A recent Siladhara ordination

On March 28th there was a siladhara ordination at Amaravati, the first since the Perth bhikkhuni ordination of October 2009. Two female anagarikas made the commitment to go forth out of faith in the Triple Gem. Of course, the joy with which I would like to greet this news is clouded by the circumstances which the Amaravati circle of Sangha has created for women monastics.

This was starkly highlighted in the ceremony, when, to the surprise of everyone present, including the candidates, Ajahn Sumedho read out the Five Points at the end of the procedure. The new nuns were asked to agree to abide by these rules.

How the new nuns felt about this we can only imagine. Was there joy? Was there inspiration? Did they feel, in their hearts, that they would uphold these rules like a beautiful young man or woman would wear a garland of flowers? Or was there confusion, doubt, trepidation?

The Five Points are, in several respects, similar to the traditional 8 garudhammas. But in the Pali ordination procedure for bhikkhunis, the 8 garudhammas are not mentioned in the ordination ceremony. Nor are they recited in the patimokkha. In fact, as I believe the historical situation makes clear, the garudhammas were imposed by the monks on the nuns, for exactly the same reasons as the Five Points: to control the nuns.

So in the Amaravati circle, those rules or principles from the Vinaya or elsewhere that can be used to subordinate women are emphasized and insisted on, while those principles that lead to fairness and compassion are sidelined and marginalized.

In his public talks criticizing the nuns, Ajahn Sumedho has strongly stated that as renunciates we have no rights. Some people may take this as a profound statement on letting go, but for me it was a scary opening into totalitarianism.

Ajahn Sumedho calls these the five ‘points of clarification’. And that is very true. His creation and subsequent insistence on the Five Points make it abundantly clear that when he says we have no rights, he really means it.

Ajahn Sumedho is profoundly attached to his experience as a young monk in north-east Thailand in the 60’s annd 70’s. From his experiences there he has created a form of practice that has become one of the strongest and most relevant forces in modern Buddhism. This is a testament to his own spiritual development as well as to the flexibility and authenticity of the forms he learnt in the north-east Forest Tradition.

And yet this current development shows that there is a fundamental inability to move on from that. Certain things may change or adjust in certain ways, but some things are rock solid immovable. In this debate on the role of women, Ajahn Sumedho reveals that, for him, his experiences as a young monk in Thailand override the Dhamma-Vinaya, and they override the noblest expressions of human ethics as widely accepted in the world.

There are many who, like Ajahn Sumedho, criticize the bhikkhuni movement because it is seen as a western or modern inspired movement for ‘equal rights’, rather than from a Buddhist perspective of seeking liberation. This is wrong-headed historically, since of course it is the bhikkhunis, not the siladharas or mae chis, who form part of the Buddha’s original community.

More importantly, it is wrong-headed morally. The Vinaya itself, and the traditional interpreters of the Vinaya, clearly acknowledge that ethical rules are of two types. There are those that are intrinsically wrong, like killing. And there are those that are simply worldly conventions, such as customs of bowing and respect. The Vinaya is concerned with both of these, and the Buddha constantly responded in a positive way when reasonable criticisms were made, especially by lay people.

The doctrine of rights was formed and is sustained by one overriding consideration: to prevent the powerless from being exploited by the powerful. Those in power will always be tempted to abuse that power, and limits need to be set on this. That is what human rights are. If you want to see where religion goes when those in power are considered above the constraints of conventional morality, just look at what is happening in the Roman church today.

So when modern society, including countries like Thailand, decide to adopt the principle that men and women should be treated equally, this is in response to the very apparent situation that men have power, and women suffer because of this. Balance is needed. And this dynamic is just as apparent in the Sangha as outside it.

The widespread agreement and adoption by peoples all over the world of similar charters of human rights shows that, when it comes to the important things, the noblest values of humanity are pretty much the same wherever you are.

This is what humanity wants: a world of fairness, balance, and equality. It is a dream, a vision for the future that we dare long for, despite all our human failings. And, as humans who happen to follow the Buddhist path, we would love to look up to our monastic Sangha, to see them as exemplars of where we should be heading.

When the storm over bhikkhuni ordination broke in late 2009, it did not take long for the voices of the people to make themselves heard. Compare what happened when two quite different petitions were made.

The petition in support of bhikkhunis and against the five points was initiated, developed, and carried through by lay people. Nearly 3000 names were collected. It was delivered in a respectful manner to a key meeting of the senior Sangha, calling for dialogue and a movement towards positive change. It was summarily ignored. As we see now, Ajahn Sumedho is leading his Sangha in a way directly opposite to what the people wanted.

The petition to have Ajahn Brahm expelled was initiated by monks, who telephoned from Thailand to agitate the Perth Thai community. It was not a call for dialogue or positive change, but for an exertion of power. While doing this in secret, they publicly denied having any influence over the Perth lay community. A very few of the Thai lay supporters tried to gather signatures, but it was a failure. The result was that the Thai community of Perth, of their own volition, decided to hold a fund-raiser to show their support for Ajahn Brahm, which was a great success.

If all this is true, then why on earth does anyone still want to take siladhara ordination? For me the answer is obvious: charisma. Ajahn Sumedho positively oozes charisma, and the Thai Forest Tradition in general has it in spades, especially for those who experience it through the idealized lens of its western interpreters. In the west, we still feel the loss of meaning and spiritual authenticity, and look to the traditions of genuine Buddhism to fill that hole in us.

Charisma is itself neutral. It is pre-moral and non-rational. It is a power, an energy, and I think it is similar, or identical to what anthropologists call ‘mana‘. (It seems this was the original meaning of the Indic ‘brahman‘.) It is that spark of magic, that mesmerizing something special. And like any energy, it polarizes and moves things. If it is used well, it has great benefits. But it is always open to abuse. Those who come under its sway are as if entranced; reason, doubt, and criticism are suspended.

This is why those with charisma must be contained within a social framework that limits their power and protects the rights of those who follow them. Those limits include, crucially, the right of dissent.

But see what has happened to that right. When a siladhara put her name to the bhikkhuni petition, she found later that monks had placed the petition on her door, with her name circled in red. This is bullying and intimidation, and yet there was no disciplinary action taken against the perpetrators.

In a climate like this, there is little wonder that, to my knowledge, not a single senior Ajahn from the WPP tradition has publicly expressed opposition to the Five Points. I do not believe for one moment that they all support them: in fact, I know that many of them will feel very uncomfortable about the situation. And yet they cannot speak out.

Similarly, this blog and other websites from Santi and the BSWA have been blocked in the Amaravati circle of monasteries. In addition, the free distribution books by Bhikkhu Bodhi on bhikkhuni ordination have, in some monasteries, not been made available to the public. Does this censorship remind you of anyone?

I have heard that my blog has been criticized by members of the Amaravati Sangha for being inaccurate, which is perhaps the justification for censorship. But as you all know, every post is open for comments. I read every comment and respond to everything I can. In the few cases when inaccuracies have been pointed out, I have corrected them within minutes. I have been contacted by three Ajahns from WPP complaining about things I have said, and claiming I had made mistakes. In all three cases, the Ajahns had not actually read what I said properly, and misquoted or misrepresented me. When I pointed this out, I never heard back from them.

No doubt, having written so much on this issue, there are some things that should be improved, some things said in the heat of the moment that would have been better if more carefully considered. But this does not justify the Amaravati censorship policy. That is merely an expression of a power structure based on fear and ignorance.

The modern opposition to bhikkhuni ordination is no ancient Buddhist tradition. It can be traced no earlier, so far as I am aware, than the abhorrent 1928 ruling against bhikkhuni in Thailand, made by monks who thought it reasonable to arrest nuns and throw them in jail for ordaining. (This was not a crime, since the 1928 ruling was subsequent to this episode).

That 1928 ruling is the ultimate authority on which WPP bases its opposition to bhikkhuni ordination. There has been no acknowledgement of this fact, nor any attempt to morally or legally question such an obviously unjust rule.

Moreover, there has been no acknowledgement of another inconvenient fact: the 1928 rule forbids a monk from giving the going forth to women. It does not distinguish between various forms of going forth. So in giving the going forth to women, Ajahn Sumedho has clearly and directly violated this rule. Ajahn Brahm did not break this rule, however, since he did not act as preceptor.

This, of course, merely confirms what we knew already. WPP’s insistence that they are merely following the Thai law, which was the fundamental basis of all their official statements on the matter, is a smokescreen. The real issue is treating women as equals. Ajahn Sumedho and the Amaravati circle can continue ‘within the fold’ as long as they treat women as second class.

The tragedy in all this is that is calls into question the very idea of a Western Sangha. It is painfully obvious that any spiritual tradition that cannot deal with women on a fair and equal basis has no future. For a long time, Buddhists in the west have moved towards a lay-oriented Buddhism, where women have a strong and positive role. At Santi and in Perth, as well as many other places, we are trying to show that adherence to traditional Vinaya does not mean the perpetuation of medieval morality. I keep on hoping that we are right.

228 thoughts on “A recent Siladhara ordination

  1. Bhante,
    Re: “Similarly, this blog and other websites from Santi and the BSWA have been blocked in the Amaravati circle of monasteries.” Wow–can you clarify this, i.e. people aren’t allowed to log into these sites, the actual sites are blocked, they and/or the people involved are disparaged, people are told they aren’t reliable and they shouldn’t spend any time looking at them … any, all , or none of the above and/or something else?

  2. The regulatory structure at Amaravati reminds me of communist regimes where there is a ruling politburo of seniors headed by a despotic leader with unrivalled power. Anyone who does not toe the official line is closely spied on, monitored and intimidated into submission. An Iron Curtain is placed around and all information is censored and tightly controlled.

    As the history of the Soviet communism shows such a structure eventually fails and disintegrates against all attempts to save it. Amaravati will be similar; the more the Buddhist world knows of the plight of siladharas then the more chances that we will have more bhikkhunis.

    • well, I grew up in the communist system, and when I became a Buddhist nun in Theravada tradition, I saw many similar things between the two systems. I do not know where ordinary folks are running into. Oh, sabbe puthujjana ummattaka!

  3. A relevant post from Thanissara on 16 March on the Women & the Forest Sangha Facebook page: “Regards web communication. Those who are corresponding with monastics within the UK based monasteries that have the amaravati.org address should be aware that the correspondence is not private – those who signed the petition as monastics within the UK have been subjected to reprisals from within the system. One should use other emails addresses (not amaravati.org) for correspondence with monastics in the UK so as not to complicate their situation.”

    It really is like samizdat communication in the Soviet Union. Amazingly.

  4. Also from the W&TFS FB page: ‘I notice that Sumedho has now been elevated alongside Ajahn Chah in having his own tradition. The Amaravati website is now headed “A Buddhist Monastery in the Tradition of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho” and Buddhist Monastery in the Tradition of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho” and the Saranaloka website says “Supporting Western Theravada Buddhist Nuns in the Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho” ‘

    I’ve checked both websites and it’s true. I wonder if this just applies outside Thailand, or inside too.

    • Sorry, there was some confusing double pasting by my obviously overwhelmed little Android phone there. It should read ‘The Amaravati website is now headed “A Buddhist Monastery in the Tradition of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho” and the Saranaloka website says “Supporting Western Theravada Buddhist Nuns in the Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho”‘

    • Traditionalism > formalism > dogmatises
      traditionalism > priest-crafts > superstition
      We just imagine if Luang Po Chanh return to this world, opens a computer, enters different websites and blogs that people have created under the name of Forest tradition led bey Achahn Chan or such a related thing. He would surprise and exclaim: “what are you doing under my name? Didn’t in many talks I told you: “don’t be a Bodhisattva, don’t be an Arahant. If you want to be anything at all, you will be in suffering.” But unfortunately, I forgot to tell you that even don’t try to be Achan Chah disciple, don’t create an Achan Chah lineage, make it a tradition, an identity and feel obligated to defense for it, to protect its purest form… by, along the other things, not to have Bhikkhunis invade into this purest form of practice!”

    • Ayya

      What is your purpose of renunciation? You should be ashamed of yourself and you are not fit to have the title Ayya (really not fit at all) by joining the lay people in blogging and condemning others esp the very noble ones that were responsible in introducing Buddhism into the West.

      Ajahn Chah “gave birth” to so many Western successful monks and besides giving birth, he “nurtured”, “weaned” them and encouraged, motivated and inspired all of his Western monks until they saw and tasted the Dhamma and finally walked the Path.

      Ajahn Sumedho is a respectable humble pioneer monk from the Forest Sangha Tradition that was responsible in bringing the Dhamma & Buddhism into the West.

      Without Ajahn Chah’s patience and compassion in “grooming” his Westerner monks (whom one or two or more are now, perhaps are belived to be living Arahants), and Ajahn Sumedho’s courage and selfless effort in bringing the Dhamma to the West (despite all odds and uncertainty) and the other Western monks under Ajahn Chah whom had establised monasteries in the West, Buddhism would be unheard if not, not as established and well-accepted as in today.

      The Westerners should be grateful to Ajahn Chah and all his Western disciples whom like the 60 Buddha’s Arahants had spread Buddhism to benefit the Western people.

      It is the Westerners good fortune to have the Forest Sangha Tradition that has successfully produced so many successful wonderful adorable Western monks whom Ajahn Chah regarded them as his noble children and compassionately unselfishly cared and guided them unconditionally.

      Now, we make condemn and make jokes of the very Tradition of Ajahn Chah.

      It is said that (with due respect), intellectuals have lots of reasonings, views, opinions, logic and thinking but very little wisdom because intellects are like concrete walls embedding the jewel and to reach the jewel one had to bring down the concrete wall first (similar with emptying the cup first). Non-intellect only had a veil embedding the jewel and it is easier to reach the jewel by simply unveiling the veil.

      Thinking is not required in enlightenment and wisdom – The heart of Buddhism.

      Be more respectful and sensitive.

      For me, all the Forest monks under Ajahn Chah are worthy of respect and reverence as they have practised in austherity and simplicity.They practised closely the Buddha method of practice of 2,600 years ago.The Truth need not be reformed as it is timeless. Sadhu to all the Forest monks!

    • Dear Peace,
      in order to have peace of mind, you must practice yourself, not only heard or read, belief,or respect, even to claim to be a protector of a noble tradition. This had been done by many young Brahmins at the Buddha time. They even reviled the Buddha in a stronger terms then you do with Ayya dharma now.
      We can not measure anyone as Arahant unless one is a Buddha himself.
      Did you read many jokes of Achanh Chah? And do you think other people are not entitled to make some jokes, too? I do not condemn anyone, but joking at ‘a too much serious’ ‘protectors of Dhamma’ who by their extreme enthusiasm to a particular tradition, lose touch with the rest, and perhaps, become ‘fundamentalists’ in parting with one side and condemning the others.
      Yes, we respect Achanh Chah and his efforts to educate Western monks, and they all did a great job, but not because of that we blindly follow everything labeled under the name of ‘Thai forest tradition’. And more ever, Buddhism is much more wider then that particular tradition. May you be able to open your mind to mankind, and less attached to a particular tradition or name.
      Cheer and Metta fr. Ayya dharma

    • Dear Peace,

      It is with great sadness that I read your gender-blind post that only refers to monks in the masculine term. Nowhere is there any acknowledge of females who are also well-respected monastics, except to admonish an Ayya. Please be more respectful and sensitive.
      And for you, I humbly offer a gift of a quote from a well-respected Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron.

      “Until we stop clinging to the concept of good and evil, the world will continue to manifest as friendly goddesses and harmful demons”.

    • Dear All

      Ayya said : Yes, we respect Achanh Chah and his efforts to educate Western monks, and they all did a great job, but not because of that we blindly follow everything labeled under the name of ‘Thai forest tradition’. And more ever, Buddhism is much more wider then that particular tradition.

      It is crystal clear now that your camp is uncomfortable with “Thai forest tradition”. Assuming it was not Thai, but Australia forest tradition, then you are happy about it and will not say we are all following blindly the tradition.

      The tradition is not to be blamed. It just happened to be Thai that emulated the Buddha’s Forest tradition, as Thailand has lots of rain forest and in most parts of Asia, so it is ideal to adopt the Forest tradition which is also the Buddha’s Forest Tradition. Buddha was practising, enlightened, passed into Nibbana in forest living in India.

      Perhaps, the word “Thai” should be taken out and replaced it with “Buddha Forest Sangha” or Buddha Forest Tradition, then you Westerners will not feel intimidated and loss of pride.The problem here is ego, pride and own identity and ownership problem.

      So far, the Western Elders Sangha has much self-restraint and patience endurance by not responding to harsh and unfair unfounded criticisms by critics here, and so is Ajahn Brahm and his Bhikkhunis. We are the ones who have no self-restraint and patience endurance and we are the ones committing more and more ill-will and hatred for one another in this blog that is provoking us to lash out our tongues and minds.

      Hope all of us have self-restraint and hope this storm dies off quickly so all can move on and there is no reason to spark off the storm again as the Perth Bhikkhunis are now ordained and Ajahn Brahm and the Bhikkhunis are oblivious of this feud amongst us or chose to ignore, not to create bad kamma for themselves and let us be the ones to create more new bad kammas.

      All this mud slinging should end. By now all of us had the “fire” out of our chest. It is enough, before we all get “burnt”.

      All monks and nuns belong to one big Sangha family and Buddha-Sassana. We should respect all of them regardless of their shortcomings as we are respecting the Sassana and not an individual monk or nun or personality.

      Peace not War. We have enough wars already in this world, please do not create more wars for ourselves. Make peace .

  5. When I hear news about the attitude of the WPP and Amaravati monastics towards women, I lose confidence in the disciple (if not the dhamma). Seriously, what good is all of those years spent trying to liberate yourself when even someone like Ven. Sumedho cannot see the harm being done here? If even the majority of monastics have made so little progress what hope is there for the average householder?

    • Don’t lose faith Greg in the Dhamma!
      If you look at the suttas and the stories in the vinaya, there are always some ‘scallywag’ monastics, even in the time of the Buddha! but there are also many very good ones. Enlightened ones with beautiful conduct and practice that are inspiring. Publicity and media love to talk or gossip about the ‘bad’ ones, since it’s more exciting isn’t it talking about ‘bad’ ones. But we shouldn’t just focus on the foolish incidents in the history of Buddhism but look at the positive. Also, looking at the positive is more inspiring and more conducive to our own practice. Buddha said to cultivate wholesome states of mind and not the unwholesome. So if looking at people’s bad behavior depresses you, then ignore it! Look at the beautiful instances and events. Buddhism is flourishing. For instance, yesterday I went to a novice ordination and it was so beautiful to see another being embark on this road to renunciation, leaving the world behind to cultivate the path and develop one’s mind. Also, look at Perth Australia. There is a dual sangha! A flourishing forest sangha of Bhikkhunis East of Perth and an inspiring sangha of bhikhus south of Perth. Also the Budddhist lay people of Perth managed to establish a retreat centre that provides an optimal place of practicing meditation and seclusion. It’s amazing that this is still happening and how Buddhism is growing. I am amazed how people wake up early in the morning to cook and bring food to the monastery nearly an hour away from Perth. And many people come every day! Now that is inspiring. Also the 9 day retreats are fully booked nearly the moment registrations open. That is inspiring. Thousands of people are listening to the Dhamma and practicing the eightfold path: renunciation, kindness, meditation etc. That is inspiring! Hundreds of people in just Perth alone come to the BSWA Friday talk. So Greg, please don’t allow a few foolish people to take you off the path. Ignore them. Don’t allow them to affect your happiness or faith. 🙂 There were always and will always be people like that. Keep on the practice of generosity, kindness, meditation and reading/listening to Dhamma.

    • Hey Greg,

      The Buddha addressed this question directly in the latter half of MN 107 The Gaṇakamoggallāna Sutta (paragraph 14 onwards).



  6. Sad news, indeed…

    I feel sorry for this polarisation, really.

    Most surprisingly are these news of censorship within some of western sangha’s groups, and even the action of some monks against the siladharas.

    May this change into a more constructive and harmonious coexistence, all in all, Dhamma binds us all together, be them Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis, Samanneras, Samanneris or Siladharas.

    Sukkhi hontu!

  7. Since the WPP “outrage” concerning the Bhikkhuni ordination, there is little that has been surprising to me. Don’t forget, we are essentially talking about human beings here; while we might wish – and hope to see – real attainment and wisdom in our teacher, to exemplify the Buddha’s teaching, I am afraid we should accept that perhaps “enlightenment” doesn’t even seem to come easily to those that seem the most visible and prominent characters.

    I have no clue why Ajahn Sumedho and his proponents cannot see the unskillfulness in their actions while condemning Ajahn Brahm but then it is really their issue, not mine. I do believe that the way forward is to try and practice well ourselves and to support our and the bhikkhuni communities as good as we can.

    To the new siladharas I am wishing all the best, we are all striving along the path as good as we can and whatever have been their reasons to follow that path, may it bring peace and “progress” to them. 🙂

    • That get-out is only legally binding if you can say it with your fingers crossed behind your back and, of course, the siladharas had their hands in anjali in plain view.

    • Hmmm… why cant we forget that one of the 5 points breaks the law in the UK against discrimination and human rights treaties that over 150 countries have signed on to including Uk and Thailand…why don’t we just toss out all those human rights agreements anyways?

    • Hi Metta,

      This is a bit facetious, but there is a serious point here. It is widespread in Buddhist countries that lay people will take the five precepts, and then go a break them straight away. The monks are little different.

      There has been some interesting anthropological work done on this. Rules that appear to be set in stone when viewed in the abstract, become nuanced and complex when negotiated in the real world.

      I think an important part of the Five Points is a ritual submission of the women to the men. They must be publicly established as lesser. The actual evolution of the relations between the genders will be a far more subtle thing.

    • Bhante Sujato,

      We all know the policy of the 5 points is what’s happening over in amaravati. So in that sense the new nuns shouldn’t have been surprised.

      However, it seems to have been introduced as a part of the formalaties of the ordination procedure. Is that correct? By their surprise, it would seem that they were not informed of this aspect of ceremony. If that is so, then surely they cannot be considered to be bound by their assent which, so it would seem, was taken from them by surprise rather than through awareness and a sense of preparing for what was coming.

      My point, this agreement, given under these conditions, surely it cannot be binding?

    • Furthermore, surely Ajahn Sumedho must have meant that the 5 points were binding within his monastaries. Surely these nuns are free to change their minds and go elsewhere to seek Bhikkuni ordination?

  8. Hello,

    english isn´t my native language, so i have some problems to understand what exactly is the meaning of “Five Points” I can´t think of an equivalent to the “Five Precepts”, so can someone give me a link to a site wich explains what exact phrases Ajahn Sumedho read to the nuns?

    Thank you.

  9. One can only hope that people will not confuse the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah (and now Ven. Sumedho) with the Buddha Sasana which is wide and varied. Frankly I’ve always cringed when hearing that particular group described as “pristine Buddhism.” Now, it seems to bear many of the markings of a cult. Consider this (and see how many on the checklist can be ticked!):

    Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups
    Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.

    Concerted efforts at influence and control lie at the core of cultic groups, programs, and relationships. Many members, former members, and supporters of cults are not fully aware of the extent to which members may have been manipulated, exploited, even abused. The following list of social-structural, social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioral patterns commonly found in cultic environments may be helpful in assessing a particular group or relationship.

    Compare these patterns to the situation you were in (or in which you, a family member, or friend is currently involved). This list may help you determine if there is cause for concern. Bear in mind that this list is not meant to be a “cult scale” or a definitive checklist to determine if a specific group is a cult. This is not so much a diagnostic instrument as it is an analytical tool.

    ‪ The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

    ‪ Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

    ‪ Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

    ‪ The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

    ‪ The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

    ‪ The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

    ‪ The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

    ‪ The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

    ‪ The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

    ‪ Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

    ‪ The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

    ‪ The group is preoccupied with making money.

    ‪ Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

    ‪ Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

    ‪ The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

    • Wow. Where do we draw the lines? This is definitely worth digesting a little, especially as we move forward as Sangha builders… what DO we look for in a healthy Sangha family?
      Do we have examples around us that seem to have dealt with some of these aspects skillfully, successfully? Visakha, have you found a community where you have not found yourself reverting to this list? Good for forward thinking discussions…

    • Hi Lisa,

      Perhaps the troubles we see today are the very same that the redactors of the Majjhima Nikāya were encountering as they set themselves to the task of ordering the appearance of suttas for the same; because while above I referred Greg to MN 107, the question here is directly addressed by the Venerable Ānanda in the very next sutta, MN 108 The Gopakamoggallāna Sutta (paragraph 7 onwards).

      The lines you ask for, Lisa, are drawn therein very clearly as a list of ten.

      “There are, brahmin, ten qualities inspiring confidence that have been declared by the Blessed One who knows and sees, accomplished and fully enlightened. When these qualities are found in anyone among us, we hounour, repect, revere, and venerate him, and live in dependence on him honouring and respecting him. What are the ten? …”

      I’ll let all y’all good bloggers to read that list for yourselves. Note well how high the standard is set.

      Also worth stating fully here are two things that the Buddha and the Sangha (immediately after the Parinibbāna) definitely did not do …

      “There is no single bhikkhu, brahmin, who was appointed by the Blessed One who knows and sees, accomplished and fully enlightened, thus: ‘He will be your refuge when I am gone,’ and whom we now have recourse to. …There is no single bhikkhu, brahmin, who has been chosen by the Sangha and appointed by a number of elders bhikkhus thus: ‘He will be our refuge after the Blessed One has gone,’ and whom we now have recourse to … [but] We are not without a refuge, brahmin. We have a refuge; we have the Dhamma as our refuge.”

      So, although in the absence of the Buddha, the Dhamma should be our first refuge, the list of ten qualities appears to be a way to address the very real need of having a living breathing persons to inspire practice, a guide to whom we can truly venerate and place unreserved faith in.

      And the advice is wise, for faith is so precious, beautiful and easily abused. The advice of the early Sangha is that, now the Buddha is gone, faith’s most tender and profound aspects should be invested in only the very very best of women and men. We need not feel apologetic for having high standards and expectations (without, needless to say to this blogging community, projecting).

      While, of course, we can learn from anyone, anything and any situation, I think the Suttas are clear as to what Sangha we should be living in dependence upon and taking refuge in (Sylvester, I found the reference we were looking for!)


  10. Bhante thanks for this article its helpful to know the values of the person that is delivering the message. I will treat anything that is attributed to Ajahn Sumedho as I would listen to an untuned piano…..playing the tune without the harmony…

    How can Dharma be taught with sincerity by one who is not prepared to treat women as equals???

    • there seems to be a lot of hatred and anger towards LP sumedho. Has anyone on this forum actually had the good fotune to be present when LP Sumedho gives a dhamma talk? Why dont you judge LP Sumedho based on immediate experience of his distilling of the dhamma-vinaya? You might change you mind about this ..

      as for cults – you could flip the reverse and say Ajahn Brahm is a cult leader…..

    • Hi Gemini,

      I get the feeling more of disappointment and disillusionment rather than hatred towards Ajahn Sumedho. He’s doing what he can, he’s just revealed his limitations, that’s all.

      Of course you can say Ajahn Brahm or anyone else is a cult leader. the point is, on what grounds? I have made the point that the WPP circle, and in particular the Western Ajahns, have not been tolerant of dissent, and have not responded to criticism. Anyone can see that. My experience with Ajahn Brahm has been that he is always open to criticism, and while he tends to be personally very strong-willed, he is always open to changing his mind.

      Even on the question of bhikkhuni ordination, he was pretty much toing the party line until around 2004. But he listened to the bhikkhunis – I know, I was there. And he changed his mind. This is, if you remember, what the Buddha did too…

    • Yes, Bhante Sujato (I had to delete the word Ajahn as it has been my habit for the past several months!), it’s not hatred towards Aj Sumedho, it’s sadness…

      I always looked up at Aj Sumedho with great respect (after all the praises I’ve heard Aj Brahm gave him in his public talks and from my one-time experience of listening to his dhamma talk and receiving personal advice on meditation) and wanted him to be a living proof that entering the stream is possible in these days of materialism.

      But as Jason mentioned above, Aj Sumedho’s apparent opposition to bhikkhuni ordinations has made one halt one’s absolute faith in him as a perfect dhamma leader…

  11. What worries me most about this issue is the snowball effect of trust being shed from the Amaravati monastics in the sincerity of their teachings, in particular Ven. Sumedho.

    How can we trust them to guide us spiritually when something as fundamental as giving equal right and opportunities to all regardless of gender, a concept which is quintessential in our modern Western culture?

    Thanks goodness for Ajahn Brahm and for the Dhamma…

  12. I’ve been reading online about the related issues in recent months and I’ve been keeping an open mind and suspending judgment … but not for much longer.

    Suffice to say in relation to this that each one of us will need to investigate and think deeply for ourselves, and decide what we will do next in terms of offering our support, or not.

    Asevana ca balanam
    Panditanan ca sevana
    Puja ca puja niyanam
    Etam mangala muttamam

  13. I apologise if this is going to make anyone cross, but I can’t sit here and read this without comment. I’m a woman and I live in Wolverhampton, England. I completely support bhikhuni ordination and Ajahn Brahm’s actions. I would like to live near to Santi so I could hear Ajahn Sujato’s talks and teachings. I realise my own buddhist training is inadequate and I need to learn and understand more of the suttas and cultivate more in my heart. But I can’t agree with propaganda or inaccuracy. There are plenty of ways to become a bhikkhuni now for those with sincere aspiration and any woman who wants to ordanin as a siladhara, providing she is prepared to live with what is on offer at Amaravati and Chithurst (this has not changed), can do so. Living in the UK I am familiar with Amaravati and the teachings of Luang Por Sumedho. It’s not just charisma. He is a great dhamma teacher. He made the training available to western women when it was unheard of in that Tradition. He made the Dhamma available to lay people and gave them a place to come to. It was the work of a bodhisatva. Nothing is perfect – no one is perfect – and we hve to let go of expecting everything. The siladhara at Amaravati and Chithurs are not poor little oppressed women. People who make these comments have not met the siladhara. They have every facility that is available to the monks. No different. Normally, comments that disagree with the party line are not shown on the ‘Women and the Forest Sangha’ face book site. A numer of my friends who tried to question what was being said were deleted or just not shown. So there is more censorship – but we don’t talk about that one. A woman called Lea Peace has somehow managed to get through the censorship and her comments are up on the facebook site. What good sense she speaks. Spiritually aspiriting girls and women in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Laos and even Tibet know what hardship and injustice really is. They are poor, have no Amaravati or Chithurst, and may have little formal education or means to travel and explore the dhamma in different countries. What are our bhikkhunis and siladharas doing to help them. Here are the comments from Lea Peace. …. …..It seems that privileged westerners female monastics are making the most noise about the suffering of this injustice…… It’s not just about you. You have a voice and power to actually do some good. Use it. Draw from your Buddha knowing to act appropriately. Use that energy to move forward, educate yourselves, do some good things for the whole Sangha.”
    I’m sorry again as I don’t want to upset anyone, and I enjoy all your posts and comments. But lets not get carried away. There is injustice and there is oppression but when a westerner talks about it – it doesn’t mean the same thing.

    • With metta;

      Florentyna :
      They have every facility that is available to the monks. No different.

      …except for the five points, which are not based on Vinaya. Their being a requirement for any stage of ordination is therefore ridiculous, and this ridiculousness persists whether or not women in other countries suffer from lack of equal access to the Dhamma. Those other women, in fact, suffer directly because of varieties gender bias of which the five points are merely an example.

      This argument is missing the trees for the forest.

      Florentyna :
      There is injustice and there is oppression but when a westerner talks about it – it doesn’t mean the same thing.

      By this reasoning, a woman in the West oughtn’t to complain about, say, spousal abuse because women in other countries are experiencing rape and slavery. Does this view make any sense? No, it doesn’t.

    • Dear Florentyna,\I have missed you 🙂 and pleased to share again. A part of me is pleased for the going forth of two more women and keen to be sensitive to those who sincerely in their hearts supported it.
      Regarding clear seeing on the suffering of others, this is our path. We must always strive to do this and if we have not succeeded we must practice more dilligently. For some it is enough to hear someone’s story. Enough for something to come into their awareness for them to understand. For others they must be taken to the site and witness. or physically experience something similar. If we are true practitioners, we know that our suffering is the same, and we only know it if we look very deeply. So, I believe people can understand across cultures. This Dhamma is not culturally dependent. And women share very similar problems across cultures.
      There maye be even greater differences between women of different classes within the same culture or country… Is it not useful to refer to the teachings on self or not self – in the conventional world as identity? …we must be careful how we draw these lines of separation…although I do understand what you are saying…for most human beings it is difficult to stand in the others shoes – especially when the identity lines are more deeply conditioned – male- female – Western- Asian…
      I have sat along side female human rights activists from all countries and racial and class backgrounds. Dr. Saisuree in Thailand is an example. Very powerful woman, a catalytic force behind the establishment of the ASEAN Human Rights Body, which if it gets teeth and continued support, could potentially be a force for supporting religious freedom and monastic communities in ASEAN member countries such as Burma, Vietnam, etc.
      Just as the fourfold Western Sangha can be a force for meeting them at the other end – as they develop their own institutions from inside, we – and our monastics – can be calling them lovingly and persistently from the outside. Would that not be a community you would aspire to be a part of?

      And when they do exactly the opposite, it is our duty to stand up.

      We must look at institutional influences from all angles – (not that I can see all the angles 😉

      We live in a very small prosperous and structured (with legislation and institutions to support freedom of religion and a world relatively free of caste/class/male/female/racial discrimination timespace window through which the light can shine and grow…that window can quickly close again.

      I trust the wisdom of Dr. Saisuree and the men and women before us who established human rights treaties and ratified these by passing legislation in The UK and Thailand that is in fact broken by the 5 points – which are a textbook example of direct discrimination against women – imposed by Western monastics – only reinforcing the discriminating practices born in Thailand – where Thai women have been fighting so hard against this very aberration…

      As with you, I wish to respect those who spread the Dhamma, but we must also consider seizing the day…calling upon them to be more mindful and aware, taking our place – one of the four legs of the table (as HHDL referred to the 4Fold Sangha) … so that this table may stand strong and solid in the degenerate winds to come…

      Dear Sister, this has unleashed a long monologue … may you be well, I rejoice in your rejoicing and call upon you to hold my hand in seeking out a path to the highest ground for all of us…
      LOVE and Metta 🙂

    • Hello Lisa, nice to speak with you again :o) I’m always surprised, no matter how carefully I think I’ve written my words, how I still manage to write something that can be read two ways !!

      When I say it doesn’t mean the same thing when a westerner talks about oppression – I don’t mean we can’t understand oppression for women in places like Tibet etc – I mean that with our fortunate material circumstances, access to the teachings, education and travel, when I say I am oppressed is it the same thing?

      I agree with you. But you know I was so surprised to see this item back up again. Not about Ajahn Brahm and the Bhikkhuni’s, but two women willingly and with love in their hearts undertook the Siladhara ordination. It was a lovely day and they are happy to have been accepted into the sangha. I also agree with Ace. I’m going back to doing my practice. I like reading about the suttas here and other buddhist discourse. I hope you enjoy meeting Luang Por in Canada Lisa. I still miss Ajahn Vee. You are lucky to have him there.

    • Dear Florentyna,
      You are always welcome to come here and visit.:-)
      As for me – I am seeking the path of clear abundance, which is leading in new directions…as much as doing so still twinges with feelings of attachment and letting go of a great love and many friendships and aspirations…

    • Dear Lisa, I know exactly how you feel. I have to move on also, but I want to do so with gratitude in my heart for all that I have been given. I don’t want to move on with bad feelings and focusing on everything that does not meet with my expectation. You are a dear sister with a lovely heart – I would love to know which direction you are now taking?? Perhaps we will meet again somewhere down the road?? I have family responsibilites at the moment so cannot travel, but one day……. Take care Lisa Karuna. May your kamma lead you to the path of clear abundance. I think it will :o)

    • Dear Florentyna,

      Thanks so much for this heartfelt post.

      I’d just like to comment on one issue you raise: what are the Western bhikkhunis doing for their sisters in less developed countries?

      Well, quite a lot, actually. Tenzin Palmo has set up a training monastery in India. Western Theravadin bhikkhunis are in Thailand, working and helping. Ayya Tathaaloka spent a period of time teaching at Mahaculalongkorn University in Bangkok. Together with a group of Western, Indian, and Sri Lankan monastics, I spent two weeks teaching a group of Indian dalit bhikkhunis and samaneris. Other bhikkhunis have been involved in women’s issues, for example, working against the sex slavery in Thailand and elsewhere.

      Bhikkhunis are effective and powerful in these roles because they have an ordination platform that is recognized and respected throughout the Buddhist world. The siladharas are effectively confined to two monasteries, and now possibly a third. But it is now, and will be, the bhikkhunis who are effectively integrated in traditional Buddhist culture, who can speak for the women and the oppressed there, and who can use their influence to create, not only their own good, but the good of the whole world.

      In actively opposing bhikkhuni ordination, the WPP tradition is weakening our potential to effect positive change, and is undermining the progress made by women in traditional Buddhist countries.

  14. Just to clarify as administrator of Women & the Forest Sangha. I blocked only one person from this group due to their aggressive attacks on others within the group, which was inappropriate. Their comments were foul mouthed and hurtful.
    No other comments or postings have been denied or deleted by myself or any one else.
    People are welcome to post what they like.

    • I have just gone into the W&FS admin and noticed one other person was blocked (who I unblocked just now) I have no idea why as it wasn’t me who blocked them. Unless it is the real person behind the ‘alter ego’ of the abusive one, who had no personal attributes and who had a false persona.

      I just also want to say that I do communicate with some of the Siladhara – and have done throughout the whole process of the 5 points – and while I concur they are indeed strong and amazing practitioners, the imposition of the 5 points was mostly devastating for them. The denial of that is a dis-service.

      I would also concur that I don’t agree that it’s a just a question of Ajahn Sumedho’s charisma. He is a powerful and enlightening teacher. However I believe the forceful use of the ultimate perspective to dismiss concerns of the relative, is and has been harmful.

    • Dear Thanissara, the blocking I spoke of was some months ago. My friends are not foul mouthed, please don’t imply it, especially in connection to the dhamma. I don’t think you are the only person who can block/unblock comments on your site. I don’t expect you to agree with me – it’s fine. I believe you have a good heart – but we must speak our own experience of these things. I do not wish to bully or intimidate anyone of make them feel bad about what they say here on this blog. I really respect Luang Por Sumedho. I respect what he has achieved in the UK. Spiritually aspiring women in other countries suffer terrible hardship – physical poverty, lack of education, etc. I really respect Ajahn Sujato and this wonderful blog where people learn so much – I respect the bhikkhuni in Australia and Ajahn Brahm, who made it possible. No one is perfect – everyone lives within constraints – let us be kind to each other and not expect everything – lets help others when we have fortunate circumstance. Peace and metta to all.

    • hi there
      I think there is a misunderstanding.
      I was not implying your friends were the person that I blocked or were aggressive or foul mouthed – I was simply stating that only one person has been blocked – for those reasons.
      It is impossible to say who they were as they had a false persona.

      with metta

    • Systems do have glitches. There have been people who’s comments have not appeared here, but I know nothing about it. Sometime the spam filter doesn’t work 100%. Just sayin’…

  15. Daer Florentyna,

    I’ve met Ajahn Sumedho once and was very impressed with his teachings. I was also upset when I heard the allegation that he did not ensure fair treatment for women. I found it hard to believe that allegation.

    A few days ago when I visited Amaravati website and saw that phrase “A Buddhist Monastery in the Tradition of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho”, I did not feel good about it, either. However, I would like to give Ajahn Sumedho the benefit of doubt. Perhaps like Ajahn Brahm, Ajahn Sumedho is not aware of what the webmaster or website administrator writes about him on the website.

    However, we all have to admit that only Ajahn Sumedho himself knows whether or not he is truly following the Buddha’s dhamma in regard to women in the Sangha.

    I myself prefer to look at Ajahn Sumedho’s 998 good bricks rather than his two bad bricks (if he realy opposes bhikkhuni ordinations). BUT I will not lie to myself that Ajahn Sumedho supports bhikkhuni ordinations if he doesn’t.

    A reflection on Ajahn Sumedho with great respect…

    Ajahn Sumedho is the first western disciple of Ajahn Chah’s and lived with and was very close to Ajahn Chah for so many years… Ajahn Chah trusted him to establish a Buddhist Forest Tradition in the west… Ajahn Sumedho has reportedly maintained conduct becoming of a monk… So, it’s natural that he is now placed on a pedestal by many. It’s definitely not his fault to be highly regarded. But…if he is not yet enlightened, this kind of environment is really not conducive for him.

    I hope that the allegation that he is not treating women equally will have a positive effect on him; it could serve as a test to his attachment to self (if the allegation is groundless), or it could remind him that he still needs to work harder on ‘metta to all beings’.

    May we all practice harder on ‘metta’.

    Yours in dhamma,


    • Just a short comment Dheerayupa to your thoughtful reflections.
      Ajahn Chah sent a quorum of monks to the West – he was keen not to just send one.

      This is not to take away from the extraordinary offering Ajahn Sumedho has made – but to mention that the principle of peers – particularly as more power is accrued – is a vitally important one for maintaining health, safety and well being in the monastic sangha.

    • Hi Dheerayupa,

      Your comments always effuse a sense of tolerance and forgiveness. This is wonderful.

      I agree. I think it is always beneficial to look at the 998 good bricks. However, the question being raised here, in the case of long-term practitioners who evince deep seated forms of bigotry is whether the 2 bad bricks are the very foundation upon which the other 998 stand. If this is the case, then even if the 998 are of good quality, fired well, even and smooth, they still stand on shaky ground and are liable to collapse. Also, if other’s attempt to set their own bricks on that 998, there is danger.

      I’m not convinced that only LP Sumedho is the only person who can answer this question. This may or may not be the case. It may be the case that he is the least capable of answering this question. For this is the nature of delusion. If we weren’t deluded about our delusion, we wouldn’t be deluded. LP Sumedho’s mind is no different to mine or yours or anybody elses in this regard.

      The Buddha advised us to carefully investigate whether the acts of body or speech committed by others evince greed, hatred or delusion when deciding whether or not they are Enlightened. We have to admit that as unenlightened disciples we can make wrong calls, but this risk should not prevent us from undergoing the exercise and being true to our (contingent) conclusions.

      The existence and insistence up The Five Points by LP Sumedho, to me, do not militate against any conclusion that he is, overall, a lovely man, a charismatic leader, possessed of wisdom of a sort, well meaning and sincere … but they do stand as strong, if not conclusive evidence, that he is not a member of the Ariya Sangha. And if this conclusion is correct, then he definitely falls short of the ten characteristics listed by Ven. Ānanda in MN 108, and ought not be looked to by lay or ordained practitioners as the leader of the pack.

      Having said that, I personally have not met any practitioners who meet the criteria set out in MN 108. My current hope is that such practitioners do exist, but are not famous (because they are not interested or even feel revulsion to it) and I need to go to the effort of finding such Noble Ones.

      Time to invest in some good jungle hiking boots!


    • Thank you, Thanissara and Jason for your kind responses.

      It has disturbed me greatly to hear said allegations against Aj Sumedho. As I said earlier, I have chosen to love his 998 good bricks, but…

      Having said that, I admit that his two bad bricks (if the allegation is true) has made me reluctant to follow in his footsteps. I just need to work harder on my practice to be able to wisely choose which of his good teachings to ponder. Much of his dhamma advice so far is beneficial to my spiritual health. And I thank him for that. But no, should I want to get ordained, I will not go to England.

      So far, Aj Brahm’s teachings is the main force to help me understand Buddhism. It is now also easier for me to appreciate Aj Chah’s simple but deep teachings. Do I think that Aj Brahm has entered the stream? I want to think so, and I definitely wish that for him. He deserves that.

    • Dheerayupa

      It is one unwholesome accusation towards Ajahn Sumedho. Ajahn Sumedho is no Buddha, he is purely implementing the golden rules laid down by the Buddha. Buddha was the One who made the embankment of the 8 Rules, not Ajahn Sumedho.

      Have some noble respect for the Suttas and Elders Sangha. Those who are doubting the Suttas and misinterpreting the Suttas in the hope to get what they want or with intention to reform and teaching in contradiction of the Suttas, should by default disregard themselves under the Forest Theravada Tradition.

      Ajahn Sumedho and the rest are from the Forest Theravada Tradition and he is representing the Forest Theravada tradition in the West. For those in Perth who cannot agree with this Tradition, can always feel free to form their own Tradition with their own rules and Bhikkhuni ordinations.

      The WPP and Elders Theravada Sangha had apparently told Ajahn B that he could do what he liked if he had made his choice and decision to break away from their Tradition.

      The Perth Sangha has a free hand to reform to their heart’s content and delight. Stop condemning and ridiculing other Sangha members!

      Everyone had the right to choose. Please don’t disturb Peace in the Sassana no more! Please observe the Noble Silence.

    • Silence is only Noble if it allows Right Speech to ocurr.

      There is usually something good about every culture and every age. One of the positives of western culture is the way in which scholarship and research has evolved. It is rigorous, well reasoned and to be trusted and also able to be contested and tested.

      This very scholarship has recently contested the assertion that the 8 rules you refer to were created by the Buddha. Which makes sense, afterall (as far as i know) they are not part of the traditional Bhikkuni ordination procedure.

      I am personally choosing to apply the Buddha’s advise to the Kalamas in this matter.

      As far as the authority of the Theravada Forest Tradition goes…well…I’m still choosing to follow the Lord Buddha’s advise and apply the teachings in the Kalama sutta. So when the rot starts to become manifest, i can choose to associate with just the good bits and support just the good bits, not the rotten bits.

      Reading Dheerayupa’s comments… She is not (as you seem to be implying) showing disrespect to anyone. Indeed she seems intent on supporting those whom she can still see faults in by focusing on their good bits.

      Unlike Dheerayupa, others appear to have chosen simply to close their doors and their hearts to anyone who they perceive as being different or contradictory to themselves. This is in direct opposition to the Lord Buddha’s teachings in the Karaniya Metta Sutta.

      Wishing you peace and well being.

    • One of the problems here is that the ‘authority’ of the forest Tradition is in their meditation practice, way of living, and insight into personal realization. As far as historical questions go, they are reliant on exactly the same sources that everyone else in Thailand is, which are very poor, and which have completely ignored all the developments in our historical understanding of Buddhism. The problem comes when the Forest Tradition anti-study doctrine trumps any and all evidence and reason.

  16. Thank you Bhante Sujato for this thoughtful, insightful and truthful posting. It it like a breath of fresh air and a beam of sunlight on this whole oppressive topic. It makes me happy that I live in Australia where free speech is allowed and debate is encouraged.

    Thank you describing so eloquently the effects of power imbalances by a charismastic leader within a spiritual community, and the appalling devastating consequences it can have on those who are in the minority and have been subjugated. We only need to look to the Roman Catholic Church to know that this paradigm is wrong, outdated, and in great need of revision. Perhaps this is why the young have little inspiration to go to Mass anymore.

    And just to remind everyone; The Dhamma made Ajahn Sumedho charismatic, NOT Ajahn Sumedho makes the Dhamma charismatic.
    Always remember where the TRUE power lies…..in the Buddha and Dhamma.

    • Actually Luang Por Sumedho is quite a shy man. And yes, it is his dhamma teaching and the way he lives his life that drawn people to Amaravati. He does not use computers – he gives his pavarana away to support the home and education of two small Indian girls in India. I don’t recognise what people write here about him but that’s fine. Everyone has their own kamma. I also read on sister Thanisara’s face book site that the siladhara in general and particularly the newly established siladhara vihara in the US hope support for them will be coming from students of the Forest Sangha Tradition and want to legitimise that support by promoting their lineage as part of that tradition. So which is it to be. That the Thai Forest Sangha lineage and it’s teachers are a lineage that are worth of offerings and respect – or that it is full of charismatic leaders who subjigate and abuse power? On the same face book site, I like what Quilley Powers says very much. Women need to help each other – and no inequality is justified. But we live in an imperfect conditioned realm, and there are a lot of sisters who need help in situations of poverty and lack of education and access to dhamma teaching. Let those of us who have good material circumstances help them. I’m glad there is a metta retreat on this weekend. We all need lots of metta. Metta to all.

    • Dear friends,
      I wish you to read one of the beautiful Suttas in the Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta no 65, para 29-31. Thewhole Sutta will, i hope, answers many of your questions. The Buddha said one of the way to overcome doubts is to learn more, have a fair knowledge of your creed, then, you will not be subjected to manipulation by sided or prejudiced information.
      Cheer and Metta,
      Fr Ayya

    • I am sorry, i can not find any corespondent Sutta online of this. You may find it in Wisdom publication, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha. On suttacentral only Pali version is available.

    • Ayya

      Thanks for looking. I couldn’t find one either. I’ll just have to learn Pali!


    • Also, most of BB’s translation of the MN is also available online for free through Google Books. MN 65 is included.


    • Florentyna – thank you for supporting LP Sumedho. He does not deserve such a hard time on this forum.

  17. It’s impossible now for me to listen to any of Ajahn Sumedho’s talks.

    I fear this tradition will be the laughing stock of the spiritual world. I can see it now. “Look at these monks. They are no better than any of the other religious traditions. Look at how they have rationalized, justified the treatment of women. No doubt, if there was some precedent in some law or in some recent sutta, they would willingly stone women to death.”

    Forgive me for saying so, but I grow increasingly suspicious that there is a hint of nihilism in Ajahn Sumedho’s talks about rights and the acceptance of the way things are. After all, I thought the ways things are meant dukkha, anatta, and anicca. I don’t see how the oppression of women flows necessarily from these three characteristics — and especially in the West.

    The Thai Forest tradition missed a great chance here fix a cultural, historical mistake while at the same time show that it was worthy to represent Buddhism in the West.

    Thank you very much for your blog!

  18. There is a point of this conversation that I thought to add. Bhante, I don’t take issue with what you have said, only wish to point out something that I haven’t seen mentioned yet.

    It is hard to appreciate the power of being part of a group until you are in one. It shapes your identity and gives a sense of belonging and context for processing what arises. And even when the group is facing challenges that are in congruent with the values of the individuals, the power of being “in” the group can hold sway.

    Secondly, I haven’t yet seen articulated the power of the sisters in the Siladhara community, what they have been through and the skills and resources that have been developed over the decades. Even though many of the senior nuns traveled, we (I am speaking having been part of this community for the better part of 20 years even though I no longer am) never encountered another community that had developed as a community to such an extent. So this is not about the monks charisma, this is about the bonding, skill, wisdom of the community of women and what is required once one has felt that to move out of that sphere.

    • The power of the group – I think, actually, it was mentioned but maybe not in a positive sense.
      If you look at Visakha’s post further up it is mentioned as one of the main characteristic of a cult and as one of it’s strongest points. Not to say that the Siladharas are one just that the sense of belonging to a group is probably one of the most fundamental concepts the we are born with (see Jonathan Haidt talk on TED)and the warm feeling that it creates must have a lot to do with why people group up in the first place.

    • Totally agree. The Buddha also encouraged seclusion and not bonding in a group. He mentioned that when people enjoy the company of others they will never gain samadhi. A monastery is supposed to provide seclusion, not a social club.

    • Dania,
      This is an interesting point you make.
      I feel it is not totally black and white though.
      A community of good friends can indeed lend inspiration and support, but I imagine it could also have challenges.
      Sseclusion is probably very helpful for serious practitioners and their Samadhi.
      I wonder what Bhante would say to this point ?

    • A group can indeed be very powerful in terms of mutual support and helping to “carry” one’s practice when things sometimes get difficult. There is one group that I belonged to over twenty years ago whose members still know and trust each other in a way that they know nobody else.

      The problem starts when the group becomes more important to its members than the original reason that they joined it. That also happened in the same group, which is when it disintegrated. It could have stayed together and stagnated instead.

      I think this is a recurring pattern in “spiritual” groups.

  19. For me this issue is about the staggeringly bad advice that Sumedho has had from the cabal of monks around him regarding the handling of this situation. He is an old man, and I can understand the wish to shield him from modern contentious gender politics, but they have completely misunderstood the difference between secrecy and confidentiality. It’s not as if they are cut off from the world of instant communication – they know pretty much how quickly information can be shared , and they’re not unaware of current trends towards equality in the west. But still they allowed him to present himself as a mediaeval leader, deaf to all except their murmurings. If the members of this cabal want so eagerly to perpetuate Thai Sangha law, then they should arrange to return to the mothership in Thailand.

    • That was what I thought, but if Ajahn Sumedho was truly enlightened, perhaps his wisdom would help him see through these monks’ unwholesome agenda?

      Anyway, the surest thing is if that was what really happened, I feel sorry for those monks. They have committed a very unwholesome action for a monk which could greatly prevent them from entering the stream in several lifetimes!

  20. Bhante, you said:

    “In a climate like this, there is little wonder that, to my knowledge, not a single senior Ajahn from the WPP tradition has publicly expressed opposition to the Five Points. I do not believe for one moment that they all support them: in fact, I know that many of them will feel very uncomfortable about the situation. And yet they cannot speak out.”

    Excuse my ignorance, respectfully I will have to ask, how come other senior abbots of WPP who think that Ajahn Sumedho’s stance on female ordination is incorrect can not speak out? Afraid of what? Do they get funds from the main WPP monastery in Thailand and if these abbots do not agree they cut the funding? Is this the bottomline? Aren’t these other abbots, monks first before they become abbots? I believe becoming a monk entails that one give’s up one’s ego and expectations? I find the silence of these other abbots deafening really.

    • Excuse me but may I hunbly point out that we are getting a bit muddled here. The discussion about female ordination started when the Bhikkhuni’s ordained in Australia and Ajahn Brahm was expelled from the Wat Pah Pong and Wat Pah Nanachat sangha in Thailand for being present at and supporting the ordination of Bhikkhunis. The Thai sangha and Thai law is against Bhikkhuni ordination for reasons that have been presented here often. I don not agree with those reasons, but there it is. The debate has been on whether monasteries affliiated with Wat Pah Pong and Wat Pah Nanachat but Western in terms of their location and monks, should support Bhikkhuni ordination i.e. break away from their links and supporters in Thailand who provide a lot of financial support to these monasteries – but not all financial support, which comes from Westerners, Sri Lankans, Malaysians, Singapore etc. etc. Ajahn Sumedho supports female ordination and created the siladhara 30 years ago, which was an agreeable arrangement within the Thai Sangha and Thai Law, so that western women could ordain as siladhara in this tradition and lineage. Facilities for siladhara at Amaravati and Chithurst are the same as for the monks – though the siladhara have less rules and are positioned behind the monks (who have 227 rules) but in front of the samaneras (who have less rules). It has been said earlier that the siladhara do not want to become Bhikkhuni, because of the difficulty in adhearing to all the Bhikkhuni rules, though I don’t know that myself. I agree with your point about the Abbots of other Forest Sangha Tradition monasteries and the bhikkhuni issue. Some seem to imply they support bhikkhuni ordination – but they still don’t make a clear statement of support. It would be good to hear what these Abbots really think and whether they support bhikkhuni or not.

    • I noticed your last sentence ” It would be good to hear what these Abbots really think and whether they support bhikkhuni or not.” Who cares what they think? It doesn’t matter. If they don’t agree it’s their problem. We just practice in according to the Buddha’s teaching and Dhamma and whoever has any suffering over it is their problem.

    • Hi Grasshopper,

      I’m not sure whether funding comes into it. Branch monasteries do not receive any funding or other practical support from WPP. I have been told that the Western branch monasteries rely very heavily on funds from conservative, upper class Thais, and that this is one reason they don’t discuss bhikkhunis. I am not privy to their financial and other arrangements, so I can’t comment on this. Personally I don’t think supporting bhikkhunis would affect the long term support for monasteries.

      I think the issue is more a matter of groupthink: if, on certain matters, you openly disagree with the organization’s policy, you will be ostracized. There is a strong sense among the Ajahn Chah tradition of their membership in their own Sangha. The consciousness of being in the Ajahn Chah/Thai Forest Tradition is stronger than the feeling of being part of the Buddha’s Sangha.

      This come out in one of the critical issues for defining a community: commensality. The Forest Tradition in Thailand will generally maintain a certain separation in eating with monks outside their tradition. If visiting non-Forest Tradition monks come to Wat Nanachat, for example, no matter how senior they are, they are placed at the end of the line of bhikkhus. They may only take the food after the most junior bhikkhu. This practice is not 100%, but is a general rule. I’m not sure whether the Amaravati monasteries have relaxed this practice or not. The purpose of this is clear. The Sangha is those who can eat food that has been properly ‘offered’: this is part of how this community conceives Vinaya. Those who practice Vinaya differently, or who come from a different tradition, are only liminal.

      At Santi, we actively cultivate a sense of belonging and connection with the broader Sangha. Part of that is that we eat according to seniority, regardless of tradition, and regardless of whether one is a man or woman.

      This is just one example, but it is typical. The primary point of reference for all questions of doctrine or practice is Ajahn Chah or the other Forest Tradition Ajahns, rather than the Suttas or Vinaya.

    • Dear Bhante,

      Your mention of commensality reminds me of Aj Brahm’s story about a city monk who came to WPP to seek advice from Ajahn Chah. Unfortunately, Ajahn Chah was not at the monastery and that city monk was treated just as you described above.

      When Ajahn Chah came back, he reprimanded the monks, enlightening them that that city monk they looked down upon was in fact a good monk meditator and had already achieved the third jhana.

      I wonder why that lesson was not learnt…

    • “At Santi, we actively cultivate a sense of belonging and connection with the broader Sangha. Part of that is that we eat according to seniority, regardless of tradition, and regardless of whether one is a man or woman.”

      Dear Sujato

      Why is there a need for a pecking order (literally) at all?

      In the company where I work everyone just queues in the canteen in the order in which they happen to turn up. Any suggestion that anyone should be allowed to go to the front because of seniority (or, indeed, juniority) in rank or years of service would be met with amazement. And this does not imply any disrespect for age, experience or wisdom. It’s just that these things are irrelevant to the food queue.

      Very often people will invite others to go ahead of them, but this is very different from an enforced hierarchical pecking order.

      It was odd to realise that most commercial organisations are ahead of the Theravada monastic sangha in terms of gender relations. I can’t help wondering if they are ahead in terms of not having irrelevant hierarchichal practices too. (Which is not to say that there is no place for an acknowledged hierarchy of experience or wisdom in their appropriate places, or of respect for age or seniority.)

      What do you think?


    • In the real world if young men pushed in front of a much older woman in a line-up for food, it would be considered ungentlemanly at best, and at worst very rude. This kind of unseamly behaviour does not belong in a spiritual setting. It sounds very arrogant and ego-centric for young men to think they are more deserving than their elders.

    • Tara

      What are you talking about? I mentioned no such circumstance and, if it happened, I would agree with you.


    • Well, i don’t know. In the sangha, too, it’s common enough for people to just eat as they come. It depends on the situation. The meal time in a theravadin monastery has a decided ritual significance. It is the main occasion when the lay community contacts the Sangha, it is done in silence, with dignity and a recitation in Pali. It seems to me that in such formal circumstances to maintain an order is dignified and good. In lay organizations, whether companies or NGOs there is also a hierarchy, with rules of interaction between levels of hierarchy, although it may well be expressed in different ways. We might eat with the seniors ahead of the juniors; but we don’t have the seniors dining in a posh restaraunt while the juniors line up for a sandwich at the canteen! Actually, the Sangha is, in many ways, much more even and less stratified than conventional society.

    • Dear Sujato

      Yes, formal occasions are different and special. I had understood that all meals were taken this way – sorry if I had misunderstood. Of course I also understand the profound significance and effect of eating silently together in full awareness. It’s a wonderful thing to do.

      As I said, of course there is an important place for a hierarchy of experience or wisdom in their appropriate places, or of respect for age or seniority. As I said, I was talking about irrelevant hierarchies.

      I don’t know of any organisation that has “seniors dining in a posh restaurant while the juniors line up for a sandwich at the canteen”!

      Is the sangha less stratified than conventional society? Well, it seems in some parts it is, and in some parts it definitely isn’t – Thailand for example.

      Best regards


    • I remember at the Buddhist Conference in Sydney, at meal time, we lined up first-come first-serve. So myself and another anagarika got in line. A couple of Nuns came up behind us, which was okay. But then Ayya Dhammananda came up behind them. At that point I just couldn’t hold back and had to INSIST they go before us! Ayya Dhammananda tried to protest “No! No seniority here” (something like that) but I just didn’t have it in me to go before such a venerable person – and in any case the other Nuns didn’t protest! So we let the Nuns (and following Bhikkhu’s) go in front.

      I like the custom of letting (or in some cases, making!) the seniors go first. I think there is two purposes to this – first is to develop a humble, non-greedy heart that can literally put others in front.
      But the second is deeper – the seniors should reflect that even though they get this special treatment, it’s not because they deserve it. That people who are elder in years and wisdom go behind them in the queue, should also act as a force to develop humility, it should act as a subtle blow to the ego. If you were going first because everyone thought you were wiser or more venerable then that could inflate the ego in a major way, but having to go in front of people you know are older and wiser than you makes one feel small.

      I think the hierarchy, done appropriately, with wisdom, actually effectively drives home the irrelevancy of seniority.

  21. Thankyou Ajahn. The points you make are so important to remember, to value, and to hold high.

    I bow deeply, with my ‘head held high’ without subserviance, to those who have gone forth and take up a life dedicated to the Buddha’s teaching.

    The bonding, skill and wisdom of a community:- such huge ground of development, and in those qualities, a teaching that many of us struggle with in the communities we are a part of, that maybe we don’t feel unity in, but wholeheartedly feel the tensions and dilemas.

    with gratitude,

  22. We must step back a little and look at the big picture.
    The Buddha is our teacher.
    The Buddha established the fourfold assembly, including bhikkhunis, not siladharas.
    Siladharas weren’t even established by the Buddha.

    • While I am in full support of bhikkhuni ordination, I think that any vehicle that allows us to intensify practise and to move along the path to attainment should be respected.
      So please let us refrain from entering a debate on what/who is better, more rightful, more “in tune” with the Buddha’s inclinations etc. Let us all focus on our own practice instead 🙂

      After all, our views on this emotive matter seem to say more about our expectations and projections than we might be aware of. 😉

      with metta.

  23. If someone says “oh the siladharas have the same practice as the monks” or “it’s all the same” then why does Amaravati ordain bhikkhus? They can create a new order of 10 precept monks similarly to the nuns.
    This siladhara order should not gain any popularity since it isn’t what the Buddha established. Rather the Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni sangha should be encouraged. If the Buddha thought the optimal way to nibbana would be a 10 precept siladhara then he would not have established the vinaya and monastic training. Buddha taught everything that is necessary for nibbana.
    We should aim to continue the Buddha’s establishment of the monastic training.

    • Either they are siladharas or fully ordained nuns look the same to me.. both wear brown. I am quite ignorant about the rules that they have to keep. There are some places where there are only nuns dressed in white. There difference is stark, esp if the nuns do some menial work.

      Whatever our views now depend on our culture, our brought up and other experiences which created our perceptions.

      On the other hand, do we as laypersons give the nuns “status” and respect by the number of rules they keep, by their attainment/charisma or by their sincerity in attaining enlightenment?

      There are some who believe that women can’t attain enlightenment. What more, there are people who believe nobody (regardless of gender) can attain enlightment anymore in this day and age.

      Yes, we should aim to continue the Buddha’s establishment of the monastic training.

    • Dania :This siladhara order should not gain any popularity since it isn’t what the Buddha established. Rather the Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni sangha should be encouraged. If the Buddha thought the optimal way to nibbana would be a 10 precept siladhara then he would not have established the vinaya and monastic training.

      In this spirit of this enthusiastiasm for the Buddha Dhamma and true Sangha, i would like to ask my fellow members of the two assemblies (that is the assembly of laymen and the assembly of laywomen) who reside in the UK and Europe, when are you going to see about setting up a Bhikkuni Monastary over there? I’ve not got much spare cash, but send me the details (it’s got to be dinkum – that’s Aussie speak for ‘real’ ‘true’ ‘honest’) via this blog or some other reputable site and i’ll start you off with 20 Aussie dollars. 🙂

  24. Hi all

    With due respect, human rights, democracy,gender equality are all man-made politics and not the absolute reality. Problem is we are always running away from reality and in denial of the Truth.

    Realistically, (it is mentioned in the Sutta) that women are peculiarly afflicted with child-bearing, menstruation, to serve as a wife, a mother and homemaker. With this to start off, how could women be realistically equal?

    Imagine, if women were given same status, most women would scramble off from the households leaving their husbands, children and parents to join the monastic. What would the society be like, if all religions grant this unlimited freedom and liberty to women to have same status as a Pope, an Ulama or a Dalai Lama?

    In the Suttas, Buddha mentioned the role of women and the role of men. Don’t understand why we are mixing the two genders into one. How could oil and water be mixed? By nature, its properties are different and by nature it separates naturally. Likewise with genders, i guess. Buddha asked us to see things as they really ARE and not be deluded. What good are all these arguments over status when in reality we are by nature different. Can’t we just accept ourselves as we really are and who we are? Don’t get it (shaking head). What is all these fuss about? For what?

    • This is a fallacious line of argument imo. If there is not-self, we are defined by circumstances an conditions. They are subject to change.
      When they change, they produce different results. End of story, really. The difference is, how and why we “want” to change the conditions. Equality or liberty are good enough reasons in my book, but ofc others might prefer something different for different reasons.

      Assuming that roles and social interaction are cut in stone and should be unchanged seems also inconsistent with the notion that everything is impermanent. Why should gender roles be exempt from change?

    • Hi there,
      When the Buddha asked us to see thing as they really are, he meant Anicca, dukkha and Anatta. This 3 universal fact affect all sentient beings, men and women alike. In reality, the Buddha also said that human body are made of 32 parts, and men only different from women one materiality: the bhavarupa (gender materiality), and this bhavarupa does not indicate any inferior of superior quality. It is true that women have a different role, but that different roles do not affect their commitment into Dhamma practice, for the Buddha had stated that in the spiritual real, they are equal.
      “Realistically, (it is mentioned in the Sutta) that women are peculiarly afflicted with child-bearing, menstruation, to serve as a wife, a mother and homemaker. With this to start off, how could women be realistically equal?” this is a very good point for men to abuse women, and this happen again and again in many countries, especially in SEA, where many men belief that they have the right to treat his wife and children as slaves.
      The fallacy in the way many people interpret Buddha’s teachings is a vary dangerous thing.
      “Imagine, if women were given same status, most women would scramble off from the households leaving their husbands, children and parents to join the monastic. What would the society be like,” In the past, the Buddha was accused of ‘breaking family’ by allowing men and women alike to lead the homeless life. Now someone here is regretting for that, and thinking that is is absolutely right to keep women in-house…
      If men and women can not be equal by nature (here ‘nature’ meant gender), how can in other field, like economic and politic, women can get to president status? And monks who teach that women and men can’t be equal, but themselves also have to stand up when a woman of high status come in (i myself witness this in some of social events).
      In many suttas, the Buddha said that human quality and status are determined by their actions, not by birth. Have you heard about many of Arahant Bhikkhunis in the past? And they got an equal praise from the Buddha in different fields of achievement on the spiritual path. To name a few, Ven. Khema, stood in similar role with Ven Sariputta in wisdom; Ven Uppalavanna was compatible with ven Moggalana in psychic power; Ven Dhammadinna with Ven. Mahakacchayana in preaching Dhamma,…

    • Dear Ayya

      You have your points but you have missed out one crucial point i.e our “Creator God” – “Lord Kamma.

      Kamma-Vipaka shaped us as well as our genders. Why were we born as different genders? Our Lord Kamma knew them all. Ask our LOrd Kamma.

      Not being disrespectly but it is the Truth expounded by our Enlightened Lord Buddha and His core Teachings (for those who buy it).

    • Hi Bu,
      Kamma is one’s choice (cetana)to be this or that. And that choice is somewhat conditioned by the individual inclination in a period of time. For certain purpose, one makes a choice to be this or that. Being born as a woman is not ‘a bad kamma’ as many Buddhist belief it to be. It is the person’s ability determine his/her worth, not the gender. All sentient beings are equal in Buddha’eyes, they are equal as regard to the Four Noble Truths and equal as the subjects of the Four Brahmavihara in which the noble ones abide.

    • Since when did Kamma become a Lord? How come Kamma ain’t a Lady? Just kidding 🙂

      Kamma is anatta too i guess…

      It’s what you do… You made kamma in writing on this blog and so have i…

      What were our intentions? Were they pure?

      Were they harsh or pleasing to the ear? Were they correct and true? Were they spoken with the intention of causing the growth of truth and healing? What kind of Lord have you created for yourself? According to the Dhamma this is the only thing i own, my kamma, but i can’t even control this…who is to say what made me female…maybe it’s cos i like how the female body is. maybe it’s cos i like the idea of being nurturing. maybe it’s cos i have strong maternal leanings. maybe it’s cos i was a nun in life after life and so for me holiness equates with the feminine.

      its not so simple as you make out. only the Buddha could say why i’m female. only he could say what good kamma made me female and what bad kamma made me female. so i reckon i’ll just try and offer the same compassion that He encouraged to you and to me, regardless of whether you or i are male or female.

      cheers. 🙂

    • what about those women who don’t marry? are they stuck in serving as wives?

      what about those women whose menstrual cycles cause them very minimal problems? It seems they suffer LESS than a man born with say…muscular dystrophy.

      just cos we can do something…ie…give birth…doesn’t mean we have to…that is ONE of he freedoms allowed to us by taking on board the Buddha’s teaching…He gave us choices. He took husbands away from wives and wives away from husbands in creating his Sangha.

      Those who see this issue as an issue about STATUS…perhaps you need to be reborn as a woman who cannot gain entry into the full holy life to understand that it is not an issue about STATUS.

    • “Realistically, (it is mentioned in the Sutta) that women are peculiarly afflicted with child-bearing, menstruation, to serve as a wife, a mother and homemaker. With this to start off, how could women be realistically equal?”

      And many men are afflicted with testosterone poisoning. Many also serve as a husband, father and breadwinner and do not regard it as an affliction, in the same way that many women do not regard being a wife, mother or homemaker as an affliction. What’s your point?

    • Hmmmm…Yoh, you have just completely negated my friends’ husband chosen vocation in life ……to stay home and look after their baby while she goes to work and has a career. The point is people can make choices in life!
      Also, there are many women who choose to not have children. They can still have a very rewarding life and contribute greatly to society.
      Please do not use religion to limit or condition other people, this is not correct use of the Dhamma.

  25. Dhamma friends,

    Ajahn Brahmali gave a wonderful Friday night talk that very skillfully lead up to the issue of bhikkhuni ordination, which some may find appropriate and helpful:

    “From Original to Traditional”

    [audio src="http://media.bswa.org/mp3/Brahmali_2010_04_02.mp3" /]

    It does seem that the talk was not recorded properly and perhaps a few minutes were cut off at the end.


  26. Again Bhante,
    Thankyou for your careful and couragous speaking out about this.
    It is only with people like you, engaged in Buddhism, that will keep us ultimately having heart in the potential of the path.
    “It is painfully obvious that any spiritual tradition that cannot deal with women on a fair and equal basis has no future.”

    Sincerely and with ongoing respect,

  27. Jason Chan :Having said that, I personally have not met any practitioners who meet the criteria set out in MN 108. My current hope is that such practitioners do exist, but are not famous (because they are not interested or even feel revulsion to it) and I need to go to the effort of finding such Noble Ones.
    Time to invest in some good jungle hiking boots!

    Ahh Jason, but can you be sure that ayasma Sujato does not levitate in his kuti, away from prying eyes?

    If abhinnas not included, a Stream Winner will do. _/\_

    Now, where is an Ariyometer when you need one?

    • Sylvester, Singapore has lots of advance hi-tech things. Please be more diligent in your search for ‘Ariyometer’ as I would like to you to bring one with you to Chiang Rai so that we can use it to ‘measure’ some monks in Thailand! (For instance, monks who are participating in economically distruptive rallies and abusing government officers, but so far have recieved no reprimand from Mahathera Samakhom of the Thai Supreme Council of Sangha!)

      BTW, I’ve already paid for my June retreat and booked my flights. See you there.

    • Hee, hee. Methinks I’ll have better luck finding an Ariyometer in Mahboonkrong than in S’pore’s malls.

      Glad to hear your confirmation of your place in Chiang Rai! Your timely reminder helped me buy my travel insurance.

    • Mostly because he himself has said in public on a number of different occasions that he does not have any.

      Well … at the very least I am confident that he has a preternatural ability to spot missing diacriticals – be warned 😉


  28. The official statement from the English Sangha (“Where We Are Now”), released on 19 November 2009, clearly and unequivocally states their position on bhikkhuni ordination and the five points for siladharas. Approximately three-quarters of the way down the web page, the following sentence appears:

    “The intention in putting these [five] points in writing rather than leaving them vague and presumed was mainly so that in future people who wish to request the training are able to make a fully-informed choice. To this end they would be included as part of the preparation for male and female candidates for ordination – so they would not be unfairly surprised somewhere down the road, and can choose a different tradition if they wish. We understand and respect the feelings of anyone who may not find this system of practice helpful. For now, this is what we feel we can offer.”

    My understanding was that these five points were permanent martial law, so to speak, in UK monasteries. Therefore I was surprised to read that others were surprised when Ajahn Sumedho read them out at the end of the March 28th ordination. However, being offline through the month of March, it is possible that I’ve missed something important. I hope and pray that this is the case. Can anyone confirm if there have been any recent formal or informal changes to the official position on the five points?

    With thanks and metta,

    • This is a good point, Brenda.

      While we can give reasons why we believe the Five Points, its creators and adherents are not being consistent with Dhammavinaya, we should also respect the fact that since the Five Points were introduced officially into the public arena, candidates have been given opportunity enough to make fully informed decisions as to their future. Some have stayed, some have left. They’re mature adults. That’s their prerogative.

      Here’s a few comparisons to chew over.

      People join the military in full knowledge that their personal freedoms will be impinged upon, and even cut off in certain situations. The reasons why there are boundaries between military and civilian law are complex, historical and not necessarily sensible, and the cases when what occurs to soldiers in training is repugnant to our common sense of dignity are as fraught with ambiguity as they are common.

      Or think of Vets (animal doctors not veterans). When a young, fresh-faced university student attends her first lectures at the Sydney University School of Veterinary Science, she is told upfront that she has chosen a profession that significantly increases her chances of falling into depression, succumbing to substance abuse, and/or committing suicide (vet science, dentistry and law are notorious professions in this regard). We don’t protest against this as a human rights violation because, well, that’s life, you know: when we make choices, there are always trade-offs.

      Japanese high schools and corporate environments are rife with emotional bullying (at least this was acknowledge by the Japanese as a huge problem when I was living there a decade ago). Yet most Japanese people I know, who would never deny this, are also very much in love with their home country. Indeed, despite its many faults, I’m partial to Australia and its way of life. Few people, even after living abroad for years or even decades, do not call the country they grew up in home.

      If a person can make a fully informed before they enter an environment as to how they will be treated, s/he knows that his/her personal freedoms will be limited, decides to enter such an environment for very specific reasons connected to a training they want to undergo, and has the option to leave at will, then I think it’s not easy to make out a case based on human rights standards. In this sense, soldiers have it much tougher than monastics because in the former case, extraction can be denied. I think we need to be somewhat more circumspect in decrying the Amaravati Groups breaches of human rights standards by way of insistence upon the Five Points. If such a case were to be brought before an appropriate forum, the outcome would be uncertain.

      Of course, we can and ought to still point out shortfalls in terms of Dhammavinaya. As followers of the Buddha (lay or monastic), that’s one of our duties.

      And yet, the Dhammavinaya sets an incredibly high standard as to individual and social ethics. My sense is that each practitioner or group of practitioners is conditioned to be more highly sensitised to some kinds of breaches over others. My experience has been that every monastery I’ve visited falls way short of the Dhammavinaya in some respect. Ironically, this is a price of getting to know the Suttas well. Once our expectations are set according to the heady heights we read about in the Suttas, the human beings practicing the teachings, no matter how sincere, appear sorely lacking.

      If we want to uphold the Buddha’s teaching, we must be as willing to take on criticism as we are wanting to dish it out. That’s a real art. I’m still working on it.


    • Oops. Typo. In the seventh paragraph above:

      “If a person can make a fully informed before they enter an environment as to how they will be treated … ”

      should read as

      “If a person is fully informed before they enter an environment as to how they will be treated… “.


    • Sadhu, sadhu sadhu to Jason (and Brenda) for summing up what some of us have been trying to get to on this one point. Siladhara ordination and five points was no surprise to anyone who was there. Perhaps someone wants to create more problems by suggesting othersie – I don’t know. Please lets stop writing bad things about Luang Por Sumedho now. When you meet him you will see he is a lovely wise person, great dhamma teacher and kind monk. Maybe old fashioned to young westerners point of view – but we are all having to adapt slowly to new things all the time. Lets go slowly and not be rude about anyone. Anyhow. I’m very grateful to kind and courageous Bhante Sujato for this wonderful blog so that we can speak our mind and clear the air on these things. Metta to Bhikkhunis, may they flourish, metta to Ajahn Brahm, may he flourish. Metta to Bhante Sujato and Ang. Jason, may you flourish. Metta to all wonderful bloggers here, may your dhamma practice flourish too.

    • Sadhu! Thank you Anagarika Jason, for skilfully and eloquently pointing out that the psychology of the situation is exceptionally complex and finely nuanced. Entering and leaving relationships, especially spiritual relationships involving a teacher-student or master-pupil dynamic, is much more convoluted than just deciding to come or go, and many factors (perhaps including issues around boundary ambiguity) are surely involved.

      While aspirants who today choose to ordain as siladharas are making an informed choice, those who ordained prior to the creation of the Five Points did not have the same opportunity. The Five Points were presented to them under extreme duress, and coercion was illegally applied. In the UK, both of these factors are a recognized legal defence to any act such as a “crime, breach of contract, or tort”, all of which create liability and therefore do not rule out a legitimate complaint based on a violation of human rights standards.

      And just to be clear, I have an opinion on the matter of the Five Points, and that is that they are – at minimum – five kinds of ditthi.

      As Dania mentioned, the reality of the current situation is that full ordination (bhikkhuni ordination) is available to all women wishing to ordain in the Theravada tradition. Fortunately, the reality is also that no matter which path an aspirant chooses, there are many welcoming, loving and supportive bhikkhunis, bhikkhus and lay people eager to assist them.

      I echo Florentyna’s praise of Bhante Sujato. His public support of bhikkhunis and the fourfold sangha – and making this open forum available – changes…. well, everything.

      With gratitude for everyone’s contributions to these many excellent dialogues and with metta to all suffering beings,

  29. Hi all,

    What i don’t get it, is.. why we still cannot move on?
    Why are we still stuck in this crossroads?

    With due respect, why can’t we be more like the Christians? Christians move on with their own differences and different traditions or denominations and each exists harmoniously with their own faithful disciples/worshipers (it is the disciples’ choice and preference). If those of us who are in favour of “reform” in Buddhism and believe that without such reform, Buddhism would be “dead” or will not flourish/survive, then just do it – reform, like those Christians who are called Reformist or Born Again Christians etc.

    However, we must not impose our reform on those who do not wish to reform as in Catholics whose Priests/Father must be in celibacy whereas the other denominations are exempted who can be householders and earn a salary by being a Pastor or Minister.

    So far, we go back and forth, back and forth on this controversial issue but we have not heard those who wanted “reform” what their agendas are? No one had the right to stop others from reforming.This is a democratic world.

    It is our choice, and it is our individual’s choice to choose what tradition or denomination we want to follow/adopt. Life is full of choices and not imprisoned ourselves by being rigid i.e “i am right and you are wrong” kind of culture. Just do what is right for you and do not disturb others choice or preference or condemn each other.There are already so many types of Buddism or tradition existed nowadays in our modern world ie. Mahayana, Zen etc. So far, those who wanted to reform Buddhism stayed silence while we are the ones making noise and causing misery and ill-will with one another. Just open up the cards and not be discreet and elusive. Be open and honest about what you want to reform.

    No one had the right to blame anyone for wanting to reform but do not push one’s reform on others who do not wish to reform or be reborn again, so to speak (sorry, this is my personal gullible opinion).

    Everyone is entitled to our rights and our choices since the reformists advocates so much on human rights,gender’s rights etc. Be Peaceful.

    • Hi Yoh and all,

      Absolutely. We certainly cannot impose reform on others. Indeed, the corporate governance structure of the Vinaya is local. Each and every Sima is empowered to conscientiously and reasonably govern itself in accordance with Dhamma and Vinaya.

      There may be differing interpretations of Dhamma and Vinaya, but I no longer believe the interpretations of the same that have led some Buddhists to oppose Bhikkhuni ordination to be outside the bounds of reason or conscience.

      There is a real and very important value in discussing and debating views on issues, but at a certain point it must be conceded that that value has been exhausted. Why is this? Because views and opinions (here defined at mental conceptions not based on direct and undeluded knowledge) can only give us clues as to where we ought to take our practice. In order to move beyond this small world of views and opinions, direct and undeluded knowledge must be established, and that can only be done by each person individually by practising the Eightfold Noble Path. Or in relation to the question of whether social structures are viable and conducive to deep practice (a kind of knowledge that arahants – or even Buddhas – do not necessarily have) then it is a case of ‘try and see what happens’. In neither case is lauding ourselves and criticising others helpful.

      For me, just as pressing as whether a genuine bhikkhuni Sangha will survive is whether a genuine bhikkhu Sangha, or assembly of laymen or laywomen practitioners will survive. And, I think this concern has been common for all diligent disciples of the Buddha ever since he passed.

      Let this not become a motive for us to dispute. Rather let our common love for the Triple Gem be a reason to wish each other well if, after rigorous and in depth discussion we still conscientiously and reasonably arrive at divergent interpretations of Dhammavinaya. After all, whatever I happen to think, I could be wrong and going the wrong way. Therefore, being on good terms with fellow travelers who have taken another route is of great benefit.

      Whatever the outcome, whether it be one side is right, the other is right, both are right, both are wrong, or neither are right nor wrong (he he he) — and in relation to bhikkhunis none of us really know (and many many many other things!) — let us be like a well fired family, who will stick by each other through thick and thin no matter our differences.

      Surely in this way the Sasana will see growth and not decline.


    • And finally, here’s a link to the classic old woman / young woman gestalt picture.

      I’ve seen this many times in the past and recall being able to see both gestalts. However, today, try as I might, all I can see is the old woman. Can anyone give me some pointers?

      The untrained mind … who would pay money for such an unwieldy thing?!


    • Cover the lower half of the picture, from the old woman’s mouth and below, and then focus on the fact that floating line is not a nose, but a delicate jawbone.

    • Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu again Ang. Jason. Beautiful words from you and wise. The Buddha said… ‘All states of being are determined by mind. It is mind that leads the way. Just as the wheel of the oxcart follows the hoof print of the animal that draws it, so suffering will surely follow when we speak or act impulsively from an impure state of mind’. Lovely bloggers, We have more in common than separates us. We are all human and we are all afflicted by suffering. Whether we are men or women or western or asian. Buddhists are family, we can discuss our differences of opinion, listen to each other, but we can’t allow anger or hate to arise or to be manipulated by others who may wish to arouse bad feeling for whateer reason. This is not Buddhist, we must see through mental states and how they create kamma. The Buddha showed us the way out of our suffering – I have plenty of work to do. Thank you dear bloggers for all your very good points. Metta to all.

    • Hi Yoh

      Correct me if i am wrong. I thought Ajahn Brahm and his disciples monks/nuns have gone ahead with their own reforms.

      He has “reformed” the Buddha’s 4 Noble Truth to his own version of Happiness, he has reformed “Silence is not Right Speech”, he has reformed the Forest Theravada Tradition to recruit female monks, he has reformed the heirachy structure,he has reformed the universal pilial piety to the Australia culture as in his dhamma talks and many others that are too long to mentioned here. Are those not reforms?

      Now, we have one more tradition on the list – the Reformed Tradition or Bodhiyana Tradition.Buddhism has surely diversified according to the different cultures. We have earlier the Eastern cultures and now with Buddhism spread to the West, we now have the Western cultures.

      Anyway, the Buddha’s Teachings or the Truth are devoid of cultures. What’s in a name.

      Until and unless we are liberated, we are all still subject to the same sufferings and with one vehicle ie. the 5 khandas that are subject to sufferings, constant change and to be recycled in Samsara regardless of culture,tradition, creed,color,beliefs,views, jokes or no jokes etc.

  30. Gosh Bhante… what has the Amaravati community come to? soon we could see it registered on cult awareness websites? I am n an expert myself but perhaps there is something in British law similar to our anti discrimination act that would cover what is happening there…

  31. Dear all

    My apologies if what i post has already been posted or touched on..

    I haven’t fully read everything on this thread…just scanned it. I’ve just come from a 9 day retreat and am finding it a kindness to myself at the moment to not fully read and absorb all the words!!! Though i relished the thread on Buddhist jokes…heh, heh… 🙂

    During one of the evening question and answer sessions on this retreat that i was just on, a Thai (i think) woman retreatant said she’d just come from England. On a retreat there, Ajahn Sumedho had said that Ajahn Brahm is a virtuous, intelligent monk. Ajahn Brahm, upon being told this, softly, gently, spontaneously (I was there, i saw it and i heard it) said “and so is he”. He paused for just a moment or so and said “he is a very kind monk”.

    Dheerayupa, thanks for reminding us about the 998 good bricks. Whatever happens, we can always do what is right, which for me is supporting Bhikkus, Bhikkunis, samaneris and samaneras as well as cultivating the habit of focusing on the 998 good bricks even though I have just been made aware of the two bad bricks…out of kindness to myself.

    Peace and Metta to you all.

    • Thank you, Kanchana, for relating a very inspiring incident to us. Please tell us more about the retreat, or if you don’t mind sending me a message on Facebook: Mushy Mushroom. I will greatly appreciate it.

      I nearly forgot that Perth had a 9-day retreat in April. I could not get a seat on Perth’s retreat for the second time. I hope I will be lucky in November…

      Ajahn Brahm always praised Ajhan Sumedho and Ajahn Liam. During the retreat last June when asked about how I could repay Ajahn Liam’s kindness, he said that the best way to repay the teacher was to be good.

      That is what I’ve been trying to do: following Ajahn Brahm’s emphasis on being non-judgemental, being forgiving, being kind to all beings’ two bad bricks and focusing on the 998 good bricks.

      Following Ajahn Brahm’s teachings have helped my mental health immensely and I am forever grateful to him.

      With metta,


    • Dear Dheerayupa

      Is there anything in particular you would like to know about the retreats?

      Sorry I’m not actually on Facebook and while it looks like a really wonderful tool, i don’t think i will be likely to join up. 🙂


    • Thank you, Khun Kanchana, for popping out of your bliss to share!

      Well, it’s lovely to hear of that olive branch being extended by both Ajahns. May we disciples be just as swift in correcting our tendencies towards being ujjhānasaññikā lay-people.

  32. Dear Bhante Sujato,

    You said:

    ‘ When a siladhara put her name to the bhikkhuni petition, she found later that monks had placed the petition on her door, with her name circled in red. This is bullying and intimidation, and yet there was no disciplinary action taken against the perpetrators. ‘

    It hurts very deeply to read this. But this is further evidence isn’t it Bhante, that the Buddha was quite correct indeed in that First Noble Truth. It hurts like hell.



    you also said:

    ‘The tragedy in all this is that is calls into question the very idea of a Western Sangha’

    Not for me it doesn’t.

    Because i just came from a retreat where in front of me, in the Meditation Hall, sat the Bhikkus, Bhikkunis, Sameneras and even one Samaneri. It was a rare and utterly beautiful sight. I am tear-ring up at the memory.

    And we, 60 odd of us, the two assemblies of lay men and lay women, sat there in front of them. We were all there together, culitivating my beautiful teacher Ajahn Brahm’s skillful teaching of doing nothing. An echo of Ajahn Chah’s teaching of sitting under the mango tree, waiting for the fruit to fall. An echo of the Lord Buddha’s Third Noble truth; that cessation ocurrs. Oh so beautiful.

    And there i was, ordinary me, an element of this beautiful four-fold assembly. I am crying again with emotion as i write this. I must have done something very very good to deserve to see this; to see how the beautiful beautiful beautiful Buddha wanted us to be.

    There’s no need to worry about the Western Sangha. It’s going to work. And it’s going to work from here, from good old Australia… I feel a bit patriotic which is HIGHLY unusual for me…but i think you and Ajahn Brahm and everyone that participated in the ordinations, didn’t just ‘Advance Australia Fair’ (as the national anthem states) you Advanced the Fair and Noble Buddha-Sasana for the benefit of all.

    Looking at both sangha and lay retreatants, you could see the retreat was multi-cultural, multi-age, multi-gendered -ALL THE TWO GENDERS WERE IN ATTENDANCE … little joke there… After this multi (there was lots of everything…food, blankets, cushions [i like cushions], silence, kindness and nothing doing-ness) retreat, i saw an Australian man…say about 30 years of age, hands in anjali, eagerly introducing his daughter to the Bhikkunis. Perhaps this image is symbolic of things to come.

    Much Love.

    • way to go Kanchana! It brought a watery eye and big smile reading your remark. Yes it’s beautiful isn’t it! the sangha is developing for the better and the Dhamma is so strong! it’s easier to look at the mess ups but that occurred even in Buddha’s time. Just to add that even when they took their food during the dana it was in order of seniority no matter what gender they were! :):) but hey, like they do at Santi as well:) so big thumbs up to Buddhism in Australia! :):) for those interested, i think the 9 day retreat talks will be on the dhammaloka.org website soon so keep your eyes posted in the next few weeks 🙂

    • Thank-you for this, Kanchana. A beautiful reminder to be grateful for the Dhamma and the precious opportunity and great good fortune we have to practice in this life.

      Much metta to you, and to all.

  33. On that note, I have just received 5 copies of Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies, by Bhikkhu Sujato. It is bliss on paper and I am wondering what to do with the 4 other copies.

    Bhante, can a monk refuse to receive a book?

    I know that they can quickly spirit it out of plain sight. Because that is what happened to the Bhikkhuni Congress papers in 2007.

    BUT, that does not mean they can’t read it…or?

  34. I think it is a very wise move that the vinaya in essence prohibits monastics from revealing their degree of attainment to lay people, even though it does keep us guessing 😉 Otherwise it will just open the door to all sorts of exploitative, cult-like behaviour and organisations.

    And thank you – Jason it was, I think? For highlighting the sutta that reminds us of the characteristics of those we should highly respect. Good thing, we are all asked to follow the dhamma, not names 🙂

    • It is more than just “in essence” that the Vinaya prohibits “monastics from revealing their degree of attainment to lay people.”

      As Ven. Brahmavamso puts it:

      Boasting that one has realised a high spiritual attainment, knowing that one is lying. For example, claiming to be enlightened, to be Maitreya Buddha, to have entered Jhana (deep meditation-ecstasy) or that one can read minds when one knows that one hasn’t reached any of these states.

      Should any monk or nun do any of these then you may know them as no longer holding the status of Buddhist monk or nun. They must disrobe. Should they attempt to hide their transgression and not disrobe then it is said that the bad karma produced is extreme indeed!

    • Doesn’t sound like it stops monastics revealing their degree of attainment, just lying about it. Ajahn Brahm has not been backward in coming forward about his jhanic attainments.

    • Nowhere does it say he attained jhana. He just explained the jhana states found in the suttas. And there is no rule preventing a monk from explaining about jhanas or anything else in the suttas. So far it’s been a great gift to receive such gift of dhamma. It makes you understand why the Buddha said the dhamma is the highest gift.

    • I didn’t say it wasn’t a great gift – it is. But, as I understand it, Ajahn Brahm is speaking from his own experience of the practice – he famously says that jhana’s are better than sex for instance. Nothing wrong with teaching from his own experience – in fact it’s far better than someone just repeating someone else’s words that they may or may not understand.

    • I think Ajahn Brahm provides a role model, an example for us to emulate. He sets the benchmark high so we have a marker to strive towards. By explaining the higher states to us in a frank, open and honest way we can understand the path ahead. We now know how to navigate that territory. He inspires me to become a better person and to strengthen my meditation practise. If he does that for many people, then the world is much better place! 🙂

    • Anne said:

      “He inspires me to become a better person and to strengthen my meditation practise. If he does that for many people, then the world is much better place!”

      He has also inspired me to practice ‘dhamma’. I believe there are many more people whose lives have been transformed for better by Ajahn Brahm…

    • For the record, I’ve just got AB’s great book, “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond” and the first sentence of the blurb on the back says “Self-described ‘meditation junkie’ Ajahn Brahm here shares his knowledge and EXPERIENCE of the jhanas …” (my emphasis in capitals).

    • “Self-described ‘meditation junkie’ Ajahn Brahm here shares HIS knowledge and EXPERIENCE of the jhanas …”

      Perhaps we have missed the word HIS. This is not something that Ajahn Brahm wrote or said. It is an opinion coming from another person. Some think he experienced jhana, while others doesn’t think so. But that is not the same as he himself claiming that he entered such and such jhana. Like I said, I haven’t heard or read of Ajahn Brahm himself stating that he entered jhana.

    • We must assume that he takes responsibility for what is published in his name and has approved the copy (although if recent events to do with his website are an example, maybe not).

      Anyway, really, what is the problem with saying he’s experienced jhana if he has? It makes him a better teacher, and it’s not even really a big deal, it’s just a matter of practice.

      It would be very odd to go to, say, a driving school to choose a driving instructor, but none of the instructors were allowed to tell you if they could drive or not.

    • “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond” halfway down page 46: “With regard to teachers, they are often like coaches of sports teams. Their job is to teach from their own experience …”.

      So there we have it. You don’t have to read more than a few pages of the book to see that AB knows what he’s talking about and is indeed teaching from his own experience, and I still don’t see what the problem is with that. I think it’s great. This is the only meditation book that I have ever kept out off the shelf in order to refer to.

    • Actually, reading it again, I think you make my point for me. It is HIS knowledge and HIS experience – not second hand reports of someone else’s experience. Again, what’s the problem as long as he’s not lying, which I don’t think he is?

    • Here we just have some people sharing their opinions/ description of the book and the author. Some of the writer’s name are also shown below their opinion and descriptions. Should we dictate what they should write , or the opinion that they can or cannot share ? Again, we need to make a distinction between what Ajahn Brahm claims about his attainment and others opinion/ description of him/ his book. It is not the same as Ajahn Brahm claiming his level of attainment.

      I believe it might just mean more complication for a monk to claim his level of attainment. Besides, the Buddha also doesn’t recommend it.

    • The text that I we are referring to is not a quote from somebody else, it is the advertising blurb for the book and we must assume that Ajahn Brahm approved it.

      Again, what is the problem with a jhana teacher saying “I can do jhana’s”? Why is it any different from a yoga teacher saying they can do yoga, a piano teacher saying they can play the piano, or a driving instructor saying they can drive? What’s the big problem?

      Are you suggesting that Ajahn Brahm doesn’t know what he’s writing about? The book certainly doesn’t read that way.

    • Why not take a look at the related story and see exactly what it’s all about.

      A wealthy merchant put a sandalwood bowl on the top of a long bamboo pole and declared that any monk who could rise into the air and remove the bowl could have it. Pindola rose into the air and brought the bowl down. After that, everywhere Pindola went, crowds of noisy, excited people followed him. As a result of this incident, the Buddha made a rule making it an offence for monks to unnecessarily display their psychic power. On another occasion, some thieves attacked a house and kidnapped two children. When the monk Pilindavaccha heard of this, he used his psychic powers to bring the children back. When the other monks accused him of breaking the rule, the Buddha declared him innocent of any offence because he had used his powers out of compassion.


      I guess this rule has more to do with the demonstration of psychic power.

      If a person claims that he/she attained such and such state knowing fully that he/she haven’t then it is a serious offence. I am not sure about extending the rule to also include someone else saying something about that person that is true ( here the word ‘true’ is only my personal opinion).

    • David Conway,

      I suggest not arguing the issue, although you can if you want to. I tried to make much the same argument with Ajahn Brahm himself, rarely, for Ajahn Brahm, he was uncompromising and would not budge. While he does make it perfectly clear he has attained Jhanas and he does not try to conceal this, he also makes it perfectly clear that he will not make any such claim (at least to lay people).

      The paccitiya rule Pc 8 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/bmc1/bmc1.ch08-1.html#Pc8, is educational. Particularly the story with the conduct of Mahā Moggallāna and the Buddha, in showing concern for those who would not believe (who would believe a false and vain boast is being made – which is not only a distinct possibility, but a likelihood, as the conduct of the Monks shows, they ASSUMED a false claim was being made and had to be told otherwise by the Buddha…).

      From personal experience faith does not arise from claims and boasts – or at least, a useful kind of faith does not arise… The useful kind of faith arises more from seeing a persons quiet self-assurance and self-confidence.

    • Hi Blake

      I’m not trying to argue anything.

      It’s obvious from AB’s book that he’s teaching from his own experience and I can’t see what the problem is with that.

      That vinaya rule that you posted a link to is just plain stupid in this day and age.

      Firstly, if AB “does make it perfectly clear he has attained Jhanas”, as you say, then he’s breached the rule.

      Secondly, the Buddha was quite open about his attainments and those of some of his disciples, so why should it be different for anyone else? And if there is nobody with any attainments to talk about, shouldn’t we know that too?

      Thirdly, if no monastic is allowed to admit to any attainments, then we have the same situation as the Christian Church where the priesthood teaches about God but when you ask around, it turns out that nobody’s has ever met It/Her/Him so the whole religion is just the blind repetition of stories heard from other people. Similarly, without actually being able to check out an actual arahant, the alleged goal of Buddhism is reduced to blind belief in second hand stories. On the way there are great benefits from sila and meditation, but that’s not what is under discussion here.

      I understand the reason for the rule – to stop gullible laypeople being exploited by parasites in Buddhist robes. But laypeople are mostly really not that stupid and if they are (which some are) and they’re looking for a guru to follow, they will find one. Far better to have someone with wisdom and attainments for a guru than someone without who may actually damage them.

      Fourthly, if some arahant would for once be honest and own up, the rest of us could actually check the veracity of the suttas. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?



    • Oh, and PS.

      There is a big difference between a claim and a boast. One is honest and one isn’t.

      Faith and confidence does indeed arise “from seeing a person’s quiet self-assurance and self-confidence”. But almost none of the people that I know with those qualities are monastics. In my experience most (not all) monastics hide behind the ritualised forms of relating which form around their monastic state. There are other more important qualities than those two, such as wisdom, insight and compassion. And there are many quietly self-assured and self-confident people who are also deluded and malicious.

    • Dear David,

      David wrote : ” So, imeditation, are you saying that Ajahn Brahm doesn’t know what he’s teaching?”

      That is not what I am trying to say. Anagarika Blake just showed a link to the exact rule relating to this topic we are discussing, that a monk cannot claim his attainments ” to a layperson. He also mentioned that Ajahn Brahm don’t plan on making such claim to laypeople.

      You might say that since he explains Jhana so clearly, he must have attained Jhana himself. It is quite obvious from his clear explanation that he had jhana.

      Do you prefer that he explains it in a way that is more obscure and abstract for people to struggle a little bit harder? Or would you prefer to not read about jhana from him at all? Maybe that would qualify as not breaking the rule of not ” claiming” attainment to laypeople according to your book . But from what I read in the Kevatta Sutta (DN 11), the Buddha said that there were 3 kinds of supernormal levels:

      1. The marvel of supernormal power to appear as many persons, to pass through walls, to fly through the air, walk on water. All these are physical actions the ordinary people cannot perform.

      2. The supernormal power to read other people’s minds.

      3. The supernormal power to be able to guide people according to their mental development, for their own good, using suitable methods that fit these people.
      The Buddha said “the miracle of instruction” (# 3 ) helps people to get rid of suffering. This is the only supernormal power that is fit to be practiced and is encouraged and praised by the Buddha.
      In regard to instruction about jhana, it is considered to be part of ” the miracle of instruction ” . For example :

      The Four Jhanas
      “Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman’s apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that his ball of bath powder — saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within and without — would nevertheless not drip; even so, the monk permeates… this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.

      “This, too, is called the miracle of instruction.” – DN 11

      As we can see, instruction about jhana is not prohibited by the Buddha. I don’t believe he limited the monks to only give unclear instruction about jhana to qualify as not “claiming” jhana to laypeople.

      David wrote :
      ” Secondly, the Buddha was quite open about his attainments and those of some of his disciples, so why should it be different for anyone else?….I understand the reason for the rule – to stop gullible laypeople being exploited by parasites in Buddhist robes. But laypeople are mostly really not that stupid and if they are (which some are) and they’re looking for a guru to follow, they will find one. Far better to have someone with wisdom and attainments for a guru than someone without who may actually damage them.”

      In ” Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond ” , AB wrote that :
      ” In the Sunakkhatta Sutta ( MN 105) , a layman asked the Buddha about the monks who , he heard , had claimed full enlightenment in the presence of the Buddha. He wanted to know whether or not all those monks were arahants. The Buddha replied that some of them were arahants; some were not. Thus, what someone claims about their own attainments as unreliable even in the time of the Buddha. ”
      ” When establishing the monastic precept, the Buddha had recognized how easy it was to overestimate one’s own attainments. So it is best to keep quiet about them, except to one’s teacher. As one nun said, ” If you become enlightened , don’t tell anyone, or else you’ll spend the rest of your life having to prove it!”.

    • I’ve never heard Ajahn Brahm speak in such a way that would qualify as a pacittiya under Pc 8. It is possible he might commit a dukkata for making an indirect claim.

      However a dukkata – particularly for a rule of this nature (a sort of action not blamed by the world and not against the 10 precepts) – is really nothing more than a warning to be careful and clear about ones intentions.

  35. Bhante Sujato, is the therigatha also in the agamas? I think you mentioned once a website that has the agamas and suttas? Can you share with us the website where we can check if certain suttas appear in the agamas as well? Was the therigatha recited in the first council?

    • Hi Dania,

      The best place for seeing Sutta correspondences for the four Nikayas/Agamas is suttacentral.net.

      We have the long term plan to include the Khuddaka Nikaya as well, but it’s not easy. As it is mostly verses, you’re dealing with very small, highly portable textual units, and establishing anything like a comprehensive verse concordance will take a lot of specialized work.

      The thera/theri gathas do not exist in the Agamas or other northern collections. Nevertheless, they are mentioned occasionally. It seems likely that they were an original part of the canon, but were lost from the Northern scriptures, or at least those that survive. No doubt there are many isolated verses or stories from there that are found in Northern sources, and perhaps we might recover more material some day. But for now, the Pali is the only substantial source for these particular early texts.


    • the agamas in suttacentral.net are in chinese! :s

      ‘google translate’ does a funny job in translating.
      For example, it translated an agama into: “to natural persons. He ordered it to break. Therefore in. When the school Mo killing.”
      and it gets funnier:)

      I remembered in sutta class you used that website…. but i don’t remember you reading it in Chinese, do you have a special source that translated the Chinese into English? 🙂

      If not, I’ll be contented with the Pali suttas for now, those will take a while to read 🙂

    • If it’s any comfort, Dania, most S’porean Chinese cannot even read the Chinese Agama sutras to save their lives.

      It’s written in Classical Chinese, which is very terse and unlike the vernacular. I’m told that many years of study are required before one can tackle Classical Chinese with any degree of competency.

    • I read a translation by Yang, Jwing-Ming of the two classical texts supposedly written by Bodhidharma for the Shaolin Temple, and was struck by the simplicity of Classical Chinese. It was almost akin to using language like a club, with nouns and verbs thudding into place while other parts of speech like conjunctions were simply not there.

    • Hee, hee. What’s a Taiji exponent doing, commenting on Shaolin kungfu?

      If that was a kungfu manual, most of us Chinese fed on a fodder of Louis Cha classics would be led to believe that the text is coding for something a great deal more complicated. I had that experience when my friends and myself attempted to decipher a (alleged) 13th century text on internal energy cultivation, written in Classical Chinese. That stands all the way up there at the same level as Chapter 12 of the Visudhimagga’s description of the development of the abhinnas. 🙂

    • hi Sylvester,

      This is not quite correct. The language of the Agamas is not the same as that of, say the Analects of Confucius or the Tao Te Ching, which are normally what is referred to as ‘classical Chinese’. If we were to compare with English, reading Confucius might be more like reading Beowulf, while reading the Agamas is more like reading Shakespeare.

      Translating the Buddhist texts required a whole new approach to the Chinese language, one which evolved over many centuries and which contributed greatly to the development of ‘modern’ Chinese. The Agama texts are awkward and difficult to read for someone who is only familiar with modern Chinese, but they’re by no means impossible. Most of the vocabulary is still relevant, although as always it’s necessary to get familiar with the Buddhist technical vocabulary. But the sutras are still chanted regularly in Chinese temples, such as the Heart Sutra, so there is some basic level of familiarity. A native Chinese speaker with a good reading ability and an interest in Buddhism can start reading the Agamas pretty much straight off, especially if they have a tool like Dr Eye to help with the unusual vocab.

    • Dear Bhante

      You’re absolutely correct. The Chinese used in the Agamas are certainly not the same Chinese used in the Analects or the Dao Dejing. But I think I’m correct in placing the Agama Chinese in the Classical Chinese category (wen yen wen 文言文) while the Dao Dejing would belong to a much earlier period of Chinese called Archaic Chinese.

      Some would argue, with good reason, that I’m comparing apples to oranges, since “Classical Chinese” is a category to describe grammatical/syntactic forms and meaning, whereas “Archaic Chinese” describes phonology. However, there are those who posit that “Archaic Chinese” cannot be used purely for phonological categorisation, due to the suspicions that “Archaic Chinese” may have been inflected, and that adds a grammatical dimension to that category. Plus, the syntax of Archaic Chinese did shift when it moved into the Middle Chinese period, which also coincides with Classical Chinese period. Even today, the syntactical differences are quite pronounced between the Southern dialects (which preserve many features of Middle Chinese) versus Mandarin.

      Surprise, surprise. It looks like the word “Buddha” first arrived in China, not via Sanskrit but possibly Kuchean or Tocharian. That was reconstructed from the Archaic Chinese phonemes for “Buddha” and compared against the Silk Road languages.

  36. Bhante Sujato, perhaps you already addressed this puzzle before but I am just reading therigatha and I came across Mahapajapati’s story. Is it the same in the agamas? that only after Ananda asking, did the Buddha accept, only if Pajapati accepts 8 points? Reading this seems very strange- does not at all inspire or give rise to faith and because it is so unlike other suttas I have read, I doubt the validity of it. Can you please clarify if this is also in the agamas. I suspect it could have been added because it’s unlike the Dhamma. Sorry if this was addressed before (there are so many blogs I cannot possibly read them all)

    • Hi Dania,

      Mahapajapati’s story is found widespread across the Vinayas, and occasionally in the Agamas. It seems likely that it was current in the community before the first schism, which I would date as being a generation or two after Asoka. It could have been inserted at any time prior to that.

      The story of her ordination request and so on is not found in the Therigatha. The volume you are using probably inserts the story as background, but it is not in the text itself.

      In text critical studies, the correspondence of a text across different recensions is only one of the criteria we use. Others include:

      • Coherence, both internal and external (i.e. is it consistent with comparable statements by the same persons?)
      • Redaction bias (does the text display a perspective that is influenced by one or other historical faction?)
      • Form (where does the language and style fit in the known evolution of texts?)

      And so on. While the Mahapajapati story passes the ‘correspondence test’, it fails most of these others. This is more than enough to conclude that the passage is a late interpolation.

      In text-critical studies, we start with the opposite assumption than is found in traditional faith-based approaches. Rather than assuming that all scriptures are authentic, and requiring strong evidence to disprove their authenticity, we make no assumptions as to antiquity, and require strong evidence to be convinced that a given passage is authentic. The presence of several counter-indications does not prove that a passage is late, but it means we have no reason to conclude that it is especially early.

    • thank you Bhante for your answers! Especially this one explaining about the critical analysis of text authenticity. Of course looking at the language and if it fits in with the rest of the Buddha’s teachings etc are important. Also we do not have to assume just because it is written in the books that it is authentic, thank you for the reminder 🙂 Thank you for the suttacentral link. Enjoy your new outer robe!

  37. Hi Bhante, sorry one more question 🙂 The translation I am reading is the only therigatha on amazon.com: by Susan Murcott. It’s quite good actually, arouses inspiration and motivation to renounce as well:) Anyways, on p 30 she writes that as Mahapajapati was about to die, after she had realized nibbana, she asked for her foster son, Buddha, to visit her and she writes that “the Buddha in effect changed the rule” (i.e. the first rule that senior venerable bhikkhunis are to bow to novies?” is that written in the suttas as well? That Buddha changed the rule?

    • Here is a way to read that page and the surrounding context.

      I contend that building a narrative which implicitly accepts the historicity of the garudhammas is flawed from the very beginning, and so in this respect asking if the Buddha changed the rule is to have a false premise in play. Remove the false premise, and the question does not arise.

    • I would agree completely. There is no real reason to treat the Mahapajapati legend as history, except for the brute fact that so many people believe it is history.

    • Hi Dania,

      No, this is just Murcott’s theory. The story of Mahapajapati’s death is not found in any early text. It first appears in the Theri-apadāna, which is a purely legendary text dating from several hundred years after the Buddha, although regarded as historical in the tradition.

    • Hi Kanchana,

      Did you hear the talk or see the written piece by Ajahn Chandako that this letter by Jill Rayna is a response to? If so, do you have a link for it you can share with us?


    • Hi Linda

      The link to the original letter should be somewhere on this very blog!

      I only posted Jill Rayna’s letter because it was a response by someone who was not involved in anyway with any of the parties. She was an outsider looking in and this is what she could see…I thought from that point of view her letter was important.


    • I think the links (including Bh Brahmali’s letter) are at the top of this thread under ‘possibly related posts’.

      It was interesting seeing what came up for me when i re-read this sort of thing, after all these months have passed. It was still very saddening to read it. So i advise caution. It is not an uplifting Hahayana sutta. Instead i am left with an impression of some misinformed good intentions and of perhaps some perceptions that have been cultivated (intentionally or unintentionally) that have led to harm of self and others, distorted perceptions taken as truth. These are some of the feelings and perceptions i was left with.

      My hope is that this good monk will open the door of his heart and his monastary to all of us no matter what we have ever done, even if we became a fully ordained nun. That he will show us what the Buddha meant by unconditional love, so that we can see what it looks like. I hope one day he will be caught in the act of giving Ajahn Brahm and Bh Sujato a big group hug (though that may break a minor rule or something). 🙂

      Wishing you well Linda 🙂

    • OMG Kenchana! you still cannot let go.You are attempting to re-ignite the old “flame”.It is unwholesome.

      This is a Sangha issue, let the Sangha deal with it without us lay devotees interfering and intruding. We have to be in the “family” to truly know and understand the “feud in the family”. We are only onlookers outside the family.

      Imo, we cannot just see and judge things from one aspect and one angle of it Just like a diamond has many cuts and angles and we have to view it from all angles to see its clarity and to appreciate it.

      Humbly appeal to all, that we leave this matter to rest and leave this internal Sangha matter in the good hands of the respective Sangha and not to aggravate the problem by interfering via criticisms etc.- Be peaceful.

    • Actually Yoh, the Sangha as the Buddha designed it, does include the lay members (both female and male), as well as the Sangha of Bhikkus and Bhikkunis 😉

      Kanchana is well justified in voicing her opinion… as are you. We are all part of this big family.
      I agree with you regarding your advice to view this issue from all angles…..which is exactly the purpose of this online dialogue. 🙂

    • Hi kanchana,

      Thanks for this, a good example of how dialogue should be pursued.

      I would just point out that Ajahn Chandako’s idea that Ajahn Brahm somehow insisted that the ordination would be at Bodhinyana against the wishes of the nuns – an idea that he has repeated several times, is false.

      The reality is that the ordination was organized to be at Bodhinyana by Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Vayama together. A day or two before the ordination, after everything was organized, some of the nuns suggested that maybe having the ordination at Dhammasara would be better. This idea was discussed between the nuns, Ajahn Brahmali and myself, as Ajahn Brahm was in Norway at the time. One of the reasons the nuns thought to move the ordination from the previously agreed location was that, after the threatening phone calls they had received from some monks overseas, they suspected that an attempt would be made to physically disrupt the ordination. Ajahn Brahmali and myself discussed this and other considerations on the matter, and no-one really had strong opinions, except that, of course, everything was already organized. But the consensus was to leave things as they were. We rang Ajahn Brahm, and he agreed with leaving things as they had been organized, as there were no really compelling reasons to change. There is no question of him ‘insisting’ on this against the will of the nuns.

  38. The goal, the focus of the holy life and dhamma practice is liberation – seeing through – realising – awakening – from delusion – suffering – self view – ideals – attachment – aspiration to become someone or something. It’s letting go of desire to become anything – anyone – beyond what we like or don’t like. Are we interested in the dhamma practice or in becoming something – changing everything to what we like -which is impossible and more suffering.

    • Dear Florentyna,

      You are quite right of course.

      At the moment i find that not taking my practise too seriously is enormously beneficial. So i know I’m going to pick things up with my delusion, have ill will pay me the odd unpleasant visit and indulge my greed with my home-made green lentil dip (among other things).

      But I’m finding it’s easier not to judge myself for this because it’s kind of out of my annatta-ish control. I just put the causes in; specifically the cause of being kind to whatever happens. And also the cause of just trusting that being present is more powerful than worrying. If i try and approach my life and others this way, i find that when it happens that i am overwhelmed by ill will, forgiveness and kindness to myself and others are re-established far more quickly. And I’ve found that as tough as it seems to let go of that habitual worrying, it is possible to do it; to be be present and responsive to the moment. That doesn’t mean i don’t make mistakes. But not taking things so seriously, it’s okay if i have and if i continue to do so.

      I’m sorry if anything i’ve said has offended you or anyone else. If it makes any difference, my intention was not to make things worse. Perhaps as Yoh suggests, it would have been better to have left things as they were.

      Much love.

  39. Hi Kanchana,I totally understand what you’re saying. Please don’t apologiese as I’m not at all offended. I know we all want the same thing. Its just that this argument, doesnt matter who said what – but which started with criticism of the Bhikkhuni ordination and then criticism of Ajahn Brahm and then criticism of Forest Sangha – then criticism of Thai Sangha – then criticism of Thailand as a society – then criticism of Westerners and critisism of Asians – then criticism of Amaravati and Chithurst and criticism of Ajahn Sumedho. I think I’ve seen through this bit of my mind – It likes to criticise. I want everything to be perfect – I expect everyone to be perfect – all conditions should be perfect – Everything should be equal – I want to be perfect – I don’t like this – I like that :o) Suffering. Back to dhamma practice. Its the best medicine. Much love to all beautiful blogger :o)

    • Dear Florentyna

      Thanks for that. 🙂

      The fault-finding mind…you are so correct about it!

      I reckon though it’s another one of those out of control things that one can only put the causes in for. I think other wise i’ll end up finding fault with finding fault!!

      I love that you said ‘back to dhamma practice’ cos that’s a strong and wholesome pull. Isn’t it? But i guess part of dhamma practise for some people is looking out for the welfare of the sasana. I guess Bh Sujato is doing it in his way, which might be different to how Ajahn Chah or Ajahn Sumedho did it. Perhaps in a very refined and beautiful way that is the difference between a Buddha and a Paccekabuddha? Just pure speculation.

      Sometimes it’s good to be able to criticise and take criticism. If you know you’re still loved afterwards; it’s usually a helpful relationship.

      I’m sad to know about the website blocking going on though. It’s very disturbing and if i was in the uk i would be asking some questions about it. It just doesn’t sound healthy regardless of whether you support them or you don’t support them.

      Although i can understand on some level why they’ve done it. They are offering a particular path with particular views to be cultivated within that; anything that contradicts that is going to upset the structures they’ve set up.

      Which begs the question, are their structures so weak that a small incursion by a simple blog and a few talks will wreck it? If that is so, perhaps it is not then based on genuine Dhamma which is far more solid and resistant to threats.

      Anyway, it looks like i’m back to my rambling-est again… 🙂

      Metta 🙂

    • The search for the truth is not a perfect path… when we are looking for leadership it does not always come in perfect forms…criticizing arises when we are trying to sort things through…ideally this is done with some guidance on the part of our teachers and our Sangha…if we are left to do this on the blogs, or on our own and dialogue is discouraged…then how can everything be skillful…I say keep searching until you find the truth …one person’s pace may not be the same as others…we should not criticize one another for not reaching his or her truth at a pace we think should be faster…this truth about the Buddha’s legacy and honouring his true teaching regarding the practice of half of humanity – and what I feel is the very essence of his teaching: discrimination harms; love is non-discrimination; deserves time, dialogue, guidance and steadfast commitment …what a great shame for us to simply allow the Buddha’s teaching to be turned on its head or dishonoured because some of us think the discussion has had its day…nothing doing.

    • Dear Kanchana,

      I like and value very much your “rambling-est”! Thank-you for your heartfelt, listening, compassionate, responsible and inquiring attitude.

      Much metta,

  40. Hi dear Kanchana, as far as I know nearly all the sangha at Amaravati and Chithurst have their own personal computers so I don’t think anything is being blocked. I know that people are still reading Bhante Sujato’s blog because they talk about it.

    Dear Lisa Karuna, I don’t think the Buddha’s teaching has been turned on its head. I think aspects of the suttas and vinaya are being interpreted differently by different people in different cultures. This is a very common phenomenon – with the Bible and with Marx’s writing on communism. People tak something written down and they interpret it according to their own culture and beliefs. I’ve no wish to force or bully any group of people to accept my interpretation. Sadhu Ajahn Brahm for adding to the number of places that women can ordain at Bhikkhuni. I’m sure this will increase. But I can see nothing to be gained from continuing to argue with the sangha in the Thai Forest Sangha Tradition, and that includes many lay people, if they interpret the Vinaya and Suttas differntly. Jason put this very well in his comments above. Let us be at peace now. Metta to all.

  41. Dear All,

    Here are some quotes from the late Ajahn Chah for reflections & sharing :- Some words of Peace & Wisdom.

    – “”We practise to learn letting go-
    not to increase our holding on…
    Enlightenment appears when you
    stop wanting anything.””

    – “”Use your heart to listen
    to these teachings – not your ears.””

    – “”If you seek certainty in that which is
    actually uncertain, you are bound to suffer.””

    – “”Don’t be an Arahant, don’t be a Bodhisattva,
    If you are anything at all, you will suffer.””

    – “”If you want to see Truth, you must know where to look.
    This very body and mind is
    your area of investigation.””

    – “”When wisdom awakens within you,
    you will see Truth wherever you look.
    Truth is all there is.””

    Dear Bhante,

    Could you enlighten us with the true meanings of these words that are loosely used and a lot of misconceptions.

    1. Love eg “i love so and so, i love my job etc
    (is it attachement and still with desires, expression
    of desire etc?)

    2. Unconditional love

    3. “Metta” i.e loving kindness (can one without “metta”
    able to radiate “metta” to others etc.

    4. Compassion

    5. Boundless love

    What exactly (intrinsically) is this utterance called “Love”. It can be deceiving and is there such thing as love or just compassion exist and not love. Are they all the same or any differences? Is this English word “love” correctly used (not specific).

    Hope Bhante could enlighten us from the Buddhist perspective or Buddha’s version (whether Buddha mentioned about love in any of the scriptures or just “metta”).

    Triple Sadhu!

    • Hi Yoh,

      1. This loose usage means something like, ‘i have a passion for’, or ‘an enthuisiasm for’, and would be closest in meaning to Pali chanda. So it could be wholesome or unwholesome, depending on, first, what it is you have a passion for, and second, the balance and quality of the passion itself. Too much enthusiasm, even for something good, can turn ugly.

      2. Unconditional love: Love without boundaries or limits, and especially, love that doesn’t wish for anything back. Too often we love someone because of how they make us feel.

      3. “Metta” i.e loving kindness (can one without “metta” able to radiate “metta” to others etc.): No way! Metta is, in its pure form, simply unconditional love.

      4. Compassion: While metta is the very simple, childlike wish for happiness, compassion involves an understanding and empathy for suffering, together with the wish for its removal. It is a richer, more mature, emotion.

      5. Boundless love: Same as ‘unconditional love’.

      And may you have plenty of it all!

    • In what way is metta “the very simple, childlike wish for happiness” while “compassion … is a richer, more mature, emotion”?

      You make it sound like metta is easy to develop, requiring so little effort even a child could do it, and considerably less value than karuna. What has led you to that conclusion, anyway?

      The Blessings of Metta
      Monks, when universal love leading to liberation of mind is ardently practiced, developed, unrelentingly resorted to, used as one’s vehicle, made the foundation of one’s life, fully established, well consolidated and perfected, then these eleven blessings may be expected.
      What eleven?
      One sleeps happily; one wakes happily; one does not suffer bad dreams; one is dear to human beings; one is dear to non-human beings; the gods protect one; no fire or poison or weapon harms one; one’s mind gets quickly concentrated; the expression of one’s face is serene; one dies unperturbed; and even if one fails to attain higher states, one will at least reach the state of the Brahma world.
      Monks, when universal love leading to liberation of mind is ardently practiced, developed, unrelentingly resorted to, used as one’s vehicle, made the foundation of one’s life, fully established, well consolidated and perfected, then these eleven blessings may be expected.
      – Anguttara Nikaya, 11:16

      As Ven. Acharya Buddharakkhita explains it, metta cetovimutti — universal love leading to liberation of mind — signifies the attainment of samadhi, absorption based upon meditation on metta. Since metta liberates the mind from the bondage of hatred and anger, selfishness, greed and delusion, it constitutes a state of liberation. Every time one practices metta, for however short a period, one enjoys a measure of freedom of mind. Measureless freedom of mind, however, is to be expected only when metta is fully developed into samadhi.

      The various applications of metta, as indicated by the terms “practiced, developed,” etc., signify a well-structured force brought about not only by specific hours of meditation, but also by converting all one’s deeds, words and thoughts into acts of metta.

      By “practiced” (asevita) is meant the ardent practice of metta, not as a mere intellectual exercise, but by committing oneself wholeheartedly to it and making it life’s guiding philosophy, something which conditions one’s attitudes, outlook and conduct.

      By “developed” (bhavita) is implied the various processes of inner culture and mental integration effected by the practice of meditation on universal love. Since meditation brings about unification of mind by integrating the various faculties, it is called development of mind. The Buddha taught that the entire mental world is developed by the practice of meditation on universal love, leading to mind’s liberation and the transformation of the personality.

      “Unrelentingly resorted to” (bahulikata) emphasizes repeated practice of metta all through one’s waking hours, in deed, word and thought, and maintaining the tempo of metta-awareness throughout. Repeated action means generation of power. All the five spiritual powers, namely, faith, vigor, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom, are exercised and cultivated by the repeated practice of metta.

      “Used as one’s vehicle” (yanikata) signifies a “total commitment” to the ideal of metta as the only valid method for the solution of interpersonal problems and as an instrument for spiritual growth. When metta is the only “mode of communication,” the only vehicle, life automatically is a “divine abiding” as mentioned in the Metta Sutta.

      “Made the foundation of one’s life” (vatthikata) is making metta the basis of one’s existence in all respects. It becomes the chief resort, the haven, the refuge of one’s life, making one’s refuge in the Dhamma a reality.

      “Fully established” (anutthita) refers to a life that is firmly rooted in metta, has anchorage in metta under all circumstances. When metta is effortlessly practiced, not even by error does one violate the laws of universal love.

      “Well consolidated” (paricita) means one is so habituated to metta that one remains effortlessly immersed in it, both in meditation as well as in one’s day-to-day conduct.

      “Perfected” (susamaraddha) indicates a mode of completeness through total adherence and development, leading to that fully integrated state in which one enjoys perfect well-being and spiritual felicity, indicated by the passage detailing the eleven blessings of metta.

      The benefits of metta are indeed great and comprehensive. For a follower of the Buddha this is one supreme instrument that can be wielded with advantage everywhere.

    • Hi Visakha,

      Well, the primary source is my own meditation. I’ve been doing metta for many years as my main meditation, so i know exactly what it feels like.

      The classic source is, of course, the love of a mother for her child. What happens in that moment? There is a melding and a mirroring: the infants brain, as he is held by his mother, reflects and grows with the emotions she feels. The very sense of ‘I am’ emerges in this relationship, with the gradual psychological separation of the mother and infant, a process that mirrors their physical separation. ‘I’ only happens in a relation with ‘thou’. This is why experience at such a tender age can have a profound affect on the person as the grow older. In practicing metta, we are returning to the most primal emotional experience of love. It is our childish, innocent emotions that are, for many people, the hardest to access, not the easiest.

      The idea that the four brahma viharas signify a gradual process of emotional maturity is explained in some detail in the Visuddhimagga.

    • Metta, as I understand it, is the mother’s love, not the child’s, which is, as I understand it, quite selfish. What is more selfish than a baby (except an old person?
      😉 )

      Do you mean to say that sympathetic joy is more mature than compassion? I always understood that these were on an equal footing in terms of importance, but that they differed as to the objects to whom they were directed: universal, one “lower”, one “superior”, and “impersonal” universal and that different individuals might benefit from practice of one rather than another depending upon character or tendency.

      – Visuddhimagga 318 says:

      Loving-kindness, metta, is characterized as promoting the welfare of others. Its function is to desire welfare. It is manifested as the removal of annoyance. Its proximate cause is seeing the loveableness in beings. It succeeds when it makes ill-will subside, and it fails when it gives rise to selfish affection.

      Compassion, karuna, is characterized as promoting the removal of others’ suffering. Its function is not bearing others’ suffering. It is manifested as kindness. Its proximate cause is seeing helplessness in those overwhelmed by suffering. It succeeds when it makes cruelty subside, and it fails when it gives rise to sorrow.

      Sympathetic joy, mudita, is characterized as joy in the success of others. Its function is being free from envy. It is manifested as the elimination of aversion. Its proximate cause is seeing other beings’ success. It succeeds when it makes aversion subside, and it fails when it gives rise to merriment.

      Equanimity, upekkha, is characterized as promoting equipoise towards beings. Its function is to see the equality in beings. It is manifested as quieting like and dislike. Its proximate cause is seeing the ownership of deeds thus: “Beings are heirs to their deeds. Whose, if not theirs, is the choice by which they will become happy, or will be free from suffering, or will not fall away from the success they have reached?” It succeeds when it makes like and dislike subside, and it fails when it gives rise to the indifference of ignorance based on the household life.

    • Dear visakha,

      The point i was trying to get across was that you can’t fully distinguish between a mother’s love and the baby’s. They form together: see any adult playing with kids, and they retreat to a ‘child mind’. They take delight in games and play that they never would if left to themselves. The love comes from a communion, a shared emotional response, which has been described by neuroscientists in terms of ‘mirror neurons’.

      But of course the adult’s ‘child mind’ is very different from a baby’s. The baby doesn’t have anything else, they have no ‘adult mind’ (or at least not a developed and functioning one). Within a mind of wisdom and maturity, the child-mind of an adult, the response of metta becomes far more profound.

      As to the relation between karuna and mudita, the presentation in the Visuddhimagga implies that mudita is more mature, but I am not so sure about that. It seems to me that metta is the most simple, the straightforward and uncomplicated wish for happiness, while karuna and mudita are paired in the wish for removal of suffering and the rejoicing in success. Equanimity, as always, is the most mature of all emotional responses – but only if it is properly grounded on the previous three.

  42. “For a long time, Buddhists in the west have moved towards a lay-oriented Buddhism, where women have a strong and positive role.”

    Dear Sujato

    In your view can a completely lay Buddhism be a viable “carrier” of the dhamma?


    • Dear david,

      This is a profound question, one that I have no clear answer for. On the one hand, it is clear that the Buddha intended his community to have four wings, and the ordained Sangha have always been an essential part of every Buddhist culture. The idea of a completely lay Buddhism is a very theoretical one, with only partial examples in the real world.

      For example, Japan decided a few centuries ago (my memory of the historical details is sketchy) to replace the traditional Sangha with married clergy. Since then, the bulk of Buddhism in Japan has carried on without an ordained Sangha in the traditional sense, although of course they developed their own forms of ordained life. Whether this has been successful or not I cannot say, as I know very little about Japanese Buddhism.

      In modern western Buddhism, there is a strong lay presence, but this is, so far at least, only a step or two removed from the ordained Sangha, as most of the senior teachers received teachings from traditional Sangha. This is changing, and in the next generation or two we will see more and more teachers emerging who have received their teachings entirely from lay teachers. Still, there is some involvement with ordained Sangha.

      The problem then becomes one of definition and authenticity. If the ordained Sangha is doing its job, then there is little doubt that it is the most authentic form of Buddhist culture. If it has lost its way and forgotten the Dhamma-Vinaya, then one could seriously question whether this is actually the Sangha that the Buddha was referring to. There is no doubt that there is a large amount of decay and decadence in the Sangha – and there are few who really live the ideals. This is not an accusation or criticism, it applies to myself just as to many others. It then becomes a judgement call: how far do things have to slide before they are lost entirely?

      Personally, I think they have slid a long way, and that there is ample justification for forming lay-oriented practice movements that bypass the traditional Sangha. This has even happened in movements based in traditional cultures, such as the Goenka movement, and much more so in neoBuddhist cultures.

      Nevertheless, there is still a great strength in the traditional Sangha. This comes in a number of forms: the guidelines of the Vinaya, which give a structure and reference unavailable to lay movements; the support of lay communities, which enables large places and events to be carried on a donation basis without commercialization (although the Goenka movement has also done this without traditional Sangha); and most of all, the symbolic sense of connection with the Sangha, which has a transformative strength that is felt both within and without.

    • Sujato, as usual, you make excellent points with a great degree of openness , transparency and honesty. I respect that.

      Just a few points about the Lay Sangha here — I will say that overwhelmingly, the vast majority of lay people I have known in over twenty years of association with the Theravada Sangha, have been people of high aspiration and noble intention. Good people. Genuine people.

      But, for many Lay people I have seen over two decades, I have seen there is the very real danger of projection, and the real danger of reverting to almost child like , immature behaviour patterns, giving up all authority to the ‘father/surrogate partner figure’ which is of course, the Monk, the abbot,the head nun, and symbolically in the Buddha Rupa, the Sangha.

      That projection can be seen in the practitioners who meditate in front of a smiling , benign photo of their favourite monk, or in front of a beautiful, or pacifying, or stern, or even a sensual Buddha image.

      That lay person child-like role is furthered and can be seen in the role that some lay people take on retreats as that of ‘receiver’ — they are passively told what to do by their seniors : told when to wake up, when to wash, when to clean the temple; then they line up for the abundant and delicious free food, usually provided by the hard working business oriented Asian lay people.

      That relinquishment and retreat into childhood is taken further when lay people give up responsibility and increasingly , let go of all ideas of an active decision making personality- self , all done under the guise of Anatta and letting go of course.

      Then there are the Dhamma talks — the lights are low, peaceful, and sometimes, the talks are received as a form of therapy and psychology. Meditation too, is a place where the lay person can retreat further into a place where nothing touches them, and they do not have to face conflict and disorder, a void like , womb like state — no coincidence perhaps, that some Vippassana schools totally focus on consciousness on the rising and falling of the breath at the navel, the stomach, the mother-womb centre of silence and warmth.

      Then there is the concealed vanity of some lay practitioners : focusing on your self, your mind, your body, your food intake, your every single tiniest moment to moment state can be a state of narcissism, self love, self adoration, self regard and displaced vanity every bit as much as it is a sign of renunciation. Aspiring to that shaven head, austere ochre robe,body discipline and relinquishment of all responsibilities can be really attractive and encourage self love in some lay people.

      I am not trying to be contentious here — just honest. And much of what I wrote above has been observed and noticed *in my own behavour first,* as well as repeatedly, again and again in other lay people over the last twenty years.

    • Hi Barney you mentioned:
      “Just a few points about the Lay Sangha here”
      However you used the word ‘sangha’ incorectly here.
      Sangha by definition is monastic. The Buddha called lay Buddhists: upasaka/upasika and Sangha was always alluded to Bhikkhu / Bhikkhuni Sangha.

    • Hi Barney,

      Thanks for this post, and some very important reflections. The ‘narcissism’ of our modern Buddhist practice is, I think, perhaps our greatest challenge. I won’t talk too much about it here, simply to say that for most people, the crucial thing is to be aware; to never abdicate one’s moral authority, and to act in and as a community.

    • Dear Sujato

      Thank you so much for such a dispassionate answer. I too think that the important guiding star is the Dhamma.

      I’ve seen the opinion expressed by a Western monastic that the monastic sangha is “the only authoritative Buddhist teaching organisation” – well, not necessarily. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

      I’ve also seen the opinion expressed that “a sexually active lay Buddhist who enjoys good food and entertainment while amassing worldly possessions, and who teaches others to let go of attachments is called a hypocrite”. Well, firstly, the picture of a lay Buddhist is pretty inaccurate (projection again) – far from amassing worldly possessions, most people just about get by. And what’s wrong with being sexually active and enjoying good food? It doesn’t mean over indulgence, promiscuity and gluttony, which is what it’s made to sound like. It could just mean living in a healthy family. It doesn’t mean you’re attached. In fact the monk sounds attached – negatively.

      Most (not all) lay teachers are not hypocrites – far from it. Same goes for monastics. But in my experience lay teachers are far more committed to practice than many monastics who live in an environment which is, in theory, far more conducive.

      I got pretty disillusioned (nay, disgusted) with what I found in the monasteries around here (“here” being Western Europe), partly a reflection of what I found, and partly a reflection of my own unrealistic and idealistic projections of perfection being dashed (on which we have written and read at length).

      After spending some time as a Grumpy Old Lay Person (a bit like this http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0397794/) I have been forced to the conclusion (yes, I know there’s no such thing in a world of impermanence) that there is a vital role for monasteries and for the “full time professional”, and not really for any of the reasons you outlined.

      Large events can be done in hired church halls, village halls and retreat centres. The symbolic “sense of connection with the Sangha” – well that all depends on the Sangha and how well it practices. They both seem to me to be pretty empty representations of the potential of the monastic sangha.

      I think the strength of the monastic environment and its occupants lies in two related factors. Firstly, it’s a place dedicated to awakening and nothing else. Lots of ordinary things go on there (cooking, eating, walking, sitting, talking, sleeping, building, cleaning, etc.) but all activities support awakening (ideally, recognising that nothing is ever perfect). In this sense it is fundamentally different from a workplace or a home.

      Secondly, full time inhabitants of such an environment should ideally end up being good at meditating and good at teaching. I have derived tremendous benefit from your teaching on this blog to a lady some months ago about overdoing the dry insight thing, and also from your recorded teaching on metta, which is the first time that metta meditation has ever been anything other than a selfish feel-good exercise to me and which has made a more profound difference than I would have thought possible. I would surmise that that kind of teaching can only come from long and deep experience, which is probably only possible by making good use of a monastic environment.

      So the monastery and its monastics have (ideally) a real living place in the community and it must be up to both the monks and the lay people to try their best to make that happen. When I see lay life misrepresented by monastics to the extent that they can’t teach laypeople properly, it makes me sad. When I see lay people undervaluing their potential for awakening, for contributing and for holding the monastics to account when necessary, it makes me sad. When I see dana turned into a meaningless ritual designed to buy the laypeople time off from the hungry ghost realms after death (or whatever they’ve been told) and give the monks a free lunch, it makes me sad. When I see a wonderful practice environment not made good use of by its inhabitants, it makes me sad.

      In the end the lay culture can survive without the monastics, but the monastics cannot survive without the lay community. Laypeople will support monastics for one of two reasons: (i) the monastics are worth supporting, as outlined above or (ii) the monks have told them a lot of scare stories about what a bad life they’ll have next time around if they don’t provide regular meals. Let’s hope we get more of (i) and less of (ii).

      All participants, lay and monastic, have a part to play in making the fourfold community work for everyone. If it doesn’t happen, then I suppose we will inevitably end up with either a moribund ritualistic monastic culture or, as you say, a more vital lay dhamma culture. The second is better than the first, but both are second best.



    • Dear Sujato

      Two follow-up reflections, as often happens after pressing the “submit comment” button, particularly after such a long post.

      1 A monastic dhamma teacher can rely on people turning up to hear a monk just because he’s a monk. People are often a lot less forgiving with a lay teacher, who has to rely on the quality of their teaching without the theatrical props of the shaven head, the robe and so on.

      2 I was heartened by your recognition of the true potential for the lay community to authentically carry the dhamma. I was surprised, though, that your statement of the strengths of the monastic sangha was about the Vinaya, large events and symbolism, and not about its unique potential for facilitating awakening in both monastics and lay people. I only know you from this blog, but I can’t believe that that’s all you see. Am I projecting onto the monastic sangha again? Are you even more disillusioned with it than I was and sometimes am? Or what?!

      Best wishes


    • Further reflections.

      Some monastics seem quite ready to criticise the laity for “amassing wealth” but seem to have no problem living off that wealth without working for it. A monk may not have legal title to his monastery, kuti, robe, bowl and so on, and these things may be provided by the hypocritical laity as dana, but the monastic has just as much continuing and certain use of those things as if he had bought them and obtained legal title. For some non-practicing monks, to say that they have not “amassed wealth” just as much as many lay people is simply to split hairs.

      Dear Sujato: do monasteries conduct any due diligence on the source of donations and (aside from well publicised special cases like the Burmese monks recently turning their bowls over in protest at the government) do monasteries ever refuse donations on the grounds that they have been earned by wrong livelihood, and that to accept them would be to involve the monastery in wrong livelihood? If not, why not?

      Lastly, there is an opinion expressed among Western monastics that a lay Buddhism is immature and impossible because an essential part of the dhamma is for lay people to worship the monastic Ariya Sangha. Well, worship is a pretty strong word – respect and possibly honour is as far as I would go. I also wonder about realised lay people, of whom the Buddha frequently spoke. Why are they left out?


    • Aside of practicing the monastics also have the job of preserving the teachings/scriptures of the Buddha as much as possible / to the best of their abilities, to make it available for later generations and sharing it with the general population. For example, making the texts available in electronic or printed formats, and in a variety of languages. They also transmit it through embodying the dharma and through their classes. As a lay practitioner we can hardly juggle practice and personal work. We don’t have a lot of extra time to dedicate to that work. In a way , the service that the monastics are performing is pretty selfless. It is not so much for personal gain or accumulation, but for the good of the dhamma and the greater community. For this work, they only require some basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter. They don’t even eat dinner and wear the same style everyday of the year. I don’t think it is too much to ask for the immensely beneficial service they provide to the world. I feel that it is important to have people that takes care of preserving the scriptures and making sure it is available for later generations. If we just rely on lay practitioner to handle this job also, it can become loss with our hectic lay schedule. It wouldn’t be as complete, because the vinaya aspect is not practiced much less remember. Additionally, I would like to see a complete Fourfold sangha as established by the Buddha instead of a threefold or twofold sangha that some prefer to establish.

  43. David Conway :Doesn’t sound like it stops monastics revealing their degree of attainment, just lying about it. Ajahn Brahm has not been backward in coming forward about his jhanic attainments.


  44. Dheerayupa :Anne said:
    He has also inspired me to practice ‘dhamma’. I believe there are many more people whose lives have been transformed for better by Ajahn Brahm…

    I agree with you Dheerayupa!

    • And I totally agree too! It’s a fact, my life has changed immensely since listening to Ajahn Brahm’s Dhamma talks. I went from a very materialistic attitude of following desires and not believing in morality, to practicing virtue, meditation and got inspiration and faith in Buddhism. Just today i was upset and had some ‘ill-will’ and then listened to some Dhamma talks by AB and my mind gradually became more peaceful and kind. That is a good thing indeed and I rejoice to hear others inspiration to follow the path too.
      Now of course the books say the same things as he does, other monks say them too but somehow AB’s Dhamma talks go straight to the heart and just listening to them guides my mind towards peacefulness and kindness. I have 2 Christian friends who listen to Ajahn Brahm and now drive the car enjoying silence rather than the radio and are more forgiving and accepting. They say it’s due to listening to the cds I gave them and it changed their life. Now of course it’s not personal since there is no Ajahn Brahm, just an empty process. But by saying this we are rejoicing in the goodness that others too got inspired to start this path of Dhamma by listening to the teachings of an inspiring monk. It seems this is sympathetic joy and inspiration, which are wholesome states of mind and shouldn’t be embarassed to talk about:)

  45. Anne :

    Dheerayupa :Anne said:He has also inspired me to practice ‘dhamma’. I believe there are many more people whose lives have been transformed for better by Ajahn Brahm…

    I agree with you Dheerayupa!

    Sumedho, Succitto, Vajiro, Viradhammo, Tiradhammo et al (oh, and Brahmavamso) I find them all EQUALLY inspiring or EQUALLY frustrating. LOL
    However, they are ALL brilliant human beings.

  46. Venerable Bhikkhu Sujato – I wish to present my respects for you, as for your writings here pointing the right path by way of your Buddhist Blog, in Internet. If you ever need assistance in order not to give up the holy life in the Buddha Sangha, let me know. I will help you, accordingly. At the same time, I strongly suggest that you write books, in which you present faithful translations of the Theravada Pali Canon, together with commentaries of yours properly fitted according to the Vinaya. This is the need: go onwards, forever!
    Journalist M.F.Machado

  47. Dania :Hi Barney you mentioned:“Just a few points about the Lay Sangha here”However you used the word ‘sangha’ incorectly here.Sangha by definition is monastic. The Buddha called lay Buddhists: upasaka/upasika and Sangha was always alluded to Bhikkhu / Bhikkhuni Sangha.

    Gosh, were you actually there to hear Siddhartha Gotama speak?


    • Let he who papanchas not throw papancha stones at others who panancha. 🙂

      Perhaps Dania has read enough of the Suttas to work out that the Buddha referred to the assembly (instead of Sangha) of laymen and the assembly (rather than Sangha) of laywomen.

      I once heard a speaker at a conference say that the word ‘Sangha’ is out there and can’t be brought back…i think he meant that too many people are using the word in referring to lay people as well…so it’s probably not possible to get people to stop using the word in this way. Language changes all the time and perhaps we should just use it as the locals (where ever we are) use it.

      Metta 🙂

  48. It is not rocket science to construe that Brahm has the jhanas based on what he has said in his numerous dhamma talks and his meditation Book. It would be such a big lie by Brahm to structure his sayings as such IF he does not have the jhanas. He does not explicitly say that he has them, obviously enough because of the rule imposed by the Buddha.

    A couple of years ago I did a retreat under a Western Senior Disciple of Ajahn Chah in New Zealand and he personally told me that Brahm has the jhanas.

    Also, a few years ago there was a big hype about Ajahn Maha Boowa proclaiming that he is an Arhant but then he was widely speculated to be a living Arahat until he said so. People were bewildered cos of the rule imposed by the Buddha and Maha Boowa’s proclaimation.

    My 2 cents is that there are exceptions to breaking the rule. One needs to work in the spirit of the rule not necessarily in the letter. As far as I know, there is a rule banning monks from touching women. Now what if there is a lady about to be drowned and there is no one around but only a monk to save her? Should any wise monk work according to the letter of the rule or the spririt? In the same vein a monk shouldn’t go around telling his spiritual accomplishments but may be there can be exceptions…It is a HUGE boost to practitioners when a teacher proclaims that he or she has the these accomplishments…at least to me.

    • Hi Grasshopper,

      Just a small correction: there’s actually no rule forbidding monks from touching women (or vice versa). The offense falls if a monk ‘with mind overthrown, perverted by lust’ (otiṇṇo vipariṇatena cittena) touches a woman.

  49. Hi everybody.

    My first teacher was a nun.

    She gave me 5 precepts.

    On that retreat she taught the 9 jhanas at a Dharma centre she started with a monk who I will always see as my Dharma father as that nun is my mother.

    I’ve read so many books and taken so many teachings from so many traditions.

    I’ve never looked back.

    Thankyou Ayya Khema and Phra Khantipalo.

    Cheers, Alan.

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