Bhikkhuni is a Pali word which means fully ordained female monastic in Buddhism. In Sanskrit, it is written as bhiksuni. The counterpart of Bhikkhuni is called as bhikkhus. Both of them live by the set of rules known as Vinaya.
In Buddhism, both of the genders are seen equally. Therefore women are also capable of attaining nirvana. The inclusion of women in the Sangha is credited to the generous work of Ananda. It is recorded that upon the request of Ananda to publicly recognize women as being equal to men in possessing the potential for awakening, the Buddha conceded and permitted the women to enter the Sangha. The first women to enter the sangha was Mahapajapati, the Buddha's stepmother. It is also recorded that upon the request of Mahapajapati, the order of bhikkhunis was first created by the Buddha, himself. However, after the parinirvana of the Buddha, this act was highly criticized.
The order of Bhikkhunis was initiated only after five years of initiation of the order of Bhikkhu. However, the Buddha lay down more rules of discipline for the bikkhunis and also made it more difficult for them to be ordained. They had to take extra vows, the Eight Garudhammas, and are subordinate to and reliant upon the bhikkhu order. In the present form of Tibetan Buddhism, women officially take the vows of Sramaneris. However Theravadin women may choose to take an informal and limited set of vows similar to the historical vows of the Samaneri, like the maechi of Thailand and thilashin of Myanmar. But the women in the path of the Buddha has always been questioned. Sometimes the question goes beyond the extent like regarding nuns as a later invention.
Whatever may be the rumors, after the initiation of the sangha for bhikkhunis, women can also openly aspire to and practice for the highest level of spiritual attainment. They are capable of attaining nirvana as men and can fully attain all four stages of enlightenment.
The stories, sayings, and deeds of the preeminent Bhikkhuni, as well as numerous distinguished bhikkhunis of early Buddhism, are recorded in the Pali Canon. These are most notably presented in the Therigatha and Theri Apadana as well as the Anguttara Nikaya and Bikkhuni Samyutta. Along with this, the ancient bhikkhunis are also mentioned in the Sanskrit Avadana texts and the Dipavamsa (the first Sri Lankan Buddhist historical chronicle, authored by the Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni Sangha).
Similarly, Lotus Sutra also holds the records of six thousand bhikkhuni arhantis who received predictions of bodhisattva-hood and future Buddhahood by Gautama Buddha.
The Eight Garudharmas
The Eight Garudharmas are the special set of rules that are required to follow by the female monastics in order to obtain ordained. These set of rules are not for the male monastics. The rules are mentioned below:
- A nun who has been ordained even for a hundred years must greet respectfully, rise up from her seat, salute with joined palms, do proper homage to a monk ordained but that day (but later after the Buddha knew about this rule, he altered the rule to bow the monk who is worthy of respect).
- A nun must not spend the rains in a residence where there are no monks.
- Every half month a nun should desire two things from the Order of Monks: the asking as to the date of the Observance [uposatha] day, and the coming for the exhortation [bhikkhunovada].
- After the rains (3 months rainy season retreat) a nun must 'invite' [pavarana] before both orders in respect of three matters, namely what was seen, what was heard, what was suspected.
- A nun, offending against an important rule, must undergo manatta discipline for half a month before both orders.
- When, as a probationer, she has trained in the six rules [cha dhamma] for two years, she should seek higher ordination from both orders.
- A monk must not be abused or reviled in any way by a nun.
- From today, the admonition of monks by nuns is forbidden.
Becoming a Bhikkhuni
The process of ordination as a bhikkhuni is completed in four steps. The first step is to take the Five Precepts then to enter the pabbajja (monastic way of life). The third one is to become a Sramaneri (novitiate). The last and final one is to take the full vows of a bhikkhuni.
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