Evolution of Rules on the Two Year Training

In analysing the Patimokkha rules concerning the two-year training in each of the Vinaya texts, it is important to consider not only the final form of the rules, but also the larger context of how the rules evolved. The details of rule formation are not always explicit. However, by examining the structure of the rules, in which a later rule often incorporates the requirements of the previous rule, we can infer a historical progression of development. Examining the background stories to each rule in the Vibhanga also helps us to make inferences about the evolution of rules. This preliminary analysis examines the evolution of the rules within each Vinaya tradition. For more details, see the Complete list.






Mulasarvastivada: Chinese

Mulasarvastivada: Tibetan


In the Pali Vinaya, eight Patimokkha rules concern the two-year training (see Pali rules). Two of these (P63, 64) refer to sikkhamanas; three (P65, 66, 67) refer to gihigatas (married women); and three (P71, 72, 73) refer to kumaribhutas (maidens). Across these categories, we find parallel rules concerning similar matters. P65 and 71 concern the proper age for vutthapana (bhikkhuni ordination) for gihigatas and kumaribhutas, respectively. P63, 66, and 72 concern the requirement of training for two years in the six precepts before vutthapana. P64, 67, and 73 concern the requirement of receiving the consent of the Sangha before vutthapana. This parallel structure is illustrated for each text here, with links to rule details and background stories.

The Vibhanga gives clues to the historical development of each of these rules. Keeping in mind that rules were not laid down before the need arose, we presume that at the first stage vutthapana was available to any woman. P65 and 71 arose because of the problem of candidates for vutthapana being too young. After these rules were laid down, vutthapana was not allowed for kumaribhutas younger than 20 or for gihigatas younger than 12 years of age. This was the second stage of rule development. There is no parallel rule here regarding the appropriate age for sikkhamana candidates.

P66 and 72 incorporate the age requirements laid down in P65 and 71, suggesting that they were a subsequent development in rule formation. From this we can infer that the next problem to arise were young candidates who were ‘ignorant, inexperienced, they did not know what was allowable or what was not allowable’ [ref PTS]. The same problem is given for P63, which refers to sikkhamanas. Hence P66 and 72 prohibit vutthapana for gihigatas and kumaribhutas who are of the proper age, but who have not received the two-year training in the six precepts. P63 likewise requires the two-year training in the six precepts, but without reference to any age requirement of the sikkhamana candidate. Here the procedure for requesting the training and receiving agreement (sikkhasammuti) is also laid out. This is the third stage of rule development.

P67 and 73 incorporate the requirements of the previous two sets of rules, implying subsequent historical development. According to the Vibhanga, a problem arose when gihigatas and kumaribhutas were given vutthapana without consent of the Sangha. Then other bhikkhunis mistook them for sikkhamanas and asked them to ‘find out about this, give this, convey this, this is needed, make this allowable’. When the bhikkhunis protested that they were not sikkhamanas, they were bhikkhunis, the matter was taken to the Buddha. The same problem is given for P64, but without reference to the age of the sikkhamana candidate. P64, 67, and 73 thenceforth required vutthanasammuti, or consent of the Sangha for vutthapana candidates in order that their ordination would be made known to the community. This was the fourth stage of rule development.



In this the study the Lokuttaravada is not analyzed directly, only the closely related text of the Mahasanghika.

In the Mahasangika Vinaya, of the eight rules regarding the two-year training, P96, 97, 98, and 99 concern maidens and P100, 101, 102, and 103 concern young married women (see Mahasangika rules). These two sets of four rules have parallel structures and background stories (with certain anomalies outlined below) and suggest similar patterns of historical development (see Parallel rules).

Presuming that full ordination was initially available to all women, problems arose when young maidens ten or twelve years old (P96 ) and young married women 8 or 9 years old (P100 ) were conferred full ordination. ‘They were too feeble to endure hard work, and were not pure in keeping (the precepts). They didn’t have good manners, or know how to serve a Preceptor nun or a teacher, enter a village, to train in the āraṇya (forest), participate in meetings, put on their robes, or carry a bowl’ (Hirakawa 1999, p. 296). The rules then specified that full ordination be conferred only when a young maiden is a full twenty rainy seasons old and that a young married woman is a full 12 rainy seasons old.

The next problem described was that a maiden of 20 years old (P97 ) and young married woman of 12 years old (P101 ) who were of the proper age were given full ordination, but other bhikṣuṇīs questioned whether they really were of the proper age for full ordination. The rules therefore lay down the requirements that young candidates not only be of the proper age, but also that they request and be given the two-year training in the precepts. P97 details the procedure for requesting the two-year training and while P101 references this procedure: ‘This is fully explained in the Chapter on maidens who have taken the preparatory training of the disciplinary rules’ (ref Hirakawa 1999, p. 310).

For rules P98 and P102, the background stories diverge. In the case of P98, the problem cited is that of someone granted the preparatory training and then given the full ordination before completing the two years of preparatory training. An anomaly here is that the term ‘maiden’ seems to be missing from the rule text and no clear object is referenced. Hirakawa assumes that ‘maiden’ is implied. The same ambiguity occurs throughout the Vibhanga text as well. Also, while the rule incorporates the requirement for the two-year training laid down in P97, it does not include any age requirement. The rule summary simply requires that a candidate who has received the training in the precepts must actually complete the two-year training. The Vibhanga text further introduces a definition of the training in the precepts as comprising observance of eighteen rules, which are laid out in this rule.

P102, referring to previously married women, cites pregnancy as the problem that arose. Sudinnā, the consort of a royal minister, became pregnant in secular life and later was given the training in the precepts. When her condition became apparent, she was suspected of breaking the precept against sexual intercourse. The rule summary reads parallel to P98, simply requiring that the previously married candidate actually complete the two-year training. The Vibhanga further details that in such cases where a candidate became pregnant in secular life, full ordination should not be granted until after the baby is born and, in the case of boy babies, after the baby is weaned or adopted by relatives.

P102 does not include the details of the training in eighteen matters, as in P98. Instead, as in the case of P101, a reference appears to the parallel chapter: ‘This is fully explained in the Chapter on maidens who have not completed the disciplinary rules’ (Hirakawa 1999, p. 312). Logically, this statement must refer to P98, the only other rule concerning not completing the training.

The next problem cited in P99 and 103 was that candidates meeting all the previously described requirements were conferred ordination, but bhikṣuṇīs questioned whether or not they had actually fully completed their preparatory training. Thenceforth, candidates were required to formally ask the Sangha for recognition of the completion of the preparatory training.

As in P98, the term ‘maiden’ seems to be missing from both the rule and the Vibhanga. Here Hirakawa assumes ‘śikṣaṁāṇā’ is intended. However, as in the case of P102, P103 does not include the details of asking the Sangha for recognition, but simply refers to ‘the Chapter on maidens who have not made their karma’ (Hirakawa 1999, p. 313). P99 is the only other rule regarding this matter, strongly suggesting that it is the chapter being referenced.



The Mahisasaka text contains eight rules relevant to the two-year training (see Mahisasaka rules). P104 and 105 concern married women and P106 and 107 concern maidens. P111 mentions sikkhamanas and P113, 114, and 115 refer to nuns under training, possibly different terms for the same category (see Parallel rules).

There are no clear parallels here between these sets of rules. The historical formation of the rules is also difficult to infer, since the reasons given in the Vibhanga for each of these eight rules is some variation on only two problems:

  1. candidates were ‘foolish, ignorant, and not able to train’ (Santipada)
  2. candidates were ‘deaf, dumb, and had many kinds of diseases’ (Santipada).

For married women, the first of these problems arose and then P104 lays down the requirement that married women be fully twelve years old before full ordination. In P105, the second of these problems arose, resulting in the requirement of consent of the Sangha before full ordination. There is no rule specifying two years of training for married women.

In the case of maidens , P106 and 107 there is no rule specifying the requirements for full ordination. There are rules that specify the age requirement of eighteen years old for giving the training in the precepts, and for performing sangha kamma (requesting the agreement of the sangha).

P111 addresses the unusual problem of a candidate (here the term sikkhamana is used) who completed her two years of training, but was not given full ordination. Then she became sick. The rule prohibits not giving full ordination to a sikkhamana who has completed the two years of training with no obstacles.

P113, 114, and 115 concern ‘a nun who is training in the precepts.’ The development of these rules do not include any age requirement. P113 requires completion of the two-year training and P114 and 115 incorporate this same language, suggesting later historical development. P114 then requires consent of the Sangha and P115 requires learning of the precepts before full ordination is conferred.



The Sarvastivada text also has eight relevant rules: P108 and 109 refer to married women, P111 and 112 refer to ‘a disciple’, and P116, 117, 121, and 122 concern maidens (see Sarvastivada rules and Parallel rules).

Again, an analysis of the rule summaries suggests a progressive formation of the rules. Beginning with maidens, P116 sets the age requirement for full ordination at fully 20 years. P117 encompasses the age requirement and adds the requirement of formally requesting a preceptor. P121 also encompasses the age requirement (though not the formal request of preceptor) and adds the requirement of training for two years in the six precepts. P122 includes these two requirements, plus the requirement of formally requesting a preceptor.

For married women, P108 sets the age requirement for full ordination at 12 years for married women; P109 encompasses the age requirement and adds the requirement of consent of the Sangha. These two rules parallel P116 and 117 for maidens, but no parallels are found for the subsequent rules for maidens, P121 and 122.

Instead, we find that P111 and 112 do parallel P121 and 122, but instead of pertaining to married women, they refer to ‘a disciple’; no appropriate age is incorporated into these rules.

The background stories to these rules do not offer much help for analyzing rule formation. With one exception, the stories do not cite any problems arising which led to the formation of the rule, as in the other Vibhangas. Instead, they are simply circular self-references. For example, P108 requiring that a married woman be fully 12 years old before full ordination reportedly occurred because a married woman was ordained who was not fully 12 years old.

The exception to this pattern is the background story for P111 , regarding ‘a disciple.’ Here we find the colorful story of a pregnant woman householder who became a bhikkhuni. When her condition later became apparent, she was accused of breaking her precepts. Although the rule summary makes no mention of pregnancy, the story quotes the Buddha as saying, ‘From now on, I allow a samaneri to train for two years in the six precepts, so that it is clear whether or not she is pregnant’ (Santipada). The Vibhanga then relates in great and unusual detail the procedure for a samaneri to request training in ‘the six sikkhamana precepts’.



The Dharmaguptaka Vinaya text gives six Patimokkha rules regarding the two-year training, P121 through P126 (see Dharmaguptaka rules). Rules P121, 122, 123, and 124 all refer to maidens and suggest a clear historical development, each referring to the previous rule in the Vibhanga. P125 and 126 refer to young married women (see Parallel rules).

Presuming that initially full ordination was available to any woman, the first problem to arise was that young maidens who ‘did not know whether or not they had lustful thoughts’ were ordained. ‘Later, they stood together, talked together and enjoyed themselves together with men with defiled thoughts’ (Heirmann 2002, p. 767). Subsequently, the rule was laid down requiring that full ordination be given only to someone fully twenty years old.

An anomaly here is that the language of the rule itself does not specify a maiden, while the background story clearly refers to young girls. Also, P121 lays out the procedure for sikkhasammuti in detail, even though the rule requiring the two-year training in the precept is P122. These anomalies raise questions about the formation and possible revision of these rules. For this preliminary analysis, we set aside these questions and provisionally take P122 to be subsequent to P121.

In the next stage of rule development, the problem arose that full ordination was conferred on ‘someone who was fully twenty years old, but had not studied the precepts for two years [from] the age of eighteen. After they conferred on her the ordination without the two years of study in the precepts, she did not know which precepts she had to study’ (Heirmann 2002, p. 773). P122 requires two years of training in the precepts. It does not detail the procedure for sikkhasammuti, which is already laid out in P121.

From P123 we infer that the next problem to arise was that a maiden was given full ordination who fulfilled the requirements of the previous two rules, but who had not been given the six dhamma. Thenceforth, P123 required that full ordination not be conferred if the six dhamma have not been given.

P124 incorporates all the requirements of the previous three rules, suggesting the next stage of rule development. According to the Vibhanga, the next problem to arise was the admission of ‘blind, weak, deaf and dumb persons and persons with all kinds of other diseases’ (Heirmann 2002, p. 778). The rule thenceforth requires the consent of the Sangha before conferring full ordination.

P125 concerns young married women and is parallel to P121 and 122, which concern maidens. The background story is parallel to that for P121, with the problem of a very young married woman not understanding a lustful mind. The rule then specifies not only the proper age for full ordination for a young married woman (fully twelve years old), but also requires the two years of training in the precepts.

P126 incorporates the requirements of P125 for married women and is parallel to P124 for maidens, adding the requirement of consent of the Sangha before conferring full ordination. Curiously, for young married women, there is no parallel to P123, the rule requiring that the six dhamma be given to maidens. The Dharmaguptaka text does not specifically include this requirement for young married women.


Mulasarvastivada (Chinese)

In the Chinese recension of the Mulasarvastivada text, there are six rules pertaining to the two-year training (see Mulasarvastivada: Chinese). P108 and 109 refer to married women, P115 and 116 to maidens, and P119 and 120 to ‘a female’ (see Parallel rules).

Drawing inferences about rule formation is a challenge in this text, due to several inconsistencies in the rule language as well as in the Vibhanga stories. At first glance, P108 and 109 for married women appear to parallel P115 and 116 for maidens. The first set of rules, P108 and 115, set the respective age requirements and the second set, P109 and 116 encompass the age requirement and add the requirement for ‘the correct training’ and ‘the two-year training in the 6 dhammas and 6 anudhammas’, respectively. In the detailed description of the two-year training, it is sometimes referred to as ‘the correct training’; therefore, we can assume these two phrases refer to the same training.

However, many anomalies appear in P108. First, the rule summary sets the age requirement at fully twelve years for the ‘going forth’ (出家) for married women. For the definition of ‘the going forth’, we are referred to P106, which defines it as samaneri ordination, not full ordination. However, in Chinese this term ‘going forth’ (出家)is usually used quite generally for someone who has shaved their head and left home, which means to enter the renunciant life—it is not a specific Vinaya term for samaneri ordination. Furthermore, the two characters for ‘going forth’ (出家)can also appear in the first part of the technical term for ‘full ordination’ (近圓) . For example, in the second part of the origin story to P108 we find that Bhikkhuni Thullananda ‘gave the going forth and full ordination’ (與出家并授近圓), which simply means full ordination. However, in the rule itself, only ‘going forth’ (出家) remains. Perhaps the second part of the term— ’full ordination’ (近圓) —was dropped, and subsequently the term for ‘going forth’ was interpreted to mean samaneri ordination. This point is supported by cross reference with the Tibetan recension of the Mulasarvastivada text, P73, which is suggested as the parallel with P108 in the Chinese recension, and which reads: ‘...to enter the renunciant life and fully ordains her....’

To further complicate matters, there are actually two background stories with two separate problems cited for the arising of P108. The second, simpler story relates that a female (not married woman) who was not fully 12 years old was given ‘the going forth and full ordination’. As explained above, this full phrase may be the technical term simply describing full ordination. However, in this story the rule laid down matches the rule summary, changing ‘female’ to ‘married woman’ and ‘the going forth and full ordination’ to simply ‘the going forth.’ The more elaborate first Vibhanga story relates a problem that arose when many previously married Sakyan women requested full ordination and were told to wait until they reached age 20. They complained that this was too long to wait and essentially that they were mature enough to attend to the duties of a bhikkhuni. The Buddha then declared: ‘A married woman who is 12 years old or one who is 18 years old, should be given two years correct training before full ordination.’ Here again, 12 years is interpreted in this Vibhanga to be the minimum age for married women to begin the two-year training, not the minimum age for full ordination.

This probable mistaken interpretation of the minimum age can be found again in the chapter on Sanghakamma under full ordination procedures, where candidates are asked, ‘Are you fully 14?’ (as one of the questions in the beginning of bhikkhuni ordination procedure)

This Vibhanga interpretation conflicts not only with the other Vinaya texts, which set 10 years as the age for married women to begin the two-year training, but also with P109 which implies that 12 years is the minimum age requirement for full ordination. For P108, the first Vibhanga story also appears to prematurely incorporate the requirement for the two-year training, laying out the procedure and the six dhammas and anudhammas in detail. Yet in the rule summaries, this requirement for the training does not appear until P109.

An anomaly also appears in the progression from P115 to 116, regarding maidens. Although the rule summary for P115 only cites the age requirement of 20 years for full ordination, the background story mentions that the candidate in question was given the training, suggesting that the training was already in place. In the story for P116, the age of the candidate is correct, but she did not receive the two-year training. Thus there is no clear pattern of rule formation here.

Similarly, for P119 referring to ‘a female,’ the background story indicates that the two-year training was already in place, but that the candidate did not complete it before full ordination. In P120 the reverse problem occurs: a candidate fulfills the two-year training but is told to continue perfecting the training before full ordination. The rule requires bhikkhunis to confer full ordination on females who have completed the two-year training. Neither of these rules incorporate any age requirement for the candidates. In both cases, the candidates were already undergoing the two-year sikkhamana training, suggesting that ‘female’ here refers to sikkhamanas.


Mulasarvastivada (Tibetan)

In the Tibetan recension of the Mulasarvastivada we find seven relevant rules (see Mulasarvastivada: Tibetan). P73 refers to ‘a girl’; P76, 80, and 81 refer to ‘a woman’; P78 concerns a married woman; and P77 and 79 refer to ‘unmarried woman’ (see Parallel rules). However, even by solely based on the Patimokkha rules, many obvious anomalies are found by cross reference with the Chinese version.

P73 appeared as parallel with the Chinese P108. In P73 ‘a girl’ is used instead of ‘a married woman’ in P108. In the second narrative of the Vibhanga P108, the unique keyword: ‘與出家并授近圓’ has exactly the same meaning as the phase in the P73 ‘to enter the renunciate life and fully ordains her’. [Note: In construction, no background stories available to us yet]