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

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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This is what it comes down to for me. I.e. the pragmatic surviving and thriving of Theravada Buddhism in the West. Subsequently, IMO, the question is:

  • Assuming a monastic community made a change towards gender equality, would this negatively affect the community members’ probability of enlightenment, compared to monastic communities that didn’t make a change?

To me, it seems metaphysically and spiritually problematic if gender hierarchies are a necessary support to spiritual advancement. I wouldn’t know what to make of that.

On the other hand, I think changes that make it harder for monastics to have enough solitude, or separation from worldly affairs or sensuality, are much more problematic, because they seem to affect the conditions actually needed for spiritual awakening.

Anyway, it does make sense that Buddhism has had pressures to adapt to whatever gender norms existed in society.

For example, not long ago (see also):

Critics of early steam-spewing locomotives, for example, thought “that women’s bodies were not designed to go at 50 miles an hour,” and worried that “[female passengers’] uteruses would fly out of [their] bodies as they were accelerated to that speed”—which, for the record, they did and will not.

If Buddhism had evolved in the West, maybe there would be rules against bhikkunis riding on trains, or exercising, lest their uteri fall out?

Even today there are societies where women are not allowed to drive, can only be outside with a male relative etc. It’s not hard to imagine societies where it might have seemed scandalous for a woman not to bow to man, regardless of seniority.

In sum, it seems hard to argue that gender hierarchies are needed for spiritual advancement on the noble eightfold path, rather than just reflecting pragmatic adaptions to the changing norms of surrounding society.


I think it would increase the probability of awakening, given certain constraints. The most important constraint is to follow, with intelligence and compassion, what the Buddha actually laid down. If we do this carefully, I think we can go a long way towards equality. It has the added advantage of making you feel you are practising more in line with the Buddha’s intention. That’s a beautiful psychological boost. So compassion, equality, social acceptance, real Dhamma … what’s not to like?


They did their best at a time when bhikkhunī ordination did not seem feasible. The main point is that it has never been bhikkhunīs ordination, but instead a kind of hybrid that was doomed never to get accepted outside their own small circle. I think it is highly desirable to keep the ancient bhikkhunī ordination, but if anything to make it even more authentic. We now know enough about historical evolution of the Vinaya to move in the right direction.


To be honest, I am glad there is someone here who represents a more traditional understanding of the Vinaya. I like to deal with real issues. As long as we are both acting in good faith, the conversation is worthwhile. But let’s stick closely to the OP, which deals purely with matters of Vinaya.

You are glossing over the fact that the Mahāsaṅghika only has 66 rules. Then there is the Upāliparipucchā which has 72. Yet even some of these rules are not in common with the Pali and so the area of overlap is even less.

But the broader problem is that it simply won’t work to say that the other schools generally have more sekhiya rules than the Pali and so the Pali is more pristine. The total number of rules that all the schools have in common is only about 25. If we consider the rules that all the schools bar one have in common, that number goes up to about 40. What we are dealing with is a considerable amount of diversity. We are not seeing one Pātimokkha that forms the basis from which the others have developed. And so we have no grounds for taking the Pali Pātimokkha as authentic, whereas all the others are corrupt.

We are left with the puzzling question of why the rules of Pātimokkha of the different schools are so similar, with the exception of the sekhiyas, where suddenly we see such major diversity. As I see it, the only rational answer is that these rules were largely added in the sectarian period. Most of the sekhiyas, perhaps all of them, are not the word of the Buddha.

Many of your arguments are interesting, but they don’t really provide an answer to the above challenge. Let me just briefly reply to some of your objections:

  • Language. You rightly make the point that Pali is close to the language of the Buddha, whereas Chinese, for instance, is very different. This matters when it comes to precision in translation, but not when we are talking about the number of rules.
  • You mention “gross distortion” of other “vinaya traditions”. I am not sure what you have in mind, but what we do know is that core aspects of the Vinaya, in particular the Pātimokkha rules, have been transmitted faithfully. The sekhiyas do not fit this pattern. Whatever gross distortions there may be in other parts of the Vinaya, it does not explain this oddity.
  • You mention “a certain flexibility (see below) inherent in the classification of sekhiya rules”. If this is right, it could go some way to explain why rules were added after the Buddha passed away. I would suggest the rules for bhikkhun īs, especially the pācittiyas, where considered in the same way.

I agree that this is an important issue. But I don’t think it is insurmountable. I imagine that any decision not to practice certain rules would be done monastery by monastery, much as it is for the monks. It may be that the bhikkhunīs continue to do the full Pātimokkha recitation, but with an understanding that not all the rules are authentic. In this way they may be able to retain harmony, while giving room for interpretation. It has always been thus. There is no practice of Vinaya without interpretation.

In the end it is up to the bhikkhunīs to decide how they want to practice their rules. All I am trying to do is set out what is the most plausible historical situation, thus giving the bhikkhunīs greater flexibility in doing what seems appropriate. If we want to Buddhism to proper in most Western societies, such flexibility is sorely needed.