Sri Lankans are enjoying an extended weekend right now. It’s full moon today. Full moon (Poya) days are public holidays in Sri Lanka. Today’s Binara Poya day is the only bank holiday in September this year.
The Binara Poya celebration marks the first time that women were permitted to join the Buddhist order. When the Buddha visited his hometown Kapilavastu, Queen Mahapajapati asked him to allow women to adopt the monastic lifestyle of the Sangha, the Buddhist order. The Buddha rejected Mahapajapati's request three times. But she organized a demonstration of 500 women shaving their heads and carrying yellow robes. The Buddha was impressed and compassionate enough to grant these determined women the privelege to be ordained as nuns. This decision is celebrated on Binara Full Moon Day.
Female buddhist monastics are called Bikkhunis. The Theravada Buddhist bhikkhuni lineage became extinct in the 11th to 13th centuries, but not in Mahayana Buddhist countries such as China, Korea, and Japan. So Buddhist reformists in Theravada countries started a discussion about reintroducing the Bikkhuni lineage from China. In the early fifth century a Bikkhuni lineage of ordinations had been transmitted from Sri Lanka to Nanjing in China, the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya laying down the rules for these Chinese nuns has only minor differences from the Theravada Vinaya.
In 1996, the World Sangha Council held an ordination ceremony in Sarnath near Varanasi in India. Eleven Sinhalese women were ordained as Bhikkhunis by a team of Theravada monks and Korean nuns. When they returned to Sri Lanka in 1998, they ordained 23 Sinhalese women, reintroducing the Bikkuni lineage on the island. The revival of the Bikkhuni ordination is not recognized by all Theravada clerics. Particularly in Thailand Bikkhuni ordination is prohibited. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, the first Thai nun received her ordination in Sri Lanka in 2003.
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