BSWA President’s report on ‘being sent to Coventry’

At the Buddhist Society of WA’s AGM on 12/3/2001, an address was given by the president, Dennis Shepard, that commented on the ongoing persecution of monks associated with the bhikkhuni ordinations that took place in october 2009.

Below is a transcript from the relevant sections. This is reposted from the comments section.

Note that during the meeting, Ajahn Brahm asked Dennis whether he (AB) had instigated this address or asked Dennis to speak out on this; Dennis replied that he had not. Ajahn Brahm mentioned this to me specifically, as he feels that people smetimes accuse him of masterminding events behind the scenes. Similarly, the opinions expressed on this blog are my own – as I made clear in the title of the blog – and do not reflect Ajahn Brahm’s or anyone else’s opinions, unless i am quoting or referring to them.

The events that Dennis is referring to are well-known to us and are quite widespread. For example, I am teaching a retreat in Perth in June, because one monk who had already agreed to do it pulled out under pressure from WPP. I follow Dennis’ lead in not naming monks here; I believe that all members of WPP should be held responsible for these acts, as they are carried out as the policy of WPP as a whole.

“31. Fallout from Bhikkuni Ordination.

It is with some regret that I need to report to our members the hardening of attitudes towards us and in particular to Ajahn Brahm by some senior monks from the Wat Pah Pong group, obviously still angry and annoyed over the Bhikkuni ordination in October 2009. I have just re-read my report from last year, and realized that the harmony and forgiveness I was hoping for last year seems still to be a long way away. It feels like things have got worse. Over the past year I feel our committee and our supporters have, in the interest of harmony and peace, suppressed a lot of feelings and words that could have been said, in the hope that the silence would allow these disaffected monks, who are displaying ill will towards Ajahn Brahm, a clear view of what they are doing in order for them to see where they are at.

The Wat Pah Pong meeting that disenfranchised our centre and Ajahn Brahm as WPP affiliates never made any mention of following through with a ban on any monks speaking or associating with Ajahn Brahm. It never called for Ajahn Brahm or any monks that associate with him to be “sent to Coventry”. This however, is the reality of our circumstance now. Monks that were coming to teach or stay at Bodinyana have been intimidated and told to expect the same treatment that Ajahn Brahm received if they show any friendship to us. Even monks that we have trained are not allowed to return, on pain of being ostracized. Bodhinyana connected monks have been refused a place to stay in overseas monasteries connected to WPP. There have been many terrible and hurtful things said and done over the past year and frankly it makes me feel ashamed that Buddhist people, especially monks, could do such things.

I call on the leadership at Wat Pah Pong to take stock of what they are doing. If these things are happening without your knowledge, investigate it, and stop what is happening immediately.

Wat Pah Pong has inflicted a punishment on the Perth centre for ordaining bhikkunis against their wishes. We have accepted that punishment. As mentioned in last year’s report we are very sad about being disenfranchised from WPP, we never set out to have things turn out the way that it did.

We can accept that the WPP group does not want to be associated with the ordination of bhikkunis. However we expect that WPP should let us go our own way now that we are not affiliated. If there are monks who feel so strongly about women’s ordination that they do not want to associate with us then that is fine, but we cannot accept the war of fear and intimidation that is being propagated around the world to stop all WPP connected monks associating with us. Unfortunately the stage is set for some very nasty scenes around the world, unless this unfortunate episode can be resolved.

We have heard from many people around the world who are very concerned about the edicts that are coming from this select group of monks. Stories of intimidation and threats in order to change constitutions so that WPP can have the final say. WPP needs to understand that Western Countries outside Thailand have particular “Incorporations Laws” that govern their countries. I would predict that the constitutions that have been changed following pressure from WPP will not stand up if they ever get to a court. This is to say nothing of the morality behind of what these monks are setting out to do.

Why is it that WPP want to have control over the Buddhist Societies in other countries any way? Buddhism will only grow in countries where the grass roots people accept it and understand it through there own cultures. Thailand cannot expect to control how Western countries will perceive Buddhism.

The key note address given at the International Conference on the dissemination of Theravada Buddhism in the 21st Century held in Salaya Bangkok Sep/Oct 2010 by Richard Gombrick, had a lot to say on subjects like this. His discussion focused in particular on Theravadan Buddhism and how it should be best propagated in the West. I would recommend that all interested parties involved in the events since the Nun’s ordination and who are interested in the best way for host counties to export Buddhism into the countries that are interested in accepting it, to read this address. It is available on the web.

We are sorry for the trouble that has been caused between good friends in carrying out the ordinations in the way that we did, but is was inevitable. As my report last year demonstrated, we in Perth have been on this pathway for a long time. Everyone knew what we were planning to do. The constant refrain from our detractors that we should have done it differently and the spurious notion that we did it secretly does not hold water, any way you look at it. As mentioned in last years report, I still contend and have seen no evidence to change my mind that the secrecy was from the other side. The way that the WPP elders planned to introduce a new Siladara model for women at the Western Abbots Meeting in 2009 still rankles. Ajahn Brahm was never involved in this and was never informed that the secret meetings were taking place. It is here that the rot started and it needs to be acknowledged. Things may have been different if we had known and had participated!

We are now 18 months past the ordination. Please let us all be friends. It is no fun being at loggerheads with good friends. It is especially not fun being “sent to Coventry” by friends and people you admire and respect.

We in Perth are resigned to accept our fate in not being part of the Wat Pah Pong group; however we do not wish to be ostracized by monks who are friends and colleagues. If for reasons that you truly can not stand to be with us in the presence of our Bhikkuni community then OK, but we hope you will eventually change your mind. But for those who are interested in friendship, fellowship and propagation of the Dhamma then please break through this barrier of fear and intimidation and come and visit us. We in turn would love to be accepted and be allowed to visit you.

It is time for all this trouble to stop. Please accept our open hands in friendship.”

What does Australian Buddhism look like?

There’s a discussion going on now among the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils about a new logo. Just a bit of PR, really, but it raises some interesting questions about Buddhism in Australia, and how we go about finding an identity, and expressing that visually.

One suggested logo is a lotus on a map of Australia. I don’t like it: it’s too obvious. And it’s not integrated: take a symbol of Buddhism, put it next to a symbol of Australia, and voila! Instant Oz Buddhism. But it’s really just two separate entities stuck together: “Australia” “Buddhism”, not “Australian Buddhism”.

What’s much more interesting for me is to look at how aspects of Buddhism have genuinely resonated with Australia.

The most obvious thing is “light”. Think of temple names in Australia: Dhammaloka, Buddharamgsee, Aloka. They all mean “light”, and reflect the local Buddhist’s response to Australia’s brilliant sunshine, a light that reflects the light imagery that is so pervasive in Buddhism.

Light is connected with the Dhamma wheel, which originated partly as a solar symbol (the other main symbolic source is the wheel itself, especially the two-wheeled chariots of the Aryans).

One of the common Buddhist flags reflects this imagery. Not the garish multi-colored .modern flag, but a traditional design, often seen in Thailand, of gold background with a red Dhamma wheel in the center.

The red center! Now that’s pretty Australian. The design is also a little reminiscent of the Aboriginal flag, which also has a sun in the center.

I think this is getting to some aspects of what it means to be an Australian Buddhist. There’s a brightness, a relaxed optimism, a morning freshness. There’s also a sense of great space. This is, for me, one of the essential things: we cling to the margins, and somehow we always know there’s a great big empty heart. This is not a negative thing, it’s an openness, a feeling of room to move, where horizons just keep on receding. And they recede over the ground, that great, broad, flat earth.

It is, of course, this sense of place that creates the many
magnificent works of Aboriginal art. It speaks to us, it feels like home, even for the many Australians, like myself, for whom the involvement with indigenous culture and the outback is marginal.

Dots, then; maybe a Dhamma wheel done in dots? Or too obvious?

Or another tack. The Australian crest features a kangaroo and emu facing a shield; not altogether unlike the classic image of the Buddha being served by a monkey and elephant. How about it? A Buddha being attended by a kangaroo and emu? Yes!

Any ideas? What does being an Australian Buddhist mean for you? And for those living elsewhere, how is Buddhism felt in your landscape? How has your place, peiple, story shaped your experience of the Dhamma.


I was on a Qantas flight from Perth back to Sydney yesterday morning, after the wonderful bhikkhuni ordination at Bodhinyana. A woman sitting in a seat behind me said to the flight steward: ‘Excuse me, sir.’

He turned and said: ‘Did you just call me “sir”?’

A little surprised, she said: ‘Uhh, yes…’

He paused a moment, then smiled and said: ‘Would you mind doing it again?’

I love Australia.