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

Thank you for this very clear statement!!

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Of course there are. And the reasons are just as unreflective and primitive as any other patriarchy: prestige, money, control of real estate, menstruation taboos, internalized misogyny, entitlement, ignorance: in a word, sexism.

There is an established order, and when something changes, the established order feels threatened and fights back. One of the purposes of White Bones Red Rot Black Snakes was to show how the responses and attitudes embodied in the garudhamma story are of-a-piece with broader social narratives around women.

The legal maneuvers are just sleight of hand. This is one of the basic techniques of patriarchy. You control education so that only men know the stuff. Then it’s easy to convince women that they don’t know enough to be able to take part in the conversation. The “experts” i.e. men, can decide for themselves what womens’ fate must be. Meanwhile, women are free to perform their proper role, which is to gaze on admiringly and cook the food.


[quote=“Brenna, post:10, topic:5489, full:true”]
… 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.[/quote]

It’s an unfortunate, even depressing, situation all around. In my archives are some 184 MB of files downloaded in 2011 and 2014 on the matter, much of which I’d read, plus this recent batch of AT-VA back-and-forth and everyone else chiming in. Getting further involved at this point seems just a slippery slope edging on strong temptations towards akusala reactivity.

Admittedly I’m uncomfortable with what I perceive as a dominant tendency in this forum to dismiss or openly attack AT, from the philologists constantly picking at his translations, to the absurdity of labeling him as an “eternalist”, and to this level of rather serious criticism. At the core, I know AT as an erudite and inspiring teacher of dhamma – ETB/Sutta translation and study (focused on teaching rather than philology), and, perhaps most importantly, how to effectively develop practice of sila, samadhi and insight/realization. (Admittedly too, he’s, not unlike the “outback Buddhism” school being also of Thai lineage, dismissive of abhidhamma, Visddhimagga, etc., which I’ve had to come to terms with as I find insight and inspiration also in much of the Burmese approach – from samadhi training with Shaila Catherine, protege of the Pa Auk Sayadaw, and now regular attendance at the nearby Tathagata Meditation Center in vipassana training with Mahasi/Pandita monks.)

Would that AT et al would accept sub-sect variations, and VA et al would affirm comparable rigor in maintaining tradition (vs the slippery slope of unrestrained social/cultural adaptation) – and simply let the bhikkunis sangha-s flourish.

Two anecdotal memories that demonstrate the extremes of the dilemma:

1: Somewhere in the earlier stuff from the internet, a letter from one of the then newly ordained bhikkunis (which I haven’t yet been able to relocate), in which she confronted AT with outrage, even abusive language, demanding an apology. That brought to mind the of question of proper training and respect.

2: Several years ago the Ven. Ayya Tathaloka gave a dhamma talk at Shaila Catherine’s meditation group (where I first encountered Theravada), which talk I remember as one of the most poignant and inspirational I’ve ever witnessed, to the point of feeling in the presence of an ariya.


Thanks for the balanced approach. It’s nice to have people with your breadth of experience around.

While I don’t disagree with your main point, I’d just like to register a response to a couple of points.

It may not be correct to label him as an eternalist, but I don’t think it is absurd. He is a staunch defender of the Ajahn Mahabua wing of the Thai forest tradition, with their “original mind” idea that is, so far as I can see, indistinguishable from the Upanishadic doctrine. To criticize this idea as “Hindu” is quite common in Thailand. Note that it is not just the critics who say this: even Ajahn Paññavaddho—Ajahn Mahabua’s vice-abbot—noted the resemblance. There are many things in Ven Thanissaro’s writings that support this conclusion. I haven’t read him in any depth for decades now, so I have no idea if his ideas have changed or evolved at all. But I would certainly regard his ideas about Nibbana and not-self as, at the very least, moving towards eternalism.

Which, let us be clear, is not the junior’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of the seniors in the Sangha, those long gone forth, learned and well-practiced, to support, train, and teach the juniors. For the monks, this includes the responsibility to ordain and teach bhikkhunis. If the senior monks are derelict in this duty, it is not the fault of those who are seeking training.


I notice that no nun has participated in the conversation so far, although we are the ones whose lives are actually impacted by this issue.

I believe that they are all found in the Patimokkhas.
According to Wikipedia, the Dharmaguptaka has no. 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8;

The Pali has 2, 3, 4, (6), 7 as Pacittiyas, and 5 and 6 elsewhere in the Vinaya.

Ajahn @Brahmali, could you please clarify which ones you recommend that we not keep?

Personally, I also don’t really see how it is helpful to discard only some of the discriminating rules and recommend that we keep the others. It just exposes us to criticism from traditionalists and hard-core Vinaya adherents for not keeping Vinaya, while at the same time not really removing the discrimination.


Hi Ayya @vimalanyani, does “elsewhere in the Vinaya” mean elsewhere in the Patimokkha, or elsewhere outside the Patimokkha?

But anyway:[quote=“vimalanyani, post:25, topic:5489”]
Personally, I also don’t really see how it is helpful to discard only some of the discriminating rules and recommend that we keep the others. It just exposes us to criticism from traditionalists and hard-core Vinaya adherents for not keeping Vinaya, while at the same time not really removing the discrimination.
I fully agree with you in this point.


Garudhamma 5 is about the procedure for clearing a sanghadisesa offence. So it’s not in the actual sanghadisesa rules but in the closing paragraph after the sanghadisesas.
Since the Patimokkha as an independent document is not found in the canonical Vinaya, I’m not sure where the introduction and closing paragraphs come from. Are they from the commentaries? Maybe Bhantes @sujato or @Brahmali can comment on this.

Garudhamma 6 is about 2 years of Sikkhamana training and dual ordination. The Sikkhamana training is in the Patimokkha, the ordination procedure is in the Khandhakas, Cullavagga 10.


Thank you ayya vimalanyani for raising an important point.

Just for fun as someone following along at home, I just looked up this reference and thought to share (I apologize for all errors)
In the Pali-
Garu2 - pacittiya 56
Garu3 - pacittiya 59 (nb: in pacittiya offense seems to be related to excessive requesting, although p58 makes it offense not to go for ovada or uposatha )
Garu4 - pacittiya 57
Garu6 - related to content in pacittiyas 63+, not exactly the same
Garu7 - pacittiya 52 (note significantly different phrasing)

Should any bhikkhuni revile or insult a bhikkhu, it is to be confessed.

I did not see anything like 1 or 8 in my recent survey just now of pacittiyas, and no such rules come to mind from memory.


Thanks for the comments Ayya.

No, they are found in the vibhanga.

As for the rules not found in the patimokkha, my recollection is that the main ones of significance are the one about bowing and that a nun may not admonish a monk but a monk may admonish a nun.

In terms of ordination, my understanding is that the original form of ordination, as found in the patimokkha, was by nuns only.

My preference would be that in matters where the nuns must deal with both sanghas, that the monks also do so, even when it it not required by Vinaya.

Generally speaking, it is for the nuns to decide what rules to keep and how to keep them, just as every monk does.


Are you talking here of the Pacittiya rules from 61 onwards?

Yes; specifically the use of vuṭṭhāna instead of upasampadā for ordination, as I discussed in Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies.

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Thanks for clarifying this. :anjal:

Yes, I noticed that, too. :heart_eyes: Nowhere in the Pacittiya rules dealing with ordination is there any indication that monks should be involved.

:heart_eyes: I wish that would become general Sangha policy.


I am just starting to dive deeper into the Vinaya, so I am grateful for these hints and for the comments given by everybody in this thread :anjal:


Is there a general Sangha policy?

I probably shouldn’t say anything, because I don’t want to be the problem. But O well, here goes anyway. What I would like to hear is nuns saying: “Venerable, do I tell you how to keep your rules? Then please don’t tell me how to keep mine. I am a grown woman who can make up her own mind what is right and what is wrong. If I need your advice, I will ask for it.”

After making this post, i reconsidered, as it is not clear enough, but I will leave it as is, with the following expansion.

In the Patimokkha, it is a serious offence to make yourself unadmonishable, and the sanghadisesa rule uses similar wording to what I used above. But it is a dicey situation, and the contexts are not exactly the same.

It is one thing to admonish someone who you think is making a mistake or doing something wrong. It is quite another to lecture someone about how they should live their lives.

If I was living at Bodhinyana, for example, and the meal was running late, and i saw a monk continuing to eat after noon, I might remind them that noon had passed and it was time to finish. But I wouldn’t show up at a Chinese temple and start lecturing the monks there about not eating in the afternoon. Context matters; time and place matter.

It is one thing for a monk to express an opinion about a rule, to remind another monastic in an appropriate way when they are straying. But what we have is a situation where the monks, with zero basis in Vinaya, arrogate to themselves the right to arbitrate and interpret the Vinaya for the nuns.

The Vinaya itself is nuanced, and requires trust to work properly. An adviser for the nuns must be someone they like and trust; and it is quite acceptable to refuse admonition from someone you believe to be under the sway of the four biases—desire, anger, delusion, fear.

If a monk is dogmatically opposed to the very existence of bhikkhunis and/or samaneris—and don’t forget, the Thai “law” such as it is, forbids both—then I don’t see how they could be free of such biases. On the contrary, the whole narrative around this matter is, in my view, an expression of such unconscious impulses, which again was one of the themes of White Bones Red Rot Black Snakes.

There is another issue, which is worth bearing in mind if you ever find yourself in a situation with such a dogmatic monk. If he denies the existence of bhikkhunis/samaneris, then to him, you must be a layperson, and he has no rights at all under Vinaya to admonish you. Bear in mind that regarding other ordained people as laypeople is no rarity in modern Theravada. The whole of the Dhammayut order traditionally regards Mahanikaya monks such as myself as having an invalid ordination lineage and being basically samaneras. Theravada monks in general often treat Mahayana monks as not really ordained. So you have plenty of company!


Thanks, Cara, for making this overview.

As for 1 and 8, they are not found in the Pali, but apparently they are in the Dharmaguptaka Patimokkha. My Chinese is not good enough yet to check on the original text, but if someone is interested to pursue this further, there is this book:

The translation is not that great, but as far as I know, it is the only one we have.


Well said Michael. I’ve never met Ajahn Thanissaro in person however your description above resonated strongly with me as it reminded me of other senior monks I do know. Personally, I find it very disappointing when monks administer institutionally sexist communities, neglect the aim and spirit of the Vinaya (instead getting bogged down in its minutuae) and put cultural forms and mundane considerations before the Dhamma.
I also share your respect and agree with your preference for ‘Thomas Merton’ types; it was so refreshing for me to spend time with senior monks in Australia who understood the importance of, and actually practised, being kind and gentle with everyone and everything at all times. Being kind, gentle and compassionate under all conditions is a huge part of the path to deep meditation so it’s disappointing when some influential monks refuse to also view the Vinaya and bhikkhunis compassionately.


Sadhu @Andy_B !

It’s a bit unfair of me to spend time at Wat Metta, and to have had the opportunities many years ago to read ATI and get what was likely my first exposure to the Pali Canon translated into English, and yet sit back today and offer a critique. But, I wanted to be honest at least about my perspective. I am certain others that have spent time at Wat Metta have differing experiences.

I like what you said about kindness and compassion being so much a part of this Path and practice. At the end of the day, this practice does have kindness, compassion, joy, and balance at its heart, it seems to me. I feel that to really know the Dhamma, to undertake the scholarship and cultivate an understanding of the heartwood of the teachings, is to embrace and exhibit these traits as best as one can in monastic and/or lay life.


Thanks Ayya, I do like that book!

I found something like Garu1 in Mahasasaka (pacittiya179) and Sarvastivada (pacittiya103)

Whatever bhikkhuni, on seeing a monk, should
not get up, should not pay respect and invite him to a seat,
there is an offence of expiation.

Still not quite the same though. Garu1 has an extra edge to it. Garu8 also seems to reflect pacittiya 52 (i refer to pali here) but with that extra edge “it is forbidden”.

Did not find the exact wording especially re: the seniority.
Did find this though -

Whatever bhikkhuni should belch towards the
direction of a monk, there is an offence of expiation

I look forward very much to having more of an opportunity to study Vinaya!


I hope you find time to explore outside these specific instances, which, IMHO, have consumed an inordinate amount of attention for little gain. There’s lots of great stuff in the rest of the Vinaya!


yah, personally garudhammas don’t seem interesting to me, comparative patimokkha, weird vibhanga stories, lived practice/interpretations - seem interesting!

I know it’s annoying to have to go over this stuff again and again, but I think it’s important to each nun/postulant/ woman to have her opportunity to go through the process of investigating and understanding for herself.
I don’t know. Personally I find doing the ‘research’, having the little breakdowns and the breakthroughs for myself makes it all more meaningful. Hopefully if/when I have to write a thesis, I will be further along in that process so as not to study something really boring. :laughing: i’m taking pitches for subject matter now :laughing: :pray: