Theravāda Buddhism was brought to the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal in the 1920s and 1930s by a few young Newar reformers who, viewing their indigenous laicised form of Vajrayāna Buddhism as overly ritualistic and elitist, aimed to “cleanse” it of Hindu features including caste and blood sacrifice, to re-introduce monasticism and to teach buddhadharma to people of all ages. Since the Theravāda nuns' (bhikkhunī) ordination lineage had died out in the eleventh century, Nepalese nuns took the ten precepts of the “ordained lay woman” (anāgārikā) and for the first few decades were subordinated to the monks (bhikkhus). Under new leadership in the 1960s however, they began to assert their independence and to develop a community of donor-devotees whose resources supported their expanding program of teaching, textual translation, publication and social service. Today the nuns, many of whom, ignoring their bhikkhu preceptors' disapproval, have traveled abroad to take full ordination according to Chinese rites, are widely respected by the laity who generally regard them as more effective than even the most senior monks.
The thesis shows that the nuns' success relates to the relative ease with which they adapt to the celibate life. Whereas the monks' behavior frequently arouses scandal and a large proportion of novices disrobe and marry after just a few years, the nuns, for whom “renunciation” equals liberation from householder life, rarely provoke gossip and few give up their vows. Second, although in the early years of the Theravāda mission both male and female recruits were drawn from Buddhist upper castes, with the spread of western education and economic development, opportunities in business and the professions opened up to the point that young upper-caste men no longer saw ordination as a path to advancement. Third, by contrast with the monks' order whose recruits today are all from impoverished farming and occupational castes, the nuns' order has continued to attract young women from well-to-do upper-caste families for whom ordination remains a prestigious alternative to marriage. Lastly, these wealthy families give more generously to their own female kin than to monks from rural or tribal backgrounds.