Eight Garudhammas

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Tibetan nun at the Boudhanatha Stupa, Nepal
Translations of
English rules to be respected
Pali garudhamma
Sanskrit gurudharma
Chinese 敬法
Japanese -
(rōmaji: kyōhō)
Korean -
(RR: kyŏngbŏp)
Tibetan ལྕི་བའི་ཆོས་
(Wylie: lci ba'i chos)

The Eight Garudhammas are additional precepts required of bhikkhunis (Buddhist nuns) that are not included in the precepts taken by bhikkhus (monks).

These eight rules require Bhikkhunis (nuns) to show respect when greeting Bhikkhus (monks), to rely on Bhikkhus to set certain cermonial dates, to spend the rainy season in a place where there are also monks (possibly for safety reasons), to not criticize bhikkhus, etc.

Modern scholars have questioned the origins of these rules.[2]

For example, according to some traditional texts, the Buddha permitted ordination of women only after he was asked several times by his disciple Ananda, and these eight precepts were added to permit their ordination. However, other texts in the Pali Canon cast doubt on the historical authenticity of this account. For example, other texts record the category of bhukkhunis known as "Ehi bhikkhunis", who were ordained by the Buddha himself, by his simply saying "come".[3] In addition, an examination of these rules is said to show a dependence on other rules in the Vinaya that can't have been established yet at the time of the first ordination of a bhikkhuni.[4]


The term Garudhamas is commonly translated as "heavy rules" by modern translators. However, Thubten Chodron suggests that a more accurate translation is "Rules to be Respected".

Thubten Chodron writes:

The term garudhamma has suffered much in the hands of modern translators. Garu literally means ‘heavy’, and in some places in the Vinaya ‘heavy’ offenses are contrasted with ‘light’ offenses. So modern scholars have called these the ‘heavy’ or ‘severe’ or ‘strict’ rules. Countless interpreters have seen the garudhammas as an imposition of control by monks over nuns. The idea that the garudhammas are essentially about control seems to be influenced by the Christian virtue, in both monasteries and weddings, of ‘obedience’. Obedience is an appropriate virtue in an ethical system founded on ‘Thou shalt’, issued by a Lord on High. Buddhism, however, is based on the ethical principle ‘I undertake the training …’ This assumes a mature, responsible relationship with one’s ethical framework, and does not rely on a relationship of command.

The word garu, when used in the Vinaya, normally has quite a different meaning: respect. And the garudhammas themselves says this ‘rule (dhamma) should be revered, respected (garukatvā), honored, and worshiped for the rest of your life, not to be transgressed’. Clearly, garudhamma means ‘Rules to be Respected’. This is confirmed by the standard Chinese rendering, 八敬法 (ba jing fa), literally ‘eight respect dhammas’. The rules themselves primarily relate to the ways that the bhikkhunis should pay respects to the bhikkhus.[5]

The Eight Garudhammas

An English translation of the Eight Garudhammas is reproduced below:[6]

(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." [7] 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.[8]
(2) A nun must not spend the rains in a residence where there are no monks.[9]
(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].[10]
(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.[11]
A revised version allows bhikkhunis to perform pavarana by themselves.[6]
(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.354-355] [6]

Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni's "On the Apparent Non-historicity of the Eight Garudhammas Story"

The origin story, in which Buddha was asked by Ananda to permit ordination of women and only does so on condition that they accept the Eight Garudhammas raises a number of historical inconsistencies with other parts of the canon set out by Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni including:[4]

  • There are origin stories for the Pacittiyas (rules) and the Garundhamma mention other Pacittiyas, so logically they should have originated after them and can't have been used in the first Bhikkhuni oordination.
  • The Vinaya states that Buddha gave bhikkhus the right to ordain bhikkhunis on their own "Bhikkhus, I allow you to ordain bhikkhunis", and they used this to ordaiin the 500 women accompanying Mahapajapat, yet two of the garudhammas say that Bhikkhunis must be ordained by the Bhikkhuni sanga first, and by bhikkhunis who had been novices (sikkhamanas) for two rain seasons (vassas) first.
  • The Pali Canon has an "Ehi" ordinations of Bhikkhuni Bhadda Kundalakesi - the original ordination used for the first Bhikkhus[12] where Buddha just called out "Come Bhikkhu (or in this case bhikikhuni) "Ehi, bhikikhuni, svàkkhàto dhammo cara brahmacariyaü sammà dukkhassa antaki riyàya” (“Come bhikikhuni, well-expounded is the Dhamma, live the brahmacariya for the complete ending of dukkha”.) This passage is in the Therigatha (which is thought to belong to the oldest strata of Buddhist texts) and the Theri Apadana, both from the Khuddhaka Nikaya. This category of Bhikkhuni ordination is also confirmed in the Bhikkhuni Vibhanga Vinaya text and outside the Pali canon, seventeen Ehi bhikkhunis are named in the Sanskrit Therevadhan Avadanas.
  • Ananda, who in the Culavagga story requests that women be allowed to "go forth," according to the Pali canon didn't become Buddha's faithful attendent until twenty years after his enlightenment, while the going forth of Mahapajapati Gotami and her 500 women dates to five or six years after his enlightenment
  • In the Vinaya in the Pali canon there is no mention of the Garudhammas as part of the ordination procedure (Bhikkhuni Upasampada Kammavaca)
  • None of the surviving copies of the Vinaya in Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan have all eight of them, and the Mahasanghika Vinaya doesn't have them at all.

From this she concludes that the rules must have been added at some later stage, and can't have been used in the earliest bhikkhuni ordinations, but whether this was during Buddha's lifetime, or later, possibly even as late as the 4th century BCE, is something yet to be determined.[4]

Others offering evidence that the rules were added later

Scholars such as Akira Hirakawa,[13] Hae-ju Chun (a bhikṣunī and assistant professor at Tongguk University in Seoul, Korea) and In Young-chun argue that these eight rules were added later. In notes:

  • there is a discrepancy between the Pali bhikkhuni Vinaya
  • the fact that these same rules are treated only as a minor offense (requiring only confession as expiation) in the pāyantika dharmas.

Hae-ju Chun, a Bhikṣunī and assistant professor at Tongguk University in Seoul, Korea, argues that six of the Eight Rules (#1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8) belong to the Bhikṣunī Pāyantika Dharmas, as they are the same as or similar to rules found there. We may compare the differences in the punishment for any offense of the Eight Rules with that for an offense of the pāyantika dharmas. Violation of any of the Eight Rules means that women cannot be ordained. The Eight Rules must be observed throughout the Bhikṣunīs lives. However, the pāyantika dharmas (#175, 145, 124 or 126, 141, 143, 142) require only confession, as there offenses of bhikunis are considered to be violations of minor rules. Based on the differences in the gravity of offenses between the Eight Rules and the pāyantika dharmas, she also asserts the probability that the Eight Rules might have been added later.[14]

Most of these rules are also found in the pāyantika dharmas as minor rules since they only require confession: "Theriya tradition, which at some stage, seems to have accommodated the idea that the Buddha conceded the abrogation of the minor rules [D.II.14 & VIn.II.287]".[6] This agrees with the fact that rival groups such as Jainism also had the first rule for women according to the Śvētāmbara school.[15] (The other surviving Jain school, the Digambara, denies both women's ordination and liberation.)

When giving the Eight Garudhammas to Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha said they would constitute her full ordination (Pali:upasampada): "If Mahapajapati Gotami accepts these eight vows of respect, that will be her full ordination."[16]

Bhikkunī Kusuma and others have pointed out a number of internal textual problems for the account of the garadhama in the Pali Canon and its commentaries.[2] [17]

Historical background

Narrative of the first bhikkhuni ordination

According to traditional accounts, the first nun to be ordained 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.[18] 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.[18]

Bhikkhuni ordination lineages

The Therevadhan bhikkhuni ordination flourished in Sri Lanka from around 250 BCE to around 1100 CE, but then vanished. Since Bhikkhuni's are needed to ordain more Bhikkhunis then once the lineage has vanished it can't be restored (unless one makes use of a text in which Buddha gives permission for Bhikkhus to ordain Bhikkhunis). But before it vanished in Sri Lanka, the ordination of bhikkhunis was transferred from Sri Lanka to China in 443 CE and from there spread to Asian countries where it is found in Mahayana Buddhist traditions in China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam and Japan. There has been a recent movement to restore the tradition, as preserved in East Asia, back to the Therevadhan traditions that it originated from, and also to some other Mahayana tradiitons where it has vanished such as Tibetan Buddhism. [19]

20th century and 21st century ordination of women

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.[20]

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.

The first Wetern woman to receive full ordination was Freda Bedi, in Hong Kong in 1972, from by Venerable Minh Chi and Venerable Sek Sai Chung[21]

Tibetan Buddhism didn't have a full bhikshuni ordination lineage,[22] until Tenzin Palmo ordained since 1973 and Ven. Thubten Chodron, ordained since 1977. Before then it had only a tradition of novice nuns. However, it has had a number of famous women practitioners who were yoginis. Many distinguished Buddhist scholars and laypeople have lent their support to establishing Tibetan traditions of full ordination.[23] 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." [23]. The Karmapa announced in 2015 that he was taking steps towards instituting full ordination of nuns within the Kagyupa tradition, in lineage from the Dharmagupta tradition which is renowned for its strict observance of the vinaya lineage [24]

Vinaya rules for bhikkhunis

Bhikkhu Sujato states:

The Vinaya does not allow for any power-based relationship between the monks and nuns. In other words, no monk, not even the entire community of monks, has the right to order a bhikkhuni to do anything. In fact, there are many rules that protect the nuns, for example, by forbidding the monks to use nuns as domestic servants by having them wash or sew their robes for them.

The Buddha set up the relationships between the male and female Sangha based on mutual respect under the Vinaya. Bhikkhunis are included within the original ‘Dual Sangha’ as set up by the Buddha, and managed according to the ‘Dual Vinaya’ accepted among all schools. So, in the relationships between the male and female Sanghas, Vinaya is the guide. Each monk or nun must take the Dhamma & Vinaya as the final authority, not the statements of any individual monks.

There is a rule, however, that requires that the bhikkhunis bow to the monks. This is a matter of etiquette, not power. Many bhikkhunis sincerely respect this rule, as it honours the Bhikkhu Sangha, which was originally the senior community. However, the authenticity of this rule is doubted by modern scholars. In any case, the Buddha stated that this rule was laid down in accord with the customs of the time, so many people believe this should not apply today.[4][19]

Bhikkhu Anālayo states:

Regulations that express gender discrimination probably reflect the ancient Indian situation and would thus in principle be open to revision in a different setting, when Buddhism begins to flourish in a different environment and culture. Such revision is not against Dhamma and Vinaya, so it seems to me, but would rather express the pragmatic principle of adjusting to circumstances that is such a recurrent feature in the formation of rules as documented throughout the Vinaya. In the end, tradition – which I personally highly value – only stands a chance to survive if it is able to adjust to changing circumstances without loss of what is essential. This can come about if our appraisal of the situation is based on a clear awareness of what causes dukkha – for ourselves or others – and what leads to freedom from dukkha.[25]


  1. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. gurudharma
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kusuma, Bhikuni (2000). "Inaccuracies in Buddhist Women's History". In Karma Lekshe Tsomo. Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming Against the Stream. Routledge. pp. 5–13. ISBN 978-0-7007-1219-9. 
  3. "Ehi bhikkhunis are bhikkhunis ordained by the Buddha himself, by his simply saying "come," and are the female equivalent of ehi bhikkhus. The ehi ordination is the oldest, original form of Buddhist monastic ordination - ordination simply and directly from the welcoming of the Buddha himself."-Archived 2013-11-03 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 On the Apparent Non-historicity of the Eight Garudhammas Story Archived 2013-11-03 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. Principles to be respected (Thubten Chodron)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Ven. Professor Dhammavihari. "Women and the religious order of the Buddha". Buddhism Today. 
  7. Susan Murcott. The First Buddhist Women: Translations and commentaries on the Therigatha. p. 7. ISBN 0-938077-42-2. 
  8. Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh. "The History of the Bhikkhuni Sangha". 
  9. Bhikkhuni Pac.56: Vin.IV. 313
  10. Bhikkhuni Pac.59: Vin.IV. 315
  11. Bhikkhuni Pac. 57: Vin. IV.314
  12. "Ordination Procedure" Somdet Phra Mahasamana Chao Krom Phraya Vajirananavarorasa
  13. Hirakawa 1999, p. 37.
  14. In Young Chung (1999). "A Buddhist View of Women: A comparative study of the rules for bhikṣunīs and bhikṣus based on the Chinese Pràtimokùa" (PDF). Journal of Buddhist Ethics. 6: 29–105. Retrieved 2010-11-07. 
  15. Padmanabh S. Jaini (1991). Gender and Salvation Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women. University of California Press, Berkeley. ISBN 0-520-06820-3. 
  16. Buddhist Monastic Code II, Chapter 23, Bhikkhunis Archived 2005-11-22 at the Wayback Machine. Thanissaro Bhikkhu (For free distribution).
  17. Ajahn Sujato.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Karma Lekshe Tsomo 2013, p. 6.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Bhikkhu Sujato. "A conversation with a sceptic – Bhikkhuni FAQ". viet.net. 
  20. Banks Findly, Ellison (2000). Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women. Wisdom Publications. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-86171-165-9. 
  21. Nuns in the Tibetan Tradition: Latest Developments and Future Prospects, 2017
  22. A New Possibility
  23. 23.0 23.1 A Summary Report of the 2007 International Congress on the Women's Role in the Sangha: Bhikshuni Vinaya and Ordination Lineages
  24. Gyalwang Karmapa Makes Historic Announcement on Restoring Nuns’ Ordination
  25. Gender Discrimination and the Pali Canon (Bhikkhu Anālayo)


External links

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