Bhikkhave and Bhikkhu as Gender-inclusive Terminology in Early Buddhist Texts

The following article from Alice Collett and Bhikkhu Anālayo was already mentioned once by @Christopher but I think it deserves to have a post of it’s own.

The terms bhikkhave and bhikkhu, and particularly their appearance in Pali Buddhist literature appear, on the surface, to be terminology that excludes women. The vocative address to monks (bhikkhave and its equivalents) that occurs so often in sutta literature appears to be indicating that the teachings being proffered are addressed exclusively to male monastics. Similarly, the use of the normative bhikkhu (and its equivalents), in expositions relating to the teaching, again appears to indicate that monks are the sole and only concern of those offering the teaching. However, in both cases, such an understanding of each term is problematic.

In this article, we discuss each of these terms, and look a little more closely at each, suggesting that in fact neither term should be considered to be exclusive language; that is to say, in neither case do the terms function as indicators that the address or the detail of the teaching is solely for monks. The term bhikkhave should be considered instead to be a form of—what we are calling—an idiomatic plural vocative; that is, a vocative that is intended to capture a broader audience than is implied by the actual term itself. Similarly, bhikkhu is intended as an umbrella nominative, to mean “monk or nun” and sometimes as well “laity” and should be read as generic. We first discuss the term bhikkhave, then bhikkhu, and following that we also include a note on the term arhanti.


Thanks so much for sharing this!

I’d very much like to read the article, but I can’t download the PDF. Although I have granted all powers over my gmail account, each time I try I only get a message that for some reason it didn’t work.

Any idea?

I can’t really see the reason why they want access to my entire gmail account in order to allow me to download a PDF; and I will certainly disable this permission again, especially if it doesn’t help to download the article.

For the same reason I also couldn’t read other articles from that have been posted here. :cry:

1 Like

Well, I’m sure the authors don’t mind me posting it here: :smile: (268.5 KB)


:pray: Thank you, Venerable!

Something that popped to mind while reading your OP, Venerable.

In French, for instance, a group of men will be indicated by the pronoun ils, and a group of women with elles. However, as soon as at least one man is in the group, the gender of the group will become male again, ils, despite only potentially having as little as one male in it.

Gender in language is really just noun class. That’s how certain African languages can famously have up to 16 “genders.” It’s not that these cultures have 16 discreet gender roles (which would be fascinating nonetheless) but rather that nouns are organized into 16 classes for grammatical reasons in these languages.

Oftentimes, the masculine noun class will be used for mixed-gender groups. I imagine Pāli/Sanskrit would be much the same.

What are the odds a mixed-gender group would be indicated with the feminine noun class? I suspect not much. So if here was a mixed group of nuns and monks, even if they sat separate and apart, what are the chances one would address the entire mixed-gender group as “monks (in the female)” in Pāli? Likely, the male noun class would apply to the whole group IMO.

I haven’t read the paper in question either yet. That just popped to mind. I’ll give it a read in a second.