by Bhikshuni Changshen, Dharma Drum Mountain
Ven. Changshen shares her gratitude to Ven. Master Wuyin and the Living Vinaya in the West course, an 18-day training at the Abbey. With a faculty of six nuns from her temple, Ven. Master Wuyin inspired the 49 nuns who came for direct guidance on how to live in the Vinaya, the guidelines for Buddhist monastic communities. See the photos and watch the Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talks during the program.
This Living Vinaya in the West course makes me recall the story of the establishment of the Chinese bhikshuni sangha in 4-5th century China. At that time, Chinese nuns wished to establish the bhikshuni sangha—the order of fully ordained nuns—but there were no bhikshunis who could give ordination and teach Vinaya—the Buddha’s guidelines for monastic communities — to the Chinese nuns.
However, there were bhikshunis from the “Lion Kingdom” —that is, Sri Lanka — who traveled by boat to China to give the bhikshuni ordination. As a result, more than 300 Chinese nuns obtained the dual sangha bhikshuni ordination in the Nanlin temple to establish the bhikshuni sangha in China.
Today, in the 21st century, we have a similar story about bhikshunis, yet this time it is not about Chinese nuns but Western nuns. We have Master Wuyin who, at 77 years old, along with six Luminary International Buddhist Society faculty nuns, took an international flight from Taiwan to Sravasti Abbey in the U.S. to give Vinaya teachings to Western nuns.
Before coming to this course, I knew that I would be participating in an important moment. I knew it was an historical event that would play a key part for the future bhikshuni sangha to flourish in the West.
In this Vinaya course, we learned so much. We are so grateful that we have those wonderful teachers who not only digest the vinaya texts and translate them into English so that we can understand, but also offer their years of lived experience in the sangha, which guides our application of these precepts.
We particularly feel grateful to Master Wuyin, who explained that the precepts are flexible and practical. Your big heart and compassion — as well as your open mind, long view, and the way you taught us — makes the Vinaya that was established 2500 years ago in India apply to contemporary society. You even make the Vinaya more than just a text for people to read, but a living guide that we can practice even in different Buddhist traditions and cultures.
In this nearly three-week course, we all studied hard, because we cherish this rare opportunity to learn the Vinaya and how to apply and adopt it. I think the way we can repay your grace is to practice and study Vinaya. We can apply our knowledge learned from this class to establish and strengthen the bhikshuni sangha for now and for the future.
As Master Wuyin said, a bhikshuni in modern society can do anything. We will work hard to benefit the bhikshuni sangha and for the Buddhadharma to be sustained forever for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Ordained and trained at Dharma Drum Mountain in Taiwan, Bhikshuni Changshen is a visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School. She is currently working on a book on the development of the bhikshuni sangha (community of fully ordained nuns) in the Dharma Drum Mountain organization.
Photos by Gen Heywood Photography