A Cross-Tradition Exchange Between Taiwan and Sri Lanka

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

A Cross-Tradition Exchange Between Taiwan and Sri Lanka

Wei-Yi Cheng
Hsuan Chuang University

This paper uses as an example an alms-offering ceremony that took place on October 5, 2010 to illustrate cross-tradition exchanges between Asian Buddhists of different geographic locations. This ceremony had been intended to give alms to all of the bhikkhunīs in Sri Lanka and was thus itself noteworthy. However, the attention of this paper is on the two main players behind this ceremony. One is a Sri Lankan monk who has been a long term Theravāda missionary in Mahāyāna Taiwan, and the other is a Taiwanese nunnery which has not limited its works to Taiwan. This paper wishes to shed light on cross-tradition exchanges among Asian Buddhists.

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One thought on “A Cross-Tradition Exchange Between Taiwan and Sri Lanka”

  1. A very interesting paper, but I would like to make some remarks:

    (1) According to the author, around (2900) nuns attended the alms-offering ceremony, but he does not mention the exact number of bhikkhunīs and samaṇerīs, those who have claimed a legal status of membership in the Order, on one hand and that of ten-precept nuns (“dasasils”), who are not official members of the Order but only religious persons per the local culture, on the other. Their comparative numbers can tell us something siginificant about the progress of the reestablishment of bhikhunis in Sri Lanka.

    (2) The author says: “The Sri Lankan monks present included two Mahānayakas: Davuldena Gnanissara (Amarapura Mahānayaka) and Weweldeniye Medhalankara (Ramanna Mahānayaka). The presence of Mahānayakas was significant because it indicated that the bhikkhunī sangha had been accepted by certain segments of Buddhist establishment in Sri Lanka.” (255)

    I think this is an overstatement. Why? In Theravada monasticism, only when a monk or a nun performs an official function for a cause that we can say he or she officially supports the cause. In this case, only when aforementioned Mahānāyaka monks perform such official functions, like a bhikkhuni ordination function or giving the fortnightly teaching to bhikkhunis (there is a legal requirement that bhikkhunis must listen, every fortnight, to the teachings of a monk selected for the purpose by the Order of monks), can we say that they actually support the modern bhikkhunī saṅgha. However, this is only a simple ceremony of offering alms; these monks, I think, would not have minded even if Christian or Muslim priests were to attend the ceremony and accept the offerings. So it would be too much to say that their presence shows their acceptance of the bhikkhunī saṅgha.

    Moreover, the presence of ten-precept nuns does not show that they agree with the existence of modern bhikkhunī saṅgha either. In Sri Lanka, the traditional ten-precept nuns and bhikkhunīs try to co-exist peacefully; they sometimes even live in the same temple. But their relationship is not always easy. The reason is simple; bhikkhunīs claim that they are official members of the Order, a claim which ten-precept nuns refuse to recognize.

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