The Committee’s Activities
Since its inception in the autumn of 2005, the members of the Committee of for Bhiksuni Ordination and its advisors have been in frequent contact via email. One of our first activities was to research the manner of giving bhiksuni ordination and to prepare a paper in response to two papers concerning the possibility of introducing bhiksuni ordination into the Tibetan tradition A Means to Achieve Bhiksunis Ordination and The Main Topic of Research at Present: Whether or Not There Is a Way to Ordain Bhiksunis (Gelongma) in Accordance with the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya Tradition of Nalanda that Flourished in Tibetthat were circulated by the Department of Religion and Culture in February, 2006.
The Committee met at Sravasti Abbey in March, 2006, and prepared the paper “Research Regarding the Lineage of Bhiksuni Ordination” which was translated into Tibetan and distributed at the meeting of Vinaya experts in Dharamsala in May, 2006. This paper added to the research done since the mid-1980s by Acarya Geshe Tashi Tsering (Geshe Thubten Jangchub) of the Department of Religion and Culture, which was summarized in A Seminar to be Organised by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration.
The second CBO took place at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York, to prepare the forthcoming panel with H.H. the Dalai Lama and leading Buddhist monks, nuns and scholars on the last day of the International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha in Hamburg. Bhikkhu Bodhi very kindly joined us during part of the meeting as an informal advisor.
The Foundation for Buddhist Studies and the
First International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Saṅgha
In accordance with the advice of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Foundation for Buddhist Studies, which administered the funds His Holiness gave to the CBO, held the First International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Saṅgha from July 18-20, 2007, in Hamburg Germany. The main themes of the conference were the methods to encourage equal spiritual opportunities for women in the monastic community and the re-establishment of full ordination for nuns, particularly in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The congress was held in close cooperation with the Asia-Africa-Institute (AAI) of the University of Hamburg.
The congress brought together monastic and academic specialists in the Buddhist Vinaya (monastic code) from universities and monasteries in over nineteen countries. Their presentations were the culmination of thirty years of research into the possibility of establishing bhiksuni ordination in the Tibetan tradition. On the last day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was an active participant in a panel of Vinaya experts from the major Buddhist traditions. The panel members gave their support for the introduction of bhiksuni ordination in all Buddhist traditions, and His Holiness issued a statement giving his “full support for the establishment of the Bhiksuni Sangha in the Tibetan tradition.” Nonetheless, His Holiness reiterated a statement he had made several times in the past: that he, as an individual is not able to confer the ordination and that a Vinaya issue, such as introducing bhiksuni ordination into the Tibetan community, is something that must be decided by consensus in the Bhiksu Sangha. Until now, Tibetan monks have not yet come to consensus on this.
The congress also resulted in the publication of an excellent and informative book, Dignity and Discipline, which contains many of the presentations given at the congress. This book may also be previewed; and a summary of all the presentations is also available.
The day after the Hamburg Congress ended, His Holiness called many of the bhiksuni delegates, which included members of the CBO, representatives of the Tibetan Nuns Project and international bhiksunis. He then suggested that a similar congress should be held in India to which all the leading Tibetan monks and abbots of the four Tibetan traditions, as well as well-respected international monks and nuns were invited. Until now (Dec. 2010) there have been discussions about such a conference, but no plans have been confirmed.
Subsequent Meetings and Activities of the CBO
Meanwhile, the CBO has continued to meet, the third meeting being in May, 2009, in Taipei, Taiwan, prior to a conference on education for the Bhiksuni Sangha. Here we discussed a strategy for the revival of the bhiksuni ordination in Tibetan Buddhismwhich emphasized educationand discussed the developments among Tibetan nuns. During this meeting two Tibetan nuns from Jangchub Choeling Nunnery, Mundgod, India, were also present.
A fourth meeting was held in Frankfurt, Germany in July, 2009, at which the educational strategy was fleshed out. We decide to compile four booklets:
*A booklet designed for Buddhist nuns practicing in the Tibetan tradition which provides information for those who might consider taking full ordination in the future.
*A booklet that introduces the bhiksuni issue to monks, nuns, and the general public.
*An illustrated booklet of the lives of famous women described in the sutras who were fully ordained.
*A booklet for monastic scholars that includes justification for full ordination for nuns in the Tibetan tradition based on precedent and citations of Vinaya and other scriptures.
We also discussed the three current options considered by the Department of Religion and Culture in which the bhiksuni ordination could be given:
*Ordination by a Mulasarvastivada bhiksu assembly alone based on the male ordination ritual.
*Ordination by an assembly of Mulasarvastivada bhiksus and Dharamaguptaka bhiksunis using the Mulasarvastivada female ordination ritual.
*Ordination by an assembly of Mulasarvastivada bhiksus and Dharamaguptaka bhiksunis.
In late December 2009 early January 2010 the Committee held its fifth meeting during the 11th Sakyadhita Conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Here progress was made on discussing the contents of the booklets and designating its authors, and we decided to create a website. We also discussed our financial situation, given that the funds His Holiness had donated in 2005 had been exhausted.
In August 2010, the sixth CBO meeting took place at Sravasti Abbey in Newport, Washington, USA. Here we reviewed the contents of the booklets for nuns and monks and the booklet of biographies of respected bhiksunis and discussed their printing and distribution. The topic of changing our name to the Committee for Bhiksuni Ordination arose, and this was agreed upon through consensus in subsequent emails. We also discussed the website. Since it is extremely difficult for all of us to meet in one placewe all are involved in many activities, and time and funds for travel are difficult to come bywe decided to meet via Skype every three months.
The first Skype meeting took place in November, 2010, where we followed up on the tasks that we had each volunteered to do in August. Although we were not able to meet in person, the Skype call was a good substitute.
Completion of the first three of the four aforementioned booklets is a top priority of the CBO. The fourth bookletthe one for Vinaya scholarsis in its research phase. Printing and distribution of the booklets are under discussion. We would like to increase the material available on tour website as well. We are considering how to invite people’s generosity so that funds will be available to continue our work. We will stay in touch with the Department of Religion and Culture as well as the Tibetan Nuns Project regarding further developments. In the meantime, some members of the CBO are involved in Vinaya research, writing papers, and attending conferences on Vinaya and Tibetan Buddhism. All are teaching the Dharmasome at universities, others at Dharma centers. One has set up an abbey in the USA, others are aiding Himalayan and Tibetan nunneries in India. All of these projects will continue to expand.