After the Buddha’s extinction, in the Dharma-ending Age, we should honor and respect the Pratimoksha, the precepts. Those who uphold the precepts are like someone in darkness who encounters a light, like a poor person who obtains a treasure, like a sick person who gets cured, like a prisoner who is set free, like a traveler who at last returns from a long journey. You should know these precepts are the great teacher of the assembly, providing guidance almost as if the Buddha were still in the world.
— from the Bodhisattva Precepts Prologue
The 2005 108-day Precept Platform began on April 24th with Bhikshus performing the opening ceremony and offering initial welcome and encouragement to the preceptees. That day marked both an end and an advent—the end of the preceptees’ years of preliminary training and the advent of the intensive training that would ready them for full ordination in the Buddhist Sangha.
Preliminary Training for Women
Meeting the qualifications that earn entrance into a Precept Platform sponsored by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association marks the culmination of several years’ diligent study and practice. Laywomen who have interest in training for monastic life begin by being assigned to full-time residence in one or more of the Association’s dozens of monastic settings, where they draw close to and serve the monastic community as they learn Buddhism. Women who successfully complete at least two years of such practice and who wish to continue will be allowed to enter monastic life, when their heads are shaved and they receive the ten novice precepts.
These novices continue their training by being assigned to one or more of the Association’s monastic settings, where they now study and practice as members of the monastic Sangha. After two or three years of study and practice, the novice nuns who qualify will then enter the 108-day Precept Platform, the intensive training period prior to full ordination. If they successfully complete this final training, they will be entitled to enter the Platform to receive the 348 Bhikshuni Precepts and the 10 Major and 48 Minor Bodhisattva Precepts.
Precept Platform Intensive Training
The 2005 Platform training period for novice nuns has been both traditional and unprecedented. Its traditional aspects include its time period of 108 days, its concentration on bowing in repentance and memorizing the precepts, its review and clarification of Venerable Master Hua’s teachings and traditions, and its emphasis on a full schedule of ceremony, ritual, meditation, training, and practice. From the nuns’ perspective, the unprecedented aspect of this Platform is that one half of the intensive training for nuns was held at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) and one half was held at the City of the Dharma Realm (CDR).
Following the opening ceremonies at CTTB on April 24th, the nuns—instructors and preceptees—moved to CDR, where, after the boundaries were purified and orientation completed, a nine-day period of initial instruction and training in deportment was held. During this quiet time, the preceptees, who had assembled for the Platform by returning from many different branches located in several different countries where they had been stationed, began to learn to study and work together with each other and in their respective groups. Instructors also held the first of three individual interviews with preceptees. Thus, by the time everyone returned to CTTB on May 3rd, the instructors and preceptees were acquainted and acclimated and the intensive training schedule was proceeding smoothly.
Repentance is a major part of the Platform’s intensive training and so all preceptees were encouraged to attend the Ten Thousand Buddhas’ Repentance in full. All able-bodied preceptees did indeed bow the entire repentance. A few who experienced illness during the bowing period did not have perfect attendance, but did bow diligently whenever they were able to do so. Memorization of precepts continued and many Bhikshunis at CTTB volunteered to listen to the preceptees recite their precepts by heart—a gesture that was greatly appreciated by all the novices in the platform.
Prior to and following the three-week Repentance, the preceptees’ schedule was arranged to allow for longer periods of community service, during which they worked in CTTB tidying the campus grounds, assisting the guest prefect to prepare and clean up resident areas, helping in the kitchen and dining hall before and after meals, and doing office work and other duties as needed. This 47-day period at CTTB during which the novices bowed and worked alongside the resident monastics and laypeople as well as many visiting practitioners, allowed that initial nucleus the preceptees had formed at CDR to further solidify and mature within the expansive context of CTTB’s setting.
Classes in Bodhisattva Precepts were held daily before and after the Repentance period. In all, three Bhikshunis shared the instruction in the Bodhisattva Precepts. Three classes that focused on the Venerable Master’s teachings and traditions were also conducted. On June 20th, the nuns who were instructors and staff and the preceptees returned to CDR to continue the intensive Platform training there.
Five days of community service immediately began at CDR in order to prepare the grounds of the campus for inspection by the city fire department. After that flurry of physical activity, the preceptees settled down to a regular routine of daily bowing, memorization, classes, ceremonies, and meditation. After instruction in the Bodhisattva Precepts was complete in late June, instruction in the Bhikshuni Precepts began and continued through to the end of July. Four Bhikshunis shared the instruction in the Bhikshuni Precepts. Instruction in Tai Ji and meditation, in preparing vegetarian dishes, and in the performance of traditional ceremonies was also given by other Bhikshunis.
The first week of August brought the training at CDR to a close with several days’ instruction on Understanding about Receiving Full Ordination. The preceptees were then given the assignment of writing their individual perspectives on the 2005 Platform training period. And finally, Bhikshuni instructors joined in an evening panel discussion, sharing their experiences and insights and answering preceptees’ questions. During this 47-day period at CDR, inspections of the preceptees’ living quarters were conducted regularly; training in ceremony and ritual intensified, and memorization assignments were completed. Preceptees were particularly attentive to recorded instruction by the Venerable Master regarding the importance of bowing in repentance, so as they finished their memorization, they asked for more periods of bowing, which were duly arranged. Instructors also conducted the second and third individual interviews with preceptees. Twenty-six preceptees successfully completed the training and passed the three interviews.
Early on August 7th at CDR, as group photos were taken, a quiet joy rippled through the cluster of preceptees and instructors who stood in the cool morning air beneath magnificent blue sky and white clouds. Then a caravan of cars set out for the return to CTTB and the culmination of the Platform.
During the final six days, all the preceptees participated in long rehearsals, avowed their purity through repentances, and finally, ascended the Platform to receive the transmissions of the Bhikshu, Bhikshuni, and Bodhisattva Precepts given by Masters and Certifiers from the Mahayana and Theravada traditions.
Now, as fully-ordained monastics, they are poised at another advent—the entrance into Bodhisattva practices that will culminate in Buddhahood. Protected by and diligently protecting their precepts, they will study and practice to deepen their
samadhi and wisdom and will serve and share what they learn with all whom they meet who have affinities with the teachings and practices of Buddhism.