View Full Version : Bhikṣuṇī Dharmadinnā Proves Her Wisdom

25 Feb 16, 16:00
This is an absorbing article by Bhikkhu Analayo about a female arhat .

Excerpt from the introduction:

This discourse is not only outstanding for the great variety of themes it treats, but also for the fact that its chief protagonist is a bhikṣuṇī.

Bhikṣuṇīs are considerably less prominent in early Buddhist texts than their male counterparts, be this as audience to discourses spoken by the Buddha or as speakers on their own. The reason for this is not far to seek. Several Vinaya rules prohibit the travelling together of monks and nuns, in order to avoid suspicions that they might be having amorous relations.

Even the Buddha could apparently become the object of similar suspicions.

Such instances reflect ancient Indian concerns about relations between celibates and the other sex. These concerns make it only natural for the Buddha to refrain from setting out wandering in the company of nuns. Given his apparent itinerant lifestyle and the concern of the discourses to report what was spoken by or related to the Buddha, those who could accompany him on his travels – male monastics – feature with high frequency in the texts.

Hence a discourse spoken by a bhikṣuṇī deserves all the more attention, giving us a rare glimpse at female monastics in their role as teachers. The discourse in question is extant in three different versions:


Comments are welcome if you've read the article.


Sea Turtle
26 Feb 16, 15:56
Fascinating article by Ven. Anālayo. :hands:

There were two instances in the exchange between Viśākha and bhikṣuṇī Dharmadinnā that especially stood out to me. One was on page 16 when Viśākha and bhikṣuṇī Dharmadinnā were quite far along in their discussion. Viśākha then suddenly asks about how many factors a monk develops to enter the attainment of cessation.

Bhikṣuṇī Dharmadinnā replies, “Honourable Viśākha, this question should have been asked at first. I will nevertheless reply to it now." She then answers, "To enter the attainment of cessation, a monk develops two factors: tranquility and insight.”

The second instance was on page 19 at the end of their discussion when Viśākha asks, “Noble lady, what is the counterpart to Nirvāṇa?”

Bhikṣuṇī Dharmadinnā replies, “Honourable Viśākha, you are going too far, you are really going too far, this is the end of it, it is not possible [to go further]. Following the Blessed One is for [the sake of] Nirvāṇa, the final goal of the pure holy life is Nirvāṇa, the eradication of duḥkha.”


Also fascinating was the Study section at the end, and in particular this passage on page 23 where Ven. Anālayo writes:

Bhikṣuṇī Dharmadinnā's replies to the challenges she is shown to be facing make it clear that, from the viewpoint of early Buddhism, her gender had no bearing on her ability to reach realization and eloquently expound her understanding to others. Such testimony is independent of the historical value one may be willing to accord to the information that can be gathered from the early discourses. Though other canonical passages at times present women in general and bhikṣuṇīs in particular in an unfavourable light, there can be little doubt that the depiction of bhikṣuṇī Dharmadinnā in all versions of the present discourse conveys a remarkably positive image, whether it be reflecting a historical event or the opinion of the reciters of the text.


Finally, I also learned about the theme of debate that Ven. Anālayo explores in this paper, in particular the type of debate that takes place amongst disciples in order to gain clarity of the teachings, either for those debating or for those listening (or perhaps both).

Thank you for posting this!


26 Feb 16, 21:13
Women in Early Indian Buddhism (http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199326044.001.0001/acprof-9780199326044), edited by Alice Collett, is fantastic collection of essays bearing on these themes. One article has this summary:

In this volume, the bhikṣuṇīsaṃyukta in the complete Chinese Saṃyukta-āgama, Taishō 99, is translated. The short discourses that make up the bhikkhunīsaṃyutta are brief vignettes about nuns in their daily lives. The picture painted of the nuns here is very positive, and as Anālayo comments in his conclusion, in considering the strength of responses to adversity between the genders, the nuns’ section on challenges to Māra is a clear instance where the nuns are presented in a more favorable light than their male counterparts.

Sea Turtle
27 Feb 16, 01:15
Thank you for bringing this to attention, Daverupa. Much appreciated. I read through the various article summaries and they sound fascinating. Here is another summary of a chapter by Ven. Anālayo:

In this chapter, Bhikkhu Anālayo focuses on the Aṅguttara-nikāya / Ekottarika-āgama. He provides a translation of the lists of preeminent nuns in the Chinese Ekottarika-āgama and a comparison between this and the Pāli version. The number of outstanding nuns listed in the Ekottarika-āgama is far greater than in the Pāli. The Ekottarika-āgama records fifty-one eminent nuns, while the Pāli has only thirteen. Qualities identified, sanctioned, and eulogized range from broad ethical characteristics through mental ability or agility to teaching and other beneficial activities. As Anālayo notes in his conclusion, the nuns named on each list are each noted as foremost of all nuns, which presupposed that many other nuns also exemplify such noble characteristics

27 Feb 16, 07:02
Thank you all for the shares, they are really great reads and very relevant.

04 Mar 16, 00:52
Thank you for this post Aloka, - very thorough and interesting read by Bhikkhu Analayo. It inspired me to read the Theravadan version, MN 44, as well.

I also will delve further into the collection of essays from Daverupa.

Good stuff!

Sea Turtle
04 Mar 16, 02:01
A fellow Dhamma practitioner recently brought this article to my attention. Some of those following this thread may find it of interest:

The Position of Women in Buddhism by Dr. (Mrs.) L.S. Dewaraja