A Bhikkhuni (IAST|Bhikṣuṇī (Sanskrit) , IAST|Bhikkhuṇī (Pāli) or 比丘尼(Chinese characters), _th. ภิกษุณี, IPA2|pʰiksuniː) is a fully ordained female Buddhist monastic. Male monastics are called Bhikkhus. Both Bhikkunis and Bhikkhus live by the vinaya. Bhikkhuni lineages enjoy a broad basis in Mahayana countries like Korea, Vietnam, China and Taiwan.

According to Buddhist scriptures, the order of bhikkhunis was first created by the Buddha at the specific request of his foster-mother Mahapajapati Gotami, who became the first ordained bhikkuni, relayed via his attendant Ananda. The bhikkhuni order spread to many countries.

For a country or nation to be considered as truly Buddhist, the majority of the nation must be Buddhist and include at least a fourfold sangha of bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, upasakas and, upasikas. [ [] ] .


According to Theravada tradition, the bhikkuni order of nuns came to be 5 years after the bhikkhu order of monks.

Buddhism is unique in that Buddha, as founder of a spiritual tradition, explicitly states in canonical literature that a woman is as capable of nirvana (enlightenment) as a man, and can fully attain all four stages of enlightenment in the Dhamma and Vinaya of the Buddha Sasana. [Ven. Professor Dhammavihari, Women and the religious order of the Buddha] [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;-- Padmanabh S. Jaini, Gender and Salvation Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of WomenUNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford © 1991 The Regents of the University of California
] There is no equivalent, in other traditions, of the Therigatha or Apadanas which record the high levels of spiritual attainment by 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 śramaṇa tradition possessed similar freedoms to Buddhist women, Jaina literature leaves to posterity no Therīgāthā equivalent. There are also no extant Jain texts from that period to match stories in the Avadānaśataka of women converts who attained high levels of religious experience. Nor is there any equivalent of the forty Apadānas 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. Alice Collett, BUDDHISM AND GENDER Reframing and Refocusing the DebateCopyright © 2006 The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Inc. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 22.2 (2006) 55-84] .

In a similar vein, major canonical Mahayana sutras such as the Lotus Sutra,chapter 12, records 6000 bhikkhuni Arahants as receiving predictions of Bodhisatvahood and future Buddhahood by Sakyamuni Buddha. In Buddhism, women can openly aspire to and practice for the highest level of spiritual attainment.

The Eight Precepts

According to the available canon, Buddha was quite reluctant to ordain women into the Sangha. Only after several requests made by his stepmother and aunt, Mahapajapati Gotami, and his attendant and half-brother Ananda (Mahajapati Gotami's son) was the request granted -- but only on condition that the women accept eight garudhammas, or eight heavy rules. The Buddha is quoted by Thannisaro Bhikkhu with saying: "Ananda, if Mahapajapati Gotami accepts eight vows of respect, that will be her full ordination (upasampada)." [ [ Buddhist Monastic Code II - Chapter 23/Bhikkhunis, edition 2002] ] .

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. Some modern Buddhist scholars explain this reluctance because these women (many who were mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, cousins of many of the bhikkhus) might be subjected to rape, assault, sexual harassment and being termed "prostitutes and thieves", which in fact, did later occur as recorded in the Vinaya. One example as told in the Vinaya in which a Brahmin calling the bhikkhunis "strumpets" (i.e. prostitutes), tries to set fire to the Bhikkhunis' dwelling:

:Then that Brahmin . . . spread it about, saying::These shaven headed strumpets are not true recluses. How can they:let a pot fall on my head? I will set fire to their dwelling,:Ó and having taken up a fire brand, he entered the dwelling.

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 Bhikùni sangha. This social and spiritual advancement for women was ahead of the times and, therefore, drew many objections from men, including bhikùus. He was probably well aware of the controversy that would be caused by the harassment of his female disciples." [A Buddhist View of Women: In Young Chung A Comparative Study of the Rules for Bhikùnis and Bhikùus Based on the Chinese Pràtimokùa By Journal of Buddhist Ethics 6 (1999):29-105]

Early Buddhism did not have monasteries and it was a requirement of the Bhikkhus and early Bhikkhunis to spend a lot of time in the forests alone, but due to the consequent rape and assault of some of the bhikkhunis by outsiders recorded in the Vinaya-- Buddha eventually forbade women from wandering in forests away from society. Bhikkhunis eventually resided in more fixed residences near populated areas than the Bhikkhus.

According to some modern Buddhist apologists, most of the rules (including the more controversial 8 Garudhammas) of the Bhikkhuni Vinaya are more for the protection of the Bhikkhunis by association with the more senior Sangha of the male Bhikkhus and thus the homage for protection and teaching the newer Bhikkhuni Sangha and not "sexual discrimination". Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh writes, "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." [Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh The History of the Bhikkhuni Sangha by ©]

Many of the more controversial rules were clarified or amended, implying that these rules were not unalterable:

:1) A nun who has been ordained even for a hundred years must greet respectfully, rise up from her seat, salute with joined palms, do proper homage to a monk ordained but that day.

:*clarification: The Vinaya recounts the story of six monks who lifted up their robes to show their thighs to the nuns. When the Buddha learned about this, he made an exception to that rule and told the nuns not to pay respect to these monks. A nun, then, does not have to bow to every monk, but only to a monk who is worthy of respect. [The History of the Bhikkhuni Sanghaby Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh ©]

:*Pajapati's later request: "I would ask one thing of the Blessed One, Ananda. It would be good if the Blessed One would allow making salutations, standing up in the presence of another, paying reverence and the proper performance of duties, to take place equally between both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis according to seniority." [ [ "The First Buddhist Women: Translations and Commentaries on the Therigatha" Autor: Susan Murcott] , ISBN 0938077422] , page 17]

:2) A nun must not spend the rains in a residence where there are no monks. [See Bhikkhuni Pac.56: Vin.IV. 313 ]

:3) Every half month a nun should desire two things from the Order of Monks : the asking as to the date of the Observance [ uposatha ] day, and the coming for the exhortation [ bhikkhunovada ] . [See Bhikkhuni Pac.59: Vin.IV. 315 ]

:4) After the rains a nun must 'invite' [ pavarana ] before both Orders in respect of three matters, namely what was seen, what was heard, what was suspected. [See Bhikkhuni Pac. 57: Vin. IV.314 ]

:*amended: However, practical considerations soon necessitated amendments to these and we see in the revised version of these conditions the sanction given to the Bhikkhunis to perform these acts, in the first instance, by themselves. [Women and the religious order of the Buddha Ven. Professor Dhammavihari]

:5) A nun, offending against an important rule, must undergo manatta discipline for half a month before both Orders.

:*another translation: "(5) A bhikkhuni who has broken any of the vows of respect must undergo penance for half a month under both Sanghas... (by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

:6) When, as a probationer, she has trained in the six rules [ cha dhamma ] for two years, she should seek higher ordination from both Orders.

:*note contradiction: One of the gurudhamma mentions sikkhamanas, probationary nuns who train for two years in preparation to become bhikkhunis. It says that after a probationary nun has trained with a bhikkhuni for two years, that bhikkhuni preceptor has the responsibility to fully ordain her. However, when the Buddha ordained Mahapajapati, there were no probationary nuns. He ordained her directly as a bhikkhuni. So how do we explain that within the eight important rules, one of them states that before becoming a bhikkhuni, a woman must be a probationary nun? " [Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh The History of the Bhikkhuni Sangha by ©]

:7) A Monk must not be abused or reviled in any way by a nun.

:8) From today , admonition of monks by nuns is forbidden. [ Book of the Discipline, V.354-55 ] [Women and the religious order of the Buddha Ven. Professor Dhammavihari] :*note Buddhist Laywomen can: This is in contrast to the rules for Buddhist Laywomen who can single handedly accuse a bad monk::"Equality of bhikùni and bhikùu, men and women, can be inferred in:several of the rules groupings. The penalties for offenses against those:aniyata dharmas written only for bhikùus, for example, point up a landmark:of female-male equality. Here, in a gesture of trust in women most:unusual for the time, a trustworthy female lay follower can bring a charge:against a bhikùu based only on her personal eyewitness testimony, in order:to force an investigation of that bhikùus conduct. Additionally, equal abilities:of men and women are presumed in the regulations for settlement of disciplinary:matters in the seven Adhikaraõa–øamatha Dharmas, which are:exactly the same, in both numbers and contents, for both the Bhikùu and the:Bhikùni Sanghas." [A Buddhist View of Women: A Comparative Study of the Rules for Bhikùnis and Bhikùus Based on the Chinese Pràtimokùa By In Young Chung Journal of Buddhist Ethics 6 (1999):29-105]

Nuns were also given the right to select the monk who would be allowed to give counsel to the order of nuns (he had to be acceptable to all the nuns) and the selection criteria was quite stringent:

:There seems to be little doubt about his anxiety and his :foresight regarding the safety and well-being of the female :members of his Order. [Vin.IV.51] . [ibid] :These eight qualities were: the teacher of nuns must be virtuous; second, have comprehensive knowledge of the Dhamma; third he must be well acquainted with the Vinaya, especially the rules for nuns; fourth, he must be a good speaker with a pleasant and fluent delivery, faultless in pronunciation, and intelligibly convey the meaning; fifth, he should be able to teach Dhamma to the nuns in an elevating, stimulating, and encouraging way; sixth, he must always be welcome to the nuns and liked by them — that is, they must be able to respect and esteem him not only when he praises them but especially when there is an occasion for reproach; seventh, he must never have committed sexual misconduct with a nun; eighth, he must have been a fully ordained Buddhist monk for at least 20 years (AN 8.52). [ [ Ananda ] ]

Some scholars argue that these 8 rules were added later since::1) there is a discrepency between the Pali Bhikkuni Vinaya :2) the fact that these same rules are treated only as a minor offense (requiring only confession as expiation) in the Bhikkuni Payantika Dharmas.

In Young Chung clarifies, "Hae-ju Chun, a bhikùni 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 Bhikùni Pàyantika 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 pàyantika dharmas. Violation of any of the Eight Rules means that women cannot be ordained. The Eight Rules must be observed throughout thebhikùuõãs lives. However, the pàyantika 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 pàyantika dharmas, she also asserts the probability that the Eight Rules might have been added later. The first of the Eight Rules does not appear in the Pàli Bhikùni Vinaya. [A Buddhist View of Women: A Comparative Study of the Rules for Bhikùnis and Bhikùus Based on the Chinese PràtimokùaBy In Young Chung Journal of Buddhist Ethics 6 (1999):29-105]

Most of these rules are also found in the Bhikkuni Payantika 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] . [Women and the religious order of the Buddha Ven. Professor Dhammavihari]

Other scholars argue that questioning canonical sources is a slippery slope. Buddha's main concern was about the rest of society, which was the main supporter of the Sangha, and how they would view the ordination of women -- something quite revolutionary at the time. There were many men who even after the apparent success of the Bhikkuni Sangha, were opposed to its formation [Vin.II.289] . However, we have Buddha himself admit that the social factors were foremost in his mind when making these rules:

:the Theriya tradition attempts to make out that in the organization of the Sasana social considerations, as much as moral and ethical values, loomed large in the mind of the Master. In the Cullavagga he is reported as saying: ` Not even the Titthiyas who propound imperfect doctrines sanction such homage of men towards women. How could the Tathagata do so?' [Vin.II.258] .

This agrees with the fact that rival sects such as the Jains also had the first rule according to the Svetambara rules. [Gender and Salvation Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women Padmanabh S. Jaini UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford © 1991 The Regents of the University of California]

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. [A Buddhist View of Women: A Comparative Study of the Rules for hikùnis and Bhikùus Based on the Chinese Pràtimokùa by In Young Chung Journal of Buddhist Ethics 6 (1999):29-105]

The socalled Eight rules of respect (which are vows) are still in force, they are part of the process of full ordination.

The fourteen Precepts

In buddhist Order of Interbeing established in 1964 there are fourteen precepts [ [ Order of Interbeing Beginnings (Sister Chân Không, Excerpt form "Learning True Love")] ] to be observed by nuns and monks equally. They are written by Vietnamese monk and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh giving words to what he felt carried the deepest teachings of the Buddha and would be fit for our time. "Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong about the Eight Observations of Respect"
*Yes, but in Plum Village, we do not observe them ["the Eight Observations of Respect that nuns have to observe towards Buddhist monks"] because Thay says that these Eight Observations were invented to help the stepmother of the Buddha only. He says you need to keep the 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. [Sister Chan Khong [] Senauke, A and Moon, S (1994) "Walking in the Direction of Beauty--An Interview with Sister Chan Khong", The Turning Wheel]

Bhikkhunis in Theravada

The traditional appearance of Theravadan bhikkhunis is nearly identical to that of male monks, including a shaved head and saffron robes. White or pink robes are worn by Theravadan nuns who are not fully ordained, in some counties nuns wear dark chocolate robes or sometimes the same colour as monks.These nuns are known as dasa sila mata in Sri-Lanka, Silashin in Myanmar(Burma) and the siladharas of Amaravati monastery in the United Kingdom and its branch monasteries.

In the Theravada tradition, some scholars believe that the bhikkhuni lineage became extinct in the 11th to 13th centuries, after which 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 "untrue." [,1295,0,0,1,0; "Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies", 24.2 (2007)] Other members support the ordination of woman as bhikkhunis. [ [ ] ] Dr.Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, now known as Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, is a female 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. [cite web
title = Ordained at Last
publisher = Shambala Sun
date =2003-00-00
url =
accessdate = 2008-07-21
] She is considered a pioneer by many in Thailand and a "devil" by others.


In Indochina Theravada tradition, many women who are not allowed to ordain, continue as dedicated practitioners, following the spirit and often the letter of the bhikkhuni vows. They are considered mae jis, laywomen or “semi-ordained,” since they are not officially recognized by the Theravada Sangha. 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 ordained Buddhist monks. They receive popular recognition for their role. But they are not granted official endorsement or the educational support offered to men. They spend most of their time as temple maids and cooks for monks.

Re-establishing Bhikkhuni Ordination

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, [cite web
title = Background and Objectives
publisher = International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha
date =2007-07-20
url =
accessdate = 2008-07-21
] in Hamburg, Germany to work toward a world-wide 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 [cite web
title = A Summary Report of the 2007 International Congress on the Women's Role in the Sangha: Bhikshuni Vinaya and Ordination Lineages
publisher = The Berzin Archives
date =2007-08-00
url =
accessdate = 2008-07-21
] states that All delegates "were in unanimous agreement that Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination should be re-established," and sites 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 transmission line of ordination that still exists is the Dharmagupta transmission line, which allows the ordination of nuns in China, Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam.

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 [ [ "Sakyadhita" - The International Association of Buddhist Women] ] , as expressed at its founding meeting in 1987 in Bodhgaya, India.


The former wife of Lord Buddha, Yashodhara - Yasodhara, mother of his son Rahula, according to legend also became a nun and an arahant.

See also

*Mae ji
*International Congress on Buddhist Women's Role in the Sangha
*Ordination Process
*World Buddhist Sangha Council
*Order of Interbeing

External links

* [ "The Bhikkhunis' Code of Discipline ("Bhikkhuni Patimokkha") Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu]
* [ "Buddhist Monastic Code II: Bhikkhunis"]
* [ "Buddhist Monastic Code II: Respect"]
* [ the website of Santi Forest Monastery] contains several (ancient and modern) texts on the role and ordination of women in Buddhism.
* [ "Bhikkhuni committee of the ASA"] includes a large resource of articles regarding Bhikkhunis
* [ Monastic Resources - Training]
* [ WikiVinaya Project]
* [ "Female Monks In Buddhism"] , by Dhammacaro (07/23/2005).
* [ "Vinaya Pitaka"] , brief description includes "Order of ordination for men and women...."
* [ Chinese Bhiksunis in the Ch'an Tradition] by Heng-Ching Shih
* [ English-language entry] to blogs and articles from Thailand
* [ Abstract: A brief overview of the situation for nuns in the Tibetan Tradition] by Bhiksuni Tenzin Palmo
* [ Regarding the Bhiksuni Order in Tibetan Buddhism] Interview with Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, a member of the Committee of Western Bhikshunis [ [ Some information on the Committee of Western Bhikshunis] ]
* [ A New Possibility: Introducing Full Ordination for Women into the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition] by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron
* [ Statement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Bhikshuni Ordination in the Tibetan Tradition]


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