Abstract: The Prospects for Reviving Bhikkhunã Ordination in the Theravàda Tradition

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In this paper I will discuss the legal and ethical grounds for and against a restoration of bhikkhunã ordination in the Theravàda tradition. This paper will be divided into three main sections. In Part I, I will review the arguments laid down by Theravàdin traditionalists, mainly the Vinaya specialists who see a revival of bhikkhunã ordination as a legal impossibility. In the course of this discussion, I will also include a subsidiary examination of the status of the sikkhamànà and deal with the disputed question whether bhikkhunã ordination given to a candidate who has not undertaken the sikkhamànà training is invalid.

In Part II, I will offer several considerations in support of the claim that bhikkhunã ordination should be resuscitated. These considerations fall into two groups. One is based on past precedent, namely, the authorization given by the Buddha himself in the canonical texts for the creation of an order of bhikkhunãs. The other is based on contemporary conditions, especially the ideals of gender equality and non-discrimination that became intrinsic to the present-day world view following the European Enlightenment of the late eighteenth century. When such ideals have become so widespread in the outlook of educated people in the secular world, I will hold, to insist on exclusionary policies based on gender discrimination in religious life is likely to have the effect of discouraging the confidence of people who might otherwise be attracted to Theravàda Buddhism.

Finally, in Part III, I will briefly consider the legal mechanics of restoring the bhikkhunã ordination to the Theravàda tradition, that is, the ways it might be restored that harmonize most smoothly with the existing legal stipulations of the Vinaya. I will contend that while no method can be found that perfectly meets the demands of strict Vinaya legalism, the higher spirit of the Dhamma warrants an attempt to soften these demands and develop an application of the Vinaya that is flexible and accommodating rather than rigid and rejecting.

1 Foundation of the Bhiksuni Order

10.00 – 11.30 a.m.

Moderator: Prof. Dr. Michael Zimmermann

Lunch Break 90 min.:  11.30 a.m. – 13.00 p.m. (university canteen 5 min. walk)