Voice of UK Siladhara – on the experience of the 5 points

I’ve copied the following article from the ongoing discussion on Facebook, where it was posted by Thanissara, who was one of the original siladharas in England. My thanks to Also Experienced, who put the link in one of their posts. I’ve been wanting to find something like this, as the debate so far has been far too driven by the blokes – me especially.

For many respondents there is still a sense of disbelief, that things can’t really be this bad. But for the last several years i have been listening to voices like the one below – sensitive, intelligent, balanced. I hear the pain there and I want to do something about it. When we just go ahead to do our thing, all goes well and we have no more than the usual everyday dukkha. But when we try to do it through the ‘system’ – well, you can see the results.

“I have been a Theravadan nun for a number of years. I love the Sangha with my whole Being and monastic life is like breathing to me. I never had any difficulties or problems with being a woman. I really enjoy it, and could see the advantages and limitation of it, as with any conditions.

While spending some time in the East, I was deeply shocked by the way women are treated there even now. Coming back to the West and still sensitive from this discrepancy, to my distress I realized that a similar attitude unconsciously suffuses the whole monastic structure even in the West. Being a nun in this environment has become increasingly more and more challenging.

I have been trying to do my best to transform this pain/dukkha and desperately trying to understand this suffering and find peace. It has been an on-going process for the last few years. With our most senior monks being critical and upset with the nuns in public and in private last year and then introducing these 5-points, it has became even more confusing and unbearable.

I cannot help feeling I am judged and discriminated about, just on the condition of having a female birth this lifetime. It does not make any sense to me. My rational mind and the emotional part of my being cannot understand all of this. From the beginning when I had the great blessing to meet the Buddha-Dhamma many years ago, the compassionate aspect of His teaching deeply resonated with my whole Being. The domination of one group of people above another seems out of alignment with the wisdom and compassion of the teaching of the Buddha.

When we were presented with 5-points I was shocked. Basically, the 5-points are reinforce the position of women in the Sangha as being forever junior to the Bhikkhus. In some way it is not a new thing, but how it has been phrased, and the process of how it has been done – without warning and without negotiation – putting pressure on us and then withholding our siladhara ordination if we are not in agreement – is shocking and not supportive of trust.

During the period of time when we were considering how to sign these 5 points, it was very painful and excruciating for many of us. During this time, I had been trying to find some integrity in myself that would allow me to honour my Truth and not to let myself be broken. How could I find the resources to even formally accept the conditions, which I felt to be so destructive for the well- being of women in this form and for the men as well?

I have felt, especially over the last several years, that our Nuns’ Sangha has become very strong and beautiful and mature both in the individual practice as well as in our skills working in the relational field. This collective energy field has been strong enough to hold things even when significant individuals who held a lot of responsibility decided to leave. Of course there were interpersonal problems and challenging dynamics, but I felt there has been a good holding space. Personally, I think a very fine and alive tangible Energy- Body has been created between us, when we sat in the wide circle to discuss things.

Many of the nuns shared the perception that the situation of the feminine in the Buddhist monastic structure is not well adjusted to modern values, but thought that if we are wise and patient, we would slowly move forwards to create a healthier monastic structure with equality for all. Maybe this was naive, but this is what many of us felt.

Unfortunately, the five points stop any potential for future growth or improvement. I think our strength and beauty and maturity has became apparent and threatening to the monks, especially those men who had some painful or traumatic stuff around women. We became too strong and outspoken for their comfort.

Last year it was a very confused and complex situation. There were a few events that strongly affected the elder bhikkhus, events that the Siladhara didn’t initiate but which affected us. A few monks openly criticized the nuns’ community, questioning the integrity of our practice and even saying that our community is going downhill. This, as I said above, does not concur with my direct experience.

I have been upset, disheartened and disillusioned with our monks here (except a few courageous and compassionate brothers who have been empathetic all along) and with the whole monastic structure which supports such unhealthy and undermining conditions for women. The very vehicle which is supposed to enable one to wake up to the fullness of human potential leaves one instead feeling deeply malnourished after being exposed to it over a number of years.

There is no ground for being part of the larger monastic community, for belonging, and for having a valid ordination. Rather, there is the constant reminder on the structural level of the inferiority of women.
So, considering all of the above brings many questions to my mind and heart.

How could I still use a monastic vehicle that is so structurally unfriendly and prejudiced towards women, as my Path to liberation? How can I open up to my full potential of this Human Birth and cultivate the Heart based on the Brahma Viharas (love and compassion) in conditions that are constantly undermining me as person just because of my gender? How can I live with integrity, if I love being a monastic but find the ancient structure unresponsive to our modern times?

These questions keep arising in my mind and heart but there are no answers. I am personally interested in awakening with a heart strong and radiant and full of love with compassion for all Beings, myself included. These questions are part of an on-going enquiry and the answers have not yet emerged…….”


15 thoughts on “Voice of UK Siladhara – on the experience of the 5 points

  1. Thank you dear nun for your immense valour in raising your voice, and to Thanissara for sharing it here.

    This is truly heartbreaking. The treatment of these women is stomach-churning.

    Since reading this letter, I have stayed with the suffering, and once again attempting to somehow reconcile the treatment of these women with the Buddhavacana. But nowhere in the Dhamma is there a path leading to the obliteration of others. The actions of the Elders and Ajahn Sumedho clearly fall well outside of the Dharma.

    The fact that this is happening to nuns just muddies the issue of abuse with religious connotations. To my way of thinking, there is no debate: the 5 Points are simply a case of domestic abuse by another name. The real issue, in the end, simply boils down to wielding power as domination over women.

    How extraordinary that this nun’s faith in the Buddha-Dhamma has not been extinguished; rather she continues to walk in compassion, in love, and in her commitment to awakening for all beings.

    As painful as it is to witness the suffering of the UK siladharas, it is equally painful to witness the great suffering of those who would take such actions against any other being.

    May our collective compassion for all beings “impel us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.” (quote from the first few lines of the Charter of Compassion).

    • Dear Brenda,
      Yes, suffering is heartbreaking, but please be careful of the assumptions you are making here. ONE nun responded and you have turned it into “these women” and the “UK Siladharas” plural. Remember also that the Buddha taught us to understand suffering and its causes. As difficult a task as this may be, it is the key issue. Hard to know the causes when you aren’t in the body/mind of the one who suffers, isn’t it? Maybe this sounds incompassionate (unlike the lofty words of the Charter you quoted), but it’s not meant to be, only a call for wise investigation and caution around jumping to conclusions without all the facts.Empathy is helpful, picking up something as part of an agenda is not.By using the words “domestic abuse” and “domination over women”, you are corroborating with victim mentality and disempowering the one you would like to see empowered. Is that what you want?

  2. Thank you for publishing this, Ajahn Sujato.

    How sad, but how heartening to hear of her determination to work with the situation and feelings she is experiencing.

  3. Having followed the conflict regarding the ordination of women i must say how saddened I am by the worldly response of the WAT PAH PONG SANGHA (WPPS). WPPS have shown they are like any other institution preoccupied with maintaining its own existence and to do so they will revert to the same coercive and emotionally abusive practices like any other authoritarian organisation. Women have the earned the right to ordain not only because of the Buddha’s previous acceptance and insistence on a fourfold Sangha but also due to the centuries of support they have provided through dana freely given for the benefit of all SANGHA they have earnt their rights to their own alms bowls and robes.

    I say emotionally abusive because in the first instance WPPS put forth statements and accusations that attempt to create guilt and shame in those who forward a request that does not meet with their approval. The message is clear our needs our rules come first you don’t have any unless we (WPPS) say so and we will change out rules to suit our argument. It comes across as everything we say is the truth and everything you say is wrong or a lie.

    it is the same dynamic experienced in emotionally abusive families where only the parent’s needs are allowed to be met and no one else’s. The hostility of their response the dissemination of misinformation and proliferation of accusations (aka mudslinging) while trying to hide behind superficial protestations and pretense of only trying to do what’s right and proper and being respectful and caring again is characteristic of institutional aggression. Really what they mean is “HOW DARE YOU! and ‘YOU”LL BE SORRY YOU EVER DARED”.

    Which highlights their structural aggression ie the ex communication, the punishment, it is a punishment used by the human tribe since we first got together around a campfire. Once excluded from the tribe you are no longer one of us and you will not survive on your own. So do not mistake their intention, it is one of hostility and means to cause harm i.e. the ending of Ajahn’s Brahm’s and Sujato’s monastic credentials and well being as well as anything connected to them by excluding them from the claimed legitimacy of WPPS. However myself and many many more lay supporters around the world are deeply disenchanted with WPPS and feel Ajahn’s legacy is tainted by the actions of WPPS.

    The last comment i make is that it is sad to see how much the actions of WPPS show how much they are disconnected from the source of their support, how much tradition, form and institution has usurped the Tripe Gem. In ex communicating Ajahm Brahm and Ajahn Sujato and all those who have helped them in this kusula endeavor the WPPS they have not cast them out or ended them for they are embraced worldwide by people for their Lion’s Roar on the rights of women to pursue their spiritual path. But WPPS have by their own actions identified themselves as no longer valid or relevant, all things are subject to change even the SANGHA!

    • Well said Giles!
      The tide of history is well against the “authorities” of WPPS – bhikkhuni ordination is here to stay – it never died out, it is legal, it is valid. Above all else (and it needs to be restated, the Buddha stated, to Mara’s face, that bhikkhunis were fundamental to the establishment, health & growth of Dhamma Vinaya in the world. Who are we to argue with or stand against the statements intentions of the Blessed One? Even Mara couldn’t argue against this! Goodness gracious!

  4. I know it’s easy for me to say this…and I feel also it’s a bit impertinent…but…here goes…

    I hope monastics like this who are sincere in their practise and with such faith in the Buddha and the Dhamma can keep going. I know it’s easy for me to say it; but I would beg her to keep going. If everyone who is genuine leaves this vehicle then what will happen to the vehicle and what direction will it go in? I too have faith in this vehicle and would hate to see it disappear; my faith in some of those who are using it is deeply shaken.

  5. Faith in the good heart of human beeings can be shaken time to time but not Faith in the Teachings of the Buddha.

    Don’t worry – Difficult circumstances help us to see better what is not eradicated yet in our mind. They give space to see better what the illusion(s) is or are. (When equanimity is present)

    The medecine is to go back to our cushion and practice in the daily life. More than never before.

    Don’t worry an happy end is coming sooner or later – It depends on equanimity and Metta from many many many yogis in any Sangha, moment after moment.

    With Love

    (Sorry for my english I am French)

  6. I can read that my comment is awaiting moderation – I do not understand.
    what is not moderate in my comment ? I am afraid that my english is not good enough to post because my intention is good and positive. I apologize in case something seems to be not moderate it was not my intention at all.
    Be happy
    With Metta

    • Dear Pabha,

      Please do not worry if it takes a while to have your posts approved. I cannot always find the time to do this, so you will have to be patient. Generally, I will approve all posts except those which are abusive (trolls) or stupid (incoherent and senseless). Your post is heartfelt and positive, and I’m delighted to hear your contribution.

  7. Oh !thank you. I understand now how it is working – Before your mail I understood I was requested to moderate my own comment !!
    Be happy

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