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About some parts of Dharmagupta Poshada for Bikshunis

By Ven Christiana Jampa Tsomo

In my opinion, the text of the Pratimoksha Sutra for bhikshunis in the Dharmagupta tradition contains extraordinary elements, useful for any monastic and even non-monastic Dharma community.

I am referring to the part of the Sutra that lists a set of precepts known as “remainders,” many of which concern above all the relationship between nuns. This section is often written in a discursive form: with respect to the major recurring relationship problems, the text presents indications which show the style of behavior suitable to remedy the difficulties.

For example, one of the precepts concerns the situation where a bhikshuni tries to cause disharmony in the sangha:

“…Another bhikṣuṇī should admonish her, saying, “Venerable, be in harmony with the saṅgha. By being in harmony with the saṅgha, you will be happy and not argumentative. You will study with others under the same teacher and mix well with them, like milk and water. Thus you will benefit by the Buddhadharma and abide in peace and happiness.” 

I find it wonderful that in relation to an infringement, the text of the Sutra indicates in detail how to address the perpetrator. The appeal is sweet and sincere, addressed only for the sake of the good of the “argumentative” nun, devoid of any authoritarian, judgmental or punitive nuance. I have to be honest, I have never seen such a style being applied in my first 15 years of social life in the Sangha before becoming a bikshuni: neither when I myself was a getsulma and would give a warning to anyone, nor as a nun who had to receive it, nor as a simple direct or indirect witness of other monastics engaging in such a conversation – and even less in the secular community. Such a style is new for all the rest of my Sangha community, who obviously cannot support vows and styles which they don’t know about. It is of course something which could be part of the general kindness in one’s behaviour, but here the point I am trying to indicate is that such behaviour is part of a pratimoksha vow. It has to be especially relevant, then. It has to fullfil some specific goal in our Dharma communities. Otherwise why would it be included in the Pratimoksha Sutra? 

I think that our lack of applying such an indication does not depend on any ill will on the part of anyone, but precisely on the fact that the style of the bikshuni vow is not known in our Centers, which could not help but at best assimilate that of the male monasteries from which our holy Lamas come, a style that is, and should be, specifically characterized, and so shouldn’t be taken as absolute or dominant. I believe that the reason why Buddha indicated that the four pillars are the life of the Dharma is precisely because each of the pillars has something specific to indicate, equally indispensable, equally harmonious in connection with the other pillars. 

Another example:

“The [virtuous] bhikṣuṇī should say to this bhikṣuṇī, “Venerable, do not refuse to accept admonition. Venerable, accept admonition. Venerable, you should admonish other bhikṣuṇīs according to the Dharma. So should other bhikṣuṇīs admonish you according to the Dharma. Thus the disciples of the Buddha will benefit by admonishing, teaching, and making confession to one another.”

This is beautiful because it cuts to the root the egotistic bossy and reciprocally submitted dynamics that are often based on seniority in ordination and/or on work or study roles, and which infallibly creates disharmony and resentment. According to the above text, each bhikshuni, regardless of her formally hierarchical position, can give and receive admonitions according to the Dharma. Also, in this case, such an indication seems to me revolutionary and regenerating.

I do not want to take more space and time for now, because I am very interested that we begin to confront each other openly here in the Sangha, perhaps by using the IMI newsletter; As Western Sangha we are just a shy sprout – but we all have to share the experiences from these 40 years of existence and learn from each other; I very much hope so. 

For example, an Italian Dharma sister of mine, to whom I have read the previous lines, commented: “it is very interesting but I want to clarify one thing: I accept to be admonished only by people in whom I have complete trust”. This seems to me a very profound point because it is true, there is no other way to be actually admonished except in a relationship of complete trust. And I would add that there is also no other way to admonished if there is no complete trust in the person being warned.

If we take commitment about this, then our learned Geshes and the Gurus will be able to help us greatly and we will become a strong, free, open hearted Sangha, which will be a real light for peace in the world.  

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