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Dispelling doubts and misconceptions

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A booklet on Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka

The Bhikkhuni Order or the Bhikkhuni Sasana was introduced to Sri Lanka by Therani Sanghamitta in the 3rd Century after the Parinibbana of the Buddha. However, this Order ceased to exist by about the 11th Century BCE or about 1,000 years ago following the fall of Anuradhapura to the Chola invaders from India.   

Poor response to call for restoration of the Order   

There has been a clamour for the restoration of the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka since about the 1930s. At the initial stages of this popular call by a number of Buddhist Women’s organisations in particular, several prominent scholar monks and Buddhist lay leaders like Anagarika Dharmapala and Prof. G.P. Malalasekera expressed their support for it in public.   

However, only a few leading religious and lay dignitaries came forward to contribute their share towards translating this noble vision into reality mainly due to the strong opposition that came up from the conservative hierarchy of the Maha Sangha. As a result, the initiative taken by the late Ven. Narawila Dhammaratana Thera to introduce the Upasampada for Bhikkhunis according to the Chinese tradition proved futile.   

There are hundreds of young women in our country aspiring to enter the Noble Order of Bhikkhunis... 

Sakyaditha comes to the fore   

The restoration of Bhikkhuni Order here again became an important subject of discussion once again among the Buddhist public in the country amidst excitement and fanfare triggered by a special convention of the International Sakyaditha Organisation of Buddhist Women held here in 1996. In fact, the theme of the convention was: There is room for restoring the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka.   

Restoration of Bhikkhuni Order at Saranath   

Later in the same year (1996) thanks to the bold initiative taken by the late Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasara Maha Thera, ten Dasasilmathas (DSM) including myself from this country got the opportunity to receive the Atthavacika Upasampada (Higher ordination) in conformity with the Attagaru Dhamma – eight disciplinary rules promulgated by the Buddha Himself –at the restoration of the Theravada Bhikkhuni Order held on December 8,1996 at Saranath, Varanasi under the auspices of the Sakyaditha organisation.   

Misconception about Bhikkhuni Upasampada   

I have learnt from time to time from devotees calling at the Arya Khema Meditation Centre that much misinformation relating to the Theravada Bhikkhuni Upasampada conducted in 1996 has gained ground among the people in this country. No wonder this has happened in a situation where have the facts about the event not been effectively made known to the Buddhist public here.   

Meanwhile, the misconception that the womankind has no alternative but to wait for the arising of another Buddha for their emancipation because the Theravada Bhikkhunis, as well as the tradition of Theravada Bhikkhuni Upasampada were extinct in the world, had taken root in the mind of a majority of Buddhists here.   

 I was able to witness the pitiable lot of the Dasa Sil Mathas (DSMs) and the hardship and suffering they were undergoing

Decision to dispel the doubts and misconceptions   

It is a fact that the ‘truth’ is something that invariably comes to light sooner or later and having experienced this universal law personally, I, for the last 20, years was concentrating on treading the path to my own emancipation giving no thought to the necessity to effectively counter or contradict this misconception and misinformation already entrenched in society.   

I know from personal knowledge that there are hundreds of young women in our country aspiring to enter the Noble Order of Bhikkhunis, but they hesitate to take the plunge when they realise the difficulties lying ahead mainly for want of state patronage towards this Order. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that it would be a grave failing on my part- in fact, a great injustice to Samaneri Bhikkhunis currently under our tutelage and the Bhikkhuni generations yet to come – if I neglected my obvious duty to clear misconceptions and misinformation relating to the Bhikkhuni Order prevailing in society and thus clear the way for its flourishing in our country for centuries to come.   

Booklet to tell the facts   

In the booklet titled: Suppressed and unknown facts about the Theravada Bhikkhuni Order I have now brought out the outcome of my decision.   
This booklet is also aimed at dispelling any doubt one may entertain about the validity of the Bhikkhuni Upasampada conducted at the historic ceremony in Saranath in Varanasi in 1996 and sending home the fact that it was conducted strictly in conformity with Bhikkhuni Patimokkha, generally referred to as Attaguru Dhamma consisting of 311 rules of disciple promulgated by the Buddha himself on the monastic propriety and procedure in the Order of Bhikkhunis.   

The Bhikkhuni Order with a proud history in this country is destined for extinction in the near future if it fails to receive the patronage of the State.   


How come I became a Bhikkhuni?   

I decided to carry a brief account in my booklet about how I was led to becoming a Bhikkhuni for the purpose of inspiring and encouraging the women aspiring to enter the Order, but yet felt daunted by the challenges ahead. I wish to recapitulate briefly in this article my journey to Bhikkhunihood which, by the way is explained in some detail in my booklet.   

An ordination ceremony conducted by Bhikkhuni Kusuma

Career at Jayawardhanapura University   

I got the opportunity to read practically every word on the Tripitaka written in Sinhala and Pali available at the library of the Sri Jayawardhanapura University when I worked there as an Instructress in English for 20 years.   

Inspired by Their Gatha   

I read with great relish the Theri Gatha translated into English by Pali scholar Mrs. Rhys Davids and I was moved to tears reading it. The realisation that erudite Arahant Bhikkhunis had lived in our country kindled a desire in me to make an attempt at achieving the seemingly daunting goal of becoming a Bhikkhuni.   

Research work, ‘Dasa Sil Matha’   

In 1987 I presented a research work titled ‘Dasa Sil Matha’ as a thesis for my PhD at the Sri Jayawardhanapura University. In order to collect material for my research work, I had occasion visit practically every monastery across the country. During these visits, I was able to witness the pitiable lot of the Dasa Sil Mathas (DSMs) and the hardship and suffering they were undergoing. Highly moved by their plight, I personally made representations to President J.R. Jayewardene pressing that State patronage be extended to improve the lot of the DSMs. As a direct result of my representations, arrangements were made soon afterwards for DSMs to pursue studies at the Vidyodaya Pirivena at Maligakanda and to set up a separate division for DSMs in the Buddha Sasana Ministry.   

State patronage is an imperative   

During the reigns of our ancient kings, the Bhikkhunis rendered yeoman service to society thanks to Royal patronage extended to the Bhikkhu-Bhikkhuni Sasana. I should emphasise that the Bhikkhuni Order with a proud history in this country is destined for extinction in the near future if it fails to receive the patronage of the State.   
Now that I have finished writing the booklet, I feel a deep sense of fulfillment that I have done my part for the progress and the long survival of Buddha Sasana.   

Only goal left to achieve!   

Now that I have reached the 88th milestone in the journey of my life, the only objective I have yet to achieve is nothing but a Marga Phala – a final stage to Arahantship. May my booklet be a source of blessing to the thousands of Sri Lankan Theravada Bhikkhunis and Samaneri Bhikkhunis and DSMs leading a monastic life amidst much hardship!   

May all beings be well and happy!   
This article is compiled by 
A. S. Fernando   

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