Ajahn Brahm & the UN Vesak
A few days ago I made an update on bhikkhuni issues, in which I noted in passing that Ajahn Brahm had been excluded from this year’s UN Vesak celebrations in Bangkok, presumably due to the bhikkhuni ordinations last October. Ajahn Brahm has attended the event for the past several years, and this year he already had a paper accepted for presentation.
I will repeat the story here, as it is significant enough so that it should not be buried away underneath another post.
Obviously, I was quite disturbed when I heard this news. It has been discussed among the Australian Sangha Association and the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils, and it was widely felt that this kind of exclusion was unjust, and in particular did not live up to the ideals of fairness and equality which the UN stands for. As we can see in the comments responding to the original post, many others shared these feelings.
I waited before blogging on this, as our original communication, dated 27 January, indicated that an official notification from the UN Vesak organizers was imminent. It is now over three months later, and with the actual conference just around the corner (23-25 May), Ajahn Brahm has still not received any official notification.
Our original, and so far only, communication regarding this has been an email from one of the people involved in organizing the conference. This stated that Ajahn Brahm was voted not to be invited, because of the bhikkhuni controversy; that it was said to be a Sangha issue; that the members of the committee would write a formal letter to Ajahn Brahm; and that Goh Seng Chai, [a Malaysian representative on the committee) was behind the prohibition.
When I mentioned this event in my blog, there were a number of strong criticisms of this prohibition. Understandably, Goh Seng Chai himself was concerned about this, and was kind enough to post directly the following comment. You will see from the comment that GSC more or less confirms the original details, with the exception of his own role in the decision.
Dear Ajahn Sujato,
I am writing to you with due respect to you as member of the sangha. Your accusation of me opposing to the invitation for Ajahn Brahm to attend the UN Vesak is very disturbing. Your accusation is untrue. How and where did you get this untrue Message. I have a video recording of the meeting discussing the issue. In this video, there were different opinions on the issue. What I said in the meeting was that since it is the issue of the sangha and it is for the sangha to discuss. The decision made was that of the EXCO and no one person can make a decision. If I were to object, I was just one person’s view.
Venerable, please get your fact right before nyou publicly accused me for what I have not done. It is not fair, as member of the Sangha, you should check the facts first before making any accusation.
If you want to see the Minutes and the Video, I can share with you.
I hereby demand a public apoly to me.
Sadhu to you. Sukhi Hotu
To which I made the following reply:
Dear Goh Seng Chai,
Thanks so much for commenting. There’s no need at all to demand an apology: if I’ve said anything that’s offensive or incorrect, then may you please forgive me.
You will understand that I hear many things, and choose quite carefully what will be posted here. Those items that are mere rumor or hearsay I exclude, and i will only post thing if I have heard them directly from a reliable source. Of course, even the most reliable sources can be mistaken, and any offense caused is very unfortunate. When inaccuracies are brought to my attention, I retract them immediately – as I have already retracted my mention of your opposing Ajahn Brahm at the UN Vesak.
Nevertheless, in taking up your positions of responsibility in powerful Buddhist institutions, you must be open to public scrutiny and criticism. If that criticism is mistaken, then fair enough, it should be countered and retracted. But we must not let ourselves get in a situation where criticism is wrong in and of itself. And, of course, this is why I encourage an open and questioning forum, where I myself have been criticized many times.
So once again I thank for responding and stating your position. This is how dialogue should be carried out.
We should remember, however, that this leaves unresolved the main problem, which is the exclusion of Ajahn Brahm because he supported performing bhikkhuni ordination.
I will comment further on this, but if you could allow me just a little time to consult before I say anything else.
I've had time now to reflect and consult with Ajahn Brahm and others, and I'd like to respond further to Goh Seng Chai's kind gesture in opening communication.
If it is not too much trouble, Mr. Goh Seng Chai, I'd like to ask the following of you.
- Thanks you for your offer of sending the video and minutes of the meeting. I'd be delighted if you could do so, and obviously Ajahn Brahm and others involved would like to see them. If it is possible to post these here, that would be terrific. If not, then if you could email them to santioffice [at] gmail [dot] com.
- For those who don’t wish to go through all the materials, would you briefly state why Ajahn Brahm was excluded?
- For our information, exactly which committee made this decision?
- We are curious as to why Ajahn Brahm has had no formal notification of his prohibition. Why is this?
- Myself, as well as several commenters on this blog, have expressed that we would like to formally protest Ajahn Brahm’s exclusion. It’s not easy for us to find our where to send our communications. Could you let us know, firstly, who is the head of the relevant committee and how do we contact them; and secondly, who does the committee, or the UN Vesak generally, answer to in the UN itself, and how do we contact them?
Finally, I would just like to repeat that, as I understand it, there is no question of the UN Vesak organizers generally being opposed to bhikkhuni ordinations, as the participation of nuns has been encouraged at this meeting. This is a wonderful thing, and I congratulate you, Goh Seng Chai, and other organizers on your contribution towards such a healthy development in international Buddhism.