Saturday, November 7, 2009

Excommunicating Brahmavamso

You would have heard by now that the English/Australian monk Ajahan Brahmavamso has been excommunicated by the Ajahn Chah organization and the senior monks of Wat Pah Pong and censured by the Thailand’s monastic hierarchy. I imagine Thai monks and the Thai expatiate community will start distancing themselves from him. The reason for this? No, not because he keeps telling the same jokes in his talks. Rather, it is because he has given ordination to a group of woman. Most better-informed and intelligent Western Buddhists have described this act as ‘courageous’, ‘an historic step’ and ‘laudable’ and I agree completely. However I see the courageousness, the historical significant and the laudability of this ordination somewhat differently. It affirms the Buddhist ideal of gender equality and that is important. It allows women to share with men the benefits (and challenges) of the monastic life, which is only right. But I doubt that simply having properly ordained nuns is thereby going to advance the Dhamma in the West. ‘Proper’, ‘legally valid’ ordination ‘in conformity with Vinaya’ is one thing – genuine renunciation, spiritual commitment, learning, humility, openness, etc, is another thing altogether. None of this is transmitted through a ‘valid’ ordination.
No, to me, Ajahn Brahmavamso's ordination of these woman is significant for other reasons. Without putting a too finer point on it, Theravada Buddhism in its traditional homelands is, for the most part, spiritually moribund, tradition-bound and retrograde. If Western Buddhists continue to conform to Asian traditions, if they keep depending on it, if they consider it the ideal to emulate, if they wait for it to make reforms, they will simply be held back. Sooner or later there has to be a parting of the ways. Ajahn Brahmavamso is certainly not the first Western Buddhist to make a break and whether being now persona non grata with the Thai Sangha will give him the confidence to make other reforms and innovations remains to be seen. But his high profile and the respect he has, may give others the encouragement to begin more robustly evolving a Buddhism relevant to the West.
Nearly ten years ago I wrote of a possible new approach to Buddhism which I called ‘Buddhayana’. Concerning this new Buddhism’s attitude to the ordination of women I said: 'Even when open-minded Theravadins discuss the possibilities of reestablishing the nun’s Sangha the deliberations always seem to revolve around how to reconcile doing this with what the Vinaya says. Such discussions could go on for centuries. Whatever the Buddha said or is supposed to have said, Buddhayanists would believe that it is wrong to exclude woman from the monastic life, that it is inappropriate in the 21st century to require them to always take second place to a male and that it is degrading to treat them as if they had some sort of contagious disease. They would take as their guide on this and several other issues the Kalama Sutta in which the Buddha says: ‘Do not go by tradition…do not go by the sacred text … But when you yourself know that certain things are right, good, skillful and when followed or practiced results in happiness and benefit, then follow them’ (A.I,188). If no other solution to the problem could be found the first women candidates to the monastic Sangha would be ordained by monks and all subsequent ones would receive the double ordination. If these women were not accepted as real nuns by traditional Theravadins they would not lose too much sleep over it. In Buddhayana nuns and lay woman teachers would have respect, recognition and opportunity in accordance with their commitment and achievements, just like anyone else’. The Broken Buddha, p.151.

35 comments:

May Rulers of the World Be Righteous said...

Dear Bhante,

Well said indeed and very touched by your call for a "Buddhayana". For far too long, the attachment to tradition, culture, lineage and sectarianism has been a major stumbling block to the progress of the Buddha Sasana. I hope that the Western Sangha could set an example to transcend all these fetters and bring about a reform of world Buddhism in the 21st century.

ben said...

Bhante,

Very well and wisely said. This is to my mind a necessary event that was bound to have happened at some point as Buddhism makes it way though the West. I am surprised it didn't happen earlier!

Thanks again for writing Broken Buddha - I know you have wrapped lots of caveats around it which I accept, however it is a very good caveat for us in the Wester who are looking at the Eastern traditions of the Dharma. It can be applicable to any religion or spiritual tradition really.

Cheers

Ben

Samsara said...

Dear Venerable,

I won't be surprised that Ajahn Brahm is excommunicated because he tells toooooo much joke, but, because he ordaines Bhikkuni???

Is it a joke?

I think, even Buddha himself did not exclude women from the Sangha community. The reason why today there is not Theravadin Bhikkuni is only because this particular tradition did not survive the pumpy past 2500 years of tough environment on Buddhism and women.

I would say, Ajahn Brahm is doing the very courageous and right thing. And, I wonder what Ajahn Cha will do if his Venerable can live to see this?

dyannne said...

I am gratified to hear of Ajahn Brahm's commitment to full recognition of Therevadin nuns. Here in Northern California, the Saranaloka foundation is supporting the establishment of a female monastery with the approval of Ajahn Sumedho. The nuns are from Amaravati Monastery in England. I spent time on retreat with these women - and they said that they are not considered fully ordained. The issue is extremely confusing and frankly seems silly in the 21st century. I think your solution is very valid and I hope it takes hold.

Samsara said...

I just finished Ajahn Brahm's talk on being excommunicated.

He is still cracking jokes....

Venerable, I have to say, following this path is true supreme.

Ajahn Brahm is demonstrating how wise and compassionate one could be even when you face something really nasty.

And, I am quite optimistic about this whole issue. I think Thailand is a lot more conservative culture where they have their points too. But one day, it is very likely that both sides will come together again with understanding and a lot of kindness.

Hopefully, one day there will be a reconciliation.

bobzane said...

I'm a big Ajahn Brahm fan, even his corny jokes. I'm shocked and more than a little taken back.

kittisaro & thanissara said...

this does feel something of a watershed moment - and a movement towards what you term 'buddhayana' - a healty - consensus based 4-fold sangha - for those caught in the cross fire, with affinities with both the monasteries in the UK & AUS - as well as respect for what has been offered from Thailand - i.e. - the power of transmission from Ajahn Chah... This is painful indeed.

I feel the onus is on the 'elders' to live up to what that term really implies - and shift accordingly..
However as that is unlikely to happen - I hope practitioners, (at least myself) can not internalise these splits...but act in accordance with Dharma.
Thanks for your reflections Bhante - particularly like your bio!
Thanissara

Han & Zan said...

I too am fond of Ajahn Brahm and even his jokes! He seems a gentle soul and now a brave one too.
I agree with you that it is a mistake for Western Buddhists to cling too much to Asian traditions.

Best wishes,
Suzanne

David (TheDhamma.com) said...

Great comments! This could be the start of something good for Australia and the rest of the Buddhist Sangha throughout the world.

There is also a long discussion on this over at:

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2545

I have also linked to this blog at that thread.

Geetha said...

Apart from the unfortunate five -point document ( about the Vinaya) released by Ajahn Sumedho what is the position of Ajahn Ajahn Amaro and Ajahn Passano on this?

David W. Craig said...

I say declare the venerable dhammika the first elder of Buddhayana and go for it.

-David

saltwetfish said...

Bhante,

I thought the Sri Lanka Sangha have already accepted Bhikkuni ordination? How did they go about that if the standard Theravadin view that female ordination is not possible?

namkhim said...

Dear Bhante

I am really tickled by your comment that Ajahn Brahm "keeps telling the same jokes in his talks."

I do have a lot of respect for Ajahn Brahm. But I have stopped going to his talks because he repeats the same stories and jokes all the time and it just gets tired after a while.

I appreciate your observation that this event may herald more changes to the traditions. That had not occur to me before.

As controversial as the Bhikkuni ordination may be, I think that's probably not the difficult part. The difficult part is whether the Bhikkunis will get the respect and support from the monks as well as the lay community.

It's all too easy to cheer as affirmation of the Buddhist ideal of gender equality and then forget about the Bhikkunis totally afterward, leaving them to struggle with the prejudice that they are likely to continue to face for a while.

Han & Zan said...

Dear Bhante,

I just read something by Ajahn Chandako originally written as an open letter to the members of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia that presents a very different picture.

Now I don't know what to think!


The most disturbing part to me was:

"Many people I have spoken to think that what was most 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; that they would be perceived as gallant saviors. In some ways the nuns themselves seemed to have been used as pawns in this greater ambition."

I don’t know the people involved or anything about Ajahn Chandako, but its hard to imagine the Ajahn Brahm I’ve heard as a raging egomaniac wanting to go down in history as the savior of the bhikkhuni order—but I guess we all have our faults. : )

Change is always difficult but it’s disturbing to see all the familiar worldly issues of jealousy, ego, back-stabbing in the sangha---but that’s what humans do, I guess…
Suzanne

reasonable said...

Buddhayana - I came across this term when I read Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's "Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree" in which he was criticising how Buddhism has been distorted by many superficial rituals and division of sects (e.g. Theravada versus Mahayana) so much so that many have lost sight of the "Heart" of Buddhism. He talked about Buddha's comments about "a few leaves" and pointed out that people should go back to the "heart" of Buddhism - the elimination of Dukkha by doing practical steps in understanding and internalising the truth of "Sunnata". His openness to Mahayanna tradition on top of his own Thai Theravada tradition shows his belief about going to the essence and cutting across "sects".

I have heard Ajahn Brahm a few times and I must said I enjoyed and respected him and his teachings. I was saddened when I read that he has been ex-communicated by his Thai forest tradition. But it may bring about greater good for Buddhism if by that it encourages other Buddhists leaders to break free from traditions to do the right thing (as justified by the Kalama Sutra).

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Saltwetfish,
There is no ‘Sri Lanka Sangha’ i.e. one unified body with a single head, speaking with one voice, that could ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ Bhikkhuni ordination. Some monks decided to do it and it was done. A few Sri Lankan monks accept it and most don’t.

Dear Han &Zan,
I too read Ajahn’s Chandako’s letter and I must say that I found the points he made quite unconvincing. I do not know what Ajahn Brahm’s motives were in ordaining nuns but I am pretty certain that why ever he did it, however he did it or whenever he did it, the Thai Sangha and those who feel they are worth listening to would be against it.

reasonable said...

A response to Ajahn Chandako's criticism of the ordiantion is found here:

http://www.bswa.org/modules/news/article.php?storyid=769

reasonable said...

Here is Ajahn Brahm's open letter on this issue:

www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=70,8667,0,0,1,0

yokie said...

Hi, as a lay buddhist,can't help but to give personal view & comments (seek forgiveness if wrong,pls enlighten).

It is not about the ordination per se, the excom. is about not abiding to traditions & in accordance to Thai culture.
Monks are to have humility and not to be rebellious, which is foreign to westerners/foreigner.

Buddhism is an eastern religion and with eastern culture.When the West adopted Buddhism, they couldn't blend into the eastern culture and being westerners who always want to change things and have their own branding,so clashes arose.
Example, eastern people drink natural mineral water but the Western modified natural water to Coke/Pepsi/flavor juice (its branding), so Buddhism is going into branding in the West which goes against the traditional conventional teachings of the Buddha.

Nowadays,lay people and also monks interpret the Dhamma in their own style to gain recognition and fame/branding eg. the 8fold Noble Path should be in that order (first Sila 2nd Samadhi 3rd Panna) and not otherwise which are commonly practiced now (straight to Meditation no Sila perfection yet).
Another is the 4noble truth and 5 precepts 1st avoid killing not 1st avoid intoxicants as Buddha goes according to severity of offence which is avoid killing & not avoid intoxicant as most severe.

Another observation nowadays is, lay people are not going after the Buddha's teachings but going after the teachings of the monks or the popularity of the monks. Monks should belong to the Sangha and not an individual or a personality/identity.They should preach the Buddha's suttas and not their own teachings or interpretations or understanding.

In my opinion, in the Bikkuni ordination in Australia, the Bikkunis should in the first place not ask for ordination without prior approval from the tradition they are under.It should not be the fault of Ajahn Brahm who had to take the blame and the axe.The cause was from the two Bikkunis, the one who wanted to be ordained and the one who did the ordination (pls correct if wrong).
Why is Ajahn Brahm expelled for this act? What about the two Bikkunis,are they too expelled or are they still legitimate Bikuunis under the Thai theravada tradition? It is more of culture clash than Vinaya.Pls. enlighten us lay Buddhist.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Yokie,
I disagree with several points you have made. Buddhism is not ‘eastern. Rather, it is or was meant to be, universal, to transcend culture and thus be relevant all and any culture. One might even say that the whole problem is that Thais seem to be incapable of doing just this; they can’t distinguish between their culture and traditions and the Dhamma. Ajahn Brahm is attempting to make the Dhamma relevant to a different culture milieu while staying true to the Buddha’s original intentions and the spirit of the Dhamma. So you are correct in saying that is more a cultural clash than anything else.
The bhikkhuis have not been ‘expelled’ simply because the Thai monks and their Westerners do not recognize them as bhikkhunis.

Honsing said...

Dear Venerable,

Let me play the devil here just to balance the comments :P

I am glad you came up with a different name called the "Buddhayana". Actually we should be glad that in a short 60 years that the West learned Buddhism, they are already making tremendous "improvements" to Buddhism. If such innovation attitude had been with Theravada since the beginning, I am sure Theravada would not have survived 2550 years, and we would not be left with anything near the original flavor of Buddhism.

Meanwhile some people would still like to preserve the Theravada as it is for generations to come, so that another 2550 years later, people would still have a Theravada that is near the original flavor. Therefore please do not call "Buddhayana" as "Theravada". Call it "Buddhayana" and distinguish it.

carole said...

Dear Bikkunis,

(Respond to Ajarn Sujato's blog on Bikkinis ordination)

No joke, the gate of Bikkunis is open to all!Bikkunis Tsunami!

The whole issue is not about the ordination of Bikkunis or the Vinaya, but the principles of the Bikkunis & Ajarns in the secretive manner the ordination of Bikkunis was held & intended (like a plot).

ITS A CONSPIRACY!.

The motive:
The Bodhiyana Monastry & Ajarn B is alleged to start their own lineage - the Bodhiyana lineage with Ajahn B as the Abbot in place of Ajarn Chah. Cool.... Western lineage IS BORN.

All Bikkunis aspirants who want to be ordained now can go to Ajarn B for official ordination in Bodhiyana (now openly, no need secretly) - the official monastery for Bikkunis ordination regardless of your original lineage or traditions (transcended all forms), the first in history.Applications open to all preceptors.

Pondering.....Who is the new "Buddha" (thought only our Lord Buddha could ordain Bikkunis during his aeon as only Buddha is enlightened to know who is fit to be ordained). Do we have a new Buddha? Wow, we are so lucky.

Btw,(forgive us putujannas not enlightened yet),is Ajarn B still an Abbot and all those in the secretive ceremony? As his monkship was ordained in Thailand, is he still a monk since he renouce (or expelled) from his monantry in Thailand? Is he entitled dana or allowed to teach Buddhism overseas? Please enlighten us, WPP or Thai authority.Sadhu.

carole said...

Dear Bikkunis/Bikkus,

Can any Bikku/Bikkuni answer to this (we are ignorant lay disciples)?

1. After Buddha's enlightenment,
how come all his disciples were
male/male arahats/Bikkus and
not women?

2. Why didn't Buddha include women
in his Sangha except preaching
Dhamma to laywomen (with one
exception case where Ananda
pleaded and Buddha agreed
perhaps of that particular
women's ripen paramis)?

3. Why all the Suttas addressed
" O Monks " only and not
"O Monks & O Nuns"?

4. Although Buddha mentioned the
4-fold Sangha, the overall
scenarios must be carefully
studied before the mass bikkuni
ordination.

5. By nature, women are more
emotional and biologically
different from men (how
can women be equal with men?).
Women by nature have
menstruation and has
built-in womb for procreation
that men do not have.

6. Women need the protection of
men for safety reasons and in
vulnerable conditions. Hence,
women can be a hindrance in men
spiritual progress eg. if
Bikkunis are allowed same
condition as men to practise in
the forest or cave or
cemetary alone.

7. The Buddha did mentioned in the
Suttas that ny nature (in this
sensual samsara we share) men
is attracted to women and
vice-versa, even the voice of a
women could melt a man's heart
eg look at some of the
Bikkunis's voice, so sweet
demure nice to listen & can
even melt a woman's heart what
more a man's heart (lust arose).

8. Why women cannot be a
Sammasambuddha? All 28 Buddhas
were men. Why?

9. The East Sangha based on
intuition/wisdom/silence
intelligence/beyond
reasoning("you know it"
kind Of thing) whereas some not
all, the West Sangha mostly
based on theory /books
/reasoning/research
/experiments.
(How to proof heaven & hell?).

10.East ideology vs West ideology.

We hope the Sangha will carefully study the impact and adverse effect of mass bikkuni ordination (theravada tradition) as it could lead to the destruction or deterioration of Dhamma in the future(preservation vs destruction).

If this mass bikkuni ordination is successful, Ajarn B will go down in Buddhist history as the SuperHero(Supermonk) in Bukkuni Ordination in the Thai Theravada/theravada traditions and the First Monk to start a Western Theravada lineage in the West and lastly, the First Monk to cause global disharmony within the Sangha.

For the love of Dhamma.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Honsing,
I imagine you are trying to play the devil’s advocate rather than the devil himself. Your comments are based on the belief that Theravada IS what the Buddha taught, what’s preserved in the Pali scriptures. My point is that it isn’t. A thousand years of absorbing superstitions, dubious or distorted interpreting, mistaking specific cultural practices for the Dhamma, etc, have made Theravada distinctly different from what the Buddha taught. The hostility to bhikkhuni ordination is a good example of this. The Buddha encouraged women to ordain – the Thai Sangha is against it ‘because we have never had bhikkunis in Thailand’.

Dear Carol,
Ajahn Brahm’s problems are not about being secretiveness, they are about opposition to the ordination of women. This is not ‘the first time in history’ nuns have been ordained in Theravada, it has been done recently in Sri Lanka, the US, etc. No one is claiming that Ajahn Brahm is attempting to start his own linage. There has been no suggestion, even by Ajahn Brahm’s strongest critics, that he is no longer a monk. He has been expelled from one particular branch within the Mahanikaya of the Thai Sangha. Please Carol, read the material carefully and get the facts straight before you give your opinions and ask your questions.

Honsing said...

Thank you for your clarification Venerable. It is good as long as we are all working towards preserving the Buddha Sasana. We owe it to our next generation.

carole said...

With respect Bhante,

Sorry for all my misunderstanding on this issue due to misinformation and ignorant. My sincere apologies, Bhantes.

Carol

aah-haa said...

ah-hem ..... MALE chauvinism at play? Back to caveman - gender superiority has been around for aeons. Why was Eve created? Trouble for Adam, trouble for Thai Theravadas too! Clinging to tradition or craving for male superiority? Ignorance of the human race, gender differences and the purpose of life? Wrong views about women? Why the objection to ordination of women as Theravada nuns? This northern, eastern, western divisions and the 'yana' sects are just bad and pure idiosyncrasies and protectionism. I see animal behaviour - territorial instinct. The Lion is King, the Lioness hunts and serves the King!

felicia said...

Here is a sutta from the Bhikkhuni-Samyutta (Samyutta Nikayas -Thanissaro)
“”"At Savatthi. Then, early in the morning, Alavika the nun put on her robes and, taking her bowl & outer robe, went into Savatthi for alms. When she had gone for alms in Savatthi and had returned from her alms round, after her meal she went to the Grove of the Blind to spend the day. Having gone deep into the Grove of the Blind, she sat down at the foot of a tree for the day’s abiding.
Then Mara the Evil One, wanting to arouse fear, horripilation, & terror in her, wanting to make her fall away from seclusion, approached her & addressed her in verse:
There’s no
escape
in the world,
so what are you trying to do
with solitude?
Enjoy sensual delights.
Don’t be someone
who later regrets.
Then the thought occurred to Alavika the nun: “Now who has recited this verse — a human being or a non-human one?” Then it occurred to her: “This is Mara the Evil One, who has recited this verse wanting to arouse fear, horripilation, & terror in me, wanting to make me fall away from seclusion.”
Then, having understood that “This is Mara the Evil One,” she replied to him in verses:
There is
an escape in the world,
well touched by me
with discernment —
something that you,
you Evil One,
kinsman of the heedless,
don’t know.
Sensual pleasures
are like swords & spears;
the aggregates,
their executioner’s block.
What you call sensual delight
is no delight for me.
Then Mara the Evil One — sad & dejected at realizing, “Alavika the nun knows me” — vanished right there.”"”
The above shows that the Bhikkunis have “gone forth” during Buddha’s time.
So, have the 4 Bhikkunis ordained in Perth “gone forth”? As Bhikkunis, they are now equal to Bhikkhus in “gone forth” i.e. they too have to go alms round with their bowl and “gone forth” deep in the forest for the days abiding as in the Bhikkunis-Samyutta. If they have not “gone forth”, can they be called Bhikkhunis? If they stay comfortably in the nunnery, being fed by laypeople with comfortable dwelling and just sprinkle some chanted water and tie talisman on laypeople, are they not just nuns(siladaras) in the nunnery?
Are the 4 Bhikkhunis able to “gone forth” due to 2 of them are already in their granny’s age (too old to stay in the forest alone and go alms round) and the other two are in their blooming age (too dangerous to stay in the forest alone and go alms round).
The argument is have they “gone forth” and if not, are they valid Bhikkunis? Or just siladaras in Bhikkunis’ robes.
Seek forgiveness for any mistakes and ignorance in the Dhamma. Sokhihotu.

Narynontha said...

Rules without compassion do not carry the spirit of the Buddha. Those who practice well see beyond Vinaya.

Narynontha said...

Growing up in Thailand, I know a thing or two. Having spend more than 12 years in the west add a few more things to that. Today? I agree with this wise writing.

Rod McDonald said...

I agree with some others. I stopped going to his talks because he tends to say the same jokes.
Still, I have gotten alot out of his talks over the years.

One feels that Thailand will catch up and adopt the western style sooner or later.

mearstone said...

The expression is "not to put too fine a point on it".

Unknown said...

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

BenHowden said...

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLZ.
Crandu-Crandu !

Sudarsha said...

Thank you, Bhante, for this wise and compassionate view of the ordination of women. While I think Ajahn Brahmavamso did the right thing, the right way, still, it has caused bad feelings that need to be addressed. Now, if only we could get the good Ajahn to stop with the Milton Berle distractions and just focus on teaching.