Female Buddha.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Aug 6, 2010
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Karmapa: Women are Equal on Buddhist Path toward Enlightenment.

All Buddhas are Created Equal.

You’d think, in Buddhism, that one’s capacity for enlightenment wouldn’t be circumscribed by gender. And, overall, through history, there’s been many wonderful examples of strong female buddhas.


Still, even today, women who seek ordination as a nun are often treated as second-class Buddhas. Pema Chodron herself had to travel to the one place on earth that would grant her a full ordination.


…The ending of this relationship—which produced unexpectedly intense feelings of anger, fear, and groundlessness—sent Pema on a search for answers. She explored different therapies and spiritual traditions, but nothing seemed to address what she was feeling. Then she came upon an article by Chögyam Trungpa, “Working with Negativity.” Pema had had no exposure to Buddhism and didn’t even know the article was written by a Buddhist. But it had to do with using the emotions she was experiencing and understanding their wisdom. She decided to explore further what Trungpa had to say, and in 1974, having found some answers to her questions through his teachings, she was ordained as a novice nun. Over the ensuing years, Pema formally became a student of Trungpa’s and began practicing with great determination.

In 1981 Pema’s Tibetan teachers encouraged her to take the full nun’s ordination—to become a bhikshuni. But full ordination for women had been lost in the Tibetan tradition. Pema was therefore instructed to go to Hong Kong, to seek ordination from Chinese Buddhists who still performed this rite. Because she didn’t know where to go or whom to contact, it took a certain amount of both detective work and perseverance finally to locate a temple where she could be ordained. Pema was the only English-speaking person and the only Westerner who took ordination on that occasion.

In 1985, at the request of Chögyam Trungpa, Pema helped establish Gampo Abbey, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in North America for Western men and women. She also assumed the directorship of the abbey and its three-year retreat center…for the rest of her story, click here.

So it’s with a Hurrah! And an “About time!” that we greet this news:

Excerpt via Upaya Zen Center:

This proclamation by Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the Seventeenth Karmapa, was groundbreaking, for it was the first time that a Tibetan Buddhist leader of this stature had publicly committed to personally making bhikshuni ordination available. His declaration came after intensive research into the feasibility of establishing full ordination for women according to the monastic code that regulates Tibetan Buddhism. More broadly, it reflected the Karmapa’s dedication to addressing women’s issues, especially regarding nuns.

At present, women in Tibetan Buddhism may take ordination as novice nuns (Tibetan: getsulmas), but they do not have the opportunity to take the highest level of ordination that the Buddha created for women: bhikshuni, or gelongma, ordination. While full ordination for women is available in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese traditions, and has recently been reestablished for nuns in the Sri Lanka Theravada tradition, Tibetan Buddhism lags behind in the movement toward providing equal spiritual opportunities to women.

For several decades, the Dalai Lama has consistently spoken out in favor of bhikshuni ordination, but progress toward that goal has been incremental, consisting mainly of conferences and discussions. The Karmapa’s acceptance of a personal role in extending the opportunity of full ordination to women is a decisive step forward on a path that the Dalai Lama first asked Tibetan Buddhists to traverse.

The Karmapa traces his involvement with the bhikshuni issue to the time when he instituted new discipline rules for monastics attending the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo. “We were deciding how to organize the gelongs and getsuls, and there were some gelongmas from the Chinese tradition. Then we needed to think: Where do they sit? How do we make arrangements for them?” Since that time, bhikshunis have been given a prominent place at the annual Kagyu Monlam events in Bodhgaya, with special invitations issued to bhikshunis.

As well, the Karmapa has taken on the task of translating a volume of biographies of Chinese nuns from Chinese into Tibetan. While that project is ongoing, he also has plans to translate a collection of narratives of the lives of Buddha’s direct female disciples from the classical literary language of the Tibetan canon into colloquial Tibetan so the examples of these early nuns’ lives are more accessible to modern Tibetan readers.

Not Just a Women’s Issue

The Karmapa explained during an interview in Sarnath, India, that the ordination issue was not only a concern to women. “It affects the whole teachings,” he said

..for the rest, go to Upaya, and support their wonderful work if so inspired.

Khandro Rinpoche:

Pema Chodron:


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


7 Responses to “Female Buddha.”

  1. You may be interested to learn of VajraDakini Nunnery in Vermont http://vajradakininunnery.org/

  2. Padma Kadag says:

    In the tradition of buddhism which was brought to Tibet and India by Padmasambhava, from the very beginning women were not excluded from attaining buddhahood. Yeshe Tsogyal first and foremost, but it does not stop begin or end with her. There is a perception throughout the world that the "ultimate" practitioner of buddhism is a monk or nun. The monastics are an integral part of the entire path. However, there has always been the Lay practiciing yogi, ngakpa, yogini, ngakmo, Lamas, etc who are not celibate monastics. The women on this path were and are not discriminated against and have authentically attained full realization. Monastics have a vow of celibacy and this difference between the sexes has always been an issue. Why the monastics are slow in full ordination towars women? I do not know why. I am not a celibate. But we in the west believe monastics to be the crown jewel of buddhism…this is partially true. Monastics are part of the path….not "The Path"

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    The west equates serious dharma practice with monasticism. Unfortunately this keeps those unknowing people , who are drawn to buddhism, to not fully engage buddhism with the incorrect view that one must be a monk and nun. The path followed by the 84 Mahasiddhas, Yeshe Tsogyal, and innumerable hidden yogis and yoginis brought them to buddahood in one lifetime.

  4. elephantjournal says:

    Thank you so much for providing more context. You'll see I included a rupa, statue, of Yeshe Tsogyal, above.

  5. Cliff says:

    I missed the Yeshe Tsogyal image. i see Pema Chodron, Kwan Yin, Vajravarahi, Vajrayogini…

    Thank you Padma Kadag for your comments!

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