Saṅghādisesa 3 - So no wandering bikkhuni?

There is currently a lot of discussions regarding the bikkhuni vinaya and it’s problematic application, but there is a rule that seems to pass under the radar yet that has always bugged me (unless I missed it). It is clearly not as pressing as the question of ordination but I find it of great importance since it touches the potential for practice itself.

“A nun who walks alone in an uninhabited area or spends the night by herself is to be suspended.”

I gather that these days there are very little (if not none?) wandering bikkhus anyway, but this would be due to personal inclination since nothing prevents them from doing so.
But what if, as a female inclined to take the robe, I considered that the best way to practice once done with the training period was to live alone in the forest or a cave or any secluded area, and only spend the vassa period in the vihara?

The only exemple that I know of is Tenzin Palmo. She was still a samanera when went to live alone in a cave, but I gather that she had planned to go back to this solitaty place even after her full ordination.

But this is Vajarayana, and I wondered how the Theravada bikkhunis and bikkhus relate to this question. Is it one of the rules that may be taken lightly (I have seen bikkhus break vinaya rules constantly both in Asia and Europe, so I don’t really know anymore what’s in effect and what is not nowadays…)?

In the end, one may wonder if, with the difficulty to get full ordination, the difficulty to get proper training once ordained, and on top of it, the difficulty to live as a mendicant due to vinaya rules, if the only choice for a female willing to practice thus is to not affiliate herself at all with the sangha, and turn herself into an actual beggar… which would be quite sad.

PS: this is not meant to justify people arguying that females willing to practice the dhamma can just do so without going after ordination. I would simply mind very much not being able to be secluded in the wilderness if I was to ordain.

Thanks for any eventual reply


This is indeed a problematic rule, and it is interpreted in different ways by different people. The most comprehensive study to my knowledge is found in Bhante Sujato’s Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies (free ebook).


If the bhikkhuni’s free of craving is it not a problem (to wander alone)?

Hi Sabbamitta,
I remember reading it a while back. I am very thankful for the works of bikkhus like Sujato and Analayo in that regard. Maybe I should re-phrase my post as I’m most curious about how these differents interpretation are applied currently for bikkhunis. Maybe I should be less ranty and more “questiony” :smile: .

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Hi Mat,

I am not sure how I should understand your answer

If you mean the rules stipulate that the bikkhuni can wander alone as long as she is free of craving :
this is not what I have read in the vinaya. The rule is meant to protect the physical integrity of nuns,which is unrelated to their own craving

If you mean it does not matter what a bikkhuni can or cannot do when she is free from craving:
Let’s say it’s a very convenient way to justify anything (even some bikkhuni argue that it doesnt matter that they have to bow done to day old bikkhus because it doesnt feed their egos). But does it make it ok? If it was so usefull for the training why not apply it to bikkhus (who would bow down to children or I don’t know…).We could also say that we could have mixed viharas, if the bikkhus are “free of craving it is not a problem”…
But beside that, the seclusion in the widerness is part of the training, there is a very inspiring sutta about the buddha learning to deal with the associated fears about the matter. Most vinaya rules assume that the path is a training, and taking the robe doesn’t make you spontaneously loose all delusion and cravings. So why should we expect bikkhunis to be “free of craving” from the start and forbid them this very beneficial practice that has been done by most advanced practitionners?

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There is no one way in which they are applied. There is no central authority to decide such things. Each nun or each monastery have to find their own way of living with them.


We all know why nuns weren’t encouraged to roam at night. Because they would appear as “night ladies” to sexist idiots who would then think ill of the bhikkhusaṅgha for consorting with night ladies, and would then encourage a lack of dāna towards said saṅgha.

It’s just sexism, folks. The cold hard truth is that ladies generally, whether ordained or not, do not have the societal freedom to roam as they would please.


Begging was multifaceted during the time of the Buddha. Poverty, shunned from society (lepers), mental disorders and many others. Those seeking liberation choose that lifestyle by choice. This ‘choice’ is a difficult one to make and not entered without much thinking and pondering.

Not very much. Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis like to reside in a single place many months and leave as they wish. The social situation changed with less bandits and soldiers plundering and with far more policing. Darkness doesn’t have the same implications. In Sri Lanka for example girls and women are discouraged travelling without a chaperone and travelling at night alone. This is more visible in rural environments than in urban communities where it’s genuinely safer… relatively. We still wouldn’t want to walk into a dangerous part if we value safety.

I would not say this rule was sexist per se in itself. The sangha wasn’t created in a vacium : the typical threat of rape, not mitigated by a sangha too young to have gathered enough recognition and respect from the population to make it taboo to harass bikkhu/nis had to be adressed. I mean, a western bikkhu (I don’t remember which one, it was in the book relating his pilgrimage with a western lay in India) was attacked a few years ago.

Anyway, we let the bikkhus face the dangers of the road, and we should do the same for bikkhunis. In my own life I have had to go against the worries of good willed people about my safety to travel alone or meditate in the wild. The very tricky issue of a pregrant bikkhuni is not a problem anymore. They could use the pill (the monastics do use vehicles, so it’s not like the rules are not bendables), or even get a tubal ligation if that’s what it takes to have the freedom of practice.

All that being said, maybe this is one of the rules that has been adapted to the modern world. This is what I wish to know ultimately.

I can only speak about Theravada monasteries in the West and have no idea how this is handled in Asia and / or in Mahayana places.
In my experience, it depends on the monastery. Some places don’t allow the bhikkhunis to leave the monastery compound alone at all, not even during daytime. Others are very flexible, and a bhikkhuni makes her own decisions as long as she feels safe.

If you are asking whether there is a general standard of how to apply this rule, then clearly no. Every monastery and every bhikkhuni has to keep their/her own vinaya.


Thank you for your clarification

Do these Bhikkhuni not leave the monastery alone during daylight by choice?

In the places where I have stayed it was usually the most senior bhikkhuni who makes these decisions.
The other nuns have to accept that, or leave the monastery altogether.

What constitutes an “uninhabited area”? Like, how far way does the nearest home have to be for an area to be “uninhabited”?

Anyway, in the ancient world, it was EXTREMELY dangerous for a woman to travel or live alone. The rule seems sensible for the time, though it likely isn’t applicable anymore.

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