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Bhikkhuni ( Pali ; Sanskrit : Bhikshuni ) are Buddhist nuns. The order of nuns is almost as old as the monastic order of men (see Bhikkhu / Bhikshu ), but is still in its shadow. The preparatory stage of the novice is called samaneri . The order of nuns represents the second pillar of the Sangha , i.e. the community of Dharma practitioners, or a branch of the " fourfold assembly " (Pali: Parisā ) of monks, nuns, lay followers.

The understanding of Sangha is diverse in the various Buddhist traditions: While in southern Theravada Buddhism, for example in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma or Cambodia, as well as in Tibetan Buddhism, today only monks and in exceptional cases nuns count, in Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam, strong nuns, became Sangha right from the start.

Buddhist nuns (Thilashin) receive their meals at lunchtime in Yangon

Order rules

The rules of Buddhist monasticism - the Buddhist order rules - which are recorded in the Vinayapitaka , have some peculiarities for Bhikkhunis. In order to be ordained as a bhikkhuni one must be at least 20 years old. The nun who leads the ordination ( Pavattini ) must in turn have been a bhikkhuni for at least twelve years. Five other nuns have to attend the ordination, five monks present have to confirm it.

While 227 rules of Vinaya apply to monks, 311 rules apply to bhikkhunis, which is also based on the somewhat different chapter division of the rules of the order ( Patimokkha ) for Bikkhuni. The eight Garudharmas (strict rules) place the order of nuns under the order of monks, so that a bhikkhuni also has to respectfully greet a significantly younger bhikkhu. While male members of the order are allowed to have three robes, women are allowed to have five robes. While there are two ordinations for men, the novice ordination as Samanera and the full ordination ( Upasampada ) as Bhikkhu, for women there is the Samaneri class (also with ten obligations), then a two-year period of practice as Sikkhamana (with only six obligations) and originally full ordination as a bhikkhuni if ​​all rules are observed. The "six-rule nuns" of modern times, such as the " Mae Chi " in Thailand (shaved head, white robes, 5 - 8 rules), were known in some countries in Asia, but were hardly respected because they had no opportunity for had more intensive Dhamma training for full ordination and were sometimes even viewed as beggars on the fringes of society. The Samaneris (10 rules), who appeared in Sri Lanka as "DSM nuns" (Dasa sil mata, "10 vows mother") from 1903 onwards , had no prospect of full ordination and were therefore neither Upasika (lay followers) nor Bhikkhuni.


Beginning of the ordination of women

When the widowed Princess Mahapajapati Gotami , the foster mother of Siddhartha Gautama , approached him with 500 women in her entourage in Vaishali, to give women access to religious life so that they could also devote their lives to studying the Dharma and complete liberation He hesitated at first to comply with the request. Only after repeated insistence by his disciple Ananda , who had made himself an advocate for women, did the Buddha promise the ordination of Pajapati and the establishment of an order on the condition that Pajapati accepted eight special rules for women. The first rule was that a nun, regardless of age, must respectfully greet a monk, regardless of age. This also applied to Pajapati towards Buddha. The rules that apply to each other among monks stipulate that the younger must respectfully greet the older and show him respect.

A monk is prohibited from paying homage to a woman (and nine other groups of people ) .

Among the five hundred women ordained following Pajapati was Yasodhara , the ex-wife of Gautama and mother of Rahula . In a later story, which is not told that often, Pajapati turned to the Buddha with another request. It called for the first special rule to be repealed. The Buddha refused.

The associated recognition that women as well as men can achieve the goal of Buddhist teachings, complete liberation, was diametrically opposed to the patriarchy that was strongly developed in Vedic India. The examination of the seriousness of the women's desire is also brought into the meeting for his hesitation.

The fact that the Therigata, the “songs of the nuns” have found their way into the Pali canon , the central scriptures of Buddhism, is taken as an indication of how accepted the Bhikkhuni order was in the early days of Buddhism.

The Buddha's esteem by name of 13 bhikkhunis, the mention of more than 500 enlightened women in the Tipitaka and numerous other passages in the Suttapitaka that deal with the outstanding role of nuns in spreading the Dharma, the teaching of the Buddha, illuminate the position of the order of nuns in the early days of Buddhism.

In her standard work "Buddhism After Patriarchy" in particular, Rita Gross points out the inconsistencies in the Pali canon: on the one hand, full recognition of the ability of women to follow the Middle Path, and on the other hand, various disadvantages and misogynous comments. In this context, Gross also refers to the long period of time that passed from the 1st Council to the written fixation of the Pali canon. Gross suspects additions and changes in the centuries after canonization and calls for the use of historical-critical methods for Buddhist literature.

The Bhikkhuni Sangha in Sri Lanka

Two bhikkhunis from the early days play a prominent role in the further expansion of the nun order. On the one hand there is Sanghamitta Theri, the daughter of the great Buddhist emperor Asoka , who lived in the 3rd century BC. u. Z. came to Sri Lanka with a number of Indian bhikkhunis to establish the order of nuns there too. On the other hand, there is the Sri Lankan princess Anula, who, along with a number of women from the royal court, is one of the co-founders of the order of nuns in Sri Lanka. In 434, a group of 10 Sri Lankan bhikkhunis, led by Bhikkhuni Davasara, was invited to establish the order of nuns in China . 300 Chinese women are ordained in Nanjing . From there, the order soon spread to Korea and Vietnam . The warlike events around the turn of the millennium also bring the two Buddhist orders to be extinguished in Sri Lanka around 1050. While the monastic order was reestablished by bhikkhus from Siam , this was not achieved for the monastic order until the end of the 20th century. The first, still controversial, full ordination of bhikkhunis from Sri Lanka took place in Los Angeles in 1988 with some Ceylonese Dasa sil matas selected by Havenpola Ratanasara Mahathera. On December 8, 1996, the Venerable Mapalagama Vipulasara Mahathera organized the full ordination of 10 Dasa sil matas in Sarnath , India. According to the rules, they received the necessary support from nuns and monks from Korea as well as from monks from Sri Lanka. The tradition of the Korean nuns originally goes back to nuns from Sri Lanka. With the first full ordination on Ceylonese soil, finally on March 12, 1998 in Dambulla, the general view is that the full ordination of nuns in Theravada has finally been re-established.

EW Chân Không

Bhikkhunis in the 21st century

While the Buddhist order of nuns in the 20th century was almost limited to Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea , where it experienced a remarkable boom in the second half of the century (In orders like Tzuchi and Foguangshan, the number of nuns exceeds that of monks by one Multiple), there was an unprecedented revival of the Bhikkhuni order, especially under the influence of Western educated Buddhists in Asia and Western followers of Buddhism. In addition to the pioneers, the Thai Voramai Kabilsingh , and her daughter, Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh ( Bhikkhuni Dhammananda ) are among the pioneers of the Bhikkhuni Sangha all over the world, including the German nun Ayya ​​Khema , the American nun Pema Chödrön and Tenzin Palmo, who comes from England . With the organization ' Sakyadhita ' (“Daughters of Buddha”) founded in Bodhgaya in 1987 , women who want to follow the religious path as well as women who want to follow the middle path in everyday life have received a strong voice that can be heard worldwide. The 8th Sakyadhita Conference in Seoul 2004 was attended by hundreds of women from 30 countries and made this network of Buddhist women a unique organization in the Buddhist world, not only for restoring the equal role of women in Buddhism, but for all of them Buddhist lines of tradition with a transcendent communicative character. The 9th Sakyadhita Conference in Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia (2006), which had the motto “Buddhist women in a global multicultural society”, has, in addition to the already strongly represented women of Asian, North American and Western European Buddhism, also Afro-American and let women from Southeast and Eastern Europe have their say. The 10th Sakyadhita Conference took place in Ulan Bator in Mongolia in 2008 , the motto was "Buddhism in Transition: Tradition, Changes, and Challenges".

Following a suggestion by the Dalai Lama, a committee of western nuns was founded in autumn 2005 (The Committee of Western Bhikshunis) to promote the ordination of Buddhist nuns in Tibet. Its members are: Ven. Bhiksuni Tenzin Palmo, Ven. Bhiksuni Pema Chodron, Ven. Bhiksuni Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Ven. Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron, Ven. Bhiksuni Jampa Tsedroen and Ven. Bhiksuni Ngawang Dolma. All six have a Gelongma ordination. The eight Garudharmas are not an issue, it is mainly about the possibility for women to acquire a Buddhist doctorate ( Geshe ).

Bhikkhuni in Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism


Today there are bhikkhuni, i.e. the fully ordained female religious, again in most Buddhist traditions, even though they are not recognized in their countries of origin and the Sangha as a whole, even if the West portrays or wants to see a different image. While the order of nuns in the Mahayana tradition, especially in the Chinese and Korean, has had an uninterrupted tradition since its beginnings in the 5th century (the same applies to Vietnam), it is in the countries of Theravada Buddhism ( Sri Lanka , Myanmar , Thailand , Laos and Cambodia ) is still an unusual phenomenon, as the Sangha of these countries follows the Vinaya and, as traditionally in Theravada, cannot accept changes. A "restoration" of a lineage that has been lost, and this applies to the monastic order in the same way, cannot take place according to the rules laid down by the Buddha. This attitude is not new, but one of the Theras for centuries.

Although there was an order of nuns of the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka, which had existed there for more than 1000 years since the foundation by Sanghamitta , the ordination line was also interrupted there. Since monks and nuns are required for ordination, groups like the Mae Chi ( White Nuns ) are still not fully recognized, although this problem could be resolved by ordination by remaining Mahayana nuns.

Since 1996 the Bhikkhuni Sangha has been considered restored. Starting from Sri Lanka, the Bhikkhuni order can now gain a foothold again in the other countries in which Theravada Buddhism is practiced, especially Thailand, where until recently there was only the order of Mae Chi. The first initiative to introduce the Bhikkhuni order had already taken place in Thailand in 1928, when Narin Klung had his two daughters, Sara and Jongdi, ordained and gave them his house as 'Wat Nariwong'. Resistance from the monastic sangha, politics and the media was massive. When Sara was kidnapped by a mounted man during the morning alms-giving walk, this experiment came to an end. The then Sangharaja issued an edict (still valid today) that forbade all monks in Thailand to ordain women.

There was a better prepared initiative in 1956 by Voramai Kabilsingh, supported by Pra Prommuni, the deputy abbot of Wat Bowonniwet , who was also a teacher of the king ( Rama IX ). The light yellow color of the nun's robe, which is clearly different in color from the monks' robes, led to the fact that this initiative was not banned in 1960 during the deliberations in the council of elders, of which Pra Prommuni was a member. Her full ordination in 1971 in Taiwan made her the first validly ordained bhikkhuni in Thailand, with the Sangha taking the position that she was now a Mahayana nun. Voramai Kabilsingh (Dhammaname: Maha Bodhi Dhammacaya) bought land and founded her temple, which still exists today.

In 2001, the time was ripe for her daughter Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, who had studied the Patimokkha intensively as a religious scholar . She duly took her first ordination in Sri Lanka, where the ordination of women had since been fully re-established, and was finally ordained there as Bhikkhuni Dhammananda in 2003 . Since then she has been the abbess of the 'Songdhammakalyani' temple created by her mother .


While the power structures of Buddhism were largely the domain of men in China and Japan , Vietnam and Korea , too, there were still communities of nuns there. Nuns were among the first Buddhist clergy to come to Japan.

In Ritsuryō Buddhism in Japan at the time of Shōmu- Tennō during the Nara period , there was the system of provincial temples or state protection temples , of which there were two per province: a monk's temple and a nun's temple. A similar system of nuns' temples seems to have existed parallel to the five-mountain system of Zen . Some temples, such as Tōkei-ji , also accepted women as nuns who fled their marriage. Temples or monasteries where women could find shelter were called Kakekomi-dera ( 駆 け 込 み 寺 ). In some of these temples women could even officially obtain a divorce of their honor, these shrines were called Enkiri-dera ( 縁 切 り 寺 ). In addition to the Tōkei-ji, the Mantoku-ji ( 満 徳 寺 ) also belonged to it.

There was never an order of fully ordained nuns in Tibet . Only Tendzin Gyatsho , the 14th Dalai Lama , sat down for a very strongly, especially because Western women who practiced in Tibetan lines, wanted to make the step to a deeper practice as a fully ordained as well as Western men it was easily possible. Regarding the problem that a valid ordination of women also requires the presence of bhikkhunis - which until recently did not exist in Sri Lanka, Tibet and certainly not in America or Europe - the Dalai Lama offered with reference to the fully ordained Bhikkhunis in Hong Kong and Taiwan suggested a possible solution. The ultimately unsuccessful course of the so-called Hamburg Nuns Congress of 2007 was a massive disappointment for all those involved and supporters of a re-equality of women in Buddhism.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Parisā , Dictionary of the Pali Text Society
  2. Buddhist Order: Preserver of the Dharma  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  3. see Dharmaguptaka : today in East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam)
  4. Thanissaro Bhikkhu on the beginning of women's ordination and the eight rules of respect  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Buddhist Monastic Code II, chapter 23@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  5. Buddhist Monastic Code II, Chapter 8 Respect  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  6. Yasodhara
  7. ^ First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening s. P. 29.
  8. Therigatha - Verses of the early nuns
  9. ^ Rita M. Gross: Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993.
  10. Petra Kieffer-Pülz: Excerpt from an article published in: Tibet und Buddhismus. No. 79 - Oct.-Dec. 2006 Sakyadhita Europe ( Memento of the original from September 8, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  11. Information brochure (English)
  12. Information on the Committee of Western Buddhist Nuns
  13. Page with a lot of further information and statements (Page by Thubten Chodron)
  14. The Buddhist Discipline in Relation to Bhikkhunis : Questions & Answers: Phra Payutto & Dr. Martin Seeger ( partly German translation )
  15. Journal of Religious Culture Quote: “Buddhist monastic life began during the lifetime of our teacher Buddha Sakyamuni. What was revolutionary for his time is that he founded an order of nuns during his lifetime, which has survived to this day in countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Korea. "
  16. Bhikkhunīs , Codex for Buddhist Hermits II Chapter 23 (2nd edition, 2007), Thanissaro Bhikkhu (German translation)
  17. On the unilateral Bhikkhunī initiation - Ven. Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu criticism of Bhikkhu Anālayo article
  18. ^ The Structural Violence Against Women. Nakhon Pathom 2005. pp. 3-4.
  19. ^ The Structural Violence Against Women. Nakhon Pathom 2005. pp. 4-5.
  20. [1]
  21. Archive link ( Memento of the original from October 6, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  22. Congress on Buddhist Women in Hamburg, 18. – 20. July 2007