Women in Buddhism: Questions & Answers


What was the status of the bhikkhunis during the Buddha’s time?


When the Buddha allowed women to join the Order, a large number of women welcomed the opportunity given to women for the first time in Indian history. Some wanted to join the Order to escape the dreadful life of having to remain in the kitchen for most of their time, some wanted to escape from a meaningless life of widowhood, some were doing it as a fashion, or simply followed their close relatives. In the latter case, some of them proved to be trouble for the Sangha, but for most of the cases, these women were sincere in their spiritual search as it was the first time they enjoyed such freedom.

There were bhikkhunis who were recognised by the Buddha as being foremost in the Vinaya, teaching dharma, etc. They were active in propagating the teaching of the Buddha in the same manner as the bhikkhus.

Some bhikkhunis were well known in preaching and were popular among ministers and noble families. Once a king asked a learned nun to explain certain dharma and later asked the same question to the Buddha. He was surprised to find that the bhikkhuni expounded the dharma topic the same way as the Buddha. He was happy and convinced that in fact the teaching of the Buddha had taken root properly.