Triratna in the Buddhist World

Is Triratna's equal ordination really unique in the Buddhist world?

On Tue, 22 March, 2016 - 18:19
Munisha's picture

Recently someone asked me whether it is true that Triratna is unique in the Buddhist world in ordaining women and men equally, as we often say. Here is my reply, which does not claim to be definitive.

“In bhikkhuni (female) ordination (Theravada and Mahayana) women have to be ordained by women and then also by men, whereas bhikkhus (men) are ordained only by men. ie there is a double ordination for women but not for men.

Its lineage having died out, the ‘double’ Theravada bhikkhuni ordination has been reinstated over the last 10 years by bringing in Mahayana nuns to do it, as their female lineage never died out - but still followed, as always, by the second ordination by Theravadin bhikkhus.

There is also the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, a western Soto Zen movement founded by Roshi Jiyu Kennett in 1978. She decided that OBC women and men should be ordained equally - as monks, female and male - and this continues, men’s and women’s ordinations being witnessed by whoever is currently authorised, whether female or male. Reverend Saido, a longtime OBC colleague of mine on the executive of the Network of Buddhist Organisations UK,  says the fact that he is a man ordained by a woman means that at intra-Buddhist conferences he is sometimes seated between the monks and the nuns!

There are so many other forms of ordination across the Buddhist world, it’s not possible to find out enough about them all to know whether we really are unique. 

However, what may be unique to Triratna is that women are ordained only by women, and men only by men. These ordinations are overseen by a ‘College of Public Preceptors’: senior women and men who, in two kulas (groups), agree women’s and men’s ordinations, respectively. The College meets regularly to ensure the women and men maintain trust in each other’s common vision and standards, which allows each kula to approve its own ordinations.

We can also say Triratna is extremely unusual in being one huge, single worldwide Buddhist Order sangha, neither lay nor monastic, with a collective horizontal Order-identity and one equal ordination. Most other non-monastic ordained Buddhists may belong to a lineage but have little sangha.

Many ordained Buddhists I meet have been ordained as teachers, and may be running their own single temple or small group with little formal link to any other, even within their own lineage; or may be teaching at many centres or temples which are separate though within one lineage of teaching.”

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