A couple of days ago I received a message from Bhikkhu Bodhi, with a revision of his previous opinion on the recent bhikkhuni ordination in Perth. Essentially, he totally supports bhikkhuni ordination but wishes we had gone about it differently. I’ll post the text of this below. It’s taken a couple of days to get around to putting this up; I’ve been mostly away from Santi, and just catching up. But also I’m in the middle of a long reply to Ven Bodhi asking him to reconsider his reconsideration, which I haven’t been able to finish yet. But it seems his new letter has ‘gone the rounds’, so I should put it up here to show good faith. I’ll let you know how this develops over the next few days.
Nov. 6, 2009
Dear Ven. Sujato,
Over the past few days I have obtained more information about the background to the bhikkhuni ordination in Perth than I had available to me last week, when I wrote my letter of congratulations. This more recent information has given me a fuller and clearer picture of the implications of the ordination. While I did expect that Ajahn Brahm and you would be ostracized by the wider WPP Sangha, at the time I wrote I did not realize that relations between monastic communities and among the individual monks that comprise this tradition were as tight and communally determined as they actually are. In the light of my recent insights into the way this tradition functions, I have been compelled to revise the opinion I expressed in the letter I sent you last week and which I approved being posted on your website. I would appreciate it if you would also post this letter on the same website to round out my assessment of the ordination.
I first want to make it absolutely clear that in principle I fully support bhikkhuni ordination. I regard the women who have taken this ordination, whether from lineages based in the so-called “Mahayana countries” or from the recently emergent Theravada bhikkhunis, as legitimately ordained bhikkhunis, fully entitled to participate in the Sangha acts prescribed for them in the Vinaya. I also believe that a full-scale revival of the Bhikkhuni Sangha and its unqualified acceptance by the Bhikkhu Sangha is an imperative for the Theravāda tradition in our time.
At the same time, however, in view of the intimate communal structure of the WPP Sangha and the close bonds between the abbots of the monasteries belonging to this tradition, I have been regretfully forced to the conclusion that Ajahn Brahm and yourself were at fault for proceeding in the hasty and secretive way in which you conducted the ordination. In my opinion, in view of the fact that Ajahn Brahm had been an important and much respected member of this community, he should have discussed the issue openly and fully at a meeting with all its prominent representatives, and patiently attempted to prevail upon them with the art of persuasion. You might object that he (and yourself) have tried doing so for years without success, but I am not sure that there has not been substantial progress in this area. Don’t forget that several of the European abbots and siladharas attended the conference at Hamburg, which in itself marked a significant step forward. Further, and especially, a World Abbots’ Meeting was scheduled to be held at Bodhinyana Monastery in December, with the bhikkhuni issue given a prominent place on the agenda. You would only have had to wait patiently for another six weeks to bring the issue to a head.
I believe that, even if you both had felt that the urgency of bhikkhuni ordination had reached a “tipping point,” the meeting in December would have served as the ideal venue to press for a final decision. Even if you were pessimistic that the meeting would have had fruitful results, it still could have served as a final testing ground. If, at that meeting, the international abbots had approved bhikkhuni ordination, at least for Western Australia, you would have been at liberty to arrange the ordination in harmony with the wider WPP Sangha (at least the international branches) and thus hurt feelings would have been minimized. If, on the other hand, the proposal to conduct bhikkhuni ordination was flatly rejected, Ajahn Brahm could have made a reasonable choice. He could either have decided to withdraw from the WPP network and arrange the ordination as a fully autonomous elder monk; or else, while still belonging to the WPP Sangha, he could have conducted the ordination in defiance of the prevailing decision and risked excommunication. In such an event, at least, the decision to proceed with bhikkhuni ordination would have been made openly and after a final attempt at persuasion had failed. Six more weeks of waiting, and the issue could have been decided by a simple up or down vote. As it is, by conducting the ordination in a secretive way, without giving sufficient heed to the opinions and feelings of others in his tradition, he has caused divisions, belligerence, and pain which, with more circumspection, might have been avoided or at least reduced.
The opinion I express here is in full accord with the qualifications that I made in the full version of my Hamburg presentation, which I will cite as an appendix to this letter. Please be assured that, while I express these reservations about the way Ajahn Brahm proceeded in this affair, I still lend him my moral support just as much as I support the revival of bhikkhuni ordination in the Theravāda tradition.