Restoring Mūlasarvāstivāda Bhikṣuṇī Ordination

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 17, 2010

The Mūlasarvāstivāda Bhikṣuṇī Has the Horns of a Rabbit: Why the Master’s Tools Will Never Reconstruct the Master’s House

Bhikṣuṇī Lozang Trinlae
Buddhist Hong Shi College

At the First International Congress on the Buddhist Women’s Role in the Saṅgha held at the University of Hamburg in 2007, Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche offered the pronouncement, “Our efforts toward re-establishing the Mūlasarvāstivāda bhikṣuṇī ordination are not driven by Western influence or feminist concerns about the equality of the sexes—this issue cannot be determined by social or political considerations. The solution must be found within the context of the Vinaya codes” (Mohr and Tsedroen 256). Using the perspective and comparative analysis of contemporary moral theory, I argue to the contrary that restoration of Mūlasarvāstivāda bhikṣuṇī communities by Vinaya [discipline rules] alone is most unlikely, if not entirely impossible, without a consideration of gender equality, and, by extension, social considerations and Western influence. Thus, Vinaya code compliance may be seen as a necessary but insufficient condition for producing Mūlasarvāstivāda (Mula) bhikṣuṇī communities. Furthermore, not only the result of bhikṣuṇī Vinaya restoration, but also the cause of it, a desire for its existence, is also very unlikely, if not entirely impossible, in a convention-determined Vinaya framework whose stance is self-defined as being mutually exclusive with post-conventional morality. A fundamental change of attitude embracing modern perspectives of women’s rights is itself necessary.

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