The Buddha His Life & Teachings

By Venerable Piyadassi Thera

The Order of Nuns

In the early days of the Order, only men were admitted to the Sangha since the Buddha was reluctant to admit women. But there were many devout women among the lay followers who had a keen desire for a life of renunciation as nuns. Urged by their keenness, Pajâpati Gotami, the foster-mother of the Buddha, in the company of many ladies of rank, approached the Buddha, beseeching him to grant them ordination. But the Buddha still hesitated to accept them.

Seeing their discomfiture, and urged by their zeal, the Venerable Ânanda took up their cause and pleaded with the Buddha on their behalf. The Buddha finally yielded to this appeal, placing, however, eight cardinal rules on the ordination of women. Thus was established, in the fifth year after his enlightenment, the Order of Nuns, the Bhikkhuni Sâsana, for the first time in history; for never before this had there been an Order where women could lead a celibate life of renunciation.

Women from all walks of life joined the Order. Foremost in the Order stood the Theris Khemâ and Uppalavannâ. The lives of quite a number of these noble nuns, their strenuous endeavours to win the goal of freedom, and their paeans of joy at deliverance of mind, are graphically described in the Therigâthâ, the Psalms of the Sisters.n43