On the Apparent Non-historicity of the Eight Garudhammas Story
As It Stands in the Pali-text Culavagga and Comparitive Vinaya Scholarship
* * *
A friend recently asked me about the Eight Garudhammas as a part of her research for her dissertation, as many other friends have asked before. The following is adapted from my letter in reply to her and offered for the reader's knowledge and understanding, as well as a scholarly contribution to the welfare of the Buddha's teaching and its right practice, that is, in its practical manifestation and embodiment in the modern world.
I have not written about the eight garudhammas in anything published on the web before, but many times in answer to friends, both monastic and lay, in personal correspondance. Often spoken and written about negatively as the main means by which the Bhikkhuni Sangha is subordinated to the Bhikkhu Sangha (or occassionally positively as supports and protections for the Bhikkhuni Sangha as related to the Bhikkhu Sangha), the eight garudhammas have been and are a subject of substantial and frequent, ongoing concern to many modern Buddhists both Western and Asian, monastic and lay, related to the women's ordination in Buddhist monastic life.
Due to my Vinaya studies and Comparitive Vinaya research I was asked to speak on the subject at the International Bhikkhuni Seminar hosted by Santi Forest Monastery in Australia in 2008, which initially illicited groans from the audience that later changed to keen interest. Video of that talk is available online here:
If you follow this link, four video clips will appear. They can be watched and listened to in order. The talks assume basic knowledge, as I was speaking to bhikkhunis and women who were already at least somewhat familiar with the Vinaya and with the subject. You will need this basic knowledge to fully understand the videos. I will try to share with you this basic knowledge here below.
Impossible or Improbable?
All scholars that i know who have researched the subject have come to one conclusion or the other.
If you look at the relevant textual story in the Pali texts of the Vinaya's Culavagga
with a discerning mind, you may be able to understand and clearly see
and know for yourself why the eight garudhammas story is, as it stands,
in full, historically impossible. Not only improbable; impossible. The
Buddha did not found the Bhikkhuni Sangha and establish full bhikkhuni
ordination for women contigent upon the receipt and upholding of these eight garudhammas. But you will need to look at the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha (pacittiya section) and specifically the concordant sections of the Bhikkhuni Vibhanga, as well as the Vinaya's Mahavagga and Culavagga texts, if you wish to see and know this for yourself.
In the Bhikkhuni Vibhanga we find the origin stories for
all of the bhikkhuni precepts. And here we find there are several
pacittiya precepts that have been used to form the bhikkhuni garudhammas
text, with the notable exception of Pali text garudhamma number
one which is not present in the Pali text as a pacittiya precept, but
appears there only in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya text*.
So, we see that most all of these garudhammas are pacittiya precepts,
and that they have origin stories. The origin stories show that these
precepts developed into their final form over time, on successive
occassions, following the establishment of the Bhikkhuni Sangha. And
this is consistant with the Buddha's stated modus operendi;
that is, that he never establishes a precept until the
circumstantial cause has arisen for it - that is, until a misdeed has
been is done.
(*) see endnotes
Point 2: Garudhammas = Sanghadisesas for Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis
In the Vinaya's Mahavagga, the garudhammas, for both
bhikkhus as well as for bhikkhus & bhikkhunis equally, are
synonomous with sanghadisesa offences. In fact, Pali Text Society
scholars, as well as the Ven Thanissaro Bhikkhu and Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi
have stated their theory that the garudhammas, as the term is used in
the Vinaya's Mahavagga, may have been precursors
to, or an early form of, the Sanghadisesa category of offences in the
Vinaya. This would explain the garudhamma-like pacittiya precept
mentioning "manatta" which relates to the proceedure for bhikkhunis
for righting sanghadisesa offences.
Point 3: Garudhammas are not Consistent in Comparitive Vinaya
Additionally, in surveying the full extent of the Pali text Vinaya,
we discover that the eight bhikkhuni garudhammas are not part of
the Bhikkhuni Upasampada Kammavaca; that is, they are not part of the
Pali text bhikkhuni ordination proceedure. The Pali texts contain no
proceedure for the bhikkhunis to undertake the garudhammas as part of
their ordination. This is a startling and glaring absence if bhikkhunis
were ever supposed to be ordained by accepting the eight
garudhammas, unless this proceedure was phased out very early on, or was
only for Mahapajapati Theri (as some scholars have theorized), if ever
in the Buddha's lifetime.
Point 5: Ananda Has Not Yet Joined the Sangha
Although the non-factuality, that is, the non-historicity of the bhikkhuni eight garudhammas story as it currently stands is already beyond doubt, there are further points of historical concern.
These points include consideration of the time frames in the
placement of key characters in the story. Ananda Thera is one such
character. Buddhist history places Mahapajapati Gotami and her 500
women's going forth at between five and six years after the Buddha's
enlightenment, although this is difficult to substantiate with other
than the Theri Apadana. However, according to Theravada tradition, Ananda, who in the Culavagga
story requests that women be allowed to "go forth," did not become a
monk until substantially later and was not the Buddha's faithful
attendant until twenty years after the enlightenment. Thus, if the
Theravadan traditional history is correct, Ananda's key placement as a
monk and as the Buddha's attendant in this story must be mistaken in
some way. Either that or the Pali texts might have to aquiesce
that Ananda was actually the same age as the Buddha and became a
monk earlier early on, as some traditions do relate. However, all the
traditions concur in Ananda's only becoming the Buddha's personal
attendant later in the Buddha's lifetime.
Point 6: The Preexistance of "Ehi" Bhikkhunis
Point 7: The Validity of Ordination by Bhikkhus Alone
Although other points can and have been made, I will end here for
now. Dr. Ute Husken gave an excellent presentation on the subject at
the First International Congress on Buddhist Women in Hamburg,
Germany in 2007. You may be able to read her presentation in the
book soon to be offered by Wisdom Publication that has emerged from the
Congress: Dignity and Discipline. In addition, Ven Bhikkhu Sujato has treated the subject with an entire chapter, "Principles to be Respected," in his new book Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies, available freely online.
What these points above clearly illustrate is that, undeniably, the Eight Garudhammas Story of the Foundation of the Bhikkhuni Sangha in its current rendition in the Culavagga, is greatly flawed and cannot be considered historical, at least and with certainty not in its aspect of the eight garudhammas, and perhaps not in other aspects as well. What is also clear is that the pacittiya precepts that are now listed as garudhammas in this story arose over time subsequent to the establishment of the Bhikkhuni Sangha.
What is not clear is exactly when these pacittiyas became precepts, whether in the Buddha's lifetime, or in later centuries. What is even more unclear is when and under what circumstances these pacittiya precepts were gathered into a grouping of eight bhikkhuni garudhammas, backdated, and inserted into the composite Story of the Foundation of the Bhikkhuni Sangha. It is only clear, from our modern perspective, that this has been done; not why, or by whom. There are several tentative theories about this ranging from Ven Bhikkhu Sujato's related to the Second Council, to around the 4th century CE between nine hundred and one thousand years after the Buddha's Parinibbana, when the social, multi-religious and multi-cultural tides of the world began, in mass, to turn away from what appears to have been the earlier egalitarianism of the Buddhist Sangha.
But all these -- the when, why and how of it -- are still tentative, yet to be discovered.
Some scholars such as the Venerable Analayo, in his Letter on Gender Discrimination in the Pali Canon, promise to give us further clues, if not conclusions.
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