The Buddha initiated the Bhikkhuni Order in the 5th year of Buddhahood. The 1st Bhikkhuni was Mahapajapati Gotami and the order flourished in India with thousands of Arahant Bhikkhunis who carried the Dhamma for centuries.In the 3rd century after the passing away of the Buddha, the Bhikkhuni Order reached Sri Lanka through Arahant Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta. Thousands of Sri Lankan Bhikkhunis held the Dhamma for about 10 centuries after the passing away of the Buddha.
In the 6th century AD, 900 years after the passing away of the Buddha, the Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni Order reached China, headed by Bhikkhuni Devasara of Sri Lanka and the order spread to Korea, Japan and other countries.
The Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni Order disappeared in Sri Lanka after ten centuries due to the South Indian invasions. The Bhikkhu Order also disappeared in Sri Lanka and there appeared white clad Ganinnanse, who were leading a lay life.
Recent history shows that about 200 years ago the Bhikkhu Order was resurrected in Sri Lanka by bringing ordination from Thailand and Burma.
But the Bhikkhuni Order was not resurrected and remained lost in Sri Lanka till recently.
In 1995 Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasara Thera sent Kusuma Devendra (now Bhikkhuni Kusuma) to Korea to study the ordination procedure for Bhikkhunis in Korea.
She stayed three months at Bo-Myunsa Nunnery in Seoul, Korea and studied the Vinaya and found out that dual ordination is being practiced according to Vinaya Rules, the same practice that was followed during the time of the Buddha. She translated the ordination procedure into Sinhala and brought it to Sri Lanka.
The Dharmagupta Vinaya in Korea was found to be similar to Theravada Vinaya. Also it was found out that the Korean Bhikkhunis had an uninterrupted robe order for over 2000 years.
On the 8th of December 1996 the Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni Order was resurrected by the help of Korean Sangha. The Preceptor was Ven. Seo Am and the Upajjhaya was Ven. Bang Joo Su of Korea, belonging to the highly respected Chagyo Order. Other Korean Sangha numbering over 20 participated at the ceremony.
Of the Sri Lankan Bhikkhus who were present and who supported the ordination were;
1) Kamburupitiya Nandarathana Thero - Rajakeeya Panditha, Sri Lanka.
2) Talalle Dhammaloka Thero - Rajakeeya Panditha, Sri Lanka.
3) Walpola Piyananda Thero - USA, Ph.D.
4) Kakkapalliye Anuruddha Thero - Hong Kong, Ph.D.
5) Kahawatte Siri Sumedha Thero - Ph.D. India.
6) Dodangoda Rewatha Thero - Ph.D. India.
7) Dediyawala Wimala Thero - India.
8) Acharya Medagama Vajiragnana Thero - PhD. UK.
9) Kirinde Dhammaloka Thero - Ph.D. Malaysia.
10) Kamburugamuwe Vajira Thero - Ph.D. Vice Chancellor, University, Sri Lanka
The most Venerable Mapalagama Vipulasara Thero, President of India Mahabodhi Society and also Secretary to the World Buddhist Sangha Council was the Chief Monk who organized the ceremony at India Mahabodhi Society in Varanasi.
The most Venerable Pandit Andawela Devasiri Nayake Thero was teacher and upajjhaya to the newly ordained 10 Bhikkhunis. For two years, the training of Bhikkhunis was held in the library of Ven. Anagarika Dharmapala in Varanasi, Mahabodhi India.
The ten nuns of Sri Lanka who received ordination were as follows;
1) Ven Bhikkhuni K. Kusuma - M.A., Ph.D.
2) Ven Habarana Chandradassi Bhikkhuni.
3) Ven Matale Vijitha Bhikkhuni - B.A.
4) Ven Galle Subhadra Bhikkhuni.
5) Ven Bandarawela Sudhammika Bhikkhuni.
6) Ven Peliyagoda Sudharshana Bhikkhuni - B.A., M.A.
7) Ven Panadura Wekada-Bhadra Bhikkhuni.
8) Ven Passara Sama Bhikkhuni.
9) Ven Kurunegala Subhadra Bhikkhuni.
10) Ven Kurunegala Hemapali Bhikkhuni.
In the midst of opposition from Sri Lankan Bhikkhus, the event was held in India and the 10 Nuns remained in India for two years for security reasons. They resided in the premises occupied by Ven. Anagarika Dharmapala 100 years ago, which was renovated at great cost by the Korean Sangha.
Ever since, the word Bhikkhuni was heard in Sri Lanka and all over the world of Theravada Buddhists.
Sri Lankan news papers flashed headline news of the ordination. A great controversy ensued, immediately after with the Monks and University Dons speaking for and against the ordination. The news reached the other countries, who acclaimed with great enthusiasm the newly ordained Bhikkhunis and sent so many congratulatory messages.
Sri Lanka initiating the Bhikkhuni ordination after a lapse of 1000 years was history in the making. A specially chartered plane came from the UK to see Bhikkhuni Kusuma, who was the leader. They were Sri Lankan doctors residing in UK, who were her class mates at Ananda College, Colombo.
Also, Bhikkhuni Kusuma travelled widely to all parts of the world carrying the message of the Bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka. She was well received as a scholar and Dhamma teacher and meditation master. It was a challenge to other Theravada Buddhist countries. Soon, Thailand also took the order from Sri Lanka, headed by Prof. Chatsumaru Kabilsingh. Ven. Talalle Dhammaloka Thero performed the ordination for Thailand. Today there are many Theravada Bhikkhuni in Thailand.
The 2nd ordination in Bodh Gaya was held one year later.
The controversy about the 1st ordination died down eventually and the climate was right for the 2nd ordination of Sri Lanka Bhikkhunis. The 1st ordination paved the way for the 2nd ordination in Bodh Gaya, one year after by the Chinese Sangha of Taiwan.
Ven. Master Hsing Yun of Fo-Guansa, Kaosiang of Taiwan was the chief organiser of the Bodh Gaya ordination where about 20 countries sent candidates for Bhikkhuni Ordination. Sri Lanka sent 23 candidates. It was a problem to translate into Sinhala the ongoing ordination ceremony which was conducted in Chinese and translated into English.
Ven. Bhikkhuni Chueh Men, the Secretary to the ordination visited Sarnath and invited Bhikkhuni Kusuma to translate into Sinhala, because she was entitled to enter the “sima” ordination platform being a Bhikkhuni. Thus the 2nd ordination of Sri Lankan Bhikkhunis took place in Bodh Gaya, with Bhikkhuni Kusuma translating for Sri Lankan Nuns. It took one week to complete.
The dual ordination on the final day was first with Chinese Bhikkhunis and the same day, past midnight they came before Sri Lankan Monks for 2nd ordination. But the Sri Lankan Bhikkhus opted to be observers in the platform and invited Bhikkhuni Kusuma to deputize and repeat karmavācā for the Sri Lankan candidates. Bhikkhuni Kusuma performed this onerous duty with the Sri Lankan Monks witnessing. Most of the Bhikkhus who were present for the 1st ordination as well as Ven Sumangala Thero of Dambulla were there as witnesses on the platform.
The next day all the Sri Lankan Bhikkhus and the newly ordained Bhikkhunis visited Varanasi. It was also a historical event when all the Bhikkhunis of the 1st and 2nd ordination were led to the “sima” that used to be the “sima” for Ven. Anagarika Dharmapala.
Thus the 33 Bhikkhunis of Sri Lanka went in line with Ven Bhikkhuni Kusuma as the 1st Bhikkhuni in procession. That day in Varanasi a Sri Lankan ordination was again performed in the presence of the Sri Lankan Bhikkhus and the presence of 10 Bhikkhunis of the 1st ordination who were already residing in the premises of Varanasi. This event established the seniority of the 1st ten Bhikkhunis of Varanasi.
Eventually the 23 Bhikkhunis of Bodh Gaya ordination returned to Sri Lanka and started the Dambulla chapter under the guidance of Ven Sumangala Thero. But the Varanasi Bhikkhunis took further training of one year in Varanasi before returning to Sri Lanka.
The 23 Bhikkhunis from Bodh Gaya gave ordination to other Dasasil Mātas in Sri Lanka every three months and their numbers grew rapidly.
According to a Vinaya Rule, Bhikkhuni ordination could be given by Bhikkhunis with 12 years of ordination. But this rule was relaxed in Dambulla with the consensus of Bhikkhus.
Varanasi Bhikkhunis gave ordination after twelve years and their numbers remained less. With the demise of Ven Vipulasara Thero and the opposition from the hierarchy, the 1st ordination was not known to many. But history cannot be wiped out!
Research on Bhikkhuni Vinaya: Code of Conduct for Buddhist Nuns by Bhikkhuni Kusuma MA, PhD. Revised by Samaneri Akincana MA, PhD.
Twenty years of research into Bhikkhuni Vinaya shows many contradictions as stated in Cullavagga Pali. Please refer to the text above.
xviii The highlights of this Research....
In the Pali Vinayapitaka we encounter a standard description of a Bhikkhuni that reads thus:
Bhikkhuni: One who is a mendicant; one who arrives on alms round; one who wears a robe made of cut-up-patches; one who has a designation of a bhikkhuni; one who claims to be a bhikkhuni; a “come, bhikkhuni” bhikkhuni; a bhikkhuni ordained by going to the three refuges; an excellent bhikkhuni; a bhikkhuni by essence, a trainee bhikkhuni; a bhikkhuni beyond training (i.e. an arahant bhikkhuni); a bhikkhuni fully ordained by a dual sangha in harmony, through an act that is unshakeable and able to stand consisting of a motion and three announcements.” (Vin IV 214 P.T.S)
In this canonical standard definition there is no mention of ordination by accepting eight important rules (garudhamma). Three types of ordination of bhikkhunis are mentioned; “come bhikkhuni” ordination, ordination by taking the three refuges, and ordination by a dual sangha (attha-vacika ordination). Mahapajapati was ordained by ehi-bhikkhuni ordination and not by tini-saranagamana or attha-vacika ordination, because before her no bhikkhunis existed in the world. This is conclusive evidence of the oldest forms of bhikkhuni ordination. Obviously this standard description in the Suttavibhanga is earlier than Cullavagga chapter X in its present form, where her ordination by accepting the eight ‘important rules’ (garudhamma) is recorded.
1. The eight important rules (garudhamma) are not Buddha word.
2. Cullavagga was compiled after the Passing Away of the Buddha.
3. The description of the First Council is questioned by scholars.
4. There were no codified Vinaya rules in the fifth year after reaching Buddhahood.
5. Mahapajapati was ordained by the “come bhikkhuni” ordination (ehi- bhikkhuni).
6. The five hundred Sakyan ladies were ordained by monks only by repeating the three refuges (tini sarana-gamana).
7. They all observed ajiva-atthamaka sila precepts.
8. The vikala bhojana precept was not observed.