The Bodhi tree behind
the Mahabodhi temple
in Bodhgaya



20th century developments

Lest Chatsumarn Kabilsingh's translation of the "Bhikkhunī pātimokkha of the six schools" (Bangkok 1991) disappears into oblivion, and therewith Sulak Sivaraksa's Foreword, this Foreword is given below, as a recognition of studies that several men and women, monks and nuns, undertook on the concise vinaya rules known as the pātimokkha or pātimokhsa (in Pali language resp. Sanskrit).

"In 1996, as the Director of the Social Science Association Press of Thailand, I was privileged to publish the first complete Pali Patimokkha [for bhikkhus] in Roman characters with a page-by-page translation into English by Ven. Ñana-moli Bhikkhu, plus a learned introduction by the Most Ven. Phra Sāsana Sóbhana (Suvaddhano), who is now [1990/1] our Sangha-raja or the Supreme Patriarch.

Since then, King Maha Makut University Press have produced a few improved editions. I believe that the book is still in print since it is in great demand for western Buddhist monks of the Theravāda tradition to refer to, before or after the fortnightly recitation of the whole 227 Fundamental Rules of a Bhikkhu.1

In the same year, as the Honorary Editor of Visakha Puja [wesak / vesak] the annual publication of the Buddhist Association of Thailand, under royal patronage, I was again fortunate enough to be able to publish an article on "Illustration of Important Points of Vinaya" from the Vajrayana tradition. The original text came from a thanka (painted religious scroll) in Kalimpong, India. A copy of this xylograph was brought to Bangkok by a Tibetan monk who translated it into English with the help of an Indian Bhikkhu and a British Bhikkhu here.2

We printed the text in Tibetan with illustrations side by side with the English translation. I then translated it into Siamese and had a special Siamese volume published with other articles on Tibetan culture and Buddhism to welcome the Dalai Lama, when His Holiness visited this country the following year.

Dr.W. Pachow produced an excellent work on A Comparative Study of the Patimoksa, no longer online. It helps us to note, for instance, that the Fundamental Precepts of a Bhikkhu ordained in Tibet are 253 in number, as compared with the 227 in Theravāda countries. This is because the Vinaya [monk's rules] followed there is that of the [mūla-] Sarvastivādins, who were a Hinayana school particularly powerful in Kashmir and Punjab in former times. It is also worth noting that Tibetan Vinaya is also Hinayana, and that Bhikkhu ordained in Mahāyana countries are always ordained according to an Indian Hinayana tradition ([mūla-] Sarvastivāda in Tibet and Dharma-gupta in China, Korea and Vietnam).

Afterwards, they may take upon themselves the Bodhisattva training with its tradition of 58 [should be 43] vows (in China), or 64 vows (in Tibet); but these are also open for lay people to observe without ceasing to be lay people.3 Of course, the precepts of the novice (sāmanera) and of the monk (bhikkhu) in Tibet, as elsewhere, involve changes in one's life which one who retains the robes has to adhere to.

Now, I am very pleased that Dr. Chtsumarn Kabilsingh has translated The Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha of the Six Schools, which wil help us to learn and compare Therāvada, Mahāsánghika, Mahīsásaka, Sarvastivāda, Dharmagupta and Mūla-Sarvastivāda. Although her translation is not as masterful as that of Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, it is a very good attempt by a non-English and a non-Sinologist. Dr. Kabilsingh is a very devoted lady who wholeheartedly works for the good cause of women's liberation in a Buddhist manner.

As we all know, in Buddhism, there is equality among the sexes, but later tradition seems to put male over female. And, especially, the disappearance of Bhikkhunī lineage in Theravāda tradition4 is indeed a great loss. Now, with the comparative study of the Vinaya, one may learn that Bhiksunī in the Mahāyana tradition also belongs to the Hinayana School of which Theravāda is a branch.5 One could seriously contemplate what a great help our brothers and sisters in the Mahāyana tradition could be in starting the Bhikkhunī order in Theravāda countries once again.6 As in the past, the Bhikkhunī from Sri Lanka helped restore the lineage in China; and the Bhikkhu from Siam [and Myanmar/Burma] helped to restore the lineage in Sri Lanka.
I hope this wish is not only academic, but could become practical soon, too.7 As a Buddhist, one should be faithful to one's tradition at its best, but one must also be liberal and open — not to be reactionary, and not to be bound by narrow views of the past few hundred years when we were cut off from each other.

It is in the living of the Buddhist life that the qualities of the Perfections [paramitā], for instance, are developed and become inherent part of one's character.
There is no better chance of developing all these noble qualities, nor can there be for most people any quicker path to the wisdom and compassion, than that of the ordained one. He or she is, so to speak, a specialist, since he or she can give all his or her time and energies to the Dhamma Vinaya, the Doctrine [Teaching] and the Discipline. Nor without the latter will one ever gain wisdom and compassion, whether the Discipline one means are the basic five requirements of lay Buddhist morality — the five precepts — or the more complex codes of the Bhikkhu or Bhikkhunī.

One has to choose whether one will let one's mind drift on amid fleeting pleasures bringing only transient satisfactions, or whether one wishes to turn into the Imperishable — to Nirvāna. If to the latter, one has naturally to take the course which will lead one there; and in the very fist step, there is the Discipline.

Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh has made me feel proud of my fellow Siamese who have done so much to have the complete Chinese Patimokkha of the Six Schools ready for the world to study. And this Patimokkha will, no doubt, help many Bhikkhunī and would-be Bhikkhunī, as well as laymen and laywomen, who wish to take the Vinaya seriously (and one could not be a practising Buddhist if one is not serious whith the Vinaya), so that we could all help to support the order of Bhikkhunī as much as we support the order of Bhikkhu.

The strenght of Bhikkhu and Bhikkhunī, together with the laymen and laywomen, working together harmoniously, is really a proper practice on the Noble Eightfold Path."
S. Sivaraksa

Note 1: The patimokkha or patimokhsa of the other 5 denominations have considerably more rules, upto 380 for the Mahāsánghika, which school is now defunct.

Note 2: It would have been helpful if dr. Sivaraksa had given the names of the Tibetan, the Indian and the British monk. Such an example of international cooperation in the field of Buddhism studies, even in Bangkok, was still, even in those days, quite extraordinary.

Note 3: This is incorrect. There are shorter (4) upto longer (37) sets of Bodhisattva vows for the laity, relative to their status in life. The latter list of 37 can be adhered to by the monkhood as well; there is no harm in that.

Note 4: The end of the 20th Century witnessed a revival of the Theravāda bhikkhunī Order in especially Sri Lanka. Candidates of all Theravāda countries are allowed to seek higher ordination there. Although the bhikkhunī status cannot be denied or falsified by bhikkhus in other Theravāda countries, these higher ordinations remain practically unfulfilled as far as public recognition is concerned.

Note 5: The higher ordination of Mahāyana bhiksunī remains a Hinayana ordination until she adds the Bodhisattva Vows relative to the School she finds herself in. This turns the entire higher ordination into a turning towards the path of the Great Vehicle or the Mahāyana.

Note 6: This has been in fact effectuated. The higher ordination mentioned in note 4 was preceded by short-lived period of ordination alongside Dharmagupta ordination ceremonies in Taiwan, executed by the Foguangshan Community.

Note 7: By 2015 there is no sign of change in attitudes of neither the leadership of Siamese monks, nor of that of the lay population of the entire peninsula including the neighbouring countries.

Part of a Dutch language site on Sutras and Shastras.

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