And now, in religions’ baffling inability to cope with women…

A Christian group at Bristol University in England is being investigated for its discriminatory policies. Women are banned from teaching at their weekly meetings without their husbands beside them. The email from their president said:

“We understand that this [women teaching] is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our CU:Equip meetings [its principal weekly meeting], as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away or as our main speaker for mission weeks.”

The email goes on to say that women may teach at these meetings, as long as it it with their husbands.

It is fantastic that these discriminatory policies are being dealt with at last. The sad thing is, of course, that similar discriminatory policies are being practiced in Buddhism. From Amaravati’s notorious “Five Points” of discrimination against women:

2. In line with this, leadership in ritual situations where there are both bhikkhus and siladhara–such as giving the anumodana [blessings to the lay community] or precepts, leading the chanting or giving a talk–is presumed to rest with the senior bhikkhu present. He may invite a siladhara to lead; if this becomes a regular invitation it does not imply a new standard of shared leadership.

The full list is on Leigh Brasington’s site. He’s added a variation to the list that was created some time ago, where “monk” and “nun” are replaced by “Whites” and “Blacks”. There are more variations here. The alternate wordings create a stark and disturbing impression, as if the original was not creepy enough.

We can only hope that Buddhist groups realize the harm that these policies create and change them before they are forced to do so by the law.

Turns of events

It’s now a year and a half since Ajahn Brahm and Bodhinyana monastery were excommunicated from their monastic circle, Wat Pa Pong, for disobeying orders by ordaining women in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings.

Has anything got better?

Short answer: not so you’d notice.

Long answer:

Ajahn Brahm has been in discussions with some of the WPP Ajahns overseas, trying to arrange a forgiveness ceremony, to let go and move ahead. He is clear that neither he nor his Sangha are interested to rejoin Wat Pa Pong. They do, however, want WPP to stop the active campaign of cutting Ajahn Brahm and his monks out of communion, requiring that Ajahn Brahm’s monks effectively disown him as a teacher if they stay in a WPP monastery, and so on. After several discussions where such a move seemed hopeful, suddenly the word came from the WPP Ajahns: ‘It’s not time yet’.

I wasn’t aware there was a right time for forgiveness.

Having just spent a few weeks in Bodhinyana, when these issues were discussed regularly, I can confirm that there is a lot of pain and disappointment at WPP’s actions among both the lay and ordained communities. In speaking with Ajahn Brahm, however, I never heard him do anything other than seek for a way to resolve the conflict. There was no criticism, no sign of ill-will, only the question: ‘How do we get over this?’

Meanwhile, a serious situation of conflict at the branch monastery in Wellington, New Zealand has arisen. A little background is in order. The monastery was established around the same time as Bodhinyana in Perth, and by coincidence they chose a similar name, Bodhinyanarama (after Ajahn Chah’s Pali name). Bodhinyana was established by inviting monks from Thailand. However, Bodhinyanarama was established with monks from England, and hence they have always been part of the ‘Amaravati circle’. Like Bodhinyana, however, Bodhinyanarama was set up by a pre-existing Buddhist society operating as a charitable association, the Wellington Theravada Buddhist Association (WTBA), which purchased the land, developed the monastery, and holds the title.

Bodhiyanarama enjoyed its glory days early on, under the leadership of Ajahn Viradhammo, when it expanded to become a sizable and thriving monastery. Since he left it has dwindled, and for many years now has rarely housed more than one or two monks. Bhikkhunis are not welcome.

Now, Ajahn Tiradhammo, the current abbot, wishes to change the legal basis of the organization. He wishes to change the constitution of the charitable association, with its open membership and democratically elected committee, and replace it with a model under which the stewards are appointed by the sangha and the abbot is appointed from Wat Pa Pong and Amaravati, and the WPP monks who make up the ‘resident Sangha’ will appoint a committee of lay trustees to handle the financials. All control is taken away from the locals, and the WPP Sangha can effectively insulate itself.

As I have shown at length in previous posts, such an arrangement is neither Vinaya nor Thai custom.

There are no abbots in the Vinaya – there is not even a word for ‘abbot’. The Sangha is, not a self-defined organization that excludes others, but the universal Sangha of the ‘Four Quarters’. Short of schism, there are no grounds in Vinaya for a group of monks to set themselves up in this sort of exclusive way.

In Thailand, the abbot is traditionally chosen through consultation between the resident Sangha, the local lay community, and a representative of the Sangha administration. (The Sangha administration is involved because under Thai law the monastery law belongs to the Sangha as constituted under the Sangha Act, and so the authorities have a legal duty of care. This, of course, does not apply in the case of monasteries overseas.)

What is the argument for this change? As best as I can make out, the argument is that the current WTBA constitution does not give any guaranteed ‘rights’ to the monastic community, including things such as decisions regarding what to build, or what monastics can stay. Things have been merely workable under a tacit agreement between the Sangha and the lay committee. Of course it is reasonable for the monastic Sangha to have a say in what happens in the monastery, and for this to be reflected in a constitution. It is quite possible to do this in a way that still gives the local lay community a say. It’s just a matter of balance. Certainly this is no justification for handing the entire monastery over to people overseas, especially when there is no guarantee that monks will actually be sent.

Having failed to persuade the committee, Ajahn Tiradhammo resorted to branch stacking at the AGM held on June 12. He secretly organized for a number of new people to come expressly to support him, and coached them before the meeting, hoping to make them members of a new committee. However, on a technicality they were not able to become voting members for the AGM and the previous committee was largely re-elected.

(Curiously enough, a similar manouver was attempted by the notorious New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) at an AGM of the Australian Sangha Association a few years ago. On the eve of the AGM we got a flood of membership applications from every NKT member in Australia. Under the ASA constitution, however, the NKT members do not have a recognized ordination, so are legally unable to become members.)

Accounts of the meeting are highly emotional. Many people present were very upset by the way this was done, and what they saw as the open manipulation of democratic processes happening in their Dhamma hall.

A strong letter of complaint has been sent to Ajahn Tiradhammo and several of the western WPP Ajahns. There have been allegations that the proposed revision is illegal under New Zealand trust law. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be.

What exactly is going on here? The rules of Wat Pa Pong remain: discrimination against women and submission to the authority of the Ajahns. Since the majority of devotees reject these principles, they have been kept secret as far as possible; however this is no longer possible. The only way to ensure survival is to gain absolute power over the considerable wealth and property invested in the monasteries.

We shouldn’t be surprised. The Ajahns have been telling us these things for years. Equality, democracy, rights: according to the clear, often repeated, and explicit teachings of senior Wat Pa Pong Ajahns, these things are alien, ‘Western’ values irrelevant to the Dhamma and of no value for liberation. What we are now seeing is simply these principles put into practice.

WPP faces a choice. Will they continue to endorse these principles? Or will they begin the difficult process of reflection and change?

There is a storm coming, make no mistake. Maybe not this year, maybe not next, but it will come. The senior teachers are passing away, and so the spiritual center of gravity that has held the Wat Pa Pong tradition together is dissipating. There are those within WPP who believe that discrimination against women and submission to the authority of the Ajahns are the heart of the Buddhist monastic tradition. And there are those within WPP who believe that these are corruptions that defile the true Buddhist tradition.

Can these very different viewpoints be reconciled? Of course! There’s no great secret: recognize the problem, accept that it needs to be overcome, and work with commitment to overcome it. Since even the first of these is a long way off, however, I’m not holding my breath.

One by one, each of the Wat Pa Pong branch monasteries will have to decide where it stands. Whether it is to be an instrument of Thai Buddhist colonialism, or a source of spiritual vitality in its own land. The moral question is a no-brainer. The hard part is how to make it work.

Buddhism and “The Gender Dynamic”

Here’s an article that expresses the ‘other side’. It gives a straightforward argument in favor of sexism, and bases that on Buddhist ideas. Of course, I disagree with almost all the good author’s views, but I appreciate the fact that he’s confident enough to express himself clearly and openly.

Nevertheless, the doctrine he expresses is frightening: since domination of females by males is a fact, this is how it should be. This kind of thinking, though rarely expressed with honesty, lies behind many of the attitudes towards women that have been exposed in the rejection of bhikkhunis.

The author makes the surprisingly common error of thinking that ethical ‘equality’ means equality in fact. He says, ‘It is obvious to anyone with even an average level of insight and knowledge that males and females have differences physically, emotionally, mentally, behaviourally and societally.’ Yes it is. Likewise, old people are different from young, black are different from white, tall are different from short, and intelligent are different from stupid. People are different, and differences need to be taken into account.

But this has nothing to do with the ethical principle of equality, which means equal opportunity, equal treatment, and equal respect. Women are not lesser beings than men.

Try this: read the article below, and where it says ‘men’ read ‘whites’, and where it says ‘women’ read ‘blacks’. There’s no swifter way of cutting through the cruft of discriminatory argument.

The author trots out the usual criticisms of the ‘West’, apparently oblivious to the fact that many of the things he praises about Asian society – that women have equal access to education, voting, work opportunities – came about through the influence of ‘Western’ ideals of equality.

He says that women in Asia ‘choose’ to be dominated by men. I just received an email the other day from Sister Yeshe, working in India, who has been explaining to the young men there that it’s wrong to hit women. I wonder what happens to the women who ‘choose’ not to be beaten?

One of his basic arguments is that both the West and Asia discriminate, but the Asians are more honest about it. He’s wrong: people all over the world recognize that there is discrimination, and some, whether Asian or Western (or African or whatever), understand that this is harmful. It is the way it is, but not the way it should be. The Buddha taught an ‘ought’: he wanted us to do what is right, not what everyone else is doing. To use the Buddhist slogan of ‘the way it is’ to justify harmful social norms is a perversion of the Dhamma – one which, sadly enough, is not limited to the present article.

I especially love his arguments from animal behavior – now that’s an ethical precedent! If animals do it, it must be Dhamma! Imagine the possibilities…


Rasika Wijayratne

Men and women are not equal. This is what most people, especially in the West, have trouble grasping especially due to their cultural background and heritage. So when they approach an Eastern tradition like Buddhism and come across something like the Garudhamma rules instituted by the Lord Buddha, they instantly react against it. Although this is understandable, it is never wise or skilful.

The Garudhamma rules were first given by the Lord Buddha to Maha-Pajapati Gotami on admission to the Order as the first female bhikkhuni (higher ordained nun) with the establishment of the female Sangha. These 8 sacred rules were given as a part of her higher ordination and also became part of the female monastic Vinaya rules for all bhikkhunis (Buddhist nuns), starting with Maha-Pajapati Gotami as the first nun. Even though the rules were formally given to Maha-Pajapati Gotami, it is understood that it applies to all bhikkhunis and it is even clear from the way they are worded, “A nun should…”. These eight rules are only there for bhikkhunis and not for bhikkhus (Buddhist monks). This inequality is what upsets some, especially those from the West.

It is true that an inequality is there. However it is also true that men and women, whether one likes to accept it or not, are not equal. This is why this inequality exists in the rules. It is the inability to grasp and accept this basic truth regarding the inequality between men and women that has given rise to this whole debate over whether the Garudhammas should or should not exist in the Dhamma, whether they were or were not instituted by the Lord Buddha and whether sections of the Tipitaka are authentic or not, especially in relation to the Garudhammas. This inability to see, grasp and understand that significant differences exist between men and women and that therefore they are not equal, goes to the heart and root of this whole debate and issue. So it makes sense to try and understand these differences and to also accept and come to terms with them.

It is obvious to anyone with even an average level of insight and knowledge that males and females have differences physically, emotionally, mentally, behaviourally and societally. The physical differences are obvious. It is also a well-known fact that the kinds and levels of hormones (the main ones being testosterone in men and oestrogen in women) that activate inside the body affecting emotions, mood, etc. are different in men and women. These in turn differently affect thinking, behaviour and impact on attributes significant to mental training such as energy, confidence, etc.

The differences between men and women in society, in the East or West, are even more significant. The 2010 Catalyst U.S. Women in Business report found that only 2.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women!2 This is in the USA, a Western society that purports to be egalitarian (equal) in every aspect when it comes to women. It becomes clear from this single example alone, of which there are many, that even in the West, which constantly talks about gender equality, there isn’t much equality in reality. So it is fair to say that even Western societies are male dominated, even though most would not wish to acknowledge it due to factors such as ‘political correctness’ and the laws of the land.

Eastern cultures are openly male dominated by contrast and make no attempts to hide this fact. In Buddhist countries in the East such as Sri Lanka, women enjoy the same levels of equality as enjoyed by women in the West with equal access to education, work opportunities, health care, etc. However being an openly male dominated society, it is understood and accepted that in the family home and in society that the males play a dominant role while the females play a supportive role to the male. This also prevalent in Western societies, even though it is politically incorrect and even against the law to openly state it.

Being male dominated does not in any way refer to the mistreatment of women by men as happens in some societies through subjugation, torture, sexual mistreatment, etc. In a male dominated society both women and women understand the nature of their relationship and live in that way by choice, seeing the advantages in it, rather than by force. Women are treated with dignity and respect and their wishes are respected at all times. It is important to make this distinction clear.

Historically most societies such as the Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Indian, and Chinese were male dominated. However some especially in the West, attempted to adopt egalitarianism (gender equality).3 The West maybe egalitarian ‘on paper,’ but not in reality. So gender-egalitarianism, the view that males and females can ever be equal, contradicts reality, the way thing really are, in short it contradicts the Dhamma, as is evident in both the East as well as the West. So in reality most Eastern and Western societies are still male dominated, but only the East is willing to openly acknowledge it.

In the Bahudhatuka Sutta, the Lord Buddha says that only a male may become a Sammasambuddha, Wheel-turning Monarch, Sakka, Mara or Brahma thus: “It is impossible, it cannot happen that a woman could be an Accomplished One, a Fully Enlightened One (Sammasambuddha) … a Wheel–turning Monarch… that a woman could occupy the position of Sakka … Mara … Brahma – there is no such possibility (while in the form of a woman, however through rebirth as a male it is possible). It is possible that a man might be an Accomplished One, a Fully Enlightened One … a Wheel-turning Monarch… that a man might occupy the position of Sakka … Mara … Brahma – there is such a possibility.”4

Going beyond the these other realms and even looking at the animal realm this gender imbalance again becomes evident among most mammalian species, viz. “Female-biased dominance occurs rarely in mammals, and it is only observed consistently in hyenas and lemurs.”5 A questions that arises is, among lions for example where the males are dominant, what would would happen if females tried to be equal or dominant to the males? Would it create harmony or disharmony in the group of lions? The same question can be applied to other areas such as the Sangha and the family unit.

It is true that the concentrated or enlightened mind on its own is above gender distinctions. But it must be remembered this is following enlightenment, not before where gender where gender is very much relevant. To gain concentration (samadhi) and then enlightenment (Nibbana), one must first be established virtue (sila). This is where the Garudhamma rules have their place. They were instituted by the Lord Buddha first for Maha-Pajapati Gotami and then other bhikkhunis as a way of restraining gender specific unskilful qualities from arising that would compromise their and others’ training, affecting concentration (samadhi) and thus also enlightenment (Nibbana). Here gender specific unskilful qualities refers to the female desire to be on par with or even higher than males. This directly contradicts the reality of the inequality that exists between males and females. So the Garudhamma rules were instituted out of compassion for bhikkhunis, understanding the differences between genders, and not to degrade or subjugate females as some have misunderstood.

The Lord Buddha being full enlightened was fully aware of the gender differences, would have instituted these rules only for female also out of pragmatic reasons and thinking of the harmony of the Sangha community. A fully Self Enlightened One does not discriminate but acts pragmatically for the benefit and welfare of all. He would have understood the universal nature of this gender dynamic, that the males are dominant is every aspect, physically, emotionally, mentally, societally in most societies and even across other realms such as the Diving and animal realms. He would have also understood that if he did not institutionalise a set of rules such as the Garudhammas, that some would attempt to bring gender egalitarianism to the Sangha, as was attempted in Western societies. This would contradict the prevalent reality (Dhamma) of the gender dynamic and would thus create disharmony in the Sangha. As he foresaw 2600 years ago when he instituted the sacred Garudhamma rules, isn’t this very thing happening today in the Sangha community with various attempts at removing the Garudhamma rules in preference for ‘modern’ (and misguided) gender-egalitarianism?

May the true Dhamma remain uncorrupted and last for 10,000 years for the benefit of present and future generations. May you gain the wisdom and strength protect it from all present and future threats!


1. Please contact the author to obtain the latest version of this document.

2. See New U.S. Women in Business Statistics Released by Catalyst here and here

Percentage of women in the U.S. labor force: 46.3%

Percentage of women in management, professional and related occupations: 50.6%

Percentage of female Fortune 500 corporate officers: 15.4%

Percentage of female Fortune 500 board seats: 14.8%

Percentage of female Fortune 500 top earners: 6.7%

Percentage of female Fortune 500 CEOs: 2.4%

3. See

4. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Majjihma Nikaya, Translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, pp 929.

5. See

Is this Sutta true?

Here’s one of the most notorious Suttas from the Aṅguttara Nikāya (AN 5.230).

Monks, there are these five dangers of a black snake. What five? It is aggressive, bears grudges, has terrible poison, is fork-tongued, and betrays friends.

Just so, monks, there are five dangers of a woman. What five? She is aggressive, bears grudges, has terrible poison, is fork-tongued, and betrays friends. Herein, monks, a woman’s terrible poison is this – generally, a woman has keen lust. A woman’s forked tongue is this – generally, a woman uses back-biting speech. A woman’s betrayal of friends is this – generally, a woman commits adultery.

And no, I don’t think this was really spoken by the Buddha. Deal with it.

What I’m interested in is to subject this text to the same elementary standard that the Buddha himself insisted on, and that we would apply to any other truth claims: does it stack up against the evidence? I assume it doesn’t, but I’d like to see the proof. Does anyone know of any objective, empirically based psychological studies that statistically examine possible gender differences between men and women in these traits?

Obviously, such psychological traits are heavily conditioned by culture, and it is impossible for us to do empirical research in the context the Sutta was formed. But by examining – and hopefully critiquing – these claims in contemporary cultures, we can at least challenge their universality.

Here’s a few studies to get us started.

In the case of aggression, gender differences are well known, although these refer more to aggressive behavior than aggressive psychological tendencies, which is what the word kodha in the above Sutta means.

In adultery, studies consistently show a greater incidence among men than women.

As far as bearing grudges goes, I haven’t found any studies, but in this discussion thread men and women share their experiences, and it seems pretty much balanced: both men and women sometimes have problems bearing grudges, sometimes not.

As for sexual desire, this study claims that: “All the evidence we have reviewed points toward the conclusion that men desire sex more than women… We did not find a single study, on any of nearly a dozen different measures, that found women had a stronger sex drive than men.”

Regarding backbiting, or negative gossip generally, this article (while the overall tenor is to criticize gender-based conclusions) cites an article with at least some gender-based differences – women tend to gossip more, although there is little difference in the ethical quality of the gossip; while this article suggests that men and women gossip around the same amount.

Over to you. Remember the rules of the game: referenced, empirical studies please, not anecdotes or opinions. (They are welcome in other posts, though!)