Guide to Tipitaka

Admission of Bhikkhunøs into the Order

After spending four vassas (residence period during the rains) after his Enlightenment, the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu, his native royal city, at the request of his ailing father, King Suddhodana. At that time, Mahæpajæpati, Buddha’s foster mother, requested him to admit her into the Order. Mahæpajæpati was not alone in desiring to join the Order. Five hundred Sakyan ladies whose husbands had left the household life were also eager to be admitted into the Order.

After his father’s death, the Buddha went back to Vesælø, refusing the repeated request of Mahæpajæpati for admission into the Order. The determined foster mother of the Buddha and widow of the recently deceased King Suddhodana, having cut off her hair and put on bark-dyed clothes, accompanied by five hundred Sakyan ladies, made her way to Vesælø where the Buddha was staying in the Mahævana, in the Kþ¥ægæra Hall.

The Venerable Ænanda saw them outside the gateway of the Kþ¥ægæra Hall, dust-laden with swollen feet, dejected, tearful, standing and weeping. Out of great compassion for the ladies, the Venerable Ænanda interceded with the Buddha on their behalf and entreated him to accept them in the Order. The Buddha continued to stand firm. But when the Venerable Ænanda asked the Buddha whether women were not capable of attaining Magga and Phala Insight, the Buddha replied that women were indeed capable of doing so, provided they left the household life like their menfolk.

Thereupon Ænanda made his entreaties again saying that Mahæpajæpati had been of great service to the Buddha waiting on him as his guardian and nurse, suckling him when his mother died. And as women were capable of attaining the Magga and Phala Insight, she should be permitted to Join the Order and become a bhikkhunø.

The Buddha finally acceded to Ænanda’s entreaties: "Ænanda, if Mahæpajæpati accepts eight special rules, garu-dhammæ, let such acceptance mean her admission to the Order."

The eight special rules are:

(i) A bhikkhunø, even if she enjoys a seniority of a hundred years in the Order, must pay respect to a bhikkhu though he may have been a bhikkhu only for a day.

(ii) A bhikkhunø must not keep her rains-residence in a place where there are no bhikkhus.

(iii) Every fortnight a bhikkhunø must do two things: To ask the bhikkhu Saµgha the day of uposatha, and to approach the bhikkhu Saµgha for instruction and admonition.

(iv) When the rains-residence period is over, a bhikkhunø must attend the paværa¼æ ceremony conducted at both the assemblies of bhikkhus and bhikkhunøs, in each of which she must invite criticism on what has been seen, what has been heard or what has been suspected of her.

(v) A bhikkhunø who has committed a Saµghædisesa offence must undergo penance for a half-month, pakkha mænatta, in each assembly of bhikkhus and bhikkhunøs.

(vi) Admission to the Order must be sought, from both assemblies, by a woman novice only after two year’s probationary training as a candidate.

(vii) A bhikkhunø should not revile a bhikkhu in any way, not even obliquely.

(viii) A bhikkhunø must abide by instructions given her by bhikkhus, but must not give instructions or advice to bhikkhus.

Mahæpajæpati accepted unhesitatingly these eight conditions imposed by the Buddha and was consequently admitted into the Order.

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