In the year 2023, the Binara Full Moon Day falls on September 29 and it is very important for all Buddhists around the world, especially for all female disciples of the Buddha.
The Order of the Buddha was established by four disciples namely, monks (Bhikkhus), nuns (Bhikkhunis), male devotees (Upasakas), and female devotees (Upasikas). Of these, the females’ domain is very important for both the nuns and female devotees to practice their spiritual activities in this mundane life to develop their meritorious thoughts and deeds to obtain a blissful life.
In ancient India, according to the brahmins’ views and concepts, women were not allowed to do outdoor activities and they were confined to their homes where they had to work under their husbands or elder sons. Further, in the brahmins’ society of India women were considered ‘female slaves.’ Further, the birth of a girl to a family was considered a ‘curse’ for all the family. So, due to these brahmins’ meaningless opinions, all women faced many hindrances and worries and had to stay at home without any grace and privilege throughout their lives.
At that time, the Buddha directly criticized the brahmins’ caste system and its meaninglessness of dividing people into several categories of castes. The Buddha has clearly stated in the Vasala Sutta of the Khuddaka Nikaya how one becomes an outcast or a brahmin. Therefore, one becomes an outcast or a brahmin due to his or her deeds not because of his or her birth.
“Na jaccavasalohoti – Na jaccahotibrahmano
Kammanavasalohoti – Kammanahotibrahmano.”
(By birth is not one and outcast – By birth is not one a brahmin. By deeds is one an outcast – By deeds is one a Brahmin.)
In Buddhist teachings, both men and women are human beings in society, but they differ according to their inherent abilities and skills. These inherent abilities can also be changed if someone works hard in day-to-day life.
As the great teacher, the Buddha kept the women and men in an equal place and believed that women, like men, were wise and intelligent enough to understand and follow the Buddha’s teaching to obtain arhathood. Since then, they have been honored by everyone and they have equal opportunities to live in peace with their freedom as human beings among the people of the society.
The Buddha granted admission for the women who were willing to enter the Order of Bhikkhunis to eradicate all hindrances and suffering in their worldly lives. Among them, the foremost female disciple of the dispensation of the nuns was the Buddha Mata, Maha Prajapati Gotami and she was the founder of the Order of Bhikkhunis.
Although Maha Prajapati Gotami made requests from the Buddha to be ordained at the beginning of the Order of Bhikkhus, they were not allowed for not having proper and sufficient protection and reasonable grounds for them at that time. Hence, The Buddha said that “No, Gotami, do not wish for women to enter homeless life in this doctrine and discipline.” In the meantime, Venerable Ananda made the same request again from the Buddha on behalf of Prajapati Gotami. After considering these appeals, the Buddha granted permission for the women to be ordained by accepting the following Eight Great Conditions (Atthagaru dhamma).
A Bhikkhuni, even if she attained the higher ordination (Upasampada), 100 years ago, should honour, and worship Buddhist monks who obtained the higher ordination on that very day without considering their seniority.
The Bhikkhunis should not observe Vas (Rainy Retreat) where there are no Buddhist monks.
Every two weeks, Bhikkhunis should take advice from the monks regarding their disciplines/performance.
Bhikkhunis should end their Vas season in the presence of the monks’ assembly.
Bhikkhunis should reveal their purity in the presence of both monks and nuns.
Bhikkhunis should train as novices for two years and obtain their higher ordination in the midst of monks.
For any reason, Bhikkhunis should not insult monks.
Bhikkhunis should not advise the monks.
With accepting the above Eight Great Conditions Prajapati Gotami and her followers of the five hundred princesses entered the Order of the Bhikkhynis on the Binara Full Moon Day by respecting the great teacher, the Buddha. Thereafter, the Order gradually grew up with the ordinations of queens, daughters of wealthy and poor families, princesses, widows, bereaved mothers, courtesans, helpless women, and so on. The Therigathas (Stanzas of Elder Nuns) of the Khuddaka Nikaya clearly expresses how Arahants Bhikkunis experienced feelings of joy by entering the Order of Bhikkhunis to practice the noble teaching of the Buddha for eradicating all their commitments in the mundane life.
Several years after the beginning of the Order of Bhikkhunis, with similar to the positions of the chief disciples in the Order of Bhikkhus, Arahants Khema and Uppalawanna were honored by the Buddha as the chief female disciples in the Order of Bhikkhunis amidst both the monks and nuns respectfully. As well as some of the Arahants Bhikkhunis namely, Patacara, Dhammadinna, BhaddaKapilani, Soma, Yashodhara, Kisa Gotami, Anopama, Subha, Jivakambavanika Subha, Dantika, Umbari, Rohini, Ambapali, etc. were honoured with the different titles due to their specific spiritual abilities and skills they have greatly practiced.
As Buddhist monks, Bhikkhunis also delivered the discourses of the Buddha to the Dhamma followers in different areas. They guided the people by explaining the teachings of the Buddha to understand the reality of life to release from diverse obstructions in worldly life.
To conclude, though the women were confined to their houses as female slaves in the brahmin society of India, the Buddha realized that they were also intelligent enough to engage in social work with their inherent abilities and skills. By understanding this, the Buddha gave equal opportunities for them and granted permission to be ordained establishing the dispensation of Bhikkhunis on the Binara Full Moon Day.
Senior Lecturer, Pandit,
Dr. Ven. Dodamgoda Sumanasara Thera
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Sri Jayewardenepura