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Buddhist Nuns in Tibet

Essay Topic:

Our work aims to research Buddhist nunnery in Tibet. We are going to give information about Tibet in general and about peculiarities of Tibetan religion. We are going to pursue a case study of ordination to a nunnery. Buddhism is one of the world religions. Its believers live through in India, China, South-East Asia, Tibet and other countries. In old times inhabitants of Tibet didn’t practice Buddhism. Their folk religion called “mi-chos”, which meant the law of men.

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In after years it transformed to “bon-chos” – Bon religion. There some people who practice it in Modern Tibet and a handful of handful of Moslems..

Nowadays Tibet is a poor Chinese province. It makes modern Tibetan Autonomous Republic. Besides of TAR Tibetan people live in the Chamdo region of Szechwan; some are found in Tsinghai and Kansu (Chang-tu Hu 66). Population carries on animal husbandry. Most of Tibetans consider themselves Buddhists Tibetan Buddhism is differs from the other national forms of this religion. It adapted to everyday life of inhabitants. As Guiseppe Tucci stated, “the entire spiritual life of the Tibetan is defined by a permanent attitude of defense, by a constant effort to appease and propitiate the powers whom he fears” (187).

Tibetan Buddhism is heavily influenced by belief in supernatural. Tucci observed, that religion of Buddha in Tibet shot with a certain ambiguity: on the one side the fear of capricious spirits that was inherited by Lamaism from the country’s original religions and, on the other, the conviction that man possesses the means to control these dark vengeful forces demanding propitiation. Magic, ritual, acts of piety, liberality towards monasteries and teachers, exorcism, liturgical technique, all come to his aid. And the human victim he was at the outset, at the mercy of a thousand invisible forces, is able to become their master.

(73-74) On this basis scientists state there is a detached Tibetan form of Buddhism. They called it Lamaism. Lamas were privileged class in Tibetan society. They operate in many sectors of daily life, and the monasteries are important social and economic centers of society. Basic concepts of Buddhism (karma, nirvana, transmigration, and reincarnation) are the same in Lamaism. There were three religious sects in Tibet: Nyingmapa, Kargyu, Sakya, and Gelugpa. The last one is known as the “Yellow School,” because monks wear yellow hats during ceremonies.

It emerged in China since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and became the most influential school in Tibet since the 17th century. Gelugpa sect governed over the country until the Chinese re-exerted control over Tibet when head of “Yellow School” Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959. The Panchen Lama, who resided at Shigatse, has been elevated by the Chinese government to the position vacated by the Dalai Lama. Followers of the Panchen Lama used to claim that his spiritual powers rival those of the Dalai Lama. Both of them were reincarnations of their predecessors.

When either dies the priesthood have to decide in which newly born child he has been reincarnated. The reincarnation can happen anywhere, even in a peasant family, but such a family automatically becomes a member of the noble class. Our study of Tibetan nunnery will be incomplete without defining the role of monasteries. Monastery system is the basis of Lamaism. There were 6000 of Buddhist monasteries in Tibet until the Chinese invaded in 1950. Nowadays only six of them are restored (Kerr 37). Monasteries as landowners were authority under units of villages. Many of them used to house five thousand monks.

Percentage of the monks composes from 20 to 33-1/3 percent of male population. According to Havnevik Hanna, there were also 27,000 nuns in 1959 (37). In Buddhist countries nuns are called by many different terms —bhik? un? i, don chee, sikkhamat, dasasilmata, jomo, mae chi, tila shin. According to Tibetan tradition celibate female Buddhist practitioners are known as ‘ani’. Karma Lekshe Tsomo states in her book, that many women in Tibet became ‘anis’ because nunnery provides an opportunity to get an education (201). Knowledge turned out to be an important theme in the history of many monastic communities.

Owing to the isolation from the rest of the world, there was a lack of scientific knowledge in Tibet. Alexandra David-Neel notes, that many Tibetans believed that the earth was flat (26-29). The first radio station in Tibet started operating on January 1, 1959 (Chang-tu Hu 251). There were no primary schools prior to 1950. After the defeat of revolt against Chinese authority in the late fifties Tibetan diaspora began. In the sixties many young people from western countries began heading to the East searching for religious and philosophic alternatives to replace inadequacies they felt in their own cultures.

Communication innovations of the eighties established closer connections among people. That’s why desire for knowledge and education affected even remote nunnery high up in the Himalayas. Karma Lekshe Tsomo narrates what was the monastery education to be: The monks and nuns had been recruited with promises of a life of study. Instead, they had to work day in and day out on the ‘gonpa’s’ (settlement) construction. At night, they were too tired to concentrate on the lamas’ teachings in Tibetan, an unfamiliar language….

In this culture, women only left home if they had specific, compelling reasons to do so. For many women, the quest for religious learning and an aversion to hard labor do not constitute compelling reasons. (204) If there is no senior monk in the monastery nuns live in the villages with their parents and work with them. They could gather together only several days on month to read few ‘pechas’ (religious texts). Those, who are not ordained just have to take five precepts: not to kill, steal, lie, commit sexual misconduct, or take intoxicants. Beijing notes that it’s not easy to be a teacher.

To be appointed as a teacher of nuns, a monk must fulfill sixteen qualifications : respectability (not having incurred a defeat or partial defeat and being conscientious in that he has forsaken unwholesome deeds such as killing animals); steadfastness (twenty years of standing as a monk); learning (knowledge of the three collections of the scriptures); and thirteen qualities of helpfulness (the twelve explained in the first chapter of this work in the discussion of the qualifications of the monastic preceptor, plus not having previously been appointed as a nuns’ teacher and then removed from that position).

A monk with these qualifications is appointed to be the nuns’ teacher within the boundary of his monastic community; qualified fellow monks perform the appropriate ceremony during the confession ceremony of the fifteenth of the lunar month (132). At first to be accepted as a monk it was enough to take refuge in front of the Buddha. Then special rules were instituted. To be a monk or a nun became a matter of maintaining regulations.

Aspirant needs to assume vows. To enter the Buddhist community novice have to pass a long way. According to Beijing, vows of personal are of seven categories when distinguished according to the person: the [vows of the] monk (bhik? u), the nun (bhik? uni), the male novice (srama? era), the female novice (srama? erika), the layman practitioner (upasaka), the laywoman practitioner (upasi?

ka), and the postulant nun (sik? amana) (122). In the original procedure for conferring monastic ordination, the aspirant became a monk without any complex ritual. The present-day procedure confers ordination with a considerable amount of ritual. Beijing recorded several ways in which persons became instantaneously ordained as monks and nuns. For example by accepting the eight severe precepts:

To receive ordination from monks; to await announcement of the proper date for the fortnightly confession from monks; to participate in the rainy season retreat near a place where monks are also in retreat; to attend the ceremony of lifting of restrictions (imposed during the rainy season retreat) in an assembly of both monks and nuns; to serve respectfully both monks and nuns if one has transgressed any of these eight precepts ; not to reveal the corrupted morals of monks; not to reproach a monk; to behave respectfully (prostrating and so forth) toward the community of monks, including prostrating before a newly ordained monk.

(89) The ceremonies that confer the lay practitioner vows or the novice vows on a woman are essentially the same as those for a man, except for the aspirant being referred to as “the woman known as… ,” instead of “the man known as… ,” and the additional questions posed to the woman. The precepts of the postulant nun may be assumed at the age of eighteen in the case of one who has not been married and at the age of ten in the case of a woman who has been married. This ordination is conferred by a group of twelve nuns through a two-part ceremony including proposal.

A female novice must receive the postulant nun’s vows and observe them for two years before she can receive full ordination as a nun. The aspirant nun should give the vow for strict observance of celibacy. Beijing mentions that a woman cannot receive this vow if she has any of the following five obstacles: having both the male and female organ or having neither; menstruating continuously or having no menstruation; having no feeling in the vagina; and having been a nun before (178). The bestowal of this vow constitutes the intermediate part of the nun’s ordination.

In the first part, her request to become a nun is forwarded to the abbess with a report on whether she is free from obstacles to her ordination (not having received permission from family or husband, being pregnant, etc. ). The second part of the ceremony consists of her request for the vows of strict observance of celibacy, which is forwarded to the abbess along with a report confirming that she will abide by such a vow (determined from further questioning), and the final agreement by the abbess which signals the conferral of the vow.

In the third part, she is fully ordained by a group of both monks and nuns. An extensive explanation of the rules for nuns concludes the ceremony. Then the full ordination is bestowed in the presence of group of nuns augmented by a group of ordaining monks. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the preceptor instructs the new nun on the twelve points of discipline, which include the eight defeating offenses, the eight severe precepts, and other rules.

However, it should be mentioned that the traditions for the ordinations of the postulant and fully ordained nun were never introduced in Tibet. Once became a nun, female practitioner of Buddhism must observe three hundred and sixty-four rules: not to commit the eight defeating offenses that constitute root downfalls, twenty partially defeating acts, thirty-three downfalls involving forfeiture, one hundred and eighty downfalls requiring confession alone, eleven downfalls to be individually confessed, and one hundred and twelve minor infractions.

In Buddhism, vows are viewed in many ways, depending on the context of the discussion, but generally the ethical systems are designated as three sets of vows, as two sets of vows, or as one all-inclusive vow. The three sets of vows spoken of throughout all divisions of the Buddhist scriptures are those of personal liberation (pratimok? a), of meditative absorption (dhyana), and of the uncontaminated (anasrava) vows. These are essentially identical to the three forms of training on the Buddhist path: the development of morality, meditation, and wisdom.

In fact, in order to gain the different types of enlightenment of their systems, proclaimers (Rravaka), solitary sages (pratyekabuddha), and bodhisattvas must forsake disturbing emotions and other obstacles on their paths by cultivating an uncontaminated discriminative awareness which is developed by training in wisdom. This discriminative awareness is grounded in mental quiescence achieved by training in meditation, and mental quiescence is developed on the basis of training in pure morality.

The proclaimers’ system speaks of two sets of ethics, each with three vows: the vows of a lay practitioner, novice, and monk (or nun); and the vows of body, speech, and mind. The three vows in the scriptures of the Universal Way (mahayana) refer to the processes of refraining from the unwholesome, of aiming at acquiring good qualities, and of working for the benefit of all living beings. These are also known as the three trainings, or ethics, of the bodhisattva. The tantras speak of four sets of ethics, each with three vows.

The first set includes the commitments of awakening mind, the vows related to the creation phase, and those related to the completion phase. The second set includes the pledges of the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind. The third set, as taught by the great adept Vitapada, consists in not conforming to the practice of accepting what is good and rejecting what is bad with respect to any physical, verbal, or mental action. The fourth set includes the vows of personal liberation, the bodhisattva commitments, and the pledges of the awareness holder (vidyadhara).

The tantras also speak of two types of ethics: the common pledges received during the vase initiation of the five awarenesses (of the vase) and the stages of the initiation prior to these; and the uncommon ones received at the time of the irreversible vajra-master initiation. According to a different explanation, the two types of ethics in the tantras refer to the vows related to the creation phase and those related to the completion phase, also known as the outer and inner vows.

Moreover, when the tantric adept assumes all the vows of personal liberation, the bodhisattva commitments, and the tantric pledges, he or she maintains these ethics in both their outer and inner aspects. Works Cited Beijing, Chos ‘byung. The History of Buddhism in India and Tibet. Delhi: Sri Satguru, 1986. David-Neel, Alexandra. “Edge of Tibet”, AATA 44:1 (January 1944): 26-29. Chang-tu Hu. China: Its People, Its Society, Its Culture. New Haven, CT: HRAF Press, 1960. Havnevik, Hanna. Tibetan Buddhist Nuns.

History, Cultural Norms and Social Reality. Oslo: Norwegian University Press, 1989. Kerr, Blake. Sky burial : an eyewitness account of China’s brutal crackdown in Tibet. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1997. Shen, Tsung-lien and Liu, Shen-chi. Tibet and the Tibetans. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977. Tucci, Guiseppe. The Religions of Tibet. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1980. Tsomo, Karma Lekshe. Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming against the Stream. Richmond: Curzon Press Limited, 2000.

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