The Pali version of bhikkhuni pārājika 1 specifies that a bhikkhuni only falls into an offense if she acts willingly.
This is confirmed by actual examples in the Pali Vinaya where a bhikkhuni is raped:
Now on that occasion a certain student was infatuated with the bhikkhuni Uppalavaṇṇā.
And then that student, while bhikkhuni Uppalavaṇṇā had entered the town for alms, entered her hut and sat down concealed.
Bhikkhuni Uppalavaṇṇā, returning from alms-round after her meal, washed her feet, entered the hut, and sat down on the couch.
And then that student grabbed bhikkhuni Uppalavaṇṇā and raped her.
Uppalavaṇṇā bhikkhuni told the other bhikkhunis about this.
The bhikkhunis told the bhikkhus about it.
The bhikkhus told the Buddha about it.
The Buddha said: ‘There is no offense, bhikkhus, since she did not consent’.227
Similarly, there are other cases of bhikkhunis who are raped, and in no instance is any offense or blame imputed to the bhikkhuni.228
This is entirely consistent with the application of the rule for bhikkhus, since whenever a bhikkhu had sexual intercourse or oral sex without his consent he was excused by the Buddha.229
Indeed, there is a series of cases where bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, sikkhamānas, sāmaṇeras, and sāmaṇerīs are abducted by Licchavī youths and forced to have sex with each other. In each case, if there is no consent there is no offense.230
This understanding is maintained in the Pali commentarial tradition.231
The life of the nuns is hidden behind that of the monks.
The code of rules for Buddhist nuns (bhikkhunī pāṭimokkha) contains many rules held in common with the rules for Buddhist monks.
These bhikkhuni rules have for the most part been formed by simply changing the gender of the bhikkhus’ rules.
In most cases, the bhikkhunis’ version of the rules are not listed in the canonical Vinayas as we have them.
The bhikkhuni Vinayas generally confine themselves to laying out and defining the rules that are unique to the bhikkhunis.
It is assumed that many of the bhikkhus’ rules also apply, but this is not always spelt out clearly.
For example, the Mahāvihāravāsin Vinaya gives no hint as to which of the bhikkhus’ rules should be adopted by the bhikkhunis, or how they should be rephrased.
The canonical appendix, the Parivāra, lists the number of rules in each class that are shared and unshared, but does not mention the specific rules.185
That information is found only in the commentaries. Other schools give more information in the canon itself.
In particular, the rule we are dealing with now, since it is the first rule in the pāṭimokkha, was dealt with in fair detail in some of the Vinayas.
This essay briefly highlights one case where it seems that the bhikkhunis’ rule could not have been formed by simply changing the gender of the corresponding bhikkhus’ rule.
The rule itself, the first pārājika for bhikkhunis, does not appear in standard editions of the Pali canon.186
This class of offense is the most serious of all monastic offenses, resulting in immediate and permanent expulsion from full communion in the bhikkhu or bhikkhuni Sangha.187
The first pārājika prohibits sexual intercourse.
Here is the rule from the Mahāvihāravāsin bhikkhu pāṭimokkha.
Should any bhikkhu who is endowed with the bhikkhus’ training and livelihood, not having given up the training, not having declared his inability, engage in the act of sexual intercourse, even with a female animal, he is pārājika, not in communion.188
Comparison with the other available versions of this rule reveals that there are no significant variations in the rule formulation across the schools.189
In the bhikkhuni pārājika 1, however, we find a significant difference in the rule formulation.
As the rule is not found in the Pali Canon, it is sourced from the Pali commentary Samantapāsādikā 190 and from manuscripts of the ‘Dual pāṭimokkha’.
These have been found as palm-leaf manuscripts in various places in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and were recently published in a modern critical edition.191
The text is as follows.
Should any bhikkhuni willingly engage in the act of sexual intercourse, even with a male animal, she is pārājika, not in communion.
Here we notice two distinct differences from the bhikkhus’ rule.
The first is the insertion of the word chandaso.
This means ‘with desire’.
The Indic term is the most flexible of the very many Indic words for desire.
It is frequently used in a negative sense of sensual or sexual desire.
It is also used in a neutral sense of ‘consent, willingness’, such as when a bhikkhu sends their ‘consent’ by proxy to an act of the Sangha which he is unable to attend.
It is also commonly used in a positive sense as the basis of psychic power consisting of desire, which here means the aspiration for the Dhamma.
This last meaning cannot apply here, so we are left with two possibilities.
Either the word means ‘with sexual lust’, or it means ‘consenting’.
The two may not always be the same.
For example, someone may have sex for money, with no lust, perhaps even revulsion in mind.
Or they may have a twisted view that performing such services is an act of merit or part of the spiritual path.
Thus the occurrence of this word, and its possible interpretation, make a significant difference to the application of the rule.
The second difference is the absence of the phrase ‘endowed with the bhikkhus’ training and livelihood, not having given up the training, not having declared his inability…’.
This phrase simply makes explicit what is understood in all the pārājika rules anyway: they apply to a fully ordained monk or nun.
Thus the absence of this phrase does not significantly affect the application of the rule.
However, it is a distinctive and quite recognizable part of the rule which will help us to evaluate parallels and differences in the rule formulation.
There is another version of the rule preserved in an Indic language, the Lokuttaravāda in Hybrid Sanskrit.
Should any bhikkhuni willingly engage in the vulgar act of sexual intercourse, even together with a male animal, that bhikṣuṇī is pārājika, not in communion.192
Despite a couple of minor differences in phrasing, this version is strikingly similar to the Burmese Pali version we have seen above.
The word grāmya (‘vulgar’) is added, but this word is found frequently in similar contexts in the Pali, and does not alter the meaning.
In fact it is found in the gloss on methuna a little later in the word-analysis of both the vibhaṅga to the bhikkhus’ pārājika 1, as well as the Lokuttaravāda version, so it is quite possible that it has simply crept into the Lokuttaravāda rule from the word-analysis.
The Lokuttaravāda, unlike the Pali, is taken from the canonical Vinaya, so as well as the rule itself, we have a word-analysis.
This helps us with the ambiguous term chanda. The comment in the Lokuttaravāda is:
‘ “Willingly” means with lustful mind’ (cchandaso ti raktacittā).
Thus the Lokuttaravāda tradition says that a bhikkhuni would only fall into pārājika if she had a mind of lust.
Unfortunately, the absence of a gloss of the Pali means we do not know whether this interpretation was also followed in the formative years of the Mahāvihāravāsin school.
However, the mature Mahāvihāravāsin position is in fact identical with the Lokuttaravāda, as chandaso occurs consistently throughout the Mahāvihāravāsin commentarial tradition.193
For example, the pāṭimokkha commentary Kaṅkhāvitaraṇī says that ‘ “Willingly” means with willingness connected with sexual lust and desire.’194
Thus the rule and explanation in the Mahāvihāravāsin and Lokuttaravāda are identical, despite the fact that they are not attested in the earliest stage of the Pali canon.
An examination of the bhikkhuni pāṭimokkhas in Chinese translation, however, shows that they have not preserved such a clear distinction between the bhikkhu and the bhikkhuni pārājika 1.
The Chinese, unlike the Mahāvihāravāsin, preserve lists of the bare pāṭimokkha rules in their canon, alongside the full Vinaya. Typically these rules have been extracted from the canonical Vinayas, rather than stemming from an independent textual tradition.
Here are the rules.
Should any bhikkhuni, sharing the bhikkhunis’ training rules, not having given up the training rules due to inability, willingly engage in sexual intercourse, even with an animal, that bhikkhuni is pārājika, not in communion.195
Should any bhikkhuni engage in sexual intercourse, transgressing what is not the holy life, even with an animal, that bhikkhuni is pārājika, not in communion.196
Should any bhikkhuni, having undertaken the bhikkhunis’ training, having not given up the precepts, having not got out from the precepts due to inability, engage in sexual intercourse, even with an animal, that bhikkhuni is pārājika, not in communion.197
Again, should any bhikkhuni, sharing the bhikkhunis’ training rules, not having given up the training rules, not having declared her inability to keep the training, engage in unholy conduct, sexual intercourse, even with an animal, that bhikkhuni also is pārājika, not in communion.198
Should any bhikkhuni, having full ordination in the midst of the two–fold Sangha, not having renounced the precepts, not getting out from the precepts due to inability, engage in sexual intercourse, even with an animal, that bhikkhuni is pārājika, not in communion.199
Thus it seems that the Mahāsaṅghika, Mūlasarvāstivāda, and Sarvāstivāda all preserve rules that are essentially similar to the corresponding bhikkhus’ pārājika 1, rather than the special bhikkhunis’ form as attested in the Pali and Lokuttaravāda.
This cannot be explained by a fault of the translators, for the extant bhikkhuni pārājika 1 of the Mūlasarvāstivāda in Sanskrit also reflects the form of the bhikkhus’ rule.200
The case of the Dharmaguptaka and the Mahīśāsaka are less clear.
The Dharmaguptaka differs from the bhikkhus’ rule in that it lacks any reference to ‘disavowing the bhikkhunis’ training rules, declaring her weakness’.
This could be because it, too, stems from the bhikkhunis’ special version of this rule, or it could have happened through simple textual loss.
If so, this must have happened before the vibhaṅga was formed.
Whether this version should be read as a further example of the special phrasing of bhikkhuni pārājika 1 depends on how we read the ambiguous characters 婬欲.
They could either stand for ‘sexual intercourse’, or alternatively 欲 might stand for ‘desire’, which would align this version with those of the Mahāvihāravāsin/Lokuttaravāda.
This problem is, however, readily solvable by reference to the corresponding rule in the Dharmaguptaka bhikkhu pāṭimokkha.
There, the same phrase 婬欲 appears.
By universal testimony of all the Vinayas, this cannot stand for ‘desire’, for a word for ‘desire’ never occurs in the bhikkhu pārājika
1. It must represent the Indic methunadhamma, meaning ‘sexual intercourse’, which is found in every version of bhikkhu pārājika
1. This is confirmed since it is followed by characters clearly standing for abrahmacariya, which is a synonym of methunadhamma.
The meaning of 婬欲 in the Dharmaguptaka bhikkhu and bhikkhuni pārājika 1, therefore, must be ‘sexual intercourse’.
Hence the bhikkhuni rule lacks anything that might correspond with the Indic chanda, ‘desire’.
We are therefore unable to definitely conclude whether this version represents a third example of a special formulation of the bhikkhuni pārājika 1, or whether it has simply lost some text from the bhikkhus’ rule formulation.
The situation with the Mahīśāsaka is similarly unclear.
This includes both a character meaning ‘according to one’s desire’ (隨意), but also includes the clause about giving up the training.
It seems that this version either combines the two other versions together, or perhaps we are just witnessing an ambiguity in the Chinese.
Thus it seems that the Mahāvihāravāsin/Lokuttaravāda recension of this rule is not explicitly shared by any other Vinayas, although the Dharmaguptaka, and the Mahīśāsaka have some features in common.
This raises the question where the formulation stems from.
The Pali version is not found in the Pali Tipitaka, and derives from commentaries and from an extracanonical work found in a manuscript in Burma early in the 20 century.
The consistency with which it is presented throughout the commentarial tradition makes it likely there was an older manuscript tradition of the bhikkhuni pāṭimokkha, but I am not aware if any actual texts exist.
The Lokuttaravāda manuscript, on the other hand, takes us much further back as a physical object, since the manuscript takes us back to around the 11 century.201
The presence of this variant rule formulation alerts us to the fact there are significant correlations between schools that in terms of sectarian history are relatively separate,
which may be even closer than the correlations between closely related schools.
More importantly, the pāṭimokkha is most important as an oral text.
It is recited each fortnight in the midst of the Sangha, and constitutes the key ritual ingredient that affirms the communal identity of the Sangha.
Since this would have been recited regularly by the bhikkhunis, not by the bhikkhus, it seems likely that this variant, preserved so tenuously through the ages in far-flung reaches of the Buddhist world, preserves a memory of the bhikkhunis’ own liturgical literature.
This was passed down, it seems, outside the Councils and hence outside the control of the bhikkhus.