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Buddhist Nuns: Between Past and Present

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One of the most debated issues in present-day Buddhism is the question of access of women to a full ordination as a nun (bhikuī). Of the three extant ordination traditions — Dharmaguptaka, Theravāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda, it is only in the first one that both men and women are accepted without any dispute as fully ordained members of the monastic community. This situation has given rise to many discussions pleading for a revival of a full ordination ceremony in all Buddhist traditions. In these revival movements, special attention goes to several technical questions of monastic discipline (vinaya). The present article focuses on these questions, while also paying attention to the role played by concepts involving gender. As we will analyze in the first two parts, the technical questions, and the debates surrounding them, are not at all new. Right from the start of the first Buddhist communities, they gradually gained importance. This process thoroughly influenced the spread and the survival of the ordination ceremony for women throughout the history of Buddhism. The third part of our research returns to the present day, demonstrating how the technical questions of the past still play a major role in present-day discussions on status of female monastic members of the Buddhist community.

Affiliations: 1: Chinese Language and Culture, Ghent University Blandijnberg 2, B-9000 Gent Belgium, Email:


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