Were there any Bhikkhunis in the first Buddhist council?

Were there Bikkhunis in the first Buddhist council?
Considering the fact this forum, in my opinion, is dominated by the feminism (gender) issues I request that you stick to the strong evidence to support your point. Please also refrain from the new age political correctness and arguments.

1 Like

How could someone possibly defend the presence of nuns by resorting to proofs rooted in the New Age or rooted in the notion that you shouldn’t call people ethnic or gendered slurs?


This thread sort of touched on historical record of various Councils.


There certainly are a lot of views expressed on this forum which are very different. And this is great. As much as possible, we should be inclusive and not shut people down or up. However, we do have to be prepared for people to not necessarily accept them all and to have our views argued with. And this is part and parcel of allowing different views to exist. (When I used to be a mod, this is something we tried really hard to preserve when we had our mod hats on - I remember this as something very valuable. We had to have a reason from the guidelines or some sense of potential harm, before we stepped in. And I am 100% certain the current wonderful mods are carrying on in this way too. :slight_smile: :heartpulse:)

And those arguements are of course going to be influenced by those things we perceive as being of value and importance in terms of increasing kindness, harmlessness and wisdom in the world. And for some people these views are influenced by feminism.

The sad/funny thing is, feminism came about because a bunch of folks felt that some people were suffering in silence. And these people are being asked here again, it seems to me, to keep their mouths shut - to keep their perspectives away. Don’t bring their feminism, or whatever into the argument. Be quiet. Don’t speak. Don’t share.

Feminsim came about because, among other things, women’s issues, concerns and voices - and anything to do with how we look at gender, so this impacts men and harmful/limiting forms of masculinity too - were silenced. Let’s not do it here too just because we feel threatened by the pendulum of power (and choice and voices heard) swinging the other way towards a more balanced centre.

Has this pendulum been so far out to one side for so long that we thought this was normal and thus, we are utterly threatened by anyone who suggests it isn’t the healthiest, kindest normal that normal can be?


Good question @Coemgenu. I’m also asking what the two aspects - not using slurs/bad manners/general inconsiderateness/good old fashioned ignorance and New Age philosophies (are they particularly to be shunned as being wrong because they’re new? western? or rooted in eastern philosophy?) - have to do with the presence of nuns?

I would suggest that it’s just history and a tendency throughout most - not all - human history for the records - perhaps in particular the written records - to be handed down and shaped by those in power. Of course, I can’t be sure, but I am guessing that in the “good old days” these record keepers tended to be men, who lived in societies where it was frequently unheard of that women could be public beings or even powerful ones. But then, that’s the story we’ve been led to believe…if there were women, we don’t know for sure. The authors of such records are probably not acknowledged. But they wouldn’t have been the ones pulling the strings and making the demands on how history should be preserved. It would’ve been their masters. History is written by the conqueror, not his vanquished victims; it’s written by those in power and choices available to them, not those who are silent.

Ever heard the phrase, “history was a white-wash”? Well, perhaps it was also a “male wash”…

It’s worth noting though that women were record keepers within the oral tradition of the Sangha. But much has been lost - who knows what the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha was really like when it was lived by real breathing human beings, instead of being something that was forgotten for centuries on some shelf of academia. Perhaps within their tradition they speak of the presence of Bhikkhunis at the First Council. But this is something that can be better discussed by others here on this EBT forum. :slight_smile:

So…in returning to the original question: who can say for sure.

But I’d like to suggest that arahants, not being overly concerned with such matters might not have thought it relevant to comment on whether their physical bodies were all the same or not. Which is a shame for us in some ways - down through the ages, no one would’ve tried to make any assumptions about this matter if they had thought to do this!

Even if they did, it’s clear the texts we have, have been changed here and there over time. Perhaps, as the Dhamma became diluted, as the years passed, those record keepers found it inconceivable that a woman could have been present at such a meeting. Perhaps they thought it was an error - because how could such a thing be!?

When one looks even a little into the Bhikkhuni Rules, one will notice that the Buddha changed some out of compassion for them. For instance, so they didn’t have to undertake dangerous journeys to seek ordination. This suggests to me that: 1. The attitudes of the overall patriarchal society of the time influenced the patterns of violence and those who were considered easy prey. 2. Thus, perhaps the nuns weren’t able to be easily contacted at the time and perhaps it would’ve been a dangerous journey to make - have you seen the site of the conference - it’s remote even by today’s standards!

Also…it doesn’t matter does it?

Anyway, I’ve contributed to the “male wash” by assuming that the answer to the question is that they weren’t there!! See what I’ve done!! But, like I said, this site being dedicated to the EBTS, I’m sure there are many who can comment on this from a strictly textual perspective and indeed, @Nadine has already provided a useful link. :anjal:


At some point ‘history’ lost its innocence in that people gave up the idea to find out ‘what happened’. And that’s good because it’s closer to the truth and points to the question: are we confident enough to accept uncertainties regarding history?

The Vinaya doesn’t mention bhikkhunis. Sure, we can say “The text represents absolute truth, so there were no bhikkhunis” - but that is really a simple-minded approach to a text. We have to ask “under which circumstances could this be true?” “how realistic is it?”

One could argue for example that Mahakassapa, who was rather critical of bhikkhunis, chose the participants. And that he saw it beneficial to have no bhikkhunis around, for some reason. Ok.

But they were supposedly reciting and discussing and agreeing on the Vinaya there too, not just dhamma. Were the rules for nuns not discussed? Were the nuns’ rules recited without nuns, just by male specialists? That would seem weird, but ok, possible.

Kassapa apparently chose 500 monks, probably the best ones. But in certain suttas (e.g. AN 1.235-247) the Buddha explicitly praised bhikkunis, e.g. Ayya Khema for wisdom, Patacara for the Vinaya.

So a ‘certified’ Vinaya specialist like Patacara would have been explicitly disinvited? Why?

There could have been security concerns. Or ‘anticipated history’ concerns, namely that Mahakassapa wanted the event to be remembered in a way ‘beneficial’ to the Sangha, i.e. without bhikkhunis.

But again, the text speaks about the goal to be of biggest importance, which is to secure dhamma-vinaya. Practical concerns are being met by saying that “There is great resort for alms at Rājagaha and lodgings are abundant.” (Kd 21.1.3). There is no mention of any practical obstruction.

Also the participants were allegedly only arahants, so there would have been no concern of desire. Unless the organizers would have been worried about non-enlightened assistants, lay supporters etc. and their desire.

But really, do we assume that bhikkhunis were disinvited because of worries that non-enlightened men and women could get aroused? That is difficult to believe for a council with the explicit goal to get the best specialists together. If you want the best, you include the best.


:+1: :slightly_smiling_face:

1 Like

Would you consider that the Arahants still has biased ?! That they are not that perfect ?! That we praised highly of their attainment ie liberation , but , we don’t take into account that the factor of mentality , behavior , knowledge , background and particular interest they had which led to such situations ?

Sure, that’s possible. I just wanted to stay within the framework of traditional Buddhism.

You mean they are perfect in every aspect ?

Kind of - no greed, hatred, delusion


I can recall reading that all Arahants are same in mind and only differ in their bodies.

Like most texts, the canonical accounts of the Councils do not mention the presence of bhikkhunis, and only monks are said to be present. However one might doubt this, since there are multiple places in the suttas where only monks are mentioned, yet it appears bhikkhunis were actually present.

However, the situation is different. In all the canonical accounts, the Councils are presented as Vinaya procedures. They are included in the Vinaya, take the form of Vinaya acts, and include disciplinary measures.

In the Vinaya, with the exception of certain specialized acts such as bhikkhuni ordination, monks and nuns do not participate in the same acts.

This finds additional support in the detail that the suttas—in places such as the Sangiti Sutta and elsewhere—speak of all 4 assemblies reciting the Dhamma. This was clearly the default position in the suttas, and probably reflects the Buddha’s own wishes. Thus the Vinaya accounts, by standing against the Sutta accounts, are more likely to represent a genuine situation, rather than simply “following the crowd” so to speak. (This is similar to the principle Lectio difficilior potior)

Thus the evidence we have for the Councils strongly supports the conclusion that there were no bhikkhunis present.


Wow, I did not know this.
It remind me of USA moon landing project was a military mission. (I may be wrong)

Interesting. So did the 1st Council refrain from legislating anything for bhikkhunis, also?

The first council was certainly an extraordinary event without precedence. Does it make sense to you personally that the qualification of arahants took second place to anatomical features?


One could imagine arahant status taking first place and anatomical features second place with the result that all the arahants at the council were male.

I’m not arguing that this happened just pointing out that your question doesn’t serve the rhetorical purpose that you seem to intend for it.

1 Like

I’m not exactly sure what you mean, but as I mentioned above we have suttas where the Buddha named bhikkhunis with special qualifications

“The foremost of my nun disciples in seniority is Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī. … with great wisdom is Khemā. … with psychic power is Uppalavaṇṇā. … who has memorized the Vinaya is Paṭācārā. … who speak on the teaching is Dhammadinnā. … who practice absorption is Nandā. … who are energetic is Soṇā. … with clairvoyance is Sakulā. … with swift insight is Bhaddā Kuṇḍalakesā. … who recollect past lives is Bhaddā Kāpilānī. … who have attained great insight is Bhaddakaccānā. … who wear coarse robes is Kisāgotamī. … who are strong in faith is Siṅgālakamātā.” (AN 1.235-247)

If this is authentic then I don’t think the Buddha was handing out consolation prices, meaning that Patacara was actually only the 600th foremost arahant in Vinaya, but just the best among women.

Sure, it’s possible, just would seem very odd to me.

Could you give me the source?

The source is AN 1.238 that she was the best bhikkhuni. As I understood @Polarbear he meant (theoretically) ‘maybe she was the best bhikkuni, but not among the best arahants’.

The first council allegedly had 500 arahants. If the main purpose was to agree on dhamma and vinaya, and the best arahants for that purpose were invited, and she was not invited to speak - then it would mean she was in total at best the 501st foremost arahant to speak on the matter, because 500 male arahants were better qualified to talk about dhamma-vinaya.

I would just find it strange that the Buddha would have praised her then at all. I simply understand that if she was praiseworthy then she was outstanding in general, not just ‘she’s good - for a woman’.