Sisters in Solitude

Two Traditions of Buddhist Monastic Ethics for Women. A Comparative Analysis of the Chinese Dharmagupta and the Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivāda Bhikṣuṇi Prātimokṣa Sūtras

By Karma Lekshe Tsomo

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy
Series: SUNY series, Feminist Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791430903, 198 pages, November 1996
Hardcover : 9780791430897, 198 pages, November 1996

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Table of contents



I. The Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutras in Context

Vinaya: The Foundation of Buddhist Monastic Life

Buddhist Monasticism in Context

Studies on Buddhist Monasticism and Their Methodologies

The Pratimoksa

The Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutra and Its Historical Background

II. The Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutra of the Dharmagupta School

Convening the Assembly

The Eight Parajika-dharma

The Seventeen Sanghavasesa-dharma

The Thirty Nihsargika-payantika-dharma

The 178 Payantika-dharma

The Eight Pratidesaniya-dharma

The 100 Saiksa-dharma

The Seven Adhikarana-samatha-dharma

III. The Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutra of the Mulasarvastivadin School

Section One

The Eight Parajika-dharma

The Twenty Sanghavasesa-dharma

The Thirty-three Nihsargika-payantika-dharma

Section Two

The 180 Payantika-dharma

The Eleven Pratidesaniya-dharma

The 113 Saiksa-dharma

The Seven Adhikarana-samatha-dharma

IV. A Comparison of the Chinese Dharmagupta and the Tibetan Mulasarvastivadin Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutras

The Structure of the Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutra

The Content of the Sutras in Comparative Perspective

The Parajika-dharma

The Sanghavasesa-dharma

The Adhikarana-samatha-dharma and Pratidesaniya-dharma

Specific Textual Points of Comparison

V. Linking Past and Future





Provides the first English translation of the Tibetan and Chinese texts on monastic discipline for Buddhist nuns and presents a comparative study of the two texts. An important contribution for studies of women’s history, feminist philosophy, women’s studies, women in religion, and feminist ethics.


This study is an investigation of the moral precepts and codes of everyday conduct by which ordained women regulated their lives. It takes as its basis the Bhikṣuṇī Prātimokṣa Sūtras of the Dharmagupta school, preserved in Chinese translation, and the Mūlasarvāstivāda school, preserved in Tibetan translation.

For over two thousand years, Buddhist nuns have quietly embodied specific moral and spiritual values on their path to enlightenment. Contemplative communities offered women both an alternative lifestyle and an avenue for education. Numbering as many as one million at certain periods of history, they have exerted powerful, if often unacknowledged, influence on Asian societies.

Sisters in Solitude documents the earliest recorded system of ethics formulated especially for women and presents the first English translations of the original texts. An essential sourcebook for studies on women's religious history and feminist ethics, it details the monastic guidelines that link Buddhist nuns of the different traditions. The texts it contains unite women of many cultures.

Karma Lekshe Tsomo is Instructor of Buddhist Studies at Antioch University and a Degree Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu. Her previous publications include Buddhism Through American Women's Eyes; Sakyadhita: Daughters of the Buddha; and Jorcho: Preparatory Practices.


"A study of nuns' ethics is important in itself and is important to Buddhist studies, Asian religions, and Humanities. " — Jeffrey Hopkins, University of Virginia

"The topic is very significant to those seriously interested in issues of women and Buddhism and to scholars of Buddhist studies in general. " — Rita Gross, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire