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

This is a matter that monastics disagree about. But first of all, let’s consider the bhikkhunīs that were ordained as Dharmaguptaka but practice as Theravada. This is essentially what happened to a large group of bhikkhunīs ordained at Bodh Gaya in 1998. To make the transition to Theravada easy, they first received the dual ordination by Dharmaguptaka bhikkhunīs and bhikkhus, but then received another ordination by Theravada bhikkhus afterwards. The triple ordination! So I think it is fair to say that they are proper Theravada bhikkhunīs.

Then there is the question of whether one can swap Pātimokkha tradition depending on where one is staying. I would say one can. All Pātimokkha traditions stem from the Buddha, even if there have been minor alteration during the course of history. If I were to stay in a Mahayāna monastery, where they practice the Dharmnguptaka rules, I would say I could just start following those rules from the moment I arrived there. All traditions are so closely tied to the Buddha that I cannot see any problem with this. Then, if I were to move back to a Theravada monastery, I would simply start practising the Pali rules. This means, of course, that even if one is ordained in one Vinaya tradition, there would be no problem with moving to another.

This is how it seems to me. I need to be clear, however, that many would disagree with me on this point.


Thanks for the prompt and comprehensive reply bhante. :anjal:

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Bhante ,
if i may ask , if they received
the dual ordination by Dharmaguptaka bhikkhunīs and bhikkhus , would that includes bodhisattva precepts as well in the process ?


There is a custom of receiving the bodhisattva precepts with ordination in Mahayana traditions, but I don’t think it’s seen as required. There wouldn’t be any way to know for sure in this case without knowing the details of that particular ordination. That may be what you are asking, but I thought I’d just point that out.

Anicdata… I can think specifically of a couple of Bhikkhunis I know who were offered the Bodhisatta vows at their ordination. If I remember correctly they both took them but the monastics who conducted the ordinations made it clear they were optional. (Sometimes you can tell who has taken them because of the scar/scars on their head from the incense burned during the ceremony. I may just be making this up, but I also recall that the incense thing was also optional.)

That’s my understanding, as well. It’s also optional how many incense cones you want to burn on your head. I think 3 is usually the minimum number, though, if you opt to do it. I believe it’s also possible to retake the bodhisattva precepts, and have even more incense cones used then. The incense thing is unique to Chinese Mahayana, though. Tibetans don’t do that.

Sorry, Venerable, for this late reply. You know what it’s like. Things happen!

Yes, this is good point. As others have suggested, any such reform would have to be monastery specific, or at most a few like-minded monasteries doing it together.

Right. And lay people will tend to support those monastics they feel are living the spiritual life in the most authentic way. So there tends to be a natural selection process. And for this reason I don’t think it will ever be disastrous to experiment a little.

Quite true. The problem is that we have enough historical knowledge to know that large parts of the Vinaya is quite late. The question then is what do we do with this knowledge. We could just shelve it and carry on as before. But given that there are aspects of the Vinaya that do not really fit with how we now see an appropriate relationship between the genders, we have a good reason to shape the Vinaya in accordance with our new-found understanding. The point, of course, is that this shaping should be in line with the message of the Buddha. If it is, I think we may actually strengthen Buddhism in the process.

This is another fair point. I think practising the pācittiyas that are common to the all the schools is an eminently reasonable and valid approach. At the same time, it seems highly likely that a number of the pācittiyas for bhikkhunīs were laid down after the Buddha passed away but before the sectarian period. Unfortunately it is impossible to know which and how many rules this would involve. I would therefore suggest to disregard these rules based on the Buddha’s allowance to abolish the minor rules. Only then - that is, when the bhikkhunīs do not have any special pācittiyas of their own - do I think we would have a reasonably equality between bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs, at least in this area.

There are two different issues here. One is the authenticity of a teaching, the other its interpretation. It is authenticity that is suggested by the principle of lectio difficilior potior. In other words, unless there is evidence to the contrary, then an unusual reading is to preferred oven a standard one. The question then is how such an unusual reading should be interpreted. Here the appropriate principle is that it should be understood in line with the overall meaning of the texts.

The Buddha’s allowance to abolish the minor rules is certainly an unusual reading. For this reason I think it is authentic. At the same time I don’t think it is possible to interpret this in any way except literally. And as I have tried to argue, I don’t think this literal meaning necessarily clashes with the Buddha’s more common injunction to keep the rules as they are.


11 posts were split to a new topic: Bodhisattva vows and its relationship to Pātimokkha precepts

:pray:t5: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.

I still don’t understand why “it seems likely that a number of the pācittiyas for bhikkhunīs were laid down after the Buddha passed away but before the sectarian period”? Sorry if it is obvious, maybe I am just not familiar enough with comparative studies…

If we look at the bhikkhunī pācittiya rules that would be considered most problematic,
only three of them are present in all 6 schools (I think):

Bi Pc 58: not going for Ovada + Uposatha
Bi Pc 59: not requesting the date of Uposatha + Ovada
Bi Pc 82: acting as a preceptor in consecutive years

All I did was go to Sutta Central, look up the pāli bhikkhunī pātimokkha and then click on the parallels button for each of these rules, hopefully this is a valid way to do it?! The rest of the rules are in the table below (it is small and grainy as my computer skills are not that great).

Bi Pc 82 - doesn’t seem to have posed too much of an obstacle so far, I guess because the original reason for this rule (a lack of dwellings for nuns) no longer applies?

I genuinely don’t understand why Bi Pc 58 and Bi Pc 59 would be considered late or why they might have been laid down after the Buddha passed away.

In Bhante Sujato’s Bhikkhunī Vinaya Studies, Bhante explains why he thinks these two rules (Bi Pc 58 & 59) were not laid down at the start of the bhikkhunī lineage, I guess because he is trying show that the idea of the Garudhammas being foundational for the bhikkhunī lineage is not authentic (Bi Pc 59 is also a Garudhamma). It seems, to me anyway, that he is saying they could entirely have been laid down during the time of the Buddha and that they were designed to help and support the nuns…

If we just ditch all the bhikkhunī pācittiya rules not in common with the bhikkhus, we might lose some bhikkhunī pācittiyas that protect the bhikkhunīs, and they might not be covered by the bhikkhu pācittiya rules. Just two examples:

Bi Pc 6: attending on a bhikkhu
Bi Pc 44: doing chores for a lay person

There are also quite a few bhikkhunī pācittiya rules that are more serious in nature. It seems a bit much to just abandon them all. It seems more reasonable that the nuns will work out, eventually, through living the rules which ones are most problematic and find solutions. I think this already happens. I am sure that there are some very smart nuns around like (@pasanna or Ayya Vimalanyani or Ayya Suvira) who could help work out exactly which rules have wiggle room. I would prefer to do it on a rule by rule basis than have some method to chop up the pātimokkha, which by the way some of us are just trying to memorise!

I also kind of like that the bhikkhunīs have our own rules and ways of doing things, we have vuṭṭhāpana instead of upasampada etc. I’m not that that interested in being a monk, I like being a nun! That’s just how I feel though.

There is a tension between wanting to be authentic and also wanting to be acceptable to the cultural norms of the society that we live in. It seems entirely possible the the Buddha laid down some rules that will either clash or are simply not relevant to the time and place that we now live. I think we just have to accept and deal with that.


It is okay to move the topic , i have no intention to derail this in the first place .

It is very nice to discover pertinent and inspiring things through witnessing the contributions made here by Ajahn @Brahmali and Venerable @acala I won’t go too much into what I’ve found pertinent. But here’s what’s inspiring:

  1. Two beautiful monastics that I respect a great deal are giving freely, kindly and clearly of themselves in service of the Dhamma. They are giving of their knowledge and their lived experience. I love how it’s been calm, kind and genuine. Thank you both.

  2. There is a deep love for the Dhamma here.

Ajahn, I love your motivation - not just as a friend to Bhikkhunis - but as a guardian of the Buddha’s words. It’s so clear that you really want to discover what our incredible teacher said. The consequences of living what is not Buddhavacana, not just for gender equity, could be - when one truly considers it carefully - potentially catastrophic.

  1. The sharing of a lived experience, by a Bhikkhuni of some years standing, is truly wonderful to receive.

Venerable, I love that you have chosen to participate in this discussion and have added your voice, your experience and your feelings in service of truth. Truth, so we have been told and so we are all open to learning, is this amazing ultimate thing that sets us free - but it is also the humble act of being open and loving to what each one of us brings to a discussion. I feel that in adding your voice, you are giving us all the opportunity to listen with love and openness - somehow, for me, that is what your voice here inspires. Thank you.

Many things evidence the genius of the Buddha. One is that all monastic communities are independent. So we can honour the actual ‘present moments’ (as it were) and lived experiences of actual breathing, flawed, human and truly genuine truth seekers, however it is they are conditioned to view the Dhamma and monastic life.

This means we can actually discuss things without feeling like anyone is forced or being forced. There is no threat in having a different view.

Not here anyway. It’s just a computer screen you are interacting with - as well as whatever you are currently projecting/perceiving as you read these little characters typed on this blankness.

There is no threat. But if we hold two things gently - the Dhamma (from the EBTs etc.) as well as Metta for each other - we can remain open to learning and growing in both Dhamma and in Metta. Which I feel, knowing what little I can actually claim to know of both these outstanding monastics, is that this is what they both want more than anything else.

If we assume that we all love the Dhamma and want to genuinely practise it, then it’s not hard to have a sincere dialogue - calmly and respectfully and with restraint. So thank you both for the valuable, wonderful contributions here. I feel you are role models for us all; I look forward to reading/hearing more such discussions either here or elsewhere :slight_smile: This forum is called Discuss and Discover - it’s a name that sets a high standard and arguably, this is one of the few conversations that, live up to it. It’s a pleasure and inspiration to witness such discussions.

I was going to say ‘debate’, but ‘discussion’ is more accurate. ‘Debate’ implies a vested interest in an outcome, even if just to win the argument - but I don’t believe there is one here, not for me anyway. ‘Discussion’ is open and free, is not so limited by the parameters we set by the ideals we hold dear when we argue, and discussion can potentially lead to the most wonderful and unexpectedly beautiful outcomes. And there’s no rush either. Debates have to be tied up within certain time frames…we ‘want’ and so we are heated and rushed. In an unhurried discussion, things evolve, mature, change and gentleness has a greater chance of influencing the course of things.

At the end of the day, we want happy monastics, practising correctly, for the sake of extinguishment. The form, the container, its various expressions and negotiations are only there in service of what we individuals bring to it - it is a vehicle to be used, to see what we are and what we value and what the Buddha offers to us as we discover these things. So let’s share in good faith. Let’s applaud different communities as they genuinely practise from a place of love for the Triple Gem - even if it might not be how our community does things.

Thank you all for sharing here, particularly I feel personally grateful to Ajahn Brahmali and Venerable Acala. You’re both pretty cool. :slight_smile:

With much respect and metta :pray:t5: :pray:t5: :pray:t5:


Because of the diversity in the sekhiya rules between the different schools, we can be fairly sure that changes happened in the sectarian period. A typical estimate is that sectarian period started 100-200 years after the Buddha. So the question is what happened in the period after the Buddha passed away, but before the sects started to emerge? To me it seems likely that changes to the sekhiyas did not just commence out of the blue once the schools started to appear. The fact that all the schools seem to have made changes suggests to me that the they all inherited a pre-existing tendency to make changes. And it seems possible that quite a few changes may have been made in a period that lasted 100-200 years. There is a lot of uncertainty here, but I think the general idea that changes were made in the pre-sectarian period is on fairly solid footing.

Well, this is a good example of a rule that is generally not kept. The lack of dwellings is only mentioned in the origin story, but there is no exemption mentioned in the rule or the Vibhaṅga for times when there are sufficient dwellings. So I would say this rule is a candidate for the sort of treatment I am suggesting.

Alternatively, it might be feasible, as you seem to suggest, to use the origin stories as criteria for deciding which rules are still binding.

Disregarding certain rules because they are probably not authentic does not mean you don’t practice them. To decide which rules you would like to practice (you could call them pācittiyas or just monastery rules), you need to ask which are in line with the Dhamma of morality and renunciation. It should then become quite clear which you need to practice without having the burden of rules that are discriminating.

And I’ve heard good things about a nun called Ven. Acalā. I think you may have heard of her …

Sure. But in my opinion it is good to have certain guiding principles for how to do this. People will probably ask how you have decided which rules to practice. If you have a solid answer for that, then no-one will be able to fairly criticise you. (Unfair criticism in unavoidable.)


Yes, and I think this may well have been a reason why he allowed the Sangha to set aside the minor rules.


So in theory you are suggesting that we should:
(1) keep only rules 97 to 166 from the bhikkhunī pācittiyas
(2) keep only rules 13 to 30 from the bhikkhunī nissaggiyā pācittiyas
(3) from the remaining bhikkhunī- only nissaggiyā pācittiyas and pācittiyas, we would pick which ones are “in line with the Dhamma of morality and renunciation” and either call them nissaggiyā pācittiyas and pācittiyas or implement them as monastery rules
(4) possibly still chant the full Pātimokkha (post #37 to A.Bhikkhu)

At step (3) it would no doubt help to know with a bit more certainty which rules were laid down by the Buddha, so that these could be given more weight. And I guess that is where comparative studies are helpful and something which I would probably need to do more homework about before saying anything else!

I still think it seems simpler to allow a natural process whereby, the bhikkhunīs, through their lived experience of the rules, adapt and interpret them in ways that are suitable to the culture, climate and conditions that they will find themselves in. This would be backed up and supported by comparative studies. To make drastic changes in what seems to me a rather clinical way, doesn’t allow for how things feel. That is often how I know if something is wrong, it just feels wrong.

As an example, I’ve never had the experience of having to bow to a monk junior (because I am so junior myself) but in the past when I have seen this happen, it felt quite wrong and I also witnessed how upsetting it was to the lay people who were there. It was quite obvious that for the context we were in, this was not the appropriate thing to do.

There might also be rules which in theory seem wrong (discriminatory) however, in practice we find them useful. For example, at the moment the rules about Ovāda (Bi Pc 58 & 59) don’t feel wrong, they feel quite right and supportive (for our community at least). In the future of course this might change.

This was what other nuns in our community suggested: The ovāda and the dual ordinations are rare times when the two Sanghas (bhikkhu and bhikkhunī) come together in a formal way. For the most part we are quite separate. Maybe… it could become a thing, in the future, where bhikkhunīs are present at bhikkhu ordinations and maybe the ovāda could become mutual. Of course it would be voluntary as we wouldn’t be laying down any new rules (I think bhikkhus voluntarily adopting extra rules was mentioned as an option at some point in dealing with discrepancies in the heavier rules). Ven. Analaya suggested that “The spirit of these formal acts could be transformed into an opportunity to express mutual support, guidance and acceptance. Instead of it being experienced as a hierarchical relationship.” It is not just about “fixing” the bhikkhunī rules, when the relationship between the Sanghas is healed it helps both sides.

Personally, I like that I can learn from both monks and nuns. If I were a monk I think I would feel like I was missing out by not having this opportunity! This might be even more true in the future when there will be heaps and heaps of wonderful senior bhikkhunīs. Sorry, I know this is supposed to be about the texts but it is hard to talk about the Vinaya without talking about how it feels, because it is something that we live by, it is not just theory.

Anyway to end, I really appreciate the work that you, Bhante and everyone on D&D contributes (especially all the nuns). I also feel a lot of gratitude for all the support that you give the bhikkhunīs, including answering our seemingly endless questions. :pray:t5: There weren’t any questions in this post, so please don’t feel obliged to respond! I think it is great that there is a space such as D&D where people can discuss these ideas, I just thought I would say something because I seemed to have a different point of view and I’m a bhikkhunī.

I think you must have misheard, she’s really just a scallywag and a leader of backsliding. :laughing:

Signing off with metta and gratitude,
Acala + Analaya


At the time of the Buddha there were no different schools of Buddhism. Much later the Theravada Bhikhunis of Sri Lanka ordained the Bhikhunis of the Far East in what was then a Dharmmagupta School. The two Patimokkha’s are very similar. So there is really no problem, it is only those monastics who are against the ordination of Bhikkhunis who raise these objections as that maintain that the Bhikkhuni order has died out and can not be revived.