The Bodhi tree behind
the Mahabodhi temple
in Bodhgaya


The bhikkhuni rules


All parties concerned accept that Sakyamuni Buddha, or Gautama Buddha, formulated a number of rules for his monks, and that a fair number of rules were added over time, either by Buddha himself or by vinaya masters in later ages.
With 'sangha' we mean the fully ordained Buddhist monks and nuns according tot the orthodox rules contained in the above mentioned vinaya and it's condensed set of rules, the pātimokkha or prātimokhsha (in Pāli language resp Sanskrit).

Twelve years married / twelve years old

The Pāli word migadáya means 'deer park' in the Dhamma-cakka-ppavattana Sutta, but in the Ariya-pariyésana sutta we should read miga as 'chamois' or any other four-legged animal that saunters around on the high mountain cliffs.

One of the participants contributed a very interesting lecture on a particular rule in the vinaya (IV 322,6**f) that appears as a prohibitory rule in the Pātimokkha (LXV):
"Whatever nun should ordain a girl married for less than twelve years, there is a offense of expiation"
yā pana bhikkhunī ūnadvādasavassam gihigatam vutthāpeyya pācittiyam
(some of the diacritics cannot be reproduced)

This participant pointed to the last discussion on this rule by P. Kieffer-Pülz in 2005 who discussed two problematic readings, one reading ūnadvādasavassam gihigatam in the sense of 'twelve years old', and another one reading it as 'married for twelve years'.
The problem is twofold: 1/ a girl needs to be at least 20 years old to be fully ordained, therefore the first translation as "Whatever nun should ordain a girl less than twelve years, there is a offense of expiation" cannot hold. Problem 2/ lies with the "married for less than twelve years".

The translation hinges on the word gihigatam. A gihigatā is 'a married woman' acoording to the dictionaries.

We may find the solution to this problem in the marriage customs that prevailed in ancient India, and that still prevail in some parts of S.E.-Asia and Arabia.
Two families decide that their respective sun and daughter will be man and wife as soon as the girl reaches womanhood. When the children are about six or seven years old they are betrothed — the families throw a party, the children hold hands, and then separate again only to meet when the great day has arrived.
It is not impossible that gihigatā can also be interpreted as 'betrothed'.
If this holds, the rule could be read in the following sense: A girl and boy are promised to each other, but for whatever reason the actual marriage is postponed; either child could be incapacitated, there may be monetary problems, there may be problems of dislike among in-laws to-be or with the prospect of marriage itself(1), etc. In that case the rule says: should a girl have to wait for her actual marriage for more than twelve years — and at the elapse of those years no longer be attractive as a bride to another man, and also a burden on her parents and an embarrassment to her relatives — then the best thing she can do is becoming a nun.

In this case gata = 'moving towards'; gihi = '[the status of] a married women'.

(1) In this regard we may look at the age at which Siddhartha and Yashódara married, and at the number of years that elapsed before Ráhula was born. The given rule may be fairly old.

Today's relevance of this rule is questionable. Although there is still a 'giving away' of brides in some countries where Buddhism is established, it is highly unlikely that today 'betrothed' families would wait for twelve years or more to call the whole thing off. These days a girl has a choice: in case she does not marry 'the boy next door' she generally will find a way to make a living outside marriage or she may marry someone else without causing embarrassment on either family.

The gihigatā issue also brings in mind the set of questions asked an adspirant bhikkhunī before she is admitted into the sīma (the ordination platform) where full ordination takes place. There she is specifically questioned about, among others, matters of health. The next page will deal with this issue.

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