Monks outside the temple at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, Rato Dratsang

The forms of organized Buddhist monasticism

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is one of the earliest surviving forms of organized monasticism and one of the fundamental institutions of Buddhism.

and nuns, called and bhikkhuni, are responsible for the preservation and dissemination of the Buddha’s teaching and the guidance of Buddhist lay people.

Three surviving traditions of monastic discipline (), govern modern monastic life in different regional traditions:

  • the Theravada in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka
  • the Dharmaguptaka in East Asia
  • the Mulasarvastivada in Tibet and the Himalayan region

Monks and nuns are expected to fulfill a variety of roles in the Buddhist community.

First and foremost, they are expected to preserve the doctrine and discipline now known as Buddhism.

They are also expected to provide a living example for the laity, and to serve as a “field of merit” for lay followers, providing laymen and women with the opportunity to earn merit by giving gifts and support to the monks.

In return for the support of the laity, monks and nuns are expected to live an austere life focused on the study of Buddhist doctrine, the practice of meditation, and the observance of good moral character.

The relative degree of emphasis on meditation or study has often been debated in the Buddhist community.

Many continued to keep a relationship with their original families.


is a Sanskrit word used in many Indian languages, including Pali (saṅgha) meaning “association”, “assembly”, “company” or “community”. It was historically used in a political context to denote a governing assembly in a republic or a kingdom, and has long been used by religious associations including the Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. Sangha, is often used as a surname across these religions.

Buddhist monk

A bhikkhu is an ordained male in Buddhist monasticism. Male and female monastics are members of the Sangha.


is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart and elevated from the laity class to the clergy, who are thus then authorized to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination vary by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is undergoing the process of ordination is sometimes called an ordinand. The liturgy used at an ordination is sometimes referred to as an ordination.


A bhikkhu is an ordained male in Buddhist monasticism. Male and female monastics are members of the Sangha.


The Vinaya is the division of the Buddhist canon (Tripitaka) containing the rules and procedures that govern the Buddhist monastic community, or Sangha. Three parallel Vinaya traditions remain in use by modern monastic communities: the Theravada, Mulasarvastivada and Dharmaguptaka. In addition to these Vinaya traditions, Vinaya texts of several extinct schools of Indian Buddhism are preserved in the Tibetan and East Asian canons, including those of the Kāśyapīya, the Mahāsāṃghika, the Mahīśāsaka, and the Sarvāstivāda

Vihara generally refers to a monastery for Buddhist renunciates. The concept is ancient and in early Sanskrit and Pali texts, it meant any arrangement of space or facilities for pleasure and entertainment. The term evolved into an architectural concept wherein it refers to living quarters for monks with an open shared space or courtyard, particularly in Buddhism. The term is also found in Ajivika, Hindu and Jain monastic literature, usually referring to temporary refuge for wandering monks or nuns during the annual Indian monsoons. In modern Jainism, the monks continue to wander from town to town except during the rainy season (Chaturmas), the term “vihara” refers their wanderings.


is the Sanskrit and Pali term for a great vihara and is used to describe a monastic complex of viharas.

Mahapajapati Gotami

Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī was the foster-mother, step-mother and maternal aunt of the Buddha. In Buddhist tradition, she was the first woman to seek ordination for women, which she did from Gautama Buddha directly, and she became the first bhikkhuni.

Monastic education

The Buddhist system facilitates basic educational needs of the Asian Buddhist countries before the contemporary era. Learning traditions can be traced back to ancient India where learning began with educated monastics, teaching younger monks and the lay people. The monastic instruction was based on Buddhist value system and emphasized that learning was an end in itself, one that is “worth a strenuous pursuit to possess for its own sake” and that “teaching was for ends that were above mere gain”.


A bajracharya or is a Vajrayana Buddhist priest among the Newar communities of Nepal and a Revered Teacher who is highly attained in Vajrayana practices and rituals. Vajracharya means “vajra carrier”. They are also commonly called guru-ju or gu-bhaju which are Nepali terms related to the Sanskrit term guru, and translate as “teacher” or “priest”. The bajracharya is the highest ranking of the Newar castes that are born Buddhist.


A sāmaṇera (Pali); Sanskrit: श्रामणेर, is a novice male monastic in a Buddhist context. A female novice is a śrāmaṇerī or śrāmaṇerikā.

Ordination hall

The is a Buddhist building specifically consecrated and designated for the performance of the Buddhist ordination ritual (upasampada) and other ritual ceremonies, such as the recitation of the Patimokkha. The ordination hall is located within a boundary that defines “the space within which all members of a single local community have to assemble as a complete Sangha at a place appointed for ecclesiastical acts .” The constitution of the sīmā is regulated and defined by the Vinaya and its commentaries and sub-commentaries.


is an honorific term in Pali for senior bhikkhus and bhikkhunis in the Buddhist monastic order. The word literally means “elder”. These terms, appearing at the end of a monastic’s given name, are used to distinguish those who have at least 10 years since their upasampada. The name of an important collection of very early Buddhist poetry is called the Therigatha, “verses of the therīs”.


In Buddhism, a śikṣamāṇā is a female novice trainee. This training period is to be two years long, supervised by both a monk and a nun. After this period, the trainee may attempt full ordination as a bhikṣuṇī.

Dharma name

A or Dhamma name is a new name acquired during both lay and monastic Buddhist initiation rituals in Mahayana Buddhism and monastic ordination in Theravada Buddhism. The name is traditionally given by a Buddhist monastic, and is given to newly ordained monks, nuns and laity. Dharma names are considered aspirational, not descriptive.

Dhammadharini Vihara

is a Buddhist women’s monastic residence (vihara) in the Sonoma Hills of Santa Rosa, California. The name “Dhammadharini” is interpreted as a “holder” or “upholder” of the Buddhadhamma as a “flowing” or “streaming” reality, teaching and practice. A “vihara” is a monastic residence, and place of Dhamma and meditation teaching and practice.


A bhikkhunī (Pali) or bhikṣuṇī (Sanskrit) is a fully ordained female monastic in Buddhism. Male monastics are called bhikkhus. Both bhikkhunis and bhikkhus live by the Vinaya, a set of rules. Until recently, the lineages of female monastics only remained in Mahayana Buddhism and thus are prevalent in countries such as China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam but a few women have taken the full monastic vows in the Theravada and Vajrayana schools over the last decade. From conservative perspectives, none of the contemporary bhikkuni ordinations are valid.


or Mae chee are Buddhist laywomen in Thailand who have dedicated their life to religion, vowing celibacy, living an ascetic life and taking the Eight or Ten Precepts. They occupy a position somewhere between that of an ordinary lay follower and an ordained monastic and similar to that of the sāmaṇerī.

Samu (Zen)

Samu (作務) is participation in the physical work needed to maintain the Zen monastery. According to tradition, it was emphasized by Baizhang Huaihai, who is credited with establishing an early set of rules for Chan monastic discipline, the Pure Rules of Baizhang. As the Zen monks farmed, it helped them to survive the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution more than other sects which relied more on donations. These rules are still used today in many Zen . From this text comes the well-known saying “A day without work is a day without food”.

Upāsaka (masculine) or Upāsikā (feminine) are from the Sanskrit and Pāli words for “attendant”. This is the title of followers of Buddhism who are not monks, nuns, or novice monastics in a Buddhist order, and who undertake certain vows. In modern times they have a connotation of dedicated piety that is best suggested by terms such as “lay devotee” or “devout lay follower”.

Achar (Buddhism)

An achar or achar wat is a lay Buddhist upāsaka who becomes a ritual specialist and takes on the role of master of ceremonies in various religious rites in Cambodia.

In Buddhism, an anagārika is a person who has given up most or all of their worldly possessions and responsibilities to commit full-time to Buddhist practice. It is a midway status between a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni and laypersons. An anagārika takes the Eight Precepts, and might remain in this state for life.

International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha

The International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha: Bhikshuni Vinaya and Ordination Lineages was an historic event that took place July 18–20, 2007. It was a meeting of internationally recognized Buddhist scholars specializing in monastic discipline and history, as well as practitioners. It was expected to be the final discussion of a decades-long dialogue about re-establishing full bhikshuni ordination in Buddhist traditions. Papers and research based on Buddhist texts and contemporary practice traditions in China, Korea, Taiwan, Tibet, and South Asia were presented, between them the Abstract: The . The fourteenth Dalai Lama attended the final day of the conference and conclusions. His letter of support is available to the public.

Dasa sil mata

A is an Eight- or Ten Precepts-holding anagārikā in Buddhism in Sri Lanka, where the newly reestablished bhikkhuni (nun’s) lineage is not officially recognized yet.


Dhammacari is a term used in some Theravada Buddhist communities to refer to lay devotees (upāsakas) who have seriously committed themselves to Buddhist practice for several years. Dhammacaris follow four training vows in addition to the traditional Five Precepts that all lay devotees follow.


A is a member of a type of Tibetan fraternity that existed in Gelug monasteries in Tibet such as Sera Monastery and are reported to still exist in Gelug monasteries today, although possibly in a somewhat altered form. The status of dob-dobs tended to be somewhat ambiguous and they were generally the less academic monks who had an interest in sports, fighting and other ‘worldly’ matters.

Eight Garudhammas

The Eight Garudhammas are additional precepts required of bhikkhunis above and beyond the monastic rule (vinaya) that applied to monks. Garu, literally means “heavy” and when applied to vinaya, it means “heavy offense that entails penance (mānatta) consisting of 2 weeks” as described in garudhamma rule No. 5. The authenticity of these rules is contested; they were supposedly added to the (bhikkhunis) Vinaya “to allow more acceptance” of a monastic Order for women, during the Buddha’s time. They are controversial because they attempt to push women into an inferior role and because many Buddhists, especially Bhikkhunis, have found evidence that the eight Garudhammas are not really the teachings of Gautama Buddha.


A is a pious Eight- or Ten Precepts-holding anagārikā laywoman residing in a pagoda in Buddhism in Cambodia, where bhikkhuni (nun’s) lineage is not officially recognized.


is a Buddhist lay manciple who resides in a monastery (vihāra) and assists Buddhist monks.


Pabbajjā literally means “to go forth” and refers to when a layperson leaves home to live the life of a Buddhist renunciate among a community of bhikkhus. This generally involves preliminary ordination as a novice. It is sometimes referred to as “lower ordination”. After a period or when the novice reaches 20 years of age, the novice can be considered for the upasampadā ordination whereby the novice becomes a monk (bhikkhu) or nun (bhikkhuni).

Five Mountain System

The Five Mountains and Ten Monasteries System system, more commonly called simply , was a network of state-sponsored Chan (Zen) Buddhist temples created in China during the Southern Song (1127–1279). The term “mountain” in this context means “temple” or “monastery”, and was adopted because many monasteries were built on isolated mountains. The system originated in India and was later adopted also in Japan during the late Kamakura period (1185–1333).

Kadawedduwe Jinavamsa Mahathera

Most Ven. Kadawedduwe Sri Jinavamsa Maha Thera was a Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) Bhikkhu. He was the founder of Sri Kalyani Yogasrama Samstha, a reform movement within the Sri Lankan Rāmañña Nikāya.

Matara Sri Nanarama Mahathera

Most Ven. Matara Sri Nanarama Maha Thera was an influential Sri Lankan meditation master, scholar and forest monk of the 20th century.


Śramaṇa means “one who labours, toils, or exerts themselves ” or “seeker, one who performs acts of austerity, ascetic”. The term in early Vedic literature is predominantly used as an epithet for the Rishis with reference to śrama associated with the ritualistic exertion. The term in these texts doesn’t express non-Vedic connotations as it does in post-Vedic Buddhist and Jain canonical texts. During its later semantic development, the term came to refer to several non-Brahmanical ascetic movements parallel to but separate from the Vedic religion. The Śramaṇa tradition includes Jainism, Buddhism, and others such as the Ājīvika, Ajñanas and Cārvākas.


A is a female renunciant in Burmese Buddhism; a Burmese Theravada Buddhist nun. They are not fully ordained nuns, as the full ordination is not legal for women in Burma (bhikkhuni), but are closer to sāmaṇerīs, ‘novice nuns’. According to 2016 statistics published by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, there were 60,390 thilashin in Myanmar (Burma).

Tipitakadhara Tipitakakovida Selection Examinations

The Tipiṭakadhara Tipiṭakakovida Selection Examinations are the highest-level held annually in Burma since 1948, organized by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. It tests the candidates’ memory of Tripiṭaka both in oral and in written components. The examinations require candidates to display their mastery of “doctrinal understanding, textual discrimination, taxonomic grouping and comparative philosophy of Buddhist doctrine.” A Sayadaw who has passed all levels of the examinations is often referred as the Sutabuddha.

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

, was born Chatsumarn Kabilsingh or Chatsumarn Kabilsingh Shatsena is a Thai bhikkhuni. On 28 February 2003, Kabilsingh received full monastic ordination as a bhikkhuni of the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka. She is Abbess of Songdhammakalyani Monastery, the only temple in Thailand where there are bhikkhunis.


Upasampadā (Pali) literally denotes “approaching or nearing the ascetic tradition.” In more common parlance it specifically refers to the rite and ritual of ascetic vetting (ordination) by which a candidate, if deemed acceptable, enters the community as n (ordained) and authorised to undertake ascetic life.

Monastic examinations

Monastic examinations comprise the annual examination system used in Myanmar (Burma) to rank and qualify members of the Buddhist sangha, or community of Buddhist monks. The institution of monastic examinations first began in 1648 during pre-colonial era, and the legacy continues today, with modern-day examinations largely conducted by the Ministry of Religious Affairs’s Department of Religious Affairs.

Katukurunde Nyanananda Thera

Most Ven. Kaṭukurunde Ñāṇananda Maha Thera was a Sri Lankan [Sinhala] Bhikkhu and Buddhist scholar. He is best known for the research monograph Concept and Reality in Early Buddhist Thought and the exploratory study The Magic of the Mind. Ven. Ñāṇananda was the abbot of Pothgulgala Aranya, a small forest monastery in Devalegama, Sri Lanka.

Buddhist councils

Since the death of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, Buddhist monastic communities (“sangha”) have periodically convened to settle doctrinal and disciplinary disputes and to revise and correct the contents of the sutras. These gatherings are often termed “”. Accounts of these councils are recorded in Buddhist texts as having begun immediately following the death of the Buddha and have continued into the modern era.

World Buddhist Sangha Council

The (WBSC) is an international non-government organisation (NGO) whose objectives are to develop the exchanges of the Buddhist religious and monastic communities of the different traditions worldwide, and help to carry out activities for the transmission of Buddhism. It was founded in Colombo, Sri Lanka in May 1966.

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