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

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.


Could we get a list started somehow to take a look at these? Even perhaps a cross-comparison among schools? In this regard I do like visuals :smile:

(It’s also worth pointing out that even some saṅghādisesas are suspect, which I think Ven. @vimalanyani pointed out in the other thread, and Bhante Sujato has written about it in Bhikkhunī Vinaya Studies as well.)

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Exactly. There will never be a global body that unifies and governs the whole of the sangha. In fact, I find such an idea horrifying. All you can do is find like-minded people, band together, and support each other…oh, wait, that’s what we’ve started doing here!


I feel that I should start with a confession—when I was first shown the original essay “A proposal for the reform of discriminatory bhikkhuni rules”, I read the title, screwed up my face and walked away. After you have been a bhikkhuni for some time (even just a few years) you get a bit weary of having the same kinds of discussions and being asked the same kinds of questions over and over again.

Several weeks on, at the urging of nun-friend I read the entire first thread and also this second essay without making any faces at all! In fact, I am now smiling. The intention and spirit behind these threads is very beautiful.

Below are two points that popped into my head as I was reading:

1. How practical is this?

My first reaction was how exactly is this going to work? My experience of Sangha life is quite limited having only ever stayed at Dhammasara Monastery in Perth (and some brief periods at a monastery in Thailand). But I do know that it is difficult enough to get a community of even 15 people to agree about fairly mundane things. For example, we started a process of revising our Korwat a few years ago. After many months of very looong weekly meetings we managed to come up with a draft. There were some some particularly controversial sections, such as laundry (!), which we had said we would revisit and finalise later. We have not yet had the courage or time to finalise it. It would seem impossible to get large Sanghas to agree on what rules were actually laid down by the Buddha—even if you just focused on monasteries in English speaking countries.

How things seem to evolve is that one group seems to do something well and then others will follow. For example, whatever combination of factors that Luang Por Chah brought together in terms of how to live monastic life and how to run monasteries obviously worked quite well (for monks at least) and has been franchised in many different parts of the world.

Now that there are bhikkhuni communities living and growing in various places around the world, they will naturally find a way to live these rules, in a manner that works for the contexts that they live in. For example, at Dhammasara we have had discussions about the Garudhammas, as part of revising our Korwat ( mentioned above). This is how I remember it: we agreed that at our monastery we would keep only the Garudhammas which are in common with the Pacittiya rules. We also agreed that we would do whatever we felt was appropriate depending on the context we found ourselves in. Although each monastery can be run independently of others, I still like the idea that I am part of a Sangha that extends outwards in both historical time and geographical space.

Interestingly, the discussion about the Garudhammas was much quicker and less painful than the discussion about laundry!

2. Shouldn’t the spirit of this endeavour be to find out what the original rules were?

It seems rather flawed to start from a place of wanting to shape the Vinaya into a form more acceptable to “us,” whoever you think that “us” is.

Based on this, I kinda like option 2 the best. :slightly_smiling_face:

Why is it “quite conceivable?”

If the ‘reforms’ are to be grounded in the EBTs and if there are pacittiyas that are common across all the schools, then how can we just disregard them because they seem discriminatory to us? If comparative studies show that certain rules are present across all the schools, even if they are ones that make life as a Bhikkhuni difficult, I would feel more comfortable with re-interpreting them in a sensible and liveable way instead of abolishing them altogether.

I don’t know much about text critical studies and I don’t even know what "lectio difficilior potior" means, but in general I thought we should interpret the teachings based on those that are repeated again and again rather than focusing on things that look a bit strange?


24 posts were merged into an existing topic: Misogyny and the Sangha

This thread has been split into two as indicated above.
Please place new posts in the right place: those related to the vinaya in this thread, and posts about the status of women in Misogyny and the Sangha.
(If you go to post there please read the OP first.)


Hey, I knew all that latin in Catholic school would come in handy some day!

Lectio Difficilor Potior means that the more difficult/unusal reading has the largest chance of being correct, when multiple variant readings are available. It’s a hallmark of biblical text criticism that has since trickled down into text criticism in general. The basic premise is that succeeding scribes are more likely to whitewash potentially controversial material with stuff that is less offensive, so if multiple manuscripts have codas that are different, the less palatable one is probably more accurate


So, I was sitting meditating and this idea came to me.
This conversation is about 20 years behind its time… A rebellious monk name Ajahn Sucitto came up with a similar idea to reform the Bhikkhuni Vinaya… he called it Siladhara training
Turns out it might not have worked out so well.


I was not aware of it. Could you please give me a link to where I could find more information?

When I click on the link to the new page it says it doesn’t exist or it is private.

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The Misogyny topic was moved to the Lounge where only regular users of this forum can see it.

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Closer to 40 years. Bhikkhuni vinaya without Bhikkhuni.

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