Monday, April 13, 2015

History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia: Part 4

International Buddhist Networking, Bhikkhunīs and Women’s Leadership in the 5th-7th Century Indonesian South Seas 

Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhunī

This fourth post in our "History of Women in Buddhism" series examines the International Buddhist networks that became well established between India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and China. 

This post specially coincides with Songkran/Saṃkrānti--the South and Southeast Asian Solar New Year in April, a time in which the sun appears to reach its zenith in the sky and maximum strength. We cover a time period when Buddhism rose in Indonesia, and International Buddhist networks and scholarship rose to a point of fluorescence. Powerful women leaders patronized Buddhist scholarship and the Bhikkhunī Sangha was widespread and well-established. 

Extracted from Ayyā Tathālokā’s paper “Light of the Kilis: Our Indonesian Bhikkhuni Ancestors,” it is the fourth part of the series leading up to the 14th Sakyadhita Conference in Borobudur, Indonesia. [Also: read about worthy historical places to visit, the ancient terminology, and the journey of an Indian nun ]

International Buddhist Networking, Bhikkhunīs and Women’s Leadership in the 5th-7th Century Indonesian South Seas 

Although it is extremely likely that both Buddhist teachings and monastics reached the Indonesian islands up to nearly 1000 years earlier given the active Maritime Silk Road and known Buddhist monastic travels along these routes by sea, it is not until the second to fifth centuries of the Common Era that we find visual evidence of this in the Indonesian statuary and archaeological remains which still exist today.

Image 1: Bronze Buddha from Western
Celebes in the Amaravati or 
Anuradhapura style, 2nd-5th century. 
Second to fifth century statuary bronze Buddha images have been discovered on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (Celebes) which are considered to be of either Indian Amaravati or Sri Lankan Anuradhapura style.

These images further illustrate early Indonesian connections with South India and Sri Lanka, as mentioned earlier in the legendary story shared in the previous post here, “Bhikkhunī Manimekalai Travels to Java.” As known at a glance when looking at Maritime Silk Road maps, Indonesia had active maritime connections with South, Western and Northeastern India, Sri Lanka, China and Korea.

According to his memoirs, when the Chinese bhiksu pilgrim Fa-hsien (Fǎxiǎn, 法顯/法显) visited an island somewhere in the Indonesian archipelago when his ship was blown off course traveling between Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and China in the early fifth century, he was only able to see a few Buddhists, although there were some. It is not known surely which island he landed on, but thought perhaps to be somewhere on Jawa-dwipa—the big island of Java.  He may have missed an encounter with the 3rd to 5th century Javanese kingdom of Tarumanegara (Dharmanagara)[1] at Batujaya (east of Jakarta), where stupa-shaped structures and Buddhist votive tablets have been found.[2]

Image 2: Maritime Silk Road map by Ānandajoti Bhikkhu shows the sea routes between Indonesia, China, Sri Lanka, India and beyond, from 200 BCE to 800 CE. 
Just a few short years later however, in the midst of the fifth century, Buddhism was to become a national phenomena of international renown, remembered in the annals of history to this day. In 431 CE, Sarvāstivādin[3] (or Mūlasarvāstivādin) Tipiṭaka Master Guṇavarman from Kashmir arrived on Java, after having become a bhikkhu in Sri Lanka and studying Vinaya at the Abhayagirivihāra.  Through the venerable Guṇavarman's example and the records related to his outstanding life, we can clearly see the strong interconnections between Buddhists in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and China. We can also see the strong importance and imperative that was given to bhikkhunī ordination by the leading masters of these main Buddhist countries at this time.

Image 3: Discovered in the 1980’s, Candi Jiwa of Batujaya, Tarumanagara is considered to be a stupa of Buddhist nature. According to Dr Tony Djubiantono, the head of Bandung Archeology Agency, Jiwa was built in the 2nd century. Votive tablet inscriptions have been found from as late as the 5th and 6th centuries, indicating several hundred years of development. The Batujaya area contains 30 such ancient earthen monuments. As this area lacks volcanic stone suitable for such constructions, the stupas were made of mud bricks containing rice hulls. 

The Javanese Queen Mother was the first to formally become a Buddhist.  Then, with her encouragement, also her son the prince and then his father the king became Buddhist via master Guṇavarman’s presence and teaching. A vihāra was constructed and offered by the royal family for the venerable Guṇavarman, his fame spread, and he was widely invited to teach.  Venerable Guṇavarman became not only preceptor of the royal family, but of the entire country, by royal decree.  As Javanese National Master, Tripiṭakadhara Guṇavarman’s luster and good name spread widely.

Image 4: Chinese temple style statuary image of Javanese National Master Tripiṭakadhara Guṇavarman, who supported and enabled women’s higher ordination in China, here pictured sitting together with statues of the 16 arhats.

Javanese National Master’s International Support for Bhikkhunī Ordination

Embarking on the merchant Nandi’s ship,[4] from Java, venerable Guṇavarman travelled both to Sri Lanka and to China where he taught widely, translating the Five Precepts and Twenty-two Practices for Lay Buddhists, the Discipline for Novices, the Dharmaguptaka-bhikṣuṇī-karman (四分比丘尼羯磨法), and other sutras concerning the ordination of bhikkhunīs.

Image 5: Ancient handwritten Chinese translation of Dharmaguptaka Vinaya text.

Image 6: Contemporary digital
CBETA Dharmaguptaka-bhikṣuṇī-
karman (四分比丘尼羯磨法) text 
at http://www.cbeta.org/result2/
 In China, he established an ordination platform (戒壇) at Nan Lin Ssu (南林寺) Southern Forest Monastery in Chien-k’ang (建康, Nanking) China for the dual ordination of Chinese bhikkhuṇīs. He passed away in China before the bhikkhunīs arrived from Sri Lanka to complete the ordination quorum, however, before he died, he presided over bhikkhunīs’ ordination by the Bhikkhu Sangha alone.[5]  After his death, when the Sri Lankan bhikkhunīs finally arrived, Indian bhikkhu Tripiṭaka Master Sanghavarman served as bhikkhu preceptor in his stead.[6]

Image 7: Bhikkhunīs of the contemporary Nan Lin Southern Forest Monastery (南林寺) in Taiwan welcoming the visit of an eminent Vinaya Master (律師).

The 6th century saw the composition of what might have been the first great assembling of biographies or hagiographies of eminent bhikkhunīs since the Canonical works and related Commentaries on the lives of the early ancients. This was the Biquiuni Zhuan aka the Pi-ch’iu-ni Chuan (比丘尼傳 or 尼傳) by the monk Baochang (Pao-ch’ang, 寳唱), Buddhist Canon Taishō Tripitaka (大正新脩大藏經:T 2063). Ven. Baochang researched and compiled over 65 biographies of eminent bhikkhunīs who lived from the fourth to the sixth centuries. In it we can see that Buddhist monastic women held a highly venerated position in the society of the Southern Dynasties.

As we move forward into the 7th century we continue to see this interrelationship between Indonesia and the rest of the Buddhist world that came to be known as “Asia,” and we continue to see bhikkhunīs.  In Sumatra, Dharmakīrti, a Śrīvijayan prince of the Śailendra Dynasty, went forth as a Buddhist monastic and attained eminence as a  Buddhist scholar in Śrīvijaya. The Śailendras were an important Indonesian dynasty that arose; Śailendra (śaila+indra) means "Lord of the Mountains.” Śrīvijaya became an important and powerful network of nation states. Dharmakīrti travelled to India where he became a teacher at the famous Nālanda University, building on the work of Dignāga in Buddhist logic.[7] The presence of bhikkhunīs was noted by monastic pilgrims at Nālanda, and can still be seen in the donative inscriptions of multiple bhikkhunī viharas at Nālanda’s rival Valabhī, another famous and thriving center of Buddhist learning in Gujarat,[8] an area that also had maritime connections with Indonesia via the port of Sopara (see map).

Queen Shima patronizes Buddhist scholarship

Image 8: The legendary Queen Regent Shima, 
was known to be fair, firm and strong, like a 
mother to her people. She is still well 
remembered, and often portrayed in ballet, 
dance, drama, parades, and various forms of art.
From 664-667 Chinese bhikkhu Hui Ning and native Jñānabhadra translated the Mahāparinirvāna Sutra at Holing (訶陵) aka Kalinga in the modern Keling City area, a country on the north coast of central Java led by Queen Sima.[9] Queen Sima (Ratu Shima, Skt: Siṃha) of Kalinga, became legendary internationally for her extreme fairness and wisdom.  Some of her policies continue to inspire the law and governance of contemporary Singapore (Siṃhapura).

Queen Sima is credited with having established the four oldest known temple complexes in Indonesia on Dieng Plateau and Gedung Songo (hilltop above the Dutch-era hill station of Ambarawa). She blessed international Buddhist scholarship in her realm, and Hui Ning was one of 56 Chinese monastics known to have made the sea pilgrimage to her country during this period.[10]

Image 9: Kalinga Buddha image from Queen Shima period

Image 10: The Dieng Plateau temple complex in central Java attributed to Queen Shima contains the oldest standing stone structures in Java, more than 2000 meters above sea level. “Dieng”=di+hyang means “Divine Abode.”

Towards the end of the seventh century, Dharmapāla, a famous Buddhist monk from Kancipuram in South India who founded the Yogācāra (Vijñānavāda/Citramatra) School, traveled to Suvarṇadvīpa (in this case meaning both Java and Sumatra), after teaching at Nālanda for thirty years. During this time, in 671, another famous monastic pilgrim monk and travelogue author Bhikkhu I-tsing (Yijing, 義淨) arrived in the Indonesian archipelago from China. He spent six months in Indonesia before traveling to India, where he studied at Nālanda for a full decade before returning to Śrībogha (the old name of Malayu, modern Palembang, S. Sumatra). He remained in Indonesia for four more years working on translations before returning to China in 695 CE.

Image 11: Contemporary artist’s impressionary rendering of an ancient Chinese monastic pilgrim scholar on task. Gift of Chinese embassy to Pahangala, Sri Lanka.

Seventh Century Mūlasarvāstivāda Bhikṣuṇīs of Indonesia

Yijing noted more than 1000 eminent monastics in Bhoga, the capital of Śribhoga, mostly of the then prevalent Mūlasarvāstivāda Nikāya, but with a few members of the Sthavira Nikāya.[11] Yijing remarks of the Buddhist monastic women that he observed, “in all the countries of the Southern Sea, the bhikṣuṇīs[12] have a special upper undergarment, which, though not in accordance with the Indian style, is also called saṅkakṣikā”.[13] They used the five robes of bhikṣuṇī, the first four of which (including the saṅkakṣikā) he observed also being used by the bhikṣus. This record provides confirmation of a widespread Buddhist women’s monastic presence in the Indonesian island lands of Śrīvijaya during the late seventh century.


As the 8th century opened, in the great master Śantideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra, the bhikṣuṇīs were blessed thus:

Lābhinyaḥ santu bhikṣuṇyaḥ kalahāyāsavarjitāḥ
bhavantv akaṇdaśīlāś ca sarve pravrajitās tathā  
May the bhikṣuṇīs be prosperous, free of contention and harm;
May both they and all those women who are pravrajitā (including śrāmaṇerīkās) maintain unbroken virtue.

Image 12: Contemporary Indonesian renunciates of the Theravāda tradition. Young women who are pravrajitā (Pali: pabbajitā), that is, those who have “gone forth” into the monastic life, aka śrāmaṇerīkās (Pali: sāmanerīs), are pictured here in gold brown-saffron robes in center.


The next sequential article in this series, which looks at the 8th century and The Women of Borobudur, was, at the time of original posting, scheduled to be presented at the 14th Sakyadhita Conference in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, then upcoming. Therefore, for our next post in the series here,  Part 5, we skip ahead in time. The Borobudur article was published after presentation at the 14th Sakyadhita Conference, and appears here as Part 10. If reading in historical sequence, please go next to Part 10 and then return to Parts 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

All posts in the "History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia" series: 
Part 4: International Buddhist Networking, Bhikkhunīs and Women’s Leadership in the 5th-7th Century Indonesian South Seas
Part 5: The Mystery Story of Devi Kili Suci ~ the 11th Century Vanishing Crown Princess Bhikkhunī Hermit & Her Selomangleng Goa Cave
Part 6: Bhrikutī & the Appearance of New Non-Bhikkhunī Forms of Women’s Asceticism in Buddhism
Part 7: Ardhanāriśvārī Ken Dedes & Gender in Ancient Indian Buddhism

Part 8: Gāyatrī Rājapatni: Queen, Bhikkhunī & the Prajñāpāramitā
Part 9: Tomé Pires Witness & the Beguines, change comes to the roles of women in religion in Indonesia
Part 10: Shedding Light on the Bhikkhunīs & the Great Founding Women of Borobudur (Sakyadhita Conference Presentation)

Image credits for Part 4: 
Image 1: Courtesy of New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery. Web: http://images.nypl.org/index.php?id=1128493&t=w. 
Image 2: Map courtesy of Ven. Ānandajoti. For more maps of the ancient Buddhist world see
Image 3: Courtesy of trrusty.com “When the Lotus Bloom in Batujaya.” web: https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEjwUNbUH_PCVxTL1IHvCX4tXH31Q77yk4b6ac3cZJ_QwmcTvtw60iDa99Rb5ElI-puEs1rAB5pwUYJNbWT850uziKnzjgeRX8-eSNqQ2AjtXurg6E75BaGc5FTuo7DYXyFy_7xpKdaD_9Y/s1600/Candi-Jiwa-1.jpg. 
Image 4: Courtesy of uhdmm.com, weblink: http://new500arhat.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/421-e5ae9ae88ab1e887b3e5b08ae88085.jpg. 
Image 5: Courtesy of baohuasi.org, web: http://www.baohuasi.org/UploadFile2011/ea_201136202537.jpg. 
Image 6: Courtesy of http://www.cbeta.org/result2/normal/T22/1434_001.htm. 
Image 7: Courtesy of nanlin.org, web: http://www.nanlin.org/html/07/show.aspx?num=56&kw=. 
Image 8: Courtesy of ratushima567.wordpress.com, web: https://ratushima567.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/amazing-shima-show-2/aah26/. 
Image 9: Courtesy of: ruanasagita.blogspot.com. Web: https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEi6Y7jLg-6A8_93lckt2ES5Xo8qa-SQn3Is0DOC92WJYFrQMAG2bwWW9ZT6Scy7e_0fGAOuAtED5pwTKGykabrmvdeKuz7WvRDgZ2re6I94b7PNcAZ3hXte-UvYar57J7yKunlq63dA2ail/s640/Ratu+Sima+dari+Kerajaan+Kaling.jpg 
Image 10: Courtesy of republiktravel.com, web: http://republiktravel.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/dieng-plateau-1024x625.jpg. 
Image 11: Courtesy of s.dhammika.blogspot.com, web: http://sdhammika.blogspot.com/2014/05/fa-heins-cave-making-of-myth.html. 
Image 12: Courtesy of takazawa-2nd.blogspot.com, web: https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEgEnPC6nQqQsB9vfEQnmDXkxinKEJhnA8pvpl2htR6DZ9CDSuKGSsLE-VR6Uu1U-qfM8NfLLkPM2OKsDup0mW_oWaviIzdg3LaiNurq-FVo5_W_t12d6Bo0BHSk7mRd_2fvaQn5p5jMZ32s/s320/blogger.jpg. 

Endnotes to Part 4: 
[1] There is question of whether the name is the same as the “Dharmanagara” of other sources. This may have been an Indian Tamil kingdom, under the king Purnawarman who is mentioned in all seven monuments’ Pallava/Sanskrit inscriptions, per Ida Indawati Khouw (2000): http://www.oocities.org/tamilhindu/indonesia1.html (accessed 28 Nov 2014) 
[2] “The oldest Buddhist structure in Indonesia probably is the Batujaya stupas at Karawang, West Java, dated from around 4th century. ” Wikipedia’s Buddhist Art “Indonesia”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_art (accessed 28 Nov 2014) 
[3] According to Takukusu (1959:57), “The geographical extent of the Sarvāstivādan school was much greater than that of any other school as it was found in all of India, its northern frontier, Persia, Central Asia, and also to the south in Sumatra, Java, Cochin-China and all of China…[It] was closely related to the Theravāda School, from which it first separated probably before the Council of Aśoka…The principal Abhidharma text of this school…was probably compiled as early as 200 BC.” 
[4] Venerable Guṇavarman embarked on the merchant Nandi’s ship for his travels. The merchant Nandi’s ship has become famous in recent years for it’s having transported the bhikkhuṇīs from Sri Lanka to China to establish the Dual Ordination for Chinese bhikkhuṇīs. 
[5] Dignity and Discipline, Appendix, “Can An Extinct Bhikkhunī Sangha Be Revived,” by The Original Mingun Jetawan Sayadaw of Burma, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi, endnote 29: “An early Vinaya master from Kashmir, Guṇavarman, who in the fifth century presided over the ordination of Chinese bhikkhunīs by a bhikkhu sangha alone, expressed the opinion: “as the bhikṣuṇī ordination is finalized by the bhikṣu sangha, even if the ‘basic dharma’ (i.e., the ordination taken from the bhikṣuṇī sangha) is not conferred, the bhikṣuṇī ordination still results in pure vows, just as in the case of Mahāprajāpatī.” 
[6] Rosen, sec. 25, p 22 re p. 1070 b 3-4 
[7] According to Peter Skilling in his 1997 “Dharmakīti’s Durbhāloka and the Literature of Srīvijaya,” the logician Dharmakīrti and author of the Durbodhāloka are not the same person. 
[8] See Skilling’s “A Note on the History of the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha (II): The Order of Nuns After the Parinirvaṅa, ” p 32, WFB Review, Vol. XXX, no. 4 - Vol. XXXI, no. 1. 
[9] Kalinga is said to have been named after Indian immigrants who escaped from Kalinga, India, which is on the seashore in the regions of contemporary Odisha (Orissa) and Andhra in Andhra Pradesh. Indians are sometimes called kalinga in Malaysia. There is an open question of whether Queen Sima has been conflated with the Arabic story of Queen Sheba. There is also the question of her relationship to the kalyāṇamitra bhikṣuṇī “Sima of the Lion’s Roar” who teaches in the royal park of the Kalinga Wood of the Gandhavyūha “Entering the Dharma Realm” chapter of the Avataṁsaka Sūtra. 
[10] Founded by Vengian immigrants from Salunkayana (Andhra Pradesh) in India in the 4th century, escaping the destruction of their dynasty. 
[11] “Sthavira Nikāya" is generally considered the Sanskrit name of the Pali “Theriya Nikāya,” which later came to be known as the Theravāda. See Bhikkhu Anālayo’s "A Note on the Term Theravāda,” Buddhist Studies Review, 2013, vol. 30 no. 2 pp. 216–235. However, in this case, it might also be the name of the Abhayagirivihāra school monastics, who also came to be known as “Mahāyāna Sthāviras” according to another 7th century Chinese Buddhist monastic pilgrim and travel writer, Xuanzang (玄奘, Hsüan-tsang). 
[12] He normally used the shorthand “ni” (尼), or “female monastic”, that is, “ni+monastic” (尼眾), words which are typical shorthand for bhikśunī or bhikkhunī (T54, p0216a). It is clear that he is referring to bhikkhunīs, as the same words and phrases are used for the Buddhist bhikkhunīs of both China and India, as for the lands of the South Seas (南海諸國). Speaking of what is proper for them all, he says “尼有五衣”: “‘Ni’ have five robes”. It is the five robes of the bhikkhunīs in Vinaya that are being referred to. See: http://www.buddhist-canon.com/history/T540216a.htm. 
[13] The South Seas’ samkakṣikā (Pāli: sankaccika) seems akin to the contemporary Burmese thilashin nuns’ similar garment. In “Rules Concerning Nun’s Dress and Funeral,” from I-tsing’s A Record of Buddhist Practices XII:79, it is described as two cubits each way, with edges sewn together and corners sewed back an inch. “In wearing this one holds it up and puts one’s head and shoulders through, having the right shoulder wholly out of it. If one does not wear it, one should wear a regular samkakṣikā as similar to the bhikṣus. In one’s own rooms and monastery, a kusūlaka and samkakṣikā are sufficient. Note that the kusūlaka is in place of the Pali-text udakasātikā bath-robe as the fifth of the bhikśunīs’ five robes. The kusūlaka’s length is four cubits and width is two, both ends of it being sewn together. It may cover as far up as the navel and comes down four fingers above the ankle. I-tsing finds the first four robes to be used in common with the bhikṣus. (78)

post edited 22 Dec 2015

Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhuṇī (sans diacritics Ayya Tathaaloka)

Ven. Tathālokā Bhikkhunī is an American-born Theravada bikkhunī, Buddhist monastic scholar and teacher. She is the co-founder of the non-profit NGO Dhammadharini (Women Upholding the Dhamma), the North American Bhikkhuni Association and Aranya Bodhi Hermitage, as well as a senior monastic advisor to Sakyadhita USA and the Alliance for Bhikkhunis. She was a recipient of the 2006 Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award and a presenting scholar at the 2007 International Congress on Buddhist Women's Role in the Sangha on her special areas of scholarship: Bhikkhuni Sangha History and Bhikkhuni Vinaya.  Ayyā Tathālokā served as preceptor for the historically significant bhikkhuni ordinations held in Western Australia and in Northern California between 2009 and 2014. She is currently working with the Dhammadharini support foundation to establish a permanent monastery/vihara for the Dhammadharini Bhikkhuni Sangha in Northern California north of the San Francisco Bay Area (see dhammadharini.net).

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