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From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Lama Gelongma Zangmo

Gelongma (feminine term) (wylie: dge slong ma) or Gelong (masculine term) is the Tibetan word for a fully ordained monastic observing the entire vinaya.

While the exact number of vows observed varies from one ordination lineage to another, generally the female monastic observes 360 vows while the male monastic observes 265.

Getsul and Getsulma (Tib <dge tshul>) (Skt <sramanera>) is the novice ordination, a preparation monastic level prior to Gelongma.

Novices, both male and female, adhere to twenty-five main vows.

A lay person or child monk too young to take the full vows may take the five vows called "approaching virtue" (in Tibetan genyen <dge snyan>).

These five vows can be practiced as a monastic, where the genyen maintains celebacy, or as a lay practitioner, where the married genyen maintains fidelity.

Starting with the novice ordination (Tib. ge tsul) some may choose to take forty years to gradually arrive at the bhikkshu (Tib. gelong) vows of a fully ordained monk.

Others take the getsulma and gelongma vows on the same day and practice as a gelongma from the beginning, as the getsulma vows are included within the gelongma.

Gelongma (Tib.)/Bhikshuni (Skt.) – 366 vows.

In the Mulasarvastivada, to become gelongma one should have successfully competed the two-year probationary period and reached the age of 20 years.

In the morning of the ordination the gelobma should receive the full ordination from 12 gelongmas who have been ordained at least 10 years, a preceptor, and common master (the gelongma who is head of the community) and then, in the afternoon, from 10 gelongs who have been ordained at least 10 years. In areas outside large monastic communities, four gelongs and six gelongmas may be substituted or, if one lives very far away in an area where travel is dangerous, the gelongmas may send messengers in their place.

During the ordination by gelongmas, the preceptor (a gelongma who takes care of the gelobma during the two-year period) should have received permission from the other gelongmas in the community for the ordination. A probationary nun without a preceptor may not receive full ordination.

Although the vinaya for all schools clearly states that full ordination must be given by both gelongmas and gelongs, so far, in Taiwan and Hong Kong, monks give the ordination more often than nuns.

Why There Are No Gelongmas in the Tibetan Tradition:

According to historical religious texts, the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya and gelong ordination was established in 8th century Tibet during the reign of King Trisong Detsen by the great Abbot Shantarakshita. There are no references to gelongma ordination at this time, but texts found in the 12th century indicated that, after the abbot’s death, Dharma declined in Tibet, but Lachen-gongpa Rabsel (832-915) restored the lineage of the ordination during his lifetime.

Another indication that the ordination was still intact at this time is found in a prayer written by the great translator Nagtso to Lord Atisha in which he talks about the “four kinds of discipline:” rabjung, getsul, gelongma and gelong.

During the period 1456-1539, writings show that the very learned Kagyü master, Karma Trinley, asked Pema Karpo, who was writing a book about the ritual of the bhikshuni ordination, if the ordination truly existed in Tibet. Pema Karpo replied saying there were many texts dealing with the subject like Vinaya Aghama, Karma Shatam and Karma Vakya. So, although the bhikshuni ordination existed on paper, there were no bhikshunis in Tibet.

According to the Theravada, because here are no bhikshunis in Tibet with the necessary credentials, there can be no bhikshuni ordination.

What Should a Woman Do If She Wants to Be a Gelongma?

One can go to Taiwan or Hong Kong and take ordination in the Chinese tradition where, after a few weeks of training, one takes the three sets of vows: novice, bodhisattva and fully-ordained one. However, this ordination is given by gelongs and the gelongmas serve as helpers.

There is a new temple outside Los Angeles, California that is a branch of Fo Quan Chan in Taiwan. Following the International Buddhist Conference to be held in Los Angeles rescheduled from July to this coming December, the full dual-ordination will be given by gelongs and gelongmas.

Many Western and Tibetan nuns from the Tibetan tradition have been ordained in the Dharmagupta. It is interesting to note that when you are ordained in this tradition, you do not lose your previous tradition, so in Los Angeles this December, nuns can wear the robes of their own tradition. Because it is a dual-ordination, these gelongmas will be able to participate in gelongma ordinations after holding the vows for 10 years.

Through this new ordination, it is hoped that a sound bhikshuni lineage will be established and passed on for the benefit of all sentient beings in order to keep the precious teachings of Lord Buddha for many eons to come.