In AN 5.80, one of the “Future Peril” suttas, the Buddha warns monks against living too intimately with certain people:
Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, bhavissanti bhikkhū anāgatamaddhānaṃ bhikkhunīsikkhamānāsamaṇuddesehi saṃsaṭṭhā viharissanti.
Bhikkhu Bodhi translates this as:
Again, in the future there will be bhikkhus who bond closely with bhikkhunis, female probationers, and novices.
I have always felt the inclusion of “novices” (implying male novices) in this passage was odd, and looking more closely it seems likely that samaṇuddesa refers to female novices.
That meaning should be obvious from the context. While the commentary and subcommentary don’t provide a gloss for the terms here, text and commentary are clearly referring to the risk of intimacy if monks live too closely with female renunciants.
Male novices are referred to in the next section of the sutta. The risk of too much intimacy with them is not sexual, but that of getting too much stored-up food, and asking for too many “allowables”, in both material stuff and acts that monks can’t perform, like digging the soil and so on.
As far as the Pali goes, the ending samaṇuddesehi—the same in both cases—is masculine, which is presumably why it gets simply translated as “novices”. However Pali compounds are normally declined in the masculine, so the masculine ending to samaṇuddesa doesn’t imply anything as to the gender of the term.
More significant is the fact that the term samaṇuddesa is only used of male novices in the early texts. But this is not a very powerful objection, as female novices (sāmaṇerī) don’t figure largely in the early canon anyway, except in stock phrases. For the men, sāmaṇera and samaṇuddesa are used interchangeably (at least in meaning, although there may be textual differences to explain the two terms), and there’s no reason samaṇuddesā should not be used in the same way for female novices.
Moreover, this usage is actually found in the quasi-canonical Bhikkhuni Patimokkha text. A little digression on this text is necessary. It’s unclear what the exact origins of this text are. It appears to be the text on which the Bhikkhuni Vinaya is based. However, many sections are not found in the Vinaya Pitaka, since they are assumed to be identical with the parallel passages for monks. It is possible, then, that the text as we have it today was retroactively created by changing the relevant monks rules to a feminine form, in which case it would not stand as an independent witness. However, I have shown that at least in one case—pārājika 1—the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha preserves a genuine ancient form that cannot be derived from the canon. Of course, it is quite possible that the text is a mixture of authentic and later portions, although I don’t see any reason why this should be.
When it adapts a monks’ rule that mentions the samaṇuddesa, it uses samaṇuddesā, not sāmaṇerī.
Samaṇuddesāpi ce evaṃ vadeyya
At the very least this shows that the tradition was happy to use samaṇuddesā in a feminine form.
All in all, I think it’s very likely the text means to refer to female novices, and I translate accordingly:
In a future time there will be monks who live closely with nuns, female probationers, and female novices.