Monastery Constitutions

Now that’s something I’ll bet you’re all fascinated in. You snuggle in at night, guiltily hugging your latest monastery constitution, staying up till the wee hours to get to the bit where it talks about procedures for the AGM. Admit it, you’re busted!

Or not.

Actually, we all want to avoid such things, don’t we? Just get on with the practice, and let someone else worry about the legalities. Then, bit by bit, you get more involved, maybe end up on a committee or as an abbot, and there it is, waiting to be read: the Constitution!

I’ve had a reasonable amount to do with constitutions, having been involved in reforming the Santi constitution, as well as formulating one for the ASA.

When I arrived at Santi, the original constitution had been set up so that Ajahn Brahm would be the Spiritual Director, more or less in absentia. The framers had apparently thought that, with the future uncertain, it was necessary to give Ajahn Brahm quite strong powers. Effectively, as Spiritual Director, he could veto any major expenditures and other decisions, and, essentially, could not be expelled from his position.

Of course, the reality was that Ajahn Brahm took a very hands off approach, and only responded when we asked for his help. But the legal structure was there.

After I was here for three years, Ajahn Brahm and the committee invited me to take over as Spiritual Director. I took the opportunity to work with the committee to revise the constitution. One of the crucial reforms was to make the Spiritual Director accountable. Now, he – and she if there is a bhikkhuni Sangha – must be nominated by the Sangha, then further accepted by the Committee. If the committee rejects the Spritual Director, the matter goes back to the Sangha. If there is a deadlock, the matter is referred to an external body for mediation.

The basic point is that there is no absolute power. All power is provisional and balanced.

The committee at Santi FM is elected at the AGM, from the members of the incorporated association, which anyone may apply to join. So there is a balance between the powers of the lay and ordained community, and no-one is the absolute ruler.

This, of course, is Dhamma: the Buddha refused to appoint a monk as his successor, said that the Sangha should operate according to Dhamma-Vinaya, not according to any individual. The Dhamma-Vinaya sets up principles and procedures – openness, democracy, accountability, transparency – that are pretty much the same as those required of normal incorporated associations today, although of course the details are somewhat different.

However, this isnot the case in growing numbers of monasteries. Many monasteries, particularly of the Western Wat Pa Pong tradition, are set up like a corporation. The monastery is a company, whose assets are owned by the shareholders. And the shareholders are a couple of lifetime appointed monks. Full stop.

Many of these documents are available online. If you’re interested, you can find them on most of the relevant monastery websites.

What a peculiar arrangement! A charity where the sole owners are also the sole beneficiaries. I wonder how this can even be legal.

This kind of model is becoming the standard among the western Wat Pa Pong branches. Monks are re-writing constitutions, advising the lay committees to abandon the balanced, democratic models, such as used at Santi and the BSWA, and to bring the constitutions of various monasteries in line with the ‘standard’: the ‘Dhamma-Vinaya of Wat Pa Pong’, as they put it.

Which means, among other things,no equality for women, ever.

There seems to be some implication that this is the ‘right way’. But whatever it is, it is certainly not what the Vinaya requires. Vinaya is always balanced and open.

It’s most interesting that the preferred model seems to be the ‘company with shareholders’. Why is that, I wonder? What is a company? – Well, I guess it’s an organization that is created specifically for the benefit of its member. We expect a commercial company to be selfish and to attempt to monopolize power to itself.

That is why there are other forms of organization for other kinds of activities. Charities, NGOs and so on – these are not created for the benefit of a few individuals, but to serve the community.

As monastics, we are living entirely on the donations offered freely by the kindness of lay donors – should they not have some say in how those resources are used? Should a monastery be something that is rather more like a company, or more like a charity?

When governments arrogate power to themselves and exclude the people, we call that totalitarianism, and think of it as the worst kind of evil. A good government shares with the people, listens to them, and responds to their needs. This is the kind of government I want to live under.

And while Australia is by no means perfect, it does try. In a couple of weeks, I’m in Canberra, where I’ve been invited to represent the Australian Buddhist community in a community consultation on human rights in Australia. We can be as cynical as we like about the motives of governments, but at least its happening. And since the invitation is there, we should take it up. If we don’t use our voice, we forget how to use it. If we don’t stand up to defend others, who will be there when we need help?

If this is the standard that we expect of governments, should not we expect even more from religions? Shouldn’t religions be setting the pace, showing an example of how things can be done? Do we really want to participate in a monastery whose legal structure resembles that of a money-grabbing company, or a totalitarian state?

We come to Buddhism to learn and grow spiritually. That means becoming wiser, more responsible, more free – able to choose our own destiny. Sadly enough, monastics in some circles seems to regard acquiescence as the highest virtue. If we are not careful, we will end up becoming exactly the opposite of our original vision.

It seems that, with the bhikkhuni ordination, and the retirement of Ajahn Sumedho, the Ajahns of Wat Pa Pong fear that monasteries will drift off and do their own thing. With no charismatic leader to inspire unity, the only recourse is legal. Bringing monasteries tighter into the fold will discourage the development of local, independent communities, and make monasteries increasingly subject to decisions and policies made elsewhere, into which the local communities will have no input.

If you’d like to, say, treat bhikkhunis as equal, bad luck. That’s not the ‘Dhamma-Vinaya of Wat Pa Pong’.

All this is very far from the original Vinaya vision ofmonasteries as independent, run by the local villageor community for the benefit, not of the Sangha of Wat Pa Pong, but for the Buddha’s Sangha of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis.

I wonder which way you’d prefer your local monastery to be? If you don’t know, educate yourself. Ask questions, read the constitution, and make an informed choice.

38 thoughts on “Monastery Constitutions

  1. Independent!

    It’s a not very exotic but vital question. Personally monasteries should be associations with members, elections, regular meetings, constitutions, minutes and so on. It is democratic and fair. Companies are there to make profit which is another thing entirely.

    You could learn a lot from the way the independently minded dissenter Christian churches organised themselves – particularly the Congregationalists and Unitarians. Independent associations that federated if they wanted to. Democratically run. Also Freemason’s Lodges are run in the same way.

  2. My humble opinion is that monasteries should be administered by lay people – either a committee or an individual for the benefit of the community. And bhikkhus’ and bhikkhunis’ role should be limited to providing ‘spiritual guidance’ as long as that form of guidance is acceptable to the community. That way the monks and nuns are relieved of being ‘owners’ of monasteries and relieved of being responsible for decision making on matters which are part and parcel of lay life. This way the monks and nuns can suggest or request provision of facilities for the spiritual growth of the community and the responsibility of delivering them falls squarely on the committee. If the committee fails to provide the requisites then the monks and nuns have the freedom to leave the monastery. If the sangha is practicing true dhamma they will yield so much power that the committee will be forced by the members to support them. If they are not then they will not receive much support from the committee or the members and this provides a healthy balance without the sangha having to get involved in administration, finance or organizational issues – and they will then be able to concentrate on their own spiritual development and that of the community they are serving. If such division of responsibilities is not followed strictly then it will be a matter of time when sangha will be more and more involved in official matters of towns, states and even countries – which we have already seen happening in some Buddhist countries.

  3. Bhante, thanks for raising these important and complex issues. I’m no expert, but I’d like to add a few puzzle pieces. I find some of your arguments unpersuasive because, based on my understanding, they are too incomplete and too many issues are conflated to be fair.

    Of course, the balance and flow of power in monasteries can’t be determined primarily from the constitution. Power is a lived reality that exists as much in daily relations as in institutional policies/procedures, though both are important. Also, there’s a vast landscape between “absolute power” on the one hand and “openness, democracy, accountability, transparency” on the other. For example, just because a Spiritual Director must be nominated by sangha and the appointment must be approved by an elected lay committee doesn’t guarantee anything after that, though it’s a good place to start. It can’t be assumed that therefore “all power is provisional and balanced.”

    In all honesty, I also think it’s inaccurate to say that the “Dhamma-Vinaya sets up principles and procedures – openness, democracy, accountability, transparency – that are pretty much the same as those required of normal incorporated associations today, although of course the details are somewhat different.” The principles may be largely the same, but aren’t the procedures quite different in both scope and detail? The major issue I see as being conflated here is that the vast majority of the procedures in the Vinaya relate to the internal workings of the monastic sangha, not to the Buddhist laity nor to the relationship between the two. I don’t see much of a parallel in incorporated associations, which don’t have the lay-sangha relationship.

    I haven’t read any of the Western WPP tradition monasteries’ constitutions, and I wasn’t able to find them on the websites at Abhayagiri, Amaravati, or Cittaviveka. It does sound alarming that monks are re-writing constitutions, actually moving away from more democratic towards less democratic models. I’m curious to know where that’s happening, but I understand if it’s undiplomatic to share that publicly.

    Bhante, when you write that “the shareholders are a couple of life-time appointed monks”, do you literally mean that two or three individuals are named, or is it that the monastic sangha as a collective are the owners? To me, those are two very different things. My understanding (and I’m sure I’m still over-simplifying) is that in Vinaya the monastic sangha *does* own monastery assets including land, buildings, and supplies that are given to them freely by the laity, though excluding monetary assets. But individual bhikkhus/bhikkhunis do not own assets the same way, apart from robes, bowl, and a few other things. Your statement seems to imply that individual monks are actually owners of all the assets, including monetary ones, such as owners of a for-profit corporation would be, and this is misleading.

    This is where things start to get very complex, but my impression was that the Abhayagiri constitution recognizes two main bodies, the bhikkhu sangha and the lay committee/board, each with different sets of rights, responsibilities, and ownership. Don’t quote me on this, but it may be that the bhikkhu sangha as a collective owns the monastery’s land, buildings, and supplies while the lay committee owns the financial assets. The Abhayagiri constitution may be significantly different from the others, I don’t know, but I can’t imagine that any of them make individual bhikkhus owners of monetary assets.

    Now, to compare a Theravadan monastery to a service charity “where the sole owners are also the sole beneficiaries” is also misleading, I think. Bhante, you’ve set up these two poles – corporation or charity – with nothing in between. A Theravadan monastery is a traditional religious and cultural institution, not a service charity nor a for-profit corporation. The Buddha established the monastic sangha for the purpose of practicing in order to attain enlightenment, which itself is for the benefit of all beings. Monasteries came along later as the sangha grew as a way for the laity to support them with greater comfort and convenience. But the primary purpose remained for the sangha to practice in order to attain enlightenment. Let’s be honest – monasteries are primarily for the sake of the monastic sangha. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be monasteries, they would be temples or charities or schools or meditation centers, etc. So why would lay people support such a “selfish” purpose? Well, obviously many of them don’t bother. But those who do, do so out of faith that the monastic sangha are upholding sila and practicing sincerely, for the benefit of all beings. The benefits don’t necessarily need to be tangible for people of faith, but obviously there are tangible benefits as well – the teaching, counseling, and example that practicing monastics offer to the laity, via the mechanisms the Buddha put in place (daily meal offerings, for example) and other means. To the laity who do support monasteries, these are sufficient benefits. It might not seem justifiable to people without faith, but that’s what it is.

    I went through that lengthy clarification that all of you probably already understand because I think the comparison with NGOs and charities is very misleading. Monastics are not supported by the laity because they are disadvantaged and in need, they are supported out of faith because of the practice they do for the possibly intangible benefit of approaching/attaining enlightenment. Tangible benefits and services (teaching, counseling) also accrue to the lay community, but they are not the actual primary purpose of a monastery. Those are the primary purpose of other kinds of religious institutions, as I listed above. Monastics do not collectively own the non-monetary assets of a monastery because they are power-hungry, but because that’s the way the Buddha set it up.

    The question of who decides what happens at a monastery, how it is run, and how resources are used, is different again from any of the above issues. Administration and ownership are not the same. I’ve heard numerous stories from monastics of all stripes about lay people who really don’t understand the mission and purpose of a monastery – nor Vinaya and the internal workings of monastic sangha – interfering with monastery administration in unhelpful or destructive ways. Sometimes the monastic sangha didn’t possess the leverage to prevent the interference. So while I agree with Guptila that monastics shouldn’t be too tempted or compelled to engage in financial and political-administrative matters, I doubt that many monastics would agree that monastery administration should be turned over entirely to laypeople. This is not per Vinaya either, where certain administrative roles are clearly given to monastic sangha (e.g. Stores Monk, etc.). The Buddhist monastic sangha with its Vinaya is an unusual and somewhat complex institution, especially for modern laity. I’ve heard it said that sangha and Vinaya can’t really be understood unless one has lived as a monastic. This would limit laity who might deeply understand monastery communities to those who are ex-monastics.

    Then the dilemma seems to be, how to develop a monastery where there are genuine checks and balances and where too much power does not accrue to too few people; and where, at the same time, there are clear delineations of areas of responsibility and authority so that those who are qualified to make decisions in certain areas are not unduly hampered or prohibited by those who are perhaps well-intentioned but misguided. Of course, the checks and balances should be not only between monastics and laity but also within both groups. Holding to Vinaya helps to insure checks and balances, especially with regard to monastic sila, but there is still a wide range of ways that all the other issues in monastery administration and community life can be handled. For example, the siladharaa have been exploring more of a shared leadership model, with 2-4 senior nuns sharing leadership roles.

    Another major way that Buddhist monasteries differ from corporations and charities is that in the forest tradition, particularly, there has been the model that they are headed by an enlightened master. In that case, such a wise and benevolent leader is assumed to require no checks and balances. I imagine that’s where the WPP-style constitution derives. A modern variation of this style is when a lay committee is established, but they understand that their role is merely to endorse and support the abbot, not to provide real checks and balances. Or if they mistakenly act as if they should raise a dissenting voice, they may be obliged to resign, such as seems to have happened in England recently. I admit that there have been times when I’ve longed for a “benevolent dictator” myself. Abuse of power can occur in more democratic institutions as well, plus democracy is so &*!$ hard. But if the monastic sangha is going to continue in modern times, even if charismatic enlightened masters don’t happen to be available, then I agree that more forward-thinking models are essential. I don’t see any reason why an enlightened master wouldn’t be able to work within a more democratic model, so I fully agree that there’s no justification for a regressive move. I just want to point out that the issues are quite complex and that imbalance of power is something we all need to address in our daily lives, not only at institutional levels.

    • Dear Jackie,
      you want an example? Here is a short and soft version of what I personally experienced:
      What Bhante Sujato describes is not only happening in monasteries officiall linked to the Wat Pa Pong group. Here in Germany we had the desire to establish a theravada monastery that run according to the principles of the Dhamma-Vinaya, without any of the cultural interpretations and changes that have crept into the monastic system. So we (interested monks and laypeople)wrote a constitution designed to keep all the worldly affairs from the monks as far as possible. There would be no abbot, decisions where meant to be taken in consensus.
      We also wrote down rules of procedure for the interaction between the non-profit-making association responsible for the monatery assets.
      Both were agreed on and signed by ordainesd and non-ordained alike. In fact the constitution was part and parcel of the invitation to the monks as well as of the founders contract.
      It took only a year and one of the monks had to leave because he was insisting on doing things according to the constitution. The other two (one a 20 vassa WPN monk, the other a 5 vassa dhammayut monk)took over, changed the constitution and the rules of procedure secretly and got really abusive when confronted with the fact that it was their duty at least to inform and consult the founding sponsors of any changes. And they lied flat out saying they never were involved in writing that constitution anyway. (Actually I spoke and mailed with both of them about it before they were invited.) The association was coninced that to have an abbot is the only way to run thinvgs properly. Those who could not tolerate this kind of behaviour left the scene.
      It is a very sad situation that open, honest and non-violent communication is so hard to find between the monks themselve (a flaw in the training-sytem?) and monks and lay-people (sheeplike nature nof religious devotees?).
      Viriya

    • Hi Viriya, your story is sad and I empathize with it.

      It is particularly disappointing when the monks start lying – this can be considered proof that they have absolutely zero esteem for the Blessed One and his Dhamma, the Buddha blamed lying so heavily and it is hard to miss this with even a casual knowledge of the suttas.

      I am reminded of a little series of suttas from the Samyutta Nikaya, on gain, honour and praise:

      “Bhikkhus, dreadful are gain, honour and praise, bitter, vile, obstructive to achieving the unsurpassed security from bondage. Bhikkhus, I have known of a certain person here whose mind I have encompassed with my own mind: ‘This venerable one would not tell a deliberate lie even for the sake of a golden bowl filled with powered silver… for any material reward… for the sake of his life… for the most beautiful girl of the land. Yet, some time later I see him, his mind overcome and obsessed by gain, honour and praise, telling a deliberate lie. Therefore Bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will abandon the arisen gain, honour and praise, and we will not let the arisen gain, honour and praise persist obsessing our minds.’ Thus should you train yourselves.”

      I don’t really know where the lying Bhikkhu phenomena comes from. I think part of it might be they notice that people as a rule believe and take to heart anything they say, so they become intoxicated with this power and abuse it. They support their courses of action with logic like “It’s bad kamma to deny a Monk”, which they might vocalize if lay people are resistant, or they might be more blunt and resort to intimidation.

      Lay people perhaps need training in resisting this kind of manipulation – I’ve had to train myself, with trouble, difficulty and pain, to be able to deny, refuse and argue with senior Monks.

      This hasn’t actually made me unpopular per-se… In fact the senior Monk (abbot) I had to refute most strenuously, seemed to develop a begrudging or even sincere respect for me. I reflected “If I were following an unskillful course, grounded in that which is untrue, I would want someone, even a junior, to try and force me to see this even if it is painful for me, even if it is painful to them”, so I roused up inner-fire and said what had to be said. It turned out, I was right and he realized this. Perhaps also his respect came from the pecking-order thing, mentally, I didn’t stay on the low seat, I didn’t play the submissive role. That does something deep in the psych of a patriarchal individual. If you let them know they can’t boss you around, they no longer want to, you start to feel like an equal to them, heck, maybe they even like it better that way.

      So that’s what I would say – that it’s important for lay people to have inner-strength and to not be submissive to monks.

    • Bizarrely, the only adults who have told me barefaced, obvious lies in my adult life have all been Buddhist monks, both Theravada and Mahayana. All the instances (there were three or four) concerned money or property.

      I have of course been lied to on numerous occasions by other people, especially in business, but they were intelligent enough to try and hide the lie. The attitude of these particular monastics seemed to be that laypeople are so stupid that they will believe anything a monk says and accept anything that he does, just because he’s a monk, so there’s no need to even try and pretend to tell the truth.

    • Thanks Danielle, I know Brad’s blog. Unexpectedly, lately I’m finding him a bit “Zen” and not enough “Theravada” for my taste!

      I wouldn’t burden anybody with the expectation of perfection. That’s an unfair and unsustainable burden to place on anybody.

    • Jackie :
      Don’t quote me on this, but it may be that the bhikkhu sangha as a collective owns the monastery’s land, buildings, and supplies while the lay committee owns the financial assets. The Abhayagiri constitution may be significantly different from the others, I don’t know, but I can’t imagine that any of them make individual bhikkhus owners of monetary assets.

      Hi Jackie, I’ve been around Bhante Sujato while discussing these issues. To make the matter clear – in this case a WPP Branch Monastery has been set up as a company where the residing senior Monks as individuals are the share-holders in that company – the individual monks and NOT the collective Sangha, are the legal owners of the monastery assets – as difficult to imagine as this may be (since it flies in the face of the idea of a monastery being the collective property of the wider sangha, and probably wouldn’t be legal in many countries)

      I am uncertain which constitutions Bhante refers to as being available, but two which are easily found are the newly reformulated Vimutti (ATBA) constitution and the BSWA constitution, the contrast is interesting – particularly with regards to Abbots. For example the BSWA gives the resident Sangha the power to ‘resign’ an Abbot, while the ATBA does NOT give the resident Sangha the power to resign an Abbot – but gives that power to the Abbots of WPP and Bodhinyanarama Monastery.
      If the BSWA constitution was formulated that way, then Ajahn Brahm could have been forced to resign from the position as abbot of Bodhinyana by WPP in spite of the the entire local community being behind him – that’s the crazy thing, it gives WPP the power to decapitate an ‘unruly’ branch…
      It falls short of giving WPP the power to appoint a new Abbot – WPP must merely be consulted – but there is nothing stopping WPP from forcing the resignation of a newly appointed ‘undesirable’ abbot – giving effective veto power and a ruinous level of control over branch monasteries.

      Regards,
      Blake

    • Dear Bhante and Avuso Blake

      Perhaps some clarification about the corporate vehicle used for the Western WPP monastery may be useful.

      Not all companies are evil offsprings of capitalism. The UK has created another corporate variation called the “company limited by guarantee” (CLG). Its principal difference from a “normal” company is that it does not have a share structure or share capital (ie money is not injected into it as capital). Without a capital structure, it does not have “shareholders” per se but merely “members”. “Shareholder” is used very typically by popular media convention, but the actual legal person who has a “stake” in the CLG is a member recorded as such in the Register of Members.

      As a CLG has no capital structure, its members/shareholders should theoretically not have a right to the liquidation proceeds of a CLG.

      Now if the Wsetern WPP monasteries are indeed held under CLGs, it is a really neat way of obtaining limited liability status (versus Trusts which may be expose the trustees to unlimited liability). The only thing which I would probably find objectionable to a monastic being a member in a CLG would be the fact that members ach have to extend a guarantee (usually $1) for the liabilities of the CLG if liquidation is inadequate. How is a monk supposed to give that guarantee, even if it is for $1?

      The CLG does avoid another pitfall in Trusts, in that trustees hold the legal title, but cannot have any equitable title to the property. This is a disability under English common law and is probably not objectionable under the Vinaya, but the CLG does circumvent this Trust prescription.

      But the drawback to the CLG is that it may still be possible for the members of a CLG to liquidate a healthy CLG and then abscond with the proceeds. In this sense, a Trust is probably a safer way to protect monastic property.

    • That’s helpful to know – although I don’t really see anything mitigating there either since I had assumed a setup much like that (ie it’s not a traditional company, yet still, individual Monks own the monastery).

      I also don’t like to think of an issue being Monks stealing the monastery (ie selling it and pocketing the money, or rendering it a non-monastic institution) – in the vastness of samsaric corruption surely such a thing is possible but we hope the monastics have at least enough scruples to not literally be thieves.

      Rather it’s a matter of exerting power and control, whenever the thought is established in a Monk ‘This monastery is mine/ours’, then trouble is not far behind, once they start fancying ownership, they start doing what they like and controlling everything – disregarding the wishes of other people also spiritually invested in the monastery (ie supporters).

      I can only imagine how it feels for female lay supporters who have donated money to monasteries, with the thought of helping the Nuns – to have the Monks turn around and oppress and stifle the Nuns.

      IF these monasteries had been originally and clearly established as Pah Pong monasteries which follow Pah Pong practices then perhaps the sense of betrayal wouldn’t be there – but most these monasteries AFAIK were established independently and the supporters likely enjoyed the feeling of developing a local flavor…

      In the aftermath of the Bhikkhuni Ordination it became apparent that the Pah Pong Sangha would like to steal Bodhinyana and turn it into a Thai monastery – well, the bswa constitution made such a thing impossible…
      Those kinds of constitutions are obviously an obstacle to the aims of Pah Pong and have apparently been recognized as an obstacle, if reading the Vimutti constitution is any indication…

    • Dear jackie,

      Thanks so much for this very thoughtful and interesting piece. You are quite right that my article was “too incomplete and too many issues are conflated…” It was written quickly before I went away, so I just jotted down a few bits of information and opinions. I am planning to make a longer, more considered piece, but for now let me just reply to a few among your many excellent points.

      Re the relation between theoretical consitutions and the reality on the ground: this is quite true and important, but the article was after all primarily meant to be about the legal documents.

      Re the differences and similarities between Vinaya and modern practices: I’ll look at this in more detail later.

      Re appointment of monks as owners of monasteries: my understanding is that it is indeed a couple of named monks who are listed as the shareholders and hence sole owners. Certainly these monasteries are not meant, as was the case in the Buddha’s time, for the ‘Sangha of the four quarters’. This situation is, as I understand it, allowable under Vinaya, but I need to do some more research.

      Re charities vs. corporations: I don’t think its me who has set up this distinction, but our contemporary legal systems. Any modern constitution must negotiate this ground, which is after all legal territory that was formed in a very different context than a Buddhist monastery. It seems to me that, while a monastery might not be absolutely classifiable as either a charity or a corporation, it certainly should be run along lines that are rather more like a charity and rather less like a corporation.

      And i would agree with you, and disagree with guptila, that monastics should be primarily responsible for organizing the building and other ‘on-the ground’ measures at the monastery. There is no doubt that this was the case under Vinaya, which is full of stories of monks building monasteries.

      Clearly there is room for varying models and the balance might quite properly be tipped one way or another in any given situation. Vinaya would seem to allow for a variety of models. Again, these are some issue that I will return to in detail hopefully before too long.

      I am surprised that you couldn’t find the constitutions online. I understood that they were available. Does anyone have any more details?

  4. On second thought, I should clarify that I don’t think monasteries fall somewhere in between the poles of corporation and charity, I think they’re something else again.

  5. Bhante,

    Its great you are taking the approach you do to the Constitution as I know a number of people attracted to the Dhamma from non Buddhist backgrounds who are put off monastic Buddhism because of the approach of Sangha of Wat Pa Pong etc. Because of this, these people try to build Sangha through a secular approach, but to me that poses other problems.
    I think the future shape and quality of Buddhism in Australia hinges of this ‘dry’ subject.

  6. I wonder, Jackie, if the category you might prefer for a monastery is as a non-profit organization. A charity offers general humanitarian aid, and a corporation offers its surplus to stockholders and others, but an NPO takes any surplus above operating costs and recursively funds its own goals, a more fitting description I think.

    In any event, the Charitable Purpose Bill of 2004 defined “closed/contemplative religious orders” as charities in Australia. There was a thread on this blog about it, as I recall.

  7. Dear Ven. Sujato: (Warning – rambly thoughts)

    Just a bit nit picky here; however, setting up a religious or charitable organisation (in the US religious and charitable organisations are covered under the same law as to tax exempt status), requires that the entity in question actually be a legally formed entity: a corporation, trust or association. (Then there are the various laws of each State, but I was looking at the IRS (Federal) Tax Code.

    Accordingly, an incorporated religious organisation is not necessarily ipso facto a bad practise, it’s just the way business entities must be structured (at least in the US) if they are to receive tax exempt status, which of course, everyone wants (!) It depends upon the by-laws of the entity as to how such entity is run – where there may be placed the appropriate “checks and balances”. (Good luck given human nature …)

    I have to say that it’s depressing. I read about all the dissent and aggravation and unfairness and power plays throughout the Sangha and honestly … it seems pretty far from the Dhamma doesn’t it? Maybe (the collective) “we” are too preoccupied with “this is the way it’s supposed to be” (I despise “but we’ve ALWAYS done it this way” – so bloody what?!? I reply), or, “it says x why and z in the rules”, and then folks can’t see past their noses can they? The baby goes out with the wash water.

    Sometimes things do have to change with the times. For instance, in the west – you can’t really be a mendicant monk as it was in the Tathagata’s time. We have monasteries now. Behaviour and rules then must adapt. Women have “come a long way baby” and again, behaviour and rules must adapt.

    Perhaps people equate the revision of administrative rules with revision of the actual teaching?

    It seems to me that all of this sort of thing (rules, regulations, etc.) are just “the necessary” that one has to do in order to live in the world. It’s a convention. Akin to the Arahants referring to themselves as “I” because it’s a convenient referent – they’re not really attaching a self to that – but it’s awfully awkward to run around saying “This collection of aggregates suggests that …”. So, you have certain conventions (Aj. Sumedho certainly talked a lot about that over the years) to get on in the “world”. As the world changes, shouldn’t the conventions change as well?

    What’s freaking everyone out so? To what are we attaching ourselves (grasping, tsk tsk). We are grasping at rules – and they are not the Dhamma – they are samsara – and we’re equating this with “self” and o golly – we can’t get rid of that can we? It’s too scary, isn’t it? Talk about grasping to views(!)

    I sometimes imagine that if the Tathagata knew what was going on these days he’d have a cow (inasmuch as Tathagatas actually HAVE cows … but I’m just sayin’ …)

    Respectfully yours,

    Vepacitta

    • Dear Vepacitta,

      Thanks for the feedback and clarification re US laws. I have been informed that the formation of these corporate-monastic legal structures was considered marginal and problematic in England. Perhaps the situation is different in the US re corporations – as one might expect.

  8. Well, thank you Bhante and all bloggers,
    We are dealing with an issue that bother many of Buddhist practitioners, especially monastics in modern societies like us. The classic model of the Buddha time is applicable to our age or not. If it is applicable, to what extent it need to be adjusted to fit into a complex social structure that is in favor of democracy.
    At the beginning of enlightened movement started by the Buddha himself, there was no monastery. The Buddha and his monks lived in the forest, under roots of trees or in caves owned by nobody. The monks and nuns at that time had only alms bowls and robes, however, in time, there were land offered to the Sangha and buildings were built to accommodates monastics. But the Buddha did not appoint any one to be abbot or abbess, there were no committee as well, no Buddhist society and so on, but there were many enlightened practitioners among which most of them are monks and nuns. And at that time, Vinaya was not the code of behaviours as it was set forth like now we have. With the evolution of monasticism, there were the evolution of monastic codes now we call Vinaya. Even in that, there were no Abbot or Abbess who might run the monastery in the way he / she preferred. But there were senior monks or nuns who are capable, knowledgeable and responsible to the Sangha’s affairs who will give advices when occasions need to be addressed. Then, how the monasteries were maintained? Monks and nuns who had enlightened to certain degree come and go like guests but stay like masters, i.e, they have no attachment to place/people and power, but responsible for individuals’ well being and community’s well being as related masters.
    The Forest Sangha model set by Achan Mun, then Achan Chah had tried to return to this direction. But we have to remember that, it was in Northern Thailand where monks lived on alms foods, and most of the travels were on feet as well.
    Now this model was brought to West where monks/nuns are not obligated to collect alms food on foot, water and electric/ gas, … have to pay by bills. Here, the devotees are different from the Buddhist countries, they only offer you when they have certain trust in your knowledge and practice. Then, monastics have to build trust and confidence first. This has been done quite successfully by some charismatic monks, subsequently, monasteries and communities come into being. But as all Sankhara (compounded things), the charismatic leaders have to retire and pass away one day. Now how the disciples & followers to maintain & develop in a way that no one will abuse the power one has in hands?
    To built trust & confidence, one has to stay in a place for certain time, this give conditions for attachment and power-centered develop in unenlightened minds which might lead a puthujana monk and his close associated fellows to manipulate people and take advantage of the situation. The law, as they had been evolved in the Vinaya had developed in a way that is quite democratic and help to prevent the negative tendencies which might occur in the course of developing an organisation. A discourse in MN, sutta no 65 gives us a glimpse of this. The Buddha talked on “the basis for taints appear in the Sangha when: Sangha has reached greatness, acme worldly gains, fame, great learning, and the acme of long-standing renown.” We are witnessing all of these in the so called Western Sangha followers of Achah Chah lineage now.
    Now, we talk about the WPP Dhamma-Vinaya and ridicule its negative tendencies, how about if we, too, develop a system that will enable these negativities creep in and assume the authority? When we try to shape the spirit of Noble Dhamma & Vinaya according to someone’s personal view, the Dhamma & Vinaya become localized and it is no more a set of laws for universal observance, and it risk the danger of each monastery or system of monasteries is a more or less sovereign for an Abbot or an influential figure. In this way, it becomes Puthujana Dhamma &Vinaya (Many-folds’ ideas and practices), no more the Ariya Dhamma-Vinaya as it had been heard from the Buddha. In term of Dependent Origination, it is the outcome of Avijja paccaya Sankhara…

  9. Thanks Bhante. I’ve just managed to overcome the guilt factor and taken a quick look at the constitution of both Santi Forest Monastery and BSWA (Bodhinyana and Dhammasara). I am so very supportive of your move to make the spiritual director of SFM accountable. I guess it’s not something to be taken for granted though! I noticed this was a significant difference between the two constitutions.

    Clause 6.1 of SFM’s constitution reads:

    6.1 The Spiritual Director(s) will continue in that position until he or she resigns, dies, or disrobes
    as a monk or nun; or the resident Sangha elects a new Sangha Representative(s); or the association decides by special resolution to expel the Spiritual Director(s).

    Clause 8.5 of BSWA’s constitution reads:

    (v) On receipt of information from the Sangha of a monastery of such selection, the Executive Committee shall invite the selected member of the Sangha to accept the position of Abbot. In the event that he or she should accept the position that Abbot shall retain the position for life or until the resident Sangha at the particular monastery withdraw recognition of that Abbot or the Abbot resigns from his or her position.

    According to the BSWA constitution, it seems the lay community has no say in who is chosen as Abbot and no option to expel them if they’re not happy.

    One defining feature of a cult is that the leader is not accountable to anyone. I’m not saying that Ajahn Brahm is the leader of a cult, far from it. Obviously, Ajahn Brahm is not the type of person to abuse his position of power. The way you talk about his involvement with SFM is just one example. But not everyone is like Ajahn Brahm.

    As far as I understand, the position of Spiritual Director or Abbot, is not a Vinaya concept so there are no monastic rules to ensure those who find themselves in this position act in accordance with Dhamma and Vinaya ie, letting go, rather than acquiescence. Therefore, if it is indeed necessary for modern day monasteries in the west to have such a position, the monastery constitution is of extreme importance.

    I just want to say again how much I appreciate your move to making the Spiritual Director of SFM accountable. It inspires faith.

    • thanks for pointing out this small distinction. It is significant, but perhaps a more detailed comaparison of the two documents would make the relevant chacks and balances more clear.

      In practice, however, it perhaps would not make such a difference. According to the SFM constitution, the Sprirtual director can be expelled by special resolution, which I believe (not having checked it recently) would happen at a general meeting. In the case of the BSWA, there is no such clause (unless it is elsewhere), but the committee can still call a general meeting and change the constitution to insert one. the outcome would be the same; the difference is that the SFM constitution explicitly provides for the expulsion of the Spiritual director by the members.

      Who I will have to be very nice to in future!

  10. Not much value to add here except that the Buddha seems to have left grey areas (by accident or by design) for subsequent communities to address according to conditions and laws of the day. In such situations there may be examples of Monasteries around the world or in history who developed details around processes and leadership models that we can draw from. One of the missing links for me seems to be the process for dialogue around leadership and governance between lay and monastic brothers and sisters…each Monastery will have conditions according to different laws – of the time and of the country they are functioning in – are good practicies something that can be observed in other communities and articulated for this community? Is it something that monastic communities across traditions are discussing from time to time? Is it something worth gathering together to discuss?
    The brief time I spent sitting with Thay’s community in Vancouver offered many examples of how shared time together can be conducive to inclusive dialogue, a sense of ownership and participation among the laypersons, leading to a greater sense of engagement and individual responsibility towards the community. Whereas in the TFS communities, interactions are quite hands off, there is less of a sense of ownership and participation, simply by way of how Dhamma talks, retreats and meditation sessions are organized. There are formulae that have emerged in each of these Dharma communities which are quite distinct. These small details relate to and lead to different leadership and organizational models/experiences or they are a reflection of them (they inter-are)…What I am saying is there is a richness of learning out there that we can draw from … so how to do this effectively … how to encourage a tradition of self-assessment and continual evolution in the organizational and leadership models…(without getting too ambitious or burdensome of course) _/\_

  11. “Many monasteries, particularly of the Western Wat Pa Pong tradition, are set up like a corporation. The monastery is a company, whose assets are owned by the shareholders. And the shareholders are a couple of lifetime appointed monks. Full stop.”

    If such is the case then why indeed should lay people donate to these monks? If they own the monastery they should be capable of generating income from it and be self sufficient in food, clothing, shelter and medicine. They might as well run a profitable commercial operation. Lay people would not be needed to provide material support.

    This would be antithetical to the symbiotic relationship between monatics and lay. Monks who are shareholders of a corporation that own the monastery land and buildings therefore should not expect any support from lay people.

  12. There are a few Red Herrings about the ownership of assets (property and money) creeping into this thread – suffice it to say here that this is perhaps not the best forum for this type of technical discussion to take place ?

    There are a number of very important issues that do (and I think CAN) be resolved BUT they are very technical and specific – they relate to jurisdiction, trust law, company law, common law and of course – vinaya.

    I can only profess to have working knowledge of English (and some Scottish) law, a sufficient level of trust and company law (fiduciary duty) from being a trustee and company director of a “non-profit” for about ten years.

    I am a UK citizen myself.

    I also have some other practical experience in managing and living in a community, in a privately owned retreat setting.

    My knowledge of vinaya is incidental – from having been married to an ex-Buddhist nun for about 20 years and having had conversations about these sorts of issues.

    I would go further to suggest that, if people require full answers a small collaborative “task force” or working discussion group be established online so firm conclusions can be drawn.

    We would need to restrict membership to willing “experts” with good communication skills that possess specialist knowledge in either vinaya – company law – trust law etc. for this to be at all productive.

    A good outcome of this might be a more reliable reference resource that might be offered at a later date to members of the fourfold sangha.

    • That’s an excellent proposal. I will table that to the ASA and see whether we can draw up some good advice. This is, after all, an issue that affects not only a few monasteries, but the entire project of investing large amounts of people hard-earned cash into the future of Buddhism and the possibility of liberation.

    • Dear Bhante

      And if you do start to consider alternative structures, I hope you won’t dismiss the CLG as a viable option. Despite all the stigma it accidentally carries from being a company, their “shareholders” do not really own the CLG’s assets. Even in a typical company, shareholders only own shares and their only interest would be in the shares and the dividend stream.

      The CLG, having no share capital, does not even give its members any rights to dividends, let alone company assets. In a way, CLGs are a type of incorporated trust specifically intended for charities and non-profit organisations. I would venture to say that a CLG’s members have a fiduciary duty to the CLG to act in a manner that advances the purposes of the company.

      So even if it may look like a member “owning” the company assets, the fiduciary duties set via the CLGs articles of association practically makes such “ownership” meaningless. It creates a trust, so that the member may notionally be a legal owner, but holds the asset on trust for another.

      While it is somewhat different from the sort of Vinaya trust arrangements between individuals, I don’t think it would be too much to stretch it to apply to a trust arrangement between a monk and his sangha.

  13. “I can only imagine how it feels for female lay supporters who have donated money to monasteries, with the thought of helping the Nuns – to have the Monks turn around and oppress and stifle the Nuns.”

    Whenever I give to my local temple, I have them specifically write on the report “For the comfort and health of the Bikkhunis and no Other”.

    However, this is a Chinese Mahayana Temple (even though I’m Thera) and they highly respect and value their Bikkhuni’s – my stipulation isn’t really necessary, but they understand from where I’m coming.

    This particular temple invites teachers of all lineages to practise so it’s pretty unique and open.

    Refreshing ain’t it?! ;)

  14. Thanks An. Blake, Sylvester, and all for the clarifications, though in some ways things are looking even more complex. I can sympathize to some extent with an effort to get limited liability – no one wants dana going to insurance companies if it can be avoided – but not at the expense of Vinaya. Probably every country is a bit different, with different principles of legal ownership and rights.

    The Vimutti/ATBA constitution does seem very dangerous, granting veto power over the Abbot’s position to WPP, especially since we’ve already seen that WPP would be willing to exercise that power. Anyone out there from ATBA who would be willing to share the process and rationale for the change? I just can’t imagine why lay supporters would knowingly vote in such an oppressive and potentially crippling constitutional change.

    • Jackie,

      I like your postings – very pertinent which is rare in these types of forums.

      Electronic communication is hazardous in itself as we do not always hear what is being said ?

      I think conflation and confusion can be OK – after all – the religion of logic is too big to be loved.

      But – when it comes to complex arguments about technicalities I think there is a need to take the discussion into a collaborative, shared environemnt.

      I think new technology like GOOGLE WAVE / SKYPE CONFERENCE and WIKI are better suited to this type of ongoing discussion regarding very complex sets of things ?

      They also enable participants to distribute the subject matter more “evenly” amongst all contributors and prevent repetition etc.

      This can allow threads to emerge and be consolidated more easily than through individual postings ?

    • I think that’s why getting straight about the corporation/charity/non-profit/et al designation is important; once it is known what the format is going to be it opens us up to the entire human reservoir of developed best practices for that format.

  15. Hello there. Sorry in advance for this far too long reply!
    Yes these issues are very important. I am glad (although not envious) that Sujato is poring over the dry minutiae of the constitutional documents. Poor thing! As if those Pali texts weren’t punishment enough! :)
    Anyway, Here are some things which may be useful. Sorry it goes on a bit, but this is all I could cobble together in a short time.

    Company and Charity Details are both available online. http://wck2.companieshouse.gov.uk/c7fc7c3c2c21bcab2504d8b4a6db4726/compdetails

    ENGLISH SANGHA TRUST LIMITED(THE)
    Company No. 00565499
    Company Type: Private Limited Company
    Nature of Business (SIC(03)):
    9131 – Religious organisations

    and:

    http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/SHOWCHARITY/RegisterOfCharities/CharityWithPartB.aspx?RegisteredCharityNumber=231310&SubsidiaryNumber=0

    “THE MAIN OBJECT IS THE FURTHERING THE TEACHING OF THE BUDDHA IN THE UK. THE CHARITY’S MAIN ACTIVITY IS THE DEVELOPMENT, MAINTENANCE AND UPKEEP OF TWO THERAVADA BUDDHIST MONASTERIES IN THE UK. THESE PROVIDE FOCAL POINTS FOR MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC TO LEARN OR DEEPEN THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF BUDDHISM. TYPICAL ACTIVITIES INCLUDE MEDITATION CLASSES AND RETREATS, PUBLIC TALKS AND FORMAL CEREMONIES.”
    Income £896,415 Spending £615,227

    The Public Benefit Test

    http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/Charity_requirements_guidance/Charity_essentials/Public_benefit/public_benefit.aspx#f

    “Who constitutes ‘the public, or a section of the public’ is not a simple matter of numbers, but the number of people who can potentially benefit (now or in the future) must not be negligible. What is important is who could benefit, as well as who is benefiting. The class of people who can benefit must be a public class. In general, the public class must be sufficiently large or open in nature given the charitable aim that is to be carried out. The actual number of people who can benefit at one time can be quite small provided that anyone who qualifies as a beneficiary is eligible to be considered. A charity is for the public benefit if the benefits it offers are made widely available, even though in practice only a few people from time to time are able to benefit.

    For example, a charity with a legitimately small number of beneficiaries might be one that offers only a small number of places for the services it provides, such as a small number of available rooms in an almshouse or care home. What is important is that anyone who is eligible to apply can be considered for those places.”

    My input:
    I think there may be two potential breaches of UK Law with this arrangement.

    1: Name only EST Trustees:
    The EST or the Trustees may be in breach of UK trust law, if the (presumably Lay) Trustees are administering the trust in name only, and merely going along with (Monastic) beneficiaries decisions regarding the administration of the trust funds. Trustees have very specific legal duties, and can be heavily penalized should they fail in their duties.

    2: Failing the Public Benefit test:
    The EST institution may not meet the public benefit requirement for charitable status due to the unjustifiable restriction of ordination to men only. (See F6. Restrictions based on personal characteristics below) If the charities commission were to decide this to be the case, then the EST would lose it’s charitable status and Sumedho’s limited company would be legally obliged to pay taxes much like the rest of us do.
    Supporting Monks and Nuns is not considered ‘charitable’ in UK law because the benefits of prayer are ‘too vague’. So in order for the EST to justify its charitable status, it has to provide services to the wider public that are tangible. The 1 weekly 2hr meditation class on Saturday and 96 retreat centre days per year may meet that requirement. They also provide a service to the public by offering to train applicants to the position of monk or nun. However, the restriction of ordination to men only, may cause the EST to fail the public benefit test if this restriction cannot be justified under the aims of the EST, or if the EST aims (that apparently exclude women from ordination) could be met by a less draconian sanction or arrangement. Which in my opinion is likely. The 5 points confer a restriction of the benefit to women expressly. By applying this contractual requirement across the charitable trust to all women remaining, or entering the charitable trust, the charities commission may decide this to be an unreasonable restriction on the benefits available to female participants, despite their continued presence in the trust, and the contractual nature (ie normally binding) of the agreement. If the contract has been entered into by the nuns under duress, as it appears the 5 point agreement was, then the courts are less likely to consider the contract to be binding on the nuns.

    Some excerpts from trust law re public benefit restrictions:
    “Public benefit. The requirements. The second requirement of a valid charitable trust is that it must promote a public benefit; and to this rule there is but one exception. A trust for private purposes, or for purposes which cannot be demonstrated to confirm a public benefit, is not charitable. For instance, in Gilmour v Coates it was held that the purposes of the community of cloistered and contemplative nuns were not legally charitable, for the benefit to mankind of intercessory and edifying prayer was too vague, and incapable of proof. The element of public benefit is similarly lacking in trust for the protection of private investors, or for the education of relations or the descendants of named person or for the children of employees of a particular employer, or for the provision of a convalescent home for members of the trade union and their wives.

    Section of the public. The charitable trust may confer a public benefit even though its nature (for example the provision of the walls or child welfare) is such that only limited numbers of people are likely to avail themselves of the benefits, or are capable of doing so. There is a distinction between a form of relief extended to the whole community yet by its very nature advantageous only to a few and a form of relief accorded to a selected few out of a larger number equally willing and able to take advantage of it. The former type does not lack the necessary element of public benefit, even though confined to persons living in a specified area, whereas the latter type does. Moreover, a mere expression of preference for relations or employers will not necessarily vitiate the gift. Whether a gift is charitable as being for the public benefit is the question to be decided by the courts on the evidence; the opinion of the donors that his gift will benefit the public is not material.”

    My input:
    By limiting ordination to men and not women, the EST may be deemed to have failed the public benefit test because where the benefit is to a section of the public, the opportunity to benefit must not be unreasonably restricted, so the refusal to ordain women, for instance, must be legitimate, proportionate, rational and justifiable given the nature of the EST’s charitable aims.

    See F6. Restrictions based on personal characteristics on the charities commission page.

    http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/Charity_requirements_guidance/Charity_essentials/Public_benefit/public_benefit.aspx#f6

    “For example, restricting benefits to men or women only would be reasonable in the case of an organisation that is concerned with men’s or women’s health issues, as the class of beneficiaries is clearly linked with the charitable aim. However, restricting benefits in such a way would not be reasonable in the case of an organisation that is concerned with providing a village hall or community centre, which should be a general facility for use by all the local inhabitants regardless of their gender.

    The need to have a rational link between any restriction on who can benefit and the charitable aim to be carried out has been underlined recently by developments in discrimination law. There are currently exceptions for charities from the general law that prohibits discrimination in the provision of services on the grounds of gender, race, sexual orientation and disability. This is because charities can legitimately restrict their beneficiaries where that is relevant to their charitable aims. However, in order to comply with the EU Gender Directive, there are proposals to limit the exception for charities in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to circumstances where a legitimate aim is being pursued or a particular disadvantage is being addressed.

    For example, it may be reasonable to limit the beneficiaries on the grounds of gender where that involves protection of victims of sex-related violence, the promotion of gender equality or for reasons of privacy or decency.

    The EU Gender Directive does not apply to education. This means it can be charitable to have a single sex educational charity, such as a single sex school.

    Where the beneficiaries are defined by some personal characteristic, what we have to consider in each case is:

    why is the restriction there; and
    why is the restriction reasonable in the context of the charitable aims to be carried out (such as what special need of the service or facility do those people have)?”

    My input:
    Basically the charities commission website spells it out very clearly. They are the governing body for the EST, and for all charities in the UK. If you have any queries I am sure they would be happy to explain any of the guidelines, including restrictions to public benefit, and how that might remove the eligibility for charitable status. They have powers to preside over any UK charities at any time.
    Also, it looks as though the the EU Gender Directive in the pipeline is going to make it even harder to justify gender restrictions on charitable benefits, so this makes it less likely that the EST will be able to retain it’s tax exempt charitable status.
    Someone said to me a long time ago that charities are just companies that don’t pay tax, which I think is quite accurate. :) It’s all about the tax exemptions!

    Apart from that (rather depressingly technical) overview, have a lovely metta-filled day :)

  16. Ajahn
    Without wading through acres of vinaya texts – (like counting sheep, makes one a bit sleepy)
    What was the original intention of the Buddha in terms of establishing community.

    I always understood that sangha kamma tended to be a process of consensus.
    A sort of balance between consensus – implying that things were talked through – allowing the communal wisdom to surface – And a respect for elders where their input would carry some weight.?
    Is that understanding in line with what you understand was the original intention of the Buddha?

    • Absolutely. Even stronger, though: it is not that sanghakamma ‘tends’ to be a process of consensus, but that all sanghakamma must normally be made through consensus. There are only a few exceptional cases where it is permitted to make a decision by majority; and nowhere is it allowed to make a decision based on seniority. Elders are sotabbaṁ maññanti, worthy of being listened to. But their views, no matter of how many Elders of whatever seniority, can never override Dhamma-Vinaya or the Sangha as a whole.

      I like what you said about ‘allowing the communal wisdom to surface’…

    • There is an interesting read of a previous public statement made in the FS Newsletter of Oct 2006 Number 77 – It is called: “How Does the Sangha Decide”

      It suggests that all minutes of all Elder Council meetings are archived “in order to be a reference for all future generations of Sangha members.”

      It seems unclear how they (The ABM based EC) define ‘Sangha members.’

      But it should be an interesting read to see how the process of the 5 points emerged. Though probably the minutes are severely edited and don’t really reflect the actual process and discussions.

      The article also suggests that current policies in decision making are go against the premise previously laid out in their own public declaration in 1996 which allowed provision for input from the whole of the Sangha – I know many monks were not happy with the 5 points and were never asked their view.

      As a consequence one monk has decided to leave the community over this issue (and the issue of the treatment of A.Brahm) And one senior nun has publicly linked her decision to disrobe directly to the 5 points and the trauma around the process of their impact and delivery.

      To quote from A.Amaro’s 1996 article:

      “The intent, therefore, is to place the egalitarian spirit of shared responsibility clearly at the centre, and for that to be the fundamental source of the decision-making process. Nethertheless, the tradition as it has come down to us preserves a hierarchy of respect: although all bhikkhus have an equal voice in sangha-kamma (formal acts of the community of monks) whether ordained for one day or a 100 years, there is always deference to seniors. So there is equality and there is hierarchy…..”

      I think if they stuck to their lay of out ‘how we make decisions’ then a more open process would have unfolded. From what I understand the 5 point agreement – and the pressure on the EST female members which brought about their resignations – was a direct result of balance in the favour of hierarchy over equality and consensus.

      So by that criteria the process of the 5 points was illegal according to sanghakamma.

      Of course the nuns were not considered Sangha in this process. As clearly they really did not – from their hearts – agree.

      The piece that is really not clear is an allowance for the lay community to offer feed back. There is no real provision for that – Other than through these more public discussions.

      I haven’t heard of the English Sangha Trust, an organization that as a charity is supposed to be representing the laities support of monastics – invite open forums. (though they might – I’ve never heard about it – or know of invitations to attend such a forum)

      Neither of course has the ABM based monastic community found ways to invite open forums within the 4-fold assembly.

      This really seems critical. The principle of Pavarana – feed back. It’s not just a formulaic ritual at the end of Vassa – but a key working principle for the health of the Sangha.

      My diagnosis is that this principle of consensus, respect for the input of the 4-fold assembly and the principle of pavarana has defaulted to the forceful use of power by a few elders.

      The consequences are a tragic fracturing of what was before a somewhat uneasy – but still cohesive field.

      Basically one cannot offer trust and faith towards systems and those who collude with such systems – that lack the spirit and practice of the Buddha’s intention. All very sad.

  17. Clarification from Ajahn Brahm in response to the article: Take it or Leave it & the Ground Between

    http://www.bhikkhuni.net/present/spring2010/present-groundbetween-spring2010.pdf

    Dear Thanissara,
    I have just read your excellent article in “Present”, but would like to correct a couple of minor points.

    Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth was never a member of the “Elders Council”, I was never invited to any of their meetings, nor was I ever informed of what they discussed or agreed upon. This council was made up of senior monks from Amaravati, Chithurst, Harnham, Devon Vihara, the Swiss monastery, the Italian monastery, Abhayagiri and Bodhinyanarama in New Zealand.

    This was because Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth began when Ajahn Chah sent Ajahn Jagaro to Australia. It was a direct offshoot of Wat Pah Pong. It did not originate as an offshoot of Amaravati/Chithurst, and so was never under Ajahn Sumedho. This was why we were never part of the “Amaravati Group”. For this reason, the Sangha in Perth felt no obligation to consult with this council prior to the Perth Bhikkhuni Ordinations last year. That I did personally inform Ajahn Sumedho and Vajiro about the ordinations about 10 days’ beforehand was out of courtesy, not obligation.

    However, I did consult the Thai Elders Council (Mahatherasamakom) through its leader, Somdej Pootajarn. He famously told me three times in response to my direct question on Bhikkhuni ordination in Australia that “Thai Sangha Law does not extend to the West”. I also consulted with Phra Prom Gunaporn (Phra Payutto), probably the most esteemed scholar currently in Thailand, and he advised to act compassionately. A copy of his letter is posted on Ajahn Sujato’s Blog.

    I also consulted with the head of Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, Phra Dhammakosajarn, but he declined to reply.The oft repeated charge against the Perth Sangha of non consultation is a myth.

    Lastly. I was organising the 2009 WAM. When I asked for subjects to discuss, only Ajahn Sucitto gave any suggestions. All the other Theras supplied nothing. It was myself who suggested that we discuss Bhikkhuni Ordination at the WAM. No-one else showed any interest. Once I discovered in November about the Five Points, I realised why none of these monks were interested in discussing Bhikkhuni Ordination.

    All is well in Perth. The Sanghas are thriving, the lay supporters are growing in numbers, and tonight I give my first talk in Bangkok since the Perth Bhikkhuni Ordinations.

    With Mega Metta, Ajahn Brahm

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