On Sunday November 1st, Ajahn Brahm went to North-east Thailand on the request of the senior Ajahns of the Wat Pah Pong tradition. Having announced on the previous Wednesday in their visit to Somdet Buddhajahn that they intended to expel Ajahn Brahm, this was their day to put the ultimatum to him: recant or be expelled.
The opposition to Ajahn Brahm was led by a small, tightly focused and aggressive group, while other senior Thai monks spoke in favor of gentleness and proportion. A letter calling for the expulsion was read out, authored by Ajahns Sumedho and Khemadhammo, the senior western monks.
Most of those who have heard about this issue overseas have been incredulous. It is really difficult to conceive that something like this could happen, with so little wisdom or reflection – don’t even think about compassion. But WPP is a little world unto itself. There is no possibility of reflection or engagement with a wider sphere, no acknowledgement of the genuine issues that Ajahn Brahm was addressing. Any broader considerations that might be brought to bear were just water off a duck’s back.
Ajahn Brahm tried to point out that Ajahns Pasanno and Amaro, respected Ajahns of the WPP tradition in Abhayagiri Monastery in California, had recently presided over a large bhikkhuni ordination in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. This was ignored. He presented the letters of support from so many people all over the world. They were ignored (but not by us! keep the letters coming!)
Attempts to communicate on the basis of Dhamma-vinaya were doomed from the beginning. Ajahn Brahm found it difficult to even convey some basic facts, such as that he was not the preceptor at the ordination, as the preceptor for a bhikkhuni ordination is a bhikkhuni, not a bhikkhu. Anyone who took the trouble to read the four pages of the Vinaya Pitaka that detail the procedure would know this. But repeated attempts simply failed to get this elementary point across.
When Ajahn Brahm asked what the actual Vinaya objections were, the only substantive response was that the ordination was flawed because there was diṭṭhivipatti, a ‘failure of view’. Failure of view is described in the Anguttara Nikaya (AN 3.117) as the denial of the fruits of merit and the existence of other realms. But when Ajahn Brahm asked what the monk meant by ‘failure of view’, the answer was that Ajahn Brahm was acting on his own view, not that of Wat Pah Pong. So much for rationality.
Ajahn Brahm went so far to accommodate the WPP Ajahns that he even expressed his willingness to not ordain any future bhikkhunis. At this point in the meeting there was a point of stillness, as the Sangha seemed to be on the verge of accepting this compromise. But this was not enough. Led by three monks, Ajahns Anan, Preecha, and Nyanadhammo, there was a demand that Ajahn Brahm recant his existing ordination and declare that the bhikkhunis were mae chis. Of course, they were not mae chis and never have been, as mae chi is a category that only exists in Thailand. In other words, they were asking him to make a bald-faced lie in the midst of the Sangha, and only then could he be allowed to stay. Of course, he knew that the ordination had been done properly, irrespective of anyone’s opinions or opposition, and so he could not do this.
Then the Sangha decided to expel him. A minority of monks grunted their approval, and Ajahn Brahm alone voted against his expulsion.
A number of revealing requests followed. One of the monks said (incorrectly) that Bodhinyana was established as a branch of WPP, and suggested that therefore Ajahn Brahm should be expelled as abbot (!) and a new abbot appointed by WPP.
Another monk said (again incorrectly) that since the funds to build Bodhinyana came from Thai people who donated out of faith in Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Brahm should give a huge cheque to WPP to repay the Thai people!
Another monk opined that since Ajahn Brahm was now out of WPP he was a Mahayanist. (Stay with me here, folks, these things actually happened. I’m not just making it up.)
This is all very revealing. For a moment, the saffron curtain slips, and the dark side reveals itself: power, money, sectarianism.
Ajahn Liem pointedly said that the motion was to deregister Bodhinyana from being a branch monastery of WPP, ‘no more’ (tao nun). He and other monks spoke kindly to Ajahn Brahm afterwards, reaffirming their friendship.
But already there are signs that the excommunication will be taken much further. It was suggested by one monk, for example, that a monk who took part in the ceremony should not join a pilgrimage to India that includes WPP monks. This has nothing to do with WPP’s decision, it is punishment, pure and simple.
This issue highlights many of the problems that many of us have been trying to raise in the Sangha for many years. I can only encourage all Sangha members to actually study the Vinaya and demand of their senior Sangha that proper procedure be followed. Accept no substitute.
There is a deep personal anger and resentment at work here that will soon enough find its expression in various forms of punitive action. Already one of the bhikkhunis who took part in the ordination has been told that she could not do her retreat at Vimutti Monastery in New Zealand as already planned. That’s okay for her, she can come to Santi FM. But what else are these monks brewing up?
Don’t worry, I’ll blog it when I hear about it.