The Interpretation of the Original Text of the Eight Deferential Rules (P. aṭṭhagarudhammā)


  • Shih Chao-Hwei 釋昭慧 Hsuan-Chuang University Author



Dependent origination (Skt. pratītyasamutpāda; P. paṭiccasamuppāda, Ch. 緣起), All sentient beings are equal (Ch. 眾生平等), bhikkhunī (Ch. 比丘尼), saṅgha (Ch. 僧伽), male chauvinism (Ch. 男性沙文主義), “the Eight Deferential Rules” (P. aṭṭhagarudhammā, Ch. 八敬法)


In ancient India, women traditionally faced extreme discrimination. However, the Buddha emphasised that men and women are both suitable Dharma vessels and equally equipped with the capacity for liberation. In addition, he carefully and skilfully negotiated the opposition from the monks and society at large towards women and helped them establish a spiritual community (saṅgha) of their own. Nevertheless, according to the accounts of the Vinaya, the Buddha required the bhikkhunīs to abide by what known as the Eight Deferential Rules, whose core is to pay respect to bhikkhus and to submit to the control of bhikkhu saṅghas.

Master argued that the inequality reflected in the making of the Eight Deferential Rules originated from the social context of that era. As bhikkhus, they were obligated to oversee and educate bhikkhunīs because of their seniority in the saṅgha. As a result, bhikkhunīs were obligated to respect bhikkhus even if some were of lower social status than themselves. Therefore, Yinshun argued, the intention of setting the Deferential Rules was actually for bhikkhus to inspire and guide rather than to discriminate and suppress bhikkhunīs.

This essay analyses and interprets the Eight Deferential Rules from the perspectives of scriptural context and historical background. It infers that the right to compile and interpret scripture has always been dominated by bhikkhus. Therefore, it is likely that some bhikkhus with chauvinistic minds turned the original ethical structure of seniority in the Buddhist community into a bias of gender inequality. Consequently, bhikkhus took pride in their gender, and bhikkhunīs were overshadowed by a perception of inferiority which caused difficulties in their lives. This even led to the interruption of bhikkhunī lineages in the and Tibetan Buddhist systems. Furthermore, the essay argues that the Eight Deferential Rules should be regarded as a product of history and be fully deconstructed. According to the author, this would liberate female practitioners’ spirits, as well as hold the key to freeing the conditioned minds of male practitioners.

Author Biography

  • Shih Chao-Hwei 釋昭慧, Hsuan-Chuang University

    Venerable Shih Chao-Hwei is Professor and Chair of the Religion and Culture Department of Hsuan-Chuang University, where she also served as dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences from 2010 to 2020. She has led a number of nation-wide social movements, including founding the Life Conservationist Association in Taiwan—where she served as President from 1993 to 1999—and facilitating the legislation of the “Wildlife Conservation Act” and “Animal Protection Act.” In 2001, she championed the “Abolishment of the Eight Precepts for Nuns (attha garu-dhamma),” which opposes Buddhist precepts that discriminate against women. She has spoken in support of LGBT rights and Taiwan’s same-sex marriage equality bill, and in 2012 performed a Buddhist wedding ceremony for a lesbian couple, the first in world Buddhist history. She has written and published thirty-four books and eighty-one journal papers, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 48th Chinese Literature and Arts Medal, the International Outstanding Women in Buddhism Medal, and the 38th Niwano Peace Prize.