A Trojan horse: thanissaro bhikkhus response to Analayo


I hate to be the one to inject a recollection of crass considerations here, but one reason why monastics are going to care about whether or not other monastics and Buddhist communities recognize them as legitimately ordained is economic. As a neophyte in the Buddhist world, I don’t know too much about these matters, but I gather there are vast amounts of money and material support pouring through the various kinds of interconnected monastic lineages, establishments and affiliated lay support organizations. If you are disowned by monks in a position of authority, the support that flows through the institutions they oversee and influence dries up, and you are on your own.


At the core is not strict legalese and sharp debates, but wise and informed insight into the Dhamma, and applying it to our lives and world:pray:

A very wise monk said " We are good at studying, publishing, and spreading the word of Buddhism. What we have not been very successful at is showcasing the compassion and selflessness of the dharma by our actions ."

When there’s discrimination (under any circumstance) there can not be any compassion. To argue otherwise is deceiving oneself and others.


Thanks for this nice summary-commentary.

I’d like to add just one element in T’s Trojan horse argument. He suggests that Analayo’s historical method leads him to doubt the Dhamma-Vinaya in general because traditionally it was Mahakassapa who chose the 500 arahants for the first council, and since Mahakassapa was in opposition to Ananda on a few subjects, including Bhikkhuni ordination, he would have used that first council to give the Dhamma-Vinaya a more ascetic, rigid, and mysogonist shape.

Analayo therefore, so Thanissaro concludes, would suspect the Bhikkuni-Vinaya material to be ‘Kassapa-biased’ which would then be a very fundamental slippery slope - because if we doubt that then we could basically doubt any Dhamma-Vinaya aspect we don’t like…

I find the point an interesting flaw in T’s argumentation. As a participant mentioned above, obviously the Dhamma-Vinaya contains a lot of material that represents ‘Vihara-Buddhism’, not ascetic, praising Ananda, etc. A full and biased control over the transmission by Kassapa would have looked differently.

Leaving Analayo’s actual stand on this aside, this points to the uncomfortable question of irreverent text-criticism that really doesn’t care much about sects, traditions and organizations and purely says: “No matter what the consequences are, we are investigating the texts, and when we see bias, inconsistency, and evidence for later additions, we call it out.”

There is, understandably, systemic resistance against this position in Theravada. B. Thanissaro represents one extreme, and B. Analayo I’d say the mid-left. The incorporation of the far-left into the discourse is something that Theravada still has to achieve imo.


You have a point here @DKervick. And to me this is the tragicomedy of all this:

On one side we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of men wearing the robe being spoiled just because they receive way much more than they need to fulfill a spiritual career which most of the time is just a second order priority in their lives.

While on the other, you have few hundreds of women seeking to legitimately wearing robes so they become entitled to being offered just what they need to fulfill the spiritual career they are so eager to pursue.

In between, you have individuals sitting in ivory towers picking on texts to establish a rationale under which these women are framed as heretics pursuing something the Buddha never gave them, while the same rationale they use to do so would make highly questionable the status and entitlement of the men wearing the robes as well.


What is known about the historical circumstances that led to Bhikkhuni lineages “dying out?”



Beautifully put…

Thank you, @UpasakaMichael, for making it clear how people could get ‘convinced’ by such an argument.

With much metta,


P.S. Hope to see you in Bangkok in Feb next year :slight_smile:


We find short sum-ups at different places. The following quotes are from Analayo: The Legality of Bhikkhunī Ordination (p.312-313). (Similarly in B. Sujato: Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies (p. 10-14))

The order of bhikkhunīs appears to have thrived in India until about the 8th century. Before it disappeared from India, the ordination lineage was transmitted to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Asoka…

In Sri Lanka the order of bhikkhunīs, founded with the help of a group of Indian bhikkhunīs headed by Saṅghamittā, continued to thrive until the 11th century. During a period of political turmoil that had decimated the entire monastic community, the bhikkhunī ordination lineage seems to have come to an end in Sri Lanka.

Before the Sri Lankan bhikkhunī order came to an end, in the early fifth century a group of Sri Lankan bhikkhunīs transmitted the ordination lineage to China (T L 939c). A Theravāda Vinaya had been translated into Chinese in the late fifth century, but this was later lost (T LV 13b), presumably during a period of political instability. Towards the beginning of the eighth century the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya appears to have been imposed by imperial order on all monastics in China (T L 793c). From that period onwards all bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs in China had to follow this Vinaya.


Dheera i’d certainly love to see you and Terry again and maybe February will work? Much Metta to both of you.


If one extreme of the spectrum is a Schopen-like radical scepticism as to the reliability of the Pali texts, then I should have thought that its opposite (fideistic) extreme would not be Thanissaroism but rather “Mahāvihāra Inerrantism”, wherein the Pali Tipiṭaka is taken to have been flawlessly preserved and the Mahāvihāra commentaries are treated as wholly reliable guides to understanding it.

Ajahn Thanissaro’s position (which might be termed “Two Piṭaka Inerrantism” *) would then be at the leftmost edge of the fideistic side of the spectrum, while Ven. Anālayo’s would be situated on the sceptical side of the spectrum, roughly midway between Schopenism and Two Piṭaka Inerrantism.

[*] By which I mean a position similar to that of Ven. Ñāṇavīra but without Ñāṇavīra’s blanket rejection of the commentaries:

These books of the Pali Canon correctly represent the Buddha’s Teaching, and can be regarded as trustworthy throughout. (Vinayapiṭaka:) Suttavibhaṅga, Mahāvagga, Cūḷavagga; (Suttapiṭaka:) Dīghanikāya, Majjhimanikāya, Saṃyuttanikāya, Aṅguttaranikāya, Suttanipāta, Dhammapada, Udāna, Itivuttaka, Theratherīgāthā … No other Pali books whatsoever should be taken as authoritative; and ignorance of them (and particularly of the traditional Commentaries) may be counted a positive advantage, as leaving less to be unlearned.
(Ñāṇavīra, Clearing the Path, p. 5)


Thank you @Gabriel. So if that account is correct, the ordination lineage didn’t “die out”. It was squeezed out of existence by the exercise of state power and violence in multiple countries.


That both sides of the whole issue can / will perhaps stand together, though apart… I mean not likely any decisive one way or the other resolution. (As Thanissaro points out, the “all is one” idea – Universal Philosophy / new age sentiment – wasn’t in the Buddha’s teachings.)

Just as, parallel to Coemgenu’s point above: at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (“BCBS”, Massachusetts USA), where Analayo currently lives, the lobby features many of his books (for sale), and in the Dharma Hall lobby is a bank of shelves full of Thanissaro’s books (for free)!

Actually, Thanissaro B. will be at BCBS near the end of this next February for a weekend of teaching (“Skill in Questions”). I venture that if he and V. Analayo perchance met for lunch one day (or walked an alms round together in the town), they wouldn’t spend the time arguing these matters, but would share about common interests of dhamma or practice or so. They’re both, to the best of my knowledge, highly virtuous, and deep into practice. The issues of debate are earnestly engaged, but the central focus of their lives is more likely on another , more mutual plane.


Nice to follow the legal arguments and views of various people, but ultimately this is an issue of human rights (for women, to be able to join the sangha with full ordination) and a matter of benefit to society (having women as bhikkhunis is a great blessing to any society). The cat is already out of the bag in Thailand and Sri Lanka where there is a small but flourishing bhikkhuni order. This will not be stopped or reversed. In Sri Lanka, the bhikkhunis are supported by the large majority of the lay followers, who are grateful for the opportunity to give to the bhikkhunis and to receive their blessings and teachings. It is a done deal, and although Myanmar is more resistant, the bhikkhuni order will inevitably be reestablished there as well. Any further arguments at this point are only academic. I would like to add, in answer to one of Ven. Thanissaro’s arguments, that the bhikkhunis in both Thailand and Sri Lanka now have access to teaching from older and experienced bhikkhunis who have been ordained for many years.


This issue has led me to reflect on my response to situations in which I believe I am entitled to something and I am told, “No, you can’t have that; not now, and never, ever in the future.” My righteous fury at this “obvious” injustice gives away the game: I am totally caught up in grasping, since I must be asserting that I can’t be happy and can’t be expected to stop suffering until I have this thing in my possession. Is this not the very issue that the Buddha put at the centre of his teaching? And might it be relevant here?


I agree, markedsell, this is wonderful, and may these bhikkhunis thrive as they serve their communities. However, as I understand it, the issue is not about whether older and more experienced bhikkhunis are available or not, but whether they have been adequately trained, not by older and more experienced bhikkhus but by awakened bhikkhus.


This sort of thinking IMO leads to guru yoga.

See here.

How long before we expect every preceptor to be a fully awakened tathāgata like some Tantric sects believe?


Could not the same argument be leveled at the monks who obstruct the spiritual development of women? What are they grasping beneath their legalistic arguments which lack compassion? Is it some sense of entitlement?


My opinion is that this is an issue of silliness. Not trying to belittle the issue. Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu should just let it be(I have much respect for him). Women 100% deserve equal rights and should, if they wish, become bhikkhunĪ. There are serious inequities in Thailand regarding legal status. Being an American I think the government should be separated entirely from religion, though.

If you think Mahāyāna are schismatic then there are no valid Theravāda bhikkunīs according to the requirements of the Pali Vinaya. This is a matter of opinion. Luang Ta Maha Bua answered a question asked in England in the 70’s on the issue of bhikkunīs and made this very point.

For me, the 227 rules and 313 rules were made unnecessary in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. Of course there was the open question of what Buddha Gotama meant by not needing the “minor rules.” To me it’s obvious. Dasa Sikkhāpadāni. The Ten Precepts. Everything else is minor except for false claims of supernatural powers. So maybe it’s eleven precepts. Just my opinion.

Ordination is a ceremony and there is nothing magical about it. It’s not saddhamma. For a very long time it was the only way to become fully immersed in the saddhamma and learn it. Transmission of the dhamma isn’t limited to an initiated few anymore.

This should be a non-issue. Let the Theravāda bhikkunīs be. If you are offended by them or don’t recognize them you should re-examine your own practice. The 227 & 313 rules have been obsolete for 2,500 years anyway.

Remember there were virtually no monastic rules for the first twenty years of Gotama’s sāsana. Food for thought.

Much metta.


I will try to address several responses to my post simultaneously, to save all of us time and effort. I will also try to keep my responses really simple, appealing to common sense rather than clever books, because as you can see that has led absolutely nowhere in this conversation.

  1. Regarding the fear of falling into guru yoga: As a general practice one must of course have some reservations about guru yoga, because gurus may declare themselves as awakenened - whether sincerely or mistakenly - and students who come to them will either be helped or disappointed, as the case may be. This could be why Thanissaro Bhikkhu is perhaps not being simply silly about this matter. Might it not be that he truly wants to ensure that bhikkhunis receive skillful teaching?
  2. This is why it may be seen as compassionate NOT to allow unilateral ordination. Compassion is a beautiful quality, but sometimes it can also wielded as a weapon in spiritual circles to do away with any opposition by making one’s opponent seem less worthy. It seems to me that a careful searching of the heart is needed to discern one’s motives when this quality is appealed to. (I am making no personal comment about “Ocean” here).
  3. Once we assert “rights” we enter impossible territory in the sense that such rights are endlessly debated, and have been, throughout the course of history. It is, of course, a noble attempt to be fair to people but it seems to me essentially misguided because all people are not created equal, however much we assert that we want this to be so. Some are tall and some are short, some are intelligent and others less so, some are physically or personally attractive and others not, and so on. That being so, some people are going to awaken before others (for example, J. Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi were early starters) and surely the seeker would want to consult with someone who has awakened rather than someone who merely has monastic seniority? No reasonable person would want to go to a surgeon simply because they are older (and for some reason I can’t fathom, therefore considered to be “more experienced” – they could simply have become more experienced in their own ineptitude or ignorance) when you could go to a younger surgeon who is exceptionally talented?

But the broader point I was making was that when I can’t get what I insist I must have to make me happy, true dharma practice begins for me, and it consists in owning up to my stubborn clinging and exploring ways to let go of it. THAT’s where the rubber hits the road, not in fighting for my imagined “rights” but to start dropping that mind-created poison. Amen.


Futher to the issue of compassion in this context:

There is an instructive incident in the Buddha’s life which explores this matter. In the Kakacupama Sutta (MN21.1-6) the story is told of the monk Moliya Phagguna who was said to be “associating overmuch with bhikkhunis.” He seemed to think of himself as their protector, since when anyone spoke negatively of the nuns he would become upset, and he would defend them, even to the point of bringing a case on their behalf with the sangha’s court. Futhermore, if anyone would criticize Moliya Phagguna in the presence of the bhikkhunis they would become angry and even take the matter as far as the court. So, obviously they considered Phagguna to be a good man who was taking to heart the sufferings of those who were less fortunate than himself, given the lower status of women in the society of the day.

The Buddha questioned Phagguna about the matter, and Phagguna agreed that what was reported was indeed the case. So the Buddha gave this startling advice:

“Phagguna, it is not proper for you, a clansman gone forth out of faith from the home life into homelessness, to associate overmuch with bhikkhunis. Therefore, if anyone speaks dispraise of those bhikkhunis in your presence, you should abandon any desires and any thoughts based on the household life. And herein you should train thus: ‘My mind will be unaffected, and I shall utter no evil words; I shall abide compassionate for his [the detractor’s] welfare, with a mind of loving-kindness, without inner hate.’ That is how you should train, Phagguna.”

The Buddha continues: “If anyone gives those bhikkunis a blow with his hand, with a clod, with stick, or with a knife in your presence, you should abandon any desires and any thoughts based on the household life. And herein…[as above].”

But the Buddha goes even further: “If anyone gives you a blow with his hand, with a clod, with stick, or with a knife in your presence, you should abandon any desires and any thoughts based on the household life. And herein…[as above].” (MN21.6)

So here is an example of an obviously well-intentioned individual who was merely trying to protect the less fortunate; yet the Buddha’s advice relates not to his conduct, but only to his mind-set. Why?

My view is that this emphasis on keeping the mind at peace – that is, an internal focus – rather than focusing on externally “helpful,” “compassionate” or “socially responsible” conduct was aimed at helping the student to become more mindful of his motives. Put simply, is he “helping” others so that the world might become a better, more peaceful place for himself? Is he doing it for some praise or some sense of self-satisfaction? If so, is the ego is not being reinforced by the apparently morally admirable action?


I agree that the conception of rights is problematic in this context. Nobody has a human right to become a Theravāda nun. But, by the same token, nobody has a human right to become a Theravāda monk. These categories of monk and nun can only exist by virtue of the freely given generosity of people who are not monks and not nuns. I would suggest that it is up to the latter to determine what kinds of communities they want to support, and what kinds of disciplinary rules they think are wholesome and worth respecting.