Ajahn Brahm’s preceptor status
I’ve just been given a translation of this article, which appeared in the Thai Daily News, dated January 12, 2010.
WPP Sangha stunned: Phra Brahmavamso still claims to be a preceptor despite being excommunicated
Dr. Amnart Buasiri, Director of Office of the Secretariat of the Sangha Supreme Council (Mahathera Samakom), Office of National Buddhism, told the media after the Mahathera Samakom’s meeting at Buddhamonthon, Nakhon Pathom on January 11, 2010 that the Sangha of Wat Nong Pah Pong, Ubon Ratchathani, has submitted a letter reporting that Phra Suthisangvarathera (Phra Brahmavamso), the abbot of the Bodhiyana Monastery, Perth, Australia, a WPP Branch Monastery, who was excommunicated from the Thai Sangha for giving ordinations to bhikkhunis, still carried on inappropriate conducts such as claiming to have the preceptor status even though the WPP Sangha has confirmed that when Phra Brahmavamso was excommunicated from the Thai Sangha, all the titles he was given by the Thai Sangha would be invalidated. Therefore, the WPP Sangha would like the Mahathera Samakom to find a measure to deal with Phra Brahmavamso because they are afraid that Phra Brahmavamso’s behavior will damage the Thai Sangha’s image.
Dr. Amnart added that the Mahathera Samakom, after considering the issue, agreed that it is a situation concerning bhikkhus in a foreign country; therefore, the responsible agency directly concerned should seek a measure to deal with the situation. On February 6-7, 2010, at the Australian and New Zealand Sangha assembly, he will bring up to the meeting this issue as well as the WPP Sangha’s request to take back Bodhiyana Monastery’s land since officials from the Thai embassies of both countries will be invited to attend the said meeting.
The WPP Sangha, not content to expel Ajahn Brahm for performing bhikkhuni ordination, continues to play its new self-appointed role as bulldog of Thai State Buddhism. They do not merely wish to dissociate themselves from Ajahn Brahm, but to effectively throttle his monastery by making him unable to perform ordinations.
The “Australian and New Zealand Sangha” assembly that is referred to is not the assembly of the general Australian Sangha, who are represented by the Australian Sangha Association. It is presumably the regular gathering of the Thai missionary monks in Australia, which is administered under the Dhammayut order. Since we are not Dhammayut, I’ve never heard of any Ajahn Chah tradition monks attending these meetings; it’s purely about the in-house discussions among the Thai monks.
To understand WPP’s objections to Ajahn Brahm continuing to be regarded as an upajjhaya, a little background is necessary.
When the Ajahns from WPP visited Somdet Buddhajahn after the bhikkhuni ordination in Perth, the subject of Ajahn Brahm’s status as an officially appointed upajjhaya, as well as a Chao Kuhn, came up. Afterwards, a letter signed by LP Liem was circulated, which claimed that the Somdet had said that these titles were removed, a claim that is repeated in the above Daily News article.
However, the WPP monks who were at the meeting disagreed among themselves about what had been said, and later they amended this to acknowledge that it was only the upajjhaya title that was removed, not the Chao Kuhn. This appears to have been forgotten in the above article, which refers to ‘all the titles he was given by the Thai Sangha’.
To my knowledge, Ajahn Brahm has not made any public statements on this issue. In my conversations with him he has emphasized that he wishes to let the matter settle down before moving on in the future. The question, of course, revolves purely around the formal appointment of the title of upajjhaya under Thai State law, and has nothing to do with the requirements for being an upajjhaya in the Vinaya.
The question of an official appointment as an upajjhaya is one of the many issues that is long overdue some serious discussion. It was introduced in the 20th Century by the central Bangkok authorities as a means of exercising political control over the Sangha. It was strongly resisted in some parts of Thailand, most notably in the independent-spirited north, led by the famous monk Krooba Sri Vichai. Eventually, however, the central forces won and it is now widely accepted in Thailand that an officially appointed upajjhaya must preside over all ordinations.
This notion is a modern innovation, with few parallels in other Buddhist countries, and no precedent before the 20th century, so far as i am aware. In most countries the Sangha organizes and controls its own ordination process, without a government-sponsored body being involved. This is Vinaya. The acceptance of Thai state control over ordinations is perhaps the greatest deviation from the Vinaya in modern Buddhism. It strikes at the very heart of the Sangha.
When I spoke with LP Liem in 2008, he asked the monks I was with whether the upajjhaya appointment for Ajahn Kalyano, which was pending at the time, was proceeding well. He commented that there was no real need to have this official appointment, as Ajahn Kalyano was living in another country. The only advantage was that it might make it easier for monks visiting Thailand to get visas.
In my view, there is no reason why Ajahn Brahm should not continue giving ordinations, and no reason why these ordinations should not be accepted in Thailand and elsewhere, just as the ordinations by monks from other countries are accepted.
The Sangha has meekly acquiesced to Thai State control of its most fundamental procedure. As long as the Thai Sangha authorities continue with their usual practice of benign inactivity, no-one has really considered the political consequences. If this State control becomes leveraged for personal attacks, it will very quickly become intolerable.