Abstract: Creating Nuns Out of Thin Air: Problems and Possible Solutions concerning the Ordination of Nuns according to the Tibetan Monastic Code

by Dr. Shayne Clarke

McMaster University

The various attempts to establish or re-establish an Order of Buddhist Nuns in South and South-East Asia have not been entirely successful. A nun must be ordained by two Orders, or so it is said: the Order of Monks and the Order of Nuns. As an Order of Nuns does not exist, however, the ordination of nuns is impossible; so runs the circular argument that impedes the ordination of nuns and the establishment of an Order thereof.

This paper investigates a number of possibilities for establishing a monastic Order of Nuns according to the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, the Rule used in Tibet. The paper presents little-known evidence from the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya for the ordination of nuns according to the formularies for monks. As this evidence stems from the Tibetan canonical tradition itself, the monastic code used by the Orders of Monks in Tibet, at least in Tibet it is not open to questions as to its legitimacy, questions such as those that have marred attempts to re-establish an Order with nuns of the Dharmaguptaka Rule. These textual passages, then, may well provide the historical precedent needed to establish a Tibetan lineage of nuns. The paper looks specifically at the legal validity of a number of uncommon ordination scenarios and presents canonical passages in which the Buddha is expressly stated as declaring that such ordinations are valid.