A Trojan horse: thanissaro bhikkhus response to Analayo


@Chevita @dharmacorps @idappaccayata

I feel some sadness about your reactions to the thread so far - but i am glad if we can talk about it.

It’s not impossible one (or more) of my comments was seen as snarky or worse; i don’t think i crossed any lines into slander (but please, let me know by pm if your opinion differs!)

But i suspect more information on what caused reaction might be helpful for avoiding anger. I speak (of course) only for myself, but maybe it can help.

When I read Ajahn Thanissaro’s essay, I was appalled, frankly shocked, that an issue which I thought was now moot was being revived.

The essay seemed (and still seems) to me to be promotion of schism. There ARE bhikkhuni in our contemporary world; to argue that these ordinations are invalid is to reject not just those individuals, but also the traditions which stepped forward to restore the lineage from where (as I understand it) pre-Theravada bhikkhus and bhikkuhs (edit: bhikkhunis) had seeded it! In effect, this delegitimizes almost all contemporary Buddhism, including much in Thailand (for did not the bhikkhu lineage get reestablished when it was decided that it had become corrupt?) (I am not a historian; but this is what I have read.)

Aside from this… arguing that half of human births are NOT fortunate, can not aspire to or practice the Holy Life which many argue is the best if not the only practice leading to Awakening… is simply horrible. It establishes gender as a caste system, with human women only good in Buddhism for serving monks. And I know this to be wrong, a trap for all humans, likely to reinforce self identification with gender, a harmful idea which easily can lead to other harmful ideas.

I recognize I am not speaking to the technical details in Ajahn Thanissaro’s essay; nor will I; it is simply too awful for me to give it the attention that would require.

Plus. I cannot encourage schism in sangha. Just cannot.

Rereading this, I realize I have said nothing about why women’s ordination matters to me personally. And I don’t think I can, for it is so incredibly sad to me that any Buddhist argue about this issue. It’s more painful than watching America become fascist, because it is more important imo.

May all be happy, peaceful, and ultimately freed from suffering. And if I owe anyone an apology, please, pm me; it would be appreciated.


Everyone eventually dies… Give it 30 or 50 years and all this fight will be in the past, those bhikkunis who are able and skilled will have them established an unquestionable solid and strong sangha.

Those who oppose it will be seen as pushing for fears based on superstition and a technicalities that if followed would put their status as bhikkhus in even greater doubt. A tragicomedy!

Anyone who has lived in Thailand long enough will know that ordination is a very lucrative business held by a network of district monks almost always uninterested in practising and definitely not clearly traceable back to the early Sangha as most western bhikkhus would like to imagine. And that applies to both Mahanikaya and Dhammayut branches…

The purity of intention, effort and faith in the Buddha and his Dhamma Vinaya is what determines who is or not worth the robe and status of bhikkhu or bhikkhuni…


One thing I found unconvincing is where he says:

During the Buddha’s time, there was no counterfeit Dhamma taught in the Saṅgha. This meant that if students did not like what the Dhamma taught, there was no alternative version of the Dhamma to which they could appeal for something more to their liking.

But isn’t there a famous story in the suttas about some of the Bhikkhunīs having precisely this issue: prefering the teaching of Ānanda (not an arahant) to Kassapa (an arahant)?

Also, the idea that contemporary Bhikkhunīs are in a much worse position than the earliest Bhikkhunis, because the former don’t have arahants around to imitate, seems to cast a negative light on the male lineage as well. Surely over all of the centuries, not all male monastic preceptors have been arahants. If you can only receive proper training by having an arahant to imitate, then it seems likely a true understanding of the path and goal died out a long time ago.


On interpretation of compassion:

Venerable Analayo’s position:

“Another noteworthy element in the Nandakovāda-sutta [MN 146] is that the Buddha does not give the nuns any teaching, in spite of being requested to do so thrice. This stands in stark contrast to his role as a compassionate teacher elsewhere in the early discourses.” (FHNO, 38)

Ajahn Thanissaro’s response:

"… However, more to the point is the fact that the Buddha addresses Ven. Ānanda, rather than Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī, and that he doesn’t comply with her request that he exhort the bhikkhunīs. But is he being uncompassionate? And is something, in fact, slightly wrong going on?

The answer requires a look at the context, which is set by the garudhammas. The third garudhamma stipulates that the bhikkhunīs should expect a formal exhortation from the bhikkhus every two weeks. This means that, in making her request that the Buddha perform this exhortation instead, Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī is asking the Buddha to override the third garudhamma that she promised to respect. And the fact that 500 bhikkhunīs accompany her in this request is a defiant act: She’s trying to use the force of numbers to influence him. So, Yes, something wrong is going on.
But is the Buddha being uncompassionate in having Ven. Nandaka exhort the bhikkhunīs instead? Not at all. It’s hard to know his intentions, but the effect of his decision is compassionate in three ways:

• One, all the bhikkhunīs who listen to Ven. Nandaka’s exhortations (he gives the same exhortation twice) attain at least the first level of awakening as a result.

• Two, this incident establishes the precedent that the bhikkhus are qualified to teach the bhikkhunīs, a precedent that will serve both Saṅghas in good stead after the Buddha’s parinibbāna. If the bhikkhunīs had gotten accustomed to being exhorted only by the Buddha, they might have refused to be exhorted by the bhikkhus after the parinibbāna.

• Three, the fact that the Buddha was not intimidated by numbers sets a good precedent for both Saṅghas in the future. The fact that one side of a disagreement greatly outnumbers the other side should never be allowed to sway the decision of those who are outnumbered. This is in line with the principle set forth in Cv IV.10, that even in cases where a dispute reaches the point where the Saṅgha settles it “in accordance with the majority,” if the majority opinion is not in line with the Dhamma, the procedure is null and void, and the dispute is not rightly settled.

So, even though the Buddha didn’t give in to Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī’s request, he was not being uncompassionate or acting out of character. This means that there’s no reason to view the Pāli version of this sutta as either demeaning to women or later than other versions.
What this discussion shows is that just because an act looks uncompassionate on the surface doesn’t mean that it really is uncompassionate. And compassion doesn’t mean granting any request that seems, at first glance, harmless. After all, some requests that seem beneficial in the short term would actually be harmful in the long. There are people who see it as compassionate to offer bhikkhunī ordination to women without providing them the requisites for getting proper training after their ordination, but this idea of compassion is not in line with the Dhamma-Vinaya as we have it. A sense of compassion informed by the Dhamma-Vinaya would be combined with wisdom and discernment. It would look further into the future and realize that it would be very harmful and uncompassionate to import a foreign way of interpreting the rules into the Saṅgha, one that calls the rules into question and gives rein to imaginative retellings of the origin stories to force new and divergent interpretations of the rules. Such foreign standards would set a bad precedent for the way the Vinaya is interpreted and practiced in the future."


{deleting, as not contributing to discussion; sorry!}


Yes, but I believe that’s because they found Ananda’s personality more agreeable and not because Ananda was teaching some dhamma contradictory to Mahakassapa.

Arguably you just need a stream enterer but I think your point would obviously still hold anyway.

I imagine that generations of monks could go from bored obese men performing rituals for money to slowly studying texts more, meditating, rediscovering dhamma truths until eventually some become incredibly accomplished.

It seems that in contemporary times Bhante Gunaratana was laughed at by his fellows in the holy life when he decided to meditate, and so he had to teach himself from the texts. And he seems like a pretty great monk.


Hello. I am a noob to forums so am still learning the ettiquettes about posting. The intent is to post passages that I find relevant, not to force anyone to read (part of) the essay. Proliferating my personal reflections/opinions about the technicalities of the essay seems disrespectful towards someone who is committed to a path of virtues and is making the Dhamma accessible in English.

I am sorry if my approach offends anyone.


I was not offended, just unable to bear too much more of the topic after sharing my discomfort! Please, don’t be inhibited.


I’m a little puzzled by that reading of MN 146. I would have thought that the reason the nuns went to the Buddha and requested a dhamma talk was not defiance, but simply the fact that they wanted to hear a dhamma talk, and Venerable Nandaka had inexcusably skipped his turn. And the Buddha does respect their request, not by giving the talk himself, but by reminding the eminently competent Nandaka that it is his turn. Everybody is satisfied in the end, as the Buddha notes.

Reading this as an act of defiance seems a bit prickly.


So I take it that the nuns have no way of knowing whose turn it was to instruct them, but whoever it was is a no-show. They go to the Buddha, respectfully request the promised dhamma talk, the Buddha finds out whose turn it is and instructs that monk to give the talk. The sisters are delighted to hear the talk, and to be invited to ask questions. The whole episode just shows that the Buddha kept his promise to the nuns to make sure they got their instruction. It’s all good. The only one who is blameworthy in the episode is the truant Nandaka.

The fact that Mahapajapati Gotami came with a large group of nuns doesn’t seem like any attempt to outnumber the Buddha, but just a display of their unified commitment to learn. Aren’t there other places in the suttas where large groups of male monks request talks? Nobody ever says that is a case of defiance or intimidation.

Edit: I should add that there might be a bit of a humorous lesson in the Sutta, in that Nandaka is in effect punished by the Buddha for skipping out on the dhamma talk he was supposed to give. He gives it once, and the nuns seem perfectly delighted and satisfied, but the Buddha tells him: “Not good enough! Do it again.” And the subject of the talk is inconstancy (unreliability) - something Nandaka had unfortunately just displayed.


I am forever grateful to Venerable Sujato for creating Sutta Central, so that one can quickly access the Suttas to verify and compare, as is the case of MN 146. It is curious how the two Venerables interepreted the Sutta, but I am in NO position to judge their extrapolations. They are far more learned in the Dhamma and Vinaya than I will ever be in this life, so I defer to their good judgements in presenting the Dhamma as they understand it. The ultimate test of the veracity of each point of view is continuous wise investigation through experiential practice, and remembering to “check one’s ego at the door”.


In the essay Thanissaro suggests that:

During the Buddha’s time, there was no counterfeit Dhamma taught in the Saṅgha.

But I am sure that I have read suttas where monks were rebuked by the Buddha for misrepresenting him. So presumably there was counterfeit Dhamma in the Sangha at the time of the Buddha, or have I misunderstood something here?


Ajhan Thanissaro shouldn’t assume being physically nearby and supervising equals good training for Bhikkhunis. It’s more to do with the said Bhikkhunī’s motivation.


I think the assumption would be that whenever monks such as Ariṭtha (MN22) or Sāti the Fisherman’s Son (MN38) expressed their misunderstandings they would be swiftly corrected and therefore any dissemination of what is not dhamma as dhamma would be nipped in the bud before it could take on a life of its own in the Sangha.


Ah. Thanks so much for the references. :slight_smile:

Yes. But in other suttas we see monks who had gone forth and were separated from the Buddha (I’m thinking specifically about the one where the Buddha spent a night somewhere and the other monk who was already there didn’t recognise him). So I think that we can maybe presume that at the time of the Buddha some of these incorrect views would not have managed to be corrected? Especially as the monks in error had to dragged kicking and screaming to the Buddha.

But even though the mendicants pursued, pressed, and grilled him in this way, Ariṭṭha obstinately stuck to his misconception and insisted on stating it.

What do you think?


First: I am happy that I’m not the only one who has read this story in this way.
I have been really surprised that there occured some discussion about lack-of-compassion on the side of the Buddha and/or of misogynism in vinaya based on this story in the exchange between the Ven.'s Thanissaro and Analayo.

The story says that the line of weekly teachings at the bikkhunis was interrupted by Ven. Nandaka by not showing up there. What option did the bikkhunis have? I think not many due to the rules of the vinaya in relation to the male bikkhus. So I felt much (and with a smile) reminded of some “go-in” of the women-students when they had been belittled by us political-experienced, revolutionary etc. and male students in the early seventies… So a very understandable and strong form of a demand - but without denouncing the failing-to-occur monk. (I think) they had no other option than to adress the Buddha in such a case of breaking the installed sangha-rule (to give the weekly teaching).

One aspect of the compassion of the Buddha was surely, that at all he took up on that “go-in” and that request. Next, that he didn’t immediately and openly discredit the offender (Nandaka) but put the focus on the rule (asking Ananda for the Bikkhu whose turn to teach it was) and only from this point to call the offender to do his job tomorrow.

When I read this story in the translation by K.E.Neumann it diddn’t appear to me, but in the version of K. Zumwinkel it was also mentioned, that Nandaka was a brahmin - so it might be some dose-of-salt by this in the soup of not feeling obliged to teach females.
The bhikkunies seemed to be satisfied by the showing up of Nandaka next day and went to the Buddha again just to openly consent to being released after that. But the Buddha might have felt something more has to be done - either to educate the Brahmin even more or to show the bhikkunis in an even more convincable way, that such an offence like that of not-willing-to-teach-females would not be tolerated by the Buddha/Sangha : Ven. Nandaka should go just the next day again (sic: not for instance next week, in the usual course) and repeat. Part of the Buddhas compassion and gentleness was - instead of “breaking-the-ego” of the brahmin - to give the example of the near-full moon after the first teaching and the full moon after the second: when the bikkhunis are satisfyingly convinced that such an offence would not/never be tolerated.
I think there has been a portion of diplomacy in this as well, because of the problem of status/self-representations of the brahmins in the sangha; but I do not know enough about this to say more than the above speculation. However with some educated common sense this matches easily with experiences in my own life with people of various “status”-groups.
One more aspect: I have it not at hand, but regarding that modern-touch method of doing a “go-in”: with how many women accompanied did the Buddha’s aunt Gotami show up when she went to request the installation of the bikkhuni-ordination initially? 500? - Tough Gotami. I can’t avoid a slight smile …

One more thing which but puzzled me: Ven. Thanissaro and Ven. Alanayo seem to avoid the respectful “Venerable” when citing/naming each other. Even more, Ven. Thanissaro in his ending statement says he wouldn’t engage longer in that dispute with “Analayo”. So doesn’t ordination-status mean anything between monks, having a long career in scholarly training? I didn’t engage so far much in reading such papers as cited/referenced for instance by Ven. Thanissaro ; but this missing of respect brings down my possible respect and my trust, one of them could guide me really deeper into the dharma in terms of mind and compassion …

(disclaimer: english is not my native language, so bear with me for possibly misunderstandable expression - I’m ready to improve anything what needs it)


From reading the whole essay, I find that his "arguing for a continuation of the cap on the education of women" might not be a quite fair paraphrase. His argument emphasizes the importance of a candidate living closely together with a qualified mentor for a significant period of time, as part of the proper "education". This would be for the candidate to learn by sustained close observation of the dhamma life style, like a child does non-verbally, as well as formal didactic training; and for the mentor to get to know the candidate closely to see where and how to guide them more precisely, as well as judge character suitability.

His point is not advocating capping women’s education, but that there lack qualified women to mentor in this way (debating which is another matter), and the women can’t live in that way with a monk. It’s not self-evident that simply ordaining women unilaterally would correct this situation.

Through lots of exposure to Thanissaro’s teachings, written, audio/video, and live, I’ve not seen any indication of a misogynistic bias. One can question his predilection for legalistic precision, where he ostensibly treads on others’ toes, but he is a practicing abbot (some 3 decades now), trained as such, and an acknowledged authority on the Vinaya. How that degree of “strictly upholding tradition” plays out in social/political/historical practice and the future is an open question. I believe, though, his maintaining that standard is of value in the overall debate and process; it provides a clear definition of one extreme of the spectrum of views.

Overall there are also more finely nuanced viewpoints at play, though often not as publicly vocal. I know of one monk, an officially designated “Sayadaw” in the Burmese tradition though Canadian by birth, who, for instance, agrees in principle with Thanissaro’s position, but then spent a month on his last visit to California sharing all he knows with one of the bhikkuni sangha -s here in Northern California. Contributing what he can towards correcting the education situation.


Good point. The “judgment” article doesn’t pertain directly to the topic at hand. I cited it to indicate some of Thanissaro’s teaching, analysis of the issues of appropriateness and trust in teacher-student relationships. He does often bring up anecdotes from his years of close association and training with Ajahn Fuang, which appears to have strongly influenced his views of the matter.

That’s somewhere in the Vinaya. Any monk (or bhikkhuni) would probably be able to provide the details.

Agreed. Amazing how one side or the other clings to proving their viewpoint (demanding submission from the other side?). It would seem at some point reasonable people could agree to disagree. It would also seem, if I rightly understand V. Sujato’s book on the subject, that it’s become a sectarian dispute.

My impression is that he just doesn’t think it’s worthwhile using abhidhamma in teaching, especially for lay students, which is perhaps his main focus. Although he recently indicated that he’s now focusing also on helping give young monks proper training. But in any case, he prefers using the sutta -s. He gives occasional indications that he does, as translator, does consider commentarial tradition, and perhaps abhidhamma also. It’s less a matter of rejection than of usefulness.

Burmese schools (at least some representatives) are also explicit that mastery of abhidhamma is contributory to overall understanding and precision in being able to teach ( sutta ) dhamma . A sort of teacher training more than to teach abhidhamma itself to the lay public.


I totally agree that especially when monastics are getting at each other they should stay polite. Here just a humorist jab at when formality is taken a bit too far :wink:


For my own part, I apologize for not living up to my own standards. The post I made with the two Wikipedia definitions was as close as I could get at the time to an unemotional response to Venerable Thanissaro’s paper, but there was still more anger behind it than there should have been.