"Going Forth – for Liberation" by Ajahn Candasiri

The Alliance for Bhikkhunis recently released their commemorative issue of Present, celebrating the 2600th anniversary of the bhikkhuni sangha. One of my favorite articles in the publication is that written by Ajahn Candasiri, who writes about her experience as one of the founding nuns of the Siladhara lineage:


Thanks so much for sharing this. I found this issue of Present really wonderful!

This article offers many questions, and points of contemplation to me. First of all, it is wonderful to hear Ajahn’s wise and considered reflections as always.

I find her reflections on this interesting.

While I loved to be serving, giving myself to something that offers such a remarkable structure, way of practice and teaching, there was also a sense of sorrow that, as a nun, I could never be fully included.

I am not a nun, however I felt this statement to be particularly poignant.

Of course, expecting to be included with the monks is probably hopeless, but I would hope that in the future, as the nun or bhikkhuni movement grows stronger, there is a sense of inclusion within themselves. As Ajahn refers to in the formation of the Siladhara order.
Another musing follows…

Should, at any time, …a satisfactory agreement on how the numerous rules of the bhikkhunī pātimokkha would be interpreted, I could well be among the first to make the request.

This seems to indicate (which is something I have also observed) that confusion and difficulty with the interpretation of bhikkhuni patimokkha is one of the major barriers to both lay women and female renunciates considering higher ordination. This is one of the few times I’ve actually seen a nun say this. Although I’ve certainly heard monks say and imply that ‘women can’t keep vinaya’, which is needless to say, off-putting.

It leads me to wonder what more needs to be done in terms of interpretation, if this is a genuine goal that can be accomplished. Sometimes I feel that people believe that creating a workable and functioning version of the bhikkhuni vinaya is as impossible as reviving the bhikkhuni order, and yet, the evidence is already here - it can be done.

So what more can we do in terms of interpretations of Bhikkhuni patimokkha to encourage postulants?


Huh. I have always presumed that it is not the Bhikkhuni patimokkha that is a barrier to women’s ordination, but merely the monks’ inability to justify the revitalization of the lineage. Thus, I’m now confused by Ajahn’s statement – would you be elaborating on this, Cara?

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Well I wrote a rather long reply, then changed my mind. I will reply briefly and then post the longer reply if necessary.

Yes, I think previous criticisms were leveled against the ability to revive the Bhikkhuni lineage in line with Vinaya protocol (however, I presume this means as outlined in the Khandaka(?)

When I hear “how the Patimokkha would be interpreted” I think “how nuns can keep the 311 rules of the Patimokkha (and presumably in this case they also mean the garudhammas, additionally)”. Some believe this is not possible or that “It is impossible for a woman to keep Vinaya” (actual quote!). Obviously a criticism I have heard lately…

Like I mentioned, this topic probably needs more unpacking. I will see how this reply floats…!

As I understand it, the nuns at Dhammasara are teaching themselves Pali so that they can access their rules in that language.

I think this is wonderful as it provides them with a chance to have ownership of their own rules.

Monks, unless they’re coming from a place of compasssion and learning, should only be supportive and should by and large, mind their own rules and leave it to the nuns to mind their own rules.


There is a fascinating (to me) dhamma talk given by Ajahn Amaro at Vimutti Monastery after the Perth ordination. The first part is about not holding to fixed views, then he starts talking about Bhikkhuni Ordination at about 28 minutes. At 1:05, in answer to a question he discusses some of what he sees as the extreme difficulty of women following the Bhikkhuni rules. He says that most of the Siladara do not want to be bhikkhunis because of this.

One of the most fascinating things for me about the talk is that he seems to be unaware of the imposition of the Five Points rules on the Siladara - which is surely impossible. (Though I would surely love to see a history, or at least a time-line, of the various events around the Perth Ordination, including the date the 5 Points were imposed).



Thank you so much for sharing this, Suravira. I’ve heard this talk before and it never fails to astound me. I’m not quite sure what was occurring at the time when Ajahn Amaro gave this Dhamma talk, but it is apparent that on some level he was not fully aware of what was happening in the Siladhara community. This is evident from the fact that at least half the community left around or following the events that occurred in 2009:

(Source; for reference, according to a Forest Sangha newsletter, this picture was taken in 2006.)

While one can’t attribute the departure of so many women to the Five Points specifically (i.e. they could very well have left for other reasons), the comparatively small number of Siladhara who remain in the community suggests that the implementation of the Five Points was greatly significant. For instance, in the above picture, I can count only about five or six women who remain in the community to this day.


Thank you Suravira! I have to listen to this talk when I get some time at home. I believe this is what Ajahn Candasiri is referring to above.

There may be legitimate concerns that can be discussed and interpretive issues to work with. But if that’s the case, is there something that can be done in terms of the interpretation to make the rules clearer and easier to follow? Or a way to open up the discussion about it more?


I’m not a vinaya scholar, but there are several who frequent this forum. The two rules Ajahn Amaro mentions are garudhamma one (every bhikkhuni must bow to every monk) and one requiring a bhikkhuni away from her monastery to sleep within one arm’s length of another bhikkhuni. The first is bizarre for Amaro to bring up since they had just imposed the Five Points - which make every nun junior to every monk. I don’t know how the second one is currently interpreted by bhikkhunis, but they obviously don’t follow it to the letter.


This rule is no different to that every newly ordained monk is junior to the previously ordained monk irrespective of age. If you have eliminated Mana this is not a problem.
This is a great way to eliminate self view.

The rule is that every nun, regardless of years of ordination is junior to a monk, even a monk who has been ordained for one day.


So that is what I meant.
It is just another rule.
Considering I am a old person, so I will be very up set to be junior to a seven year old boy if I become a monk.
But I see this as an opportunity to eliminate my self view.
We see this as a problem when our objective in not Nibbana.
The though I am inferior is a result of Mana.
It is bad only if I am treated some inferior way. Then I will leave the monastery.
I have seen Pope is washing some one’s feet. That should be the way.

If what you are saying is true, then a junior monk should also bow to a senior nun. However, the rule eliminates this possibility.
If a senior nun, even a Theri, wished to bow to a junior monk out of respect, for whatever reason, that is fine.

But to be forced to bow to a junior monk, because it is a rule, that is not acceptable.

I think this whole thing is very political.
I had a problem of bowing to monks because I thought I am virtues or more knowledgeable than some monks. However now I have overcome that. Bowing is very good for your back.
If my child become a monk I have to bow down to him immediately.
Why do I have to do that?

You don’t have to do that. That’s your choice, because there is no rule compelling you to do that. You do that out of respect and any good monk will see and appreciate that.

This rule says nothing about the mana of a nun. But is says much about the conceit of the monks (and men) who want to enforce it.

So what you are saying is Buddha had conceit?

No he never forced anyone to bow to him, many suttas recount Brahmins or others who visited him and didn’t bow. The Buddha never even made a rule that everyone must bow to a Buddha.

So, I am sorry.
What you are saying is some male chauvinist monks force female monks to bow down to them?
Sorry again I am not aware of if.
By the way what will happen if female monk does not bow down to a male monk?

That is okay.

I guess it depends on the community if they are enforcing it.

That is certainly what the first of the Garudhammas (and Five Points) suggests. I’m not certain to what degree this is put into practice, but the sentiment of subjection is still there. There is absolutely no reason that the most senior of nuns should have to pay respect to a newly-ordained bhikkhu – unless to reaffirm structures of authority.

As Cara says, it probably varies by community. But interestingly, the first Garudhamma is not in the Patimokkha, so there is no textual or canonical ‘punishment’ for the action.