Comments by Ven Sumangala Thera

Here is a short piece written recently by Ven Sumangala Mahanayaka Thera on bhikkhuni ordination, which he has kindly forwarded to me.

Ven Sumangala has been instrumental in introducing bhikkhuni ordination in Sri Lanka through the Dumbulla chapter of the Siam Nikaya. As his article suggests, this is also linked with his belief that ordination within caste, which is normal in the Siam Nikaya, is an innovation that has no support from the Vinaya. The Buddha frequently said that in entering the Sangha we are leaving behind all socially constructed notions of ‘class’ or ‘caste’, and saw the Sangha as quite separate from these constructions of inequality. In both cases we see the narrowing and increasing exclusivity of ordination in comparison with the radical renunciation of social norms that was envisaged by the Buddha.

I would especially point out the statement in the third paragraph of the second page, which very clearly states the notion of consensus as mandated in the Vinaya: the ordination should be carried out with the agreement of the Sangha in the sima, in accordance with Dhamma and Vinaya. Obtaining consent of Sangha elsewhere is not a necessity in Vinaya.

On the contrary, as Ajahn Brahm has pointed out to me, the Sangha is obliged to accept the validity of a sanghakamma that has been well carried out, in accordance with pacittiya 63:

Should any bhikkhu knowingly agitate for the reviving of an issue that has been rightfully dealt with, it is to be confessed.


11 thoughts on “Comments by Ven Sumangala Thera

  1. A comment from theravada blog:

    Well, we are all disappointed with the Sangha. Buddhism is not to be blamed.

    Buddhism had survived for 2,500 years peacefully without a drop of blood and without any big quarrel or disagreement until now. It was doing fine until Buddhism spread to AUSTRALIA !!!

    Buddhism is going to be like Christianity with many denominations and new and old testaments like Prostestan, Anglican, Lutheran,AoGod,Mormons etc. Looks like Buddhism in the West is heading towards that direction.

    The Insight Meditation Society in their web had already classified it as “Western Buddhism”, is there such a Buddhism (eastern/northern/southern buddhism?) OMG!

    Why is the West always making enemies and quarrels with the rest of the world? Don’t understand.

    • Dear Laity,

      I must point out that you have unfairly made accusation of Australia in particular and the West in general about reforms and changes they brought to the Buddhist movement in the world. In fact. much of their initiatives and courage to change the way the Dhamma has been taught and practised have brought tremendous progress and benefits to the Buddhist world. Unfortunately, I must say the future of GLOBAL Buddhism lies with the Western Sangha, beyond the fetter of ethnic Buddhism.

  2. About ordination by bhikkhu sangha only , Ven Sumangala Thera wrote:

    This clearly confirms that the Higher Ordination of Bhikkhuni should be effected by Bhikkhus and hence the preliminary rule (of ordination by Bhikkhus) had not been invalidated. On the otherhand, if Bhikkhuni find no problem over the consultation of the endangered, Dhamma Higher Ordination of Bhikkhuni by Bhikkhu is faultless.

    About the “rule” that the preceptor bhikkhuni had to be Theraveda, Ven Sumangala Thera wrote:

    ” It is seen that some Seamese Sect of Sangha in Sri Lanka strongly consider the clan during the course of Higher Ordination. The observation of the birth clan of the prospective candidate for Higher Ordination is not included in the Endangered Dhamma. Hence it is to mention that this is a later addition to Higher Ordination functions, which is contrary to Buddha Teachings.”

  3. Although various Ajahns have insisted that Ajahn Brahm needed to get consent from other monastery before ordaining Bhikkhunis even if it is in harmony with the Vinaya . However, according to Ven Sumangala Thera consent or approval of other Sangha elsewhere is not necessary :

    ” The Higher Ordination is a Sangha convention. The convention is carried by the Sangha gathered at the Chapter House at the time. For this purpose, consent or approval of other Sangha elsewhere is not necessary.”

    Not only does the bhikkhuni ordination abides by the vinaya, but according to the Vinaya, Ajahn Brahm is not even required to get approval of other monasteries. Then the question is , what was the ground for punishing Ajahn Brahm?

    Is it because he goes against the status quo or the view of some of the elder monk ? Unlike the timeless Dhamma of the Buddha, status quo and opinions of certain monks are not perfect. It varies from region to region, and changes with time. It is not something to cling to without proper discernment and justification.

    • You said: ‘Not only does the bhikkhuni ordination abides by the vinaya, but according to the Vinaya, Ajahn Brahm is not even required to get approval of other monasteries. Then the question is , what was the ground for punishing Ajahn Brahm?’

      There was a gentleman named Terry who asked a similar question on the Women and the Forest Sangha on Facebook site. I think he asked if there was a technical Vinaya reason for the secrecy. The following quotes from Ven Sumangala’s statement help to answer this:

      ‘The Higher Ordination is a Sangha Convention. The convention is carried by the Sangha gathered at the Chapter House at the time. For this purpose consent or approval of other Sangha else where will not (sic) necessary.

      Any objection towards the Higher Ordination of the candidate concerned should be placed then and there before the Sangha in the Chapter House and will not serve any purpose of objections elsewhere later.’

      I asked around and was told by a couple of well respected monastics that if any Bhikku or Bhikkuni within the boundary of the Sima at the time of the ordination, had objected, then the ordination would not have been valid. I was told that in Sri Lanka Bhikkuni ordinations are still done behind closed doors for this reason. (I was told that Ajahn Brahm requested that there be lay people present.)

      In light of the over the top reaction from the WAM, it would seem that the Perth monastics were right to keep things quiet!! In light of the over the top reaction from the WAM, perhaps, given ‘adequate notice’ and ‘consultation’ they would have sent someone to the ordination to stop it!!!

    • Dear Kanchana,

      It is not necessary to get approval or consent from other monasteries , yet few elders involved demanded that Ajahn Brahm get their approval . The vinaya doesn’t grant them that authority. It is bad enough that they forbid women to become ordain. They wanted to make sure that others have to commit to the same mistake for generations to come. It is naive to think that any change will come about if no one speak out about it and undo the biased conditioning.

      Various Ajahns say that according to the vinaya women are not equal to men, and they don’t want to stray from it. But according to the vinaya , it is also allowable for women to become ordain . I wonder why they want to stray from that then? And now we are expected to remain stuck with a lopsided theefold sangha when the Buddha created a fourfold sangha. That is a really big alteration. The excuse given for that is hardly substantial.

  4. Yes, I agree. It is not much of an excuse but I wonder how much the wider political situation in Thailand has to do with all this…

    • I would say that some of the Western Ajahns are stuck in the middle. It is not something they would want. But there are too much pressure for them to comply. I do sympathize with Ajahn Summedho , Ajahn Sona , and various other Ajahns in the WAM for the amount of peer
      pressure they are under. Their ability to help is limited. So poor Ajahn Brahm is left on his own to go against the status quo and against the stream.

  5. Kanchana,

    I totally agree with you that some of the monks’ reactions are really “Over The Top”!

    Some have successfully brought up the issue to the Thai Sangha Council or Mahathera Samakom. It’s on the news section of a Thai English-language newspaper “Bangkok Post” today:

    Wat expelled over female ordination

    The Sangha Supreme Council has upheld a decision by the Wat Pah Pong Forest Sangha to exclude the Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery in Western Australia from its community after its abbot ordained two women.

    It is forbidden to ordain a woman as a bhikkhuni (female monk) in Thai Theravada Buddhism, the dominant sect in this country, because there is no lineage to Theravada bhikkhuni in Thailand.

    But British-born abbot Phra Brahmvamso allowed the ordination in late October and participated in the ceremony despite opposition from many senior monks.

    The expulsion of Bodhinyana monastery, a branch of Wat Pah Pong Forest Sangha in Ubon Ratchathani province, does not mean its temple status is revoked.

    The temple was granted permission by the Australian government, the council’s secretariat office director, Amnat Buasiri, said, citing the council’s meeting on Dec 11. The council’s decision was announced on Saturday.

    Council spokesman Phra Thammakiti Methi criticised Phra Brahmvamso for not following tradition handed down by generations of Theravada monks.
    “Women could be ordained only in the Mahayana Buddhist sect, but in Theravada, we don’t have bhikkhuni,” Somdej Phra Phutthacharn, chief adviser to the Supreme Patriarch, was quoted as saying in, the website which revealed the ordination.

    In the Bangkok Post early this year, Phra Brahmvamso claimed there was research on Pali Vinaya, the part of the Buddhist inscription detailing monks’ regulations, conducted by Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Theravada scholar-monk. He said the ordination of women was possible in the Theravada sect.

    Phra Brahmvamso, given a rank of Phra Visuthisangvorn Thera in 2006 by His Majesty the King, is among many foreign disciples of late meditation master Luang Por Chah, founder of Wat Pah Pong. He graduated from Cambridge in theoretical physics before coming to Thailand. He trained for nine years under Luang Por Chah in a forest before he went to establish a branch of Wat Pah Pong outside Perth, Western Australia.

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