A Special Ritual for the Nuns’ Dharma to Flourish

A Special Ritual for the Nuns’ Dharma to Flourish

30 January 2014 • Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya

In yet another special activity at the end of the first Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering—and, taking place on the last day of the year according to the Tsurphu calendar—the Gyalwang Karmapa led a ritual that he himself had personally composed especially for the nuns’ dharma to flourish.

At this auspicious moment, when nuns in the Karma Kagyu tradition are stepping forward to more fully inhabit their valuable place within the sangha, and to take full advantage of the opportunities opening up for them, the Gyalwang Karmapa decided to perform this ritual so that the Buddhist teachings in general, and the community of nuns in particular can thrive.

The ritual aims to dispel any harms, difficulties or obstacles to the nuns’ dharma, through powerful supplications to Avalokitesvara and the Buddha’s own personal attendant, Ananda.

The Gyalwang Karmapa explained that the Buddha himself had said, in The Sutra of the Great Skillful Means of Repaying Kindness, that in the future when women monastics pray to Ananda, he will be able to protect them from harm and bring them great benefit.

“We’ll do this ritual together now, and I hope that in the future it can also be done on a regular basis in the nunneries,” he said. He recommended that it could be performed in all Karma Kagyu nunneries particularly on the Sojong days that fall in the middle months of spring and autumn.

The Gyalwang Karmapa composed the ritual based on texts relating to the Buddha’s own step-mother and disciple Mahaprajapati, the very first woman to request and receive ordination from the Buddha. After the Buddha had initially refused her request for women to become ordained as nuns, his attendant Ananda had interceded on their behalf and permission was later granted.

The main part of the ritual centers around the Mahayana Sojong vows. After the opening Sanskrit prayers—led for the first time by female chantmasters or umzes—the gathered nuns, monks and laypeople kneeled on their right knees to repeat the liturgy for the eight Mahayana precepts after the Gyalwang Karmapa.

The morning’s special practice also included supplications to Avalokitesvara, based on a sadhana by Nagarjuna called Sun of Avalokita 1000-Arms. In this practice Avalokitesvara and Ananda are seen to be indivisible, once more magnifying the power of the positive aspirations for the nuns’ dharma to flourish.

As the ritual took place, a stunning thangka of Avalokitesvara hung behind the Gyalwang Karmapa’s throne, overlooking the gathering. Avalokitesvara was shown standing, with two arms, one holding a lotus flower in full bloom, the other in the mudra of generosity, with the Bhikshu Ananda emanating from his open palm—a visible image of their inseparability.

To either side of the throne magnificent golden gilded statues of the 16 Arhats adorned the altars, together with sparkling gold and silver depictions of 16 auspicious symbols.

With this special and historic ritual, the Gyalwang Karmapa once more demonstrated the fullness of his commitment to work for the welfare of nuns, and his aspiration that the nuns’ dharma may flourish.


2014.01.30 A Special Ritual for the Nuns’ Dharma to Flourish

Chöd Puja: Celebrating the Essence of Enlightened Female Wisdom

Chöd Puja: Celebrating the Essence of Enlightened Female Wisdom

29 January 2014 • Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya

In an historic occasion coming at the end of the first Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering, nuns from six Kagyu nunneries performed an elaborate Chöd ritual, known as A String of Jewels, presided over by the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa.

While the Gyalwang Karmapa has been enthusiastic about Chöd practice from a young age, this was his first ever opportunity to publicly perform the Chöd puja—an opportunity he’d been looking forward to very much.

Since the time of the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, who wrote the first commentary on Chöd and who also compiled the text of this puja, the Karmapas have had a strong connection with the Chöd practice. Historically they are holders of the direct Chöd lineage, based on the Indian Buddhist deity Prajñāpāramitā, who is known as both the mother of all the Buddhas and the embodiment of wisdom.

Chöd, which means ‘to sever or cut’ in Tibetan, ultimately aims to cut through the ignorance of self-grasping that is the root of all our suffering, using the wisdom that realizes emptiness. It is renowned among the eight practice lineages of Tibetan Buddhism as being the only lineage established by a woman, the great female master Machig Labdrön, and female practitioners have traditionally excelled in its practice.

From the first opening strains the nuns’ melodies rang clear and bell-like throughout the gompa, the soaring notes of the puja carried effortlessly by the female voices.

The gompa was transformed for the puja, with rows of nuns seated on raised cushions facing inwards in the traditional arrangement, while a row of Geshes, Khenpos and venerable monks were seated to either side of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s throne. The nuns skillfully performed all the traditional roles of the puja, including Umze or chantmaster, Chöpon or ritual-master, as well as playing all the horns, drums, and other ritual implements.

Those present witnessed the spectacular sight of rows of nuns playing their ritual chöd-dar drums and bells in unison, led by the Gyalwang Karmapa at the head of the gathering. At points in the puja the haunting sound of kangling horns, famously made from thigh-bones, reverberated through the air, in a direct symbol of cutting through gross attachment to the physical body.

Arising from the enlightened female wisdom principle, the power of the morning’s Chöd practice was magnified under the unified voices of hundreds of nuns. Throughout the five-hour-long ritual, the Gyalwang Karmapa presided as Dorje Lopon or vajra master, his powerful, supportive presence guiding the nuns through to the end of the puja.


2014.01.29 Chöd Puja; Celebrating the Essence of Enlightened Female Wisdom

Teachings on the Jewel Ornament of Liberation

Teachings on the Jewel Ornament of Liberation

25-28 January 2014 • Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya

Throughout eight days of teachings during the inaugural Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering the Gyalwang Karmapa covered the first five chapters of Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation. Beginning with developing a deep appreciation of our precious human life, through to the importance of contemplating impermanence, and understanding the manifold sufferings of samsara, he taught the gathering daily—sometimes twice daily—in a rain of pure dharma. 

The enlightened wisdom of the Kagyu founding master Gampopa flowed effortlessly out through the Gyalwang Karmapa’s own enlightened speech as he progressed through the text, which is known as the earliest Lamrim text on the stages of the path to enlightenment.

The Gyalwang Karmapa spent several sessions exploring the topic of the spiritual master in detail, and the importance of correctly relying upon and entrusting oneself to a qualified teacher. The qualities to look for in a spiritual master include great wisdom, compassion that can lead students without bias, and no attachment to this life, he explained.

“The benefits of following a spiritual master are deeper than the ocean and vaster than the sky. We should think about all the benefits that can arise,” he told those gathered.

And yet, he continued, the spiritual master is only fifty percent of the story. The other fifty percent is up to us – the disciples. 

“We need to realize that the student and the lama are equally important. If there is a good spiritual master but not a good student then nothing’s going to happen, and vice versa. There has to be balance between the two.”

“When we think about the student and master, it’s like the two wheels of a bicycle. If one of the wheels is broken, then no matter how sound the other wheel is it won’t be able to go anywhere. Whereas, if we have both wheels on the bicycle we can go wherever we like. Similarly, there is no greater or lesser in importance between the master and student.”

When later exploring the topic of impermanence, the Gyalwang Karmapa turned to the natural world around us as a powerful teacher.

“We can learn about impermanence by looking at the skies and the seasons. If you know how to look and see the stars moving in the sky and the seasons changing, you can come to an understanding of impermanence from this. You can get a feeling of what impermanence is, without anyone saying anything about it. This is a teaching that is not written in a book – it’s an actual feeling.”

He then bought the teaching on death and impermanence to another level, drawing the minds of his students to an awareness of this very moment of existence.

“Our human life is always passing away. When we think about how long we’re going to live, imagine that we had a clock that said, ‘this is the 70 years that you have, while this is the amount of time already passed’. It shows us each minute, each second, of how much time we have left. At first it seems like we have a lot of time, and we do. But each moment passes, and finishes.”

“The past is over—it’s already done. Every split second that goes by is past. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. So the only time that we have is now. Thinking like this about impermanence really encourages us towards dharma practice.” 

Stopping occasionally to point out places where there were errors in the Tibetan text, the Gyalwang Karmapa announced that at the end of the year, during the 18th Kagyu Gunchö Debates, he will convene a special conference on the Jewel Ornament of Liberation. Khenpos and students from different shedras will research and examine the text very carefully and critically, focusing on clarifying the errors that have crept in over the centuries. If the review goes well they may produce a critical edition of the text, together with updated translations into English and Chinese.

“This text is a jewel for all the Kagyu lineages,” he said, “not just for the Karma Kagyu, and it would be very beneficial to study it more.” 

As the teachings wound to a close on the final day, the Gyalwang Karmapa directly addressed the nuns taking part in the first Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering.

He observed that despite having had the flu, he had been able to continue offering dharma teachings throughout the eight-day gathering. Moreover, each day people had also spontaneously made material offerings.

“From beginning to end I’ve been able to give you this offering of dharma without missing any days and I feel good about that. We’ve also had daily material offerings. Neither the dharma offerings nor the material offerings have been interrupted, so it feels to me like this Winter Dharma Gathering has been complete, both internally and externally.”

He then commented that now the nuns had begun studying logic, the Geshes and Khenpos had already told him they were doing very well. 

“As the great masters of the past say, it’s important to examine whether the first link of interdependence is good or not. This is the nature of interdependence—if the initial link goes well, all the rest goes well. Here, the first link of the Winter Dharma Gathering has gone very well. I think this is great sign that the teachings of the Buddha, and particularly of the nuns’ dharma, will go very well. This is a most excellent sign.”

2014.01.21-28 Teachings on the Jewel Ornament of Liberation
Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching During the 1st Arya Kshema Nuns’ Gathering—Why Bhikshuni Ordination is Important

Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching During the 1st Arya Kshema Nuns’ Gathering—Why Bhikshuni Ordination is Important

Watch or download all 11 sessions

Women monastics are indispensible

During the historic first Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering for Kagyu nuns the Gyalwang Karmapa offered eight days of dharma discourses, interspersing his teachings with frank and well-researched advice on the important issue of full-nun’s ordination in Tibet (known in Sanskrit as ‘Bhikshuni’ ordination and in Tibetan as ‘Gelongma’ ordination).

Citing little-known textual descriptions, the Gyalwang Karmapa related accounts of thriving nuns’ communities—including many fully ordained nuns—in central areas of Tibet several centuries ago. However, such communities have disappeared and today there is no full ordination offered to nuns within the Tibetan tradition.

It is important for us to once again have a community of fully ordained nuns now, the Gyalwang Karmapa unequivocally said, stressing that only with the presence of fully ordained women is the Buddhist community complete.

Teaching primarily to around 207 nuns from six Kagyu nunneries who took part in the Arya Kshema Gathering, the Gyalwang Karmapa also opened up the teachings to the general public, with many Tibetan and foreign lay people filling the gompa. A number of respected Geshes, Khenpos and other monks also took part.

As each teaching session began, those gathered enjoyed the rare sound of a female umze or chantmaster leading the nuns, monks and laypeople through the opening prayers, the female voices ringing strong and clear. They also welcomed the sight of nuns escorting the Gyalwang Karmapa into the gompa with traditional gyaling horns and incense, while female disciplinarians oversaw the rows of nuns sitting on raised cushions, their backs straight and true.

Welcoming them on the first morning of teachings, the Gyalwang Karmapa first explained the name of the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering.

“It is said that among the female disciples of the lord Buddha, the one with the greatest wisdom and greatest confidence was named Arya Kshema. This shows that female monastics were the same as male monastics, and were able to achieve the highest realization,” the Gyalwang Karmapa explained. “But the most important thing is that in this day and age, women monastics are indispensible for upholding the Buddha’s teachings.”

Hidden histories: a thriving nuns’ community

The Gyalwang Karmapa then explored the origins and history of the female monastic community in Tibet—observing that while parts of this history may not be well-known, they are nonetheless very important.

He began by demonstrating clearly and unambiguously that the Bhikshuni sangha previously existed in Tibet, referring to particular historical documents that contain evidence of this.

The first seven men took ordination in Tibet during the reign of King Trisong Detsen. And, the Gyalwang Karmapa explained, the female monastic sangha was also initiated at that time.

“Just as the complete vows of individual liberation were given for the male monastic sangha, I also believe that at the same time the complete vows were also given to the female monastic community,” he said.

Moreover, the histories show clear examples of many nuns in Tibet who received the Bhikshuni or Gelongma ordination, while there are documented cases of such great lamas as Shakya Chogden, Bodong Chogle Namgyal and the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje conferring full ordination to women.

“If we look at the histories of the family lineages of the Sakya tradition, then there are stories about how the daughters of some of the great Sakya lineage holders took the Bhikshuni vows. It is also recorded in history that the sister of the great translator Rinchen Zangpo became a Bhikshuni. It seems fairly clear that at that point there was either a living tradition of conferring the Bhikshuni vows, or there was another manner of conferring the vows.”

“Likewise, in the histories of the lama Yeshe Ö who exerted power over the areas of Ngari, some documents show that if the wives of the kings—as well as women from both higher and common classes of society—wanted to take the Bhikshuni vows, they were allowed to. These documents exist, and I have seen them,” he said.

The Gyalwang Karmapa then cited texts indicating that during the time of the 10th Karmapa, in the central areas of Tibet in fact more nunneries existed than monasteries. In the 17th century the nun’s community was evidently thriving, he told those gathered.

“Now, history such as this may not be very well-known, but it does exist. These stories are true. In the old times in Tibet there was a thriving community of nuns who had opportunities to study, listen and contemplate, and to practice meditation. There were many yoginis and other great nuns who achieved realization and accomplishment through their practice. Whether or not these stories are well-known, we do know that this was the case.”

The current situation

After establishing that the Bhikshuni sangha had indeed once existed within Tibet, the Gyalwang Karmapa next turned to the current situation—where the Bhikshuni sangha has died out—and the need to change it.

“It is important for us to have the Bhikshuni sangha. This is something that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has put much effort into, and also great scholars from all lineages have taken a keen interest. There has been a lot of discussion over this issue. Several conferences have been called—in fact, these conferences have been going on since well before I came to India.”

“It’s probably been over twenty years of discussion and further research, and still people are unable to come to a decision about this issue. So I’m not sure whether it’s that people are unable to come to a decision, or that they don’t dare to, or don’t know how to. And so that is the state that we are in now.”

Upholding the teachings

Next the Gyalwang Karmapa discussed some of the scriptural reasons why it is important to have a Bhikshuni sangha, and their valuable role in fully upholding the Buddha’s teachings.

According to the lamrim definition of a precious human rebirth, the presence of Bhikshunis is needed for a land to be considered a ‘central land’, he explained. Whether a place is a ‘central land’ or not depends on the presence of the four circles of disciples—fully ordained monks, fully ordained nuns, male lay precept-holders, and female lay precept-holders—that are like four pillars holding up a house. And yet, in the Tibetan tradition one of those pillars is missing as there are no fully ordained nuns.

“In many texts it says that what determines whether the teachings of the Buddha are present in a country is whether the teachings of the Vinaya are present in that country or not. And that depends on whether there is the practice of the three foundational rituals,” he explained.

These three rituals refer to the sojong or twice-monthly confession ceremony for monks and nuns, the rains retreat, and a special ceremony relating to the rains retreat.

“If we think about it in terms of male practitioners, we have the trainings and the three foundational rituals. Yet, for women, we don’t have the three foundational rituals, and certainly not as described in the Vinaya, because there are no Bhikshunis. So, it’s important for us to have Bhikshunis who are able to maintain the practice of the three foundational rituals. This is necessary.”

An undisputed ordination

The Gyalwang Karmapa then raised another important reason why the Bhikshuni sangha is important. Without it, he explained to those gathered, it becomes very difficult to give any level of ordination to women that is 100% free from dispute—including the novice or Getsulma ordination.

“Without a Bhikshuni sangha it is very difficult to truly give the monastic vows to women. Now there is debate as to whether the Bhikshu sangha is able to give the Bhikshuni ordination to women or not. Some say that the Bhikshu sangha is able to follow the ritual text and give it, while others say they are not. There is much debate about this.”

“But, if there is debate as to whether the Bhikshu sangha is able to give the Bhikshuni vows or not, then automatically it also becomes disputed as to whether the Bhikshu sangha is able to give the novice nun’s ordination as well. It’s difficult to say this and be 100% undisputed.”

“If we have a Bhikshuni sangha then we can give undisputed monastic vows, but otherwise it will be difficult for us to give any monastic vows that are 100% free of dispute. So this is another important reason for the Bhikshuni ordination.”

Collective responsibility

Finally, the Gyalwang Karmapa once more highlighted the importance of the issue, and how responsibility now rests upon the entire sangha in addressing it.

“We need to understand that the situation now with Bhikshunis is an important issue. Some people think that there have been some foreign nuns who’ve come over and started making an issue out of it and it’s only then that the Bhikshuni issue has become an important question, and that before it wasn’t important. But that is absolutely not the case. The fact that it was not an important issue for us before is our fault. It’s our problem, and it’s us not living up to our own responsibility. And this is for monks and nuns both—we have both let this slide, so it is all of our responsibility.”


2014.01.21-24 Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching During the 1st Arya Kshema Nuns’ Gathering; Why Bhikshuni Ordination is Important

The Opening Ceremony of the 1st Annual Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering for the Kagyu Nuns

The Opening Ceremony of the 1st Annual Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering for the Kagyu Nuns

The main shrine hall of Tergar Monastery had been transformed for this the first ever Karma Kamtsang Nuns’ Winter Dharma Gathering. The great tormas from the Kagyu Monlam had been brought over from the pavilion and, along with offerings of fruit, biscuits and sweets, intricately arranged into cylindrical shapes Korean style, they adorned the front of the dais behind the Gyalwang Karmapa’s throne.

The magnificent, brightly-coloured stitched thangkas of the Kagyu forefathers and lineage holders, which had lined the sides of the Monlam Pavilion aisle, now hung on either side of the central section of the shrine room. The 197 nuns, drawn from 6 Karma Kagyu nunneries in Bhutan, India and Nepal, along with a scattering of Chinese and Western nuns who follow the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, sat patiently in rows of raised seats, and a nun umze waited to lead the chanting.

The Gyalwang Karmapa has several times expressed his intention to raise the educational standards of nuns and make the three trainings available to them.

As he said in a video released a few weeks ago,

The times have changed and we are now in an age in this world when it is important that women are equal and that everyone is given the same educational opportunities. So in this time, we must take this opportunity. I think it will be extremely good to give nuns all of the facilities for studying, contemplating, and meditating.

The Winter Debate session for Karma Kamtsang monks has been running for seventeen years but this is the very first time when the nuns of the Karma Kamtsang have been called together at the behest of the Gyalwang Karmapa.  He has chosen to call it the Arya Kshema after the nun of the same name who was the foremost of the Buddha’s female disciples, the wisest of the wise and the most confident, as a cause for the nuns to become better educated and more confident.

Because the new programme of studies for nuns, which will raise their educational level to that of the monks, is in its preliminary stages, there will not be extensive debating this year. Instead, Khenpos will hold twice-daily classes in order to teach the nuns the fundamentals of debate, based on a text on Collected Topics. In addition, as is the case during the monks’ winter debate session, the Gyalwang Karmapa will give an extensive ten-day teaching. This year he has chosen Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation.

After initial prayers, Ngodup Pelzom, older sister of the Gyalwang Karmapa, opened the speeches which would set the tone for the conference. She talked as “a woman talking about women’s issues“.  Though half of the world’s 7 billion population was female, and women often formed the majority in religious activities, women still faced many difficulties because of their lower status within society.  She shared her own experience of prejudice, growing up as a nomad girl in Tibet.  When her father taught her to read, his fellow villagers had criticized him, saying that there was no point educating a girl as she just needed to know how to tend the yaks and goats, how to cook, look after children and so forth. Hearing this, many of the Tibetan nuns in the audience cried; being undervalued and dismissed, and having to battle for an education were obviously experiences they shared.

Pelzom la highlighted two requirements: to change how society views women and to educate women thus increasing their confidence so that they would not become discouraged. Without education women could neither fulfill their own personal wishes nor could they gain status in the eyes of the wider society. Nuns require the same facilities and opportunities – shedras and retreat centres— as monks, she said. In terms of the Buddhist teachings they needed to study ethical discipline, meditative stabilisation and wisdom, and though they have not yet received gelongma vows, in future that would happen too. It was essential that nuns received all of these facilities in order to fully support the Buddha’s teachings. Because of the great kindness and under the guidance of the Gyalwang Karmapa, nuns would now receive the chance to study as monks. However, this brought new responsibilities. In the past they could complain that they didn’t have the same opportunities, but, now they would not have this excuse so it was important that they had the courage to seize the opportunities. The future is in their hands.

The next speaker was an American nun, the Ven. Lhundup Damchoe. Illustrating the Buddha’s own regard for nuns, and his intention that they should hold an equal place in preserving the Dharma, she recounted the story from Sanghabhedavastu (dge ‘dun byen gyi gzhi)  of how “Mara came and suggested that the Buddha should pass into parinirvana since he had already accomplished his aim of attaining complete enlightenment. The Buddha replied that he would only pass into parinirvana after not only his bhikshus but also his bhikshunis and upsakas had a clear understanding of the Dharma and could successfully debate with those who argue against the Dharma.” The Gyalwang Karmapa was now making this opportunity available to the Karma Kamtsang nuns. However, there seemed two major obstacles: the outer one is lack of material and educational opportunities, and the inner one which is the nuns’ lack of confidence in them.

She continued by explaining many people didn’t realize that gender equality is a recent phenomenon in the West, and spoke of the problems her own mother had encountered. It was important to understand that ideas about gender roles are simply ideas, not truths, and women often allowed such ideas to put limitations on their achievements. Furthermore, the 21st century world desperately needed the Dharma and female qualities of caring and compassion.

Ani Damchö concluded with a plea to the nuns to “deepen your Dharma understanding and practice, and accept the responsibility of helping to keep the teachings of Buddha alive and available around the world”. [Opening Speech by Ani Damchö]

The third speaker was the Ven. Miaorong Fashi, a Taiwanese nun. She spoke on the qualities of female wisdom and courage as she had experienced them, especially living and interacting with Himalayan women. “Being a Buddhist disciple,” she said, “we all know that wisdom, courage and compassion, all these wonderful qualities are inherently owned by all sentient beings. The only difference may be in the expression and demonstration of these qualities.” But women in particular display qualities of “tenderness, humility and gentleness, and delicacy, as well as great perseverance, self-sacrifice, and forbearance”.  Nuns now had the responsibility to “fundamentally transform the ideas held by the whole of society and the ideas and understanding which we hold of ourselves”. [Opening Speech by Ani Miaorong Fashi]

The fourth speaker was Khenpo Kelsang Nyima, the senior Khenpo at Rumtek shedra. He placed the Arya Kshema gathering in the wider context of the work which the Gyalwang Karmapa, the embodiment Buddha activity, has been undertaking for the benefit of sentient beings. First His Holiness had ensured that the heart of the Kagyu teachings, the 13 Tantras of Marpa, were preserved and protected. Then he had restructured the Kagyu Monlam, restoring codes of conduct for the Kagyu sangha, producing a new book of prayers, composing beautiful new melodies, commissioning new and splendid tormas, so that the Kagyu Monlam had become something to be admired and honoured. The Karmapa was making sure that practitioners received the empowerments, oral transmissions and key instructions that they needed in order to practice the specific Kagyu lineage practices. He had also produced plays of the Life of Milarepaand Karma Pakshi and organized the celebration of Karmapa 900. He had encouraged people to complete their preliminary practices and retreats, and he had enhanced the quality of debate in the monks’ gunchoe by introducing external judges and prizes.

Now, His Holiness had organized the Arya Kshema Winter Gathering for Nuns. This had not been at the request of the nunneries or monasteries but was part of the Karmapa’s vision for the future of the Karma Kamtsang, and reflected his continuing support of nuns, including his contribution to the debate on the gelongma issue.

The next speaker, Khenpo Tsultrim Namdak Rinpoche Principal of Sherab Ling Shedra, emphasized the importance of education. The Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering, as well as being a great new hope for the education and conditions of nuns, would be a vast and beneficial activity because it came from the creative vision of the Gyalwang Karmapa. The 21stcentury is an age of education but the Karma Kamtsang had fallen behind the Gelugpa. Gelugpa nunneries already had full educational programmes in place: they held an annual debate competition between nunneries, and were soon to produce the first Geshema from their shedras. The teachings of the Buddha are vast and profound and Buddhism as a religion depends on wisdom and intelligence. It is very difficult to practice and study the Dharma without an education. Through education, we increase reasoning and logic. Traditionally in Tibetan history, many women played an important role, becoming scholars or great practitioners, and these days, many powerful countries have women leaders. Indeed, it’s a Bhikshuni who leads the largest charitable organisation in Taiwan.

The penultimate speaker was Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche who emphasized that all sentient beings have buddha potential. There is no difference between men and women, he maintained, in vows, realisations, attainment, or practices. There are male and female bodhisattvas and yidam deities. Women have attained Arhatship. He then gave examples of many famous women practitioners who had benefited the Dharma and sentient beings: Yeshe Tsogyal assisted Guru Rinpoche when he concealed his treasures; Dagma, Marpa’s wife, gave empowerments; Machig Labdron began the Chöd tradition, and she was an important disciple of the 9thKarmapa; the 16th Karmapa received transmissions and teachings from Shugseb Jetsunma, who entered the state of thugdam when she died.  Rinpoche reassured the nuns that this great opportunity for them to study would, likewise, be of immense benefit to sentient beings.

His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa’s speech concluded the opening ceremony. Time was running out, he said, and he felt that most of what he had to say had already been said, so he spoke briefly of the need for all four pillars of the teachings, the four communities of male and female, ordained and lay practitioners, to exist in order for the Buddha’s teachings to flourish and survive. The Buddha himself gave the order for the ordination of women and established the female sangha [Tib. Gelongma] so the Tibetan tradition was at fault for letting things slip. Consequently, Tibet could not be counted as a ‘central land’. As had been mentioned already, women formed half the world’s population , and there were many female followers, so it was very important to support and care for their practice.

Gyalwang Karmapa expressed his belief that this was an auspicious moment: the first Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering for Nuns, and a fortunate opportunity. He prayed that this dharma gathering would continue forever, serving the good of not just the Buddhist teachings in general, but also the nuns in particular.  He spoke movingly of his mother in Tibet. Even though, naturally, he was fond of both his parents, he admitted missing his mother more. They were now separated by a huge distance but he felt that to serve and benefit nuns and laywomen was a way in which he could continue to symbolically serve his mother and his sisters. He admitted that in recent years many problems had arisen for him personally, both internal and external, such as had never arisen in the lives of previous Karmapas. This had led to moments when he had experienced both disappointment and discouragement, but still he held the hope that he would be able to serve the Dharma and work for the benefit of nuns and all beings for the rest of his life.

Finally, he said, everyone should appreciate the auspiciousness of the conditions. This gathering at the sacred site of Bodhgaya, with Rinpoches, Tulkus, Khenpos, nuns and laypeople was the fruit of great merit, the result of the compassionate blessings of the buddhas, the arhats and the bodhisattvas.


2014.01.20 The Opening Ceremony of the 1st Annual Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering