Nuns' dwellings in Buddhist India

Forbidden dwellings

Nuns were forbidden to stay in wilderness (arañña) because of the danger of being violated (Vin.2.278) - wilderness, in the context of danger, is any rural area further than five hundred bow-lengths (a kilometre) from a village (Vin.3.263; Vin.4.183) - it is a dukkata offence to do so. Nor could nuns live at the root of a tree, because at their ordination this resource is not given to them (Vin.2.274), unlike the monks - who were supposed to "make an effort for the rest of your life" to live like this (Vin.1.58).

Three buildings are forbidded to nuns:

  • a screened toilet (vaccakuṭi)
  • a sauna (jantāgharaṃ)
  • a sauna hall (jantāgharasālā)

A sauna and sauna hall were forbidden to nuns because they created an uproar when using it (kolāhalaṃ akaṃsu) (Vin.2.280). A screened toilet with walls was forbidden to them because the group of six nuns performed abortions there (gabbhaṃ pātenti) (Vin.2.280). Nuns therefore would use chamber pots, which created further problems, for instance if they carelessly emptied it over a wall onto someone's head (Vin.4.265) or onto neighbouring fields, to the distress of the farmer (Vin.4.266).

Allowed dwellings

Nuns could live in various buildings including caves. However, they usually lived in nuns' dwellings (bhikkhunūpassayo) (Vin.4.54; S.2.215) or village dwellings (gāmakāvāse) (Vin.4.245; 306; 313) or monastic compounds (pariveṇa) (Vin.4.252). These living quarters were offered to them by individual supporters, like Salha, Visakha's grandson (Vin.4.211) or by guilds (aññatarassa pūgassa pariveṇavāsikā: Vin.4.252) and were sometimes called monasteries (ārāmo) (Vin.4.212). Sometimes their residences were outside of villages, adjacent to fields, for instance (Vin.4.266), and the nuns would enter the villages for almsfood (Vin.4.345). Buildings which may be given to a Sangha of nuns, or to individual nuns, or even to female novices or trainees, are described in Appendix 15.

Accommodation shortage

However, the nuns were commonly short of accommodation. When a lay supporter offered a shed ( uddosito) to the nuns (Vin.2.278) it was 'insufficient' (na sammati), so the Buddha allowed them to undertake building work (navakammaṃ). For building, nuns would elect a bhikkhuni overseer of new construction work (navakammikaṃ bhikkhuni) (Vin.4.211). But even the well-known nuns would then complain of having no supporters or workers ("natthāvuso dāyakā natthi kārakāti") and their dwellings would be in poor repair (Vin.4.254). Therefore groups of laypeople would make collections to help with this (Vin.4.254). As none of these solutions were sufficient, the Buddha finally allowed nuns to make use of property belonging to private individuals (puggalikampi kātunti) (Vin.2.278).     |     © 2008, Bhante Varado     |     Install the Gentium font