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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
deciding how to organize the gelongs and getsuls, and there were some gelongmas from the Chinese tradition. Then we needed to think: Where do they sit? How do we make arrange- ments for them?” Since that time, bhikshunis have been given a prominent place at the annual Kagyu Monlam events in Bodhgaya, with special invitations issued to bhikshunis. As well, the Karmapa has taken on the task of translating a volume of biographies of Chinese nuns from Chinese into Tibetan. While that project is ongoing, he also has plans to translate a collection of narratives of the lives of Buddha’s direct female disciples from the classical literary language of the Tibetan canon into colloquial Tibetan so the examples of these early nuns’ lives are more accessible to modern Tibetan readers. Not Just a Women’s Issue The Karmapa explained during an interview in Sarnath, India, that the ordination issue was not only a concern to women. “It affects the whole teachings,” he said. “There are two types of people who practice the teachings, women and men. There are two types of holders of the teachings, male and female. So what affects women automatically affects the teachings, and impacts the flourishing of the dharma.” Just before his public statement in Bodhgaya, the Karmapa presided over a five-day Vinaya conference he had convened during the Kagyu Winter Debates. He spoke at length to the gathering of Kagyu khenpos, monks, and nuns about the importance of establishing bhikshuni ordination in Tibetan Buddhism. He pointed out that the Buddha himself offered bhikshuni ordination to women as a means to bring about their liberation from samsara. The need to offer women all the conditions to achieve liberation, he said, is particularly clear from the Mahayana perspective of compassion and sense of responsibility for the well-being of others. Nowadays, he noted, the majority of those seeking teachings in dharma cen- ters outside India and Tibet are women. The Karmapa went on to explain that bhikshuni ordination was needed to enable the teachings to spread and become fully accessible to everyone. He said the four circles of disciples that the Buddha created— bhikshus, bhikshunis, female holders of lay precepts, and male holders of lay precepts—were like four pillars in a house. And since the bhikshuni order was one of those four pillars, the Tibetan house of Buddha’s teachings was missing an important condition needed to remain stable. He suggested that although there were procedural issues to be resolved, any obstacles needed to be weighed against the great need to offer bhikshuni ordination to qualified female candidates. As such, he stressed, research into the surrounding issues ought to take place with an appreciation of the need to offer women the opportunity to follow the complete path to liberation that the Buddha created for them. Grappling With Procedural Issues Earlier in 2009, the Karmapa summoned khenpos from the major Karma Kagyu monasteries for several months of study and research under Vinaya experts at his residence in Dharamsala, and was directly engaged in exploring the various options for conferring valid full ordination of women. According to the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya followed by Tibetan Buddhism, stan- dard ordination practices stipulate that a sangha of bhikshus as well as a sangha of bhikshunis be present at the ritual ceremony to fully ordain women. Yet a bhikshuni order does not appear to have been brought to Tibet from India. This absence of bhiks- hunis in Tibetan Buddhism has been a stumbling block for those seeking to establish full ordination for women. Although it did not result in the formation of a bhikshuni order in Tibet, a number of great Tibetan masters of the past did fully ordain some of their female disciples. Such masters include no less authoritative a figure than the Eighth Karmapa, Je Mikyö Dorje, one of Tibet’s greatest Vinaya scholars. “We rediscovered an old text on rituals in the collected works of Mikyö Dorje,” the Seventeenth Karmapa said. “In that text, Mikyö Dorje said that in Tibet there was no bhikshuni lineage, but that we can give bhikshuni vows using the bhikshu rituals. I thought, ‘Oh! This is news!’ I thought, okay, maybe... This was a sort of small beginning.” These days, two major options have been considered in Tibetan monastic circles. One is ordination by a bhikshu sangha alone, which would consist of monks from the Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition. Another is what is known as “dual sangha ordination,” in which the sangha of Tibetan bhikshus conferring the ordination would be joined by a bhikshuni sangha from a separate Vinaya tradition, the Dharmagupta lineage that has been preserved in Chinese, Korean, and Viet- namese Buddhism. “I do not think there are major obstacles or challenges,” the Karmapa said. “But we do need to develop our views on the matter. There are some old views and old ways of thinking, and LLUnDUP DaMChO (Diana Finnegan) was ordained as a getsulma, or novice nun, in 1999. she studied Buddhist philosophy for seven years with Geshe Lhundup sopa, her preceptor, and produced the English translation of the Sanghata Sutra. in 2009, she received her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, working on sanskrit and Tibetan narratives about Buddha’s female disciples. she is a student of the seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, and lives in north india in the Dharmadatta nuns’ Community (www.nunscommunity.net), which was founded by and for Western women and is guided by the Karmapa. buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 1 0 50 TashiPalJor