Women in Buddhism: Questions & Answers


Once the women joined the Sangha, how were they treated by the bhikkhus?



There is no direct record on the subject, but from the study of the Vinaya one may find that after all the bhikkhus were men drawn from Indian society. Being used to the service offered by women, the bhikkhus treated the bhikkhunis like wives. The bhikkhunis had to spend time washing rugs, robes, etc. for the monks in a similar manner that women have to take care of their men folk in their household lives.

The bhikkhunis received this kind of treatment from the monks until the lay people took notice and brought it to the attention of the Buddha. The Buddha having listened to the complaint called the two parties involved. Both parties accepted that what was brought to the attention of the Buddha was correct. He then laid down vinaya for the monks not to ask the bhikkhunis to perform such service. One may see the Buddha’s intention clearly that when he allowed women to join the Order, basically to allow them to study and practice his teaching, they would no more be householders, and thus no longer bound to household chores. Each ordained person is to take care of his or her own basic requirement and spend time to pursue one’s spiritual goal, namely to strive for enlightenment.

Both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis have left their household lives behind aiming to seek for spiritual attainment. To expect the bhikkhunis to serve the bhikkhus contradicts the underlying principle by which the Buddha allowed women to join the Order.