Charter for Compassion (2)

This Sunday 15 Nov the Charter for Compassion is launched globally. The Sydney launch is at the Museum of Sydney, cnr. Bridge and Phillip St., 10.00am sharp. I hope i’ll see you there.

I’ve been asked to say a few words for the event, and here’s my first draft for you – feedback is compassionately welcomed!

There is a huge heart that lies behind the Charter for Compassion.

Karen Armstrong has launched this movement from her own long and painful spiritual journey. Her experience as a Catholic nun was deeply traumatic, and this pain can be sensed in her writings. But for her this pain was not an excuse to give up religion, but to inquire more deeply, to see where the essence of true religion lies, and how this has become twisted by the forces of history. Now she seeks, not the ending of religion, but a renewal based on ‘the greatest idea humanity has ever had’ – the Golden Rule.

For too long our religions have neglected their spiritual and moral inspiration. The Golden Rule is forgotten. The messages of religious founders – radical and challenging voices – have been imprisoned in narrow and sectarian dogmas. Churches, temples, mosques have become, not houses of God, but prisons for the spirit.

In Australia we can witness the mainstream religious groups standing against a Charter of Rights for Australian people. These religious groups currently enjoy the privileged status of being able to discriminate against others on the basis of gender, sexuality, and belief. This shows their failure to practice the Golden Rule, to be able to truly and deeply experience the suffering of those different than ourselves.

I am a Buddhist monk, and I speak to you today as one deeply ashamed and embarrassed. Just two weeks ago my teacher, Ajahn Brahm of Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, was expelled from his tradition for the crime of performing full ordination for women. Buddhism has enjoyed its reputation as the gentlest and kindest of religions, but now we can see that Buddhists, too, often fail in compassion, fail at the Golden Rule.

I have read of the sufferings that Karen Armstrong experienced in her life as a nun, and I have seen the same kinds of suffering in the lives of Buddhist women who wish nothing more than to practice their faith in its fullest. Just as Karen Armstrong has transformed her suffering to become a potent force for religious understanding, I hope that Buddhism, like all the religions represented here today, can rise to the challenge of the Golden Rule and transform their suffering into wisdom.

To do this we will need to critically re-examine our scriptures; re-evaluate our history; reform our institutions; reject narrow legalisms; and steadfastly dissent from any aspect of our tradition that does not fully manifest the Golden Rule. I can see no other way to live a religious life with integrity in our time.


26 thoughts on “Charter for Compassion (2)

  1. Dear Bhante,

    Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu for speaking out loud and clear. Suffice to say in the case of the Buddha Sasana, more often than not, sad to say many of what we see today as popular “Buddhism” is not necessarily Dhamma.

  2. Dear Bhante,

    thanks for inviting us to view your draft speech. Go for it! Don’t hold back, let ‘er rip! Bonza! She’ll be apples! But crikey mate, you’re busier than a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest!

    Your china-plate,


  3. Great speech! You do us proud. Thank you, Bhante. Buddhism needs more voices like yours and Ajahn Brahm.

    As the Dalai Lama has well said, the greatest religion is the religion of compassion.

    Where is the compassion of the WPP ajahns for womenfolk when they deny them their right to ordination and excommunicate one of their own who dared to go against them!

  4. Brought tears to my eyes. As someone who has aspired to be a nun within the WPP sangha I fully resonate with everything you write. Sadhu.

  5. Dear Bhante.

    I know I’m going to sound horribly legalistic, but perhaps the point about AC Brahm’s expulsion could be left a little more vague.

    Yes, we can all see that the denouement to AC Brahm’s refusal to declare the ordinations void was the expulsion. But, could the circumstances of 1 Nov also be read to suggest that the expulsion was driven more by the institutional instinct to discipline AC Brahm for a perceived breach in the “chain of command”?

    Whatever the outcome, your message is timely and you have my support for your campaign.

  6. Sylvester :

    I know I’m going to sound horribly legalistic, but perhaps the point about AC Brahm’s expulsion could be left a little more vague.

    I fully concur with the above comment. I do not think specific details are important or that they would add any value to your talk. In fact, it may just leave a negative impact.

  7. Dear Bhante,

    I read the final Charter today and found it to be incredibly powerful.

    It also got me thinking…. what about the idea of creating some version of a charter for compassion as a foundation for the bhikkhuni ordination/gender equality movement? Something broad and inclusive that people even outside of Theravadan Buddhism (perhaps even Buddhism period) can get behind? Karen Armstrong used her trauma and pain (from being a Catholic nun) to open up dialogue beyond the confines of religion, to encourage global discussion and examination of The Golden Rule.

    Might a similar approach have merit in our situation, or am I way off base here?


    And lo, the cheese AND chocolate did vanish, for they had been tossed upon the altar of the heathen Goddess Brenda.

  8. Bhante Sujato,
    What really deeply inspired me about your work and the work presented at the Bikkhuni Congress was not just the possibility of Bhikkhuni ordination, but that it moves us closer to an “ecumenical” Buddhism – One Dhamma- and away from the clinging to lineages and separate Vinaya traditions (“Three months before my ordination I was sent to Korea, Seoul, to Bo Myunsa temple to study Vinaya with Ven. Bang Joo Suk, the chief abbot of the temple who organized the ordination. I studied the Dharmagupta Vinaya ordination procedure. To my great satisfaction the ordination procedure was same as the Pali Vinaya procedure.” Bhikkhuni Kusuma
    But there are hard lessons in this movement – it is now and always has been a revolution. Returning to the truth of the teachings and remembering the spirit of the Vinaya requires hard work, constant persuasion, courage and at times conflict and risk. It is the larger scale deconstruction of identity – why wouldnt people react as humans react? What can that group learn from our lessons?
    What also inspired me during the congress was the presentation by Bishop Maria Jensen – and how similar the justifications in Christianity were to the justifications in Buddhism – against the ordination of women. Including the predictions on the decline. What does this tell us?
    I would couch the recent events in terms of learning that can be shared and the good work that is being done. Forget the shame and embarrassment bit.(IMHO) Metta

  9. I would just like to speak in support of mentioning the expulsion. Whether it was for the simple fact of ordaining women or for ordaining without obeying the “chain of command” (a rather military resonance there), the fact that it happened in a Buddhist community that is popularly perceived as tolerant, egalitarian and compassionate, and that there are those in the community who are willing to stand up for those values against the hierarchy – that is worth bringing to light. I would support the text remaining unaltered.

  10. I quote a simple passage from the outstanding book, “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramhansa Yogananda about a ‘nun’ who I’ve always worshipped:

    “This evening Bhaduri expounded various philosophical points connected with the life of Mirabai, a medieval Rajputani princess who abandoned her court life to seek the company of sadhus. One great−sannyasi refused to receive her because she was a woman; her reply brought him humbly to her feet:
    “Tell the master,” she had said, “that I did not know there was any Male in the universe save God; are we all not females before Him?” ”

    ~ * ~

    Maybe this incident is enough to trigger the Divine Femininity in us all.. for we forget we are not just Creators, but also the created.
    Hope Buddha shall be engaged in decision-making rather than the “-ism”s.
    Deepti(just another Buddha lover).

  11. What outcome other than hitting back (or taking revenge) at WPP monks actions can be achieved by talking about the details of the ‘expulsion event’ at this forum? As Ven. Brahm already mentioned in his talk, the ideas have been exchanged and it has been agreed to disagree and it is time to move on. I think there is a time and a place to ‘call a spade a spade’ and this forthcoming forum is definitely not the right one.

  12. I fear it’s not so obvious that it was a spade that was thrown at either AC Brahm or the bhikkhuni ordination. Was the expulsion preponderantly motivated by –

    (ii) an overwhelming need to demonstrate to the Thai Mahatherasamakhom that WNPP disassociates itself from the ordination due to WNPP’s unquestioning compliance with secular laws, traditions and mores; or
    (iii) institutional instinct to discipline AC Brahm for a perceived breach in the “chain of command”? Even Nikayas create chains of command…

    Be that as it may, if Bhante feels that misogyny was indeed the contributing/preponderant motive for the expulsion, he should state it as such.

  13. Bhante Sujato,
    On reflection, had the ordination been immediately supported, what would the backlash in Thailand have been like? Was it realistic for us to expect them to openly endorse it? Would it have been possible for them to have been quietly supportive without word getting out to the rest of the Thai forest Sangha tradition? Was the expulsion at all related to the risk a non-expulsion would have posed for them in terms of a wider blowing open of controversy in Thailand? I am guessing these things must have come up in the discussions leading up to the decisions. Or did the reflection not even go beyond the internal “Vinaya” and WPPS concerns? I am not at all surprised that it was not endorsed but I do wonder about the expulsion and whether it had to do with the perceived risk around one lineage to blow open the can in a country that is not so stable at the moment and where there are high tensions in the wider community around the issue. It would take superhuman leadership to navigate these waters. And ultimately the reaction is producing precisely what is needed, an energizing of the lay community and mobilization of support for the Bhikkhunis…interesting…Metta

    • Dear Lisa,

      yes, this is indeed a very interesting question. And you are quite right, the uncertain political landscape is one factor that is going to make the Sangha tend to be more conservative.

      I don’t know what would have happened if WPP had not immediately expelled Ajahn Brahm. I suspect not very much initially. Certainly if WPP had said they were considering the matter, this would have given time for the dust to settles and things to be felt out.

      Personally, I feel that a reasonable response from WPP would have been to state to Ajahn Brahm that bhikkhuni ordination is against their rules, to reprimand him for doing it without involving them, and to tell him they were considering further action. They could then have consulted the Bangkok authorities to see whether they required WPP to take any action. They could have let the news bounce around the wider Sangha and community in Thailand and felt out the response. Given the usual pace ofSsangha activity in thailand, no-one would have thought anything strange if they waited until, say, the June 2010 meetings before making a final decision.

      Why didn’t they do that? I can only say that in my opinion, this is where the irrational takes over. A hardcore group wanted to seize the moment and get rid of Ajahn Brahm.

  14. Me, a Buddhist layperson, is glad to read such words! Hierarchy must be excluded from all Buddhist teachings. Ajahn Brahm is a respectful and great master. His decisions should be independant and they should be respected. He is giving Buddhism his real value and does not follow any wrong and selfish view. Keep going! Renée

  15. Ajahn Sujato:
    I have just read this piece. So beautifully worded. I was so upset when I heard about Ajahn Brahm’s expulsion, so sad. He has conducted himself so compassionately and respectfully during this time. This is what makes him such a great teacher. I am in Canada and listen to his talks each week.Such an inspiration. I greatly enjoy your talks too. You have studied with a great teacher,and are such a delight to listen to. Thank You.

    I bow to you both.


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