Today, September 17, 2016, is the date chosen by the Alliance for Bhikkhunis to celebrate the establishing of the Bhikkhunī Order by the Buddha for female monastics. This year also marks the 2600th anniversary of the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha, according to Theravāda tradition, and events in observance are planned internationally throughout the year.
From the beginning of his teaching to the end of his life, the Buddha asserted the importance of establishing a Four-fold Assembly composed of female and male lay people and monastics. We are privileged to live in a time during which the Buddha’s original vision is being restored. Over the past twenty years, traditions in which the Bhikkhunī lineage had disappeared, been weakened, or was never established, are experiencing a resurgence of efforts to bring about full and equal participation of women in Buddhist monastic life.
You may like to celebrate International Bhikkhunī Day and the 2600th anniversary of the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha by learning a bit more about the women and men who have worked to bring about the renewal of the Bhikkhunī Sangha. The film “The Buddha’s Forgotten Nuns” offers an inspirational telling of some aspects of this story. It is available for viewing at: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/50345/The-Buddha-s-Forgotten-Nuns.
If you’d like to learn more about the monasteries where the contemporary renaissance of the Bhikkhunī Sangha is being nurtured, the Dhammadharini website is a good place to start exploring these pioneer communities. In addition to providing a window into the life of the Dhammadharini community of Buddhist nuns, the site offers many links to other Bhikkhunī communities and organizations.
In honor of the 6th International Bhikkhunī Day, you may take inspiration from reading some of the verses composed by Bhikkhunīs who lived during the time of the Buddha. A collection of 73 of these poems taken from the Therīgāthā, can be found online at: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thig/.
The following verses from The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha express the importance of the Four-fold Assembly in supporting the life of the Buddha’s teachings.
One who is competent and self-confident,
learned, an expert on the Dhamma,
practicing in accord with the Dhamma,
is called an adornment of the Saṅgha.
A bhikkhu accomplished in virtue,
a learned bhikkhunī,
a male lay follower endowed with faith,
a female lay follower endowed with faith:
these are the ones that adorn the Saṅgha;
these are the Saṅgha’s adornments.
© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, AN 4:7, (Wisdom Publications, 2012).