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A bhikkhuni (nun) is a woman who has renounced ordinary society to live a celibate monastic life. The contemporary terms ‘female monk’ or ‘female priest’ are misnomers.
Nuns are the second of the four members of the Buddhist Sangha, the others being monks, lay men and lay women. To be properly ordained, a nun must be ordained first by a quorum of monks and then a second time by a quorum of nuns. In Theravada lands the nun’s lineage died out around the turn of the first millennium and traditionalists do not believe that it can or should be revived because there are no nuns to ordain new nuns. However, the nuns’ lineage continues in most Mahayana countries, and, in places like Taiwan, nuns are a dynamic and respected presence within the Buddhist community.
In 1996 through the efforts of Sakyadhita, an International Buddhist Women Association, the bhikkhuni line was revived. The revival is done with some resistance from some of the more literal interpreters of the Buddhist Vinaya (monastic code) and lauded by others in the community.