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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
The Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa stunned an inter- national audience in Bodhgaya last winter by making an unprecedented declaration of commitment to ordaining women as bhikshunis in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Asked when there would be bhikshuni ordination in the Tibetan tra- dition, he leaned forward and said, in English, “I will do it.” As applause broke out, he cautioned against expecting quick results. “Be patient,” he said. “Be patient.” This proclamation by Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the Seventeenth Karmapa, was groundbreaking, for it was the first time that a Tibetan Buddhist leader of this stature had publicly com- mitted to personally making bhikshuni ordination available. His declaration came after intensive research into the feasi- bility of establishing full ordination for women according to the monastic code that regulates Tibetan Buddhism. More broadly, it reflected the Karmapa’s dedication to addressing women’s issues, especially regarding nuns. At present, women in Tibetan Buddhism may take ordination as novice nuns (Tibetan: getsulmas), but they do not have the opportunity to take the highest level of ordination that the Buddha created for women: bhikshuni, or gelongma, ordination. While full ordination for women is available in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese traditions, and has recently been reestablished for nuns in the Sri Lanka Theravada tradi- tion, Tibetan Buddhism lags behind in the movement toward providing equal spiritual opportunities to women. For several decades, the Dalai Lama has consistently spoken out in favor of bhikshuni ordination, but progress toward that goal has been incremental, consisting mainly of conferences and discussions. The Karmapa’s acceptance of a personal role in extending the opportunity of full ordination to women is a decisive step forward on a path that the Dalai Lama first asked Tibetan Buddhists to traverse. The Karmapa traces his involvement with the bhikshuni issue to the time when he instituted new discipline rules for monastics attending the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo. “We were “i Will do it” llundup damcho reports on the seventeenth Karmapa’s vow to reinstate full ordination for women in the tibetan Buddhist tradition. 49 summer 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly TashiPalJor The Karmapa at his residence in northern India with members of the Dharmadatta Nuns’ Community. The author is second from the right.