I was a bit surprised to see that one of our commenters say he didn’t think to ask me a question directly, as he didn’t think a monk would reply. I read all the comments, and try to answer the direct questions raised in the comments, and to reply elsewhere when I have something to say. Of course i can’t reply personally to each posting, much as I would like.

But i’d like to give you a chance to ask questions or raise topics that i haven’t posted on. I’ll try to do this from time to time, and will do my best to answer any questions – although you’re all also invited to have a go! So if there’s something you’d like to raise, please do so in the comments – what is a pressing Dhamma issue for you?


147 thoughts on “Questions?

  1. Dear Aj. Sujato,

    I have a pressing dhamma issue as time is running out… I have to say it now!


    To you and all the good monks in Australia and around the world.

    May your good karma lead you to full englightenment.

    Yours in dhamma,


    • Dear Bhante and all boys and girls of the fourfold assembly,

      Have a most Bodhacious Christmas.
      May the holiday season inspire both metta and nibbida for all our kammic connections – even the naughty anthropomorphic fantasies like Santa!


    • Well, that’s a big one. It’s all a bit much to tackle in a little note, so let me just make a few points here.

      One-life dependent origination; which one? There are at least three mutually exclusive versions that I’m aware of:

      Buddhadasa: The three life interpretation of DO is wrong and was introduced by Buddhaghosa the brahman; dependent origination occurs in psychological time, we can see the unfolding of the factors and the birth of a sense of ‘I’ within a few minutes or seconds.

      The German monk Nyanavira: The three-life interpretation was false. DO is ‘timeless’ in the sense of a structural principle that is always present, not one that unfolds in time. Nevertheless, this in no way implies that the Buddha did not teach rebirth; he obviously did so, and anyone who argues otherwise simply has not read the Suttas. It is just that DO as such is not concerned with rebirth but about the structure of existence.

      Payutto: Both the three life and one life (Buddhadasa) interpretations of DO are valid.

      So if we argue for the one life interpretation, which one, exactly? And why?

      Each of these views has been criticized in detail, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Nyanavira) and Ajahn Brahm and others, as so far as i am aware there has been no substantial response to these criticisms: if there is, please let me know.

      It seems to me, contrary to these good scholars, that DO is obviously about rebirth. The terminology that is used is constantly used in the context of rebirth, and there is no serious evidence that the Buddha ever talked about ‘birth, ageing, and death’ as the cycle of the idea of a self. When he wanted to talk about dependent origination of the psychological self, he was quite capable of doing so, for example in the Madhupindika Sutta; but this is quite different from the existential teaching on DO as such.

      The oft-repeated notion that the three life was introduced by Buddhaghosa as a Bramanical plot to undermine Buddhism is sectarian nonsense. There were plenty of Brahmans in Buddhism, starting with Sariputta and Moggallana, and no evidence that they ever smuggled surreptitious doctrines in. Moreover, the three-life interpretation is standard all through the northern schools of Buddhism, and is clearly attested in the Pali in the Patisambhidamagga at the very latest, many centuries before Buddhaghosa. The persistence of this idea is a telling sign of the lack of historical perspective among Buddhists. If we are to consider what influences Buddhaghosa might have brought to Theravada, we should start with the introduction of Yogacara ideas, something that has received too little acknowledgement.

      Finally, the debate on one-versus-three lives carries a number of assumptions that, for me, cloud the whole debate; the most problematic of which is that DO is a rational doctrine susceptible to clear philosophical formulation. That notion is challenged by the most interesting work on the topic in modern times, an article by Joanna Jurewicz called “Playing with Fire”. This shows that there are strong parallels between DO and much earlier Vedic creation mythologies. The parallels between DO and origin myths were noticed by earlier Indologists, but dismissed later by those who wished to establish Buddhism on purely rational terms. In fact the parallels can be taken further than Jurewicz can take them in her academic context. It seems to me that DO is clearly addressing, in a peculiarly Buddhist way, the same questions of ultimate meaning that Creation myths do, and should be considered together with creation mythology in a much broader sense. This article has received some interest from scholars and Buddhists, but is still in need of more exploring…

    • Sujato

      Another old chestnut, but I still haven’t got to the bottom of this – what gets reborn and how? The Buddha would not agree with nihilism or eternalism, and he didn’t seem to go along with the idea of a soul. I’ve never found a soul, despite many years of childhood Catholic indoctrination.

      Ajahn Brahm seems to think that something(s) has/have migrated from individual higher primates to individual humans to allow the human population explosion at the same time as primate populations have declined, although I can’t make sense of that and I’m not sure the numbers work. I think that idea causes more problems than it solves.

      Can you help?



    • Dear David,

      The main thing here is that rebirth does not involve the transmission of any substantial or eternal entity, such as a soul. There is no extra or additional metaphysical principle that we need to invoke in order to explain rebirth. if you look at accounts of Near Death Experiences, for example, the reports all speak of lights, space, movement, memory, volition, whatever: exactly the same kinds of things that make up our everyday experience, even if the details differ. The soul fallacy is similar to the Aristolelian idea that since the stars do not fall from the sky, they must operate according to a different set of laws than govern gravity here on Earth. As Galileo and Newton discovered, they don’t: their motion is explained by exactly the same set of principles that explain gravity on earth.

      in terms of the details, this is a long topic, which has still not been adequately explored or explained. But if we think about rebirth as like the transfer of information – whether genetic information like a seed, or text like an email, or emotion like a voice – then we are on the right track.

    • Dear Sujato

      “In terms of the details, this is a long topic, which has still not been adequately explored or explained.” If this could be gone into (over time, as if you didn’t have enough on your plate!) I think it would help many people who either just “believe in” rebirth because the scriptures say so and don’t actually understand it and have stopped exploring it, or who value the practice of the eightfold path highly but just skip over rebirth because it doesn’t seem to make sense and have stopped exploring it (i.e. me).

      “But if we think about rebirth as like the transfer of information – whether genetic information like a seed, or text like an email, or emotion like a voice”. Like a voice transferring emotion. That strikes a chord with me. I can start to explore this. Thank you, Sujato.


  2. Dear Ajahn Sujato,

    The eye is not the fetter of forms, nor are the forms the fetter of the eye. For, the fetter here is the desire and lust that arises therein dependent of both

    The ear is not the fetter of sounds, nor are sounds the fetter of the ear. The fetter here is the desire and lust that arises therein dependent of both…

    Is it possible then for musicians and artists to perform music or paint without having any attachment to their art?

    w metta,

    • Hi Pan,

      Well, i wouldn’t know. In theory, yes, and there is certainly a long and glorious history of monks engaging in the visual and literary arts. Music, not so much, it’s always a bit scarily sensuous…

      But as a writer, I know first hand how much attachment there is. The creative arts are always an expression of self, and always potentially a vehicle for the ego. But at the same time they engage with and allow us to reflect on certain aspects of who we are. My own interest in writing, as a monk, was stimulated by these considerations. As you may or may not know, before ordaining i was a muso; and for me, music was always about finding and expressing myself. In meditation I found a way of doing this that was far more profound and interesting.

      Yet after a number of years I noticed that certain aspects seemed to be unaddressed in meditation, and I gradually turned back to creative work. I am always bearing these ambiguities in mind, watching for my own involvement, the intrusion and extrusion of the self.

    • Could you elaborate on the aspects that seem to be unaddressed in meditation and how you are working with them?

      Also, I would like to hear more on your thoughts about music, especially in the context of Theravada. The practice of music in both Tibetan Buddhism and Theravada seems to be limited to performing a fixed liturgical corpus. In Zen this expands to include a repertoire of meditative shakuhachi pieces which encompasses a bit more of the “expressive” impulse. The free creation of new music, while encouraged as a practice by some Tibetan and Zen teachers (possibly others I don’t know about), is not as fully embraced by any Buddhist traditions (that I know about) in the same way that the creation of new calligraphy, paintings, and poetry are by Zen.

      So my deeper question is, how do I, as a Westerner practicing Theravada, approach writing music as a practice?

      Thank you.

    • Dear Stan,

      The aspects unaddressed in meditation – hmm, a hard one to articulate. It is, perhaps, the very ambiguities and uncertainties of life that art captures so well. In meditation, we confront the presently arisen consciousness, the mind on the very cusp of creating itself. There is a bright clarity there: what is, is, and what is not is nowhere to be seen. And yet it seems to me that those things that are nowhere to be seen still wield their influence. In creative expression we have boundaries: the frame of the canvas, the 4/4 of the song, the lines of a book. These strictures give us the freedom to encounter things within that could never be expressed in the vulnerable space of everyday living. We can freely say things, manufacture an external representation of part of our mind, then sit back and ‘objectively’ look at them, consider them as an outsider would; or even listen to what others say about them.

      For this to be real, it can’t be didactic. Anyone who tries to do art while trying to be doctrinally correct is really going to end up with something strangled – or at least that’s my experience. Instead of saying, ‘How can i express this Dhamma truth in art’, I find it’s much more interesting to ask, ‘What is there in me that is untouched by Dhamma’. Say that, express it as best you can in whatever medium you can, and then ask why? Is this really divorced from Dhamma? If so, what is there to be done about it? Or is it really something else, an aspect of Dhamma that your conscious mind has not yet made sense of or discovered in the literal teachings?

      For me, this ‘something else’ is, of course, the feminine. The great absence from Theravada, and the one thing that you will never be taught about. It seems to me obvious that as a human being i have both masculine and feminine dimensions; as a man, the feminine is in some way always ‘other’, and needs understanding. For most people, this comes about through relationships. The reason people find relationship spiritually fulfilling and necessary is because it helps us discover and growth with the ‘other’ within ourselves. As a monk, this is obviously different. I’m not interested in pursuing any more sexual relationships, but i still want to understand this part of my own mind. And as a creative artist, it was natural to use this medium, since the woman is, of course, the true Creator.

      I would guess that other monks do this in different ways, even if they wouldn’t articulate it in the way I am here. For example, Ajahn Brahm would never use these kinds of concepts; but if you live with him and see his love, gentleness, and care for people; and if you hear his teachings on how to develop samadhi, you cannot but conclude that here is a man who is well integrated with his feminine side.

    • Dear All

      It may be of interest to know that the monastics of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village are encouraged to engage in creative activity such as music or theatre, partly as a community activity but also as a way of “managing their sexual energy” as they put it, since they are celibate. This may reflect the emphasis of their practice which is on “living in community” rather than meditation.

      Phap Son (Brother Michael), the abbot of Son Ha monastery at Plum Village, has posted on this blog before and, if he sees this, may be able to talk about the place of creative activity in the Plum Village monastic practice and its relationship with meditation and community living.


  3. Dear Ajahn,

    I would like to know your practical advice about schism (sanghabheda). Do the rules about that provide an orderly means for communities to divide up, or is the Buddha’s instruction to reconcile all disagreements and preserve communities? Do those rules apply only to communities which are dwelling together and reciting patimokkha together, or do they apply to multi-national sangha conglomerates? If it were done according to Vinaya, what would be the step-by-step procedure?
    p.s. it is my view that Aj. Brahmavamso takes the Vinaya rule more seriously than most bhikkhus and it is for that reason that he would never have voluntarily separated from the Wat NPP group. With metta, Bhikkhuni Sobhana

    • Dear Ayya,

      The Vinaya has this somewhat peculiar ambiguity, it seems to me. the notion of ‘harmony’ and community generally is clearly meant to embrace the Sangha as a whole, and yet the specific formulation of Vinaya procedures solely concerns the practices within each individual monastery. This then becomes a matter of interpretation. The understanding in Thailand, Tibet, and elsewhere, is that the Vinaya structures are incomplete, and in modern context need to be supplemented by a nationally-based legal structure to control the Sangha. Other countries, such as Sri lanka or taiwan, have no such legally enforced structure, but allow the Sangha to group and regroup more organically.

      My own view is that the Vinaya is finely judged in what it requires and does not require. I see the Sangha as being like an organism; each cell contains the same DNA, which encodes the basic information for life, and marks the organism as one unity; and yet each cell differentiates and specializes in different areas, which have a greater or lesser connection with each other.

      I don’t think there are any rules that really provide a means of orderly breakup. i would suspect that the process of sect formation has always been messy and complex.

      It is not the case that all disputes must be resolved. On the contrary, true unity is unity together with the Dhamma Vinaya. If there is a group who is not following Dhamma Vinaya, then one should distance oneself. In trying to apply Vinaya guidelines to solve Sangha disputes on a scale larger than an individual monastery, we are really in the realm of using the Vinaya as guideline and precedent, rather than as hard and fast rules. Nevertheless, it should be attempted, although there should be due humility in expecting any outcomes….

  4. Bhante,

    What is your view on the appropriateness of the ‘original’ samana practice for the modern sangha, with regards to workable reforms? We have tudong practices and forest monks, but it seems to me that the Jain monks have done a better job preserving the ideal of the wandering ascetic than the theravada. While the Buddha’s establishment is obviously less severe than Mahahvir’s in terms of ascetic practices, can we not learn from it? Do you think any form of asceticism can be made part of the Middle Way, whether for a monastic or layperson? Do you see the Theravada establishment to have changed for better or for worse with the erosion of the samana ideal?
    With Metta

    • Dear Tom,

      I’m not familiar with contemporary Jain monastic lifestyle, so i can’t comment there.

      As far as the ascetic, homeless wandering lifestyle goes, this is still alive in Thailand and Sri lanka, but dying out. For millenia it has been a distinctly minority choice, but with population growth and development it is becoming harder and harder. I hardly know any monks who have pursued the tudong life except for short periods. One of the ironies is that, as a tudong monk, you arrive at a new village every day, where you are immediately a celebrity. The villagers will pursue the tudong monks, quite literally. A friend of mine who did this eventually worked out that he had to plan escape routes from the area before going for alms! The people want to talk to the wandering monk, just to see the rare sight, or ask questions. Or else they want a horoscope or a lottery number; or even to offer their daughter…

      The tudong lifestyle of the original forest monks is such a threat to the establishment that it is actually illegal in Thailand. Article 27 of the Sangha Act says:

      In the event that there is a Bhikkhu who refuses the verdict to disrobe himself, or who habitually commits offenses against the Doctrine and the Discipline, or who is not attached to any monastery, thereby living the life of a tramp, the Council of Elders is vested with the power to enforce a judgement for his disrobing.

      Poor old Mahakassapa! He’d be forcibly disrobed if he lived in Thailand. As this passage demonstrates, the ideals of the Thai Sangha administration could not be further away from those of the original Buddhist lifestyle. Of course, in practice these rules are not usually enforced, and the tudong monks are, at least in theory, registered with a monastery, even if they don’t actually stay there. But the message comes through loud and clear. The original samana lifestyle is heretical for the modern Thain Sangha and is barely tolerated.

      I have a great love for the ancient rishi ideal, celebrated in countless Indian stories. It’s not easy – I’ve lived in very simple monasteries, but there’s usually been a roof overhead, and always a good meal. You find that young guys like this lifestyle, it’s fun and exciting. But there are few who can pursue it for long periods.

      Generally, i think it’s best to stay in a simple forest monastery. As long as it does not get too busy and too developed, this is still a great way to practice long term. I do feel that many forest monasteries have become overdeveloped. Ajahn Maha Bua’s monastery is a great example in this respect. I try to keep Santi simple; our accommodation is just pretty basic huts at best – some of us stay in old caravans or caves. I have a top-of-the-range 10M2 one-room wooden kuti, 1.5km deep in the forest – for a forest monk, that’s real luxury.

      For lay people it’s hard to generalize. But the golden rule is that simple is good, simpler is better.

  5. Dear Ajahn Sujato,
    Would you consider leading an online course based on your recent book “Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies?” You have shared much with us through the blog and your website. However I wonder if a structured(-ish?) online course might help us to focus our energies and curiosity- and enable us to become more skillful in our ongoing dialogues with Sangha Friends and wider society.
    (I suggested something like this to Thea Mohr and Jampa Tsedroen but have not heard anything back. Perhaps they could be involved s guest contributors?)

    • Dear Lisa,

      Well, that’s an interesting idea. When I did the research for that book I had no idea anyone would be interested, but it seems to be timely…

      i have done a series of Vinaya talks on some of the topics in the book, and will continue to do more. Our Vinaya classes here are quite discussion based, so might not be very coherent in a recording. I don’t keep up with everything that’s edited and put on the web, so I’m not sure what’s available.

      As far as an online course goes, I’m not really sure what that would involve. Perhaps it could be combined with our ‘Study retreat’ – we do three months a year where we have classes every day, including Vinaya classes. This will probably be in March-May 2010. How would you envisage the course being structured? Or how would we communicate? Skype the classes, perhaps? …

  6. Dear David Conway, please look at dependent origination since it describes rebirth without a ‘something’ going across. You have misunderstood Ajahn Brahm since he never says that something goes across from birth to birth. He describes it as a fruit seed which grows into a tree and then bears fruit. Then that fruit has seed which is planted and the next generation of plants is similar to the parent plant but there is nothing that physically goes between. Maybe Bhante Sujato can explain it differently. Ajahn Brahm uses similes a lot but sometimes not everyone understands so it’s understandable that you misunderstood:) No worries, you’ve come to the right place to straighten your ‘right view’ 🙂

    By the way in regards to your previous posting about ‘creativity’: entertainment is a distraction since the mind just follows it’s desires and seeks to gratify senses rather than subduing the outflowings of the mind, which is the practice the Buddha praised. Creativity is just expressing the delusion of self and it not conducive to nibbanna and cessation. Buddha always said to practice restraint. So if you want to exist and suffer: follow desires, gratify senses through entertainment and just waste time. If you want to be liberated from the round of rebirth then restrain, meditate and the liberating insight that existence is suffering with no essential self will become obvious and soon rebirth will end 🙂

    Also, someone posed a question about rebirth. Of course there is rebirth! Someone asked Sariputta what is suffering and what is happiness? Sariputta the great arahant said “rebirth is suffering, ending rebirth is happiness”. Basic Buddhism but even some monks get popular by washing it down and appealing to people’s defilements and wishful thinking.
    sincerely and kindly,

    • Dear Dania- Thankyou for your comment above. You say, with a tone of authority that
      ” Creativity is just expressing the delusion of self and is not conducive to nibbanna and cessation”
      I was sparked to reply partly due to intrigue at your air of authority ! Are you so sure? Is that really true as a blanket statement ? I would certainly open it to question. I would bring great yogi saints who have also painted to mind.
      I would bring to mind very contemplative art of Zen Masters.
      I would ask, does it not depend on the degree of emptiness one has realised?
      Can it not sometimes actually be a passifying activity even in itself- depending on approach and content ?

      I find this a very profound and relevant topic, in the balance of the masculine and feminine- within and without that many of these blog posts lately have been focused around.

      When i wanted to be a nun, my grandmother asked a senior Ajahn in the Western Thai Forest Tradition -“Can she still paint and draw and write, she is very creative…” The Ajahn paused and said no.
      My grandmother was not impressed- in fact she Humphed a great Humph !
      I don’t think my gran felt the need to separate ‘creative’ from practising the spiritual path. That was her view. I still sit with all of that.

      It just so happends that as soon as i ‘came’ to Buddhist paractice ( again) in this life..nearly ten years ago…i became less and less engaged in any form of creative expression…i don’t know if that was a natural effect of meditation and developing a bit of wise refelection…a natural unfolding that would have happened anyway..( i don’t think so) or just a ‘mere coincidence’ ( do they actually exist?)

      Needless to say,
      I am not a nun and nor am i as ‘creative’ as i once was.

      But actually- WHAT IS CREATIVITY ?
      We could write a whole big book just on theat topic- and like the elephant felt by blind men- come up with all sorts of partial views.


    • Very interesting Belle, (if art can come from a peaceful empty mind).
      The only person who knows that answer is you right? 🙂 We have to observe our own state of mind and see what our intention and motive is. If it’s coming from ‘self expression’ and emotions or inspired by a sensory contact such as music or a picture, or if it’s coming from wise compassion.

      It seems to be (from personal experience), that creation is from self expression, emotional inspiration or dwelling over a dramatic instance in life. It’s not conducive since at the time one is being ‘creative’, one is at that time creating more samsara. Creativity is the same as creation. Creating more existence:) And by focusing on that we are creating more samsara. Remember the buddha said each time our mind moves, thinks or inclines, that is where we are creating our future births (not exactly how he says it but it’s the gist). I was very inspired when I read that in the Suttas. (Correct me if I’m wrong Bhante Sujato- I’m a baby in the Suttas and Buddhism)

      It’s interesting you wonder if art can come from an empty mind since I was just reading the Udana: inspired utterances by the Buddha and I can perceive these beautiful statements as “art”. They are awesome! But that is just my perception of Buddha’s statements which I perceive as so poetic, wise and beautiful. So we have to keep in mind that perception of art is entirely subjective.

      The important thing is that we have to observe our own mind and see where our actions are coming from. Whether what we ‘do’ comes from compassion and selflessness or comes from a deluded self expression, emotions and being moved by music or sights. Whether our mind is in a state of craving that is conducive to future rebirth or peace, wisdom and compassion.

      About my tone, it’s just my conditioning of being trained in science and writing scientific articles. We’re trained to be ‘to the point’ with no ambiguity. Although we’re also trained to reference every statement we write (but it would be too tedious to do so here). So nevermind my tone Belle:) It’s just the way I write. Hope it didn’t offend you or anything.

      So to the point, the only authority is our own understanding and observation of the working of our mind. What causes give rise to more suffering, activity, conducive to rebirth or what state of mind has the result of peace, freedom 🙂

      Upali asked the Buddha to tell him in brief, how he can know what’s the Dhamma and Vinaya. And the BUddha said, you know it’s the Dhamma and the Vinaya if it leads to peace, turning away from the world, wisdom, cessation of existence, enlightenment and a few other things he said:) So if our actions of what you call or don’t call ‘art’ leads to peace, relinquishment, cessation and fading away of things, it’s the Dhamma and Vinaya of the Buddha.

      ps- you wanted to ordain before right? Go ahead:) that would be great:) express road to nibbanna!

    • If I may add something from my favourite poet, “To be an artist…means to ripen as the tree, which does not force its sap, but stands unshaken in the storms of spring with no fear that summer might not follow…” – Rainer Maria Rilke

    • Dear Dania

      Thank you for your answer. You said “please look at dependent origination since it describes rebirth without a ’something’ going across”.

      I’m familiar with DO which, in itself, doesn’t describe rebirth as far as I can see. I have always taken a “one life” interpretation of DO, along the lines that Phap Son mentions below (a long way below) in vipassana. However, Sujato mentions that the Buddha always discussed DO in a context which implied rebirth and, therefore, the three life interpretation, and he knows a lot more about it than I do. The “three life” interpretation takes rebirth as a given but doesn’t provide any evidence. It’s an assertion, not a demonstration. It just seems that the Buddha took rebirth as a given, perhaps because of the Vedic culture in which he grew up. So DO doesn’t help me.

      You said “You have misunderstood Ajahn Brahm since he never says that something goes across from birth to birth.”

      Well, I don’t think so but please let me know if I have misunderstood the following. I had previously listened to two relevant talks by Ajahn Brahm and have relistened to them. One is called “The Process of Rebirth” on 24 April 2009 ( and the other is called “Reincarnation – here we go again” on 24 January 2009 (

      In the “Rebirth” talk AB discusses rebirth as the transmission of tendencies and qualities and talks of the way that we can improve those qualities in ourselves and others. I have no problem with rebirth in this metaphorical sense or any other metaphorical sense: my genes being in my child; those who have known me, family, friends, colleagues being influenced by me, my behaviour, moods; the effect of where I spent, donated and bequeathed my money and under what conditions; whose education I paid for, what charities I supported, what advice I gave, what example I set and so on. My life has echoes and reverberations around the world, many of which I will never know. In the same way we could all be said to be the original fourfold sangha reborn because we strive to live in the same way, or I could say that I’m Sujato reborn because I’ve benefitted from his knowledge, experience and clarity and am now more knowledgeable, clear and experienced myself. But this is “rebirth”, it’s not actual rebirth, with something or someone that was born before being born again in a physical body after it has left another recently dead physical body.

      In the “Reincarnation” talk Ajahn Brahm starts to talk about actual reincarnation, about there being something personal which is separate from the body and goes from life to life and is recognisably “me”, about the same people going from life to life and remembering their previous life or the same being going from an animal to a human life and about someone actually seeing a soul go down the street from a monastery into a village.

      He starts off talking about “20 Cases Suggestive of Rebirth”, research by Professor Ian Stevenson in which he interviews children remembering their past lives, checks out their stories and finds that they stack up. The research is well peer-reviewed, the informants got nothing out of contributing and some actually suffered for doing so. Although I haven’t read it, it sounds like good research. But it is about the same individual being reincarnated and remembering their actual previous life, not the transmission of qualities and tendencies.

      AB asks why is it difficult to accept reincarnation (absence of convincing evidence is my answer) and mentions the “silly arguments” he hears against it, for example the fact that there are many more people now than ever before – where have all the new people come from? Despite the fact that he calls this a silly argument he does take a lot of time to answer it. He takes seriously the argument that if the human population increases, then the population of some other species must fall to match, so there is a one-to-one correspondence between lives – not an osmosis of tendencies or qualities between lives, but something going from one life to another in a way that limits the total number of beings but allows them to change between species.

      At 16:45 he says “as the number of animals in this world, especially the so called higher animals, have decreased, so the human beings have increased. That’s actually basically where many of us have come from”.

      Later at 19:30 he tells the story of a monkey living at a monastery that got run over by a car just outside the gates. The head monk didn’t witness the accident but saw what happened in his meditation. Ajahn Brahm says: “As soon as monkey died, the stream of consciousness, what some people call the soul, but in Buddhism we call it a stream of consciousness, there’s only a slight difference, so you don’t need to worry too much about that as far as this explanation is concerned, the stream of consciousness of the monkey went out of the monkey’s body, went into the village where one of the ladies was pregnant, and he saw it actually entering this woman’s womb, and he told the monks what had happened which is how I can tell you, and so because he told the monks that this woman who was pregnant he saw this monkey actually enter the womb, he was going to take birth as a human being. Why that would happen is because that monkey was associating so much with human beings basically it thought it was a human being, it thought that was where it belonged, that was why it was attracted into a human life. Many of you have animals, pets, dogs, cat, kittens, whatever, because you’re with them all the time … how many of you have got cats and dogs which actually eat human food? They will refuse to eat Whiskas, they want to sort of eat chicken or whatever you eat and you give it to them don’t you? … and they’re so associated with you that very often they get reborn as a human being”

      Then at 21:15 “That boy was exceptionally hairy for a baby boy .It was a monkey before and it still had a tiny bit of that monkey character. You can actually have this sort of transition from the animal realm to the human realm which answers that question very articulately, very elegantly”. (The question being the one about where do all the new humans come from.)

      This is a very clear description of “what some people call the soul” going down the road from the dead body of a monkey outside the monastery into the womb of a woman in the village. I can see no other way to understand it. And, from his discussion of human population increase, Ajahn Brahm believes that, in order for a human being to be born, it has to have something “injected” into it from another particular individual animal or human being who has recently died and that there is a fixed number of these somethings in existence, so more human beings means fewer animals. I can see no other way to understand it. If I am mistaken, I’d be grateful if you could tell me how.

      Ajahn Brahm then tells the story of the mango: eat a mango, plant the seed, grow a tree, pick another mango, eat second mango. AB traces this chain of events and then says that we can trace “the whole series of cause and effect” for a dying human in a similar way. “That chain of cause and effect is exactly what happens a human being when they die, a whole chain, which you can actually see a connection, from moment to moment to moment, but when you get to the new life there’s hardly anything which was in the old life which is now in the new life, except, if that old mango was drought resistant, then the new one is likely to be, if the old mango is sweet the new one is likely to be sweet. That’s what we mean by karma. [It’s actually genetics and horticulture.] It’s those tendencies those inclinations, qualities, that is actually what goes across. So that’s actually one of the best explanations of how it works, in theory, but actually how it works in practice, is, and I’ll tell this to you, it’s a truth, I don’t mind saying this, I can’t prove it, but if you really want to prove it, when you die, then you’ll be able to prove this.” Well, OK, I guess I’ll have to wait! This all seems more like Hinduism to me than Buddhism, though.

      You said: “Also, someone posed a question about rebirth. Of course there is rebirth! Someone asked Sariputta what is suffering and what is happiness? Sariputta the great arahant said “rebirth is suffering, ending rebirth is happiness”. Well that’s like saying “of course Christ was born of a virgin and came back from the dead, St Matthew and St Luke both say so!” It’s at best an assertion, not a demonstration. What if Sariputta was wrong? How can I see for myself? The Buddha always said “look, try this, and I bet you’ll find that out.” And you try it, and it works. That’s why I like him. I would like the same kind of teaching for rebirth.

      Having gone into this intensively in the last few days I’ve realised two things. The first is, I used to be a “non-believer”, I actually don’t know but I’m interested in finding out. The second is, I’m interested to an extent, but in the end at a deep level I don’t care, because whatever the answer is makes no difference to my practice or how I live my life. If there is a next life, it will still be this life when I get there. Whether I am reincarnated another million times, or whether this is my last life because “I” will achieve Buddhahood (unlikely, I have to say, but you never know – but I don’t like that model anyway), or whether this is my last life because I’m an animal who will just die (I’ll go with that one in relative terms), or if “I” actually have no independent permanent self so there is nothing to be born or to die (I’ll go with that one in absolute terms), all I can do is be as wise and compassionate as I can right now and everything else takes care of itself.

      This question of reincarnation seems like it should be one of those questions that the Buddha refused to answer because you couldn’t know the answer and because anyway the answer had no bearing on the eightfold path. I’m glad that I can stop addressing it. Thank you for provoking the investigation.

      You wrote: “By the way in regards to your previous posting about ‘creativity’: entertainment is a distraction since the mind just follows it’s desires and seeks to gratify senses rather than subduing the outflowings of the mind, which is the practice the Buddha praised. Creativity is just expressing the delusion of self and it not conducive to nibbanna and cessation. Buddha always said to practice restraint. “

      You mentioned my post about creativity but then go on to talking about entertainment, and I would agree with you in that regard. I found most of the music and theatre activities that went on at Plum Village made it an unfavourable environment for meditation, partly just because of the noise, but also because it changed the atmosphere and made people more distracted than focussed. (However, there were group chants which helped everyone focus together – I have had a similar experience singing in choirs. Phap Son mentions formal ceremonies below and I had similar experiences as an altar boy at Catholic Mass in my youth.) I used to be a rock and jazz fan earlier in life, both as a player and an audience member, and I don’t do that anymore because, as you say, I find it is an expression of craving or some kind of emotion. However, I have found that the experience of playing my guitar for my wife and young child is a completely different thing – they love it, it really soothes my child and, for me, I find that sitting in a chair playing the guitar for someone else is a fundamentally different action from sitting in the same chair playing the same music on the same guitar just for myself.

      I also have to say that, having lived through the sixties, music which now seems jarring to me was then just the thing to wake people up from their post-war grey hypocrisy. It was part of a movement, another part of which was the coming of the Dharma to the West. I think there’s a time and a place for most things.

      Regarding creativity, I would regard the Buddha as one of the most creative humans who ever lived. He realised something that we can all recognise, developed a way for others to realise it too, it works and it’s still going over 2,500 years later. The bikkhuni ordination was a creative step on the part of Ajahns Brahm and Sujato and everyone else concerned.

      I have also found that in recent years, a poem or a piece of music sometimes “arrives” during meditation, especially on retreat, and perhaps finishes itself off over the next couple of days. It is in my language and has my phrasing and love of wordplay, so it definitely came through me, as it were, but I have no sense of having written it. Others say that those poems are exquisitely evocative of the moment or place in which they arrived.

      You said: “Also, someone posed a question about rebirth. Of course there is rebirth! Someone asked Sariputta what is suffering and what is happiness? Sariputta the great arahant said “rebirth is suffering, ending rebirth is happiness”. Well that’s like saying “of course Christ was born of a virgin and came back from the dead, St Matthew and St Luke both say so!” It’s at best an assertion, not a demonstration. What if Sariputta was wrong? How can I see for myself? The Buddha always said “look, try this, and I bet you’ll find that out.”. That’s why I like him. I would like the same kind of teaching for rebirth.

      You wrote “If you want to be liberated from the round of rebirth then restrain, meditate and the liberating insight that existence is suffering with no essential self will become obvious and soon rebirth will end”. I don’t understand why rebirth is so unpopular and why you say that existence IS suffering. If that were true, there would only be one Noble Truth: “existence is suffering and, err, that’s it until you die … sorry!”. If that were true, the Buddha would not have walked round the Gangetic Plain for 45 years teaching the end of suffering which he had already realised, while continuing to exist. I’ve found the four truths to be true: there is suffering; it has its roots in craving, aversion and ignorance; those roots can be dug up; the way to dig ‘em up is the eightfold path.

      If you see craving and aversion for what they are then you can’t really keep doing them much longer because you see how much suffering they cause, ignorance starts to disappear, the imaginary separate permanent self loses its support and existence ceases to be a problem and, as far as I am concerned, so does rebirth.

      Thanks for stimulating these investigations. Actually, DEEP thanks.


    • Dear David,

      Well, I think you win the prize for the longest, most thoughtful, and considered comment on this blog so far!

      I agree with you absolutely that as far as rebirth goes, we need better evidence than simply the say-so of the ancient scriptures. I would really encourage you to check out Ian Stevenson‘s work.

      I disagree, however, with the oft-repeated claim that the Buddha simply inherited the concept rebirth from his Indian background. The Buddha was a reformer; he carefully and critically adopted or rejected various aspects of religions as they were taught and practiced around him. In ancient India there was a great diversity of views about rebirth, with many outright sceptics. See, for example, the Payasi Sutta. The Buddha consistently and repeatedly placed rebirth in central tenets of his teachings, such as the Threefold Knowledge, and stated that this was something he saw with his own direct insight. So while we may legitimately discuss whether rebirth is in fact true, I don’t think there is any serious case to be made for the claim that the Buddha didn’t believe in rebirth, or that he was merely accommodating brahmanical views. I don’t know any serious scholar of early Buddhism who would support such claims. If rebirth is in fact untrue, this raises serious questions about the nature of the Buddha’s Awakening, questions which cannot be brushed aside so lightly.

      It is true that the cosmology and details of realms of existence and so on are influenced by the Buddha’s cultural background. Here we must incorporate cultural studies to understand the Buddha’s system. But it seems to me that such details are never included in central tenets of the Dhamma. They are only told in background narrative. And it is obvious that in many cases such narratives of the divine are meant to be taken less than 100% seriously: Sakka in retreat from the asuras, then turning his chariots back from some little birds; Brahma pompously claiming to be the All-father, then hypocritically admitting his ignorance; the yakkha who gave Sariputta a wallop on his shiny bald head; Moggallana visiting Sakkas palace, only to have the giggling nymphs run away and hide. Such stories make good stories, but should not be taken to be more than that. The central doctrinal contexts speak of the process in much more general and philosphical terms, and are not bound to a particular Indic cosmology.

    • Dear David

      Perhaps the discourse at this stage is one of the epistemology for rebirth. How do we “know” rebirth is real?

      Although Ajahn Sujato has rightly pointed out that rebirth is a central tenet of the Buddha’s teachings, at this point in my practice and understanding of Buddhism, I accept rebirth on the basis faith. It’s simply an attitude of my mind to put aside doubt, because I’m curious enough to want to see if rebirth is a real phenomenon.

      I don’t know if that would be what the Buddha recommends, but it seems to be the only epistemological option that is open, given the current inability of our senses and technology to satisfy empirical epistemological alternatives of Falsifiability or Verification.

  7. thank you very much Ven Sujato, this is very kind & generous of you.

    this is not so much a specific question, but my need to talk to other Buddhists & this is the 2nd place I thought to come (the bwsa forums are currently closed).

    i’m concerned that it could be partly ego motivating me to speak, a desire to ‘show off’ that i’m taking the path to heart. but i don’t think at this stage that it is, but more desperation. and perhaps habit that when feeling desperate i wish to talk about it.

    i woke this morning consumed with self-loathing. failing to follow the noble eightfold path caused me great suffering yesterday, as i ran around preparing lunch for 18 people in our tiny home.

    a couple of weeks ago, after ten years of ‘interest’ in Buddhism – attending Dharma talks, meditating inconsistently until more recently, etc, i finally realised that my suffering, when it is most painful, is directly attributable to my own thoughts & actions. i vowed then to not create any more of this suffering for myself. of course i know i will still suffer, that is no problem, it is that eating the flesh of my own child like in that story of the couple with nothing to eat, that thinking & saying things that later cause me great suffering, even though that would mean a complete personality change & subsequent loss of identity & lifestyle (e.g. no more gossip with my many girlfriends, no more sexual fantasy or talk of such with my friends, no more alcohol, loud-mouth attention-seeking, trying to get laughs from others through borderline inappropriate (e.g. vulgar) jest, etc).

    Making this vow bore immediate & most luscious fruit. my meditation & mindfulness both improved dramatically & i began to understand the Buddha’s teaching much more clearly.

    However yesterday was tricky. I wasn’t aware of many feelings of temptation throughout the day, rather i felt more a desire to escape, to hide in my bedroom & meditate. i was quiet & full of rage (for some reason, my husband put it down to PMT, i’m not sure) but doing my best under the circumstances to stay mindful of it. felt very odd because usually Christmas day is a fairly joyous occasion for me, surrounded by my beloved family, enjoying the food, watching my children unwrap their presents. but i think that temptation to revert to my old habits of unmindful speech, to feel ‘normal’, & like myself, to have a drink, must have been there because i later in the day i succumbed to it.

    and now here i am googling the noble eightfold path because i realise for the first time how urgently i need its specific guidance on a daily basis. perhaps i could tattoo it on my forearm lol 🙂

    so my question is a practical one. i need a sangha & a teacher. i desire a friend also, the sort who the Buddha spoke to Meghiya about who is pure in conduct, speech, effort & wisdom.

    any ideas or advice from anyone who knows Sydney would be appreciated. I am in the western suburbs. i always go to Bodhikusuma when Ajahn Brahm comes but it is a little far to go on a weekly basis, although i could do it.

    i did start going to the Association of Engaged Buddhists in Lewisham, which is only about a half hour drive, & while the teaching was quite good, the discussion afterwards struck me as . . .i’m not sure what name to give it. self-absorbed?? that is not it. but it contrasted unfavourably in my mind with the anglican church in my suburb i started attending at the same time (have stopped going there now after about six months, what an odd & arrogant doctrine, although a lot of the teaching was very inspirational when interpreted thru a Buddhist lens & i ignored the nutty bits. i started going because i felt a strong need to meet people who lived according to a moral doctrine as a lot of my friends like to ‘party’, my best friend started cheating on her husband. i thought sunday school might be good for my kids but frankly they were trying to brainwash them in quite a disturbing way). i guess i feel like for Westerners following Buddhism can be a bit of a bit of a ‘lifestyle’ choice, not the serious endeavour that the Anglican preacher urged the congregation to approach Christianity as.

    so this is kind of my dilemma when choosing between Bodhikusuma & the Lewisham place. Bodhikusuma is mostly people from Asian backgrounds, & on the one hand i find them more reverent, more respectful of Buddhism which is very conducive to practice. But on the other hand i prefer to be around Westerners as I feel more comfortable with people of my own culture who i can easily relate to.

    i would also like to go on regular weekend retreats throughout this year. i have been on one retreat in my life, it was at the other monastery in Bundanoon, the one with all the sandstone. It was great, the only thing i didn’t like was all the other participants didn’t seem able to maintain noble silence & this really upset me because it seemed so disrespectful to the abbot (& unfortunately the wonderful volunteer who ran the retreat, whilst she worked incredibly hard & did remind the noisy attendees of the requirement of noble silence a few times, actually her & one of the other monks obviously wanted to be friendly so they were responding, & so effectively encouraging, all the chatter). But anyway, that is not of consequence. the main thing that is stopped me going back for another retreat is i feel guilty about the fact that i haven’t gone to do any work at the monastery, or even to dana. it doesn’t seem enough to just donate money, but it is difficult for me to go all the way to bundanoon because of my responsibilities. and the volunteer didn’t respond to my email when i asked if i could come to do some weeding, cleaning etc & i don’t want to be a nuisance.

    it was so easy when i was working & studying at uni as i had the Buddhist society there!!

    i’m sure this sounds like i’m whinging & complaining a lot when actually i should be very appreciate that i have so many opportunities to attend Buddhist centres & retreats!! how ridiculous of me to expect other Buddhists to be perfect when i am so impure 🙂

    but perhaps you or someone else can help me decide where to go weekly, & whether i should stick to the same place for retreats (this seems to make sense?) or if i should just go to lots of different retreats.

    apologies for the very lengthy comment & thank you so very much

    • Dear Heidi,

      It’s inspiring to see you responding to your situation by turning to the Buddhist teachings with such a clear sense that you will find the guidance you need here – it’s a great way to direct all the energy that is coming up in you. And I can also relate to your search for a teacher and community. It is important to go through this, and find a community you can connect to, since this brings so much support – you’re no longer on your own, but actively part of something much stronger and wiser than any individual.

      In terms of a weekly group in Sydney, I would suggest that you try the Lotus Bud Sangha, which meets at the Buddhist Library in Camperdown on Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm. They have a website you can check out: This has contact details – I’m not sure when they start meeting again in the New Year, so it’d be best to contact them to find this out.

      This group follows the teachings of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh (he has a book called Anger, which might help you to work with your feelings of rage, too). I think you would like his approach, which involves a strong commitment to social justice, or “engaged Buddhism.” The group that meets at the library is mostly made up of Westerners, but there is a strong Asian influence from the Vietnamese community (many of whom live in the Western suburbs, incidentally). This means that you get a mixture of the Asian approach to Buddhism as a religion which requires the kind of commitment you found in the Anglican church, and the Western approach which is more questioning and psychological, and directed to the specific problems of our modern Western lives. I should say that the teaching is in the Mahayana Zen tradition, not Theravada, but it seems like you’re pretty open in terms of this kind of thing.

      This group also runs retreats – usually three per year – which are really great, in my experience. They’re not really meditation retreats as such, although there is some formal meditation practice. They’re more about building sangha and practicing mindfulness in everyday situations, where you’re interacting with others, rather than doing silent practice. It’s the kind of thing that can be very practical and helpful in testing situations like family Christmas celebrations!

      I hope this is helpful for you…

      With love,

      ps Bhante Sujato, I respect your right to spell words like “Aussie” differently to me, but I feel that when it comes to my own name, it is reasonable to ask you to adopt my spelling! If you feel that Juzzeau is too informal, you may address me as “Dr Juzzeau.”

      pps Dear Belle, your words of appreciation are very heartening, too. They are like little flowers and sweet grasses, popping up in the cracks between the flagstones of this blog.

    • Dear Juzzeau,
      such kindness as yours waters my inner flower garden ! I am happy my flowers and grasses bring you joy 🙂

      I really do feel that appreciation is
      like the cool we need to ease our inner fires and even end the ravages of global warming ! AHA ! Yes, what a statement eh? I intuit global warming is actually due to a need to honour the feminine more both within and all around us- in nature.
      Of course, i realise this may not be scientifically provable. But the heart has its own vision , yes?

      Blessed Be 🙂

    • Thank you Juzzeau

      Your suggestion is timely – I started re-reading one of my Thich Nhat Thanh books that I’d not looked at for years right after posting here (i’ve even been tentatively planning a visit to Plum Village! as have to visit my mother-in-law in the UK in the new year).

      It interesting, because when I read Anger a few years ago, & a few of his other books before that, whilst i thought they were great i wasn’t quite ready for them if that makes sense. If I was in the wrong mood reading Thay would bug me, & i realise now that was because I was so unwilling to change, even tho i believed that was what i wanted.

      The last couple of years I’ve mostly just studied a few books by Ajahn Brahm, some suttas, Ajahn Chah, a few other books.

      I don’t really like to admit this but i think sometimes listening Ajahn Brahm i would gloss over his emphasis on virtue, & was more interested in talk of bliss.
      I know i have finally turned a corner with my practice cos i don’t give a stuff about bliss anymore. i know i will feel it at times when i meditate & that’s fine, but for so many years i wanted it & i feel distaste for that now. the way i approached it it wasn’t any better than craving illicit bliss because my focus was in the wrong place. now i just really want to not do any harm.

      thanks very much for the suggestion, i will check it out when the group meets back 27 Jan.

    • Dear Heidi,

      Thanks so much for the very honest and personal account. I’m sure it will resonate with a lot of us. I felt much the same after my first retreat, when I was living in Chieng mai, playing music in nightclubs and going to abhidhamma classes in the day.

      There are some great Dhamma groups in Sydney, i would encourage you to keep searching. Juzzeau has already suggested one, and there are others. Don’t be surprised, though, if none of them live up to your expectations: we’re just people people. I normally teach a group in Sydney on Friday nights; we’re having a break now, and have not yet decided where and when to resume, but look for something towards the end of january. Meanwhile, why not come down to Santi? You can stay for a day or two, do some practice, and we can have a chat.

    • I have found a Buddhist Meditation centre only 8 min drive from my house! I can’t believe it!!

      No other westerners there, but i think just voicing that as an issue here i got over it.

      Being a short drive away is a HUGE advantage. my family can come to the monthly food fairs, i can go regularly & it saves on time & petrol.

      After going there yesterday i think i have a better understanding of the other side of this bikkihuni debate, & also of my parents who were staunch catholics. i feel so happy to have found a place nearby that I can go anytime to practice, where the major emphasis is on meditation & sila, that i am enthusiastic about embracing the Burmese tradition & culture of Buddhism, regardless of how imperfect & patriachal that may be.

  8. Dear kind and courageous Bhante, All the information regarding the WPP sangha – especially in the west – heas been very illuminating. But knowing now that 20 years of reflection, sila and vinaya practice in very expensive and perfect physical environments can result in selfishness, biggotry, grasping at what is and fear of change I ask myself, if I put in all that effort, is that how I want to end up. Surely there is something fundamentally wrong here?? I don’t know what I’d do if you said it was hopeless. There must be a Buddhist practice that leads to men and women becoming more kind, humble, generous, forgiving, honest, simple in needs. Please Bhante, how can we become like this?? With deep respect for your courage and kindness. Your heart gives me hope for starters.

    • Dear Dhamma Sister,
      Sometimes doubt in what people are doing around us leads us to become more rooted in our own practice. After all we are doing this for ourselves- to become fully enlightened – for the benefit of all beings of course – but you yourself are the refuge. There is no other refuge. Make yourself an Island. Find that stable, rooted, firm place in your practice. There is no perfect Sangha. Take what is beneficial, leave the rest. Be careful how and to what degree you identify with “your” Sangha. Identity/attachment to Sangha is a trap as we have so well seen in recent events and in our blogs. Not that we do not go for refuge there. Of course we do. But we do not attach to our teacher or to our Sangha.
      (As challenging as that may be!!!) Nor do we have blind faith in them. You will end up where your practice leads you. Faith in your own ability and practice and in the Dhamma. The Buddha has faith in you. With love in the Dhamma.

    • Dear Lisa Karuna,
      Your compassion and wisdom radiate.
      Dear Florentyna, i hope Lisa’s words brought you some warmth and calm to guide you back to that wamth and calm within you.
      Dear Ajahn Sujato, i hope you can say some words here to Florentyna.

    • Dear Lisa, Belle and Dania, thank you for your kind and helpful words. I really like what Buddha said to Upali – same as what Lisa says but in different way. I was bought up to revere sangha. To give danna and service to sangha to gain merit because sangha know better than me and are noble. Now I see I have to listen to my own heart because the sangha does not bring peace or fading away of things. But I miss community and spiritual friends in community. How do you manage? Thank your for your very helpful words.

    • Further to previous, Florentyna, like you, I have reverence and love for the Sangha (even if one or two are said to be established in wrong view. Going forth is not like going shopping. It takes enormous courage and it is a great act of loving kindness.) I may be sad if I feel they have gravitated to a truth that is not aligned with the one in my heart but I accept my teachers choices, their conditions and love them unconditionally. The case of WPPS was not so difficult because it fit with my observations of this Sangha throughout the years I have practiced with them. I thought, “thank goodness, I did not have such expectations of them”. That is part of loving them (hold them to high standards skillfully if we can but be careful with expectations). Over the years a particular Sangha was good enough (what an understatement!)- but at a certain point I could see limitations if I were to take the practice any deeper within a particular Sangha. On a somewhat related note, as with Belle, I experienced dissipation in joy, a disabling of energy that led me to neglect work and finances and a lack of resonance – could be part of the “deconstruction process” but may also be due to an impoverishment of the feminine- and lack of connection to the gifts this being brings to the world (I experience “gifts” and “creativity” in the light of Buddha’s teaching according to each one’s conditions). Recognizing in gratitude to this Sangha that I have stayed on the path – I also recognize that my practice has reached an impasse at some levels (while progressing in others) and remained there for a few years- and at this point in time there is also a misalignment with my understanding of the truth.
      Temporarily at least I have broken my sense of identity and attachment to a particular Sangha. And what has come forth? A little more joy and a lot more vitality. And I am sure my teachers would rejoice in that. It has not to do with casting away my love or reverence for them.
      As it is – then – what a beautiful invitation to seek more deeply. Could mean deepening my own practice independently, could mean exploring more progressive Sanghas, could mean delving deeply into Vinaya studies and engaging this Sangha including my teachers skillfully, lovingly and with tenacity. It has helped too to chat with other Sanghas and hear their stories of Drama, disruptions, expulsions – and more gentle responses to differences that arose.
      This is the time to trust in your heart, trust in the Dhamma, may it not mean turning this energy of dismay or investigation in opposition to your respect and reverence for the gifts you have received and for their going forth…Sorry for so many words…I hope this helps…Metta (and gratitude to Ajahn Sujato for providing us an interim virtual Sangha 🙂

    • Dear Florentyna,

      Ahh, you’ve asked the question of the moment. I am asking the same question, and after many years i have only partial answers.

      The first thing is; people are different. Not all monks, not all forest monks, approve of what has happened. Yet too many have, and have come up with too many self-serving rationalizations to excuse the inexcusable. But we can certainly conclude that this lifestyle does not change everything for everyone. I have written earlier about the problems of sexism in the Sangha, so I won’t repeat that here. But at minimum we can say that some monks have emotional problems around women; and that some monks are highly attached to their own form and sect; and when these two things are combined, things get unhealthy fast.

      Are there other things that are fundamentally wrong? i think so. An obvious problem is the divorce between study and practice in Thai Buddhism. It’s a funny thing; Burmese Buddhism doesn’t suffer from this problem, but they have a divorce between samatha and vipassana; in Thailand there’s no samatha/vipassana divide, but an almost complete lack of intersection between study of the Buddha’s words and meditation.

      It is no coincidence that it is among those Western monks, starting with Ajahn Brahm, who took the Suttas seriously and used them as a primary guide to Dhamma-Vinaya that the bhikkhuni movement is strongest. The Suttas are empowering; they encourage independence, reason, and an inner moral compass. The Thai forest tradition has become very much a follow-the-leader movement. It is striking how the core of Ajahn Brahm’s ‘fault’ is disobedience; but this is never regarded as a fault as such in the Suttas. Even when monks directly disobeyed the Buddha – as for example the Meghiya Sutta or the Kosambi quarrel – he might scold them, but he never expelled them.

      I spoke last year with a spirited and intelligent Sri Lankan monk who had recently visited WPP. He asked Ajahn Liem if the monks there studied the Suttas. Ajahn Liem said no, they study the teachings of Ajahn Chah. To me it starts to become very problematic when the words of the teachers, no matter how great they may be, do not merely supplement or throw light on the Suttas, but actually replace them. As Ven Dhammavuddho pointed out long ago, any teacher who says, ‘There’s no need to study the Suttas, just follow the meditation instructions’ is effectively saying, ‘Don’t listen to the Buddha, listen to me.’

      Recently there was a Thai Ajahn in WPP who similarly wanted to follow the Suttas closely, and who questions some of the forest tradition practices and teachings on that basis. He has been suspended from WPP for advocating scripture-based reforms.

      One thing that the Suttas bring us is a sense of breadth and balance in our spiritual life. Whenever you here a contemporary teaching that sounds extreme, whether it be a meditation method or a Vinaya rule, always check it against what is said in the early texts themselves. Almost invariably, i find that what the Suttas actually have to say is far more moderate and balanced.

      One specific example of this kind of problem is what I have called the ‘Tyranny of Transcendence’. I gave a talk on it last year, which is transcribed here. This talk was in response to some of the talks by Ajahn Sumedho when he had told the nuns in England that they had no rights. I think this is a dangerous distortion of moral language. The essential fallacy is to take the attitudes appropriate to the Unconditioned and treat them as if they applied literally in ordinary life. The result is that ordinary morality is undermined as merely ‘worldly’, while supposed ‘transcendental’ values are exclusively valorized. The basic mechanism is well known: strip away a person’s ordinary sense of self, of integrity, of dignity, and treat it as worthless in comparison with a higher value, one which the teacher has a privileged access to.

      For one familiar with the Suttas, it is remarkable how the Buddha never ever did this. Whenever a problem would be presented to him, he would always deal with it directly on its own terms. If the monks’ feet were bleeding, they were allowed shoes; when I was newly in Thailand and my feet were bleeding badly on alms round, I was made to walk barefoot in the mud. That’s what the ‘training’ has become: it’s all about ‘letting go’.

      I think we should be clear about this. We have our sense of good and bad, our understanding of what is right and wrong. We know that Buddhism – or any profound spiritual teaching – is not limited to this; it is not just a moral philosophy. But when the ‘Higher’ aspects of a spiritual path start to undermine the ‘Lower’, something is going wrong. We do not practice Buddhism in order to diminish our moral scope. It is the careful and scrupulous attention to the ‘Lower’ aspects, rather, that provide the basis for a healthy development of the ‘Higher’. If the development of the ‘Higher’ is exclusive or imbalanced, this results in the kind of problems we are seeing.

      As a practical example of how this manifests, when the English siladharas went to Ajahn Sumedho last year and asked for his support in establishing the new monastery in the US, they spent considerable time to work out a series of points that would clarify what they wanted to achieve. The first point was simply that they wanted to go there to achieve Awakening; the rest were more detailed and practical. Ajahn Sumedho refused to endorse the ‘lower’ points, and would only endorse the aspiration for Awakening. This, of course, did not stop him from developing the ‘Five Points’, which clearly have nothing to do with supporting genuine spiritual awakening, and everything to do with constructing a power relationship with the monks on the top.

      We have seen these kinds of attitudes again and again: the nuns are wrong for wanting ‘equality, the supposedly ‘worldy’, ‘western’ value; while somehow it is fine for the monks to persist in maintaining a system of inequality. We really need to get over this kind of thinking before we can have any clarity.

    • One of the reasons I have not been focussed on WPPS is the wish to ensure Sutta study is an integral part of study and practice…

    • Lisa Karuna’s words – “Metta (and gratitude to Ajahn Sujato for providing us an interim virtual Sangha ” brought the kind of joy that keeps us all going forward! When i read them i had those goosebumps that sometimes arise with piti and rapture in meditation !
      Thanks Lisa – well said .

    • Oh Bhante, I wish that someone had been there to wash and tend to those bleeding feet of yours, and bring whoever it was who forced you to walk in the mud to his senses. What a truly terrible image to associate with spiritual training. The experience of suffering may be the first noble truth, but it’s hard to accept when it seems so perversely unnecessary…

      But then, it’s probably this kind of experience that has given you such a strong sense of solidarity with women who find themselves in similar situations of injustice and powerlessness. And this has led you to lead and support the reestablishment of the Bhikkhuni sangha, and to create a very special community at Santi… so taken altogether, maybe it’s possible to develop a sense of joyful acceptance, even toward the mud and blood of that horrible alms round.

    • Bhante, I rejoice when I read your words. I was so depressed by all the troubles in the sangha and feeling like something wrong all the time. I know I have been kept in the dark. My learning means my head doesn’t know the difference between what is Asian tradition and convention and what the Buddha taught in the suttas. Certainly, no monk or nun has ever encouraged me to study these before in Asia or UK. I recognise the scenario in your article ‘Tyranny of Transcendence. I have been in these places – encouraged only to meditate, give danna and service. No study so I’m not independent and questioning and free. Since I started reading your blog I am a new person. I start to know what the Buddha actually said – compared to the superstition, and half truths. I want to know more. Lisa Karuna asks for a sutta class for us lay folk. Humbly Bhante I beg you to do it. My head is full of rubbish and bigotry I have been taught, but my heart recognises the truth when I hear it – the suttas – the Buddhas words teach the truth. I am not as kind as Lisa who explains so well, as I feel quite cross at the moment and not a lot of love for being misled and I am not good enough. I listened to Ajahn Bramali’s talk on Upali Sutta and my heart rejoices at his words too. He mentions that we should listen to things and follow things that lift our hearts up to help us in our practice – to make us softer and kinder. I understand this completely. I want to be softer and kinder – so I must listen to teachings that massage my heart. Meditation alone is not enough. Lisa, which poem by Rilke do you quote from? Belle, Dania, Juzzeau, I wish I knew you and you were my friends. Are you all in Australia? I love what you say. It is beautiful. Bhante, does Ajahn Brahm also teach like you? Truly, if so, there is a wonderful Buddhism in Australia. Anjali, deep bow to wonderful Bhante and others here.

    • Dear Florentyna,

      Your words are so full of truth – i can hear the sincerity and longing coming through. There are so many of us that really want to be able to focus back on what this is all really about. It’s hard, you feel like despairing sometimes. But what to do? The next day, the sun shines and life is still there, waiting.

    • Dear Kind and Couragous Bhante, I reeled today at the cruel words, intended to cause pain and suffering and arguments between folk, spoken at WPP sangha press conference. But I didn’t want to despair or get cross again so I wanted to focus on something good and positive. Bhante when this all passes into memory in times to come, please Bhante still be there, and teach us a course in sutta study for lay folk so we can free ourselves. I live in Uk, but the wonders of twenty-first century technology means that people here can join your virtual sangha. In an earlier post you wondered how this teaching could be done. It is already being done by Jamyang Centre in UK – but Tibetan teachings. Each person offers £400 donation a year for expenses – and Geshe there provides a correspondence course using book lists bought by students from from shops – listening to MP3 teachings from qualified teachers downloaded from computer – e-mail discussion groups set up by centre and essays written by students. It is on line if you would like to see how it is done as an example. Bhante, please don’t think about this now – when there is so much heartbreak going on – but maybe when you once again feel able. Anjali and Deepest Respect to Ajahn Brahm, Ajahn Sujato and all monks in Australia.

    • Dear Bhante Sujato, dear Florentyna,
      Thanks Florentyna for sharing that online example. This may be a good a way to channel our energy into Dhamma. Some ideas which come to mind include: might we also bring some of our fellow Sangha members together for informal discussions based on Bhante’s book while group convenor attends the first run online Bhikkhuni Vinaya course. What about going by chapter or topic, including some comparative readings, what about inviting a local Bhikkhuni to join the group sessions. For those questions not obviously answered in the readings, we can bring them back to Bhante. Given the sensitive nature of this and all the mudslinging, I wonder if the course might be given by donation according to each one’s means – perhaps to a Santi Bhikkhuni fund or Santi Bhikkhuni studies fund.
      Florentyna is in the UK, Belle in Australia and Brenda (sorry Brenda, i am volunteering her 🙂 and I are in Canada.
      Just ideas percolating.

    • Dear Dhamma Sister,
      Letters to a Young Poet, page 26 – I tried to post the link but its rather long! Google Letters to a Young Poet – and Amazon has a full viewable online version. 🙂
      Does Poetry have Dhammanature? Is this a teaching on DO?

      The Sonnets To Orpheus: Book 2: XIII

      Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
      behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
      For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
      that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.

      Be forever dead in Eurydice-more gladly arise
      into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
      Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
      be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.

      Be-and yet know the great void where all things begin,
      the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
      so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.

      To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
      creatures in the world’s full reserve, the unsayable sums,
      joyfully add yourself, and cancel the count.

    • Dear Lisa Karuna, This is like balm. I don’t know if creative life is ‘sustaining delusion of self’ but when I read the above words ‘The Sonnets To Orpheus’ I feel relief. It’s true – I’m not alone. I want to ripen like the tree because I know in my heart summer will follow. Here is one for you – ‘Will my heart become a tree, laden heavily with fruit, that I can pick and give to others’ K.Gibran. With much metta.

    • Dear Bankei,

      Generally, one must be of at least 10 vassa as a bhikkhu, one must be a bhikkhu of good standing, and one must be competent in the Dhamma and Vinaya.

      In the Pali Vinaya the details are given in Mahavagga 1.80-85. The method of exposition is somewhat obscure, as it starts with some ‘real life’ cases, then moves into a series of permutations giving different standards of qualifications. The ‘maximum’ qualifications are that one has the qualities of an arahant (Mv 81). This is gradually lessened as the permutations proceed, and so it seems to signify an ideal rather than a necessity. The minimum requirements are at Mv 84: one knows what is an offence or not, what is a slight or heavy offense, and is at least 10 vassa.

    • Thank you Bhante.

      I believe that in Thailand the State has imposed additional qualifications such as passing a national exam and receiving permission from the Sangha authorities. I assume this has no basis in the vinaya or commentaries. Do you know much about this?

      How could the Sangharaja revoke Ajahn Brahm’s preceptor status?

      What will happen to future monks ordained under him – I assume they will be valid monks but not recognised as such by the Thai authorities.

    • Dear Bankei,

      You’re correct about the additional requirements for being a preceptor in Thailand. I’m not sure of the exact details, but i understand that you must be sponsored by someone, pass an exam or training, and receive the official appointment. This is a recent development in Thailand; not only does it have no basis in Vinaya, commentary, or any Buddhist tradition, it is not followed in other Buddhist countries today, and indeed was fiercely resisted in thailand when originally imposed by the Bangkok authorities.

      The Sangharaja is not in a position to revoke the preceptor status, or anything else, as he has been hospitalized for many years and does not play any active role. The decision to revoke the preceptor status would, I presume, rest with the Mahatherasamakhom, or with an organ appointed by them. Ajahn Brahm’s preceptor status has been reported to have been revoked, but i am not aware of any official notification of this.

      Monks ordained in the future will be monks just the same, and will be recognized as monks in Thailand, just as the Sri Lankan or Burmese monks are today. They just won’t be recognized as ‘Thai’ monks. Practically speaking, this might affect, for example, them getting a visa. But the matter has not been explored.

  9. Dear Bhante and David- i had the same resonanance with Bhante’s description of ‘transfer of information’ in terms of rebirth.

    With thanks.

  10. Dear Bhante Sujato

    Thank you for your answers above. I have another question regarding ordinations.

    There have been a large number of monks, both in Thailand and other countries, who have been parajika (having had sexual relations with women and some with dogs). Some of these men have been famous abbots of monasteries and have participated in many ordinations over the years, some even as preceptor.

    The Englishman known as Sangharakshita writes about his situation in one of his many autobiographies. His preceptor and 3 other monks at his ordination had wives or mistresses and he considered that this invalidated his own ordination.

    What constitutes a valid ordination?, and

    What is the effect or the people ordained by these non-monks? Are they Bhikkhu? (there must be a number of them in Thailand).



    • Dear Bankei,

      This is obviously a controversial matter. It was similar considerations that led the then Phra Mongkut to doubt his own ordination, and have it repeated several times, striving to get a pure and reliable ordination lineage. The reality is that we never really know who it is that ordains us, whether they are ‘real monks’, whether their preceptors were ‘real monks’, or whatever. Any attempt, after 2500 years, to establish a ‘pure’ lineage is pure myth-making, and tells us something of the needs of the monks who make the lineage claims, but nothing of the actual history.

      In deciding what constitutes a valid ordination, we first have to understand that the Vinaya clearly and consistently distinguishes between those cases where a flaw in the procedure merely results in a minor offence (apatti dukkatassa) and those cases where the ordinand must be expelled (nasetabbo). This is precisely the distinction that Ven Thanissaro lost sight of when he effectively argued that any flaw, no matter how slight, results in an invalid ordination. If that was the case then there is effectively no chance that any ordination lineages are valid. Fortunately, however, the Vinaya itself is much more reasonable and flexible.

      If there is no preceptor, or if the preceptor is not a bhikkhu, even if the preceptor is an animal (!) then this is an offence, but does not invalidate the ordination. similarly, if there are non-bhikkhus included in the assembly, this would not invalidate it, unless they were required to make up the quorum.

      Basically, the requirements are quite simple: there must be a quorum of Sangha (10 in the Ganges valley, 5 outside); the pronouncements of the sanghakamma must be made correctly (natticatutthakamma); the candidate must be suitable (of age, etc.). Most of the other requirements would admit of some flexibility, but these are iron-clad.

      Regarding the effect of having non-bhikkhus in robes: well, that’s an interesting one! At the end of the day, the whole idea of an ordination lineage is entirely speculative and has no evidential basis, so it is not amenable to reason. The Vinaya does not talk of ordination lineages, but establishes the mutual respect, love, and support between the preceptor and his/her student. It is about making sure that the new monastic has the proper education and material support they need.

      IMHO, as long as the monastic is well-behaved and practices the Dhamma, ordination lineage as such is irrelevant; what is important is that the community believes the ordination is valid. The whole ritual thing is about making a public affirmation of belief in the new candidate as a monastic, a recognition of this change in status.

  11. sujato :
    Ajahn Brahm’s preceptor status has been reported to have been revoked, but i am not aware of any official notification of this.

    Revenge of Thai Buddhist hierarchy!

  12. Dear Dania, thankyou for your generous and sensible words of reply.
    You have a clear love of the Dharma.
    ABout ordaining being a ‘fast track to Nibbana’ …well, i feel that too needs to be questioned. Ideally, perhaps that is so, for the right candidates.
    But i would again open that up for investigation as a blanket statement. Depends on certain conditions, within and without- as everything does .

    I believe it is important to practice the path and develop the perfections in the way each individual can feel most sustained, most nourished, most positive. It is a LONG term thing.
    As i have health issues, i choose and require certain conditions to be well and to practise well as appropriate to those health conditions.
    To me the key word has become ‘steady and sustainable’. I used to be rather ambitious and extreme in my practise. I tried to emulate Ajahn Mun !
    But i realised that was not wise for me and for where i was actually at…indeed i almost died.
    I know that it is essential for me to deepen metta, for myself and for all beings, always.
    I live a simple life, in a peaceful place and step …bit by bit .
    I am in a relationship that has brought much healing and inspiration, with a person who is also on the path.
    THis is best for me at this time. And i give deep thanks for my blessings.
    I wish you well and give thanks.

    • Hello girls,

      Just wanted to say that I really appreciated observing the discussion the two of you are having here.

      Belle, I agree with you that the practise has to be a long term thing; I think most of us have experienced that beginner’s zeal and then have realised that we need to ease off and be gentler; we’ll get there 🙂 . And Dania I loved that you evoked the Buddha by paraphrasing his reply to Upali; smiles and joyful energy and the hairs on the back of my neck rising; thanks… 🙂

      Lots of metta

    • Dear Kanchana ,
      Thankyou so much for your words here and yes, i agree i love to hear the suttas, and it would be great to study them more.
      I am happy to know this is so important to Bhante and to many commenters i have read here.

      Sending much metta to you Kanchana and maybe we can all meet some day.
      Take care,

  13. Dear Bhante Sujato,

    Could you please comment on something?
    I find that when my mind becomes peaceful and deeply detached for a period of time….depression can also set in.
    A real disenchantment with everything and then turning into a kind of dissociated state. A being here but not being here- that actually is rather difficult.
    Would you say metta practise , and alot of it is a good antidote?
    When i wanted to renounce, as i did for a long time, i also felt very physically unwell…very weak, very disembodied…it has actually probably created a bit of aversion in my mind to really going any deeper in my practise.
    Do you know what i mean?
    Nowdays i try and be positive and happy first and foremost, just take care, have compassion for myself first and for all beings…that has helped me alot in living here in this body on this earth at this time- no big ambitious near death trips to Thailand !!! ( as i had)

    And overall, i feel more balanced and more spontaneously peaceful now…without pushing anything and without wanting to ordain.

    To me, that feels preferrable to all the struggle before.
    Not that there are not things to work with, but i am certainly not as ‘full-on’ and as unhappy as i was.

    Do you have any comments?

    • Dear Belle,

      Thanks for sharing your personal journey with us. Your path is one that sounds familiar to me. Now, I must say that it’s very hard, probably impossible, to really respond to such a personal issue over the internet, and i would strongly recommend that you speak with a teacher or experienced practitioner, if you haven’t already. But as far as it goes, what you describe seems to me to be a not uncommon state in modern meditation practice. An over-detachment coming too early in meditation leads to just the kind of condition you describe – one meditator described it to me as like a ‘wilderness in the heart’. Essentially I would say this comes from an imbalance of vipassana over samatha; in other words, you are seeing the emptiness of things, but without the deep level integration that gives us the capacity to hold and embrace that insight.

      If this assessment is correct – and it may well be wrong! – then the approach you are describing seems exactly right. Do lots of metta, or breath meditation together with joy. Don’t push too hard, and be happy to just be. Allow the mind to develop on its own, and in time you will be ready to return to the place of big scary insights, with a whole new perspective.

    • Dear Bhante,
      I am truly heartened by your words, they seem very fitting- and well done for being able to transmit the heart of your understanding message thru internet !
      One day i look forward to visiting you at Santi.

      Yes, Joy is so important and so overlooked i find….would you say so?

      Best wishes,

  14. Dear Bhante Sujato,
    Thank you for your compassion in opening a blog particularly for people to ask questions. Questions about their practise and dharma related issues they are concerned with.

    Very kind of you. A wonderful opportunity and gift.

  15. Dear Bhante, just a short question that I’ve been wondering about for a while…is it possible for HIV+ people to ordain? Mark.

    • Dear Mark,

      Another doubtful one. There are certain illnesses that make a candidate ineligible for ordination, such as leprosy. That list varies across the traditions, and it is not always easy to work out exactly what diseases are listed. Still harder is it to figure our exactly why these specific diseases are found. One reason for the prohibition is because people were ordaining to get good medical treatment (!) There are other practical considerations: the Sangha is not set up as a hospital, and though we are happy to look after sick monastics, we are not equipped to cope with a major influx of ill people. In addition, there may be a possibility of transmission of disease.

      Of course, some diseases that were deadly in the past are curable today; and as in the case of HIV/AIDS, some contemporary diseases did not exist in the Buddha’s day. Hence we are thrown back on inference and judgement.

      There have been calls for HIV+ people to not be ordained, and this may well be the policy in some places. However, at Wat Nanachat a few years ago there was a candidate who was HIV+. The Sangha there was reluctant to ordain him, but Ajahn Liem intervened and said he would take personal responsibility. He did the ordination; and subsequently looked after the new monk with herbal medicines. I understand that his condition stabilized, but i’m not sure what has happened since then.

  16. Bhante,

    one of the things I find difficult to handle is aversion to cruelty against animals and humans perpetrated by humans. I don’t want to go into details here but I just read about some horrific cases again which simply make me sick to the stomach.
    Kamma, rebirth and metta as well as equanimity just don’t cut it as responses to such inhumane behaviour. How can anyone not react with aversion to such acts? Is the personal path to overcome clinging & dukkha not a cop-out that solves “my” problem while leaving those abused kids/animals/humans still exposed to horrendous suffering?

    What is in your opinion the right “Buddhist” way to deal with such issues and the path to help as many of those unfortunate and tortured creatures as possible?
    Sorry for being a bit emotional on this but I haven’t found Buddhist (or rather Theravadin) concepts quite adequate yet to handle such matters 😦

    • Dear Ace,

      Yes, i know what you mean: i was a strident animal liberationist for many years. Still am, tho not so strident… I had to face up to this at Wat Nanachat, when we would be served meat every day, and the monks would take it… Lots of critical thoughts… In that environment, you really do feel disempowered, you can’t influence anything, so I just learnt to go with it. perhaps you need to desensitive a little, hand out in a butcher’s shop. In animal lib, we would visit the abbatoirs or sheepyards and talk with the guys there (never women!). I still found it repulsive, but it was more humanized.

      I think we all compartmentalize. We shut off bits of our mind and get on with life. When we open those doors, it’s new, like newly formed skin, very tender and raw. Those parts need to stay sensitive, but not too painful to use at all. So perhaps just to do it, engage with what is causing pain, but just for a little. then stop, have a breather. then do it again. Little by little, until you can do the work that needs to be done, without getting too outraged by it.

      It is important not to be too equanimous. Equanimity is for when everything is going fine; or when it’s going wrong and there’s nothing we can do. But if there remain things to do, we should do them. In no way should our own personal path stop us from helping others: this is just against all that is good.

      I agree that contemporary Buddhist, or at least Theravadin, dialogue is not adequate for the animal abuse that is current in the world. Buddhist ethics were shaped in an era that new nothing of factory farming or vivisection. the horrors are simply more extreme and on a far greater scale than anything the Buddha encountered. While Buddhist ethics are more than adequate to expand to cover these cases, they remain out of the purview of most Theravadins, as they focus on more traditional ethical values.

      At the end of the day, there is nothing better than the Sutta teaching: Help others because that helps ourselves; help ourselves because that helps others.

    • Thank you, Bhante,
      I really appreciate your reply, as it shows that I am not alone with my concern, even though the possibilities to change much are limited.
      If any enlightened being will see any solution to this, maybe there will be a way, eventually.

      with metta,

  17. Dear Bhante ,
    I would love to hear and see a talk you give on fear and how we can overcome it….ermmm, patiently work with it and through intention wisely disarm it 🙂

    I hope i have the fortune to hear you speak on this.

    • Dear Belle, thank you for being so genuine and kind. It’s nice to have a place to discuss Dhamma with others. It feels that talking about Dhamma gives a nice inspiring energy that seems to be conducive to practice. And I never thought I’d make some Dhamma friends:)

      I am writing because you asked about fear. I can’t help but send you two links to talks Ajahn Brahm talks specifically about fear. His talks bring peace to mind and are insightful.
      [audio src="" /]
      [audio src="" /]
      They are separated by 5 years so it’s worth listening to both:)
      all the best Belle and happy Buddhamus and happy new year!

    • dear Dania,

      thanks for this; writing a post on dealing with fear is probably a bit beyond me right now, so I hope this will more than make up for it.

    • Thanks to Dania and thankyou to Bhante for thanking Dania for assisting !

      Thanks for your honesty Bhante….we have to know our limits at any one time i guess….
      but when the time is right i intuit you shall give a truly profound Dhamma talk on fear.
      Why? Because you have the compassion to speak to fear.
      And that is what i am aspiring to also !

      All the Best and Happy New Year to You and to all !

    • Wow. This is really vindictive. It also demonstrates a gobsmacking ignorance of Vinaya and the nature of international law.

      In assisting in the bhikkhuni ordination of the Dhammasara samaneris, Ajahn Brahm and the Perth sangha did no more than enact a normal sanghakamma. The Perth sangha did everything in strict accordance to a reasonable interpretation of the Vinaya.

      Also, there is simply no feasible route by which the Thai parliament can legislate to confiscate property in Australia from an Australian incorporated body. To even make the attempt would be to show gross disrespect to Australian national sovereignty.

      Who would have thought that WPP would take this so far? If it is true, it is disappointing to hear that Ajahn Liam has approved.


    • Australian law aside, if Ajahn Brahm and Bodhinyana have been expelled, how does WPP have any further authority or jurisdiction anyway?


    • Dear,

      Phra Kru Opaswuthikorn is one of the six monks who, according to Dhammalight, on November 17 went on behealf of the Wat Pah Pong Sangha to see Somdet Buddhajahn in the efforts to get Ajahn Brahm’s status as an Upajjhaya and his royal ecclesiastical title of ‘Chao Khun’ revoked.

      He is the abbot of the 20th branch monastery of Wat Pah Pong in Ayuddhaya, Thailand.

    • Thanks Dheerayupa.

      It seems Phra Kru Opaswuthikorn may be also known with the spelling Phrakru Ophasavudhigarn (Sophon Obhaso), and
      Phra Kru Sudhamprachote = Phrakru Suthammaprachot (Kamphong Thitapuñño) – possibly a mexican monk??

    • Phra Kru Sudhamprachote = Phrakru Suthammaprachot (Kamphong Thitapuñño) is a Thai monk, the abbot of Wat Pah Pitakdhamma in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.

  18. Dear dhammarians,

    I have been thinking about why in formal public appearance, the elder Bhikkhuni is considered lower than a newly ordained novice monk?

    My understanding on this area makes sense. We Buddhist believe in past lives, right? Perhaps, to be reborn as a man is more difficult than to be reborn as a woman and the qualities/criterias to be reborn as a man are higher than the qualities/criterias to be reborn as a woman. Even in ancient Chinese beliefs, who prefer sons than daughters, which the Westerners do not subscribe to, but there could be valid reasons why women had to be subservient in spirituality.

    In the corporate world, women may be equal but in the religious world, women could not be equal (not talking about intellectually or attainment spiritually, spiritually women could bypass men as proclaimed by our Buddha that women could also reach to Arahat)but because we evolved from our past lives, we had to look into the causes of rebirth as women to have a better understanding.

    Anyway, besides that, if bhikkhunis demand for a higher respect or position i.e they assemble ahead of male novice monks, then those bhikkhunis still have egos, right? otherwise what is the problem assembling behind novice monks? It is just a Sangha protocol, not an insult or whatsoever.Check it out.No offence to Bhikkhunis, just a post mortem in the spirit of Kalama Sutta.

    • “If bikkhunis assembled ahead of monks, then those monks would still have egos, right? Otherwise what is the problem assembling behind bikkhunis? It would just be a Sangha protocol, not an insult or whatever.”

    • Dear David

      Thanks for the mirror image. You also make sense. But, i am trying to understand why Buddha allows Bhikkhunis but subject to the 8 rules for Bhikkhunis. Buddha’s wisdom could not go wrong, but not sure if it is stated anywhere in the Sutta the reason for that.

      If you have any facts, pls enlighten me out of curiosity and a matter of interest. Have a blissful day!

    • Dear Frustrated

      I think Sujato’s writings on the subject would help (on the Santi FM website) and there is also some good material on the discussion tab of the Facebook page.


    • Dear Frustrated,

      You can find a discussion on the sutta where the Buddha was said to be reluctant about ordaining bhikkhuni and imposed the 8 rules below:

      It states that “There are many problems chronologically, however, in the traditional account of Mahaprajapati (from the Commentaries). She first requested ordination five years after Buddha’s enlightenment; but Ananda, who requested Buddha on her behalf, first ordained only twenty years after Buddha’s enlightenment. Considering that Mahaprajapati, as Buddha’s maternal aunt, raised him after his mother’s death, she would have been about eighty years old when Ananda was senior enough to make the request.”

      It is controversal whether the sutta was original or added. There are scholar bhikkhus who present information to show that the Buddha was misrepresented in the texts about being reluctant to ordain women. Ven. Dr. Analayo pointed out an obvious timeline discrepancy that amazingly has gone undetected until now.

      Other discrepencies in this sutta have already been pointed out elsewhere on this blog.

    • Dear Frustrated,
      It is soo soo hard for me not to respond to this! 🙂 In Dhamma of course. Did you read Jimmy Carter’s speech and the declaration by Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela etc etc. Please please dear Dhamma friend, please read it.
      Now, as for the “higher rebirth” notion, I find it really difficult to find any experiential justification for this in the modern or ancient world. I use conventional arguments, which I admit, are false reasoning in the grand scheme of things, but on the same level as arguments weighed against the female form:
      The male form dominates in our era and all eras since Shakyamuni Buddha as the perperators of war, the manufacturers of weapons of war, the hunting of animals, the raping of girls, the perpetrators of genocide, the masterminds and decision-makers behind economic systems that justify the destruction of the earth and the environment in which humans live; the users of prostitutes including enslaved prostitutes to this day and even in developed countries to satisfy greedy mind; in my experience and based on what most men tell me, the male form is more deeply mired in lust, and ill-will leading to physical violence.
      Does this paint the picture of a higher vehicle for liberation?
      The female form requires the carrying of a life for several months, the birthing of that life and the caring for it for its lifetime and the caring of other beings, including parents and the male in the house. By nature then, this form is required- required- required like it or not to bear physical pain, economic hardship as ca. 40% of families on this earth are female headed only (UN); and bear the atrocities committed by those around them who wage wars, rape, traffic, detsroy the environment that provides water for cooking weaving and soil for cultivating food to feed the family.
      Whether she likes it or not, the female form is a training ground to cultivate patience, tolerance, compassion, loving kindness…
      And, as a woman I have the added benefit of seeing how others discriminate based on form. This is THE greatest gift that comes from birth in a form that is marginalized: we get to see, experience directly, what is form, what are the kinds of suffering generated by human’s attachment to form.
      So how is it, how is it that this notion of male form being higher vehicle for practice came about. Can someone tell me?
      The above being said, I would never dream of arguing that the male form is a lesser rebirth. Why, I can’t completely explain, except that instinctively I know this to be a dangerous line of reasoning, discriminatory, akusala, unskillful, wrong speech and of no assistance to anyone.
      I know I have been male, I know I have male energy, I know we go back and forth, up and down. Knowing this makes it even more important to me that all of my Dhamma Friends have the opportunity to practice – to hear the Dhamma – to find a teacher and to inspire others in their form by going forth.
      Why did the Buddha establish the Bhikkhuni order? Why do we have to question him. Why do we question Shakyamuni Buddha??? What gives us the right to do this? The practical implications of the subordinate position is mainly that the places and opportunities for practice for the marginalized form will be diminished, and as in the Carter article, all kinds of akusala kamma is meted out onto the marginalized form in the real world.
      From the other point of view, the male form in this scenario, actively practices superiority. One could equally argue an ego practice. Imagine how a novice may struggle going before a well respected accomplished nun who has practiced for 20 years. That would be an interesting practice indeed, unless he harboured some kind of rationale that she is a lesser form.
      Neither one is a beneficial practice.
      It may be hard to see. The only way is to try to look more deeply.
      And in the corporate world, there is nothing close to equality for women. There are some examples but they are the exception. I can give you more info on that but perhaps you can look into that on your own, rather than here, dear Friend.
      I hope this is taken in love and light in the Dhamma. There is much energy behind it but I promise you it is all good will and love in Dhamma.

    • Dear Lisa,

      Thanks so much for this. I have this intuitive sense that somehow women are, in my experience, in general further along the spiritual journey. i was introduced to ‘eastern’ thought by my female friends while i was at university. And most meditation teachers will say that it is, on the whole, the women who have the best samadhi – they are acculturated to be more emotionally integrated. But this is just a vague tendency; on the whole, men and women are much the same and, crucially, are equally in need of compassion and wisdom in their lives.

      The idea that women are spiritually inferior to men contradicts all evidence, all reason, and all statements by the Buddha on the topic. We should be thankful that we are in a religion whose teacher explicitly stated that women are fully capable of Awakening. There is no evidence in the Suttas that female rebirth is inferior; this is just another example of how the Buddha’s wisdom gets twisted and degraded by the lesser understanding of those who come after. Did the Buddha reach the pinnacle of liberating wisdom only to return and affirm the unthinking, harmful, and blind prejudices of man’s basest nature?

    • Dear Lisa,

      Agree with you on that. With pornography in existence, it is hard for men now to refrain from lust.

      Agree with you that women are more spiritual and compassionate, that is why women especially all mothers are by nature all living bodhisattva with buddhahood in us. That explained the reason why there are so many dewis in the heavens (according to sutta, 500 dewis to one dewa).

      That proof all mothers go to heaven, oh no, not again, dewi to men? So, women should strife spiritually to get out of samsara and hope not to be reborn in the dewa world, to serve men in heaven again.

      Now, it looks like women is the higher being (correction).Still exploring on this differences in gender.Hope to get an answer. If there is anything mentioned in the sutta, pls enlighten.Shanti (( ))

    • Dear Lisa,
      truly beautiful and heartfull and wise grace is felt through reading your loving words .
      Thank you Dhamma Sister.

  19. I would very much appreciate learning more about jhana and the processes necessary to attain jhana. I am reading Ajahn Brahmavamso’s “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond” and, quite frankly, find his talk about “the nimitta” quite confusing. When he talks about bliss and blissing out and “bliss upon bliss” I have no idea what to make of this. When I meditate, mind and body quiet down and there are times when I know I am awake, but there is no thought process other than that knowing. I have been reading the Anapanasati sutta and find no mention of nimitta. In the Satipatthana Sutta there seems to be no mention of some “sign” that I am to pay attention to.

    I am not in a hurry, but whenever you might have the time or inclination, I sould very much like to understand more about jhana, which is, after all, the 8th of the 8-fold path.

    • Dear Sudarsha,

      Thanks for the question – it’s another big one, so let me just make a couple of remarks and then you can let me know if this answers your question.

      When you describe your meditative state, this is terrific: to reach this level of stillness is already a great boon. So sadhu! But there’s more…

      The mind won’t go into really deep stillness until it has some bliss to, as it were, suck it in and glue it together. The development of meditative bliss is a whole area that needs to be addressed. If, as it seems, your meditation is a bit ‘dry’, then you need to find some ways to rouse up the feeling of bliss. Initially it can feel even coarse, in comparison with the equanimous feeling you have already realized. But as time goes on and it becomes more subtle, the feeling of bliss, together with the other factors, will gradually pull the mind in to a deeper unity.

      The nimitta is not called by that name in the Suttas. The Suttas use different terminology; for example, they speak of ‘perception of light’, ‘vision of forms’, and so on. Such phenomena are spoken of quite commonly throughout the Suttas.

      Nevertheless, even this terminology is not explicitly used in the jhana formula, nor the Satipatthana or Anapanasati Suttas. My feeling is that the reason the ‘nimitta’ (in whatever terminology) is not used in, say, the jhana formula, is because that short bit of text aims to describe only the most basic and universal of mental factors present in samadhi. Nimittas, on the other hand, are notoriously variable and personal, so it is very difficult to describe them in a clear and generalized way.

      In any case, theoretical discussion on nimittas is a little beside the point: when you have one you will know it. The nimitta is simply a ‘sign’; it is born of perception, and is the minds way of recognizing it’s own level of purity. The nimitta of the face means one’s reflection in the mirror, and so the nimitta of the mind simply means the mind’s reflection in awareness.

      There are detailed descriptions of nimittas in the Visuddhimagga. Ajahn Brahm does not, so far as I’m aware, base his teachings on that, but the general idea is very similar.

    • Thank you, Ajahn Sujato. This has been very helpful. I still have no idea what “bliss” is – and I am not a curmudgeon, either! 😎

      I have a raucous sense of humour and giggle at the slightest provocation. One would think “bliss” or whatever form of hapy-enjoyment it is should come easily.

      I perhaps owe you a bit of a confession: I feel a tad damaged. In the late 60’s, early 70’s I was involved to no small extent in Mahesh yogi’s transcendental meditation gimmick (which, then, of course, I thought was legitimate). I left before he turned his mildly useful technique into the full-blown cult/religion it has since become, but still am disinclined to buy into the kind of “feel good” nonsense he was selling.

      I guess it’s a taint I have to deal with, which I have endeavored to purge. Still, my personal experience of anapanasati is that everything dissolves and there is just … and I don’t have a word for this, but it’s as far as it goes. There are passages of time when I know I am awake, but there are no markers to account for the passage of time, just wakefulness.

      Thank you so much for your very kind, very helpful suggestion. Perhaps, when I am very still, but there are still vague thoughts, I’ll tell myself a funny story and see if that helps (no disrespect, just my wonky sense of the silly emerging).


    • Dear Sudarsha,

      Below is talk where Ajahn Brahm discusses the Anapananasati Sutta in detail line by line, and how the technique in ” Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond” correlates with the Ananapanasati Sutta.

      [audio src="" /]

      According to the book, the nimitta comes right before a person enters Jhana. It emerges when one lets go of all awareness of the body and its 5 senses, the breath, and thought completely. After which is Jhana, it is where you experience bliss upon bliss.

      But before we can enter the nimitta or jhana, it is helpful to focus on these initial steps:

      It is helpful to spend the first ten minutes easing in to the breath meditation, instead of directly focusing on the breath the moment we sat down. We do this by first bringing the mind back to this moment and notice what is here.

      1. First, rest your awareness on the BODY until SOUNDS become vivid in your awareness.

      2. Then focus on SOUNDS until inner chatter settles down and the BREATH becomes vividly noticeable.

      3. Finally, rest your awareness on the incoming and outgoing breath until the gap of the breath becomes vividly noticeable.

      In this way, the mind goes from a concrete meditation object to more, and more subtle meditation objects as the meditation progress.

      4. Rest your attention on THE FULL BREATH ( in, out, gap) until JOY ( piti, rapture) comes up.

      5. Then place your attention on the GAP only until the breath seems like it disappears (because you are focusing on the gap) and only JOY & INNER HAPPINESS (piti- sukkha) remain.

      Next, rest your attention on JOY & INNER HAPPINESS until they CALM also .

    • Thank you, iMeditation.

      I have read many teachings by Ajahn Brahmavamso and listened to many of his talks.

      Thank you so much for spelling out for me this 5-step (well, 6, actually) process. Let me see if I can couple your suggestions with Ajahn Sujato’s advice.

      Does anybody have a down-to-earth, simple Theravada definition (in English) for “bliss”? I ask only because it’s a word/term quite widely used. With reference to my response above to Ajahn Sujato, Mahesh yogi began calling his “yogic flying” hoax BUBBLING BLISS!!!! Happily, this came just after I had jumped ship.


    • dear Sudarsha,

      Okay, so there’s a history there: so it’s important not to get hung up on a word because of personal connotations.

      Remember, this ‘feeling’ of ‘bliss’, or sukha in Pali, is one of the mental qualities that is essential for deep concentration. It encompasses a range of qualities; one the coarser end is the ‘bubbling bliss’ associated with the feelings of flying and so on which you refer to; this is actually what we call in Pali pīti, usually translated as ‘rapture’. More subtly, bliss is a sensation of well-being, joy, and relaxation that pervades the whole body. It has a settling quality, not exciting like rapture. If rapture is like the bubbles in champagne, bliss is like the subtle sweetness…

    • Ajahn Sujato said: “bliss is a sensation of well-being, joy, and relaxation that pervades the whole body.”

      A thousand thankyous. I understand this and it is what I experience when the bodymind has gone to quietness. This is so simple. That is probably why I hadn’t a clue and didn’t see it for what it was. One of my own axes to grind is that sometimes teachers set up expectations and anticipations so that the student is looking for something and simultaneously missing what is right there.

      Well, chalk that one up for me!

      Now I understand. Thank you so much.


    • Once again, iMeditation, thank you. I just got the time to listen uninterruptedly to Ajahn Brahmavamso’s talk (

      I find “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond” very helpful, although I got completely hung up on his various descriptions of “nimitta” and “bliss”. I really think it’s possible to over define, over describe and consequently there will be someone like me who gets overly convused.

      Thankfully, Ajahn Sujatto has very clearly clarified all this for me.

      I am grateful beyond my poor means to convey for the great privilege of being able to read and participate here.

      Thank you.


    • Dear David and Sudarsha,

      I am glad you find Ajahn Brahm’s mp3 helpful. In the retreat, Ajahn Brahm answered many questions that people have relating to the technique in this book during the Q & A session. You can find the recordings during these retreats below:

      Recent Retreat in November 2009

      A collection of links to earlier retreat in 2007:

    • Dear Sudarsha

      If I may add to Ajahn Sujato’s explanation about the nimitta being equivalent to the sutta’s descriptions of “perception of light” and “visions of forms”.

      In the Upakkilesa Sutta, MN 128 (per Ven Bodhi’s translation), Ven Anuruddha complains to the Buddha –

      “Venerable sir, as we abide here diligent, ardent, and resolute, we perceive both light and a vision of forms. Soon afterwards the light and the vision of forms disappear, but we have not discovered the cause for that.”

      Interestingly, instead of some modern teachers who advise us to ignore the lights and forms, the Buddha recommended this –

      “You should discover the cause for that, Anuruddha. Before my enlightenment, while I was still only an unenlightened Bodhisatta, I too perceived both light and a vision of forms. Soon afterwards the light and the vision of forms disappeared. I thought: ‘What is the cause and condition why the light and the vision of forms have disappeared?’ Then I considered thus: ‘Doubt arose in me, and because of the doubt my concentration fell away; when my concentration fell away, the light and the vision of forms disappeared. I shall so act that doubt will not arise in me again.” (ditto for inattention, sloth & torpor, fear, elation, inertia, excess of energy, deficiency of energy, longing etc etc being states that caused the samadhi to fall away”.)

      Sounds very much like what Ajahn Brahm teaches, does it not? 🙂

      The Buddha then goes much further and makes a recommendation that some modern meditations would certainly disapprove of –

      “As, Anuruddha, I was abiding diligent, ardent, and resolute, I perceived limited light and saw limited forms; I perceived immeasurable light and saw immeasurable forms, even for a whole night or a whole day or a whole day and night. I thought: ‘What is the cause and condition for this?’ Then I considered thus: ‘On the occasion when concentration is limited, my vision is limited, and with limited vision I perceive limited light and limited forms. But on the occasion when concentration is immeasurable, my vision is immeasurable, and with immeasurable vision I perceive immeasurable light and see immeasurable forms, even for a whole night or a whole day or a whole day and night.”

      Again, this sounds like what Ajahn Brahm teaches, doesn’t it?

      All of the above sections on the perception of immeasurable light and immeasurable forms precede the sections where the Buddha then discusses the Jhanas.

      Even more interesting is the Buddha’s instruction to “discover the cause for that”. I’m told that in the Pali, that reads as “nimittam pativijjhitabbam”, ie literally meaning “penetrate the nimitta”. Perhaps the Commentaries decided to borrow the word ‘nimitta’ from this sutta to describe the fireworks that precede Jhana.

      Don’t fret too much if some of the other modern teachers discount the Jhanas and nimittas as described by Ajahn Brahm. It’s sometimes a problem simply of labelling, but other times an inability to depart from a particular lineage’s orthodoxy. Ajahn Brahm’s descriptions have a very sound canonical pedigree. I’ve just noticed that one of the more prolific modern commentators on Jhana simply does not present translation of suttas that present Jhanas as described by Ajahn Brahm. Coincidence or cover-up?

    • Thanks, Sylvester. I have printed this out so that I can read/review it in more detail. Like many others (I hope), I don’t do so well reading off the screen and find it more comfortable, the old fashioned way, to read off a piece of paper with, of course, a pen in one hand!

      Again, many thanks.


    • Dear sylvester,

      thanks for putting this up, yes it is exactly the kind of passage i was thinking of. And i agree that it is from this kind of usage that the later tradition developed the use of the term ‘nimitta’.

    • You’re most welcome. For years, I was lost in the wilderness, and I now feel that I’d wasted many years believing the lop-sided interpretations of Jhana that had been offered by a certain teacher. I’m just so grateful that Ajahn Brahm came along and at the same time, I invested in Ven Bodhi’s Majjhima and Samyutta translations, where I found so many hidden suttas left untranslated by the Jhana-lite proponents.

      Last night was another fortunate occassion for me, as I managed to get Ajahn Brahm to confirm technically a certain controversial aspect of Jhana, just by referring to Sutta teachings on “contact”, manasikara, ayatanas and indriyas.

      You might like to make a note about the scene in the Upakkilesa Sutta. Ven Anuraddha is perhaps most well-known in the Samyutta as being very proficient in the Satipatthanas (other than his psychic eyes). When you combine the context of Ven Anuraddha’s Satipatthana expertise, with the “nimitta”, Nivarana and Jhana expositions in MN 128, it really changes the way how one relates to “Vipassana”…

  20. Further up on this long list of comments and replies ( which are at times very insightful and provide material for deeper reflections and stimulation for our practice), there was a comment about art and creativity and David Conway shared about this practice in Plum Village ( Ven.Thich Nhat Hanh’s center in France).
    I appreciated the comment and also found the comment about “managing their sexual energy” very amusing, I actually didn’t think of it in that sense, but you may be right ( it still amuses me though ). Having “performed” in various of those activities, I do realize that at times it can be a double edged sword, but one does learn much about one self. It is also true, in my experience, that, at times, the performance just flows, and that ( as in performing formal ceremonies )the mind can become very present and you “discover” the present moment. So performances, or playing an instrument can at times provide such experiences, it often depends on the person performing and his or hers experience in the practice. About the previous subject of , our teacher doesn’t talk much about rebirth as such, but often about the wave and the ocean, and uses candles and their light to ask his audience and once blow out . My real experience on this subject is limited, but often during these talks a “taste” for what he may be conveying does arise. I believe that it’s also important to listen to different teachers teachings on this theme ( for the sake of a deeper understanding ), I often listen to Ajahn Brahm’s talks and there seems, at times, a different message, or to what our teacher teaches. I think it also has to do with ( not only the realization of the teacher ) but also the teachers aim, and to further understand that aim one may need to “hang-out” with that teacher for some time. My previous experiences with some vipassana teachers, is that awakening is in this moment and rebirth is occurring not in the future, but right in this moment, as you become identified with what is arising in the mind. This process, if unchecked, becomes words, actions, and further “re-incarnation”, but by identifying the nature of the current, then you release your self from the process and you become less self-ish. But the teachings on impermanence and no-self must also figure in one’s practice. Looking at how waves manifest on the sea, I see that as one wave just “sinks”, it’s sinking pushes up the next one, the falling wave is not re-born as a different wave.
    I better close here, to spare you the “dharma talk”, I continue to enjoy this blog, my sincere gratitude.
    T.Phap Son.

    • Dear Phap Son (Brother Michael)

      It’s nice to hear from you. I’m glad the comment about sexual energy amused you – I was merely passing on the explanation that Brother Jampel gave me!

      I resonate very much with your account from vipassana experience of rebirth being now – or not – and Thay’s image of the wave and the ocean. That seems to fit more easily with my experience of anatta and annica than the idea of “me” coming back in another form complete with memories of “my” previous life. Apparently the Buddha spoke about rebirth in this sense, though, and enough of his other teachings have turned out to work when I’ve practised them for me to think this worth exploring.

      With best wishes


    • PS Thank you for participating in this blog (and everyone else too, and Sujato for kicking it off). I find this global, cross-border, cross-tradition, cross-cultural dharma discussion to be wonderful.

    • Dear Venerable Phap Son,
      your comments are greatly appreciated.
      Thankyou for participating in sharing your experience and ideas.
      Sincere Best Wishes to you and your Sangha,

    • Dear Belle ( and David Conway ), thank you for your support. I was, initially, a little bit shy to post anything, but now I feel more encouraged. I also realize that, due to our Plum Village schedule, I don’t have so much time to be on line, but’s great when I can connect back with this cyber sangha,
      in the Dharma,
      T.Phap Son.

  21. Dear Florentyna,
    I just read your beautiful open response to Bhante most recently written above…and you asked with such warmth and sincerity if Juzzeau, Dania, Lisa and I lived in Australia. Well, i do ! And i had been thinking just as you- that i would appreciate being friends with you all too !
    I am in Melbourne.
    Even though you say you are cross- your heart is so warm and true and i found your wish for friendship so cheerfull to my heart.
    Thankyou…not quite sure how to arrange us all getting together one day !? Maybe at Santi !
    Best wishes to all,

    • Hello dear Belle, because I live in UK, I am ready for ‘virual’ friendship with all excellent people on this blog site. I have learned so much – I have learned how much more I need to learn. My head is clearing and my heart is getting lighter. I am an asian woman but I’m learning how to be myself and not what others project onto me. People here speak the truth. Say what they mean. No double talk. I love all these fearless people. Thank you Belle for being my friend. Much metta to you (and I hope your health is now much better).

    • Dear Florentyna,
      I am so glad to be friends.
      THankyou for being here with your truth and your loving kindness, such a blessing !
      Your wishes for my health are healing in themselves ! Thankyou kind one.
      Much metta and calming supportive wishes to you,

  22. Monastic Passports

    Hi Ven Sujato

    In one of the stories that I read it said that Ajahn Brahm held a Thai monastic passport. Do you know what these are and why would a western monk use one instead of a British or Australian passport?



  23. Dear,

    Phra Kru Opaswuthikorn is one of the six monks who, according to Dhammalight, on November 17 went on behealf of the Wat Pah Pong Sangha to see Somdet Buddhajahn in the efforts to get Ajahn Brahm’s status as an Upajjhaya and his royal ecclesiastical title of ‘Chao Khun’ revoked.

    He is the abbot of the 20th branch monastery of Wat Pah Pong in Ayuddhaya, Thailand.

    • Irony upon ironies! If Phra Kru Opaswuthikorn is indeed “Ajahn Khampong” – then hospitality and kindness counts for naught. Presuming we are talking about the same monk (and forgive me if I have the wrong monk) – then our Ajahn Khampong was invited by Ajahn Brahm to reside at Bodhinyana for the 3 month Vassa/Pansah in 2008, following the Thai custom of not staying the Rains Retreat in your own monastery after the main hall has been built (don’t ask me the origin of this custom – something to do with non-attachment). Ajahn Khampong happily stayed at Bodhinyana for this 3 month period, hosted by Ajahn Brahm and the resident Sangha, and taken excellent care of by the Perth-based Thai community. This explains his apparent influence over the Perth Thai Buddhists. Ajahn Khampong also stayed at Bodhinyana for about 3 weeks in late 2002/early 2003 (I was one of his attendant monks, foot massagers, and English teachers for some of this time). He later spoke approvingly at the main WPP Sangha meeting about how well Bodhinyana was run by Ajahn Brahm, and how well the monks were practicing Vinaya. So, how quickly things change! Talk about “slaps in the face” – to quote Ajahn Amaro – who exactly is slapping who here? Metaphorically speaking, of course. Time to re-read Majjhima Nikaya no. 21 “Simile of the Saw” again.

      I must say that my dealings with Ajahn Khampong were wholly positive – he was very friendly, kind and playful – despite having a slightly gruff demeanor, and the physical presence of a heavy-weight boxer. His predilection for taking photographs of the Australian flora & fauna, as well as group photos with the many Perth Thai supporters was charming, and disarmingly child-like, to say the least.

      Interestingly, it was Ajahn Nyanadhammo who encouraged Ajahn Brahm to befriend Ajahn Khampong – precisely because he was politically influential and active in the WPP hierarchy. This encouragement was primarily to aid the exchange of monks between Bodhinyana and the Thai WPP monasteries, especially with getting visas, Dhamma-duta passports, etc. So, as I said, irony abounds!

    • Sorry, I stuffed up here – Ajahn Khampong is apparently not Phra Kru Opaswuthikorn, but is also known by his proper title as: Phra Kru Sudhamprachote, quoted in the recent article by Sanitsuda Ekachai, as saying: … “many Thai Buddhists in Perth are unhappy with Aj Brahm and are trying to find way to get him out the temple. But this is up to the people, WPP cannot do anything to support this action.”

    • Hi Bankei,

      I might save Bhante Sujato the trouble of replying here.

      Santi has never been a formal member of WPP. Bhante made this choice consciously, knowing the difficulties that would arise as a consequence of his support for bhikkhuni ordination.

      Bhante’s wisdom really shines here – for not a word of criticism has been leveled at Bhante Sujato for his participation in the Dhammasara bhikkhuni ordinations. This has also allowed him to speak out on behalf of Ajahn Brahm, and concentrate his critiques on the substantive issues without having to fend off personal attachs.

      It should be said, however, that Santi has always had informal ties with the WPP sangha – ties of friendship and mutual respect between individual sangha members. Given all that has occurred in recent months, I think it is safe to say that models of relationship between monasteries based on mutual respect, friendship and the spirit of Vinaya between real people (as opposed to concrete Vinaya rules about how corporate bodies – which don’t really exist) are the way forward.


  24. Dear Bhante,

    I want to take this opportunity to thank you so very much for making some of your talks (and other recordings) and especially your sutta classes available via Dhammanet. And thank you to those who developed and also keep up the website, edit and post the recordings, etc. I cannot tell you how much this means to me. I don’t know if those who have posted on this thread asking about sutta classes are aware that this resource exists:

    (There’s also a way to support it by clicking in the upper right-hand corner under contribute. This is a shameless plug from me as I have so much gratitude for what is offered, and hope everyone who is able to support it will, even with very small donations, on a one-time or ongoing basis. disclaimer 🙂 — I’m not associated with Santi in any way nor do I know anyone there, although I feel a heart/mind connection to what Bhante Sujato and the community and supporters there are developing.)

    Since fairly early on in my practice, study as been an integral and essential part. I find that my sitting meditation and study (as well as practice in all areas of life) enhance and support one another. It’s difficult for me to imagine them as separate, or as practicing the Dhamma without ongoing study. It has, however, been, for the most part, a rather solitary pursuit, although I have one Dhamma friend who especially shares this interest, and although we live far apart, we have study sessions via phone (the suttas, Buddhist history and philosophy, various schools, etc).

    I am very interested in looking at views, both the grosser and increasingly subtler ones, and how they underlie experience. Perhaps more accurate would be to say, how views/concepts and experience are mutually dependent. “Western Vipassana”(as it is generally taught (be it Mahasi-based, Goenka-based, Thai Forest or some eclectic mix of these with more theistic views thrown in, which seem to be the main variations here) at least by many western teachers in the US (with whom I’ve studied) at times seems rather unquestioning of views and assumptions, even those upon which various meditation practices are based. Also things are presented “as what the Buddha taught or said, etc” without any distinguishing between earlier teachings, Abhidhamma and commentarial or even other schools and other spiritual systems altogether. This is not a comment on any particular school, tradition, practice, or spiritual belief and the importance, effectiveness or even”truth” of it, but rather a comment on how they get presented, and how they are often jumbled together. Even what seem to be the clearer Bhddha-Dhamma teachings (this is controversial territory I know) are often not critiqued from within whatever system/orientation they are most heavily based upon. I don’t mean this merely in terms of intellectual analysis, but more in terms of a deep investigation of the underlying frameworks some of the conceptions/structures are based upon.

    Questioning regarding this areas and quite often dissatisfaction regarding the answers I was receiving from “outside” is what impelled me to study (although I’m also naturally inclined to delve pretty deeply into things that interest me). This is also what inspires me to learn Pali, so I can at least read the suttas in their original language.

    I came across Santi through reading your book “A History of Mindfulness”. Listening to the sutta classes (and also your talks as I very much appreciate the depth you go into) has been like “coming home”–a source of deep nourishment. I wish I could be there to engage in person, but alas, living in the US, that is not likely to happen.

    I have been trying to learn Pali on my own (very slowly and not without difficulty) so the sutta classes have also been very helpful for that. Which brings me to a question I have: Could you share with us how you learned Pali so well, and what tips you might have for someone trying to learn it? I’m wondering if you knew Sanskrit first? I have no background in language (and regrettably, know no language other than english!) so it is not coming easily to me. I have downloaded Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Pali classes and have begun those.

    I am also wondering if you would consider making available recordings of Pali classes you’ve offered at Santi (from the sutta classes, I got the impression that you’ve also done Pali classes). And if you would consider posting more sutta classes (and more talks) on Dhammanet, that would be wonderful (I check often for new material)! I am on my second time through all the material and would very much welcome new recordings. Your integration of study with other forms of practice, and the critical thinking and textual and comparative analysis you bring, as well as depth of Dhamma, are rather unique. When someone on this forum suggested Vinaya classes (Lisa if I’m remembering correctly?), in your reply you mentioned that they were quite discussion-based so you didn’t know how well they would work as recordings. I just wanted to say that I have found the sutta class discussion quite interesting; the recordings do not suffer at all due to the fact that there is discussion (although sometimes the questions and comments are hard to hear). In fact, in general they are enriched. I would much prefer MP3 recordings over something like Skype or video.

    Thanks to everyone who is participating in these forums. And with deep gratitude, Bhante (and all) for your practice/work,

    • Dear Linda,

      Thanks for your kind remarks, and I’m so glad to have been able to help your practice in some way. There will be more material going up on Dhammanet, it’s just up to our volunteers and how much time they have to edit and upload. But expect to see some major developments in the next year or so.

      As far as Pali goes, i learnt it myself, primarily through memorizing texts. I memorized much of the Sutta Nipata, patimokkha, and many short and long prose Suttas (Mahasatipatthana Sutta, Mahanidana Sutta, etc.). As i did this I improved my vocabulary, and took an interest in the meanings of words. After a few years, I studied the grammar, initially with Rune Johansson’s Early Buddhist Texts, then with Warder’s Introduction to Pali. It was really Warder that enabled my Pali grammar to come together; but that was on the basis of a reasonably extensive knowledge of memorized texts.

      My experience has been that it is rare for people to develop enough knowledge of Pali grammar to be really useful. Mostly students spend time struggling with the grammar and in the end just neglect it. So from my example I encourage students to start with learning texts and meanings of words, and worry about grammar later. In the end, grammar is just about the relationships between words, and this is something that native speakers get a feel for without ever doing grammar. By chanting, we learn the language as it was meant to be: a whole body experience, with our lungs and throat just as involved as our brain. The main thing we miss out is the back and forth that we get from conversation. But what to do?

      I’ve never formally studied Sanskrit, but can pick it up easily enough when it is Buddhist texts that are similar to the Pali.

      Regarding your remarks about how Buddhism is taught in the west, i couldn’t agree more. As someone who frequently works on the interface between disciplines, I see how things regarded as obselete and inadequate in some fields are still unquestioned in others. For example, the modern Buddhist psychology movement is based mainly on the mindfulness teaching as derived from the Burmese systems. This is presented as being the literal practice of ‘satipatthana’. In modern Buddhist studies such notions are highly problematized: how far can the satipatthana sutta be regarded as an original text? What is the actual relationship between text and meditative experience? How are notions of samatha and vipassana expressed in satipatthana? How is it presented in different schools? Yet all this remains largely opaque to the Buddhist psychologists, as it does to most practicing Buddhists. So it is in precisely these areas of interface that I find much of interest.

    • Dear Linda,
      It is so wonderful to have your presence here and read your inspiring words.
      Thankyou for you practise and i appreciate your approach.
      Thankyou for the great link ! So timely !!!

  25. TQ Bhante for ……..

    A little nonsense to share?:-P:-)
    Illuminated Light
    i Love
    Illuminated Light
    i Live
    Illuminated Light
    i Learn
    Illuminated Light
    i Laugh
    Illuminated Light
    i Let Go

    Before the i
    There is the line and the dot
    Before the dot
    There is the circle

    But what is a circle?
    It is but only a dot and a line.
    Which is filled up with ink.

    Happy New Year!

  26. This is off-topic but reading this blog has brought to mind my own musings on the cultural suppression of femininity in the West, & I’d like to share my personal experiences yet again.

    For many years I felt an unconscious shame at being a woman. I called myself a feminist, but really I just wanted to be considered the same as a man. I felt that my feminine side was weak, that my feminine body was somehow repulsive. I believed that intellect reigned supreme, & that the body & emotions were inferior to the reasoning mind.

    It was only through meditation that I became conscious of these feelings & views & their origination.

    Reading the Old Testament now it is not surprising to me that I internalised such beliefs!

    Of interest is how this awareness affected my experience of childbirth. The first time I gave birth it was agonising, I felt like I was going out of my mind with the pain.

    I couldn’t bear to suffer like that again so the next time I got pregnant I read a book called “Hypnobirthing” which theorised that women are brainwashed into believing that birth is painful by the Bible & other cultural influences.

    The second time I went through labour it was not painful at all. I felt very peaceful throughout the night as I practised breath meditation. During the moments of the actual birth I surrendered to a rapturous ecstasy. I did not even realise that my baby’s head had left my body (in our bathtub while my husband was in the kitchen making tea) I was so overcome with bliss.

    Needless to say I am nolonger ashamed to be a woman!!! I feel very blessed & grateful.

    The feminine has been ignored, suppressed, belittled & ridiculed for so long, imagine the possibilities if this were not so.

    • Anonymous – thank you so much for posting those stanzas! Ven Mahinda spoke of the five factors for a religious life at the intervarsity Buddhist conf in Sydney last year & I try to remind myself of these daily but I had no idea what sutta they came from. I’ve been meaning to start some daily chanting & think that one would be a very good one to chant. Can’t have too many reminders of those blessings! As Thich Nhat Thanh would say the seeds of discontent, impatience, rebellion, disrespect & arrogance are very strong in me, but i have been incredibly blessed in this life.

    • Heidi! Wow!

      You should tell this tale far and wide. Too many women and men have internalised harmful beliefs and feelings about being woman.

      Can I please have your permission to show/send your post to others?

      With Mudita 🙂

    • Dear Heidi,
      Thank you very much for your positive sharing.

      My 2cts worth of personal experience:-P
      i have also found that to suppress the gender we are born with (or any other things for that matter) has an adverse effect…

      But for a good understanding, i have found it to be beneficial when the gender is stripped for a while… but long term??? well that’s my amatuer-ish understanding anyways…:-P

      i have also often found it very helpful to refer to the stanzas in the Mangala Sutta when challenged in my daily practise of the 8 Fold Noble Path;

      and in this occasion would like to quote stanza no.8 and 9;
      Reverence, Humility
      Contentment, Gratitude and
      Opportune hearing of the Dhamma.
      This is the Supreme Blessing.

      Patience, Obedience,
      sight of the Holy Men (& Women?:-))
      and Religious discussions at due season
      This is the Supreme Blessing.

      From a psychological perspective it has been found that there is a strong correlation of the maternal mental state to the children.(of course there are many other factors involved as well.:-P)

      With Metta and Happy New Year!:-)

    • yes of course Kanchana. i should just clarify – it wasn’t the feminine body per se i found replusive (biologically & socially we are conditioned to the contrary!) but the fertile female form. I think Western culture idealises the female form as a a sexual object but conditions distaste for normal physical functions like birth & breastfeeding (exemplified by the recent survey on public attitudes to breastfeeding).

      i go into more detail about the experience here

  27. Bhante,

    I thought of another topic I’ve been reading about recently and wondered if you’d give your perspective; Nanavira Thera. Why is it that his writings have caused such a degree of controversy and criticism, to the extent that mainstream Buddhist Publishing groups refuse to print them? Having read Notes on Dhamma I see a great deal of wisdom there, but this is a view apparently not shared by many. Is his life story and the manner of his death enough to discredit him, or is there another perhaps a more doctrinal reason for his somewhat ‘dodgy’ standing?
    With Metta

    • Dear Tom,

      That’s a good question. Those of you unfamiliar with Nyanavira and his work might want to first check out his Wikipedia entry with the relevant links at the bottom.

      Nyanavira is not an easy man to like: he’s opinionated and can come across as highly arrogant. indeed, his idea that the essence of the Buddha’s teaching was completely misconstrued by the Buddhists for thousands of years before being rediscovered by him is, on the face of it, a highly narcissistic notion. Yet he brings to the Dhamma a sense of realism, urgency, and searingly sharp intellect which is so rare to find.

      Ultimately, I think it is his aggressive dismissal of everything in the Buddhist tradition apart from the early Suttas which makes it hard for him to be accepted. Doctrinally, some of his ideas, like the one life DO, are also taught by teachers who are embraced by the mainstream, at least in the Thai tradition, such as Ajahn Sumedho or Ajahn Payutto. So I don’t think this by itself can explain Nyanavira’s outsider status. He had no wish to be accepted by the mainstream, and it is very easy to simply ignore someone who’s primary output is a series of dense, complex philosophical scribblings that is incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with both the Suttas and modern existentialism.

  28. Dear Bhante Sujato,

    I’ve read that you learnt the practice of loving-kindness meditation from Ajahn Maha Chatchai. Are there written instructions on his specific approach to metta? I’ve listend to one of your talks on this subject. The talk was very inspiring and I would like to deepen my metta practice.

    Many thanks.

    • Dear Stefan,

      There is still nothing much written on this practice. i tend to teach meditation person to person, and use my writings for research, things that can’t be addressed so easily in talks. We do have a plan to put together a book, hopefully something will be happening before too long.

  29. sujato :
    There have been calls for HIV+ people to not be ordained, and this may well be the policy in some places. However, at Wat Nanachat a few years ago there was a candidate who was HIV+. The Sangha there was reluctant to ordain him, but Ajahn Liem intervened and said he would take personal responsibility. He did the ordination; and subsequently looked after the new monk with herbal medicines. I understand that his condition stabilized, but i’m not sure what has happened since then.

    Actually LP Liem didn’t do it (I guess to avoid more than necessary conflict with WPN about it) but told Aj Kevali to take him along to a nearby decent village Wat and get him ordained there. I met him at Chithurst two summers back and he’d suddenly got ill after he couldn’t get the herbal medicine LP had given him. As long as he was taking the herbal thing, his white blood cell counts were stable or rising, and as soon as he stopped in the UK they nose dived and he had to go on retrovirals with horrible side effects. I keep mentioning this in the hope one day I’ll come across a pharmaceutical researcher who will check out that herb -it was a bush, actually. I haven’t heard anything since, so I presume he’s still alive.

    • Hi Kester,

      You could try contacting a friend of mine, Richard Dixey. I’ll email you his contact. He’s the husband of Wangmoe Dixey, daughter of Tarthang Tulku; together they sponsor the pali Chanting ceremony in Bodhgaya under the Light of Buddhadharma Foundation. He’s been involved in researching herbal remedies and finding modern medical applications for them.

  30. Bhante,

    Since Bodinyana is expelled from Wat Nong Pah Pong, which means that Bodinyana is not the branch of Wat Pah Pong any longer, is there any possibility for Bodinyana and Wat Pah Nanachat keep the communications ? How about if there are some Monks from Wat Pah Nanachat like to visit Bodinyana? and vise versa, is that possible?

    Thank you.

    • In theory there is no problem, and certainly from Ajahn Brahm and my side, we would be delighted to host visits from any monks. But it has already happened that monks and nuns who participated in the ordination have been refused at different monasteries, such as Vimutti in new Zealand, or Dhammagiri in Queensland. I have no idea whether this has been discussed as a formal policy or not. it was certainly not discussed at the meeting when Ajahn Brahm was expelled, nor has it been mentioned in any formal communications as far as I know.

  31. Sujato wrote — “when I was newly in Thailand and my feet were bleeding badly on alms round, I was made to walk barefoot in the mud. That’s what the ‘training’ has become: it’s all about ‘letting go’.”

    Ajahn, I think it’s urgent and timely that you bring up these absurd cases in the Sangha,cases in which very worldly actions are carried out by Monks under the guise of it being ‘all a Dhamma lesson in learning to let go.”

    In the situation you describe,it was clearly a domineering, unreasonable action done to you to re-inforce a hierarchy — had that happened amongst lay people, the senior monk would never have got away with it.( The fact he didn’t know that is a poor reflection — Or, the fact that he may have known it — and still went ahead and did it, is an even worse reflection.)

    I have seen those power dynamics under the guise of ‘there is no me and no you and no person so let go’ quite a few times as a layman — I have seen a senior Western monk ( ordained for about thirty years or so ) literally demand, with an angered face, that a lay person, who was unaware of Asian practice, should prostrate on the ground before him. I have also seen so called work duty /guest monks clearly use lay people to get heavy relentless work done around the monastery, some of which went way beyond what a lay person really should understandably do to ‘earn his keep’ as a guest.

    Whilst these lay/ordained/senior/junior conventions clearly have their important place in the monastery in creating decent, mindful,cordial,caring behaviour — when some monks take them too far and conceal their own intentions from themselves as well as trying to conceal their true motivations from the lay people — then people do notice it , and they don’t respect the monk for doing it.

    Westerners have already lost faith in their own Christian monks and priests, and when Buddhist monks also try to take advantage, and create higher lower power dynamics, they will eventually lose the respect of the lay people.

    Being honest, I haven’t seen too many monks taking advantage — but I do think you are right to mention it, especially when I hear Dhamma talks telling lay and ordained people that ‘they have no rights’ , and that the very notion is illusory. As you state, that is dangerous talk — whilst in ‘absolute terms’ such an assertion has great philosophical weight and merit — in our daily life terms, there is a very small leap from that kind of talk and exploitation and disrespect of people and misuse.

    Thanks for raising these issues — I have thought about them for years, yet never hear Monks ( besides yourself ) mentioning them —

    Hmmm, I wonder why ?


  32. I have been reading Nakamura’s “Indian Buddhism”. He claims to have identified certain suttas that are the most ancient parts of the Pali sutta pitaka. I know it’s more complicated than that (parts of suttas may be ancient while other segments are additions, etc), but in general how reliable is his list? Thanks for this useful thread!

    • i’m cautious about such claims; I think Nakamura follows the ‘gatha theory’ of early Buddhism, which I have criticized in History of Mindfulness. That’s not to say his stuff is all wrong, merely that the state of our knowledge is so uncertain that any conclusions are tentative.

  33. Bhante Sujato:

    I was wondering if there were any plans on your part to publish your writings in epub format. You may be aware that epub is generally the industry standard for ebooks now, as they are far easier than pdf’s for ereaders such as the kindle to render. I have an ereader (not the kindle, but similar) that would like to read your books, like sects and sectarianism on, but the pdf’s don’t render well. Many many people, including myself, have trouble looking at an LCD screen for too long, and that is why the kindle and other ereading devices have become so popular. Please format your books into epub if you have no plans to do so already.


    • Hi James,

      We’re actually looking at this right now. We’e revamping the whole Santipada site to become a much more professional publishing facility, with texts in the widest possible variety of formats. But it’s great to know there’s actually a demand.

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