Where do we go from here?

As the dust settles and life gets back to somewhere near normal, what next? Bhikkhuni ordination, despite all obstacles, has been accomplished in the Forest Tradition, and the task of living life in the Dhamma now calls to us.

But things will never be the same. The acrimony, the accusations, the very public spat of the ordinations will leave its mark. The naïve image of the Thai Forest Tradition as being somehow pure and pristine, divorced from politics and spiritual, is over. Which is a good thing. Its passing is one more signifier of the end of an era, the end of the West’s romantic vision of the East and the entry into a more complex, more realistic vision.

The Vinaya ensures that the decisions carried out by the Sangha are done in consensus, with each voice in the monastery an equal one, and with no special power invested in anyone, no matter how senior or respected. That system has been ignored in the construction of the modern monasteries, and the voices of those who speak about what the Vinaya actually requires are silenced.

Instead of monasteries run by the Sangha, they are run by a tiny elite of senior monks. Most of the junior members of the community are happy to sign away their power, awed by the prestige and charisma of the system. We are complicit, because we really don’t want to bother. This is one of the keys, and something I want everyone reading this to carefully reflect on.

Wouldn’t we really just rather this had not happened? Wouldn’t we prefer to just go and meditate and listen to some nice Dhamma, and that’s it? Wouldn’t we prefer to just imagine that all is well in the monastery, and hand over our trust to those who we believe to deserve it?

And, sad to say, isn’t that exactly the same line that was followed by the Catholics, which allowed the pedophilia scandal to fester for generations? Didn’t they, too, want to just go to their Church and have a nice service? Didn’t they want to believe that the House of God was one place where worldly politics could not interfere? Didn’t they trust that their priests, with their cloth and their sacraments, could never do any wrong?

This is the power of religious authority. It is, in my opinion, the single most dangerous thing that faces religions today. Forget the threats of modernity, or post-modernity, the supposed and much-feared secularization of society. The real threat lies within.

Religious authority is a slippery thing. It does not have to come in the form of Infallible Dogmas. It is operating, very subtly, in all our relations with the Divine; or in our case, the Dhamma. It is there when we read a Sutta; it is there when we discuss meditation with a friend; it is there when we hear a talk from a monk, with his robe, sitting in a high seat next to the Buddha; it is there when we comment on a blog post. Most subtly of all, it is there when we sit in meditation, shaping and forming our expectations, moulding our experience along certain lines, developing some, neglecting others.

In its crude form, hewn from the fundament, as it were, it is present in the website of those who would anathemize Ajahn Brahm, dhammalight.org. Under its disingenuous title it presents a sheer blank wall of authority. Its only mode of discourse is to state authority. The only relationship it can imagine with authority is submission.

I have spoken before of the peculiar nonspeak of the Western monastic culture. Every word of difference just gets swallowed up, unacknowledged. Dhammalight embodies this approach: it is blank, personless, impossible. There’s no acknowledgement, no diversity, no humanity.

The authors of the site prefer namelessness, which may be convenient for them, but is inconvenient for us, so let me invent a name. Something suitably anonymous, meaningless, void of implications: how about the ‘Walters’? The Walters I deem them, the authors of dhammalight.org and their ilk.

The Walters make up just a tiny proportion of the Western Sangha, but it is they who are driving the anti-bhikkhuni agenda. I’ve been watching the steady drift to the far right in the leadership of the Western Sangha over the past decade. The Walters certainly don’t represent the majority, but they have key positions of power, and speak louder than anyone else.

If you disagree with me, leave me a comment. I’ll read it and, if need be, respond. If you disagree with the Walters, well, I wish you better luck than I’ve had.

But what will happen? Who can predict the future? Let me have a go – let me know what you think, and we can see how accurate our predictions turn out.

Option 1. The Western Sangha, including the Walters, has a change of heart. They declare that the Sangha has been sexist, that is wrong, it must change, and it is up to us to lead that change. We must do so relying on the authentic Buddhist heritage, which means bhikkhuni ordination. The women who care about this are invited and encouraged to speak up, and their voice is treated as the key agent of change.
Probability: Zero.
Why? The Walters will stand firm like a pillar.

Option 2. Same as option 1, except the Western Sangha does it against the will of the Walters.
Probability: 0.01
Why? The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Option 3. Things muddle along. Nothing much changes. The remaining Western branch monasteries of WPP slowly become more closed and reactionary, losing touch with the main flow of international Buddhism. Meanwhile, the more progressive and liberal monastics grow away from WPP, whether in sudden jerks like this bhikkhuni fuss, or simply because the WPP ideology loses its relevance.
Probability: 0.8
Why? Buddhism is terminally disorganized. For all the claims that WPP is an ‘intimate’ group of monasteries working together, the reality is that the individual monasteries do their own thing in many respects, and involvement with the center is often tenuous.

Option 4. The Western Sangha is forced into equality against its will. This could happen in one of two ways. The less likely possibility is that the lay community withdraws its support. This is unlikely, as the main support for most of the monasteries concerned comes from ‘traditional’ Buddhists. While they will have a variety of views around bhikkhunis, it is very unlikely that they would boycott the monks for this reason. (Western Buddhists take note: If you want to have a truly ‘Western Sangha’, you have to be prepared to pay for it!) The more practical option would be to launch a legal case against the monasteries for violation of human rights. Given what little I know of the human rights scene in England, I think it it is fairly likely that such an approach would succeed on a legal level. What the implications would be for the monasteries would be hard to predict, but it would not be pretty. Still, the law is there for a reason, and we should not be afraid to use it if we need its protection.
Probability: 0.1
Why? Buddhists don’t like to argue, especially in court.

Option 5: Ajahn Brahm recants, and the rest of us renegades, too.
Probability: Are you kidding?
Why? If you’d ever met Ajahn Brahm, you wouldn’t be asking that question. No, seriously, there’s a real, important reason. Psychological research (Kohlberg, Gilligan, Walker, etc.) supports the idea that there is an arrow to our moral development, a direction which is rarely if ever reversed. Having expanded our moral compass, we simply cannot contract it. I know what it is like to be a monk in a male-only environment, where women and their needs are simply irrelevant, a minor distraction to what I perceived as the holiest and best of lives. And I know what it has been like to gradually question that, to listen to the voices, to recognize the genuine aspirations. I can’t undo that. I can’t pretend that the last 15 years haven’t happened.

So there’s my predictions. Does it sound unduly pessimistic? Call me experienced.

None of these need to happen, of course. We each choose our reality in each moment. There is nothing that forces this to be a problem, except that we choose it to be so. If we were to make different choices, right now, it would all be over.

39 thoughts on “Where do we go from here?

  1. Bhante,

    Yes I agree with you that option 3 is the most likely. If you look at the Christian churches, in particular the Protestant ones in the 19th and 20th Centuries, there is a bewildering array of different traditions. Presberterian, Calvanist, Methodist, Unitarian, Baptist, etc. They all relate and are derived from each other. So why wouldn’t Theravada be any different? As it is Thai, Burmese and Sri Lankan Theravada have some differences, and we in the West have Tibetan, Chinese Pureland, Zen, Vietnamese and so on, so why not the Australian Forest Tradition? Who says we cannot do our own way?

  2. Bhante

    Option 3 is in all probabilities where the future lies

    The reasoning is sound and I would also include the fact that the progressive monasteries (funny how by going back to the Buddhas original teaching is considered progressive!)because of the publicity surrounding the Bhikkhuni ordination will be actively sought out by right thinking people

    This in turn will keep the winds of change moving

    Just my thoughts

    With Metta

  3. Bhante, I for one I am happy that things are out in the open. Being a European intellectual, I have grown up with a underlying scepticism when it comes to authorities. This is where the initial charm of Theravada practice lies for me: It puts the focus on the teaching, not so much in the representative. But people are people, and if they are less than “enlightened”, is this really surprising?

    You do sound very disillusioned, Bhante. It appears to me that the stance of especially the Western elders – or is it mainly the English one? – seems to have surprised you, in their solid negation. I am not calling it “opposition” because this would imply a opposition statement where I basically see a rebuttal and silence.

    But this is an outside view; I have no idea what happens behind the scenes. “Muddling thru” as you call it is the most probably option, indeed, but isn’t this a general description of life? 😉 We all learned something about where our teachers stand, I believe. And know everyone can take this lesson and see where it leads him or her. Diversity is a reality of modern life anyway, but we are quite fortunate in many ways to have CHOICES. Some of them are hard, some are unexpected and sometimes they are wrong. But it’s our human obligation to make them count and be as responsible about it as possible.

    But don’t be discouraged! Change is usually incremental, but as it gains momentum, it also gains weight. As you said, it will not be like it was
    before – one illusion less, one realization more. Now it is back to us again, and I am for one prepared to work – and pay 😉 – for the kind of sangha I want to help shape.
    And all this without ill will and resentment towards those who will chose a different path.

    with metta, Ace

    PS: Apologies for typos/errors, but I couldn’t review my text before sending it

    • Dear Ace,

      Yes, ‘muddling through’ is probably a perfect description of life, in the most technical sense, as the course of evolution. Organisms just muddle through as best they can and some survive while some don’t. So it is not a bad thing at all: actually, there’s a lot of innate, practical wisdom that gets embodied in mere muddling, an understanding that’s born of experience, and which is no less effective for being inarticulate.

  4. Dear Bhante,

    The stand that the Australian Forest Tradition has taken on this vital issue is truly inspiring and courageous. I support your efforts whole-heartedly and I am hearing a chorus of voices – the voices of committed, mature, and conscientious Dhamma practioners – lay and monastic – in support of this bold move to bring out into the open what has blighted the Thai Forest Tradition in particular and Buddhism in general for so long. I am still unable to comprehend how it has come to this – that the elders of the Western Forest Sangha appear to be getting carried out on the fetid tide of fundamentalism like so many other increasingly marginal religious traditions. How can it be? Am I dreaming?

    I must have been naive; perhaps I simply wasn’t paying attention. Or more likely, I was simply in denial. Whatever the case, it appears that the cat is out of the bag. To those who would fault Ajahn Brahm for the way he went about things – for those who choose to frame his acts as “preemptive” and “unilateral” – I say this with conviction and love: judging by the way so many people are talking right now and by the strength of my own feeling, that it will not be remembered in that light…not at all.

    Instead, people will remember the Austrialian Forest Sangha’s act like this: Out of compassionate concern for the long term welfare of the Buddhadhamma, farsighted and courageous women and men attempted to aid an institution that was, despite the best and even good intentions of its leaders, headed by its own inertia towards irrelevance.

    I agree that Option 3 is most likely. I, like so many others, am watching carefully how the leaders of our local institutions will respond to the conditions that have arisen. Will bastions of peace and awakening – places like Abhayagiri and Wat Metta – ie communities that are near to my heart, that I cherish, that I serve and am served by – move firmly and decisively upstream towards ever greater openness and equity?

    Let it be said once again: Full ordination for women now.

    Many good wishes to you Ajahn Sujato. My wife and I always remember with joy meeting you in Bodh Gaya and hearing you teach the Dhamma under the Bodhi Tree.

    All good wishes,

    Daniel Bernstein
    San Francisco

  5. Bhante, in response to your comment: “Western Buddhists take note: If you want to have a truly ‘Western Sangha’, you have to be prepared to pay for it!”

    After many years of casual interest in Buddhism, I found the Forest tradition by accident during a period of serious illness a few years ago. I am grateful to all the teachers I have heard via mp3. However, I am female, and have been disturbed by that the teachers brought the cultural inferiority of women with them from Thailand along with the Dhamma.

    So as someone who has been providing financial support to Western monasteries in two countries, I wait with bated breath for a statement supporting bhikkuni ordination. Now that the issue is out in the open, I do not know if I can continue financial support without a full commitment to the other half of the Sangha (or perhaps I have been misunderstanding the teachings, and we women are not part of the Sangha, in the broader sense of the word? Please correct me if I am wrong.)

    • Dear Carol,

      According to the original Suttas, the monastic Sangha was the ‘twofold Sangha’ (ubhato sangha) of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. It is said that offerings to the twofold Sangha are even more meritorious than those to either Sangha singly. This twofold Sangha was the monastic aspect of the fourfold assembly (parisa) – bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, laymen, laywomen. In modern Thai idiom, the fourfold assembly has been redefined as bhikkhus, male novices, laymen and laywomen.

      It is a little disturbing to note that this reinvention has even made its way into the otherwise beautiful chant of metta that is so popular among Theravadins. The chant goes to great lengths to describe every group of people for whom one should develop metta – the bhikkhus, novices, laypeople, and so on – but quite distinctly excludes bhikkhunis. So it is no exaggeration to say that Theravadin metta means wishing happiness for all beings – except bhikkhunis!

    • Hello, Bhante. I think that popular metta chant is based on the Paṭisambhidāmaggo, but that unpleasant mention of bhikkhus and samaneras with no bhikkhunis and samaneris is not in the early text. We should get Imee Ooi to revise her wonderful song!

      Here is the closest text listing various kinds of beings: “Sabbe uparimāya disāya sattā acerano hontu, khemino hontu, sukhino honti saddhāya adhimuccati, saddhindriyaparibhāvitā [PTS Page 137] hoti mettā cetovimutti – pe – nibbattenti, jotenti, pakāsenti.
      Sabbesaṃ puratthimāya disāya pāṇānaṃ – pe- bhūtānaṃ – pe – puggalānaṃ – pe – attabhāvapariyāpannānaṃ -pe – sabbasaṃ itthānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ purisānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ ariyānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ anariyānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ devānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ manussānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ vinipātikānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ pacchimāya disāya vinipātikānaṃ -pe- sabbesaṃ uttarāya disāya vinipātikānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ dakkhiṇāya disāya vinipātikānaṃ -pe- sabbesaṃ puratthimāya anudisāya vinipātikānaṃ -pe – sabbesaṃ pacchāmāya anudisāya vinipātikānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ uttarāya anudisāya vinipātikānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ dakkhiṇāya anudisāya vinipātikānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ heṭṭhimāya disāya vinipātākānaṃ – pe – sabbesaṃ uparimāya disāya vinipātikānaṃ pīḷanaṃ vajajetvā apīḷanāya, upaghātaṃ vajjetvā anupaghātena santāpaṃ vajjetvā asantāpena, pariyādānaṃ vajjetvā apariyādānena, vihesaṃ vajjetvā avihesāya, sabbe uparimāya disāya sattā averino hontu, mā verino sukhino hontu, mā dukkhino, sukhitattā hontu, mā dukkhitattāti imehi aṭṭhahākārehi sabbe uparimāya disāya satte mettāyatīti mettā, taṃ dhammaṃ cetayatīti ceto, sabbabyāpāda pariyuṭṭhānehi vimuccitīti vimutti, mettā ca ceto ca vimutti cāti mettācetovimutti.

    • Dear Bhante, Imee Ooi’s fan club and web site are readily accessible. I would guess we draft up a specific alternative line (based on Paṭisambhidāmaggo) then send a request to her and try to use social networking to reinforce the request. I would also like to know more about the genesis of the popular version. This is important because people think if it’s pali it must be the Buddha’s words. I have tried to track down the earliest citations to some of these traditional verses. This one is clearly modern, but I have no idea who wrote it. Is it really Burmese from Mahasi Sayadaw?
      Imee Ooi is Malaysian, and therefore might not cling to Burmese tradition too much. If we explain how much it would cheer up forward-thinking men and women around the world she might be willing to do it. I wonder if any of our friends know her personally. Anyway, I can take a shot at the revised verse unless another skillful person beats me to it.

    • Dear Ayya,

      that sounds like a great idea. If you would draft up the Pali and translation, I’d be happy to help with editing/proofreading.

    • Happy to help there, Ayya; the most widely used version is on its way to you…i’ll be in touch.

    • Aj Sujato, and Ayya Sobhana,
      That particular metta chant probably was adapted from the one chanted in Burma, in monasteries and meditation centres in Mahasi Sayadaw’s lineage. And unfortunately, in Burma there is still no such thing as a bhikkhuni!

  6. Dear Bhante

    Might you be prepared to wager on another scenario, but one which is dependant more on the abolition of the current Sangha Act, than on changing the parochialisms of WNPP? Imagine if the 1928 “ban” were completely reversed. I would have thought all fiats by the old council expired with the old Sangha Act, but who knows how Thai secular laws intersect with monastic regulations? Let’s entertain the hope that a new Sangha Act will be passed or even a re-vitalised Council will re-open the bhikkhuni issue. I wonder how WNPP will swim against the tide then.

    • Dear Sylvester,

      Yes, that’s another possibility. Certainly change in Thailand will not come from WPP. The situation is unstable and needs to change, but it is for me impossible to guess what direction that change will go in. It’s possible that Thailand’s democracy might stabilize, the Sangha will open up, and a new Sangha Act might echo this change. It seems to me equally likely that the democratic process will continue to stumble, a military or quasi-military dictatorship will emerge, and the Sangha will be even more tightly bound to the needs of the State apparatus. Much depends on the problematic royal succession.

      As to the question of the intersection of thai secular laws with monastic regulations, I would imagine that that is an area that both parties would rather leave in a rather undefined sense, avoiding direct conflict. At the end of the day, it could probably only be resolved in court, but the taboos against seeing monks in court would make this scenario very unlikely.

  7. Bhante,

    In this post, and in other writings, there seems to be a certain quality, or attitude of heart that is missing: the value of heartfelt respect and self relinquishment on the Dhamma path. I think a common misunderstanding from the Western point of view is that respect somehow means giving away your power to others. As far as I understand it, and from my personal experience of practicing it, quite to the contrary, a genuine attitude of respect in the Buddhist sense involves releasing into a sense of freedom that comes from the cooling of grasping at views and opinions in the heart. There is a wonderful sense of empowered humility that comes with this. I say empowered, because the quality of humility nurtures the awareness of release and peace in the heart when one sits in meditation. The quality of unconditional love that comes from respect is also of benefit both to ourselves and to others, and creates a sense of beauty and harmony in the social sphere.

    Finally I feel that respect for Awakened beings in particular is an essential part of the path, and catalyses our intuition of that awakening within ourselves. The Buddha certainly seemed to recommend this attitude and way of relating to others in many places in the suttas. One place in particular that comes to mind is the Mahaparinibbana sutta, where the Buddha describes the 7 factors leading to the welfare of the sangha. One of them is as follows:

    “So long as they show respect, honour, esteem, and veneration towards the elder bhikkhus, those of long standing, long gone forth, the leaders of the Sangha, and think it worthwhile to listen to them… [there will be welfare in the Sangha]”

    I don’t think that respect necessarily means agreeing with them – but it seems to be pointing towards a disposition of open-ness and humility in the heart. My experience has been that magical things unfold from this place.

    I have no particular take on the recent events that have unfolded, and resonate with both the pain and joy of all those involved. I wish the bhikkhunis blessings and good fortune in their practice – may they be the first of a new generation of Forest bhikkhunis! I wrote this mainly because I felt moved to, and that the importance and beauty of the qualities above don’t seem to be making much of an appearance in the tone and also the content of your writing.

    With Respect,

    • Dear Asoka,

      Thanks for your comments, a very beautiful observation. In the heat of the moment, these qualities may indeed be forgotten, and if we drift too far we need to be reminded of them.

      For me, there has been such a long course of change. I started out as starry-eyed and blissfully devoted as any young monk could be. I thought the tradition was wonderful in every way, and that anyone who had been a monk for more than, O I don’t know, a few years must be seriously enlightened. As time went on, I got a more realistic picture of things, and settled into a way of living within this imperfect Sangha in this imperfect world. But still, I lived very happily in a highly hierarchical, top-down power structure for several years, without really questioning it in any serious way. I really considered the Ajahns in our tradition to be Elders who were ‘worth listening to’, and would always seek them out and pester them with questions whenever they visited Wat Nanachat. Even until quite recently I have been somewhat apologetic to ‘the system’, and spoke in support of it to many others who were more skeptical than I was.

      As things evolve, and we come to a more balanced and reflective space around these events, I hope we can return to that ‘magical’ space in the heart that you speak of. I feel plenty of magic around me every day. It is only when the ‘magic’ turns dark and is used to repress others that it needs to be questioned and should not be tolerated.

      ‘Worth listening to’ is one thing; but the voices from the other side are not saying this. They are saying that the Laws ‘must be obeyed’. And it is that attitude that I have no respect for.

  8. Personally, I’d argue for #4–sue them.
    If there’s one thing we’ve learned from civil rights issues, it’s that people will not give up a privileged position which is culturally reinforced and religiously “authorized.” People still argue against the equality of blacks to whites in the deep south of America, using Biblical passages as evidence and clinging desperately to their better educations and higher incomes.

    I’ve known enough former nuns from the TFT to know that many have suffered from emotional abuse and trauma. If they brought these things to the attention of the courts, with details of why they left, conditions would change.

    It’s all about causes and conditions–and without a felt cause, the privileged men of the monasteries will not find the motivation to change.

    • I don’t think we want to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’.

      Taking a stand and still being kind and respectful to that which is Noble in the WPP Sangha can still happen.

      Taking a stand and still caring for those we disagree with can happen.

      I recall a sutta or two where the Buddha converts those from other religious traditions. He still encourages them to offer alms to those whom they were previously supporting. He doesn’t say anything about starving them, ignoring them or attacking them in any way.

      I am saying this as I am struggling with my own rising kilesas… I am trying to live up to these words too.

    • People who believe they are above civil law are dangerous, and this is no where more true than in religious groups. Fundamentalist Mormons who believe they have the authority to marry 14 year old girls, Catholic priests who give themselves permission to molest little boys, and fundamentalist Buddhists who feel they have the spiritual “authority” to discriminate against women and relegate women to lower and subservient positions in the sangha are all in the same category.

      All suffer from arrogance and hubris, and all deflect attention from their behaviors by insuring that their followers have internalized the belief that to hold these leaders responsible for their actions is a “sin” or a “kilesa.”

      The Buddha made sure that his sangha respected civil mores and laws–the Pali canon is full of examples.

      Our spiritual guides of great virtue must be held to the standards they espouse. They are human beings, no different than any of us, no more spiritually gifted, and apparently no less likely to slip into wrong view.

      Bringing a legal case against them–and the likes of Dhammalite (pun intended)–would be a wakeup call, and the only reason they are in the Holy Life is to wake up.

      Bringing a legal case against western branches of WPP who actively discriminate against women would not force them to go to court–more likely, the court would force them to change.

    • Have you seen this article:


      The vision for the future in this article is hopeful, appealing and I think will create healing and well being if it really did happen. Strong, happy and hopefully more transparent Sangha in the west – both male and female.

      I agree with your sentiments and perhaps there is no harm in looking into this (the courts) option. My concern is that this course of action offers less hope, more destruction and after the dust has settled, the courts have forced change…will there be any real healing for anyone?

      All the best.

  9. Bhante: Thanks so much for your coverage. I’m totally unafilliated with any ‘tradition’ at this point. I’ve been thru the whole disappointed with the hierarchy thing. I had hoped the the ‘Forest Tradition’ might be different but I see that it is like all other things conditioned. As I’ve read thru your entries and others I keep thinking of the Kaccayanagotta Sutta. Views, views the world is entangled in views (my paraphrasing)

  10. Also don’t forget that in Australia we have constitutional separation of church and state. I would like to see a legal analysis of the applicability of Thai legislation here on this issue; there wouldn’t be any

    • Hi Ben,

      Umm, I think the constitutional situation is not so clear on Church and State in Australia, although in effect what you say is correct. Of course it is obvious that Thai legislation has no applicability here. It might have an effect only in the case of Thai citizens. When Thai monks apply for visas overseas, they get a special monks’ visa. The purpose of this is, in theory, to ensure that only good ‘missionary monks’ travel overseas.

  11. Being a Thai and knowing Thai ways, I think No. 3 is the most likely. Thai people tend to choose a passive way of dealing with problems. Many Thais hate confrontations though they want the unpleasant situation to end. Perhaps they wish that a heavenly being will intervene, or a hero (who is not them) will show up and fight on their behalf. That is what I’ve seen of Thai people…

    As for No. 4, I am not well versed in the Vinaya or Kor Wat, but I think an accused monk has to disrobe before he appears in the court of law. Though he will later be proven innnocent, his ‘monkhood’ has already been discontinued. I don’t think we will want that to happen to good monks. Please be cautious. Don’t forget that everyone must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

    If you don’t like them and their decision, disassociate with them, just like people of Kosambi did. If they have chosen unskillful actions (temporary error of judgement) but are still good monks, they can endure some financial or physical hardships without making any complaints. If they have done wholesome acts, their good kamma would be revealed eventually.

    As for me personally, I will continue my moral and financial support to Ajahn Brahm and his disciples.

    With metta,

    • Dear Dheerayupa,

      Thanks again for the comments. A monk does not normally have to disrobe before appearing in court, although this may be the case in Thai law.

      Court is always the worst place to decide any such question, and only the lawyers really win anything. I don’t seriously envisage a court case in Thailand.

      But in Europe such things have, for better or for worse, become quite common. Just recently a court found that crucifixes should not be hung in State schools in Italy, a victory for secularism over Italy’s old catholic traditions. It is a possibility that the inequality of the nuns could end up in a European court, subject to the relevant laws on gender equality and religious freedom. And that possibility needs to be carefully considered, whether or not one supports the idea.

      As you say, everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and we cannot presume to know what a court would say. But as far as I know, the highest legal advice that directly bears on the matter is the 2003 Thai senate inquiry, which did indeed find that the ban on bhikkhunis contravenes the Bill of Rights in the Thai constitution.

  12. Had a quick look at the ‘dhammalight.org’ site. Read the letter Ajahn Brahm wrote to Ajahn Kevali.

    If you have a look, do read the WHOLE letter, not just the underlined bits. It shows that:

    1.Ajahn was always supportive of Bhikkuni ordination.

    2.He was trying to have a dialogue with members of the Thai Sangha and people about the issue. (eg: thro’ this letter and thro’ the book that’s mentioned)

    3.Impermance also applies to the views/opinions we held (even about ourselves!) in April last year. Extraordinary to think that our views can evolve and change as new information comes to light or circumstances change!

  13. Dear Bhante
    It’s obvious that the WPP abbots are highly displeased and displayed their power by expelling Bodhinyana from the group. A harsh and retributive act lacking compassion. So much for talking the talk in their public lectures but not in practice especially to one of their peers.

    I believe that the expulsion is good for the Buddhist Society of Western Australia (BSWA) both Sangha and laypeople as it’s time to cut off the coat-tails (robe-tails?). We don’t need to follow cultural trappings peculiar only to Thai Buddhism, one example being the use of the offering cloth by monks when receiving gifts from laywomen. Every religion develops within the culture where it resides and adopts to it so eventually Buddhism in Australia will have its own cultural flavour and will thrive with a fourfold community the Buddha mentioned comprising bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, upasakas and upasikas.

    Another point is that organized, institutional and state sponsored religion has a sting in its tail namely its dogmas and doctrines are used by incumbents to resist change. We can see the situation quite clearly here in that the Thai Sangha is strongly against bhikkhuni ordination. Obviously they have not internalized that all dependent phenomena are subject to change and want to push away impermanence. How ironic wanting to keep the status quo. However, I’m not picking on the Thai Sangha as it’s even worse in Burma.

    Free from being shackled to the WPP group the BSWA in conjunction with Ajahn Brahm and the rest of the Sangha can now develop Buddhism appropriate for all Australians of different cultural heritages. To me it’s apparent that most Buddhists compartmentalize themselves as Theravadan, Mahayana or Vajrayana, identify with that strongly and in most cases believe that the particular practice is superior. Do we really need to do that? When the Buddha was alive there was only one vehicle, the Buddhayana way and the rest came after he passed away. So we all should practise the Buddhayana way, not Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana. Go BSWA go.

  14. Sorry for what will no doubt be a truly idiotic question from this beginner but, since rebirth is a big factor in Buddhism, don’t any of these monks consider that just possibly they might be reborn in female form? I mean, if I was wanting to continue my practice, only to find I’m stopped or not supported at a level I surpassed previously because my form had changed, I’d be a bit upset.

    • Maybe they might be reborn as female devas of the Paranimittavassavati world. AC Brahm once joked that “control freaks” end up there.

  15. Sacred Institutions Are Prisons
    We should continue with those institutions or establishments which are holy and sacred, or are famous and celebrated; or those that are rumored to be so elite and prestigious that anyone who becomes a member of one is prestigious, too. There are a number of such places and institutions around. As soon as someone registers as a member of that association or this organization, that institute or this establishment, they start to get ideas and feelings about it. They feel that “we’re better than them” or “we’re the ones who are right and the rest are stupid.” They grasp and cling without the least bit of consideration or critical thinking. In this way, that institution, even that church — we can’t avoid saying so — becomes a prison. So we beg of you, don’t think that Suan Mokkh is some holy or miraculous institution, otherwise Suan Mokkh will become a prison. Please don’t turn Suan Mokkh into your prison. You ought to think freely, examine carefully, evaluate critically. Understand and believe only what is genuinely beneficial. Don’t get imprisoned in any of those prestigious or famous institutions. Ven.Buddhadassa Bhikkhu

  16. Dear Bhante,
    while I completely agree with your probabillity rating, as a member of a small society for the establishment of forest monasteries in germany I still hope you are wrong. We recently issued the following statement. Sorry it is faily long and my translation is not polished.
    Statement of the Society “Buddhistisches Waldkloster e. V.”

    The Buddhist tradition, even in it´s monastic form, has arrived in the west. This joyful fact is owed to the asian countries where the teaching was kept alive and protected. Yet, 2500 years after the demise of the Awakened One it becomes more and more obvious that quite a number of structural changes have been incorporated in the way the Dhamma-Vinaya is actually lived that do not fit the original design.
    It isn´t going too far to state that in important areas of interaction between the four assemblies, the Dhamma-Vinaya is no longer the sole authority but hierarchical structures, persons and even parts of the government, who´s interest seems to lie more with the increase and maintenance of power-structures than in the actual practise of the Buddhas teaching.

    The society Buddhistisches Waldkloster wants to clearly dissociate itself from this kind of deviations that have grown into the tradition and those who uphold them.

    It is our view, that most conflicts inside the Sangha as well as those with laypeople involved can be ascribed to turning away from the actual teacher, the actual refuge of all buddhists – the Dhamma-Vinaya.

    The society therefore stands for and supports a wholesome reorientation based on Dhamma-Vinaya so that the teaching of the Awakened One can take root in our country in the way he taught it. This will be possible only if the four assemblies (monks, nuns, laymen, laywomen) fulfil their duty intended for them by the Tathāgata.

    D16: “Evil One, I will not take final Nibbāna till I have monks and nuns and laymen-followers and lay-women-followers who are accomplished, trained skilled, learned, knower of the Dhamma, trained in conformity with the Dhamma, correctly trained and walking the path of the Dhamma, who will pass on what they have gained from their teacher, teach it, declare it, expound it, analyse it, make it clear; till they shall be able by means of the Dhamma to refute false teachings that have arisen, and teach the Dhamma of wondrous effect..”

    These words of the Tathāgata, spoken shortly before his final Nibbāna are clear without ambiguity. We, the society, plead for these words to be taken serious and put into action by ordained and non-ordained alike.

    Cooperation and harmony within the fourfold assembly is the only way to let the true Dhamma of the Buddha in it´s original form grow and blossom in our country.

    M 73: “But because, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, men lay followers clothed in white, both those leading lives of celibacy and those enjoying sensual pleasures, and woman lay followers clothed in white, both those leading lives of celibacy and those enjoying sensual pleasures, are accomplished in this Dhamma, this holy life is thus complete.
    Just as the river Ganges inclines towards the sea, and merges with the sea, so too Master Gotama´s assembly with its homeless ones and its householders inclines towards Nibbāna, slopes towards Nibbāna, flows towards Nibbāna and merges with Nibbāna.”

    According to our statutes it is our goal to support an original form of Buddhism in which humility, honesty, understanding and the renunciation of consumer mentality are held up high.
    The fact that german law makes it necessary that each monastery has a responsible society offers the precious opportunity to return to a culture of communication that is marked by mutual respect and substantiated knowledge of the teaching.
    The Buddha designed neither a hierarchical system nor a democratic decision process, rather, decisions were reached by equals in consensus. (Consensus means that all members of a group are in accordance with each other on a certain topic without covered or open antagonism.)
    We ask the Sangha for it´s cooperation in building a home for the Buddha-Dhamma here in Germany. To make this come true it is necessary to teach, train and empower each one of the fourfold assembly in a way that they are able to fulfil the role assigned to them by the Tathāgata. We ask the Buddhists living in the homelife to not only actively fulfil their role as material supporters of the Sangha but also to perform their function according to the Vinaya as knowledgeable companions on the path for the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis.
    We call to the Sangha, that together we do our very best, based on the responsibility that arises from a deeply felt gratitude towards Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, to avert damage and danger to the triple gem. This unites us as kalayanamitta and only if we interact with each other in that way can it aid our own progress and benefit the dispensation of Awakened One.

    S 42, 7: “What do you think? Suppose a peasant farmer has three fields, one excellent, one middling, and one poor, sandy, salty, with bad soil. Tell me: when the farmer wants to sow his seed, which field would he sow first: the excellent one, the middling one or the poor one that is sandy, salty and with bad soil?”
    “Lord, the farmer who wanted to sow his seed would sow the excellent field first. Having done that, he would sow the middling field next, and the one that was poor, sandy, salty, with bad soil he might or might not sow. Why? Well it might do for cattle-food.”
    “Well, headman, that excellent field is like my monks and nuns. To them I teach the Dhamma which is lovely in its beginning, lovely in its middle and lovely in its ending, in spirit and in letter,2 I display to them the holy life, perfectly fulfilled and purified. Why? Because these people adhere to me as their island, their shelter, their resort, their refuge.
    “The middling field is like my male and female lay-followers. To these too I teach the Dhamma which is lovely in its beginning, lovely in its middle and lovely in its ending, in spirit and in letter, I display to them the holy life, perfectly fulfilled and purified. Why? Because these people adhere to me as their island, their shelter, their resort, their refuge.
    “The poor field that is sandy, salty and with bad soil is like my wandering recluses and Brahmans of other sects. To them I also teach the Dhamma which is lovely in its beginning, lovely in its middle and lovely in its ending, in spirit and in letter, I display to them the holy life, perfectly fulfilled and purified. Why? Because if they only understand a single phrase, it would long be for their profit.”

    München, 14.11.2009 Executive Board

    All the best

  17. Yes, Ayya, it is widespread in Burma and often chanted overseas as well. In fact the complete chant has been published in Malaysia and is often chanted there in it’s entirety (e.g. in retreat centres like the one at KKB). It’s a beloved chant that many in this tradtion know–and it’s also gone to America where it’s chanted daily at IMS. But it has never (even in Burma) been chanted in Burmese–only in Pali.

  18. Kanchana, in reply to your post above, asking whether there would be a healing if monasteries were forced to change: people don’t heal from their misogyny, any more than they heal from racial hatred or homophobia. The women who’ve been demeaned and belittled can heal, given enough love, comfort and support. But misogynists, like homophobes and racists, need a radical intervention which often entails a dismantling of their biases and destabilizing their habits of control. Read this.


  19. I commented above about the “Australian Forest Tradition” and someone else mentioned it too. Maybe the “Australian Outback Tradition” would be more appropriate! 🙂 Wilderness does play an important part in the Australian psyche

  20. Also Experienced,

    Sorry, didn’t realise you’d replied to me until just now.

    Yes, I have read this brave nun’s letter. It is heartbreaking.

    I think people who (to put it simply) are mean to others, do need healing. They just aren’t in touch with the awful pain they are causing, the bad kamma they are making. I think if that denial were removed…it would be a painful awakening that would need healing.

    But perhaps this is just what you have been saying, only using different words to me.

    I am not suggesting that monasteries that aren’t offering loving and supportive structures don’t need to change. Quite the contrary. I just haven’t come to a definite understanding in my own mind about how this chanage should come about.

    I don’t think it matters what I think on this matter. This matter is in the hands of a variety of people (I imagine on both sides of the fence) and it remains to be seen what will actually happen.

    I do what I can and part of that has been trying to contact a couple of people on the other side, asking for things to change; though I don’t hold out much hope on even getting a reply. Part of that is signing the petition. Even reading these diverse comments and being part of these discussions feels like its important; as I’ve encountered a diversity of views here and some of them have caused me to re-think some of the assumptions I have held over the years; reading the comments here and elsewhere has inspired a lot of hope in my heart as I can see that there is a great deal of support for the new Bhikkunis, the nuns in the UK and in general for a more transparent, healthy western Sangha.

    All the best.

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