Unprecedented Ordination Ceremony
15th, 1998 marks the first time in history that Buddhists representing
diverse traditions and schools from around the world will join
together for a truly international and ecumenical ordination.
This ceremony, which will take place in Bodh Gaya, India, is
especially significant because it is a joint effort by Buddhist
leaders to re-establish the order of nuns in Sri Lanka, Thailand,
Tibet, and India, where no women have been ordained as nuns
for over eight centuries.
nine days, 140 novice monastics representing 23 countries and
five continents will congregate near a descendent of the Bodhi
Tree under which Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism,
attained enlightenment some 2500 years ago. In order to provide
instruction to this polyglot assembly, the text of the Vinaya
(Buddhist monastic precepts) will be provided in five languages:
Chinese, English, French, Nepalese, and Sinhalese. The renunciation
ceremony, organized by Master Hsing Yun and his Taiwan-based
Fokuangshan Buddhist Order, has marshalled the cooperative efforts
of Buddhist leaders worldwide, including the Dalai Lama, Maha
Ghosananda Maha Thera (Sangha Raja of Cambodia), Thich Nhat
Hanh (Abbot of Plum Village, France), Venerable Dr. M. Wipulasara
Maha Thera (President of the Maha Bodhi Society of India), and
Ven. P. Somalankara Nayake Thera (Chief Secretary of the Sarvodaya
Bhikkhu Congress, Sri Lanka).
legitimacy of ordaining women as bhikkhuni (nuns) has become
a major topic of discussion within the Buddhist community. All
Buddhists agree that the Buddha created an order of bhikkhuni
after his foster mother, Prajapati Gotami, demonstrated a deep
commitment to becoming his disciple. Buddhists disagree, however,
about whether there can be such an order today. Sila, the laws
of Buddhist discipline, stipulate that the ordination of women
to become bhikkhuni requires the presence of both ordained monks
(bhikkhu) and nuns. Since the 11th century, however, when the
bhikkhuni order died out in India and Sri Lanka, conservatives
have stymied any attempts to revive it in those countries by
citing the lack of qualified nuns to legitimise the proceedings.
Similarly, in Thailand and Tibet, where there have never been
an order of nuns, efforts to institute such an order have faced
difficulty for the same reason. Fortunately, in East Asian countries
bhikkhuni orders have continued down to today.
the ordination problem, the upcoming ceremony in Bodh Gaya will
be officiated by both Buddhist monks from around the world and
by 15 Buddhist nuns who received their ordination in Taiwan.
This idea of bringing together bhikkhu and bhikkhuni from a
diverse range of Buddhist traditions and schools gradually took
shape during a series of annual international monastic seminars.
At the conclusion of the fourth such conference, held in May,
1997, the participants requested Master Hsing Yun, the founder
of the Fokuangshan Buddhist order, to organise a renunciation
ceremony to reintroduce a bhikkhuni lineage in those countries
currently lacking one. Fokuangshan was asked to spearhead this
effort because it has branch temples worldwide, a large contingent
of nuns, and extensive experience teaching Buddhist women from
South and Southeast Asia.
from India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand who will be receiving ordination
in February should not expect a warm welcome from all of their
Buddhist brethren when they return to their respective countries.
More conservative members of the Southeast Asian monastic communities
may not even recognise the authenticity of their ordination.
The sponsoring organisations are therefore doing all that they
can to aid the nuns make a smooth transition into monastic life.
Fokuangshan, for instance, is offering free education in any
of its 16 monastic colleges to any of the nuns who wish to strengthen
their knowledge of Buddhist practice. Efforts are also being
made to provide long-term housing for those bhikkhuni who may
require it. The Ladakh, India chapter of the Buddhas Light
International Association (BLIA) has already built a nunnery
and the Ananda Buddha Vihara Trust of Andra Pradesh, India is
currently constructing a temple which will include a dormitory
of the bhikkhuni order in Southeast Asia is a significant advancement
for womens rights in that region. The hope is that the
upcoming ordination will serve as a catalyst to spur not only
all Buddhists, but all people, to awaken to the truth that the
Buddha himself realised under the Bodhi Tree so long ago: that
all beings are inherently equal and interdependent, and may
attain enlightenment through cultivating a mind of compassion,
equanimity, humility, and wisdom.