Women in Buddhism: Questions & Answers


What is the lineage of the bhikkhuni Sangha in the history of Buddhism?


The bhikkhuni Sangha prospered alongside the bhikkhu Sangha in India for more than 1,000 years. A passage found in the Vinaya Pitaka saying that by accepting women to the Order would shorten Buddhism only to 500 years proved to be invalid.

When King Asoka the Great came to the throne around 248 B.E., (about 290 B.C.) he made it clear his policy to support and propagate Buddhism by sending out missionaries at nine different directions. One particular mission was led by Mahinda Thera, the king’s son, to establish Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Later Princess Anula, sister-in-law of King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka expressed her desire to be ordained as bhikkhuni. Ven Mahinda Thera suggested that the King send an ambassador to King Asoka of India asking permission from him to invite Ven Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta Theri, his sister, and the bhikkhuni Sangha to come to establish the bhikkhuni Sangha in Sri Lanka.

The Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta arrived in Sri Lanka along with a group of bhikkhunis and also brought with her a sapling of the Bodhi tree as a token of respect to King Devanampiya Tissa. Princess Anula and her large retinue received ordination and became the first group of Sri Lankan bhikkhunis. Princess Sanghamitta Theri remained in Sri Lanka until her last day.

In China, Ching Chien was the first Chinese woman to request ordination, and received ordination from only the bhikkhu Sangha. Later in 972 B.E., (about 430 A.D.) the Bhikkhuni Devasara from Sri Lanka was invited along with a group of 10 bhikkhunis who arrived in Nanking and gave ordination to 300 Chinese women.

The ordination of the bhikkhunis in China branched out to establish the bhikkhuni Sangha in Korea and East Asia, which has survived until the present day.