I’ve just been given a translation of this article, which appeared in the Thai Daily News, dated January 12, 2010.
WPP Sangha stunned: Phra Brahmavamso still claims to be a preceptor despite being excommunicated
Dr. Amnart Buasiri, Director of Office of the Secretariat of the Sangha Supreme Council (Mahathera Samakom), Office of National Buddhism, told the media after the Mahathera Samakom’s meeting at Buddhamonthon, Nakhon Pathom on January 11, 2010 that the Sangha of Wat Nong Pah Pong, Ubon Ratchathani, has submitted a letter reporting that Phra Suthisangvarathera (Phra Brahmavamso), the abbot of the Bodhiyana Monastery, Perth, Australia, a WPP Branch Monastery, who was excommunicated from the Thai Sangha for giving ordinations to bhikkhunis, still carried on inappropriate conducts such as claiming to have the preceptor status even though the WPP Sangha has confirmed that when Phra Brahmavamso was excommunicated from the Thai Sangha, all the titles he was given by the Thai Sangha would be invalidated. Therefore, the WPP Sangha would like the Mahathera Samakom to find a measure to deal with Phra Brahmavamso because they are afraid that Phra Brahmavamso’s behavior will damage the Thai Sangha’s image.
Dr. Amnart added that the Mahathera Samakom, after considering the issue, agreed that it is a situation concerning bhikkhus in a foreign country; therefore, the responsible agency directly concerned should seek a measure to deal with the situation. On February 6-7, 2010, at the Australian and New Zealand Sangha assembly, he will bring up to the meeting this issue as well as the WPP Sangha’s request to take back Bodhiyana Monastery’s land since officials from the Thai embassies of both countries will be invited to attend the said meeting.
The WPP Sangha, not content to expel Ajahn Brahm for performing bhikkhuni ordination, continues to play its new self-appointed role as bulldog of Thai State Buddhism. They do not merely wish to dissociate themselves from Ajahn Brahm, but to effectively throttle his monastery by making him unable to perform ordinations.
The “Australian and New Zealand Sangha” assembly that is referred to is not the assembly of the general Australian Sangha, who are represented by the Australian Sangha Association. It is presumably the regular gathering of the Thai missionary monks in Australia, which is administered under the Dhammayut order. Since we are not Dhammayut, I’ve never heard of any Ajahn Chah tradition monks attending these meetings; it’s purely about the in-house discussions among the Thai monks.
To understand WPP’s objections to Ajahn Brahm continuing to be regarded as an upajjhaya, a little background is necessary.
When the Ajahns from WPP visited Somdet Buddhajahn after the bhikkhuni ordination in Perth, the subject of Ajahn Brahm’s status as an officially appointed upajjhaya, as well as a Chao Kuhn, came up. Afterwards, a letter signed by LP Liem was circulated, which claimed that the Somdet had said that these titles were removed, a claim that is repeated in the above Daily News article.
However, the WPP monks who were at the meeting disagreed among themselves about what had been said, and later they amended this to acknowledge that it was only the upajjhaya title that was removed, not the Chao Kuhn. This appears to have been forgotten in the above article, which refers to ‘all the titles he was given by the Thai Sangha’.
To my knowledge, Ajahn Brahm has not made any public statements on this issue. In my conversations with him he has emphasized that he wishes to let the matter settle down before moving on in the future. The question, of course, revolves purely around the formal appointment of the title of upajjhaya under Thai State law, and has nothing to do with the requirements for being an upajjhaya in the Vinaya.
The question of an official appointment as an upajjhaya is one of the many issues that is long overdue some serious discussion. It was introduced in the 20th Century by the central Bangkok authorities as a means of exercising political control over the Sangha. It was strongly resisted in some parts of Thailand, most notably in the independent-spirited north, led by the famous monk Krooba Sri Vichai. Eventually, however, the central forces won and it is now widely accepted in Thailand that an officially appointed upajjhaya must preside over all ordinations.
This notion is a modern innovation, with few parallels in other Buddhist countries, and no precedent before the 20th century, so far as i am aware. In most countries the Sangha organizes and controls its own ordination process, without a government-sponsored body being involved. This is Vinaya. The acceptance of Thai state control over ordinations is perhaps the greatest deviation from the Vinaya in modern Buddhism. It strikes at the very heart of the Sangha.
When I spoke with LP Liem in 2008, he asked the monks I was with whether the upajjhaya appointment for Ajahn Kalyano, which was pending at the time, was proceeding well. He commented that there was no real need to have this official appointment, as Ajahn Kalyano was living in another country. The only advantage was that it might make it easier for monks visiting Thailand to get visas.
In my view, there is no reason why Ajahn Brahm should not continue giving ordinations, and no reason why these ordinations should not be accepted in Thailand and elsewhere, just as the ordinations by monks from other countries are accepted.
The Sangha has meekly acquiesced to Thai State control of its most fundamental procedure. As long as the Thai Sangha authorities continue with their usual practice of benign inactivity, no-one has really considered the political consequences. If this State control becomes leveraged for personal attacks, it will very quickly become intolerable.
102 thoughts on “Ajahn Brahm’s preceptor status”
Do not be surprised that one fine day, you’ll find a stranger knocking at the gate of Bodhinyana Monastery, claiming to be the new preceptor appointed by WPP and wanting to take control over the place.
You know what, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. I trust that the Australian law and BSWA regulation will nip this in the bud, though.
I don’t know if bud-nipping is appropriate so much as shaking one’s head in weary incomprehension…
The situation (if accurately reported in this article) has descended to a new level of absurdity. The monks reported here only bring shame upon themselves, and make Ajahn Brahm look more heroic and noble by comparison. Best to ignore the petty politics and vindictiveness of these Thai monks. As W. H. Auden wrote: Time will say nothing but “I told you so.”
Having spent quite a bit of the last 4 days with Ajahn Brahm at Dhammaloka, Bodhinyana & Jhana Grove I can faithfully say that he is unperturbed by these attacks. He is still cheerful, teaching great Dhamma & full of compassion for both those capable of being trained & those not.
Since AB did not want to be under the Thai Forest Sangha lineage, why can’t he now be re-ordained under the Australian theravada Sangha?
Perhaps, Ajahn Sujato or a senior monk in Australia could be AB’s Preceptor and AB could later be a Preceptor for other monks/nuns. What is the problem? Why hold on to his Thai title since title is not important in the practise?
See, what AB got himself into because of his female counterparts. See what female can do to a male. In the movie “Avatar” the man also fell for the woman in the forest.Woman power, woman is more powerful and acquire a strong attraction power. Look at all the top politicians careers, all ruined because of women. It is a fact although it does not apply to all women in general.
By nature, females have more jealousy, are aggressive, demanding and always want to compete and outdo men in everything. Because of these nature that female also want to form their own Sangha. It may be more detrimental to the Sasana in the long term. : – )
Tee hee hee :o) Yes, yes, it’s all women’s fault. Men are so wonderful – so perfect – and then what happens – women ask to be able to ordain as the Buddha suggested so they can become enlightened – so poor wonderful men, they must keep these women away because women make them disown their brother Ajahn Brahm – women make them hold press conferences full of lies – women make them deny the lies – women get them found out – women make them try to obtain property which isn’t their property – women make them phone other women to prepare petitions – women make them run to the Sangha Supreme Council to tell tales and get them to be cross and do something with Ajahn Brahm etc. etc. Of course its not what they do – that would mean they had free will and could take responsibility for their actions – oh no no no no no – it’s what ‘a woman will get a man to do’. Thank you brother. I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. Metta to you.
Haha yes, you point this out very clearly… I intuitively knew it had to be womens’ fault – but I just couldn’t see the connection… It seemed the monks were doing it.
But now I know. Women made the monks do it! It is so obvious. 😉
In one of his talks Dr. Wayne Dyer says, if you squeeze an orange you get orange juice but nothing else. So, if someone presses the button and that makes you angry, annoyed and hateful, all that anger, hatred and annoyance is within you not somewhere else.
Similarly, if women and action supporting women causes the WPP monks to react with vengeance, anger, hatred then that vengeance, anger, hatred resides inside the hearts of the WPP monks and no where else.
As I mentioned elsewhere in this blog, every word spoken and action taken by the WPP monks on this issue has shown more and more darker sides of their hearts. So much for their claim to be the sole protectors of Theravada Buddhist tradition!
Ajahn Brahm’s “outsing” had nothing to do with women or even Bhikkhuni ordination and everything to do with a handful of fellow monks being jealous (very much a male attribute and especially relevant in this case) of his popularity (books, students, widespread appeal to non-Buddhists- helping to grow the Sangha), his proficiency in Vinaya which they felt threatened by (not all monks have an Oxford or Cambridge background. It is a pity but sometimes they feel threatened by these things) His involvement with this ordination was not different from other WPP monks who have done the same but not been punished for it.
Personally, I prefer to look at the Buddha’s teachings – from reliable sources – and direct experience – to inform my assessment of the nature of beings (male or female) rather than blockbuster Hollywood films. No offence meant. But you might give it a try.
(Sorry guys- when I said jealousy is very much a male attribute, I could have said every much a male as a female attribute. Those taking “positions” might recall the Buddha did not teach one Dhamma to males then a different Dhamma to females. I believe this merits repeating from time to time!!!!!!!)
Who are you? Where have you come from? Is that was not from a woman’s body? Are you speaking on Mara behalf? I’m so sorry that Buddhasasana have this kind of people’s attitude (Mara in disguise) to claim themselves the ‘protectors’ of Sasana who are so obsessive with ‘view’ and so thoroughly brainwashed that totally lack of compassion.
Perhaps speaking out for the truth has a function irrespective of future vindication. After all, the Buddha spoke out about the harmfulness of the caste system, and yet it is as strong, likely stronger now than in the Buddha’s day.
Given even the unsurpassed world conquerer, in many respects, left less than a dint on ignorance, should we give up? In the end, I have no doubt the Walters will win and, one day, in ten or ten-thousand years, the Dhamma of the Sakyan sage will be lost.
Perhaps, whatever happens, it is useful to keep track of what is undubitably ‘petty politics’ in the sangha as a practice of mindfulness, a reminder of the danger of negligence, and a reality check. These things, I think are conducive to a more stable, robust and mature variety of harmony, serenity and dispassion.
Jason! What has come over you. The Walters will win? We’ll have none of that. 😉 but wholly endorse the second part of your entry. 🙂
Yeah, that’s why they are 70% of the world’s poor, own 1% of the world’s land, are trafficked as slaves, raped as a weapon of war and occupy only 18% of parliamentary seats in the world. That’s some real competition for ya, guys! 😉
Ajahn: Does this Australian and New Zealand Sangha Assembly have legal standing in Australia, will they try to take Ajahn Brahm to court? Is it time to begin talking of a legal defense fund. (I’m from America, so excuse me if I’m being paranoid)
I’m not sure of the legal standing of the Dhammayut Sangha organization in Australia; I presume they’re a registered body.
Please don’t worry about making a defense fund! This organization has no legal relationship with the BSWA at all and no direct interest. Nor, of course, do we have any hint that they would even want to do anything if they could. The Thai monks in Australia have had a good relationship with Ajahn Brahm for many years, and while they may not support the bhikkhuni ordination, there’s no reason why they should get involved in the vendetta by a few monks from WPP. My feeling is that this is precisely why the Mahatherasamakhom recommended they be involved. This can indicate to WPP that the Mahatherasamakhom is responding to WPP’s letter, while in fact the matter is passed over to a body that has no relevance. Ajahn Brahm has been advised to simply let the matter pass over, and I think this is what the Mahatherasamakhom would like.
I think it is what we would all like 🙂
Shocking news! I wonder if these naughty monks are not an incarnation of the Group of Six from the Buddha’s lifetime. Pācittiya 17.
I couldn’t help but wonder also if these petty creatures were not putting on a show of excessive nationalism to get noticed and perhaps be endowed with a PhraKru or Chao Khun title. Who knows – maybe one of them was even gunning for a Somdet rank.
Shame on such despicable behaviour. Perhaps it’s time we start hissing, like AC Brahm’s proverbial snake.
You have sharp venomous tongue for words. That was hot and spicy to call another human beings creature /recalcitrant (reminds me of that Big Bully in the movie “Avatar” calling those forest beings “roaches”).
Looks like Ajahn Brahm has breed a new breed like you or you belong to this new breed of Ajahn Brahm culture & tradition! Sorry, you started it!
What has gone wrong with Buddhism in Perth?
Why don’t you share with the rest of us the aim of your participation in this blog site?
Is it to help repair the rift in the Sangha?
Is it to show us how you have successfully woven compassion and joy into your practice?
Is it to help build a Sangha that cares for the well-being of its members?
Is it to present an alternative to the blogs (because none other has been presented thus far) for dialogue and Sangha building and healing?
Is it to educate the rest of us?
If so, kindly share with us on what grounds you feel you are qualified to do so.
Hi! Lisa Karuna,
On grounds of disgust and dissappointment over “Right Speech” by Sylvester. Am i qualified based on my grounds?
Btw, on what grounds you feel you are qualified to answer for Sylvester?
Thanks and grateful to Sujato blog for giving us the avenue to voice out our opinions and express our views.
Florentyna, you have a great remarkable sense of humour…
Do you know that in Thailand women are blame for being raped?
Guptila de Silva said:
“Similarly, if women and action supporting women causes the WPP monks to react with vengeance, anger, hatred then that vengeance, anger, hatred resides inside the hearts of the WPP monks and no where else.”
No one and nothing can make us do unwholesome things if we ourselves are not capable of doing so…
Hello dear sister Dheerayupa, I hope you don’t think I was agreeing with 🙂 I was trying my best to show the absurdity of what he was saying. It did make me laugh though that 🙂 wanted to make such outdated and false claims publicly. The claims reflect on his character and state of mind, not on women. It’s amazing what comes out of the woodwork when this kind of discussion opens up. It such an old excuse – the other person made me do it – that its hard to believe anyone still thinks that way. I shall try to avoid sarcasm over the internet in future as it clearly doesn’t work very well. Though I’m reading lots of things I find hard to believe here, including the vindictive behaviour of some of the WPP monks. It’s just depressing to read how these monks really behave. Sorry if I upset you Dheerayupa. It was in no way intended.
Well, women can play those games … as long as the men concerned are willing to play too. It takes two to tango.
After reading “;-)”‘s post a picture came to mind of nuns flashing their eyes and wiggling their hips at Ajahn Brahm in order to entice him to host a bhikkhuni ordination at Bodhinyana and I burst out laughing at the absurdity of it.
I agree with you that written words, without tone and facial expressions, can be misinterpreted. I should have inserted 🙂 after my comments on your comments.
So, dear, you didn’t offend me at all. In fact, I have to thank you for bring a big smile to my face. It’s honestly truly amusing to hear an accusation from a man that he has done all the unwholesome things because ‘women’ have made them do so.
Living in Thailand, such an accusation is very common when we read news on women or girls being raped by strangers or even by family members.
I love all your comments for the past two weeks. I didn’t respond much to your and other dhamma brothers’ and sisters’ coz I had a very busy fortnight taking care of my friends.
Warm dhamma regards and metta to you and everyone here.
Thank you too for bringing a BIG smile to my face. This might have been an unwholesome imagination activity, but I couldn’t help imagining Ajahn Vayama and the other great bhikkhunis “flashing their eyes and wiggling their hips at Ajahn Brahm”.
This hilarious accusation is totally out of this world!
And this comment is a compliment to your sense of humour. 🙂
“Therefore, the WPP Sangha would like the Mahathera Samakom to find a measure to deal with Phra Brahmavamso because they are afraid that Phra Brahmavamso’s behavior will damage the Thai Sangha’s image.”
I cannot imagine that “finding a measure to deal with…” will help the Thai Sangha’s image in any way!
These monks want to remove the preceptor status of another monk. Is there any justification in the vinaya for doing this?
No. The Vinaya outlines the necessary qualifications for being a preceptor, which essentially mean that one is a well-behaved monk of minimum ten vassa, capable of teaching. The upajjhaya is agreed upon by the local Sangha at the time of ordination. The title that the WPP monks want removed is a Thai legal appointment that has nothing to do with Vinaya, and it is rather a shame that the same word is used for it.
Perhaps the greatest irony of this is that Ajahn Brahm has, almost uniquely, taken the Vinaya model of an upajjhaya very seriously. He lives with his students, teaches them Dhamma, Vinaya, and meditation, and ensures they have the requisites and support they need. These are all duties of the upajjhaya in the Vinaya, which however are rarely followed in Thailand. Because of the bureaucratic and political nature of the system, the upajjhaya is typically a hired administrator, who presides over the ceremony for a fee and does the requisite paperwork; more or less like a modern wedding celebrant.
I want to thank you for this wonderful statement you made here – “No one and nothing can make us do unwholesome things if we ourselves are not capable of doing so…”
I’ve said that from my own experience (after listening to and trying to follow Aj Brahm’s teachings). No one can make me angry if I don’t posses the ability to get angry. In fact, when I’m aware of my anger and try to be kind to my anger, the anger starts to be kind to me and smilingly leave me alone…
I can never ever repay Aj Brahm for his beautiful teachings.
“Therefore, the WPP Sangha would like the Mahathera Samakom to find a measure to deal with Phra Brahmavamso because they are afraid that Phra Brahmavamso’s behavior will damage the Thai Sangha’s image.”
On the contrary, I believe that recent actions by a minority but vocal group (3-4 monks ??) of the WPP Sangha will cause further damage to the Thai Sangha’s image, specially overseas. That’s sad!
I look forward to seeing the direct effects of the causes they have generated down the road. Not out of spite but to see the Dhamma taking care of itself.
Those who are for, against or even neutral to Bhikkuni ordination, I thoroughly recommend having a read of this:
During Buddha’s time and King Asoka’s time, there were not so much distractions and technological progress and women those days were different in demeanour and men during days were also different given the unspoilt non-distracting pure environment and socially.
Nowadays, there are too much distractions and materialism. Whether this is the right era for the emergence of Bhikkhuni sangha.
I guess, when Maitreya Buddha arrived, that would be the best era for Bhikkhuni Sangha, probably due to more condusive environment.
So, is now the right time? Right timing is of the essence as in the 8 fold path, everything must be right (right effort,right mindfulness etc)so we must be sure it is right timing, right decision,right wisdom.
Dear Lay Devotees,
So, you are saying that women should wait for another aeon to have an environment conducive for enlightement? Quite a wait, isn’t it? And for those who would not wish to wait that long, they must be content with struggling in an un-conducive environment in order to leave the Samsara?
Thank you for your suggestion, but I might not be a good student of Aj Brahm (who always tells us to be patient) coz I cannot wait that long to leave the Samsara.
Please do not be too critical of my ‘desire’. 🙂
After all, without a similar desire, Prince Sidhata would not have left his palace…
Ajahn Chah said that we start our dhamma quest with wholesome desires and once we are on the path, then we train our mind to let go of our desires.
May we all nurture only wholesome desires.
Buddha’s 8 fold path, as you mention, includes right effort, right mindfulness…etc…
With respect, it doesn’t include right timing. With respect, this sounds like astrology, fortune telling etc…perhaps these fields hold some small truths, but these things (which emphasise auspicious times etc.) were not recommended by the Buddha.
The Right time to do the right thing is right now.
Wishing you all the very best.
Lay Devotees – If it were not the right time, there would be no Bhikkhunis. Trust the Dhamma.
I should have stated that the link I posted yesterday is to a very nice article by Ayya Tathaaloka. I found it to be very smile-inducing. 🙂
I’ve often imagined what it must have been like in Sri Lanka in years gone by when arahants walked the land. It’s lovely to think of bhikkuni’s in great numbers; reaching safety and pointing others in the same direction. 🙂
It’s rather fitting that Sri Lanka currently has such a promising bhikkuni population and played such a major role in the modern revival of this beautiful order. 🙂
(For compassionate sharing, and not to outsmart you or anyone. You are at liberty to disagree with me.)
Bear with me, for me, i believe right timing is not things like superstitious or fortune telling mambo jumbo. Right timing is very important. According to Chinese tradition, the exact timing of a birth is significant. Hindus also believe in timing. The Buddha advised us not to accept or reject anything we hear or see or any dogmas straight away but investigate them to find the Truth. Usually, our ego and perceptions blind us from the Truth ( i am no exception).
Perhaps you would like to find it out yourself. I believe there are auspicious and inauspicious time, as our earth is moving along with the stars and moon and we are influence by these planets including the Moon and Sun. This is my own observation : Do you realize that the best time to meditate is during dawn time (6 pm) you see some pests coming out for their food (why makes you think the other unseen beings would not be out for their food too, and the mischievious ones could “influence” or “disturb” humans).
Do not be too quick to discount auspicious time. The Chinese normally choose the right date and right time for an auspicious event like a wedding and usually weddings are perform < noon. We are ignorant of this sort of truth and thus we call it superstitious. Anything we do not know or understand or disagree, we would look at it or regard it negatively. Check it out, Bro.Thank you for your kind attention.
Some words got deleted, rephrased it again here:
This is my own observation : Do you realize that the best time to meditate is during dawn time (6 pm) you see some pests coming out for their food (why makes you think the other unseen beings would not be out for their food too, and the mischievious ones could “influence” or “disturb” humans).
You will also experience this – if you wake up >6 or 7 am or when the Sun begins to rise, your mind will feel “heavy” but if you wake up early before the Sun rises, your mind will feel “lighter”. Our moods also changes with the time and certain days like New Moon or Full Moon, even certain months or years.
Some words missing again (something wrong here, it didn’t appear) 🙂
This is my own observation : Do you realize that the best time to meditate is during dawn time (before 6 am) and when the sun sets (after 6 pm) you see some pests coming out for their food (why makes you think the other unseen beings would not be out for their food too, and the mischievious ones could “influence” or “disturb” humans).
“…the WPP Sangha… are afraid that Phra Brahmavamso’s behavior will damage the Thai Sangha’s image.”
Curious they’re so concerned that Ajahn Brahm’s behaviour has damaged their image – yet evidently unconcerned about the damage to their image that their own actions are causing.
I believe that those few WPP monks must have thought that they are doing great services to Buddhism by trying to correct the wrong Aj Brahm has done (in their opinions). They may have good intentions in their heart. We all, thus, should forgive them for damaging Ajahn Chah’s beautiful lineage – unknowingly…
Warm metta 🙂
It’s really generous of you to give those recalcitrant monks the benefit of the doubt. However, I just can’t shake off my suspicion that the sabre-rattling by those characters (hopefully an unauthorised minority) was specifically aimed at garnering attention to themselves.
May I rephrase my comment by saying that being not yet enlightened, some WPP monks have been subjected to their ignorance and delusions that they are preserving Ajahn Chah’s tradition? 🙂
Thank you for these generous words, very dear Dheerayupa, and for your compassionate and kind, open heart.
For me though, the most recent actions of the WPP, as described above and elsewhere, do seem purely McCarthyist. I cannot help but think that this old guard, with their irrational and circular reasoning, will soon enough be left behind in the dust, both by their own clear-seeing bhikkhus and by the lay community wishing to support the intention of the Buddha.
With great metta,
Your expression was perfect and did not need improvement. What needs improvement is my cynicism that the naughty monks were truly ignorant or deluded in their belief that they were preserving their tradition. My cynicism makes me suspect that the monks knew what they were really up to, ie grab their 15 minutes of fame/infamy and get noticed by the Mahatherasamakom, so that they will be in the running for some ecclesiastical titles or chao-awat postings. 😦
Dear Venerable Sirs/Madames,
As lay devotees, we find that Buddhism is so divided in its teachings,practice,rituals and traditions. Isn’t Buddha’s teaching is one and only but there are so many traditions, so many different teachings/interpretations of the Buddha’s suttas/tipitakas, method of meditations, even chanting of the suttas and monks etiquettes.
We have problem adopting a standard chanting, as each monk chants differently although the same sutta. The Thai sangha differs from Burma sangha differ from Sri Lanka sangha and now Western sangha (probably due to mother tongues). However, for lay people we find it hard to master one chanting eg we are from S.E.A. and we are used to chanting the Sri Lanka theravada way of chanting and when there are guest monks from other countries, we had to modify our chanting to their way of chanting, so much so we could find it hard to adopt and memorize our chanting. Same goes to the teachings and the methods of meditation and styles in offerings & interacting. Why can’t all the Buddha’s disciple monks/nuns have uniformity by following the Blessed One’s Suttas and Method of Meditation spoken by the Blessed One in the Tripitaka. The lay followers are following the present/past monks/nuns teachings instead of the Blessed One’s Teachings and Method of Meditation.
We hope the Sangha could converge to form a Universal Sangha to adopt One Teaching,One Chanting and One Mediation taught by the Blessed One.
The lay people are very confused with the various teachings and we had to go searching for the right teacher that suit us, so it is time consuming and through trial and error, as not many teachers are available to teach the Buddha’s Suttas & Chanting in Pali into English/other languages. Luckily, now we have the internet to access the Tripitaka online but only the Commentaries and translated ones as we do not know Pali language.
Every teacher taught differently within the Theravada tradition and we do not know who to follow, whether Thai Buddhism or Tibetan or Sri Lankan or Burmese now Western then Southern.There is no uniformity and each Sangha adopts their own rituals and chanting, etc making it so divisive. S.O.S.
I speak as a layperson with affinity for Buddha-dhamma. One should just follow exactly what the Buddha taught and forget about all the distractions caused by attractions or attachments to sects, traditions, monks, nuns, buddhist societies,temples, monasteries and the like. Read and reread the Kalama Sutta, understand the Noble Truth and Dependent Origination and practise the Noble Path. Everything else is just man-make, monk-made or scholar-made.
With due respect, the Buddha may have past lives but he didn’t had future lives then to know ahead that with his passing, the Sangha he had established would become ‘yanana’.
Hopefully, your ‘problem’ is with what the different teachers taught and not what the Buddha taught.
It is precisely the revival of Bhikkhuni ordinations which are leading us to a more ecumenical form of Buddhism. It is the light of these ordinations that have demonstrated the very close links and cooperation between all 3 Vinaya schools over the ages which ensured the continuation of the Bhikkhuni lineage as well as its migration under King Ashoka and after to east Asia – and the collaboration between monks and nuns of all nationalities to preserve the continuation of the Sasana over the past two millenia. If you read Bhante Sujato’s book (it’s free to download) or Ayya Tathaaloka’s work you will see this. (How interested are you in the truth?) Bhikkhuni ordination harmonizes and aligns the differing traditions.
Another truth seeker was Dharma Master Xuanzang. You will love his life story. He expressed the same dismay about the diversity and discrepancies in the teachings of his day and set forth on one of recorded history’s greatest journeys ever- to seek the truth – and collect the earliest scriptures of his time in India – study them and debate them voraciously – then return and translate all of them in China.
His is an excellent example of not being satisfied by hubris and rumour and static versions of the truth but to put all the forces of his being to work to get to the truth – for his own and the benefit of many many generations to come.
From “A Garland for the Bhikkhunis of Perth”: “Subjugating half of the population to a lesser position is neither wise nor compassionate – values that trump historical precedence no matter how that precedence came to be. St Augustine wrote, “An unjust law is no law at all.”
Making the argument that Ajahn Brahm did not perform this delicate operation in the most skillful manner is a lesser point to the fact that he had the courage to move things in a positive and forward direction.”
Read the entire article at:
I found one error in this article:
“Ajahn Brahm was effectively excommunicated from the Thai forest tradition and stripped of his preceptorship.”
As I understand, Ajahn Brham’s preceptorship is still intact.
For your viewing pleasure, pls log into Bhante Aggacitta’s You Tube (can be viewed from Theravada blog)
During this stormy weather, it is wise to adopt an open mind as advised by Bhante.
The Thai Sangha and the Perth Sangha should arrive at a compromise and reconcile, by each party having mutual respect and the element of understanding.
This ordination issue had sparked off a lot of animosity not only amongst the Sangha but the lay Buddhist as well.
To quickly mend this “crack”, we ask that Perth Sangha & lay community respect the wishes of the Thai Forest Sangha & lay community and vice-versa.
All of us must bear in mind that the Thai Forest theravada tradition is not like any other theravada Sangha. As the name implies, it is a forest tradition and they wish to uphold the sacredness & inheritance of their tradition as a Bhikkhu Sangha monopoly to maintain its practice of ruggedness and masculine image with austerity, aloofness and fast track to Arahanthood, cutting all roots of desires to reach the “other shore”. It is a strict and discipline structure considered by them as an ideal and impeccably conducive structure to achieve their goals.
So, like to appeal to Ajahn Brahm/Ajahn Sujato Camp not to be so rigid with only obedience to the Vinaya but no obedience to others’ cultures and traditions, to have this understanding by adopting open-mindedness (both ends apply)and the Sangha and lay community to stop all these cyber “attacks” that will only “hurt” Buddhism.
Mark Twain said: East is East and West is West, and the twain shall never mark – oophs meet.
I’m sure there is still a lot of respect and gratitude from the Perth communities.
The problem seems to be the continued persistence of a minority of WPP into making this a constant issue in which they speak to the media about removing Ajahn Brahm or taking land or claiming he is no longer Thervada etc. It’s utterly absurd like this latest article.
By cyber attacks I assume you mean the posting here of those latest absurdities for the lay man and woman to see? I think with many confused and hurt over this issue this is a good place to air that and try to find some measure of dhamma in what is happening or at least have a good discussion over it to see if there’s a resolution.
With much metta
Have just read the recent (Jan. 20th) Ajahn Sumedho interview: http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=6,8875,0,0,1,0
And the follow up article by an Asian man (25 Jan): http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=22,8881,0,0,1,0
In the first article, Ajahn Sumedho states:
‘But this is the very gist of the dichotomy between tradition and social conventions. Western views hold on to notions of individual rights, gender equality and social justice. But in the Sangha tradition, it’s about giving up rights, of performing specified duties as stated in the Vinaya. This is not something that is new, as the Vinaya has withstood 2,552 years of facing change and challenges, be it politics, economics and social conditions.
[Okay, my rather limited understanding is that the Vinaya has not been passed down in perferct purity from the time of the parinibbana to now. Is that correct Ajahn Sujato?]
The Buddha left us just two legacies, Dhamma and Vinaya. [There it is. Not Dhamma and Sangha. Even Ajahn Sumedho is saying it: Dhamma and Vinaya. So on the one hand Ajahn Sumedho seems keen on Thai Sangha tradition, but on the other hand he says the Buddha left us the Vinaya. Doesn’t this very same Vinaya support and promote Bhikkunis?… Also perhaps it isn’t perfect or just as the Buddha left it, but perhaps it’s up to monastics to work with what is here now.] The Dhamma is about letting go, about personal liberation. The Vinaya is about rules and how we relate to the world as renunciates. Many westerners see the Vinaya as restrictive, and have always tried to make changes to the Vinaya so that it meets modern challenges. And yet, duties (as to how the Sangha relate to the world) are not always given due mention. [I appreciate the respect the Ajahn Sumedho has for giving into the Vinaya rules and not seeking to change these rules; the way I see it though, is that women should be given the chance to give into these rules; western women should be given the chance to give into these rules and give up their western conditioning, and eastern women theirs…
Moreover, perhaps Ajahn Sumedho has unintentionally swapped some of his western conditioning for eastern conditioning? Eastern conditioning doesn’t equate to Buddhist/Right View conditioning…I can say that with some sense of authority because of my Eastern Buddhist background.]
The initial Sangha structure that we inherited from the Buddha is based on the Bhikkhu Sangha. But based on western views, this is patriarchal structure. A
patriarchal structure is deemed as hierarchical, which is bad, as it goes against the norm of social equality, which is good.
As we allay ourselves to these ideals, we continue to struggle with the world. This is not what the Vinaya is all about, which is about giving up rights and performing duties as members of the Sangha.’
[I feel that here is a monk who has worked hard for his community and has found his way of making peace with his own fault-finding tendencies. And he is teaching this because it has worked for him; he is teaching from his experience and that is to his credit. However, reading this, I have the strong feeling that he is also limited by his experience.
His attitude to Vinaya, patriarchy, hierarchy seem (imho) to show up the conditioning that he has tried hard to let go of; his words show us where he is coming from; an intellectual westerner who struggled in Asia and found peace through letting go of his intellect and through letting go of some of his western conditioned ideals; he appears to have extrapolated this expereience to the issue of Bhikkuni revival. These are then his truths and should be respected as such. These are not then, universal truths.
Perhaps because the women (and men) asking/encouraging/ higher ordination for women were westerners, perhaps seeming to come from those intellectual places he perhaps came from, he is applying the same medicine out of compassion. This is my speculation.]
It has taken an Asian man who has had little contact with the west to demonstrate the perfect counterpoint to Ajahn Sumedho’s personal truths:
‘I believe this issue should be viewed on a more macro perspective, independent of the position or experience of any one section of the Sangha.
I am very supportive of the bhikkhuni sangha. I am an Asian male and have traveled to the West only once in my life for a period of less than a week. I do not see my support for bhikkhunis as anything related to western, modern or feminist agendas, even if they may be relevant. I see the initiative to re-establish the bhikkhuni order as a valid effort based on the Vinaya in accordance with the original intentions of the Buddha.’
This Asian man has stepped back from those truths and has added his own truths. In doing so he has (imho) taken us a way from the possibility of viewing this issue from one place.
Ajahn Sumedho also said: ‘Part of our process of learning and understanding is to open up and to listen.’
Then let us make it possible to go beyond the critiques of culture and conditioning. Let us recognise that this is each person’s responsibility to do for him/herself and therefore let’s try hard not to (forgive me if I have done just that here, I’m going on what Ajahn Sumedho has said about himself) fall into the all too easy trap of telling others where they are coming from because this means that we will never really be listening to them. Let us recognise that the Vinaya (whether Bhikku or Bhikkuni) also offers us a culture and a conditioning but it is a conditioning that is designed to promote the growth of the 8 fold path in each person.
Ajahn Sumedho also mentions ‘dualistic thinking’ and ‘dualistic conditions’.
Ajahn Sujato, are these terms used by the Buddha? If yes, can you please explain and clarify. If not, can they be viewed within the context of the Buddha’s words?
Thank you Ajahn Sujato.
With respect to Ajahn Sumedho and all the effort he has put into his life’s work and practise. May he and all those who love him, be very well and very happy.
🙂 With Metta.
Thanks so much for that careful and kind critique of Ajahn Sumedho’s views on bhikkhunis. I’d just make another couple of observations.
First is Ajahn Sumedho’s description of the Sangha as a patriarchy. This is true as far as the contemporary Thai Sangha is concerned, but is most emphatically not true of the Sangha as described in the Buddha. Nowhere is there a ‘rule of fathers’ or ‘rule of priests’ (hierarchy). The chief conflict is not between western ideas and Asian, but between the Sangha as established by the Buddha and as practiced in modern Thailand. This is why the leaders and examples for bhikkhuni ordination, from the time of the Buddha until now, have been Asians. We Western monastics, working closely together with our Asian monastic brothers and sisters, are only very belatedly trying to introduce this wonderful Asian tradition here in the west.
Ajahn Sumedho’s notions of Sangha have been formed in the crucible of the Ajahn Chah forest tradition, and when he speaks of the ‘Sangha’ and the ‘Vinaya’ he is constantly referring back to his own formative experiences. I think Kanchana is undeniably correct to point out that Ajahn Sumedho is generalizing from his own personal issues and experiences. I first noticed this when it was pointed out by a woman staying in Thailand. She said that when she reads Ajahn Sumedho’s accounts of all the difficulties he had with stubbornness and pride when he was a young monk, she just doesn’t feel that at all. She was quite happy to adapt to the Thai ways, quite comfortable to fit in with the form. And yet, after doing this for some time, she realized that there are some things about the form that are just not right. It’s not about stubbornness or clinging to views, but about retaining the capacity to make a mature ethical judgement on how we choose to live.
Spiritual life is not about submitting oneself to an alien, imposed culture. The Buddha never did this; nor did Ajahn Sumedho’s Thai teachers. Nor is it what Thai monks do when they come to the West: they keep their own culture.
The Buddha was constantly receptive and understanding when monks and nuns came to him with requests. He would never tell them to give up their rights, just accept, or that they were too demanding. He would do whatever he could to accommodate reasonable requests, including the request for women to ordain.
The second major problem is Ajahn Sumedho’s dismissal of notions of equal rights etc. as ‘Western’ ideas. This is an argument that is regularly employed by, say, the Chinese government. The basic problem is a confusion of two levels of moral discourse. In discussions of the theory of ethics – sometimes called metaethics – we discuss the nature of moral language and concepts. In a metaethical discussion it is quite appropriate to say that the language of ‘rights’ (for example) is not characteristic of Buddhist thought, and that for reasons xyz Buddhist ethical discourse should be framed in a different way.
However the question at stake is not the theory, but practical or applied ethics: how do we live in the best possible way. In practical ethics, we are not so concerned with the type of moral language used. We might base our morality on notions of ‘rights’, or on notions of ‘divine decree’, or on notions of ‘welfare’, or whatever. The point is that, while these languages and approaches have their differences, we cannot simply stand by and wait while we get agreement on the theory of morality before we decide how to act. Any commonly used moral framework is good enough as a pragmatic starting point.
I personally don’t think the language of ‘rights’ is a particularly useful way of framing ethics, but I accept that it’s the commonly used international standard for many purposes, and so it’s good enough. I’ve done a reasonable amount of work in applied ethics. For example, i sat on the Human Research Ethics Committee for the Royal North Shore hospital in Sydney for a year. There’s people from all sorts of backgrounds on the committee, discussing quite subtle ethical questions, and we get by without having to delve into knotty problems of ethical language.
And so if some people frame the bhikkhuni debate in terms of ‘equal rights’ (bearing in mind that this has only ever been a part of the debate) then it’s not adequate or appropriate to simply dismiss the language of rights as ‘worldly’ or ‘western’, or ‘not the way we Buddhists do things’. There are genuine ethical issues at stake, and these are not magicked away by language games. There are two reasonable approaches: either you set aside your distaste for the language of ‘rights’ and engage on a pragmatic level; or you consistently translate the language of rights into a form you feel is better, for example, what is of greatest benefit for the greatest number.
When translating moral questions from one type of language to another, we normally find that most ethical issues remain untouched. For example, any kind of ethical system will have a prohibition on killing. It is usually only on the boundary issues that the use of different kinds of ethical theory will give different results. So a system based on a literal interpretation of ‘thou shalt not kill’ might end up taking a stronger line against abortion than, say, an approach based on weighing up the competing rights of the mother and the embryo. In the current question – should women be treated equally – any widely used contemporary ethical approach will give the same answer, and perhaps only those based on a literal interpretation of certain ancient scriptures would differ.
If we wish to avoid the language of equal rights, then let us translate the matter in this way.
The Buddha’s ethics were based on compassion for all beings. The greatest compassion we can extend to beings is to help them realize Nibbana. The Buddha set up the two-fold Sangha as the means to support the greatest number of beings to realize Nibbana. Through history, the Sangha of southern Buddhism has done an amazing thing in preserving the bhikkhu Sangha, and yet it has not maintained the bhikkhuni Sangha, thus compromising the Buddha’s original vision and diminishing the effectiveness of the vehicle he set up. Now we have the chance to revitalize the Sangha by supporting the re-establishment of the two-fold Sangha as is described in the Vinaya texts. This will maximize the opportunities for all beings to realize Nibbana, and in addition will have immeasurable positive side effects in terms of creating a fairer and happier society.
That’s all it takes to translate the issue into purely Buddhist terms, it’s really quite simple. Whether we use the language of rights or not is just a matter of convenience. It does not affect the moral issues at stake.
Ajahn Sumedho says that entering the Sangha is about giving up rights. But this is simply untrue. The Vinaya guarantees a broadly based set of ‘rights’ for the newly ordained monastic. They should be supplied with the four requisites; they should have emotional support; they should have teachings; they should have a suitable environment; and so on. We even find people ordaining so they can enjoy the Sangha’s right to medical treatment. Of course, these things are not phrased in the language of rights in the Vinaya. The texts don’t say, ‘You have the right to expect alms-food’. There’s not even a word for ‘right’ in this sense in Pali (probably the closest would be the verbal use of arahati). Nevertheless, they function within the Vinaya as ethical imperatives in exactly the same way that rights do.
Underlying this confusion in levels of ethical discourse is the implicit notion, found widely spread in popular conservative culture, that human rights are an instrument for people to simply demand things. (‘I have a right to this, so gimme!’) This is an irresponsible notion, which ignores the primary function of rights, both historically and in the present day, which is to protect the weak, the disadvantaged, and the vulnerable. They are an ethical instrument which aims to create a kinder and fairer world. Charters of rights all over the world focus on those who cannot speak for themselves, and who, for various cultural and historical reasons, need extra concern and compassion. Here’s the front page for the UN’s various instruments for human rights. Who is mentioned? Indigenous peoples, the poor, women, children, refugees, victims of war or genocide. When I attended a seminar in Sydney recently of those who were opposed to a bill of rights for Australia, it was remarkable to see so many rich white men – judges, bishops, politicians – gathered to oppose a human rights charter. Conspicuously absent were the people who the charter is supposed to help.
And now, to address Kanchana’s specific questions to me.
You’re quite right. Modern scholars from the mid-19th century have been unanimous in declaring the Vinaya texts to be a product of a long evolution, and being for the most part significantly later than the Suttas. Here is the important argument by Oldenberg in the introduction to his translation of 1888. Certain core parts, such as the patimokkha and central sanghakammas, are early and probably more or less original, but much of the rest is indubitably later. This conclusion was reached on the basis of study of the Pali Vinaya, and has been amply confirmed by comparative studies. For example, in the different Vinayas it is common to find that the patimokkha rules are identical, and yet the origin stories for those rules are completely different. And before someone cries out ‘western’ again, the vast bulk of modern Vinaya studies have been done by Japanese scholars, in more recent years joined by Taiwan and Korea. To my knowledge, while the details are of course debated, no-one has seriously challenged this consensus view. Those who oppose the view do so by simply ignoring the facts.
They are, but in a very limited context. The Pali texts use ‘non-dual’ (advaya) as a term describing a state of ‘kasina’ samadhi. Ajahn Sumedho’s usage of the term is not derived from here, but from modern spiritual discourse, probably originally the writings of DT Suzuki. It relates to Ajahn Sumedho’s highly idiosyncratic usage of concepts like ‘the unconditioned’ or ‘the deathless’. An example of how these concepts obtrude into the current debate is that when the siladharas went to Ajahn Sumedho to seek his blessing for the Saranaloka project in California, they presented him with a vision statement. The first point was that they were going to practice for Awakening. The remaining points dealt with the specifics of what they wanted to do. Ajahn Sumedho would only consent to endorsing the first point.
As this example illustrates, Ajahn Sumedho is what Ken Wilber calls an ‘elevationist’, which is the opposite to a reductionist. A reductionist will deny any relevance of higher aims or values; for example, Marx reduced religion to nothing more than power-machinations. Of course it’s true that religion involves power politics, but it’s false to infer that there’s nothing more to it. An elevationist will fall into the opposite fallacy, denying any relevance to lower aims and values, for example by dismissing them as ‘worldly’ or ‘ western’, or ‘secular’. For the Buddhist elevationist only Nibbana matters, and anything that concerns, say, actual human beings and their suffering, can be dismissed.
We have seen such reasoning often in this blog, when people say that since you don’t need to be a bhikkhuni to realize Nibbana. As the respondents to these claims have pointed out, such elevationist views are always applied inconsistently; the bhikkhunis are criticized for wanting worldy power and prestige by ordaining (conveniently ignoring the fact that they are living a simple life of quiet contemplation) while the same critique is somehow never applied to the bhikkhus, despite the fact that they are State-appointed bureaucrats with titles and wages.
This is another area where careful study of the Suttas and Vinaya is very helpful. Nowhere does the Buddha fall into the elevationist trap. When monks came to him to complain that their feet are cracked, he didn’t tell them to let go, to give up their rights. He said, ‘Well, get yourself a pair of sandals!’ When there was conflict in the Sangha, he did not invoke Nibbana, but tried to get the monks to discuss their differences in a reasonable manner. When it came time to set up a nun’s order, he gave his time and effort to support the endeavor. He spoke of Nibbana and the unconditioned when it was appropriate, as the culmination and goal of the Buddhist path, not as a solvent to dismiss real human needs.
And to finish, I’d like to echo Kanchana’s expression of gratitude and appreciation for the work that Ajahn Sumedho has done. As the leader of the Western Sangha, he has set up the most successful order of western monastics so far, who have been able to live in accordance with the Vinaya when everyone said it couldn’t be done. His services to Buddhism are infinite, and i believe he truly thinks that setting up the siladhara movement was the best thing he could do to support women’s aspirations. Although i believe that in important respects his teachings and decisions are mistaken, this is nothing more than an acceptance that he is human, and like all of us is capable of error. I am forward in criticizing him and other Sangha leaders on this blog because I believe that the most harmful thing in modern Buddhism is the cult of the infallible leader. All of us, no matter how senior, make mistakes, and those mistakes must be subject to public criticism where they affect the wider community. This is not out of a wish to criticize the person, but out of a wish to heal the mistakes and to move on. It must be distressing for him to see, towards the end of his life, the Sangha that he has worked so hard for torn apart like this, with seemingly little hope for genuine reconciliation. I hope that we can all keep moving towards healing, even if this is a long and painful road.
Indeed, it takes a great deal of courage to stand up for the Dhamma-Vinaya, even if it is at the expense of the long-standing esteem enjoyed by an Elder.
On the non-dual conceiving that LP Sumedho advances, do you think it’s symptomatic of many widely-read Buddhists to hybridise their ideas about Buddhism from different schools without realising the provenance of the thought? Sometimes, I see so many Yogacara ideas floating around as if they were Buddhavaccana, and worse, how insistent the proponent is that details furnished by Asanga or Vasubandhu are actually part of sutra and not sastra.
By the way, might LP Sumedho’s dual/non-dual thing be an application of the themes from the Mulapariyaya Sutta, MN 1? I don’t think “advaya” is used in that sutta, but the theme does look quite Prajna Paramita.
For sure, there’s a lot of hybridizing of ides, and without a detailed understanding of the Suttas it’s hard to know when this is happening. Of course, taking ideas and mixing them up is nothing wrong, it’s how the human mind works. It’s just that in matters of serious and subtle import it should be done with care and reflection, not simply because one doesn’t know the difference.
Re the Mulapariyaya Sutta; well, you’d have to ask Ajahn Sumedho that. But it’s my understanding that in the formative years at WPP and later, there simply were no English Suttas, and Ajahn Sumedho’s primary written sources of Dhamma knowledge were DT Suzuki, and perhaps Ajahn Buddhadasa.
But you’re right, there are very fant suggestions of Prajnaparamita-style thought in the Mulapariyaya. It may have been an influence on the Prajnaparamita; but if I remember correctly, there are significant differences between the Pali and Chinese versions, so these may be an outcome of later editorial developments.
Thank you Bhante. I kinda like Piya’s suggestion that a parallel sutra being also in the Chinese Ekottara is highly suggestive of an early enough provenance to pre-date the Prajna Paramita. Oh, if only the entire Mahasanghika Canon could be discovered one day.
I had a stiffle back a tear or two, when listening to your talk on melancholia. It somehow clarified something from the Salayatana Vibhanga Sutta, MN 137 about the “renunciation sadness” – nekkhammasitāni domanassāni – experienced by renunciates. Is it equivalent to the nirāmisa domanassa which you mentioned?
Here’s a little conundrum. I couldn’t quite make out if the Buddha was neutral about such renunciation sadness (ie it’s just a matter of fact), or if the Buddha was positive about it (ie it can be a skilfull platform from which desire/resolution can be directed towards escaping household sadness).
Further, the longing is directed at anuttara vimokha. What exactly is this? Could it be any of the 8 liberations (Jhana) or the ultimate goal? The 8 liberations are mentioned later in the sutta, but that comes as part of the 2 ways of approaching equanimity. The instructions in that sutta are very difficult to follow. Any chance that any of the renunciate feelings will be relevant to a lay Buddhist who’s trying?
“………. his teachings and decisions are mistaken, this is nothing more than an acceptance that he is human, and like all of us is capable of error. All of us, no matter how senior, make mistakes, and those mistakes must be subject to public criticism where they affect the wider community.”
Usually, it is harder to admit mistakes and accept criticisms when one is higher up the hierarchy or authority. Somebody else has to be the fall guy. TO ERR IS HUMAN, TO BLAME IS DIVINE.
“……….. I believe that the most harmful thing in modern Buddhism is the cult of the infallible leader.”
Not only that, the fault lies with followers who are either to faithful or too fearful to criticise, question, challenge, disenfranchise, detach from such leaders.
That has to be one of the most painfully and profoundly true statements I’ve ever read.
Ajahn Sumedho is such a beautiful and profound being. He has given his life to the Dhamma, so totally and utterly. Whenever I have been around him I have been struck by the beauty and ineffable sense of purity and openness that resonates in his being. No one can fake this.
I would add that the very privilege we have of being able to critique Ajahn Sumedho is indebted to the fact that there is such a being as Ajahn Sumedho at all. He had the courage to go and live in poverty stricken N.E Thailand in the 60s, and not leave – a mighty feat. When I hear about what the monks of that generation survived on, I find it truly staggering that they had the faith to keep at it. His trailblazing, so to speak, made the journey a whole lot easier for the Westerners who arrived after him.
Until I came across his talks in the 90s, I had found all renditions of Buddha-dhamma stale and ‘otherworldy’. His personal, humble, and honest expression of Dhamma has been a precious gift, and as far as I can tell has given a generation of Western Buddhist teachers permission to ‘keep it real’.
I agree with you Bhante, on many points you raise, but also wanted to add this as a reminder of the context out of which I am considering the issues at hand.
Thanks so much, Asoka. Everything is true, including all the contradictions; that’s why this subject is so messy and so fascinating. I’ve given my life to the forest tradition, precisely because of the sense of inspiration you mention. It might be obscured for a while, but it should never be forgotten.
P.S my last sentence was a bit strange… what I meant was ‘a reminder to myself’ to sense into where I have come from and acknowledge that what I take to be ‘me’ (including the Buddhist one) actually owes a lot to the excellence of other human beings.
Dear Ajahn Sujato,
Thank you for the reply.
Thanks very much for the clarification re: patriarchy. I’d never considered it this way and is a lovely way to imagine what the Sangha would have been like at the time of the Buddha and also to see what possibilities there are for us today. I appreciated the following: ‘The chief conflict is not between western ideas and Asian, but between the Sangha as established by the Buddha and as practiced in modern Thailand. ‘
I particularly liked: ‘Spiritual life is not about submitting oneself to an alien, imposed culture. The Buddha never did this; nor did Ajahn Sumedho’s Thai teachers. Nor is it what Thai monks do when they come to the West: they keep their own culture.’
Thanks for the metaethical stuff too… 🙂 In the end…if the Vinaya shows that there’s the ghost of a chance that women can have the chance to keep it (the Vinaya, that is), then Buddhism (a religion founded on the compassionate impulse to teach: Samyutta Nikaya, Bhikku Bodhi translation, The Book of Verses, Brahmasamyutta, ‘Brahma’s Request’) must be compassionate, and allow it.
Thank you very much for answering my questions. ‘Elevationist’ and ‘reductionist’ seem to be quite useful terms.
I want to add that Ajahn Sumedho’s best legacy may be that he played such a crucial role in establishing Buddhism in the west. It might seem that conflict and tension are the dominant feelings at present but I believe that he has built enough of a foundation for others to add their stories, their truths to the evolving picture of western Buddhism. I think that Ajahn Sumedho’s actions over the last few decades (not just the last few years/months) will play a major role in shaping whatever will be positive about Buddhism in the future (in the UK and the US in particular). I really hope he is well and happy. And I am looking forward to participating in a western yet multi-cultural Buddhist community that includes monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen.
I totally agree with you that Aj Sumedho is a great being. I had an opportunity to see him in person a year ago when he came to Thailand. His open and humorous disclosure of his unskillful thoughts and actions in the past (many episodes of which were really hilarious!) reminded me that with devotion to dhamma and training, it is not impossible to see this part of our nature as it is and laugh at it the same way he did.
May Aj Sumedho be very happy and well.
Thankyou Ajahn for that wonderful explanation of the arguments. Like others I can often tell there is something wrong with an argument given by others but it takes an educated and discerning mind to point out the details. I think I will have to take up some ethical studies.
I guess for me one of the things that stood out was that Bhikkhuni ordination was a product of western equality standards. But, and forgive me if I’m wrong, wasn’t the Bhikkuni order re-established in Sri Lanka?
Yes, that’s quite right. It was a co-operation between Sri Lankan and Taiwanese monastics.
Most Bhikkhunis are Asian. And the order was established by Asian Bhikkhus a couple of millenia ago. To make all sorts of claims about it being Western is just delusion and posturing.
All of us argue so much about rights- women’s right, Western rights, Perth rights, Vinaya rights, Dhamma rights, what about WPP & Thai Forest Tradition Sangha rights?
We are imposing each others’ rights on one another, Eastern conditions or Western conditions, Eastern culture, Western culture and so on.
My understanding is that, the precious treasure of our Buddha’s Teachings or Dhamma goes beyond concepts, and its Ultimate Truth is timeless, cultureless, colorless, conceptless and can fit into any culture, any tradition, every corner of this planet (east or west or north or south) and the whole Universe ( i think this was what Ajahn Sumedho meant by macro).
We can still be what we are (respecting conventions,man-made laws, cultures,traditions, beliefs,concepts, upbringing, progress, maturity, modern world etc) and still be able to practice the Dhamma taught by our Buddha.
The Buddha’s 4Noble Truth & 8-fold Noble Path cannot be destroyed by cultures, traditions, concepts, beliefs, democracy, human rights, women rights, sexist rights, Sangha rights, Dhamma rights or Vinaya rights. THE ULTIMATE TRUTH HAS NO RIGHTS AND NON-RIGHTS.
We still have our ego, so i think, it is normal to have concepts. During our Buddha’s time, our Gautama Buddha (with his enlightenment wisdom) asked only his 60 Arahants to spread the Dhamma taught by our Buddha in all directions. Those Arahants had no more ego (no more difilements), gone forth and beyond and were able to spread our Buddha’s Dhamma harmoniously regardless of any culture, any tradition, any beliefs and the Dhamma fitted well into any cultures without asking people to discard or throw away their cultures and traditions – that must be the reason why Buddhism managed to survive for 2,553 years without any “hiccups” as it is like the parable of the bee taking its nectar from a flower without damaging the flower a bit. That is why, i think (not Arahant yet) there emerged so many different cultures in Buddhism as Buddhism is agreeable with all cultures and traditions and because of quality of respect for cultures and traditions that Buddhism managed to spread far and wide and lasted till today. There were no problem as the Ultimate Truth & Practice could go harmoniously with any culture and tradition and progress.
I think when there is no more ego, there will be no more problem. There is problem when we still have ego for example, the sitting arrangement mentioned by someone that foreign monks are made to sit in the back row and local monks in the front. I guess the Teacher knew that the newcomer foreign monks still have not ” empty their cups” so regarded as “still junior” in the Dhamma, but to the foreign intellectual monks, they felt it was an insult and a discrimination as they were used to being treated “upper class” especially when they go to a third world country.
Remember one monk said that “the world is going this direction (concepts and non-reality) and Buddha’s Dhamma, particularly the Practice is going the opposite direction (no concepts only reality) & against the stream (therefore it is so difficult for many, but not impossible with right practice).
If anything is executed and there is disharmony and resistance, then we know it is not right in terms of method, justification and timing AND it is definitely against the Buddha’s Dhamma.
Dear East Meets West,
You are very eloquent and skilled in speech. I was with you almost the whole time until you suddenly concluded that “If anything is executed and there is disharmony and resistance, then we know it is not right”. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Buddha’s attempt to establish the Sangha was not without resistance from his society… Yet, we all now agree that it was a very right and beneficial thing. Buddha’s establishment of the bhikkhuni order was met with resistance…and now some of us think it is not a right thing… 🙂
Indeed. There were attacks by the brahmans, from the rival samanas, conflicts within the Sangha, even state sponsored assassination attempts. Our current little debate is nothing compared with what the Buddha himself faced – and overcame.
“If anything is executed and there is disharmony and resistance, then we know it is not right in terms of method, justification and timing AND it is definitely against the Buddha’s Dhamma.”
Last line in sentence to amend to 🙂
……. definitely not in harmony with the Buddha’s Dhamma.”
Perhaps also don’t forget the stiff resistence to establishing the forest traditions by Ajahn Sao , Ajahn Mun, Ajahn Chah etc
If they had felt resistence and disharmony were against the Buddha’s dhamma then we wouldn’t have the Thai Forest tradition today!
With metta 🙂
Dear East meets West
You said: ‘( i think this was what Ajahn Sumedho meant by macro).’
Please correct me if I am wrong (because I read the Ajahn Sumedho interview yesterday and I can’t remember all the details now) but I don’t think Ajahn Sumedho said this.
I am, respectfully, assuming that you have read my previous post and have misunderstood…
I was mostly quoting Ajahn Sumedho but when the word ‘macro’ was used I was quoting the Asian man who had written the second article which was in response to the Ajahn Sumedho interview. This Asian man stated: ‘I believe this issue should be viewed on a more macro perspective, independent of the position or experience of any one section of the Sangha.’ The full article can be found at: http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=22,8881,0,0,1,0
Respectfully in Dhamma.
Please enlighten me, i said : “not right in terms of method, justification and timing”. Please correct me, perhaps i could be enlightened by your knowledge and enlightening clarification on my point of view (non judgmental).
– With tender love and metta. Peace to all.
Dear East meets West,
With my limited knowledge, I dare not claim to be able to enlighten you on the issue. But I will try. 🙂
In my humble opinion, the Buddha faced resistance from many in the society he lived in, including from some of his own family. With courage and compassion and wisdom did he manage to enlighten some people of his days.
An ancient saying quoted by several wise monks and people: When is the most important time?
So, to answer your question, I would say that no one action will meet with eager approval from every single person on the planet. Thus, doing it now or later may make not much difference, after all…
Perhaps, Ven Aj Sujato will be kind enough to elaborate the issue for us.
With tender loving kindness to you, too.
“An ancient saying quoted by several wise monks and people: When is the most important time?
The above quote is from one of Ajahn Brahm’s story-telling dhamma talks ( i also heard that before ). Please correct, if i am wrong.. IT meant to be in the present moment (not now per se). No heart feelings.No problem at all.
I believe, Ajahn Brahm got this story from an older source; perhaps someone knows where this tale comes from? For those who may not know it, in a nutshell: an Emperor asked a Holy man three questions; these are the questions and the answers he go for them: 1. What is the most important person? The person you are with. So if you’re alone, that’s you! 2. What’s the most important time? Now. 3. What’s the most important thing to do? To care.
Also, Ajahn Brahm’s emphasis on the present moment is found in the Majjihma Nikaya: Suttas 131 -134, translation by Bhikku Bodhi. Does anyone know where else in the Suttas this aspect of the teaching is mentioned?
Thank you, East Meets West and Khun Kanchana for the clarification.
With warm loving kindness.
“I think Kanchana is undeniably correct to point out that Ajahn Sumedho is generalizing from his own personal issues and experiences… Ajahn Sumedho’s accounts of all the difficulties he had with stubbornness and pride when he was a young monk…”
Dear Aj Sujato,
I don’t know why, but I cried after reading your comments on Aj Sumedho. Your and Khun Kanchana’s critiques of Aj Sumedho helped me to love Aj Sumedho as he is, and I can now say that I no longer am disappointed that he opposes the bhikkhuni ordinations. I now have unconditional love for him as encouraged by Aj Brahm.
Like many others, I have high regards for Aj Sumedho. In fact, at the very beginning, I found it difficult to follow Aj Brahm’s advice; I somehow felt that it was easy for him to say ‘let go’ when he seemed to have always been a happy person who had never experienced sufferings in his life! (Of course, I’ve later appreciated that with wholesome attitudes, we all can be happy no matter what.) On the other hand, when I listened to Aj Sumedho (who came to my interest after listening to Aj Brahm’s praise of him), I felt a ‘connection’ with him in that he had his pride, superiority complex, idealism, etc – just like me! I remember him talking about his needs to conform to a set of rules after seeing that the American liberal lifestyle with the freedom to pursue happiness did not give him peace. I appreciated how he overcame all those obstacles on his search for peace.
However, we all should remember that Ajahn Chah once said that there are many roads to the temple, but the roads are not the temple. We just have to follow a road that we feel comfortable with and refrain from condemning other people’s choice of roads.
So, to make a long story short, I totally agree with you and Khun Kanchana that Aj Sumedho teaches us how to be at peace with life from his own ‘personal’ experience. If you come from the same (spiritual and mental) place as he, then following in his footsteps could be beneficial to you. But it doesn’t mean that his views on every issue should always be blindly deemed as an absolute flawless truth. Aj Sumedho himself told a story in which Ajahn Chah criticized his action as “Right in action, but wrong in dhamma” (or something like that). This story should remind us that an action or view deemed ‘right’ from one perspective is not always ultimately wholesome.
I agree with Aj Sujato that it must be distressing for Aj Sumdho to see his lifetime hard work torn apart. And I feel great sympathy for him.
On the other hand, I have a feeling that those few WPP monks who have repeatedly cited that even Aj Sumedho shared their view and who have been doing everything they can to bring Ajahn Brahm down do not care much about Ajahn Chah’s legacy, let alone Ajahn Sumedho or Ajahn Liem and least of all women. The main drive is their ‘atta-driven’ view that they are doing the right thing (only they themselves do know whether this right thing is for Buddhism or all for their own interest), without being concerned about the negative consequences of their continued ‘efforts’.
This comment is made with great respect for Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Sumedho and Ajahn Brahm.
Much metta to all,
“…….. ; I somehow felt that it was easy for him to say ‘let go’ when he seemed to have always been a happy person who had never experienced sufferings in his life!”
It is easy for another ‘uninvolved’ person to say ‘let go’. From my own experience, I can easily tell some other persons to ‘let go’ their grievancess, woes and unhappiness. But when it comes to mine, it is not so easy because I suffered the pain, of being wronged, of injustice inflicted on me.
If Aj Brahm had been always been happy or never experienced suffering, Buddhism would be quite meaningless for him.
I totally agree with you. At first, I did actually feel that Ajahn Brahm’s advice on how to cope with pains was unrealistic and difficult to follow. Only later with persistance to cure the ‘source’ of my misery did I realise that Ajahn Brahm’s advice, when wholeheartedly and consistently followed, will give you peace and happiness.
It takes time and faith in the teachings.
I shall add that Ajahn Sumedho’s and Ajahn Brahm’s teachings when combined are excellent medicine to give preliminary care for our heart when we are drowned in the sea of pain and misery.
Both great monks live in the opposite ends of the planet, but their teachings amazingly compliment each other so well — at least when applied to my own personal circumstance.
I will be forever grateful to them both.
For a very, very long time, I wondered where in the Pali Canon AC Chah’s and AC Brahm’s teaching of “letting go” could be found. My resistance came from over-exposure to other strands of Buddhism that espoused effort, diligence, energy, and where no mention of “letting go” was ever made.
Quite fortuitously, I chanced on a recording of AC Brahm’s instructions from the 2007 Easter retreat, where he spoke of “letting go” in terms of “caga, patinissagga, mutti and analaya”. I checked. At that very moment when my search led me to the Buddha’s 1st Sermon, SN 56.11, there it was tucked away in the Third Noble Truth –
“Cessation of suffering, as a noble truth, is this: It is remainderless fading and ceasing, giving up (cagga), relinquishing (patinissagga), letting go (mutti) and rejecting (analaya), of that same craving.”
As for the “how” of letting go, that’s in the 4th Noble Truth.
May you have success in your letting go.
I think you’re both right here; of course Ajahn Brahm has suffered, like all of us. His father died, his mother has dementia, he has had serious illnesses, problems and conflicts of all sorts. But underneath it all he has a natural cheerfulness, which I think was with him even before he became a monk. For those of us with less sunny dispositions, his teachings on happiness are usually inspiring, and just occasionally depressing. I think it’s important to acknowledge the reality and meaning of what the Satipatthana Sutta called nirāmisa domanassa – spiritual depression.
Thank you, Dheerayupa. That is very beautiful.
I almost cried too.
Sylvester, thanks for that beautiful reminder.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful, positive feelings with us. Its wonderful to reflect that all the good we put out grows in ripples, not just all the bad… As I read your words, I felt as if a flood gate was opened around my heart, thank you so much once again.
Also, you know…I think we’d need to ask Ajahn Brahm if it could be true to say that he hardly had any suffering in his life. Maybe he did but perhaps his pre-disposition was to handle it better than us… I am reminded that his father died when he was 16, he came from a poor family and he had typhoid when he was a young monk in Thailand!
You said: ‘However, we all should remember that Ajahn Chah once said that there are many roads to the temple, but the roads are not the temple. We just have to follow a road that we feel comfortable with and refrain from condemning other people’s choice of roads.’
This reminded me of another Ajahn Chah story. I think it goes something like this: When asked why he gave one person the opposite advise to that which was given to another he replied: When a person is walking to the left of the path you suggest he walks to the right. When a person is walking to the right of the path, you suggest that she walks to the left. In light of this, it’s important that we allow each person the chance to ‘get to the bottom of’ their truths and we must try really hard not to invalidate their experience, their needs (for example, their need for full ordination); regardless of whether or not we agree with or like what they say their truths are. (Although, I guess if someone had a strong need to kill someone else we’d need to start with acknowledging this truth and then kindly and most carefully, isolating them!! Maybe this is how the Buddha started off in getting through to Angulimala?)
I really resonate with many of your comments Dheerayupa… I’m glad to see your name so often here! 🙂
Dear Aj Sujato, Kanchana and all dhamma friends,
Yes, deep down I know that everyone, including Aj Brahm, is subject to suffering, but when I was being drowned in my sorrow, it’s rather difficult for me to picture Aj Brahm as such. 🙂 He is so amazingly cheerful!
I agree with you all that Aj Brahm has had his share of sufferings but he has great wisdom to know how to deal with them and remain happy and cheerful. We only need to follow in his footsteps to see it for ourselves. 🙂
Also, later after listening to more talks of his, I’ve found that his advice on how to deal with each symptom of suffering actually works wonder. (I was thinking about making a list of symptoms and corresponding remedial talks, but have not found time to do so yet.)
One of the most impressive statements of his is: Pain is personal. You can never say whose pain is greater.
Keeping that statement in mind will remind us to respect other people’s pains and consequent perspectives.
With loving kindness to you all.
In assessing the raging issue or issues related to the bikkhuni ordination in WA, may I quote Albert Einstein: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex…. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
This coming from a genius who had touched Buddhism in ways that are quite enlightening.
Sorry for posting this out of context, but if anyone reads Silly Nun’s blog there’s a very nice update:
Sometimes reading about all the opposition women face in Buddhism, it’s nice to read about the good things too. The kindness the monks showed to her is uplifting.
Excuse me if I missed a detail! The Dhammayut are going to “mediate” in Australia in a situation involving monastics in a lineage that they do not even recognize as legitimate? This is endlessly entertaining. (Sorry 🙂 but in an absurd way, it is. I must have missed a detail)
I realize this is perhaps a bit off-topic, and more related to Dhamma teaching, but I would be very interested in hearing your further reflections on your following comment, which seems so vitally important to awakening:
“I think it’s important to acknowledge the reality and meaning of what the Satipatthana Sutta called nirāmisa domanassa – spiritual depression.”
Some of the “reply” buttons below postings appear to be missing, including on your post from which I quote, so this will probably not show up in the right place.
It’s described very simply in the Suttas as the longing one feels for the attainment of the as-yet-unattained. There’s quite a large literature about it, so it seems from a quick google. The Buddhist texts don’t talk about it too much, so far as i know. But i also think of the ‘brooding’ (upanijjhayati) of the Bodhisatta when he returned to the Palace from seeing the four signs. It’s a bit of a big topic to deal with here. But you might find something in this talk i gave a while ago.
Thank you Sylvester for pointing to: ….. the Buddha’s 1st Sermon, SN 56.11, there it was tucked away in the Third Noble Truth – “Cessation of suffering, as a noble truth, is this: It is remainderless fading and ceasing, giving up (cagga), relinquishing (patinissagga), letting go (mutti) and rejecting (analaya), of that same craving.”
May I ask if this is refering to letting go a craving which I think is different from letting go a problem although it can be said that craving leads to problem. From the standpoint of someone who is trying to let go a problem, say a great injustice inflicted on him, it is not the same as letting go a grief such as the death of a loved one. Can you comment?
I’m out of my league and certainly off-topic, but these are my present beliefs about “letting go” in the context of the 3rd Noble Truth.
I would definitely agree that the “letting go” mentioned in the 3rd Noble Truth pertains to craving (tanha). Is that craving different from a “problem” that one seeks to “let go”? I think of “problems” as any of the 6 ayatanas, ie visual data, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile data and ideas, that conduce to pain or displeasure or sadness.
What exactly is the process that follows when a “problem” comes into my field of experience? If the conditions are right, there is phassa (contact), ie the corresponding triad of the ayatana, the sense organ and the particular consciousness. With contact as condition, the rest of the nama cascade follows – feelings, perception, sankharas : per Mahapunnama Sutta, MN 109. The “problem” that I encounter is not really the problem per se, but it’s the cascade that follows from contact that is, I think, the real problem. Perhaps the contact itself is the problem.
We cling onto the aggregates that spring from that contact, if they are pleasurable. Or, we yearn for the aggregates to disappear because they are painful. In the context of the 1st Noble Truth, the Buddha declared that the 5 Aggregates are dukkha. The 2nd Noble Truth says that the origin of that dukkha is craving – craving for sensual pleasures, craving for becoming and craving for non-becoming.
At this point of my understanding, when I yearn for the aggregates to persist in pleasurable states, I have kamatanha and/or bhavatanha. When I wish for a “problem” to away, I’m basically wishing for those unpleasant aggregates to disappear – that I think is vibhava-tanha – craving for non-existence.
So, when it comes to the “letting go” of the 3rd Noble Truth, instead of craving for my experiences/aggregates to be anything else, I try to let go of that craving.
This is just a provisional view, as I revisit this theme over and over again. I will grant that my view is problematic, to the extent that I read “bhava” and “vibhava” as pertaining to the aggregates with each instance of contact, whereas the traditional interpretation pertains to being/becoming at the point of conception or self-generation. This brings me dangerously close to the old debate of whether Dependant Origination is purely a 3-lifetimes model, or whether it is a one-lifetime model only, or whether it can be both a 3-lifetimes model as well as a phassa-per-phassa process. Rather than get embroiled in that controversy, I would just say that I think, for now, that bhavatanha can apply to the aggregates at the point of each contact vide the more general This-That Conditionality principle (idappaccayata).
I do apologise for the dry and dreary treatment. I don’t mean to diminish the reality of problems, but this is just my current approach.
Just simply NOT be part of the Thai ethnic sect. This is Australia and I do not see how these Thai missionary monks in Australia (many of them are not even Australian citizens and are allowed to enter the country as visitors by compassion and courtesy of the Australian government) can claim their jurisdiction over an Australian Sangha.
Ajahm Brahm should not waste a second of his time with this ethnicity Egoism but just move on to accomplsih the propagation of what the Buddha has taught and helping Australians in the spiritual path towards Nibbana.
monks r so fake. they talk about forgiveness, tolerance. Loving kindness, and giving. they use these as tool to get what they want. they do not hv such quality. They r only a brunch of guys sit there complaint about tinny little things, where is conteinment they r talking about? all the bully and abuse within the monastery, no different from kids in boarding school, where is loving kindness? to discriminate nun and monk, believe monk r better, look down on nuns, where is equality. i feel sick in my stomach when i c those monk use all flowerly words to cover their uglyness. all they learn from Buddha is how to wear a mask to make for living.