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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
SUMMER 2014 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 81 least the 1920s, but none have affected real change. In 1998, in a ceremony at Bodhgaya in India, Chinese nuns joined with Theravada monks in ordaining Sri Lankan women. That move was prob- lematic in the eyes of traditionalists, however, because while the bhikkhuni lineage was long ago transmitted to China, where it has remained unbro- ken, Chinese nuns observe a form of the Vinaya that is different from what is followed in Theravada countries. “Any ordination within a particular tradition needs to be based on the legal code of that tradition in order to be acceptable to the traditionalist,” Analayo explains. “If I am a policeman in Germany, I can arrest people in Germany. But I cannot go over to Canada and arrest people there.” It’s not just a matter of religious cus- tom, he adds. In Burma and Thailand, government regulations forbid bhikkhus from ordaining women. And in 2009, Thai-trained Theravada monk Ajahn Brahmasvamso was severely criticized for ordaining four women in Australia. Sri Lankan nuns who have undergone higher ordination are still treated as sec- ond-class citizens, Analayo said, unable to obtain government ID cards or study at universities. “Were the ordinations in Bodhgaya legal or not?” Analayo asks. “That was the question I had to answer.” Given the deference accorded to tradition in the Theravada school, Analayo sought the answer from within the legal structure of the Vinaya itself—in particular, a text called the Cullavagga. There, it is related that the Buddha’s stepmother, Mahapa- japati, was the first woman to ask for higher ordination. She accomplished this by accepting eight garudhammas, or “principles to be respected,” detail- ing the relationship between bhikkhus and bhikkunis. When Mahapajapati asked the Bud- dha about having her female followers ordained, he replied that the bhikkhus should ordain them. But once an order of nuns had come into being in this way, the legal procedure given in the Vinaya was for both orders—monks and nuns—to ordain new nuns. “For the last thousand years, every- body seems to think this second proce- dure invalidates the first one,” Analayo says. So because there have been no bhikkhunis to take part in female ordi- nations, male monks have refused to conduct them. But in Analayo’s reading, the two rules are equally valid and are meant to address different situations: when both monks and nuns are available, they should cooperate to conduct ordi- nations, but where there are no nuns, monks alone can perform the rite. There- fore, Analayo concludes that because the Sri Lankan candidates underwent a second ordination conducted only by monks, the Bodhgaya ordinations were legitimate—even if the role played by the Chinese nuns is negated. Analayo has published his findings in multiple South and Southeast Asian lan- guages. “I want people in those coun- tries to understand that this is legal,” he says. “There’s definitely going to be resistance, but the thing is, I’ve lived in Sri Lanka for ten years and I’m known as a strict monk. It will make it easier for them to listen to what I say, as it comes from both an academic and a monk practitioner.” Fancott believes Analayo’s work will be central to any ongoing discus- sion of women’s ordination. “Because it is a topic that can stimulate lively and heated discussion and educate, scholar- ship is going to be important for any transformative process,” she says. Analayo meanwhile hopes renewed bhikkhuni ordinations will restore the missing branch of the four assemblies that the Buddha described as key to a healthy sangha: male and female monas- tics practicing together with male and female lay followers. “Theravada Buddhism is like an ele- phant with one leg crippled, and we need to heal that. We need the bhikkhunis side by side with us,” Analayo says. If the his- toric turn of the twentieth century was to see a growing role for lay practitioners, he says, “The big development for the twenty-first century is to get the female monastics into the boat.” For Fancott, who has been active in the Sakyadhita International Asso- ciation of Buddhist Women, the online course met a need to challenge a tra- ditionally male-dominated viewpoint. “These narratives are hugely impor- tant,” she says. “They play out in the world in a way that does an enormous amount of harm.” The work of Analayo and other scholars, such as Karma Lekshe Tsomo and Petra Kieffer-Puelz, deserves to reach a wider audience, Fancott believes, and that’s where the online course, with its potential to reach people around the world, comes in. As a scholar, Analayo expertly draws on diverse early sources, including the Pali canon and the Chinese agamas, in search of similarities and differences. “My academic work is trying to recon- struct what we call early Buddhism, which is different from Theravada and also different from Mahayana,” he says. “It’s how Buddhism started.” This style of textual analysis resembles the meth- ods pioneered by early Biblical scholars. “We can’t say what the Buddha said,” Analayo acknowledges. “It’s about get- ting as close to the origin as possible.” Analayo became intrigued by the question of female ordination when preparing his presentation for the 2007 conference in Hamburg. While the order of bhikkhunis dates back to the Buddha’s lifetime, the lineage died out in Theravada countries, in part due to invasions and political upheaval, by about 1000 CE. Because the traditional assumption— based on the Vinaya, the meticulously detailed code of conduct for ordained Buddhist clergy—has been that nuns must be present in order to ordain new nuns, male clergy have taken the posi- tion that no new nuns can be ordained. Women in Theravada countries drawn to a spiritual life have had to settle for an intermediate status in which they shave their heads and lead monastic lifestyles but are not accorded the title or respect of a fully ordained bhikkhuni. There have been sporadic efforts to restore the bhikkhuni order since at