On the relevance of Bhikkhuni monastic rules

Hi christie, I’m only responding to one part of your post; the part about the bhikkhunī rules and not accepting the third refuge because of them. The bhikkhunī rules were written at a time when women were much more vulnerable to violence from men and commonplace cultural ideas about women were ignorant. Some patimokkha rules are not entirely relevant for our societies today. Two of the three rules you cite are not what they seem. Look up Venerable Tathālokā Mahā Theri to learn of some of the current scholarship on this subject. Also Bhante Sujato, Bhikkhu Bodhi, and more than I’ve read or know. There are bhikkhunī patimokkha classes on youtube right now. Venerable Dhammanada Mahā Theri is conducting them in English. Even with her more modern interpretations, there will be some differences among bhikkhunī communities worldwide. Bhikkhunī communities can interpret the rules in the way that makes the most sense to them while still keeping to the spirit of the rule. For instance there is a rule about bathing naked which is ridiculous if bathing in a private bathroom but would apply if one is bathing at a well (may still be done in some parts of Asia) or a river, etc. :heart:

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I did say I understand the intent behind them and the cultural context in which they were initially formulated.

And indeed even in India today, women are discouraged from travelling alone so the danger persists.

However, I feel I cannot accept them as they stand. Perhaps my ego is getting in the way, but I won’t feel comfortable adhering to a set of rules I don’t believe is appropriate for our times. Not telling other people how they wish to make their choices. It’s funny how some on this thread seems to think I am somehow “telling monastics what to do” when all I am saying is what I will not do.

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Hi christie, I won’t beleaguer the point; I get where you’re coming from. I was also a two refuge person and it was the monastic behavior I’d read about that kept me from truly going to the Triple Refuge. You’re not alone in that, I know others too but having a Kalyanamitta that is a right practicing Thera or Theri will speed your journey considerably. Just being around them with an open heart and hearing their teaching will speed your journey out of samsara if you are otherwise ready for that.

The Vinaya is indeed interpreted with compassion first and foremost and the rules have present day interpretations, this is a precise scholastic field that is studied for our good fortune. Not riding in a vehicle, for instance, is interpreted with compassion for the beast pulling a cart or wagon. Riding in a car, train, plane etc… is not considered an offense. Though it does terrible things for the planet, so discernment and necessity are practiced here. Stealing a fare with intention does rob someone of something of value but the value of the item for it to be a parajika is around 500 US$ - this setting of a value is more compassionate than if monk stealing a fare to avoid walking 20 miles in the heat is expelled from the sangha. The monk would be guilty of an offense but wouldn’t be expelled. There is opportunity to learn from one’s error. I don’t know what would happen if the fare is considerably more than a short trip (say 400$ ) or if the monastic is jailed for theft. I imagine it would be up to the community of that monastic.

Ego is one of the main reasons there is a Vinaya. It wipes away the edge of egoistic pulls so that a monastic can see and deal with the greed, hatred and delusion which will ripen in a monastery setting. In most countries having consensual sex with an adult, for instance, is not a crime while for a monastic it’s a parajika. A monk that fondles little kids will go to jail and will be stripped of their robes and that isn’t even listed as a parajika. In summary a monastic must follow two sets of rules- one set is their community rules governed by the Vinaya, and one is the laws of their country.

Apologies if any of this is incorrect and welcome correction. Writing in the spirit of communication which is sometimes difficult to achieve online. I’ve tried to understand what you have written. Wishing you well :heart:


I do appreciate that you have taken the time to write a considerate and thoughtful reply, which I enjoyed reading. Whilst I realise you do not agree with all my views, I am grateful that you have taken the trouble to try to understand them, and to be respectful.

I hope you don’t mind, and I know you are only trying to help, but I am trying to avoid being influenced by Buddhist teachers at the moment, so I won’t take up your suggestions to read more on the subject. It’s not that I believe those teachers are wrong, or that I am better than them, but I feel at this point I need to read the suttas myself, in Pali, rather than rely on translations or the interpretation of teachers no doubt more experienced than myself.

No matter how insightful the teacher may be, or how accurate a translation may reflect the text, I want to experience the teachings myself in the original language (or closest equivalent) that they were taught in. Ever since I started reading in Pali, I have discovered nuances that I didn’t realise before.

At the end of the day, our path towards realisation and cessation is an individual path, yes we can and perhaps should receive help from others, but we still need to progress along that path ourselves, and directly experience the truth (or otherwise) of what the Buddha taught.

For example, all the literature and guidance on jhāna states do not adequately prepare oneself for the actual experience, particularly the higher levels or non-sensual (eg. arupa) states. I remember when I first experienced them, I was surprised that there is no elation or joy, or sense of accomplishment associated with them. I was glad I did not read a lot of the literature on the subject, I suspect I would have ended up very confused and possibly it may even hinder my progress.

So, I have no desire to join the Sangha, even though I consider myself to have renounced a “worldly life” and will probably devote the rest of my life to progress on the path. It’s not just the rules I can’t accept, I do not want to be influenced by others. I realise this may make my journey more difficult, but at the end of the day, I need to make this journey myself, on my own terms, not unlike the Buddha.

Having said that, it doesn’t mean I reject the Sangha and what it represents. I think it is a useful model for a community, and the rules are a useful reference for how that community should behave, and it is up to the community to decide how to enforce those rules. Since I don’t have a desire to be part of that community, I don’t have any views on what would be appropriate enforcement penalties.

With regards to the Triple Refuges, I am actually a “zero” refuge adopter, so you may well ask the question do I even consider myself to be a Buddhist? Some days, I even ask myself that question.

It’s not because of doubt. I remain strongly convinced that the Buddha’s teaching is fundamentally correct, based on direct experience of what I’ve learnt so far. But I don’t agree with all aspects of Buddhism, and in particular the dogmatic views and inflexibility that we have encountered on this forum and others.

In particular, I don’t accept the Buddha as a refuge. Perhaps if he was alive today, I may, but he has been dead for thousands of years and he is not capable to offering refuge as an individual. I also don’t believe the Buddha is omniscient, and I don’t believe there is a “spirit” of him hovering around us that I can take refuge in.

I also don’t accept the Dhamma as a refuge. Yes, I study it every day, and I rely on it. But after thousands of years we can no longer be certain which parts of the Dhamma reflect the true teachings of the Buddha, and which were added afterwards. Of course, we have a good idea based on research, but anyone who is familiar with the suttas know there are problematic areas, especially as one considers the other sects and the later literature (eg. the Mahayana texts). So at the end of the day, one must question everything, and use direct experience to validate. It would be nice if there was a living arahant I can consult, but even then how do I know that person is a true arahant and not just someone claiming to be one?

The more I learn, the more I realise how little I know. If you had asked me 50 years ago, I would have confidently stated that I am familiar with the Buddha’s teachings, and understand the core concepts. I now realise that I am only just coming up to grips with the fundamental concepts of dukkha, taṇhā, etc. and it is only now that I feel I am starting to understand them. That’s why I refer to myself as a “relative beginner” in Buddhism, I am no longer taking anything for granted.

Sorry for this rather longwinded post, but I enjoyed your post and I appreciate the trouble you have taken to write it, so I felt I needed to repay that kindness by sharing with you my perspective, which may be different from most people.

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