Abstract: Recovery and Restoration of an Order of Theravada Bhikkhunis

by Acarya Geshe Tashi Tsering

1.  The possibility of imparting bhikshuni ordination by performing the bhikshuni ceremonial rite at present.

The Minor Precepts of Vinaya  states:

After that, all the bhikshus should assemble and sit, at least a minimum number of ten bhikshu companions [is required] and all the bhikshunis should assemble and sit, at least a minimum number of twelve bhikshuni companions [is required]. In front of the bhikshus who perform the act [ceremonial rite], [she] should be placed on a bunch of grasses or on a clean mat with folded hands. Then she should request the sangha of both bhikshus and bhikshunis to impart on her the bhikshuni ordination.

The Karmashatam Vinaya  states:

After that, in addition to the sangha of bhikshunis, in the “central-land” a sangha of ten or more bhikshus should assemble; and in the case that the required number of bhikshunis does not exist in the “border-lands”, then in addition to the vinaya-holders [of bhikshus] and five [bhikshunis], more bhikshus should be added. It should be known that the act [ceremonial rite] of imparting bhikshuni ordination done by the bhikshu sangha is the dual bikshuni ordination [the bhikshuni ordination imparted by both bhikshus and bhikshunis].

As explained above, it is established that the bhikshuni ordination should be bestowed by the sangha of both bhikshus and bhikshunis after receiveing the vows of shikshamani and brahmacharyopasthana from the bhikshuni sangha. Since the bhikshuni lineage of the Mulasaravastivada Vinaya tradition does not exist, all the Vinaya-holders agree that there is no way to impart bhikshuni ordination through the bhikshuni ceremonial rite.

2.  What would be the result if bhikshuni ordination were to be imparted through the bhikshu ceremonial rite at the present time?

While the Buddha was alive, in response to the question asked by Utpali, the Buddha said:

Noble one, if a man is ordained as a novice monk (shramanera) by the bhikshuni karmavidhi, is it considered being ordained? Utpali! It is called ordained. However, the performers of the ordination have infractions (‘das pa). Noble one, if a woman is ordained as a novice nun (shramanerika) by bhikshuni karmavidhi, is it considered ordained? Utpali! It is called ordained. However, the performers of the ordination have infractions.

Thus, this proclamation is given in the page 240 of the Vinaya text called Questions Asked.

The Root Vinaya Sutra:

It is not an inappropriate act if the bhikshus perform the other bhikshuni karmavidhi.

As stated, it is agreed by all the Vinaya-holders that the bhikshuni vows will be generated [within a woman] if the bhikshu ceremonial rite is performed and bhikshu vows will be generated [within a man] if the bhikshuni ceremonial rite is performed. However, the performers will get infractions.

However, there are main three points on which the Vinaya-holders could not come to a common agreement:

a.  The Vinaya-holders could not reach an agreement on whether it is appropriate or not to bestow the faulty bhikshuni ordination through performing the bhikshu ceremonial rite.
b.  Vinaya-holders could not reach a common view on whether or not the brahmacharyopasthana is required before the bhikshuni ordination.
c. Vinaya-holders also have different views on whether the vows of brahmacharyopasthana should be bestowed exclusively by the bhikshuni sangha  or whether they can be imparted by the bhikshu sangha when the bhikshuni sangha is not available.

3.  How should the decisions be made?

All matters related to the sangha should be resolved in conformity with Vinaya or without contradicting the rules of the Vinaya through assembling the Vinaya-holders as stated below:

The Buddha said:

Oh Bhikshus! When I, your Teacher, pass into parinirvana and become no more available, you should not think “Our Teacher and Teaching are missing”. That is why I told you to recite the Pratimoksha-sutras twice a month is from now on; it is your Teacher and Teaching. Oh Bhikshus! For all the subtle points of the fundamental precepts and minor precepts, you convene the sangha and discuss the issue and resolve it to reach a peaceful decision.

Acharya Gunaprabha, the great Vinaya-holder of India, said:

If [an act] goes against the ceremonial rite, then, the act is not acceptable. Here, the ceremonial rite is: The required number of sangha members should be complete; the act should be uttered; and the act should be performed.

Lord Atisha, the great Vinaya-holder said:

We in India, if any important or controversial issues come to light, convene an assembly of upholders of the Tripitaka. Then, we discuss whether it is disapproved in the Tripitaka or whether it contradicts the Tripitaka. In this way, we make the decision.

Je-Tsongkhapa Lobsang Dakpa:

We should take the Vinaya, which teaches the precepts to be trained, as the substitute for the Teacher after the passing of the Buddha, just as it is stated in the Scripture on Discernment:
After my passing into parinirvana
For the ordained people to respect it
In front of the bhikshu sangha
You should earnestly praise this [Vinaya] as the Teacher.

Since the Vinaya is the discernment/judge
For individual liberation,
Those who wish to be liberated [from Samsara]
Should respect and earnestly listen to it.

And so on, and at the end:

Whosoever does not have this bridle [of Vinaya]
And does not wish it forever
Will be troubled by the battle of ignorance
Wandering forever without a place to hold.

The Most Excellent Venerable Master; His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet said:

In any case, such matters related to these lineages should be discussed and decided collectively by the upholders of Tripitaka in general, and particularly by the Vinaya-holders; there is no way an individual person can make a decision.

Thus, I have presented here a short but concise article regarding bhikshuni ordination in conformity with the Vinaya scriptural citations in order to reach a final decision. I have written no deceptive words here and this article does not contain any emotional attachments. It may contain the dual taste of sour and sweet. I seek apology for the mistakes you come across, if there are any. May the merit acquired through this effort fulfill my prayers!

May the spiritual masters who glorify the Dharma live long
May all who protect Dharma have good health
And may the Buddha Dharma, the source of happiness and wellbeing
Of all the sentient beings, prevail forever.

May all be happy!
Thank you.