Can the monastic community abide by a spiritual teacher who is both a lay person and a female?

Response:

What determines whether a spiritual teacher is qualified to give teachings and guide the monastic community is not the monastic or lay status, nor is it the gender.

The monastic community is made up of renunciates, each of who has the right to decide the spiritual teacher whom they want to follow. They can observe for themselves whether this individual has the full qualifications of a spiritual teacher. If so, they can choose that person as their spiritual teacher. If not, they can choose otherwise. Also, from the overall viewpoint of the monastic community, individuals are not required to abide by a specific spiritual teacher. This is each practitioner's personal choice.

To have a lay person guiding the monastic community: This is not uncommon!

Within Buddhist history, it is not uncommon for lay people to guide and give teachings to the monastic community.

In India, as in the previously mentioned biography: "Master Jayasena, who was a lay person, resided in Zhang-Lin Mountain. He accepted and guided students in the study of Buddhism, often giving teachings on sutras. His monastic and lay students, often numbering over hundreds, all abided by his instructions and took refuge in him."

Among historical records of monastic communities established by lay people, the most well-known is that of Geshe Drom-don-ba. Although Honourable Je Atisha had many monastic students, he instructed only Geshe Drom-don-ba to establish a monastic community.

At that time, Geshe Drom-don-ba responded with great modesty, "People will challenge the fact that I am a lay practitioner. Thus, I probably do not have the ability to establish a monastic community."

Honourable Je Atisha clearly replied, "Yes, you can! Because this is what I have instructed you to do." Before his passing, Honourable Je Atisha also expressed to many of his key monastic students his wish for them to follow the teachings of Geshe Drom-don-ba[1].

The first three throne-holders of the Sakya school were also all lay Buddhists. As lay people, they founded the Sakya Monastery and the Sakya school. To this day, the Sakya throne-holder is still a lay person leading the monastic community.

In addition, the founder of the Kagyu school, Master Marepa, as well as Master Milarepa were both lay people who led many monastics and lay students. Also, Nyima students recognize and honour Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a lay practitioner, as the pinnacle of the present Nyima school. Moreover, within the Gelug school, many lay Buddhist masters led monastic communities, including the 10th Panchen Lama, the 6th Master Jamyang, Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, Dagpo Rinpoche, and more.

Renowned female spiritual teachers who give teachings to communities of monks

Similarly, within Buddhist history, there have been many renowned female Buddhist teachers who gave teachings to communities of monks.

Sirivivartavyakarana Sutra states that the female Zhuan-Nu Bodhisattva gave teachings on the different methods of helping others to the monastic assembly.

Furthermore, there have been buddhas and bodhisattvas in the past who have made aspirations to be reborn as a woman to benefit all beings. For instance, as written in The Origins of Tara's Tantra, Tara first developed the spirit of enlightenment in one of her previous lives as Princess Yeshe Dawa. While making vast offerings, the monastic community urged the princess to direct her prayers to be reborn as a man.

Upon hearing this, she said, "In this world, there is no man nor woman. There is no self, no other self, no mind. There is no sense in discerning man from woman. It is purely a delusion created by our worldly mind."

She then made the following vow: "Among all men, there are many who aspire to achieve bodhichitta. However, it is rare to find even one woman with the ability to benefit all. For this reason, I vow to be born as a woman to help all beings until everyone is freed from rebirth." As such, from the moment Tara made this aspiration until she reaches buddhahood, she will use the form of a female to benefit all. She has become a figure both monastic and lay practitioners take refuge in.

Presently, many of the precious lineaged teachings practiced by monastic communities are also passed down by female Buddhist teachers. For instance, the Avalokiteshvara Fasting Practice was passed down by Bhikshuni Lakshmi. Bodhi Dharma was passed down by Machig Labdron; and Longevity Dharma was passed down by Maji Zhubei Jiemo. Many monastic communities, regardless of their Buddhist schools, abided by these female Buddhist masters who were lineaged teachers.

In recent years, there have also been various female Buddhist teachers who give teachings to monks. Such examples include Ah Yu Kang Zhuo as well as other teachers who live in the Ka Da Ri region. Among the Chinese community, some female teachers include Venerable Master Fa-Zun's lay student, Ms. Ji-Ou Hu, and Great Master Xu-Yun's disciple Elder Master Gong Ge.

Even the most conservative Buddhist school of the Theravada lineage has female spiritual teachers. Currently, the one of the larger Theravada monasteries in Thailand is Wat Phra Dhammakaya. It was founded not by a monk but by a female lay Buddhist, Chandra Khonnokyoong (Khun Yay Ajan), who recently passed away. In addition, the current abbess and leader of Larung Ngarig Buddhist Academy, studying Tibetan Buddhism in Sichuan is also female. Her name is Dakini Muntso.

As such, since the beginning of time, Mahayana scriptures as well as historical and contemporary figures support that female laity can become spiritual teachers of Buddhist monastic communities.

Under the direction of founder, Honourable Elder Master Jih-Chang, the Bliss and Wisdom monastic communities have been abiding by Master Zhen-Ru as their spiritual teacher for over a decade. During this period of time, not only has the number of monastics continued to increase, the disposition toward study and practice of Buddhism has also flourished. Although it is not widely seen for a monastic community to follow a female lay Buddhist teacher, but as stated by Honourable Harwa Jamyang Lodro Rinpoche and Geshe Tenzin Yign Yen, Honourable Elder Master Jih-Chang's decision has a very unique purpose. Bliss and Wisdom monastic communities have a strong rapport with Master Zhen-Ru. It is precisely because they follow Honourable Elder Master Jih-Chang's guidance and abide by the teachings of Master Zhen-Ru, that the monastic communities are able to accomplish their current achievements.

Regardless of whether it is from notable historical records, the fact that the Bliss and Wisdom monastics willingly choose to abide by Master Zhen-Ru, or the major contributions in Buddhism by Master Zhen-Ru, one can see that a fully qualified lay person can be abided by the monastic community.

 

[1]The Commentary of the Blue Compendium composed by Lha Dri Gan Gpa states: "In order to benefit sentient beings, one must learn to cultivate one's own mind. If one has an ardent compassion to help others regardless, then one must know that the happiness of all beings originates from the Buddha's teachings. Therefore, one must strive to ensure that Buddhist teachings remain in this world. This, in turn, depends on the monastic community. Thus, if able, one must, with all means possible, help the monastic community remain in this world.

Honourable Je Atisha once told Geshe Drom-dom-ba: 'You should establish a monastic community.'

Geshe Drom-dom-ba asked, 'I'm a lay Buddhist. Can this be done?'

Je Atisha replied, 'Because it is my wish for you to do so, it can be done!'

As such, Geshe Drom-dom-ba founded Reting Monastery."

 

 

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