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«The Cullavagga on Bhikkhunī Ordination Bhikkhu Anālayo University of Hamburg Copyright Notice: Digital copies of this work may be made and ...»

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Journal of Buddhist Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005


Volume 22, 2015

The Cullavagga on Bhikkhunī Ordination

Bhikkhu Anālayo

University of Hamburg

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The Cullavagga on Bhikkhunī Ordination Bhikkhu Anālayo1 Abstract With this paper I examine the narrative that in the Cullavagga of the Theravāda Vinaya forms the background to the different rules on bhikkhunī ordination, alternating between translations of the respective portions from the original Pāli and discussions of their implications. An appendix to the paper briefly discusses the term paṇḍaka.

Introduction In what follows I continue exploring the legal situation of bhikkhunī ordination, a topic already broached in two previous publications. In “The Legality of Bhikkhunī Ordination” I concentrated in particular on the legal dimension of the ordinations carried out in Bodhgayā in 1998.2 Based on an appreciation of basic Theravāda legal principles, I discussed the nature of the garudhammas and the need for a probationary training Numata Center for Buddhist Studies, University of Hamburg, and Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts, Taiwan. I am indebted to bhikkhu Ariyadhammika, bhikkhu Bodhi, bhikkhu Brahmāli, bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā, and Petra Kieffer-Pülz for commenting on a draft version of this article.

Anālayo (“The Legality”).

Anālayo, The Cullavagga on Bhikkhunī Ordination 402 as a sikkhamānā, showing that this is preferable but not indispensable for a successful bhikkhunī ordination. I concluded that combining a dual ordination, such as that done at Bodhgayā through the cooperation of bhikkhunīs from the Dharmaguptaka tradition, with a subsequent ordination by Theravāda bhikkhus on their own, results in a valid ordination procedure.

In the second study, entitled “On the Bhikkhunī Ordination Controversy,” I replied to the objections voiced by two eminent bhikkhus regarding the legality of implementing the Buddha’s allowance in Cullavagga X 2.1 that bhikkhus alone can give ordination to bhikkhunīs.3 I explained that the validity of this regulation, compared to the subsequent regulation that ordination requires the cooperation of both communities, could be compared to two different speed limits. As long as these refer to different roads, they can be valid simultaneously and the later promulgated speed limit does not invalidate the earlier one. In the same article I examined the desirability of having an order of bhikkhunīs in the light of relevant canonical passages. I came to the conclusion that for the flourishing of the Buddha’s dispensation, the sāsana, it is an indispensable requirement to have all four assemblies of disciples, one of which is an order of bhikkhunīs.4 Anālayo (“On the Bhikkhunī”).

In a recent criticism of my paper “On the Bhikkhunī”, Ṭhānissaro “On Ordaining” (19) takes my discussion of SN 16.13 as implying that “the mere existence of an order of bhikkhunīs would help prevent the decline of the Buddha’s teaching.” Yet my point is rather that the bhikkhunīs as one of the four assemblies contribute to preventing decline through their respectful behavior, which could hardly be the case if their mere existence were in itself a factor of decline. Ṭhānissaro only quotes the first part of my discussion, without my conclusion (15) that “these passages clearly put the responsibility for preventing a decline of the teaching on each of the four assemblies. It is their dwelling with respect towards essential aspects of the Buddha's teaching and each other that prevents decline.” The passage omitted by him shows that there is no basis for ṬhānisJournal of Buddhist Ethics In the present article I study in detail the narratives on rules concerning bhikkhunī ordination in the way these have been recorded in the Cullavagga of the Theravāda Vinaya, followed by a brief look at the description in the Dīpavaṃsa of the transmission of bhikkhunī ordination to Sri Lanka and its possible bearing on how the rules on bhikkhunī ordination in the Cullavagga would have been interpreted in the past. The topics

I will cover are:

1. Ordination by acceptance of the eight garudhammas.

2. Ordination by bhikkhus only.

3. Ordination by both communities.

4. Ordination by messenger.

5. Transmission to Sri Lanka.

My intention is to follow the Vinaya narrative closely in order to determine what kind of narrative background it presents for the four procedures in question. Instead of attempting a historical reconstruction of what actually happened, which anyway is a doubtful undertaking in view of the fact that we only have textual records at our disposal, my interest is purely in the legal implications of the Theravāda Vinaya narrative as it is. In order to keep this basic approach clear, I relegate any comment from a comparative or historical-critical perspective to footnotes. Any suggestion I make in the main text about how the Buddha acted or what he intended is therefore not part of an attempted historical reconstruction, but rather part of the construction of a coherent narrative based on the indications found in the Theravāda Vinaya, serving as a background for a legal reading of this particular monastic code and its bearing on the saro to accuse me of not mentioning that respect is what prevents decline, and based on that then to conclude that “to quote Dhamma out of context to create a false impression, as in Bhikkhu Anālayo’s argument, is in and of itself an act of disrespect for the Dhamma.” The accusation of quoting out of context to create a false impression thus falls back on the accuser.

Anālayo, The Cullavagga on Bhikkhunī Ordination 404 living Theravāda tradition(s). For legal purposes affecting present-day Theravāda monastics, the Pāli Vinaya in the form it has been handed down is the central frame of reference, not whatever we believe really happened in ancient India two and a half millennia ago.5 In my previous paper “On the Bhikkhunī Ordination Controversy” I briefly discussed the difference between a legal reading and a historical-critical reading of the Theravāda Vinaya as two distinct modes of approaching the same text. Here I would like to reiterate that both modes of reading have their proper place and value; to engage in one of these two does not imply a value statement on the other. It does imply, however, different purposes. If the purpose is to explore legal implications, as in my present paper, a historical-critical reading of the type done regularly by myself in other papers based on a comparative study of different extant versions of a particular text is not relevant.

An example to illustrate this point is the finding by Schlingloff that at times, instead of the rule being formulated in response to a certain event, the narrative event appears to have been formulated in rehānissaro “On Ordaining” (16) seems to have difficulties to appreciate that a text can be read in different ways, as in relation to my discussion of the garudhammas in “Women’s Renunciation” and in “On the Bhikkhunī” he comments: “he takes a position in that article directly contradicting the position he takes in part one of his more recent article.” Ṭhānissaro “On Ordaining” (20) then speaks of “an era where the True Dhamma has disappeared, when scholarly bhikkhus feel free to adopt mutually contradictory positions to serve various aims, and to cherry-pick the Dhamma and Vinaya as they like, taking it out of context and so showing disrespect for the Dhamma.” Ṭhānissaro’s inability to see the difference between an evaluation of historical plausibility and an interpretation of legal implications confirms an assessment by Singsuriya (262) that (at times) “Thai Sangha and monks in general lack hermeneutical consciousness. The reason is their advocacy of ‘naive realism’, the belief that meanings of texts are something given... they do not seem to have an inkling idea that textual meaning comes through mediation of an interpretative” stance taken by the reader.

405 Journal of Buddhist Ethics sponse to the rule. That is, a particular expression in the rule, on being misunderstood, seems to have provided the starting point for the creation of the narrative plot that now introduces the rule in the Pāli Vinaya.

This finding does not affect the legal validity of the rule in question or the legal relevance of the narrative within which it is embedded.

The putting into practice of this rule by a Theravāda monastic will still have to be guided by the narrative context within which the rule is now found in the Theravāda Vinaya.6 The same principle applies to my discussion in the remainder of this article, which is concerned with the Theravāda Vinaya as a legal code and the bearing of its narratives on the legal implications of its regulations concerning bhikkhunī ordination for Theravāda monastics.

Pace Ṭhānissaro “On Ordaining” (10), who concludes that “it would not be in line with the Vinaya’s own principles to make the narrative context of the origin stories determine how the rules are to be interpreted.” As an example illustrating his point, Ṭhānissaro “On Ordaining” (9) takes up pārājika 1 where, “even though the origin stories describe only incidents of heterosexual sex, the explanatory material in the Sutta Vibhaṅga makes clear that the rule applies to all sorts of intercourse.” This indeed shows that the explanations “apply the rule to situations... far beyond the case that the origin story describes,” but this does not make the narrative on the promulgation of the rule legally irrelevant. In fact Ṭhānissaro Buddhist (43) begins his discussion of the same pārājika 1 precisely by examining the narrative context, noting that in the tale of Sudinna having sex to beget a son, “his motives, by worldly standards, were relatively noble,” which Ṭhānissaro then contrasts to the tale of a monk who has sex with a monkey, where “the instigator’s motives were considerably less so.” Motivation is of course legally relevant and it is indeed meaningful to take into consideration these two tales, as they illustrate that pārājika 1 applies irrespective of one’s motivation for engaging in sex. Given that Ṭhānissaro himself considers the narrative context relevant to the legal implications of rules for bhikkhus, the narrative context for rules relevant to bhikkhunī ordination similarly has to be taken into account.

Anālayo, The Cullavagga on Bhikkhunī Ordination 406

Ordination by Acceptance of the Eight Garudhammas

I begin by translating the narrative found in the Cullavagga on how Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī became a bhikkhunī by accepting eight “principles to be respected,” the garudhammas.7 Here and subsequently, my presentation alternates between translations of the relevant passages and attempts to draw out their implications based on a legal reading of the respective narratives.


–  –  –

[The Buddha replied]: “Ānanda, if Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī accepts eight principles to be respected, then that will be

her higher ordination:

–  –  –

The translated section is taken from Vin II 255,2 to 256,9.

The numbers are not found in the original and have been added by me to facilitate

–  –  –

(2) “A bhikkhunī should not spend the rainy season in a residence where there is no bhikkhu. This is a principle to be revered, respected, honoured, venerated, and not to be transgressed for the whole of one’s life.

(3) “Every fortnight a bhikkhunī should seek two things from the community of bhikkhus: inquiring about [the date of] the observance day and coming for the exhortation. This is a principle to be revered, respected, honoured, venerated, and not to be transgressed for the whole of one’s life.

(4) “After the completion of the rainy season a bhikkhunī should make an invitation (pavāraṇā) before both communities in respect to three matters: what has been seen, heard, and suspected. This is a principle to be revered, respected, honoured, venerated, and not to be transgressed for the whole of one’s life.

(5) “A bhikkhunī who has offended against a serious rule is to undergo penance (mānatta) for a fortnight before both communities. This is a principle to be revered, respected, honoured, venerated, and not to be transgressed for the whole of one’s life.

(6) “A probationer who has trained for two years in six principles should seek higher ordination (upasampadā) from both communities. This is a principle to be revered, respected, honoured, venerated, and not to be transgressed for the whole of one’s life.

–  –  –

(8) “From today on, bhikkhunīs are not permitted to criticize bhikkhus. Bhikkhus are permitted to criticize bhikkhunīs. This is a principle to be revered, respected, honoured, venerated, and not to be transgressed for the whole of one’s life.

“Ānanda, if Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī accepts these eight principles to be respected, then that will be her higher ordination.”

–  –  –

Then the venerable Ānanda, having learned from the Blessed One these eight principles to be respected, approached Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī. Having approached her,

he said this to Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī:

“Gotamī, if you will accept eight principles to be respected, then that will be your higher ordination:

“A bhikkhunī who has received the higher ordination since a hundred years... Bhikkhus are permitted to criticize bhikkhunīs. This is a principle to be revered, respected, honoured, venerated, and not to be transgressed for the whole of one’s life.

“Gotamī, if you will accept these eight principles to be respected, then that will be you higher ordination.”

–  –  –

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