliance. I propose we change all that and make it equal? What about wearing robes? Why do we do that? It is just an anachronism stemming back 2500 years, no? One certainly could argue that way and just adopting the much more comfortable Mahāyāna robes or just wearing pants again, to make it even more equal. Freedom has no bounds, it seems to me, and certainly lets missing a sense of veneration and sanctified caution.

I accept your reasoning about the importance to keep these, not start to wear pants etc. (I surmise you see it that way), but this attitude of liberalism will be adopted by your students, will subsequently effect large portions over time and will eventually, perhaps even within a few generations, strip the sāsana within your circle of influence of much original content. These are my concerns, just for the record.


Yes, I am biased. When I read the texts, I try to keep this in mind. And that’s the best I can do. It is worse to read the texts with an unconscious bias, for that’s really the only alternative. We are all biased, it’s just a matter of direction and degree.

The Theravada tradition itself is biased. Every tradition will be biased in favour of its own authenticity. How could it be otherwise? All the early schools favoured their own teachings and their own lineage going back to the Buddha. Apart from Theravada’s own scriptures, do we have any historical basis to say Theravada is more authentic than the other early schools? No. They are all on a roughly equal footing.

Once you start looking at the texts, their content matches well with this brief description of history. When it comes to the Vinaya rules, we have great similarity for all the bhikkhu rules except the sekhiyas. The sekhiyas vary widely across the early schools, ranging in number from 66 to over 120. If the hypothesis that divergence suggests lateness is correct, then the sekhiyas would be a good candidate for late addition. Now if you deduct the sekhiyas from the bhikkhu-pātimokkha, you have just over 150 rules left. As I am sure you are aware, this is the number mentioned on two occasions in the Aṅguttara Nikāya. Moreover, the only offences mentioned in the suttas are the pārājikas, saṅghādisesas, pācittiyas, and pāṭidesanīyas. Sekhiyas or dukkatas are nowhere to be seen. So our hypothesis is corroborated by the texts.

Then there is the reality that a large number of sekhiyas, about 55 in total, are found also in the Khandhakas, with the important exception that there is no offence attached to them. Why are these rules mentioned twice? To me it seems most natural to think that these rules existed as part of the Khandhakas first and at a certain point were added to the end of the Pātimokkha. If the rules had been part of the Pātimokkha first of all, then the Khandhakas would simply have referred to the Pātimokkha, as it does in the case of other rules, especially certain pācittiyas. There is no indication at all in the Khandhakas that the sekhiya rules exist in the Pātimokkha.

So in the case of the sekhiyas, it seems to me that we have a good case that these rules were in large part added by the different schools. It is possible that a small number of sekhiyas go back to the earliest period, but this would have been the exception rather than the rule.

What then about the bhikkhunī-pācittiyas? Their variability across the early schools is similar to that of the sekhiyas, and very different from the uniformity found for the bhikkhu-pācittiyas. To my mind this is a strong argument that we are dealing with a similar situation of late additions. You argue that the first Council decided to keep all the rules. However, they only seemed to consider the bhikkhu rules, and arguably they only had authority over those. The bhikkhunī rules may well have been regarded quite differently. I mean, we will never know, but it does not seem unlikely.

Anyway, this is how things seem to me. I realise this goes against the views of much of the Theravada tradition. The point is that we have better access to the Buddhist scriptures from a number of schools than anyone in Buddhism has had for a very long time, for centuries or even millennia. This gives us a different vantage point, which enables us to update some of the received opinions of tradition.


it is nice that we can recognize our biases; I myself am also biased of course. I think certain things we can do to improve our open-mindedness, like reading an equal share of the other “faction”. I like what William James did, if I may share:

… William James, who vigorously recruited to his Harvard department one of his ideological opponents. A friend was surprised and asked why James had done this, given that he disagreed so strongly with the man’s ideas. James replied, “Because now all points of view are represented”(Peterson & Seligman: Character Strengths and Virtues, p. 102).

I am not so certain. There are surely some good pointers which corroborate the authenticity of the Theravāda scriptures vis-à-vis those of other schools. For example the language. Most of the scriptural content of the other early Buddhist schools are full-fledged translations. Regarding Pāḷi, the argument could still be made that the Buddha himself employed it, or at least something approximating it. Also, if we accept that the Buddha was antagonistic to have his teachings rendered into Vedic/Sanskrit and some schools did it anyway, for whatever potentially pure reasons, than this detracts from their credibility. To quote Oskar von Hinüber along these lines:

During the past decades the age of the Theravāda tradition has been thrown into doubt occasionally, not rarely in a rather general and sweeping way. However, wherever it is possible to use comparatively hard arguments that is to say linguistics, it becomes soon more than obvious that it is possible to dig considerably deeper into the past here than in any other tradition … This concerns first of all the age of the redaction, which also protects the content. On the other hand, revisions such as a change of language, e.g. form Middle Indic to Sanskrit, always opens the opportunity to introduce new concepts. In this context it is remarkable that new concepts sometimes found their way only into the Theravāda commentaries, while they still could be included in canonical scriptures of other traditions, which points to a rather early closure of the Theravāda canon … Therefore, T.W. Rhys Davids and H. Oldenberg were not at all wrong in their judgement when pointing out the comparatively high age of the Theravāda tradition … (Oskar von Hinüber: Cremated like a King: The Funeral of the Buddha within the Ancient Indian Cultural Context, pp. 47–48, f.n. 43).

It is also worthwhile noting that the Theravāda is the only school where gross distortions have not happened as they did in the Mahāyāna-embedded vinaya traditions (Tibet, China etc.). If they weren’t painstakingly faithful with doctrinal content, why should they with matters of vinaya. You can observe that to the present day. I haven’t heard of any Mahāyāna monk or monasteries (they may exist) where you can find the same general level of faithfulness as in the Theravāda, to the present day, regarding dhamma-vinaya. To me this sometimes also appears to be another manifestation of political correctness, where every school is, again, just equal, so that nobody gets offended …

The commentaries may offer an alternative more in line with the tradition. I believe that the explanation contained in the kaṅkhāvitaraṇī (pātimokkha commentary) might be fitting. It recognizes a certain flexibility (see below) inherent in the classification of sekhiya rules, which surely was one of the major drivers to diversification and so it could well be that for this reason the suttas speak of the mentioned classes only. The suttas are, of course, in the case of vinaya matters only secondary (important but secondary), as the Buddha taught dhamma-vinaya. But a good point nevertheless. Here the passage from the kaṅkhāvitaraṇī:

And in this connection (i.e. in the context of the Sekhiya rules) since even the practice stated in the Vattakkhandaka are rules of training (sekhiyāni) on account of the fact that they are to be trained, therefore an exact determination [of the Sekhiya rules as to numbers] as in the case of the [rule entailing] defeat, etc., is not made. And in order to show the discipline and the practice without stating [the offence] with the name of the offence thus, “If any bhikkhu should wear [the inner garment] letting [it] hang down, there is [an offence of] wrong doing”, the text is set up thus in all the rules, “This is a training to be practised.” But because [of it] being stated in the Word Analysis that there is [an offence of] wrong doing, in acting disrespectfully [an offence of] wrong doing is to be understood everywhere (Norman, Kieffer-Pülz and Pruitt [trs.]: Overcoming Doubts. The Bhikkhu-Pātimokkha Commentary, pp. 507–508) .

Sometimes we can also be more certain that something is a later addition, such as in the case of the 26 rules concerning stūpas contained in the Dharmaguptaka vinaya? Interestingly, if you substract that number from their total, you arrive at 224, close to the Theravāda with 227. Charles Prebish has argued that an embellishment of the vinaya had happened, as the Mahāsaṅghika Śāriputraparipṛcchā explains it. If that is the case, than the Theravāda would be second only to the Mahāsaṅghika and that only, again, in the case of the Sekhiya rules. The other schools have all more than 20 rules more than the Theravāda. After all then, it might well be that there is no embellishment in the Theravāda since, as you mentioned, some of the sekhiya rules are also found in the khandakas and to find them elsewhere doesn’t mean that a corruption has taken place.

(Charles Prebish: Mahāsaṃghika Origins: The Beginnings of Buddhist Sectarianism, p. 268).

Although I find that this is an interesting point and worth noting, I find it problematic to base oneself on it to abolish vinaya rules (or to propose such). After all, these are speculations and it might well be not as hypothesized (see just alone the explanation of the kaṅkhāvitaraṇī not taken into account, adding some nuances). I believe that since the determination of what is authentic and what not cannot be answered with certainty (Buddhist scholars would agree on that point) that if one would venture to decide abolishing rules, a council of scholars would end up with 20 more pātimokkhas, every one thinking this piece is worth and wise keeping but not that other one. Exactly that is what I find wise in the Theravāda, which leave it as it is, the only school with this attitude by the way …

I think also that this is not necessarily a good case to determine that the sekhiyas were added by the different schools. We don’t know about exact timelines. Later doesn’t mean outside the Buddha’s lifetime, he taught over 45 years. We also don’t know what kind of decision making processes were implemented reciting and discussing the tradition at the first council, why they placed a certain part after another. That such redaction is recognizable doesn’t mean that it is an indication for alteration in the sectarian period. That is what I mean, that there are just too many variables which no scholar I am aware of pretends to be able to untangle, let alone using it as a basis to determine what is buddhavacana and what not and to rescind rules.

One also needs to consider the huge friction and further fragmentation of the Buddhist traditions which would be caused by actually implementing your proposal. The first thing was to recognize and ordain bhikkhunīs, which caused a “good” deal of pain for all involved (on both sides of the equation) and now you propose that it would be good if they abolish their rules, that is quite remarkable to me personally. But, bhante, I think you are fully aware of these ramifications and I need not tell … :pray:

It seems the bhikkhunīs of old saw that differently … Or do we have ancient accounts of bhikkhunī councils deciding not to keep their rules? Or any other evidence at all suggesting that within the Theravāda tradition bhikkhunīs abolished any rules over their more than one and a half thousand years of existence, perhaps remonstrating about the garudhammas?


As a preface of sorts, I want to note that none of the women or bhikkunis have responded to this particular post. Including myself, we now have three (white) men holding this conversation. I think I know why women (ordained or not) have chosen to avoid this topic, but I just want to acknowledge that before proceeding.

This style of argument is what’s called an Appeal to Extremes. An Appeal to Extremes is defined as (emphasis mine):

Erroneously attempting to make a reasonable argument into an absurd one, by taking the argument to the extremes. Note that this is not a valid reductio ad absurdum .

Here are two examples of an Appeal to Extremes from the linked website:

Example #1:
There is no way those Girl Scouts could have sold all those cases of cookies in one hour. If they did, they would have to make $500 in one hour, which, based on an 8 hour day is over a million dollars a year. That is more than most lawyers, doctors, and successful business people make!
Explanation: The Girl Scouts worked just for one hour – not 40 per week for a year. Suggesting the extreme leads to an absurd conclusion; that Girl Scouts are among the highest paid people in the world. Not to mention, there is a whole troop of them doing the work, not just one girl.

Example #2:
Don’t forget God’s commandment, “thou shall not kill”. By using mouthwash, you are killing 99.9% of the germs that cause bad breath. Prepare for Hell.
Explanation: It is unlikely that God had mouthwash on his mind when issuing that commandment, but if he did, we’re all screwed (at least those of us with fresh breath).

Secondly, equating the way junior monks show respect to elder monks with the various discriminatory rules that cripple the freedom and independence of bhikkunis (freedom and independence they were shown to have in other parts of the Pali canon) is a false equivalence. The real issue is about much more than a senior nun having to show respect to junior monks. That particular example is mentioned simply because it is demonstrative of the bigger problem.

As one privileged white man to another, maybe you’ve never been on the receiving end of this kind of discrimination before. As a thought experiment, imagine if somewhere in the vinaya it said that lighter skinned monks had to always bow down to darker skinned monks, weren’t allowed to perform their own ordinations, etc. So you, as a white man, even if you were a 20 pansa monk, would have to bow to a 1-hour old bhikkhu just because his skin was darker than yours. Again, I’m picking on a relatively minor example of the discrimination found in the vinaya here, but can you imagine an enlightened being making rules like that? I can’t, just like I can’t imagine a sexist enlightened being. By the way, the “Oh, but you can use being discriminated against as a training in patience and developing loving-kindness” argument isn’t valid. We shouldn’t ever ignore institutionalized prejudice and discrimination by whitewashing it with Buddhist “practice.”


Hi D , probably yours is not an apt comparison either . Perhaps , a better example would be , a 80 years old sotapanna upasaka bow down to a junior monk / samanera of no attaintment ?! Or a 80 years old monk of 30 rains with no attaintment bow down to a junior or samanera arahant ?! Only Enlightened Buddha alone to make rules or abolish them .

as if two men ever represented all points of view :joy: I shudder to think what they agreed on!

Science is hard, but that’s no reason not to do it.

Theravada Buddhists have fought genocidal wars (among other “gross distortions”).

Look, there’s a reason I ordained in the Theravada. I agree it’s preserved things the best, but you’d have to be blind to think it’s a 100% pure carbon copy of Early Buddhism. Given that some distortions have crept in, and we now have evidence to suggest what those might be, why not try a revival? Isn’t that what Theravada has needed repeatedly over its history to stay so true to its ideals?

True. It comes down to different failure modes. I hear that you’re afraid of the failure mode of losing something valuable in the vinaya. That’s a respectable and understandable fear. One I share. But I think there’s a legitimate fear on the other exteme too: Buddhism died out completely in cultures where it lost the support of the local ruling class.

Now, Buddhism has a role to play in pushing culture forward, of course, and has mostly good PR these days in the West, so if gender discrimination was something we really wanted to push, we probably could… but it’s dangerous to go too directly against prevailing ideas of morality, as the vinaya itself attests!

If monasticism can’t accommodate Western egalitarians, I’m afraid we’ll be left with only lay meditation teachers and I think that would be a real shame too. :pray:


To the best of my knowledge, the patimokkha has nothing to do with one’s level of enlightenment. It isn’t taken into consideration at all. If there is any connection, I think it would only be something along the lines of “an arahant wouldn’t ever break any of the rules anyway.” But what we’re talking about here is something far less…grandiose than how arahants should relate to sotapanas. Let’s not include this in the current discussion, as it just muddies the waters, so to speak.

I’m reminded of a quote:

“Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”

It’s an interesting question, how far the Sangha should adapt. We know the Buddha imposed rules in order to keep up the good image of the Sangha in the eyes of the laity. How far does that go though? Is the best thing for the Sangha to embrace one political ideology among many in the West, or is it to try to be above the rather muddy and choppy waters of politics? To give instead more of a meta-analysis and advice, as it were? Needless to say more debates around this will be needed in the future. Well, even today.

What if it goes so far into progressivism it ends up excluding conservative or right wing Buddhists? They exist in the west too of course, and can be potential future monks or nuns. Many are today.

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Yeah this is why I agreed so enthusiastically with Ven Vimalanyani’s post about each monastery deciding independently how to adapt. This way, we can hedge our bets a bit: have the ultra-conservative monasteries and the slightly-liberal monasteries, etc. Hopefully, with enough diversity in the gene pool, something will survive to the next generation! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


Well I’m all for freedom of speech, religion and assembly. Whilst I’m somewhat sceptical of bhikkhunī ordination I fully support the right of women to become nuns and have their own monasteries, and for other monasteries to recognise and perform said ordinations. The same rights for those who do not recognise them of course. You make an interesting point, in that this might actually help the Sangha survive for longer. Something to think about further. Regardless this issue isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon, and I doubt we will ever get everyone agreeing on it. I just hope that going forward everyone can be more tolerant of the other at the very least. To recognise that we are all trying to navigate our way out of samsara and that if someone disagrees it might not be for nefarious reasons. In the end it’s all just vedana and sanna anyway.