Ajahn Brahm on why he was excommunicated

A Theravada Bhikkhuni Ordination was held in Perth on Thursday 22nd October. The decision to proceed with the Bhikkhuni Ordination was finalised only on 20th September 2009, when the Committee of The Buddhist Society of Western Australia unanimously gave their support. We did realise this was a sensitive matter and resolved to keep it in-house for the next month as we finalised the preparations. On Wednesday 13th October, 24 days after the decision was finalised, I informed Ajahn Sumedho in Amaravati, as a matter of courtesy, during my brief visit to the UK to see my mother (who has severe dementia).

The matter of Bhikkhuni Ordination had been discussed in Wat Pah Pong about two years ago and, as I recall, they resolved to follow the lead of the Mahatherasamakom (the supreme Monks’ Council of Thailand). I was and remain under the impression that the ordination of Bhikkhunis outside of Thailand was not contravening the rulings of the Mahatherasamakom. This is because I had consulted with the acting Sangharaja, Somdej Phra Pootajarn, well beforehand to ask him precisely his opinion on the ordination of Bhikkhunis outside of Thailand. His response, which I have circulated amongst the Western Sangha for a long time now, was “Thai Sangha law does not extend outside of Thailand”. He repeated this another two times to make his intention clear.

Even though my ordination as a monk was in Thailand, I understood that my obligations were to the Dhamma and Vinaya, not to the Thai state. Nor was allegiance to Thailand part of the advice given to me by the Acting Sangharaja who presented me with the Thai ecclesiastical honour of Tan Chao Khun. The certificate that I received at the ceremony merely states that “Phra Brahmavamso of Bodhinyana Monastery in Australia is a monk of Royal Grade with the title of Phra Visuddhisamvarathera. May he accept the duty in the Buddha’s dispensation of teaching, settling Sangha business and looking after the monks and novices in his monastery in an appropriate manner. And to develop happiness and well being in the Buddha’s Dispensation.”

At the meeting in Wat Pah Pong on Sunday 1st November 2009, to which I was summoned at very short notice, it was apparent that the senior Thai monks had a poor understanding of the Vinaya rules concerning sanghakamma (formal acts of Sangha governance). For example, it took a long time to convince them that a Bhikkhuni Ordination is a double sanghakamma.The first part being performed by a gathering of Bhikkhunis presided over by the Preceptor (“Upajjhaya” or “Pavattini” -Ayya Tathaaloka from the USA) and the second part where the new Bhikkhunis approach the Bhikkhu Sangha to have their ordination confirmed by a ñatticatutthakamma (a formal motion followed by 3 announcements). I was one of the two Bhikkhus who chanted the ñatticatutthakamma in the Bhikkhu Sangha.

Once the senior Thai monks understood that I was not the Upajjhaya, they were willing to let the matter drop, provided I would promise in the midst of the Sangha not to participate in the ordination of any more Bhikkhunis. Remembering the example of Venerable Ananda at the First Council, I made that promise to the assembled Sangha three times. It looked as if harmony would be restored.

However, some senior monks raised the question of the status of the four women who had received Bhikkhuni Ordination. I accepted that they would not be regarded as Bhikkhunis in Thailand under the present climate, but the ordination was legitimate and they were Bhikkhunis. A senior monk then claimed that the ordination was invalid because of “ditthi vipatti”, which he explained as meaning without the approval of the Sangha of Wat Pah Pong. As anyone with a basic knowledge of sanghakamma knows, this is nonsense. However, that unfounded view held sway and the meeting came down to a single clear choice: If Ajahn Brahm would state in the midst of the Sangha that the four women were not Bhikkhunis then there would be no penalty, otherwise Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery would be removed from the list of branch monasteries of Wat Pah Pong. I paused for a minute to reflect and, considering that I could not go against the Vinaya and state the Bhikkhunis were not properly ordained, nor could I go against the wishes of the Sangha of Bodhinyana and the thousands of lay Buddhists that support the Bhikkhuni Ordination, I refused to recant.

As a result, Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery was removed as a branch monastery of Wat Pah Pong. I emphasise that this decision had nothing to do with the process, secretive or otherwise, through which the ordination took place. The decision to excommunicate Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery rested solely on my refusal to state that the Bhikkhuni Ordination was invalid.

After the meeting formally concluded I paid my respects to many of the senior monks who reminded me of their continued friendship. For example, one old friend said to me “meuan derm” (meaning “just as before”). I hope that a similar attitude will prevail among all my friends in the Western Sangha.

With mega metta, Ajahn Brahm

73 thoughts on “Ajahn Brahm on why he was excommunicated

  1. Ajahn Brahm’s true “lineage” is the Buddha and you are absolutely right by saying “I understood that my obligations were to the Dhamma and Vinaya, not to the Thai state” . Nor are you bound to Wat Pah Pong in so far as the Dhamma and Vinaya are concerned. Your courageous act of going ahead with the Bhikkuni Ordination in Australia is living and manifesting the great compassion of the Buddha and that of your great Teacher Ajahn Chah; the compassion of liberating women in the Buddhist world from the unfair, unjust and uncompassionate denial to walk the same spiritual path to Nibbana taught by the Buddha to all sentient beings.

  2. I am really saddened but all this, but at the same time I happy that a Bhikkhuni ordination has been performed in the West – may there be many others! Good luck Ajahn Brahm!

  3. Ajahn Brahm. Your decision to proceed with the Bhikkhuni Ordination and the subsequent decision to refuse to declare the ordination was invalid upon request from some senior monks in Wat Pah Pong were courageous decisions. I wholly support your actions.

    Although I am saddened by the decision to excommunicate Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery, I remember what you said in one of your talks recently in which you said: “good or bad…who know?”

  4. Ajahn Brahm has shown true leadership throughout. Listen to last Friday night’s talk in Perth – he has no feelings of bitterness about what happened in WPP on Nov. 1st. Who else could sit through such an intimidating and painful experience, yet emerge as jovial and light-hearted as ever? Getting disenfranchised? So what! The Dhamma is beyond politics, defiled prejudices and cultural accretions – so we can forgive those who are misguided, and get on with the job of supporting genuine seekers of Enlightenment. Sadhu Ajahn, Sadhu!!!

    Commendations again to Bhante Sujato for posting these blog entries, and keeping us up to date.

  5. hi,

    i just wondering why Brahm did not ask the bhikkhuni to ordain under Mahayana, instead of Theravada?

    i also very concern if buddhist community divided over trivial things again and again, for example, Buddha relics’, bhikkhuni ordination.


    • Dear San,

      Thanks for your question. The simple answer is that the women want to follow the simplest and most direct approach to the Buddha’s early teachings, and this is more easily accessible in the Theravadin tradition. None of the newly ordained nuns, nor the ordaining bhikkhunis, thinks of themselves as a Mahayanist, nor do they follow the specifically Mahayana path.

      More importantly, the distinction between ‘Theravada’ and ‘Mahayana’ (in so far as it is relevant at all) only applies in the realm of Buddhist culture, texts, or philosophies, etc. It does not apply in the case of Vinaya. There is not now, and never has been, a ‘Mahayana’ Vinaya or a ‘Mahayana’ Sangha from the Vinaya perspective.

      The Sangha of the East Asian traditions follow the Vinaya of the Dharmaguptaka school. The Dharmaguptakas were a branch of early Buddhism that became established in Gandhara (Afghanistan) and from there spread to China. Their teachings and Vinaya are essentially identical with the Sri Lankan Theravadins and has nothing to do with Mahayana.

      In China the monastic tradition became established based on the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, while the philosophical and meditative texts studied were mainly (though certainly not exclusively) Mahayana. Sangha of a Mahayana faith will often practice, in addition to the basic Vinaya, a set of so-called ‘Bodhisattva precepts’, but these are mainly concerned with attitude and interpretation of the Vinaya and do not replace the basic Vinaya structure.

      The differences we can observe between monastic practice in modern Sangha from different lands comes almost entirely from cultural factors and not from differences in the underlying Vinaya.

      For a detailed analysis of the process whereby the early Buddhist schools were formed, see my Sects & Sectarianism.

    • Thank you for the reply.

      May i know if there is any part in the Sutta when Buddha said that age of Dhamma will be reduced by 500 years if Bhikkhuni Sangha is allowed ? If this really what Buddha meant/said?


    • Dear San,

      The passage you refer to is found in the Khandhaka section of the Vinaya, and also in the Anguttara Nikaya. In my opinion, after long years of study, this passage cannot be regarded as authentic. This opinion is shared by the majority of scholars who have researched the topic. Some of the reasons for this conclusion, in brief, are:

      1. It is irrational and uncompassionate: how can the entry of women be like a ‘disease’ in the Sangha?
      2. It didn’t come true. Obviously, Buddhism is still around.
      3. Nowhere else did the Buddha predict the future in this kind of calendar-specific sense, nor does he claim to be able to. It is not at all clear that such an ability is possible, or how it can be reconciled with the central Buddhist teachings on kamma and free will.
      4. The passage is highly political, and such texts are the most likely to be tampered with by special interest groups.
      5. It is associated with the establishment of the 8 garudhammas. But there are many problems of chronology with these rules, and they cannot possibly have been laid down in the manner described in the text.

  6. What were they thinking?
    Imagine saying to your brother monks that the recent ordination in which you took part was void, without consulting the Bhikkhuni uppajaya, the nuns who were ordained, your community…
    to place you in such a position reveals other agendas, jealousy amongst them.
    Congratulations Ajahn Brahm.

  7. A.Brahm, thanks for “standing up” for the Bhikkhuni order, for the way it should be in accordance to the Sutta Vinaya…instead of succumbing to the pressure of tradition & culture. This is really in the spirit of Kalama Sutta.

    TQ for walking the talk!…in participating in the ordination as well as in your equanimous response to the “sentence” 😉

    May the Bhikkhuni Sangha prosper & bring benefits to all beings.

    Metta 🙂

  8. After reading this message of Aj Brahm’s as well as listening to his talk on Nov 6, I can only say that I am a proud Buddhist and a proud disciple of Aj Brahm’s!

    Also, great thanks to Aj Sujato for facilitating communication/ information dissemination regarding this hot issue.

    With metta to all (including the mosquitos that bit me),


  9. This storm shows why it is important to hear two sides of a story.
    Ajahn Chandako’s paints a rather unpleasant motive to Ajahn Brahm’s involvement in the bhikkhuni ordination.
    I can only hope the storm shall pass soon, and all manners of things shall be well.

  10. Ven Ajahn Brahm
    I have been a follower of yours for many many years and can only say I am horrified and terribly deeply saddened by the present situation.
    From a venerable of your understanding and calibre one had expected much much more than ‘we realised it was a sensitive matter and resolved to keep it in-house’ a matter of this magnitute. To another person I would say, ‘in other words you knew yourself it would be disapproved by your seniors so decided to keep it secret and present them with a fait-accompli, knowing full well that it would cause a schism in the sangha.’ In lay life one would call it cheating, venerable Sir. How could you, venerable sir? Was it for this that you took to robes all those years ago under the shelter of Ajahn Chah? If he had been alive do you truly deeply in your heart believe he would have approved? Or is it immaterial as he is no more? Has he so become no more your teacher? I can only concur your own personal griesf over your mother’s health conditions and the stress of being the world buddhist star and fundraiser finally took its toll. Praise and renown is indeed a terrible hindrance on the path, as is building works.
    May you find your way back to the inner still and deep quietude far away from the clamour that now surrounds you, as the damage has now been done. May you prosper ever more in the path.
    Respectfully and with metta

    • Dear Kaushi,

      Thanks for your contributions. Even though i deeply disagree, I still take them to heart – although I doubt if Ajahn Brahm is reading every comment on this blog!

      On the question of schism, I have already countered this twice this morning, please see my previous posting here.

      As to questions of motivation, having been a close student of Ajahn Brahm’s for many years, and having been in close consultation with him regarding bhikkhunis for a long time, I can categorically say that the unwholesome motivations imputed to him here and elsewhere, such as in Ajahn Chandako’s article, are totally false and without any basis whatsoever.

      Furthermore, such claims disrespect the women involved. The request for ordination, while certainly encouraged by Ajahn Brahm, ultimately comes from the nuns. Everything we did was to support these women in their spiritual practice, to right the injustice done to women in Buddhism, and to help build a better sasana for the future.

  11. Ajahn Brahm, you have acted in a way that upholds, reflects and nurtures the many things I value about the practise of Buddhism. Thank you.

  12. In trying to summarise the issues please note that I regard Ajahn Brahm as my spiritual teacher and I have nothing but the highest respect for his work in the W/west to establish a firm foundation for an emergent sangha (lay and monastic). In this he has achieved what few monastic teachers have been able to do sustainably…Additionally Ajahn Brahm knows the vinaya and I am sure is fully aware of the repercussions of actions in ordaining women as full preceptor bhikkunis. Here are some points that we do need to consider in the discussion: Laity are confused right now and embroiled in an unnecessary controversy. Ultimately we all agree that both Women and men should be supported in their opportunity to practice.

    1. Bhikkhuni Ordination: Good or bad? this is not really the issue; it is schismatic in the Theravada tradition for reasons of history (which I will not go into here).
    2. In using the Buddha as authority is textually appropriate, but remember the Buddha is no longer alive; there is only an imagining, and folk get into debates about interpretations of what the Buddha did or did not say (much of this was passed down as early oral tradition).
    3. The Buddha’s sangha (and various lineages) are the agents responsible for perpetuating the Dhamma-Vinaya; thus one’s monastic teacher and/or Preceptor (differentially identified in the ordination ritual) should be the highest authority (i.e. – in this case Ajaan Chaa and/or his most senior pupil after his demise); the maintenance of monastic lineages are critical not just to Theravadins but other traditions (hence we have many vinayas throughout history to the present); simply put -the focus must be on the lineage teacher (not principles, but practices).
    4. As I understand, Bhikkhuni ordination in fact requires both bhikkhu and bhikkuni qualified Preceptors (according to the vinaya): a second ordination in fact. Therefore, it may be argued that the ordination is null and void; it may only be partially valid as it is right now. It is not just Thailand; forget Thailand for a moment: I am living in Vietnam and the same argument is used here with the Mahayana monastic sangha in the north.
    5. Ajahn Brahm, as the many letters circulating have noted, was ordained in the Thai Sangha; let’s not get too upset with the Thai Sangha as such if they are not happy (conservative and tradition-bound as they are, as reflected in the Council of Elders/Ministry of Education, Religious Affairs department which monitors these matters). They may argue that a way out of the dilemma could be re-ordination in a different tradition as dissenting monks have done throughout history: This would be a most radical option.
    I hope there is a compromise position to satisfy both opinions; though it is hard to see right now where that is. In the end that is all they are: (strong) views and opinions. There is a danger that these will become an obsession; a passion that is hot and not easy to control. Coolness, as no doubt Ajahn Brahm would say, should win out in the end.

    • Dear Jim,

      Good to hear your voice on this forum. I hope things are well for you in Vietnam.

      Just a couple of points i would make. For some reason schism has come up many times already today, so let me repeat once more: ordaining bhikkhunis is in no way schismatic, there has been no schism, and schism cannot stem from this, either from the Vinaya perspective or from the Thai perspective. Bodhinyana is no longer a branch of WPP, and that is the only decided outcome. The Thai Sangha in general has made no reaction, and I doubt if they will do so.

      And re. your point 3, which claims that the lineage teachers must be the highest authority: this is directly against the repeated and clear statements in the Suttas and Vinaya, that it is the teachings that are the guide, not any individual. Even in the Vinaya, while one should respect one’s preceptor (which Ajahn Brahm did, as he was told by his preceptor Somdet Buddhajahn that there was no objection under Thai law to doing bhikkhuni ordination overseas), but still if the preceptor or teacher is following a course that is not Dhamma or not Vinaya, they should be disobeyed. The lineage masters have no authority at all, and have no power under the Vinaya. Theirs is, or should be, a matter of guidance and advice, not of authority. The texts say the senior monks ‘should be listened to’ (sotabbaṁ maññati), not that they ‘should be obeyed’. Once they overstep that line – which is subtle but crucial – then the tradition has left its focus on the Buddha, and turned into a guru’s tradition.

      Ironically enough, this was precisely the criticism that Mongkut made about the Thai Sangha of his day.

    • “Additionally Ajahn Brahm knows the vinaya and I am sure is fully aware of the repercussions of actions in ordaining women as full preceptor bhikkunis (sic).”
      Jim – not sure if you are aware, Ajahn Brahm did not act as preceptor to the bhikkhunis – only another bhikkhuni can act as preceptor. Ajahn Brahm just gave the bhikkhu sangha’s approval to the ordination – Bh. Sujato can clarify the process.

    • Just noticed this post when reading Bhante Sujato’s new comment. Mike who was using the same computer wrote it and accidentally forgot to change the name. But can’t a monk ordain a woman? If a woman at the time of the Buddha gained faith in the Dhamma by listening to Ven Mahamogallana, for instance, and let’s say she goes to him and asks for refuge and wishes to follow in the Buddha’s steps and live the renunciate life. He won’t say ‘nope cuz ur a female’. That’s crazy and not Dhamma. Maybe Bhante Sujato or Brahmali can clarify if it is possible for a woman to be ordained by a monk. It seems if it allows her to get more inspiration in the path, then why not? Let her live the renunciate life.

    • I’m taking this from Bhante’s research.
      Before the Bhikkhuni sangha was properly established, Bhikkhus ordained the Bhikkhunis. Later, IIRC, the Bhikkhunis didn’t like that arrangement (probably because they were the ones who had to live with the ordained women, and/or because the female candidates didn’t like being examined by men) so then the Buddha made it so that the Bhikkhunis ordained the Bhikkhunis and the Bhikkhus confirmed the ordination.

      However when introducing the new ordination procedure, the Buddha did NOT declare the old one invalid – unlike with the Bhikkhu Sangha where the “ehi bhikkhu” and 3-refuges going-forth methods were declared void when the new one was introduced.

      As such it’s a bit of a grey area. If we take the more compassionate interpretation then yes – Bhikkhus can ordain women, it was allowed by the Buddha and not ever declared unallowed.

      In the Buddha’s time, a few early Bhikkhunis were ordained by the Buddha with the ‘ehi bhikkhuni’ method. More generally, in the case where a woman gained faith in a Bhikkhu and wanted to go forth, he sent her to the Bhikkhunis (even if she didn’t necessarily have faith in them) – so that is the preferred method today.

    • Hi, thanks Blake! Very clear answer. A big Sadhu:) Thanks for sharing that, it does shed light on the situation:)

  13. I’d like to just focus on the chronology of events leading up to the Garudhammas and the rationale why they are evidence the Garudhammas were not laid down in the manner described. Can someone point me to where I can find this? I understand that Aj Sujato addressed this but I don’t know where I can dig it up.

    • Dear Yu ban,

      There are various essays on here. This work, unlike a blog, takes a lot of time, and I am revising my writing on mahapajapati and that whole story. I hope it will be ready in 2010. meanwhile, Ven Analayo is tackling the subject from a somewhat different angle. It is also addressed in various scholarly works, buy among others, Ute Husken, Ann Heirmann, Liz Williams…

    • I heard somewhere in this website that Bhante G disregards the garudhammas, does anyone living there know if it’s true? That’s actually very inspiring if he does disregard them.

      We should have the right to question things written in the books that don’t fit with the rest of the Buddha’s teachings, like the garudhammas. They do not inspire faith in lay people. I encourage the monasteries who do apply them to question these garudhammas since it’s disgusting seeing them applied.

  14. Ven. Sir

    I have been closely following the discussion from the beginning but so far abstained from “taking sides” or emotionally involved in the line of argument. However, after having seen how the line of arguments from all sides but the English sangha have been put on the table, I have drawn my own conclusions:

    1. The bhikkhuni ordination was in essence justified, based on Lord Buddha’s intention to establish a fourfold “dhamma structure” himself. Vinaya and suttas seem to support this.
    2. Tradition is condition. Conditions are subject to change. Making them the signpost for approved behaviour and decision seems like a pretty unskillful approach.
    3. I doubt that the Thai authorities of WPP are unskillful as such, but perhaps they are not all that enlightened yet? Not for me to judge their line of argument, only to the degree that it seems to be legalistic in terms of Thai rules, not vinaya rules. I.e. irrelevant for the assessment of bhikkhuni ordination – on which they haven’t expressed a formal statement yet in scholastic terms (only in Thai legal framework)
    4. As WPP is skirting the rightfulness of ordination, it suggests their scholastic arguments might be weak – probably referencing the lineage issue. The lineage issue is irrelevant as far as it represents a traditional approach (see point 2).
    5. The WPP dismissal of Ajahn Brahm is based on “procedure” or failure to adhere to a specific cultural setup. This might be personal upsetting to the people involved but again, if the vinaya is the rulestick to follow, never mind the cultural background.

    In summary: Perhaps the whole issue has not been handled with perfect skillfulness by either party but hey, that’s life. Get over it (with all respect and metta to all parties involved 🙂 ).

    I fully believe that the Australian bhikkhuni and Ajahns Brahm and you, Ven. Sir, have acted with the best of intentions and in your best knowledge that you are following the vinaya and Lord Buddha’s explicit intentions. Personally, I would appreciate a stronger emergence of a “Western” Buddhism that leaves the cultural and traditional frills of his historical paths behind. I trust that Ajahn Brahm could become one of the exemplary leaders to actually encourage similar minded and good practitioners on such a path. I for sure can say I will fully support him and like-minded Buddhist practitioners (be they monk or layperson).

    With metta,

  15. First of all, I am very supportive of Bikkuni ordination by Ajahn Brahm; but from my point of view, I don’t understand why this is such an issue. If Buddha’s mission or path was about finding out the truths about our existence, why the followers of Buddha cling to the past? Isn’t the truth, nibbana,a present reality available to everybody? Every path is an expression of the culture from which it originates. Buddhism is no exception, and Gauthama Buddha was a man of his times, and that is the main reason behind the story about Ananda mediating in the first Bikkuni ordination. I seriously doubt this story but I am not surprised by it.
    I really like Ajahn Brahm’s teachings and his interpretation of Buddhism— the theme of compassion,love, and letting go– but I can not identify with all these Vinaya rules.
    If Ajahn wants to ordinate Bukkunis and there are females who are willing to be ordinated and live the lives according to Vinaya, it is certainly NOT my business to pass judgements on them. Good on them!

  16. History in the making. Ajahn Brahm did the right thing here, and there is now the opportunity to form an authentically western Buddhist lineage, for the first time in human history! It was only a matter of time, and hopefully this is just the beginning!

  17. Hi all,
    It is no use talking so much and defending or offending so much. Now, what is the next course of action to prevent schism in the theravada tradition?

    Our suggestion, if permission be granted for us to voice out is that, since this issue was caused by the 4 Bikkunis who wanted to be ordained (& their Preceptors )that caused Ajahn Brahm alone to be expelled from WPP, it now lies in the hands of the 4 Bikkunis & Preceptors to mend the split.It is in the interest of the 4 Bikkunis, Preceptors and all Buddhist community, to voluntarily denounce their ordination so that Ajahn Brahm & the two monastries can be reinstated back to WPP international tradition or theravada tradition (not only Thai but other countries as well).

    Ajahn Brahm could have acted out of his mega metta and mega compassion to accomodate everybody in the world, knowing him for his unselfish boundless love for all, regardless of creed race or religion (universal love).

    The ball now should lies with the 4 Bukkinis and the Bikkunis Preceptor, Ajahn Brahm should not take all the blame (as he is more famous, so all arrows on him which is not fair as other monks and nuns were involved too so is the Aust Buddhist Association). Surely Ajahn’s intention meant good for all community being a very accomodating monk and a vastly compassionate one who has sacrificed his whole life for the Dhamma and its propagation. Our appeal – Please, WPP, be understanding and compassionate and forgive all of them for this enthusiastic impulsive act!Lord Buddha – ” Hatred is appeased by LOVE”- Dhammapada

    • Dear felicia,

      Thanks for your comment, and while i disagree strongly with your conclusions, it is good to see that you are acknowledging the agency of the bhikkhunis in this, and not just the bhikkhus. You are indeed quite correct to say that it is the bhikkhuni’s wish to take full ordination that is the prime motivating factor, and the critical juncture in the ordination.

      But you are mistaken to blame them, or Ajahn Brahm, for causing a ‘schism’. As I have said over and again, there is no schism or anything like it. All that has happened formally is that Ajahn Brahm’s monastery Bodhinyana has been delisted as a branch of Wat Pa Pong. In that sense it is now no different than thousands of other monasterys. Other monks might take their own personal punitive actions against Ajahn Brahm and the monastics who took part in the ordination, which has already started to happen, but these are entirely the vengeful acts of certain individuals and nothing to do with Wat Pa Pong or the Sangha at large.

      If you look at what schism and disharmony in the sangha really mean, you will find that they refer to intentional acts: one does something in order to split the Sangha. No-one in the ordination had any intention to split the Sangha, and we have carried out no act that excludes others or tries to separate or divide anyone. If you listen to the talk given by the president of the BSWA, Dennis Sheppard, after returning from the expulsion meeting at WPP, he says with a warm and genuine spirit, that all the monks, even those who actively tried to have Bodhinyana expelled, are invited and welcomed back. For more discussion on this, see my earlier post on Causing Trouble.

    • My journey has been long and my dissatisfaction with the state of the nations and world religions draws me to the unarguable logic of buddhism. Gradually I am finding peace and true happiness through study and listening to talks by Ajahn Brahm and other teachers.
      Sadly I came across this issue which, although learnedly discussed here and elsewhere, sits uncomfortably with what I respect most about buddhism, seemingly having more to do with that reliance on ritual which is the downfall of world religions.
      Surely those who have spent years in devotion to the teachings of buddha in great humility and humanity must realise that this petty difference in the scheme of things causes great pain to those who seek only to live better lives.

    • I too am a Buddhist laywoman. I have been a Buddhist now for some thirty years. I have also waited thirty years to see the full ordination of women. It is not Ajahn Brahm who should denounce the ordination. Nor should the women denounce their ordination. It is the WPP who has chosen to expel Ajahn Brahm, a courageous and compassionate teacher who has recognized the simple fact that, without the full ordination of women, Buddhism cannot survive in the west.

      An essential truth of Buddhism is change: it is noteworthy that the WPP has not seemed to be able to recognize this yet.

  18. Ajahn Brahm has shown both courage and wisdom. He has clearly recognized that full Bikkhuni ordination for women is essential if Buddhism is to survive in the west. There are already thousands of us who recognize this – and he has acted to secure the spread of the Buddha Dharma and ensure its future in the west.

    It is interesting to note that this act of compassion, which should be a matter of course, rattles so many egos and upsets so many people.

  19. I once asked my teacher (who was the first Tibetan to sponsor full Bikkhuni ordination for women in Canberra 2003), what he thought of what he had done and all he said was it will be easier for the second. Ajahn Brahm is very couragous to be the first.
    It still sadden me when I see change/fear causing so much suffering. Hence I suppose why the first noble truth is the first 🙂

  20. Ajahn Brahm did the right thing, Sadhu!

    This issue (about Bikkhuni ordination) should be discussed long, lets use this opportunity to reach a conclusion that is suitable to modern world, put aside traditional and personnel pride.

  21. Ven Sujato would it not be more appropriate not to encourage elevating one tradition over another After all our path is determined by our Karma Not to say our Karma does not include the need to overcome centuries of encouraging division. I know Sangha from all traditions that hold the traditional vows and ones from all traditions that dont. Most are doing their best. Same Buddha different incense – all to relieve suffering. 🙂

  22. I have benefitted greatly from Ajahn Brahm’s teachings and those of visiting teachers, via podcast. Over time, and partly through these generous offerings, I am coming to identify as buddhist. Here is my opinion, offered just as another human being.

    These events are – just events. This is samsara, this is what happens. People are sometimes unskillful. It’s sometimes not clear who is “in the right” – but when we respond with anger or resentment in our heart, we are not benefitting ourselves or the other. It is so easy to get caught up with who is right. Personally I feel the ordination of bhikkunis is inevitable and the distress (and resulting anger) of the Thai sangha is probably also inevitable. I wish them well. And I am very glad and grateful that it is possible for women to be ordained in Australia. I don’t understand (or really wish to understand) the ins and outs of the arguments about it. But I do wish for all of you involved that you are able to speak out of deepest compassion for all who are concerned with this.

    I hope this doesn’t sound too corny – but I this we need to slow this down and use it as an opportunity to practice equanimity and metta.

  23. By the way, no where in the dhamma does it say…to free all sentinent beings from suffering and assist them to find enlightenment (except of course if they are female)!
    The nature of the/our Buddha being is to be reborn as a man or a women in order to fulfill our kamic destiny, and to ultimately find enlightenment. Therefore, as ageless, genderless bodies of mind, whether we are born female or male in this lifetime is irrevelant. We all take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. We are all sentinent beings who if we desire, can become Buddhist Monks or Nuns to seek enlightenment for the benefit of all beings on this planet.

    Furthermore, given the state of this planet, the last thing we should be doing is holding back Good human beings from progressing spiritually due to some old-fashioned chauvinistic dogma!


  24. And so it seems here lies the lesson that clinging or attachment to one of the Five Khandras; FORM (i.e. gender) can only lead to suffering…….
    In metta.

  25. I left the armed forces in 2003 and have been unable to settle into civilian life. I have reached a point where I feel I have lived my life and I have made a transition now to just existing. I have no pleasure, no purpose, nothing left. I have searched my soul, read books, listened to the most fantastic talks from Ajahn Brahm. I have made every effort to step back into life and have no realised that I am unable to do that. I have decided that being stuck in existance is not an option. Further to this decision, I am now looking at ending my pain and suffering once and for all.

    • Dear Darren,

      Are you considering leaving the worldly life to ordain/ embark on the Middle Path in order to end the pain and suffering of endless rounds of rebirth once and for all? The Noble Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha is the way to go. Any shortcut will not solve the problem. The Saleyyaka Sutta mentioned that “some beings here, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell ……and some beings here, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in a happy destination ” depending on their words thoughts and actions. The only way out of the endless cycle of sufferings is through practice and cultivation while in this life. Best wishes to you.

  26. The lineage of Bikkhu Sangha is unbroken since Lord Buddha’s era to this date. There is no doubt about it. After Bikkuni Sangamitta came to Sri Lanka along with the branch of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, there started the era of Bikkuni Sangha in Sri Lanka. It is not believed by the whole community of Monks that the lineage of Bikkuni Sangha is unbroken. If the lineage is broken, it can only be initiated by another Buddha. Unlike Lord Buddha’s era, there is no harmony among Buddhist monks to decide whether the lineage is broken or unbroken. Since the ultimate goal of Nibbana can be achieved even by observing 10 precepts, it is so appropriate to practice the perfect Eightfold Path rather than causing disharmony among the Sangha. Since there are so many unforeseen powers to eradicate Buddhism from this world, now it is the time for all wise Buddhists to come to their senses. Debating over an issue is not a perfect solution. We have to always wish for the unity among Sangha.

  27. Dear Ajan Brahm

    I was raised in the Christian tradition; a Catholic from birth. But something wasn’t quite right; though devout all my life, my religion didn’t really fit. Then I went to serve as a volunteer in Laos, living in that Buddhist community. I became attached, didn’t return home, and after some time, though I didn’t realize it, I became a Lao person. I had changed, and in the process I lost my dependency upon my Catholic religion. I had reached independence. I didn’t need any religion.

    Then one day I discovered Buddha’s fundamental teaching and discovered I was Buddhist myself and, for all I know, had brought my Buddhism with me from birth. I embraced it with a feeling of a destination realised. But once again, something didn’t quite fit. My Lao people, to whom I am connected and who I love dearly, have a Lao cultural perspective of Buddha’s teaching, and I am Western, from the classic Western, Christian tradition, and so I can’t value the cultural externals as they do. So I have to go my own way.

    And so, for the record, I offer the following support:

    Many of our dear brethren in Thailand fear that our Buddhist society here in Australia may have become a cult. I understand their fear, because I live in their world. But I have a special understanding. I too have come to Buddhism from a Western, Christian origin as has Ajan Brahm, and for me his perspective is the link between the Orient and the Occident. Culture may separate us, but Buddha’s teaching is the core, uniting Dharma that nothing can disrupt.

    Rob George

  28. There are 10 Supreme Powers of a Thathagatha (Lord Budda). Out of these 10 Supreme Powers the first one is, A Thathagatha has fully comprehended the true nature of all natural phenomena. He completely understood the past, present and the future. He completely understood what is likely to happen and what is not likely to happen. This is the first Supreme Power of The Thathagatha. Lord Buddha proclaims His seniority among all Gods and humans because of His Supreme Powers. A Thathagatha can roar like a lion among Gods and humans because of His Supreme Powers. (Maha Seehanadha Sutta, Majjima Nikaya) Lord Buddha himself proclaimed that, it is not possible for anyone to deny these facts with proof.
    If any one goes through Dhiiga Nikaya, Majjima Nikaya, Samyuttha Nikaya, Angutthara Nikaya and Kuddhaka Nikaya will surely understand the truth of this Supreme Power.
    If one still has doubts in Buddha, Dhamma or Sangha this shows his weakness in realizing Dhamma. Out of the ten Fetters, when three Fetters are exhausted, you achieve the first Stage of Sainthood (Sothapanna, Stream Winner)
    The three Fetters are,

    1.Sakkaya Dhitti – Identity View – A person considers five aggregates of clinging as my self, mine or my soul and he considers this physical body which is derived from these four great elements, (patavi, aapo, thejo and vaayo) as my self, mine or my soul, without the real understanding in them.

    2.Vichkichcha – Doubt in Buddha, Dhamma & Sangha, Doubt about past (from where did I come?) Doubt about present (Who am I), Doubt about future (To where will I go?)

    3.Seelabbatha Paramasa – Unneccessary Rituals and Observances

    When these first three Fetters are exhausted, that person is called a ‘Sothapanna’, he or she will have unshakable confidence in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. He or She will not be born in four states of deprivation anymore and will be born for maximum of seven more life times.
    If one really wants to achieve the goal of Nibbana, the basic qualification is the ‘Shradda” (confidence in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha) So If someone says that he can’t agree with Dhamma or Vinaya, please be careful.

    • Confidence in Buddha is simple, confidence in ones own superiority of knowledge is dangerous, would you agree? Words are just that, they change, meaning changes as does time, so teachings are not static things, to be wielded as blunt instruments, this is not subtle…so speak plainly…when you say basic qualification, ‘shradda’ are you defensive or is it inductive teaching? I am interested because if we are not clear and people misconstrue our hearts, is this not adding toward negative karma?

  29. If it is humane, if it is fair, if it makes sense, how can it goes against Buddha’s teaching?

    I am a layperson so I don’t really know the holy scriptures and all. But I think Buddhism should be very simple because I read somewhere that “Buddhahood is in our heart”. I believe we all know what’s right and wrong if we listen closely to ourselves.

    To me, the same opportunity for men and women to practice Buddhism seem fair, humane and makes sense.

    • I agree Mariani, we can devote our minds to bigger problems can we not, like faminine, drought, synthetic virology and alike, seems waste of energy, in times needing great compassionate leadership in all too familiar corrupt times. Will human history ever evolve into something more?

  30. Hi, I am someone who has been drawn toward buddhism since an early age, but have not become wholly identified with a sect or mundanely manifest religious heirarchy, they scare me. Look at this world, it does not need more conflict, it needs some simple forgiveness, not high-handedness. If I as one human am to believe in ‘the way’ I thought it through the shining example of the masters, but I am constantly uncertain that this path is not as trecherous as so many others? Yes we are preparing for death, so let the sangha get teaching and not paralysing the laity with doubts and dead semantics. It is a century in which women should be equal without question, any husband who really knows his wife can tell you this! I mean no disrespect, it is simply concerning in a deeply troubled world that a philosophy belonging to all is becoming so institutional. To Ajahn Brahm, I hope your friends remain just that and may we all live in harmony and keep learning as ‘we’ can from each other. To the Ajahns whose lives are so inspirational toward others inserting meditation into thier lives thankyou so much for your convictions and deep efforts without which dhukka in lives less well lived would have no pen.

  31. Hullo,
    im a lay meditator from Rome. Given the scant news we receive here about this issue I would like to know about it first-hand, in addition to obviously spend an wholesome period in the monastery after having done the same at Santacittarama, Amaravati and Dhammapala. So I would willingly spend a period of time a the Bodhinayana monastery in August but I am not clear how to state my intention given they have no email address.

    Could someone help?
    Fabrizio Bartolomucci

    • if this australian temple has been delinked with the Thai temple concerned, is it on its own, or can it seek another linkage with perhaps a Burmese or Srilankan temple? How about the dhamma progress of the 4 Bhikkunis? Can someone pl tell us.

    • Hi Pandpere,

      Bodhinyana continues to have close links with a range of different monastic communities. The bhikkhuni Sangha is thriving, although Venerable Vayama’s health has sadly deteriorated. Please check the bswa.org website for more details.

  32. This is what we need in a contemporary spiritual leader! I see this in Ajahn Braham
    He is able to move from tradition and gives women a stage to play in leadership role in Buddhism
    We must admire great minds such as Ajahn Brahm who will no doubt transform the surface of the earth with his sharp yet gentle perception on how we humans lead our lives!
    Such a wonderful mind in todays rigid mind of many so called leaders!

  33. Hello all. I am an American and have been drawn to Buddhism because it is one of the only sanely implemented large faiths in the world today, except for this one glaring discrepancy regarding the attitude toward women. I was blessed to be able to take a “Buddhist Philosophical Traditions” course at the local university where I learned of this mark against Buddhism. I commented to the professor that it would probably be rectified here in America. My hats off to the courage of the Australian women and Ajahn Braham for beating us to it.

    May it be a celebrated day in the future traditions of Buddhism.

    With metta,


    • Thanks, Zack, we’re doing our best. Just to say, though, that equality for women is not just a Western thing, or an American thing. The vast majority of bhikkhunis are, of course, Asians living in Asia, and the longing for equality and fairness, while it may be expressed in different ways, is felt everywhere.

  34. Hi my name is Alona. I am at a beginning of finding out about Buddhism and meditation practice. I am following Ajahn Brahm’s talks on You Tube. I have being following for 6 month also reading all his books. I really feel that door of his heart open to every thing and every body , he does not differentiate he just loves and he wants to show the way to unconditional love and happiness. That is why Buddism and Ajahn Brahm is make sence to me to follow. I also know that many Thailand women and children are subjects to sexual exploitation. Maybe if Thai monks will open their hearts and help Thai women feel included and part of the love they promoted. The love and enlightenment will spread much faster in their own country and help build hopeful future. I am grateful that Ajahn Brahm doing this around the world.

    Forever grateful,


  35. According to Ajahn Brahm, if Buddhism is a cake we try to cover it by icings of cultural belief. At the end we will eat the icings as it is sweet but we rarely eat the cake. Most Buddhist countries give more attentions to rituals and very few people will practice the core teachings of Buddhism.

  36. ”It’s strange that not a single person seriously considers his own life. For ages, we’ve been carrying around something uncooked. And we comfort ourselves with the fact that it’s the same for the others too. That’s what I call group stupidity: thinking that we just have to be like the others.

    Enlightenment means creating your own life. It means waking up from group stupidity.” – Rōshi Kōdō Sawaki

  37. Bhikkuni ordination is wrong, and a matter of division in the Sangha. Any western concepts are an evil intrusion into the harmony of Sangha life. Buddha warned on his Parinibbâna to take heed from women. They should never be considered equal in the Sangha. None of these evil innovations will bring them closer to Enlightenment, which does not depend on changing the social order.

    • This is news to me. I can’t claim any great scholarship in Buddhism but what little I’ve learnt does not exclude women from Nibbana!! Reading your post reminds me of the way women are treated are treated in Islam. Bhikkuni ordination – a western concept??

    • May you become more aware to real suffering very soon… I am sure you cannot think gender is the matter here. And as Lord Buddha so intelligently had women in the Sangha despite his own strong cultural sexist background, you should follow his example… Learn humility and go to your own mum to apologize to her for treating her as an animal not capable and worthy of understanding and awareness.

  38. Ven Sujato : I asked this question from many respected Sri Lankan visiting monks to Perth. Unfortunately , their answers were quite opposite to Ven Ajahn Brahmn’s thinking. Can I kindly and with lot of respect, ask you to show me the exact Sutta , Vinaya chapters where the Buddha has clearly mentioned on this ? By the way I never miss your Friday night Dhamma Talks at Nollamara. With metta , Amila ( Perth )

  39. Ven Sujato : My apology , my question was about Bikkhuni Ordination ! I know as a fact that the Dhamma-Vinaya are clearly preached and practised by the buddha. There fore I can not understad the division between western and eastern monks on this Bikkhuni Ordination issue.
    According to one senior Sri Lankan monk , the bikkuni order was ended a few hundred years ago when the last bikkhuni was disappeared or died. Is that right ? Or it was not the case ?
    Can any senior monk re establish the bikkuni order ?
    Where does this matter discussed in the dhamma vinaya ?
    Appreciate your any thought or word of advise on this !
    With metta,

    • Hi Amila,

      I have spoken and written a great deal about this issue over the past ten years, so please forgive me if I am brief here.

      I can not understad the division between western and eastern monks on this Bikkhuni Ordination issue

      There is no division between western and eastern monks over bhikkhuni ordination. This idea is part of the disinformation campaign spread by those opposed to letting women have a fair go. Many monks in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, and elsewhere in Asia support bhikkhuni ordination, while many of the western monks oppose it. The problem is not a cultural one. It is that some monks are sexist.

      According to one senior Sri Lankan monk , the bikkuni order was ended a few hundred years ago when the last bikkhuni was disappeared or died. Is that right ? Or it was not the case ?

      The bhikkhuni order has always existed in East Asian communities. In any case, the Vinaya explicitly states that the monks may perform bhikkhuni ordination.

      Can any senior monk re establish the bikkuni order ?

      No. Nor can any senior monk ban the bhikkhuni order. In fact, being a senior monk gives you precisely no power to do anything according to the Vinaya.

      The bhikkhuni order was established by the Buddha under the Vinaya, and no monk, or even any Sangha, can change that. The Vinaya also says that it is the duty for monks to perform bhikkhuni ordinations in accordance with the Vinaya, and that monks should not fail to support bhikkhuni ordinations when they are needed.

      Where does this matter discussed in the dhamma vinaya ?

      The main discussions on bhikkhuni ordination are found in the Bhikkhuni Khandhaka, the 20th book of the Khandhakas: http://suttacentral.net/en/pi-tv-kd20

      As with most Vinaya issues, however, there are relevant passages found in many places throughout the Vinaya.

      I hope this has been of some help. May I suggest that if you’re interested in this issue you can read some of the essays I have on this blog and on santipada.org, and also the excellent essays by Ven Bodhi and Ven Analayo, among many others on the issue.

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