A visit from a group of Bhikkhus from Myanmar
Semsikkhalaya arranged for an exposure trip for a group of bhikkhus, Thilashins and lay people from Myanmar. In this group there were 13 bhikkhus, 2 thilashins, one layman and three laywomen. They are touring Thailand focusing their interest on local development projects. They arrived on Nov.1 at night, after having spent a restful night, they met Ven.Bhikkhuni Dhammananda for 3-hour meeting.
Ven.Dhammananda presented an overall picture of the activities of bhikkhunis in various countries in Asia. Starting with the formation of Gotami Vihara in Malaysiain 2014 where the Theravada bhikkhunis came up with an idea to form a network on Asian Theravada bhikkhunis. There were members from five countries, i.e.Ven.Santini from Indonesia, Ven.Dr Lieu Phap from Vietnam, Ven.Dhammananda from Thailand, these three bhikkhunis were also the first ones in their respective countries. Then there was a bhikkhuni from Sri Lanka and Ven.Sumangala, then a samaneri from Malaysia.
Thus the network was formed linking the members from five founding countries together. Later they use a canon ball flower with five petals as the network logo to symbolize their helping hands for the network.
In 2014 there were training for senior bhikkhunis organized twice at Songdhammakalyani Monastery in Thailand. All the senior bhikkhunis came to be trained as kammavacacarinis. The bhikkhuni teacher came from Sri lanka.
Later in Nov.2014 Ven.Dhammananda was appointed as the first pavattini in Thailand by bhikkhu sangha headed by Maha Nayaka mahindavamsa from Dipaduttamarama in Colombo. At that time he came to preside over bhikkhuni upasampada held in Koh Yoh, Songkhla province. There were 8 Thai sikkhamanas ordained as bhikkhunis.
The following year, 2015, Ven.Dhammananda organized for the first time annual Monastic training for one vassa at her arama. There were 5 bhikkhunis from Vietnam and five from India who came to attend the training.
In 2016, in June, Ven.Dhammananda organized anther monastic training at her temple. This year there were 11 bhikkhunis from Vietnam, 3 samaneris from Thailand and one from France, and 3 more laywomen from Germany, Italy,Korea.
The monastic training will be conducted in June every year. The application can be down loaded from www.thaibhikkhunis.org.
Apart from one month monastic training (in English) there are also 9-day temporary ordination offered regularly on April 6 and Dec.5 every year. For those who are interested they can also view the details from the same website.
Under the Network of Asian Theravada bhikkhunis, now Ven.Dr.Lieu phap is the president. In 2015 they organized ASEAN Bhikkhuni Conference, where bhikkhunis from five countries were speakers.
They were Ven.Lieu Phap (Vietnam), Ven.Dhammananda (Thailand), Ven.Thitacarini (Indonesia), Ven.Suniti (India) and Ven.Sumangala (Malaysia). This conference was attended by bhikkhus and bhikkhunis and at least 1000 students from Rajabhat University in Nakhonpathom.
IN 2016 (Sept.22-23) the Network of Asian Theravada bhikkhunis again co-hosted yet another ABC but this time it was more inclusive. ABC no longer stands for ASEAN Bhikkhunis Conference, it has shifted to ASEAN Buddhist Conference. As the news spread, there were papers presented from more than 22 countries.
Towards the end of the conference, the participants agreed to be more inclusive. The conference will still be under ABC but this time it stands for Asian Buddhists Conference. Dr Amarjiva Lochan proposed that in 2018 it will be organized in Vaishali, India.
After the broad background of the work done by the network of Asian Theravada bhikkhunis, then Ven.Dhammananda addressed the group.
She stated that she had just 3 important points to share with them.
1.Historically the Buddha thought of the fourfold Buddhists, namely bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen as the foundation of Buddhist community very early on when he was enlightened and the Mara came to invite him, that it was the right time for him to pass away. At that time there were neither bhikkhus nor bhikkhunis. The Buddha refused and said that not until his fourfold Buddhists are fully established.
This is a proof that it was the Buddha’s intention to establish bhikkhuni sangha. This important incident will remove the idea expressed by later Buddhists claiming that the Buddha never wanted women to be ordained.
2. it is much quoted that a woman must be ordained by bhikkhuni sangha then bhikkhu sangha.
This, Ven.Dhammananda explained in greater details that the wording as found in Garudhamma saying that a women must seek ordination from both sanghas, it should be understood that the bhikkhuni sangha to help the candidate purify herself from all the 24 antarayikadhammas (dangerous points against ordination), once when the candidate is pure, then she proceeds to receive upasampada from bhikkhu sangha.
So the upasampada is not done from bhikkhuni sangha and then bhikkhu sangha. Upasampada is a sanghakamma to be done only once. If a sanghakamma is properly done, then the second one to be repeated will be considered invalid.
In case of ordination of bhikkhuni, people who have know historical knowledge of the development of the ordination procedure would think that a candidate must receive upasampada from bhikkhuni sangha, then bhikkhu sangha. It is not so. The bhikhuni sangha is there to help purifying the candidate but the upasampada is done by the bhikkhu sangha.
Therefore, the reason we often hear that bhikkhuni ordination cannot be revive because there are no bhikkhunis is not a valid argument.
3. Ven.Dhammananda explained about the need to understand how the revival of bhikkhuni sangha was done in 1998. The bhikkhu sangha who were most ready for provide for the ordination of bhikkhunis were the Sri Lankan. This was because Sri Lankan Buddhists have a clear history to receive the lineage of ordination for both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis in 3rd C.BC. from King Asoka of India. Thus Sri Lanka has a long history of the survival of both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis.
When both the sanghas died out in 1017 A.D. with the invasion of Jola king from South India, there was no support from India as in India the Sanghas also went through the same fate with the invasion of Turk Muslim between 11-12th C. A.D.
With the revival of bhikkhuni in this recent decades, it happened in Bodh Gaya, the place where the Buddha was enlightened. The Maha Nayakas and senior monks in Sri Lanka took an active participation. They did the primary screening for the candidates by sending out the application form for bhikkhuni ordination to all 2500 existing dasasil matas (local nuns) on the island. They selected 20 of them, the best of the candidates and sent them for full ordination in Bodh Gaya. That ordination was organized by Fo Guang Shan, a well known International Buddhist organization from Taiwan.
But the ordaining sanghas were Mahayana, the most senior Theravada bhikkhus from Sri Lanka realized that such lineage would not be accepted once they returned to Sri Lanka. So they arranged the 20 newly ordained bhikkhunis to go to receive upasampada in Sarnath,where they have sima, and the ordination was conferred by purely Sri Lankan Theravada monks.
Among the 20 newly ordained bhikkhunis, two of them were appointed by the sangha to become pavattinis. One of them, Ven.Rahatunggoda Saddha Sumana is Ven.Dhammananda’s teacher.
So thus, the lineage of bhikkhunis is established in Theravada .
That was the three points of interest that Ven.Dhammananda shared with the Burmese monks.
Much lively discussions followed.
Ven.Dhammananda asked one of the monks who is also an abbot in Myanmar, whether it is possible for him to give ordination to women once he is back in Myanmar. He accepted that there will be pressure from above. But Ven.Dhammananda argued teasingly that ordaining bhikkhunis is not against Parajika, so the monks in power will not be able to disrobe him.
Another younger monk expressed his support for bhikkhunis and said that it did not happen in Myanmar because the Thilashins(local nuns) themselves are not interested. This was taken up by the Thilashin who was present during the discussion, that she felt that thilashin is a good substitute for bhikkhunis.
Ven.Dhammananda picked on the word “substitute” that it cannot replace the real one. Being thilashin is placed only in the category of laywomen because she receives neither pabbajja nor upasamapada.
Another Ven.bhikkhu asked out of curiosity, why Ven.Dhammananda insisted on revival of bhikkhunis which have been long extinct. Ven.Dhammananda gave him the opposite scenario,
suppose the bhikkhus were all gone, and there were only bhikkhunis, if the bhikkhunis should have the same attitude, that the bhikkhus are all gone, that is good, and need to do nothing about it.
What would be their comment? All the bhikkhus laughed, understanding the point that Ven.Dhammananda was trying to drive at.
Yes, it was the Buddha’s intention to have both the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen.
If one of us is missing, it is our duty to try to revive the others so that we have a completion of the fourfold Buddhists which was established by the Buddha.
And this is how we pay respect to the Buddha.