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Karma Kagyu Female Monastics’ 8th Arya Kshema Held in Bodh Gaya

Nuns gather at Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya. Image from Arya Kshema Facebook

After the 38th Kagyu Monlam’s conclusion on 25 January 2024, His Eminence the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche, Pema Donyo Nyinje (also known as Guru Vajradhara), inaugurated the nuns’ 8th Arya Kshema on 28 January. Organized by Kun Kyong Charitable Trust, it will run for just over a month until 29 February.

Held at Tergar Monastery in Bodh Gaya, in the same venue as the Kagyu Monlam, first day of the spring gathering was held in the presence of Tai Situpa, with a purification ceremony by Kyabje Chungpo Galton Rinpoche and Kyabje Drunpon Dechen Rinpoche at Maha Bodhi Temple, followed by religious offerings, servings of traditional butter tea and rice, and a prayer for the liberation of all beings.

Tai Situ Rinpoche inaugurates the 8th Arya Kshema on 28 January 2024. Image from Arya Kshema Facebook

The Arya Kshema is an annual gathering for nuns or female monastics, held each winter. It was inaugurated in 2014 by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. As such the majority of participants have been from Karma Kagyu nunneries, although, other Kagyu lineages and Vajrayana Buddhist schools are welcome. The Arya Kshema aims to elevate the learning experience and study of Buddhist philosophy and debate to the same level as that of monks with a study program based on the same textbooks used by male monastics. This curriculum was compiled personally by the Karmapa and a team of scholars and shedra students. (Arya Kshema)

The official website of the Arya Kshema states that during this program, the Karmapa (who is still unable to go to Bodh Gaya for the Kagyu Monlam) will give teachings on the Fifty Verses on the Guru via webcast. During this month-long program, there will also be a debate competition (which began on Day 2) between competing nuns from five nunneries. They are debating on the classical topics of Tibetan Buddhist dialectics, including “collected topics, classifications of evidence, and mind and awareness” (Arya Kshema). The program will also include many other Dharma activities, including the year-end Mahakala puja, a celebration of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, and pujas for Tara, Tseringma, and Chöd.

Nuns at Day One on 28 January at Maha Bodhi Temple. Image from Arya Kshema Facebook

This winter gathering was named by the Karmapa after the bhikkhuni/bhikshuni of the same name, the “Noble Kshema,” foremost of the historical Buddha’s female disciples. She represents the ongoing cause for nuns to become better educated and more confident, and build on the burgeoning resources that have been historically denied to them. The event’s website states:

In addition, the Arya Kshema is part of an ongoing strategy to empower nuns and encourage them to take more responsibility both within their own nunneries and more widely in upholding the Buddhist teachings. Each year one of the participating nunneries takes responsibility for organising the Arya Kshema, and the chöpons, chant leaders and musicians are provided by another.

(Arya Kshema)
Nuns practice debating in groups. Image from Arya Kshema Facebook

It is important to note that the participating nuns are not fully ordained bhikshunis. They are often called anis, although it has been suggested that Vajrayana nuns be called cho-la (practitioner) or tsun-ma (female reverend) due to the fact that ani can be used in the overtly affectionate context of “auntie.” There are ongoing attempts by the Gyalwang Karmapa’s initiative to reintroduce the bhikshuni lineage (gelongma) into the Karma Kagyu tradition, although this remains a work in progress due to problems of reinstating the full lineage within the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya (the code of monastic law followed by the Tibetan schools) and accompanying monastic politics.

See more

Arya Kshema Facebook
Chamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche Inaugurates the 8th Arya Kshema in Bodhgaya (Arya Kshema)
Guru Vajradhara Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche’s address to the nuns at the inauguration of the 8th Arya Kshema on 28th Jan. 2024 (Facebook)

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