Morning Session, Day Three: Welcome and Keynote Speeches
Dr. Roland Salchow, State Councilor of the Department of Science and Research, Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Germany
Bishop Maria Jepsen, First Female Bishop of the Lutheran Church, North Elbian Protestant Church, Germany
“Women and Religion: The Religious Competence of Women”
Although women have held a second-class position in Christianity for many centuries, this has changed in the twentieth century. The improved situation of women in general has been due to many factors: improved education for women, the technical revolution that has produced household appliances that make more free time available to women, the necessity of women during the two world wars to take employment in jobs traditionally held by men, and the feminist movement. This improved situation has extended to the religious sphere as well. Women have traditionally been the ones to plant the seeds of religion in children, by leading them in bedtime prayers and telling them simple Bible stories.
As the first female Lutheran bishop, I faced a great deal of skepticism and criticism from members of the Lutheran congregation and from journalists. Although many feared the downfall of the church, no such disaster occurred. The other religions did not disavow us. With women playing an equal role with that of men, the ship of religion will not sink.
The main force that has been obstructing women’s equal participation in religious areas has not been men themselves, but the dogma of tradition, reinforced by fear and power issues. But when one looks honestly and deeply in one’s heart, one realizes that God created both men and women, and both were created in the image of God with regard to their abilities and gifts. Religion is not the exclusive domain of experts, like science is. The intelligent and the slow, the young and the old, the men and the women, the clerics and the laity may all share in it. In heaven, people will be judged not by their gender, but by their thoughts, words, and deeds.
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
“Human Rights and the Status of Women in Buddhism”
In ancient times, gender differences were perhaps not so important. However, as civilization developed, strength and power played an increasingly more vital role to protect societies against their enemies. Consequently, males dominated because of their greater physical strength. In later times, education and intelligence played a more important role and, in this regard, men and women have no differences. Nowadays, however, affection and warm-heartedness play the most crucial role in the resolution of conflicts and other problems. These two qualities are required to control the use of education and intelligence and prevent them from being turned to destructive ends. Thus, women must now take a more central role since, perhaps because of biological factors, they naturally are able to develop affection and warm-heartedness more easily than can men. This comes from carrying children in their wombs and from normally being the primary caretakers of newly born infants.
Warfare has traditionally been carried out primarily by men, since they seem better physically equipped for aggressive behavior. Women, on the other hand, tend to be more caring and more sensitive to others’ discomfort and pain. Although men and women have the same potentials for aggression and warm-heartedness, they differ in which of the two more easily manifests. Thus, if the majority of world leaders were women, perhaps there would be less danger of war and more cooperation on the basis of global concern – although, of course, some women can be difficult! I sympathize with feminists, but they must not merely shout. They must exert efforts to make positive contributions to society.
Sometimes in religion there has been an emphasis on male importance. In Buddhism, however, the highest vows, namely the bhikshu and bhikshuni ones, are equal and entail the same rights. This is the case despite the fact that in some ritual areas, due to social custom, bhikshus go first. But Buddha gave the basic rights equally to both sangha groups. There is no point in discussing whether or not to revive the bhikshuni ordination; the question is merely how to do so properly within the context of the Vinaya.
Shantarakshita introduced the Mulasarvastivada bhikshu ordination into Tibet. All the Indians in his party, however, were men and, since bhikshuni ordination requires a dual sangha, he was unable to introduce the bhikshuni line. In later times, some Tibetan lamas ordained their mothers as bhikshunis, but from the point of view of Vinaya, these were not considered authentic ordinations. Since 1959, I have felt that most nunneries need to have their education standard raised to that of the monasteries. I have enacted that and today we already have scholars among the nuns. But as for re-establishing the bhikshuni ordination, I cannot act alone. This question must be decided according to the Vinaya.
Now we have the opportunity to discuss this question with other Buddhist traditions, such as the Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese traditions, which still have bhikshuni ordination. Already about two dozen Tibetan women have taken bhikshuni ordination with them according to the Dharmaguptaka tradition. No one rejects that they are now bhikshunis.
For the last thirty years, we have been conducting research on the Mulasarvastivada and Dharmaguptaka Vinaya texts. Since Vinaya is found in both these two Sanskrit-based traditions as well as in the Pali tradition, it is useful that sangha elders from all three Vinaya traditions come together to discuss the matter and share their experiences. Already, the bhikshuni ordination has been re-established in Sri Lanka and there is interest to do the same in Thailand. Further research will be useful so that one day we shall be able to remedy Shantarakshita’s failure. As one individual, however, I lack the power to decide this issue. That would not be in accord with the Vinaya procedures. I have only the power to initiate research.
Afternoon Session, Day Three: Revival of the Bhikshuni Precepts in Tibetan Buddhism
Summary of the Delegates’ Papers, Presented to His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Your Holiness, for the last two days, we have been gathering here at the University of Hamburg for The International Congress on the Women’s Role in the Sangha: Bhikshuni Vinaya and Ordination Lineages. We have heard from 65 learned scholars from both monastic and non-monastic backgrounds, addressing an audience of nearly 400 people from 19 countries.
The papers have surveyed the experiences from the various communities as they have re-established the bhikshuni ordination. These experiences have covered a range of methods employed to this end. Among the diversity, we seem to hear a consensus that dual ordination involving both a bhikshu and a bhikshuni sangha has proved more satisfactory for reinstating the bhikshuni lineage, both in terms of practical considerations and scriptural authority. Two methods have been followed for this. In the case of the Dharmaguptaka bhikshuni lineage coming to China, a Chinese Dharmaguptaka bhikshu sangha and a Sri Lankan Theravada bhikshuni sangha conferred the ordination. In the case of the Theravada bhikshuni ordination being restarted for Sri Lanka in 1998, both the bhikshu and bhikshuni sanghas were Chinese Dharmaguptaka, and then the newly ordained Sri Lankan bhikshunis were reordained in the Theravada lineage by a single Sri Lankan bhikshu sangha through a dalhikamma strengthening procedure that effectively converted their Dharmaguptaka ordination into an equivalent Theravada one.
The single bhikshu ordination method, however, also allowed by Buddha, was followed in the case of reviving the Korean Dharmaguptaka bhikshuni lineage after World War II. In this case, the Korean Dharmaguptaka bhikshu sangha alone conferred the Dharmaguptaka bhikshuni ordination. When the newly ordained bhikshunis had sufficient seniority, they constituted the bhikshuni Dharmaguptaka sangha for dual ordination, starting in 1982.
When the discussion turned to the Mulasarvastivada tradition, there seemed to be a level of acceptance that it might be necessary to start, as the Koreans have done, with single sangha ordination by a Tibetan Mulasarvastivada bhikshu sangha alone, in order to reestablish the lineage. This would be merely an interim step before reinstating dual sangha ordination when the newly ordained Mulasarvastivada bhikshunis have sufficient seniority to serve in the ordination ceremony.
The Tibetan nuns present at the congress expressed a strong interest in seeing the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination reestablished in a pure manner in accord with scripture. They also were inclined to prefer single sangha ordination by a Tibetan Mulasarvastivada bhikshu sangha alone.
There was unanimous support for recognizing whichever method for re-establishing the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination that Your Holiness and the Tibetan Vinaya masters decide.
Summary by Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche
Although some Tibetans have received bhikshuni ordination from the Dharmaguptaka lineage and are recognized by us as Dharmaguptaka bhikshunis, they wish to become bhikshunis in the Mulasarvastivada tradition. Many objections arise, however, when examining the legality of any procedure.
Concerning the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya tradition, we Tibetans strictly follow the Indian commentaries on it by Gunaprabha and Dharmamitra. There is no mention in their texts of single sangha bhikshuni ordination being permissible. On the contrary, they state that earlier methods of ordination were invalidated when Buddha instituted new methods. This is in contradistinction to the Theravada and Dharmaguptaka assertions that, in instituting dual sangha ordination, Buddha did not disallow the single sangha method. Moreover, in asserting that the bhikshu sangha can confer brahmacharya ordination and even leave their summer retreat to do so, the texts do not state that the bhikshu sangha alone can confer full bhikshuni ordination. Thus, these sources do not sanction single sangha bhikshuni ordination. Another passage, however, states that, if requested, bhikshus may leave their summer retreat to confer shramanerika novice nun ordination if necessary. This allowance implies the situation in which bhikshunis are not present to give such ordination. Although some Tibetan Vinaya scholars consider this allowance as also permitting single sangha bhikshuni ordination if necessary, many other Tibetan scholars disagree with this interpretation.
There is also opposition to the dual sangha method of bhikshuni ordination in which Mulasarvastivada bhikshus and Dharmaguptaka bhikshunis confer ordination according to the Mulasarvastivada ritual. The objection is that two different nikaya traditions of Vinaya cannot administer an ordination together.
In short, although it is important to have complete the fourfold assembly of disciples – bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas, and upasikas – re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination is not a gender issue, nor a social, cultural, or political one. It is purely a Vinaya issue. The solution must be found within the context of the Vinaya codes.
Panel Presentation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Bhikkhu Dr. Bodhi: The Vinaya may be adapted to the times. Buddha’s intention is revealed by the procedural guidelines, but we must not let these guidelines block his intention. Buddha’s intention was to establish a bhikshuni sangha. There are two possible methods of conferring bhikshuni ordination. Many Tibetan women practitioners have received bhikshuni ordination from the Dharmaguptaka tradition. Therefore, one method would be for the Mulasarvastivada bhikshus to accept the Dharmaguptaka bhikshuni ordination as equivalent to and interchangeable with the Mulasarvastivada one and thus consider these Tibetan Dharmaguptaka bhikshunis as Mulasarvastivada bhikshunis. Theravada has this type of procedure with the dalhikamma custom, and it may be done either formally or informally. The second manner of bhikshuni ordination would be by means of a single sangha. According to the Pali sources, before there were any bhikshunis, Buddha said that bhikshus alone may ordain bhikshunis. The present circumstances are similar to those at that time, and therefore one could argue that, at the present time, single sangha ordination is sanctioned. After ten years, the dual sangha method of bhikshuni ordination could then be restarted. Thus, adapting to the times, either the dalhikamma or the single sangha method would be recommended and acceptable
Bhikshu Thich Quang Ba: One benefit of Your Holiness re-establishing the bhikshuni ordination would be that other Buddhist countries lacking bhikshuni ordination may follow suit. Moreover, many women from various countries would like to receive Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination. For the sake of sangha harmony and friendship, then when needed, bhikshuni preceptors from other nikaya traditions and bhikshunis ordained in other nikaya traditions but following the Tibetan tradition might participate in the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination. There are many who would like to help, but we need the re-establishment of this ordination now.
Prajna Bangsha Bhikshu: I fully support Bhikkhu Bodhi’s recommendation. A decision must be taken in accordance with the times and situation. According to the Pali tradition, Buddha said that if the sangha feels that something needs to be changed, then if the whole sangha agrees, it may be changed. But the decision must not be based on the opinion of just a partial sangha. Thus, Buddha told Ananda that the minor precepts may be changed in this way. It is best to start this process now and have the sangha as a whole decide.
Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu: Dual sangha ordination was meant for the purpose of promoting harmony between the bhikshu and bhikshuni communities. In Theravada, we do not at present have a tradition of samanera novice nuns; our novitiates are referred to as renunciates, pabbajita. But, as they mature in the Dhamma, it is vital that they be able to take further responsibility by confirming nibbana as the destination of their spiritual life. This they would do by taking bhikkhuni ordination. I recommend that it be done by means of dual sangha ordination.
Bhikshu Dr. Huimin Shih: Whatever decision the Tibetan sangha makes concerning the re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination will receive international sangha recognition and approval. May it happen here and now.
Sayadaw Dr. Ashin Nanissara: Although both options for re-establishing the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination mentioned by Bhikkhu Bodhi would be possible and valid, I would recommend the single sangha method. Even when, at the time of the Buddha, dual sangha ordination was possible, the single sangha method was still a valid option.
Geshe Lharampa Bhikshu Rinchen Ngudrup: Buddha said that if an action is not permitted, one needs to refrain from it. However, those actions that Buddha did not specifically disallow during his lifetime, but which accord with Buddha’s intentions, are to be allowed. Although the Vinaya texts state that the brahmacharya ordination is to be given by a bhikshuni sangha, other passages state that a bhikshu may give full ordination to a shikshamana if requested and that a bhikshu may give brahmacharya ordination. The implication is that if a bhikshuni sangha is not available, bhikshus may give brahmacharya ordination as a single sangha. Since brahmacharya ordination must be followed in the same day by bhikshuni ordination, the further implication is that bhikshuni ordination by a single bhikshu sangha is also allowed. There is no mention, however, about shikshamana ordination by a bhikshu sangha.
Bhikkhu Sujato: Any decision regarding the method for bhikkhuni ordination must be guided primarily by the broad principles of the Vinaya. Traditional commentaries, customary practices, and personal preferences should be respected, but should not be the deciding factors. The Vinaya never mentioned Mulasarvastivada, Dharmaguptaka, Theravada, Tibet, China, or Sri Lanka, and therefore we need not give such importance to these distinctions.
The general consensus of the congress has been that either of the two options outlined by Bhikkhu Bodhi would be acceptable. The main criterion for making the choice should be the spiritual welfare of the newly ordained bhikkhunis, not legal technicalities. Buddha’s intention was to protect the sangha from unsuitable candidates and to ensure that suitable applicants be guaranteed material and spiritual support, primarily through the guru-disciple relationship. The single sangha method of ordination, however, limits the possibilities for this relationship; whereas the dual sangha method allows for it.
The only restriction on members of a dual nikaya sangha stated in the Pali Vinaya texts is if a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni belongs to a group that has had a schism with the sangha or has been expelled from the sangha. The three Buddhist nikayas presently extant did not arise on the basis of a schism in the sangha. Therefore, there can be no objection to bhikkhuni ordination by a dual sangha with members from more than one of these nikayas. Therefore, I recommend the dual sangha method. We can never assure that any ordination lineage, including that of the bhikkhus, is 100% valid. But the times demand that we act now and do the best that we can.
Prof. Dr. Hae-ju Jeon Sunim: I unconditionally support the re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination and recommend the dual sangha method. In Korea, however, we revived our Dharmaguptaka bhikshuni lineage after World War II first through single sangha ordination. But then, in 1982, we switched to the dual sangha method. Please do not postpone making the decision. The sangha needs its two wings – the bhikshus and the bhikshunis.
Bhikkhuni Wu Yin: The bhikshus and bhikshunis of Taiwan fully support the re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination and have great concern to help the Tibetan sangha. I support Bhikkhu Bodhi’s position. Whichever decision is taken will be acceptable, so long as it is not the decision to make more research.
Bhikkhuni Thich Nu Hue Huong: The Vietnamese sangha supports the re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination and we are willing to help in any way that we can.
Prof. Dr. Bhikshuni Heng-ching Shih: The Western bhikshunis practicing in the Tibetan tradition are very enthusiastic about re-establishing the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination, but they have been disappointed and frustrated at all the obstacles. We all hope that Your Holiness will act quickly. I agree with the two options given by Bhikkhu Bodhi. The dual sangha method is preferable, but if you decide on following the single sangha method, we in Taiwan will support that. According to the Vinaya, the bhikshus have the responsibility to give bhikshuni ordination when requested. Your Holiness, we request you to make history today.
Bhikshuni Prof. Dr. Karma Lekshe Tsomo: The advantages of a single sangha Mulasarvastivada ordination for the Tibetan nuns are that it will be convenient in terms of language, location, and custom, and will be more easily acceptable to the Tibetan community. It is not the ideal method, but the infraction involved for the ordainer bhikshus is minor. Also, there is no guarantee that such a method and its validity will continue in the future. Dual sangha ordination would be more acceptable to the other nikaya traditions, while involving Mulasarvastivada bhikshus would gain the support of learned Tibetan scholars. Later, the ordination procedure could be switched to a dual sangha comprising both Mulasarvastivada bhikshus and bhikshunis. In various places in Asia there has already been the precedent of single sangha bhikshuni ordination, as well as dual sangha ordination involving two nikayas. Both methods have been found to be valid and acceptable.
Bhikshuni Jampa Tsedroen: Of the two methods of bhikshuni ordination recommended, if it is by a single sangha, this would be valid and the ordainer bhikshus would only incur a minor infraction. As for those of us who have already ordained as Dharmaguptaka bhikshunis, if it is acceptable to accept us as Mulasarvastivada bhikshunis, please do so. If it is not acceptable, then recognize us as Dharmaguptaka bhikshunis. But, in either case, at the time of the bhikshuni ordination of Mahaprajapati, there were no nikayas. Even when Buddhism came to Sri Lanka, it was not called “Theravada.” Therefore, let us not make the nikaya issue the major obstacle. There has already been the precedent of ordination by a mixed sangha of two nikayas with the establishment of the Dharmaguptaka bhikshuni ordination in China in 433 and the re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshu ordination in Tibet with Gongpa-rabsel in the tenth century.
Bhikkhuni Dr. Dhammananda: Only one Ashoka pillar has remained standing in its original location. That is in Vessali, the place where the bhikkhuni sangha was first established. I believe that this fact is an auspicious sign. Newly establishing bhikkhuni sangha where it has been discontinued will uplift Buddhism. Please do not wait any longer.
Ven Losang Dechen: Re-establishing the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination is important to Tibetans all over the world, both inside and outside Tibet. Although both options for re-establishing it have their disadvantages, the single sangha method would be the best, since it would be the most easily acceptable way. Please, Your Holiness, decide.
Response by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
We all accept and recognize as Dharmaguptaka bhikshunis those Tibetans and Westerners who have received Dharmaguptaka bhikshuni ordination. This is not the issue. The issue is to find the way to ordain bhikshunis that is in accordance with the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya texts. There needs to be a Buddha alive and here and now to ask. If I were a Buddha, I could decide; but that is not the case. I am not a Buddha. I can act as a dictator regarding some issues, but not regarding matters of Vinaya. I can institute that the Tibetan bhikshunis ordained in the Dharmaguptaka tradition meet in groups to perform the three sangha rituals: the bimonthly purification of transgressions ( sojong) (gso-sbyong, Skt. poshadha, Pali: uposatha), the installation of the summer retreat (dbyar-sbyor, Skt. varshopanayika, Pali: vassopanayika), and the parting from the restrictions of the summer retreat (dgag-dbye, Skt. pravarana, Pali: pavarana). But as for re-establishing the ordination ceremony, this is a different matter. Although I may wish for this to happen, it requires the consensus of the senior monks. Some of them have offered strong resistance. There is not unanimous agreement and that is the problem. However, I can have the appropriate texts for the Dharmaguptaka versions of these three sangha rituals translated from Chinese into Tibetan immediately. No one can oppose that.
As for other aspects, we need more discussion. The support from the sangha of other Buddhist traditions is important and so this meeting is a helpful stage in the process. As a next step, I invite this group of international sangha elders to come to India. Let them discuss the matter with those narrow-minded Tibetan elders who oppose re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination.
If Buddha were here today, he would undoubtedly give permission. But I cannot act as the Buddha. Although monasticism has been in Tibet since the eighth century, there have never been bhikshunis among us doing the three sangha rituals, so now this will happen. But it is too soon to decide about the ordination.
It may be difficult to start these three bhikshuni sangha rituals this year, but by next year we should be able to begin. The Bhikshuni Pratimoksha has already been translated from Chinese into Tibetan. It is between thirty and forty pages. The Tibetan Dharmaguptaka bhikshunis will need to learn it by heart. But the actual ritual texts for the three sangha rituals still need to be translated.
Although the Tibetan nuns may wish for ordination as Mulasarvastivada bhikshunis, the Dharmaguptaka bhikshuni ordination cannot be accepted as a Mulasarvastivada one. If the two were interchangeable, then there would have been no reason for Atisha to have been asked not to confer Mahasanghika bhikshu ordination in Tibet. When the Indian master Atisha was invited to Tibet by King Jangchub Ö (Tib. Byang-chub ‘od) in the early eleventh century CE, the king’s grandfather, King Yeshe Ö, had already sponsored the re-establishment of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshu ordination in his kingdom with the invitation and subsequent visit there by the East Indian master Dharmapala. Atisha was requested not to confer Mahasanghika bhikshu ordination since that would introduce two Vinaya lineages to Tibet.
Further, if a Dharmaguptaka ordination were a Mulasarvastivada ordination, then a Theravada ordination would also be a Mulasarvastivada ordination and this would be absurd. We need to re-establish the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination purely according to the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya.
His Holiness’s Further Comments at an Audience for Congress Delegates, 21 July 2007
This winter, let us hold a conference similar to this one, but in India – either in Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, or Delhi. In addition to the international sangha elders who attended this Hamburg conference, we shall invite all the top Tibetan sangha leaders and all the abbots of the major monasteries of all four Tibetan traditions, maybe even including the Bonpos. The Bonpos still have bhikshunis. We shall invite the senior, most respected bhikshu scholars, about a hundred all together. Then I would request the international sangha elders to state before them, in person, their reasonable arguments in favor of re-establishment of the bhikshuni ordination. This would be very useful. We Tibetans will finance such a conference and decide who would be best to organize it.
Over the last twenty-six centuries, many differences have developed between the Pali and Sanskrit versions of abhidharma. Nagarjuna has clarified certain points; other obvious differences between the two traditions can be clarified on the basis of examination. In that spirit, we may take the liberty to examine Buddha’s words, for instance concerning Mount Meru, the earth being flat, and the sun and moon being nearly the same size and same distance from the earth. These are totally unacceptable. Even my own tutors in Lhasa saw through my telescope shadows from the mountains on the moon and had to agree that the moon did not give off its own light, as abhidharma would claim. So, for Nagarjuna’s clarifications, there is no need for a sangha discussion. The same is true concerning sutra issues. But it is totally different when it comes to Vinaya.
All translations of the Vinaya texts begin with a salutation to the Omniscient One. This means that Buddha himself certified the texts, since only an omniscient Buddha knows what actions are to be practiced and what actions are to be abandoned. In the abhidharma texts, on the other hand, the salutation is made to Manjushri. Also, after Buddha’s passing away with parinirvana, a sangha council was held and some alterations to the Vinaya were made by it. Buddha gave permission for this to be done and it can be extended to other points. For example, we Tibetans practice Bodhisattvayana and Tantrayana, each with their set of vows. Some points and precepts are contradictory in them and in the Vinaya. In such matters, the higher sets of vows must take precedence over the lower ones.
In the twenty-first century, the concept of war is out of date. Instead, we need dialogue to settle disputes and, for that, intelligence is not enough. We also need warm-heartedness and serious interest in the welfare of others. Compassion is more important for sincere dialogue. Women, because of the biological factor, have more sensitivity to the suffering of others than men have. For example, not many women are slaughterers or butchers. Therefore, for international negotiations, women are needed very much and need to take a larger role.
The fourfold community of Buddha’s disciples consists of bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas, and upasikas. Obviously, women and men play an equal role. But, at present among the Tibetans, the fourfold community is incomplete. Among the eight and ten qualities of a precious human rebirth, one of them is being born in a central land, defined either geographically or spiritually. Tibet is not a geographically defined central land. As for a spiritually defined land, it is one in which the fourfold community of disciples is complete. Obviously, without bhikshunis, it is incomplete. Many Tibetans say that if bhikshus are present, it is a central land, since bhikshus are the most important of the four groups. But that defines merely a similitude of a central land and a similitude of a precious human rebirth. The previous masters in Tibet should have paid attention to this.
Without consulting a sangha group, I can initiate the improvement of education among the Tibetan nuns. I have done this and already many nuns have reached a high level of erudition. In the monasteries at Mundgod, I had announced that we must make preparations for a Geshema examination. Some senior monks objected, but I told them that Buddha gave equal rights for men and women to become bhikshus and bhikshunis, so why not the equal right to become Geshes and Geshemas? I think the problem is that these senior monks are just not habituated to this type of thinking.
In the early sixties, I summoned not only the monks, but the nuns as well, and told them they could join too in the bimonthly sojong ceremony. In those years, there were no bhikshunis, so although shramanerika novice nuns are not usually allowed in the monks’ sojong, my tutors gave their approval. So, we started doing that. There were several sarcastic objections from the monasteries in South India, since it was never the case that monks and nuns did sojong together. But no monks disrobed because of that!
From the seventies, some Tibetans have taken bhikshuni ordination from the Chinese tradition. One of the main reasons for my visit to Taiwan was to see for myself the bhikshuni lineage there and check on its situation. I appointed Losang Tsering to do research about the bhikshuni vow and he has done this now for twenty years. We have made the maximum effort. I requested the main Chinese ordaining bhikshus to organize an international sangha meeting, but they were unable to do this. I myself could not convene such a meeting, because of difficulties and complications that would arise from the Peoples’ Republic of China. I felt it would be better if another organization were to convene such a meeting, and therefore I asked Jampa Chodroen to do that. All that an individual monk can do has been done. Now we need broad monastic consensus from the Tibetan bhikshu elders.
In the novice monk and nun novice ordinations, it is stated that one should know the proper objects of reverence. It says that although, in terms of the vow itself, bhikshunis are superior; nevertheless, they are not to be objects of reverence for the novice monks. Maybe this also needs to be reworded, keeping in mind the bodhisattva and tantric vows, especially the tantric vow not to disparage women. From that point of view, it is inconvenient to keep this Vinaya point. So, in keeping the three sets of vows, some minor points also need to be modified. And as for the study of the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni vows before taking them, those who have become bhikshunis in the Dharmaguptaka lineage may read and study them, although they need to conduct their rituals according to Dharmaguptaka. However, there is still a problem with non-bhikshunis studying these vows.
In making all these modifications and, especially in terms of re-establishing the Mulasarvastivada bhikshuni ordination, it is extremely important that this not be done by only some of the Tibetan sangha. We must avoid a split in the sangha. We need a broad consensus within the Tibetan sangha as a whole and therefore we are taking further steps in that direction. I thank you all for your efforts.