Academic journal article Journal of Buddhist Ethics

The Mulasarvastivada Bhiksuni Has the Horns of a Rabbit: Why the Master's Tools Will Never Reconstruct the Master's House

Academic journal article Journal of Buddhist Ethics

The Mulasarvastivada Bhiksuni Has the Horns of a Rabbit: Why the Master's Tools Will Never Reconstruct the Master's House

Article excerpt


No compelling evidence has been produced to indicate that Tibetan Buddhism has ever maintained a complete monastic community that included fully ordained women. Over the past several decades, however, a number of women practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, ordained as Mula novice nuns, have sought and obtained full-ordination following Dharmaguptaka Vinaya procedures preserved in Chinese Mahayana Buddhist societies. Demand for bhiksun ordination has led to the administration of several bhiksun ordination ceremonies in various countries designed to accommodate the needs of international candidates, and to on-going questions among Tibetan Buddhists about whether it is possible and suitable for Tibetan Buddhist monastic groups following Mula Vinaya to directly offer full-ordination to women.

Despite regular opportunities to discuss the prospect of offering full-ordination to Tibetan Buddhist women, there is little evidence of widespread support for it among Mula clergy. Contemporary moral theory can help us to identify possible reasons for this apparent lack of support, and can help indicate specific obstacles that will have to be overcome before Tibetan Buddhist groups are likely to invite women to join its communities as fully ordained members.

Contemporary social cognitivist Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard's Center for Moral Education, in his stage theory of moral development, plotted a six-stage evolutionary trajectory of moral development spanning pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional levels. It has been referenced in the constructive-developmentalism object-relations psychological development model of research-theorist Robert Kegan (52-53). It can be further summarized as shown in figure 1:

Fig. 1. Kohlberg's stages of Moral Development

Developmental     Over-Riding Moral
Level             Principle          Rationale        Perspective


1: External Law   Obey rules and     Carrot and       Egocentric
Morality          avoid harm         stick

2: Individual     Meet immediate     Enlightened      Individualistic
and Instrumental  interests of       self-interest    and relative
                  self and           (you scratch my
                  agreement          back, I'll
                  obligations        scratch yours)


3: Interpersonal  Meet social        Reputation;      Individual with
Conformity        expectations       maintenance of   respect to
                                     authority and    others without a
                                     prevailing       generalized
                                     stereotypes      perspective of

4: Social         Obey and uphold    Institutional    Systemic with
System            laws;              integrity;       respect to rules
                  contribution to    avoiding         and regulations;
                  the group          schisms          individual
                                                      insofar as
                                                      relevant to the


5: Social         Uphold a           Social           Integration of
Contract          pluralist system   obligation to    pluralism via
                  of values within   voluntarily      formal
                  which certain      engage in a      mechanisms of
                  absolutes          contract to      laws and
                  nevertheless       provide for      contracts
                  persist, such as   rights and
                  right to life      welfare of all

6: Universal      Universal          Conviction in    Moral
Ethics            principles of      the validity of  perspective of
                  human dignity,     universal        human integrity
                  and respect and    ethical          and dignity
                  human rights of    principles;
                  individuals; the   personal
                  validity of        dedication
                  social contracts   upholds them
                  and laws derive
                  from their
                  coherence with
                  the universal

Kohlberg's research was conducted in Mexico, the Bahamas, Taiwan, Indonesia, Turkey, Honduras, India, Nigeria, and Kenya (Schaffer 353) and thus suggests universal ethnic applications of moral stages. …

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