Ordinations in English (bhikkhu and bhikkhuni)

I read an article about bhikkhuni ordinations at Are Theravāda Bhikkhuni Ordinations Valid? - American Buddhist Monk: Bhante Subhūti and it makes an interesting point at the very end that:

If (Chinese Language) Mahayana bhikkhuni ordinations are accepted as valid, then bhikkhu ordinations performed in English must also be accepted. He says this is why bhikkhuni ordinations are not accepted by the general sangha based on this.

I’m not sure if bhikkhuni ordinations do this anymore, yet I think the original Western bhikkhunis used mahayana for the dual ordinations.
It would be interesting to hear the opinions based on accepting bhikkhu ordinations in English especially by monks because they would be the most sensitive to this.

Would there be food offering issues (Having English Language ordained monks accepting food for sangha) ?
Participation in official acts (like another ordination or creating an ordination hall)?

On the one hand you would have monks who would not object to ordinations being done in any language as long as the Vinaya principles and processes have been adhered to, and on the other you would find monks who insist not just on using Pali but its precise and accurate pronunciation as well.

Sometimes you would find both these types in the same monastery. I personally know that to be (or at least, have been) the case at Na Uyana, which Ven. Subhuti refers to in the article.


It would be interesting to get the opinion from Ajahn Sujato and Ajahn Brahm, and the other bhikkhus who support the bhikkhuni ordinations based on these issues mentioned in the article. The question was about allowing such hypothetical English-ordained-monks to accept food for sangha and also participate in official legal proceedings like ordaining other monks, or making ordinations halls, etc. I don’t think they would do an English ordination if a monk requested it. If they did it might disrupt the harmony for English-ordained-monk to participate in future legal actions, or accepting food, etc. Also, the majority of the world sangha would not recognize the ordination, doubt would arise and he would likely disrobe. It is easy to say English is “valid” but it is different to say they themselves would feel comfortable with such monks doing legal acts including accepting food. Even different Nikayas within the Pali tradition prohibit outside monks from participation in legal proceedings or offering food.

I like how article removes the “equal rights” and “movement” feel to the new bhikkhuni ordinations. It removes the emotional aspect and adds a technical twist on why bhikkhunis are rejected.

This is a recurrent issue in the forum, and by searching previous threads you’ll be able to find most people’s opinions clearly articulated.

Here’s a search that yields 50+ hits to get you going. :smiley:

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This is an offshoot question about English used for monk ordinations. I could not find anything on opinion of English Ordinations for Monks and the validity. Do you see anything specific? Is there anything you can show me directly with the information?

IMO, this just adds more justification for the emergence of a genuine standalone Western Sangha on the lines of the Chinese and the Tibetan.

BTW, if language is the main factor to be considered would not the entire current Theravada tradition too be invalid as the Buddha didn’t exactly speak Pali?

The article uses Pali Buddhism to prove his point rather than Theravada and explains that the commentary says sakaya nirutti is defined as Pali, which was a regional language similar to Mandarin is the glue for the local dialects of China. Quote from article below:

In the English texts, sakāya niruttiyā is translated as “one’s own dialect.” Sometimes words cannot be literally translated. For instance, what does the word understand mean? Does it mean to stand underneath something? Probably not. Because of this single mention of sakāya niruttiyā, Mahayana ordinations have been performed in Mandarin . The question is can Pāḷi Buddhism be compatible with Mandarin Buddhism? The commentaries explain that this sakāya niruttiyā means the “common language” used in Māgadha or where the Buddha was from. Based on the keywords in this discussion, you can see what the Pāḷi explanation means below:

Sakāya niruttiyāti ettha sakā nirutti nāma sammāsambuddhena vuttappakāro māgadhiko vohāro.


In those times, many dialects were spoken in India. A common language was used for people to communicate with each other beyond their own village and at that time it was the Māgadhi language.

Because we are biased with English and most native speakers of English speak only one single language, I asked a resident Indian monk about this and if Hindi would be a similar example of a “Common Dialect” for Indians. Even today, Indians speak many languages because there are many languages inside India. Hindi is a unifying language among the different dialects, and the Indian monk agreed with my suspicion. Ironically, Mandarin is the unifying language across China for the local dialects which are still used today.

So it is consistent in those terms of Pali Buddhism which many claim is called “Classical Theravada”. I too also believe a new lineage is created in any language like Chinese, English, Thai but then we are left accepting the bhikkhuni is a standalone tradition too.

Sure. The idea that ordination validity is defined by linguistic form is not found in the Vinaya, and obviously, was not accepted by the Sanghas in the many lands that have not done ordinations in Indic languages. Indeed, the Theravada commentaries essentially say that ordinations must be in Pali, which would mean that the ordinations of other schools even in ancient India were invalid.

This is just fundamentalism. Don’t worry about it. You’ll never convince a fundamentalist.

There’s a deep level of fear and anxiety that underlies these kinds of attitudes. They present as rational, but in reality it is a primal, unconscious disturbance at the unsettledness of modernity. People are afraid that the future will cut clear of mooring in the values and meaning that make sense to them, and which they project into the past. Fundamentalism is a dysfunctional postmodernism. And where we indulge it, we lay the grounds for dictatorships, such as those that prevail over much of contemporary Theravada.


As far as I know, the different sects which were previously split were not “compatible” with the other sects as far as vinaya and ordinations were concerned. The other way a split can unintentionally happen is by ordination-language if the commentary Pali-Only statement is accepted.

This separation is why vinaya monasteries accept donations from Mahayana monastics which almost always handle money themselves. Because the vinaya does not mix between both groups, it is still considered allowable. If the groups are considered the same and compatible, there could be a problem. I have heard that Abhayagiri (California) was donated by a Mahayana monastery. Was this the justification or was it researched as “allowable” before accepting.

As for “fundamentalism”, I think that the the EBT/Buddhavacana subscribers try to only follow what can be “proven” as a lowest common denominator as “Exact Buddha Speech” and everything else is thrown out as bath water (keeping only the baby).

However, if the commentaries and Abhidhamma are considered as “extra”, then wouldn’t those who follow the entire Pali from the democratic 6th Buddhist Council be considered democratic and more liberal while the EBT/Buddhavacana group which follows a narrower set of texts be considered more fundamental? Perhaps there will always be a “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” view.

I once read from Venerable USA Pannyobhasa (now disrobed) that a 7th Council should be called to decide and settle this issue. I have also heard that many who do not accept the bhikkhuni ordination diplomatically state “When the Mahasangha (7th council) accepts bhikkhunis, so will we.”

Ajahn, the original question was about offering food and ordinations in English. I remember hearing that your particular monastery voted to allow bhikkhunis to mix in the alms line in the order of seniority rather than separated by gender. Do the nuns accept the food for sangha from lay people and put the food on the table as “offered” in similar ways as Amaravati does before the alms line begins?

If there was an ordination at your monastery with 3 Mahayana and 2 Theravada monks performed in English, would this be acceptable?

It would be good to hear answers from you and other monks.

No, I’m sorry I can’t, I don’t actually think very much about these types of issues.


There’s no evidence that this was ever the case in ancient India, at least not in a general sense. On the contrary, people travelled and stayed with different communities all the time. There may well have been specific cases where monasteries declared themselves “not in communion”, but this requires a good reason. Since there is no notion of “lineage” or “sect” in the Vinaya, these are not good reasons.

That would be “sectarian” monasteries, not “Vinaya”.

No, that was not a consideration. In fact, I’ve never heard of this idea except in the context of Pa Auk monastery. That’s not to say it’s not found elsewhere, but it’s certainly not common or universal.

Some maybe, not me! Traditions are fine—I just taught a course on the Visuddhimagga! We just shouldn’t be slaves to them, is all. A tradition is a living and evolving thing, and it always has been.

That’s not what “fundamentalist” means. Fundamentalism is a strand of postmodern religiosity. The name originally derives from an American Christian sect that rejected the findings of historical, archeological, and text-critical research—in other words, modernity—and insisted on what they called the “fundamentals” of their belief, which were, largely, unprovable dogmas such as virgin birth.

The basic idea of fundamentalism, then, is that it rejects reality, rejects science, rejects facts in favor of a supposed pristine belief system. That pristine belief system, however, is a modern imposition on the past. Most of the Biblical authors, for example, did not believe in a virgin birth, it’s only mentioned in a couple of passages.

Likewise, a modern Buddhist sectarian fundamentalist will look at how sects operate around them today and uncritically assume that that is how it’s always been. They’re not big on history.

Typically fundamentalists will latch on to a few small-minded ideas cherry-picked from a much larger scripture, insisting on a literal and absolute reading of the very worst things that their tradition has to offer—suppression of women being the prime example, closely followed by suppression of those of diverse genders and sexualities.

The real problem is that the people who gravitate towards fundamentalism are broken. There is something inside them that cannot tolerate the other, cannot tolerate uncertainty, cannot tolerate change. They find solace in the certitude of absolute and fixed laws, and they cannot imagine coping with them. This is why fundamentalisms are popular in prisons: those who have in the past learned no morality latch onto the clarity of clear, black-and-white rules.

And so, there is no having of rational dialogue with fundamentalists. I learned this years ago, when visited by Creationists. I used to enjoy arguing with them for ages, to see how they would twist and turn. Of course it was all very silly, and eventually I got bored. For them, reason is not a path to the truth, it is something to be used to persuade others that you were right all along. All roads lead inevitably to the narrowest, meanest outcome.

He made a Hitler salute to a Buddha image, so.

That is correct, although I wouldn’t quite phrase it that way. There is nothing in the Vinaya that gives monks the power to do otherwise, so it is not a matter of “allowing” but of recognizing that this is perfectly normal.

Again, just to be clear, there is nothing in the Vinaya that gives the monks any kind of power of command over bhikkhunis. Monks just get used to being in charge, that’s all.



As a general rule, in the monasteries I have stayed, when we perform ordination we try to ensure that there is a quorum of monastics from the same tradition. I can’t recall this ever not being the case. But this is not done because we believe that otherwise it would violate the Vinaya.

In the Vinaya, the role of the Sangha and the ordination procedure is not to convey some kind of magical “stamp” that marks someone who belongs to a lineage. It’s to accept someone into a community, a community that is defined by a certain lifestyle and values. So the important thing from a Vinaya point of view is that the new candidate has teachers and colleagues who can help and support them, and who will guide them in their vulnerable early days and years. This is why it’s a good idea for the ordination to be carried out by those of a similar practice and way of life.


I’m quite sure that Abhayagiri was donated by the City of 10,000 Buddhas monastery. Odds are this is all nissaggiya. According to what you say, this Abhayagiri monastery would be nissaggiya if the Mahayana monastery was also nissaggiya. When I asked if this was researched… that was what I was asking… Was the donation researched if it was nissaggiya ?
Money / Nissaggiya in this case does not have “lack of perception” as an excuse and there is definite reasonable cause to ask.

I think that was the exact point I was making. That the ebt / Suttanta purists are cherry picking and latching on to only a small subsection of the entire tipitaka (notice that there are 3 baskets in tipitaka :grinning:). Ajahn Kukrit, is another extreme suttanta example.

There are many garudhamma which “imply” that seniority for things which seniority matters is automatically less for a bhikkhuni. Despite the debate for single sangha ordination, a heavy offense requires both sanghas to bring back to full status. There are no alternatives to this, and some may say this reinforces a dual-sangha-only-for-bhikkhuni-ordination theory. But this debate goes on for a long time. Nevertheless the point being made, is … Monks do have some control and it is listed quite clearly that they need to live near monks, and receive ovada from them as well… There are many other items to list.

(1) A nun who has been ordained even for a hundred years must greet respectfully, rise up from her seat, salute with joined palms, do proper homage to a monk ordained but that day.

All of the other questions were answered. Sadhu for taking the time to answer.