Women in Buddhism: Questions & Answers


Is it true that once women are admitted to the Order, Buddhism will be shortened to 500 years?


After women were accepted to join the Order it is recorded in the Vinaya that the Buddha prophesied that Buddhism would be shortened to 500 years.

Luckily we are now some 2000 years from the time the teaching of the Buddha was recorded and we are in a position to judge clearly that such a saying was purely with bias against women and not in conformity with the spirit of Buddhism.

We have studied the historical context to see how both the bhikkhu and bhikkhuni Sanghas prospered in India alongside each other. During King Asoka’s reign (c.3rd Century B.C.) Sanghamitta Theri, the King’s daughter was invited along with a group of bhikkhunis to establish the bhikkhuni Sangha in Sri Lanka and they received full royal support and prospered for more than a thousand years.

In India, both historical and archaeological findings proved that the bhikkhuni Sangha existed in the 10th century A.D. e.g. a stone inscription found at Bodh Gaya mentioned that Kuranji bhikkhuni, former wife of King Indramitra became enlightened; an inscription from Kusana mentioned the Buddhamitta bhikkhuni, disciple of the monk Bala was recognized as “Tripitaka” one who was well versed in the Tripitaka. These evidences are weighty enough to say that both Sanghas existed side by side until the Turk Muslims attacked India.

In Sri Lanka after the arrival of Sanghamitta Theri and the bhikkhunis from India, they gave ordination to Princess Anula, King Devanampiya Tissa’s sister-in-law along with a large number of women from the royal court. An inscription from the 10-11th Century A.D., found at Kukurumahandamana mentioned Mahindarama Hospital situated in front of the bhikkhuni Arama in Anuradhapura. It seems that bhikkhunis at that time were also involved in the social welfare of the people. Both the Mahavamsa and Culavarnsa referred to activities of the bhikkhuni Sangha. Only after 1050 A.D., after the invasion of a South Indian king, both the bhikkhu and bhikkhuni Sanghas disappeared from Sri Lanka. Later on Thai monks carne to Sri Lanka on royal invitation and re-established the bhikkhu Sangha which continues its existence up to present day. There was no mention of the bhikkhuni Sangha.

During the time the bhikkhuni Sangha prospered in Sri Lanka, a group of them went to China on invitation and established the bhikkhuni Sangha there in 434 A.D. This lineage then spread to the neighbouring countries like Korea and Vietnam.

Two points need to be mentioned in this connection. First, it is to be noted that Buddhism still prospers in the present era (B.E. 2540/1997 A.D.) not only in the East but it also travelled to the far West and begins to take root there. Second, we need to mention that the disappearance of both the Sanghas they were always together. These historical facts and evidences disqualify the common belief that by accepting women to the Order Buddhism will be shortened only to 500 years.