Abstract: Recovery and Restoration of an Order of Theravada Bhikkhunis

by Professor Dhammavihari Thera
Sangha Nayaka (Honoris Causa)
Amarapura Dharmarakshita Sect, Sri Lanka

From the earliest instances of the delivery by the historical Buddha øàkyamuni Gotama of his message of release from Samsàra for the humans in Nirvana, there arose in the minds of the more mature listeners the awareness that the life of higher living or brahma-cariya implied therein required total eschewal of household life for its perfection : Nayidaü sukaraü agàraü ajjhàvasatà ekanta-paripuõõaü ekanta-parisuddham saïkha-likhitaü brahma-cariyaü caritun'ti. [ DN.I. 63]. The earliest Buddhist suttas in the Pali Canon, like the Sàma¤¤aphala, declare it in no uncertain terms.

In Buddhism, this is the genesis, and that from a human to humans, of the message called the dharma. It was no divine revelation. From this resulted the dispensation of the earnest followers who came to be called renunciants or pabbajitas, i.e. those who have renounced their household life in toto in search of their spiritual goal. In theory, this renunciant life was open to all, irrespective of gender differences. But the position of the woman in Indian society of the day did not permit the full utilization of this religious freedom.

We learn from Buddhist literary sources that the monastic order of the Jainas which had already opened their doors to women much earlier, presumably without adequate safeguards, developed serious disasters from within. Sexual attraction, of men and women among the humans towards each other, is deemed nearly the most convulsive of human stimuli. Far too many acts of rustic sexual behavior, within these religious circles, resulting often in pregnancies, became seriously disturbing events of public chastisement of the day. The position of considering the admission of women into his religious order had to be for the Buddha, more or less, like that of a burnt child who had to dread fire.

The aññha-garudhammà or the Eight Weighty Considerations pertaining to the establishment of the Order of Buddhist Nuns has provoked much uncalled for controversy and undue challenge of the Buddha's line of action. The Buddha's spiritual ideal with a very serious Samsaric dimension within it, had to be reckoned with. At the time he set up an order of renunciants for females in Buddhism, it was much more than a mere act of contemporary chimney sweeping for the east or the west, whether for men or for women. The socio-cultural security of the new order, together with the unhindered development of the aspirations of the truly spiritually inclined and oriented membership had to be guaranteed and safeguarded. It had to be made fool-proof, both then and now. In the aesthetically dignified and spiritually exalted world of the east or the west, on this side of the Atlantic or on the other, of the past, present or the future, the order of Buddhist nuns which the Buddha inaugurated, had to be the cynosure of all eyes.

With mutual argument and agreement, if there is going to be any endeavour for the recovery and restoration of an order of nuns in any part of the Theravada Buddhist world, with a reliable guarantee for its honourable continuance within a respected perimeter, co-operation shall always be forthcoming. The role which the male order has to play and the continuous support they would have to always lend is not to be forgotten or underestimated by either party. This has to be adequately appreciated.