On the illegality of Bhik(kh/s)uni Ordination

Thank you everyone, for you responses :slight_smile:

That said, I absolutely agree with what @Ceisiwr says:

Trying to use anti-discrimination laws in a secular country to ban gender discrimination for religious orgs is a recipe for disaster…. I really cannot think of any way to sugarcoat it. If you’re going to ban religious orgs from gender discrimination, why stop there? Why not also apply laws that ban religious discrimination to religious orgs — in which case religious orgs basically could no longer exist! Or what about laws that forbid discrimination by marital status…. poof! There goes celibacy requirement from the Vinaya. Maybe Meiji Japan was right after all :thinking:

The situation in Thailand is different because it’s not truly a secular country. The Sangha Supreme Council has official government sanction (at least that’s my understanding). So you could make an argument that they should not be legally allowed to forbid Bhikkhuni ordination, since they have a state monopoly, of sorts. But even then, I’m not sure. Thailand, does, after all, have male-only conscription, so it sounds like there are loopholes even in Thai gender discrimination laws (this is true with a lot of countries, of course). Really, I don’t know about Thai law to discuss this issue further….you’d have to ask a Thai legal expert.

No, that is not a good comparison at all. The government in secular nations like the USA (probably Australia, too, I’m assuming) is neutral on religious matters. If a religious org wants to ban Bhikkhunis, fine. If it wants to allow them, fine. If a religious org wants to not only allow Bhikkhuni ordination but also ban people who oppose Bhikkhuni ordination from joining, that’s also fine. It doesn’t matter what decision Buddhist orgs makes on the Bhikkhuni question, they are all treated the same under the law. There is simply no government agency who is empowered to make decisions for ANY religion. The Thai Sangha supreme council, by contrast, is legally sanctioned to put its thumb on the scales…and it’s decided to do so against Bhikkhunis. It’s this “thumb on the scales” against nuns that might fairly be characterized as illegal discrimination (though, like I said before, I don’t know enough about the intricacies of Thai law to feel confident in that verdict).

Seriously, folks, let’s not let our enthusiasm for women’s rights (or LGBT rights, or whatever else) lead us into a leftist version of authoritarianism. And I’m saying this as someone who is both gay and female….someone not exactly (ahem) privileged by traditional religious structures.


My worry is some people or government will force buddhism to support extreme form of feminism and try to invent female buddhas, same precepts both for nuns and monks and other gender equality bias

Buddha said that if the true teaching got cloned, modified and rebranded as buddhism then the true teaching will vanish

I think we should support buddhism as it is without forcing our own assumption and culture to it

We need to admit that not all western values are compatible with buddhism


Are you perhaps over reaching when you say that they would support and try to

I mean you dont need to look no further than the Vajrayana tradition where there are female buddhas already. Why would there be need to invent when there is one already?

Also this:

Not once have I heard of a government forcing the Vatican to letting Nuns to do mass or they be elevated.

Also what kind of feminism are you talking about? “Extreme form of feminism” is too vague to be useful.

In my experience it is the opposite. Governments let the religion discriminate as they please and its a utopia where the government would try to ensure equality etc.


Vajrayana is based on late buddhism, Tibetan itself converted to buddhism in 8th century ce compared to Chinese(2nd ce) or Sri Lankan(3th bce)

I don’t say theravada is earliest either but compared to China buddhism and theravada tradition, Tibetan is the latest

So vajrayanist invented the concept of female buddhas

I mean I don’t want to get into a fight over this, but I think you are making a straw man argument here.

No-one is arguing that the US or anyone else should be regulating religions.

What I am suggesting is that there are already special benefits conferred on religions by the State. Those benefits include tax exemptions, candidacy for grants, and so on. Those benefits are not neutral. They are granted by the State because historically it was recognized that religions perform valuable service to the community, through spiritual work, hospitals, education, and the like.

In certain countries such as Australia, those benefits include—and this is where the situation is complicated and changing—exemptions from certain human rights requirements. That is to say, the things that are required of a normal secular school—such as not refusing to employ gay teachers—are not required of religious organizations. If a Catholic university says to a gay person, “We won’t hire you because you are a sexual deviant”, that’s fine. They will continue to get grants and subsidies from the government, paid by taxpayers who cannot discriminate in this way. (This varies state to state, so just take this as an example, not a legal reality!)

That is to say, there are exceptions and exemptions actively carved out of common human decency that say it is fine for religious organizations to behave in ways that are simply unacceptable for everyone else. By making these exemptions, the State is showing precisely that it is not neutral when it comes to religions.

This is wrong, and it should change. The deal should be, be a good citizen and we’ll give you benefits. Not, actively reject equality and decency and we will reward you for it.


If there’s no nun the monks can still ordain the new nun but if there’s no monk at all but only nuns I don’t think nuns can ordain new monk, furthermore If there’s no monk and nun I don’t know whether people can still ordain or not, do you think I have wrong view here ?

Well, there is a large body of detailed research into this question. To very briefly summarize:

  • The normal nuns’ ordination in Vinaya is primarily by nuns, with the monks confirming the actions of the nuns.
  • According to the Pali Vinaya, if monks cannot confirm the ordination of a nun, she is still a bhikkhuni, but regarded as “one ordained only on one side”.
  • The Pali Vinaya explicitly states that monks alone can ordain nuns.
  • The earliest strata of Vinaya literature—especially the patimokkhas—seems to presuppose that ordination for nuns was given by nuns alone. I believe that this was the original situation.

Could you source it from patimokha bhante ?

Furthermore I want to know the history of why nun ordination died in late 12th ce in all theravadin countries and also Tibet, did all women suddenly refuse to ordain or the king ban all women from ordaining ?

I just couldn’t make my sense about the reason it died in the first place but to think that the monks at that time maybe because of lack of food refused to ordain new nun to decrease competition, that’s the most logical reason I think

As I said, there is an extensive literature that has studied all these points for several decades now. You will find many previous discussions on this forum.

If you are interested in my arguments, check out my book Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies.


Well said, and I say that as a gay man too so somewhat in the same boat as you here.


Out of interest Bhante when it comes to female Catholic priests, or gay Catholic monks (homosexuals aren’t allowed to be monks, for those who aren’t aware) should the state use equality legislation to force the Catholic Church to accept those ordinations, or is that best left as a matter of religious freedom?

Regarding faith schools I believe it’s actually illegal to ban them according to international law. Since they have a right to exist they will naturally have a different approach to things when compared to secular state schools. How can you protect religious freedom at the same time as forcing religious organisations to follow modern laws on equality? In the U.K. I believe religious schools must not preach hatred of others, but can still teach that according to their religion marriage is between a man and a woman (as an example). I think this strikes something of a balance.

That is to say, the things that are required of a normal secular school—such as not refusing to employ gay teachers—are not required of religious organizations.

Some of this also comes down to just what a “right” is? Progressives tend to recognise both positive and negative rights, whilst classical liberals/libertarians only recognise negative rights. If only negative rights are human rights then no one has the right not to be discriminated against when it comes to private employers. If rights are both positive and negative then they do have the right to equal treatment by private organisations. Essentially this debate over just what a “right” is is the source of all of these debates between those on the centre-right centre-left. Centre right folks tend to only recognise negative rights and so a Hotel can refuse a shared bed to a homosexual couple, whilst centre-left folks do not and so view it in the opposite manner. The problem of course is that no one is objectively “wrong” here.

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I think Bhante @Sujato’s point, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that religious organizations shouldn’t get all the perks as religious orgs if they are going to break equality laws.

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This then opens up the debate around the legality and morality of equality legislation. See my edited post above.

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Especially when they receive tax payer’s money (as is the case here in Australia) for religious schools and other religious organisations including hospitals, charities, employment services and aged care.

There is a bill before federal parliament here which purports to protect religious freedom but actually gives religious organisations even further privilege to discriminate on the basis religion or a religious view, in addition to the already existing exemptions (including on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, disability and more!) Such determinations place religious freedom above other human rights and unfairly impacts particular groups, including women and LGBTQIA folks.

Dominant and historically privileged religious organisations have undue sway over our politicians and civic institutions. “Religious freedom” is often about about a dominant religion’s attempt to safeguard their diminishing power and maintain the status quo in an increasingly secular society rather than about equal protections for all religions to practice as they wish. Here it is hard to get approval to build a mosque, there is no call to prayer broadcast, there are no non-Christian public holidays. Wearing a turban or religious dress can be trumped by an employer’s decision and government regulations. Minority religions don’t have access to the power and influence that comes from long held real estate holdings, investmens and lucrative government contracts.

The government here has insisted that the church become a mandatory reporter for any disclosure of child abuse heard during the confessional. The church has been fighting this, but given its history of abuse, this fight hasn’t endeared it to the public. However, this requirement simply brings the church into line with other employers.

Buddhists could apply for exemptions to discriminate against people with epilepsy or women with fistulas, or other things that have a scriptural basis for refusing ordination. There seems to be little appetite to do so, and with good reason; Buddhists today have a different view from 2500 ago and our social and legal context is very different too. Further, most Buddhists, it seems, don’t like to think of themselves as prejudiced or discriminatory and perhaps couldn’t imagine a world where they would be responsible for deliberately seeking legal sanction to deny others opportunities on the spiritual path.

And yet, though we Buddhists fervently believe in freedom to practice and love and equality for all beings, people are often unwilling to do the work required to achieve that, and show up to actually walk this talk!

Sometimes this might mean dismantling existing structures, finding innovative ways of doing things, or adapting existing practices. Afterall Buddhism has changed so much wherever it has gone and will continue to change. If we just dig our heels in and become reactionaries we might end up like those church folk who so value their privileges and immunities that they would rather allow children to suffer and be abused with their full knowledge but not act to prevent it. Instead they act only to protect the powerful men on their own side, rather than give their religious freedoms up on the sanctity of confession. And they end up so hypocritical and so far from love, “suffer the little children…”

Similarly… It’s hard to sit there and say “may all beings be happy” whilst actively working towards oppressing women or non binary folks!


I think this goes back to the debate around just what a human right is exactly? Are they only negative, or are there positive rights to? This is the heart of the debate, it seems to me.


Equality, dear friends, is not modern.
Equality is of all times.

And it brings peace to the heart.
What more could you wish for?



I would have to disagree. For most of human history human rights as a concept didn’t exist, and equality in terms of law for all people was not practiced nor considered a virtue. They are very modern ideas. Regarding peace of heart, I’m not so sure in terms of the politics of equality. To me at least engaging with politics seems anathema to developing a stilled mind.

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Do you think buddha recognized positive right too besides negative right ?

If we agree that the Blessed One remembered aeons of past lives, and that at some point in those past lives the concept came up again, then he surely would have known about negative and positive rights as a concept. What he thought about it is a different matter. I’m somewhat persuaded by Venerable Dhammanando’s argument that the Buddha was of the traditionalist/ Burkean conservativism persuasion.

“For the last two decades my view has been that traditionalist/Burkean conservatism is dhammic, revolutionary communism and fascism adhammic, and most other ideologies dhammically neutral (i.e. neither supported by nor in conflict with the Buddha’s teaching).”

Adolf Hitler - Page 4 - Dhamma Wheel Buddhist Forum

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I too think the concept of human right doesn’t make sense at all, I don’t think buddha even supported negative right, what he said is if you deny people the right to live you will accrue the negative kamma, this kamma concept makes the concept of human right obsolete, what do you think ?

If we are using this logic then it’s useless to fight for nun ordaining right since the people who hinders that will get their own kamma, what we can do is to give them advice not forcing them to support nun ordination

If we expand this logic further then even prison would not be needed since everyone will be punished equally According to their deed in lower realms