Bhikkhuni Vinaya Inconsistency

I was just reading the Vinaya, and noticed and inconsistency between the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha and the Bhikkhuni Vibhanga, particularly with regards to Pācittiya 2. The former (The Patimokkha) reads:

Should any bhikkhuni have the hair in the tight places (armpits and pelvic areas) removed, it is to be confessed.

The Vibhanga, alternatively, reads:

Whatever nun should let the hair of the body grow, there is an offence of expiation.

Now, I could have mismatched or misread these, but they definitely say the opposite thing.


AFAIK I remember reading there was a translation error at some point and someone made the latter translation, which is incorrect. The former is correct. (I think that was according to V. Thanissaro?)

Well I have many questions about bhikkhuni vinaya! We should discuss :smiley:


Whew! :sweat_smile: [quote=“Cara, post:2, topic:4437”]
We should discuss :smiley:

Indeed, we should!


IKR. It’s like major obstacle to bhikkhuni ordination- the need to constantly remove body hair :laughing:


Lol. I was like I don’t want to do that!


Yes, it’s saṃharāpeyya which should be translated “removed”.


Okay, I’ve got a doozy for you. I’ve literally been too scared to ask this for, like, a year, because I’m not sure if it’s awkward or just a dumb question. But here goes. Be warned, this could get awkward.

So, any theories why the first Bhikkhu sanghadisesa is a sanghadisesa and the Bhikkhuni pacittiyas 3 & 4, are… well… pacittiyas?

The only theory I came up with is that emission of semen is very much frowned upon in vedas/ascetic culture as it is referred to as “veerya” (energy) and “dhatu” (base of life). So that the additional depth of the offense is related to this.

Honestly, I just feel like the bhikkhuni offense should be seen more harshly than it is, when so many other rules which seem less obstructive to the path are viewed so harshly!


This an excellent question and not dumb at all, Cara! I really hadn’t even noticed this. (Also, I’m not sure if this question is for me or Bhante but I’m going to offer my thoughts anyways! :smirk:).

This seems like a plausible explanation. I also think it might be because the ‘lustful’ rules in the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha are parajikas instead of pacittiyas. For instance, parajika 5 reads,

Should any bhikkhuni, lusting, consent to a lusting man’s rubbing, rubbing up against, taking hold of, touching, or fondling (her) below the collar-bone and above the circle of the knees, she also is defeated and no longer in communion for being ‘one above the circle of the knees.’

And parajika 8:

Should any bhikkhuni, lusting, consent to a lusting man’s taking hold of her hand and touching the edge of her outer robe, and should she stand with him and converse with him and go to a rendezvous with him, and should she consent to his approaching her, and should she enter a hidden place with him, and should she dispose her body to him—(any of these) for the purpose of that unrighteous act—then she also is defeated and no longer in communion for ‘eight grounds.’

These are obviously rules that deal with the bhikkhuni lusting after and engaging in contact with someone else – but I think this is precisely why female masturbation is de-emphasized in the Vinaya – because there is the idea that women cannot be lustful without another man person. This might be overstepping a bit, but it’s a fun idea!


Glad you asked!

The first thing is to recognize that the Vinaya itself doesn’t explain these points, so any explanation is hypothetical.

The second thing is that there is only a very loose relation between the severity of an offence in Vinaya terms and the actual moral gravity of an act.

Here’s some extreme examples. Suppose I, as a bhikkhu, wander into a bookstore. I see a nicely bound edition of, oh, I don’t know, some random book, say, Animal Farm. I think, “Wow, that looks nice; it would be wonderful to read a playful fairy tale with no parallels to our current political climate. But I can’t buy it.” So I glance around the store, and, thinking to steal it, pick it up. But as soon as I have it in my hands, I come to my senses. I realize what I’m doing and put it back. Still, I have committed a parajika: I am not a monk, and can never be one for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, suppose that I enjoy bashing homeless people. At night, as a monk, I go out dressed as Neo from the Matrix, and beat up helpless people on the streets. I do this because I don’t like the way homeless people bring down the tone of my recently gentrified neighborhood.* Doing this, I incur multiple pacittiya offences, which I can clear by simply confessing at the next patimokkha.

Okay, that is, like I said, an extreme example, but you get my point.

So when considering the rules regarding masturbation for monks and nuns, the moral gravity of the acts have a very loose relation to the class of Vinaya offence.

What other considerations are at work? Well, one of the basic considerations for Vinaya, as with any legal system, is simplicity and knowability. Consider driving, for example. If there is a law saying you can’t drive over 60kph in this zone, this is clear and straightforward and easy to enforce. But there are many silly things you can do in a car without going over the speed limit. So, to cover cases not explicitly mentioned elsewhere, they make a law against “dangerous driving”. But this is highly subjective, and much harder to pin down. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just means it’s not so simple.

I think the same thing is at work here. Note that the monks’ sanghadisesa occurs only at the time of ejaculation. Anything else is a lesser offence. This makes sense, as it is hard to define clear cut boundaries in the various stages of arousal and stimulation. Female sexual response is less obvious, and it is harder to define in a clear cut way, especially from an external point of view. I am not even sure whether there was a clear understanding of the female orgasm at all. In fact, if there was not, this alone would be a sufficient explanation.

We should also bear in mind the question of authorship. We don’t really know who authored these rules. In Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies I have shown that there is, in some cases, a specific set of terms that suggests the nuns had an independent code. But whether these specific rules were authored by the Buddha, by the monks, or by the nuns, is unclear. Obviously if there were male authors, we could expect less understanding of such issues; this could even be used as a principle to evaluate authorship.

Yeah, no, I don’t think so. The Vinaya is relentlessly rational, and ignores such magical thinking even in cases where you would clearly expect it, such as the treatment of menstruation.

* Based on a true story: it happened in Wolloomolloo. Not a monk, though!


No definitely for you (or anyone) and grateful for your input! And if any bhikkhunis/nuns here by proxy or directly would like to contribute I would be most grateful too!

Right but surely a rule regarding masturbation would be regarding lust too, among other things?

Yes, this thought occurred to me too and makes sense in light of…

Hmm, interesting and good point. Needs some further mulling over for me, considering all the reasons for the laying down of the Vinaya…

While I see your point, I’m not entirely convinced. In some interpretations and indeed in the Patimokkha/Vibhanga itself, there’s no need for grading of the levels of arousal internally, because even the slightest touch “as the lotus leaf” incurs an offence in terms of the outward signs. So there shouldn’t be a need to provide high levels of offense for greater levels of arousal, particularly if the intention is there from the start?

But what about digging and pulling up plants/damaging fruit, etc? Is this not also from the Jain idea of life force in these objects?

Other more practical reasons emission is such a big deal -
it creates a mess;
it can be used to impregnate women and draw monks into family life.


Fair enough!

Wow, just…wow.


Yeah for sure, that’s what I meant, that (in Vinaya context) masturbation for a woman isn’t seen as as equivalent to masturbation for a man. And thus, male masturbation is perhaps seen as more lustful for men than for women.


True, but the problem is the public perception of such things.

In any case, the Jaina view is essentially that of panpsychism, which, far from being a superstition, is a rational and powerful philosophical position, which is currently very much a live topic when it comes to discussions of consciousness, neuroscience, and hard AI:

But the “slightest touch” is chosen precisely because it is a clear-cut boundary. Where do you go from there? “A bit more than a slight touch” … “Like, a really fairly substantial touch” …

Remember, the Vinaya is very heavily weighted towards an assumption of innocence. For any offence to fall, especially a serious one, there needs to be a very clear case, otherwise it just gives rise to doubt. This means that Vinaya is only an incomplete guide to conduct: so be it.


Hm, fair enough. But then, couldn’t the emission thing be seen under the lens of panpsychism as well? Wasn’t it thought that the woman was the ‘inert field’ and the man the source of seed? The living seed that would then develop?

:laughing: LOL . Okay, okay, I see what you’re saying. Thank you!

I guess it still doesn’t sit right with me that ejaculation in the culmination of the act - this could be regardless of orgasm or not - should suddenly require a higher level of offense once the intention and action are already there. In your stealing anecdote for example, the act was not taken to completion, but since the intention and an initial action based on it were done the parajika falls. Anyway, that’s literally just my personal feelings and so I will sit with it.

It’s certainly tempting to think ignorance or underestimation of female sexuality is at play, but then why make a rule about masturbation for women at all? In fact this rule doesn’t even seem to be just about masturbation at all (for nuns)…[quote=“Brenna, post:8, topic:4437”]
because there is the idea that women cannot be lustful without another person
@Brenna, you crossed out man and put person, but in the Vibhanga it defines ‘male person’ only for parajika 5 - so couldn’t that mean a woman touching a nun will only be a pacittiya?!?!?!?!

(also where did you get your reference for that? I could only find the one for nun touching man, not man touching nun?)

Well then indeed!

There’s a big difference between magico/superstitious beliefs, which come under the heading of taboo, and higher philosophies like panpsychism. They can sound superficially similar, sure, and deal with similar subjects, but one is a philosophical contemplation born of theoretical abstraction, while the other is pre-rational, born of unconscious associations. In any case, there’s no real reason to think either is relevant here.

I should have made this clearer. The point is, in the parajika rule on stealing, the act is in fact completed when the object is removed from its base. In this case that means that if you lift one side of the book, while the other still is on the shelf, it is not parajika, only thullaccaya. But if you lift it clean off the shelf, you’re done! Again, it’s pretty harsh, but there needs to be a clear cut boundary. (In fact, in reality it might be more complex than this. Usually in a book store you’re not legally guilty of stealing until you actually leave the store. In that case, you could consider the store to be the base, and stepping over the threshold to be removing it from its base.) Anyway, regardless of which method you apply, the point remains that there is a clear boundary.

Generally speaking, yes, it is not possible for a nun to commit a parajika through sexual contact with another woman. The same does not apply for the monks, though: male/male acts can result in parajika. Who said the Vinaya was stricter for women!


does this mean that the dictionary article on saṃharati must be amended accordingly? because it lists the meaning ‘to make gather or grow’ referencing precisely this paccitiya

and the incorrect translation appears in the Parivara as well

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Yes, I would say so.

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Lol. I was being facetious, but that’s interesting indeed!

Sorry, for which thing?

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Thanks Bhante that helps me understand a bit better :pray:

Erm, me! :raising_hand: still is tho…

@Brenna in bhikkhuni vibhanga, parajika 5 on SC I get

"Whatever nun, filled with desire, should consent to rubbing, or rubbing up against, or taking hold of or touching or pressing against a male person below the collar-bone, above the circle of the knees, if he is filled with desire, she also becomes one who is defeated, she is not in communion, she is one who touches above the circle of the knees.”

This doesn’t seem to include, as your quote does, it going the other way, as in man to nun. I see now you got that from AtI but it actually says the opposite of the other translations I found, unless it is either, a) another inconsistency or b) is supposed to go both ways but the language doesn’t make that clear.*

*later note: cross referencing the different versions of the bhikkhuni patimokkha from different schools seems to indicate numerous variations with this rule, from man to nun, nun to man, offense only without the robe on…

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I don’t actually know in what sutta this is said but if I remember correctly, the buddhist position is that plants are not really alive because they don’t posses consciousness. So there is no contact so they can not experience feelings of pleasure or suffering. That rule was put because of not destroying living creatures that might use them as their home.

Yeah, I got my quote from the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha on SC.