The New Gurudharmas for Monks


By Sister Annabel, Chan Duc


Before the Sangha traveled to Vietnam, Thay wrote a code of conduct for monks with regards to nuns, to update the ancient code of conduct for nuns with regards to monks. Sister Annabel graciously wrote this commentary for the Mindfulness Bell.

The Sangha of the Buddha is known as the Fourfold Sangha. It comprises bhikshus (fully-ordained monks), bhikshunis (fullyordained nuns), laymen, and laywomen. The bhikshuni component of the Sangha was added last of all.

Tradition has it that it was not an easy matter for women to be accepted as monastic members of the Sangha. If the tradition, which says that the Buddha hesitated in receiving women as monastic disciples, is true, it is not something difficult to understand.

Surely the Buddha must have been taken by surprise when his dear aunt and a large number of Sakyan ladies arrived in Vaishali with swollen and bleeding feet after walking hundreds of miles barefoot to prove that women too could lead the life of wandering monks? No doubt he was also moved. His aunt Mahagotami had previously asked permission to ordain as a nun when the Buddha was in Kapilavastu and had been told that the time was not yet right for women to ordain.

It was not that the Buddha saw women as of inferior intellectual or spiritual properties that he hesitated to allow them to follow the monastic vocation. The reservations of the Buddha had to do with the cultural and social situation in which the Sangha of his time found itself.

Concerns of the Buddha

First of all the Buddha wanted his disciples to have the best conditions to realise the practice. His monk disciples spent the night at the foot of trees and begged for alms in the towns and villages. This could have been very dangerous for women to do. According to the Indian custom of that time women were always to stay in a house where they were under the protection of their father, husband, elder brother, or son. The only women who did not have that protection were courtesans and loose women. The Buddha feared that his nun disciples would be branded as such and in fact this often happened. It also happened that on a couple of occasions when nuns unusually stepped out of the monastery alone they were sexually assaulted.

The second question the Buddha must have asked himself was how the monks he had already ordained would accept nuns as fellow members of the same spiritual family. Were the monks sufficiently free of their cultural and social prejudice to offer protection to nuns and support them in their practice?

The third question for the Buddha concerned the relationship of the nun Sangha to the monk Sangha. The Buddha taught that the recognition of seniority was essential for harmony in the Sangha (Culavagga VI, 6). Westerners should remember that seniority is not hierarchy. Seniority is a matter of protocol and mutual respect but the ways juniors have of showing respect to seniors differ from the ways seniors have of showing respect to juniors. The Buddha made it clear that the nuns were juniors. The nuns after all had had no education. They joined the Sangha after the monks had already been practicing for many years. The monks had already memorized the precepts and discourses of the Buddha. Many had become teachers in their own right. It was only natural that the nuns should show respect to the monks as their seniors.

The Original Gurudharmas

These facts are the basis for the eight original gurudharmas (practices of respect) to be practiced by nuns. They were as follows:

  1. A bhikshuni should always greet a bhikshu with respect even though she is senior in years of ordination to the bhikshu.
  2. Bhikshunis should practice the annual three-month Rains’ Retreat in a place where there is a bhikshu Sangha for them to take refuge in and learn from.
  3. Twice a month the nuns should send a nun (with a second body) to invite the monk Sangha to let them know on what day they should recite the precepts1 and to send them a monk to give them teachings and exhortations concerning their practice.
  4. At the end of the Rains’ Retreat the nuns have to request shining light from the monks as well as from the other nuns. (This meant that if the monks had seen, heard, and suspected anything untoward in the nuns’ practice they could let the nuns know and give suggestions for the nuns’ practice.)
  5. If a bhikshuni breaks a Sanghavasesa precept, she has to confess the offense to and be purified of the offense by the bhikshu as well as the bhikshuni Sangha.
  6. A nun can only receive the full ordination from monks as well as nuns.
  7. A nun cannot malign or criticize a monk.
  8. A nun cannot admonish a monk for improper conduct.2

These eight practices of respect have sometimes led people to think that Buddhism discriminates against women. Although there is no small number of individual monks, nuns, and laypeople who believe that to be a woman is a disadvantage for progress on the spiritual path, this is certainly not what the Buddha taught. After the Buddha’s parinirvana, some monks took the opportunity to promulgate their culturally ingrained prejudices. The Buddha said clearly that the fruits of the practice that can be realised by women are no less than those realised by men. In accepting women as nuns the Buddha has opened up a way for hundreds of thousands of women to realise the fruits of the monastic path.

What is needed now is to continue the career of the Buddha by making it clear to Buddhists and non-Buddhists that the bhikshuni Sangha is an equal partner of the bhikshu Sangha in the Buddhist community. The eight gurudharmas for monks that Thay has given us have already been practiced in many Buddhist communities for years. We only need to acknowledge that this is our practice and will continue to be so, so that people no longer have doubts about the status of Buddhist nuns.

Interpreting the New Practices

The first gurudharma for bhikshus is equivalent to that for bhikshunis. Thay has added the fact that each bhikshuni is a representative of the whole bhikshuni Sangha. In bowing to her one is bowing to the whole bhikshuni Sangha. The concept of partnership is also mentioned. It means a spirit of cooperation between monks and nuns in continuing the career of the Buddha.

The second gurudharma for bhikshus is to clarify that it is not a handicap to be a woman. This is an illusion to which women as well as men are subject. Women themselves sometimes also believe that they have been born women because they have not laid down sufficient wholesome roots in past lives.

The third gurudharma for bhikshus is a re-wording of a teaching given by the Buddha (SN IV,3,127). It means that our practice community needs to be a family. Here Thay makes it clear how we can support the members of our spiritual family. Just as the monk practices to see the nun as his mother and so on, so the nun practices to see the monk as her father, brother, or son depending on his age.

The fourth gurudharma for monks is equivalent to the seventh gurudharma for nuns. Thay has added the practice of looking at oneself and at the nun as a bodhisattva. This helps us to recognize the enlightened nature in each other and support wholeheartedly each other’s practice.

The fifth is equivalent to the second gurudharma for nuns. There are mutual advantages for both the bhikshu and bhikshuni Sangha when they practice in proximity to each other.

The sixth is perhaps the most revolutionary. Many monks still hesitate to listen to a nun teaching, let alone invite her to teach them.

The seventh is a continuation of what the Buddha wanted. In the pratimoksha3 there are already precepts forbidding nuns to act as servants to monks. Here we see that in physical work as well as in spiritual practice, the monks are to give the nuns a hand.

The eighth new gurudharma reiterates the need for mutual care and concern if the Sangha is to function as a family.

Sister Annabel, Chan Duc, was abbess of  Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont. She is currently assisting Thay to establish the European Institute of Applied Buddhism.

1 The precepts had to be recited at the full and new moon. There were no calendars and the educated monks knew how to calculate when the full and new moon days fell.

2 We should know that lay women who were strong in their practice did sometimes admonish monks with the concurrence of the Buddha who also made some precepts for monks at the suggestion of the lady Visakha. This gurudharma is to keep harmony between monks and nuns.

3 The pratimoksha is the disciplinary code of fully-ordained monks and nuns.

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Toward a Compassionate Economics

An Interview with Riane Eisler By John Malkin

mb55-Toward1Compassion is a deeply valued aspect of Buddhist practice. Caring for others is a natural expression of interbeing. How would our lives be different if compassion were a foundation of politics and economics? Riane Eisler explores the possibilities of a compassion-based economics in her latest book The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics (Berret-Koehler Publishers, 2007). She writes, “Strange as it may sound, we can’t just focus on economics to change economic systems. We have to go deeper and further.” Eisler is pointing to a reacquaintance with compassion, a movement away from domination-based societies toward a partnership model.


Eisler makes the point that “…the exclusion of caring and care-giving from mainstream economic theory and practice has had, and continues to have, terrible effects on people’s quality of life, on our natural life-support systems, and on our economic productivity, innovativeness, and adaptability to new circumstances.” Riane Eisler’s 1987 book The Chalice and the Blade draws on anthropological findings to reveal that human beings have lived in partnership societies where compassion has been highly valued. In The Real Wealth of Nations she addresses the question, “What kinds of social confi    support our enormous human capacities for caring, for problem-solving, for consciousness, for empathy and creativity—rather than for destructiveness, insensitivity, and violence?”

Thay has so often taught that all these seeds—from empathy to anger—are present in us and can be cultivated or diminished. Indeed, the Second Mindfulness Training focuses on the practice of not supporting exploitation, social injustice, or oppression in any of its forms. “I do think of my work as spiritual because I think of spirituality as putting love into action,” Eisler recently told me. “In that sense,” she said, “it does connect to the Buddhist philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh.”

John Malkin: Tell me about the relationship of economics to common beliefs about human nature.

Riane Eisler: There is a popular notion that human nature is selfish. In domination systems, one of the biggest myths is that there is something wrong with us. Whether it’s original sin or the popular version of selfish genes, we’re bad. With that belief comes the belief that we need to be strictly controlled. That is one of the bases of domination.

Humans have a very large spectrum of possibilities. We can be cruel, violent, and insensitive. But we also have an enormous— indeed unprecedented as a species—capacity for consciousness, caring, and creativity. The issue that I’ve been probing is what kinds of social configurations support or inhibit the expression of these positive capacities. Unfortunately in domination systems, you’ve got rigid rankings (man over man, man over woman, race over race, religion over religion, man over nature).

JM: Economics is not easy to understand. It seems that much money is made from the exploitation of people and nature while caring professions are not well compensated.

RE: Economics is basically about what is or is not valued. Classical economists will say, “It’s just a matter of supply and demand.” What they ignore is that much more important are underlying cultural values which are unconsciously embedded. Like the devaluation of anything considered to be soft, caring, care-giving.

Just having “caring” and “economics” in the same sentence causes a lot of us to do a double take. It’s a terrible comment on the un-caring values that we have learned to accept as driving economic rules, practices, and policies. We need economic policies that give real value to the most important human work: caring for people and nature.

These life-sustaining activities aren’t counted in our measures of productivity, such as GDP (gross domestic product) and GNP (gross national product). Market economy professions that don’t involve caring and care-giving, like engineering and planning (they may be done by caring people but the work isn’t care-giving), are uniformly higher-paid than professions that are about care-giving, like child care and elementary school teaching.

In the U.S. we think nothing of paying the plumber—the person to whom we entrust our pipes—$50 to $100 an hour. But to the person to whom we entrust our children—the child care worker—we pay an average of less than ten dollars an hour with no benefits, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. This isn’t logical. It’s pathological.

JM: Some countries are developing economics that place a high value on caring.

RE: There are nations that have moved more to the partnership side, and they have more caring policies. Sweden, Finland, Norway. They were so poor at the beginning of the twentieth century that people fled famines in droves. But today they have the highest life spans and the lowest poverty rates. They invested in caring for people and caring for nature. It’s not that complicated. They have universal health care, as well as high-quality child care and early childhood education.

JM: In your book you write, “Policymakers always seem to find money for control and domination, for prisons, weapons, wars. But we’re told there’s no money for caring and care-giving. For feminine activities such as caring for children and people’s health. For nonviolence and peace.”

RE: Anything that is stereotypically considered feminine— associated with caring, care-giving, nonviolence—is devalued, whether it’s in a woman or in a man. That’s very important. Women can be cruel and men can be caring. How a society organizes the roles and relations of the two fundamental halves of humanity— female and male—doesn’t only impact our individual lives, but it affects everything about our social system, including economics. It makes our families either authoritarian or democratic.

We did a study at the Center for Partnership Studies comparing statistical data from eighty-nine nations that correlated the status of women with measures of quality of life like infant mortality, human rights, and environmental ratings. We found that the status of women can be a better predictor of the general quality of life than GDP.

We now have the enterprise of coming together and constructing a better future. It’s the most important work for us on the planet. If we don’t join together to change how we think and act, we just don’t have much of a future, and neither do our children.

Editors’ note: Sister Annabel, Senior Editor of the Mindfulness Bell, read this interview and offered an additional question for Riane Eisler.

Sister Annabel: While I was reading this article I felt there was something missing. It was the feeling that we should pay the caregiver more than the plumber. Why do we not pay everyone the same? The caregiver cares because that is how she expresses compassion, and the plumber can also plumb compassionately. What is wrong is that we continue to express value in money. I think this is something economists have to look at. In a humane society, everyone has the same material needs and everyone should receive the same amount of money.

RE: Thank you, Sister Annabel, for your question. I want to say, first, that what our work is about is not that one kind of profession be paid more than another, but that the work of caring for people and nature be given visibility and real value. This is essential for a more just and caring world, because as long as caring continues to be devalued, not only will the essential work of caring for children, the elderly, and others in need of care be given few if any rewards, but we cannot realistically expect more caring policies. So policy makers will continue to have no trouble finding funding for prisons, weapons, and wars, but won’t find money to fund health care, child care, and other “soft” caring activities. From my perspective the problem is not money, which is a useful invention for exchange, but that money is not allocated in humane and caring ways.

For more information about Riane Eisler and the Caring Economics Campaign, see

mb55-Toward3John Malkin, Clear Path of the Heart, lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Author of Sounds of Freedom and The Only Alternative: Christian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America, he hosts a radio program called “The Great Leap Forward” ( on Free Radio Santa Cruz. His guests have included Thich Nhat Hanh, Riane Eisler, Philip Glass, and Sister Chan Khong.

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