Nuns, Lives, and Rules

Karma Lekshe Tsomo

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Nuns, Lives, and Rules

Show Summary Details


According to tradition, the order of Buddhist nuns (bhikṣunī sangha) began some five centuries before the common era, just five or six years after the order of Buddhist monks (bhikṣu sangha). Mahaprajapati, the aunt and foster mother of the Buddha, is said to have initiated the bhikṣunī sangha when she asked the Buddha for permission to join the sangha and, after some hesitation, he agreed. The lives of Buddhist nuns are regulated by the bhikṣunī prātimokṣa (Pali: bhikkhuni pāṭimokkha), a summary of the precepts or rules found in the bhikṣunī Vinaya, or monastic code for nuns. Like novice monks, a nun first undertakes the ten training rules of a novice nun (srāmaṇerikā): to abstain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual activity, intoxicants, untimely food, singing and dancing, cosmetics and ornaments, high or luxurious seats and beds, and handling silver or gold. Unlike a bhikṣu (fully ordained monk), the Vinaya stipulates that a nun live for two years as a siksamana, to receive further training and ensure that she is not pregnant, before undergoing the upasampada to become a bhikṣunī (fully ordained nun). The number of precepts for a bhikṣunī varies in the different Vinaya schools: 311 in the Theravada, 348 in the Dharmaguptaka, 364 in the Mūlasarvāstivāda, and so on. The lineage of bhikṣunī ordination was transmitted to China, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, where it flourished. The lineage died out around the 11th century in India and Sri Lanka, but was revived in Sri Lanka in the late 20th century. The number of bhikṣunīs in the early 21st century was estimated at approximately 60,000.

Article.  14072 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.