Mitra Conference &c

The past week has been one of our most active ever.

Start with Friday: Vens Thubten Chodren, Hui Feng, and Yeshe Chodron joined us for the talk at Well-Aware-Ness. All was good, a discussion and Q&A. Most of the interest was for Ven Thubten and her activities. She’s a warm and humble nun, whose presence was very special.

For the weekend, a series of talks. I attended Ven Tenzin Palmo, Ajahn Brahm, Gregory Kramer, Bhikkhuni Dhammananda… As well as a lot of time catching up with people I seem to only see at these conferences… The talks were of uniformly high quality. One of the things that strikes me about hearing such experienced teachers is that the longer they have been practicing, the humbler they are about what they know and have realized.

I led a few sessions, including three short sessions for the Expo that was run concurrent with the conference. For those of you who weren’t there, this year, in addition to the conference, the BCNSW organized ongoing, free, half-hour sessions in the same building on the ground floor below the conference. These were meant to attract passers by, or those who didn’t want to commit for the entire conference. It was an experiment, and one that worked extremely well.

Although bhikkhuni issues were not the theme of the conference, it was never far from our minds, with so many powerful bhikkhunis present with us. When the October 2009 bhikkhuni ordinations were mentioned, they got a spontaneous round of applause. When I was sitting there, I felt really sad for the monks who have gone to such lengths to oppose bhikkhuni ordination. It must be very isolating, knowing how deeply offensive your actions are to the people who would love to look up and respect you.

During the conference, we found time for some meetings: one with several ASA members to work on the upcoming ASA conference; and another with several members of the FABC to discuss various issues.

After the conference, we supported a few events. Ajahn Brahm had agreed to give a talk for the Indonesian Buddhist Society on the Sunday evening. On the monday, we had a dana with Ajahn Brahm at Well-Aware-Ness, mainly organized by John Barter and his students.

Monday evening we went for Ajahn Brahm’s talk at Roselea Community Center. This was the outstanding event of the weekend. We had wanted to put on a free public talk for Ajahn Brahm, and since we didn’t have much time or resources, we thought to do it very simply. We looked for community halls of about 2-300 people, but the only place we could get was the Roselea Hall, which fits 700. So we went ahead anyway, and there was a great groundswell of interest, mainly from the Sri Lankan community, who use the Roselea hall for regular events such as the Aloka food fair. With only a little advertising and promotion, people just came together, set everything up, and made it into a great event. In the end, the hall was packed tight, with well over 900 people present. It was an extraordinary testament to the strength of the Buddhist community, as well as the wisdom of letting people just get on with it.

Following Roselea, we came back to Santi with Ajahn Brahm, arriving about 1.00am. The next day we had some discussions with Ajahn Brahm, and an afternoon class with Ven Hui Feng, who taught about the development of the Mahayana tradition. early Wednesday morning, we sent Ajahn Brahm and Ven Jaganatha to Perth, and Ven Hui Feng returned to Hong Kong.

Then we had a rest…


30 thoughts on “Mitra Conference &c

  1. Wow Bhante, it is really interesting to be a monastic, where me, still stuck in samsara 😦 ……………….not knowing where to go, what to do….how does one ever know? Or is it through that there is really no free will and life is a driver less bus?

  2. Congratulations! This Buddhist journalist is very happy to read the news. Specially about the Sri Lankan Buddhist community present in this blessed events.

    The fact is that the whole Pali Canon, as it is presently known, has been faithfully guarded and preserved during the last 2.554 years by the Sri Lankan Forest Tradition, the only legal authority of the Pali Canon.

    The Pali Canon is the intellectual property of the Sri Lankan Forest Tradition.

    • Maria

      What is your point?

      I am profoundly grateful to those who have preserved and transmitted the suttas, whitehr from Sri Lanka or form anywhere else.

      Bur are you seriuosly trying to claim some form of copyright in the Pali Canon? And what is the “Sri Lankan Forest Tradition”. Is it a legal entity that can own a copyright? Has it been in continuous existence as a legal entitiy since Gotama was alive? Isn’t prior copyright held by whoever transmitted the suttas to the first Sri Lankan to receive them? Isn’t prior copyright held by Gotama and his legal heirs? Isn’t this just nonsense?

      Even if anyone did own legal copyright, if they wanted to enforce it, what would that say about them as a dhamma teacher? The dhamma is free. Gotama gave it away for 45 years. Lots of other people have discovered it independently of “Buddhism” and the Pali Canon.

      So, again, what is your point?

      Look forward to hearing from you.


  3. Venerable, thanks for the update — it’d be good to hear more.

    Maria, I am not sure what you are getting at — whilst I have profounc and deep regard and respect for the Sri Lankan Sangha for their undoubted work done for preservation of the Pali Canon, I don’t really know what you are trying to tell us.

    Here’s a definition of Intellectual Property from Wiki :

    “Intellectual property (IP) is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which property rights are recognised–and the corresponding fields of law.[1] Under intellectual property law, owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Common types of intellectual property include copyrights, trademarks, patents, industrial design rights and trade secrets in some jurisdictions.

    Although many of the legal principles governing intellectual property have evolved over centuries, it was not until the 19th century that the term intellectual property began to be used, and not until the late 20th century that it became commonplace….”

  4. And what a wonderful, uplifting, joyful, positive event the MITRA Conference was! It was a superior, well-organised, comprehensive event and much appreciation and gratitude goes out to all the organisers. If you are a Buddhist in Australia, I would really recommend attending next year. People from all traditions, all walks of life, all ages, and even non-Buddhists attended. Everyone seemed to walk away with a big smile on their face!

    At one point, I looked around and realised I was in the presence (in one room) of many great Spiritual teachers, most notably Ven. Ajahn Brahm, Ven. Tenzin Palmo, Ven. Thubten Chodron, Ven. Heng Sure., Ayya Dhammananda, and of course Ven. Bhante Sujato. It was truely (for me) a WOW moment!! What a blessing. Ven. Tenzin Palmo’s talk was brilliant, inspiring….I wanted to follow her to a cave in the snow….. 🙂

    I cannot describe adequately the healing that took place in the room when Bhikkhuni Dhammananda gave her talk. Many women in the room were openly weeping with joy, gratitude, and releasing the pain we have all held for too long over our alienation, due to our gender. What an inspirational, strong and amazing women! Thank you Ayya Dhammananda from the bottom of my heart. 🙂

    • Ajahn Brahm was right in his motivation for fully ordained bhikkhunis. He said that there was only so much he could do in relating to women, and bhikkhunis were desperately needed fill that unjust vacuum. Looks like you really benefitted from that female-female nexus.

    • Anne, you are so lucky!

      I can only console myself that next month I will have a chance to listen to Ajahn Brahms’ talks and do meditation led and guided by this great monk! Once a year is better than nothing, is it not? 🙂

      I’m going to give dana to a temple to the west of Bangkok, perhaps I should drive a bit further to Wat Songdhamkalaya to visit Ajahn Dhammananda. 🙂 It’s high time, isn’t it, Lisa?

    • Yes Dheerayupa, if you have the chance take the time to visit Ajahn Dhammananda. She is truely inspirational!

    • Get over there Sister Dee before I have to fly over and take you there myself.
      hehe 🙂
      I expect the same stern encouragement from you.

    • Dear Anne and Lisa,

      Thanks for your encouragement. Unfortunately, I did not go. My excuses? I didn’t feel well after giving the dana at that temple. I later developed a severe headache possibly due to the excessive heat Bangkok has been experiencing for the past several days.

      I’ll try again on May 22, when I have to drive to Kanchanaburi.

      With warm loving kindness to both of you.

  5. Thanks Sylvester. Yes it is true, women do relate better to other women in the case of counselling and support. Female Bhikkunis provide a role model of strength, courage and conviction to the Dhamma that inspires other women to follow in their footsteps. More power to them!

    • Hi Anne and Sylvester,

      I’m so glad you both brought this up.

      I’ve read here and there the most negative comments about women relating to other women and about women’s emotional responses being negative and unwholesome… Almost as if men only and always respond with beauty and grace to each other and only and always exhibit the most saintly and beautiful emotions… We all know for a fact that women are as human as men in the capacity to get it wrong.

      It’s nice to read and hear about the positive impact on women of seeing and interacting with Bhikkunis. It’s nice to add that there is so much that is good and wholesome that can come out of women interacting with women. There is something very healing and beautiful about communing with my female friends. I can talk and let things go without being judged in any way. And it’s very peculiar to female friendships. I can’t find this with male friends…it’s just different…not bad…but different.

      It is SO important that there are Bhikkunis. To give the very poor women in places like Thailand for example, a chance that the very poor men in places like Thailand for example might have. Surely a better option than the brothel. And for those with the wrong view that this is their kamma and that’s that…consider that they have done much good and this good is not going to have a chance to flower if they are not given the option of a nunnery instead of a brothel.

    • Dearest Kanchana,
      You raise the MOST important visible demonstration of how institutionalized discrimination in the Sangha is the work of MARA. In the Wonderland that is Ubon Ratchathani, mythical birth place of noble lineages, boys get to go and study Suttras and practice meditation under the benevolent guidance of angelic monks. Their Nine and ten year old sisters (for whom there are no nuns monasteries; for whom it is considered “shameful” to go and study Buddha Dhamma) are shipped by the hundreds every year into brothels and chained like dogs for the rest of their pitiful lives, unless they try to escape and get beaten to death for trying to escape, or commit suicide, or die of HIV (and ALL of the FALLOUT in the soceity around this – sanctioning of sexual misconduct, sanctioning of wrong livelihood, etc etc).
      There is nothing NOTHING benevolent about discrimination, and institutionalizing it, and supporting its institutionalization in any form.
      If you havent seen how this plays out in the world, and you haven’t seen how this is the very essence of the Buddha’s teaching NO SEPARATION OF SELF AND OTHERS_ ALL SUFFERING COMES FROM CHERISHING ONE SELF (monk, layperson, nun, girl boy, Asian, Western, black, white, yadda yadda) HIGHER THAN OTHER – I dont care how many Vassas you have under your belt, you havent seen, heard or understood the Four Noble Truths.

    • Anne, may I disagree with you here?

      Some monks have a great ability to communicate with women, though he said otherwise (I think he was being humble 🙂 ).

      When I was drown in sorrow, I talked to a Thai monk, who was trying his best to help me — he told me that my pain was nothing compared to Bhikkhuni Patacara. His words made me pause to think, but, unfortunately, it did nothing to lessen my pain, let alone open my eyes to dhamma.

      Then, I was lucky to find Ajahn Brahm’s talks on the Internet. He said pain is personal; and ‘our’ pain is always the greatest. LOL. Though he did not talk to me personally, but I felt that he understood my pain. All his suggestions on how to deal with pain have given me a new life.

      So, dear Anne, Ajahn Brahm is a truly amazing monk who can heal your suffering without having to have a personal chat with you!

    • Sister Dee,
      I would not trade in a second with my male teachers for anything. There are many good teachers male and female and one may resonate more with us than the other at a particular time. I notice I too am conditioned by my upbringing which was dominated by male teachers in university and a closer relationship to my father than my mother. I am more inclined to spend time with male teachers. More drawn to their role model because this is what I hve known and seen all my life. This has worked to some degree – yet I confess it makes me sad. Sad because I know my teachers were male because women were not offered the samwe opportunities in that generation; likewise I am closer to my father because it was easier for him to be kind to me because he had all the power in the family, the control of the finances, and my mother, strong as she is suffered greatly….
      Therefore it is easy for me to fall asleep in my practice with male teachers. If I really wish to awaken, and I want to go deeper in my practice, there are things I can only share with a female teacher, there is a need to see and believe that this form, this birth offers the possibility of full awakening…and there are conditions and experiences and opportunities for awakening that only one born in this form can see (or someone who has transcended the trappings of form into clear seeing. I think Thay is one of these teachers)
      I can see many others are conditioned in this way not to gravitate as easily to the female teacher…it is our conditioning …
      Just sharing …. I agree and I also struggle to move beyond… since I have begun to meet Ayya’s Dhammananda and others – it has blown me away – and it is so deeply inspiring in a way that no male teacher could inspire me… because of the form of this birth…and because I find women will go a little deeper into matters of the heart … a little more daring in what topics are covered…not willing to whitewash topics … or make everything sound so easy and pretty…willing to dig deeper and get to the truth of things…(perhaps not because they are female but because of the conditions they have had to battle in order to live as they do, as nuns) _/\_

    • That’s OK dear Dheerayupa. I agree with you that Ajahn Brham embodies love, compassion and Metta. Metta just emanates from him! I can imagine he would be a very supportive and compassionate counsellor who would always say the right thing to console anyone.

      But there are times when as women, we need to talk to another woman. We take solace in each other’s company. Also don’t underestimate the powerful influence of a female Bhikkuni role model. In an age where women are over-sexualised (especially in young girls), and violence against women is rampant, we need these strong, holy women role models to follow.

      Traditionally I have looked to Catholic female Saints for my role models, such as Mother Theresa, St Claire of Assisi, and St. Theresa of Avilla, but why can’t we have our own Buddhist women Saints to revere? A thought to ponder….

    • Good heavens! Looking to catholicism for female inspiration? Better to read the Pali literrature (unless you feel only suttas are reliable?) Do look at “Inspiration from Enlightened Nuns” by Susan Elbaum Jootla


      Buddhist Women at the Time of The Buddha
      by Hellmuth Hecker

      Of especial relevance to this blog discussion is Ven. Bhikkhuni Patacara who was foremost among women in knowledge of Vinaya. (Ven. Upali’s counterpart). Buddhist women need to know her story, her particular suffering, and her healing!

      From Hecker’s book:

      “The Buddha said about Patacara, that she was the foremost “Keeper of the Vinaya” amongst the Nuns. Patacara was thereby the female counterpart of the monk Upali. That she had chosen the “Rules of Conduct” as her central discipline is easy to understand, because the results of her former indulgences had become bitterly obvious to her.

      She learned in the Sangha, that an intensive study of the rules was necessary and purifying, and brought with it the security and safety of self-discipline; she learned not to become complacent through well-being or anxious and confused through suffering. Because of her own experiences she had gained a deep understanding for the human predicament and could be of great assistance to her fellow nuns.

      She was a great comfort to those who came to her in difficulties. The nun Canda said that Patacara showed her the right path out of compassion and helped her to achieve emancipation. (Thag. 125)”

    • Dear Anne, Sylvester, Kanchana, Dheerayupa, Lisa and everyone else

      From living with my wife, especially in pregnancy, childbirth and childrearing, I can see that women are subject to instinctive, emotional and psychic tides which I can at best see from the outside. I can “be there” and do my best as a husband, friend and companion, sometimes I feel that it is only another woman who really knows. I know that nuns don’t do the pregnancy bit, but the tides are there. Men can see them, but they don’t have them.

      Most of my bosses have been women. Most of my direct employees have been women, not from any discrimination, they just seem to have been the right people. Right relations with women, the right liberation and acknowledgement of women have been important issues and themes in my life and I haven’t always done it right.

      Most of the kalyanamittas in my life have been women. I don’t know why this is so – perhaps I was one. I have found them more perceptive, serious when needed, not serious when needed, non-judgemental, straight, not much pussyfooting around and, to be a bit trite, they cared.

      It has taken me many years to for me to find men of a similar character, or perhaps I needed to change to see them. But there are starting to be many. There are some involved in the bhikkhuni ordination issue and participating on this blog.

      The work of making a right place for women is far from done and it needs guarding, but it’s on its way. I find my attention turning to my relations with men, which I have neglected for many years, and what is our right place now that women are starting to have theirs, because our place will not be what it was before. I look forward to finding out.

      Lately I’ve been struck by something from the Karaniya Metta Sutta: “Just as a mother would protect her only child with her life even so let one cultivate a boundless love towards all beings.” If the Buddha really meant this (and I’ve no reason to think he didn’t), and having seen my wife’s love of our child, this is a strong love indeed, unquestioned, unquestioning, irrational at times. It puts my “I wish you well” during metta bhavana in the shade.

      I am grateful to all those women who have helped me and continue to do so. Bhikkhunis don’t just inspire women, they inspire men too.


    • That word “irrational” that I used has been bugging me and I want to clarify it.

      The reason it’s been bugging me is that I don’t want it to play into the sterotypical male=rational, woman=irrational err… stereotype. Firstly because I don’t believe it, men and women can both be rational and irrational, and secondly because rationality (literally “measuring things”) is good where it’s good and bad where it isn’t.

      There was a specific instance that moved me to use that word. Our daughter was born three months early by emergency caesarean section and spent the first weeks of her life in an incubator. As her father, as long as I knew she was in the best place for her, I was at peace. Her mother, on the other hand, was jealous of the incubator and angry at the nurses who looked after her. She felt that she should be the one to be looking after her daughter, she felt a failure, and she felt angry. She obviously knew that our daughter was in the best place and would not actually have removed her, but these feelings and thoughts were there very strongly. Every woman that I’ve spoken to about this has said “oh yeah, of course!” in recognition. It seems to be universal.

      I assume that the Buddha had seen this in his own wife in relation to Rahula. He uses the image of motherhood with regard to metta, and I think I have also seen it in relation to how a preceptor should relate to their novice (although I can’t find a reference). The image of a strong, primal, irrational, possessive love is not something that I usually associate with metta or with a preceptor.

      Reflecting on motherhood also got me reflecting on fatherhood. I haven’t seen the Buddha mention fatherhood (although this could just be my limited reading and, if anyone can point me to any relevant references, I would be grateful). I have read the story of the going forth where he looks at Rahula and his wife sleeping before he leaves the house. Some accounts seem to say that he left soon after Rahula’s birth. In this case I wonder if it was the birth of his child, the prospect of fatherhood, the responsibility of having brought another suffering being into the world, or something like that, that pushed him over the edge. On the other hand, I have also read that Rahula was a couple of years old when Gotama left. If that is true, I wonder what kind of a father he was.

      He undeniably abandoned his wife and young child, but I guess they were well cared for being in a ruling family, and the Buddha had a lot else on his mind for which we should be grateful. Rahula seems to have come through. The only interactions that I have seen recorded between the two are as teacher and bhikkhu. I have seen “Rahula” translated as “fetter”, which puts a certain slant on the subject. Does anybody know if that’s true?

      As a father, and as a recovering Catholic who knows a lot about guilt, I have discovered something that I call Buddhist guilt. Sometimes I feel guilty at having brought another suffering being into the world. This was particularly so soon after our daughter’s birth. But she seems to enjoy it so far, despite everything she went through.

      I would be grateful for any women’s reflections on motherhood, or men’s on fatherhood.


  6. Bhante, is it a small offense (dukkata) if a nun doesn’t follow the garudhammas? They don’t inspire faith nor bring joy. Faith and joy are very important factors in the practice. If I now heard some guy preach the garudhammas, I would just think he is arrogant and attached to his gender – not very enlightened after all. So a big question now is, if a bhikkhuni doesn’t want to follow the garudamas, not out of pride but just because she doesn’t believe them and thinks they’re a joke, is there an offense? What is the consequence of ignoring the garudhammas? We were told to be critical, not to believe things out of faith but to investigate if the teachings fit with our experience of the ways of the mind. If we don’t see something as true, we don’t have to believe it. So… if a bhikkhuni ignores the garudhammas, what is the consequence?

    i read them on wikipedia and they seem hilarious! for ex:
    “(5) A bhikkhuni who has broken any of the vows of respect must undergo penance for half a month under both Sanghas…” I guess that is the ‘consequence’ of breaking the garudama? but because it is in the garudamas in themselves, it doesn’t work since it too is a joke. Is it written anywhere else in the suttas?
    Also, I thought Buddhism doesn’t have penance?! Just understand you made a mistake and any unwholesome kamma is detrimental to own’s own practice and leads to suffering by it’s nature, no need for someone to punish you… so that rule also seems off..

  7. I have to admit to being a little confused by being told that linages, heiracy etc are not part tof the Buddhas teaching yet, it seems they are praised for being so wise etc.

    I feel like I am told to follow the Buddha’s teaching yet those that don’t and that use power to dominate others in the form of linages and gurus are somehow wonderful and are praised for their “power”?

    I mean what is going on? Why bother with reading the suttas when the people telling you to do it are praising those that use gurus’ etc to dominate others.

    Just because they are women doesn’t make it any better or excuse it, so what is going on?

  8. I don’t mean any disrespect to these women in general, I don’t know them they are not my teachers and I would not want them to be and I am sure they are very good at what they do and especially the young women are “very popular” especially to men and espeically the old blokes and old lamas.

    But why do you and AB go around saying to follow the Buddha’s early teachings-but praise the “power” of these women. Since when Is force and domination over others without their knowledge part of Buddhism, men using women to do it is no better than any other dictatorship in fact it is worse.

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