The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

The Dalai Lama on full ordination for women

by The Dalai Lama
February 4, 2015
Wed, 02/04/2015 - 15:44 -- The Dalai Lama

From Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions by the Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron.

Over the years I have spoken many times about bhikṣuṇī ordination and expressed my wish and hope that this ordination will be given in our Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya tradition. When Śāntarakṣita brought the bhikṣu ordination lineage to Tibet in the eighth century, he unfortunately did not bring bhikṣuṇīs too, and thus the bhikṣuṇī ordination never took root in Tibet. However, our Teacher, the Buddha himself, established the bhikṣuṇī order during his lifetime, and at the same time he affirmed women’s ability to attain both liberation and full awakening. He also expressed his wish for the fourfold assembly to exist and said that these four groups harmoniously practicing the Buddhadharma will make his teachings last a long time in this world. For all these reasons, it is important that bhikṣuṇīs exist in our Tibetan community. This is especially true now, when the quality of the nuns’ education has vastly improved. We now see many nuns becoming good scholars; some nuns are now receiving their geshema degrees, signifying their mastery of Buddhist philosophy.

Wherever I go in the world, I see multitudes of women devotees; in many places they outnumber the men. Therefore it is only right that women have access to the responsibilities and privileges that full ordination brings. As one individual, I do not have the authority to institute bhikṣuṇī ordination in the Tibetan community. This is an issue that the saṅgha as a group must decide. For many years now I have suggested there be an international meeting of the saṅgha to decide this issue. In preparation for that, it would be good if Tibetan bhikṣus could agree on a way to give the Mūlasarvāstivāda bhikṣuṇī ordination. I am pleased to see the support for this from many of heads of Tibetan lineages. I have also shared some vinaya material with Laotian and Burmese Buddhist leaders. We will have a serious discussion, and I am quite sure some agreement will be achieved eventually.

We Tibetans were very fortunate that after persecution by King Langdarma in the ninth century, we were able to restore the bhikṣu lineage, which was on the verge of extinction in Tibet. As a result, so many men have been able to listen, reflect, and meditate on the Dharma as fully ordained monks, and this has benefited Tibetan society as well as the world. Therefore, let us do our best to research this issue and find a way to establish the bhikṣuṇī saṅgha as well. In countries that currently have bhikṣuṇī ordination, such as Taiwan, Korea, and Vietnam, bhikṣuṇīs benefit the Dharma and society in many ways. Recently Theravāda bhikkhunī ordination has been restored in Sri Lanka—there were about one thousand bhikkhunīs as of 2012—and there are now even some bhikkhunīs in Thailand.

Equal opportunity regarding ordination is important. Citing passages in the vinaya, some Tibetan vinaya masters suggest that under special circumstances, a bhikṣuṇī ordination performed by the bhikṣu saṅgha alone is valid. These special circumstances include a place where bhikṣuṇīs are not available to give the ordination because no bhikṣuṇīs reside in that area or because it is too dangerous for bhikṣuṇīs to travel to that place. Previous and contemporary vinaya masters in the Chinese community agree with this.

In the meantime, several women who practice Tibetan Buddhism have received bhikṣuṇī ordination in the Dharmaguptaka vinaya from Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean saṅghas. We recognize them as bhikṣuṇīs. I encourage them to do the three main saṅgha activities together.

In addition to introducing bhikṣuṇī ordination, bhikṣuṇīs must also become objects of reverence. Therefore, we must examine passages in Buddhist texts as well as attitudes and practices in our communities that are biased against women. The Buddha wanted his saṅgha to conform with many of the cultural attitudes of the time. As the saṅgha, we must do this in the twenty-first century as well. Since modern societies, as well as the United Nations, stress the importance of gender equality and respect for women, we Buddhists must do so as well.

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