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Both in Buddhism and the religions of the West, ‘ordination’ is the formal recognition by a religious authority that an individual has made a permanent commitment of unbounded service to the religion and the religious community.
Less well-known is the Buddhist institution of Tantric ordination, which serves the path of transformation. Although Tantric ordination has existed for well over a millennium, it is no longer common even in Asia. Aro is one of the few lineages conferring Tantric ordination in the West.
Unlike monastic ordination, Tantric ordination does not entail vows of either celibacy or poverty. Ordained Tantrikas typically marry and have children. In many cases, they have jobs which are not specifically religious. Tantra concerns the transformation of all experience, rather than retreating from the world – so one’s family and career are central to practice. This ordination is not inferior to monastic ordination. The Tantric vows are primarily perceptual – and therefore more subtle and difficult to maintain than the monastic vows.
Tantric ordination, like monastic ordination, involves irrevocable vows to act for the benefit of others. Among these is the vow to teach – as and when appropriate. Biographies of ordained Aro teachers appear elsewhere on this site.
Ordination in Aro is possible only after at least five years of intensive practice and study as an apprentice. The practice requirements include thousands of hours of meditation, and at least nine weeks of silent solitary retreat in which one does little else but formal practice all day – every day. The programme of study culminates in written and oral examinations on the practice, theory, and history of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Simply fulfilling these formal prerequisites is insufficient for a candidate for ordination. A fiery determination to practice and serve the Aro lineage, born of inspiration and certainty, is the essential requirement.
You will see ordained Tantrikas at all Aro events. They wear distinctive, traditional robes and yogic ornaments, of which the most obvious are a white skirt (on both sexes) and uncut hair. They are always available to answer your questions.