Tuesday, November 9, 1999 Published at 12:31 GMT
World: South Asia
Sri Lanka's nuns make a comeback
There are now 150 fully-ordained Buddhist nuns
By Susannah Price in Sri Lanka
Buddhist nuns in Sri Lanka are at the forefront of a quiet revolution - trying to rebuild an order that was destroyed a thousand years ago.
But last year, the first Bhikkunis or nuns were ordained in Dambulla.
Most of them study at Dambulla's education institute which is attached to the seminary.
There are now 150 fully ordained nuns on the island.
"We are seeing an increasing number of women joining the community, even married women come to us and ask to join," she said.
"We are gaining increasing acceptance, I think everyone knows we cannot be stopped now."
But the high priests and many monks, who are extremely influential on this island where the majority of the population are Buddhist, are still opposed to the women.
They accept the order of Bhikkunis existed in Sri Lanka until they were wiped out during invasions from India.
But they do not accept the Bhikkuni's assertion that the lineage continued unbroken in China and could be reintroduced.
"The Bhikkuni order cannot be re-established because it was completely eradicated from the world."
However, the monk at the main temple in Dambulla, Inamaluwe Sumangala, was instrumental in helping the nuns become ordained and he believes Buddha made no discrimination so the clergy should not either.
Once they are fully ordained, the Bhikkunis are sent to temples round the island.
They take the outreach part of their work seriously and attend residential courses in Colombo to study counselling, psychology and social work.
"After high ordination we want to give the Bhikkunis professional knowledge to do counselling and go out to the people," said Mrs De Silva who helped organise the courses.
"We have highly qualified nuns who have been bold."
The courses have proved extremely popular among the women who also have the chance to swap experiences of life in the rural areas.
Another group of Bhikkunis is due to be ordained next year - and the hope is that all 3000 women who are part of the lower order will eventually be ordained.