Archive | June 2011

The Revival of Bhikkhunī Ordination in the Theravāda Tradition

by Barbara Yen

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi has said in his book, The Revival of Bhikkhunī Ordination in the Theravāda Tradition, “that after an absence of more than 900 years, history was created when the Theravada bhikkhuni Order was revived in 1996 with the ordination of 11 women in Sarnath, India by Ven. Dodangoda Revata Mahāthera and the late Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasāra Mahāthera of the Mahābodhi Society in India.” The late Ven. Dr. K Sri Dhammananda who had strongly advocated for the revival of the Theravada Bhikkhuni Order, attended the following ordination at Bodh Gaya in 1998.

In fact, the revival of the Bhikkhunī Sangha was advocated over half a century ago by a distinguished authority in one of the most conservative countries of Theravāda Buddhism, namely, Mynmar. The person is Mingun Jetavan Sayadaw, the meditation teacher of the famous Mahasi Sayadaw and Taungpulu Sayadaw. The Jetavan Sayadaw composed, in Pāli, a commentary to the Milindapanha in which he argues for a revival of the Bhikkhunī Sangha.

Jetavan Sayadaw unflinchingly maintains that bhikkhus have the right to revive an extinct Bhikkhunī Sangha. After introducing the dual-Sangha ordination, the Buddha did not require the women who had previously received ordination by the Bhikkhu Sangha only to undergo another ordination by the Bhikkhunī Sangha; he allowed their one-sided ordination to stand.

In those countries where the Bhikkhuni Sangha is not revived, the Bhikkhu Sangha should make a determined effort as follows: “Now that the Bhikkhunī Sangha has become extinct, we will revive the institution of bhikkhunīs! We will understand the heart’s wish of the Exalted One! We will see the Exalted One’s face brighten like the full moon!” added Jetavan Sayadaw.

Present Scene Today

Today there are more than 1,000 bhikkhunis, mainly in Sri Lanka and it is the only traditional Theravada country that has welcomed this new phenomenon.

It is therefore no longer a question of whether the Theravada bhikkhuni Sangha could be revived, but whether this development should be given the recognition and respect it seeks.

However, it is sad that those who want to seek full ordination have to do so in other Buddhist traditions or in other countries. By doing so, it does not solve the problem if their status is not recognised or supported by the sangha and lay community in their own country.

In the Buddha’s Words

In the forty-five years of the Buddha’s ministry, there were many situations either in words or action that he advocated positively in support of the bhikkkhunis. These can be found in some of the suttas for an example the MahaParinibbana Sutta (DN 16). The Buddha, was reminded of his words spoken to Mara soon after his enlightenment: “I shall not come to my final passing away, Evil One, until my bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen, have come to be true disciples – wise, well disciplined, apt and learned, preservers of the Dhamma, living according to the Dhamma, abiding by appropriate conduct and, having learned the Master’s word, are able to expound it, preach it, proclaim it, establish it, reveal it, explain it in detail, and make it clear; until, when adverse opinions arise, they shall be able to refute them thoroughly and well, and to preach this convincing and liberating Dhamma.”

When Queen Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī and five hundred women approached the Buddha with their heads shaved and wearing ochre robes, they did not ask the Buddha to establish an order of nuns. They simply asked him “to permit women to go forth from the household life into homelessness in the Dhamma and Vinaya proclaimed by the Tathāgata.”

The Buddha compared the Dhamma to a chariot, “One who has such a vehicle, whether a woman or a man, has by this vehicle drawn close to. (MN I, 492).

In the simile of the ancient city, the Buddha exhorted that after he had followed the Noble Eightfold Path and penetrated the links of dependent origination, “I explained them to the bhikkhus, the bhikkhunīs, the male lay followers, and the female lay followers, so that this spiritual life has become successful and prosperous, extended, popular, widespread, well proclaimed among gods and humans.” (SN 107)

Also the Buddha did not design for women to go forth in some secondary or subordinate role, for example, as ten-precept nuns, but take full ordination as bhikkhunīs. (Vin II 253; AN IV 274)

The Buddha considered well-trained bhikkhunī disciples one of the pillars of the teaching. In the Aguttara Nikāya, Ekanipāta (AN i 25), includes suttas where the Buddha  appointed various bhikkhunīs to the position of ‘most eminent’ in different domains of their spiritual life; for example, bhikkhunī Khemā was most eminent in wisdom, Uppalavaṇṇā in psychic powers, Bhaddakaccānā in great spiritual penetrations. The Therīgāthā also  offers us deep insights into the yearnings, striving and attainments of the earliest generations of Buddhist women renunciants.

In Dakkhiāvibhaga Sutta (MN 142), the Buddha discussed seven types of gifts that can be made to the Sangha, and most of these include bhikkhunīs among the recipients. These are:

  1. a gift to the dual-Sangha headed by the Buddha
  2. a gift to the dual-Sangha after the Buddha has passed away
  3. a gift specifically to the Bhikkhunī Sangha
  4. a gift for the selection of bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs to represent the Sangha
  5. a gift for the selection of bhikkhunīs to represent the Sangha

When Ven. Sāriputta devised a teaching that shows the path that all Buddhas take to arrive at full enlightenment, the Buddha urged him to expound that teaching to the bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs as well as to the male and female lay devotees. (SN 161)

For the bhikkhunīs, the highest success is arahantship, the same as for the bhikkhus. Evidence of such success is seen in the Mahāvacchagotta Sutta (MN 73) when Vacchagotta exclaims, “besides the Venerable Gotama and the bhikkhus, there are also bhikkhunīs who have attained success, this spiritual life is complete with respect to this factor.”

The poet-monk Vaṅgīsa confirms that the Buddha’s enlightenment was intended to benefit bhikkhunīs as well as bhikkhus:

“Indeed, for the good of many
The Sage attained enlightenment,
For the bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs
Who have reached and seen the fixed course”

On the Buddha’s supposed prediction that the Dhamma will last only five hundred years if women were to be ordained, if he had forseen such prediction with his divine vision, he would not have allowed them to be ordained and would not have given in to Ven. Ānanda’s pleas on their behalf. Scholars have questioned on the authenticity of this prediction. If it is true, the Dhamma would have disappeared around the first century A.D.

In fact, the Aguttara Nikāya indicates that the Dhamma will decline when the Four Assemblies dwell without respect to the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, the training, samādhi and heedfulness.

According to Bhikkhu Bodhi, “as the Buddha is enlightened, we can believe that it is impossible that he could make a mistake or be persuaded to any action he did not approve of. What we can deduce on the Buddha’s initial reluctance to accept the Bhikkhuni Sangha is that it would have placed on the bhikkhus the burden of educating and protecting the nuns, responsibilities that could have obstructed their own progress.”

The Buddha was also aware of the social conditions at that time that could place great challenges for women to go forth – the acceptance of the society for women to have equal status as men. Perhaps it could be a distraction to the young monks, to get enough preceptors to provide the nuns with proper training and guidance and also the sheer logistics of housing such a large number of women and his concern for their safety and well-being. (Writer, Barbara’s views)

Restoration of the Theravāda Bhikkhunī Sangha

To restore the Theravāda Bhikkhunī Sangha, the three challenges posed by Theravāda Vinaya legalists would have to be overcome. These are the challenges based on: (1) the problem of pabbajjā (novice ordination); (2) the problem of sikkhamānā ordination and training (two years); and (3) the problem of upasampadā (full ordination).

Before his parinibbana, the Buddha taught the Sangha four principles to help deal with novel situations not already covered by the rules of discipline, situations the monks might meet after his parinibbāna. These are called the four mahāpadesā, “the four great guidelines,” namely:

  1. If something has not been rejected by me with the words ‘This is not allowed,’ if it accords with what has not been allowed and excludes what has been allowed, that is not allowed to you.
  2. If something has not been rejected by me with the words ‘This is not allowed,’ if it accords with what has been allowed and excludes what has not been allowed, that is allowed to you.
  3. If something has not been authorized by me with the words ‘This is allowed,’ if it accords with what has not been allowed and excludes what has been allowed, that is not allowed to you.
  4. If something has not been authorized by me with the words ‘This is allowed,’ if it accords with what has been allowed and excludes what has not been allowed, that is allowed to you.

In the Mahāvagga’s Vassūpanāyikakkhandhaka of the Vinaya Piṭaka, there is a passage which shows compassion, flexibility and a departure from the standard practice. The Buddha granted permission to a bhikkhu to leave his rains retreat at the request of a sāmaṇerī who wished to undertake the training to become a sikkhamānā. “You should go, bhikkhus, for a matter that can be done in seven days even if not sent for, how much more so if sent for, thinking: ‘I will be zealous for her to undertake the training.’ You should return before seven days.” (Vin iv, 320)

Alternative Interpretations of Rules regarding the Ordination of Bhikkhunis    

The following factors point to the fact that it is possible for Theravada bhikkhunis to receive back this continuous and unbroken lineage. They are:

  • In the MahaParinibbana Sutta, the Sangha was permitted to abolish lesser and minor rules
  • Dual Ordination rule was part of Eight Rules accepted by Maha Pajapati Gotami
  • As there were no bhikkhunis to form Dual Ordination quorum yet, the Buddha gave monks this right and privilege to confer ordination on the first batch of women. “I permit you monks, to confer full ordination on bhikkhunis”
  • We can use the English ‘common law’ as a precedence of past decisions as valid decisions to be applied today
  • There could be no greater precedence and authority than the decision of the Buddha
  • The Bhikkhuni Sangha in Mahayana countries eg. China and Korea is the direct descendent of Dharmaguptaka school which is from early Indian Buddhism and their Vinaya rules were kept intact
  • The Tibetan monastic system is also guided by a Vinaya derived from Mūlasarvāstivādins, also from early Indian Buddhism
  • Historical records show two delegations of Sri Lankan bhikkhunis, the latter group headed by Bhikkhuni Devasara conferred Dual Ordinations for nuns in China in 429 C.E. and 432 C.E.
  • The Bhikkhu Order had died off Sri Lanka as a result of wars but it was revived by the Order from Myanmar
  • The point that Mahayana nuns have different religious beliefs is irrelevant as ordination is a matter of Vinaya and not beliefs
  • Among Theravada monks, there is also a variety of beliefs but this does not affect their status as monks

Two methods have been proposed to restore the extinct Bhikkhunī Sangha.

  1. That under exceptional circumstances the Bhikkhu Sangha is entitled to revert to a single-Sangha ordination of bhikkhunīs until a Bhikkhunī Sangha becomes functional and can participate in dual-Sangha ordination. The Buddha said, “Bhikkhus, I allow bhikkhus to give upasampadā (full ordination) to bhikkhunīs,” rightly pointing out that the Buddha never abolished that allowance.
  2. The Theravāda Bhikkhu Sangha can collaborate with a Bhikkhunī Sangha from an East Asian country which belonged to the same Vibhajyavāda tradition to which the southern Theravāda school belongs and which follow the same Dharmaguptaka Vinaya.

In making major decisions, the Buddha displayed both compassion and disciplinary rigor; he took account of the social and cultural expectations of his contemporaries.

In making a challenging decision, we have these two guidelines to follow:

  1. To be true to both the letter and the spirit, but above all to the innermost spirit of the Dhamma
  2. To be responsive to the social, intellectual, and cultural horizons of humanity in this particular period of history in which we live, this age in which we forge our own future destinies and the future destiny of Buddhism.

It will allow women to make a meaningful and substantial contribution to Buddhism in many of the ways that monks do – as preachers, scholars, meditation teachers, educators, social advisors, and ritual leaders – and perhaps in certain ways that will be unique to female renunciants, for example, as counselors and guides to women lay followers. A Bhikkhunī Sangha will also win for Buddhism the respect of high-minded people in the world, who regard the absence of gender discrimination as the mark of a truly worthy religion in harmony with the noble trends of present-day civilization.

The absence of a recognized Bhikkhunī Sangha in South Asian Theravāda Buddhism will be conspicuous, a glaring gap. Educated people around the world – even educated Theravādin lay followers, both men and women – will find it difficult to empathize with the refusal of the Theravādin monastic order to grant full ordination to women and will compare Theravāda unfavorably with the other forms of Buddhism.

Such an exclusive attitude would receive strong public disapproval today because of the vast differences between the social and cultural attitudes of our age and those of India in the fifth century B.C. when the Buddha lived and taught. Our own age has been shaped by the ideas of the European Enlightenment, a movement that affirmed the inherent dignity of the human person, led to the rise of democracy, ushered in such concepts as universal human rights and universal suffrage, and brought demands for political equality and equal justice for all under the law. In today’s world, all discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity and gender is regarded as unjust and unjustifiable, the remnant of primal prejudices that we are obliged to cast off in the realization that all human beings, by virtue of their humanity, are entitled to the same rights that we assume for ourselves, including the right to fulfill their highest religious aspirations.

On the other hand, by showing that they have the courage to restore to women the right to lead a full religious life as instituted by the Buddha, that is, by reviving the Bhikkhunī Sangha, Theravādin elders will enable their form of Buddhism to take its place in the modern world, firmly and proudly, while still upholding a path that is timeless and not subject to the vagaries of changing fashions. To take this step does not mean, as some might fear, that we are “meddling” with the Dhamma and the Vinaya just to fit people’s worldly expectations; the truths of the Dhamma, the principles of the path, the guidelines of the Vinaya, remain intact. But it would show that we know how to apply the Dhamma and the Vinaya in a way that is appropriate to the time and circumstances, and also in a way that is kind and embracing rather than rigid and rejecting.

“What would the Buddha want his elder bhikkhu-disciples to do in such a situation, now, in the twenty-first century?” If he were to see us pondering this problem today, would he want us to apply the regulations governing ordination in a way that excludes women from the fully ordained renunciant life, so that we present to the world a religion in which men alone can lead the life of full renunciation? Or would he want us to apply the regulations of the Vinaya in a way that is kind, generous, and accommodating, thereby offering the world a religion that truly embodies principles of justice and non-discrimination?

Prominent Bhikkhus Who Support The Bhikkhuni Sangha 

  • Ven. Mingun Jetavan Sayadaw of Myanmar, meditation teacher of Mahasi Sayadaw and Taungpulu Sayadaw
  • Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Ven. Dr. Walpola Rahula
  • Ven. Dodangoda Revata Mahāthera and the late Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasāra Mahāthera of the Mahābodhi Society in India who revived the Bhikkhuni Order in Sarnath, India in 1996
  • Late Ven. Dr. K Sri Dhammananda who attended the bhikkhuni ordination at Bodh Gaya in 1998
  • Ajahn Brahmavamso and Ajahn Sujato who ordained four women in Australia in 2009


All the evidence indicated above point to the fact that the Bhikkhuni Order can be revived if we are guided by the spirit and not the letter alone. All we need is the political will and compassion towards the other half of human kind. In fact it has already been revived. The only question is – can we make the acceptance globally so that a woman renunciant can step into any country and can proudly say that “I am a full-fledged member of the Sangha.”?

This article is condensed from the following texts:

Bhikkhu Bodhi, ‘The Revival of Bhikkhunī Ordination in the Theravāda  Tradition.’ 2009.                                                                                                      The paper is available online. Copies of the book in English and Chinese version will be available when it is printed.

Mingun Jetavan Sayadaw, ‘Can an Extinct Bhikkhunī Sangha Be Revived?’                                                                           Milindapanha Aṭṭhakathā, Haṃsāvatī Piṭaka Press, Rangoon, 1949, Burmese year 1311, pp. 228-238. Translated from the Pāli by Bhikkhu Bodhi. It is available as an appendix in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s article mentioned above.

Yu Ban. ‘A Lotus At Dawn: Opening The Doors To The Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha’                                                                              Yasodhara-Newsletter on International Buddhist Women ‘s Activities, July-Sept, 2008

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We also welcome contributions in the form of articles, professional expertise especially IT, locating the renunciants, event organising, fund-raising, etc]

Supporting the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha

by Barbara Yen

The Theravada Buddhist tradition was first introduced to Malaysia when the Singahalese community came from Sri Lanka to live in Malaysia and Singapore. With the great leadership of the late chief Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda, the tradition flourished by leaps and bounds. However, we can expect a gradual decrease in the number of Theravada devotees in future both in Malaysia and Singapore as there appear to be some danger signs as can be seen in the following factors:

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Uppalavanna (A Film from Sri Lanka)


This two-hour long film is set during the murderous communist (JVP) uprising in the south of Sri Lanka in the 80s.

Main Plot: The communist groups have splintered and an insurgent assassinates a former comrade but is seriously injured in the process.

The assailant manages to escape to the grounds of a nearby wilderness nunnery, where he is discovered by the nun Uppalavanna.

Acting out of compassion she helps him by giving food and medicine and doesn’t report him to the authorities.

Eventually he is discovered though and the villagers blame the nuns for Uppalavana’s actions, and she has to leave the nunnery.

There is also a sub-plot, in which a high-caste young woman falls in love with a low-caste drummer and elopes with him.

Her Mother fades away and dies, and when the daughter returns with her lover he is killed by her Father. He ends up in prison, and she ordains.

The film is mainly focused on the nunnery and the relationships between the head nun, a newly ordained novice and Uppalavanna.

We are not told what to think about any of the actions in the film but are left to decide for ourselves about the actions and their outcome.

Be warned the film has the credits section at the beginning of the film, running for 3 mins 50 secs. You can jump to that section if you like.



Some Stills from the Film













Paintings of Some Women in Lord Buddha’s Life Story

These paintings are by Paw Oo and are found in the Santi Dhamma Hall at Wat Olak Madu at Sidam Kiri, in the Padang Serai district of Kedah.

Maya's Dream


Marraige of Siddhattha and Yasodhara


Sujata offers Milk-Rice


Teaching Abhidhamma to his Mother in Heaven


Mahapajapati Ordains

Ayya Tathāloka: Living the Dream

The following inspiring open letter is being reprinted here through the kindness af Ayya Tathāloka

Dear friends in Dhamma,

In this time in which many children of all ages are dreaming of new toys, twinkling lights, bright stars; commercial extravaganzas mixed with silent nights and holiness…I dare to dream another dream.

Today I received two letters:

One letter ended with an exerpt from Jack Kornfield’s book Wise Heart, in which he says:

“What we repeatedly visualize changes our body and consciousness.”

The second letter was from Susan Pembroke, long term student of the late Ayya Khema and now meditation teacher in her tradition; founder of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis.

At the end of her letter, Susan writes of her dream in which there are as many bhikkhunis in the world of Theravada Buddhism as bhikkhus. I replied to her that i do not dream of as many, but rather of a world in which bhikkhunis are just as treasured as and just as well supported as their bhikkhu brothers, and in which we have as many great leading bhikkhuni teachers, shining for the benefit of the world as their bhikkhu peers. A world in which bhikkhus delight in uplifting and supporting their bhikkhuni sisters, mothers, and daughters, just as much as bhikkhunis delight in uplifting and supporting their bhikkhu brothers, fathers, sons… A world in which neither great leading laymen and laywomen teachers nor the men and women inspired to and living the monastic life are devalued by one another; but rather live in mutual appreciation and mutual upliftment – looking upon one another with eyes and heart of loving kindness.

Someone might say that we should go beyond dreaming, into the world of The Real. And i agree. And yet, i have learned from the Blessed One – the Buddha – the great power of the mind; its leading power, and transformative power. Both the turning of the Wheel of Samsara and the turning of the Dhamma Wheel happen based upon the very same principle; that of cause and effect. And it is our intention and our thought that is the primary causal kamma which determines our experience of this Real World.

If we are going to make anything in our minds; let us make well.

Let us cultivate and grow and harvest calm and peace, joy and equanimity, and both all the levels of the courses of wholesome intentions, as well as the thoughts, words and actions that are the stepping stones of each one of our Paths.

Each thought, each vision, each word so matters. With the power to be garbage, or to be nothing, or to be happy; to be peaceful, to purify our hearts, to love one another; to live the Path through and through in each moment of our lives. So if there is to be any becoming at all; lets make it a wholesome becoming, and a becoming liberated, becoming free.

So, you might say that dreaming is fine; but what of the pragmatics?

(I will repeat this part now of my talk given at our Aranya Bodhi Hermitage Kathina this last month, on request.)

There are those who share the wish and dream to see as many great enlightened women bhikkhuni teachers blessing our great land and our earth as there is a call and a wish for. And it is true that just this wish alone – without the practical actions to follow up to make this true – will not suffice.

The wish and the intention must be a proactive one. If you wish to see such; you must be willing to do the groundwork of the path to make it happen.  This means that not only supportive thoughts and intentions, but applied intentions – applied in words and applied in bodily acts – will be what makes this happen. This means that there must be a critical mass of people willing to set the dream into motion; that is to walk their talk – to live the dream – all the way through to its very real embodiment and very real fulfillment.

If it were farming; this would mean the willingness to do what it takes to cultivate through to harvest in all the stages: to prepare the ground, to give fertilizer, to plant the seeds, to give water, remove weeds, look out for any harm… through to reaping the fruit. If this were growing human children, it means giving loving care with regards to the heart, food and drink, medicine, clothing, shelter, education… And growing up monastics and a whole field of monastic teachers in the field of the Sangha – compared by the Buddha to the unsurpassed field of merit for the world –  is not so different:

Loving care, food and water, shelter, robes, medicine, training in Dhamma
and Discipline… not so very different than for other human beings — only
generally needing much much less of the physical things. But they are still
needed; still critically important. The provision of these physical things
on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis; especially lodging, medicine and
food, make the difference of whether it can really happen or not.

There are many women in this country who have the aspiration to go forth into monastic life; the aspiration to live the Holy Life – as lived by the arahants and their bhikkhu peers – to its fullest. If the requisite support is there; their dream will become a lived reality.

So, i would encourage each and every one of you, dear friends, both known and unknown, who may be reading this letter; to know your dream, to make it conscious – and if it is a wholesome one – for the benefit of oneself and for the world – then to live it. Do what needs to be done to fully live your Path. Live it yourself and support others in living what you wish to see in the world. Such that your dream does not remain pumkin pie or sugar plum faries in the sky, but becomes your lived reality.

My Anumodana Sadhu! and great apprecation from all of our fledgling Bhikkhuni Sangha to all of you who are and have been so proactive, so supportive and so engaged in fully cultivating the causal conditions for the full living of this dream.

At the end of many of the Buddha’s teachings as recorded in the Suttas to friends and family, both young and old; when someone has completely fulfilled the Path, this is an essential part of their victory verse:

“I have done what needed to be done.”

Wishing you well, with jaya mangala – victory blessings 🙂

Bhikkhunis & junior nuns visiting a temple August 2010

(Bhikkhunis & junior nuns visiting a temple August 2010)


Mind is the forerunner of all states:
Mind is chief, mind-made are they;
If one speaks or acts with a defiled mind,
Suffering follows like wheels of a cart.


Mind is the forerunner of all states:
Mind is chief; mind-made are they;
If one speaks or acts with a pure mind,
Happiness follows like a shadow that never leaves.

–The Buddha, Dhammapada 1-2

Alliance for Bhikkhunis Magazine

Here is a link to Present which is a magazine available online prepared by the Alliance for Bhikkhunis, which is a great resource for people interested in the subject.

It always has many interesting articles on the Bhikkhuni Sangha, their past, present and future, written by various authors. It is editied by Susan Pembroke.

To whet your appetite here is a list of contents for the present issue (archives of previous issues are also available):

4…If You Honor Me, Honor My Mother Gotami
With the revival of the Bhikkhuni Sangha, it is enriching to look back at the stories of the early bhikkhunis. We start this issue of Present with a fresh look at the story of the mother of bhikkhunis.
By Jacqueline Kramer

9…The 1st Annual International Bhikkhuni Day September 17, 2011 Meditation Pledge-A-Thon
FAQ on International Bhikkhuni Day.

11…Honoring and Celebrating Bhikkhunis and Laywomen
Why recalling the stories of laywomen and female monastics matters.
By Susan Pembroke

13…New Turns Toward Ancient Paths: the Ordinations in California
A kammacarini reflects on her experiences at two recent historic U.S. bhikkhuni ordinations.
By Ven. Bhikkhuni Sobhana

16…Bhikkhuni Education Today: Seeing Challenges As Opportunities
Education is essential if bhikkhunis are to become Dharma leaders.
By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

21…Venerable Kusuma and the Power of Literacy Education
A pioneering bhikkhuni taps her education and language skills to reach across cultural differences and create the future for female monastics.
By Janice Tolman

24…Turning Back Towards Freedom
November 2007: The First Recitation of the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha within the Theravada Bhikkhuni Lineage in North America
Bhikkhunis who participated in this historic recitation talk about why the
Patimokkha remains vital in this day and age
By Roseanne Freese

33…Wearing White in the West
An intimate recounting of how taking eight precepts and wearing white
transformed a woman’s practice.
By Carudhamma Jo Ferris

Connected Discourses with Bhikkhunīs

Sakyadhita Conference 2011 in Bangkok

Tomorrow the Sakyadhita Conference for this year, the 12th of its existence will take place in Bangkok from June 12th – 18th and Barbara Yen, who is now closely associated with our Support Network, will be attending.

Hopefully she will be able to share with others at the Conference and let them know of the Network and how it can help both lay people wanting to contact nuns, and also how nuns can help the lay. We also look forward to reading her reports here.

Please check the Sakyadhita website for details and information on the Conference and see if you can get along to attend some of the sessions if you are able.


sakyadhita, the international association of buddhist women

Interview with Sayalay Visuddhi

Here is an interview I conducted with Sayalay Visuddhi shortly after I came to Vivakavana where I am staying presently. Sayalay in now in Hatyai, southern Thailand.

The Outstanding Women in Buddhism Awards Website

This website has lists of their previous award winners according to year, which provide a good overview of the sort of projects laywomen and nuns are making to the Buddha Sasana. It is a great resource for anyone interested in the subject.

Here is a statement of their objectives.

1. Mobilize public opinion and international action to promote the role and status of Theravada Bhikkhunis in southeast Asia, thereby directing assistance to disadvantaged groups of women and girls.

2. Uplift the good deeds of Buddhist women so that others may know.

3. Provide good role models for society.

4. Encourage the award recipients.

5. Promote sorority in the overcoming of obstacles.

6. Promote information of the award recipient’s role in developing her own life, that of her community, her nation and the world.

7. Training, research and the collection of sex-segregated data on the role and status of ordained women in Buddhism.

8. Encourage a movement which uplifts the role and status of Buddhist women within the Buddhist faith.

9. Promote telling the herstory of women in Buddhism.

10. Promote a network of accomplished Buddhist women, ordained and lay.

Getting to know the ‘1001’ Questions Nun

Editor’s note: This interview was originally published in Eastern Horizon, who have very kindly given consent for it to be republished here.

Bhikkhuni Dhammananda from Vietnam

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni (Su co Nguyen Huong) from Vietnam recently completed her Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from Kelaniya University, Sri Lanka at the age of thirty-eight. She stopped over in Kuala Lumpur for a few days in January 2009 on route to the Santi Forest Monastery in Sydney at the invitation of Ajahn Sujato. Barbara Yen from Buddhist Gem Fellowship was given the opportunity to interview her for Eastern Horizon, 2009.

Venerable, you mentioned that you earned the nick-name ‘1001 Questions’ nun when you were doing your studies in Sri Lanka. How did it come about?

I was fond of asking questions even before I became a nun – questions about meaning of life, suffering, oppression, wickedness, impermanence. When I took up Buddhist studies, I had even more questions about the teachings. This particular professor lived on an elevated ground and he could see me coming from afar. He would comment to his family, “the 1001 questions nun is here again!”

You said that you grew up in Ha Tinh Province, north Vietnam and you were not exposed to Buddhism. How did you come into contact with Buddhism then?

As a child, my father who had lived in Thailand,  would tell us stories about the monks there. However, I was exposed more to Christianity as there was almost a church in every village, but there were no temples. At age thirteen, I attended church services for three to four years and decided to become a Christian nun. My family especially my second brother strongly opposed to this and I dropped the idea. He knew that I was an introspective person and he encouraged me to learn classical guitar, singing and literature. At that time I was composing music for string instruments. When I was nineteen, I read the works of a famous Buddhist poet Truyen Kiew who was born in my hometown. My grandmother and aunt used to sing to us his songs when we were little.

His book ‘The story of Kiew’ about a nun, had a lasting effect on me.

Venerable, at what age did you become a bhikkhuni and what motivated you to take this path?

I was sixth in my family of ten children. At age thirteen, I saw my grandmother, mother and sister trapped in a domestic life, producing children and I decided “this is not for me.” I felt I was missing something and I needed to search for an answer. There was war and evil in society and I felt the only way to be virtuous was to be a monastic. When I was sixteen, I had a vivid dream that I was a Buddhist monk going on alms round and my parents were devotees! I was so determined to be a nun that when I was twenty-one, I  went to live in Can Linh Monastery in Vinh City. The abbess Venerable Ni su Thich Nu Dieu Niem, became a great mentor for me. She exposed me to the sutras especially the Heart, Diamond and Surangama Sutras. Although she was in her seventies, there was no generation gap. We worked together to serve the poor and we laughed a lot. However, my second brother opposed to my being a nun and forced me to leave and I lived with him in the city.

He later married and had a daughter. When daughter was two days old, my brother was killed in a car accident. I had to give support to my sister-in-law but after three years of ‘being strong for her’, I had to get out of my depressed state. In 1994, I returned to the nunnery again. I wanted to pray for him to get a good rebirth. The abyss welcomed me back with open arms. About a year later, my mother learnt that I had become a nun and came to take me home! However, I made her stay for a few days at the temple and she later changed her mind as she could see how happy I was. She was under the impression that I was working in the city but wondered why I never came home, even for the New Year!

When I was twenty-seven years old, my mentor passed away and I became the abbess! It had about a thousand devotees and running the temple was not easy as I was young and inexperienced. I later left to further my studies in Myanmar and Sri Lanka where I received my higher Ordination 2004 in Upasampada in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

You started off as a Mahayana nun. What made you change to the Theravada tradition?

In 1995, I began reading Ajahn Chah and Ven. U Pandita and became interested in Vipassana meditation. A year later I heard of a well known meditation master, Ven. Vien Minh Mahathera and travelled two thousand kilometers to learn from him and from Ven. Dhammarakkhita Mahathera at Buu Long Monastery, Long Binh, Ho Chi Minh city. They also taught me basic Buddhist doctrines and Pali. One of my brothers who became a monk and my Master saw the potential in me and encouraged me to further my studies in Buddhism in Myanmar. The latter helped me secure a Myanmar government scholarship to do a diploma course in Buddhism in 1998 and later a Bachelors degree. While in Myanmar, I took the opportunity to deepen my meditation training and spent a year in various meditation centres including Swe O Min Dhammasukha Centre.

However, I was not satisfied with my level of practice and I felt there was a barrier which I could not break. I called my Master in Vietnam. He then encouraged me to do the MA course in Buddhist Studies. He enrolled me at the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies (PGIPBS), University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. In 2004, I completed the two year course in one year with good results.

In 2005, my Master then encouraged me to do my Ph.D. For the first year Professor Asanga helped me get a scholarship from Ceylon University Women’s Association. Many a time when the course was tough and I wanted to quit, Prof. Asanga spurred me on. A Danish friend who is yoga teacher gave me the financial support to complete my studies. Venerable Kusuma at whose centre I had lived, was also a great source of inspiration for me.

In August 2008, I successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis on ‘Buddhist Analysis of Human Experience and the Way to Transcend Unsatisfactoriness.’

In many countries, Bhikkhunis often have to overcome many obstacles in order to go forth. Do you want to share your experience in this?

I was fortunate to have not experienced major obstacles or discrimination. In fact I had encouragement all the way except in my early days.  My Master in Vietnam always gave nuns more allowance than monks. When they complained, he explained that women have more needs than men.

What are some of the projects that you had embarked upon your return to Vietnam in 2008?

Community Service – Relief Work

For a start, upon my return to VIỆT NAM after my studies in Sri Lanka, we distributed gifts to the poor as it is the Vietnamese New year. This is in Son Kim Commune, Huong Son District, Hatinh Province, a community border to Laos where people are poor. Many of them belong to minority groups and have no formal education. Many are disabled children from poor family. This is the village where I was born and sadly, it is the poorest region in Vietnam. I had a lot of difficult times there.

I also went to Hue City, central VN to help some monks lead by Ven Phao Tong and Ven Tue Tam in their relief-work after a severe flood which occurred very near my birth place. We distributed food and other items and were able to share some Dhamma with them.

Vietnam has a 3000 km coastal land and every year, middle parts of the country are hit by storms and floods. Towards the end of 2007, five storms accompanied by floods had swept over Vietnam, from Thanh Hoa to Binh Thuan.

People in these area are very poor, more then 85 percent are farmers. Excessive rain and floods have destroyed most of their crops. Many thousands of farmers and fishermen were left with no shelter and essential materials for survival.

Together with lay supporters we organised many charity trips to support them. Still there are many survivors who do not receive aid from the government or non-governmental organizations.

Building a Buddhist Centre

My vision is to build centres for Buddhist studies and practice in some provinces where Buddhism was destroyed during long years of wars and under communist rule. There are many thousands of Buddhists in these provinces, but they are very poor and most of them do not receive formal education.  There is a lot to do to uplift their quality of life and to help them understand more about the Buddhist faith and practice.

Presently, I am finalising the procedure to build a Buddhist meditation, educational and cultural centre in my birth place. It will function as a library, a Lumbini garden for children to play, a meditation and multi purpose hall and a guest house where practitioners as well as visitors and students from afar can stay. At the moment, I help raise funds for children who are poor or disabled to help them have a chance to receive education. I hope to develop a new vision in Buddhism for the young.

Planting the Dhamma Seeds

When I returned from my studies after ten years, my friends lost no time in arranging for me to give Dhamma talks round the country. I was very surprised that I could convert people, many of whom were academicians and even army officers.

Publication of Dhamma Books

I would like to have some of my Dhamma writings and articles published in Buddhist journals to be translated into Vietnamese and published for free-distribution to the poor Buddhists. I have completed a Pali-Vietnamese Dictionary with the help of my Dhamma sister Ven. Nhu Lien (Susanta). We are looking for funds to meet the printing cost of some of these books. I appeal to all Dhamma friends to join hands in this program to make our world a compassionate and a better place to live.

It is an honour for you to be invited by Ajahn Sujato of Santi Forest Monastery, Sydney to help with his Bhikkhuni training programme for two years. Would it affect your mission in Vietnam?

No, I don’t think so because Ajahn Sujato is very compassionate and allows me to spend half a year in Vietnam each year to continue my projects there. Right now, one of my brothers is helping to oversee the building of the temple.

There is a large Vietnamese population in Sydney and other cities. I hope to be able to reach out to them and spread the Buddha Sasana to them.

You also had a discussion with Ven Aggacitta in Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary in Taiping, Malaysia in January this year on the possibility of a Bhikkhuni training centre in Malaysia. What are your feelings on this?

I rejoice at this development. I hope this can materialize soon so that women, not only from Malaysia but from neighbouring countries can have the opportunity to train under good masters in a conducive and supportive environment.

You won international awards from the BBC in 1994 for your work ‘Writing Very Short Stories’ and the ‘Outstanding Woman in Buddhism’ from the United Nations in 2007. How did that come about?

The first one was submitted by my sister while the second one was submitted by a Thai bhikkhuni. I always enjoyed writing short stories and novels and even enrolled in a writing course. All my works were very sad though and made my readers cry!

As a final question, what advice would you give for those who want to go forth?

For those who wish to go forth, I think they are more fortunate and are more advantages than when I renounced 16 years ago! I did try very hard to keep the nun life pure and energetic with motivation leading upward on the spiritual path. My advice is to do the same. Let us re-hear the Buddha’s compassionate appeal: “Go and work for the good of the many, for the benefit of the many, for the well-being and happiness of gods and men!”  Let us put Metta and Karuna into action!

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni can be contacted at:


Address in Vietnam:
SC Nguyen Huong, Buu Long Monastery,
81/1 Nguyen Xien Lane, Long-binh Commune, 9 District,
Ho Chi Minh City, VIET-NAM
Tel” (84) 08889168 or (84) 0919193101