Monday, November 2, 2015

The First Bhikkhuni Ordination at Koh Yo, Thailand

By Venerable Varadhamma Bhikkhu

On Saturday, November 29, 2014 there was a higher ordination for bhikkhunis for the first time at Koh Yo in Songkhla Province, as well as the going forth of another 47 samaneris. Conducting ordinations for females to go forth as samaneris is one of the periodic Dhamma activities at “Tipaya Sathan Dhamma Bhikkhuni Arama.”

This, however, is not the first Bhikkhuni Ordination in Thailand. The first Bhikkhuni Ordination in Thailand took place in about 1928 when the two daughters of Mr. Narin Bhasit took samaneri ordination. His two daughters Jongdee and Sara were 13 and 18 years old respectively at the time of their going forth. After a period of two years, once Sara was fully 20 years old, she took higher ordination as a bhikkhuni. This happened 82 years ago. Nor was the ordination at Koh Yoh the second bhikkhuni ordination in Thailand. In recent times there have been a number of bhikkhuni ordinations held in Thailand, however they were not publicized.

This higher ordination can be considered to be the first ‘formal’ bhikkhuni ordination. Provincial officials were invited to take part in the event so that they could be aware of what was going on in the area under their responsibility. These included the officials from the Buddhist Office of Songkhla, the Provincial Governor of Songkhla, members of the Office for the Management of the Provinces on the Southern Border, represented by Suphanat Sirantavineti, and the Vice Governor of Naratiwat Province, who came to open the event. A letter was sent to inform the Prime Minister of Thailand of the event, which received a letter of thanks in return. Furthermore, a letter was sent to Phra Thep, the Crown Princess of Thailand to ask for her blessing in this event. We, likewise, received a letter from the Royal Office. Therefore, this was not a ‘secret’ ordination, but rather it was formal and openly publicized.

This bhikkhuni ordination was held in the Sima (boundary) of “Thipaya Sathan Dhamma Bhikkhuni Arama,” which is a bhikkhuni monastery located in Koh Yoh, Songkhla Province. The ordination was conducted by a dual Sangha, with a both a bhikkhu and bhikkhuni preceptor, that came together to perform this ceremony correctly accord-ing to the Vinaya.

The bhikkhu preceptor was Venerable Sanghanayaka Mahindavangsa, the leader of one sect of the Amapura School in Sri Lanka. The two Kammavacacariyas were Venerable Kalupahana Piyaratana and Venerable Dhalangkale Sudhamma, both of whom come from Sri Lanka. The bhikkhuni preceptor (pavattini) was Venerable Sumitra Theri from Sri Lanka and the two bhikkhuni kammavacacarinis were Venerable Sumanapali from Sri Lanka, Venerable Santini from Indonesia and Venerable Vidhitadhamma from Vietnam. There were 13 bhikkhus and 15 bhikkhunis sitting within arm’s length during the ceremony.

Just as a man who wants to ordain as a bhikkhu must first ordain as a samanera, so when a woman wants to ordain as a bhikkhuni, she must first ordain as a samaneri. A samaneri is a female who wears the ochre robes and keeps the ten precepts, just like a samanera. Once a female has gone forth as a samaneri, she must then request to become a sikkhamana. A sikkhamana is a samaneri who keeps the ten precepts, giving special attention to the first six precepts. She must keep these six precepts purely for a period of two years and be at least twenty years old in order to be eligible to take higher ordination as a bhikkhuni.

This higher ordination started with the bhikkhuni sangha sitting together in the Sima, with the bhikkhuni preceptor (pavattini) sitting at the head of the Sangha. Then there were the three Kammavacacarini and the other eleven witnessing bhikkhunis sitting within arms length (hatthapasa) of each other. After that the eight sikkhamanas came in-to the Sima and after paying respect to the preceptor, the kammava-cacarinis asked the candidates about the 23 Antarayika-dhamma.

“Antarayika-dhamma” means impediments or obstacles to ordination. It concerns a list of 23 questions for bhikkhunis and 13 questions for bhikkhus posed to the ordination candidate to ascertain whether or not they are eligible to take higher ordination. The antarayikadhamma are actually the original cause for bhikkhunis to take their ordination in a dual Sangha. That is, in the beginning the Buddha delegated the responsibility for the first bhikkhuni ordinations solely to the bhikkhu sangha. Even asking about the obstacles to ordination was done by the bhikkhus. However, it soon became difficult for the bhikkhus to question the sikkhamanas because some of the antarayika-dhamma pertain to the candidates sexual organs and her menstruation, such as, “Do you menstruate monthly?” or “Are your sexual organs those of a normal female?” When questioned in such a manner, the candidates became shy and couldn’t bring themselves to answer such questions in front of a member of the opposite sex.

In the end the Buddha solved the problem by involving the bhikkhunis in the ordination procedure is such a way that they could question the candidate about the obstacles to ordination. In this way there came to be a bhikkhuni preceptor (pavattini) and bhikkhuni kammavacacarinis. Once the questions were asked by a fellow female then the candidates didn’t need to feel shy and so were able to answer the questions.

This is also what occurred in the bhikkhuni ordination at Koh Yoh. Once the kammavacacarinis questioned the candidates as to the 23 obstacles to ordination, then the procedure was finalized by a motion and three announcements (nyatti-cattutha-kamma) witnessed by a Sangha of 15 bhikkhunis.
Nyatti-cattutha-kamma is the chanting in pairs conducted by the bhikkhus or bhikkhunis who have been selected as the kammava-cacariyas or kammavacacarinis. Its purpose is to confirm that the ordination candidate standing in front of the Sangha is now a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni according to the intention of their ordination request. Once the kammavacacarinis finished the nyatti-cattutha-kamma, then the 8 sikkhamanas could be considered to be bhikkhunis, although their ordination is not yet complete because they must be presented to the bhikkhu sangha so that another motion and three announce-ments can be made by the bhikkhus.

At this point the bhikkhu sangha needs to enter the Sima and the bhikkhu and bhikkhuni sanghas will sit facing each other. The bhikkhu preceptor sits at the head of the Sangha along with the Kamma-vacacariyas. Then after the eight newly ordained bhikkhunis (ordained in the bhikkhuni sangha) come before the preceptor and pay respects, the bhikkhu kammavacacariyas chant the “nyatti-cattutha-kamma” (motion and three announcements) to confirm the bhikkhunis status, with both the bhikkhu and bhikkhuni sanghas present to witness.

When the bhikkhu kammavacacariyas finish the nyatti-cattutha-kamma, then the new bhikkhunis can be considered to be fully ordained in a dual sangha according to the Vinaya. After that the bhikkhu preceptor chants the 11 Anusasana for the new bhikkhunis. The 11 Anusasana include the 3 Supports: 1. Going on almsround 2. Wearing rag robes 3. Using fermented urine as medicine. (Bhikkhunis do not need to keep the 4th Support of sleeping at the foot of a tree for reasons of safety) and the 8 things that a bhikkhuni should not do, which correspond to the 8 bhikkhuni parajikas.

According to tradition, newly ordained bhikkhus and bhikkhunis must listen to the Anusasana (small-teaching, or follow-up teaching) from the preceptor so that they know what they should and should not do. In such a way they will not transgress the major precepts out of ignorance and they will carry out the basic duties of a monastic. This is an outline of the ceremony that took place at Koh Yo, Songkhla Province. It is a great thing that the four fold Sangha is taking root in Thailand. Anumodhana Sadhu.

Photos by Suriyaporn Yutidham

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