newsletter on international buddhist woman's activities
The problems relating to the Bhikkhunis at the moment are mainly based on the attitude of the Bhikkhuns who are against the reestablishment of nuns Order. The Four Mahanayakas who belong to the main sects of Sri Lanka do not accept the newly established Bhikkhuni order. They are of the view that the Bhikkhunis Order, which is not established in accordance with the Theravada Vinaya, is a threat to Buddhist dispensation. According to the Theravada Vinaya tradition a woman should be ordained by Bhikkhunis and then by the Bhikkhus. The method of obtaining higher ordination by a woman is known as Atthavacika Upasampada in which the announcement would be done thrice by Bhikkhunis and again thrice by Bhikkhus. As Bhikkhunis are not available at present in the Theravada countries it is the view of the Mahanayakas of Sri Lanka that the Bhikkhuni Order cannot be re-established until the next Buddha to come. The most Venerable Mahanayaka of Asgiriya Chapter of Siyam Nikaya observes "it has to be opposed to the reestablishment of Bhikkhuni order as it goes against the Theravada Vinaya tradition. But if however it can be established according to the Vinaya rules we would like to welcome".
On the issue of the present Bhikkhuni Order the most Ven. Madihe Pannaseha the president of Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha writes "it is clear that there is no room what so ever for establishing Bhikkhuni order in accordance with the Theravada Vinaya rules. Thought there are a nun's organizations in Mahayana countries such as China, Vietnam, but high priests of all the five Theravada countries do not accept it. Therefore we would advice the government of Sri Lanka and the public not to waste the time by talking on such an undisciplinary and non acceptable point."
When we look at this issue without bias, there is no doubt that the monk's opposition mostly depends on the traditional attitude of Theravada towards the women rather that on the disciplinary reasons. There as means the elders of the monks. Theravada by definition has been look down upon women. Prof. Gunapala Dharmasiri, a lecturer of the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka writes on that point: "it is difficult to understand how and why this developed so. Perhaps Hindu social and patriarchal hierarchy much have had a big impact on the Theravada institution as was the case with the caste system within the Theravada society. Even today the chief monks are explicitly against giving the political and spiritual equality to the Buddhist nuns."
If the Theravada monks do not have this hostile attitude towards the women it would not be difficult for them to find the assistance from the Vinaya rules in favour of reestablishment of nun's Order. Commenting on the monk's attitude Sri Lankan scholar who has specialized in Vinaya tests explained to me when I met him that "the opposition of the monks cannot be justified if they take Chullavagga story of the entry of women for granted. According to the story the ordination by both Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Sangha for women has been excepted as the final step of the process of nuns ordination. But on the occasion on the establishment of nuns Order the Buddha had given permission to the monks to confer that higher ordination to the nuns. When Mahapajapathi Gothami asked the Buddha about the women companions Buddha directed his Order saying that nuns should be ordained upasampadetabba. According to the text the first batch of women except Pajapati Gitami received higher ordination neither from the Buddha nor from both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis but only from the Bhikkhus". (18) The same scholar further holds the view that the occasion of reestablishment of nuns Order in Sri Lanka is quite similar to that of the establishment the monks should take the step to confer the ordination to the women as the monks did in the Buddha's time by doing that it is certain that there would not be any violation of the Vinaya rules.
Though at the beginning many criticisms were directed towards the newly established Bhikkhuni Order, at present it gradually is receiving popularity among the Buddhists. The government of Sri Lanka is taking steps to recognize these Bhikkhunis as properly ordained nuns. When I met some of them recently at Kalundeve Bhikkhuni Centre, they informed me that they were fortunate to receive the confidence of the government so as to get their due recognition as true Bhikkhunis. Now the government issues the identity cards for them giving them the status of Bhikkhuni instead of Dasas'e lamata. They believe that this is a good sign for their better future. In addition some monks who are in favour of Bhikkhuni order do not hesitate to accept their participation in the popular religious activities such as funeral rights and Dana ceremonies. It is understood that Ven. Inamaluve Sumangala There came forwards to assist them in many respects. Every year they organize a higher ordination ceremony for the nuns all over the country. But they did not have a Simamalaka to perform the higher ordination ceremony. Rev. Sumangala Thero allowed them to use the Simamalakaya of Dumbulla Temple for their Vinaya activities such as recitation of Pati Mokkha and act of higher ordination. Further more four temples belonged to Dumbulla Temple has been given to the nuns in order to look after the religious needs of the Buddhist, as there were no monks to look after these temples. According to them there are a lot temples in rural areas without monks. If they are given these temples, they wish to perform the religious activities of the Buddhists in these villages. The main problem that they have to face is lack of education centers to give the traditional Vinaya practices.
For the monks the government has stared many Pirivena in every District of Sri Lanka to give the education for the monks. But the government still has not started any program to help nuns in their educational and material needs.
Most of the scholars and monks in Sri Lanka are in favour of establishment of new Bhikkhuni order. According to them "women participation in social and religious affairs has to be mostly welcome at this stage in Sri Lanka. If they are allowed to enter the Order and get the due recognition they would certainly be able to render a great service to the nation. It is true that thousands of women specially in rural areas are really disgusted with worldly affairs due to many reasons such as poverty, distress, negligence by husband and dear ones and untimely deaths of husbands and children who were involved in present war fare. There is no one who can guide them to lead a peaceful happy life. This situation of the country would necessarily prompt non-Buddhist religious movements to convert the Buddhists to their religion. There are some villages in the country where people are unable to find even a single monk for their religious needs. Another important fact to be considered in this regard is that at present the order of monks is rapidly decreasing in number, due to non-availability of children who are willing to enter the Order. In near future it is certain the Buddhism in Sri Lanka would suffer much from the inadequacy of monks for Buddhists religious requirements. Buddhism in Sri Lanka on the part of the lay community is mostly depended on performance of Buddhist rituals bound up with their lives. If they find difficulty to get the assistance from the monks in this regard Buddhism in Sri Lanka would certainly be in danger. The only way to solve this problem is to encourage of the Bhikkhunis who are showing a great interest in becoming nuns." Writing on this position, Mr. Senarath Wijesundara who was a famous writer on the field of Bhikkhuni order and lecture in the University of Kalaniya observes, "this is an era according to many people in which those who dedicate their lives to spiritual values are rare. The Dasasilamatas are women who have voluntarily dedicated there lives to treat the path to Nirvana as nuns helping to promote their aspiration and activities will be an encouragement to them. It will be an important step taken to advance the welfare of Buddhism as whole. Keeping this problem unsolved only helps to continue the frustration and dissatisfaction of Buddhist women".
Some foreign scholars are of opinion that it is true that the Sri Lankan society is still under the pressure of male domination therefore it will certainly find difficult to form a Bhikkhuni order as strong as present Bhikkhu order. But it is also true that women are now sensitive in the fields of religion and social welfare, they can be more helpful in these areas like in Taiwan and Korea, if they are given the real place as Bhikkhunis.
As a matter of fact women in Sri Lankan society under go a lot of suffering and disadvantages mainly because they do not have institutional power. If they established the nuns order with due recognition that will be an institution for their own to look after the needs of the women. When the nuns became more influential in the society they will be more useful not only for women but also for the whole society. If the nuns Order gets its roots firmly in the Sri Lankan society there is no doubt even for a considerable period it will be able to work for the spiritual promotion as well as uplifting social values.