- March 14, 2017
For the third year in succession, the Taiwan Health Corps has been working with Kagyu nuns during the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering.
Twenty-one nuns from eight nunneries—Ralang, Tilokpur and Palpung Yeshe Rabgye Ling in India, Karma Leksheyling, Tara Abbey, Osel Karma Thekchöling and Samten Ling in Nepal, and Drubde Palmo Chökyi Dingkhang in Bhutan– have successfully completed a nine-day training in basic health care.
Dr Jeffrey Chen, CEO of the Taiwanese based NGO Taiwan Health Corps, first responded to a request from the Gyalwang Karmapa to develop initiatives to improve the health and healthcare of nuns more than three years ago. This year he has returned for a third time with a team of six health professionals to provide basic training for a new batch of nuns. The team comprises Professor Kuo Su Chen, a specialist in Women’s Health, Dr Chin Min Yi, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, Dr Wei Cheng Chou, urologist and surgeon, Hsin-Yu Lee, an EMT instructor, and Nurse Practitioner Lee Shun Yun.
Jamyang Dorje, who runs the clinic at Namo Buddha [Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche’s monastery in Nepal] has joined the workshop this year as translator for the programme. Information, instructions, questions and answers have to flow continuously between English, Tibetan and Nepali.
The overall mission of the THC is to facilitate essential healthcare in remote areas and small communities by training up health workers who can provide first-line medical assistance. Though the Bodhgaya programme is only for nuns, THC operates a similar programme in Nepal for monks. Topics covered during the nine days are: women’s health; basic anatomy and physiology; the Heimlich manoeuvre; CPR; preliminary intervention for head injuries, fractures, bleeding etc (first aid); setting up a health-care station; preliminary intervention treatments for diarrhoea; the use of commonly available pharmacology; an introduction to Chinese medicine.
For the first three days of the programme, in order for the nuns to be able to attend the Gyalwang Karmapa’s teachings in Tergar Shrine Hall, training started early and finished late. The first session ran from 7.30am – 9.30am, and then, after lunch, there were two sessions, from 1.30pm – 6.30pm and from 7.30pm – 8.30pm. On the other six days classes ran from 8.30 am – 12.30pm and 1.30pm – 5.30pm.
THC emphasises the practical application of what is being learned, so that, by the end of the course, the nuns not only know the theory but can actually do it and, as, Dr Chen recounted, nuns and monks from earlier THC training programmes provided invaluable help in monasteries and villages after the devastating earthquakes in Nepal. Indeed, nuns who had trained during the January 2015 health worker programme were recruited to help Dr Chen at the hospital in Kathmandu where his team were based after the earthquake. “It was very shocking for them at first,” he explained, “to see such traumatic injuries in real life, open wounds, bones sticking through the skin. But they did really well and it gave them first-hand experience in emergency trauma care.”
The Gyalwang Karmapa visited the course twice. The first time he watched the class and showed great interest in the removable body parts of the anatomical dummy. He took out the lungs and the liver and then, holding up the heart, to everybody’s delight, he joked, “This is my heart!” The second time, the Karmapa came to the closing ceremony, thanked the doctors and nurses, congratulated the students, and presented course completion certificates to the participants.
Though the THC team are the instructors and the nuns are the students, Dr Chen feels strongly that there has been a two-way exchange of learning.
"Actually we are meant to be the teachers, “he reflected,” but we are learning a lot from them. It's difficult to explain, but working with these nuns [and monks] has brought about changes in my mind. For example, previously, small things would irritate me, make me feel uncomfortable or angry. Now, I find those little things are no longer important. And my respect for them and their culture has grown tremendously.”
Likewise, he has learned a lot from his interactions with the 17th Karmapa.
“When I am going to see him," Dr Chen continued, “I usually have a lot of questions and suggestions or I want to talk about problems...but then when I meet him, everything falls into place, and all the problems and questions seem insignificant. I am left with nothing more to say.”
It has been an intensive nine days, but already the planning has begun for next year. In 2018 THC hopes to take the programme to a new level and is planning to run an advanced course in first aid skills for between 30 - 40 nuns at Tergar during the Arya Kshema. The nuns will learn how to suture a wound and how to remove the sutures, and how to use a defibrillator alongside CPR. They will also learn basic acupuncture and moxibustion techniques. A parallel course will be held for monks in Nepal. THC will then donate a defibrillator to all the monasteries and nunneries where someone is trained to use one.
In addition, the team has prepared a new health manual which can be used on the courses and distributed across the nunneries. Dr Dawa, a member of the Kagyu Monlam medical team who has previously worked on the training courses with Dr Chen, is currently translating it into Tibetan.
As for the nuns themselves, it has been a steep but exciting learning curve; they are all confident that now they are equipped to better help not just their nunneries but the community in general.
- March 11, 2017
Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
On December 28, 2016, in a historic letter sent to his Kagyu nunneries in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, the Karmapa officially announced that the actual process of establishing full ordination for nuns in the Karma Kamtsang tradition would begin. He stated that at the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, on the auspicious day of the full moon in the Month of Miracles, (the first month in the Tibetan calendar, falling on March 12, 2107), the shramaneri (getsulma) vows would be conferred on those nuns wishing to take full ordination.
Following much deliberation, a path to full ordination was established. It was decided that the nuns would hold these shramaneri vows for a year, after which they will take the shikshamana (gelopma or training) vows from Dharmaguptaka nuns and keep them for two winters or two summers. Finally, they will receive the bhikshuni (gelongma or full ordination) vows with the participation of nuns from the Dharmaguptaka tradition and Tibetan monks from the Mulasarvastivadin tradition. This gradual path follows the Karmapa’s reasoning that in establishing full ordination for women, it is crucial to move step by step, laying a solid foundation and building upon it. An important part of this three-stage process is that the vows are transmitted along a female lineage at each level, so the Dharmaguptaka nuns play a critical role here.
This year’s ceremony, therefore, is the culmination of years of extensive research and careful consideration of the many complex aspects of the process. Fundamentally, the Karmapa’s willingness to open this opportunity for full ordination reflects his modern and deep understanding of the gender issues in Buddhism and his whole-hearted support for women in Buddhism and nuns. In his book, the Heart Is Noble, the Karmapa stated:
The categories of masculine and feminine are often treated as if they were eternal truths. But they are not. They have no objective reality. Because gender is a concept, it is a product of our mind and has no absolute existence that is separate from the mind that conceives of it. Gender categories are not inherently real in and of themselves.
Relating this to the actual situation, the Karmapa has said during the Arya Kshema gathering:
Monks and nuns are the same in being able to uphold the Buddha’s teachings, and have the same responsibility to do so. However, there has been a period when nuns have not really had the opportunity to uphold the teachings, and this has been a loss for all of us.
Both the Karmapa and HH the Dalai Lama have often emphasized the importance of the four pillars of the Sangha—male and female fully ordained nuns and female and male lay practitioners. Scriptures state that for a land to be considered a noble one, all four of these must be present.
Citing precedent within his own lineage as well as the necessity of bringing Buddhism into the 21st century (his life’s mission), the Karmapa has committed himself to supporting the nuns for his entire life:
I think it’s important for me to do everything I can in order to support nuns’ teachings and practice, and to increase their listening, contemplation, and meditation. So I want to put as much effort into this as I can, from the bottom of my heart. I think this is something that’s appropriate for me to do from now until the end of this lifetime. I think it fits well with the activities of the previous Karmapas, and it’s also something that is definitely necessary within our contemporary society.
To give the first, shramaneri vows, the Karmapa invited nuns from Nan Ling Nunnery (also known as Daksinawana Bhiksuni Sangha Ashram) situated in an isolated area of western Taiwan. It was founded in 1981 and their sixty nuns observe an old tradition of the Dharmaguptaka vinaya (monastic discipline) while also following the mahayana with a focus on the practice of Amitabha. According to their vinaya, abbess (khenmo) bestowing the vow must request permission from her sangha to bestow the vows, and since this was given, the abbess was able to come to Bodh Gaya for the historic event.
This year, though the minimum number of nuns needed to confer the shramaneri vows is two, nine nuns from Nan Lin Nunnery came to help with the ceremony. Among them were the two main teachers, who must be present: the abbess Shih Jian Sheng, who gave the vows and the scholar (lopon) Shih Jian Ru, who taught the vinaya. The other nuns came to assist in the intensive daily teaching from March 3 to 11. During these very full days, the nineteen nuns from the Himalayan region, who were taking the vows from these Dharmaguptaka nuns, studied the vinaya in the morning and the procedures of the ceremony in the afternoon. Two nuns, one Tibetan fluent in Chinese and one Chinese fluent in Tibetan, helped to translate the ceremonies so that the nuns knew what they were saying and what they had to do.
Reflecting the great importance of taking these vows, before the ceremony, the nuns spent hours in a ritual of repentance and purification, examining their minds to eliminate obstacles. This process is part of ensuring that all the conditions are right for taking the vows and that the nuns have become a proper vessel for them. Then during the ceremony itself, something is present as the vow in a subtle form that comes into this vessel and at that moment the nun receives the ordination.
Before this happens, during the ceremony itself, the nuns are questioned extensively to see if they are, indeed, suitable vessels for the vows. They are asked questions about the thirteen major obstacles that would prevent them from ever taking the vows, the sixteen that must be cleared before they can, and so forth. Since this questioning takes considerable time, it was decided that some of the nuns would start taking the vows a day earlier and the entire process would be completed on the full moon day.
On March 11, under the great spreading limbs of the Bodhi Tree, next to the main stupa and the Vajra Seat where the Buddha attained full awakening, a special area was cordoned off for the ceremony and covered in red floral rugs. On the nuns left rose the gray stone wall of the Mahabodhi Stupa, where four niches held images of the Buddha, decorated in fresh garlands of yellow and orange marigolds. Wearing Chinese style nuns’ robes, stitched in burgundy cloth for the occasion, the nuns sat in rows facing the abbess and scholar. The two Dharmaguptaka nuns sat behind desks with images of the Buddha, and on the ground in front of them was a special cushion covered in a brocade mandala.
From 7am onward, the nuns came up one by one to bow and kneel here as they answered the extensive questions about obstacles, which were posed by abbess Shih Jian Sheng. She also asked each nun if she could hold and maintain each of her requisite ten vows, to which each participant replied, “Yes, I can.” After responding to the khenmo, the nun stood and bowed before the scholar Shih Jian Ru, who pronounced the name of the new getsulma and the exact date and time of the vow conferral, which she recorded.
The names that she recorded establish in history the nuns who received their shramaneri vows as part of this inspiring process to restore full ordination for nuns in the Tibetan sangha. Underlining their commitment to practice, more than half of these nuns have completed a three-year retreat. From Thrangu Rinpoche’s Thrangu Tara Abbey in Nepal came Karma Drukdrama, Lobsang Khando, Karma Wangchuk Lhamo, and Tsultim Sangmo. From Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche’s Karma Drubdey Palmo Chokyi Dingkhang in Bhutan came Karma Konchok and Sherab Zangmo. From Karma Thinley Rinpoche’s Chökhor Thekchen Lekshay Ling came Thapkhe Dolma, Kunga Dolma, Kunchok Wangmo, Choekyi Dolma, and Deckey Wangmo. From Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche’s Palpung Sherab Ling in India came Karma Changchup Choedon and Kelsang Choedon. From HH the Karmapa’s Karma Drubgye Dhargey Ling in India came Lodan Chhering and Dechen Choden. And from Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche’s Woser Karma Thekchok Ling in Nepal came Sherab Palmo, Karma Lodro Dechen, Karma Choden, and Mingyur Sangmo.
The ceremony finished in the late afternoon, and it turned out that the nuns had been very well prepared so the ceremony went very smoothly and quickly, and all but one nun could receive the vows. This final nun would take them the next day during the celebratory ritual when the Karmapa would be present. Today’s landmark occasion ended with showering the nineteen nuns in red, pink, and yellow flowers. These still adorned them as they stood to bow once again to the abbess and scholar, acknowledging their key role in opening the doors to this special world of practice for nuns.
- March 8, 2017
Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
Today the Karmapa began with the section in the Ornament of Precious Liberation on the eight benefits of aspirational bodhichitta. The first benefit is that aspirational bodhichitta is the gateway into the mahayana. Whether or not we are a mahayana practitioner depends on having aspirational bodhichitta in our being. It is what distinguishes the mahayana path or indicates a truly compassionate person.
And what makes compassion great is the scope of our resolve: we seek to benefit all infinite living beings without exception, to bring them happiness and free them of suffering. If we can shoulder this responsibility, our compassion is great; if not, we are just repeating empty words.
Aspirational bodhichitta is also the very basis for all the training of a bodhisattva. It is so powerful that if we can maintain it, we can even retake full ordination vows we have broken. Just keeping the vows of individual liberation (pratimoksha), however, would not allow us to retake the full ordination vows in a perfect way. From among four powers for repairing misdeeds, aspirational bodhichitta is the greatest in terms of the power of the support. Aspirational bodhichitta is also the seed that becomes the stable root for buddhahood.
Aspirational bodhichitta brings immeasurable merit, and on the other hand, the consequences of abandoning it are huge: bringing suffering, a reduced capacity to benefit others, and delay in achieving full awakening. The Karmapa added that he read in an instruction manual that if aspirational bodhichitta deteriorates, the negative consequences are as vast as space, so there are both great dangers and great benefits.
The tenth and final topic in this chapter, “The Proper Adoption of Bodhichitta,” treats the causes for losing the bodhichitta that we have cultivated. Since this is a crucial point for practice, the Karmapa spent some time discussing it. “Bodhichitta is lost when we give up on a living being,” the Karmapa said. “This commitment not to turn away from others is the most important one for the bodhisattva vow.” Bodhisattvas are dedicated to helping others, but if they turn away from other living beings, how could they possibly bring them benefit?
The Karmapa then added, “How do we measure or define what it is to give up on another?” In his commentary on Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, the Fourth Gyaltsap Rinpoche (Drakpa Döndrup, 1550-1617) writes that giving up on living beings means that your mind is not able to rejoice for them. The Kadampa spiritual friend Potowa states that if for any particular reason we get annoyed with someone, that means losing our affection and compassion for that living being. The Karmapa then gave an extreme example of abandoning another, telling of two worldly people fighting and saying to each other, “In this life we can never be together, and when we die, we’ll be buried in separate cemeteries as well.” On a different scale, he gave the example of thinking, “If an opportunity comes, I will not help this person.” Or “If there is a chance to remove a fault or an obstacle for this person, I will not do it.” These illustrate losing our affection and giving up on someone.
In his extensive explanation of the preliminary practices, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye quotes Puchungwa, who speaks of three conditions that need to come together for losing the vow: 1) The other has to be suffering; 2) there is no one to help them; and 3) we have the ability to protect or help them. When all three of these are present and we do not help, that is abandoning the bodhisattva vow. The spiritual friend Chen Ngawa said that if we think that there is no way that we could get along with another person, that we could never be in harmony, this is giving up on them.
Continuing to cite other authors, the Karmapa spoke of the Kadampa master Shonnu Gyechok (or Könchok Sumgyi Bang), who was also a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa and wrote the most extensive commentary in Tibetan on the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. He wrote that if we think that the louse larva is so small and insignificant that it makes no difference if we kill it, that is giving up on living beings. We are not valuing their life nor remembering that even this tiny being wishes for pleasure and wants to avoid suffering. A louse and an elephant are different in size but the same in having a life force; simply because one is bigger does not make it more important.
The Karmapa summarized, saying that to give up on living beings and lose our bodhisattva vow does not mean giving up on all of them: giving up on a single being means that we have turned away from our bodhisattva vow. If we are separated from our affection or compassion and think, “Even if I could help this person, I won’t. Even if I could turn away danger for them, I won’t,” we lose the bodhisattva vow.
Atisha spoke of three types of not giving up on living beings: 1) Those who have helped us; 2) those who harm us; 3) and not giving up on a being who is actually suffering. The first type is the easiest to maintain, for we have gratitude toward those who have helped us. The second is more difficult, and we need to understand that we are linked to those who harm us through the ripening of our karma. Here, of course, the Karmapa noted, we must believe in karma as cause and effect: If we harmed someone in the past, the result is that that we will be harmed in the future. That they harmed us is not good, but we need to consider the whole human being, and as such, this person wishes for happiness and wants to avoid suffering just like us, so we should not lose our sense of respect and stop valuing them. Atisha’s third type is not giving up on a being that is actually suffering. When we see suffering, we should think of its cause—karma and the various afflictions—and this naturally brings up great compassion and love within us. Not giving up on them, we think, “Wouldn’t it be great if they were freed of this suffering and its cause?”
The Karmapa emphasized that training in not giving up on any living being is mentioned first as it provides the basis for the vow of aspirational bodhichitta. He then brought in the First Karmapa’s statement that even if someone is going to harm your body or diminish your possessions, if you continue to help and care for them without despair or sadness, that is not giving up on a living being. We need real courage to do this and let go of our own benefit to think of others first. If we are focused on our own success or attached to our body or possessions, it is difficult to continually help others, so we need to loosen our clinging to ourselves.
The Karmapa then cited an example from the Kadampa teachings on the stages of the path: Your house catches on fire and you immediately start to flee outside. At the threshold of the front door, when you have one foot out and one foot in, you remember the other people left behind and think, “Saving myself is not enough. There are others I must protect,” and so you return inside to help. Great bodhisattvas think like this but for ordinary people, it is difficult due to their fixation on themselves. To remedy this, we need to do all we can to develop the realization that ourselves and others are equal, in that we both have the feelings of pleasure and pain. With this remedy and vivid example of what it means not to turn away from others, the Karmapa concluded his talk on the Ornament of Precious Liberation for this morning.
- March 9, 2017
Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
March 9 to March 11, 2017
After three days of talks on Gampopa in the morning and then debate for the rest of the day from March 6 to 8, the nuns engaged in three days of practice in the main shrine hall of Tergar Monastery. Beside the Karmapa’s throne were two stunning paintings: the one on his right depicting the mandala of Gyalwa Gyatso (Red Avalokiteshvara), and to his left was a lively, swirling presentation of the Five Tseringma (long life) goddesses, making it seem that they had just appeared out of the high mountain winds. Between the two, was the more simple, carved wooden throne where the Karmapa sat as a powerful presence for the three days.
The first practice in the morning was the Karma Pakshi Sadhana and Feast Offering, composed from a pure vision that came to a previous incarnation of Mingyur Rinpoche, the founder of this Tergar Monastery. The practice relates to the thangka (scroll painting) of Gyalwa Gyatso that hangs next to the Karmapa, since the five deities of this mandala are also found in the sadhana of Karma Pakshi. The text of the Karma Pakshi practice begins with beautiful teachings on the nature of the mind, such as:
If you remain without clinging to anything that appears, whatever arises is liberated of itself.
Not wandering from this, seeing nakedly with mindfulness and awareness—that is the path.
As if demonstrating this, during the morning break, the Karmapa came down from his throne and walked around the shrine hall, talking to the nuns, especially the chant leader, and making adjustments in how things were set up. After playfully engaging with the hard-working staff, he returned to his throne to finish the practice.
Earlier, the Karmapa had explained that there is a custom of combining the practice of Karma Pakshi with that of Tseringma, which is the practice for the afternoons. At 1:30, the Karmapa came back to the shrine hall to preside over this practice of Tseringma, which this year involves torma offerings and a practice of repairing and fulfilling, often performed for the purpose of extending the lama’s life. The previous day, the Karmapa had explained that Tseringma practice is continuing from last year (when this version was first published by his Altruism Publications), so that the community of nuns would flourish and be free of any obstacles to their study and practice.
The Karmapa also explained that Tseringma is the principal one of the twelve goddesses or spirits who protect Tibet. And she is not merely a goddess, but an extraordinary being as Milarepa chose her to be the holder of his teachings in the non-human world. Milarepa stated, “My teachings will be held among humans by the Teacher from U (Gampopa, who was from central Tibet) and Tseringma will hold them in the non-human realm.”
This dual holding of the teachings harks back to the Buddha and his decision to have two types of beings hold his teachings. He considered entrusting them just to humans, but they have a short life so the teaching would not last long. If he gave them to the gods, however, they are continually distracted by sensual pleasures and, therefore, careless. So the Buddha decided to install Mahakshayapa as his regent in the human realm, and appointed the Kings of the Four Directions as the holders of his teachings in the non-human realm. Milarepa was following, therefore, a custom dating back to the time of the Buddha.
The Karmapa also mentioned that last year, this Tseringma practice was also performed so that the reincarnation of Tenga Rinpoche would come quickly, and this again year it will be recited so that he may be swiftly found.
During the long hours of the puja, the Karmapa sat on the throne as straight as the long-life, beribboned arrow that rose from the table next to him.
- March 7, 2017
Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
In the second half of his teachings this morning, the Karmapa shared his research into the history of nuns and their status. He began by explaining the background of the name “Arya Kshema,” given to the Winter Dharma Gathering. He noted that among the disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, there were his eight greatest male monastic disciples, known for their prajna (supreme wisdom) or miracles and so forth. Likewise, there were female master disciples who were greatest at miracles or known for their prajna and other outstanding qualities. Arya Kshema is one of these and she is described in the Sutra of the Wise and Foolish as the greatest in wisdom and confidence, so the Winter Dharma Gathering is named after her.
“In giving this name,” the Karmapa explained, “we are also following the saying, ‘Later disciples should practice the example of past masters.’ Previously, during the time of the Buddha Shakyamuni, there were woman arhats, bhikshunis, and woman with the eightfold purity. My thought was that we could look to them as examples, train properly in Buddhist teachings just as they did, and achieve the result of liberation. I thought they would provide inspiration and a role model.
“Actually, we had originally planned to have a conference during this nun’s Winter Dharma Gathering. The main topic was to be the lives of great individuals who achieved liberation in a female body, in particular those bhikshunis who were important disciples of the Buddha Shakyamuni. But we didn’t have enough time and it didn’t happen, so we will look into it again later.
“In any case, in Tibetan history—and this is something that historians have not paid much attention to—Karma Chakme wrote Mountain Dharma for Nuns. This is from the genre of texts called “mountain dharma” that compile the instructions necessary for meditating in mountain retreats, and this is a mountain dharma text that Karma Chakme compiled particularly for nuns. In it, he says that at that time (of the 10th Karmapa), there were more nunneries than monasteries in Central Tibet, and all the nuns in these nunneries had a good basis of discipline. He wrote that they kept their precepts extremely well. For this reason, historically the nuns’ teachings spread widely in Tibet.
“But those who wrote the histories did not pay much attention to this, and later only a very few took interest in how the nuns’ Dharma spread in Tibet or in the great beings who appeared in a female body. However, in history and in fact, there have been many individuals in Tibet who gained siddhis in a female body, and there must have been many female learned individuals as well. Nuns’ communities must have flourished greatly.
“Likewise, when the monastic community was first established in Tibet, which is said to be during the time of King Trisong Deutsen (742-800), there were the Seven Men for Testing. Some say “Seven Men” and some say “Six Men.” But whether it was six or seven, when they first established the monastic community, there were not only men who went forth, but women as well. Among the queens, those who had not given birth to children went forth. When they did so and were ordained, I don’t think that they were just called nuns and dressed in monastic robes. When we say the Seven Men for Testing went forth, we clearly understand that they received the entire ordination. Likewise when women went forth at that time, I do not think it means that they merely held the intermediate vows of going forth. So when Buddhism first spread to Tibet, it seems that a community of ordained women was established from that very time.
“Similarly, there are important Sakya histories called Documents of the Kings and the Sakya Familial Lineage. These say that many daughters born into the Sakya family line became bhikshunis and give many stories about them. Later there were people who say these are not true, but that is a little hard to accept. For one thing, Documents of the Kings and the Sakya Familial Lineage are considered reliable historical documents. Also, it is a bit difficult to say that only the stories of women going forth or becoming bhikshunis are false but everything else is true. Furthermore, among the scholars from Minyak, there was one named Kashiwa Rikpe. It states in his biography that there was a community of bhikshunis at Minyak Rapgang and that there were three to four hundred nunneries. Therefore, there was a time in Tibet when there were quite a few nuns’ communities.
“During the time of Lha Lama Yeshe Ö and his successor, there was a royal proclamation that stated no one was allowed to prevent women who wanted to go forth or become bhikshunis from doing so; one must let them go forth and become bhikshunis. So at that time there must have been female aspirants; otherwise, it would have been unnecessary to say that they should be allowed to go forth and become bhikshunis. Similarly, there are several biographies of Lotsawa Rinchen Sangpo that are of varying length. One of these tells how a younger sister of his was ordained as a bhikshuni. There are many such stories.
“We don’t know, however, what the situations or circumstances were that led the nunneries and nuns’ communities to decline later. This should be researched, as there must have been some conditions for it. Later, nunneries in Tibet were quite poor and badly off. Many of you probably don’t know this, but those of you who have stayed in nunneries in Tibet probably do. The living facilities are poor, and the opportunities for study are weak. This is very clear. We don’t know whether the reason for this situation is related to politics, the dominance of any dharma lineage, or something else. This needs to be examined.
“In any case, when we say nowadays that nuns should be educated, that they should develop their qualities, and that a community of bhikshunis should be established, this is not something that has only now become important. It is not saying that what was previously insignificant has become important. Instead, it was crucial in the past, and we need to explain how that was and also dispel any doubts or misconceptions about it.
“There is a text called the Great Exposition of the Abhidharma. When we speak of the four philosophical schools, the reason the Great Exposition school was given that name is because they explain their tenets based upon this text. When it discusses how long the teachings would remain, it mentions that the Vinaya said that Buddhism would endure for one thousand years. But when the Great Exposition appeared, one thousand years had probably gone by since the Buddha passed away, yet the teachings still endured, even though the thousand years were over. So the arhats discussed why it was that the Buddha’s teachings remained even though a thousand years had gone by.
“Actually, the Vinaya states that the Buddha’s teachings would only remain a thousand years, but because women were ordained, that was shortened by five hundred years. However the Great Exposition appeared in the first or second century, when the Buddhism was supposed to have disappeared. So they had a discussion about this to figure out what could have been meant by saying the teachings would remain five hundred fewer years if women were ordained. The arhats had two ways of explaining this. One was to say that this meant the teachings of complete liberation, which refer to what we usually call the ‘period of results’ when we describe the duration of Buddhism. The other explanation says that if nuns had not accepted the eight heavy dharmas, the teachings would have been shortened by five hundred years. But the nuns did accept the eight heavy dharmas, so the duration of the teachings was not decreased by five hundred years. That is the explanation they gave.
“Before we received the text of the Great Exposition, Geshe Rinchen and I had discussed this point and thought it could be explained like that. Our understanding is exactly what we found in the text, so we gained some confidence. In any case, not knowing the entire situation, people have explained a few aspects and made a lot of noise while exaggerating things. This has led to many misapprehensions and misperceptions, which should be dispelled.
“We train in validity and say ‘It follows that…’ or ‘Because of x….’ We stomp our feet and clap our hands, and train in debate for many years primarily to dispel misapprehensions and misperceptions. We don’t do it only to become facile. The point of studying validity and logic is to dispel misapprehensions and misperceptions. If we say we study validity and follow logic but our misapprehensions and misperceptions increase, it is a sign we have not studied well. Since we study validity and use our logics, we must examine how they accord with facts. This is what we should consider most important. Being rigidly old-fashioned and holding to one’s own biases or views without proper reasons is not the way logicians should do things. I think that this is another reason why we need to consider this thoroughly.” With a look to the future and on-going research, the Karmapa drew this special morning talk to a close.