ORDINATION here refers to the practice in many religions of publicly designating and setting apart certain persons for special religious service and leadership, granting them religious authority and power to be exercised for the welfare of the community. The way each religious community practices ordination depends on that community's worldview and religious beliefs. For example, in traditions that emphasize a direct relationship with the divine being or beings, the ordained person may be thought of primarily as a mediator or priest. Communities that consider human beings to be especially troubled by evil spirits or witchcraft look to shamans or exorcists to counteract the evil influences. In religions that present a goal of inner enlightenment and purified life, the ordained person will be a monk, nun, or spiritual master leading the way toward this goal of enlightenment. And religious communities that place much emphasis on living in accordance with the divinely given law set certain persons apart as religious scholars and judges.
Each religious tradition sets up qualifications that candidates must meet before they can be ordained. Sometimes ordination is based on heredity. In many religions the candidate must be male, although some roles are specified for women; other traditions allow both male and female candidates to be ordained. Since the late twentieth century, a major shift has taken place in some traditions that formerly had restricted ordination to men, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Shintō: A number of groups within these traditions have begun to accept women for ordination. While aptness for the religious role is always a requirement, in some traditions the person must already have demonstrated his or her suitability for that role before being chosen, while in others it is assumed that the office will be learned through a period of training. Every religion presupposes some kind of divine call or inner motivation on the part of the candidate.
An authority and power not possessed by the ordinary people of the community are conferred on the candidate through ordination. The source of that authority and power may be the divine powers, the consent of the community, or those who have already been ordained. Upon ordination, the person receives a new religious title. The English term priest can be used in many religious traditions to designate those who have been ordained or set apart, but a variety of other terms is sometimes preferred, such as shaman, medicine man, monk or nun, rabbi, bishop, deacon, minister, or imam.
Ordination in Ancient and Traditional Societies
Numerous ancient and traditional societies have beliefs and practices according to which they set apart certain persons as religious leaders, endowing them with special authority and power for the performance of essential religious services, such as serving the gods and spirits, sacrificing, communicating with spiritual powers, warding off evil powers, healing, and the like. Among the great diversity of roles dealing with spiritual power, some basic types are priests, shamans, and medicine men or women.
The term priest generally designates a person ordained with authority to practice the cult of certain divinities or spirits. Since these spiritual powers are believed to direct and influence human existence, they must be worshiped, prayed to, consulted, influenced by sacrifices, and the like, for the continuing welfare of the human community. The priesthood may be hereditary, or priests may be called or chosen by the divinity. After selection or calling, the aspiring priest undergoes a period of purification and training. Among the Ashanti of Africa, the novice trains in private with an older priest for three years, during which time the novice's hair is left uncut. He is taught rituals, rules of priestly life and conduct, how to communicate with the various spirits, and so forth. The final act of ordination takes place at a nighttime festival, with the new priest dressed in a palm-fiber kilt and decorated with all his charms. He kneels before his instructor-priest, who shaves off his hair; any "bad matter" that is found is put in a pot, which is then taken off to the bush. The new priest dances all night to the drums and the singing of the people, and he ends the ordination ritual in the morning by sacrificing a sheep to his god.
Ancient Israelite society had a designated priesthood that served Israel's god by prayer and sacrifice, acting as intermediaries for the people. The description of the investing of Aaron and his sons (Lv. 8) may be an idealized account, but it presents many important symbols of ordination. All the congregation assembled for the ceremony, and Moses announced to the assembly that God had commanded this ordination. Aaron and his sons were presented, washed with water, vested with special priestly garments, and anointed with oil. Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the "ram of ordination"; after it was sacrificed, its blood was placed on the tips of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the great toes of their right feet. They ate the sacrificial offerings, and then they stayed in the tent for the seven "days of ordination," after which they were authorized to act as priests on behalf of the people. In ancient Egypt, the king (and thus, the god) appointed the priests to act as ritual specialists for the king. After preparation by fasting and abstinence, shaving their hair, and circumcision, the induction ritual for new priests included purification by washing, anointing of their hands, donning of special linen garments, presentation before the gods in the temple, and reception of special divine knowledge.
While priests are holy persons who have power by virtue of their office, other religious roles in traditional societies are set apart for those who demonstrate the appropriate charisma, for example, shamans and medicine men and women, who are able to maintain communication with the spiritual powers and influence those powers for the benefit of humans.
Shamans (male and female) are commonly thought to be elected directly by tutelary spirits, who in a visionary experience initiate the future shaman. Among Siberian shamans, this initiatory experience involves being sick, being carried to the realm of the spirits, having the body dismembered and reconstituted, and receiving instruction in shamanizing from the god. After this visionary experience of death and resurrection, the future shaman is instructed by an elder shaman, and often there is a ceremony that confirms the initiation by the spirits. For example, the Buriat neophyte, after many years of training following his first ecstatic experiences with the spirits, is consecrated in a public ceremony. First a purification ritual is performed, in which his back is touched with a broom dipped in a goat's blood. In the ordination ceremony, the shamans consecrate the shamanic instruments that the novice will use, and the candidate is anointed with blood from a sacrificial animal on the head, eyes, and ears. The "father shaman" leads the neophyte and other shamans in the ritual of climbing birch trees that have been cut from the burial forest and set up on the sacred ground, after which all fall into ecstasy and shamanize. Finally, meat from the sacrificed animals is prepared, and everyone joins in a banquet celebrating the new shaman.
Although the Burmese are Buddhists, they still have beliefs in a variety of spirits, ghosts, and witches; in particular, the spirits called nat s are thought to be powerful and capable of affecting humans for good and evil, and these nat s are propitiated by shamans (most are women, though a small percentage are men) who play the important role of "nat wives." Typically, through a trance or dream, a young woman is possessed or "loved" by one of the nat s, and any resistance is punished by the nat until a "marriage" is arranged. The wedding is a costly affair, performed in a nat "palace" where there is a ceremonial chamber. As the nat 's dance is performed, the bride changes into the proper costume, pays the marriage fee, and enters the bridal chamber. Two shamans perform a ceremony of putting the bride's soul to sleep, and she does a dance to the music associated with the nat husband. The marriage has now been consummated, and she remains secluded for seven days with her nat husband, after which she is known as a nat wife and practices as a shaman.
Among Australian Aborigines, shamans play an important role in diagnosing and curing illnesses, holding séances with the spirit world and spirits of the dead. The profession can be inherited, the person may experience a call or election, or he may seek out the role—but in any case he must be "made" through an ecstatic experience involving a ritual of initiation. Typically the initiate is taken to the bush, and the ordaining medicine man places against his breast large quartz crystals, which are thought to vanish into his body. In other symbolic rituals, he is led into a hole in the ground to a grave, and snakes are also rubbed against him to give him wisdom. The initiation is completed with a symbolic ascent to heaven to communicate with the high god. Among the Azande of Africa, the ceremony of initiation for a medicine man (or woman) includes a ritual burial following a period of purification. The elders bury the upper part of the novice's body in a hole under a mat with dirt heaped on it, on which the other medicine men dance. After about a half hour he is taken out, and medicine is put in his eyes and nostrils. After swallowing powerful phlegm expectorated by a master doctor, the aspiring novice is taken to a stream source and shown the various herbs and shrubs from which the medicine is derived. After this he takes a new name and is authorized to practice as a medicine man.
Zoroastrian and Hindu Ordination
Among Indo-Europeans the priesthood was an important class, as evidenced in the priesthoods of the ancient Romans, Greeks, Celts, Persians, Aryans, and others. The Zoroastrians and the Hindus have continued this emphasis on a class of priests ordained to perform the important purifications, sacrifices, and other ceremonies for the maintenance of a healthy relationship between humans and the eternal divine order of the universe.
The religion of the ancient Persians, as transformed by the prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) into Zoroastrianism, is practiced in the early twenty-first century by small communities in Iran and India (where they are called Parsis). In Zoroastrianism, the aspirant to the priesthood must be a son of a priestly family who has gone through the childhood religious initiation (Naojot), consisting of investiture with the sacred shirt and girdle or thread. A lengthy period of training in chanting the scriptures and performing the rituals qualifies him for ordination.
According to traditional practice, there are two levels of ordination, of which the first (nāvar ) qualifies the aspirant as a priest who can perform benedictions, investiture of children, marriages, and the like. During the first level of ordination, the candidate must perform two bareshnūms, the highest form of purification ritual, lasting nine days each. Under the open sky a sacred liquid is applied to his whole body many times, and then the candidate makes a nine-day retreat in the fire temple. After the two rituals, the candidate bathes and puts on a new set of white clothes and a white turban. In the sacrifice chamber of the fire temple, he removes his upper garments, makes an ablution, and puts on a mouth veil. One of the priests brings him before the assembled priests and asks permission to initiate him. The silence of the assembly indicates their consent, and the candidate is taken back to the sacrificial chamber to perform the ceremony of chanting the Avestan scriptures and other liturgical rituals. These are repeated for four days, after which the candidate is declared to be qualified as a priest of the hērbad level.
In order to perform also the higher liturgical services, the priest must qualify himself by going through the second grade of ordination (martab ). In this ceremony, the priest again goes through a period of purification, then he conducts the Yasna liturgy for ten days. Now finally the priest is ordained as a mōbad priest, and he can fully officiate as the directing priest at all religious ceremonies.
In Hinduism, brahman priests have always played an important role. In ancient Vedic times they were thought to uphold the whole social order through their mediation, by virtue of their mastery of the sacred rituals, sacrifices, and formulas. In the early twenty-first century, especially for people of the high castes, it is important to have a brahman household priest (purohita ) perform the traditional rituals and chant the Vedic texts properly so that the cosmic order will continue with its health and goodness for each according to his or her place in the total order. Some brahmans prepare to be priests of temple worship, where rituals center on the ceremonial treatment of the images of the gods—although many functions of temple worship can be performed by the people without priestly help. And there is a variety of religious specialists from non-brahman castes that serve village gods and perform ritual functions in Hindu communities.
The traditional view in Hinduism is that a priest must be a male from the brahman caste who has gone through the initiation ceremony (upanayana ) and received the sacred thread as a twice-born brahman. The brahman boy who aspires to become a household or temple priest studies for many years with a teacher at a Vedic training center and learns the correct way of reciting the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures.
After reaching technical proficiency in recitation of the Vedas and in performing the simpler ceremonies, the novice priest must spend a period of time as assistant to a senior priest. For those priests who are training to be domestic priests, this means accompanying the senior priest on his rounds and assisting him. The senior will formally introduce the junior priest to the assembly of professional priests, while the trainee formally announces his apprenticeship under the senior priest. In conducting the ceremonies, the junior first sits behind the senior priest, helping to recite some mantra s; as he gains confidence, he is allowed to sit next to the teacher. Gradually the novice priest takes charge of rituals while the senior priest withdraws. In this way, eventually the new priest becomes established and recognized as a full-fledged member of the profession of domestic priesthood. For brahmans entering the public temple priesthood of one of the great gods, such as Viṣṇu or Śiva, the ritual consecration is performed in the temple by priests to admit the new priest to their ranks. In a Śiva temple, for example, the consecration ritual is attended by many priests as well as a large crowd of devotees. The officiating priest performs worship for the candidate in the same way as worshiping a Śiva image, bathing him in a variety of substances, dressing him in new clothes, offering food and waving lamps in front of him, demonstrating that the new priest is a form of Śiva and thus has authority to perform the temple rituals. One additional requirement must also be met for the ordination of domestic and temple priests: Because tradition prohibits an unmarried priest from performing public worship or participating in the rituals of the saṃskāra s, or life passages, the novice priest must take a wife.
In recent years some groups both in India and in Hindu communities in places such as South Africa and Trinidad have begun ordaining women as priests after training them in reciting the Vedas and performing the various rituals. They argue that the Vedic scriptures support a priestly role for women, and that women priests can fill an important need especially as more men are drawn away from the priesthood to other careers in society.
Ordination among Jains and Buddhists
Two religions that grew up in India along with Hinduism are Jainism and Buddhism, and in these religious traditions spiritual power is understood to reside especially in the monastic communities, that is, among those monks and nuns who have left ordinary secular life to pursue spiritual perfection through ascetic practices. The monks and nuns are primarily devoted to their own spiritual perfection; yet because they possess great power they can perform religious service for the laypeople, such as chanting scripture, performing funeral rites, and teaching.
Among the Jains of India, the monks and nuns are set apart from the lay population by virtue of having embarked on the path of total renunciation. As sādhu s and sādhvī s (male and female mendicants), they pursue their own goal of reaching the highest state of liberation of the soul from all traces of karman. For the laypeople who perform their own religious ceremonies, the mendicants function mainly as models and as teachers.
Prior to ordination, the candidate will have gone through a period of training under a qualified master, involving the formal declaration of intention, fasting, study of basic scriptures, and taking a new name. Ordination occurs through the formal assumption of the five Great Vows (mahāvrata ) in a public ceremony called dīkṣā. The five Great Vows are the vows of nonviolence, abstaining from untruthfulness, abstaining from stealing, chastity, and renouncing all love for any thing or any person. The novice casts off all lay possessions and becomes a new person. Particulars of the ceremony differ somewhat among the different sects. A Digambara monk, fulfilling that order's ideal of nudity, will stand before his teacher and renounce every possession, even his loincloth; he is given a small whisk broom, with which he is to remove insects from his sitting or sleeping place. Among Śvetāmbaras, the aspirant is given three large pieces of cloth for a new wardrobe, and also a whisk broom, a begging bowl, a blanket, a staff, and some volumes of scripture. Monks and nuns of the Sthānakavāsi sect are also given a small strip of cloth to keep tied over the mouth at all times save mealtime, to protect organisms that might be injured by an unimpeded rush of warm air. One significant part of the ritual of ordination is the act of slowly and painfully pulling the hair from one's head in five handfuls, signifying the aspirant's determination to meet the severe demands of the ascetic life.
It is significant that nuns have always been more numerous than monks in Jainism, from the time of the founder Mahāvīra. Because Digambara nuns cannot enter a state of ascetic nudity (as required of monks), they are sometimes considered of lower rank. However, Śvetāmbara and Sthānakavāsi female mendicants take the same vows as do the male mendicants, and so they are considered to have equal ordination status.
The people of the community participate in the ordination ceremony. The dīkṣā ceremony is accompanied by great pomp and by the performance of various religious acts by the laypeople. On the next day, when the new mendicant goes out with the begging bowl to receive food for the first time, the householder who provides the food is considered to earn great merit.
Among Buddhists also, men and women ordained as monks and nuns (bhikkhu s and bhikkhunī s) are set apart from the lay population by virtue of having embarked on the path toward extinguishing the sense of self and reaching nirvana. The monks and nuns contribute to the welfare of the general community, not as intermediaries between the people and the gods but as reservoirs of merit and models of spiritual perfection. Typically they perform a variety of services for the laity in chanting scripture for various occasions, performing merit-making rituals, praying for the dead, and teaching.
The Buddha established ordination for both the men's order and the women's order of mendicants, teaching that men and women equally can reach enlightenment. According to the scriptural texts, he prescribed several additional requirements for women's ordination, seemingly making nuns dependent on the order of monks and requiring that a nun be ordained both by an assembly of monks and by an assembly of nuns. Eventually the full ordination of nuns disappeared in Theravada Buddhist societies, and attempts to revive it in modern times have been unsuccessful, since there are no fully ordained Theravada nuns to perform the ordination. Dedicated women continue to become mendicants in Theravada societies such as Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka, but they receive only a novice ordination and thus are not considered to have the same spiritual status as monks. The full bhikkhunī ordination for women has been maintained in Mahāyāna societies, such as in China and Korea.
In Theravada cultures such as those of Burma and Thailand, it is traditional for boys to be ordained on a temporary basis and spend some time in the monastery as novice monks, as a kind of passage to adulthood. This initiation into monkhood (pabbajjā) is technically a monastic ordination; the young men have their heads shaved by the monks and recite the Ten Precepts of monastic life, after which they are given new Buddhist names. The Ten Precepts are the following: not to destroy life; not to steal; not to engage in sexual misconduct; not to lie; not to take alcoholic beverages; not to eat after noon; not to participate in dancing, music, and theater; not to wear garlands, perfumes, and ointments; not to use high or wide beds; and not to accept gold or silver.
Although most of the young men return to secular life after a period of time in the monastery, other men and some women take on the monastic ordination as a more permanent role and become members of the saṅgha (Skt., saṃgha ), the monastic order. The ordination ritual that marks this separation from lay life is called upasampadā, or higher ordination, and presupposes some twelve years' experience as a novice after the lower ordination.
The monk or nun is to be essentially a homeless, celibate, ascetic mendicant. Being ordained means dying a civil death, so before the ceremony the candidate divests himself or herself of all possessions and gives up title to inheritable property. He or she brings to the ordination, as gifts from lay sponsors, the only property that a bhikkhu or bhikkhunī is to possess: the yellow robe, a begging bowl, a girdle, a small razor, a needle and some thread, a water strainer to strain insects from drinking water, and a palm-leaf fan. The laypeople—parents and friends—play an essential role in the ordination, in terms of financial support for the ritual and the postceremonial festivities, sponsorship of the novice's application, and the like. Gifts and support of the ordination bring merit to the donor.
The ordination ceremony takes place in an assembly of bhikkhu s (and an assembly of bhikkhunī s, for women candidates) in the special ordination chamber of the monastery, surrounded by boundary stones beyond which laypeople are not to enter. The candidate, dressed in yellow robes and with head and eyebrows shaven, kneels in front of the assembled monks and affirms in response to questions that he or she is a human being of sound body and mind, of legitimate birth, free of debts, a freeman, at least twenty years old, in possession of robes and a begging bowl, and having parental consent. The candidate formally requests admission to the saṅgha, and the presiding monk asks three times if any of his colleagues has any objection to the candidate. Silence is taken as consent, the candidate is pronounced a bhikkhu or bhikkhunī, and his or her new Buddhist name is conferred. The monastic rule from the Vinaya is read aloud, and the new monk or nun promises to comply with all its rules.
Mahāyāna Buddhist communities have the same basic ordination ceremony, with some special differences. In traditional China, for example, it was customary for the aspiring monk to "leave home" by taking a senior monk as his master and receiving tonsure from him, entering into a period of training as a novice within the tonsure family headed by the "father-master."
Ordination in Chinese Buddhism traditionally involves long and complicated rites with a large number of ordinands. Monks and nuns come to the large ordaining monastery and live there for a time of strict training. After a night of repentance and purification, the ordinands kneel before the masters and witnesses, reciting the Three Refuges and accepting the Ten Vows, receiving their robes and begging bowls. Training resumes for a period of time, and at a second ordination ceremony the ordinands accept the monastic rules and go up to the ordination platform in groups of three to be examined by the ordination masters and accepted as full-fledged monks and nuns. An important ceremony in Mahāyāna ordination rituals is the scarring of the scalp with burns; cones of moxa are placed on the shaven scalp and set afire, burning down into the skin and leaving permanent scars identifying the person as a monk or nun. The ordinands finally receive ordination certificates, and they join their family and friends for a celebration in honor of their new vocation.
Ordination of Priests in Daoism and ShintŌ
Priests in Chinese Daoism function as ritual and liturgical specialists, but they also act as exorcists and healers, expelling and pacifying demons. There are two main traditions of Daoist priests (daoshi) in the early twenty-first century, stemming from movements in the long history of Daoism. The Zhengyi (Orthodox Unity, also called Tianshi, Celestial Masters) sect is a diverse movement made up of male priests who are married and perform a whole range of rituals and liturgies for communities and families. The Quanzhen (Complete Perfection) sect is made up of both male and female priests who are celibate and practice monastic Daoist disciplines primarily for self-cultivation.
The ordination ritual in Daoism is basically the liturgical act of transmitting a canon of scriptures from a recognized master to a disciple. Daoist candidates for the priesthood are often designated on the basis of heredity. Since the ritual of Daoism is esoteric, that is, not directly to be understood and witnessed by the laypeople, usually the aspiring priest will join the entourage of a recognized master who knows the important formulas and hidden aspects of ritual Daoism.
The aspirant's expertise is judged by several criteria. First, it is important to have mastered the external performance of Daoist ritual: writing an artistic talisman to cure illness, exorcising evil spirits with sword and oxhorn trumpet, performing the ritual dance steps and acrobatic tumbling, climbing a blade-side-up sword ladder, and the like. But beyond the ability to perform the external rituals, what really determines the ordination rank given to the new priest is reception of particular scriptures and mastery of the esoteric secrets of the religion, including the meditations and breath-control techniques of internal alchemy. Most important is the ability to recite the registers (lu ) of spirits who will obey the priest's commands and enable communication with the different spheres of the universe. The master also teaches the aspirant the oral explanation of the register, with the appropriate gestures, formulas, and meditation techniques used in summoning and controlling the spirits.
Traditional rituals of ordination include a time of isolation and purification together with a formal visit to the master to pay homage and request transmission of the scriptures. The ritual of ordination includes transcription of the scriptural texts. The master presides over a festival in honor of the many gods who reside in the temple and the whole Daoist pantheon, who are summoned to participate. The master commends the ordinand to the gods and administers oaths in which the ordinand pledges never to misuse the scriptures or reveal them to outsiders. Rituals of empowerment include the giving of official titles, authority to use the scriptures and perform the appropriate rituals, and the right to use the registers, talismans, and other sacred implements. Support from the local community is necessary for the ordination, partly to pay for the considerable expenses of the festival.
Daoist priests of the Zhengyi sect who serve in temples and perform rituals for the people are called "fire-dwellers," that is, they have a hearth and home, marry, and have families. Among Zhengyi priests in Taiwan, often a distinction is made between "Black-head" priests and "Red-head" priests, depending on the ranking of their ordination. Red-head priests tend to be more shamanistic and perform popular rituals, such as protection for homes, pregnancies, children, and exorcisms of various kinds. Black-head priests are authorized to work more with written liturgies, using formal vestments, performing funerals and requiem services, and conducting high rituals such as the Jiao festival of renewal.
Some Daoists in traditional China pursued the path of individual realization more exclusively by taking up residence in a Daoist monastery (daoguan ) of the Quanzhen sect. In this case, first the aspirant has to be accepted by a master at a hereditary temple as a novice. After a period of study and practice, the master performs the "rites of crown and cloth," binding the hair into a topknot and crowning the novice. Then the novice enrolls in a public, ordaining monastery for several months to prepare for ordination vows. Monastic training particularly involves meditation in practice of "inner alchemy," breath control, and other exercises aimed at cultivating the vital force. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, monasteries such as the White Cloud Monastery (Baiyun guan) in Beijing provide scholarly training and ordination for both men and women seeking to become Quanzhen Daoist priests.
The main function of Japanese Shintō priests (shinshoku ) of all ranks is to worship and serve the kami, the spiritual beings associated with the powerful forces of nature and the ancestors. The priests, generally referred to as kannushi, maintain good relations with the kami for the divine protection and welfare of the human community.
Priests often come from families with long and strong traditions of Shintō worship. In ancient times a few priestly families supplied most of the priests, although in modern times the priesthood is open to candidates from nonpriestly families also. Very often the right to be a priest at a particular shrine is passed from father to son or daughter. Though in the past priests were nearly all male, there are now significant numbers of women in the Shintō priesthood. The princess who is high priestess (saishu ) at the shrine at Ise is the highest rank of all the priests, and in certain other shrines there have traditionally been women priests. Some women became priests as a result of war; when a priest was absent or killed in war, the parishioners would sometimes ask his wife to serve as priest. Priests customarily marry and raise families.
Aspiring priests study for a period of time either in the Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, Kogakkan University in Mie Prefecture, or a regional seminary; occasionally taking an examination can substitute for such study. They are expected to get an academic degree and certificate as chokkai (the beginning priestly ordination level), issued by the Association of Shintō Shrines (Jinja Honchō) according to the training and merit of the individual. Continuing training and examinations provide opportunity for priests to advance to higher ranks as structured by the Association of Shintō Shrines. The aspiring priest is appointed by the president of the Association of Shintō Shrines to a shrine responsibility appropriate to his rank. Within the priesthood of a particular shrine, the usual designations of rank, depending on the degree and experience, are those of chief priest (gūji) of a shrine, associate chief priest (gongūji), priest (negi), and junior priest (gonnegi). When presiding over rituals, the priests wear colorful and elaborate vestments, depending on the age and rank of the priests as well as the season of the year.
Ordination in Judaism
The religion of Judaism after the Babylonian exile and especially after the destruction of the Temple in the Roman period moved away from a sacrificial temple cult and priesthood and, consequently, the most important religious leaders became those ordained as rabbis. They functioned as judges, scholars, teachers, and expounders of the Torah and Talmud; in modern times, rabbis also function as worship leaders, officiants at marriage and burial ceremonies, and spiritual heads of local communities of Jews.
According to the Hebrew scriptures, Moses ordained his successor Joshua by "placing his hands" (samakh ) on him, transferring to him a part of his authority (Nm. 27:18–23; Dt. 34:9); and he also ordained seventy elders to assist him in governing the people (Nm. 11:16–25). Jewish tradition holds that there was an unbroken chain of ordination down to the time of the Second Temple. Traditionally the most important role of the rabbi was in giving judgments in both religious and secular matters, as covered by Jewish law. Ordination (semikhah ) was required for membership in the Sanhedrin and the regular colleges of judges empowered to decide legal cases. The practice of laying on of hands was dropped in later times, and ordination took place simply by proclamation or with a written document. The special ordination formula included the words "Yoreh yoreh. Yadin yadin. Yattir yattir" ("May he give direction? He may give direction. May he judge? He may judge. May he permit? He may permit"). The ordinand wore a special garment, and after the ordination the new rabbi delivered a public discourse as a demonstration of his new role.
Changing times, especially the loss of religious autonomy in the Palestinian and Babylonian Jewish communities by the fourth century ce, led to the discontinuation of the original semikhah ordination with the early rabbinic idea of passing down divine authority for judicial powers. Eventually ordination as a rabbi became a matter of setting a person apart to function in a professional role as a rabbi, qualified by virtue of training in the Torah and the Talmud and sanctioned institutionally to render decisions for the community that engaged him. In more recent times, pressure developed in Europe for rabbis to be versed in the vernacular and in secular studies, so new rabbinical seminaries were organized that put less emphasis on the Talmud and Jewish law and more emphasis on studying Jewish history and philosophy, preaching, and pastoral work as spiritual leader of a synagogue. Consequently, in contemporary Judaism there is some difference in the conception of ordination to the rabbinate. Some groups have traditional schools (yeshivot ) that give the traditional semikhah ordination with its emphasis on training in the Talmud and Jewish codes. Other groups have seminaries that see preparation for the rabbinate as including not only knowledge of the Talmud and codes but also professional training to function as a synagogue rabbi within modern society.
In the state of Israel in the early twenty-first century, traditional yeshivot predominate, although there are branches of American Reform and Conservative seminaries. The yeshivot ordain males only, and the role of the rabbi is generally that of judge and scholar, not that of spiritual leader of a local congregation. In the United States, as in Europe, ordination of rabbis differs somewhat among the main Jewish groups. For example, the Orthodox seminary of Yeshiva University ordains graduates in the traditional fashion after a course of study in the Talmud and codes, and women are excluded from such ordination. Jewish Theological Seminary of America (the center for the Conservative movement) graduates its candidates as rabbis and has begun to ordain women candidates for the Conservative rabbinate. Reform Judaism's Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion ordains its graduates as rabbis, and for some time women have been ordained into the Reform rabbinate. Women are also ordained as rabbis in Reconstructionist Judaism. In general, rabbis of all American Jewish groups function as spiritual leaders of local congregations of Jews, although their functions differ according to the needs of the community.
Ordination in Christianity
Christians hold that Jesus Christ is the great high priest, the real mediator between God and humans, and that all Christians as members of his body participate in his priesthood. While some Christians conclude that there is no need for specially ordained leaders, most Christian groups have recognized the need for ordained priests or ministers to lead the Christian community.
Although traditionally any male Christian could aspire to become a priest or minister, many Christian denominations have begun to ordain women clergy also, while some denominations, such as the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church, continue to ordain male candidates only while providing other non-priestly roles of religious service for women. Candidates are given a course of study and training in a theological seminary before being certified and presented to the church denominational authorities for ordination.
Those set apart for special service are given many different titles: priest, minister, pastor, deacon, and bishop are the most common among those designating the clergy. In addition, many nonclerical roles are entered into by ceremonies of initiation or consecration: the minor orders, orders of monks and nuns, deaconesses and deacons, special church workers, and the like. The traditional clerical ministry of the church, as it developed in the first centuries, consisted primarily of bishops, presbyters, and deacons. The bishop was the "overseer" of a specific community of Christians, with the full responsibility for the ministry of preaching the word and administering the sacraments of the church. Deacons were ordained to help the bishop by serving in an administrative capacity and by working for the welfare of the people. The presbyter (elder or priest) was ordained to help the bishop as a fellow minister in performing the rites and sacraments of the church.
Ordination in the ancient Christian church was a simple affair, consisting of prayer and the laying on of hands by those authorized to ordain (Acts 6:6, 1 Tm. 4:14, 2 Tm. 1:6). Texts of ordination manuals from the fourth and fifth centuries ce give sets of ordination prayers and emphasize the laying on of hands as a central ritual. The people, especially in the Greek communities, cried "Axios!" ("He is worthy!"), and the ordinand was given the kiss of peace, after which he preached and conducted the service, presiding over the Eucharist. In the medieval period other rituals were added to the ordination, such as vesting the candidate in the vestments of his order, holding a Bible over him, and giving him the implements and symbols of his new office: paten and chalice, Bible, and, in the case of a bishop, pectoral cross and pastoral staff. Bishops were anointed on the head with oil; both bishops and priests were anointed on the hands.
While ordination ceremonies differ in the various Christian communities, in more recent years the liturgical renewal movement has induced many communions to restore the simple, ancient tradition of ordination. Typically this includes most of the following elements for the ordination of a priest or minister by a bishop. Ordination is done in the presence of the congregation, in the company of other priests or ministers, in the context of a divine service. A priest or layperson presents the candidate to the bishop, with the people declaring that he or she is worthy for the ministry. Lessons from the Bible are read, followed by a homily and the saying of the creed. The bishop examines the ordinand, who vows to be faithful to his or her calling. The bishop says the prayer of ordination, laying both hands on the head of the candidate, while the other priests or ministers lay on their right hands. The new priest is vested and given a Bible, being greeted by the bishop and the other clergy. The newly ordained person then proceeds to function by leading the liturgy for the congregation. Afterward the people and the clergy join in a celebration.
Appointing Spiritual Leaders in Islam
In Islam, every Muslim can perform the religious rites, so there is no class or profession of ordained clergy. Yet there are religious leaders who are recognized for their learning and their ability to lead communities of Muslims in prayer, study, and living according to the teaching of the Qurʼān and Muslim law. These religious leaders belong to the learned group of orthodox Muslim scholars and jurists known as the ʿulamāʾ (ʿalim in the singular). They have studied at recognized schools of Islamic learning and have secured appointments as mosque functionaries, teachers, jurisconsults, or judges.
The religious leader who is contracted by a local community of Muslims to lead the community in public worship, preach at the Friday mosque prayer, teach, and give advice on religious matters on the local level is called the imam, belonging to the broad group of ʿulamāʾ. It should be noted that the concept of the Shʿī Muslims that an inspired religious leader is necessary for the correct guidance of the community has placed the recognized religious scholars (mujtahid in Iran and Iraq) in a position of important power and authority, necessary for the welfare of the whole community. In certain Islamic communities, popular religious leaders possessing special divine power (barakah ), known as Ṣūfīs or saints, provide leadership for their people in a variety of ways. Ṣūfī aspirants are trained under a master until they themselves have become recognized as masters.
Thus, despite its lack of an ordained institutional priesthood or clergy in the usual senses, Islam has produced a religious leadership that is recognizable and set apart from the ordinary people by a certain amount of religious authority.
Symbolism of Ordination Rituals
From the cross-cultural survey above, it is possible to see a general structure of meaning in the typical ordination rituals. A recurrent theme is that of death with respect to one's former status and rebirth in the new office or status of religious leader or mediator. This general structure can be analyzed in more specific detail by noting five broad types or levels of rituals associated with ordination, denoting separation, training and testing, empowerment, display of power, and support by the laity.
The rituals first of all enact various dimensions of the separation from ordinary life. Very commonly ordination involves rituals of purification. There may be a period of time during which the candidate purifies himself or herself by abstaining from sexuality, by fasting, and by performing acts of penance; rituals of washing and confessing may be part of the ordination ceremony. The fact that the candidate has been called by the divine power to leave the ordinary life will be established. The physical appearance of the candidate will demonstrate separation from ordinary lay life through special clothing, shaved head, long hair bound up in a special way, or the scalp branded with indelible scars. Symbols of death abound: initiatory sickness, symbolic death and burial, mutilation of the body, or the identification of the candidate with the blood of a priest's sacrifice. The vows taken by the candidate often emphasize separation from the former way of life, such as the vows of celibacy, homelessness, chastity, casting off all lay possessions, and nudity.
Second, the rituals of ordination certify the qualifications of the candidate by emphasizing the training he or she has received and by testing and examining the candidate. The long period of training or apprenticeship itself is often set apart by rituals as a sacred period. Rituals of ordination may include imparting secret knowledge and understanding. The candidate may be tested by questions, and the persons already ordained have to give their approval to the novice. There may be ordeals to demonstrate the candidate's mastery of sacred power, such as climbing a sword ladder, pulling hair from one's own head, or enduring the branding of the scalp.
Third, the investing of the ordinand with new authority and power is the subject of important rituals of ordination. These rituals include laying on of hands on the candidate by those already possessing the spiritual power and authority, handshakes or kisses, vesting with special garments, and handing over symbols and implements of the special office. Anointing the candidate, ritually inserting quartz into the candidate's body, or symbolically replacing his or her organs with new organs shows the rebirth or investing that takes place. Prayers call down divine power on the candidate; rituals such as climbing toward the sky or being married to a divine being fill the ordinand with new power. The masters of the office may impart final, decisive knowledge to the ordinand, such as the source of the medicinal material. The public pronouncement of ordination and the ordination certificate or diploma being handed over, together with the granting of new titles and names, may be considered rituals of empowerment. There may also be a period of seclusion after ordination during which time the new ordinand grows in spiritual power.
Fourth, the ordination rituals often include the initial display of the new power and authority of the ordinand. He or she may officiate in leading worship or celebrating sacrifices or sacraments for the people at the completion of the ordination ritual. He or she may inaugurate the new sacred life by giving a spiritual lecture, going on a first begging tour, making a round of visits to the parishioners, and the like. Often there will be continued training or apprenticeship to provide further growth and empowerment.
Fifth, the ordination typically involves some expression of support and celebration of the new ordinand on the part of the laypeople. One of them may present the candidate, and financial support for the occasion will come from them. There may be points in the ritual of ordination when they show their support and acceptance of the ordinand. Typically the ordination will be followed by a celebration in which the people congratulate the new ordinand, give gifts, and join in a festive meal. These rituals symbolize the basic fact that, ultimately, the ordination is for the benefit of the people.
A classic cross-cultural study of the role of priests in many religions is E. O. James's The Nature and Function of Priesthood: A Comparative and Anthropological Study (London, 1955), although he does not single out ordination as a special topic. An example of the selection and ordination of priests in ancient societies is found in Serge Sauneron, The Priests of Ancient Egypt (translated by David Lorton; Ithaca, 2000). For practices of setting apart religious leaders in contemporary traditional societies, Adolphus P. Elkin's Aboriginal Men of High Degree, 2d ed. (New York, 1977), is a thorough study of medicine men among the Aborigines of Australia; and Mircea Eliade's Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, rev. & enl. ed. (New York, 1964), surveys the initiation of shamans in various cultures. The training and initiation of African priests and medicine men and women is discussed in Geoffrey Parrinder's West African Religion: A Study of the Beliefs and Practices of Akan, Ewe, Yoruba, Ibo, and Kindred Peoples, 2d ed. (London, 1961), and in E. E. Evans-Pritchard's Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande, 2d ed. (Oxford, 1950). Melford E. Spiro's Burmese Supernaturalism, exp. ed. (Philadelphia, 1978), presents a thorough study of female shamans who become "nat wives" in Burmese popular religion. In East Asian societies, Laurel Kendall in Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life (Honolulu, 1985) gives examples of the training and initiation of female shamans (manshin ) in Korea, and Susan Sered in Women of the Sacred Groves: Divine Priestesses of Okinawa (Oxford, 1999) describes the process by which Okinawan women become divine priestesses (kaminchu ).
Rustom Masani's Zoroastrianism: The Religion of the Good Life (1938; New York, 1968) and Peter Clark's Zoroastrianism: An Introduction to an Ancient Faith (Brighton, U.K., 1998) include information about initiation of Zoroastrian priests. The training and social role of household brahman priests in India today is the subject of K. Subramaniam's Brahmin Priest of Tamil Nadu (New York, 1974); and C. J. Fuller, Servants of the Goddess: The Priests of a South Indian Temple (Cambridge, 1984), describes the training, initiation, and consecration of temple priests. Along with descriptions of the Jain religion, Padmanabh S. Jaini's The Jaina Path of Purification (Berkeley, Calif., 1979) and Paul Dundas's The Jains (second edition; London, 2002) provide a close look at the ordination and path of Jain male and female mendicants.
Important studies of the training and ordination of Theravada Buddhist monks and nuns are found in Melford E. Spiro's Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes, 2d ed. (Berkeley, Calif., 1982), and Jane Bunnag's Buddhist Monk, Buddhist Layman: A Study of Urban Monastic Organization in Central Thailand (Cambridge, 1973). The Initiation of Novicehood and the Ordination of Monkhood in the Burmese Buddhist Culture (Rangoon, 1986) provides a detailed look at traditional Buddhist ordination rituals. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Thai Women in Buddhism (Berkeley, Calif., 1991), describes how, despite the lack of full ordination for nuns in Theravadin societies, many women still are ordained and practice the religious path as novice nuns. An informative study of Mahāyāna Buddhism in pre-Maoist China, including information and photographs of monastic ordinations, is Holmes Welch's The Practice of Chinese Buddhism, 1900–1950 (Cambridge, Mass., 1967). Robert E. Bushnell, The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea (Princeton, 1992), describes from personal experience the whole process of training and ordination of Sŏn Buddhist monks and nuns.
Much information about Daoist ordination practices in medieval China is provided by Charles Benn, "Daoist Ordination and Zhai Rituals," in Daoism Handbook, edited by Livia Kohn (Leiden, 2000), pp. 309–339. The role of Zhengyi priests and their ordination rankings in present-day Taiwan is discussed by Michael Saso in his Taoist Master Chuang (Eldorado Springs, Colo., 2d ed., 2000). Yoshitoyo Yoshioka, "Taoist Monastic Life," in Facets of Taoism: Essays in Chinese Religion, edited by Holmes Welch and Anna Seidel (New Haven, 1979), pp. 229–252, describes the ordination and life of Daoist priests (which include women and well as men) in the monastic Quanzhen (Complete Perfection) sect. Much important information on the structure of the Shintō priesthood as well as the training and ritual activities of the priests and priestesses is contained in John K. Nelson, Enduring Identities: The Guise of Shinto in Contemporary Japan (Honolulu, 2000), and in Michael Ashkenazi, Matsuri: Festivals of a Japanese Town (Honolulu, 1993).
A thorough study of the history of Jewish ordination is Julius Newman's Semikhah: A Study of Its Origin, History, and Function in Rabbinic Literature (Manchester, 1950); and discussion of training and roles of modern rabbis is found in The Rabbinate As Calling and Vocation: Models of Rabbinic Leadership, edited by Basil Herring (Northvale, N.J., 1991), and The Rabbinate in America: Reshaping an Ancient Calling, edited by Jacob Neusner (New York, 1993). And Pamela Susan Nadell, Women Who Would be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination, 1889–1985 (Boston, 1998), provides a focus on the ordination of women as rabbis. Of many studies of the Christian ordained ministry, The Ministry in Historical Perspectives, edited by H. Richard Niebuhr and Daniel D. Williams (New York, 1956), provides a good historical overview. A wealth of information and interpretation concerning the rites of ordination in many of the Christian traditions is provided in the multi-volumed set, The Process of Admission to Ordained Ministry: A Comparative Study, edited by James F. Puglisi, translated by Michael Driscoll and Mary Misrahi (Collegeville, Minn., 1996 [vol. 1], 1998 [vol. 2], 2001 [vol. 3]). On the current discussion and practice concerning ordination of women to the Christian ministry, among many books are Women's Ordination: Official Statements from Religious Bodies and Ecumenical Organizations, edited by J. Gordon Melton (Detroit, 1992), and Religious Institutions and Women's Leadership: New Roles Inside the Mainstream, edited by Catherine Wessinger (Columbia, S.C., 1996), which explores Jewish as well as Christian traditions. Scholars, Saints, and Sufis: Muslim Religious Institutions in the Middle East since 1500, edited by Nikki R. Keddie (Berkeley, Calif., 1972), contains many studies of the religious scholars and saints who form the recognized religious leadership of Islam. Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The ʿUlamāʾ in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change (Princeton, N.J., 2002), provides a thorough study of the changing roles and training of the ʿulamāʾ, the scholarly leaders of Islamic communities. And the special dimensions of religious authority and clerical leadership among Shiʿite Muslims is discussed in The Most Learned of the Shīʿa: The Institution of the MarjaʿTajlid, edited by Linda S. Walbridge (Oxford, 2001).
Theodore M. Ludwig (1987 and 2005)
Ordination, the ceremony by which men and women accept the more than two hundred rules of the Buddhist vinaya and are thus defined as clerics, has been immensely important throughout the entire Buddhist tradition, even as its definitions, functions, and salience have differed over time and space. Ordination ceremonies are roughly the same for men and women, except that those for women often include additional requirements that subordinate nuns to monks. The ordination of women was completely halted in the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries in Southeast Asian Buddhism, and recent efforts to introduce the nun's ordination from China and Taiwan have not yet been widely accepted. In ancient India and medieval Tibet and East Asia, the emergence of meditation and esoteric (tantric) initiation lineages has reduced the salience of ordinations. Japanese Buddhism is well known—even infamous throughout the Buddhist world—as the only national tradition to have rejected celibacy and avoidance of intoxicants, a development that has had some impact on modern Korean and Taiwanese Buddhism as well.
In addition to conventional types of ordination, the ceremony was sometimes applied (or, more often, the five precepts administered) to gods and spirits as Buddhism competed with and amalgamated native religious traditions during its expansion throughout Asia. In Japan from late medieval times on funerals for laypeople often included posthumous ordination, and in modern Southeast Asia the ordination of trees has been used to protect forests from logging. Given the diversity of attitudes and approaches, it is not surprising that modern Western Buddhists have generally interpreted the ordination ritual and the associated vows abstractly, and only a few Western Buddhist have undertaken lifetime maintenance of the full monastic precepts.
Description of the ordination ceremony
Entrance into the saṆgha occurs in two stages, the first being the novice's ordination involving ten precepts, by which the novice becomes a śramaṇera orśramaṇerikā. In Southeast Asia this step may be taken as early as age seven; in East Asia one may not formally become a novice until age nineteen, even though one may have lived within the monastic community from a very young age. Short-term novitiates of a few weeks or months are common in Southeast Asia. Short-term higher ordinations are also common; the term is usually a summer rains-retreat period or longer. There is no particular onus on those who do not go on to full ordination. (The ritual described in this section is based on the unpublished translation by Gregory Schopen of the ordination ritual found in the MŪlasarvĀstivadavinaya.)
The full or higher ordination (upasampadā), by which one becomes a bhikṣu or bhikṣunī, can occur only at or after age twenty (dated from conception). In the primitive saṅgha there was presumably a generally accepted core of about 150 rules in the monastic code (prĀtimokṢa), but the diversification of ordination lineages has led to divergences in many of the minor rules. Hence TheravĀda monks in Southeast Asia observe 227 rules (Theravāda nuns once observed 311), Tibetan monks observe the 258 rules (the nuns 354) of the Mūlasarvāstivada-vinaya, and Chinese and Korean monks observe the 250 rules (the nuns 348) of the Dharmaguptaka-vinaya. East Asian monks also accept the bodhisattva vows derived from the Fanwang jing (Brahma's Net SŪtra), a formal part of ordination, and in most Japanese schools these vows have entirely supplanted the pratimoksa rules.
The ordination ceremony must involve all the monks in a given local saṅgha, and no one can enter or leave during the proceedings; usually a separate temporary boundary (sīma) is established for the duration of the ceremony. There should be an assembly of ten or more fully ordained monks (or, in border regions, five monks) and a vinaya master to serve as preceptor. The ceremony begins with the ordinand paying reverence to the monks, then entreating the preceptor to confer ordination on him. The ordinand then takes possession of his robes, or the cloth for their making, declaring to the preceptor that they are of appropriate material and cut. If the robes have not yet been made, the ordinand declares his intention to wash, cut, dye, and sew them properly from the material provided. The same process occurs for the bowl.
The ordinand then moves out of hearing range but stays within sight so that the officiant can ask the ordinand's private instructor about his appropriateness for ordination. The private instructor then goes over
to the ordinand and, after reminding him not to be embarrassed by the questions, ascertains whether the ordinand is free from any of the impediments to ordination. These include questions about the individual's age, gender, genital completeness, and authorization by his parents (if living), and his identity as other than slave, criminal, eunuch, hermaphrodite, or despoiler of nuns. The questions also confirm that the ordinand has not been a member of another religious group or suffered expulsion from another saṅgha; has not murdered his father, mother, or an arhat; has not caused a split in the saṅgha or wounded the Buddha; is not a magically created phantom or animal; is not in debt (beyond the ability to pay at point of ordination); is not suffering from any illness (giving a long list); and is someone who is now fully entered into the religious life, including the practice of chastity.
Upon returning to the assembly the private instructor informs them of the ordinand's absence of any obstacles. The candidate is then brought forward and, after reverence to the Buddha and the elders of the community, the private instructor entreats the assembly three times to confer ordination on him. As a member of the saṅgha in full standing, the officiant then restates this entreaty as a formal resolution to the community. Following this, the same questions placed privately are now posed to the candidate before the entire group, and upon his successful responses the officiant formally moves that the assembly ordain him. The time of this event is measured (using pegs of specified size) on a sundial, so as to determine the new monk's exact seniority.
The ordinand is then made to affirm that he can maintain his asceticism for the rest of his life, including the four supports (niśraya) of clothing, food, housing, and medicine. He also confirms that he can maintain celibacy in both mind and body, and avoid stealing, killing, and lying. In the text of the Mūlasarvāstivāda ordination, the injunctions against such errors are lengthy and emphatic, with particular attention on the transgression of claiming false knowledge or attainment of spiritual truths, cosmic realities, meditative states or yogic powers, or achievement of arhatship. The ordinand affirms that he will not revile, offend, chastise, or deride others, even when others do so to him.
After all this, the officiant finally declares that the ordinand has now been properly entered into the religious life by a preceptor, two teachers, the agreement of the saṅgha, and a formal action (the ceremony) involving three inviolable motions. The ceremony does not immediately end with this declaration, but continues with injunctions to the new monk to maintain his training, to treat his preceptor as his father just as the preceptor will treat the monk as son, to respect those senior to him, to strive for the direct realization of Buddhist truths, to learn the monastic rules not covered yet in the bimonthly saṅgha meeting, and to maintain attentiveness with all aspects of the dharma.
Historical variations in Buddhist ordination
Ordination was used in the early years of Buddhism to define the membership of the saṅgha and induce members to adhere to a uniform religious lifestyle, both differentiating the Buddhist order from other religious groups and inspiring its members with a shared sense of identity as formally accepted descendents of the Buddha. As the Buddhist movement diversified, there developed multiple ordination lineages, called nikāyas (literally, segment or division), each with slightly different interpretations of the vinaya regulations. Since these nikāyas also predominated in different geographical areas and developed sometimes very different sets of abhidharma philosophical texts, they functioned as separate mainstream Buddhist schools.
There is no evidence for any variant approach to ordination in the early MahĀyĀna vocation, but with the emergence of master–student initiation lineages in the Kashmiri meditation tradition (fourth century c.e. and thereafter) and the Indian tradition of tantra (ca. sixth century c.e. and thereafter), the relative significance of ordination declined somewhat. The Tibetan saṅgha maintains the use of ordination as an important threshold of entry into the practice of Buddhism, but greater emphasis is placed on tantric initiation lineages and the identification of tulkus (reincarnated sages). In an analagous fashion, local monastery relationships and both Chan school and esoteric (tantric) initiation lineages changed the religious salience of ordination in East Asia. More drastic changes occurred in modern Japan, where the Buddhist clergy have redefined ordination as a more lofty but less demanding dedication to Mahāyāna ideals not requiring maintenance of the rules of celibacy.
In the early years of Buddhism in each of the cultural realms of East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam), there was great emphasis on proper training in Buddhist vinaya (monastic regulations) and the correct ordination of monks and nuns. Dao'an (312–385) devised a set of monastic rules himself, but was happy that it could be displaced by portions of the Sarvāstivāda-vinaya introduced toward the end of his life. The entire Four Part Vinaya (Sifen lü) of the Dharmaguptaka school, which was to become the most widely used version in China, was translated in 414 by Buddhayaśas and Zhu Fonian; complete vinayas of four other mainstream Buddhist schools were translated during the next decade or so. The insights of the pilgrim and translator Xuanzang (ca. 600–664) on contemporary Indian practices upon his return to China in 649, as well as his suggestion that all Chinese monks needed to be ordained anew, caused substantial uneasiness among his peers. This was one of the motivations behind an ordination platform movement initiated by the great historian and vinaya specialist Daoxuan (596–667), who in the very last year of his life had visions of the Buddha's ordination platform at Jetavana. Although entirely contrary to Indian historical realities, the sīma boundary of the Indian ordination was reinterpreted as a Chinese-style raised platform. Daoxuan's example inspired other Chinese monks to build platforms and confer ordinations on the surface of what was effectively a caitya or monumental embodiment of the Buddha. A famous account of just such an ordination, or at least the sermons associated with it, is found in the Platform SŪtra of the Sixth Patriarch (Liuzu tan jing). After a major rebellion in China in 755, both government and rebels sponsored the ordination of Buddhist monks for fund-raising purposes; each ordinand paid a hefty fee but then received a lifetime exemption from taxation. In the Song dynasty (960–1279) blank ordination certificates were sometimes traded for financial speculation, but the government eventually eradicated all such abuses. It is generally held that government control of ordination negatively influenced the quality and independence of the Chinese saṅgha.
Several developments contributed to a change in the status and function of ordination in Chinese Buddhism. Based on the voluminous vinaya writings of Daoxuan, the Chinese tradition consolidated on the use of the Dharmaguptaka school's Four Part Vinaya. It was only during the Song dynasty, though, that the Chinese vinaya tradition really became formalized as an independent "school," and even here this word denotes a social reality very different from the nikāyas of Indian Buddhism. That is, a handful of major "public monasteries" in China were designated as vinaya centers, meaning that they were the ones where most but not all sophisticated study of the vinaya tradition occurred, and where all Chinese monks and nuns were ordained. The official ordination process became a large-scale affair involving not only the ceremony of vow-taking and induction itself, but a lengthy period of preliminary training in liturgy (recitation of scriptures, use of bells, drums, and other ritual implements, etc.) and deportment (wearing of robes, monastic etiquette, etc.). All Chinese monks and nuns were, and still are, united by their experience of this rite of passage, but the scale and formality of the event came to mean a reduced significance in contrast with other monastic relationships. That is, monks and nuns are far more likely to identify with the "disciple lineages" based on the local monasteries and teachers where they initially trained in Buddhism, to which they often returned after the weeks-long ordination ritual. In addition, elite segments of the monastic population also identify more profoundly with Chan and Mijiao (Esoteric) school initiation lineages. The use of moxa or incense to burn marks on the heads of Chinese ordinands seems to have begun around the sixteenth century.
There are various accounts, if only from later sources, describing the efforts taken by fourth- to fifth-century Korean Buddhists to establish proper vinaya practices there. Missionaries from Koguryŏ (northern Korea) and Paekche (southwestern Korea) were the earliest ordained monks in Japan. The earliest ordained Japanese Buddhists were women sent to Paekche in the late sixth century, the choice of women perhaps deriving from their function as priestesses or shamanesses (miko) in ancient Japanese society. The quest for orthodox vinaya regulations and qualified ordination masters preoccupied early Japanese Buddhists as much as it had their Chinese and Korean counterparts in earlier centuries, although here the source of canonical praxis was China rather than India. A great advance occurred with the arrival of the vinaya specialist Jianzhen (Japanese, Ganjin; 688–763) in Japan in 753. He had been frustrated many times in his efforts to reach Japan, becoming blind in the process. Although the Japanese government installed him in a magnificent monastery (Tōshōdaiji, still one of the most beautiful sites in Nara) and had him lead a spectacular ordination ceremony at a platform on the grounds of Tōdaiji, the "Great Eastern Monastery" that housed the Daibutsu or Great Buddha, Ganjin was frustrated by the Japanese refusal to consider ordination as much more than an elaborate ritual.
This tendency to disregard the 250 regulations of the Four Part Vinaya was carried even further by SaichŌ (767–822), who argued that the government should allow his newly founded Tendai school to ordain monks without reference to the vinaya, which Saicho rejected as being "hīnayāna." Saichō's goal was to maintain control over the training of his own students, who frequently did not return from their ordinations in Nara; his wishes were granted just after his death, and the subsequent growth of Mount Hiei and the Tendai school as a whole meant that fewer and fewer Japanese clergy took vows based on the vinaya. In the early thirteenth century the Pure Land priest Shinran (1173–1262), who like many important Kamakura-period figures had trained for a period at Mount Hiei, declared himself to be "neither priest nor layperson" and publicly married. Although there was a short-lived movement to revitalize Buddhism through strict maintenance of the precepts at about the same time, marriage eventually became the norm for priests in Shinran's True Pure Land school (Jōdo shinshū). Although many Japanese priests in other schools maintained widely recognized but technically illicit marriage relationships throughout the late medieval period, it was only with the government's disestablishment of Buddhism in 1872 that a broad spectrum of the Japanese clergy renounced celibacy.
Bunnag, Jane. Buddhist Monk, Buddhist Layman: A Study of Urban Monastic Organization in Central Thailand. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
Coleman, Mary T. Monastic: An Ordained Tibetan Buddhist Speaks on Behalf of Full Ordination for Women. Los Angeles and Charlottesville, VA: Dharma Institute, 1995.
Dickson, J. F. "The Admission and Ordination Ceremonies." In Buddhism in Translations, by Henry Clarke Warren. New York: Atheneum, 1963 (1896). Reprinted from Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1874): 1–16.
Groner, Paul. Saichō: The Establishment of the Japanese Tendai School. Berkeley: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California at Berkeley, 1984.
Gutschow, Kim. "What Makes a Nun? Apprenticeship and Ritual Passage in Zanskar, North India." Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 24, no. 2 (2001): 187–215.
Heirman, Ann. Rules for Nuns According to the Dharmaguptakavinaya: The Discipline in Four Parts. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2002.
Holt, John. Discipline: The Canonical Buddhism of the Vinayapitaka. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981.
Horner, Isaline Blew. Women under Primitive Buddhism: Lay-women and Almswomen. London: Routledge, 1930.
Kieffer-Puelz, Petra. "Die buddhistische Gemeinde." In Der Buddhismus I. Der indische Buddhismus und seine Verzweigungen, ed. Heinz Bechert et al. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2000.
Lévy, Paul. Buddhism: A "Mystery Religion"? London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1957.
Mendelson, E. Michael. "Initiation and the Paradox of Power: A Sociological Approach." In Initiation: Contributions to the Theme of the Study-Conference of the International Association for the History of Religions Held at Strasburg, September 17th to 22nd 1964, ed. C. J. Bleeker. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1965.
Olivelle, Patrick. The Origin and Early Development of Buddhist Monachism. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Gunasena, 1974.
Sangharakshita. Forty-Three Years Ago: Reflections on My Bhikkhu Ordination, on the Occasion of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Western Buddhist Order. Glasgow, Scotland: Windhorse Publications, 1996.
Seneviratne, H. L. "L'ordination bouddhique à Ceylan." Social Compass 20 (1973): 251–56.
Tambiah, Stanley J. Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in North-East Thailand. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
Thanissaro Bhikku, trans. The Buddhist Monastic Code: The Patimokkha Training Rules, 2 vols. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastery, 1994.
Tiyanavich, Kamala. Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.
Tsomo, Karma Lekshe, ed. Sisters in Solitude: Two Traditions of Buddhist Monastic Ethics for Women—A Comparative Analysis of the Chinese Dharmagupta and the Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivada Bhikṣuṇī. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.
Wachirayanawarorot. Ordination Procedure. Bangkok, Thailand: Mahamakut Rajavidyalaya [Mahamakut Educational Council], 1973.
Welch, Holmes. The Practice of Chinese Buddhism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967.
Wijayaratna, Mohan. Buddhist Monastic Life According to the Texts of the Theravāda Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Wijayaratna, Mohan. Les moniales bouddhistes: naissance et développement du monachisme féminin. Paris: Cerf, 1991.
Yen Kiat, Bhikku. Mahayana Vinaya. Bangkok, Thailand: Wat Bhoman Khunnarama, 1960.
John R. McRae
Within human history religious communities often "set apart" or recognize special individuals for leadership. Sometimes there is a priestly clan, making religious leadership hereditary. In other situations anyone can be a religious leader, but he or she must be authorized or empowered through a special ritual or ceremony. In the Jewish and Christian traditions this is called "ordination."
Early Christianity remembered that Jesus called his disciples to service (diakonia), commissioning them to gather others who would also commit themselves to service. After his death and resurrection, the emerging church began to "set apart" certain persons for leadership responsibilities through "prayer and laying on of hands." This practice of ordination was defined by Jesus' relationship to the first disciples; by common practices within early Judaism; by secular customs borrowed from Greco-Roman, or Hellenistic, society; and by the theological ideas of the apostle Paul.
Jesus, as described in the first three gospels, was a reformer who provided an alternative approach to faithfulness within Judaism. He rejected the hereditary priesthood and many of the conventional patterns of Jewish religion. He invited his followers to move beyond the traditional leadership of the scribes and Pharisees. As the church developed, it also borrowed freely from the practices of first-century Judaism, where the elders "laid on hands" to bless each new generation of leaders. In like fashion, Christians began appointing elders (presbyteroi) to lead their congregations. The church was further influenced by Hellenistic society and patterned its leadership after local household mores. An overseer, or bishop (episkopos), became the head of each Christian community. Eventually there were specific qualifications required for such ecclesiastical household leadership, spelled out in the New Testament. Churches also designated still other persons as deacons (diakonia)—those who worked within and for the churches, embodying the caring mandate of the gospel. Deacons served as assistants to the elders and the bishops. All were ordained to service. Finally, the apostle Paul used the metaphor of the human body to insist that, just as the body needs all its parts to be healthy, various forms of ministry are needed by the church. Within the Jewish tradition, the ordination of rabbis accomplished the same purpose.
In addition to endorsing patterns of leadership, ordination has had at least five other purposes: (1) To preserve the link between the apostolic witnesses (those who knew Jesus firsthand) and the ongoing institutional church through "apostolic succession," where ordained leaders lay hands on the next generation of leaders and "pass on" (literally or symbolically, depending on the theology of the particular denomination) the power of Jesus' ministry. (2) To protect the Christian community from heresy by making sure that its leadership was trained in correct doctrine and was able to teach and preach correctly for the good of the faithful. (3) To exercise civic responsibility in times of political unrest and upheaval. (4) To maintain and protect the sacred mysteries of the eucharist and other sacramental acts. (5) To call some Christians to a more godly and holy life. This last purpose has had some unfortunate consequences, exacerbating artificial divisions between clergy and laity.
Ordination in the United States
Because so many different religious groups exist in the United States, it is impossible to make generalizations about the meaning of ordination. Some denominations, like the Quakers, reject ordination because everyone is considered a minister. In other denominations, like the Unitarians and many mainstream denominations, it is a recognition of functional responsibilities taken on by one on behalf of all—the moment of formal recognition for trained leaders. Among some Baptists or Pentecostals, ordination is not terribly important, because what is important is whether an individual leader is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, in more liturgical denominations, ordination remains a formal, sacred, and mystical rite whereby the power of Christ is channeled to the priesthood and the mysteries of the sacraments are protected.
In the last half of the twentieth century, three issues have generated great controversy related to ordination.
First, for almost two thousand years, only males were ordained. Women's ministries were valued by the early church and honored informally throughout the centuries, but only men could be ordained. In the modern era, arguments linking priesthood to the maleness of Jesus, or to the maleness of past leaders, have been challenged. Since the mid-nineteenth century, many women have actively sought ordination in Protestant denominations with increasing success. At the same time the insistence that ordination is only for males has become more vigorous, especially within the Roman Catholic church. Christian and Jewish groups continue to debate the question of women's ordination, even as the numbers of ordained women increase.
Second, in the development of Western European Christianity (Roman Catholicism) only celibate men were eligible for ordination. The fact that Jesus did not marry and the belief that the lifestyle required of priests should not involve active sexuality or family responsibilities suggested that only unmarried men were capable of being priests. By the sixteenth century, however, Protestant reformers challenged that assumption. They insisted that married clergy were more helpful to the Christian community and more in touch with ordinary life. Their argument was so persuasive that expectations went all the way to the other extreme, with many Protestant denominations coming to believe that clergy had to be married in order to model authentic discipleship within a Christian home.
Third, issues of sexuality, especially homosexuality, have forced many Jews and Christians to reexamine their understanding of ordination. As concerns about the sexual mores of clergy and public scandals have increased, denominations have tightened requirements for ordination and developed more intense patterns of support and discipline. Various texts and opinions about same-sex relationships and the longstanding silence or condemnation of gay men and lesbians among religious groups has made the question of the ordination of homosexuals one of the most divisive issues in the church. This question raises fundamental concerns about biblical authority, about distinctions between sexual orientation and practice, and about differences between clergy and laity. Theologians often have to remind faithful members of congregations and denominations that ordination is not an end in itself, but only a means to empower leadership for the ministries of the whole community.
Ogden, Greg. The New Reformation: Returning the Ministry to the People of God. 1990.
Rademacher, William J. Lay Ministry: A Theological,Spiritual and Pastoral Handbook. 1991.
Schillebeeckx, Edward. The Church with a Human Face:A New and Expanded Theology of Ministry. 1985. See also the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis by John Paul II (1994) and articles in Origins 30 (November 1995) and the National Catholic Reporter (December 1995).
Barbara Brown Zikmund
or·di·na·tion / ˌôrdnˈāshən/ • n. 1. the action of ordaining or conferring holy orders on someone. ∎ a ceremony in which someone is ordained. 2. chiefly Ecol. a statistical technique in which data from a large number of sites or populations are represented as points in a two- or three-dimensional coordinate frame.
The term ‘ordination’ has then been applied to the formal and ritualized admission procedures in other religions, especially of the admission of women and men to the Buddhist saṅgha.