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date: 02 July 2022

Global Theravada Buddhism: Asian Foundationsfree

Global Theravada Buddhism: Asian Foundationsfree

  • Mavis L. FennMavis L. FennDepartment of Religious Studies, University of Waterloo


The establishment and development of Theravada in South and Southeast Asia was driven by relationships between the king, the sangha (community of monks and nuns), and the laity. It is an imaginaire through which precolonial history is seen as a time when ideal kings and an ideal sangha mutually supported each other and worked for the benefit of the people through the teaching and the performance of rituals that allowed lay people to make religious merit (punna) toward future lives. The king protected the realm from attack, protected it internally through ensuring stability, and supported the sangha. The king was the largest financial supporter of the sangha and had oversight over it. Kings periodically reformed the sangha administratively and “purified” it of unacceptable behavior and belief. These reforms generally saw an increase in the king’s power vis-a-vis that of the sangha. The ideal king was the cakkavattin, “righteous ruler” and world conqueror. The historical instantiation of this ideal was King Ashoka. These relationships were often tense and fractious but with colonization, especially by the British in the 19th- to mid-20th century, this ideal provided the basis for postcolonial visions of the emerging nation states.

Three common themes arose as Buddhists grappled with colonization. The first was that there had been both an institutional and personal decline in the dhamma that contributed to the loss of independence. The second was that the dhamma needed to be protected from further decline and this required the reform of the sangha and expansion of lay practice—in particular with regards to the laity’s involvement with and public support for the sangha. The third was an idealization of the past. These themes played an important role in the creation of anticolonial independence movements that led to the emergence of modern states, Buddhist nationalism, and Buddhist modernism.

The bhikkhuni sangha, established by the Buddha in India, died out around the 11th to 13th century where it existed. In its absence, alternative forms of practice and orders of religious women arose. A movement in the late 1980s and 1990s worked to revive the bhikkhuni order. While there are bhikkhuni both within and outside of Asia, those in South and Southeast Asia are not considered authentic by monastic authorities and government, and the revival of the bhikkhuni sangha remains controversial among monks, laity, and women in alternative orders.


  • Buddhism

Precolonial Spread

The development of Theravada Buddhism and the political and social development of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia are entwined and mutually influential. To understand Theravada in the 21st century, we need to understand its evolution within the historical and ever-evolving sociopolitical context. There were no “countries” as we understand them, that is, firm geographic boundaries demarcating a nation state, prior to the colonial period. The common pattern was a mandala system. Radiating out from a center of power (a king or leader) was a series of circles of influence that would owe allegiance and pay tribute to one or more centers of power.1 Allegiances shifted, disputes arose, boundaries shifted. Commonly used terms today such as “Southeast Asia,” are relatively modern.

From the beginning Buddhism was aligned with kingship. One of the Buddhist missions sent by King Ashoka arrived on the island of Lanka. King Devanampiyatissa (250–210 bce) established Buddhism on the island through the construction of the Mahavihara monastery and by planting a seedling from the Bodhi tree.2 Over time, three different teaching lineages emerged at three different monasteries. In the 12th century, King Parakkama Bahu I carried out an intensive “purification” of the sangha that set the stage for two major developments. First, the teaching lineage of the Mahavihara was established as the standard understanding of Buddhist doctrine and practice. As Buddhism spread, the Mahavihara lineage influenced the development of Buddhism throughout the region. The second development was the placement of the sangha under state control through the creation of a sangharaja (head of the sangha), who ruled over the sangha with the assistance of two officials of the king.3 Mahavihara influence and reforms that brought the sangha increasingly under administrative control of the king/state were to be repeated in each emerging kingdom that arose in the precolonial era.

The Pagan dynasty formed the core of what is now Myanmar and is remembered as a “golden era”—strong, prosperous, and a center of Buddhist scholarship.4 Kings adopted the tradition of the cakkavattin, the “righteous ruler.”5 While the king’s power was absolute, it was often moderated by the influence of Buddhist monk-ministers.6 After the Pagan dynasty was destroyed (at the end of the 13th century), it was not until the middle of the 18th century that a new kingdom at Ava rose, becoming a major regional power.7 Ava was annexed in 1866 by the British as the colony of Burma, a name subsequently adopted at independence (1948) and changed in 1989 to Myanmar.8 Steinberg notes that until the colonial period, there was no institution more important than the Theravada sangha.9

This pattern of Buddhist-king alliances and influence of the Mahavihara lineage continued as the Tai-speaking peoples migrated south.10 They adopted Buddhism, and during the rule of the Sukhothai kings (13th15th centuries) the Buddhism of the Mahavihara lineage became dominant.11 The other powerful Sukhothai Kingdom was Lan Na. Lan Na was famous for its Buddhist scholarship and as a center for the spread of Buddhism.12 It was followed by the Kingdom of Ayutthaya (14th18th centuries), known as Siam by its neighbors. Ayutthaya also provided lavish support for Buddhism.13 After the destruction of Ayutthaya, in 1767, by the Ava kingdom, the empire was rebuilt and the dynastic line of the Siamese/Thai monarchy began.14 Siam (never formally colonized) became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, and Thailand in 1939.

The Khmer empire (9th13th centuries) was centered at Angkor and represented the height of Khmer power.15 The founder of the kingdom, Jayavarman II (r. 802–850 ce), was established as a cakkavartin (righteous ruler). After the invasion by Ayutthaya (Siam) in the 15th century, the Mahavihara lineage was adopted at court. As a weaker kingdom, the Khmer were in danger of losing territory to both Ayutthaya (Siam) and Dai Viet. Siam had considerable influence in the region, but a strong Dai Viet began to assert its power.16 During Dai Viet occupation Buddhism received little support. When the Vietnamese left in 1846, Buddhism was restored. In 1863, prior to his coronation, King Norodom signed a treaty of protection with the French, likely due to fears of further encroachment by Siam. This began the French colonial period, from 1863 to 1953.17 The Khmer Kingdom became Cambodia. It gained its independence in 1953.

The Tai people continued their migration south from Nanzhao (founded 729, fell 902) and were positioned between the Mon and Khmer mandalas.18 When the Mongols destroyed the Pagan dynasty (13th century), the Tai took advantage of Khmer weakness to found Lan Na (capital Chiang Mai) and Sukhothai to the south. In the mid-14th century, the first kingdoms arose—the Tai-Siam mandala of Ayutthaya (1351), which eventually absorbed Sukhothai (1438), and the Tai-Lao of Lan Xang (1353).19

The Kingdom of Lan Xang (1353) was a center of Buddhist scholarship.20 After a long period of chaos, and a brief period of calm when King Surinyavongsa took the throne (1637), battles for succession ensued. Dai Viet and Siamese involvement resulted in the division of the kingdom into three (Luang Prabang, Lan Na, and Viang Chan), all subsequently absorbed into the Siamese mandala.21 The French, Siamese, and Dai Viet competed for territory, which led to the creation of French Indochina: Cochinchina (Nam Ky, a French colony), Annam, Tonkin, Kampuchea; and what was left of Lan Xang (Laos), which became a French protectorate (1893–1945; 1946–1953).22 Laos gained independence in 1949.

Throughout this period of turmoil and shifting allegiances, Buddhism continued to grow, and the sangha became increasingly powerful through its influence on the various kings and courts in the region. The king and sangha were mutually legitimizing: the sangha acted as advisors to the king and, in return, the king made donations to the sangha. Regarding the general population, the sangha were teachers of Buddhist morality, performers of ritual, educators, and providers of a “field of merit” for the laity. Giving to the sangha provided the laity with spiritual benefit (in this life) and the hope of a better rebirth. The sangharaja (head of the sangha) provided the link between the political and religious segments of society.

Colonial Period

Loss of the traditional triad of king, sangha, and people, the imposition of Western colonial education, economic and administrative systems, and the introduction of aggressive Christian missionaries had severe consequences for the Ceylonese, Burmese, Cambodians, Laotians, and even the noncolonized Siamese.

British colonization from the 19th to mid-20th century had the greatest impact on Ceylon and Burma. The removal of the Kandyan king in 1815 solidified British control over the entire island and disrupted the fundamental political and social foundation of Buddhist society: king, sangha, and people. The Kandyan Convention (1815) stipulated that Buddhism would continue to play its traditional role in society including receiving financial support, but pressure from Christian missionaries saw that support vanish. The king also appointed the heads of temples. When the British no longer authorized these Acts of Appointment, the internal administration of the sangha was severely disrupted.23 The sangha also lost its prominence in education. Christian schools were established, and English became a means to upper mobility.

The loss of the Burmese king was even more destabilizing as, unlike the Kandyan king who had challenges from various chiefs, the Burmese king wielded absolute power that extended into every area of Burmese society.24 When the British took complete control of Burma (1855) and deposed the king, there was no administrative system in place. The position of dhammaraja (head of the sangha) was abolished, and the sangha lost its internal administration.

The loss of these kings required the laity and the sangha to fill the political and administrative void. Many Buddhists believed that colonization was evidence of the decline of the dhamma (teaching and practice) due to lax morality, both institutionally (sangha) and personally. Morality became a priority. Internal and external reform of the sangha was instituted to restore its purity. Encouraged by monks such as Burmese monk Ledi Sayadaw, lay people began to meditate and study; they took over some temple organization, and formed associations to advance the Buddhist cause. Buddhism needed to be protected from the Christian missionaries, and the country returned to its precolonial roots. The theme of restoring the moral universe including proper governance of king, sangha, and the people, runs throughout the colonial period and shapes the Buddhist response to modernism, resistance to colonial rule, and the development of Buddhist nationalism.25

Modernism, Resistance, and Nationalism

Modernism required a re-examination of traditional ways of working, studying, social organization and governance, and communal and personal identity. Reforms were made or rejected according to expectations of reforming and purifying the sangha, restoring the dhamma as the basis of society, and, if not a righteous ruler, then a system of righteous governance rather than colonial subjugation.

Modernism, broadly characterized, was marked by science, technology, rationalism, the rise of nation states, urbanization, and bureaucracy. In religion, it was marked by the demythologizing and psychologizing of religious narratives, the application of critical theory to textual studies, and the discounting of amulets, spells, and traditional practices deemed “superstitious.”26

In Ceylon, aspects of Buddhist modernism began in the 18th century and were connected to the reorganization of the sangha and the development of a standardized educational system for monastics. There was a focus on manuscripts, their Pali commentaries, and Sinhala preaching guides. This “textual community” included both monastics and lay people and was made possible by wealthy patrons and royal funds.27 The primary instigator of these reforms was Valivita Saranankara, the founder of the Siyam Nikaya (1753).28 The spread of the Siyam Nikaya outside of Ceylon and the introduction of standardized monastic education created Buddhist networks across Asia, and these were crucial in resisting colonial and missionary pressures. High ranking monks such as Hikkaduve Sumangala (1826–1911) fostered relations between the colonial rulers, the populace, and Western scholars. Contacts with temples and courts in Asia provided some leverage with the British. Monastic education, preaching, and editing of Pali texts continued, and monks and laity used the new print technology to produce pamphlets.29

As colonialism was a consequence of the decline of the dhamma due to a decline in Buddhist morality, protecting the sasana (doctrine and practice) from further decline became a personal moral and communal responsibility. In Burma, lay associations began as a means for raising donations for the sangha, and as study groups that sponsored preachers and educational events.30 Most of these groups were founded by Ledi Sayadaw (1846–1923). He introduced abhidhamma (philosophy) study and vipassana (insight meditation) practice for the laity. This style of meditation is the root of the modern insight meditation movement. Ledi Sayadaw gave talks and published books written in an accessible style to increase awareness of Buddhist philosophy.31 As Turner notes, “In this sense, sasana was both the means and the product of a continuous process of reform and reimagining.”32 Burmese Buddhist associations fostered a sense of moral community and communal belonging.33 At the local level, Buddhist networks helped people to adapt to aspects of modernism such as urbanization. When urbanization compelled people to move to cities, they were able to maintain family ties through temple networks.34

Most people experienced modernism as an aspect of colonization.35 In Ceylon, plantations replaced small peasant farmers, forced labor was used to build roads for these plantations, and commercial producers were exempt from paddy and rice taxes. Related industries were also dominated by Europeans.36 This created poverty and landlessness. When people refused to work on the coffee plantations, the British brought in laborers from South Asia.37 There was little interaction between the Sinhalese and the South Indian Tamils, as the Tamils lived on the plantations.38

Ceylonese notions of “identity” changed. Nira Wickramasinghe states that, prior to 1824, the identities “Sinhala” and “Tamil” were more fluid, but the process of several British censuses narrowed categories, and “identity” came to be seen as fixed. Belonging to a recognized group became the basis for entitlements and rights.39 These categories, often multiplying, fostered intergroup competition and tension. The question of “identity” was an important aspect of the development of Buddhist nationalism. Michael Roberts points out that the early phase of nationalism was “Ceylonese nationalism,” “an ecumenical all-island nationalism which embraced all island peoples in expressing an opposition to British rule or its specifics.”40 However, while a majority population, Sinhalese Buddhists felt like ethnic and religious minorities under attack. What had begun as Ceylonese nationalism became Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism that excluded not only the British and Christianity but came to exclude other religions, ethnic groups, and “foreigners.”

Anagarika Dhammapala is often identified as the leader of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. As Michael Roberts, Steven Kemper, and Stephen Prothero have shown, Dharmapala was complex.41 His self-identity was that of a celibate renouncer (brahmacarya) on the path to becoming a Buddha (bodhisattva). He traveled extensively and was important in establishing Ceylonese Buddhism in the West.

Dhammapala also wanted to raise the Sinhalese from the economic, social, and moral degeneration that resulted from colonialism and a lack of moral cultivation.42 He launched several economic and social projects, some successful and some not, including the establishment of Sanghamitta monastery for women, and the publication of Mahabodhi and other publications.43 He launched speaking tours, in which he sought to reform the Sinhalese through castigating them for their moral decline and their acceptance of their treatment by “foreigners.” His language was vitriolic.44 His vision of a Sinhalese Buddhist kingdom that excluded all others as foreigners, and his diatribes against other religions and ethnicities, made him ideal for appropriation by the violent elements in the Buddhist nationalist movement.45

One of the texts Dhammapala used was the Mahavamsa. The Mahavamsa is the textual underpinning for Buddhist nationalism.46 Composed in the 6th century, the Mahavamsa provides a particular view of parts of Sri Lankan history. In the Mahavamsa, Dhammapala saw a great and righteous kingdom, a dhammadipa (“island of dhamma”), destroyed by the British who cut down forests to plant tea, destroyed jobs and introduced alcohol and drugs eroding the morality of the people.47 He wanted them to reclaim their Sinhalese identity and restore Ceylon to an island of dhamma ruled in the ancient manner: king, sangha, and people.

Dharmapala was not the only Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist of his time, and he appears to have had no wish to be a political leader. Yet, his use of the myth of Dutugamunu may have “kindled the fires of violence.”48 Buddhist nationalists often refer to the Mahavamsa narrative of King Dutthagamani (161–137 bce), who rode into battle with a Buddhist relic in his spear against the Tamil King Elara. Concerned about the kammic consequences, his monastic advisors tell him he should not be concerned. Most opponents had not taken the Refuges or the Five Precepts, and his success brought honor to the Buddha’s teaching.49 Nationalists have argued that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhist island and violence against non-Buddhists is justified as a means of protection—what Bartholomeusz refers to as a “just-war” theory.50 The concern that Buddhism is under threat from other religions (Muslims, Christians) and ethnic groups (Tamils) comes, in part, from colonization and, in part, from the pressures of creating a modern, multicultural nation state. The predominant Buddhist nationalist organization is the Budo Bala Sena (BBS, Army of Buddhist Power), established by Galangoda A. Gnanasara in 2013.51 With the end of the civil war in 2009, the BBS turned their attention from Tamils to the Muslim and Christian communities. They accused Muslims of rape and forced conversion, and Christians of using development projects and aid to manipulate conversions. Mikael Gravers notes that they have also instigated and participated in riots.52 While BBS represents a small number, it has some public support and “is widely considered to be connected with former President Mahinda Rajapakse” and the military.53 Pressure by the sangha on the government may be the modern version of king, sangha, and people.

In Burma, while the notion of a moral community in defense of Buddhism has been a constant, the nature of the Buddhist associations began to change around 1920. With the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (Government of India Act, 1919), the British offered reforms that would lead to Indian self-government under British supervision.54 The Burmese were not included in these reforms, and agitation for similar reforms began. Younger members of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association pushed for a nationalist focus and confrontation. Buddhist associations became Burmese associations. Buddhism became part of a national identity, and a means toward nationalist ends.55

Ethnicity also became an element of Buddhist identity. Burma is a multiethnic state. During colonial times, the British populated the Burmese army primarily with Indian and ethnic minorities (Karen, Chin, and Kachin). Further, minority areas were only indirectly administered by the British.56 This led to the perception that the minorities were being favored over the Burman majority.57 There is also the belief that Burman culture is being attacked by foreigners.58

The Rohingya, a Muslim population in the Rakhine province, are not considered to be citizens of Burma because they were not listed as one of the pre-1824 original ethnic groups granted citizenship.59 They are considered by the Burmese to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. As “foreigners” and Muslims, they have been subject to a series of riots, and since 2016, there has been destruction of villages and allegations of human rights violations.60 The most outspoken monk is U Wirathu, the leader of the 969 anti-Muslim group, recently renamed as Ma Ba Tha (Association to Protect Buddhist Race, Language, and Religion).61

In both Ceylon and Burma, colonization led to a hardening of ethnic and religious distinctions and a narrowing of what it means to be a “citizen.” Political organizing and voting tend to be along ethnic and religious lines.

Although Siam was never directly colonized, it was affected by the British and French colonization that surrounded it, and the criticism of Christian missionaries. It also played an important role in anticolonial movements through its participation in Buddhist networks, formed to support Buddhism and independence movements. As in Ceylon and Burma, there was a sense that the sangha was declining, becoming morally corrupt with lax educational standards, and monks who practiced magic and fortune-telling. The reforms of the 19th and 20th centuries were intended to return the sangha to the ideal triad of sangha, king, and people.62

Following the historical pattern of kings, a series of reforms in the late 19th and early 20th century brought Buddhism increasingly under state control. Prince Mongkut (later King Rama IV, 1804–1868) established a new monastic lineage, Dhammayutika (Thommayut). He considered this new lineage more disciplined and orthodox, and it conformed to his sense of what the sangha should be.63 The first Sangha Act of 1902 centralized administrative control of all the sanghas, standardized textbooks, and set exams. The textbook material presented a modernist view of Buddhism.64 Buddhist monks in monasteries were to be a “service to the nation.” After Siam became a constitutional monarchy (1932), the state continued to incorporate Buddhism into the state structure. The state vision was that monastery activities should be practical, socially engaged, and active in rural areas.65 Buddhism became part of nation building.

The population of Thailand is 90 percent Buddhist. In the southern three provinces, the population is 85 percent Malay Muslim. This area was part of a southern Thai kingdom (Langkasuka), followed by an Islamic kingdom (Patani). Attempts to attain independence or negotiate with the Thai government broke down, and in 2004 martial law was imposed after violence erupted.66 A category of military monks was established. These men are both soldiers and ordained monks, and they live in the temples. As with Burma and Sri Lanka, these military monks are seen as necessary to protect Buddhism. Buddhism represents morality and order and the heritage of Langkasuka.67

French Colonization in Cambodia and Laos

Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1863 and a French colony in 1889. Just prior to this (1885), the Dhammayutika Nikaya (Thommayut) was introduced from Thailand (1854) to aid in reforming the sangha. In 1880, King Norodom instructed the patriarchs of the two Nikayas to restructure the sangha. There were deep divisions in the Mahanikaya between those who saw the Thommayut as a divisive Thai imposition (traditionalists) and those who were open to the rationalist reform (modernists).68 The French, concerned about the number of monks and the possibility of insurrection, inserted themselves into the monastic administration. An official registration process was instituted, and provincial head monks were approved in consultation with the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Certain practices were forbidden—martial arts, astrology, and producing protective amulets, for example.69 The French gradually transformed the education system. They added secular subjects—such as arithmetic, history, and biology—standardized teacher training, and introduced a state educational system, eroding monastic influence. The monastic Ecole Superieure de Pali, especially for Buddhist monastic education, also saw its curriculum expanded to include secular subjects.70 In effect, the French took the place of the king.

When the French left in 1953, there was a protracted period of political struggle that ended with the Khmer Rouge taking control of Cambodia in 1975 under Pol Pot, who was removed in 1979.71 Pol Pot felt that it was Buddhism and the sangha that prevented the creation of a communist state. During the period of the Khmer Rouge almost two million Cambodians were killed, more than half a million were forced to flee their homes to refugee camps in Thailand, and the sangha was almost destroyed.72 Many of those refugees settled in North America. The trauma inflicted upon them deeply affected their ability to settle and integrate in their new homes.73 Amanda Kent indicates that for those Cambodians who remained, there is still a lack of security, access to food, healthcare, jobs, and impartial institutions. The changes made during the peace process of the 1990s, liberalization of the economy, democratization, and an influx of aid has created new inequalities and exacerbated old ones. Cambodians seek safety through rebuilding the sangha, and the containment of power through Buddhist virtues (sel), sacred boundaries (sim), and the saffron robe of the monk.74

French colonization produced similar effects in Laos. Ananda Wickremeratne provides a concise description of these effects: bifurcation of society through the creation of an elite inclined toward Western mores, capitalism, and liberalism; this, in turn, provided openings for Marxist-Leninist ideologies. By the time the French left in 1953 there was a sustained struggle between the Royal Pathet Lao, who advocated democratic forms of government and economic liberalism, and the Pathet Lao, who favored literalist interpretations of Marxist-Leninist doctrine. By the time the Pathet Lao took control in 1975, Buddhism was severely weakened and, while Buddhism was integrated within the Marxist-Leninist system, when disputes arose, Buddhism had to give way.75 Between 1975 and 1980, over four hundred thousand Laotians crossed the border into Thai refugee camps.76 Many of these refugees also moved to North America and have had difficulties resettling.

The Bhikkhuni Sangha

The theme that threads through the history of women in the Buddhist tradition, especially for nuns, is one of opportunity and ambiguity. The order of nuns (bhikkhuni sangha) was established in India about five years after that of the bhikkhu sangha. The religious life provided an option for women who did not want to follow the traditional life of daughter, wife, and widow.77 From the beginning, there has been ambiguity about the role of women in the sangha. In Cullavagga X, the Buddha is clearly reluctant to establish an order of nuns when asked by Mahaprajapati.78 Ananda intervenes on her behalf. He asks if women can attain “perfection” (enlightenment). When assured by the Buddha that they can, Ananda argues that since women have the capacity for enlightenment, they should have the same opportunity to pursue it. The Buddha agrees but imposes eight extra rules on the bhikkhuni sangha. These rules place the bhikkhuni sangha in a subordinate position within the monastic hierarchy. While the text affirms the spiritual capacity of women, it also maintains their lower social status. Women’s lower social status disadvantages nuns. They may be respected as monastics, but donations to them are believed to produce less merit than gifts to monks. This may be one reason why the bhikkhuni order died out in India before that of the bhikkhu.79

In 11th-century Lanka, both the male and female sangha died out. The bhikkhu lineage was reinstituted from the Pagan but there appears to have been no move to reinstate the bhikkhuni sangha until the colonial era.80 Women embraced the religious life as part of the Buddhist reform, anticolonial movement. Many took robes and the Ten Precepts (novice ordination) and began to preach publicly. Known as dasa sil matas (ten precept mothers), they included upper-class women. Interest in restoring the bhikkhuni sangha dissolved after independence.81 There were no further moves to reinstate full ordination for women (upasampada) until the late 1980s, early 1990s, although the Sri Lankan Ministry of Buddhist Affairs improved their conditions by registering them and providing some financial support for their education.82 By 1986, a national organization of dasa sil matas had been formed. Some representatives were among the first to take full ordination.

Little is known about the bhikkhuni sangha in precolonial Burma. It is generally accepted that there were nuns in Burma until about the 13th century. Whether these were fully ordained bhikkhuni or tilashin (novice nuns), or whether both were present is unclear.83 There were several unsuccessful attempts to revive the order in the 1930s, 1950s, and 1970s.84 In the 1980s a process began to incorporate all monastics, including the tilashin (novice nuns) into a state registration system, issuing them an identification card that safeguarded their status.

The female ordination does not appear to have reached Thailand. There were unsuccessful attempts to establish full ordination for Thai women in 1932 and 2009 in Australia.85 Harris notes the presence of bhikkhuni in Cambodia, but by the late 13th century they appear to be gone.86 The ṭun ji (5–10 precept nuns) have often been dismissed as old women with low status who do menial chores for the monks.87 Elizabeth Guthrie noted that the ṭun ji at Wat Mangalavan do assist in maintaining the wat; they are not domestic servants. The nuns at Wat Mangalavan live near the wat, eat with the bhikkhu and samanera (novice monks), and travel after the rains retreat for pilgrimage and to study with teachers. While some are poor, others are supported by families.88

Like the precept nuns of Cambodia, the maekhao (8–10 precept nuns) of Laos are subject to the common stereotype that they are simply old widows, or younger women who have failed in life.89 Yet, many practice vipassana (insight meditation), and provide village women with instruction in dhamma, meditation, languages, and personal issues. They receive no financial support from the government as monks do, but attract support from the laity, primarily women, and Tsomo notes several cases in which support was provided by a former husband.90 Although limited in number, some have also engaged in development projects.91

Full Ordination (Upasampada) and Its Controversies

The themes of the Buddhist response to modernism, decline of the dhamma, resistance to colonialism, and Buddhist nationalism are all echoed in the controversies surrounding the reinstitution of the bhikkhuni sangha with the additional aspect of gender. In the latter part of the 20th century, there was a new movement to reinstate the bhikkhuni sangha. Initial support came from Asian monks working outside of Asia and Western-educated women. The monks wished to strengthen Theravada in the West and re-establish the fourfold sangha of monks, nuns, and male and female lay supporters.92 The education Asian bhikkhuni’s would receive would provide them with positive career choices, higher social status, and the ability to serve the community as educators and spiritual leaders.93

The first modern full ordination was held at Hsi Lai temple in California in 1988, with the assistance of Chinese nuns, Theravada monks, and the support of Sakyadhita.94 Sakyadhita (Daughters of the Buddha) was founded in 1987 by a group of prominent nuns and laywomen.95 Now the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women, the organization’s website states that its aims include, “To work for gender equity in Buddhist education, training, institutional structures, and ordination.”96

The revival of the bhikkhuni sangha is highly contested and entwined with issues concerning colonial legacy, Western values and ideals, internal sangha politics, and technical matters and interpretations of the Pali Vinaya (Rules of Monastic Discipline). Since the deposing of the Burmese and Kandyan kings, the sangha, with lay support, is considered the glue that holds Buddhist societies together. The remaining king, the King of Thailand, appoints the members of the Sangha Supreme Council.97 Tradition holds that the dhamma (teachings and practice) will exist if the vinaya (monastic discipline) is upheld. Issues regarding monastic rules, then, are tied to concerns about the decline of the dhamma. Senior monks of the Sri Lankan Sangha reject reordination on several grounds. The Pali Vinaya (Monastic Code) requires ten fully ordained senior nuns to administer the full ordination. The order died out by the 13th century, so there is no quorum of bhikkhuni. Ordination is impossible. Further, the monastic code used was the Dharmagupta Vinaya, not the Theravada. Finally, they reject modern ordinations as not authentically Theravada because they were administered by Mahayana nuns.

Supporters of the revival argue that the Dharmagupta Vinaya is closely related to the Theravada and originated in India. As well, the nuns ordained in 1998 at Bodhgaya were ordained again at Dambulla by Sri Lankan bhikkhus and bhikkhunis according to the rules of the Theravada Vinaya.98

Resistance to the reinstitution of the bhikkhuni sangha also reflects a concern about the role played by Western, liberal, and feminist women in the movement.99 Colonization not only brought new methods of agriculture, manufacturing, and business, it brought liberal values. Values such as rationality, equality, human rights, and feminism were justified as bringing civilization and modernity to the colonized. Antoinette Burton points out that British feminists assumed their superiority to, and need to raise up, Indian women. This also engenders the idea that what is “European” is universal.100 Nirmala Salgado and Hiroko Kawanami (among others) find colonial attitudes reflected in the work of Western scholars and activists working toward the revival of full ordination. Western scholars see the lives of renunciants as “lacking” and a “problem” to be solved by the adoption of gender equity. They envision an ideal, universalized renunciant, an ideal to which all can and should aspire. The result is to silence the voices of those whose experience and understanding are different.101

Hiroko Kawanami points out that while ideals of Western liberalism appear liberal and universal, they are secular and do not consider the needs of faith-based communities that value duty and humility.102 There is a different understanding of society. As in the narrative of the founding of the bhikkhuni order, soteriological equality is affirmed, but social distinction is maintained.103 Society is viewed as a community of interdependent hierarchical relationships. There are different roles, duties, and obligations according to age, gender, and status. It is within that structure that nuns “assume(s) different domains of power.”104

Many nuns in Burma, Sri Lanka, and Thailand consider the language of individual rights to be inappropriate.105 They, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, consider “rights” language a foreign imposition, and maintain that those who use it do so for personal gain or are being “political.”106

Susanne Mrozik welcomes Salgado’s critique of scholarly narratives that assume dasa sil matas are an oppressed group, and narratives “that turn nuns into imperialist curative projects.” She notes that Salgado’s work draws attention to the broad range of practice among dasa sil matas, their daily practices and concerns, as these issues are often eclipsed by the focus on the ordination issue.107 Salgado’s analysis of the role played by Western, liberal, feminist women has not, however, gone unchallenged. Mrozik and Karma Lekshe Tsomo note that the ideal of a fully ordained bhikkhuni is not a specifically liberal feminist ideal, but is presented as the ideal in monastic regulations, and full ordination was instituted by the Buddha.108 Tsomo argues that this analysis ignores the contributions of women such as Bhikkhuni Kusama and Ranjani de Silva, and takes insufficient account of the agency of Asian nuns. Regarding accusations that those who support the reinstitution of the bhikkhuni sangha do so for personal gain, Tsomo argues that such accusations are often leveled at those who seek resources, education, and social justice in order to discourage renunciants from seeking the “knowledge and requisites they need to live healthy renunciant lives.”109

In Sri Lanka, full ordination has been adopted by Buddhist nationalists. Kirama Wimalajothi, following Dharmapala (1864–1933), established the Dekanduwala Bhikkhuni Training Centre. He sees restoration of the full ordination as part of a nationalist platform to protect against “anti-Buddhist challenges” from “foreign influences”—Christianity and Islam. Cofounder of the BBS, with whom he broke in 2014, he echoes the theme of the decline of the sasana (doctrine and practice) and believes that bhikkhuni would be especially helpful in rural areas where the monks are very lax, and that bhikkhuni can better serve women and prevent them from converting.110

Issues of authenticity and authority cause tensions between groups that support full ordination, and within the sangha. Inamaluwe Sumangala, another controversial Sri Lankan monk, has argued that for the bhikkhuni sangha to be fully restored there must be indigenous ordinations.111

He established a bhikkhuni training center at Dambulla and, with the assistance of the nuns ordained at Sarnath in 1996, the nuns ordained at Bodhgaya in 1998 were ordained with the Theravada Vinaya. A rift subsequently arose over monastic seniority (1996 or 1998 ordinations).

Sumangala claimed that the 1998 ordination was authoritative (Theravada), while the 1996 ordination was Mahayana. Sumangala dismisses as “inauthentic” all ordinations other than those at Dambulla. As Salgado points out, this amounts to a claim that only the Dambulla temple can decide what is or is not an authentic Theravada bhikkhuni ordination. The heads of all three Nikayas, spearheaded by the Asigiriya monks of the Siyam Nikaya, with whom Sumangala had ongoing conflicts since 1985, made their disapproval of a bhikkhuni sangha, and of his behavior, public.112

Regardless of one’s position on the restoration of full ordination and the bhikkhuni sangha, in effect there are two bhikkhuni sangha. One in Thailand, estimated at less than three hundred by Ven. Dhammananda, all of whom were ordained abroad, and one in Sri Lanka estimated to be between one thousand and two thousand.113 This does not mean that all issues have been solved or that controversies have all been settled. Tensions remain, and new issues will continue to arise. Some women do wish to become bhikkhuni despite opposition, some do not, and some are uncertain.114 Their reasons for choosing either are varied and complicated.

Literature Review

The context within which early scholars worked was a colonial one influenced by the Enlightenment, Darwin, and industrialization. The British, in particular, had a vast empire that, by the end of the 19th century, covered almost a quarter of the world’s landmass and over a quarter of its population.115 The primary goal was resource extraction, justified, in part, by a stated desire to govern and to bring “civilization” to the colonies. Buddhist scholarship was guided by the questions that interested Western scholars. They were interested in rationality and texts rather than lived religion. Within the volumes of texts available, their concern was for the texts of the Pali canon, most notably those that were felt to be “early” and “original,” without the trappings of later accretions. Some texts were held to reveal aspects of the historical Buddha, his thought, and the development of the early sangha. Judith Snodgrass provides an excellent example of how this worked regarding two of the foremost translators of the time and the Pali Text Society they founded.116 In an excellent editorial Kate Crosby discusses the second wave of Buddhist scholars who, along with social anthropologists, continued to ask the same types of questions without examining the social context within which texts were found meaningful, and generally ignoring texts in the vernacular or oral traditions.117 Following Charles Hallisey, Crosby notes that this is natural as we tend to internalize our mentors, but postcolonial studies, gender studies, and subaltern studies have created more self-critical scholars who pay attention to whose stories we hear.118 Scholars from a variety of fields—history, sociology, and textual studies—have benefitted from access to these analytic tools.119 Sociological and political studies over the past several decades take Buddhism into account when examining Asian power structures and the role that Buddhism played in establishing and disrupting these structures, the roots of Buddhist nationalism and violence, the origins of “prosperity Buddhism,” and the revival of meditation methods other than vipassana.120 Quli reminds us that “tradition” is always in movement, being contested, augmented, and revived. So too, is Buddhist studies.121

Primary Sources

Translations of some Pali texts by various translators are available in print and digitally. The largest number are published by the Pali Text Society, which was founded in 1881 by Pali scholar Thomas Rhys Davids. The translation of Cullavagga X used here is I. B. Horner’s translation, “Cullavagga X,” in The Book of Discipline (Vinaya-Piṭaka), Vol. 5 (Oxford: Pali Text Society, [1952] 1988), 352–393.

A popular website, Access to Insight, also provides a wide list of Buddhist texts by various translators.

Another website is Sutta Central, which includes translations from the Chinese and Tibetan, as well as Pali.

A search on book websites should bring up translations by K. R. Norman (1925–2020), Maurice O. Connell Walshe (1911–1998), and Naṇamoli Bhikkhu (1905–1960) to more recent translators such as Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ajahn Ṭhanissaro, and Bhikkhu Sujato.

Links to Digital Materials

There are many scholarly online journals. Several are open access, and where a particular article or journal is not, access is usually obtainable through a university or large library.

Further Reading

  • Blackburn, Anne M. Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  • Cheng, Wei-Yi. Buddhist Nuns in Taiwan and Sri Lanka: A Critique of the Feminist Perspective. London and New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Church, Peter. A Short History of South-East Asia. Singapore: John Wiley and Sons, 2017.
  • Falk, Monica Lindberg. Making Fields of Merit: Buddhist Female Ascetics and Gendered Orders in Thailand. Copenhagen, Denmark: NIAS Press, 2007.
  • Gravers, Mikael. “Anti-Muslim Buddhist Nationalism in Burma and Sri Lanka.” Contemporary Buddhism 16, no. 1 (2015): 1–27.
  • Harris, Ian. Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005.
  • Kemper, Steven. Rescued from the Nation: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist World. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
  • Kent, Alexandra. “Peace, Power and Pagodas in Present-Day Cambodia.” Contemporary Buddhism 9, no. 1 (2008): 77–97.
  • Lehrer, Tyler. “Mobilizing Gendered Piety in Sri Lanka’s Contemporary Bhikkhuni Ordination Dispute.” Buddhist Studies Review 36, no. 1 (2019): 99–121.
  • Mrozik, Susanne. “Sri Lankan Buddhist Nuns: Complicating the Debate over Ordination.” Feminist Studies in Religion 36, no. 1 (Spring 2020): 33–49.
  • Salgado, Nirmala S. Buddhist Nuns and Gendered Practice: In Search of the Female Renunciant. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Schober, Juliane, and Steven Collins, eds. Theravada Buddhist Encounters with Modernity. London: Routledge, 2017.
  • Stuart-Fox, Martin. A History of Laos. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Turner, Alicia. Saving Buddhism: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014.


  • 1. David I. Steinberg, Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 17–18 [Kindle edition].

  • 2. Andrew Skilton, A Concise History of Buddhism (Cambridge, UK: Windhorse Publications, 1997), 145–146.

  • 3. Richard F. Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988), 117.

  • 4. Maung Htin Aung, et al., “Myanmar,” Encyclopedia Britannica, September 14, 2020; and Peter Church, A Short History of South-East Asia, 6th ed. (Singapore: John Wiley and Sons, 2017), 120.

  • 5. Steinberg, Burma/Myanmar, 17.

  • 6. Steinberg, Burma/Myanmar, 19.

  • 7. Church, A Short History, 109.

  • 8. Maung Htin Aung, et al., “Myanmar,” Encyclopedia Britannica, September 14, 2020.

  • 9. Steinberg, Burma/Myanmar, 23.

  • 10. George Campbell and Gareth King, The Concise Compendium of the World’s Languages (London: Routledge, 2018), 718; and “Tai vs Thai 2,” Languagehat, October 19, 2003.

  • 11. James Hafner, et al., “Thailand,” Encyclopedia Britannica, January 17, 2021; and Rachelle M. Scott, “Contemporary Thai Buddhism,” in The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism, ed. Michael Jerryson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 197–198.

  • 12. Hafner, et al., “Thailand.”

  • 13. Scott, “Contemporary Thai Buddhism,” 197–198.

  • 14. Church, A Short History, 183.

  • 15. Ashley Thompson, “Contemporary Cambodian Traditions: Seen from the Past,” in Jerryson, The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism, 239.

  • 16. Ian Harris, Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005), 43.

  • 17. Harris, Cambodian Buddhism, 105, 106.

  • 18. Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, “Nanzhao,” Encyclopedia Britannica, May 29, 2012; and Martin Stuart-Fox, A History of Laos (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 8.

  • 19. Stuart-Fox, A History, 9.

  • 20. Church, A Short History, 77; Stuart-Fox, A History, 13; and Ananda Wickremeratne, “Buddhism in Cambodia and Laos,” Encyclopedia of Buddhism, ed. Damien Keown and Charles S. Prebish (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 191–194, 194.

  • 21. Stuart-Fox, A History, 12–13.

  • 22. Martin Stuart-Fox, “The French in Laos, 1887–1945,” Modern Asian Studies 29, no. 1 (1995): 111; Wickremeratne, “Cambodia and Laos,” 194; and “Laos Profile-Timeline,” BBC News, January 9, 2018.

  • 23. Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism, 129–130.

  • 24. Steinberg, Burma/Myanmar, 18–19.

  • 25. Matthew J. Walton, “Burmese Buddhist Politics,” Oxford Handbooks Online, October 2015, presents a review of scholarly positions regarding the extent to which the classical model affects current affairs.

  • 26. Sharon L. Synder, “Modernity,” Encyclopedia Britannica, May 20, 2016.

  • 27. Anne M. Blackburn, Buddhist Learning and Textual Practice in Eighteenth-Century Lankan Monastic Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 5–19.

  • 28. Blackburn, Buddhist Learning, 46.

  • 29. Anne M. Blackburn, Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 200.

  • 30. Alicia Turner, Saving Buddhism: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014), 40–43.

  • 31. Eric Braun, The Birth of Insight: Meditation, Modern Buddhism, and the Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 4–5.

  • 32. Turner, Saving Buddhism, 5.

  • 33. Turner, Saving Buddhism, 136–137.

  • 34. Blackburn, Locations of Buddhism, xxi.

  • 35. Juliane Schober and Steven Collins, “Theravada Buddhist Civilizations and Their Modern Formations,” in Theravada Buddhist Encounters with Modernity, ed. Juliane Schober and Steven Collins (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018), 8.

  • 36. P. V. J. Jayasekera, Confrontations with Colonialism: Resistance, Revivalism, and Reform under British Rule in Sri Lanka, 1796–1920, Vol. 1 (Colombo, Sri Lanka: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2017), 42, 57; and Chandra Richard de Silva, Review of “Confrontations with Colonialism: Resistance, Revivalism, and Reform under British Rule in Sri Lanka, 1796–1920 (Vol. 1) by P. V. J. Jayasekera,” Sri Lankan Journal of Social Sciences 41, no. 1 (2018): 65–66.

  • 37. James Wilson, “Reappropriation, Resistance, and British Autocracy in Sri Lanka, 1820–1850,” Cambridge Historical Journal 60, no. 1 (2017): 55; and Nira Wickramasinghe, Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 50–52.

  • 38. Wickramasinghe, Sri Lanka in the Modern Age, 52–53.

  • 39. Wickramasinghe, Sri Lanka in the Modern Age, 62–66.

  • 40. Michael Roberts, “Himself and Project. A Serial Autobiography. Our Journey with a Zealot, Anagarika Dharmapala,” Social Analysis 44, no. 1 (April 2000): 114.

  • 41. Stephen Kemper, Rescued from the Nation: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist World (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Michael Roberts, “For Humanity. For the Sinhalese. Dharmapala as Crusading Bosat,” Journal of Asian Studies 56, no. 4 (1997): 1006–1032; Roberts, “Himself and Project”; and Stephen Prothero, “Henry Steel Olcott and ‘Protestant Buddhism,’” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 63, no. 2 (1995): 281–302.

  • 42. Roberts, “For Humanity,” 1025; and Roberts, “Himself and Project,” 117.

  • 43. Tessa Bartholomeusz, Women under the Bo Tree (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), Chapters 3 and 4, 44–91; and Roberts, “Himself and Project,” 132.

  • 44. Roberts, “For Humanity,” 1024–1026.

  • 45. Kemper, Rescued from the Nation, 40; Prothero, “Henry Steel Olcott,” 297; Gananath Obeyesekere, “Buddhism and Conscience: An Exploratory Essay,” Daedalus 120, no. 3 (1991): 219–239, 238; and Roberts, “For Humanity,” 1008–1009.

  • 46. Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism, 103–104.

  • 47. Peter Schalk, “Semantic Transformations of the Dhammadipa,” in Buddhism, Conflict and Violence in Modern Sri Lanka, ed. Mahinda Deegalle (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), 86–92. This chapter challenges that translation; and Harshana Rambukwella, “Anagarika Dharmapala,” in The Politics and Poetics of Authenticity: A Cultural Geneology of Sinhala Nationalism, ed. Harshana Rambukwella (London: UCL Press, 2018), 48–72, 55–56, 60–61.

  • 48. Kemper, Rescued from the Nation, 40; and Prothero, “Henry Steel Olcott,” 297.

  • 49. Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism, 104.

  • 50. Tessa Bartholomeusz, In Defense of Dharma: Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002).

  • 51. Mikael Gravers, “Anti-Muslim Buddhist Nationalism in Burma and Sri Lanka,” Contemporary Buddhism 16, no. 1 (2015): 1–27.

  • 52. Gravers, “Anti-Muslim Buddhist Nationalism,” 16.

  • 53. Gravers, “Anti-Muslim Buddhist Nationalism,” 16.

  • 54. Durba Ghosh, “The Reforms of 1919: Montagu-Chelmsford, the Rowlatt Act, Jails Commission, and the Royal Amnesty,” in Gentlemanly Terrorists: Political Violence and the Colonial State in India, 1919–1947, ed. Durba Ghosh (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 28.

  • 55. Turner, Saving Buddhism, 138–139.

  • 56. Steinberg, Burma/Myanmar, 28–29.

  • 57. Steinberg, Burma/Myanmar, 28–29.

  • 58. Steinberg, Burma/Myanmar, 156.

  • 59. Gravers, “Anti-Muslim Buddhist Nationalism,” 3.

  • 60. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” OCHA: United Nations, August 29, 2018.

  • 61. Gravers, “Anti-Muslim Buddhist Nationalism,” 13–14; see also Associated Press, “Firebrand Monk Surrenders to Police Days before Myanmar Vote,” abcNews, November 2, 2020; and Hannah Ellis-Petersen, “Myanmar Police Hunt ‘Buddhist bin Laden’ over Suu Kyi Comments,” The Guardian, May 29, 2019.

  • 62. McDaniel, “Buddhism in Thailand,” 104.

  • 63. Scott, “Contemporary Thai Buddhism,” 200; and McDaniel, “Buddhism in Thailand,” 103–104.

  • 64. Scott, “Contemporary Thai Buddhism,” 201.

  • 65. McDaniel, “Buddhism in Thailand,” 107–108.

  • 66. Michael K. Jerryson, “Buddhism, Conflict, and Peace Building,” in Jerryson, The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism, 554; Michael K. Jerryson, “Militarizing Buddhism: Violence in Southern Thailand,” in Buddhist Warfare, ed. Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 179–209; and Michael K. Jerryson, Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

  • 67. Jerryson, “Buddhism, Conflict,” 554.

  • 68. Harris, Cambodian Buddhism, 108–110.

  • 69. Harris, Cambodian Buddhism, 112.

  • 70. Harris, Cambodian Buddhism, 125–128.

  • 71. Wickremeratne, “Cambodia and Laos,” 193.

  • 72. Carol A. Mortland, Cambodian Buddhism in the United States (Albany: State University of New York, 2017), 19–25.

  • 73. Janet McLellan, Cambodian Refugees in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009), xi.

  • 74. Alexandra Kent, “Peace, Power and Pagodas in Present-Day Cambodia,” Contemporary Buddhism 9, no. 1 (2008): 78–80.

  • 75. Wickremeratne, “Cambodia and Laos,” 194.

  • 76. Marybeth White, “That Luang: The Journey and Relocation of Lao Buddhism in Canada,” in Wild Geese: Buddhism in Canada, ed. John S. Harding, Victor Sogen Hori, and Alexander Soucy (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010), 169–170.

  • 77. Mavis L. Fenn, “Dhammadinna and Jayanta,” in Flowers on the Rock: Global and Local Buddhisms in Canada, ed. John S. Harding, Victor Sogen Hori, and Alexander Soucy (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014), 313–332, esp. 314–315.

  • 78. “Cullavagga X,” in The Book of Discipline (Vinaya-Piṭaka), Vol. 5, trans. B. Horner (Oxford: Pali Text Society, [1952] 1988), 352–358.

  • 79. Nancy Falk, “The Case of the Vanishing Nuns: The Fruits of Ambivalence in Ancient Indian Buddhism,” in Unspoken Worlds: Women’s Religious Lives in Non-western Cultures, ed. Nancy Falk and Rita Gross (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1980).

  • 80. H. R. Perera, “Buddhism in Sri Lanka: A Short History,” Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), December 1, 2013; and Bartholomeusz, Women, 20–22.

  • 81. Bartholomeusz, Women, 27, 94, 97, 101, 126–127.

  • 82. Nirmala S. Salgado, Buddhist Nuns and Gendered Practice: In Search of the Female Renunciant (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 136.

  • 83. Hiroko Kawanami, “The Bhikkhuni Ordination Debate: Global Aspirations, Local Concerns, with Special Emphasis on the Views of the Monastic Community in Burma,” Buddhist Studies Review 24, no. 2 (2007): 229.

  • 84. Kawanami, “The Bhikkhuni Ordination Debate,” 230.

  • 85. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Thai Women in Buddhism (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1991), 45–48; and “Ajahn Brahm Excommunicated for Performing Bhikkhuni Ordination in Australia,” The Buddhist Channel, November 5, 2009.

  • 86. Harris, Cambodian Buddhism, 23, 25.

  • 87. Harris, Cambodian Buddhism, 74.

  • 88. Elizabeth Guthrie, “Khmer Buddhism, Female Asceticism, and Salvation,” in History, Buddhism, and New Religious Movements in Cambodia, ed. John Marston and Elizabeth Guthrie (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004), 133–137, 138–140, 148.

  • 89. Tsomo, “Lao Buddhist Women,” 96.

  • 90. Tsomo, “Lao Buddhist Women,” 97–99.

  • 91. Patrice Ladwig, “Applying Dhamma to Contemporary Society: Socially-Engaged Buddhism and Development Work in the Lao PDR,” Juth Pakai 7 (October 2006): 16–27; and Toung Eh Synuanchanh, “A Case Study of Buddhism for Development Project at Ban Bungsanthueng, Nongbok District, Khammouane Province,” MIC (Master of International Communication), Unitec Institute of Technology, 2018.

  • 92. Bartholomeusz, Women, 186–194; and Bhikkhu Bodhi, “The Revival of the Bhikkhuni Ordination,” in Dignity and Discipline: Reviving Full Ordination for Nuns, ed. Thea Mohr and Jampa Tsedron (Boston, MA: Wisdom, 2010), 99–142, esp. 110–111.

  • 93. Kabilsingh, Thai Women in Buddhism, 85.

  • 94. Mavis L. Fenn, “Buddhist Women, Anthropological Approaches to,” in Encyclopedia of Buddhism, ed. Damien Keown and Charles S. Prebish (New York and Toronto: Routledge, 2007), 443.

  • 95. Brief History of Sakyadhita,” Sakyadhita: International Association of Buddhist Women, accessed December 12, 2019.

  • 96. Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women: Aims and Achievements,” Sakyadhita: International Association of Buddhist Women, accessed December 12, 2019.

  • 97. “King to Appoint, Oversee New Sangha Council,” The Nation Thailand, July 5, 2018.

  • 98. Susanne Mrozik, “Sri Lankan Buddhist Nuns: Complicating the Debate over Ordination,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 36, no. 1 (2020): 33–49, esp. 36.

  • 99. For example, see Salgado, Buddhist Nuns and Gendered Practice; Kawanami, “The Bhikkhuni Ordination Debate”; Lisa J. Battaglia, “Becoming Bhikkhuni? Mae Chis and the Global Women’s Ordination Movement,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 22 (2015): 25–62; Steven Collins and Justin McDaniel, “Buddhist ‘Nuns’ (Mae Chi) and the Teaching of Pali in Contemporary Thailand,” Modern Asian Studies 44, no. 6 (2010): 1373–1408; Wei-Yi Cheng, Buddhist Nuns in Taiwan and Sri Lanka: A Critique of Feminist Perspective (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), Chapter 1, 1–10; Vanessa R. Sasson, “Politics of Higher Ordination for Women in Sri Lanka: Discussions with Silmatas,” Journal for the Study of Religion 20, no. 1 (2007): 57–71, esp. 59; and Kay Koppedrayer and Mavis L. Fenn, “Sakyadhita: Buddhist Women in a Transnational Forum,” Canadian Journal of Buddhist Studies 2 (2006): 143–179.

  • 100. Salgado, Buddhist Nuns and Gendered Practice, 3–4; see also Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of Religion: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); and Antoinette Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865–1915 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 9–10 [Kindle edition].

  • 101. Salgado, Buddhist Nuns and Gendered Practice, 3–5, 212–213, 221–224.

  • 102. Kawanami, “The Bhikkhuni Ordination Debate,” 238, 242–243.

  • 103. Susanne Mrozik, “A Robed Revolution: The Contemporary Buddhist Nun’s (Bhikṣuṇī) Movement,” Religion Compass 3, no. 3 (2009): 360–378, esp. 364, following Charles Hallisey, “Buddhism,” in The Life of Virtue, ed. Jacob Neusner (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001), 113.

  • 104. Kate Crosby, Theravada Buddhism: Continuity, Diversity, and Identity (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2014), 285–288, esp. 285; and Battaglia, “Becoming Bhikkhuni?,” 47.

  • 105. Battaglia, “Becoming Bhikkhuni?,” 41.

  • 106. Battaglia, “Becoming Bhikkhuni?, 46; Collins and McDaniel, “Buddhist Nuns,” 1399; Kawanami, “The Bhikkhuni Ordination Debate,” 241; Salgado, Buddhist Nuns and Gendered Practice; Mrozik, “Sri Lankan Buddhist Nuns,” 37; and Monica Lindberg Falk, Making Merit: Buddhist Female Ascetics and Gendered Orders in Thailand (Copenhagen, Denmark: NIAS, 2007), 10.

  • 107. Mrozik, “Sri Lankan Buddhist Nuns,” 44.

  • 108. Mrozik, “Sri Lankan Buddhist Nuns,” 44; and Lekshe Lekshe Tsomo, Review of “Buddhist Nuns and Gendered Practice: In Search of the Female Renunciant by Nirmala S. Salgado (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013),” Journal of Global Buddhism 16 (2015): 1–7.

  • 109. Tsomo, Review of “Buddhist Nuns,” 4.

  • 110. Tyler Lehrer, “Mobilizing Gendered Piety in Sri Lanka’s Contemporary Bhikkhuni Ordination Dispute,” Buddhist Studies Review 36, no. 1 (2019): 99–121, esp. 110–111.

  • 111. Nirmala Salgado, “Unity and Diversity among Buddhist Nuns in Sri Lanka,” in Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming against the Stream, ed. Karma Lekshe Tsomo (Surrey: Curzon, 2000), 37–38.

  • 112. Salgado, Buddhist Nuns and Gendered Practice, 169–181, esp. 171; see also Kawanami, “The Bhikkhuni Ordination Debate,” 228.

  • 113. Isobel Van Hagen, “Thailand’s Bhikkhunis Want Recognition and Respect,” Atlas Obscura, December 17, 2020; and Tsomo, Review of “Buddhist Nuns,” 4; and Susanne Mrozik, “‘We Love Our Nuns’: Affective Dimensions of the Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni Revival,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 21 (2014): 58.

  • 114. Saroj Pathirana, “Sri Lanka’s Bhikkhuni Nuns and Their Fight for Identity Papers,” BBC Sinhala Service, December 22, 2019.

  • 115. Dominance and Dominions,” Encyclopedia Britannica, revised by Adam Augustyn April 6, 2010.

  • 116. Judith Snodgrass, “Defining Modern Buddhism: Mr. and Mrs. Rhys Davids and the Pali Text Society,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 27, no. 1 (2007): 186–202.

  • 117. Standard works in Buddhist Studies: Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism; Richard F. Gombrich, Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Rural Highlands of Ceylon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971); Melford E. Spiro, Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes, 2nd exp. ed. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982); and Gananath Obeyesekere, “The Great Tradition and the Little in the Perspective of Sinhalese Buddhism,” Journal of Asian Studies 22, no. 2 (1963): 159–163.

  • 118. Charles Hallisey, “Roads Taken and Not Taken in the Study of Theravada Buddhism,” in Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism, ed. Donald S. Lopez Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); and Kate Crosby, “Changing the Landscape of Theravada Studies,” Contemporary Buddhism 9, no. 1 (2008): 1–6.

  • 119. Examples: Turner, Saving Buddhism; Blackburn, Locations of Buddhism; Burton, Burdens of History; and Wickramamasinghe, Sri Lanka in the Modern Age.

  • 120. Gravers, “Anti-Muslim Buddhist Nationalism”; Jerryson, “Buddhism, Conflict,” 554; Jerryson, “Militarizing Buddhism,” 179–209; Jerryson, Buddhist Fury; Niklas Foxeus, “Possessed for Success: Prosperity Buddhism and the Cult of the Guardians of the Treasure Trove in Upper Burma,” Contemporary Buddhism 18, no. 1 (2017): 108–139; Kate Crosby, “The Impact of the Science-Religion Bifurcation on the Landscape of Modern Theravada Meditation,” in Buddhist Encounters with Modernity, ed. Juliane Schober and Steven Collins (London and New York: Routledge, 2017); and Kate Crosby, Esoteric Theravada: The Story of the Forgotten Meditation Tradition of Southeast Asia (Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, 2020).

  • 121. Nathalie E. Quli, “Western Self, Asian Other: Modernity, Authenticity, and Nostalgia for ‘Tradition’ in Buddhist Studies,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 16 (2009): 1–38.