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Author Topic: Western Ajahn, Wat Pah Pong and Bhikkhuni Ordination  (Read 27961 times)

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Ulrike Hasseng

  • Guest
Western Ajahn, Wat Pah Pong and Bhikkhuni Ordination
« on: January 29, 2014, 05:05:48 PM »
How to understand this.

We have heard rumors that a press conference held by ‘Wat Pa Pong’ was going to call for increased control over Western monks. Thanks to Sanitsuda Ekachai, here’s a preliminary report.

I’m not sure who took part in the press conference, as it mainly uses the formal titles which are never used in conversation. And i don’t know to what extent this ‘press conference’ represents a collective action by WPP. The whole thing is so unprecedented. There are no pre-existing procedures in WPP circles that would enable such things, so whatever happens it is new. It is highly unlikely that the Western Ajahns were consulted, certainly not all of them or in detail. Like the Dhammalight website, or the emails from the supposed address – which this interview says were not from WPP – it is unclear whose agenda is being pushed here. The claim is that the conference represents the views of a council of 12 senior monks at WPP. I believe this is an ad hoc committee set up in the wake of the bhikkhuni ordination.

In the statement from the WAM and elsewhere, the Western Ajahns have been at pains to claim that their system is a slow and consensual one, and that deliberation and discussion must proceed any move. Clearly this is not how things are going on. They need to start acknowledging this reality, or else their brothers in Thailand are going to just keep going further off the wall. If WPP is really as consensual as they claim, then they must accept full responsibility for these attacks and views. If it is not consensual, then they need to stop hiding behind this smokescreen and admit that there simply is no way that bhikkhuni ordination could have been reasonably pursued within WPP circles.

Phra Kru Opaswuthikorn presided at the press conference today to urge the Office of National Buddhism and the Council of Elders to issue rules and regulations to empower the Thai Sangha to punish monks overseas who violate the Sangha’s mandates.

Phra Kru Opas spoke on behalf of the Wat Pah Pong executive board which made this decision last week.

Rough summary of press releases:

    The Perth ordination is against the Vinaya-Dharma of Thai Theravada Buddhism as well as violating the Wat Pah Pong’s prohibition against female ordination. Aj Brahm was summoned to admit his mistake which refused to do, resulting in the excommunication. This decision was later approved by Somdet Phra Puttajarn who said Aj Brahm’s preceptorship was therefore automatically revoked.

    Apart from ordaining women, Aj Brahm was also accused of temple mismanagement. The Bodhinyana Temple came into being through the faith and donations of Thai Buddhists in Perth. After the first abbot left monkhood, Aj Brahm was appointed as abbot and he later changed the temple bylaws and change the temple committee members for “his own interest” despite disagreement from the Bodhinyana Sangha.

    Given that the Bhikkhuni ordination and temple ownership problems have greatly troubled the Thai Buddhists in Australia, a committee should be set up to investigate land ownership and temple mismanagement at Bodhinyana in order to return the land and temple to the Thai Buddhists and to ensure that the temple management is in line with Dhamma Vinaya.

    To prevent future problems, rules and regulations should be issued so the Thai Sangha can punish the monks overseas who violate th laws and the clergy’s mandates.

    On temple ownership overseas, this poses a problem of control because temples are owned by associations not the Thai Sangha like temples in Thailand. Should the abbots err, they still can stay if the temple committee support them. Or, when the abbots are in the right, they cannot stay if they don’t have support of the committee. The management of temples in Thailand, however, is under Thai Sangha’s administrative structure. When problems occur like in the case of Bodhinyana, it is then difficult to move due to lack of uniform rules which effectively govern temples in Thailand. To prevent similar problems, there should be a state agency to enforce the Thai Sangha law and to cover temples overseas.

    I asked whether WPP sent emails to the Thai embasy and Sinporean organisers of Aj Brahm’s talks, the answer is no, WPP did not do that.

    Asked if this control effort have been approved by the Western clergy since it would affect the Western monks’ relative autonomy which is useful to their dharma work, the answer that it is the decision of the WPP board consisting of 12 senior monks. That it was approved by LP Liam. But the answer was not clear if the Western Sangha was fully consulted or not.

    Phra Kru Sudhamprachote said many Thai Buddhists in Perth are unhappy with Aj Brahm and are trying to find way to get him out the temple. But this is up to the people, WPP cannot do anything to support this action.

    I asked if WPP has an alternative to Bhikkhuni. Aj Kevali is in favour of the Siladhara order. But Phra Kru Opas outrightly dismissed it, saying it it would be difficult for the order to be accepted in Thailand. He described Bhikkhuni ordination as against the Dhamma Vinaya. That the Buddha advised monks to stay away from women, because women and monks are like fire and fuel.

    I asked what is the real issue concerning Aj Brahm, Bhikkhuni ordination or Aj Brahm’s secrecy and failure to consult the WPP clergy. Phra Kru Opas said the main issue is Bhikkhuni ordination. That there is no way that Thai Theravada Buddhism to have Bhikkhuni. And as far WPP concerns, Aj Brahm is no longer a Thai Theravada monk, but a Mahayana monk.

    My hunch : This might be part of the existing problems of internal politics between Thai and Western monks in the WPP order. Luang Por Chah wanted the Western clergy to oversee the Western monks. Consequently, Thai monks have no say on temples overseas. But the Perth ordination shows Aj Sumedho’s failure to keep the monks under his supervision in line so the Thai monks have the reason to step in to control the Western monks and the temple properties abroad.

There are a number of critical points here.

Phra Kru Opas clearly states that the real issue is bhikkhuni ordination, which he says can never be accepted in Thai Buddhism. One the other hand, we have been told again and again by Western Ajahns that the real issue is not bhikkhuni ordination, but the ‘way it was done’. I give the Western Ajahns the benefit of the doubt here: I don’t think they are lying, I think they are just naive. They need to actively develop a culture of denial if they are to maintain the status quo and convince themselves that it is possible to remain with integrity within the existing structures of Thai State Buddhism. As I have said all along, and as the statement here confirms, there never was any possibility of advancing bhikkhuni ordination within the existing structures.

And, as I have also stated repeatedly, siladharas are no better in the eyes of the conservative Thai Sangha. Ordaining siladharas is just as illegal in Thailand as ordaining bhikkhunis – if the 1928 ruling is still in force – and Phra Kru Opas dismisses any chance that that order might make any headway in Thailand. The only advantage of the siladhara order is that it’s easy to dismiss it and not take it seriously. The plain fact is that if these ultra-conservative monks have their way, there is no chance of any improvement in women’s lot in Thai Buddhism.

The most astonishing accusations in Phra Opas’ statement concern the alleged temple mismanagement at Bodhinyana. These claims are so wrong that they beggar belief. Anyone who knows Ajahn Brahm would know that he is the most scrupulous and dedicated manager imaginable. He goes so far as to personally check every call on the phone bill, and will harass Telstra if there’s the slightest problem. The irony is that it was, in fact Wat Nanachat that was badly mismanaged for many years, because most of the other Ajahns, understandably enough, are not so concerned or knowledgeable about such matters. It ended up with lay committee members ripping off much of the donations. The rorts were only ended by Ajahn Nyanadhammo, who set up a rigorous system of checks on finances, which he had learnt to do from his time at Bodhinyana with Ajahn Brahm.

The notion that there are a set of ‘uniform rules’ that ‘effectively govern’ monasteries in Thailand is utter nonsense. Mainstream Thai Buddhism is rotten to its core. This is a staple part of Forest Tradition ideology. You don’t have to take my word for it, look at the actions of Phra Mongkut, or Ajahn Mun, or Ajahn Chah. They all operated under the quite reasonable knowledge that mainstream Thai Buddhism was bereft of any genuine Dhamma, and that only by reforming or living on the margins of the system could one live with integrity.

Things have not improved since their times. On the contrary, it has got much worse. The past generation has seen unprecedented wealth pour into the coffers of the Thai Sangha. There is precious little oversight and no proper policies on how to deal with this. The situation in the past at Wat Nanachat was not the exception but the norm – and not every monastery has an abbot trained in Australian accounting procedures. Everyone agrees that the existing system is inadequate at best and needs overhauling, yet no-one has been able to do it. So it just lurches along from scandal to scandal.

In the forest monasteries you will constantly hear stories of how corrupt the city/village monks are: the monks who set up a still to brew the leftover sticky rice from alms-round – and then tried to sell the liquor back to the villagers; the monastery that was running a brothel out the back; the use of temple boys to pleasure the monks; the monk who had an affair with a novice, and then when he got jealous, murdered his unfaithful lover; the tudong monk who stayed overnight in a village monastery, only to wake up with a naked monk in his bed; the village who got so sick of their monks’ behaviour they took their Buddha image to Bangkok, dumped it and declared they would no longer be Buddhists; the monastery that was so jealous when a nearby monastery actually started teaching meditation that they accused the meditation teacher of being a communist spy; the monks who salt away all the temple money for years, then disrobe and retire rich; selling drugs from monasteries; or the claim by the Thai Religious Affairs department that 10% of Thai monks were addicted to methamphetamine. And on it goes.

But none of these are the problem: ordaining bhikkhunis is the problem.

A few more specifics need mention.

    After the first abbot left monkhood, Aj Brahm was appointed as abbot and he later changed the temple bylaws and change the temple committee members for “his own interest” despite disagreement from the Bodhinyana Sangha.

The interesting thing about these claims is not just the fact that they are so utterly without foundation, but that the monks are so out of touch with what is actually happening that they can actually believe them (I presume) and that they can imagine that they don’t just make themselves look silly. Of course, in the media you can say anything, and since most people know even less about the issues some people will always believe it. But it is such a radically unethical approach it is hard to see how it cannot but rebound on the accusers.

    To prevent future problems, rules and regulations should be issued so the Thai Sangha can punish the monks overseas who violate th laws and the clergy’s mandates.

“Rules and regulations, punishment, violations, and mandates”. Everything that this interview is about is exactly the opposite of why we became Buddhists, or were attracted to practicing Buddhism, in the first place. Give Buddhism over to these people, and the end is just around the corner.

    Phra Kru Sudhamprachote said many Thai Buddhists in Perth are unhappy with Aj Brahm and are trying to find way to get him out the temple. But this is up to the people, WPP cannot do anything to support this action.

Thai people, as I have said again and again, are like people anywhere – diverse and varied. WPP and the Thai Sangha officials do not have a monopoly of what Thai people want or believe. There are, quite probably, some Thais in Perth who do not like the bhikkhuni ordination. There are certainly many who are fully supportive. But the claim that WPP can do nothing about this is untrue: in fact, a senior monk from WPP has been ringing the Thai people in Perth to urge them to act to have Ajahn Brahm removed. This is, of course, just more evidence of how out of touch they are. The committee and lay community in Perth is fully behind Ajahn Brahm.

If this movement gains any momentum, what we may see is the development of a Thai temple in Perth separate from Bodhinyana. It’ll become like every other Thai temple: a place for Thais to go, speak their language, perform their rituals, and be reminded of home. Then they’ll realize that their children are completely alien in this environment, and go to Bodhinayana asking the monks to help teach their children.

The most interesting thing for now will be to see how the other Western Ajahns react – and even more so, what about the junior monks and nuns, and those considering ordination. How do they feel entering such an environment? If these things had been happening when I was new to all this, I would have run a million miles. After a long slow drift towards conservatism, reactionary politics, and sexist institutionalization, now there’s a rapid and dramatic lurch to the extremes.

Offline Johann

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  • Sadhu! or +371/-0
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  • Date of ordination/Datum der Ordination.: 20140527
Re: Western Ajahn, Wat Pah Pong and Bhikkhuni Ordination
« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2014, 05:20:18 PM »
Thanks a lot Ulrike Hasseng,

I will go throw it, meanwhile I cut your post of here and put it into a more related forum.

This post and Content has come to be by Dhamma-Dana and so is given as it       Dhamma-Dana: Johann

Ulrike Hasseng

  • Guest
Re: Western Ajahn, Wat Pah Pong and Bhikkhuni Ordination
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2014, 05:23:51 PM »

Bhikkhu Sujato joins us to speak about the ordination of women in the Theravada tradition, and his work with canonical veracity in The Authenticity Project.

How do we know for sure what Gotama said? We probably can’t, and we can further muddy the waters with unsupportable assertions about the perfection of the Pali canon as the

True Word of The Buddha. Or, we can use the fine minds we have, apply some reason, and have some engaging conjecture about consistent messages showing through the various texts

that have come to us through the ages. Of course there are going to be differences of opinion and valid acceptance criteria, that’s expected; we’re not measuring the rate of a

falling object in a vacuum, and can’t expect that kind of accuracy. That doesn’t mean we can’t ask the questions, and it doesn’t mean we can’t be enthusiastic participants in

companionable dialogue.


 This is not a Schism
I was stunned to view the Buddhist Channel headline: “Ajahn Brahm excommunicated for performing Bhikkhuni Ordination in Australia.”

Then on Phra Noah Yuttadhammo’s blog, he writes: “An interesting topic, and indeed history in the making; new Bhikkhunis in Australia and a schism in the Thai forest sangha...

I'm not sure which is of more significance.” What schism?

The Australian bhikkhuni ordination has generated some hard feelings in the many different corners of the Wat Nong Pa Pong lineage. There’s also quite a bit of hand-wringing on

the sidelines. But use of the terms excommunication and schism constitute a reckless characterization of recent events.

These words embody very serious religious implications. While Ajahn Brahm (and the world) has been notified that he is now a persona non grata in the Wat Nong Pa Pong network,

he has not been excommunicated. They neither formally disputed his status as a Theravada monk nor his authority to officiate and participate in religious ceremonies—they rather

informed him that he is not welcome in their club. It’s not playing nice, but it’s not excommunication.

Phra Noah’s use of schism should likewise be avoided. Anyone raised on stories of Lord Buddha is well aware that schism is often a direct reference to the Bhagavan’s scriptural

antagonist Devadatta. This word ought to be used with caution. The expulsion of Bodhinyana monastery from the WPP network is no more a schism than the suspension of a nation

from the Commonwealth.

This post is not meant to trivialize current events. The bhikkhuni ordination and subsequent backlash are both significant and newsworthy events. But they shouldn’t be blown

out of proportion.

The gravity of this situation is more political than religious. This fracas is very much a Buddhist issue, but we mustn’t confuse it as being a spiritual quarrel. I can expect

more bitter words and much awkward silence to ensue. A formal schism of the Theravada sangha, however, is unlikely.
Posted by Arun at 12:10 AM
Labels: Asian Buddhists, bhikkhuni, diversity, monk, politics, sangha, Thailand, Western Buddhists, Yuttadhammo

    J. Andy LambertNovember 5, 2009 at 10:07 AM

    I like your take on this event. It is very saddening that Ajahn Brahm chose to proceed with this in the manner that he did. I have found the teachings of the Ajahn Chah

lineage and Ajahn Brahm in particular to be very accessible to me personally.

    In case you ahve seen it I copied a link to Ajahn Chandro's open letter to the WAS:,8666,0,0,1,0
    NellaLouNovember 5, 2009 at 10:56 PM

    Your point is well taken here Arun. He is still Ajahn Brahm not Mr. Brahm. And a political (politics meaning the wielding of power) disagreement among a certain group of

monks does not throw the entire school or all of Thai Buddhism into disarray. Let's keep some perspective on this and not sensationalize.

    It would be nice if those taking the action against Ajahn Brahm would be more reasonable, in my opinion, but a lot of things would be nice if they came to pass. That's just

not reality. So this thing has occurred and people will adjust and take it from here.

    Perhaps, once the upset from the situation wears off some fruitful dialogue will occur. To get people to talk of a situation is the first step to it's resolution.
    pj pilgrimNovember 5, 2009 at 11:52 PM

    Ajahn Chandako says that the monks of WPP think that Ajahns Brahm and Sujato performed the ordination becoz they wanted to go down in history as the heroes who revived the

Theravada bhikkhuni tradition. The fact is the tradition was revived in the 80s and there are hundreds of bhikkhunis now, so it's a little late to claim credit. If Ajahn

Chandako is talking only of the WPP lineage then what credit is there? unless these WPP monks believe that their monastery is the centre of gravity of Theravada.
    RuddhaNovember 6, 2009 at 5:03 AM

    As an ex-disciple of Ajahn Brahm ( my ordination name was Ven. Anuruddha ) who was resident at Bodhinyana for six years, and was present when the decision to proceed with

the bhikkuni ordination was in gestation, I can only applaude his decision, unreservedly! Ajahn has two enduring characteristics that equip him for leadership; courage and

vision. I am currently undertaking study for a doctorate in Buddhism, cognitive neuroscience and psychoanalysis. Bodhinyana monastery is my fieldwork site. I know Ajahn

Chandako and was, as a novice monk invited by him to come and help build his monastery in New Zealand. He is a very good monk and has extremely good meditation; however, as

much as I support his right to express his views, I don't think he has all of the facts. I suggest that any of your contributors who might be interested, consult Ajahn

Brahmali's response to his letter at the website. The future of Buddhism is in the WEST! The gerentocracy that reacted in some small degree within Thailand, I

believe, are not receptive to the new dimension to which Theravada Buddhism has developed, within, specifically Australia. We do not have the problems that have ensued with the

reception of other forms of Buddhism; principally, as Theravada bhikkhus' and bhikkunis' they are governed INTERNALY i.e, psychologically by the Vinaya, which then affects

actions of thought, speech and action. There is NO action against either Ajahn Brahm, Ajahn Sujato nor Ajahn (Sister) Vayama according to the Vinaya in their decision to

proceed with the full ordination of suitable candidates for such office. I would suggest that this would not even have raised the slightest murmur of dissent if the Buddha was

alive today; which he IS in the Dhamma, the Vinaya and the Sangha. Let us rejoice for the blessings that we have, due to this wholesome decision. Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

    Keith Eldershaw

    Visiting Scholar
    The University of Western Australia.
    kittisaro & thanissaraNovember 6, 2009 at 9:49 AM

    Hi Keith - can I post your comments on the Discussion board of Women & the Forest Sangha on face book - in response to A.Chandako's letter already posted there?

    RuddhaNovember 6, 2009 at 10:01 PM

    Of course, Thanissara! Please feel free, the more information the better. Incidently, I was instructing a Mahayana nun at the Scholars' Centre at the University of Western

Australia who has written a thesis entitled--The "Other" Path: The Bhikkhuni ( Buddhist Feminist Nun ) Quest for Liberation. Even though in Theravada terms she would not be

considered fully ordained, her devotion to the path is unquestioned. I have one reservation: why do you have "anger" in your blog title? I am not criticising, but the Buddha

was explicit regarding the unwholesome mind states that emerge through anger. However, that said, there are close friends of mine that I shared robes with that are very

interested in your blog. Kindest regards, Keith.
    Shravasti DhammikaNovember 6, 2009 at 11:06 PM

    To say that Ajahn Brahm has been excommunicated and that this is a schism is not a ‘wrekless characterization’. To be excommunicated is ‘to be expelled from a religious

organization’ and a schism is ‘a disagreement within an organization, particularly a religious one, causing its members to divide into separate groups’. It seems to me that

this is exactly what has happened – but within the Ajahn Chah monastic movement, not within Theravada as a whole. Both those things happened within the Theravadin Sangha

centuries ago. Monks of the different sects and nikayas in the different Theravadin countries and between the different countries do not and will not hold joint Sangha

functions. Indeed in Thailand Mahanikaya monks are not even welcome to stay in Dhammayut monasteries and visa versa. The Ajahn Braham affair is but another division and

Theravada will continue to stumble along.
    RuddhaNovember 7, 2009 at 2:10 AM

    Yes, you are right. The teachings of the Buddha ( the original teachings; hence Thera, Elders ) do keep stumbling along. The real teachings of the Buddha come to light in

the mind, when one is faced with REAL difficulties of life; not armchair theorising. As Ajahn once said,"If you are serious about Buddhism, you take robes."

    Are you serious about Budddhism?
    ArunNovember 7, 2009 at 2:26 AM

    @Ruddha: To the question about the use of “angry”—this blog was initially set up with a very narrow vision within the spirit of Asian American social activism. The title of

this blog is an admittedly shameless imitation of Angry Asian Man, Angry Little Asian Girls, etc. which address the American stereotype of passive and submissive Asians. In the

context of the American Buddhist community (and to a lesser extent, the larger Western Buddhist community), the goal was aimed specifically at responding directly to rhetoric

which marginalizes Asian Americans and Asians in general. For my two favorite class of examples: rhetoric which excludes Asian Buddhists from Western Buddhism, and rhetoric

which suggests that the Buddhism practiced by Asians is somehow inferior. The scope of this blog has, since then, somewhat broadened.

    @Ven. Shravasti Dhammika: Thank you for your comments. If you are going to cite me in your comments, I encourage you to cite me properly; perhaps next time you might use

copy/paste. First, I agree with your definition of excommunication, but it seems you and I will differ as to the extent to which the Wat Nong Pa Pong network constitutes a

religious entity. I certainly understand your comparison to the nikayas, but I disagree such that I do not understand WPP to be on the same level. You are giving them too much

credit as a religious entity. If you feel they are indeed comparable, I would encourage you to educate me. Second, your claims about the immiscibility of the Dhammayuttika and

Maha Nikaya hinge on your use of the words “in Thailand,” which is not as I understand the conventional sense of either schism or excommunication—acts defined by nation, not by

religious association. I know from personal experience that this restriction—if it can be considered as such—is often breached elsewhere in Southeast Asia and abroad. Lastly, I

do not see the Ajahn Brahm division as an enduring one unless the parties involved strive to cement it as such. I just got off the phone two hours ago with a dear friend and

avid bhikkhuni advocate at a Thai Wat Nong Pa Pong branch monastery in Thailand; for the sake of protecting his anonymity, I will just say that his perceptions on the situation

from within flatly contradict your perceptions from without.
    RuddhaNovember 7, 2009 at 3:23 AM

    Dear Arun, Thank you for providing me with a clear explanation of your blog. I imagine that you are writing from the United States? In Australia; well, specifically in

Western Australia where I reside, the Buddhist Society here is a cross-section of our diverse multi-ethnic society. For instance, within Bodhinyana Monastery alone ( Ajahn

Brahm's residence )as a monk I lived with: Norwegian, German, English, Australian, New Zealand, Thai, Malay, American and Vietnamese, as well as monks from Australian and

Japanese parentage. OK! I am trained in Japanese swordsmanship, and unbeknown to me my sword teachers' son presented himself at the monastery for ordination ( which he duly was

admitted into )---so we had, and still do have a polyglot of representations of humanity in W.A.

    The important thing, to my mind Arun is that the Dhamma that is taught by Ajahn Brahm is based upon sila and then meditation; as you know he avows jhana---Bliss in the

mind; bliss in our lives. The Buddha taught for ALL no matter what caste; there are specific rules in the Vinaya governing ANY form of condescention or bigotry towards any

member of the sangha---no matter who they are. Women have EVERY right to ordain and restrain themselves towards attaining the final release from samsara. If you are open to

allowing your hearts' through training the mind to achieve the bramavihara: karuna, mudita, metta and uppekkha, nothing but good will come from this.

    Kindest regards, Keith.
    savesocietyNovember 10, 2009 at 7:25 AM

    Sabbe sankhara anicca'ti
    yokieNovember 17, 2009 at 8:33 AM

    Hi Sangha,

    Haven't we got enough fights and anger in this world? Why adding more? Is this good for the Buddhit community? Let the boiling water cools down so that the bottom of it is



As much I know Sujato is good friend of yours.


 Greetings members of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia.

The reason is because of the recent actions and attitude of Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso. It’s about how decisions are made in the Sangha and about respect for elders and peers.

On October 22nd a bhikkhuni ordination was held at Bodhinyana Monastery without the prior support of the wider monastic Sangha. As a result there have been huge ramifications felt around the world. Fully comprehending the issues surrounding the ordination takes some explanation.

I know the people involved pretty well. I lived at Bodhinyana Monastery for two rains retreats ten years ago, and throughout that time I had very high regard for Venerable Ajahn Brahm. Ajahn Brahmali is a good friend. I have been to India with Ajahn Vayama on pilgrimage, and I have known Ajahn Sujato for 17 years. In the past year I have gotten to know Ayya Tathaaloka, and Ayya Sucinta has stayed at our monastery in New Zealand. Having spoken with or gotten emails from all of them concerning the ordination, I think I understand their perspectives and motivations.

Personally, I fully support women’s aspirations to practice the Dhamma in the form of a bhikkhuni if that is their wish. In June of this year I taught a bhikkhuni monastic training retreat in California in order to help them receive proper training and to demonstrate my support for their difficult quest for equal rights for women in Buddhism. I wrote a supportive article for a bhikkhuni newsletter. I arranged and brought requisites for them from Thailand, and invited some to spend time on retreat at our monastery in New Zealand. So I’m definitely not anti-bhikkhuni.

And yet I feel this particular ordination was a serious mistake. Why?

First of all, the secrecy with which the ordination was planned and carried out has significantly damaged trust levels with the rest of the Sangha. The normal way we operate as an international monastic community is based on openness and discussion. However, some of the nuns and monks who participated in the ordination told me that they were requested to keep the event secret. They said it was intentionally kept quiet in order to reduce the possibility of other people voicing objections. There was no public announcement until a couple of days beforehand, and the rest of the Sangha only found out indirectly at that time. Ajahn Brahm did not inform his preceptor (the acting head of the Sangha in Thailand) or the head of the Ajahn Chah lineage, Luang Por Liem. Many people feel that they were intentionally deceived.

Secondly is the timing. In just a few months, most of the senior monks and nuns from our tradition would have come together for the first time since the last WAM four years ago. Bhikkhuni ordination was one of the main topics to be discussed. In holding the ordination beforehand, Ajahn Brahm and the Sangha in Perth effectively cut off any discussion on the issue and decided it for themselves. What one monastery decides does not simply affect that monastery, but affects all the other branch monasteries around the world as well. Ajahn Brahm’s decision has already had major harmful effects on the rest of us. To proceed unilaterally on such a sensitive issue as bhikkhuni ordination without consulting other senior monks or nuns came across as blatantly disrespectful and insensitive.

The main issue here is not actually bhikkhuni ordination. The fact is, the vast majority of the senior western monks worldwide are sympathetic to the idea of bhikkhuni ordination, and progress in that direction was also being made in the mainstream of the Asian Theravada Buddhist countries. If Ajahn Brahm had waited to discuss the issue with his peers at the WAM, there was a realistic hope that bhikkhuni ordination would soon be accepted. Then the entire Sangha could have moved forward in unison with a spirit of harmony. I strongly suspect that this ordination at Bodhinyana will set this process of mainstream acceptance back many years.

If you know monastics like Luang Por Sumedho, Ajahn Sucitto, Ajahn Pasanno, Ajahn Tiradhammo, Ajahn Candasiri, Ajahn Amaro, etc, you know that they are wise, compassionate and tolerant people. Luang Por Sumedho and Ajahn Sucitto in particular have invested a huge amount of their time to make high quality monastic training available to women. So creating and perpetuating portrayals of those who opposed this ordination as anti-bhikkhuni or sexist is simply not accurate and certainly not helpful. Using polarizing language that tries to divide Buddhists into factions of pro and con, conservative and liberal, good and bad is an unreasonable oversimplification of a far more complex situation.

On November 1, only a week after the bhikkhuni ordination, a meeting was called at Ajahn Chah’s monastery, Wat Pah Pong, and Ajahn Brahm was invited to clarify and explain what had taken place. This was not just a meeting of a few senior Thai and western monks. In fact, 160 of the most senior Thai forest monks came from around the country with only a few days notice to take part in this discussion. It was a public meeting that was open to anyone who wished to attend. Once the details of what actually took place were verified, the Ajahn Chah Sangha gave Ajahn Brahm the choice of either considering the ordination as null and void or being cut off from the Ajahn Chah tradition. He chose the second option.

By handling the bhikkhuni ordination in the way that he did, Ajahn Brahm put the Sangha of Ajahn Chah in a position where they basically had no choice but to remove his monastery from the Ajahn Chah lineage. This was very predictable. What I have been told by senior monks in Thailand is that there is a law in Thailand that makes it illegal to ordain bhikkhunis without the consent of the Great Council of Elders, the Mahathera Samakom. Although Ajahn Brahm does not reside in Thailand, if he wishes to retain a connection to the Thai Sangha, he is expected to abide by Thai Sangha laws. Even if he considered the bhikkhuni law unjust, in accepting his Chao Khun status from the King of Thailand (similar to being appointed a bishop), Ajahn Brahm agreed to uphold Thai law and the regulations of the Great Council of Elders. Working to change that Thai law would be constructive, but knowingly breaking the law and remaining part of the Thai lineage are incompatible.

When being removed from the Ajahn Chah Sangha was so obviously predictable, one again wonders why the ordination was handled the way it was. It seems that either Ajahn Brahm intentionally forced the issue in order to be able to go independent from the Ajahn Chah lineage; or that he was very much out of touch with the rest of the Sangha.

Those present at the Ajahn Chah Sangha meeting were some of the best forests monks in the world today. Some are true meditation masters and were definitely not approaching the issue from the standpoint of worldly ego. Most are monks who are excellent examples of the Buddhist teachings: wise and circumspect people who have dedicated their lives to practicing the Dhamma. All of the recent correspondence concerning the ordination had been translated into Thai, so they were well informed on the issues. They were however all, or nearly all, men, so some might get the impression that this was a sexist movement to repress equal rights for women even though this was not the case. Ajahn Chah set up one of the largest and best trained nuns communities in Thailand, and his successor, Ajahn Liem, said at the Sangha meeting that he has also spent a great portion of his life teaching the path of liberation to women.

Ajahn Sujato has also been a very vocal participant in this series of events. However, since he had already declared himself independent of the Ajahn Chah lineage and Bodhinyana Monastery, his actions and statements have been considered tangential to the main issue. To the best of my knowledge, Ajahns Brahm and Sujato have never tried to present their case at an Ajahn Chah Sangha meeting or discuss it at the WAM. If they had, and it really was clearly a hopeless dead end, then maybe an ordination like this might seem reasonable.

For all the western abbots of the Ajahn Chah lineage (who often have very independent views on Sangha matters) to be totally united on anything is rare. For all of them to condemn Ajahn Brahm’s actions is unprecedented. Many of them have been personal friends of Ajahn Brahm for over 30 years. For them to cancel their attendance at the WAM and to go through all the difficulty of changing their flights and/or sacrificing their airfares shows how serious the matter is; however, for a western branch monastery to be removed from the Ajahn Chah lineage is unheard of. Nothing even close to this has ever happened. Only extreme behavior by someone who showed no remorse would warrant such a response by the rest of the abbots worldwide.

During this process Ajahns Brahm and Sujato displayed no willingness to compromise. Their emails to the Sangha seemed condescending, focused on creating divisiveness, accusing others of being sexist and trying to pigeonhole the Sangha into distinct camps that in fact do not exist. Those who did not agree with the ordination were spoken of as a fringe conservative element, when realistically it would be more accurate to say that 95% of the ordained Theravada monastics feel that the manner in which this ordination was held was a serious mistake.

Unfortunately, I believe that this ordination will be more harmful to the nuns involved than helpful. For example, the nuns will likely become even more isolated. There will be very few monasteries where they will be welcome or their ordination recognised. Ordaining in the midst of discord is not the most auspicious way to begin a life as a bhikkhuni, and even ordaining more than one bhikkhuni at a time is an offense in the bhikkhuni Vinaya. Regrettably, their actions will likely have detrimental effects on the mainstream acceptance of full ordination for women in the Theravada tradition. Again, all of this was easily predictable and avoidable, and yet the nuns involved seemed to have little or no idea that there would be negative effects resulting from this ordination.

As this drama unfolded, it became increasingly clear that the real issue was not really the nuns. If the welfare of the four women involved was the primary concern, Ajahn Brahm could have easily used his influence to arrange a bhikkhuni ordination elsewhere with other non-Ajahn Chah monks. That would have achieved their aim of full ordination. It could have all happened independent of the Ajahn Chah Sangha, and it would not have resulted in waves of protest. The progress within the mainstream towards full acceptance could have continued, and monks like myself would have been happy to support and recognise the ordination.

So the question then arises, 'why did this ordination have to take place at Ajahn Brahm's monastery?' A few days before the ordination, I had a long conversation with Ayya Tathaaloka to find out what was happening and to discuss some of the predictable outcomes, so that the nuns could make an informed decision. Generally, the women were not aware that there would be any major problems arising from this ordination. I suggested the option of having the ordination as independent from the Ajahn Chah Sangha as possible. I thought that this might be a way to achieve their aims while defusing the situation.

The next day, Ayya Tathaaloka phoned back to say that the nuns had voted unanimously to have the ordination at Dhammasara (not a branch monastery of Ajahn Chah) and not to have Ajahn Brahm play an official role in the ordination. They were confident that this would still constitute a valid bhikkhuni ordination. This decision was subject to the agreement of Ajahn Brahm and the monks at Bodhinyana. Ayya Tathaloka and Ajahn Vayama then went to Bodhinyana to discuss the matter with Ajahn Sujato and to phone Ajahn Brahm, who was in England at the time. Ayya Tathaloka said that the nuns were not able to convince the senior monks of their alternate idea, so the nuns agreed to go ahead as originally planned.

If the ordination had been independent of Bodhinyana Monastery, Ajahn Brahm would not have been able to take credit for it. Although I cannot know the motivations behind their actions, many people I have spoken to think that what was important to Ajahns Brahm and Sujato was that they go down in history as the ones who revived the bhikkhuni order in the Theravada tradition. This is only speculation, but if this is true, then in some ways the nuns themselves seemed to have been used as pawns in this greater ambition.

In the days before the ordination I wrote to the nuns staying at Dhammasara:

“The nuns have a very valid point in that many of the senior monks have simply not wanted to deal with the issue of bhikkhuni ordination, and the lack of serious attention has been dismissive and harmful. Well, now you have the world's attention. Good on you! At this point you still have a choice. If you hold off on the ordination, almost everyone will praise your restraint, and everyone will have to seriously discuss bringing bhikkhunis into the mainstream of the Sangha. It's currently in everyone's face. If Ajahn Chah’s monastery in Thailand gives the official go ahead, then we are all ready to happily support bhikkhuni ordination in Perth. If you go ahead with the ordination now, I think it will be a big mess, actually. There is already much sadness about the disharmony between Ajahns Brahm/Sujato and the European monasteries and Thailand. Ajahn Brahm is digging his heels in even deeper.”

One of the great strengths that holds the Ajahn Chah Sangha together worldwide is a sense of listening to each other, mutual trust and deciding issues together. This is the example set by the Buddha. If, after Ajahn Chah passed away, each monastery had simply decided to go its own way, independently following the opinions of their various abbots while disregarding the views of peers and elders, that would have led to a weak and disjointed lineage.

The communal framework set up by Ajahn Chah can accommodate a wide diversity of monks, nuns, views and lifestyles, but Ajahn Brahm has taken it way past the accepted limit. One of the reasons there is sadness around this issue is because this is the first time any of the western monasteries of Ajahn Chah has decided to split away from the group. If Ajahn Brahm had waited until the WAM to inform the rest of our Sangha that he would prefer to go independent, that would have been considered regrettable but brave and honourable. Instead, the way Ajahn Brahm has handled this bhikkhuni ordination has led to much disharmony, mistrust and bad feelings, both in monastic and lay communities.

This letter is written merely from my perspective, so please accept it as just that. I am not writing as a representative of the Sangha. The isolation of the Perth Sangha and lay community can lead to a reinforcing of particular views without having much opportunity to hear different perspectives, so at least communication among us has increased. If I have said anything in this letter that has caused anyone offense, I apologise and ask for your forgiveness.

With metta,

Ajahn Chandako


You always claim to follow the  Vinaya.  How to understand this?

Offline Johann

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Re: Western Ajahn, Wat Pah Pong and Bhikkhuni Ordination
« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2014, 05:48:15 PM »
Just a quick comment, if somebody tells that Ajahn Brahmali and certain Western Monks producing or have already produced a Schism, I need to tell, there is less which could report otherwise.

We need to be careful to separate the status of certain Bhikkhunis who (if that is so) had taken Ordination in the believe that it is all right (that means without doubt) and faults of people who give ordinations or even afterward try to make incorrect ways correct and risk the status of the Bhikkhunis with it.

It would be all not really a problem, if this are taken like they are now and old offenses would be confessed and give those who have gained ordination the independent respect.

Somebody else fault, does not meet the other. That is something we need to know. So if a woman has been given ordination, even the giver does consciously wrong, and the receiver has no doubt about or information that it could be wrong (one needs to quest one self), there is no problem and this Bhikkuni lineage (all through it might be a "mistake") is done and here. Nobody can take you away your ordination if you have not done any fault for your self.

It would be good to understand this and it would be good if Western Monks start to respect Traditions and Buddhas teachings. In this way, and if those who have acting wrong confess their deeds, everything is perfect. 

Now where the Bhikkhuni Sangha obliviously exists, its one Bhikkhus who make themselves not be able to move and go on as long as this issue and the acceptance of those out of the "new" lineage is not takes as a "as it is" to process further.

This kind of approaches in direction of the origin Sangha, are not so wise as well the Schism caused by Westerns within even the first generation is sad. It cuts of may possibilities and mostly for woman.

If Bhikkunis are wise, they stay away form those "heros". They have and will have the proper acceptance and support as long as they do a proper practice, from wise laypeople as well as form Bhikkhus, who have their given duties in regard of Bhikkunis.

This post and Content has come to be by Dhamma-Dana and so is given as it       Dhamma-Dana: Johann

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Re: Western Ajahn, Wat Pah Pong and Bhikkhuni Ordination
« Reply #4 on: January 29, 2014, 06:52:44 PM »
Ok, it seems to be a copy of an older post (Heartland - Gay Buddhist Fellowship, Singapore)

So somehow I don't think it's here a try to understand something or to talk about it, So I will move it into the "Tattle and daily opinion battle - Tratschen & Tagemeinungen (tiracchana yoni) " Area.

I otherwise, please let me know.

This post and Content has come to be by Dhamma-Dana and so is given as it       Dhamma-Dana: Johann

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Re: Western Ajahn, Wat Pah Pong and Bhikkhuni Ordination
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2018, 05:51:46 PM »
So if a woman has been given ordination, even the giver does consciously wrong, and the receiver has no doubt about or information that it could be wrong (one needs to quest one self), there is no problem ...

Above may be applied if both preceptors are Theravada.

What if one of the preceptors is non-Theravada (like in the ordination done) ?
Will a cross-religion ordination be valid although the receiver has no doubt ?

(eg: Ordination under:
Tibetan preceptor with Mahayana preceptor,
Jain preceptor with Zen preceptor,
Theravada preceptor with Jain preceptor)
« Last Edit: October 06, 2018, 06:00:47 PM by gus »

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Re: Western Ajahn, Wat Pah Pong and Bhikkhuni Ordination
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2018, 06:06:55 PM »
What if one is Theravada but not Dhamma-Vinaya... there is no such as Theravada. Either Dhamma-Vinaya or not. And for the rest the teachings on purification of gifts can be applied. It's that simple and difficult.

But it's really useless to waste time on this topic in regard of woman. There is already an big issue whether there can be gifts and receiving, purified on one side, found within the Bhikkhu Sangha or if actually householder give ordination to other householders possible everywhere already. Useless this Bhikkhuni issues, to waste time and effort.
This post and Content has come to be by Dhamma-Dana and so is given as it       Dhamma-Dana: Johann

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Re: Western Ajahn, Wat Pah Pong and Bhikkhuni Ordination
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2018, 06:08:59 PM »
Quote from: Lowada Sangarava -
A Sinhalese poem of the 15th century
Venerable Vidagama Maitreya Mahathera
Translated by: Bhikkhu K. Nanananda
Frivolous talk
which does not conduce to the good
of this world or the next,
which the wise from times past
have abstained from,
is unskilful speech.
Do not indulge in it
even for fun.
It is a royal road to hell.
This post and Content has come to be by Dhamma-Dana and so is given as it       Dhamma-Dana: Johann

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Re: Western Ajahn, Wat Pah Pong and Bhikkhuni Ordination
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2018, 06:13:54 PM »

This forum category may be frivolous but the question may be not.


*  I knew you are waiting until I post something in this category.  :)