Sanitsuda Ekachai: Cracking the religious wall of prejudice

Here’s a recent article, front page on today’s online Bangkok Post, by senior editor and tireless bhikkhuni advocate Sanitsuda Ekachai. She is scathing in her assessment of the recent debacle at the UNDV, and its implcations for the wider Thai Sangha. Here’s an excerpt; but you really should read the whole thing.

The ban shows how deeply Thai Buddhism is mired in the culture of patriarchy that refuses to see men and women as equal. Ask mainstream monks why women suffer, and their standard answer is because women sinned in their past lives.

“Make more merit,” is also their standard recommendation. “So you will be born men in your next lives.” The best merit, they would continue, comes from donations to monks.

It confounds me how most Thai women still take this nonsense submissively and continue to give their hard-earned money to build big temples only to be told that they cannot enter the temple’s most sacred area because women menstruate, thus are “dirty”.

It also confounds me how some pro-democracy advocates strongly defend this sexist practice on the ground that it is part of local culture, and thus must be preserved.

After the May 22 coup, the incurable optimists among us are busy preparing recommendations on all sorts of reforms to the military junta. Some advocates for Sangha reform believe the military should amend the draconian Sangha Bill to end the clergy’s feudal system which is deeply authoritarian and corrupt.

According to research by Nada Chansom of the National Institute of Development Administration, 37,075 temples nationwide receive between 100 and 120 billion baht in donation money each year. Abbots have total control of this tax-free temple money with no monitoring from the Supreme Sangha Council nor from any government agencies.

Can democratic reform occur under military dictatorship? Can women be spiritually equal under patriarchal clergy? Those who believe in change do not waste time asking those questions. They take things into their own hands. For female ordination, women simply discard resistance from Thai Theravada clergy and seek ordination elsewhere.

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…