The Bhikkhunī Revival Debate and Identity Problems: An Ethnographic Inquiry

Gihani de Silva


The bhikkhunī revival movement is a transnational or a global project that has affected alternative forms of female renunciation where bhikkhunī-hood had disappeared or was never established. The main objective of this study is to review the identity problems that have emerged due to this new monastic status of bhikkhunī-hood. This ethnographic study was conducted in 2011-2012 by interviewing dasasilmātās, including executive committee members of the Silmātā Jāthika Maṇḍalaya (SMJM), bhikkhunīs, and a government officer. Identity problems emerge in relation to the monastic robe, as it is a visible symbol indicating the transformation from one monastic identity to another. The next arena is the seniority or social hierarchy of monasticism. Dasasilmātās are not immediately amenable to changes in the monastic hierarchy. Resistance is common, but occasionally they show flexibility in adapting to the situation. Shifting identities have arisen as a new phenomenon due to the tension created by the new circumstances. These identity problems can be considered as new developments within this recent change in female monasticism, part of the complex nature of contemporary Sri Lankan Buddhism.

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