Bhikkhunī Vibhanga Project

The following is a brief introduction to the Bhikkhuni Vibhanga Project, as given by Ven. Tathaloka Theri to the Dhammadharini Leadership Council:

Vibhanga means “explication and analysis”. The Vibhanga texts form a full half of Buddhist Vinaya (the monastic discipline), and here we find the monastics’ precepts. The Maha Vibhangha explains the bhikkhus’ precepts, which also comprise 60% of the bhikkhunis’ precepts. The Bhikkhuni Vibhanga is the explication of the precepts which arose with the bhikkhunis’ community or were called for by the bhikkhunis, many of which are unique to our bhikkhunis’ community.

The Bhikkhu Vibhanga has been contemporarily translated and commented upon by Thanissaro Bhikkhu in Buddhist Monastic Code (BMC) I, an extremely valuable resource, now available through Dhamma Dana to many of the Buddhist monasteries around the word. It is the English language Vinaya text most studied by bhikkhus, and also by laypeople and aspirants who want to learn about the Vinaya.

Studying BMC 1 after my full bhikkhuni ordination 20 years ago led me to wish for such a text for women, for bhikkhunis, and led me to translate such a bhikkhunis’ text book–given to new bhikkhunis after their full ordination in South Korea–into English. This was a Comparative Vinaya text, which led me into my first eight years of Comparative Vinaya studies. I have privately shared that work–called A Bhikkhuni Handbook–which became my graduate thesis, with many of the early generation of Theravada bhikkhunis, leading to their often repeated requests to have such a Pali-based, Pali-centered book for Theravada Bhikkhunis.

Thus, in 2010, after the first Theravada bhikkhuni ordinations in Northern California at Dhammadharini’s Aranya Bodhi Awakening Forest Hermitage, the Bhikkhuni Vibhanga Project was born. In 2012, with the support of the first NZ bhikkhuni Ayya Adhimutti (ordained as a bhikkhuni at Aranya Bodhi in 2010) the first intensive session was held in New Zealand. This in turn gave rise to the NZ Bhikkhuni Sangha Trust. Two years later, a second intensive session was held in California hosted by Dhammadharini, supported by a seed grant from the Alliance for Bhikkhunis. Now another 2 years later a third intensive session will be held, again hosted in NZ, organized by Ayya Adhimutti and the newly-registered NZ Bhikkhuni Sangha Trust.

The main purpose of these intensive sessions is to give focused time to the Project, with a small team located in place collaborating with participating monastics and international Vinaya scholars from around the world. Work continues very slowly between intensive sessions among international collaborators. The Project was initially estimated at around 10 years. We have been working with it for four years now. It is our aim, during this year’s intensive session, to work with some of the knotty Vinaya questions for bhikkhunis which have come to attention in the past few years. It is our hope that the initial website for the Project will be able to be launched, or to make good progress towards being launched, based upon this session.

The project website aims to make accessible high-quality Canonical information on Bhikkhuni Vinaya, together with related scholarly articles on the topics therein — both of which are contemporarily hard to find and to access, and often only at great cost. Our aim is primarily to contribute to the knowledge and support of Theravada bhikkhunis–that we have comprehensive access to study, learn, understand and practice our own discipline. However, liberating this information will be a great boon not only for the reviving Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha, but also for Theravada bhikkhus, interested lay persons and aspirants, scholars, and students of Comparative and World Religions and students of Women in Religion.

It will also be a contribution towards greater understanding between Buddhist monastic traditions and schools. This is especially important with regards to the revival of the Bhikkhuni Sangha, which is an multi-traditional movement happening not only in Theravada Buddhism, but in Tibetan Buddhism and with the involvement of numerous other Buddhist traditions as well. We will be able to see what we share in monastic discipline in our traditions, as well as the uniquenesses of each tradition. All will have the chance to grow in knowledge and understanding of each other, which will hopefully bring us closer at heart, and support both our own practice as well as our working together to share the blessings and effective means embodied in the Buddha’s teaching for the welfare of humankind and our world.

Ayya Tathaloka

Founding Abbess, Dhammadharini

Dhammadharini Sonoma Mountain Bhikkhuni Monastery
& Aranya Bodhi Awakening Forest Hermitage