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Revival of Bhikkhuni Ordination

Editor’s note: This is a speech given by Ven. Santini at Smrti Park, Bihar in India during the International Buddhist Sangha Conference this year. She has very generously allowed us to re-publish her speech on Buddhistdoor. The voice of women will soon (and in many ways is becoming) a dominant voice in the Buddhist traditions, and Buddhistdoor eagerly anticipates the chances we may support the women’s movement through our online platform.

Dear Participants, my Dhamma sisters and brothers, ladies and gentlemen…

I am very happy to be here as a bhikkhuni. A long journey, not an easy one. But we all know that our great Teacher, the Buddha, never promised us an easy way anyway. Yet, we are happy practicing His teaching. Why? Because whatever He taught proves to be correct. The fruit is indeed so sweet. So peaceful, so relieving, so enlightening.

As nature works, everything grows when the condition allows it to grow. In spite of all the hindrances and obstacles which are constantly coming or made to come in order to block the women’s movement in spirituality, Dhamma keeps on shining, calling those who are ready to embrace and live in it. And look! So many women now nest in the beautiful Truth, struggling to follow and practice the teaching of the Buddha in order to come to the cessation of suffering. Yes. Ehipasiko! Come and see! And many women have come to learn the essence of the Teaching: 4 Noble Truths – The Truth of suffering. The Truth of the causes of suffering. The Truth of the cessation of suffering. And the Truth of the way to the cessation of suffering. How beautiful, and how congruent with the reality of our everyday life.

Well, for some women, Dhamma called a long time ago. A very long time ago. Dhamma came to their hearts and kept calling. “Live the real Dhamma way. Leave this worldly chaos. Live as a homeless practitioner. Be a bhikkhuni.” Their minds were shaken. A call was heard. “Yes. I must use this life the best possible way. I must practice Dhamma the best possible way. I want to live as a bhikkhuni. I must do it now! Now, when Dhamma is still here. Now, when I have the opportunity to learn it. Now, when I live my life as a human being. Now, when I am still alive. Now, before it’s too late. Who knows I will die soon…?”

But alas … Where to go? Nowhere.

What to do? Nothing.

Who can help? Nobody!

Hopeless. And helpless …

Something can happen because of causes. If something which can happen happens, why do we call it a miracle? Well, it is true. But I still think that my being able to come in contact with that call was sort of a joyous miracle. Coming in contact with Dhamma is indeed a blessing. Yet, struggling to come to THAT best way needs so much pain.

Many women who are now still struggling and who have succeeded in being Buddhist bhikkhunis in Theravada Tradition understand that pain. But we are all willing to pay that price to come to the goal: being bhikkhunis.

So many centuries have passed since the last Bhikkhuni Ordination in Theravada Tradition. Maybe for some time there was no need for the revival. And all was forgotten. But with time, many things have changed. People have started to think about that need for the revival of Bhikkhuni Ordination in the Theravada Tradition. For and Against have started to emerge as well. Many opinions have been brought up by individuals or groups. Some of them have ended up in disputes, disagreement, or even enmity – which is quite natural. After all, everyone is unique, and differences are not always bad. They can also help enrich our knowledge, experience, and wisdom.

With the enrichment of the mind, women can decide more wisely too. After all, life is a matter of choice. So, some women have taken a very courageous decision, namely leaving the home life to enter the homeless life as bhikkhunis, with all the consequences: acceptance and rejection.

When the Buddha opened up the way which leads to liberation, fully extinction of suffering, He established four groups of people as the pillars of Dhamma. They are Bhikkhu Sangha, Bhikkhuni Sangha, Upasakas, and Upasikas. Thus the way has been shown, and these four pillars have been established. By the Buddha himself! As the Buddha’s disciples, it is not appropriate for us to destroy the established four pillars. We must not ruin the four pillars, nor even one pillar. We must not do that, ever!

We realize that Bhikkhuni Sangha in the Theravada Tradition had slept so long because of so many factors. Without the Bhikkhuni Sangha, there are only three pillars left in the Theravada Tradition. Therefore, it is high time to revive it! Bhikkhuni Ordination in the Theravada Tradition should start again. Who has to do it? Nobody better than us, Buddhists! Yet, it is certainly not a piece of cake. Many parties oppose it –men and, strangely and unfortunately, women who do not understand the importance of those four pillars. Therefore, as inspired women who want liberation, we need to work hard together to raise the fallen pillar that the Buddha built a long time ago. It is our responsibility as striving beings to walk along the Buddha’s path, walking with loving kindness to fellow suffering beings who want liberation.

To make it brief and simple, the Buddha has clearly stated the core teaching: Do not do evil, Do good, Purify your mind. This is the teaching of all the Buddhas as the main guidance for all of us. Differences in our opinions do not give us enough reasons to start disputes, moreover wars. Likewise, we do not have enough reasons to start fighting pertaining to this revival of Bhikkhuni Sangha in the Theravada Tradition. We need to keep harmony with individuals and groups.

There are so many choices in this life as human beings. All of the choices are okey as long as they are in concord with Dhamma.  Choosing the path as a bhikkhu, bhikkhuni or as an upasaka, upasika is a good, natural choice. The choice is not for special or not-special position. It is simply a chosen way of life, a journey to the extinction of suffering. It is based on free will. There is no need to be afraid of this choice, or to be worried, or anxious, or suspicious. Thus, there is no need to create obstacles to prevent women from being bhikkhunis.

As a woman, choosing to  be a bhikkhuni nowadays means a determination to live the Dhamma in this very life, based on the understanding that it  will not be an easy way. Along the path, bhikkhunis need to be strong facing all the people who deliberately want to make women suffer and then disrobe. The Buddha has given men the right to be bhikkhus, and women to be bhikkhunis –as stated in the suttas and vinayas. If it is okey for a man to be a bhikkhu, then it is also okey for a woman to be a bhikkhuni. As simple as that.

The world has advanced a lot in many aspects. Technology has improved so much, making the world like a village. Distances are so close now. In the past, I felt so alone, not knowing that out there there were so many women who also struggled the way I did. Now, being here, I am very happy to know my Dhamma sisters from so many parts of the world. Here I am! I am not alone. We are not alone. I feel strong and inspired by the fact that many people go to the same direction as I do. Liberation. End of suffering. Nibbana. No matter how difficult and hard my life and my practice as a bhikkhuni, I have a strong determination not to loosen my effort. After all, I am the deciple of the Buddha.

Lastly, I would like us all to learn from a wonderful book written by Bhikkhu Bodhi, entitled ‘The Revival of Bhikkhuni Ordination in the Theravada Tradition.’ In the book, Bhikkhu Bodhi explains very clearly the background of this hot issue, and he also gives the reasons why it is important to revive the bhikkhuni ordination in the Theravada Tradition. We can see the suttas which support the ordination.

Reading that book, I am sure we will feel stronger knowing that we, Bhikkhunis, are on the right track. We are all walking in the light of Dhamma, straightening what was turned upside down, revealing what was hidden, showing the way to those who lost the way. All because of the teaching of our great Teacher, the Buddha.

I appreciate this Conference as it shows us that more and more people feel the need to raise the fallen pillar: Bhikkhuni Sangha in the Theravada Tradition. May this Congress help generate the spirit of Dhamma in women’s hearts and inspire some of them to undoubtedly choose the Dhamma life as bhikkhunis. The world needs more peaceful people to shine in the dark. So much to do. So little time. 

Thank you for giving me a chance to share my experience.

May we all have the opportunity to learn and practice Dhamma in the way the Buddha taught.

May all beings be happy, and may the best come to us all.Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitata… 

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