Dhammananda Bhikkhuni a Female Monk

Tonight on NHK newsline at 3: 30 I saw an interview with someone called Dhammananda Bhikkhuni.
She is a 79-year-old who has a PHD in Buddhism and in this whole interview she was never referred to as a nun. Both she and the young women she had in her Monastery were referred to as female monks. Curious about this - I thought she was a Theravada female monk, but on her Wikipedia page it describes her as beginning her official Journey by receiving the “Bodhisattva precepts”. So,is she Mahayana or Theravada or a combination of the two? And is Female Monk a respectful replacement for the word “nun”?


In the Thai context, “nun” is usually the translation of แม่ชี (mæchi). “Female monk” is more clear and less prone to a misunderstanding.


I’ve never heard the term ‘female monk’. In English it sounds like a contradiction, an oxymoron.

Perhaps ‘female monastic’


She’s Theravada. She’s a fully ordained bhikkhuni in the Theravada tradition, ordained in Sri Lanka. Many in Thailand don’t recognize bhikkhunis, believing the bhikkhuni line cannot be revived.




Indeed. Unfortunately, “monk” is the standard translation for พระ… so here we are.

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Would the term ‘monastic’ or ‘mendicant’ be considered in some way insulting?

There are bhikkhunīs who do not like the word ‘nun’ for a series of reasons. One being that “nun” is a Catholic term, and in Catholicism, there is a distinction between full monastics and friars/sisters. In languages like Italian, a female monk is a ‘monaca’ and a sister/nun is a ‘suora.’ A male monk is a ‘monaco’ and a friar/brother is a ‘frate.’ In Protestant-dominated languages like English, ‘nun’ is a kind of confused mix for any female monastic that often evokes images of sisters/suore.

Unlike ‘monaco/monaca,’ or bhikkhu/bhikkhunī, ‘nun’ is not the same word but of a different gender. It is a separate word that evokes a separate set of connotations. Why don’t we call bhikkhus rabbis or imams?

Like ‘doctor,’ it is more and more common for previously male-gender words to be used as gender-neutral in English. “Monk” is an archetype. “Nun” is a separate archetype.

The fact that ‘nun’ is used for white-robed eight preceptors, 10-preceptors, Catholic sisters (i.e. not full monastics), recent innovative orders, and applied to bhikkhunīs is a way of using language that renders bhikkhuni ordination invisible among a series of “nuns,” i.e. “women who aren’t really monks but are kind of similar.”

Other bhikkhunīs are perfectly content with the word ‘nun.’ I’ve just briefly described a few reasons some prefer not to use it. I myself am not a bhikkhunī. I’m sure there are bhikkhunis here who are very familiar with this and could shed much more direct and nuanced light on the issue! :pray:


I’ve never actually seen the term ‘doctrix’ used. :grinning:

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doctress - Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

I’m more familiar with terms like ‘doctress,’ ‘lawyeress,’ ‘actress,’ etc. But yes, these are not very common. Because the male term became standard gender neutral. :slight_smile:

I don’t think so? I’m just saying that the English may be intentionally “Thai-hybrid English”: many Thai people rely on Google Translate to read foreign press about Thailand and even Google Translate can’t mess up “female monk.”

Yes, that’s the other possibility. I got pretty upset when Bhante Dhammika used “poetess” to describe a Theri of the Therigatha… Hopefully future generations will look with equal horror upon my use of gendered language! :grin: #progress!


To someone very new to Buddhism the term “female monk” can in a way be more descriptive. But that is only one perspective.

I find it a little sad that ‘female monk’ could be considered a contradiction. I can’t see any other way to properly translate bhikkhuni into English, as ‘nun’ is just clear. A monastic could be a samaneri but a bhikkhuni is a Buddhist woman who has been fully ordained, in short a female monk. To my ears, it sounds right…but then again, I will be taking ordination at Songdhammakalyani Monastery soon. :pray:t3::blush:


Excellent answer! I couldn’t agree more. In Spanish and French, they also have the distinction between female and male monks using the same root word. I sent the link of this discussion to Ven. Dhammananda and she was glad that someone (you) responded correctly. I am trying to convince her to get on this forum. I think her input would be of great value. Thank you.

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Totally agree. As someone from a Buddhist background, who has lived my whole life in the West, I think using the term “nun” is a great disservice to Bhikkhunis IMHO. Not that I am that worried about converting “non-believers” (!), but I think Buddhist undersell the teachings! We don’t highlight the fact that the Buddha ordained women with the same words he ordained men, women were authors of the scriptures, there were female Chief disciples etc etc etc. Young women (and men) would have much more confidence in finding more about Buddhism if they knew this…They think all organised religions are sexist and homophobic and have no interest. “Nun” is heard (I am pretty sure) exactly like Catholic nun so nothing special about Buddhism…just another sexist religion. Even the young people in my Buddhist family hadn’t heard that Buddha ordained women, till I explained it.
(Plus the fact that the Buddha didn’t include homosexual sex within sexual misconduct not being discussed means many gay people think all religious orders are against them)

Maybe just “Monk” for both women and men is applicable as well? I used to think like this.

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Maybe someday I will gather up my courage and find out if it is possible to put on robes for a designated time period…I would like that very much.

You can definitely do that in Thailand and I would highly recommend it. Temporary ordination can be a very profound experience.

You know, I don’t even know where to begin for who to ask… I know there are at least two monastic groups here in Oregon and Southern Washington State. I think Clear Mountain is one, and Ajahn Punnadhammo is another. and there is one that is a dry insight sort of secular Buddhism I believe.

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This is informative. I had thought for some time that “monastic” seemed a phrase that could apply to either bhikkhunis and bhikkhus without unnecessary emphasis on gender. It’s pity if that’s not the case.

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As I understand it “monastic” is not only gender neutral, but it is also ordination-level neutral. So to specify only bhikkhu/bhikkhunī you would have to say “monastic with high ordination.” So I would say a Thai MaeChi that didn’t use money would also be a monastic. For me celibacy plus not using money would be the dividing line.

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