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Bhikkhunīs possessed of right wisdom who are the bearers and transmitters of the lineage and traditions of the Saddhamma.

by Tathālokā Bhikkhunī

Today's full moon rising above Dharma Creek, here at Aranya Bodhi Hermitage in a regrowing ancient redwood forest on the Sonoma Coast of northern California.

🌕 On this Maggasira Puṇṇamī Sanghamittā Full Moon Bodhi Day, i share favorite photos, new and old, of the greatly renowned, awakened arahat bhikkhunī Sanghamittā Therī, the venerable Srī Mahā Bodhi sapling, and of Sri Lanka's first bhikkhunī arahatī Anulā Therī.  Together with good words from the earliest of the Buddhist Pāli-text chronicles, the Dīpavaṁsa.

The Sri Mahā Bodhi tree southern branch sapling glowing, welcomed and revered by devas, above a pañcāvāsa moonstone representing five realms of life—painting by Walimuni Solias Mendis
at Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya, SriLanka

These [images here, and the] stories found in the ancient Buddhist canons powerfully speak to the highest potential of humanity. They speak specifically to the potentialities and possibilities of living human women, of these women as awakening and awakened teachers and leaders in early Buddhist society, and of Buddhism’s prime directive to enable and provide such opportunities for both genders of all races, ethnicities and ages in human culture.
Records of Early Buddhism show, in places where the tradition of women’s history or herstory was strong, a super abundance of excellent women practitioners, leaders and teachers in Buddhism. A prime example of this one step removed in time and space from the old Indian Buddhist heartland and the canonical Therīgāthā and Therī-apadāna together with the Bhikkhunī Samyutta, might be the Pāli-text Dīpavaṁsa.
The Dīpavaṁsa—the “Chronicle of the Island” or “Chronicle of the Lamp”—itself claims to have been authored and passed down from early Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and is thought to date from the Aśokan era to it’s final form around the 4th century CE.
It is a concentrated source of Buddhist women’s herstory, of the lineage of the Bhikkhunīs from ancient times to the then-present, of outstanding and luminary women practitioners, teachers of Dhamma and Vinaya, leaders and exemplars.

Anulā Therī, Sri Lanka's first bhikkhunī arahanta, requesting and receiving ordination from Sanghamittā Therī, followed by a thousand of her kinswomen and members of the royal household.
—painting by Walimuni Solias Mendisat Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya, SriLanka


The Pāli-text Dīpavaṁsa—the “Chronicle of the Island” or “Chronicle of the Lamp”

The Dīpavaṁsa chapter XVIII relates the bhikkhunī masters’ teaching lineage from India to Sri Lanka thus:

XVIII 9-10 speaks of Khemā and Uppalavaṇṇā; Pātācārā, Dhammadinnā, Sobhitā, Isidāsikā, Visākhā, Soṇā and Sābalā, wise Saṅghadāsī and Nandā, as “guardians of the Dhamma” and “well-versed in the Vinaya.”

These (bhikkhunīs) who well knew the Vinaya and the paths (of sanctification), (lived) in Jambudvipa.

XVIII 11-13 tells of Therī Saṅghamittā, wise Uttarā, Hemā and Pasādapālā, Aggimittā, Dāsikā, Pheggu, Pābbatā, and Mattā, Mālā, and Dhammadāsiyā, the eleven bhikkhunis who came from Jambudvipa (India) and taught the Vinaya Piṭaka in Anuradhapura, also teaching the five Collections (of the Sutta Piṭaka) and the Seven Treatises (of the Abhidhamma).

XVIII 14-16 then relates the Sri Lanka bhikkhunīs own lineage of luminary teachers, with special emphasis on Vinaya teachers:

Sadhammanandi and Somā, also Giriddhi, Dāsikā, and Dhammā are Dhammapālā—“guardians of the Dhamma” and Vinaya visāradā—“well-versed in the Vinaya.”

'Mahilā who kept the Dhutaṅga precepts, and Sobhaṇā, Dhammatāpasā, highly wise Nāramittā who was “well-versed in the Vinaya.

Sātā, “versed in the exhortations of the Theris", Kālī and Uttarā, these Bhikkhunīs received the upasampadā ordination on the island of Lanka.

Verses 17-46 continue the exposition of these bhikkhunīs illustrious tradition, with more than ten verses lauding the ongoing lineage of those bhikkhunīs who were outstanding Vinaya teachers - Vinaya visāradā (vv 15, 16), Saddhammavinaye ratā (vv 18, 23, 43) Vinaya tāvāca (vv 27, 31, 33, 38), Aggāvinayavādī (30), and Vinayadharā (vv 42, 45).

Eighteen verses laud those bhikkhunīs who were:

❁ of great wisdom— mahāpaññā (vv 16, 40, 41)

❁ “confident, knowledgeable and skilled”—visāradā (vv 35, 40)

❁ "widely learned"—bahussutā (vv 22, 44, 46) and paṇḍitā (vv 35, 40),

❁ “holders of the sutta tradition”—sutadharā (v 44),

❁ “teachers of the Doctrine of Discernment”—Vibhajjavādī (vv 42, 45),

❁ “unexcelled teachers of the Dhamma”—Dhammakathikamuttamā (v 30)

❁ “teachers of the five Nikāyas of the Sutta Piṭaka and Seven Treatises on Abhidhamma”—Nikāye pañcavācesuṃ sattappakaraṇānica (vv 20, 34)

❁ as well as "masters of the passed down teachings of the Therīs"—Theriyovāda (v 16)

❁ and “illuminating the Saṅgha”—Saṅghasobhaṇā (v 42).

Five more verses reveal bhikkhunīs known for

❁ extraordinary knowledge

❁ and the six powers: Abhiññātā (vv 17, 21, 42),  chaḷabhiññā (v 26) and mahiddhikā (v26).

Further verses speak of bhikkhunīs:

❁ of "great renown in the Sāsana"—Sāsane vissutā (37),

❁ those known as “guardians of the Sāsana—Sāsana pālakā (v 45),

❁ and those who are “leaders of the Island”—Dīpanayā (v 41).

Last but not least, seven verses record:

❁ those bhikkhunīs who had the very special role of Saddhammavaṃsakovidā (17, 21, 29, 31, 36, 39, 42),

❁ those “possessed of right wisdom who were the bearers and transmitters of the lineage and traditions of the Saddhamma.”

the greatly famous painting of Sanghamittā Therī's arrival with the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree sapling, reverentially welcomed by Sri Lankan king Devānampiya Tissa
—painting by Walimuni Solias Mendis Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya, SriLanka


Buddhism (as a corporate body) acted widely, and continues to act widely contemporarily, as an effective agent in spreading both enabling and debilitating ideas of womanhood and of women’s roles (or non-roles) in householder life and monastic communities. Understanding Buddhism, and the way stories are told and examples are shared in Buddhism as active, effective, creative and transformative agents, can and should be seen in light of Buddhism’s “Prime Directive.”

If the Prime Directive of Buddhism is:

To offer the very best inspiration, encouragement, examples and all expedient means of comprehensive support for practicing the Path of Awakening, and all means of support possible for valorising and expediting the sharing of that Path by those with knowledge and experience in it
we can use this definition as a measure to effectively and proactively gauge how Buddhism’s contemporary institutional structures and cultures, and it’s most excellent expedient means (upāya-kosalla)—including the “power of story” and the “power of example” which are active in engineering, creating and perpetuating norms—are being used.

We may ask ourselves:

Are they being wielded consciously, with full intentionality, to maximise the Buddhist “Prime Directive”?

Quotes above from "'Norms Engineering and HerStory - the Contemporary Revival of Ancient Buddhist Skilful Means: How Telling HerStory Enables the Buddhist Prime Directive,"

Tathālokā Therī, First International Bhikkhunī Forum, University of Toronto, 2018

Dīpavaṁsa chapter XVIII Pāli with English translation:


You may be seeing many of my previous years' posts on and around Sanghamittā Day they have added up!

Each year, around this time of year, i try to review what i've learned before, to read and contemplate again; and also to learn a little more, and share a little more - that is not widely known in the international world of contemporary Buddhism.

This is one of two new posts this year.

The other is my "FAQ: Sanghamittā Q&A" post.

The images here are deeply meaningful to me. They have a sense of nobility that is rare, speaking to the heart of what i deeply resonate with in Buddhism, and what i deeply appreciate in the monastic Sangha. They are not cartoons, there is no 'tribanga' (the 'three bends' used classically to depict femininity in South Asian art) posture—Sanghamittā Therī is 'uju' - upright—a moral and spiritual quality of noble ones - of the arahants.

I feel how deeply we need such morally upright images and examples.

How deeply we need to see women who are so wise, powerful, well grounded in Dhamma, strong, clear, kind and capable.

May our world not be bereft of Bhikkhunī arahantas.

Uttiṭṭhe nappamajjeya! Dhammaṁ sucaritaṁ care.

Rise up—do not be headless! May you fare well in the Dhamma.

-the Buddha, to Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī upon first seeing her when returning to his hometown for the first time since his awakening.


Paintings by Solias Mendis at Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya, SriLanka, photos with anumodana and special thanks to Ven. Dhammakamala Bhikkhuni and Ven. Dhammaratanayani Sobhita Bhikkhuni

I would like to specially appreciate Ven. Dhammaratanayani Sobhita Bhikkhuni, who so kindly shared photos here, today on the 8th year anniversary of her Bhikkhunī higher ordination in Sri Lanka on the Sanghamitta Full Moon Day (Unduvap Poya) on December 28th 2015.

May you, and may all of us, cultivate wisely and well, that we and our next generations may experience the excellent fruits of the noble Path for which good women rightly go forth from home life into the monastic Sangha in the Buddha's Way.



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