In recent years, the hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have encouraged people around the world to offer compassion in various forms of support for others, such as food, cash, medicines, care, and prayers and rituals for well-being of all. The members of religious communities and monasteries across Bhutan have been especially active during this disruptive period, providing all kinds of services, including spiritual ones. They have been inspired to do so by the great sense of protection and care for the people demonstrated by His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, of Bhutan.
The spiritual and social services performed by Buddhist nuns in Bhutan in recent times have also served to characterize their new and dynamic influence in contemporary society. Their creative and compassionate roles have been further forged by His Majesty the King, His Holiness the Je Khenpo, Tulku Jigme Chhoeda, and Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Yangdoen Wangchuck, the Royal Patron of the Bhutan Nuns Foundation (BNF).
Committed to the need to pave the way for a greater path toward the educational and spiritual advancement of the many prospective nuns, as well as what has been shown by those already ordained. His Majesty the King and His Holiness the Je Khenpo resolved on 6 April 2021, corresponding to the auspicious 25th day of the second lunar month, Dakini Day, at Autsho Monastery in Kurtoe, to promote and expand the order of ordained nuns. The practice of fully ordaining nuns had not yet been institutionalized in Bhutan or Tibet. Ever since that auspicious meeting between His Majesty the King and His Holiness the Je Khenpo, the process for full bhikshuni ordination has been gathering pace and momentum.
This week’s full ordination of 142 women, consisting of nuns from 13 nunneries in Bhutan and individual nuns not affiliated with Bhutanese nunneries, is a major development, the significance of which cannot be understated. Of the 142 nuns who received bhikshuni ordination, 17 were from Druk Gawa Khilwa Nunnery in Ladakh, northern India, and three participants were from Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, near Tashijong, Himachal Pradesh, India. Among all of the above was also one English nun, who traveled all the way from London to receive this sacred ordination. We are thus delighted that through this landmark occasion we have opened the door for Buddhist nuns around the globe to receive full ordination and to pursue avenues of higher learning and leadership.
The ordination ceremony itself, presided over by His Holiness the Je Khenpo, began on 21 June—Bhutan Nuns Day, which coincides with the birth anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Tshering Yangdoen Wangchuck. The ceremony was held in Ramo Thangkha Temple, located at the foot of the venerated Taktsang Palphug. The choice of Ramo Thangkha for the ordination was most appropriate because of the site’s sacred association with its founder, Gelong-ma Palmo. Gelong-ma Palmo was an Indian princess from Kashmir, who lived c. 10th–11th century in Bhutan, and was the founder of the Nyungney practice. She was one of the first fully ordained nuns to live in Bhutan for meditation and practice. Among the many sites blessed by Gelong-ma Palmo from Bumthang to Haa, Ramo Thangkha is considered particularly sacred because of its proximity to Taktsang Palphug, dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava.
With the immense devotion of the nuns, the three-day ceremony began with the most beautiful auspicious signs: rainbows manifested around the sun, and the energy in the air and the sacred atmosphere was indescribable. All elements favored the occasion: the weather, the local deities, the dakas and dakinis, the visible and the invisible.
This was a momentous and portentous occasion, both for the nuns themselves and for the Bhutan Nuns Foundation, which organized the historic bhikshuni ordination for these admirable women, whose lives are being transformed by their courage and commitment. This ordination ceremony performed by His Holiness the Je Khenpo is a unique event within the Mulasarvastivada tradition (gzhi thams cad yod par smraba’i sde) and a blessing for Bhutan.
As a result of the ordination and the path and process of higher attainments, the nuns will be able to reach the advanced academic levels of khenmo (mkhanmo), and lopenma (slob dpon ma). Recognition of the educational and spiritual titles they receive will go hand in hand with the practice and study of the Vinaya (’dulba), one of the core teachings that the Buddha gave to his monastic disciples, both monks and nuns. In fact, at monastic colleges (shedras; bshaddra) and retreat centers (goemdeys; dgomsde), the nuns will pursue, among other subjects in the curriculum, the Three Pitakas (the three baskets of teachings of ‘dulba, mdosde, mngon pa; lung sdesnodgsum) and the three trainings of morality, concentration, and wisdom (bslab pa gsum; namely: tshulkhrims, ting nge ‘dzin, shesrab).
Thus, the nuns will commit their lives to the Dharma of the scriptures (lung) as well as the Dharma of realization (rtogs). The Bhutan Nuns Foundation has dedicated this ordination ceremony to the flourishing of society, to the individual nuns, and to all sentient beings. We at the Bhutan Nuns Foundation express our profound gratitude to Her Majesty the Queen Mother for her invaluable leadership in supporting all nuns who have dedicated their lives to the Buddhadharma.
Words can barely express the gratitude that the nuns feel for the Je Khenpo and the Zhung Dratshang (the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan) for their unconditional support on this meaningful journey of empowering and uplifting their educational and spiritual opportunities.
To quote some of the nuns in their own words:
I don’t mind even if I should die tomorrow after receiving this bhikshuni ordination. I am so speechless, my joy and gratitude are beyond words.
Another nun said:
Before this ordination, I thought the only opportunity would be to pray to be reborn as a monk in order to fulfill my aspirations for enlightenment, but now I am confident that I can attend to everything in a female body.
Without the financial support of the friends of the Bhutan Nuns Foundation, both within Bhutan and around the world, this event would not have been as successful as it was. We dedicate and share the merit generated with all those who have made a difference toward manifesting this historic event.
Tashi Delek to all the most fortunate nuns!
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