Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

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Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby dhammabum » Sun Jun 16, 2013 12:30 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu makes mention that the Buddha didn't hand down a mechanism in which to revive the Sangha if it ever died, such as the Bhikkhuni Sangha. What structural constraints described in the Vinaya prevents its revival?

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/kee/dynamic.html

The Theravadin Bhikkhuni Sangha, the nuns' order founded by the Buddha, died out because of war and famine almost a millennium ago, and the Buddha provided no mechanism for its revival. (The same holds true for the Bhikkhu Sangha, or monks' order. If it ever dies out, there is no way it can be revived.) Thus the only ordination opportunities open to women in Theravadin countries are as lay nuns, observing eight or ten precepts.


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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby Ben » Sun Jun 16, 2013 1:58 pm

Since the OP has asked the question within the context of the ancient texts, this thread has been moved to the Classical Theravada forum.

Please ensure your posts comply with the guidelines for this forum.
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Jun 16, 2013 9:56 pm

dhammabum wrote:Thanissaro Bhikkhu makes mention that the Buddha didn't hand down a mechanism in which to revive the Sangha if it ever died, such as the Bhikkhuni Sangha. What structural constraints described in the Vinaya prevents its revival?


According to the Tipitaka, there must be a quorum of nuns and monks to ordain a new nun (bhikkhuni). If there are no nuns around, there can be no new ordinations.

However, Maha Pajapati Gotami was ordained by the Buddha with no other nun at the "ceremony". Current bhikkhunis use a line traced back to Dharmagupta which is believed to be traced back to the original, others disagree. Here are a few relevant quotes from the Suttas:

The Buddha was asked in so many words, "is there even one woman nun who is fully enlightened?" The Buddha responded, "There are not only one hundred . . . or five hundred, but far more bhikkhunis, my disciples, who by realizing for themselves with direct knowledge here and now enter upon and abide in the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom . . ." Sutta 73 Majjhima Nikaya and also in other suttas too.

I will not take final Nibbana till I have nuns and female disciples who are accomplished, till I have laymen and laywomen followers who are accomplished.” Digha Nikaya 16.3.8

After I am gone, the Sangha, if it wants, may abolish the lesser and minor training rules.” Digha Nikaya 16

Although, Ananda did not remember or know what the "minor" rules were and it was decided at the First Council to keep them all. It is not known if the requirement for a quorum of nuns is considered a minor rule or not.
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby pilgrim » Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:35 am

Its already been revived for about 2 decades now. I think a question of greater relevance is will it be accepted? As far as lay people go, I hardly see any opposition.
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby lyndon taylor » Mon Jun 17, 2013 9:12 am

Forgive me if I'm slightly off topic, but I was witness, here in Southern California, to ordained nuns over 20 years ago. WATBUDDHAGODOM was an interfaith south east Asian Buddhist Temple founded by a Lunpo from Vietnam, came as a refugee to Thailand, and settled In Highland California and built two small temples on a large block of land, now unfortuanetly a housing tract. He may have been Mahayana coming form Vietnam, but he was interfaith serving Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, and Thai Buddhist, the majority of which were Therevada. The small Vietnamese temple had a huge 15' tall statue of "Mother" a woman with white skin, possibly related to Quan Yin, the Thai temple was traditional Therevada Thai buddhas. I lived there for several months around 1990.

Ok well now to my point, this Lunpo believed in the ordination of women, and had invited two or three Buddhist nuns to live at the temple, not in white, but full orange brown robes, they lived in a mobile home seperate from the monks quarters, the thing I don't know for sure is whether they were ordained in Mahayana or Therevada tradition, and where their ordination occured, unfortunately I knew so little about the absolute rarity of this situation, I never thought to question them about the circumstances of their ordination.

But yes, I believe the order of nuns has already been re-established, its just a matter of not everyone recognizing them, I haven't heard stories of them being ridiculed or disrespected for being nuns, just not everyone accepts that they actually are nuns, as many of them don't believe in nuns. Very much like women Christian or Catholic priests or ministers, they exist but are not universally accepted.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Mon Jun 17, 2013 9:32 am

David N. Snyder wrote:After I am gone, the Sangha, if it wants, may abolish the lesser and minor training rules.” Digha Nikaya 16

This has nothing to do with the legal procedures required to make an ordination valid. It is about the training rules to be followed by monastics once they have been ordained. The 500 Arahants decided not to abolish any because there was no consensus as to which they were. The topic is discussed in the Milindapañha.

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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby Nyana » Mon Jun 17, 2013 2:37 pm

lyndon taylor wrote:I don't know for sure is whether they were ordained in Mahayana or Therevada tradition....

Just to clarify: The Mahāyāna isn't an ordination lineage. There are three extant ordination lineages: the Theravāda, the Dharmaguptaka, and the Mūlasarvāstivāda, all of which have descended from the ancient Sthaviras of the second council, and are therefore Sthaviravāda. Of these three, the Dharmaguptaka still has an intact bhikkhunī ordination lineage, and the Theravāda bhikkhunī ordination lineage has been reinstated.
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby Nyana » Mon Jun 17, 2013 7:10 pm

dhammabum wrote:Thanissaro Bhikkhu makes mention that the Buddha didn't hand down a mechanism in which to revive the Sangha if it ever died, such as the Bhikkhuni Sangha. What structural constraints described in the Vinaya prevents its revival?

According to Ven. Bodhi here, there isn't any clear prohibition preventing it:

    Further, if we pay close attention to the wording of the Vinaya passage concerned with bhikkhunī ordination, we would notice that the text does not lock this rite into a fixed and immutable form sealed with inviolable imperatives: "You must do it in this way and never in any other way." In fact, grammatically, the Pāli passage uses, not the imperious imperative, but the gentler gerundive or optative participle, "it should be done thus." But grammar aside, the text is simply describing the normal and most natural way to conduct the ordination when all the normal requisite conditions are at hand. There is nothing in the text itself, or elsewhere in the Pāli Vinaya, that lays down a rule stating categorically that, should the Bhikkhunī Sangha become extinct, the bhikkhus are prohibited from falling back on the original allowance the Buddha gave them to ordain bhikkhunīs and confer upasampadā on their own to resuscitate the Bhikkhunī Sangha.

    To me this seems to be the crucial point: Only if there were such a clear prohibition would we be entitled to say that the bhikkhus are overstepping the bounds of legitimacy by conducting such an ordination. In the absence of such a decree in the text of the Vinaya Piṭaka and its commentaries, the judgment that an ordination by bhikkhus is in violation of the Vinaya is only an interpretation.
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby lyndon taylor » Tue Jun 18, 2013 7:33 am

Nyana wrote:
lyndon taylor wrote:I don't know for sure is whether they were ordained in Mahayana or Therevada tradition....

Just to clarify: The Mahāyāna isn't an ordination lineage. There are three extant ordination lineages: the Theravāda, the Dharmaguptaka, and the Mūlasarvāstivāda, all of which have descended from the ancient Sthaviras of the second council, and are therefore Sthaviravāda. Of these three, the Dharmaguptaka still has an intact bhikkhunī ordination lineage, and the Theravāda bhikkhunī ordination lineage has been reinstated.



My mistake, what I meant to say is I don't know if the nuns were trained in a Mahayana or Therevada tradition, and I know that the lunpo of the monastery, while primarily catering to Therevada members, accepted people from all Buddhist faiths, not just Therevada, I have a vague recollection that one of the nuns was refered to as anila, which would imply Tibetan?? background. The point is even if the nuns started out in a Mahayana tradition, they were being allowed to live at a primarily Therevada temple in 1990, which is kind of ground breaking. I do remember being told that the Lunpo(leader) was being quite liberal to allow nuns at the temple.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby gavesako » Wed Jun 19, 2013 10:00 am

See the very detailed analysis here:

The first part of Ven­er­a­ble Phra Payutto’s book ‘The Bud­dhist Dis­ci­pline in Rela­tion to Bhikkhu­nis: Ques­tions & Answers: Phra Payutto & Dr. Mar­tin Seeger’ is now available.

http://www.buddhistteachings.org/the-bu ... bhikkhunis

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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby Mr Man » Wed Jun 19, 2013 11:51 am

Ven­er­a­ble Gavesako, what is Ven­er­a­ble Phra Payutto’s conclusion to the question in the OP (if there is one)?
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby gavesako » Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:14 pm

It is not an easy Either/Or reply that you get from P.A. Payutto. He is very carefully reviewing all the reasons for establishing the various Vinaya rules and the historical developments during the Buddha's lifetime, but he says that it is not up to him to make some final decision on this point now.
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby Zom » Wed Jun 19, 2013 6:00 pm

The first part of Ven­er­a­ble Phra Payutto’s book ‘The Bud­dhist Dis­ci­pline in Rela­tion to Bhikkhu­nis: Ques­tions & Answers: Phra Payutto & Dr. Mar­tin Seeger’ is now available.

http://www.buddhistteachings.org/the-bu ... bhikkhunis


Thanks for the text.
As I found out, Ven. Payutto shares the same thoughts as I had some time ago while thinking about the matter (especially about "making just more confusion").
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby yamaka » Fri Jun 28, 2013 6:01 am

I have no offense to these nuns,but don't you feeling funny when you are trying to mix up the dharmaguptaka order with the theravada?
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby now realm » Thu Dec 05, 2013 11:26 am

I also have no issue too with bhikkhuni ordination in the Theravada lineage that was established by the Buddha if there's solid & valid legitimate grounds. However, the original lineage is no more in existence according to the history in Theravada Buddhism. I also find that the dharmagupta is more of a Mahayana or other lineages than Theravada. Also, was it the Buddha's intention to establish a Bhikkhuni Order? If so, why did he object to his aunt's request three times resoundingly? He would have told Ven. Ananda that it was his intention & there was no need for garudhamma to be imposed in the order. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone can revive an extinct lineage. An example is dinosaurs are extinct after many thousands of years in existence. Can then dinosours be revived? Buddha said everything exists, become & die out. Pls ignore, if what I said here is wrong due to my own interpretation or view & my lack of knowledge on this issue. Be calm.. :-)
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby Sokehi » Thu Dec 05, 2013 11:48 am

now realm wrote:An example is dinosaurs are extinct after many thousands of years in existence. Can then dinosours be revived? :-)


well that analogy shows that you are confusing a lineage with a living being. As far as I know women didn't die out a millenia ago. Plus there is no such thing like a mahayana lineage as been posted above. So there is nothing that died out, it apparently is still there.

I'm pro ordination of nuns, absolutely. But I see difficulties in the acceptance and that is an even more important topic than certain regulations. But to make acceptance happen, especially in the "classical" buddhist countries the procedures should not lack a percent of legitimacy. It is obvious that many scholars that are respected and knowledgeable still have disagreements about this.
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby pilgrim » Thu Dec 05, 2013 1:50 pm

now realm wrote:I also have no issue too with bhikkhuni ordination in the Theravada lineage that was established by the Buddha if there's solid & valid legitimate grounds. However, the original lineage is no more in existence according to the history in Theravada Buddhism. I also find that the dharmagupta is more of a Mahayana or other lineages than Theravada. Also, was it the Buddha's intention to establish a Bhikkhuni Order? If so, why did he object to his aunt's request three times resoundingly? He would have told Ven. Ananda that it was his intention & there was no need for garudhamma to be imposed in the order. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone can revive an extinct lineage. An example is dinosaurs are extinct after many thousands of years in existence. Can then dinosours be revived? Buddha said everything exists, become & die out. Pls ignore, if what I said here is wrong due to my own interpretation or view & my lack of knowledge on this issue. Be calm.. :-)


There is something perverse in the logic of using the rules of the order to cause its own extinction. Yes the Buddha established the bhikkhuni order. We do not know for certain why the Buddha declined initially. Only he knows that. But we know that the Buddha cannot be persuaded to do something against his own judgement. This has not happened anywhere in the suttas. Elsewhere in the Mahaparinibbana sutta, the Buddha proclaimed his intention to establish the four fold sangha and to see it flourish. The anology of the dinosaur makes no sense. A light that has been switched off can be switched on again. Impermanence works both ways, Things that exist may cease. Things that do not exist may come to be.
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Re: Can the Bhikkhuni Sangha be revived as per the Vinaya?

Postby now realm » Fri Dec 06, 2013 8:45 am

Well, perhaps the dinosaur is not a good analogy. Let's say...a clan that has gone extinct. Anyway,maybe most Theravada especially those in the Buddhist countries find that reviving an extinct root is not real or in line with reality. Reviving or resurrect sounds very christian to me as if resurrecting the soul of a dead person. In reality, it's a totally new bhikkhuni sangha. Since it's actually established from the dharmagupta lineage or vinaya, why can't the bhikkhunis be ordained in this tradition instead of attempting to merge Theravada into dharmagupta or dharmagupta into Theravada, as both distinctly differ in goals, vinaya, origins etc? Don't get it. Theravada is believed to be the unbroken lineage of the elders from the 500 Arahants after Buddha's parnibbana in India whereas dharmargupta originated in Greek during the 3rd council which later spread to China etc, according to history of Buddhism (hope I got this one right. :-) Got info from wiki). Makes everyone happy & all can move on with their goals & aspirations and be in harmony with each other in diversity in Buddhism. :-) I also learned that Buddha did not give any explicit instruction to revive the sangha in the event the sangha goes extinct. There were 28 Buddhas according to the sutras & next Buddha is Maitreya Buddha. If the sangha could be revived if it goes extinct, my rationale is that then the sangha would be forever under one specific Buddha only but there were many Buddhas appeared before Gotama Buddha. Of course no Buddha would want their sangha that they established to die out but even the Buddha could not stop his own body from decaying & dissolution or the expansion & contraction of the universe. All buudha would ensure their fourfold sangha to be well versed as they carry Buddha's reputation. It's a big responsibility for Buddhas for the benefit of the universe & all beings. That's the nature of buddhas and we can only assume his intention. Accept reality. Be calm & peace.
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