guanyin, avalokitesvara, female ordination, taiwan
Guanyin, China, Northern Song Dynasty, c. 1025; pigments on wood.

While other Buddhist traditions struggle with the idea of fully ordaining women and putting them on a par with men (not possible, for instance, in the Tibetan and Thai Buddhist traditions), East Asia has a better record. In fact, according to a new book, Taiwan’s Buddhist Nuns, nuns outnumber monks in the island nation. Many nuns from less tolerant traditions—at least with regard to female ordination—have traveled far and wide to ordain. Fortunately for them, the lineage of fully ordained women has been kept alive in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Vietnam, as in the day of the Buddha (after some reluctance, the Buddha conceded full membership to women in the sangha). Maybe it’s fitting, then, that Guan-yin (Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion), became female in China.

But some women don’t bother with all the traveling, and bravely ordain where they are. This is what some Thai Buddhist nuns decided to do and they received support from an unlikely quarter—like-minded Catholic nuns. You can read “Ordination as Equals” here

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