by Lobsang Dechen
Co-Director, Tibetan Nuns Project
Tibetan women have always had the opportunity to lead a monastic life if they have the interest to devote their life to the practice of the dharma. There have been quite a few famous women practitioners, for example Machig Labdron, Shugsep Jetsun Rinpoche and the 16th Samding Dorjee Phagmo, who is in Tibet.
However, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity of dual bhikshuni ordination in Tibet because Indian bhikshunis did not cross over the mountain barrier between India and Tibet. For a brief time in the 13th century bhikshuni ordination was given by the Tibetan Bhikshu Sangha only, but this was not continued and therefore there is no existing Tibetan tradition of bhikshuni ordination.
Traditionally, the nun’s tendency has been to devote their lives to meditation and liturgical practices. One of the advances for nuns in exile has been the introduction of study programmes in Buddhist philosophy into the nunneries. For the last twenty years, nuns have worked hard on their studies, so now well-educated and trained nuns in Buddhist Philosophy are emerging. As the nuns become more confident and articulate many are expressing an interest in and appreciation of the value of bhikshuni ordination.
In order for us to gain a real understanding of full ordination, we Tibetan nuns ourselves need to do research on vinaya. It is only recently that a few nuns have reached the required academic level to study vinaya, and even now they are only able to study that which relates to novices. Therefore, we are dependent on our Tibetan bhikshu vinaya masters to help us do the necessary research on how to revive a form of bhikshuni ordination that would be accepted within our own Mulasarvastivada vinaya tradition. This is the method we would feel most comfortable with if it is possible.