A Nun or Monk in Whose Eyes?: Redefining Buddhist Monasticism in 9th–12th cent. China


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


Religious Studies


I argue that Song Buddhists, in response to changes in the state’s laws, reinterpreted ordination and its metaphysical entailments in order to create new ways of thinking about monastic legitimacy. I demonstrate that the Song state defined the parameters of official monastic status through administrative law and, until the 1060s, used ordination certificates to mark ritually-ordained nuns and monks as legitimate on legal grounds. In 1067, however, the state began selling these certificates outright. State certification thus no longer ensured that a legal “nun” or “monk” was similarly legitimate on Buddhist grounds. Song Buddhists, I propose, subsequently developed new theories of ordination to identify “real” monastic status, focusing especially on “precept essence,” which was only attainable by undergoing ordination in accordance with the Vinaya. I further demonstrate the significant role these Buddhist polemicists played in the nascent formation of the Vinaya school.