Friday, 30 January 2015

Bhikkhunis, Nuns, and Thilashins

Because the Burmese consider the bhikkhuni order to have died out, there can be no bhikkhuni ordination today. So the nuns in Burma are not known as bhikkhunis, but often called "thilashin", or "master of precepts." Unlike the bhikkhunis of the old order who took 311 precepts, or the monks who took (and still take) 227, Burmese nuns may only take a maximum of 10 precepts.

Burmese legal code confirms that thilashin are seen as belonging to the worldly sphere, for they retain secular rights that monks are required to renounce, However in practice, many devout nuns will voluntarily give up their worldly items as they come to see these and incompatible with the Holy Life. 

In English, thilashin are often referred to simply as “nuns”, which is why foreign yogis are often confused why there are “nuns” yet no “bhikkhunis.” Hiroko Kawanami instead uses the term “religious women,” explaining that “the pseudo-ordination ceremony that initiates laywomen into the Order is considered a ritual that provides them with a religious status no more than that of pious lay women who abide by additional sabbatical vows.” U Sarana agrees with this assessment, noting that even for male novices ordained on ten precepts, they must pronounce these in Pali “very carefully and precisely. If he makes any kind of mistake, he is not formally a novice and the ordination in totally invalid. Nuns, on the other hand, are not required to do so at all.”

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