What is the Great Precepts Ordination Ceremony?

Procession Great Precepts Transmission Ceremony 2021

Deer Park Monastery hosted the worldwide Great Precepts Transmission Ceremony (Đại Giới Đàn in Vietnamese) in the Plum Village Tradition from October 1-4, 2021. The theme chosen for the ceremony was “Go To The Other Shore” and included our monasteries in France, Thailand, and Vietnam participating through a live broadcast.

The purpose of the Great Precepts Transmission Ceremony is to transmit the Bhikshu and Bhikshuni precepts to eligible novice monastics. Typically, when a person ordains as a monk or a nun, they practice as a novice for several years before receiving these precepts. When a ceremony is planned, and a monastic is invited by the sangha, they will become a fully ordained monk or fully ordained nun. For the Great Precepts Transmission Ceremony to occur, a body of monks and nuns must be present including a minimum number of Most Venerable monks and nuns. This year we were honored that the Most Venerable Master of Golden Mountain (Kim Son) monastery near San Jose, the Most Venerable Tịnh Từ, along with the Most Venerable Phước Tịnh of Deer Park Monastery, could come to transmit the precepts on Thay’s behalf. The Most Venerable Nguyen Hanh of Chúa Việt Nam in Houston certified the ceremony with his presence as Sanghakarman Master. On the side of the bhiksunis, the Most Venerable Nun Nguyen Thanh, who has transmitted the bhikshuni precepts on numerous occasions in Plum Village, was present to transmit the bhikshuni precepts. 

Venerable Monk
Most Venerable Master of Golden Mountain (Kim Son) monastery

And although our Teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, could not actively participate in the ceremony itself, his presence was felt by all. And thanks to video calls, a couple of opportunities did arise for Thay to meet with his disciples in the time leading up to the ceremony. 

The organizing team for this multi-time zone and multi-continent event began many months prior to October. This was the first time in 17-years that the Great Precepts Transmission Ceremony had taken place at Deer Park Monastery. Details – from the wording of the ceremony, to building new furniture, to inviting the Most Venerable teachers to join us – all required much attention. 

Two weeks before the ceremony, most of the monastic brothers and sisters arrived from Magnolia Grove Monastery in Mississippi and from Blue Cliff Monastery in New York. In total, we had 125 monastics present at Deer Park Monastery in addition to the sangha in France, Thailand, and Vietnam. Much like a wedding, we had rehearsals for every part of the ceremony. And since the ceremony took place over a period of days, we also had multiple days of rehearsals. 

On Friday, October 1 we began with the Invitation of the Pratimoksha and Opening Ceremony. This event began at the Moon Over Mountains Meditation Hall in Solidity Hamlet and was followed by a procession of all the monastics to the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall. The thunder of the Prajna drum and bell accompanied the procession as a beautiful sea of yellow and brown-clad monastics as they walked slowly down the road.  

Procession for Great Precepts Transmission Ceremony 2021

Each of the following two days (Saturday & Sunday) included the Precepts Transmission Ceremony. One for Bhikshus and one for Bhikshunis. The mahasangha gathered to witness the novice monastics presenting themselves to the monastic sangha and Most Venerable monks and nuns. At this point, all lay (non-monastic) participants were invited to leave the hall; only those receiving the Precepts remained with Bhikshu and Bhikshuni sangha. The precept transmission itself can only be witnessed by other fully ordained monastics and takes 2-3 hours to complete. 

In between these ceremonies, we also held three ceremonies to Transmit the Lamp of Wisdom. The ceremonies included monks, nuns, and lay people. For those of you unfamiliar with this tradition, lamp transmission refers to “the manner in which the teaching, or Dharma, is passed from a Zen master to their disciple. The procedure establishes the disciple as a transmitting teacher in their own right and successor in an unbroken lineage of teachers and disciples, a spiritual ‘bloodline’ theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself.” Just as our teacher, Thay, received the transmission to teach from our grandfather Teacher in the root temple, Tu Hieu, in Vietnam, today Thay’s students transmit the Lamp on Thay’s behalf to new monastic and lay practitioners who have been entrusted to receive it by the Sangha.

Thay's Lamp
Thay’s Lamp

On our final day, Monday October 4, the sangha gathered for a Be-In to celebrate our time together and for those who received the Precepts and those who received the Lamp. Much joy and happiness was shared. 

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