Charter for compassion (3)

Hi once more my patient readers! We were hit with lightning on Thursday afternoon, and have only just got the phone and internet connection going again. Rumors that the lightning was wielded by Sakka in revenge for bhikkhuni ordination are, alas, unconfirmed.

Thanks to all who made suggestions for my little Charter for Compassion speech. The event itself was small, less than 50 people. Actually, the organizer was just one woman, Danielle, who had found out about it only ten days previous, and had pulled it all together in that time.

So the gathering was small, but good. The interfaith speakers were, as usual, eloquent and passionate in presenting the compassionate heart of their own traditions as they see it.

After carefully considering the various responses to my speech, I decided to go ahead with it more or less as per the original draft. I take on board the suggestion that bringing in the bhikkhuni issue may be limiting or reductive; this is true. But it is also true that such events tend towards the banal, presenting nice sounding platitudes that do not grapple with reality. Anyway, such abstract considerations aside, the best speeches are those that come from what is most urgent and vital for the speaker.

I was lucky to help set up another Buddhist speaker for the event, Prof. Bill Foley, who I had not met before. He’s a long term Tibetan practitioner, and was asked to speak on behalf of the gay Buddhist community. He said that, for all the great practices and teachings, Buddhist institutions are still rooted in a medieval culture that has simply not addressed two crucial aspects of the modern world: democracy and feminism. Unless they do so, they are doomed to remain forever marginal.

Bill also said that Buddhist institutions were homophobic. This is untrue, certainly as far as the Thai tradition goes, and I believe in Theravada generally. While there may be occasional homophobia, generally it is not an issue, and I know several gay monks who live quite happily in traditional monasteries. Of course they face special issues staying in a celibate same-sex community, but generally they are supported in this.

You can find the text of the Charter and some great talks by Karen Armstrong on the web; do have a look.

One of the most pertinent lines: ‘… any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate.’

One thought on “Charter for compassion (3)

  1. Thanks for the update, AS. Good to hear some impressions from the event. Yes, until the cultural facts of democracy and feminism are grappled with, the monastic system gets bloated with tension between the inherited vertical monarchistic structure and the broader field of horizontal process orientation.

    I can say that I was open from the start about my sexual orientation and didn’t experience any systemic homophobia. There were of course instances of it, and quite painful, but these were not endorsed by the system so much as they erupted from individuals on their own path to exploring their place along the spectrum of sexuality. (For those who find it concerning that monastics might explore their sexuality, this is not anything one acts on while in robes; rather, it forms part of the entirety of energies and thoughts that pass through the body and the citta, through awareness, for investigation, understanding and acceptance)

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