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.