Relative ranking of the homeless ones

There’s many homeless ones in the current scene of the Buddha’s community of disciples.

There’s the 5 in the sutta/vinaya. Bhikkhu, Bhikkhuni, sikkhamāna, sāmaṇera, sāmaṇerī.

Then add in the Mahāyāna lineage for good measure. We got 10 so far.

Then the more unofficial ones: Sayalay for ladies in Myanmar, Mae chee for ladies in Thailand, and postulants/anagārika (white robes, bowl, 10 or 8 precepts) for those who doesn’t believe in sāmaṇera for adults.

Japanese priest? Anymore to add?

Ok so let’s say they all happen to live together in a monastery, and during the meal time of buffet, what’s the relative ranking for them all to arrange themselves while taking the food?

We assume least trouble to the lay person, so no separate table for the ladies. Does Bhikkhuni need the food to reoffer to them after all the Bhikkhu are done taking them?

Feel free to list the order. It’s assumed that within each “status”, the vassa count starts. But outside of it, ranking counts first. Eg. a Bhikkhu ordained that very day is higher rank than a sāmaṇera of 20 years in robes, thus would be in front of the sāmaṇera.

Please I request for no personal attack on being sexist or something like that, or else we cannot discuss this in a civil manner.

My take on it would be this:

Theravada Bhikkhu,
Mahāyāna Bhikkhu,
Theravada Bhikkhuni,
Mahāyāna Bhikkhuni,
Theravada Sikkhamāna,
Mahāyāna Sikkhamāna,
Theravada Sāmaṇera,
Mahāyāna Sāmaṇera,
Theravada Sāmaṇerī,
Mahāyāna Sāmaṇerī,
Male postulants/anagārika,
Sayalay/Mae Chee.

I am a bit ambivalent for the last 2 whether to just mix the gender and let them all arrange themselves based on seniority within themselves.

My current monastery has this policy of not wanting ladies and gents to be mixed together in the line, so currently it is like above but Theravada Sāmaṇera, and Mahāyāna Sāmaṇera, are above the Bhikkhuni, but we haven’t got experience of postulants plus Sayalay living together here yet, so that last part I am not sure if the male postulants would even go higher ranking up than Bhikkhuni in food taking. I just pointed out to my Abbot that if the Bhikkhuni requests it, we should have the food reoffered to her after all the males are done collecting.

Keep in mind that my monastery officially supports Bhikkhuni and has hosted annual short term sāmaṇerī programmes.

What’s your take on this? Should Mahāyāna Bhikkhus be mixed in with Theravada as one category? Should even Bhikkhunis be mixed with the Bhikkhus as one category?

Should Japanese priest be lumped together with anagārika? Or even lower ranking as they are not even celibate?


Whatever the heart of kindness generates. I think that’s the most important aspect. Maybe some more equality. But I am not criticizing. I hope the causes and conditions for happiness manifest themselves, and the Noble Eightfold Path towards Enlightenment is fully and continually taken by all in the Sangha. :grin:


It’s a funny thing to consider, because some Mahāyāna lineages take their ordination lineage very seriously. Some of those records go literally up to Buddha. I haven’t seen many Theravāda lineages that are as thorough.

Of course, one could question the validity of their claims, but that’s a different topic. My point is, if they’re being considered legit as to be offered food even before Theravāda bhikkhunis, then their seniority would probably be the highest.

Another thing that’s kinda relevant to this point, is if Dalai Lama visited any Theravāda monastery, there’s a good chance he would be offered the first choice of food. Now, whether he’d take it without any protests or ask the standing abbot to take their meal first, I wouldn’t know.

I could see Ajahn Brahm insisting a visiting Tenzin Palmo who is his senior in age to take the first meal out of courtesy.

In most cases. I could see Japanese Priests asking to be fed after all bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, and sikkhamāna, sāmaṇera, sāmaṇerī asking to be fed after Japanese Priests.

In this sense, I don’t think this list should be understood as “Who ranks the highest in an abstract sense” but rather, seeing it as the courtesy of those who let others eat before them. Their kindness.

So, whatever the Vinaya says, if someone was to insist on getting fed first, I think that goes against the spirit of teaching anyway. Because reality is always weirder than our abstract concepts. If I were to ordain as a full bhikkhu today, I wouldn’t be comfortable eating first before Venerable Canda. But I’m a lay person, so take whatever I say with a grain of sand. Monasteries have to be pragmatic with these things, like not mixing males and females in lines.

But it’s an important point, a matter of courtesy, and it’s good to discuss these things, even if reality is always a bit more weird than abstract. :slight_smile:

Has got to be the best topic titles of all times. :sweat_smile:

Edit: On the topic of this courtesy, what about the garudhamma? I don’t want to get into a full blown discussion about their validity, but for the sake of argument, let’s say their only reason d’etre was to provide security for female monastics in a society that didn’t provide for husbandless, fatherless women.

Especially in countries with standard police enforcement, is that a necessity? Are the eight garudhammā part of the “minor rules” that budha saw fit that we could abolish if we so wanted? That would make this matter more complicated.


I don’t think Na Uyana would do this. They put the Mahāyāna Bhikkhu behind the Theravada Bhikkhu, but before Theravada Sāmaṇera so I follow their standard.

A china chinese theravada monk I met there don’t consider mahāyāna lineage as valid due to the lost transmission of how to make a valid sīmā hall. There’s so many times of chinese kings trying to destroy Buddhism in the history of Buddhism in china. That’s also their argument that there’s also no valid mahāyāna Bhikkhuni, and thus any Theravada Bhikkhuni which depends on the Mahāyāna to get started is invalid.

So for these people, they might really prefer that Mahāyāna are always behind Theravada, due to doubt about their ordination validity.

I am not very sure if there’s a pure Theravada Bhikkhu straightaway ordain Theravada Bhikkhuni method out there.

Japanese priests who marries are actually of a lesser precepts purity than even a lay yogi observing 8 precepts. I don’t think it’s fair to put them above the sāmaṇeras etc.

Basically, what I am seeing is that there’s no universal standard.


As I said, it might be a matter of preference of the people in standing. A highly acclaimed Japanese Priest might command a certain amount of respect and thus sāmaneras might want to offer them food first.

Again, I think moving away from top-down “Who gets to eat first?” but “Who would give up their place for the others” makes more sense from a compassionate, respectful stand.

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Doesn’t matter who let who eat first, if we play that game, it’s just a measure of how insistent people are going to be polite about it. Like chinese relatives fighting to the one to pay the bill on family gatherings.

Let’s take the perspective of the one arranging the seats or asking the volunteers to arrange the seats. A standard guideline, unambiguous is good. Or else one day we get a Bhikkhuni who insists on being in front of the sāmaṇeras, the next day another Bhikkhuni insists on being behind all the males. And the volunteers and devotees got confused and puzzled.

I don’t think fame is a factor here. There can be people who never learnt about mahāyāna much before and therefore have no idea who’s the bigshot in the traditions outside of their own narrow traditional influence.

Kindness, fame and people knowing about it are occational factors. We should look towards universal ruling.

Or else we get that Dalai lama is first in the line, but other less famous tibetan monks, but vassa is higher than Theravada monks, might end up behind the Theravada monks just because they are not famous and we make exceptions for fame.


Oh, that person gets [censored] in every way. I know that intimately, having worked in that position for large scale lay organisations for a better part of my life. :smiley:

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At Dhammasara, Bodhinyana and Santi we just go according to ordination date. A 12 rains Bhikkhuni would receive food ahead of a 10 rains Bhikkhu and this really doesn’t matter whether they are Mahayana or Theravada. We insist on maintaining this standard to avoid confusion. So it’s not one day seperate and then the next day mixed.

If I’m receiving food and have a bhikkhu ahead of me I will give him a bit more room and would expect a bhikkhu to do the same for me.

We consider food which is offered to a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni offered to all fully ordained sangha.

For those on lesser training we would ask how many precepts they are on, and their ordination date and seat them accordingly.


Same here at Empty Cloud. Here the sala is also arranged according to seniority. Whether Theravada, Dharmaguptaka, or Mūlasarvāstivāda ordination lineages. There is no separate row for bhikkhus and bhikkhunis in the sala. In some scenarios, one of the co-founders (bhikkhunī) may be ahead of seniors in the sala. And food offering to the Sangha is also for the whole Sangha, not half.

(Paying respects is also by seniority, not gender.)


So let’s say that we have an anagārika, a position not in the vinaya, but made up by modern people, who just takes 10 precepts, and maybe say in that state for 5 years now. The sāmaṇeras in Bodhinyana would be 1 year as anagārika and followed by 1 year as sāmaṇeras. So this 5 year anagārika (wearing white robes) would line up in front of the sāmaṇeras (wearing brown robes)?

For ladies it would be the relative ranking of Sāmaṇerī/Sikkhamāna vs sayalay/meachee.

I take it that your monastery would just group them, including the male gender ones as category, based on precepts and just see the seniority within each precepts category?

Most anagarikas are 8 precepts, they would go by ‘ordination’ date. Self-made anagarikas wouldn’t be accepted, but an anagarika who is in training in another monastery would fit this category.

We group all 10 preceptors together- so a Sri Lankan das sil mata who has been in robes 10 years would go ahead of a samaneri of 2 years.

I believe they had a 10 precept sayalay walk according to her ordination ahead of samaneras at Bodhinyana a few years ago.

There is no ‘relative ranking’ in my mind for a samaneri, sikkhamana, sayalay or maechee if they are all 10 preceptors. I think most maechee are just 8 precepts though.


So it’s relatively ok for people to say there’s no need to insist on becoming a Bhikkhuni/Sāmaṇerī but it’s good enough to become sayalay or maechee?

Of course, Bhukkhuni would still rank higher. So I seem to have some misunderstanding that Bhikkhuni order revived means that Sāmaṇerī would rank higher than sayalay. Or that Bhikkhunis would insists on such a ranking. It seems not then.

I ask because right now, in the monastery I live in, there’s a 30+ vassa Sayalay conducting a retreat and a maybe 1 or 2 year Sāmaṇerī ordained in mahāyāna but practising Theravada and the abbot is away and I am the most senior monk now. I don’t normally go for breakfast, so they made the sayalay sit higher rank than the Sāmaṇerī. Then I asked them to switch it around due to the thought that Sāmaṇerī are official from the Buddha, sayalay are more unofficial alternatives.

It seems that I am doing some injustice to the feminist movement in Buddhism when I thought I am doing it justice.


I am personally not happy with this “Buddhist Caste System”.

It seems the The Mae-Chee or The Sayalay become the Sudra of The Indian.

Not too mention, the Laity become “The Untouchable”.

The discussion made me remember one story about an ‘Arahant Samanera’ who had to serve his ‘Ignorant Bhikkhu’ due to this “Buddhist Caste-System”. If he was not ignorant enough, I bet, he really want to serve his ‘Arahant-Samanera’.

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See, now we moved on from an abstract problem to a concrete one!

Again, with my lay ignorance, have you consulted with the sisters both about what should be done in a situation like this? Their perspective would be invaluable.

Either way, you’ve allowed both the elder sister and younger samaneri a chance to do good merit by letting the other one eat first. That’s about as equalist as you can get!

I think we’re bound to have situations more and more like this with more bhikkhunis ordained. As long as the intentions are in the right place, we’re all practicing abandoning our caprices, so it should be no big trouble.

If you want to derive a strict abstract rule, I think rains first then bhikkhuni preceding maechees if they’re equal in rains is a good rule of thumb.

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There are different opinions on this venerable. At Empty Cloud, for instance, Vinaya ordination is definitely valued more for several reasons, the main one being as you said. That these are the forms the Buddha intended for people, and accepting other forms as equally valid can diminish the Vinaya ordinations for women. Some people would consider this important for supporting women’s Vinaya ordination to not make them all equal and Vinaya ordination invisible. Others would not agree with that perspective.

That said, sometimes it gets complicated when a bhikkhunī has spent many years in another form. Like 20 years as a non-Vinaya monastic, then bhikkhunī. Sometimes they may be respected more than a normal junior bhikkhunī.

So I wouldn’t judge yourself on that alone. Things are complicated now that so many new forms have been made outside the vinaya. We just do our best.


So a maechee of 20 vassa can be in front of a Bhikkhuni ordained that day? This is akin to a sāmaṇera of 20 vassa is in front of a Bhikkhu ordained that day.

I think perhaps you mean to say Sāmaṇerī instead of Bhikkhuni in that quote right?

Anyway, just to say that I think my initial ordering in the OP makes sense. I am not so particular about all males must go first. Just that the garudhammas seems to indicate that all Bhikkhus should go first then Bhikkhunis. So for the rest of the other equivalent ranks I just follow this model of gender separation.

The Mahāyāna- Theravada division has been explained above. Specifically if there’s doubt about mahāyāna ordination validity due to improper sīmā or ordination procedure (needing Pāli, 3 person max at one go etc), then it makes sense for all Theravada Bhikkhu goes first before any Mahāyāna Bhikkhu so that the food doesn’t become unoffered in the middle.

The rest of the rank is just following the pattern set by the Bhikkhu.

To be absolutely safe and fair to the Bhikkhunis, it is good to have the food reoffered to the Bhikkhunis after the Mahāyāna Bhikkhus. For those with very strong opinion on Mahāyāna ordination, and accept that food can be offered to the dual saṅgha, then the arrangement for the first 4 can be also:

Theravada Bhikkhu,
Theravada Bhikkhuni,
Mahāyāna Bhikkhu,
Mahāyāna Bhikkhuni,

with the sāmaṇera/Sāmaṇerī switching to the new arrangement as above.

The pro of this is that no need to reoffer the food, the cons of it is that Mahāyāna Bhikkhus might take offence of being behind Theravada Bhikkhuni if they take the Garudhamma seriously and (of course) they perceive themselves and Theravada Bhikkhuni as validly ordained.

So this has more downsides as in needing more explaination to the monastics present and showing the anti- mahāyāna prejudice or distrust in their ordination procedure more.

As for the other non-higher ordained ones, I think that it’s better to recognize the ones declared by the Buddha in the Vinaya and sutta as more primary and higher ranked compared to the ones created by later teachers or disciples.

These ranking ordering is in no way looking down upon any attainment levels or effort in practise of all the homeless ones involved. There can even be ariya lay persons offering food to non-ariya monastics and the lay person still have to go take the food after all these homeless ones.

I admit it does have some taste of caste system in it, but it’s basically the closest I can recreate to what the Buddha time would be like if they had buffet back then.

But then an ignorant (of vinaya) sāmaṇera had once snapped back at me for me telling him to let the Bhikkhus finish taking the food first then he take. We use both sides of the lane in the buffet, and he was frequently overtaking the last Bhikkhu on the other side. He snapped back at me for saying that this is not India, don’t apply the caste system on him.

It’s only after a while that he apologized and I showed him some parts of the vinaya really does limit our behavior to be like this, that Bhikkhus need food to be reoffered and the sāmaṇeras if they take the food and the scoop still have food in it and put it back, the whole tray is considered unoffered.

I have provided the reasonings above and I respect some monasteries/nunneries who wish to apply more liberal standards, and following the spirit rather than the letter of the law. Or straight up say the law (garudhamma) is invalid.

Part of Theravada lore is that the first council already said all rules are preserved. Many rules in the vinaya really lost their reason to exist, but we still follow the letter of the law. To abolish this or that would really create incompatibility that makes some monastics don’t want to do pāṭimokkha together with other monastics for having different pāṭimokkhas.


I don’t think these kinds of squabbles are what the Buddha had in mind. But how am I to know. :person_shrugging:


I respect that. I think it’s great that we have both - people who are strict to the letter, and people who’re willing to step off the boundaries. Both Communities have value for each other (if only to house the left overs that respective communities don’t want!).

Yeah I see that. Perhaps Bhikkunis first, then Maechees/Sāmanera by vassa, if higher, goes to sāmanera. This would bend the rules a bit around Vinaya perhaps, but also makes sense from a perspective.

On that topic, the topic of sisters going into bhikkhuni road is an interesting one. For example, the maechee in your monastery, is apparently content to stay as one and not go down the road of bhikkhuni?

This is entirely an article (or book) worthy of topic.


Finally on this whole topic being a caste system of sorts…

“Purity is spoken of not in terms of view,”
said the Buddha to Māgaṇḍiya,
“learning, knowledge, or precepts and vows;
nor in terms of that without view, learning,
knowledge, or precepts and vows.
Having relinquished these, not adopting them,
peaceful, independent, one would not pray
for another life.” Snp4.9

These discussions aren’t the way to freedom, but the way to freedom isn’t bereft of these discussions either. :sweat_smile:


As a lay person I find questions like this quite troubling. Do monastics really occupy their minds with so much attention on the ordering of who receives food first and so on? Does the soteriological purpose for which you’ve gone into homelessness depend upon the answer to such questions? Could it be that investing energy into such questions is at cross purposes with that very goal? :pray:


She’s a visiting Sayalay. She said if she wanted to pursue status, she would had had done it long ago and be more than 20 vassa by now. But she wanted to focus on teaching. Good Teaching career, got invited to USA, Europe, have own centre in penang, etc. I also attended her retreat back when I was lay.

It’s more like the Sāmaṇerī doesn’t want to become a Bhikkhuni due to so much politics surrounding it. She just want to focus on practising.

Perhaps I should post less vinaya related things here. It’s part of vinaya to go into such small details. Read the vinaya sometimes, the Buddha even listed down the procedure of using the toilet, which fur is allowable to be used for sitting cloth at which location etc.

Whether feces used as medicine need to be offered or can be accepted by oneself as one produces it. It can be accepted by oneself.