|Glossary of Buddhism|
A bhikkhun? (Pali) or bhik?u (Sanskrit) is a fully ordained female monastic in Buddhism. Male monastics are called bhikkhus. Both bhikkhunis and bhikkhus live by the Vinaya, a set of rules. Until recently, the lineages of female monastics only remained in Mahayana Buddhism and thus are prevalent in countries such as Korea, Vietnam, China, and Taiwan but a few women have taken the full monastic vows in the Theravada and Vajrayana schools over the last decade.
In Buddhism, women are as capable of reaching nirvana as men. According to Buddhist scriptures, the order of bhikkhunis was first created by the Buddha at the specific request of his aunt and foster-mother Mahapajapati Gotami, who became the first ordained bhikkhuni. A famous work of the early Buddhist schools is the Therigatha, a collection of poems by elder nuns about enlightenment that was preserved in the P?li Canon.
Bhikkhunis are required to take extra vows, the Eight Garudhammas, and are subordinate to and reliant upon the bhikkhu order. In places where the bhikkhuni lineage was historically missing or has died out, due to hardship, alternative forms of renunciation have developed. In Tibetan Buddhism, women officially take the vows of ?r?ma?er?s (novitiates); Theravadin women may choose to take an informal and limited set of vows similar to the historical vows of the s?ma?er?, like the maechi of Thailand and thilashin of Myanmar.
According to tradition, the bhikkhuni order was established five years after the bhikkhu order of monks at the request of a group of women whose spokesperson was Mahapajapati Gotami, the aunt who raised Gautama Buddha after his mother died.
In Buddhism, women can openly aspire to and practice for the highest level of spiritual attainment. Buddhism is unique among Indian religions in that the Buddha as founder of a spiritual tradition explicitly states in canonical literature that a woman is as capable of nirvana as men and can fully attain all four stages of enlightenment. There is no equivalent in other traditions to the accounts found in the Therigatha or the Apadanas that speak of high levels of spiritual attainment by women.
In a similar vein, major canonical Mahayana sutras such as the Lotus Sutra, chapter 12, records 6000 bhikkhuni arhantis receiving predictions of bodhisattvahood and future buddhahood by Gautama Buddha.
Female monastics are required to follow special rules that male monastics do not, the Eight Garudhammas. The origin of the Eight Garudhammas, the special vows taken by female monastics, is unclear. The Buddha is quoted by Thannisaro Bhikkhu as saying, "Ananda, if Mahaprajapati Gotami accepts eight vows of respect, that will be her full ordination (upasampada)." Modern scholars[who?] have shown that this story abounds in textual problems, and cannot possibly be a factual account. According to the scriptural accounts, the reason the Buddha gave for his actions was that admission of women to the sangha would weaken it and shorten its lifetime to 500 years. This prophecy occurs only once in the Canon and is the only prophecy involving time in the Canon.
In Young Chung noticed that society as recorded in the Vinaya always criticized the bhikkhunis more harshly using "shaven headed strumpets or whores", whereas the bhikkhus were simply called "shaven headed". This harsher treatment (which also included rape and assault) of bhikkhunis by society required greater protection. Within these social conditions, Gautama Buddha opened up new horizons for women by founding the bhikkhuni sangha. This social and spiritual advancement for women was ahead of the times and, therefore, drew many objections from men, including bhikkhus. He was probably well aware of the controversy that would be caused by the harassment of his female disciples."
Nuns at the time of the Buddha had equal rights and an equal share in everything. In one case, eight robes were offered to both sanghas at a place where there was only one nun and four monks. The Buddha divided the robes in half, giving four to the nun and four to the monks, because the robes were for both sanghas and had to be divided equally however many were in each group. Because the nuns tended to receive fewer invitations to lay-people's homes, the Buddha had all offerings brought to the monastery and equally divided between the two sanghas. He protected the nuns and was fair to both parties. They are subordinate in the sense of being younger sisters and elder brothers, not in the sense of being masters and slaves."
Scholars such as Akira Hirakawa, Hae-ju Chun and In Young-chun argue that these eight rules were added later. In notes:
Hae-ju Chun, a Bhik?un? and assistant professor at Tongguk University in Seoul, Korea, argues that six of the Eight Rules (#1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8)
belong to the Bhik?un? P?yantika Dharmas, as they are the same as or similar to rules found there. We may compare the differences in the punishment for any offense of the Eight Rules with that for an offense of the p?yantika dharmas. Violation of any of the Eight Rules means that women cannot be ordained. The Eight Rules must be observed throughout the Bhik?un?s lives. However, the p?yantika dharmas (#175, 145, 124 or 126, 141, 143, 142) require only confession, as there offenses of bhikunis are considered to be violations of minor rules. Based on the differences in the gravity of offenses between the Eight Rules and the p?yantika dharmas, she also asserts the probability that the Eight Rules might have been added later.
Most of these rules are also found in the p?yantika dharmas as minor rules since they only require confession: "Theriya tradition, which at some stage, seems to have accommodated the idea that the Buddha conceded the abrogation of the minor rules [D.II.14 & VIn.II.287]". This agrees with the fact that rival groups such as Jainism also had the first rule for women according to the ?v?t?mbara school. (The other surviving Jain school, the Digambara, denies both women's ordination and liberation.)
Ian Astley argues that under the conditions of society where there is such great discrimination and threat to women, Buddha could not be blamed for the steps he took in trying to secure the Sangha from negative public opinion:
In those days (and this still applies to much of present Indian society) a woman who had left the life of the household would otherwise have been regarded more or less as a harlot and subjected to the appropriate harassment. By being formally associated with the monks, the nuns were able to enjoy the benefits of leaving the household life without incurring immediate harm. Whilst it is one thing to abhor, as any civilized person must do, the attitudes and behavior towards women which underlie the necessity for such protection, it is surely misplaced to criticize the Buddha and his community for adopting this particular policy.
The progression to ordination as a bhikkhuni is taken in four steps. A layperson takes the Five Precepts. The next step is to enter the pabbajja (Sanskrit: pravrajya) or monastic way of life, which includes wearing the monastic's robes. After that, one can become a ?r?ma?er? or "novitiate". The last and final step is to take the full vows of a bhikkhuni.
The Order of Interbeing, established in 1964 and associated with the Plum Village movement, has fourteen precepts observed by all monastics. They were written by Thích Nh?t H?nh. In an interview, Chân Không described his approach:
In Plum Village, the Eight Observations of Respect that nuns have to observe towards Buddhist monks are not observed, as Nhat Hanh claims they were invented only to help the stepmother of the Buddha, and that one need only keep Nhat Hanh's 14 precepts properly. That's all. But of course he doesn't despise the traditional precepts. And I can accept them just to give joy to the monks who practice in the traditional way. If I can give them joy, I will have a chance to share my insights about women with them, and then they will be unblocked in their understanding.
The traditional appearance of Theravada bhikkhunis is nearly identical to that of male monks, including a shaved head, shaved eyebrows and saffron robes. In some countries, nuns wear dark chocolate robes or sometimes the same colour as monks. In the Theravada tradition, some scholars believe that the bhikkhuni lineage became extinct in the 11th to 13th centuries and that no new bhikkhunis could be ordained since there were no bhikkhunis left to give ordination. For this reason, the leadership of the Theravada bhikkhu Sangha in Burma and Thailand deem fully ordained bhikkhunis as impossible. "Equal rights for men and women are denied by the Ecclesiastical Council. No woman can be ordained as a Theravada Buddhist nun or bhikkhuni in Thailand. The Council has issued a national warning that any monk who ordains female monks will severely punished." Based on the spread of the bhikkhuni lineage to countries like China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, Japan and Sri Lanka, other scholars support ordination of Theravada bhikkhunis.
Without ordination available to them, women traditionally voluntarily take limited vows to live as renunciants. These women attempt to lead a life following the teachings of the Buddha. They observe 8-10 precepts, but do not follow exactly the same codes as bhikkhunis. They receive popular recognition for their role. But they are not granted official endorsement or the educational support offered to monks. Some cook while others practise and teach meditation.
White or pink robes are worn by Theravada women renunciants who are not fully ordained. These women are known as dasa sil mata in Sri Lankan Buddhism, thilashin in Burmese Buddhism, Maechi in Thai Buddhism, guruma in Nepal and Laos and siladharas at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in England.
Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, now known as Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, is a Thai scholar who took bhikkhuni ordination in Sri Lanka and returned to Thailand, where bhikkhuni ordination is forbidden and can result in arrest or imprisonment for a woman. She is considered a pioneer by many in Thailand
In 1996, through the efforts of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women, the Theravada bhikkhuni order was revived when 11 Sri Lankan women received full ordination in Sarnath, India, in a procedure held by Dodangoda Revata Mah?thera and the late Mapalagama Vipulas?ra Mah?thera of the Maha Bodhi Society in India with assistance from monks and nuns of the Jogye Order of Korean Seon.
The first Theravada bhikkhuni ordination in Australia was held in Perth, 22 October 2009, at Bodhinyana Monastery. Four nuns from Dhammasara Nun's Monastery, Ajahn Vayama, Nirodha, Seri and Hasapanna, were ordained as bhikkhunis in full accordance with the Pali vinaya.
In July 2007 a meeting of Buddhist leaders and scholars of all traditions met at the International Congress on Buddhist Women's Role in the Sangha, in Hamburg, Germany to work toward a worldwide consensus on the re-establishment of bhikshuni ordination. 65 delegates, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, Vinaya masters and elders from traditional Buddhist countries and Western-trained Buddhologists attended. The Summary Report from the Congress states that all delegates "were in unanimous agreement that Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination should be re-established," and cites the Dalai Lama's full support of bhikkhuni ordination (already in 1987 H. H. XIVth Dalai Lama had demanded the re-establishment of full ordination for nuns in Tibet). The only women's transmission lineage that remains is the Dharmaguptaka one, which is in use in East Asian Buddhism.
The aim of the congress has been rated by the organizers of utmost importance for equality and liberation of Buddhist women (nuns). "The re-establishment of nuns' ordination in Tibet via H. H. XIVth Dalai Lama and the international monks and nuns sanghas will lead to further equality and liberation of Buddhist women. This is a congress of historical significance which will give women the possibility to teach Buddha's doctrines worldwide."
To help establish the Bhikshuni Sangha (community of fully ordained nuns) where it does not currently exist has also been declared one of the objectives of Sakyadhita, as expressed at its founding meeting in 1987 in Bodhgaya, India.
In Part Four of Alexander Berzin's Summary Report: Day Three and Final Comments by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama it is said: "But Buddha gave the basic rights equally to both sangha groups. There is no point in discussing whether or not to revive the bhikshuni ordination; the question is merely how to do so properly within the context of the Vinaya."
The Eight Garudhammas belong to the context of the Vinaya. Bhikkhuni Kusuma writes: "In the Pali, the eight garudhammas appear in the tenth khandhaka of the Cullavagga." However, they are to be found in the actual ordination process for Bhikkhunis.
The text is not allowed to be studied before ordination. "The traditional custom is that one is only allowed to study the bhikshu or bhikshuni vows after having taken them", Karma Lekshe Tsomo stated during congress while talking about Gender Equality and Human Rights: "It would be helpful if Tibetan nuns could study the bhikshuni vows before the ordination is established. The traditional custom is that one is only allowed to study the bhikshu or bhikshuni vows after having taken them.  Ven. Tenzin Palmo is quoted with saying: "To raise the status of Tibetan nuns, it is important not only to re-establish the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination, but also for the new bhikshunis to ignore the eight gurudharmas that have regulated their lower status. These eight, after all, were formulated for the sole purpose of avoiding censure by the lay society. In the modern world, disallowing the re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination and honoring these eight risk that very censure."
According to the Summary Report as well as according to the other texts available from the congress there has not been a discussion on how and which of the eight gurudharmas discriminate against Buddhist nuns and how this can be changed in detail in the process of re-establishing the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination.
In Burma, the governing council of Burmese Buddhism has ruled that there can be no valid ordination of women in modern times, though some Burmese monks disagree. In 2003, Saccavadi and Gunasari were ordained as bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka, thus becoming the first female Burmese novices in modern times to receive higher ordination in Sri Lanka.
In Indonesia, the first Theravada ordination of bhikkhunis in Indonesia after more than a thousand years occurred in 2015 at Wisma Kusalayani in Lembang, Bandung. Those ordained included Vajiradevi Sadhika Bhikkhuni from Indonesia, Medha Bhikkhuni from Sri Lanka, Anula Bhikkhuni from Japan, Santasukha Santamana Bhikkhuni from Vietnam, Sukhi Bhikkhuni and Sumangala Bhikkhuni from Malaysia, and Jenti Bhikkhuni from Australia.
There have been some attempts in recent years to revive the tradition of women in the sangha within Theravada Buddhism in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, with many women ordained in Sri Lanka since 1996. Some of these were carried out with the assistance of nuns from the East Asian tradition; others were carried out by the Theravada monk's Order alone. Since 2005, many ordination ceremonies for women have been organized by the head of the Dambulla chapter of the Siyam Nikaya in Sri Lanka.
In Thailand, in 1928, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, responding to the attempted ordination of two women, issued an edict that monks must not ordain women as samaneris (novices), sikkhamanas (probationers) or bhikkhunis. The two women were reportedly arrested and jailed briefly. A 55-year-old Thai Buddhist 8-precept white-robed maechee nun, Varanggana Vanavichayen, became the first woman to receive the going-forth ceremony of a Theravada novice (and the gold robe) in Thailand, in 2002.Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, previously a professor of Buddhist philosophy known as Dr Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, was controversially ordained as first a novice and then a bhikkhuni in Sri Lanka in 2003 upon the revival of the full ordination of women there. Since then, the Thai Senate has reviewed and revoked the secular law banning women's full ordination in Buddhism as unconstitutional for being counter to laws protecting freedom of religion. More than 20 further Thai women have followed in Dhammananda Bhikkhuni's footsteps, with temples, monasteries and meditations centers led by Thai bhikkhunis emerging in Samut Sakhon, Chiang Mai and Rayong. The stance of the Thai Sangha hierarchy has largely changed from one of denial of the existence of bhikkhunis to one of acceptance of bhikkhunis as of foreign (non-Thai) traditions. However Thailand's two main Theravada Buddhist orders, the Mahanikaya and Dhammayutika Nikaya, have yet to officially accept fully ordained women into their ranks. Despite substantial and growing support inside the religious hierarchy, sometimes fierce opposition to the ordination of women within the sangha remains.
In 2010, Ayya Tathaaloka and Bhante Henepola Gunaratana oversaw a dual ordination ceremony at Aranya Bodhi forest refuge in Sonoma County, California where four women became fully ordained nuns in the Theravada tradition.
Two senior male monastics vocally supported her, reinforcing her points with their own experiences. Ajahn Amaro, a Theravada bhikkhu of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery, said, "Seeing the nuns not receiving the respect given to the monks is very painful. It is like having a spear in your heart". 
American Tibetan Buddhist monk Thubten Pende gave his views: "When I translated the texts concerning the ordination ceremony I got such a shock. It said that even the most senior nun had to sit behind the most novice monk because, although her ordination was superior, the basis of that ordination, her body, was inferior. I thought, "There it is." I'd heard about this belief but I'd never found evidence of it. I had to recite this text at the ceremony. I was embarrassed to say it and ashamed of the institution I was representing. I wondered, "Why doesn't she get up and leave?" I would.
this is in contrast to Jain tradition which is always compared to with Buddhism as they emerged almost at the same time, which is non-conclusive in a woman's ability to attain final liberation Digambara makes the opening statement: There is moksa for men only, not for women; #9 The Svetambara answers: There is moksa for women;
A brief digression into comparative analysis should help to illustrate the significance of these central texts. Although it is possible to ascertain (however, unfortunately from just a few references) that women within the Jain ?rama?a tradition possessed similar freedoms to Buddhist women, Jaina literature leaves to posterity no Ther?g?th? equivalent. There are also no extant Jain texts from that period to match stories in the Avad?na?ataka of women converts who attained high levels of religious experience. Nor is there any equivalent of the forty Apad?nas attributed to the nuns who were the Buddha's close disciples. In Brahminism, again, although Stephanie Jamison has eruditely and insightfully drawn out the vicissitudes of the role of women within the Brahmanic ritual of sacrifice, the literature of Brahmanism does not supply us with voices of women from the ancient world, nor with stories of women who renounced their roles in the domestic sphere in favor of the fervent practice of religious observances.
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