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Focus on Full Ordination for Buddhist Women
When Shakyamuni Buddha laid out the vinaya (code of conduct governing monks and nuns) he also set up the pratimoksha vows (the vows of individual liberation) that precisely define the boundaries of acceptable behavior that is the vinaya.
Recognized as being on of the most authentic sources of Buddha’s words, the Pali Vinaya belongs to the Theravada school that is powerful in Thailand, southern India and Sri Lanka and advocates strict adherence to the precepts.
How Buddha Came to Allow Full Ordination for Women
While he was staying in Kapilavastu, Mahaprajapati Gautami (Lord Buddha’s aunt and foster mother) went to see the Blessed One. Grieving over the death of Buddha’s father, she bowed before Buddha and, standing to the side, requested him to allow women to renounce their homes and enter the homeless state under the doctrine and whatever discipline the Blessed One would dictate.
Before this time, women had not been allowed ordination, one of the reasons being that they were recognized as the pillar of the family and it was feared if they were allowed to leave their homes, there would be no more support for the families – the men and children.
Briefly, Gautami and 500 other women (princesses whose husbands had left them behind to take ordination and follow Buddha) followed Buddha and listened to the teachings as renounced persons – wearing robes, with shaved heads.
Buddha said that if he gave ordination to the women the life of the Dharma in this age would be shortened by 500 years or more. Ananda was near Buddha often though and asked many times for the ordination on behalf of the women.
After many requests, Buddha agreed.
“I will give them eight rules.
If they agree to this, then this will be the ordination.”
While Shakyamuni Buddha was living in the palace of his father the king, he was given everything one could dream of in terms of worldly treasure in order to keep him happy, and so he wouldn’t want to leave. One of the things Buddha was given was a retinue of women.
During this time he saw the women were jealous of each other and vain, and very competitive when serving him.
Differences between the Schools and their Presentation of the Vinaya:
Each of the six schools, which formed quite some time after the passing of the Buddha, took this body of advice and divided it up into specific vows, thus leading to the discrepancies with the number of vows a monk or nun would take in each of the traditions.
Geshe-la explained that, in these degenerate times, the more vows a person has, the better their behavior, but to suit the need of our time, the vinaya is adaptable. The five root vows, however, cannot be changed.
In the morning of the ordination the gelobma should receive the full ordination from 12 gelongmas who have been ordained at least 10 years, a preceptor, and common master (the gelongma who is head of the community) and then, in the afternoon, from 10 gelongs who have been ordained at least 10 years.
In areas outside large monastic communities, four gelongs and six gelongmas may be substituted or, if one lives very far away in an area where travel is dangerous, the gelongmas may send messengers in their place.
During the ordination by gelongmas, the preceptor (a gelongma who takes care of the gelobma during the two-year period) should have received permission from the other gelongmas in the community for the ordination.
According to historical religious texts, the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya and gelong ordination was established in 8th century Tibet during the reign of King Trisong Detsen by the great Abbot Shantarakshita.
There are no references to gelongma ordination at this time, but texts found in the 12th century indicated that, after the abbot’s death, Dharma declined in Tibet, but Lachen-gongpa Rabsel (832-915) restored the lineage of the ordination during his lifetime.
During the period 1456-1539, writings show that the very learned Kagyü master, Karma Trinley, asked Pema Karpo, who was writing a book about the ritual of the bhikshuni ordination, if the ordination truly existed in Tibet.
Through this new ordination, it is hoped that a sound bhikshuni lineage will be established and passed on for the benefit of all sentient beings in order to keep the precious teachings of Lord Buddha for many eons to come.