Wat Pah Pong press conference discussions

Those of you who have been following this blog will be aware of the press conference held on December 28, 2009 by senior Ajahns from Wat Pa Pong. This has generated a number of reactions, and I wanted to gather them all chronologically here.

First we received an account of the conference from Bangkok Post reporter Sanitsuda Ekachai. I posted this and made my own comments. This reported that WPP were accusing Ajahn Brahm of temple mismanagement; that Bodhinyana should be given to the Thai Sangha; and that the main issue was bhikkhuni ordination, which is unacceptable in Thailand, as is siladhara ordination.

The contents of the press conference were so shocking that some people initially questioned whether Sanitsuda was actually the author. Soon after, however, Sanitsuda soon published an article in the Bangkok Post.

The response to the conference was by now so bad that WPP had to step in. They posted an article under the name of The Administrative Committee of Wat Nong Pah Pong. This article claimed that while the matter was cleared up in the Thai newspapers, the English language press has misrepresented them. They mentioned two points, one claiming that they did not ask to take control of monasteries in the West; and they took issue with the phrase ‘sooner or later we’ll see female monks everywhere’, saying it would be better translated as :

“If we (Wat Nong Pah Pong) had not taken any action, it would open the doors in the future for women to ordain as bhikkhunis within the Wat Nong Pah Pong western sangha, running into the same problem we have at the moment (breaking Thai law)”.

You can decide for yourselves whether this is any better; it seems to me it’s merely more wimpy than the original, which encapsulated with unusual clarity one of the dominant underlying fears driving this whole controversy.

But the more controversial issue was the takeover of monastery property. The WPP claim that they were misrepresented in the English language press was challenged by Dheerayupa, who pointed out that the Thai Rath and the Daily News in fact stated that:

“(I or the WPP sangha -> the subject was omitted as very common of the Thai language) want the Council of Elders and the Office of National Buddhism to find ways to bring the land of the Bodhiyana monastery to come under the ownership of Wat Nong Pah Pong because the said land was donated to Luang Phu Chah by Buddhists in Australia while he was visiting Perth.”

When this was sent to Dhammalight by Dheerayupa they admitted that the Thai language press had, after all, made the same mistake as the English articles. It seems they want us to believe that the same mistake was made by three separate newspapers. However, the reality is that the press simply reported what was contained in the WPP press release.

The same point was made by Sanitsuda herself, who defended her professional reputation in a personal and intelligent article. She made the following observations.

We might not agree with the Wat Pah Pong monks’ fierce opposition to female ordination, obsession with punishment and control, the unquestioning submission to the feudal hierarchy against the original egalitarian spirit of the Sangha, or their deep attachment to ethnic Thai culture and nationalism.

But we cannot deny they are honest and open about their views and biases.

The position of Wat Pah Pong’s Thai elders also does not correspond with the portrayal of a rational clergy that upholds consensus decision-making and are open to gradual and timely changes for female monastics as painted in the Dhammalight website, run by Western monks. Obviously, there is a gap between the Thai and Western forest monks. While one is lost in the feudal world, the other is pressured to pacify the Western laity in the 21st century, struggling for balance.

I might point out that I believe Sanitsuda is mistaken in saying that Dhammalight is run by Western monks. My understanding, which is based only on second-hand reports, is that it is operated primarily through a lay supporter of one of the branch monasteries. I don’t know how much involvement either WPP or the Western Ajahns have.

Nevertheless, the split she points out is very real. The international Ajahn Chah Sangha has negotiated this in the past by more or less just following a live and let live policy. This is pleasant enough as long as things run smoothly, but it is in no way adequate to address genuine and important changes, such as bhikkhuni ordination.

On the 4th of January, the BSWA made their formal response, addressed to the Thai community of Perth. This confirms that a WPP Ajahn has been personally agitating for the Thai Buddhists of Perth to have Ajahn Brahm removed as abbot, and it corrects, one by one, the false allegations made by WPP.


22 thoughts on “Wat Pah Pong press conference discussions

  1. Hi all,

    This is from Sanitsuda’s article (defending her truthfulness) …

    ‘Following the excommunication of Ajahn Brahm, the abbot of Bodhinyana in Perth, Australia, for sponsoring full female ordination, the forest monk clergy of Wat Nong Pah Pong want the Council of Elders and National Buddhism to help them in exploring ways to get the “Thai temple” back to the “Thai people”.

    ‘They also want the Council of Elders to issue rules on temple ownership and management to govern temples abroad to prevent Western monks from ordaining more women or violating other mandates from the Thai Sangha.

    ‘Nothing was mentioned about an intention to shift responsibility to the Council of Elders to decide about Bhodinyana Temple’s ownership and the abbot status of Ajahn Brahm.

    … I’m not sure I understand the third paragraph in light of the first paragraph. Any suggestions?


    • The difference between the first and last statements is that the last statement talks about “shift responsibility to the council of elders to decide…” (what WPP have claimed they had done) rather than asking the council or elders to help them in executing their decision (the first statement).
      ayya citta

  2. Dear Jason,

    May I offer my understanding?

    WPP wants the Supreme Sangha Council (Mahathera Samakom) and the National Buddism Office to take action against Aj Brahm (perhaps stripping him of his ecclesiastical title of ‘Chao Khun’ and preceptorship?) and Bodhiyana Monastery (bringing it under the ownership of WPP).

    However, according to the press reports on Dec 20, 2009, both organisations only acknowledged or upheld WPP’s decision to excommunicate Aj Brahm.

    Thus, the press conference on Dec 28 was held to publicly pressure both organisations to take action.

    This is my humble interpretation.

  3. Aj. Sujato said:

    “I might point out that I believe Sanitsuda is mistaken in saying that Dhammalight is run by Western monks. My understanding, which is based only on second-hand reports, is that it is operated primarily through a lay supporter of one of the branch monasteries. I don’t know how much involvement either WPP or the Western Ajahns have.”

    Dear Ajahn,

    Your source might be correct, but then there will be two scenarios to contemplate.

    1. Dhammalight claims that they are administered by the Administrative Committee of WPP Sangha. So, if it is actually administered by lay supporters, the said lay supporters are breaking the fourth precept by claiming to be what they are not. Whichever monks these lay supporters support should encourage their disciples to try to be more honest and truthful. If the monks have done so without success, they at least could use the website ‘Forest Sangha’ to announce that the WPP Sangha, which includes the Western monks, does not operate Dhammalight.

    2. If Dhammalight are trulty administered by the Administrative Committee of WPP, they are not giving the whole truth about the press conference on Dec 28. Or, it could mean that there is difference in opinions among the WPP monks who held the press conference as suggested by Khun Sanitsuda.

    Another humble interpretation of mine.

  4. In the discrepancy between the New Sangha lands and the old Sangha lands, a curiosity is awakened regarding what is a True Sangha.
    “Who” is our Sangha?
    This past October, very close in time to the Bhikkhuni ordination in Australia, the Buddha Sasana was said to have “arrived” in Canada with the first ordination of a Canadian by a Quorum of Canadian monastics.
    I wish for these same Sangha leaders to reflect on what is a true Sangha…and tell us how they understand it…and how this relates to the “arrival” of the Buddhasasana.
    Is a Sangha an “either”, is it an “or”, or is it something else?
    Can this be clarified and can the hearts of those within and without the monasteries – who we know to be deeply disappointed be restored?
    What has been “gained” at the expense of (what I believe to be-) the hearts of novices, other monastics and male and female laypeople?
    Can the Buddha Sasana be said to “arrive” when allegiance to the process of a distant Sangha causes the Sanghakaya in the new Dhamma land to bleed?
    Words meant in love, a wish to understand more deeply, a wish for the Sangha of my beloved teachers to heal and become a True Sangha…Metta

  5. I don’t think Dhammalight is being fair to the Bangkok Post by acusing Khun Sanitsuda of misrepresenting . I guess they forgot about their press release and wasn’t aware of the fact that the other reporters also wrote the same thing in Thai. Maybe they should hold a press conference to apologize to all those they wrongly accused. Dhammalight claims that they are administered by the Administrative Committee of WPP Sangha. If it is really administered by a third party without much involvement from WPP, then it is being misleading and dishonest yet again. Whoever sits behind ‘dhammalight’ should come out of the dark already and stop making false acussations and issuing unwarranted punishments. It’s about time they take responsibility for their words and action. They are too ready to defame innocent people for their own sake. It first started with Ajahn Brahm, now the reporters .

  6. I sent the following to Dhammalight today…

    Dear Sir,

    The above article which is in the Latest Update on your website is a very good example that I can use to illustrate the point that when one breaks the fourth precept one needs to come up with more dishonest statements to defend it!

    It is a pity that the WPP had to get into this sticky situation. Had they been honest and stated that they do not support Bhikkhuni ordinations in the first place most people would have respected their honesty although they may not have agreed with that position. Unfortunately, no amount of retractions will fix the problem now and it is still not too late to come out with an honest statement about the official stance on Bhikkhuni ordinations.

    May the Truth prevail!

    I had to address it as ‘Dear Sir’ as it was obvious that no woman would be allowed to administer the Dhammalight website!!

  7. Might be time for some of us examine our states of mind and ask: “Is this passion of any benefit to my practice?”

    If not, maybe it’s time to let go.

    After all, the best way for us to bring about change in the Buddhist community is to be the models of the behavior we expect.

  8. Great comment Jack.

    Totally agree.

    However the time to let go is a personal decision/ocurrence that each individual has to make when the time is right for them. And indeed, the thing they let go of is also personal.

    I don’t think I’m quite ready to let go of seeking the truth in this matter.

    I’m not saying I won’t be forgiving of those who may have lied…I just need to know the truth first.

    I need to know if the WPP/WAM monks are communicating within the communitys. It doesn’t sound like it; which is odd because the WAM monks certainly made ‘consultation’ their reason for rejecting Ajahn Brahm.

    I need to know who is stirring the pot at Dhammalight; because if it is everyone within the WPP community then that is a very serious worry because clearly, untruths have been presented to the world at large through the Dhammalight website. Have these untruths been presented deliberately and knowingly. Or have they been presented through a sense of blind faith, from someone who is simply intent on supporting the monks that Dhammalight is said to represent?

    Either way, the best way forward is for a public confession after a transparent internal investigation. As far as I am concerned, they need not fear such an act; a confession within Buddhist circles should ideally be the chance to move forward with forgiveness, truthfulness and new resolve.


  9. Hi, according to what I’ve heard from WPP Sangha members, the WAM meeting resulted in some changes to the Dhammalight website. Specifically, some WAM abbots wanted Dhammalight to also mention the arguments in favor of bhikkhuni ordination. Those have not yet appeared on the site, even though Dhammalight mentioned they will include those too. Also some WAM abbots didn’t like that it was an anonymous website. That was corrected soon after the WAM took place. So the western abbots do have influence on the site.

    I think that the monk who made the statements at the press conference (Phra Opas) is somewhat of a wild uncontrolled (uncontrollable) monk. He is part of the WPP forest tradition but his nature is really more like that of a city-monk: he has attained a high status in the regular Thai administrative Sangha hierarchy (Chao Kana Ampher). ‘Real’ forest monks used to want to stay far away from such positions. Also I have heard rumors that his Vinaya standards are like those of a city-monk whenever he move outside the WPP circle. It just shows how the WPP Sangha has become more and more entangled in Thai national Buddhism. It moved away from its original (1950s to 1980s) ‘maverick’ forest roots. Ajahn Chah build an organization of monasteries and monks, and now with Ajahn Chah gone for 25 years already, the organization has a life of its own. How accurate is it to say that it is the Ajahn Chah tradition?

    When monks want something which they cannot do themselves (and WPP has no experience with websites), they will ask a laysupporter to do it for them. That’s how I think the Dhammalight website came about. The WPP Sangha has a controlling influence, and I think the WPN monks probably play some role in it too.

    Thanks Bhante, for putting everything in easy chronological order.

    • This is very interesting Marc, thank you very much for this information.

      I would love to know more about this.

      I’m guessing that there are still very good monks within the WPP/WAM folds. I wish they would speak out so that the Ajahn Chah tradition can go back to its useful, inspiring, ‘maverick’ roots again.

    • Thanks, Marc, for the titbits and background info.

      Regarding forest monks and the acceptance of titles: you are harking back to a long forgotten age! It used to be the case that titles and prestige were foreign to the forest tradition, but that is long gone. These days having a title is just as important for the forest monks as for the city monks. Chao Khana Ampher (district head), though; that’s getting serious. That’s more of a direct administrative role, rather than simply a ceremonial title like Ajahn Brahm’s Chao Khun-ship.

  10. Brother Jack’s gentle comment – maybe its time to let go and be calm and be models of the behaviour we expect – I also agree that this is what we like to do. I often feel scared and bad doing anything else – e.g. questioning – saying no etc. etc. But Anagarika Jason wisely said in one of his blog comments, that pretending that we all agree isn’t agreement. Something wrong happened here. Ajahn Brahm was made to leave the WPP sangha because they claimed he had not consulted with them properly on his intention to ordain Bhikkhunis. They wanted him to deny the Bhikkhuni’s he ordained were Bhikkhuni’s even though it would be an offence against the vinaya to do so. They wanted him to deny the Bhikkhuni’s because it was against Thai law to ordain women – a law which can be changed and is not valid in Australia, New Zealand, USA, UK or Europe where all the other monasteries in this tradition are. Later these same people said that Ajahn Chah had visited Australia and been given the Australian monastery by only the Thai people. They also said they wanted to claim the monastery and lands back because Ajahn Brahm had been mismanaging funds and property. This is a very serious accusation under any law. Then these same people, said they didn’t say that. Then a press release of what they did say proved that they were lying. So Ajahn Brahm has been publicly expelled and had honours taken away from him, and had his character maligned by this group of people. Should we pretend its ok in our hearts for things like that to happen to Ajahn Brahm, the Bhikkhuni’s or anyone else. The Dhammalight site says we misunderstand things because we are not humble enough and don’t repect the elders who know better. Shouldn’t we try and find what is good and true so that real peace can come into our hearts. Not just not speaking because we are afraid we won’t look like Buddhists if we disagree with each other. Some one else quoted on the blog something like – for bad things to prevail, it only takes good people to do nothing. With respect brother Jack, I think we need to dig a little deeper.

  11. Florentyna said:
    “The Dhammalight site says we misunderstand things because we are not humble enough and don’t repect the elders who know better”.

    Verses from Metta Sutta:

    “Karaniya mattha kusalena
    Yantam santam padam abbi-samecca
    Sakko uju ca suju ca
    Suvaco cassa mudu anatimani”
    “He who is skilled in doing good and
    who wishes to attain that state of calm (i.e. Nibbana)
    should act thus.
    He should be able, upright, perfectly upright,
    OBEDIENT, gentle and humble”.

    -Obedient is clearly stated by the Blessed One.

    • Hi Precept,

      Umm, no, ‘obedient’ is not clearly stated by the Blessed One; it is stated by a translator, who has rather missed the point. The pali term is ‘suvaco’, which means ‘easy to speak to’, ‘admonishable’. (Incidentally, the translation used in the Amaravati group says ‘gentle in speech’, which is also incorrect.) It occurs in Anguttara Nikaya 5.156: bhikkhū suvacā honti sovacassakaraṇehi dhammehi samannāgatā, khamā padakkhiṇaggāhino anusāsaniṃ (monks are easy to speak to (suvaca), endowed with qualities that make them easy to admonish, they are patient and respectfully take instruction.)

      The ‘qualities that make one easy to admonish’ are described in detail in the Anumana Sutta (MN 15). They include not having evil wishes, being angry, stubborn, denigrating or attacking the reprover, prevarication, insolence, envy, deceitful, obstinate, or attached to one’s views. You can have a look at the transcript of the meeting at WPP and ask yourself whether Ajahn Brahm displays any of these qualities.

      There is nowhere in the Buddha’s teachings where obedience is explicitly stated to be a virtue in and of itself; if you disagree with me, please find a relevant passage.

      We can see how disobedience is handled in actual cases such as the Kitagiri Sutta (MN 70) The Buddha lays down the rule forbidding eating at the wrong time, and two monks openly break it for a long time. The Buddha, when the matter was raised to his attention by the monks, called the misbehaving monks to him. He asks about the issue, and then gives them a long teaching teaching in Q&A format. At the end of this he admonishes them for having lost their way and they become remorseful and end up being brought back to practice by the Buddha. Nowhere does the Buddha say that they were wrong for disobeying as such; it is because they did not have good reason, but were following their defilements and leaving the Dhamma.

      This kind of treatment is entirely typical of the way the Buddha worked. He set up the Sangha as a body of mature, responsible adults, not as children who simply had to submit and obey. That kind of language is more characteristic of monotheistic religions, and is refreshingly absent from authentic Buddhism. Unfortunately, however, as knowledge of the Vinaya is rare, and the views of translators become taken as the literal words of the Buddha, this is not as well known as it ought to be.

    • Dear Bhante Sujato,
      Again – such rapture arises when i read your teaching taken carefully, clearly and kindly from the suttas.
      How excellent to read this sutta based refutal and distinction .
      How good to contemplate this often misunderstood issue of ‘obedience’.

      Truly gives rise to piti and sukha.
      Truly- very helpful for all.

  12. Dear Precept,

    You and TCL are amazingly uniformed in opinions and responses.

    Thank you and TCL for bringing up the subject of ‘Obedience’. I now have clear understandings of the subject from our great dhamma friends on this blog.

    Perhaps this is why it is said that different opinions help growth.

    I don’t know if I’ve grown, but I definitely have learnt a lot from Kalayanamitra on this blog.

    Thanks and metta to all.

  13. From the press release: “I asked if WPP has an alternative to Bhikkhuni. Aj Kevali is in favour of the Siladhara order. But Phra Kru Opas outrightly dismissed it, saying it it would be difficult for the order to be accepted in Thailand. He described Bhikkhuni ordination as against the Dhamma Vinaya. That the Buddha advised monks to stay away from women, because women and monks are like fire and fuel.”
    Geez! The Buddha advised monks to stay away from women, he didn’t tell you to obliterate them. It’s up to you to stay away. It’s not like bhikkhunis want to be hanging out with you monks anyway. They’d be at separate monasteries, ok? They’d be a much smaller threat than the crowds of laywomen who come to your monasteries everyday to make sure you’re fed and clothed. If women are such a threat to monks, and it’s best to separate, then why allow them to serve you, which involves pretty close interaction? Maybe women should stop, for your own benefit. Memo to all the women in Northeast Thailand: hang up your aprons for a day, do not give alms, and see how the monks feel. (Prediction: Hungry.)

  14. I very much liked Santisuda’s concluding lines:

    “The number of Bhikkhunis under the Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni Sangha in Thailand is growing. Their challenge now is to build nurturing, egalitarian communities of female monastics. To do so, it is crucial to face and undo the remaining patriarchal conditioning in one’s psyche so as not to repeat the male Sangha’s mistakes.

    It is a spiritually demanding journey that will benefit many – the male clergy included.”

    That’s it!

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