The Validity of bhikkhunī Ordination by bhikkhus Only, According to the Pāli Vinaya

Ven. Anālayo (VA) has just published an excellent paper that summarises his research on the ordination of bhikkhunīs by bhikkhus alone: The Validity of bhikkhunī Ordination by bhikkhus Only, According to the Pāli Vinaya.pdf (310.3 KB). There is a bit of a backstory to this paper, and it occurred to me that some of you may be interested in following the trail.

VA has written a number of papers on bhikkhunī ordination, one of which is On the Bhikkhunī Ordination Controversy.pdf (488.6 KB). This paper included a critique of Ajahn Ṭhānissaro’s (AT) position on this issue in The Buddhist Monastic Code II. AT then wrote a critique of VA’s paper, titled On Ordaining Bhikkhunīs Unilaterally.pdf (118.2 KB). In a follow-up paper called The Cullavagga on Bhikkhunī Ordination.pdf (332.7 KB), VA counters AT’s critique (see especially footnote 4, 5, 6, and 17), and AT then counters VA’s critique in yet another follow-up called Postscript.pdf (43.8 KB). The current paper, The Validity of bhikkhunī Ordination by bhikkhus Only, According to the Pāli Vinaya, is the latest instalment in this debate, but also a summary of VA’s overall argument. In addition to this, VA has written an open letter to AT in which he sets out some of his other points: Open letter to the venerable Bhikkhu Thanissaro.pdf (151.2 KB).

Apart from VA’s criticism, I wish to point out one further problem with AT’s articles. AT states that “… scholarly bhikkhus feel free to adopt mutually contradictory positions to serve various aims, and to cherry-pick the Dhamma and Vinaya as they like, taking it out of context and so showing disrespect for the Dhamma.” The idea is presumably to discredit VA as a non-practising monk. For anyone who knows VA, however, this is about as far from truth as you can get. Such baseless accusations, in my opinion, throw further doubt on AT’s critique.

To my mind Ven. Anālayo’s argument is very persuasive. Enjoy!


From Ven. Analayo’s letter:

This seems to me not to take
fully into account the reality on the ground in Theravada countries. The revival has already happened
nearly twenty years ago and this revival began with senior and well-trained nuns taking bhikkhuni ordination.
This is one of the reasons why the revival has been so successful. The whole problem of how
to train a bhikkhuni Sangha lacking a living tradition has already been solved by relying on the living
tradition of the eight and ten precept nuns and the compassionate guidance of those bhikkhus who supported
and continue to support them.

Danke schön Ven. Analayo.


It is indeed surprising to see AT apparently has issues with VA and the topic of bhikkhuni ordination as a whole…

I always thought that he, as a quite isolated bhikkhu and living not under direct influence of the traditional Thai Sangha, would be under no pressure by conservative and biased-against-bhikkhuni ordination Thai laity (material supporters) to oppose it.


Sadhu! Thank you so much for sharing this essay, Ajahn! I am continuously indebted and grateful to Venerable Analayo for his excellent scholarship on bhikkhuni ordination.

I was just reading “Postscript” which contains similarly antagonist passages, such as:

“When a person takes one position on the reliability of a text to make one point in one context […] and then a contradictory position on the reliability of the same text to make another point in another context […] one has to question that person’s honesty, and, frankly, whether he is fit to take part in Vinaya discussions.”


“Actually, I have no difficulties appreciating that a text can be read in different and even contradictory ways in an academic setting, where people are not held responsible for the consequences of their interpretations. But in the context of the Saṅgha, when we are interpreting the Dhamma and Vinaya to understand how best to apply their teachings in practice, we have to be held responsible for what we say.”

I’m not going to say much about Ajahn Thanissaro’s thoughts on bhikkhuni ordination (because it’s one of those instances in which I have to moderate myself), but I find it interesting that AT believes in a “True Dhamma,” notably one in which there is a right and wrong way to interpret the Vinaya. Such a steadfast conception of the Dhamma, I would argue, is antithetical to scholarship as a whole, and indeed antithetical to varying points of view.


I heard second hand, that what AT is pointing out about VA, is that one who lives in isolation for long periods of time, apart from the Sangha, would not have so much direct experience in all the ramifications of the minute complexities of carrying out Vinaya rules and seeing first hand the effects of their implications, compared to monastics who are always living in such communities.

I have not read all the articles, so I don’t know exactly what part appears to be insinuating anything about Ven. VA’s skills “as a non-practicing” monk.

Since it’s such a charged topic (the whole Bhikkhuni ordination), I would urge all who are genuinely interested in learning more about the subject, to read the articles from both VA and AT and ignore who the author is, drop your biases, just read the articles and judge the points on their own merit.


Discrediting VA as a non-practicing monk (in the sense of personal dhamma practice) is indeed a presumption here, and directly attributing this to AT needs be challenged. I know AT well, from translations, writings, talks, and several personal encounters – day-long talks and other; and I know AT from recorded talks, and having read, studied most of his writings, many quite closely, and from personal contact with some who have worked with him intensively. I find it inconceivable that AT is challenging VA’s personal dhamma practice here; the man (AT) has his edges, so to speak, but is not mean-spirited.

Matters of judgment in the area of academic findings is another matter. As many here will surely know, AT has cogently argued (the book “Buddhist Romanticism”) that modern scholarship practices, specifically with respect to understanding Buddhist tradition (and practice), is saddled with a number of serious issues and biases. I also recall reading related ideas from V. Sujato. (Not at all to impute these problems necessarily to the work of VA, but to remind that the issue is a major and well-studied concern for AT.)

I believe the “practicing” issue has rather to do more specifically with “practicing” the Vinaya as a specialist, an abbot for going-on 30 years at Metta Monastery, and previously having been offered abbot role at the Wat back in Thailand after the death of his mentor, Ajahn Fuang. Understanding that every ordained bhikkhu has a pretty solid acquaintance with the Vinaya, I believe there’s a substantial difference between that and having a strong background in administering the Vinaya and as a practicing specialist in its application. A difference, also, between the latter and an academically conditioned approach to the Vinaya.


AT certainly has a firm belief in the integrity of the Dhamma, as do other notable (living) teachers, for instance the Pa Auk Sayadaw. One can argue there is a sense of “relativity”, of “varying points of view” in that these (and other) lineages are often taken to be in conflict with each other (and notably by academics, whose profession de facto focuses on “discrepancies” – e.g. in the work of Paul Griffiths or Martin Stuart-Fox). “Point of view” can also, especially in this context, be understood as differing conditioned perspectives (i.e. lineages) but ON THE SAME fundamental dhamma.

Clearly, without those in roles of responsibility dedicated to maintaining a sense of strict purity of tradition, of maintaining the highest standards, the whole edifice would crumble into a crowd of petty sects within a few generations – as observable, in an even shorter time span, with the proliferation of “secular Buddhist” variations; not to mention across history.

Having myself studied, trained, and practiced (without claiming any extraordinary mastery) in the lineages of AT (-Fuang-Lee-Mun) as well as of Pa Auk and Mahasi, I suspect that if any pair or group of these teachers were to get together, over coffee say, they would not be quarreling over conditioned formulations and methodologies, but rather mutually exploring the depths of insight of their respective perspectives, and having a rather grand time of it. It’s more the followers (and the skeptics and critics) who react from their often less secure realization of the dhamma who fall into the tangle of views and counter views.


More questionable presumptions. AT is not in the directly under the thumb of the Thai church-state, so to speak, but most certainly is in direct contact with his teaching lineage, e.g. translating numerous writings and talks of the Thai Forest (or “Wilderness”, as he says would be a better translation) Tradition, AND also of woman in that tradition. Also I understand that monks from Thailand regularly visit the Metta Monastery.

I would suggest some caution against imputing those kinds of political factors to AT’s motivations.

P.S. I also followed the controversy around the ordination that took place several years ago, and read all the material and dialog available then.


Dear Ajahn @Brahmali,

thank you for this compilation of texts which is very interesting.

Following Bhikkhu Analayo’s line of argument, this includes that the acceptance of the 8 garudhammas as a set of rules laid down by the Buddha is a logical prerequisite for the single ordination of Bhikkhunis by Bhikkhus only to be considered as legally valid. Did I understand this correctly? Bhikkhu Analayo also says that he changed his mind on the matter of garudhammas, not being convinced any more that this set of 8 rules is a later interpolation, as he used to think formerly.

When I first met Bhante Sujato in 2013 he told me (I am not sure if it was exactly in these words, but the sense is very clear to my memory): “This year was my 20st Vassa, and I have been officially appointed to teach the nuns. And the first thing I told them was ‘Sisters, don’t keep the garudhammas!’”

I would be interested if you, Bhante @sujato, followed Bhante Analayo in his change of mind, or rather not, and why? If we don’t assume the garudhammas to be given by the Buddha himself but having come into the text only by later interpolation, is single ordination by Bhikkhus only then still a legally valid option? Thank you!


Hi Chris,

I understand where you’re coming from, but the problem I see is that for those who have not met AT (like me) it is extremely difficult to judge based on his essays what his intention is. Thusly, he seems quite mean-spirited based on his writing, regardless of whether he intends to do so.

One of my biggest problems with AT’s letters and essays concerning bhikkhuni ordination is that he himself has not had the experience of staying in or observing bhikkhuni communities (I’m not 100% sure about this statement, but I’ve never seen an instance of him either visiting a bhikkhuni vihara or observing an ordination). I agree that he, as an abbot for 30 years, is extremely skilled in matters of vinaya and leading his community, but he is not experienced in matters of higher ordination for women. This is why I find statements like this so problematic:

It is hard to imagine that the Buddha would approve that this [new bhikkhunis being trained by “untrained senior bhikkhunis”] be done in his name. It’s not an act of compassion to the senior bhikkhunīs, who are creating the bad kamma of teaching when not qualified to do so; it’s not an act of compassion to the junior bhikkhunīs, who are getting trained by unqualified teachers; nor is it an act of compassion to the world, exposing it to teachers who create a false impression of how a true bhikkhunī should embody the Dhamma in word and deed. (“On Ordaining Bhikkhunīs Unilaterally” 20).

  1. How does AT know that the senior bhikkhunis will generate bad kamma? Who is he to decide that kammic verdict?
  2. I’ve read this essay before, and am continuously confused by his assertion of “unqualified teachers.” I am assuming that ‘qualified’ in this instance means an unbroken line of bhikkhunis that goes back to the time of the Buddha.
  3. The most difficult part of this passage for me is by far, “exposing it to teachers who create a false impression of how a true bhikkhunī should embody the Dhamma in word and deed.” It returns to the question of, ‘has AT ever met a bhikkhuni’? I have met, I don’t know, six bhikkhunis and they have all been remarkable, wise, and compassionate Dhamma teachers who fully embody the Dhamma in word and deed better than some bhikkhus I know.

I think that an act of compassion on AT’s part would be to visit bhikkhuni viharas, to meet and interact with the senior women in the tradition, and to gain some experience and understanding on how they train and practice.


I have had opportunities through the years to spend time with AT at Wat Metta. He is certainly a strong and serious personality, and I found him at times to be intense and the tenor of the wat that he directs ( and it is clear that he is in charge at all times) is one that is devout and intense. He has a sense of humor, though I saw him smile usually when he was in the company of his dedicated Thai lay supporters. I had the sense that he is very happy to be with Thais from San Diego/Escondido, and less so dealing with some of the farang folks that drive up from San Diego and hang out at the wat. Being at WM, I felt as though I was a 1L in Prof. Kingsfield’s class at times, and the novices and monks around me seemed tense and on edge, sometimes.

It was mentioned to me once while I was at Wat Metta that AT had been disappointed that he was not given an ecclesiastical title from the Thai Sangha that perhaps he had been hoping for. Later, when I read his brief he wrote in opposition to the Bhikkhuni ordinations, my first reaction to the brief was that he was acting almost as a barrister arguing a case at court, making arguments that were kind of a blunt salvo on behalf of a high paying corporate client. I also understood from one of his talks that despite his obvious intellect and years of experience with the texts, he saw no possible arguments in favor of the ordination of women, or no compassionate avenue of resolution of the issue.

At times, he’s been a bit hard edged re: Bhikkhu Bodhi on a First Precept issue ( just war issues and Dhamma)and now it seems he has taken a hard edge with Ven. Analayo. Aside from intellectual gifts, and scholarship and devotion to Dhamma and Vinaya, we get with our Bhikkhus a variety of personalities. From my old days as an altar boy, I remember the priests that were the somewhat stern and “fire and brimstone” types and there were what I’ll call the Thomas Merton types. I always valued, respected, and preferred the latter.


Yes, this was a disappointing argument. I’ll admit, I haven’t been following his progress of ideas too closely. In The Validity of Bhikkhuni Ordination he refers to his change of mind, which he says he has mentioned in previous papers. Now, perhaps in those previous papers he discussed the matter more satisfactorily, but here he just mentions it in passing.

What he says is that:

  1. He previously followed the consensus that accepted that the garudhammas were an interpolation based on the fact that many of them were also included in the pacittiyas.
  2. He no longer believes that the fact that they are in the pacittiyas means that the garudhammas are late.
  3. Therefore there is “no definite reason to reject the whole set of garudhammas as a later interpolation.”

I never followed this reasoning: that is, I never rejected the garudhammas solely or primarily because they were included in the pacittiyas. On the contrary, as I have argued many times, and as was a primary theme of the Authenticity book by myself and @Brahmali, our only sure method in such matters is the mutual agreement and reinforcement of multiple independent indications.

No one such indication is itself decisive. And this is for the very reason the Analayo mentions: a single item can be read in several ways. I would agree completely that the issue of the pacittiyas/garudhammas does not, in and of itself, give us a “definite reason to reject the garudhammas”. It is entirely possible that there is some other explanation of this point, such as the one Analayo suggests in his essay (my emphasis):

The garudhammas are mere injunctions and do not carry any consequences in cases where they are not followed. Thus failure to observe a garudhamma could have motivated the promulgation of a corresponding rule, so as to lay down what such a breach would entail in future.

Why yes, it “could have”. Or it could not have. The fact remains that on the whole, the patimokkha rules are the oldest and best established strata of vinaya literature, and it is a priori probable that if something appears both there and elsewhere, it is more likely that they appear there first.

But there is not just one, but very many reasons to question the authenticity of the garudhammas and the Mahapajapati narrative in which they are so deeply embedded. The whole passage is riven with incoherencies and inconsistencies. A list of, I think, sixteen such problems was made many years ago by a Sri Lankan monk in Singapore. But there are many more when the non-Pali texts are taken into account. When all of these factors are considered, by far the simplest and the most powerful explanation is that they were added some time around the time of the Second Council, about 100 years after the Buddha.

Part of the problem here is the burden of proof. Analayo says there is no “definite reason to reject” the garudhammas. But that is not what is needed. What is needed is a reason to accept them. What positive evidence is there that the garudhammas, and the passage that contains them, belong to an especially early strata of literature, one that precedes even the patimokkha?

The evidence that Analayo would, I presume, adduce here is the (relative) agreement between the various versions of this text. To be clear, the level of agreement in this text is not particularly good, and there are many telling variations. However, the various traditions do contain the garudhammas and the Mahapajapati story. Since the comparison of the different versions is, of course, Analayo’s core methodology, this is, I think, the basis for his conclusion.

The problem is that this method only takes us back to the separation of the Sangha, which happened after the Second Council. All the Vinaya traditions have an account of the Second Council, just as they do the story of the garudhammas. So the agreement of the traditions does not in and of itself tell us that a text is authentic, merely that it was included before this time. (More or less: while there were undoubtedly some changes after the Second Council, there is little sign of the addition of major texts after this.)

Now, as you well know, I have no qualms about accepting the idea that the texts common to the traditions, and shared at the time of the Second Council, are mostly authentic, and contain much that is the genuine teachings of the Buddha. However, this does not mean that everything common to the traditions must be authentic in this sense.

Consider what the garudhammas represent: a set of rules for controlling women. That a patriarchy should wish to apply such rules requires no special argument. It is what all patriarchies do, all the time. We see it in the news every day. Seeing this happen in the social sphere is no more remarkable than seeing the rain fall or the sun rise. It’s what they do.

The sexism inherent in these rules is apparently still a taboo topic. But to my mind, if we are to discuss the history of a patriarchy without mentioning sexism, we are not revealing history, we are colluding in concealing it.

This is why the story, the context, and the meaning of these rules are so important. It is, in fact, precisely for this reason that, many years ago, I embarked on a detailed essay on this problem, an essay that became a book, and a book that became a series of books. Along the way, I lost interest in a purely text-critical approach to this problem, as it became apparent that it was inadequate to fully address the issues. This is not to dismiss the importance of such work, merely to accept that, like any methodology, it has its scopes and its limits. So much is left out, and what is left is a shadow of a skeleton.

Anyhow, I ended up writing White Bones Red Rot Black Snakes, which focused on the Mahapajapati story as a creation myth, telling the story of how the nuns order came to be. By taking a larger perspective and seeing this event in the context of the stories told by men about women, and those told by women about women, I hoped to show how the events exemplified patterns of meaning that drew from deep in the complex of attitudes and motivations stirred up by the idea and the reality of women.

One of the things I learned through this process was the crucial importance of letting women tell their own stories. This is, in case you’re wondering, why I have been relatively quiet on this front in recent years.

And yet here we are: a man, commenting on a discussion between two men, about the fate of women. This issue will never be resolved until we can get to a place where this is utterly unthinkable.


Bhante Sujato’s essay, above, is brilliant. It illuminates a consistent problem reflected recently with a US GOP appointed panel ( of all men) deciding women’s health care issues in the replacement for Obamacare. “I wouldn’t want to lose my mammograms,” quipped Sen. Patrick Roberts (R-Kan.), who supports scrapping the requirement in the GOP health bill. "

Pictured: All male GOP panel deciding women’s access to health care:

On the issue of the merits of the various arguments being discussed re: Ven. Thanissaro and Ven. Analayo, I like the response that Bhikkhu Bodhi promoted, when he said in so many words, " when in doubt about these (disputed) matters, always choose the most compassionate resolution. "


I was going to post the same image!


Great minds…again. :grinning:

No, as I have pointed out, that is far from the truth. One great mind here, and it’s not me.

But still, men are such jerks, and I’m one of them. :slight_smile: I think the garudhammas have the “essence of jerkiness” to them. And the Buddha was so far removed from this kind of thinking, to my mind.


It took me a quarter of a million words to say this. Who’s the great mind now?


I’m a lawyer. I can’t say anything useful in less than 500,000 boring, repetitive words. :slight_smile:


I find this topic exasperating. I haven’t commented to this point because I am finding it difficult to say anything substantive that is also courteous. I have read the articles, but almost can’t believe I am reading the words I am reading. The conservative position seems so lacking in both common sense and rudimentary compassion that it is hard for me not to conclude that it is motivated by a malevolent and oppressive bigotry and male supremacism, and that the fusty legalism that is being deployed to support these supremacist practices is a complete sham. The spiritual lives and attainments of millions of women are being crushed and thwarted by such arrantly foolish pedantry. That’s deplorable.

I can appreciate somewhat the uncomfortable position of some of the western monks. These are people who probably went Thailand as young people seeking exotic experiences, escape from their troubles and the instruction of meditation masters. They ended up ordaining, and now find themselves in leadership positions in what is effectively the state religion of Thailand. They probably can’t help feeling like outsiders and invited guests, despite their rank in the hierarchy, and don’t want to be wave-making cultural imperialists, appropriating and taking charge of the direction of of somebody else’s religion.

OK, so then maybe they should create a Buddhist sangha that is not the state religion of some other country, and so cannot be seen as belonging to any particular people or place. If female monks are too much of an affront to the patriarchal cultural traditions of Thailand, then perhaps bhikkhus of good will should drop their addiction to generous conservative Thai benefactors , and find a way to live a simpler life that includes welcoming bhikkhunis into their community.

Yes, I understand the idea that the sangha is a apprenticeship institution. But that an initial group of initiate women cannot undertake a spiritual apprenticeship under men has little plausibility.

It seems obvious to common sense that the intent of that second rule was that, since the bhikkhuni sangha already existed, then people shouldn’t be allowed into it unless the people who were already in it approved of the new initiates. The idea that this sensible rule should then be used to forever close the door to a future bhikkhuni sangha if the first one unexpectedly dies out seems, frankly, laughable - and a willfully perverse bit of literalist legalism.

It seems obvious that in the background of all this lawyering there are a bunch of people who deeply don’t want there to be bhikkhinis. I would really like to know why. Because the official reasons being given are scarcely credible.

I am embarrassed that the women who participate here even have to read these discussions.

[Edited a bit]


Thank you for your detailed input, Bhante!

1 Like

I think all Ven. Analayo is saying is that he think the garudhammas were laid down before the other rules on ordination found in the bhikknunī-kkhandhaka. I don’t think this means that the garudhammas need to be accepted by a female candidate before ordination.

There are several points here. The first is that VA distinguishes between a historical/text-critical reading of the texts and a Theravadan legal reading. It is only on the legal reading that the garudhammas were established before the other ordination procedures. So if a female candidate feels there are strong historical reasons why the garudhammas were not laid down by the Buddha - and she does not really see herself as a dyed-in-the -wool Theravadan - then I think she can still cogently argue that she will/should not keep them.

The second point is that even though VA is giving the garudhammas temporal priority over the other ordination rules, this still does not mean they were laid down by the Buddha. Much of bhikkhunī Vinaya is quite late, and I cannot see any good reasons to think these rules come from the earliest period. For me it seems quite likely that these rules were not laid down by the Buddha.

The third point is that the garudhammas are, as VA puts it, just injunctions. In other words, they are minor rules, and there is no penalty for breaching them. If you look at the sekhiya rules of the pātimokkha, you only breach them if you don’t keep them out of disrespect. This means that if there is a good reason for not keeping these rules, such as a change in culture that makes the rules obsolete, then there is no penalty for not keeping them. In fact, I would go so far as to say one should not keep sekhiya rules that are no longer sensible. The same, in my opinion, is true for all the minor rules found in the Vinaya, including the garudhammas. These rules do not need to be kept if they are out of synch with the prevailing attitudes at any time and in any culture. If they are kept, they just tend to make Buddhism obsolete and to destroy its credibility.

In sum, I fully agree with Bhante Sujato that there is absolutely no reason for bhikkhunīs to keep the garudhammas, except, of course, where they are also found in the pātimokkha. In fact, I too would recommend bhikkhunīs not to keep the garudhammas. Keeping the garudhammas is bad for Buddhism.