Advancements And Challenges Of Buddhist Nuns In Bangladesh

Speech by 


Bhikkhunī Saṅgha is the second and one of the most important of the four Saṅgha’s that declared by the Buddha. In Theravāda Buddhism, the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha which was established by the Buddha is no more exist, because after the Buddha there were lot of complicacy comes amongst the monks and Theravāda Buddhism about establishment of Bhikkuni Sangha. It has now become a matter of spiritual fact, which cannot be re-established the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha according to the Theravāda Vinaya literature. However, Mahāyana and Vajrayāna have been maintained the Bhikkhunī till today. The Bhikkhunī Saṅgha has become an interesting and important issue and has been debating in traditionally and academically in the Theravāda Buddhist society, this article aims to explain the critical factors of the domain of modern Theravāda Buddhist Saṅgha. In order to search the validity of re-establishment of Bhikkhunī Saṅgha in the Theravāda Buddhist tradition, this article carefully investigates the explanations given in the discourses of the Buddha, and then examines whether or not the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha can be re-established.

KEYWORDS: Advancements, Challenges, Buddhist Nuns, Bangladesh


Historically, women in Buddhism have been playing an important and integral part to the restoration and development of Buddhism. A very small minorities of total populations are Buddhist and they have different ethical background and individual cultural aspects. The followers of Buddhism in Bangladesh are the Barua, the Chakma, the Marma and the Tanchangya. They maintain their different cultural identities, but they are as ‘one’ in practicing Buddhism, which is known as Theravāda Buddhism. The Buddhist women in Bangladesh also widely devoted to Buddhist practice from early to the modern times. In the nineteenth century of the reformation and the revival of Theravāda Buddhism, not only the male gender either laity or monks had come to play the role of Buddhism, but also the women became part and parcel and played an important role of the reformation of Buddhism. Now a days a western Buddhist nun “Karma Lekshe Tsomo” under the Tibetan Buddhist tradition she is trying to spreading knowledge about Buddhism to the Bangladeshi Women, in addition, she wrote some articles about the Buddhist women in Bangladesh.[1] It is very matter of regret that women in Bangladesh are facing lot of obstacles in their daily lives. . As they are being part of early India, their life style are not so much different to that of the women in other religious faiths, such as; Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. But in terms of social system, the Buddhist social system is quite different to other social systems in Bangladesh. This is because, there is less social prejudice and gender-stereotypes in the Buddhist societies of Bangladesh. The Buddhist women have been facing with great challenge in their lives of some social customary regulations which supposed to have believed that higher education for them was not necessary even though this orthodox concept has been eliminated socially.

In all aspects, the status of women in Buddhist societies of Bangladesh has always been facing with many challenges, as such: not getting equal status to men, neglected from Buddhist education and deprived from various social opportunities: from distribution of properties or assets. Patriarchal social system has been the potential threat so that women empowerment cannot rise up. Therefore, regarding women’s status in Buddhist societies of Bangladesh has become a significant issue on the basis of the chronic patriarchal social system. It is universal that without women assistance, the male dominant cannot be existed. The man position has widely been viewed higher than the woman in some particular countries today. Though, man without woman and woman without man cannot be existed according to law of nature. Therefore, their roles and activities in the societies must have been equal rights and liberty. But, this issue has been neglected by the majority of the men; however, very few men are also voiced in favour of women equal rights and liberty. Therefore, to get women equal rights and liberty to those of men are absolutely correct in ethical and logical perspectives. Many conscious Buddhist women in Bangladesh have already questioned about the validity of patriarchal social system, gender discrimination, deprivation from various opportunities and advancement and so on.

Regarding the Buddhist women’s conditions in Bangladesh, we might have some sort of gloomy ideas, the reasons why the Buddhist women in Bangladesh would have never got prominent Buddhist women dignitary figures from the early times to the present. We guess that after the Buddha’s passed away, the Buddhist women status might have ignored by the Buddhist monastic and by the royal patrons altogether.

The Advancement And Challenge Of Modern Buddhist Nuns In Bangladesh Under Theravada Bhikkhu Sangha

In Bangladesh[2] , a few women have dedicated their lives for practicing and propagating meditation to the people. Since their inception to meditation they have been observing eight precepts. For their intense practice of morality (Sila) and meditation (Samadhi) they are well respected by the people. Miss Runa Barua, a Vipassanacariya is one of them who was born at Damdama Chittagong in 1977 and she is the most popular teacher among them. By dint of her philanthropically Dhamma teaching and meditation she brought a new renaissance of spirituality in the remote places of the society. Throughout the year she conducted meditation courses in different places in the country. All classes of the people were immensely benefitted by her impressive teachings and meditation instructions. Such a tender age she achieved popularity, a large number of women in the society followed her footsteps of celibacy for their rest of their lives. Some women those who fulfilled their perfections of renunciation from previous lives, approached to many reputed monks in Bangladesh with a deep hope of taking monastic ordination (Samaneri Pabbajja). But they were rejected by the monks by saying that women are not eligible for receiving any ordinations, because it has already been prohibited by the previous councils held in the past. However, they could not produce any evidence when and in which council women ordination was banned. Though they were rejected by the Bhikkhus in Bangladesh, they have never given up their great endeavour. Moreover, they were gearing up stronger efforts for uplifting their noble dreams. Once Runa Barua made a phone call to Ven. Dr. Varasambodhi thera at Buddhagaya from Bangladesh and she was seeking earnest help to get ordination from Ven. Dr. Varasambodhi thera[3] along with her retinues. Then he agreed and asked them to come to Buddhagaya, to materialise their sincere vision. According to his advice, Runa Barua and her six disciples arrived in Buddhagaya on the occasion of annual Holy Kathina robe offering ceremony of the International Meditation Centre (IMC), Buddha Gaya. With profound respect of the Buddha’s teachings by following the customs of pure Theravāda tradition, Varasombodhi Thera offered them novice ordination (Pabbājja) under the sacred Bodhi Tree, where the Buddha had attained his supreme enlightenment. On the 5th November, 2011 in presence of many devotees from India and abroad they received ordination. A few well known Buddhist monks from Bengali community such as Ven. Dikpal Mahathera, Ven. Dr. Ratanasri Mahathera of Kolkata and Ven. Dr. Kacchayan Bhikkhu of New Delhi were supported by their glorious presence in this historical ceremony performed that day. Having finished the ceremony amongst a few Bhikkhus and prominent devotees made their joyous utterances themselves there in appreciation of taking this brave effort. He gave a new ordination name to Runa Barua as Ven.Gotami Samaneri, as she intended to have this particular name. Having received Samaneri ordination Ven. Gotami and her pilgrims group visited Buddhist holy places and paid their heartfelt adoration. Each and every place entire group practiced meditation, recited Suttas, offered Dana and explained significance of the site which was headed by Ven. Samaneri Gotami. It was very worthy, joyful and memorable three weeks pilgrimage tour for the group. With happy and meritorious reminiscences when they returned to their home district in Chittagong, they were warmly welcomed by the devotees. Within a few days Ven.Gotami samaneri with her retinue went to pay their respectful homage to most of senior Mahatheras in the country including His Holiness Sangharaja venerable Dharamasen Mahathera and H.H. Deputy Sanghraja most Ven. Jnanasree Mahathera. They gave them good and courageous advices in connection to lead holy celibate life. Many devotees also greeted them by inviting in various religious functions with the monks.

But, day after day, Ven. Gotami became more and more popular among the devotees for her well delivered Dhamma talks on different themes, various kinds of spiritual activities, religious publications and sincere practice of Vinaya rules. So, many bhikkhus became jealous to her great dedicated life and mass recognition.[4] They were started to talk each other and even in public gathering against the Samaneris. On 28th January, 2013 Ven. Gotami organised a women ordination ceremony, Dana offering to Sangha and national religious congregation at Muslim Hall in Chittagong city. She founded a strong organizing committee for the purpose in order to be functioning well. The above said working group cordially invited many monks for the events and they gladly accepted the invitation. Knowing these programme of celebration by the Samaneris some Bhikkhus with their fully malign intentions tried to prevent the function, by misguiding the Bhikkhus and lay devotees. They provoked and threatened the Samaneris and the organizing committee by saying: that if you do not impede the programme they will socially boycott everyone who is involved in these celebrations. So, most of the monks informed their inability to attend in the programme, not only that they also imposed others for non-cooperation. Ven. Dr. Varasambodhi Thera was one of the principle invitees from Buddhagaya for the events and he also got threats from them over the phone for attending. They almost have forgotten their attitude of love, tolerance, compassion, brotherhood which was invoked by our supreme master Lord Buddha. He was strongly determined that at any cost he should participate in this function. Even though they have made a threat to him for attending, but with risk of his life and he came and supported them with his attendance. Having seen his cooperation a large numbers of people from various sections of society with many dignitaries graced the Samaneri ordination ceremony on 27th January, 2013 and 17 women were ordained under him preceptorship with help of several other monks from numerous places such as Vipassanacariya Ven. Prajnabodhi Thera of Ramu, Ven. Udayasree Bhikkhu of Binajuri (currently disrobed), Ven. Ariyapal Bhikkhu of Kolkata and Ven. Joyjoti Bhikkhu of Chittagong Buddhist Monastery. Next day there was a day long historical religious congregation and Dana offering ceremony, with assembly of many thousands of devotees at reputed Muslim Hall in Chittagong city, held on 28th January, 2013. The festival was unexpectedly and surprisingly triumphed and news was widely circulated in local and national media. On that very day having handed over all the new ordained Samaneris to Ven. Gotami for their proper educations and trainings, he returned back to Buddhagaya. His participation was intolerable for a section of Bangladeshi Bhikkhus. On 3rd February, 2013 Bangladesh Sangharaj Bhikkhu Mahasabha called an emergent executive committee meeting and in that meeting they imposed on him ‘Brahmadanda’ or Supreme punishment.[5] Above mentioned decision to circulate among the every Sangha member and devotees they published a leaflet on 14th February, 2013 and in that leaflet they commanded everyone to boycott him and Samaneri Gotami from all kinds of socio-religious activities. Not only that, if either any monk or devotee invite us or offer shelter in their temple or residence even for one night, they will also sentence equally. He did not know how far it supports the Vinaya rules. Moreover they conveyed to people that women are being impure how can they touch or wear the robes (civara)? Women ordination had already been banned in the Sangiti by the Sangha, which was ridiculous. He was surprised by seeing that declaration. Then he gave a written open letter to the Supreme Patriarch of Bangladesh Sangharaj Bhikkhu Mahasabha H. H. very Ven. Dr. Dharmasen Mahathera on 1st April, 2013, to let him know what mistake he had committed or what Vinaya rules he disobeyed by conducting Samaneri ordination. Also he wanted to know which Vinaya Pitaka or Sangha synod (Sangiti) prohibited the women ordination and in the Vinaya Pitaka, where the Buddha prohibited women to touch or wear the robes. He sent a copy of that letter to Mr. Ajit Ranjan Barua, the Hon’ble chairman of Bangladesh Buddhist Association (BBA) too, for his kind information. But till this date no one has replied to him. Bangladesh Sangharaj Bhikkhu Mahasabha not only stepped up notorious actions publicising in the people for not inviting Ven. Gotami Samaneri and her retinue for Dana, not taking meditation classes or not listening Dhamma talks from them, on behalf of Mahasabha some monks too represented Samaneris residence and uttered ultimatum to disrobe within a week, otherwise Sangha would take appropriate action. But a few thousands of esteemed devotees across the country revere her so profoundly, that they always extended their strong support to her in all respects. It was the result of their purity of Sila (Morality), right livelihood, numerous religious activities, publication of journal, study of Dhamma, deliberation of insightful lectures and overall practising of meditation which are absent for many monks. Now community awareness also is arising, they are not accepting something blindly what monks provoked. Devotees are also by studying Dhamma books and religious literatures etc. opening their hearts and minds. Till today whatever anguishes Ven. Gotami Samaneri and her entourage have been undergone all from her own society and also from other neighbouring communities. From them she always received courage, support and cooperation in various ways. To compare it was a burning paradigm for them that women position in Buddhism equally respectful and highest than any other existing religions in the world. He personally assumed that because of antagonist motivation of Bangladesh Sangharaj Bhikkhu Mahasabha, Samaneri Sangha achieved better ability to make their determinations stronger in continuing their monastic enthusiasm. In this respect, Bangladesh Bhikkhu Sangha has been greatly supporting to Samaneri Sangha for their spiritual higher advancements. Most of the major religions in the world consider that women’s creation is for men’s sexual pleasure only. Even in some religions women’s position is lower than animals. Women cannot enter in some shrines, but animals can. King Pasenādi Kosala, when he informed that his queen gave birth to a daughter came to the Buddha and lamented. The Buddha had to pacify him by saying that:A woman child, O lord of men, may proveEven a better offspring than a male.For she may grow up wisely and virtuously,Her husband’s mother reverencing, true wife.The boy that she may bear may do great deeds,And rule great realms, yea, such a sonOf noble wife becomes his country’s guide. [6]

The significant role of women gave freedom from gender-stereotypes.[7] It was the Buddha who raised the status of women and brought them to the realizations of their importance to societies. He saw the innate goodness of women. [8]

It surprises us that in 21st century also people are practicing ancient superstition. In Buddhism, there is no any discrimination among gender, colour or caste. This is also one of the reasons that the Buddha is more respected than any other teachers. Many non-Buddhist people from different walks of life in Bangladesh admired by seeing the Buddhist ordained monastic women. In praising the women’s rights in Buddhism they have expressed their estimations in writings and lectures on numerous occasions which are noteworthy. Ven. Gotami and her followers are facing tough challenges from their opposition in every step for surviving. Their struggling lives are really splendid. They haven’t any monastery or temple yet. In small rented quarters in Chittagong city where they are residing. Very recently they have bought a small piece land in Damdama about 40km from Chittagong city, where a few Samaneris are residing in a temporary bamboo cottage. Many Bhikkhunis around the world are also conscious about the situation of this undersized Samaneri group in Bangladesh. Prof. Ven. Dr. Karma Lakshe Tsomo, a world renowned American Bhikkhuni has visited them in their residence on 1st August, 2014 and she personally experienced circumstances and activities of Samaneri Ven. Gotami. Another Buddhist scholar and global reputed erudite senior nun Prof. Dr. Ven. Dhammanada Bhikkhuni too almost always keeps communication with them. In June, 2015 there was an international conference for world Buddhist women organised by ‘Shakyadita’ in Indonesia and being invited Ven. Gotami and her cliques participated. That was one of the best platforms and opportunities for them to express their views and get-together with multinational nuns and devotees. There was one more Samaneri ordination ceremony in Chittagong, Bangladesh prearranged by Ven. Samaneri Gotami on 29th October, 2015. In that ceremony, a large numbers of vigorous women from various statuses of family ordained by me, with dynamic cooperation of regional Sanghanayaka of Fatichari and Chief Abbot of Nanupur Gautam Vihara, Most Ven. Shraddhalankara Mahathera, Vipassanachariya Ven. Ariyasree Thera Chandgaon, Ven. Adhisila Thera, a Ph. D. research scholar from Nalanda etc. On the following day at Muslim hall in Chittagong a daylong conference was held with many dignitaries and great personalities under my presiding .Many of them expressed their thoughts, provoked speeches on relevance and revival of Bhikkhuni Sangha for the benefit of humankind. It is worth mentioning here that [Shakya Priya Barua] Ven. Adhisila Bhikkhu currently residing in Australia and from the inception of women ordination in Bangladesh he keenly cooperat with him. Therefore, he too has been ill treated by many Bhikkhus and Upasakas in home and abroad. Yet this ill treatment is ongoing in Australia as well, which he knew from a reliable source. Presently Ven. Gautami Samaneri and other four of her entourage Samaneri received Higher Ordination as Bhikkhuni with the help of most Ven. Prof. Dr. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni at Shakyadhita Buddhist Meditation Centre, Sri Lanka on 30th January, 2016. Before higher Ordination, they underwent some basic training rules by Senior Bhikkhunis However, they need a Permanent monastery for their monastic performances and Practices. Their endeavour and effort are still a big Challenge.

Supportive Explanation Of Re-Establishment Of Buddhist Nuns Depicted In Buddhist Scriptures

Once upon a time, Bangladesh was one of the pure Buddhist countries where the Buddha preached Dhamma. According to the early and recent Buddhist historians and scholars are of the opinions that the Buddha by himself came to this land of Bangladesh to teach Dhamma to the peoples.[9] We know from the Buddhist scriptures that the Buddhist women’s status at the Buddha’s time had good dignitary, but after passing away of the Buddha, the Buddhist women’s dignitary have started to decline They were considered as being inferior to men. Traditional Buddhist attitudes toward woman also reflect as inferior which is a view of seeing them as tempter or evil incarnate.[10] Therefore, general notion was that giving birth as a female was a cursed and deprived and withdrawn necessary thing and removed them from male control.[11] The women were also considered as being on the same level as the Sudras, the lowest of the four castes of Indian societies which were existed before and during Buddha’s time. Their freedom was extremely limited.

The general view was that women had to be under the care of parents in their childhood, as wives under the control of husbands and in their old age they had to be under the control of their sons. Therefore, they did not deserve any freedom, such as; educational freedom, religious freedom and etc. Education for women was not important or meaningless and they were incapable of performing any religious duty to departed parents. Therefore, they were considered as being of little use. These were Indian women positions before Buddhism arose.

The Buddha criticized such hostile attitudes to woman. He contradicts and does not agree that the birth of a daughter was a burden. He pointed out clearly woman has a dignity. They would become an important part in the society. The Buddha could well remember that Sujātā offered rice to him and then regained strength for enlightenment. [12] Thus women have been credited as nurturers and supporters of the tradition. The Buddha knew that there would not be distinction of gender in terms of knowledge and wisdom.

This shows that the women also capable to achieve highest spiritual attainment. That is why the Buddha welcomed to all classes of women, married, unmarried, widows and even to prostitutes, in the sense that all could acquire merit, freedom, dignity and equality along with men.” [13] They were the members of the household, and respected above all as the mother of worthy sons.

The chronic early social bondage toward the attitude of women in India had not completely demolished. It has been carried out by the Brahmins till today and causes women to intolerable suffering. Even though the existence of such hostile attitude in the current societies, the women always bear the Buddha’s strong moral support to them. Therefore, they firmly stand towards any unreasonable, undemocratic treats against them.

In Indian society, dowry became an important tool to deprive women and to harass women. In the marriage ceremony the women have to provide a huge like ransom to the bride-groom. So the groom became rich and the bride family became poor. This has become a basic problem for women from its immemorial time in India. If parents receive a daughter by birth, this is like a thunderstorm fallen over the head. As a result, it was a general expectation to give birth a son and for this the parents had to pray and did many religious sacrifices. The Buddha’s intervention to bring women’s status into good position against the Brahmins gave freedom from any unhealthy threat by the orthodox Brahmins. The Brahmins’ attempt to put the women into the low grade in the societies As a result, the gender-stereotypes in the social system of India became so endanger.[14] It was the Buddha who raised the status of women and brought them to a realization of their importance to society. He saw the innate good of women.

The Pāli word “mātugāma” is called “woman-folk” or “mother-folk” is used to connote women and Buddhism places them to an honourable position. [15] Buddhism does not consider women as being inferior to men. Buddhism, while accepting the biological and physical differences between the two sexes, does consider men and women to be equally useful to the society. The Buddha emphasized the fruitful role that women can play and should play as a wife, a good mother in making the family life a success. In the family both husbands and wives are expected to share equal responsibility and discharge their duties with equal dedication. The husband is admonished to consider the wife a friend, a companion, a partner. In family affairs the wife is expected to be a substitute for the husband when the husband happened to be indisposed. In fact, a wife was expected even to acquaint herself with the trade, business or industries in which the husband engaged, so that she would be in a position to manage his affairs in his absence. This shows that in the Buddhist society the wife occupied an equal position with the husband.

The Buddha proclaimed the Dhamma for the well-being and happiness of many, irrespective of castes, creeds, genders, colours, races or Faiths. Everyone can get shelter under compassionate shade of the Buddha, whoever practices his teachings. The Buddha also invited to each and every one, to come and see the newly proclaimed Dhamma. In a stirring invitation of the Buddha a large number of people from various sections of society responded and shook their hands rich and poor alike under same compassionate umbrella of the Buddha.. Approached of the Buddha for the community was not exploitation, but for promoting love, compassion, harmony, universal brotherhood which are based on morality, concentration and wisdom. During the time of the Buddha, women’s ‘position in India was even lower than beasts. They did not have any respect from their home or society. They had no right to read any scriptures or no right to enter inside shrines. Because if they read scriptures or entered in the shrines, both became impure. Women were used only for sexual pleasure. They were like machines for producing children. Throughout his life the Buddha bravely fought for women’s’ rights, social injustice and against Superstitious believes. For these reasons the Buddha’s position is more respected than any other teacher or religious leader in the world.

But a section of Bhikkhus being influenced by Vedic Brahminical thought has been making every effort constantly for not reviving Bhikkhuni order at the present time. They are also unaware that in the recent past even till the date many educated girls from respected Buddhist families, have been converting to Islam, being married to Muslim men. These imprudent Bhikkhus are unable to take any action against these aggressive Muslims. They should understand that leading a monastic religious life is far better, than embracing Islam. Making effort to stop Bhikkhuni order is truly opposing the Buddha’s establishment of the Bhikkhuni Sangha. There is no place for priest craft in Buddhism. Either wholesome or unwholesome people are responsible for their own activities or Kamma. One cannot make barriers to others right. Women need not depend on men for their Dhamma practices. They are not authorized person by the Buddha. The Buddha mentioned that the Sangha will protect the Sasana or Buddha’s dispensation. These indicated Sangha is not only formed of Bhikkhu Sangha but also Bhikkhuni, Male devotee ((Upasaka) and Female devotee (Upasika) Sangha as well. Therefore, to practice Dhamma why does this question arise, females have to take permission from males? Even the Buddha has not given this guarantee to others. In this regards the Buddha exhorted- ‘Tumhehi Kiccham Atappam Akkhataro Tathagata’ striving should be done by yourself, Tathagatas are only teachers. Nowadays many Bhikkhus are taking advantage of lack of deep study of scriptures of common devotees, by making them fear of Hell and Heaven, allowing them to follow their imaginary opinions, as it is done by priests of other faiths. There is a completely dominated attitude towards women. Men has always thought that education or studying scriptures are not for women, they should always stay inside the house under control of men, as a material for their sensual enjoyments and a machine for producing children. In this light we can also see whatever religious scriptures have written by men, tried to prove that women are lower than men in all respects. Most of religious leaders think that they have the sole authority to control the religion and women.


The advancement of the Buddhist women and nuns in Bangladesh will be expected only when the conservative group of monks become liberal and work in join communiqué with the liberal group of monks and form Bhikkhuni Sangha. From this paper, what draws in the conclusion is the Bhikkhuni re-ordination has become a global spotlight in the field of academic study of Buddhism. Although the modern ordained Buddhist nuns in Bangladesh along with their well-wishers, what has been so critical under the footstep of Theravada Bhikkhu Sangha in order to re-establish the Bhikkhuni Sangha, one day not so far we will notice the Theravada Bhikkhu Sangha will resolve the problem of Bhikkhuni Sangha, because, truth is truth. Truth is never kept hidden.



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