Tuesday, April 26, 2016

20160426 Status of Nuns in Theravada Buddhism with Reference to Nepal

Executive Summary
 Mr. Rajendra Manandhar

Buddhism is more gender-sensitive in comparison to other religions. In those days when women were very much oppressed socially and religiously, freedom the Buddha granted to women is appreciable. It has opened the door to women's liberation in contemporary sense.

Bhikkhuni sangha is an integral part of evolution of the Buddhism but it became extinct without being noticed by the Buddhist scholars not quite long after the death of the Buddha. And the causes of this discontinuation have rarely been sought either in history or by the contemporary Buddhist scholars.

Garudhamma was definitely discriminatory but more than that, people's attitude toward nuns at present is more objectionable. While many rules of the Vinaya have been forgotten or ignored, this very disputable garudhamma has been taken by some Buddhists monks and scholars as the stricture to suppress nuns even after 2500 years it was delivered and even when the whole bhikkhuni sangha has already been extinct. This is the reason nuns are discriminated in all Theravada countries. And Nepal , the birthplace of Nepal is not exception to this.

Theravada Buddhism was revived in Kathmandu, Nepal in 1930s.  Right from the beginning women renounced their homes for Buddhism and served the dhamma as much as they can. In the first phase, that is in the 1930, they were encouraging the locals to learn the dhamma. In the second phase, that in the 1960s, they were involved in social services as well. In the third phase, that in the 1980s, they are educated and aware for their identity and thus are found working in equal footing with the monks. The number of nuns grew and also their contribution to the society. They have been playing instrumental roles in propagating Buddhism in Nepal by various measures like teaching Pariyatti education, conducting dhamma preaching, performing religious activities such as Buddha Puja, chanting Parittan, conducting meditation camps, writing articles and books, organising temporary ordination programmes etc. The impact of Buddha's teachings by these propagating methods is seen positively on lay people mostly among the Buddhist circle of natïve local Newars. By 1980s, some nuns received full ordination and are thus called bhikkhunis. Still, those who have received double ordination are waiting to be recognized as bhikkhunis by the bhikkhu sangha

Nuns in vihara live moderately comfortable life. They have facilities of secular and Buddhist education and also have opportunities to go abroad for further studies. There is, even nominal, health services for them too. To add, they are free to quit nunnery whenever they want. But most of them have hectic schedule and cannot spare time for their own study. Generally, young nuns feel that they are being discriminated but they are still not ready to speak out about this. They prefer to remain silent, or pretend to be unaware of it. Not only the nuns, but also lay men and lay women do not prefer to discuss about it, rather they mostly consent on the present situation.

The nuns need promotion exclusively from monks to make them ready to come up with full zeal to study, practice and to teach the dhamma analytically. Hardly any document is found written or published to portray the ongoing inequality or domination. Nuns and lay persons should document the issue and make the future generation perceive the depth of the reality of this 21st century Buddhism in Nepal.

To resolve this, the monks have to accept the qualification contribution of the nuns and the nuns too have to search for the way to convince the monks that they are no longer ready to be submissive in the resent era of equality. We all should remember that monks and nuns are two of the four wheels of the Buddha sasana and the carriage will not be smooth, unless the two wheels treat each other on equal footing. In addition, the organizations constituted to develop Buddhism should also recognize contribution of the nuns and should launch new programmes to strengthen young nuns.


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