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RESEARCH REGARDING THE LINEAGE OF BHIKSUNI ORDINATION
A Response to Necessary Research Regarding the Lineage of Bhiksuni Vinaya
Committee of Western Bhiksunis
A. Question: Is it possible to establish full bhiksuni ordination in accordance with the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya tradition that flourished in Tibet?
Yes, the bhiksuni ordination could be performed in one of two ways:
1. Bhiksuni Ordination by Mulasarvastivada Bhiksus Alone
The Buddha allowed bhiksus to ordain bhiksunis as shown by the following Vinaya quotations:
a. Pali Theravada Vinaya
Mahaprajapti was ordained by receiving the eight gurudharmas from the Buddha. Mahaprajapati then asked the Buddha how her 500 women followers should be ordained and the Buddha said, "O monks, I allow bhikkhunis to receive the upasampada from bhikkhus". (1)
b. Mulasarvastivada Vinaya
c. Chinese Dharmagupta Vinaya
The fourth gurudharma is: "After having learned the precepts [for two years], a Siksamana should take the full ordination (upasanpada) from the Bhiksu Sangha". (5)
d. Chinese Sarvastivada Vinaya
The second gurudharma is: "A bhiksuni should take full ordination from the Bhiksu Sangha". (6) In this case, bhiksus of the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada Vinaya tradition alone could conduct the bhiksuni ordination.
2. Bhiksuni Ordination by a Dual Sangha of Dharmagupta Bhiksunis and Mulasarvastivada Bhiksus
a. Pali Theravada Vinaya
b. Mulasarvastivada Vinaya
c. Chinese Mahisasaka Vinaya
d. Chinese Mahasanghika Vinaya
e. Chinese Sarvastivada Vinaya
The dual ordination procedure is prescribed for bhiksunis.(18)
f. Chinese Theravada Vinaya
g. Chinese Dharmagupta Vinaya
The dual ordination procedure is prescribed for bhiksunis.(21). In this case, ten Tibetan Mulasarvastivada bhiksus could conduct an ordination together with twelve Dharmagupta bhiksunis. The bhiksuni ordination rite could be recited in Tibetan, either using the bhiksuni dual ordination manual that has been translated from Chinese to Tibetan, or an ordination procedure compiled by Tibetan bhiksus based on Tibetan sources. In the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada Vinaya, the bhiksunis are ordained by twelve bhiksunis first, i.e. the Bhiksuni Sangha transmits to the candidate the brahmacaryopasthana vow.(22) Then ten bhiksus join the twelve bhiksunis together to conduct the final bhiksuni ordination rite. Because the eight parajikas and the three reliances, etc., are recited only by the bhiksus, and are the same in the Dharmagupta and Mulasarvastivada, the candidates can be said to receive the Mulasarvastivada precepts.
B. Question: To transmit the precepts, one must have those precepts oneself or have precepts that are higher than those. Is the Bhiksu Sangha alone, then, allowed to transmit the bhiksuni precepts?
Yes, because the bhiksu precepts are either considered to be higher than the bhiksuni precepts or to be of one nature (ngo bo gcig; ekabhava) with the bhiksuni precepts. This is so because:
1. It is said that if a bhiksu transforms into a female, then that bhiksu automatically has the bhiksuni precepts and does not need to receive ordination again. Similarly, if a bhiksuni transforms into a male, he automatically has the bhiksu precepts and does not need to receive them anew. (See addendum on gender transformation, with a translation from the Pali canon, Vin. III 35, 1224.) This is a similar passage in the Dharmagupta Vinaya: .At that time, a bhiksu transformed into a female. The bhiksus asked the Buddha, "Should he be expelled [from the Sangha]?" The Buddha said, "No, he should not be expelled. He is allowed to be sent to the Bhiksuni Sangha, and keeps his upadhyaya, his acarya and his previous ordination seniority". (23)
2. In the Pali Vinaya, it is said that the Bhikkhu Sangha alone ordained the 500 women accompanying Mahapajapati and other women, too. These ordinations were conducted on the advice of the Buddha himself. To transmit these precepts, they did not need to be bhikkhunis. Later, after some women felt embarrassed answering intimate questions in front of bhikkhus, the Buddha is said to have instituted the procedure of having bhikkhuni masters ask these questions, etc. This is clear from the Pali Vinaya, considered by historians to be the earliest version of the Vinaya to be written down.
3. At the First Council after the Buddha’s parinirvana, Bhiksu Upali is said to have recited the whole Vinaya Pitaka. In this case, he must have recited the Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutra, too. Upali was not leading the posadha, but he recited the Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutra as part of the compilation of the Buddha.s teachings. He was allowed to do so, although he did not have the bhiksuni precepts. Similarly, the Tibetan geshe studies include the study of the Bhiksuni Vinaya.
C. Question: Is it possible for Tibetan nuns to receive full bhiksuni ordination in accordance with the Dharmagupta Vinaya tradition that flourished in China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, etc.?
Yes. The ordination could be performed by ten bhiksus and ten bhiksunis of the Dharmagupta Vinaya tradition, whether from Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, or other countries, in accordance with the bhiksuni upasanpada rite. In the Dharmagupta Vinaya, the bhiksunis are first ordained by ten bhiksunis. Then these . basic Dharma. bhiksunis (penfani) and the bhiksuni precept master go before an assembly of ten bhiksus on the same day. Such an ordination would be very easy to arrange.
Bhiksuni Ordination by Dharmagupta Bhiksus and Dharmagupta Bhiksunis
The bhiksuni ordination could be performed by bhiksus and bhiksunis of the Dharmagupta tradition in accordance with the bhiksuni upasanpada rite. In the Dharmagupta Vinaya, the bhiksunis are ordained by ten bhiksunis and then go before an assembly of ten bhiksus on the same day.
In this case, nuns of the Tibetan tradition could be ordained by bhiksus and bhiksunis of the Dharmagupta Vinaya tradition. This is the procedure that has been used to reestablish the Bhiksuni Sangha in Sri Lanka. The first three groups of Sri Lankan bhiksunis were ordained by bhiksus and bhiksunis of the Chinese or Korean traditions.
Since 1998, ordinations have been conducted by Sri Lankan Theravada bhikkhus together with Sri Lankan bhikkhunis, in accordance with the Theravada bhikkhuni ordination rite. The Sri Lankan monks made allowances for the newly ordained bhikkhunis to act as ordination masters due to the special circumstances and because many of these bhikkhunis had been ordained as ten precept nuns for 20 or more years. The Sri Lankan bhikkhunis are now observing the 311 bhikkhuni precepts of the Theravada tradition and are accepted in Sri Lankan society as Theravada bhikkhunis. In the same way, nuns of the Tibetan tradition could receive the bhiksuni ordination in the Dharmagupta tradition and practice according to the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. After twelve years, they could perform the bhiksuni ordination together with bhiksus of the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada tradition.
D. Question: Are there clear records indicating that the bhiksu and bhiksuni lineages exist unbroken in East Asia?
Yes. Attached are texts documenting that: (1) the Chinese bhiksu lineage that flourished in East Asia can be traced to Buddha Sakyamuni himself;(24) and (2) the bhiksuni lineage can be traced to the first Chinese bhiksuni Ching Chien (Jingjian) in 357 C.E. Texts documenting both of these lineages are enclosed herewith.(25)
The Chinese master Daohai (Taohai) asserts that . In a word, the lineage of bhiksuni ordination in China has clearly been broken (to receive base rules from a sangha consisting of bhiksunis only, not to mention receiving 1group ordination from bhiksus) during Sung Dynasty (around A.D. 972).. (26) This assertion is refuted by clear documentation. During the Northern Sung dynasty, Emperor T.aitsu (Taizu) began a persecution of Buddhism and prohibited bhiksunis from traveling to bhiksu monasteries to receive ordination. However, this prohibition was not in effect for long. After Emperor T.aitsu (Taizu) died in 976, his son T.aitsung (Taizong) came to power and was well disposed toward Buddhism.(27) This can be proven from historical records documenting that T.aitsung (Taizong) established an ordination platform in the year 978. Additional ordination platforms were erected in 980, 1001, 1009, and 1010.(28) The year 1010 was especially important, because 72 ordination platforms were erected throughout the country. (See attached documents).
E. Question: How should the Siksamana ordination be performed?
1. The Siksamana precepts could be given by Dharmagupta bhiksunis according to the Mulasarvastivada tradition, using the siksamana precepts from the Mulasarvastivada tradition. This is possible because bhiksunis ordained according to the Dharmagupta Vinaya have all the Siksamana precepts as explained in the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. The siksamana precepts could be explained by the bhiksunis in Tibetan, by using the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada text.
2. The training of nuns in the bhiksuni precepts could be explained to the candidates during these two years of Siksamana training, because Siksamanas are permitted to study the bhiksuni precepts. The training of nuns in the Siksamana precepts for two years could be done in one of three ways:
3. It is clear in the texts of all Vinaya traditions that the . ramanerika and Siksamana precepts are to be given by bhiksunis. The training of nuns in the bhiksuni precepts could be explained to the candidates during these two years of Siksamana training, because siksamanas are permitted to study the bhiksuni precepts. According to the Dharmagupta Vinaya, a Siksamana has to study the bhiksuni precepts for two years.(29).
This training could be conducted in two ways:
4. Exceptions with regard to Siksamana ordination are possible under certain circumstances. In Kunkhyen Tsonaba Sherab Zangpo.s Dulwa Tsotik,(30) in the context of the twoyear training of a siksamana, it says that a Siksamana needs to take the precepts . from an upadhyayika and karmakarika, together with a sangha of bhiksunis. The female sangha must be comprised of twelve bhiksunis in a . central land.. In a . border land,. where twelve bhiksunis are not available, six bhiksunis need to be present. If this number of bhiksunis is not complete and the precepts are given by a community of four bhiksunis, the precepts are said to arise, although those who conduct the ordination commit a fault (nyes byas; duskrta). The same text says, . If one cannot find the required bhiksunis, it is even permissible for the Bhiksu Sangha to give the Siksamana precepts (dge slong ma de dag ma rnyed na/ dge slong pha'i dge 'dun gyis kyang dge slob ma'i bslab pa sbyin du rung ste).. (31)
F. Question: Is there one bhiksuni lineage in China or two?
There is one bhiksuni lineage in the Dharmagupta tradition, not two. In 357 CE, Ching Chien (Jingjian) was ordained as a bhiksuni by bhiksus alone, because there were no bhiksunis in China at that time. Chinese Buddhists traditionally regard this as the beginning of the bhiksuni ordination in China. After the arrival of Bhiksuni Devasara and other bhiksunis from Sri Lanka, Huikuo (Huiguo) and other Chinese bhiksunis were reordained by both bhiksus and bhiksunis, in a ceremony led by the bhiksu master Sanghavarman and the bhiksuni master Devasara (Pali. Tessara, Chin. Tiehsolo) in 434 C.E. Although the ordination of bhiksunis by bhiksus only is a flawed procedure, it is considered valid. Even the senior Vinaya master Dao Hai (Taohai), who is concerned about the state of Vinaya practice in general these days, agrees that a bhiksuni ordination by bhiksus alone is valid, even though the bhiksus who conduct such an ordination commit a minor transgression. The Dharmagupta Vinaya Pitaka source for the ordination of bhiksunis by bhiksus alone is the fourth gurudharma, as explained above. This is equivalent to the first gurudharma of the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. As mentioned by Bhiksu Dao Hai (Taohai), the fourthcentury Vinaya master Gunavarman and the seventhcentury Dharmagupta master TaoHsuan (Taoxuan) agreed that a bhiksuni ordination by bhiksus alone is valid.(32)
The lineage that began with Ching Chien (Jingjian) was strengthened through the reordination of the bhiksunis by a dual ordination ceremony conducted in 434 C.E by bhiksunis from Sri Lanka, together with Chinese bhiksus, headed by Sanghavarman. This was done to remove the doubts of the nuns who had earlier been ordained by bhiksus alone and who questioned whether the ordination they had received from bhiksus only was sufficient. The history of how the bhiksuni lineage, starting with Mahaprajapati, was transmitted from India to Sri Lanka by King Asoka.s daughter Sanghamitta, and was then transmitted by Devasara and eleven other bhiksunis from Sri Lanka to China, is well documented and can be requested from the Board of Sri Lanka Bhikkhuni Order. At present, in East Asia, when a bhiksuni is invited to serve as a bhiksuni ordination master, she is not asked whether she was ordained in a single or a dual ordination ceremony. Both types of ordination are considered valid. Thus, there is only one lineage of bhiksuni ordination, not two.
G. Question: Are Documents Available that Record of the Lineage of the Dharmagupta Bhiksuni Vinaya?
The bhiksu lineage in China can be documented all the way back to the Buddha. The bhiksuni lineage in China can be documented from the time of Ching Chien (Jingjian), the first Chinese bhiksuni, in 357 C.E. The text that documents the bhiksu lineage back to the time of Buddha Sakyamuni is enclosed herewith. The text that documents the bhiksuni lineage in China from the time of the first Chinese bhiksunis up to the present day is also enclosed herewith. Vinaya sources documenting the validity of the Dharmagupta bhiksuni ordination are provided above, including (1) bhiksuni ordination by bhiksus alone, and (2) bhiksuni ordination by a dual Sangha of bhiksunis and bhiksus (see pp. 13 of this paper).
H. Question: Are bhikshuni ordination ceremonies as conducted in East Asia done in compliance with instructions set out in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya?
1. In the bhiksuni ordination ceremonies that are held in Taiwan, nuns are ordained in groups of three, not in groups of one or two hundred. There are numerous candidates, who are divided into groups of three, just as in the Tibetan tradition, which is why the ordination ceremony takes a long time. The procedure is conducted in accordance with the full bhiksuni ordination rite as given in the Vinaya texts. The newly ordained bhiksunis are individually informed three by three of the exact time of their ordination, to determine their seniority. To know who is senior to oneself is considered very important in daily life in the Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese traditions. Bhiksus and bhiksunis are keenly aware of monastic seniority, and stand, walk, and sit according to seniority, as determined by the time of their ordination.
2. The Sanskrit term pathati (Tib. .don pa, Chin. nien/nian) actually has two meanings: "to read (aloud)" and "to recite (aloud)". The word may be interpreted in both ways, to recite by heart or to read aloud from a text. In Chinese, . to recite sutras. is usually . nien ching (nianjing). and, like the Sanskrit, may refer to both . reading aloud (from a text). or . reciting aloud (by heart).. In Tibetan, . to recite the Pratimoksa Sutra is . so sor thar paSi mdo .don pa; in Chinese, sou polo timuchai or sung polotimuchai (both sou and sung mean to read aloud). The discrepancy between the practice in early times and today is easy to explain. It is true that, at the time of the Buddha and when the Vinaya texts were compiled, writing was not common in society. Therefore, the texts were transmitted orally, by memory, at that time. In modern Taiwan, it is considered appropriate for the precept master to read certain parts of the ritual aloud during the ordination procedure, although the candidates must learn the rituals by heart and are not allowed to rely on any texts during the rite. They either recite the appropriate sections of the text by heart or repeat them after the master. Learning portions of the texts by heart is an integral part of the preparation of candidates during the thirty or fortyfive days of the Triple Platform Ordination Ceremony. Western candidates for bhiksuni ordination are also asked to learn certain parts of the rite (for example, the questions about the hindrances) by heart.
It is clear that a living lineage of bhiksunis exists today, with over 58,000 bhiksunis in China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and elsewhere. This lineage dates back to Buddha Sakyamuni and the first nun, Mahaprajapati. The lineage was transmitted from India to Sri Lanka by Sanghamitta, and then from Sri Lanka to China by Devasara, where it merged with the already existing lineage of bhiksunis who had been ordained by bhiksus only. The lineage then flourished in China and was transmitted from there to Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and other countries. Although it is true that not every bhiksuni ordination has been performed in a dual ordination procedure, it is an indisputable fact that the Chinese bhiksuni lineage has continued unbroken and flourished until the present day. Therefore, there exists no obstacle to conducting a bhiksuni ordination for nuns in the Tibetan tradition.
1. Cullavagga X.2.1 (Vin II 257,79). For a complete list of the references for these eight gurudharmas in the different renditions of the Vinaya and a table of their different order and deviations see, Jinil Chung, "Gurudharma und Astau Gurudharmah," Indo-Iranian Journal 42 (1999), pp. 22734.
2. Bla maSi chos brgyad (also known as: lCi baSi chos brgyad). Tibetan Mulasarvastivada Vinaya, Lhasa Kangyur, Delhi, .Dul ba, vol. Da (11), p. 154a57: dge slong rnam las bud med rnams kyis rab tu 'byung ba dang/ bsnyen par rdzogs nas/ dge slong ma'i dngos por 'gyur ba rab tu rtogs par bya'o/ kun dga' bo ngas 'di ni/ bud med rnams kyi nyes pa dgag cing mi 'da' bar bya ba'i phyir/ bla ma'i chos dang por bcas te/ de la bud med rnams kyis nam 'tsho'i bar du bslab par bya'o//. Same in Peking Kangyur, .Dul ba, vol. Ne 99b101b, p. 162, folio 99b12 ff.
3. A partial English translation is found in Diana Paul, Women in Buddhism, p. 85. "In the presence of monks, O Ananda, women are expected to request ordination to go forth as nuns. I announce this as the first important rule for women to overcome the obstructions, so that instruction can be maintained throughout life". This translation is based on C. M. Ridding and Louis de la Vallée Poussin, "A Fragment of the Sanskrit Vinaya. Bhiksunikarmavacana," Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies 1:3(1920) 12343. Cf. Michael Schmidt, "Bhiksuni Karmavacana. Die Handschrift Sansk. c.25(R) der Bodlein Library Oxford," in Studien zur Indologie und Buddhismuskunde. Festgabe des Seminars für Indologie und Buddhismuskunde für Prof. Dr. Heinz Bechert zum 60. Geburtstag am 26. Juni 1992 (Bonn: Indica et Tibetica, 1993, pp. 23988). The corresponding first gurudharma in the Mulasarvastivada Sanskrit text BhiKaVa(S), folio 4b55a1, reads: bhiksubhyah sakasad ananda matrgramena pravrajyopasanpad bhiksunibhavah pratikanksitavya imam aham ananda matrgramasya prathaman gurudharmman prajñapayamy avaranayanatikrama (5a1) (n)aya yatra matrgramena yavajjivan siksa karaniya. Cf. Michael Schmidt, "Zur Schulzugehörigkeit einer nepalesischen Handschrift der BhikshuniKarmavacana," in Untersuchungen zur buddhistischen Literatur (SanskritWorterbuch der buddhistischen Texte aus den TurfanFunden, Beiheft 5) (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994).
4. The texts of six schools of Vinaya are found in Chinese translation: Dharmagupta, Mahi.asaka, Mahasanghika, Theravada, Sarvastivada, and Mulasarvastivada. Mulasarvastivada: Taisho 24, T.1451, p. 351b, line 19. "A bhiksuni should request going forth and full ordination to become the nature of a bhiksuni from the bhiksus".
5. Dharmagupta: Taisho 22, T.1428 , 923b, line 8.
6. Sarvastivadaastivada: Taisho 23, T. 1435, p. 345c.
7. Cullavagga X, I. B. Horner, The Book of the Discipline, vol. 5, p. 355.
8. Cullavagga X, I.B. Horner, The Book of the Discipline, vol. 5, pp.375379.
9. Lhasa Kangyur, Vol. Da  p. 158a67 bcom ldan 'das kyis bka' stsal pa/ go'u ta mi skye dgu'i bdag mo chen mo la sogs pa shakya mo lnga brgya rnams ni/ bla ma'i chos rnams khas blangs pas/ rab tu byung zhing bsnyen par rdzogs te/ dge slong ma' dngos por gyur to/ bud med gzhan ni rim bzhin bya ste/.
10. Ibid., p. pp. 158a7181a4.
11. Paul, Women in Buddhism, p. 8694.
12. T.24, p.459c, line 10 through p.465a, line 20.
13. Mulasarvastivada: Taisho 24, p. 351c.
14. Dharmagupta: Taisho 22, T. p. 185b.
15. T.22, p.218b, line 9.
16. Taisho 22, T.1425, p. 474.
17. T.22, p.471b, line 12.
18. T.23, p.331b, line15.
19. Nanchuan Datsang Ching, vol.4, p.341.
20. Nanchuan Datsang Ching, vol.4, p.360364.
21. T22. p.1065b, line 11.
22. Tib. tshangs spyod nyer gnas kyi sdom pa.
23. T22, p. 813b, line 15.
24. Lutsung t’epu (The Lineage of the Vinaya School), compiled by Yuanliang during the Ching (Qing) Dynasty (Taipei: Hsinwenfong Publications, 1987).
25. Complete Records of the Biographies of Bbiksunis (Taipei: Fochiao Publications, 1988). This work includes two compilations: (1) Pichiuni chuan (The Biographies of Bhiksunis), compiled by Paochiang in the sixth century, and (2) Hsu Pichiuni chuan (The Sequel Biographies of Bhiksunis), compiled by Chenhua (1911).
26. See Bhikkhu Taohai, "Discussion of Bhiksuni Ordination and Its Lineage in China: Based on Scriptures of Chinese Vinaya and Historical Facts," Paper given at the Vinaya conference held in Dharamsala in 1998, pp. 1718.
27. Hengching Shih, "Lineage and Transmission: Integrating the Chinese and Tibetan Orders of Buddhist Nuns," Chunghwa Buddhist Journal I, No.13 (2000): 52931. 28. Sik Chienyi, Three Chapters on the Refreshing Sound of the Dharma: The Collective Essays of the "Re-Ordination of Nun," (Nantou: Dakinava Press, 2002), p. 13.
29. T.22, p. 1048c, line 8.
30. Tibetan commentary 'Dul ba mtsho tik’, by mTso sna ba shes rab bzang po (b. 13th cent.). The full title of the text is, Dul ba mdo rtsa'i 'grel pa legs bshad nyi ma'i 'od zer (TBRC Code W12567),Vol. Ka (1), p. 120a45.
31. Vol. Ka (1), p. 120a56.
32. Ibid., p. 6.
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last updated: 25-09-2008