Via the Kagyu Office comes the news that the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa has “made the historical announcement that, beginning next year, [His Holiness] would take concrete steps towards restoring nuns’ vows in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.”
From the Kagyu Office news release:
“Beginning with the restoration of the novice ‘getsulma’ and training ‘shikshamana’ nun’s vows next year, which will be conferred with the assistance of a special contingent of nuns from the Dharmagupta tradition, this will then lay the necessary framework leading to ‘gelongma’ or ‘bhikshuni’ full nun’s vows in the future.”
[… Said the Karmapa:]
“No matter how others see it, I feel this is something necessary. In order to uphold the Buddhist teachings it is necessary to have the fourfold community (fully ordained monks (gelongs), fully ordained nuns (gelongmas), and both male and female lay precept holders). As the Buddha said, the fourfold community are the four pillars of the Buddhist teachings. This is the reason why I’m taking interest in this.”
During the daily teachings of the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering, the Gyalwang Karmapa had earlier discussed the issue of nuns’ ordination in some detail. The full comments of his talk follow:
“When the Buddha gave women the opportunity to ordain, he gave them everything they needed in order to practice all the paths and levels in their entirety. There are many people these days who are afraid that it would harm the teachings if women were ordained and in particular if they are given the bhikshuni ordination. But I think there is absolutely no need to have such suspicions, because the Buddha has already allowed it.
“In order to have the complete practice of the three trainings, you first have to have the superior training in discipline. Then, on that basis comes the superior training in samadhi, and then the superior training in prajna. Within Tibetan Buddhism we might say that for women it’s not possible to have the complete training in the superior practice of discipline, and the reason is because there are no bhikshuni vows.
“Moreover, because there are no bhikshuni vows we can’t say there are really any proper novice nun vows either. So without any proper novice vows it is difficult to say that there is a true ordained sangha of women who have gone forth. That’s the situation we’re in, and it’s an unfortunate situation for Buddhism in general.
“Over the last ten or twenty years, led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, many of the masters of Tibetan Buddhism, including many high lamas, geshes, and khenpos, have engaged in discussions with good intentions. There have been many discussions, and people have put great effort into this—I have seen and experienced this for myself.
“We’ve had a lot of talk and research into the words of the Buddha, the treatises by Indian masters, as well as the Tibetan scriptures. It sometimes seems that over the past twenty years we’ve only had talk and research, but we haven’t actually put anything into practice. It’s been like this for a long time.
“It seems to me that you can give the bhikshuni vows either through the single sangha or through the dual sangha. But the proper way—to have a well-recognised, legal bhikshuni ordination—is best to have the dual sangha. If you have no other choice then it can be done by the single sangha. Yet in order to have the dual ordination you then have to have the transmission of the lineage of the bhikshuni vows, and now that’s only remaining within the Chinese tradition.
“However, before you can have such a dual ordination you must first have the proper novice vows and then the nun’s ‘training’ vows, the shikshamana vows. To do this properly will take at least three or four years. Starting next year, we can begin the preparations for a limited number of nuns from each nunnery to begin the process, and provide them all they need. This will begin a process that will then take three or four years. But my hope is that we can begin it next year.”
With this statement the Gyalwang Karmapa announced his intention to ensure that the nuns first received proper novice vows and proper shikshamana ‘training’ vows—a necessary prerequisite to full ordination in the future. It is necessary for nuns to hold and keep these ‘training’ vows without any violation for a prescribed period of time prior to full ordination, usually a couple of years.
After he made this statement in Tibetan during the teachings, the room, which was filled with nuns, monks and laypeople, erupted into spontaneous applause. The Gyalwang Karmapa then paused in his talk for his English interpreter to translate it; upon hearing it for a second time, the gathering erupted into loud applause once more.
The complete Kagyu Office statement can be read here. For more on nuns’ ordination, read the following articles: