Voice of UK Siladhara – on the experience of the 5 points
I’ve copied the following article from the ongoing discussion on Facebook, where it was posted by Thanissara, who was one of the original siladharas in England. My thanks to Also Experienced, who put the link in one of their posts. I’ve been wanting to find something like this, as the debate so far has been far too driven by the blokes – me especially.
For many respondents there is still a sense of disbelief, that things can’t really be this bad. But for the last several years i have been listening to voices like the one below – sensitive, intelligent, balanced. I hear the pain there and I want to do something about it. When we just go ahead to do our thing, all goes well and we have no more than the usual everyday dukkha. But when we try to do it through the ‘system’ – well, you can see the results.
“I have been a Theravadan nun for a number of years. I love the Sangha with my whole Being and monastic life is like breathing to me. I never had any difficulties or problems with being a woman. I really enjoy it, and could see the advantages and limitation of it, as with any conditions.
While spending some time in the East, I was deeply shocked by the way women are treated there even now. Coming back to the West and still sensitive from this discrepancy, to my distress I realized that a similar attitude unconsciously suffuses the whole monastic structure even in the West. Being a nun in this environment has become increasingly more and more challenging.
I have been trying to do my best to transform this pain/dukkha and desperately trying to understand this suffering and find peace. It has been an on-going process for the last few years. With our most senior monks being critical and upset with the nuns in public and in private last year and then introducing these 5-points, it has became even more confusing and unbearable.
I cannot help feeling I am judged and discriminated about, just on the condition of having a female birth this lifetime. It does not make any sense to me. My rational mind and the emotional part of my being cannot understand all of this. From the beginning when I had the great blessing to meet the Buddha-Dhamma many years ago, the compassionate aspect of His teaching deeply resonated with my whole Being. The domination of one group of people above another seems out of alignment with the wisdom and compassion of the teaching of the Buddha.
When we were presented with 5-points I was shocked. Basically, the 5-points are reinforce the position of women in the Sangha as being forever junior to the Bhikkhus. In some way it is not a new thing, but how it has been phrased, and the process of how it has been done – without warning and without negotiation – putting pressure on us and then withholding our siladhara ordination if we are not in agreement – is shocking and not supportive of trust.
During the period of time when we were considering how to sign these 5 points, it was very painful and excruciating for many of us. During this time, I had been trying to find some integrity in myself that would allow me to honour my Truth and not to let myself be broken. How could I find the resources to even formally accept the conditions, which I felt to be so destructive for the well- being of women in this form and for the men as well?
I have felt, especially over the last several years, that our Nuns’ Sangha has become very strong and beautiful and mature both in the individual practice as well as in our skills working in the relational field. This collective energy field has been strong enough to hold things even when significant individuals who held a lot of responsibility decided to leave. Of course there were interpersonal problems and challenging dynamics, but I felt there has been a good holding space. Personally, I think a very fine and alive tangible Energy- Body has been created between us, when we sat in the wide circle to discuss things.
Many of the nuns shared the perception that the situation of the feminine in the Buddhist monastic structure is not well adjusted to modern values, but thought that if we are wise and patient, we would slowly move forwards to create a healthier monastic structure with equality for all. Maybe this was naive, but this is what many of us felt.
Unfortunately, the five points stop any potential for future growth or improvement. I think our strength and beauty and maturity has became apparent and threatening to the monks, especially those men who had some painful or traumatic stuff around women. We became too strong and outspoken for their comfort.
Last year it was a very confused and complex situation. There were a few events that strongly affected the elder bhikkhus, events that the Siladhara didn’t initiate but which affected us. A few monks openly criticized the nuns’ community, questioning the integrity of our practice and even saying that our community is going downhill. This, as I said above, does not concur with my direct experience.
I have been upset, disheartened and disillusioned with our monks here (except a few courageous and compassionate brothers who have been empathetic all along) and with the whole monastic structure which supports such unhealthy and undermining conditions for women. The very vehicle which is supposed to enable one to wake up to the fullness of human potential leaves one instead feeling deeply malnourished after being exposed to it over a number of years.
There is no ground for being part of the larger monastic community, for belonging, and for having a valid ordination. Rather, there is the constant reminder on the structural level of the inferiority of women.
So, considering all of the above brings many questions to my mind and heart.
How could I still use a monastic vehicle that is so structurally unfriendly and prejudiced towards women, as my Path to liberation? How can I open up to my full potential of this Human Birth and cultivate the Heart based on the Brahma Viharas (love and compassion) in conditions that are constantly undermining me as person just because of my gender? How can I live with integrity, if I love being a monastic but find the ancient structure unresponsive to our modern times?
These questions keep arising in my mind and heart but there are no answers. I am personally interested in awakening with a heart strong and radiant and full of love with compassion for all Beings, myself included. These questions are part of an on-going enquiry and the answers have not yet emerged…….”