Bhikkhunis in SL face challenges due to official non recognition by Buddhist Affairs Dept.

 "We have to abide by the decision of Mahanayakes’ – Commissioner General


The challenges faced by Bhikkhunis in travelling overseas for Buddhism related activities has been brought to light by the Siri Sanghamitta Foundation as nuns in Sri Lanka continue to clamor for recognition by the Department of Buddhist Affairs – a move resisted by the Mahanayake Theras of the country’s three Nikayas.

The Foundation’s president, Ven. Maharagama Uppalawanna Bhikshuni, has brought to the attention of the President and the Buddha Sasana Minister the impediments she faced in attending a conference on ‘Women and Buddhism’ in New Delhi as she was not recognized as a nun by the department, and hence, did not have identification as a Bhikkhuni."I was invited to represent Sri Lanka at this international parley held in a university in India, but my participation in this important confab was challenged due to non recognition as a Bhikkhuni", she complained.

Due to the Department of Buddhist Affairs not registering Bhikkhunis to be entitled to an official identity card for the Buddhist clergy, the Department of Immigration and Emigration took up the position that a passport can be issued only in her lay name, as appearing on the birth certificate, she said.

The department, in a letter to Ven. Uppalawanna Bhikshuni, clarified that if she has been registered as a sil mathawa by the Department of Buddhist Affairs, then a passport can be issued under her registered name.

The official non-recognition of Bhikkhunis has led to many impediments, particularly when it comes to sitting for examinations, overseas travel and when establishing their credentials as nuns who have entered monastic life, it has been revealed.

"I am aware that there are issues, but with due respect to the wishes of the three nikayas, we cannot accord recognition to them as Bhikkhunis", says Nimal Kotawalagedara, Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs.

It is true that Bhikkhunis receive upasampada (higher ordination) in coutries like China and Burma, which practices Mahayana Buddhism, but as a Theravada Buddhist country, Sri Lanka considers the Bhikkhunis Order defunct after the Polonnaruwa era, he elaborated.

"As the Buddhist Affairs department, we have to abide by the decisions of the Mahanayakes of the three Nikayas, who consider the Bhikkhuni Order not restorable after it disappeared during ancient times", he said.

He noted that sil mathawas (lay renunciants) are, however, registered by the department, but on the question of Bhikkhunis, any official recognition is out of the question as the lineage is considered non-existent.

Kotawalagedara said that discussions have been ongoing to explore the possibility of registering Bhikkhunis as sil mathawas. Recommendations have been called from district level associations in this regard.

"There may be pros and cons, but we have to abide by decisions of the Mahanayakes", the Commissioner General added.

According to ancient chronicles, the Bhikkhuni (nuns) order was introduced to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (BC 250 – 210). Since then the order flourished at Anuradhapura for about 1,200 years. With the fall of Anuradhapura to the Cholian invaders in AD 1017 and the annexation of the Aunradhapura Kingdom to the Cholian empire the Bhikkhuni order disappeared and became defunct.

The Order of Monks (Bhikkhus) also met the same fate. But was later revived after King Vijayabahu drove away the Cholian invaders. For this revival the King had to get down monks from Burma. But there were no nuns in Burma, Siam, Cambodia or Laos the other four Theravada countries.

Hence the monks maintained that the Bhikkhuni order should be considered defunct and not restorable. During the time the Bhikkhuni order existed in Sri Lanka it proved to be an asset to the religion and rendered yeoman service to the Sasana. (Source:

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