It is a great pleasure whenever Tricycle celebrates the progress of Buddhist nuns. Ven. Karuna Dharma is an inspiration and a wonderful exemplar of Buddhism in the West—forthright, nondogmatic, and innovative in helping Buddhist nuns of every tradition.
I hope that your readers will also come to appreciate the achievements of Buddhist nuns in Sri Lanka. After a lapse of over nine hundred years, full ordination of women is no longer a novelty in that island nation. In 2006, I was one of four foreign nuns who received high ordination at the Golden Temple in Dambulla. Of the several bhikkhuni lineages in Sri Lanka, the Dambulla group is the largest. It has conducted regular ordinations every year since 1998 and comprises over four hundred bhikkhunis, two thousand samaneris preparing for ordination, and three thousand women practicing as dasa sil matas (the older tradition of ten-precept nuns).
This order was organized out of a longstanding movement to uplift the dasa sil mata. Therefore, most of the bhikkhunis have years or decades of religious experience and well-established temples, primarily in rural areas. The nuns are quite poor compared with their male counterparts. A few are scholars or recluses, but the majority do the work of a village pastor. Their local communities are united in heartfelt appreciation and respect.
Bhikkhuni ordination is still opposed by all three of the bhikkhu sects of Sri Lanka, but there is no official persecution. Gradually, bhikkhunis are gaining the support of individual monks and official government recognition. They aim for eventual acceptance by the conservative establishment by making the effort to observe the technicalities of the Pali Buddhist monastic code and to practice the dhamma in the traditional way.
The Sri Lankan bhikkhunis whom I met lack any international fundraising or PR capacity. They are really focused on gaining religious equality in their own land. However, they are now willing to ordain qualified foreigners, and friendly interest from Westerners is most welcome.
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