Bodhgaya, December New Moon
by Tathālokā Therī
Screenshot from Light of Buddhadharma Foundation International's YouTube livestream
The 18th International Tipitaka Chanting is now complete. I enjoyed watching and listening to the Chanting, and especially the nightly evening Dhamma Talks, online. But my truly favorite moments came on the last day, which was the Amavasi New Moon Uposatha Day. In the morning, after all the different participating countries each took a turn to lead the Chanting, the area in front of the Bodhi Pallanke (also known as the Vajrasana), the Buddha's Awakening Seat, beneath the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, was reorganized. The venerable Bhikkhu Sangha gathered first beneath the boughs of the Sri Maha Bodhi to listen to the recitation of the Bhikkhu Pātimokkha (i watched streamed live on the International Tipitaka Chanting Council's YouTube. Then the Bhikkhu Sangha adjourned, and the venerable Bhikkhunī Sangha gathered, and likewise listened to the recitation of the Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha.
The two Pātimokkhas together are called "Dve-Pātmokkha" or "Dve-Mātikā" in Pāli. The "Pātimokkha" (Sanskrit, Prātimoksa) means the short form of the precepts of the traditional Buddhist Monastic Discipline. There are 227 precepts for bhikkhus and 311 for bhikkhunīs in the Pātimokkha Pāli of the Theravāda tradition. More than 80% of the bhikkhus' precepts are fully shared with bhikkhunīs, while both the bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs each have a number of precepts that are unique to their own communities. The full explanation of all the precepts is found in the canonical 'first basket' of the Vinaya Pitaka 'Vibhanga' text. The Pātimokkha is the short form, also called 'mātikā' because it contains just the framework or 'matrix' of the precepts. (Likewise for the Dhamma, the mātikā is what later become the 'third basket' of collected teachings, now known as the Abhidhamma.) The Pātimokkha, hand-in-hand with the Sutta Teachings, stand at the very heart of the Buddha's Early Buddhist or Sāvakayana Dhamma-Vinaya Teachings and Path, and of the traditional Buddhist monastic life of bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs.
Screenshot from Facebook Live livestream of Upāsikā Dr. Marlai Ouch
I've joined the International Tipitaka Chanting in Bodhgaya twice before, the 2nd-3rd Chanting in Feb 2008 and the 13th Chanting in Dec 2018 ten years later. Especially the first Chanting was deeply meaningful to me. Just being there in that space beneath the Bodhi Tree was meaningful. But also meeting the revived Indian Bhikkhuni Sangha was meaningful. It was the ten-year anniversary then of their revival in 1998 in Bodhgaya.
During the Chanting, on the Uposatha, our Indian and International Bhikkhuni Sangha were welcomed to use the old Burmese Sīmā in Bodhgaya for our recitation. For the Indian Bhikkhunīs, they said it was their first Bhikkhunī Pātmokkha Pāli Recitation. For me, it was also only my second; the first was in November of 2007 in USA literally on the 10th anniversary of my own Bhikkhunī higher ordination. But, i was prepared to recite! I had been practicing daily even while riding in the train coming across India from Mumbai to Bodhgaya. But it is proper that if they are able, the senior should recite. Venerable Bhikkhunī Sāmā Therī from Sri Lanka, ordained in 1996 and thus all of our senior (i was in 1997, Indian bhikkhunīs in 1998). We invited her to recite.
For the Indian bhikkhunīs, it was the time of their 10th anniversary too. There had been no further Bhikkhunī higher ordinations in India meanwhile. The gathering inspired a full Vassa of training in followup, and then in 2009, in both Bodhgaya and Nagpur, the first Bhikkhunī Ordinations specifically offered for Indian Bhikkhunīs, which senior bhikkhunī teachers and preceptors from Sri Lanka came to offer in gratitude, "returning the great boon" that they had received in India, in 1996 and 1998, reviving their ancient bhikkhunī Sangha, which was of Indian origin, brought by arahat Ashokan daughter Bhikkhunī Sanghamittā Therī from India to Sri Lanka on a winter voyage back in the 3rd century BCE. Outside India also, our first All-Theravāda Bhikkhunī ordinations were first offered in Australia in 2009, and in North America in 2010.
In 2018 in Bodhgaya also, we gathered once again with the Indian Bhikkhunī Sangha in the Burmese Sīmā on the Uposatha for Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha. This time the Pātimokkha was recited by one of the Bhikkhunīs ordained in that first 2010 Upasampadā in North America. It was poignantly mentioned: "Wouldn't it be nice if we could recite the Pātimokkha here beneath the Bodhi tree!"
But the time was not ripe. Not until this year, 2023, a few days ago.
Something else meaningful to me, was that this year was the first time that the International Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha was offered in Bodhgaya by an India-born Indian-heritage bhikkhunī, Ven Ayye Sakya Dhammadinnā. Here, i would like to make a comment about Buddha Catu Parisa International. In our canonical Vinaya, all fully-ordained bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs are asked to learn both Pātimokkhas. It is a qualification even for 'independence' in monastic life, that is, to complete one's basic training in dependence (nissāya) upon a senior monastic teacher. Originally, the learning of the Pātimokkha, in oral traditions, meant memorization, and the ability to recite by heart.
However, these days, with changes in education, book learning, and now all the more with computers, mobiles, and digital learning, people's basic abilities to memorize and recite have decreased. New bhikkhunīs have told me how hard it is these days to memorize even shorter recitations, due to these reasons; not to mention a longer recitation like the Pātimokkha. The first bhikkhunī who i knew to memorize the Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha in the west was Ven. Bhikkhunī Serī, founder of the Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage, one of the first group of four to ordain in Australia.
However, Buddha Catu Parisa International stands as a shining example in my mind that such memorization and recitation by heart really is still possible. Most all of their bhikkhunis, even those ordaining at an elder age after modern education, raising families and full careers, learn at least the recitation of Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha by heart. If not the recitation of both Pātimokkhas. This is admirable.
This year's Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha reciter in Bodhgaya, the venerable bhikkhunī Ayye Sakya Dhammadinnā from India, trained and ordained with Buddha Catu Parisa and memorized the recitation. Buddha Catu Parisa has a center in Vaishali India - complete with Dual Uposatha Halls. Ven Dhammadinnā Bhikkhunī, a student and now teacher of Abhidhamma, is one of several Indian women who have ordained with Buddha Catu Parisa International in India and Thailand. I felt especially much muditā to watch and listen live as an Indian Bhikkhunī recited the Pātimokkha she had made the great goodwill effort to memorize, for the Indian and International Bhikkhunī Sangha, beneath the Sri Maha Bodhiya. May this bode well for the next generation!
Screenshot from Facebook Live livestream of Upāsikā Dr. Marlai Ouch
I was also especially muditāfull that four of our bhikkhunīs who joined the 2023 Vassa here with Dhammadharini, with me at our Aranya Bodhi Hermitage, were present. They had been studying, learning, and reciting Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha throughout the Vassa. I know this was deeply meaning full to them as well. And that upāsikā friend Dr. Marlai Ouch, who has been so incredibly supportive of all of us--and who livestreamed the video, enabling me and others to join in live from afar, with so many ""...""..."" and "Anumodanā sādhu sādhu sādhu"s from around the world--was able to be there, in these precious moments.
With a glad heart, resonating with and sharing the blessings of Bhikkhu & Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha Pāli, from beneath the Sri Mahā Bodhi Tree at the Seat of Awakening, Buddhagaya.
Anumodana! Sādhu! Sādhu! Sādhu!
Blessings of the Noble Triple Gem!