Successful Conclusion of the Second Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering

Successful Conclusion of the Second Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering

After two-and-a-half weeks of daily teachings from the Gyalwang Karmapa, intensive debate training for the participating nuns, and a variety of other dharma activities, the Second Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering successfully concluded.

“We’ve had a long string of dharma activities here in Bodhgaya,” the Gyalwang Karmapa said during the closing ceremony, “starting with the Kagyu monks’ Guncho, the Kagyu Monlam, and now the nuns’ Winter Dharma Gathering. They have all gone very well, and this is because everyone here worked together as one. We can all take joy in this.”

Beginning in the morning, on the final day the Gyalwang Karmapa first led a Tara puja which then continued on through the afternoon. Tara is renowned as having taken a vow to become fully enlightened in a female form. She is particularly supplicated for protection and removal of obstacles, thus making the Tara puja especially appropriate for concluding the nuns’ Winter Dharma Gathering.

The evening’s closing ceremony began with the nuns showcasing their debating skills before the Gyalwang Karmapa. This culminated the intensive daily debate practice during the Winter Dharma Gathering as well as ongoing training throughout the year in their respective nunneries.

Next the Karmapa gave an important speech to the nuns, who were gathered together from nine different nunneries in three countries for the final time this year. He began by explaining his historic plans for restoring nuns’ ordination in the Tibetan tradition, beginning next year.

“The biggest event during next year’s Third Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering will be reinstituting the novice and training vows for nuns within the Tibetan tradition,” he said. “This will be an historical event.”

The Karmapa then outlined his plans to standardise the curriculum in the nuns’ shedras, and announced that he would later hold a week-long meeting at Gyuto Monastery for this process and invite leading scholars to assist.

“In the nunneries it’s important that we have good education and also good health,” he continued. “We consider these both to be extremely important, so we have decided that within the nunneries we’ll sponsor the wages and travel expenses for teachers. Likewise, we’ll try to help the nunneries establish clinics and bring in nuns or doctors who have diplomas and proper certification.”

“This year we also gave leadership training to a few nuns from each nunnery, and likewise we also gave basic health and first aid training to a few nuns from each nunnery. We will continue this training so we can support the nuns in becoming independent.”

“However, in order for all this to happen we need more information about what is happening in each nunnery. So, in order to have better communication we may also need to create a new division for nun’s affairs within the Tsurphu Labrang. This would particularly look after the needs of nuns, and is something I think would be beneficial.”

Next the Gyalwang Karmapa announced some the provisional dates for next year’s activities: the pre-Monlam teachings, to be held just before the 33rd Kagyu Monlam, will begin on 12 February 2016, while the Third Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering is currently scheduled to run from 26 February until 14 March, 2016.

The Gyalwang Karmapa closed the Winter Dharma Gathering by offering his sincere thanks and appreciation to all the many people who had helped to make it happen.

“I’d like to thank all the workers who’ve helped in the Winter Dharma Gathering. Likewise, there are many laypeople from abroad who have come and participated in various ways, whether by making donations or by offering support through your great intentions. This has been very beneficial for the nuns’ gathering and a great help. I’d like to thank you for paying such special attention, and giving special respect, to the nuns.”


2015.01.24 Successful Conclusion of the Second Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering

The Nuns Prove Themselves in Debate

The Nuns Prove Themselves in Debate

For the final event of the Second Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering, the Tergar shrine hall has been set up with tables for the defenders, set across the center aisle in front of the Karmapa’s throne, and with a microphone for the challengers who will stand two thirds of the way back towards the shrine door. This is to keep the challengers, who can get quite enthusiastic as a group, at a certain distance from the defenders.

The young Druppön Dechen Rinpoche sits at the head of the first row of teachers and khenpos. In a previous lifetime, when he was the guide for the Karmapa’s seat at Tsurphu in Tibet, Druppön Dechen Rinpoche was very kind to a group of nuns who had no home. He generously gave them teachings and also a place to stay at Tsurphu; several of them came to live in the famous caves of the previous Karmapas, located on the middle circumambulation path. His tulku seems to be continuing his support of nuns in this next life, too.

This evening is the culmination of the daily debating that has happened since the nuns arrived. The three responders (those sitting on the ground) are nuns from Tara Abby (Thrangu Rinpoche), Karma Drubdey (Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso), and Samten Ling (Gyalpo Rinpoche). The challengers, who number up to sixteen, are from Tilokpur Nunnery (the Gyalwang Karmapa), Dongyu Gatsal Ling (Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo), and Ralang Nunnery (H.E. Gyaltsap Rinpoche).

To begin, at the back of the central aisle, the three nuns place their yellow cockade hats curved like crescent moons on the red carpet in front of them. After three bows, they walk up the aisle to offer a kata to the Karmapa’s table and then take their seats facing the challengers. As usual, the first challenger begins with a dialogue that establishes the definitions of the terms, in this initial case, it is the category of relationship, which actually deals with cause and effect.

After the nuns have been debating for a while, one of the khenpos on the side joins in the animated exchange to challenge the defending nun and then another teacher adds his voice. She, however, remains unflappable, responding to them both with aplomb and a smile. The debate moves through the classic territory of the reasoning on being one or many—the key analytical tool used in Chandrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way. “Do phenomena have a single essence or not?” “Is the essential nature of permanence and impermanence the same or separate?” “If it’s the same, then give me an example of something that is both impermanent and permanent!” And when the answer was slow in coming, the challenging nuns took up a chorus of Chir! Chir! Chir! Give your reason! The debate was energetic and, just as the monks do, one nun wraps her zen (stole) around her waist (the equivalent of rolling up your sleeves) and leans into her hand claps that punctuate her statements. A round of enthusiastic applause greets the end of the debate.

The next group of defenders comes forth, bows, and walks down the aisle to offer their katas to the Karmapa, who keeps them as a special sign of an auspicious connection. The topic now is universals and particulars. The nuns again start the discussion with definitions and then move into the substance of the debate: “If it’s a thing, it follows that it’s not a universal.” Again the debate is lively and the nuns again demonstrate that they are at home in this new form they have only been studying for two years. At the end, a single nun comes forth to close the debate. She mentions that Dharma is essential for happiness and joy, and that the benefit of debate is that it can help lead us all the way to the level of Buddhahood.

After a break, the Karmapa speaks, first showing a beautiful new logo for the Arya Kshema gathering. It shows three nuns, their curving robes shaped like individual lotus petals; underneath on the right and left are quick, pointed strokes indicating the leaves and grounding the image. After welcoming everyone, the Karmapa notes that there were many different activities and they all went well because people were working harmoniously together. We should all take joy in the fact that we could be here. The Karmapa also praises the nuns saying that this is only the second gathering of the nuns and the monks had gathered eighteen times; however, the nuns had improved at a much faster rate than the monks. All the nuns should rejoice in this and the Karmapa offered his thanks as well.


2015.01.24 Nuns Prove Themselves in Debate

Gyalwang Karmapa Makes Historic Announcement on Restoring Nuns’ Ordination

Gyalwang Karmapa Makes Historic Announcement on Restoring Nuns’ Ordination

During the Second Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering the Gyalwang Karmapa made the historical announcement that, beginning next year, he would take concrete steps towards restoring nuns’ vows in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Beginning with the restoration of the novice ‘getsulma’ and training ‘shikshamana’ nun’s vows next year, which will be conferred with the assistance of a special contingent of nuns from the Dharmagupta tradition, this will then lay the necessary framework leading to ‘gelongma’ or ‘bhikshuni’ full nun’s vows in the future.

“The biggest event during next year’s Third Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering will be reinstituting the novice and training vows for nuns within the Tibetan tradition,” he said. “This will be a historical event.”

“Many people might think I’m doing this because others want me to,” the Karmapa explained. “But I’m not doing it to placate anyone or in response to anyone. No matter how others see it, I feel this is something necessary. In order to uphold the Buddhist teachings it is necessary to have the fourfold community (fully ordained monks (gelongs), fully ordained nuns (gelongmas), and both male and female lay precept holders). As the Buddha said, the fourfold community are the four pillars of the Buddhist teachings. This is the reason why I’m taking interest in this.”

Inviting the Dharmagupta nuns, who hold bhikshuni ordination, to confer the first two levels of vows to a limited number of nuns in the Tibetan tradition will ensure that their novice and training ordinations are conducted in a proper and complete ceremony from an unbroken lineage. These novice and training vows may then form the basis for future full ordination.

At present within the Tibetan system, which follows the Mulasarvastivada vinaya tradition, there is no lineage for conferring bhikshuni or full nun’s ordination. The invited group of nuns will consist of ten or twenty fully ordained nuns from a nunnery in the Dharmagupta tradition renowned for their careful upholding of the vinaya

During the daily teachings of the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering, the Gyalwang Karmapa had earlier discussed the issue of nuns’ ordination in some detail. The full comments of his talk follow:

“When the Buddha gave women the opportunity to ordain, he gave them everything they needed in order to practice all the paths and levels in their entirety. There are many people these days who are afraid that it would harm the teachings if women were ordained and in particular if they are given the bhikshuni ordination. But I think there is absolutely no need to have such suspicions, because the Buddha has already allowed it.

“In order to have the complete practice of the three trainings, you first have to have the superior training in discipline. Then, on that basis comes the superior training in samadhi, and then the superior training in prajna. Within Tibetan Buddhism we might say that for women it’s not possible to have the complete training in the superior practice of discipline, and the reason is because there are no bhikshuni vows.

“Moreover, because there are no bhikshuni vows we can’t say there are really any proper novice nun vows either. So without any proper novice vows it is difficult to say that there is a true ordained sangha of women who have gone forth. That’s the situation we’re in, and it’s an unfortunate situation for Buddhism in general.

“Over the last ten or twenty years, led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, many of the masters of Tibetan Buddhism, including many high lamas, geshes, and khenpos, have engaged in discussions with good intentions. There have been many discussions, and people have put great effort into this—I have seen and experienced this for myself.

“We’ve had a lot of talk and research into the words of the Buddha, the treatises by Indian masters, as well as the Tibetan scriptures. It sometimes seems that over the past twenty years we’ve only had talk and research, but we haven’t actually put anything into practice. It’s been like this for a long time.

“It seems to me that you can give the bhikshuni vows either through the single sangha or through the dual sangha. But the proper way—to have a well-recognised, legal bhikshuni ordination—is best to have the dual sangha. If you have no other choice then it can be done by the single sangha. Yet in order to have the dual ordination you then have to have the transmission of the lineage of the bhikshuni vows, and now that’s only remaining within the Chinese tradition.

“However, before you can have such a dual ordination you must first have the proper novice vows and then the nun’s ‘training’ vows, the shikshamana vows. To do this properly will take at least three or four years. Starting next year, we can begin the preparations for a limited number of nuns from each nunnery to begin the process, and provide them all they need. This will begin a process that will then take three or four years. But my hope is that we can begin it next year.”

With this statement the Gyalwang Karmapa announced his intention to ensure that the nuns first received proper novice vows and proper shikshamana ‘training’ vows—a necessary prerequisite to full ordination in the future. It is necessary for nuns to hold and keep these ‘training’ vows without any violation for a prescribed period of time prior to full ordination, usually a couple of years.

After he made this statement in Tibetan during the teachings, the room, which was filled with nuns, monks and laypeople, erupted into spontaneous applause. The Gyalwang Karmapa then paused in his talk for his English interpreter to translate it; upon hearing it for a second time, the gathering erupted into loud applause once more.

When he returned to the topic a few days later, during the Arya Kshema closing ceremony, the Gyalwang Karmapa elaborated further:

“For this to happen, if we begin next year, first of all we need to give the vows of going forth, then the novice or sramaneri vows. Following that are the shikshamana or training vows, which you then need to hold for the next years. Finally, in the fourth year we’ll be able to give the bhikshuni vows. Once we have bhikshunis it will then be another ten years before they will be able to give anyone else the bhikshuni vows. So this will take a long time, and I’ll be in my 40s when we get to the end of the process.

“Now, after I first mentioned this the other day, a very wonderful coincidence happened. In order to give the vows we need to have bhikshunis come to do this. On a particular day recently, when we were doing the Mahakala puja, a group of bhikshunis came to see the puja. I asked them whether they were from a particular Dharmagupta nunnery renowned for strict observance of the vinaya, and they confirmed that they were. So this is a really excellent coincidence, and it is very auspicious that it spontaneously happened. We spoke about my plans, I explained my intentions, and they accepted the invitation. Next year they’ll send ten or twenty bhikshunis to come. This is a really wonderful, unplanned, spontaneous auspicious connection.”

During his earlier comments to the nuns, the Gyalwang Karmapa had emphasised that it would only be for a small, select group who were ready.

“I’m not doing this in order to placate anyone or in response to anyone else, and you should also keep the same thought in mind,” he instructed the nuns. “You should not do it in order to please others or for any such reason. Rather, if you look within yourself and see whether you have pure motivation and are ready to put effort into it, then it is something that will bring meaning to your human life.”


2015.01.24 Gyalwang Karmapa Makes Historic Announcement on Restoring Nuns’ Ordination

In Praise of Bhikshunis: A Ritual for the Nuns’ Dharma to Flourish

In Praise of Bhikshunis: A Ritual for the Nuns’ Dharma to Flourish

During the Second Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering, the Gyalwang Karmapa led a special ritual that he himself had composed, making powerful aspirations in support of all female practitioners and particularly for the flourishing of the nuns’ dharma.

Blending his voice with those of the female chantmasters, the Karmapa led the gathering through a recitation drawn from the ‘Sutra of Repaying Kindness, Great Skill in Means’, in praise of the qualities of nine exceptional Bhikshunis who were the direct disciples of the Buddha. “May we have the merit to uphold the teachings properly like the Buddha’s mother, the elder Bhikshuni Mahaprajapati Gautami,” the verse began.

“May we be supreme among all with prajna and confidence like Bhikshuni Kshema,
May we be supreme among all with miraculous powers like Bhikshuni Utpalavarna,
May we be supreme among teachers like Bhikshuni Dharmadatta,
May we be supreme among those who uphold the vinaya like Krsa Gautami,

May we be supreme among those who discern the sutras like Bhikshuni Kachangala,
May we be supreme among those who have memorized what they heard like Bhikshuni Soma,
May we be supreme among those who generate merit like Bhikshuni Supriya,
May we be supreme among those with restraint like Bhikshuni Yasodhara.”

The bhikshunis described in this verse each practiced and attained great accomplishment under the Buddha’s guidance, and all reached the level of Arhat (or ‘Arhantini’, as female Arhats are known in Sanskrit). Therefore, this beautiful verse serves as a powerful inspiration for nuns and female practitioners today, who may look up to these female Arhantinis as outstanding examples.

The three-hour-long ritual has now become a key event during the nuns’ Winter Dharma Gathering. Called ‘A Ritual for Women’s and Especially Nuns’ Dharma to Flourish, Based on the Inseparability of Noble Chenrezig and Noble Ananda’, it was specially composed by the Gyalwang Karmapa before the inaugural Arya Kshema gathering in 2014. It includes the Mahayana Sojong ritual, recitations from the ‘Bhikshunivibhanga’ and other vinaya scriptures, as well as supplications to Ananda and verses of auspiciousness.

At times spontaneously leading the puja, together with the female chantmasters, the Gyalwang Karmapa also led another recitation drawn from the same ‘Sutra of Repaying Kindness, Great Skill in Means’, which relates the story of how Mahaprajapati, the Buddha’s own step-mother, first requested the Buddha to allow women to go forth and ordain. After the Buddha’s initial refusal of her request, his attendant Ananda then interceded and requested the Buddha on their behalf, to which the Buddha finally agreed. It was due to Ananda’s kindness that women were allowed to ordain, the Buddha said, and therefore in the future both Bhikshunis and laywomen should think of Ananda with their whole hearts.

“They should respect him, serve him, call him by name, and continually be grateful to him. They should not forget him in the six periods of day and night, and remember him,” the sutra reads.

It then describes how if a woman takes the Mahayana Sojong precepts with full concentration and diligence on certain auspicious days, it is prophesied that Ananda will protect her and accomplish her wishes through miraculous powers.

The sutra continues that just as in the past Ananda requested the Buddha to allow women to go forth and enter the teachings, it was prophesied that in the future he would be the supreme guardian for all those women who have faith in the dharma.

“May every woman in the world’s physical and mental harms and sufferings be pacified, and may they gain independence and complete powers and abilities,” the sutra says. “May all women who go forth perfect the aggregate of discipline that pleases the Nobles, and complete their study and teaching of the three baskets of scriptures, and their meditation practice of the three trainings.”

During the puja an exquisite thangka of Avalokitesvara was prominently placed above the Gyalwang Karmapa’s throne. Avalokitesvara was depicted in Indian style: standing, clothed in a saffron-colored lower-garment, with the Bhikshu Ananda emanating from his open right-hand palm and resting in space. The image was a beautiful visual illustration of the inseparability of Avalokitesvara—the Buddha of compassion—and Ananda.

Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche also took part, seated on thrones to the Gyalwang Karmapa’s right and left, heading the first two rows of nuns. Throughout the puja, the gathering of nuns, monks and laypeople united in their aspirations for the nuns’ dharma to prosper, with supplications specifically for dispelling obstacles and unfavorable conditions as well as for protection.


2015.01.20 In Praise of Bhikshunis; A Ritual for the Nuns’ Dharma to Flourish

Nuns Train to be Health Workers

Nuns Train to be Health Workers

During the Second Arya Kshema Winter Gathering, instead of attending the teachings and debates, a group of 28 nuns have been following a special programme. Drawn from seven nunneries—Ralang and Tilokpur in India, Karma Leksheyling, Tara Abbey, Osel Karma Thekchöling and Samten Ling in Nepal and Drubde Palmo Chökyi Dingkhang in Bhutan—the nuns spent eight days studying basic heaIthcare and how to respond to medical emergencies.

The programme was born out of a meeting between the Gyalwang Karmapa and Dr. Jeffrey Chen, CEO of the Taiwanese NGO Taiwan Health Corps. The Gyalwang Karmapa had been considering initiatives for improving both the health and healthcare of nuns and Dr. Chen was interested in developing a programme of rural health worker training in monasteries and nunneries.

The team of ten health professionals from Taiwan Health Corps, who came especially to Bodhgaya to give the training, included a surgeon, a gynaecologist, a family physician, a dentist, a doctor trained in traditional Chinese medicine and two senior nurses. Dr. Dawa from the Kagyu Monlam health team acted as adviser and translator.

To correct any misunderstandings the nuns might have, the course opened with a session on anatomy. This was followed by an overview of minor ailments such as constipation, colds and flu, fevers, stomach upsets, headaches, parasites, and anaemia, and suggestions about primary interventions which might be sufficient, such as commonly available medicines and supplements. The nuns found this session particularly valuable.

“Now we know what to do,” explained one nun. “If someone has a minor illness, there is no need to send them to the doctor immediately. For example, if they have diarrhoea, we can use rehydration and monitor what happens.” A session on pharmacology ensured that they knew how to administer medicines, their side effects, allergic reactions and dangers.

The bulk of the course, however, comprised very practical “hands on” sessions, where the nuns learned basic first aid and what to do in medical emergencies: resuscitation, how to stop or reduce bleeding, using splints to immobilise broken bones, bandaging wounds, checking head injuries and assessing burns.

They practised CPR on specially designed dummies– a green light it up when they managed to do chest compressions correctly–and were surprised at the degree of force necessary. “You do have to break ribs sometimes,” a doctor warned them. When it came to splinting a broken leg, they devised a way to preserve a monk or nun’s modesty by immobilising both legs with a splint tied on the outside of the robes. While learning to do the Heimlich Manoeuvre [used when people choke], they burst into laughter every time someone succeeded in popping the cork forcefully from the mock chest bag they were using to practise the technique.

“We can help many people by learning this,” commented a young nun from Nepal, “Not just in the nunnery, but outside in the community too.”

Another session that the nuns found particularly helpful was on women’s health. In order for the nuns to feel comfortable and able to talk openly, only the gynaecologist attended, and one of the nuns translated from English to Tibetan. After a general introduction, the nuns were free to ask whatever they wanted, and they did, raising a wide range of issues from their own personal experience and that of family and friends. Everyone agreed that this was a major source of health problems and worry in their nunneries, and that their new knowledge would be of immediate benefit when helping and advising other nuns.

A brief description of traditional Chinese medicine was included in the course too.

On the penultimate day there were further practical sessions, revising all the techniques which the nuns had been taught and an informal assessment of their skills. Both students and teachers felt that everyone had learnt a lot and had a lot of fun in the process; all the nuns were keen to learn more about health care and requested further training. Finally, on the last morning, the nuns, with their trainers, had a surprise audience with the Gyalwang Karmapa, who presented every nun with a certificate of course completion.

NGO Taiwan Health Corps, whose motto is We do it for love, have worked previously with the Root Institute in Bodhgaya, a Buddhist monastery in Bangladesh, and have run projects in Nepal, Turkestan and West Africa. This was their first time working with nuns and everyone was impressed by how much enthusiasm and effort the nuns put into the course. They hope to continue the programme over three years, across nunneries and monasteries in the Himalayan region specifically, with the aim of supporting essential healthcare in remote areas and small communities.


2015.01.12-19 Nuns Train to be Health Workers