Female Monks…Who Knew?

Today I learned something new (and excuse my ignorance) — there are “female monks” at Dong Thien Pagoda in Vietnam. For the longest, I thought the monks are men.  It never crossed my mind.   Imagine my shock and realization that the monks were women.  Initially, when I saw them, I automatically assumed they were men.   Until I noticed one of the monks had long hair that was partially shaved.  Upon further examination, I noticed their facial features.  I had so many questions but I couldn’t articulate them.  I was walking around the Pagoda with my mouth open (figuratively speaking).

Female Monks

They are called nuns but not the Catholic nuns that we are accustomed to seeing. The correct term for the Buddhist nuns is bhikkhuni.  According to Buddhist scriptures, “the order of bhikkhunis was first created by the Buddha at the specific request of his aunt and foster-mother Mahapajapati Gotami, who became the first ordained bhikkhuni.”  The female monastics are required to follow special rules that their counterparts do not.  Those rules are the Eight Garudhammas which are:

  1. A nun who has been ordained even for a hundred years must greet respectfully, rise up from her seat, salute with joined palms, do proper homage to a monk ordained but that day.
  1. A nun must not spend the rains in a residence where there are no monks.[10]
  2. Every half month a nun should desire two things from the Order of Monks: the asking as to the date of the Observance [ uposatha ] day, and the coming for the exhortation [ bhikkhunovada ].[11]
  3. After the rains (3-months rainy season retreat) a nun must ‘invite’ [ pavarana ] before both orders in respect of three matters, namely what was seen, what was heard, what was suspected.[12]
  4. A nun, offending against an important rule, must undergo manatta discipline for half a month before both orders. Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation varies: “5) A bhikkhuni who has broken any of the vows of respect must undergo penance for half a month under both Sanghas.”
  5. When, as a probationer, she has trained in the six rules [cha dhamma] for two years, she should seek higher ordination from both orders.
  6. A monk must not be abused or reviled in any way by a nun.
  1. From today, the admonition of monks by nuns is forbidden. [Book of the Discipline, V.354-55] [13]

Once the female monks become ordained, they shave off their hair. As they are going through the process, they partially shave their hair.

This is one of the very reasons I love to travel.  Understanding the different religions and how women have an integral role.

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