this is a response to an old (closed) post i recently read by venerable @vimalanyani.
there was a part of her post that struck me with such sorrow:
When a woman takes bhikkhuni ordination, a part of her also feels that way. But there are so many doubts: How could the Buddha, an awakened being, treat women as second class, when he clearly stated that both men and women are equally capable of attaining awakening? Are these practices really the Buddha’s instruction, or are we doing something contrary to dhamma? And if this is contrary to dhamma, how can a serious practitioner participate in this in good conscience? How can a modern women, who enjoys equality in lay life, join a misogynistic order? How can she voluntarily subject herself to such treatment? Why create this much suffering for herself? Is she really doing the right thing?
Her mind is filled with questions and her joy is greatly dampened. There’s no inspiration to carry her dhamma practice forward. On the contrary, she is constantly torn between wanting to practice as the Buddha taught, and not wanting to be part of and enabling a discriminatory system. Rather than this being a path of freedom, it is a path of bondage for her. The day she ordains, she becomes an inferior human being.
it is saddening to me that a bhikkhuni should feel this way. i don’t believe the buddha intended this, and the below is an attempt to provide an alternate point of view that may hopefully ameliorate this dimming of the joy that bhikkhunis should enjoy, and are entitled to.
i don’t believe the buddha was by any means misogynistic. he was quite clear that the dhamma is for all humans and devas, male and female alike. he taught the dhamma to men and women. there was no restriction on the attainment of enlightenment by men or women.
he was explicit in stating that women can be the equal of men. when king pasenadi was upset that he had had a daughter instead of a son he reportedly told him: “some women are better than men” according to their wisdom and virtue (SN: 3.16), and we likely all personally know of women like this who outshine every man and woman in their vicinity on this account. indeed, if the buddha’s teaching that we are endlessly reborn in all states, then he himself would have been born as a woman many times in previous lifetimes, prior to becoming a bodhisattva.
the buddha encouraged both men and women to go beyond their characteristics of sex (AN: 7:48), and i believe that it’s this infatuation for male or female characteristics that make us be born as one or the other (though i can’t recall the sutta reference for this).
at the time of the creation of the bhikkhuni order, we know that women were practicing in their family homes and i believe they were attaining enlightenment as well (i recall an account where a female layperson attains enlightenment, and realises through her attained psychic powers, that the male monastics that are spending the vassa in her village are not enlightened, and further are lacking some nutrients , so she cooks them some food, and they attain enlightenment as a result of her efforts - i think this is the story on one of the nuns in the therigatha but i could be wrong …).
if we take this as the backdrop of the garudhammas, then we must start from the position that the buddha was not being misogynistic in this regard, and consider alternative explanations.
the first clear consideration the buddha had in creating the bhikkhuni order was the safety of the nuns. we know from the suttas that female ascetics were subject to all kinds of abuses from males, and after the creation of the order, the buddha’s bhikkhuni’s were no exception to that (for example, subha in KN: Thig 4, and i believe some other nuns were raped). thus, we can surmise that at least some of the garudhammas were instituted for the safety and wellbeing of nuns.
the others are not so easy to explain away, but i believe there is an explanation.
the first relevant consideration is the purpose of the monastic order. the purpose of the monastic order certainly wasn’t intrinsically to practice to attain enlightenment - the buddha is explicit about stating that male and female laypeople should take the foremost male and female lay practitioners as their role models, and not the foremost monastic disciples as their example (SN: 17.23 and 17.24). in any case, once stream entry is obtained, much of the urgency for practice can evaporate, as the guarantee of eventual enlightenment is there in the background.
so if it wasn’t intrinsically for the practice to attain enlightenment, what is the purpose of the monastic order?
i believe it was (and is) the preservation of the dhamma (through learning and practice). this was a project that was determined from the early presence of ananda as the guardian of the dhamma with his eidetic memory, able to pass the dhamma on for recitation to his fellow monastics immediately following the buddha’s death.
how is this relevant to the garudhammas? well, the first thing that seems clear is that the buddha did not intend to create two independent orders. rather, he seems to have initially intended a single order with men and women within in.
it’s of note that the male monastic order has precedence rules of hierarchy that are based explicitly on the order of ordination. thus, the buddha’s barber, being ordained immediately prior to the buddha’s princely cousins, ensured that the ruling princes would thereafter have to pay respect to their (lower caste) elder.
if we see the garudhammas in this light, then they may not necessarily be about the female-ness of the ordinees, but simply about the sequence in which their orders were created. if this were the case, then it would have been a similar set of secondary rules for any other group (be they white males from king milinda’s greece, or space aliens). that is, the garudhammas may not (all) be about the gendered characteristics of their group, but about the temporal sequence of ordination.
why would the buddha do such a thing?
i trained as a project manager, and i remember that there was some statistic that said that when one adds new members to a team after the project is up and running, the project actually loses momentum, not gains. much of this is because of the time and resources required to upskill the new team members, and the increased management overhead created - anyone who’s ever managed staff knows the truth of this. it’s possible that this is what the buddha was referring to when he reportedly said that the creation of the bhikkhuni order would result in the earlier disappearance of the dhamma. again, it’s not due to the gendered characteristics of the group members, but simply the natural result of bringing on a whole new team to an already running project.
one other possible insight from project management regarding the garudhammas. apparently the research suggests that when one brings in a whole new team to a project, the best way to do so is to make the new team completely subservient to the old team - no matter how much better the new team members may be, or how poorly the old team is performing. to do otherwise is to invite chaos. we know the buddha was the master in his understanding of human relationships, and there’s evidence (noted above) that he understood the importance of seniority in setting up the male monastic order. considering the above, i find it more compelling that this notion of seniority was underlying the buddha’s approach and thinking, rather than any concern about the intrinsic gender of the individuals.
in this sense, the position of the bhikkhunis today is not dissimilar to the buddha’s own princely sakyan cousins who ordained after upali.
i hope this provides an alternative view to any misogynistic interpretation of the buddha’s actions and words.
you who have ordained, male and female, have undertaken the most noble of activities, and you have every right to take pride in that (as far as the buddha’s words will support - “eating the country’s almsfood in vain” and all that …). in contributing to this project of the preservation of the dhamma, you are doing something that we can really only support you in, but you have our support, and our gratitude. be proud of what you have undertaken, and please do so knowing that the buddha would want you to become more than just a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni. he would want and expect you to become part of the ariya sangha.
the corollary of the above means that the buddha intended for male monastics to take care of and protect female monastics.
that, to me, seems clear from some of the garudhammas, and the implication is that if bhikkhunis do not feel taken care of and protected, then bhikkhus are not doing what the buddha expected of them. i believe the buddha says somewhere for bhikkhus to treat their fellow monastics as their family. nuns are your sisters, mothers, and daughters, just as for nuns, monks are their brothers, fathers, and sons.
on the above arguments then, just as out here in layperson-land, misogyny has no place within the monastic order either - this wasn’t the buddha’s intention in the garudhammas. if older monks have developed an incorrect view of entrenched sexism, then perhaps (hopefully) that will change as newer younger monks (such as those whose comments i read here) take more senior positions, and as those older monks are provided with education on alternate views. i hope the above is helpful in offering a different perspective.
Soṇa, when any ascetics and brahmins, on the basis of form—which is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change—regard themselves thus: ‘I am superior,’ or ‘I am equal,’ or ‘I am inferior,’ what is that due to apart from not seeing things as they really are?
Soṇa, when any ascetics and brahmins do not, on the basis of form—which is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change—regard themselves thus: ‘I am superior,’ or ‘I am equal,’ or ‘I am inferior,’ what is that due to apart from seeing things as they really are?
Therefore, Soṇa, any kind of form whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all form should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’
my apologies for any offence in the above or any ignorance on my part on any issues associated with the above.