Tonight is the eve of your leaving home. Tomorrow you will enter into monastic life. It is a time when everyone feels happy and rejoices for you. Nineteen women are prepared to have their heads shaved tomorrow. We are eagerly waiting to see how many men have made the same resolve. [Editor's note: It turned out to be five.]
When sages come to our world, they do the unexpected. They often surprise us. A sage holds firmly to what he stands for—to what principles he embodies and wishes to impart. But a sage must also deal with the times and with the people of those times. Without compromising their principles, sages are able to approach the times and the people in appropriate ways so that their teachings are accepted and spread.
Confucius promulgated the propriety of the sage-kings, through to the Duke of Zhou. According to propriety, scholars of Confucius' time had to have acceptable background. A scholar came from a family line. Those without the proper family line were not accepted as true scholars. But Confucius also possessed a righteous energy coupled with a humane regard that prevented him from denying those with potential from studying with him, regardless of their background. The equality with which he accepted disciples surprised the people of his times.
Shakyamuni Buddha also surprised those of his time, because he ignored the strict caste system, so deeply imbedded in Indian culture, and allowed people of any caste or class to leave home and cultivate the Way. The principle underlying the Buddha's equality went beyond Confucius' righteousness. The Buddha had directly perceived that all beings have the Buddha nature; all can become Buddhas.
Confucius made the decision not to teach women. But Shakyamuni Buddha agreed to teach women. Aware that all beings have the potential to become Buddhas, how could he do otherwise? His was an all-encompassing compassion coupled with wisdom. His decision then remains to this day and so it is that nineteen very lucky women have the opportunity to begin monastic life tomorrow.
I remember the first time the Venerable Master prepared disciples for full ordination, there were five. You all remember the stories about that. The Master said it took him several months to calm down our scattered minds after we returned from Taiwan. The reason? Too many "Good and Wise Advisors" in Taiwan kept telling us that eating one meal a day was ridiculous. It was an old-fashion custom already outdated in Buddhism; nobody did that anymore! We were being cheated by our teacher! The stories about that first ordination are familiar to us all.
The Master didn't talk as much about the second group of disciples that went to Taiwan for ordination. That was a group of four men. So when they returned, there were then seven monks and two nuns. Well, the monks had a meeting with the Master to tell him about their "grand plan." They had decided that no more women should be ordained. Their idea was to not cross over women. After all, they pointed out, the Master advocated that the Proper Dharma must long remain in the world. The Venerable Ananda was really dumb to ask the Buddha to let women leave home in the first place. The Buddha warned him that such a decision would speed the demise of the Dharma. And so, they concluded, now that Buddhism was being transmitted to the West, they would do it right. They would keep it pure and only allow men to leave home.
The Master's reply was simple and direct: "Dog shit!" (fang gou pi) But when we women hear that answer, we should be careful not to mistake its meaning. The liberation the Master sought for us all is ultimate liberation, not women's liberation. Women's liberation concerns social structure and as such is external and superficial; ultimate liberation points to the mind ground and as such is internal and profound. External liberation is limited in scope; internal liberation transcends all boundaries. The Master's answer was based on the fact that all beings have the Buddha nature and the potential for ultimate enlightenment.
What is the mind transmission? How does that mind-to-mind transmission occur? We used to ask the Master a lot about that topic, especially during his lectures on the Sixth Patriarch's Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra. The Master would answer: "the mind transmission is happening all the time: however much you get, that much is yours. No one can see it; no one knows who got how much."
Therefore, as nuns, our propriety, our outer deportment, should accord with the Buddha's regulations; our inner potential should be explored and used to the fullest. We women can become Arhats, we can become Bodhisattvas, we can reach Buddhahood.
The third time the Master prepared disciples for ordination, the precept transmission was held in the United States under the Master's direction and guidance and with his own disciple monks helping to administer the precepts. At that time, in the early 70's, the regulations regarding transmitting precepts in border regions were used since Buddhism was still very new to America. By the fourth ordination of disciples, the Master, in his efforts to join the Northern and Southern traditions, began to invite monks of many traditions to help administer the precepts.
However, in 1995 when some of the Master's long-precepted monks went to request instruction, they asked the Master which great high Masters they should invite to administer the precepts in the next ordination. The Master's answer was again simple and direct: "You may select from among yourselves who the administrators of the precepts will be. There is no need to invite others to do it for you."
This time, the novice women will train in several locations under many different nuns. After tomorrow's ceremony for entry into monastic life here at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, some of the novices will train at the Joyous Giving House here in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Some will train at the Sagely City of the Dharma Realm in Sacramento. And some may train in other DRBA branch Way-places. You should know that all of these locations are acceptable places for your training to take place; all of the nuns you study under will be acceptable training instructors.
No matter where you train or who you train under, we women of the Sangha are watching you, are concerned about you, and will be very aware of how your training is progressing. It is not that any one place is the only place where you can train or that any one instructor is the only instructor to learn from. You can be assured that wherever you are is an appropriate place for you to receive training and whoever your instructors are, they are appropriate people to train you.
We are all watching how your training progresses. It is not the locations or the instructors who will determine your readiness to receive the precepts. You, as the trainees, will determine that. To whatever extent you accept and embody the various aspects of the training, that is the extent to which you will be ready for full ordination when the time comes. And so it is my hope that each of you will quickly find that inner unlimited potential that we are all endowed with and at the same time apply yourself diligently to your training as a Buddhist monk or nun under the Venerable Master's teaching and in Way-places that he established.