History in the Making: The First Step Toward Full Ordination
March 12, 2017
The Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
At the Mahabodhi Stupa, it is the morning of the first full moon in the Tibetan year. In the shade of the Bodhi Tree, nineteen nuns sit near the Vajra Seat, site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. On the path to full ordination, eighteen took the shramaneri vows in the same place the day before, and one remains to take them on this auspicious fifteenth day of the Month of Miracles.
Soon the Karmapa arrives at the main gate, and led by a senior nun carrying a long incense holder and wearing the yellow cockade hat, he walked straight down the red carpet leading into the main temple and its famous statue of the meditating Buddha. Inside, the Karmapa offered shimmering golden robes to the Buddha along with alms bowls full of jars of honey and fruits.
The procession then moved outside and around the great stupa to the back where a throne and altar had been arranged under the spreading limbs of the Bodhi Tree. The Karmapa took his seat, and behind him, placed above rows of offerings, was a special painting of a standing Avalokiteshvara. He held a lotus flower in his left hand and from the palm of his right hand emanated an image of Ananda, close disciple and cousin of the Buddha. As the Karmapa has explained elsewhere, Ananda is known for his great compassion in requesting the Buddha numerous times on behalf of Mahaprajnapati to grant vows to women. It is due to his success that women have been able to go forth and take ordination.
In recognition of his pivotal role, Ananda is supplicated and praised in the Ritual Practice for the Dharma to Flourish in Women’s and Especially Nuns’ Communities, Based on the Inseparability of Avalokiteshvara and Ananda, composed by the Karmapa. In addition to sections with language inclusive of women newly written by the Karmapa, the text includes the traditional refuge, bodhichitta, and Seven Branch prayer as well as a beautiful praise of Avalokiteshvara, the mahayana sojong vows, the story of Mahaprajnapati’s requests, and the Dharma Blaze Aspiration, a supplication for the Dharma’s flourishing taken fromThe Sutra of the Essence of the Moon.
The heart of this morning’s ceremony was the recitation of this Ritual Practice for the Dharma to Flourish. On either side of the Karmapa’s throne, rows of yellow and burgundy robed nuns flowed in rows interspersed with the grey and tan robes of nuns from more than seventeen countries; the wide stairs leading to the Bodhi Tree and the areas nearby were filled with women from east and west, delighted to be a part of this historic event and grateful for the Karmapa’s wholehearted support of women practitioners.
After the ritual practice, three speakers brought three different perspectives to the history of how the vows were instituted. The first speaker, Tsunmo Tsultrim Sangmo, was one of the nineteen nuns who took vows: