Becoming a Bhikkhunī
We can count four main phases in the path to becoming a Bhikkhunī.
Phase 1: The lay woman (upāsikā) takes five precepts (pañca sīla). She is still a householder; she decides to live her lay life in accordance to the Buddha teaching and respect the five fundamental rules of lay devotees.
Phase 2: The lay woman lives in a monastery. Wears white clothes and follows 8 or 10 precepts.
Phase 3: This is the first formal step. She goes forth, and she abandons her home (pabbajjā). She takes ordination as a novice (sāmaṅerī). In this phase she is fully admitted into the full fellowship of the monastic order. She is now part of the monastic community (bhikkhunī saṅgha), on her way to becoming a Bhikkhunī, and she wears the monastic robes. As a sāmaṅerī, she will spend at least one year of intensive training where she conducts her Buddhist studies and strictly adheres to the set of monastic rules.
Phase 4: After the year of intensive training, she will ask to be trained to become a Bhikkhunī. She is a sikkhamānā.
Phase 5: After a minimum of 2-year training, she can take full ordination as a Bhikkhunī. She will then take the vows to follow the 311 precepts set in the Theravāda Vinaya.
The monastic community, in pāli language Saṅgha, is so called the live carrier and continuator of the tradition. Monastics live in monasteries that provide a suitable setting for seclusion and practice. They live modestly and simply in a firmly set daily routine. Their practice is often particularly effective if developed in a silent environment. They also dedicate part of their time to teach the Dhamma, share their wisdom, and help lay practitioners in their spiritual path.
Both Bhikkhunīs and Bhikkhus, Buddhist nuns and monks, live by a set of rules called Vinaya. To join the Vinaya, Bhikkhunī must vow to follow 311 monastic set of rules. These rules were passed by Buddha to earlier disciples who collected and preserved them. The Vinaya provides for the equal treatment of male and female monastics. If we consider the cultural context in which the Buddha lived, we can tell that women were in a lower social position than men, and they were usually considered as impure. For this reason, the rules set by the Buddha in the Vinaya were initially hardly accepted by society. For example women monks cannot be relegated to just traditional women’s roles (as cooking and cleaning). The Vinaya makes it possible for Bhikkhunīs to practice the very same way of the spiritual life of male monks.
Bhikkhunīs and Bhikkhus embraced the path of renunciation, for which they are binded to a strict set of rules set by the Buddha in order to reach the ultimate understanding and final liberation. Because they are renunciants, they do not have any property and they are not allowed to eat or acquire what is not given to them. Since giving is one of the highest sources of merit in Buddhism, monks and nuns humbly, patiently and silently walk in the streets every day with their empty bowl in order to allow lay people to donate food and so make merit. Both monastics and lay practitioners benefit from this practice. Monks and nuns receive food for their daily living, and lay people collect merit from their act of kindness. In some countries the monastics instead of walking, stand at the doors of the lay community patiently waiting for any offering.