Agency, Resistance, and Communal Practice Among Sri Lankan Bhikkhunis.
Timeslot:07/28 | 18:30-18:50 UTC+2/CEST
In 1998, monastics from Dambulla, Sri Lanka inaugurated higher ordinations (upasampadās) of nuns (bhikkhunῑs), aiming among other things, to contest the power and authority of conservative monastics, and state officials who maintained that a Theravāda bhikkhunῑ upasampadā was impossible. Additionally, they insisted that the Dambulla bhikkhunῑ upasampadās were, unlike others being conferred on Sri Lankan nuns, exclusively Theravāda. Their claim paved the way for the inception of distinct Sri Lankan bhikkhunῑ lineages and a long-term tension among them, centering on disputing the character of Theravāda orthodoxy. Dambulla bhikkhunῑs had been required to refrain from participating in important rituals with other Sri Lankan bhikkhunῑs ordained elsewhere, thus perpetuating a debate about how Theravāda orthodoxy was authorized and defined among bhikkhunῑs themselves. However, in recent years, this tension has dissipated as Dambulla monastics have begun to work together with bhikkhunῑs from another ordination lineage. How and why this has happened is the subject of this paper. Focusing on recent conversations with monastics, this paper discusses how senior bhikkhunῑs of different ordination lineages have both worked with and evaded male monastic authority by engaging in communal ritual practices. This paper argues that a notion of nuns’ agency needs to go beyond the trope of resistance and engage how nuns prioritize the cultivation of a communal form of life as they respond to contingencies that are intrinsic to life itself.