PROJECT PROPOSAL FOR THE UPLIFTMENT OF THE BHIKKHUNI SASANA IN SRI LANKA
The Buddha instituted the Bhikkhuni Order in India in the 5th Century BC. This order was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century BC by Ven. Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta, the daughter of Emperor Ashoka of India. Ven. Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta along with her brother, Ven. Bhikkhu Mahinda established the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka, which flourished for about 10 Centuries in the country.
In India too, the Bhikkhuni Order flourished for about 10 Centuries, inspite of the fact that the women in that society were looked down upon and treated as “ksudras” – the lowest caste in existence. However the Buddha never discriminated against any sex or social order, and as such many women, both from the downtrodden and upper classes in society, princesses, prostitutes, paupers joined the Bhikkhuni Order and became enlightened Bhikkhunis and formed a part of the Sangha community.
In Sri Lanka we have many historical, archeological and literary references to show the presence of Bhikkhunis in large numbers. World classics such as Theri Gatha and Dipawamsa portray the life stories of Bhikkhunis of that era, and they even mention the names of the Bhikkhunis as well as their family details. Unfortunately however, most of the historical written evidence is lost in time.
It is interesting to note that some traditional Theravada countries like Burma and Thailand never had any established Bhikkhuni Orders because they never received any ordination unlike Sri Lanka, which was fortunate enough to receive it through the good offices of the Emperor Ashoka of India who sent over his own daughter, Ven. Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta to Sri Lanka for this purpose.
In fact, China and some other Mahayana Buddhist countries received the Bhikkhuni Ordination subsequently from Sri Lanka in the 6th Century AD. It is recorded in history that the famous Ven. Bhikkhuni Devasara from Sri Lanka traveled across to China in wind-driven sailing ships and established the Bhikkhuni Order in China during this period. Thereafter this Bhikkhuni Order from China spread across to Korea, Japan and Taiwan, etc. Therefore, it is an established historical fact that all the Bhikkhunis in the world today are descended from the original Sri Lankan Bhikkhunis.
However, due to many adverse reasons, the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka was subsequently lost and after some time, the Ten Precept Nun’s Order was brought to Sri Lanka from Burma by Sister Sudharmacari in 1905. This Sri Lankan Buddhist Nun was well read and educated and was well received by the then ruling British Governor Blake who gave her due recognition in society. At the moment there are about 5,000 Ten Precept Nuns in all parts of the country.
Ven. Bhikkhuni Kusuma’s Ph.D research on the Nuns of Sri Lanka clearly portrays the present position of these Ten Precept Nuns who do not actually belong to the Sangha community since they have not been formally ordained, in today’s society.
The recent development of the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka is due to the efforts of some erudite and educated women around the world, who agitated for the re-establishment of the Bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka. As a result, in 1996, with the help and efforts of the Ven. Bhikkhus of Sri Lanka and Korea, it became possible to give Higher Ordination to the Ten Precept Nuns of Sri Lanka. Ven. Dr. Bhikkhuni Kusuma was thus able to be the first person to don the robes of an ordained Bhikkhuni at Saranath, India. Today, there are over 1000 ordained Bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka being the closest neighbour of huge India is still influenced by its ideas of giving a low profile to women in society. This idea is prevalent in Sri Lankan society today even to a minor degree. Therefore some of the traditional Buddhist Bhikkhus in Sri Lanka do not wish to award equal status to Bhikkhunis. Sri Lanka being a traditional Buddhist country, gives much status to the Bhikkhus and tend not to recognize the Bhikkhunis at the same level, since the Bhikkhuni Order is still very new and somewhat controversial. Due to this reason there is still no formal acceptance of the Bhikkhunis either by the State or the Lay community. Thus there is no support, either financial or material for the Bhikkhunis, except at a personal level.
Therefore, most of the Bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka today are deprived of some of the most basic facilities such as education and proper training in the ways of ascetic life. This need is so great that it is essential to provide these facilities so that the Bhikkhuni Oder has a chance to develop and flourish in the country. It is obvious that these aspiring women can render yeoman service to society by way of social service, spiritual guidance, meditation, etc. if given the chance to do so with proper training and education, which will also provide them with much needed recognition and confidence to forge ahead in life.
Therefore, it is proposed that a proper Training Centre be established in the Capital City of Sri Lanka, Colombo, with in-house training facilities for about 20-30 persons at a time. The Training Courses will be conducted by senior Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, as well as Lay Teachers who are well versed in Buddha Dhamma, Meditational Practices, Social Service, Psychology, Environmental Conservation, English Language, etc. etc. and the Centre will be purely for Bhikkhunis and Ten Precept Nuns who will receive a comprehensive and sound training in all aspects which will enable them to go back to their respective villages, sometimes in very remote areas, and thus they will be well equipped to become spiritual leaders who will be able to guide others in society.
To set up the proposed Training Centre for Bhikkhunis in Colombo, a land in extent of about one acre will be donated for this purpose by Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero, who is the Chief Incumbent of “Sadaham Sevana”, a state sponsored Centre for Research and Study of Buddhism. Being a Member of Parliament of Sri Lanka and having close links to H.E., the President of the country, Ven. Rathana Thero, a Bhikkhu who is very concerned about the betterment of the Bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka, is willing to use his good offices to further the cause of the Bhikkhunis by getting much needed state patronage and recognition for them.
Therefore this Centre, comprising of 20-30 rooms with all facilities, Lecture halls, Conference Rooms, etc., will be constructed on the above mentioned land. Already plans have been drawn up for this purpose and hopefully if the necessary funds could be raised without any delay, the construction could be commenced upon as soon as possible.
An approximate budget estimate has been made at Rs. 50,000,000/= (Rupees 50 million = US $ 450,000/-) for the cost of construction of the buildings.
The day-to-day maintenance and other expenditure will be raised locally through the state and well wishers, donations, danas, etc., once the training programmes commences.