May 10, 2014: It is only a few months since the 1st International Buddhist Nuns Conference, organized by Bhutan Nuns Foundation in Paro, provided the Bhutanese female monastic body with a platform for interaction at both national and international levels. The Conference, which took place under the aegis of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Tshering Yangdoen Wangchuck, staunchest advocate and ally of BNF, found a considerable echo in the media at the time.
The controversy on the nuns’ full Gelongma ordination (Bikshuni), currently much discussed in the Buddhist community, was one of the focal points which emerged from the Paro conference. However, it also became clear that not all communities are aware of the possibilities that are already open to those nuns wishing to formalize their choice of spiritual life. Getsulma ordination, for instance, has been possible in Bhutan for a long time. Obviously there was a need for information at a basic level, and BNF set out to fill this gap, thereby setting a new milestone for Bhutanese nuns.
On Saturday, may 10 2014, having been mobilized through their respective Khenpos and Lamas, seven nunneries sent altogether over 140 nuns to Punakha to receive Getsulma Dhompa (Sramanerika) ordination from His Holiness the Je Khenpo in the beautiful Sangchhen Dorji Lhendrup nunnery.
This nunnery was founded by Yab Ugyen Dorji, the father of the Queen Mothers. It sits astride the top of a hill high above Punakha and combines harmonious architectural proportions with carefully designed interiors, full of lovely traditional carvings and paintings. Khenpo Kunzan Thinley of Sangchen Dorji Sendrup and his nuns had decorated the surroundings and the inside of the temple. The fabric decorations, so typical of religious happenings, danced in the wind. Much work went into the preparations for this day, with the nuns being ordained doing their share to be ready to receive their illustrious guests, His Holiness and Her Majesty, with all the respect and care due to their status.
This ceremony is an important step in monastic life. The nuns taking the Getsulma vows, which correspond to the first formal stage of monastic life in Mahayana Buddhism, agree to abide by 10 of the precepts of Buddhist monastic life. The nuns decide on ordination by themselves, however with their Khenpos’ consent and approval, as there is as yet no formal definition of the requirements.
Because there were so many of them, the nuns attending the ceremony were divided into two groups before being admitted to the Lhakhang (temple) and the presence of His Holiness in a garb meant to symbolize the lay state, their heads shaven except for a last tuft on the crown. As a group, the nuns answered the Je Khenpo’s questions about their past conduct, and professed their steadfast intention to dedicate themselves to the path of spirituality. The last lock of hair was then symbolically cut, they were dismissed and returned in groups of three with the special robe, shawl and mat required by the ceremony, on this occasion a gift from BNF’s sponsors from Singapore. The Je Khenpo blessed each group in turn and imparted ritual instructions. After that, the entire group returned again wearing the newly blessed robes to receive their Dharma name (Chö meng) from the Je Khenpo. They are now ordained Getsulma and will wear the saffron robe, made of small squares to symbolize the Buddha’s original patched-together cloak, for all high liturgical occasions. After a lunch break, during which the honoured guests and their retinues were treated to a lavish meal, the proceeding was repeated for the second group.