The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Ordination of women
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The tradition of the ordained monastic community in Buddhism (the sangha) began with the Buddha, who established an order of monks.
According to the scriptures, later, after an initial reluctance, he also established an order of nuns. Fully ordained Buddhist nuns are called bhikkhunis. Mahapajapati Gotami, the aunt and foster mother of Buddha, was the first bhikkhuni; she was ordained in the sixth century B.C.E.
Prajñādhara is the twenty-seventh Indian Patriarch of Zen Buddhism and is believed to have been a woman.
In the Mahayana tradition during the 13th century, the Japanese Mugai Nyodai became the first female abbess and thus the first ordained female Zen master.
However, the bhikkhuni ordination once existing in the countries where Theravada is more widespread died out around the 10th century, and novice ordination has also disappeared in those countries.
Therefore, women who wish to live as nuns in those countries must do so by taking eight or ten precepts. Neither laywomen nor formally ordained, these women do not receive the recognition, education, financial support or status enjoyed by Buddhist men in their countries.
These "precept-holders" live in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, and Thailand. In particular, the governing council of Burmese Buddhism has ruled that there can be no valid ordination of women in modern times, though some Burmese monks disagree.
Japan is a special case as, although it has neither the bhikkhuni nor novice ordinations, the precept-holding nuns who live there do enjoy a higher status and better education than their precept-holder sisters elsewhere, and can even become Zen priests.
In Tibet there is currently no bhikkhuni ordination, but the Dalai Lama has authorized followers of the Tibetan tradition to be ordained as nuns in traditions that have such ordination.
The bhikkhuni ordination of Buddhist nuns has always been practiced in East Asia. In 1996, through the efforts of Sakyadhita, an International Buddhist Women Association, ten Sri Lankan women were ordained as bhikkhunis in Sarnath, India.
Also, bhikkhuni ordination of Buddhist nuns began again in Sri Lanka in 1998 after a lapse of 900 years. In 2003 Ayya Sudhamma became the first American-born woman to receive bhikkhuni ordination in Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, on February 28, 2003, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, formerly known as Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, became the first Thai woman to receive bhikkhuni ordination as a Theravada nun (Theravada is a school of Buddhism).
Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was ordained in Sri Lanka. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni's mother Venerable Voramai, also called Ta Tao Fa Tzu, had become the first fully ordained Thai woman in the Mahayana lineage in Taiwan in 1971.
A 55-year-old Thai Buddhist 8-precept white-robed maechee nun, Varanggana Vanavichayen, became the first woman ordained as a monk in Thailand, in 2002.
Since then, the Thai Senate has reviewed and revoked the secular law passed in 1928 banning women's full ordination in Buddhism as unconstitutional for being counter to laws protecting freedom of religion. However Thailand's two main Theravada Buddhist orders, the Mahanikaya and Dhammayutika Nikaya, have yet to officially accept fully ordained women into their ranks.
In 2009 in Australia four women received bhikkhuni ordination as Theravada nuns, the first time such ordination had occurred in Australia. It was performed in Perth, Australia, on 22 October 2009 at Bodhinyana Monastery.
Abbess Vayama together with Venerables Nirodha, Seri, and Hasapanna were ordained as Bhikkhunis by a dual Sangha act of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis in full accordance with the Pali Vinaya.
In 1997 Dhamma Cetiya Vihara in Boston was founded by Ven. Gotami of Thailand, then a 10 precept nun; when she received full ordination in 2000, her dwelling became America's first Theravada Buddhist bhikkhuni vihara.
In 1998 Sherry Chayat, born in Brooklyn, became the first American woman to receive transmission in the Rinzai school of Buddhism. In 2006 Merle Kodo Boyd, born in Texas, became the first African-American woman ever to receive Dharma transmission in Zen Buddhism.
Also in 2006, for the first time in American history, a Buddhist ordination was held where an American woman (Sister Khanti-Khema) took the Samaneri (novice) vows with an American monk (Bhante Vimalaramsi) presiding.
This was done for the Buddhist American Forest Tradition at the Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center in Missouri.
In 2010 the first Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in America (Vajra Dakini Nunnery in Vermont) was officially consecrated. It offers novice ordination and follows the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism.
The abbot of the Vajra Dakini nunnery is Khenmo Drolma, an American woman, who is the first bhikkhuni in the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism, having been ordained in Taiwan in 2002.
She is also the first westerner, male or female, to be installed as an abbot in the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism, having been installed as the abbot of the Vajra Dakini Nunnery in 2004.
The Vajra Dakini Nunnery does not follow The Eight Garudhammas.
Also in 2010, in Northern California, 4 novice nuns were given the full bhikkhuni ordination in the Thai Theravada tradition, which included the double ordination ceremony.
Bhante Gunaratana and other monks and nuns were in attendance. It was the first such ordination ever in the Western hemisphere.
The following month, more bhikkhuni ordinations were completed in Southern California, led by Walpola Piyananda and other monks and nuns.
The bhikkhunis ordained in Southern California were Lakshapathiye Samadhi (born in Sri Lanka), Cariyapanna, Susila, Sammasati (all three born in Vietnam), and Uttamanyana (born in Myanmar).
The first bhikkhuni ordination in Germany, the Theravada bhikkhuni ordination of German nun Samaneri Dhira, occurred on June 21, 2015 at Anenja Vihara.
The first Theravada ordination of bhikkhunis in Indonesia after more than a thousand years occurred in 2015 at Wisma Kusalayani in Lembang, Bandung.
Those ordained included Vajiradevi Sadhika Bhikkhuni from Indonesia, Medha Bhikkhuni from Sri Lanka, Anula Bhikkhuni from Japan, Santasukha Santamana Bhikkhuni from Vietnam, Sukhi Bhikkhuni and Sumangala Bhikkhuni from Malaysia, and Jenti Bhikkhuni from Australia.