Bad Nun

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Bad Nun: Thullanandā in Pāli Canonical and Commentarial Sources

Reiko Ohnuma
Dartmouth College

In Pāli literature, Thullanandā is well known for being a “bad nun”—a nun whose persistent bad behavior is directly responsible for the promulgation of more rules of the Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha than any other individually named nun. Yet these very same sources also describe Thullanandā in significantly more positive terms—as a highly learned nun, an excellent preacher, and one who enjoys significant support among the laity. In this article, I analyze the Pāli traditions surrounding Thullanandā. I argue that her portrayal is quite complex in nature and often extends beyond herself as an individual to suggest larger implications for the nature of monastic life and monastic discipline. In addition, once Thullanandā is labeled as a “bad nun,” she becomes a useful symbolic resource for giving voice to various issues that concerned the early sangha. In both ways, Thullanandā reveals herself to be far more than just a “bad nun.”

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