A Summary Report of the 2007 International Congress on the Women's Role in the Sangha: Bhikshuni Vinaya and Ordination Lineages
18-20 July 2007
Alexander Berzin, August 2007
Part Three: Day Two
“The Origin of the Three Existing Vinaya Lineages: Theravada, Dharmaguptaka, and Mulasarvastivada”
Indian ordination lineages did not develop because of formal schisms in the sangha, despite assertions to the contrary found in the earliest Sri Lankan chronicle, The Great Chronicle (Pali: Dipavamsa), as espoused by conservative Theravadins. Moreover, there were never any Mahayana Vinaya or ordination lineages. The ordination lineages either descend from or were closely associated with Theravada and they developed because of geographic dispersion. Theravada derived from the missions of Mahinda and Sanghamitta, Emperor Ashoka’s son and daughter, to Sri Lanka. Dharmagupta, according to the Austrian scholar Erich Frauwallner, descended from the Greek monk Yonaka Dhammarakkhita’s mission to Bactria, northwest of India, with Ashoka’s brother Tissa serving as interpreter. The Dharmagupta teachings are very similar to those of Theravada and may be regarded as the northwest branch of Theravada. Although Mulasarvastivada emerged only at the beginning of the eighth century CE; nevertheless, according to Frauwallner, its seat was Mathura. Passages linking this school with Kashmir were later interpolations. Mathura was also the meditation retreat area for the Theravadins and Dharmaguptas. Although the Mulasarvastivada doctrines are quite distinct, the three Vinaya communities lived harmoniously in Mathura. Thus, because of this closeness of the three Vinaya lineages, that harmony needs to be continued today and ordination procedural differences among them should be considered not so important.
Dr. Hema Goonatilake, President of the Buddhist Resource Centre, Sri Lanka; formerly University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka
“The Unbroken Lineage of the Sinhalese Bhikkhuni Sangha from the 3 rd to the 11 th Century”
The bhikkhuni ordination in Sri Lanka, introduced by Emperor Ashoka’s daughter, Sanghamitta, continued unbrokenly until 1017 CE. Thus, the Sri Lankan bhikkhunis who participated in dual sangha ordination of bhikkhunis for the Chinese nuns in Nanjing in 433 CE had an unbroken lineage. Before then, Chinese bhikkhunis were ordained by a single sangha comprising only Dharmagupta bhikkhus.
Just as there were four Theravada Vinaya lineages at the four main monasteries in Sri Lanka, each with a slightly different interpretation of the bhikkhu vows, there were probably also slightly different bhikkhuni lineages as well. Although the revival of the Theravada bhikkhuni ordination lineage in Sri Lanka entailed re-ordination of the bhikkhunis from Dharmagupta to Theravada, in accordance with the dalhikamma strengthening procedure followed among the four Sri Lanka Theravada bhikkhu sanghas, it would be preferable to reinstate the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination through the single sangha procedure.
“On the History of the Buddhist Nun Order in Vietnam”
The historical accounts of the Vietnamese bhikshunis are only partial; in many periods of history, little is known. The earliest reference is in the second century CE. Throughout history, however, the women who ordained in Vietnam were mostly from the upper class and already had led a family life before becoming nuns.
“The First Bhikshuni Ordination in East Asia: Giving Birth to a New Way of Life”
The Vinaya texts for both monks and nuns were brought to China at the same time. But, bhikshu and bhikshuni ordination began even before that, based on manuals of guidelines composed in China. In 357 CE, the first Chinese bhikshunis were ordained by the single sangha method according to the newly translated Mahasanghika bhikshuni Vinaya. The validity of this ordination, however, was challenged at that time by Dao Chang.
The complete translation of the Tripitaka into Chinese was completed in 382 CE, almost 300 years after Buddhism arrived in China. After this, the complete Dharmagupta Vinaya texts were available in Chinese. With the arrival of Sri Lankan bhikshunis and with the dual sangha Dharmagupta bhikshuni ordination of 300 Chinese women in 434 CE that they and Chinese Dharmagupta bhikshus held, there were no longer any challenges to the validity of the ordination.
“The Ordination System of Late Imperial China”
During the Six Dynasties Period (317-589 CE), the Buddhist sangha in China received imperial patronage. During the Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-907 CE), the central government developed a bureaucratic structure to register the monks and nuns and to supervise monastic affairs. Thus, the government issued ordination certificates (Chin. dudie) to monks and nuns upon passing a national sutra examination and then receiving full ordination. These certificates entitled the holders to cropland and soon these ordination certificates became an alternative form of money.
During the Five Dynasties and Song Period (907-1206 CE), the government built national ordination platforms and required the costly purchase of three ordination certificates for monks and nuns. The government also instituted three separate ordination platforms for the granting of novice, full ordination, and bodhisattva vows, and required payment for each ordination. During the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368 CE), the Mongol rulers instituted the burning of three to twelve joss sticks on the heads of Han Chinese bhikshus and bhikshunis to distinguish them from non-Han monastics.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), all bhikshu and bhikshuni candidates were required to buy expensive ordination certificates. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), however, the state abolished the sale of ordination certificates and decentralized the system of ordination. Nevertheless, the state maintained a certain level of control through an official ordination ritual. Local monasteries established ordination platforms and increased the price of ordination that they themselves conferred. Women under the age of forty were prohibited from receiving ordination. The nuns had to be officially registered and that helped to protect them and their rights.
From among all these Chinese customs, it might be helpful if there were official ordination records kept by the Tibetans in the future.
“Vicissitudes in the Order of Buddhist Nuns during Choson Korea”
Dual Dharmagupta bhikshuni ordination was institutionalized in the Paekche (Baekje) kingdom of Korea (18 BCE – 660 CE) at least in 588 CE, when the first Japanese bhikshunis were ordained there with this procedure. No historical material is available for the Silla (57 BCE – 935 CE) and Koguyo (Goguryeo) Kingdoms (37 BCE – 668 CE). During the Koryo (Goryeo) Dynasty (918-1392 CE), Buddhism was the state religion and it is inferred that the dual sangha ordination procedure for bhikshunis was maintained during that time. During the Choson (Joseon) Dynasty (1392-1910 CE), Buddhism was severely restricted due to strong Confucian influence. Bhikshus were prohibited from entering the capital and had to pay for ordination. Only widows with no unmarried children and who had finished the three-year mourning period were allowed to become nuns. Unmarried women were not permitted to ordain and women in general were prohibited from visiting temples. Bhikshuni ordination continued, but was most likely given by the single sangha method, without the preliminary shikshamana period. The relation between the nun teachers and disciples was modeled after Confucian filial piety.
Prof. Dr. David Jackson, Curator of the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, New York, USA; formally Hamburg University, Germany
“Strategies for the Preservation of Endangered Ordination Traditions in the Sakya School”
The Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism preserves two distinct Mulasarvastivada ordination lineages through the Kashmiri Abbot Shakyashribhadra (1140s-1225 CE). One lineage eventually spread to the four Sakya monastic communities and the other was passed on by Sakya Pandita. Sometimes one or another sub-lineage became rare. To preserve it, bhikshus would give up their old ordination and take a new ordination in the rare lineage, as in the case of the late sixteenth-century Sakya master Mangto Ludrub-gyatso (Mang-thos Klu-sgrub rgya-mtsho). [This was in contradistinction to the Theravada dalhidhamma strengthening procedure which allows receiving a second bhikshu ordination without relinquishing the prior ordination.] In some cases, Sakya masters bent the rules in order to preserve a lineage under dire circumstances, such as using four bhikshus instead of five for the ordination procedure. As this ordination was generally accepted, flexibility is also needed regarding reinstating the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination.
“Bhikshuni Ordination: Lineages and Procedures as Instruments of Power”
Since the Buddha himself altered the ordination procedure several times without causing previous ordinations to be invalid, the mere fact of carrying out ordination in accordance with what has been established as the law renders it correct. In other words: If the law is changed authoritatively, the new procedure is as correct as the previous one.
Since the lineages of the full monk vows cannot be traced without gap in their Indian parts – too few lineages holders appear in the lineages to convincingly bridge over a full millennium – the fact that some monks demand such a tracing from the nuns is either based on a lack of knowledge of the state of their own lineage beginnings or it is an unfair demand from a position of power alone. It would be more honest to base the validity of ordination on a procedure that is established autonomously and authoritatively by any one of the established sanghas, since that is what appears to have happened in the male sanghas many times
“The Vinaya between History and Modernity: Some General Reflection”
We should not become tangled in legal arguments about reinstating the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination, since that simply delays taking a decision. Over history, the Vinaya has been changed many times and enlarged. Complete texts of seven different Vinayas are still extant. It is hard to say that all were taught by Buddha, so it makes more sense that they evolved to suit different situations. One cannot say that one lineage is more valid than another, and one cannot use rationality to doubt other lineages and belief to legitimize one’s own lineage. Buddha was pragmatic and so now we must also be pragmatic and not worry about the validity of having dual sangha ordination from two different lineages.
Bhikkhu Dr. Bodhi, Chuang Yen Monastery, Carmel, New York, USA; formerly editor for the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka
“The Revival of the Bhikkhuni Ordination in the Theravada Tradition”
The Theravada Vinaya can be read as permitting or forbidding revival of bhikkhuni ordination depending on how one interprets it. The issue cannot be definitively settled from a legalistic point of view. For many conservative bhikkhus who are against the revival, their opposition seems to be arising more from emotional and political grounds. If Buddha were present, however, it is clear that out of compassion and skillful means, he would choose to allow the revival.
“Dual Ordination in the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and the Dharmagupta Vinaya”
Although the dual sangha Dharmagupta bhikshuni ordination was restored in Korea in 1982 CE in the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, there are still problems. On a popular level, some people would like ordination to be conferred only by bhikshunis with no bhikshus. Some protest at the eight gurudharmas. Some question the giving of bhikshuni ordination and bodhisattva vows from The Net of Brahma Sutra (Skt. Brahmajvala Sutra) simultaneously.
Historically, the situation of Tibetan novice nuns has been very difficult, with few opportunities to study. In Tibet, they often returned to their families to care for their elderly parents. In exile in India, most of the few nunneries that have been established are completely full. The Tibetan Nuns’ Association is helping to support them, but most nunneries still struggle to support their members and cannot afford to pay well-qualified teachers. Even in those nunneries where the nuns are able to prepare for the Geshema and Khenma degrees, the rule that they cannot study Vinaya without already being bhikshunis restricts their ability to earn these degrees. To raise the status of Tibetan nuns, it is important not only to re-establish the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination, but also for the new bhikshunis to ignore the eight gurudharmas that have regulated their lower status. These eight, after all, were formulated for the sole purpose of avoiding censure by the lay society. In the modern world, disallowing the re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination and honoring these eight risk that very censure.
The decline of the status of bhikshunis in the Buddhist world has been primarily due to cultural and social forces. Therefore, social consensus and acceptance of bhikshunis by the Buddhist lay community at large will be responsible for the re-establishment of the bhikshuni ordination. This is already visible in Sri Lanka, where doubts about the moral ethics of many of the bhikkhus is leading to laypeople increasingly inviting bhikkhunis to their homes to perform such religious functions as conducting the rites for the dead.
Some Vinaya rules may need to be bent in order to re-establish the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination, and certain discriminatory customs that are not part of the ordination ritual, such as agreement to the eight gurudharmas, need to be discontinued. It is vitally important that Buddhism in the modern world be based on total gender equality. After all, Buddha himself showed great flexibility in adjusting Vinaya rules to accord with public sentiment. Settlement of these ordination issues and the future flourishing of a strong female Buddhist monastic order may help to present a more dignified image of women to the world and thus enable Buddhism to contribute even more significantly to world peace and environmental harmony based on emotional equilibrium and self-discipline.
Bhikkhuni Wu Yin, Abbess of the Luminary Buddhist International Society, Taiwan; President of the Buddhist Institute of the Hsiang Kuang Temple, Taiwan
The restoration of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination is essential for the thriving of Buddhism with a complete sangha. This is not a matter of establishing something new. Of the various manners of re-establishing the ordination, the single sangha method, although not perfect, seems to be the best choice. The time to act is now; it only depends on the willingness of the Tibetan bhikshu Vinaya masters.
Bhikkhuni Dr. Dhammananda (aka Prof. Dr Chatsumarn Kabilsingh), Abbess of the Song-dhamma-kalyani Nunnery, Thailand
Bhikkhuni ordination never arrived in Thailand. The tradition of maeji (maechi), eight- precept practitioners, who shave their heads, wear white robes, and lead a somewhat religious lifestyle, has been in existence for at least four centuries. The maeji receive neither government recognition nor support. In 1782 CE, King Rama I of Thailand promulgated the Sangha Act of the Thai Government, which defined the sangha as a male sangha. Further, in 1928 CE, the Sangharaja Jinavornsiriratna issued an order forbidding all Thai bhikkhus from giving ordination to women, despite this prohibition contradicting the Vinaya. This law still stands. The first Thai bhikkhunis, however, were ordained in the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka in 2003 CE. Currently, in 2007 CE, there are eight Thai and two Indonesian Theravada bhikkhunis. Public and government recognition is slow in coming and, in Indonesia, the Theravada bhikkhunis are forbidden to teach in Buddhist temples.
A closer reading of the scriptural basis often cited as supporting the Theravada prejudice against women reveals that there has been much misinterpretation. Buddha’s hesitation to ordain Mahapajapati was not a refusal, but rather Buddha merely advised her not to take delight in the ordained life. Buddha conferred ordination upon her after Ananda enquired whether Buddha’s hesitation was based on the fact that women are unable to attain nirvana. Buddha answered that women are capable of attaining nirvana, passing through the four stages of stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner, and arhat.
In the sentence immediately following Buddha’s statement that ordaining women would weaken the sangha and shorten the life of the Dhamma from 1000 to 500 years, Buddha added that by laying down the eight garudhammas, however, he was preventing such a decline. Further, although Buddha stated before his passing away that if the sangha found some minor Vinaya rules troublesome, they can change or revoke them, the First Council was unable to decide which rules were minor. Therefore, Mahakassapa proposed that they keep them all, with no additions or eliminations. This conservative approach has been followed ever since.
In recent years, more than 2000 temples have closed in Sri Lanka due to an insufficient number of bhikkhus in them. Thus, the establishment of Theravada bhikkhunis is helping to revitalize Buddhism in Sri Lanka. There has been no negative response from the Sri Lankan Buddhist patriarchs regarding the newly ordained bhikkhunis and no objections to their ordination procedures. The public has accepted bhikkhunis, as demonstrated by their frequent invitation of bhikkhunis to their homes to perform funerary rites. The relations between the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis have been cordial and bhikkhus have been inviting bhikkhunis to their temples to preach to the public. More institutions for the bhikkhunis, however, are needed to train them not only in the Dhamma, but also in counseling methods for helping the lay community.
“Some Problems in Establishing the Bhikkhuni-sangha in Theravadin Thailand”
One of the main problems regarding the establishment of Theravada bhikkhunis in Thailand is the prominent role that magic plays in the practice of Thai Buddhists. Monks and their yellow robes are viewed by most Thais as bringers of good fortune. Consequently, hundreds of millions of amulets are blessed and distributed by monks and worn by the general public. Thai society considers monks, however, to be defiled by any contact with females, even with female animals. Such contact supposedly robs them of the spiritual power they have gained through meditation and sexual abstinence. Even palaces traditionally had only one storey, so as to avoid men being defiled by women walking over them on a higher floor. Burmese and Sri Lankan Buddhists do not share these superstitions. With the advent of multi-story apartment buildings in modern Thailand, certain aspects of this prejudice against women are beginning to fade. But still its presence is causing much opposition to gender equality in the Thai sangha.
Although there is still great resistance to the establishment of Theravada bhikkhunis in Thailand, eight-precept maechis are slowly receiving broader public recognition than they have in the past. Only a few maechis, however, have become charismatic teachers, and maechis as a whole still lack institutional charisma. Despite their commonly low status, however, an apparently growing number of maechis have achieved a rather high standing and in some cases gained a huge number of very influential devotees and disciples. Many of these maechis, but by no means all, are former members of the Thai middle-class, while their followers and supporters are in many cases middle-class, too. Almost 7000 Thai temples have been abandoned in recent times, while interest among women in receiving ordination has been growing. With little opportunity available within the institutions of Thai Theravada Buddhism, Thai women are turning to other schools for ordination, such as Thich Nhat Hahn’s Vietnamese tradition or the Taiwanese Fo Guang Shan Order, which has a branch temple in Bangkok. If the Supreme Buddhist Council of Thailand and the two main Thai Buddhist universities continue to avoid finding an acceptable solution to the bhikkhuni ordination question, a further decline in traditional Thai Buddhism may be unavoidable. However, the demarginalization of Thai Buddhist women may help to revitalize Buddhism as a whole in Thailand.
Bhikshu Thich Quang Ba, Abbot of Van Hanh Monastery, Canberra, Australia, and of Nguyen Thieu Monastery, Sydney, Australia
Vietnamese refugees have been working steadily to establish temples and ordain bhikshus and bhikshunis in many countries around the world. At present, the proportion of bhikshus to bhikshunis in the Vietnamese community is three to two. It is important for the Tibetans, as well as for the Thais and Burmese, to reinstate the bhikshuni ordination in their lineages, especially in the face of the precarious position of Buddhism in many parts of the world today. A bhikshuni world conference may help to further this process.
“The Flawless Ordination of Bhikshunis by a Bhikshu Only Sangha”
Buddha stated in The Minor Vinaya Precepts (‘ Dul-ba lung phran-tshegs, Skt. Vinayagamakshudraka) that upasika, shramanerika, shikshamana, and brahmacharya ordinations are to be given in sequence by bhikshunis. However, according to The Summer Retreat Instructions, Buddha said that if a shramanerika or shikshamana requests the bhikshus to give her full ordination, then the bhikshus should take proper leave of their summer retreat for seven days and confer the ordination. This second passage can be understood to imply that, in such a situation, the bhikshus may confer the bhikshuni ordination even as a single sangha ceremony if no bhikshunis exist to complete a dual sangha. This is supported by Gunaprabha’s statement in The Vinaya Root Sutra that bhikshus may confer the brahmacharya ordination. Since brahmacharya ordination must be followed on the same day by bhikshuni ordination, it follows that the bhikshus may also give bhikshuni ordination by the single sangha method. Further, Differentiations within the Bhikshuni Vinaya (dGe-slong-ma’i ‘dul-ba rnam-par ‘byed-pa, Skt. Bhiksunivinayavibhanga) states that if a qualified woman wishes to become a bhikshuni and the sangha does not ordain her, the bhikshus incur a fault. Thus, single sangha ordination is permitted by scripture for re-establishing the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination and, in following this method, the ordaining bhikshus do not incur even a minor infraction.
Parallel Session Six, Day Two: Polarity between Tradition and Requirements of Modern Times, Part III: Theravada: Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Bangladesh
"Gender Not a Major Issue in the Self-operative Liberation Process of Buddhism as a Religion"
As both men and women are equally qualified for spiritual attainment, all levels of ordination need to be made available for all women seeking renunciation of household life and aiming for nirvana. A central education institute needs to be established to educate bhikkhunis in the Dhamma after ordination, and meditation facilities with full instruction need to be provided.
“Building Bridges for Theravadin Bhikkhuni Sangha in Diverse Worlds”
At present, women in Burma may only become silashin, eight-precept practitioners. The silashin, as well as female Dhamma workers, and future ordained female sangha need to receive better education and training in order to help disseminate the Dhamma properly in Burma. For this purpose, the ten perfections (Pali: parami) can form the basis for cooperation between the male and female sanghas and Dhamma workers.
“Bhikkhuni Restoration in Theravada Buddhism: Grounds for Authenticity for Newly Ordained Bhikkhunis”
The only option for bhikkhuni ordination by Thai women to be considered “ right” by Thai society is for them to receive such ordination in Sri Lanka from a dual sangha comprising Theravada bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. Financial difficulties, as well as language and cultural differences and age factors, however, have been presenting obstacles to such course of action. Several Thai samaneri have received bhikkhuni ordination from a single Theravada sangha in Thailand, starting in 2005 CE, and again from an international dual sangha in 2006 CE. However, Thai abbots have declined their request for admission to their temples, citing as a reason that they were not properly ordained in Sri Lanka. Such reason, however, may hide deeper cultural factors that are involved. Newly ordained Thai bhikkhunis will need to live as a community and develop a consolidated order in order to gain that social trust that would grant legitimacy to their ordination.
“Rurality, Ordination Debates and Thai Mae Chi”
In general, Thai lay society and the bhikkhu sangha lack respect for maechi. It is important that Western scholars not continue to contribute to this derogatory opinion that becoming a maechi is an inferior spiritual path. Many women in Thailand go to wats in order to recuperate from stressful situations. They need to have available not only the option to become bhikkhunis, but also to become maechis as a spiritual path worthy of respect in Thai society.
“Mining for Gold: A Bright Vision and Exploration into the Essential Nature and Purpose of the Bhikkhuni Sangha”
Buddhas of the past have had bhikkhuni sanghas and Shakyamuni Buddha himself ordained the first bhikkhuni. Buddha had many enlightened bhikkhuni disciples. Popular misconceptions about the inferior spiritual status of bhikkhunis need to be refuted with scriptural quotations. With the help of Chinese and Sri Lankan sanghas, the Korean bhikkhu and bhikkhuni sanghas that had been decimated during the Korean War have been revived so that now there are more than 10,000 bhikkhus and 10,000 bhikkhunis in South Korea. Therefore, the revival of the bhikkhuni sangha is needed in other countries in which there is interest, including Thailand.
“The Thai Bhikkhuni Movement and Women’s Empowerment”
The low status of women in Thai Buddhism and the inferior position of women in general in Thai society are related issues. If the free religious and general education that is available to young boys were also made available to young girls, this might help to lessen the likelihood of the sex trafficking of young girls. The establishment of the bhikkhuni ordination in Thailand has the potential to help balance gender inequality in Thai society. Thus, “ religious feminism” may contribute to the empowerment of women in Thailand.
"Key Issues Relating to the Establishment of Restoration of Bhikkhuni Lineage in Bangladesh Theravada Buddhist Tradition Where It Does Not Currently Exist"
A bhikkhuni sangha was present in Bengal until the twelfth century CE, however no information is available on their exact activities. After that, only a few pockets of Buddhism continued to exist in Bengal, primarily in the Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. In 1864 CE, a leading monk of the Arakan district of coastal Burma re-established Theravada Buddhism in the Vajarayana Buddhist Society of these hill tracts. The practice of Theravada Buddhism has continued there until the present.
Although there are approximately one million Buddhists in Bangladesh, about one percent of the total population, only a very few women are practicing the eight precepts in different temples. Although Bangladeshi society and many leading monks there are not in favor of the re-establishment of the Theravada bhikkhuni ordination there, the Venerable Bana Bhante Sadhananda Mahathero is willing to confer bhikkhuni ordination to Bangladeshi women once they have studied the basic Vinaya texts that have been translated by me into Bengali.
Parallel Session Six, Day Two: Polarity between Tradition and Requirements of Modern Times, Part IV: Mahayana: China, Vietnam, Korea, Tibet, Thailand
“From Anila to Gelongma – Naming, Language, and Gender Equality”
The Correct Naming Movement in Taiwan has been working to educate people to stop using derogatory manners of address for nuns, as well as for minority groups, and to use more respectful ones instead. The use of derogatory names for certain groups within a society is a form of “ symbolic violence.” Thus, among the aims of this movement, efforts have been made to educate the public and the media to replace the Chinese term nigu, meaning “auntie,” with biqiuni, the correct term for a bhikkhuni. These efforts have received support not only from the Chinese Buddhist Bhikkhuni Association, but also from various Taiwanese bhikkhu associations as well. The protests of this movement have been quite successful. It is time that a similar movement takes place within the Tibetan community to replace the derogatory term for nuns, anila, with chöla and gelongma.
Stefania Travagnin, Ph.D. Candidate, School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London, England
“Life and Mission of Elder Gongga (1903-1997): Bridging Dharma Traditions and beyond Gender Discrimination”
The spread of Tibetan Buddhism in Taiwan spans two periods. From 1950 to 1982 CE, mostly mainland Chinese lay followers of Tibetan Buddhism went to Taiwan, with only a few ordained Tibetan and Mongolian lamas. Since 1982 CE, a steadily growing number of Tibetan monastics have been going. Elder Gongga was a Chinese woman who transmitted and spread the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism first in mainland China up until 1958 CE and then after that in Taiwan. Able to fuse together both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist identities, she taught at first as a laywoman and ordained as a bhikkhuni only in 1982 CE. Her preserved body is widely venerated as having produced many relics. Another Chinese nun, Longlian (1909-2006 CE), from the Gelug school, has also contributed greatly to the spread of Tibetan Buddhism among the Chinese, primarily through her translation work.
Bhikkuni Thich Nu Hue Huong, Deputy Head of the Charity Committee of the Central Vietnamese Buddhist Association, Thong Nhat, Vietnam
“The Role of the Women in Buddhist Sangha”
The eight gurudharmas were formulated by Buddha out of kindness for women. They were necessary to help Queen Mahaprajapati Gautami and her retinue to overcome their arrogance of having been part of the royal court. They were also needed to protect the nuns from harm. Bhikkhunis have contributed greatly to Buddhism in Vietnam. In 1956 CE, Bhikkhuni Nhu Thanh founded the Vietnamese Nun Mahayana Association. With the reunification of North and South Vietnam, the Vietnamese Buddhist Association [Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha] was established in 1981 to standardize and regulate Buddhist practice throughout the country, jointly for both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. It has ensured continuing harmony and gender equality within the sangha. If the eight gurudharmas and the bhikkhuni Vinaya have not been upheld properly in other Buddhist countries so that bhikkhunis have been forced to show respect to bhikkhus with degenerated ethics, the behavior of those bhikkhus need to be corrected. With proper implementation of the eight gurudharmas, upholding them serves as a boat to bring bhikkhunis to nirvana.
Thich Nu Hahn Tri (aka Dr. Lani Hunter), Founder of the World Peace Foundation, Freemont, California, USA
“Buddhist Nun Ordination and Charity Work”
Although it is difficult for bhikkhunis to engage in charity work while keeping all the rules of conduct purely according to the Vinaya, it is nevertheless possible to do so, based on the practice of giving, the first of the six paramitas.
“Tibetan Nuns and Bhikshuni Ordination”
Although Tibet has never had a bhikshuni ordination lineage and only a tradition of novice nuns, it has had a number of famous women practitioners, starting with Machig Labdron ( Ma-chig Lab-sgron) in the eleventh century CE. An attempt was made in the thirteenth century CE to begin bhikshuni ordination by a single sangha, but that was never continued. In the fifteenth century CE, Princess Chokyi-dronme (Chos-kyi sgron-me) was recognized as the embodiment of the Buddha figure Vajra Varahi. She became known as Samding Dorje Pagmo ( bSam-lding rDo-rje phag-mo) and began a line of female tulkus, reincarnate lamas. At present, the twelfth of this line lives in Tibet. Another female tulku lineage, that of Shugseb Jetsun Rinpoche (Shug-gseb rJe-btsun Rin-po-che), began in the nineteenth century CE.
Although most Tibetan novice nuns have traditionally lacked the opportunity to study Buddhist philosophy and debate, there have been some who have done so and excelled in that area, specifically in the seventeenth century CE at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Less than twenty years ago, however, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama instituted the study of Buddhist philosophy and debate in the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in exile. Some nuns have now become teachers at the Tibetan schools and some have become Tibetan doctors. More, however, have successfully finished their training in the philosophy sections of the traditional Geshe and Khenpo degree programs, but have been unable to complete these degrees with the full study of the Vinaya. As novice nuns, they have only been permitted to study the shramanerika Vinaya, and not the bhikshuni Vinaya. This restriction, however, has helped to make them realize even more strongly the importance of re-establishing the bhikshuni ordination for the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada tradition.
Many years of research concerning this ordination, undertaken with the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and many conferences on the topic have helped to convince an increasingly larger number of bhikshu Vinaya-holders of the necessity and feasibility of restarting this tradition of bhikshuni ordination. The Tibetan novice nuns hoping to receive bhikshuni ordination are hopeful that this will be possible soon and wish for it to be conducted by an assembly comprising solely a Mulasarvastivada bhikshu sangha.
Dr. Kim Gitschow, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, and Skalzang Lhamo, President of the Zangskar Nuns Association, Karsha, Zangskar, India
“Ordination and Status in Zangskar”
Buddhist nuns were present in the Himalayan regions of Spiti and Guge as late as the early eleventh century CE, although it is not clear whether they were bhikshunis or sramanerikas. For example, at the end of the tenth-century CE, King Yeshey-wo invited the East Indian master Dharmapala and several of his followers to Guge, Western Tibet, to confer Mulasarvastivada bhikshu ordination. The King’s daughter took ordination at that time, although it is unclear whether this was as a novice or a full nun.
The oldest nunnery in Zangskar dates from the first half of the fifteenth century CE and, following the Tibetan tradition, has only novice nuns. Similar nunneries were founded in Ladakh starting in the eighteenth century CE. At present, Zangskar has ten nunneries, with roughly 120 novice nuns, and eight monasteries with roughly 300 monks. The nunneries own far less fields that the monks do and financial support for the nuns has been sparse. The educational and economic situations of the nunneries in Zangskar and Ladakh have improved with the founding of the Ladakh Nuns Association in 1996 CE and the Zangskar Nuns Association in 2006 CE.
“Implication of Mother’s Virtues towards Buddhist Society”
With the re-establishment of the bhikshuni ordination, bhikshunis will be able to take more fully the mother’s role in providing spiritual comfort to women and children, especially those who have been victims of abuse.
Bhikshuni Myoom Sunim, Rector of the Diamond Vinaya Institute, South Korea; President of the Pongnyongsa Monastic Seminary for Nuns, Suwon, South Korea
“The Structure and Curriculum of the Bhiksuni Vinaya Institute of the Pongnyongsa Nunnery in Korea”
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945 CE), the number of celibate bhikshus drastically declined due to the influence of the Japanese Buddhist custom of married priests. At the end of World War II, only a few celibate Korean bhikshus were left who had studied Vinaya. The Korean War (1950-1953 CE) brought about further damage to the monastic order. Slowly, the Vinaya was revitalized and, in 1982 CE, dual sangha ordination for bhikshunis was reinstated within the Jogye Order. In 1999 CE, the Diamond Vinaya Institute was founded to educate bhikshunis according to a strict schedule and extensive curriculum. In 2007 CE, for the first time, the bhikshuni Vinaya lineage was passed from one bhikshuni to another bhikshuni.
“A Tibetan Precedent for Multi-tradition Ordination Support for Giving Bhikshuni Ordination with a Dual Sangha of Mulasarvastivada Bhikshus and Dharmaguptaka Bhikshunis”
After the persecution of Buddhism in Central Tibet by King Langdarma in the mid-ninth or early tenth century CE, three Tibetan Mulasarvastivada bhikshus, led by Tsang-rabsel ( Tsang Rab-gsal), fled to Amdo, where they gave full bhikshu ordination to Gongpa-rabsel ( dGongs-pa rab-gsal) with the help of two Chinese bhikshus. As for the question of which Vinaya lineage these Chinese bhikshus followed, the assertion made by many conservative Tibetan scholars that they must have been Mulasarvastivada has no historical basis.
From the mid-third until the early fifth century CE, Chinese bhikshus were ordained according to the Dharmagupta rituals, but followed the Mahasanghika version of the pratimoksha vows in daily life. Once the appropriate texts were translated into Chinese, then from the early-fifth to the mid-seventh century CE, the bhikshus were still ordained according to the Dharmagupta Vinaya, but in different parts of China the bhikshus followed the Sarvastivada, Dharmagupta, Mahasanghika, or Mahishasaka Vinayas.
In the mid-seventh century CE, Daoxuan, the first patriarch of the Vinaya School in China, decreed that the Dharmagupta Vinaya must be followed for both ordination and daily life, and in 709 CE, the Tang Emperor Zhong-zong formalized this with an imperial edict. The Mulasarvastivada Vinaya was translated into Chinese only at the beginning of the eighth century CE, but there is no evidence that it was ever followed. Thus, the two Chinese bhikshus that completed the assembly of five bhikshus required to confer bhikshu ordination in a border region were clearly Dharmagupta. Therefore, there is a precedent in Tibetan history for conferring ordination by a sangha comprising members from two Vinaya schools and, consequently, dual sangha ordination from members of two Vinaya schools may be used for reestablishing the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination. Moreover, Tsang-rabsel gave permission for Gongpa-rabsel to serve as preceptor ( mkhan-po, Skt. upadhyaya) for the ordination of Lumey ( Klu-mes Tshul-khrims shes-rab), although Gongpa-rabsel had not been a bhikshu yet for the five years required in a border region. This serves as a precedent for adjusting the ordination procedure described in the Vinaya under reasonable conditions.
“The Flourishing of the Bhikshuni Sangha in North America: Master Hsuan Hua’s Vision of Sangha Organization and Implementation”
Since the early fifth century CE, the Dharmagupta bhikshu and bhikshuni ordination rituals have included the taking of the bodhisattva vows according to their presentation in The Net of Brahma Sutra (Skt. Brahmajvala Sutra) . By the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, the ordination procedures at many monasteries had become lax. Therefore, in 1660 CE, Jian Yue revitalized the pure ordination rituals, including the taking of the bodhisattva vows as part of the ordination. His ordination manuals have been followed ever since.
In 1969 CE, Master Hua established the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association in California USA. Since 1972, this association has conducted Dharmagupta bhikshu and bhikshuni ordinations eleven times at Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talmage, California, in accord with Jian Yue’s manuals. Theravada bhikkhu elders have overseen, participated in, and certified these ordinations. Following ordination, the bhikshu and bhikshuni sanghas receive training and live in harmony within a Western context.
Bhikkhuni Dr. Karuna Dharma, Abbess of the International Buddhist Meditation Center, Los Angeles, California, USA
"Experiences with Ordaining Bhikhhunis in Los Angeles from 1994 to 2004"
Starting in 1994 CE, there has been ordination of bhikshus and bhiskhunis at the International Buddhist Meditation Center, Los Angeles, California, USA, following the Dharmagupta procedure. The bhikshus and bhikshunis have been ordained together in one ritual. Each of the three officiating positions for the ordination has been shared by one bhikshu and one bhikshuni, with the bhikshus conferring the bhikshu vows and the bhikshunis conferring the bhikshuni vows. These officiating bhikshus and bhikshunis have been from different schools and countries, all functioning together as one ordaining body – Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and American Dharmagupta and Sri Lankan Theravada. The other members of the ordaining sangha have been bhikshus and bhikshunis from all three Vinaya schools and various countries. The ordaining women have all been shramanerika novice nuns for at least three years and there has been no requirement that they have been shikshamanas. Although the ordination ritual has been solely Dharmagupta, each of the new bhikshus and bhikshunis must feel that they receive ordination in their own lineage – Theravada, Mulasarvastivada, or Dharmagupta. Twenty Western women have ordained as bhikshunis in this way in the Mulasarvastivada tradition.
Since the break in the Theravada bhikkhuni ordination lineage in 1017 CE, Sri Lankan women have only been able to ordain as ten-precept nuns. The bhikkhuni ordination was first revived for Sri Lankan women in Sarnath by the Korean Dharmagupta sangha of the Chogyo [sic, Chogye, Jogye] Order in 1996 CE. The Sri Lankan bhikkhus in attendance recognized the legitimacy of the ordination and, subsequently, these ten Sri Lankan bhikkhunis have followed the Theravada tradition of Vinaya while holding Dharmagupta ordination. In 1998 CE, twenty more ten-precept Sri Lankan nuns received single sangha Dharmagupta bhikkhuni ordination in Bodh Gaya from Taiwanese bhikshus and, subsequently, single sangha bhikkhuni re-ordination by Theravada bhikkhus in Sarnath. Now, in 2007 CE, there are over 500 bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka who have received ordination in Taiwan and now by dual sangha ordination comprising Sri Lankan bhikkhus and bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka. There is no basis for the objection by some conservative Sri Lankan bhikkhus that the Dharmagupta ordination is a Mahayana ordination. The President of Sri Lanka, His Excellency Mahindra Rajapaksa, has recognized this ordination and now there is official government support.
Bhikshuni Chuehmen, South Asia and Theravada Buddhism Coordinator for Fo Guang Shan Monastery, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
“The Right to Be Ordained as Bhikshunis: Sharing Our Experiences”
The Fo Guang Shan Order was established in Taiwan in 1967 CE. Bhikshus and bhikshunis from this order have conferred dual sangha Dharmagupta bhikshuni ordination for nuns following Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism at the Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles in 1988, Bodh Gaya in 1998, and Taiwan in 2000 CE. It is best to think in terms of Buddhism and the Vinaya, rather than in terms of specific lineages of either. At the time of the Buddha, there were no divisions into lineages and schools, such as Theravada, Dharmagupta, and Mulasarvastivada. Although the disciplinary rules in each of these three lineages have slight differences, all are valid; none are wrong. Therefore, these differences should not be the basis for preventing bhikshuni ordination.
“Experience of Being the Tibetan Buddhist Teacher to Convene and Sponsor the First Tibetan Initiated Bhikshuni Ordination Ceremony held in Canberra, Australia in October 2003”
In 2003 CE, nine women were given Dharmagupta dual sangha ordination as bhikshunis by a Council of Preceptors in Canberra, Australia, comprising Vietnamese bhikshus and bhikshunis. It would be good to create a similar Council of Preceptors of Bhikshuni Ordination and, with the assistance of the Department of Religion and Culture, Tibetan Government in Exile, Dharamsala, India, to hold a Dharmagupta dual sangha bhikshuni ordination for Tibetan nuns in India and Nepal. It would be good for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to give permission for this to happen.
The Tibetan nuns attending from the nunneries in India are unanimous in favoring single sangha Mulasarvastivada ordination, given in whatever manner is found to be correct according to the Vinaya. They explained that, although there is no fault in other Vinaya traditions, receiving such a Mulasarvastivada ordination will enable them to be accepted and integrated into Tibetan society with the least objections from conservative factions. The nuns wish to be able to practice the Dharma as fully as possible and especially to be able to receive the full Geshema education and degree. For this, Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination is necessary, since it will enable them to study the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. Although the human rights and gender issues may be important in general, they felt that they are irrelevant here. The issue is not one of how to gain status as a bhikshuni or Geshema, but how best to tame the mind. Although the Department of Religion and Culture has approved and prepared their study of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni Vinaya, the bhikshu elder instructors have insisted on strictly following the textual tradition of not allowed this study without prior bhikshuni ordination.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that it is important for the bhikshuni ordination question to be settled during his lifetime. Tibetan Buddhist monastic training emphasizes reliance on textual tradition and the resolution of seemingly conflicting textual statements in them through the use of debate and logic. Therefore, the only way to settle the question is through authoritative sources within the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya texts themselves and their correct interpretation through debate. This is an internal discussion that must be decided solely within the context of the Tibetan monastic tradition and mentality. Although the re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination and the method used to re-establish it do not require the approval of the monastic elders of the other Asian Buddhist traditions, His Holiness feels it is important that the final decision taken be respected by these traditions. The Vietnamese bhikshu Thich Quang Ba added that if the Tibetans re-establish their bhikshuni ordination, the Theravadin countries that have not yet re-established their bhikshuni ordination traditions may more easily follow suit.
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