The 1928 bhikkhuni ban – some new thoughts
I’ve just updated the post on the 1928 bhikkhuni ban, following a discussion of the matter with Ajahn Brahm. I think there are some significant points i missed previously. The entire argument is found in full in the original posting, but I thought i would put the additional paragraphs here as well, as they make a new legal point which should be highlighted.
A further problem with the rule is that it focuses on the preceptor (upajjhaya for monks, pavattini for bhikkhunis). In contemporary Thai culture, the preceptor is more or less regarded as the one responsible for the ordination, whereas in the Vinaya it is the Sangha as a whole. The way this is phrased, admittedly, both in the Vinaya and in modern usage, can be a bit vague, but this is the general tendency.
The rule appears to make it illegal for a bhikkhu to be the preceptor at a going forth for women. In the bhikkhuni ordination in the Pali Vinaya, however, the preceptor is not a bhikkhu, but a bhikkhuni – as the 1928 ruling itself acknowledges. So at the ordination in Perth, Ayya Tathaaloka was the preceptor, not Ajahn Brahm. The 1928 ruling forbids a bhikkhu from giving the ordination; since Ayya Tathaaloka is not a bhikkhu, and since Ajahn Brahm did not act as preceptor, there is no violation of this rule.
The essential issue here is that there is not a disagreement about the Vinaya procedures, but a historical difference. The framers of this rule were simply unaware of the existence of the Dharmaguptaka bhikkhuni lineage in the East Asian traditions.
Ironically enough, in the English Sangha, since its female ordination procedures do not follow the Vinaya, the preceptor is a bhikkhu. For the most part this has been Ajahn Sumedho. If we are to follow the 1928 ruling, any giving of the ‘going forth’ is illegal, and it would seem to be the English Sangha that has violated this law, not Ajahn Brahm. One could make the technical argument that the English siladhara are not samaneris – which is a very odd kind of argument to me, but I’ll leave that aside. In any case, are they considered to have ‘gone forth’? Basically, in Buddhism, you’re either ‘gone forth’ or a lay person. If they have ‘gone forth’ – which everyone in practice agrees they have – then for a bhikkhu to give that ordination is illegal under the 1928 ruling.