The Eight Garudhammas

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The Eight Garudhammas (or "heavy rules") are additional precepts required of bhikkhunis (fully ordained Buddhist nuns) above and beyond the monastic rule (vinaya) that applied to monks. The authenticity of these rules is highly contested; they were supposedly added to the (bhikkhunis) Vinaya "to allow more acceptance" of a monastic Order for women, during the Buddha's time.[1][2] They are controversial because they attempt to push women into an inferior role and because many Buddhists, especially Theravadin women, have found evidence that the eight Garudhammas are not really the teachings of Gautama Buddha.[3][4][5]

Narrative of the first bhikkhuni ordination[edit]

The first nun was Mahapajapati Gotami (Sanskrit Mahaprajapati Gautami), the aunt and adoptive mother of the Buddha. Five years after his enlightenment, she was the spokesperson of a group of women who requested he ordain women as monastics.[6] Bhikṣuṇī Karma Lekshe Tsomo writes,

Although modern scholarship questions their validity, traditional renditions of this incident recount that the Buddha hesitated three times before admitting these women to the order, saying "Be cautious, Gautamī, of the going forth of women from home into homelessness in the Dharma and the discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata. When the Buddha's attendant (and cousin) Ānanda questioned him concerning the spiritual capacities of women, the Buddha is said to have replied that women were as capable as men of achieving liberation, a fact verified by the multitude of women who achieved the state of an arhat during his lifetime. Having thus affirmed women's equal capacity for spiritual enlightenment, the Buddha is said to have relented and agreed to establish the female counterpart of the Bhikṣu Sangha.[6]

English translation[edit]

The English translation of the Eight Garudhammas is reproduced below:[7]

1) A nun who has been ordained even for a hundred years must greet respectfully, rise up from her seat, salute with joined palms, do proper homage to a monk ordained but that day.

Murcott writes about Mahapajapati's purported later request: "I would ask one thing of the Blessed One, Ananda. It would be good if the Blessed One would allow making salutations, standing up in the presence of another, paying reverence and the proper performance of duties, to take place equally between both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis according to seniority." [8] Those who believe in the garudhammas also recount the story of this rule being altered after six monks lifted up their robes to show their thighs to the nuns. They believe that the Buddha learned about this, and made an exception to that rule so that nuns need not pay respect to such monks. According to the altered rule, a bhikkhuni does not have to bow to every monk, only to a monk who is worthy of respect.[9]

2) A nun must not spend the rains in a residence where there are no monks.[10]

3) Every half month a nun should desire two things from the Order of Monks: the asking as to the date of the Observance [ uposatha ] day, and the coming for the exhortation [ bhikkhunovada ].[11]
4) After the rains (3-months rainy season retreat) a nun must 'invite' [ pavarana ] before both orders in respect of three matters, namely what was seen, what was heard, what was suspected.[12]

However, even proponents of the garudhammas concede that amendments were made to these rules. The revised version allows bhikkhunis to perform Paravana by themselves.[13]

5) A nun, offending against an important rule, must undergo manatta discipline for half a month before both orders. Thanissaro Bhikkhu's translation varies: "5) A bhikkhuni who has broken any of the vows of respect must undergo penance for half a month under both Sanghas."
6) When, as a probationer, she has trained in the six rules [cha dhamma] for two years, she should seek higher ordination from both orders.

The sixth gurudharma mentions śikṣamāṇās, who train for two years in preparation to become bhikkhunis. It says that after a probationer has trained with a bhikkhuni for two years, that bhikkhuni preceptor has the responsibility to fully ordain her. However, when the Buddha ordained Mahapajapati, probationer ordination did not exist. He ordained her directly as a bhikkhuni. This is one of the many textual errors in the garudhammas: the Buddha supposedly created one rule that requires probationer training which did not exist in the Buddha's time.

7) A monk must not be abused or reviled in any way by a nun.

8) From today, admonition of monks by nuns is forbidden. [Book of the Discipline, V.354-55] [13]

Some scholars[who?] believe that the eight rules were added later since:

1) there is a discrepancy between the Pali bhikkhuni Vinaya and the garudhammas
2) violation of the Payantika Dharmas is treated as a minor offense (requiring only confession as expiation) but a severe offense in the garudhammas.

In Young Chung writes about Hae-ju Chun, a bhikṣunī and assistant professor at Tongguk University in Seoul, Korea, who points out that six of the Eight Rules (#1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8) belong to the Bhikṣunī Pāyantika Dharmas yet require different punishments in garudhammas versus the pāyantika dharmas. Violation of any garudhamma is punished by prohibiting the probationer from ordaining. However, the pāyantika dharmas (#175, 145, 124 or 126, 141, 143, 142) are minor rules, requiring only confession. The first of them does not even appear in the Pāli Bhikṣunī Vināya. Based on the vast difference in the gravity of offenses between the eight garudhammas and the pāyantika dharmas, she asserts the probability that the garudhammas might have been added later.

Effects on the ordination of women[edit]

When giving the Eight Garudhammas to Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha supposedly said they would constitute her full ordination (Pali:upasampada):[dubious ] "If Mahapajapati Gotami accepts these eight vows of respect, that will be her full ordination."[14] However, Bhikkunī Kusuma in her article "Inaccuracies in Buddhist Women's History" has pointed out a number of inaccuracies in the ways the Eight Garudhammas have been recorded in the Pali Canon and its commentaries.[3] And others point out the plethora of textual problems with the position for garudhammas.[15] Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni published evidence that the Eight Garundhammas are non-historical.[5]

In Theravada Buddhism today, the full Bhikkhuni ordination lineage has been restored in Sri Lanka, but Theravadin nuns in other countries find it extremely difficult to obtain full ordination. Although some expressed an interest in receiving the full ordination via the surviving Mahayana full Bhikkhuni ordination in the course of the 20th century, it was not simply the difficulties of ordination from a different school of Buddhism that deterred them. Ellison Banks Findly reports that mae jis in Thailand were also deterred by the prospect of full ordination requiring them keeping the Eight Garudhammas and therefore having a formal subordination to the monks in addition to existing cultural discrimination.[16] In 2003 the first Thai woman to receive full Bhikkhuni ordination under the dharma name of Dhammananda was Dr. Chatumarn Kabilsingh, a former university professor. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni now heads a temple for Buddhist women, enjoying extremely narrow recognition in Thai society.

Although Tibetan Buddhism has not had a bhikshuni ordination lineage,[17] until Ven. Thubten Chodron, ordained since 1977, it had only a tradition of novice nuns, it has had a number of famous women practitioners who were yoginis. Many Buddhist scholars and laypeople all over the world want to help Tibetans to establish a full ordination.[18] Bhikshuni Prof. Dr. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, University of San Diego, California, USA, President of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women stated, while talking about Gender Equality and Human Rights: "It would be helpful if Tibetan nuns could study the bhikshuni vows before the ordination is established. The traditional custom is that one is only allowed to study the bhikshu or bhikshuni vows after having taken them. Moreover, at present, the Tibetan nuns are prevented from completing the Geshema degree, since Vinaya is one of the five subjects studied and they are not permitted to study it without already being bhikshunis." [18]

See also[edit]



Tsomo, Karma Lekshe (2013). Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming Against the Stream. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-11426-7. 

External links[edit]