While we struggle for a basic acceptance of equality within the Sangha, violence and harm against women permeates our society in far more virulent and disgusting forms. In Sydney the debate about sexism and ‘pro-rape‘ websites in college culture has been reignited once again.

The link between sexism in the Sangha and wider questions of violence against women is something that has, so far as I am aware, been overlooked in this debate. Can it be a coincidence that Thailand, which has perhaps the most clearly male-only policy in the Sangha, is also notorious the world over for its prostitution and child sex-slavery?

One thing is certain: the current inactivity of the male Sangha in Thailand on these issues will change dramatically as women there find their voice. Don’t be surprised if, in the next few decades, we see the rise of the bhikkhuni Sangha in Thailand, and at the same time the decline of these appalling crimes against humanity.

11 thoughts on “Manthink

  1. If university colleges are places where young men and women are hazed into conforming with a patriarchy of open-aggression, religious institutions haze young men and women into conformity with a patriarchy of passive-aggression.


    • Oh, yes, we’re onto it. I’m just waiting to see if they are going to come out of the closet and reveal their true selves… Although i have a pretty good idea already…

  2. Who’s behind dhammalight? This site reads like the Opus Dei of Buddhism.

    As to the topic at hand, I teach university students and have served on the sexual assault committee–it is very troubling. I’ve seen many young women leave university after waking up bruised and beaten after being dosed with the date rape drug, and others after alcohol related sexual assaults. In most cases, the university treats the perpetrator as “innocent until proven guilty”, leaving most young women no choice but to leave.

  3. All this may be The problem of our times – religion should be “the” place where
    it is most important to Have equality – patriarchy may be The reason why we have
    Any problem at all – dhamma is beyond forms ….

  4. Bhante,

    I just listened to the talk you gave before the ordination ceremony at Bodhinyana, and I really appreciate what you said. It was helpful to hear you describe this process as an integral part of your own practice/evolution as a bhikkhu. I’m slowly beginning to notice (only dimly) that this work is the result of so much time, care, and consideration, and that it really isn’t just about social-politics, but about unraveling something deeper and closer to you, to all of us – so close that it’s hard to see. Not many people have the level of interest you do, nor the ability to read, study, contemplate, and analyze this issue in its many layers, and then to frame it within Dhamma practice and present it the way you have done. It’s an incredible gift to the community.

    Conventions do inform our ‘desire’ and ability to aspire towards understanding ultimate truths, so it IS critical that we find A WAY TO RELATE to ourselves and the conventions we live in that will lead to peace, compassion, wisdom, and freedom for all. We need a new model. The conventional man/woman paradigm takes up so much TIME and energy in life, and causes so much pain and frustration, because we never try to understand the dynamic, we’re just fooled by it. We need to relate to one another not just as lovers/haters, hunter/prey, higher-ups/lower-downs, prisoners of desire, prisoners of our fears, but freely and honestly as brothers and sisters (equal in light of death), and as worthy companions along the way.

    You described the four-fold assembly as groups that we belong to, and that the boundaries of these groups aren’t as distinct as we may take them to be. You suggested that we look at the four-fold assembly as something IN each of us, as aspects of ourselves that create a harmonious whole. That’s a beautiful point, and I am so happy to hear it! Framing this particular situation as a living dynamic within my own body-mind experience gives me a very different view, and makes it much more interesting. And more workable.

    You said something like: “A monk takes on the nurturing role of a mother when he looks after a fellow monk who is ill. A monk takes on the role of a layman when building work must be attended to. A monk takes on the role of a father when people go to him for teachings. A monk is like a child who is cared for by laywomen who provide him dana.” And bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen, are like brothers and sisters on the same path. That is to say, these groups aren’t fixed identities: they are dynamics of a living organism, of a harmonious US. When we see US as a living whole, then we ALL need to be here, and we should all be helping each other be here more fully – compassionate cooperation – otherwise it’s a loss for everyone.

    I’ve read some of the jataka stories that are available on line (there must be better versions, I suppose they are best in Pali), and I’ve learned a lot from them. I actually made and illustrated a little book using the tale of the “rabbit in the moon”, but it was only after I finished with the project that I started reading the story in a completely different way. There are many layers to these tales, and they can be quite surprising. With your background and creative understanding, they must be treasure-mines.

    I very much enjoyed your inspired reading of the mora jataka – lots to reflect on. For me it seems especially to make a point of the ways we relate to ‘desire’ and ‘the desired’ (this pull between internal/external, suppression/(impression?)/expression, life/death, going/arriving, dream/reality, desire/fear etc) and the consequences that has in our lives. It’s very informative to read this jataka tale as the journey of desire (rather than a story of particular characters) and to follow the insane journey and where it leads to. Desire is a main character: it moves through beings, possesses them, makes them ‘mad’, deceives them, ties them down, ensnares them, brings death, and leads them on, etc, and it is so insidious because they see it ‘out there’ rather than in themselves! But an important point (I think?) in this story is that desire, eventually – when properly aimed and directed, to the point of maturity – can lead to liberation (abandoning desire by means of desire).

    Why did the peacock leave the world of men in the first place? Because he knew if he lived among men he would fall into danger. He knew the danger of desire, and he was fearful of it in others. He successfully escaped six hunters, but alas (in the maha-mora jataka), the golden peacock was trapped by the seventh hunter who used a hen to lure him into the trap! Desire thus roused, the peacock couldn’t chant the paritta, and he was caught. Desire betrayed him and lured him close to death.

    DESIRE generates a lot of FEAR because we don’t understand it (don’t know how to relate to it) and because we don’t understand desire we become slaves to it. Framing these forces as internal dynamics is very helpful and revealing – teaches us about the middle way! Without understanding this dynamic in ourselves, it is easy to externalize our desires and fears, which only creates unhelpful (fixed) boundaries, habits, and so many problems and obstacles in life.

    The hunter is a servant to desire; he must make the long arduous journey that desire commands. The prey, the precious kill, embodies fear: fear of the ultimate danger, death. These are part of a WHOLE, they come together. But that the last and seventh hunter, upon seeing the peacock, could not – for his life – kill the long-sought-after creature! What an unlikely and powerful transformation! I got goosebumps. To put an end to the hunter’s craft – the endless round of craving and destruction! Right there, the pattern is broken, and this great hunt becomes a tale of lofty transcendence.

    “Like as the serpent casts his withered skin,
    A tree her sere leaves when the green begin:
    So I renounce my hunter’s craft this day,
    My hunter’s craft for ever cast away.”

    “The hunter traversed all the forest land
    To catch the lord of peacocks, snare in hand.
    The glorious lord of peacocks he set free
    From pain, as soon as he was caught, like me.”

    So, too, may we be transformed, as a piece, and as a whole!
    Untill, poof! We break the pattern, unravel and see:
    No one here.

    Khema, true safety in liberation.

  5. Thanks Aj Sujato for articulating into the public sphere this connection between violence and sexism. Yes, the issues of gender equity we’re struggling with within the 4-fold sangha are indeed consistent with those struggles in the broader field within which the sangha exists.

    You may know that in Australia the work around preventing violence against women has shifted emphasis in the last few years. Women used to be blamed for men’s violence toward them in one way or another – you provoked him; or, why don’t you just leave him? etc – but increasingly men are being required to take responsibility for their violent actions. (Violence has been broadened to include psychological and economic control.) So rather than a woman having to flee her home, the perpetrating man is required by law to leave, to attend anger management training etc.

    The application of this new approach is partly thanks to having more women in positions of influence within government and the legislature, as well as having a Prime MInister who is vocal in his opposition to men’s violence against women, and who backs this up with funding. On white ribbon day he stated:

    “Violence against women is the great silent crime of our time…we need to change the attitudes of Australian men. From birth it must be drilled into the conscious and the subconscious of all men that there are no circumstances in which violence against women is acceptable…That needs to be heard from every husband, every father, every partner.”

    Men’s violence against women affects one in three women. The United Nations defines it as:

    “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or
    psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary
    deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life … [It is] a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women.”

    We know that in Victoria the leading cause of death and disease amongst women aged between 15 and 45 is men’s violence against women; and one in three girls is sexually assaulted by age18.

    A few of us have written an article due for publication soon making just that connection between violence against women in the world – so to speak – and the abusive treatment of women within the sangha.

    Ajahn, I agree it’s important that we keep in mind these deeper connections. It is essential that we address the causal factors of the opposition to women’s full participation within buddhism, as a matter of integrity.

    • Dear Cintamani,

      Thanks for the comments. I’m interested in the stats you quote: do you have references for them?

      The recent rape debate alluded to a murky establishment patriarchy, the Sydney establishment, which, so it was said, implicitly endorsed the ‘rape culture’ as a form of male bonding. It is of course well known how violence against women, for example in time of war, creates ‘team spirit’ among men.

      The issue came up when I visited Wat Nanachat a couple of years ago. At the same time as I was being blasted for being a ‘threat’ to WPP, and so on, for supporting bhikkhunis, I was also hearing a very sad story of rape that had occured in one of the branch monasteries. As best as I remember it, what happened was this.

      There was a young, very innocent woman, perhaps late teens, who was staying near one of the branches and came frequently to meditate and help out. There were two resident monks there, one very senior, one ordained for a few years. They noticed that something was wrong, and very gently questioned her, only to find out that she was pregnant. She’d been raped by a guy from one of the villages. They took her to the parents. Such was their naivety, they refused to believe it, as they thought it was impossible to be pregnant outside of marriage. Amid great difficulty, as it was a very remote location, the two monks arranged for the girl to stay at a refuge, and made special arrangements with their lay supporters to make sure she was properly looked after.

      The outcome of the monks’ kindness was that the younger one was accused by rumor among the lay people of doing the deed – after all, why else would he be showing so much compassion? The senior Ajahns investigated the matter properly, and found that there was no question of any misconduct.

      So far, so good: the girl had received the best possible care in the circumstances, and the monks had behaved in a way that not merely fulfilled their obligations, but went out of their way to do whatever could be done from compassion.

      But then the Walters stepped in. Some of the Ajahns decided that the two monks, even though innocent, should not have any contact with the girl in the future. This position was disagreed with by many of the other Ajahns, especially the more senior ones. In addition, one of the junior Ajahns told the two monks that they had become too close, and should not be spending so much time together!

      The motivation behind these requests was, of course, to protect the ‘reputation of the Sangha’. Be clear here: all the monks wanted to help the girl, and none of them did anything to endorse or excuse the rape. Yet there was a feeling, among a minority of the monks – who also oppose bhikkhuni ordination – that the pure reputation of the Sangha could be sullied by this association, and in the long this was more important than ensuring ongoing care for the girl.

      I don’t know whether it occurred to them that the reputation of the Sangha would be, and should be, greatly enhanced by the care and kindness shown by the two monks towards an innocent victim.

  6. Hi Aj S, yes, you can access refs from this factsheet on violence against women from here:

    And Women’s Health Victoria has a comprehensive clearing house on factors impacting gender equity:

    Your story, above, is a sad one indeed. Despite their best intentions it seems they were gazumped by stronger currents of fundamentalism.

    It recalls for me the story of the elder and junior monk walking in the woods. When they came to a river and saw that a woman was caught in the current the elder monk leapt in and helped her to the bank. To do so he had to carry her part of the way. As the monks proceeded back to their dwelling the junior monk was fretting all the way about his elder’s inappropriate conduct regarding the women. Unable to contain it any longer he blurted out his complaint. The elder replied “I put the woman down a long while back, but you’re still carrying her”. A story no doubt intended for the likes of the monks you mention above, who were afraid of being ‘sullied by association’.

    I appreciate across your blog site the way you present these issues from a range of contexts, including current controversies within the Catholic Church. The diversity of instances illustrates that the ground for all of this is what needs attending to – the context of fundamentalism that creeps into institutions almost imperceptibly until it erupts in the kind of madness to which we’ve been witness lately.

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