Discussion of Terminology

A detailed discussion of who is required to do sikkhamana training according to the Pali Vinaya can be found in chapter seven of the book Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies.

The Pali Vinaya lists 3 categories of women who should undertake the 2 years training before vutthapana [full ordination]:

  • sikkhamānā, a sikkhamana, P63
  • paripuṇṇadvādasavassā* gihigatā, a gihigata fully ten years of age, P66.
  • aṭṭhārasavassā* kumāribhūtā, an 18 year old maiden, P72.

The first table found in ‘’Gihigata & Kumaribhuta’ contains definitions of gihigata and kumaribhuta from all Vinayas. The next two tables provide comparative analysis of all terminology found in the Patimokkha rules consisting of ‘gihigata’ or ‘kumaribhuta’ with their respective ages from the following six Vinayas: Pali, Mahasanghika, Mahisasaka, Sarvastivada, Dharmaguptaka and Mulasarvastivada.

The comparative table ‘Two-Year Training’ presents the Pali pacittiyas: P63, P66, P72 in parallel with the similar rules that can be found in the other Vinayas. We can see that Pali P63 parallels with Mahisasaka P113 and Mulasarvastivada (Chinese) P119, concerning the assurance that vutthapana should not be given to a sikkhamana who has not undertaken the two-years training.

Pali P66 parallels with Lokottaravada P102, Mahasanghika P102, Sarvastivada P111, Dharmaguptaka P125 and Mulasarvastivada P109, concerning the assurance that the twelve year old gihigata has completed her two-years training before vutthapana. Pali P72 is parallels with Lokottaravada P98, Mahasanghika P98, Sarvastivada P121, Dharmaguptaka P122, 123 concerning the assurance that the twenty year old maiden has completed her two-years training before vutthapana.

In Pali P66 and P72 ‘Sikkhamana’ refers to a gihigata of ten years of age or a maiden of 18 years of age who is undertaking the two year training in the six precepts. However in Pali P63, the Vibhanga describes a sikkhamana without specification of age and as already having a bhikkhuni as her teacher when requesting the two-years training in the six precepts (see procedure).

P63 encompasses a similar meaning as in the garudhamma 6, mentioning that a ‘sikkhamana’ should complete the two-years training in the six precepts before seeking ordination. However, ‘upasampada’ and ‘dual ordination’ is used in the garudhamma instead of ‘vutthapana’, see points of controversy in the Eight Garudhamma (on dual ordination). Perhaps rule P63 was formed during the very early years when ‘sikkhamana’ was not yet a definite terminology for a woman undertaking the two-years training in the six precepts. In the Pali language the term sikkhamana merely means ‘one who is undertaking training’. Therefore the word itself does not necessarily imply a separate ordination.

Also interesting to note is that across the Vinayas, the term ‘sikkhamana’ is not always conjugated with ‘two- years training’ and ‘six precepts’, as appears in the Pali Vinaya (see further discussion on Six Precepts). As referenced with other Vinayas shown in Parallel Set of Rules, this technical term ‘sikkhamana’ (式叉摩那) is rarely used except in the Pali. In Mahisasaka, the parallel term for sikkhamana: ‘a nun who is training in the precepts’ (學戒尼) is used instead.

The Vassa Chapter suggests another possibility: that one could be a samaneri before sikkhamana ordination. We found that the Pali, Sarvastivada, Dharmaguptaka and Mulasarvastivada (Chinese) Vinayas all mention a samaneri requesting ‘the training’ or ‘the training precepts’ from the bhikkhu during the vassa and the bhikkhu being allowed to take seven days leave to fulfill the request. Only the Sarvastivada clearly mentions a samaneri who is an 18 year old maiden (十八歲童女) or a 10 year old married women (滿十歲在夫家). We note here the strange Chinese translation: 滿十歲在夫家, which literally means fully ten years in the husband’s house. However the previous passage in the table clarifies that the sikkhamana who is married and of fully twelve years of age requesting full ordination, which suggests she must have been trained for 2 years from the age of ten. In the Mulasarvastivada (Chinese) mentions the samaneri at the age of eighteen who is a maiden or at the age of twelve who is a married women (this is a point of controversy, see further discussion in the Evolution of Rules.)

By cross reference to the Vibhanga and rules formation, we see the age appear where the Buddha rebukes a bhikkhuni who ordained a maiden of 20 years old or gihigata of 12 years old without giving them the two-years training before hand (see Pali P66, 72; Maha P97, 101; Sarvas: P111, 121; Mula Chin: P109, 116). This implies that the candidate was already known to the bhikkhuni from the age of 18 (for maiden) and 10 (for gihigata). Another suggestion is that the candidate was probably a samaneri who was already living together with her teacher at an age of less than 18 for a maiden or less than 10 for a married woman.

Gihigata’ (or Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit: gṛhicarita) is a term in the Pali Vinaya understood as ‘married woman’. The exact meaning of this term is unclear though majority of the scholars believe that it means ‘married woman’. In the Pali Vinaya, ‘gihigata’ (P65, 66, 67) appears in parallel form with ‘kumaribhuta’ (P71, 72, 73), which are a pair of terms also found in other Vinayas in almost the same pattern (see Parallel Set of Rules). ‘Gihigata’ vs ‘kumaribhuta’ as a pair would have the meaning ‘married woman’ vs ‘maiden’. In Comparative Analysis of Terminology, there are three versions of translation which are clearly parallel with the word ‘married woman’:已嫁女 (Mahisasaka P104, P105 and Sarvastivada P108, P109), 曾嫁婦女 (Dharmaguptaka P125, 126), 曾嫁女人 (Mulasarvastivada Chinese P108, P109). In the Mahasanghika (P100, P101, P102, P103), a rare term 適他婦 is used which is similar to the definition of ‘married woman’ given in Mulasarvastivada Chinese P108: 曾適他氏. However, this term was clarified as ‘married woman’ referring to the respective background stories.With regard to age, it is noteworthy that only the Dharmaguptaka rule P125, 126 explicitly cites both (1) two year training at 10 years old, and (2) full ordination at 12 years old. In summary, a married woman of ten years of age is required to undertake two years training before full ordination at twelve years of age.

Also, we would like to highlight two incidents of textual corruption. Firstly, in the original Pali text, the Vibhanga P66, Paripuṇṇadvādasavassāya, twelve years, should be paripuṇṇadasavassāya, ten years. The candidate who is to undertake the two-year training should be ten years of age and then can ordain at the age of twelve, given that this rule is parallel with Pacittiya 72 and cross reference with other Vinayas. Second, the Mulasarvastivada (Chinese) mentions giving two-years training to a married women of twelve years of age instead of ten years of age which would mean full ordination at fourteen years of age. This contradiction is further discussed in Evolution of Rules.

Kumaribhuta’ is a term in the Pali Vinaya understood as ‘maiden’. In Comparative Analysis of Terminology, all the Chinese recension of Vinayas, the word ‘童女’ is used consistently which gives exactly the same meaning. In the Mahisasaka recension, in the Vibhanga P104, ‘one who is a maiden’ (童女者) is clearly defined as one who ‘has not been with a man’ (未經男子). As with regards to age, the Mahisasaka specifically mentions that one is only allowed to give two-years training to a maiden who is fully 18 years old . Also, in the Dharmaguptaka, rules P122, 123, 124 explicitly cite both (1) two year training at 18 years old, and (2) full ordination at 20 years old. In summary,a maiden of 18 years of age is required to undertake two years training before full ordination at twenty years of age.

Note: * To simplify the comparative analysis, the column with English is a general translation applied in parallel across all versions, simply considering raining season (Pali: vassa, Chinese: 雨) is equivalent to the age (Chinese: 歲, 年).