Buddhist Discipline in Relation to Bhikkhunis

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  • e Buddhist Discipline in Relation to Bhikkhunis

    Questions and Answers

    Phra Payutto and Dr. Martin Seeger

    Phra Brahmagunabhorn (P. A. Payutto)

    Copyright of the English edition bestowed by the author on the translator: Robin Moore

    Cover Photo by Belinda Bluebell


  • Anumodan

    I understand that Khun Robin Moore has completed the first section of the book The Buddhist Discipline in Relation to Bhikkhunis: Answers to Dr. Martin Seeger. In response, I wish to express my appreciation and delight.

    This book was written with the intention of researching the subject matter of bhikkhuni ordinations in the Theravada tradition, along with related material, in order to share it with others. In particular, the aim has been to state specific principles and historical developments in line with the Pali canonical scriptures, in order to act as a basis and support for peoples reflections and discussions on these matters. The author may proffer some personal thoughts, especially in regard to the cases in which specific factual evidence or information calls for specific responses. If, however, the reader finds that these suggestions are unreasonable or incorrect according to the facts, then he or she need not give them importance. Moreover, if one discovers additional or divergent factual information, then please share it with others, so that it can lead to comprehensive understanding and act as a genuine basis for further reflections on these matters.

    Having completed this translation, Khun Robin Moore is posting it on a website. I wish to express further appreciation for this deed, because it is a way of spreading knowledge in an extensive way, enabling people to access it by methods available in the modern age. It will strengthen understanding and support those contemplations that lead to growth in the Dhamma and cultivation in wisdom.

    Phra Brahmagunabhorn (P. A. Payutto)

    8 May 2556

    Robin Moore .:


  • Robin Moore website

    (..)U U U U U U U


  • Translators Preface

    Anyone who has kept abreast of the developments of Theravada Buddhism in the West will be aware of the ongoing debate pertaining to the ordination of women as bhikkhunis. Although I have not been at the centre of this debate, the subject interests me deeply, in part because I spent twelve years as a monk in the monasteries of the Luang Por Chah tradition in England, where there is a strong community of women renunciants. Indeed, the presence of these determined women helped to inspire me to go forth into the homeless life in 1988, and the term sister we used to address them was by no means merely a flowery termthe nuns (referred to there as siladhara) truly felt like sisters in the Dhamma. During my entire time as a monk, and later after I disrobed, I was aware of the challenges and struggles of these nuns, as well as, to some degree, of other women who align themselves with the Theravada tradition.

    My concern for their situation may have rested here, because I am not now in a position to actively engage in the restructuring of the Theravadan monastic institution, and furthermore I am chest-deep in a major translation project (Ven. Phra Payuttos 1300-page book Buddhadhamma), and have very little extra time. So it was with mixed feelings that I received a notice saying that a group of people wished to have the book The Buddhist Discipline in Relation to Bhikkhunis: Answers to Dr. Martin Seeger translated from Thai into English, and that Ven. Phra Payutto had expressed a wish that I act as the single translator, rather than having several people complete this work. Despite my worries about time constraints, however, I felt highly honoured to be approached, and also deeply pleased to participate in this debate, which has a deep bearing on so many peoples lives.

    Of course there is another worry that I have had, which stems from the awareness that I am entering a domain of intense emotionsone can almost say a battlefieldwhich has left many people hurt and confused. As the translator for Ven. Phra Payutto, who is accused by some of being overly conservative and orthodox, I will probably be labelled as a member of his camp. I even joked with friends about using a pseudonym. Although I have tried to remain objective while translating this text, it is unavoidable that some of my personal inclinations and beliefs would shape the outcome. I do feel, however, that this has been a labour of love, and much of my enthusiasm arises from my deep conviction that the author is coming from a place of deep wisdom and compassion, and that the subject material in this book is an extremely valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion of the role of female renunciants in Theravada Buddhism.

    My hope is that people who are truly interested in this subject will find that some of their important questions are clarified. As the venerable author states repeatedly, the actual task of action or reform will only be set on a firm basis when people have gained a clear understanding of the factors involved. He goes on to reiterate the importance of communal harmony, and encourages us to discuss these issues openly and in unison, so that we can come to decisions together.


  • Note that this is not a complete translation of the Thai version of the book, which runs to more than 400 pages. Because of the time required to finish the entire translation, it seems useful to distribute the English version in installments, by using the internet as a medium. For those of you who wish to look at the original Thai edition, the material found here (in what I call Part 1) comprises pages 1-72 & 327-436. Part 2, which will follow shortly, contains material on the eight weighty principles (garudhammas) along with key events occurring around the time of the First Recitation. Finally, Part 3 will cover primarily the subject of the social environment in India at the time of the Buddha, in particular the various renunciant traditions of that time.

    Note that the page-number references in the footnotes refer to the Pali edition of the Pali Text Society. If the numbers are in brackets they refer to the page numbers as found in the Thai version of this book. Footnotes in brackets have been added by the translator.

    Robin Moore Kensington Place


  • Foreword

    First of all I wish to express my deepest thanks to Venerable Chao Khun Brahmagunabhorn (P.A. Payutto) for not only inspiring me to study the Dhamma-Vinaya, but also for showing great kindness over the more than ten years that I have known him, ever since my first opportunity to pay respects to him while I was ordained as a Theravada Buddhist monk in Thailand during the period from 1997 to 2000. Every time I have met him, Tahn Chao Khun Ajahn has been so kind-hearted in answering my many questions on Dhamma and Vinaya.

    Even after I gave up the training as a monk and was studying for my masters and doctorate degrees, I was still very interested in studying Buddhism as it is described and explained in Tahn Chao Khun Ajahns book Buddhadhamma. I felt that the more I studied Buddhadhamma and Tahn Chao Khuns other books the more impressed and inspired I became by his ideas and his way of explaining Buddhism. At the same time my interest gradually grew in regard to studying the Dhamma-Vinaya contained in the Pali Canon, and in regard to religious and cultural studies in the context of the Theravada tradition. For this reason I decided to study Tahn Chao Khuns works and his role in society at a deeper level, doing research for my doctorate in relation to Tahn Chao Khun Ajahn as being a Theravada monk who is trying to protect the Dhamma-Vinaya, in particular when there are controversies or religious dilemmas arising in Thai society.

    While I was doing research for my doctorate between the years 2001 and 2004, I was able to interview Tahn Chao Khun Ajahn at length seven times. One chapter of my thesis had to do with the debates around the ordination of Theravada bhikkhunis in Thailand.

    Ever since 2004 I have been working as a teaching fellow and lecturer at Leeds University and have both researched and taught about the role of women in Theravada Buddhism. Since that time I have also been involved in many research programs dealing with the question of Theravada bhikkhuni ordination in Thailand and the role of Thai mae chee (eight- or ten-precept nuns who shave their heads and wear white robes). This has given me the chance to pay respects to Tahn Chao Khun Ajahn and continue with the interviews.

    Finally, when I saw that Tahn Chao Khun Ajahn had shared a great deal of interesting information, I consulted with him and suggested that some of these interviews be made available to the wider public. The purpose of this suggestion was twofold:

    First, when I was doing research on the question of Theravada bhikkhuni ordination in Thailand and the role of Thai mae chee, I noticed that occasionally people would quote or refer to Tahn Chao Khun Ajahn in various ways, without thoroughly considering the context of his words. Often people would draw incomplete conclusions about his stance on these matters, or even worse, distort the facts. I therefore thought it would be very useful to compile in a comprehensive way Tahn Chao Khun Ajahns explanations on Theravada bhikkhuni ordination in Thailand and the role of Thai mae chee, as well as his thoughts on the Theravada


  • tradition which are particularly relevant to these subjects. Whenever I felt that further explanations and clarifications may be useful or when people falsely criticized or misrepresented Tahn Chao Khun, I met to interview him in order to shed more light on these issues.

    Second, Tahn Chao Khun Ajahn made great effort to provide ample information and knowledge on these subjects, and he sacrificed much of his valuable time to answering my questions. Although I found ways of sharing this information with those who are interested in these subjects, by finishing my dissertation and writing papers for various academic journals in English, I felt that this was a distribution limited to a narrow and rather specific circle of readers. Publishing this book I feel will be more effective in sharing this information with a wider readership.

    This compilation contains not only my own interviews with Tahn Chao Khun; I have also included interviews conducted by other people on these subjects.

    When I had finished the compilation I sent a text of transcriptions to Tahn Chao Khun of about sixty-five pages, along with comments and further questions, asking him to check the text and asking permission to publish it.

    When Tahn Chao Khun Ajahn contacted me and returned the newly revised and completed manuscript, it was six times the size of the original transcription that I had sent to him! This made me feel even more deeply moved by Tahn Chao Khuns kindness and dedication, and it increased my appreciation of the value of the material contained in this book.

    I am extremely happy to see this book come to fruition and I am very confident that its contents will be immensely helpful to those people interested in studying the Dhamma and Discipline, the meaning of the Theravada tradition, the subject of gender in Theravada Buddhism, and the spiritual role of Thai mae chee.

    Dr. Martin SeegerUniversity of Leeds, UK20 October 2010


  • Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: e Bhikkhunis and the Conventional Sangha 9

    Chapter 2: Interview on the Ordination of Bhikkhunis 53

    Supplementary Chapter 1: Develop Clear Understanding and Maintain Close Harmony 72

    Supplementary Chapter 2: Ongoing Discussion on Bhikkhuni Ordinations 107


  • Chapter 1: e Bhikkhunis and the Conventional Sangha1

    Why Not Modify the Formal Discipline To Fit the Present Time?

    Dr. Martin: Many years ago, in the discussion with Professor Ravi Bhavilai concerning the Santi Asoke case, Tahn Chao Khun Ajahn said: Although the Buddha recommended moral guidelines for laypeople, in practice, however, there is a flexibility in that laypeople in different places and time periods can establish an ethical code suitable to their present circumstances.2 Some people question why it is that the ethical code for the laity is flexible, while the monastic community (sagha)3 must hold strictly to an archaic form of discipline.4 The more that time passes the more problems there are likely to be around this issue of an archaic or obsolete form. Especially in this day and age, there are various religious beliefs and needs. The monastic code will increasingly be an anachronism, is that correct? Can you please address this question?

    Phra Payutto: There are many aspects of this issue to take into consideration. First, the monastic sangha is a community which the Buddha established himself. The Buddha wished to deal with this new community in a well-organized way, and because he created it himself it was his prerogative to fashion it according to his wishes. He established the moral code known as the Vinaya in order to create the most supportive environment for undertaking the threefold training,5 or for following a Buddhist way of practice. He established and managed this code of discipline himself.

    In a sense, however, the community of lay disciples lies outside of the Buddhas jurisdiction. The Buddha did not establish this community and he neither wielded nor sought any power to control the laity. He simply advised them to abandon certain things and to cultivate other things. Those people who valued these recommendations and agreed to follow them undertake certain practices. This is a matter of training or of spiritual practice.


    1 An interview with Phra Payutto at Wat Nyanavesakavan, Sunday 4th January 2004. Part 1 of the interview The Ordination of Bhikkhunis by Dr. Martin Seeger.2 Phra Payutto & Dr. Ravi Bhavilai; The Buddhist Assembly and Dhamma-Vinaya; first published November 1989, Bangkok, Pannya Publications, p. 22.3 [Translator: from here on I will use the lowercase sangha to mean the Buddhist monastic community.]4 [I have translated the term vinaya here in various ways, including: discipline, formal discipline, moral guidelines, and ethical code. In reference to the monastic code of discipline set down by the Buddha, I use the uppercase Vinaya. Note also that the term Dhamma-Vinaya, sometimes translated as Doctrine & Discipline, encompasses the entirety of the Buddhas teachings.]5 [Sikkhttaya or tisso sikkh: virtuous conduct (sla), concentration (samdhi), and wisdom (pa).]

  • We can see that during the Buddhas time the Buddhist lay community followed a standard of moral discipline, but its form is rather indistinct. The Siglaka Sutta seems to contain a moral code for laypeople, but it is not so clear or decisive that we can categorically say that as a Buddhist layperson one must practise in a particular way and follow a distinct moral code. We can only state there is a minimum moral standard,1 which Buddhists should be able to understand and observe.

    The lay community was not directly e...