Saturday, January 9, 2010

Brahmavamsa, Sujato And The Nuns

The ‘Ajahan Brahmavamso nuns’ ordination’ saga continues. Until recently the discourse on the matter has been forthright although civil. But now things are starting to turn nasty. Recently several Bangkok tabloids have covered the issue, making false charges against Brahmavamso, accusing him of mismanaging his monastery in Perth and even going so far as to call him ‘an idiot monk’. Now it seems monks in Thailand are ringing Thai people in Perth encouraging them, not to distance themselves from Brahmavamso, but to dismiss him as abbot and take over his monastery. Brahmavamso for his part is maintaining a dignified silence. Ajahan Sujato on the other hand is fighting back with articulate and cogent arguments. On his blog recently Sujato has convincing rebuttals to the accusations made against Brahmavamso and said what he really thinks about the Thai Sangha - in the bluntest possible terms (although some of his more ‘blunt’ comments seem to have been deleted since I read then a week ago). ‘Education is a big challenge, one which Theravada has, so far, failed dismally. Yet it is not the heart of the matter…The problem lies deeper. It goes to the heart of how the Sangha is imagined, desired, in Theravada. We want our monks to be ignorant, inarticulate. We want them to repeat them same bland platitudes again and again. We loathe any deviation, any innovation, that might suggest that something new might be valuable.’ This is only partially true. The influence of monks in Theravadin societies is enormous. It is they who set the tone for everything to do with religion. It is they who have groomed the laity to be content with just ‘making merit’, to passively listening to dull sermons, to consider it ‘disrespectful’ even to ask questions, let alone correct or disagree even respectfully with what a monk might say. On the rare occasions when a lay person takes a deeper, a more inquiring interest in the Dhamma it is usually the monks who try to disparage and discourage them.
I’m struck, again and again, at the vast gap that exists between how the Sangha is seen and the reality of what it is.’ I was too, about 30 years back. But I eventually recognized this problem and pointed it out. But the only response I got was to be accused of being unfair, biased and of ‘letting the team down, including by Western monks. ‘As a monk, I am all too aware of how I offer a field for projection. Wrapped in our ochre robes, with shaven heads, we monastics deliberately strip ourselves of personal identity… We are removed, separated, distant, surrounded by layers of formalities, rituals, and taboos. For the Buddhist lay community we are the ‘other’, forever inaccessible. The things we surround ourselves with – robes, bowl, and the rest – retain little of their original functionality, and serve primarily as symbols that associate us with the lineage of the Buddha. We don’t just offer ourselves for projection, we positively invite, almost demand it.’ No Sujato, you and most of the other monks, but especially those in the Thai forest tradition ‘demand’ special attention – I don’t and a few other modern monks I know don’t either. You deliberately ‘offer a field of projection’ to the lay community, you choose too, indeed you insist on surrounding yourselves with ‘formalities, rituals and taboos’. As I have pointed out many times before, the first thing one is instructed in when one goes to a Thai temple on in the West and especially one in the Thai forest tradition, is all the ‘formalities, rituals and taboos’.
Sujato points out that the accusations of mismanagement in Brahmavamso’s monastery is not just untrue but also hypocritical, given the widespread corruption in Thai monasteries. One can only wonder why senior Thai monks are so concerned about supposed mismanagement in the Perth when they do nothing about the pervasive corruption closer to home. ‘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’ behavior 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.’ Only 10%! I always assumed it was much higher than that. Oh no, wait a minuet, I was thinking of alcoholism.
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. 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. 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.’
Sujato goes on to reveal quite a few more home truths about Thai Buddhism, most of them equally true of Burma, Sri Lanka, Laos and Cambodia. So now it seems that finally, at last, late in the day, but eventually, it is becoming mainstream to tell the truth about Theravada. It’s not a pretty truth but unless it is told we Western Buddhists run the risk of copying all the arcane practices of Asian Buddhism and thus ending up with all their problems.
For more of Sujato’s comments go to www.sujato.wordpress.com and have a look at ‘Sooner of Later We’ll have Female Monks Everywhere’, Dec. 28, 2009; ‘Reform – A Challenge’, Dec. 17 2009.
All this has prompted me to consider republishing on this blog my Broken Buddha, something I wrote 10 years ago about my assessment of the problems of traditional Theravada, the cause of these problems, and the need for Western Buddhists to distance themselves from Asian Buddhism and evolve a Buddhism for the 21st century West. Look out for it.

26 comments:

chela said...

but then they will say that western buddhism is corrupt and mixed with some other non-buddhist ideas, especially western philosophy. in other words, impure.

truly, this issue comes down to the laity. who should they believe, support and follow?

as for me, whoever follows the Dhamma truly, i will support and follow.

qwerty said...

This is Kamma at its best. Since we have this problematic system in many places, what can the laity do about it.

If there is no demand then there is no supply. One thing that Bhante did best is to advise us to refer back to the source i.e. the Sutra.

Thus we laity have to wake up and know that we owe it to Lord Buddha to know, practice and teach the Dhamma. In the Sutra, there were some laity who have such deep knowledge of the Dhamma that even monks asked them questions.

Hope to see such healthy development here in S'pore.

ben said...

Do it!

Broken Buddha is a very good critique and is especially relevant now.

The Thai Forest Tradition has in some ways become a victim of its own success. It has elevated itself as something special, but perhaps it is just the same as all the other religions

Ken and Visakha said...

It doesn't seem quite fair to lump Burma together with Sri Lanka and Thailand, since so many Burmese monks have taken their stand with the impoverished people against the oppressive military junta. Many Burmese monks have paid a horrific price for their integrity and compassion. Many disappeared; many rot in filthy prisons; many fled to exile. When Than Shwe visited Sri Lanka recently a group of Burmese monks here refused his monetary donations because the bowl remains overturned and it was the people's stolen money he was trying to give away.

yuri said...

Dear S.Dhammika, I have problems with some of your posts. Especially I have noticed your intention to find fault with Thai buddhism. And also American buddhism. «He who seeks another's fault, who is ever censorious — his asavas grow» Dhammapada 253. What you say about deviations and cases of corruption in some Thai buddhist monasteries may be true. But this is hardly a reason for the call to distance from «Asian» Buddhism and create Western Buddhism. A very Western approach, I feel...:)

NellaLou said...

Dear Bhante

As always your commentary on these issues brings much food for thought.

Your experience and knowledge is without doubt more extensive than mine. I have spent the better part of the last 9 years in India and have studied Buddhism in Taiwan and India as well as brief experiences in Thailand over the past 30 years. Some of these were related to academic study but most were related to my personal practice. I am not a monastic nor do I have any sort of ordination or authority. Nonetheless I will venture to address your point on:

...the need for Western Buddhists to distance themselves from Asian Buddhism."

There are numerous movements underway in America in particular to do just this. The major points of much of this distancing include:

-denial of Buddhism as a religion. It is labeled a "philosophy" or a set of "psychological techniques" with some ethical elements.
-calls for removal of Buddha from Buddhist practice since "history is not relevant"
-no need for text study (This is from a misunderstanding of Zen doctrine)
-"picking and choosing" which elements of Buddhism to adopt. (This is from a misunderstanding of the Kalama Sutta and a lack of recognition of it's context within the whole)It is often quoted as a justification for excessive self-indulgence
-Mindfulness alone is Buddhist practice. Right view is not relevant. Many organizations of a psychological or self-help perspective adopt this posture.
-co-opting of Buddhist doctrine or framework in order to sell products

These are but some of the directions Buddhism has gone in America in particular.

Distancing as a reaction to structural mismanagement without understanding the essence of Buddhism has become something of a problem already. Many groups in America and elsewhere in the west also consider themselves to be somewhat "special" and the sole purveyors of "The Truth of the Dhamma".

Let me be clear though that I do agree with Ajhan Brahmavamso's actions and the majority of Sujato's commentary on the entire situation.

Setting up a new political structure will not insure equality, fairness or remove the element of corruption. As has been demonstrated by the "Westernization" of such schools as Zen the same problems continue in these newer contexts.

It strikes me that the principle area of concern is the lack of emphasis on the Dharma and the Buddha and in viewing the Sangha as some sort of exclusive club with all the elitism that such a thing engenders. As the American Express commercial states "Membership has it's privileges" and that could well apply to many Sanghas around the world.

What seems to be the biggest issue is missing the forest for the trees. Many getting attached to their "favorite" theories, situations and perspectives and not letting go of that long enough to take the broadest possible view.

What has been lacking in both Asian and Western contexts is a lack of leadership "in the Dhamma".

Thank you for the opportunity to respond. I look forward to the publication of the Broken Buddha piece.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ken and Visakha,
That many Burmese monks stood up against the military regime with great courage and dignity, and paid a terrible price for it, does not contradict the fact that the Burmese Sangha suffers from chronic problems, perhaps the most serious being stuck firmly in the past. Having said that I would say that the state of Buddhism in Burma is marginally better than in other Theravadin countries.

Dear Yuri,
My feelings about traditional Buddhism in general and Thai Buddhism in particular is not that it’s in good shape but spoiled by a few bad eggs but rather that it is fundamentally flawed but saved by a few good people. The reality is that Buddhism in Asia is organizationally and intellectually yet to emerge from the middle Ages. I mention the Thai situation more than that in Sri Lanka and Burma simply because Western delusions about the quality of Thai Buddhism seem to be more pervasive, probably because of the influence of the Thai forest tradition in the West. As you will see when I post my Broken Buddha, I think Buddhism throughout Asia is pretty much the same. And most in important of all – this is just my opinion. I like to encourage people to think and to hear things different from what they usually hear, and particularly to disagree with me – if they are coming from a position of knowledge.

NellaLou,
Thanks for your very pertinent observations. I think some of the trends in American Buddhism you mention would apply to Buddhism in other Western countries too – and they are all very problematic. I would summarize some of the causes of these problems like this. (1) A tendency towards pseudo-tolerance and non-discrimination (‘God, Nirvana, Spirit, its all the same’) which leads to a fuzzying of the borders between Dhamma and other ideas. (2) Over emphasizing Buddhist psychology and meditation while downplaying ethics, philosophy and world-view. (3) A romanticism about Buddhism in the East coupled with a disparagement of the strengths of Western culture and traditions, which hinders us from seeing how we can integrate Buddhism into our milieu. (4) Various teachers from the different traditions teaching different, even contradictory, versions of the Dhamma. Compounding this problem is that most of these teachers cant distinguish between elements of their own culture and the Dhamma, often teach presenting the first as if it were the second. That there should be these problems is perhaps understandable. Buddhism in the West is still young. But while there are problems there are also many good signs. One of the best of these is the increasing availability of authentic translations of the Buddhist texts. I think a knowledge of these is absolutely fundamental to launching Buddhism from a firm foundation and giving Buddhists a sense of direction. The interest in meditation is also a good sigh (despite some of the ‘dead ands’ you point out). If this gets on the right track this will be the needed counter-balance to intellectual development. I can think of other things but that’s enough for the time being

aah-haa said...

Wouldn't it be ideal to return Buddhism to its root core, stripped off traditions, rites, rituals, historical baggage and even monkism? Or it is an idealistic optimism, probably a hopeless wish?
All religions have a common cancer - the propensity to deviate, corrupt, idolise, bigotry, grandiosity, politicking, self-serving, self-preservation, hypocritical and are not free from delusions and senseless attachments. No amount of writing, blogging, debating is going to change the scenario.
I am not attached to nor find any particular school of Buddhism ideal – East or West. To me, there are few ‘true’ practitioners of the original Buddha-dhamma, as with other mainstream religions!

yuri said...

Dear S.Dhammika, thank you very much for your response, which helped me see better your point. Looking forward to your Broken Buddha repost. At the moment one thing only - I am not romantic about any form of modern Buddhism and I feel some organisational reshaping of Buddhism and particulary Buddhist Sangha is long due. But I cannot agree to counterpoising Western and Asian Buddhism which sound sectarian and unproductive to me. And more constuctive and positive approach might be more helpful.

Tazzie said...

Where to begin on this Bikkhuni ordination issue and the implications for the future of Buddhism, The Dharma and the community of monastics and lay men and women as they emerge into western society.
I did notice at some point through all the cyber pushing and shoving going on between the "Ven Brahm camp" and the Thai Sangha Council members over the last weeks, one comment from Ven Brahm himself. The jist of it was that, the fate of Buddhism in the western world was going to be somehow dependant upon the succsess of full Therevada Bikkhuni ordination. As I remember he even went as far as to predict that Buddhism would not last beyond 50 years in the west should this not happen.( I don't remember the exact date but I read it on Ven Sujato,s blog, please check.) Have there not been numerous Mahayana Bikkhunis resident in the west for some decades now? Especially of Chinese and Vietnamese traditions? I believe there have been. Are their contributions to western Buddhism somehow irrelevant? The late Ven Ayya Khema was one westerner who tried to break this Theravada "Bhikkuni impasse" some 2 0r 3 decades ago. Although she was originally trained in Sri Lankan Theravada tradition, she later took full ordination as a Mahayana Bikkhuni in California as I remember. For whatever reasons her Nun's island in Sri Lanka was not wholeheartedly supported by any of the Theravada traditions. Alas!I believe the future consequences for Buddhism in the west to be somewhat more complex than just this issue alone. I intend to post a couple more times to adress this Western Buddhism phenomenon a bit more broadly, but back to the Bikkhuni issue. I cannot recall even one of the distinguished pioneers of The Thai forest tradition up to and including Ven Chah, Ven Mun et al having referred to or spoken of ( in any book or recorded talk} this Theravada Bikkhuni issue... Curious methinks! Even more curious that Western Australia's Bodhinyana forest monastery,
Dhammasara Nun's forest monastery and Buddhist Society of Western Australia all continue to claim their operational credibility as being rooted firmly in this very same Thai, "Elitist" Theravada forest tradition. A bit like Martin Luther nailing his proclamations to the door of the catholic church and then still hoping to remain a member. C'mon people if you don't like what "Il Papa" tells you to do, don't be afraid, move on. Problem for the Ven Brahm camp is that the King of Thailand sends the "official kathina robe" to W.A.'s Bodhinyana Monastery at the end of rains retreat and the loyal W.A Thai community members, enthusiastically put thousands of dollars of donations on the money tree that goes around the Sala 3 times with the robe.

aah-haa said...

Theravada - the Way/Teachings of the Elders: if I may interpret it must surely be about tradition, lineage, homage and obedience to the elders. What Ajahn Brahm did, and he so proudly justified and knew too well that WPP would not agree. Out of respect, Ajahn Brahm should remove the Theravada robe, find another tradition, and do what he liked or believed in. One cannot wear the uniform of an air-force captain and be the navy’s rear admiral!
This is not about east or west and if so, the two will never meet!

Ken and Visakha said...

Thanks to NellaLou for articulating some very substantive remarks.

Whatever else Buddhism is, it is community based, not just an individual psychological exercise.

For me many traditional communities have been welcoming and come to feel a true refuge. That seems a good thing.
-Visakha

yuri said...

Dear Ken and Visakha!
Buddhism as seen as a religion is certainly communal. But Liberation is always individual. The Buddha reached his Enlightenment as an individual, not as a member of any community. Sangha is a favourable environment for seeking the Truth but only if it functions in the right way. If it denies women certain rights it does not function properly. It contradicts the Buddha stance on that.

Buddha said...

So much controversy...
I feel Goenka Ji Method much more reasonable..
He steer's out of all controversy and strictly restricts himself to the Pariyatti,Patipatti & Pativedhana.
He always says that he is a Lay person, (In fact his wife sits with him during the evening Discourse)

By doing this he removes the Fear of Hindus "That u will need to Renounce to properly learn the Teaching of Buddha"

By avoiding the usage of total Renounciation he has attracted more Lay followers ..like me, my mother (Who follows Hinduism) to the Buddha's teaching.

The so called Western Buddhism should create a fine balance between Rules to be followed and the right to question.
What i mean is it should not relax the basic rules too much at the same time it should encourage Logical Questioning and encourage people from other faiths like christianity and islam to approach the Buddha's teaching as a Meditative technique and not as a religion.

For all these thing the Western Buddhist & Eastern ones can look at the way Goenkaji does it in India.

merlin said...

Bhante, I respectfully call for a truce. Emotions are running high on all sides.

Even if the Thai people have slandered BSWA, Ajahn Sujato should not join in the fray with his shocking mud-slinging that I read in this post. The Buddha instructed monks not to fight with delinquent monks but, rather, to react with noble silence. So, Sujato should have obeyed that rule. Ajahn Brahm who is in the middle of this dispute has done the right thing by not responding to insults with insults. It will do to Buddhism world-wide more harm than good by displaying the "dirty linens" of Thai Buddhism on cyberspace. I think that people who are not connected to WPP or BSWA should not further this mud-slinging. The truth shall eventually prevail. While the intent to promote a pure "western Buddhism" untainted by the ugly legacy of Asian Buddhism is admirable, there is no need to flash to the world the dirty linens of Thailand or any other Theravada countries. If you stick to the suttas, you don't need to slander others to show that you're promoting the "pure" Dhamma.

What happened to that saying: "Hatred will not cease with hatred, but by love alone" ?

Peace.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Merlin,
I had no feelings of hate when I wrote this post and I am sure Ajahn Sujato didn’t either when he wrote his. Frustration yes, sadness defiantly. But not hate. Nor is their any slander in my post or Sujato’s. Unpleasant truths, yes; truths, important truths, that are continually denied, sidestepped, ignored or covered over with benign smiles and which are unlikely to ever change unless they are honestly faced. Sometimes a noble silence just gives permission for abuses to continue. The truth may eventually prevail but by then the rot may be so serious that there is nothing left to reform. However, your suggestion for a ‘truce’ is well taken. Let’s just back off and see how things unfold. But Merlin, I have decided to post my The Broken Buddha soon which contains more than a few unpleasant facts about the state of contemporary Theravada. I hope you don’t find it too uncomfortable.

merlin said...

Greed – Hatred – Delusion
These three poisons must be eliminated in order to get out of samsara. Hatred covers all forms of ill-will or negative feeling towards people, situations, or things. So, it is just a play of semantics to hide our negative feelings under “sad”, “frustration”, etc. when they are various forms of hate in Dhamma context. Someone may kick his cat and justify it as an act of frustration, but the truth is that he hates a situation and vents on the cat. We tend to rationalise our every negative action to defend ourselves. It makes the ego feel good, but it can never lead to samadhi.

We Buddhists pride ourselves that Buddhism has not been spread through wars or bloodshed. Granted, no bloodshed to convert others, but the present controversy and mud-slinging tantamounts to a sort of war, albeit bloodless. Everyday, there are millions of wars in families, in work places, in schools, temples, churches, etc. The sum total of these sufferings, angst, torment, etc. may equal or exceed the sufferings of the families of people killed or maimed in the present middle-east wars. Can we imagine the angst of the Thai Buddhists in Perth who now have their allegiance pulled by both opposing sides? The continuing mud-slinging adds more fuel to the fire. I hope people from all sides consider this when they radiate Metta; otherwise, they make a mockery of the Metta exercise.

Bhante, I don’t know what your proposed “Broken Buddha” essay is about. However, if it is exposing the dirty linens of Buddhism, I would feel “uncomfortable”, but you have the freedom to write what you wish.

Let us remember what Martin Luther did. He rebelled and exposed the decadance of the church. Consequently, people killed many priests. People destroyed and looted the churches. It was like anarchy. Then the protestants were born. However, the dirt in the church still continues, the opulance and the numerous pedophile priests who caused tremendous shame to the church. The reformists are no better; remember Tammy and Jimmy Baker, and who knows what else. Do you think the reformation really “cleaned” up the religion? This example is not to defame Christianity, but to show that in any religion (or any society), there would always be the good, the bad, and the ugly. In short, human frailty, whether clergy or not, succumb to mistakes and greed. You can never clean up society by exposing the crimes of Al Capon and others, but only by teaching what is good. The Dhamma is for this purpose. To teach Dhamma, we don’t have to teach criminology, or read crime stories to the followers. The gift of the Dhamma excels all other stories and gossips.

I hope that everyone embroiled in this controversy would stop the mud-slinging. May we all learn to live in peace and harmony.
*********************************
Winning gives birth to hostility.
Losing, one lies down in pain.
The calmed lie down with ease,
having set winning & losing aside.
Samyutta Nikaya III, 14
-------------------

One is not wise
because one speaks much.
He who is peaceable, friendly and fearless
is called wise.
Dhammapada 258
---------------------

Things that are empty make a noise,
the full is always quiet.
The fool is like a half-filled pot,
the wise man is like a deep still pool.
Sutta Nipata 721
-------------------

With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around,
unobstructed, without hostility or hate.
Sutta Nipata I, 8

yuri said...

I agree with the last comment from Merlin. Dhamma becoming popular in the West, I feel, creates certain problems. Some westerners embracing Buddhism manage to bring with themselves some «western» ways of reaction to what they see in «Asian» Buddhism. That sometimes reminds me of excessive Christian righteousness in accusing people of lack of faith. A great Thai teacher of Buddhism Achaan Cha noticed that trait in his weatern disciples and commented: «Sometimes you may see that others behave improperly, and that may cause your hard feelings. But those people do not suffer — you do, you experience «dukkha». This «dukkha» is not at all necessary — your accusations contradict Dhamma, contradict the Buddha's teaching. You may think: «they are lax in observing rules... those monks are bad monks!» But this only shows that your mind is impure. Abstain from comparisons, don't get focused on differences. Refrain from evaluations and opinions - just observe and above all observe yourself, your reactions... Displeasure and accusations of other people do not help in developing wisdom».

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Merlin,
Reform requires two stimuli – a good hard look at the problems and an acknowledgment of them, and a vision of and hopefully an example of the alternative. The Buddha often praised virtuous Brahmins and Brahmin ideals but he did not shy away from criticizing their hypocrisy, ignorance and self-satisfaction, sometimes in the strongest terms. Take the sutta where he compares them with dogs, the lowest and most repulsive animals in Brahmin estimation (A.III,221). The idea that metta means that we must never speak hard truths is a false one. It should be possible to speak our mind with good intentions and with reformative results. The crux is our intentions, our tone and our timing.
-
‘Potaliya the wanderer came to visit the Lord, greeted him courteously, sat down at one side, and as he did, the Lord said to him: “Potaliya, there are these four persons found in the world. What four? Concerning this, one criticizes that which deserves criticism at the right time, saying what is factual and true, but he does not praise that which deserves praise. Again, one speaks in praise of the praiseworthy at the right time, saying what is factual and true, but does not criticize that which deserves criticism. And again, one neither criticizes that which deserves criticism, nor praises the praiseworthy. And finally, one criticizes that which deserves criticism and praises the praiseworthy, at the right time, saying what is factual and true. Now of these four persons, which do you think is the most admirable and rare?” “In my opinion, good Gotama, the one who neither criticizes that which deserves criticism nor praises the praiseworthy is the most admirable and rare. And why? Because his indifference is admirable.” Then the Lord replied: “Well, I maintain that he who criticizes that which deserves criticism and praises the praiseworthy, at the right time, saying what is factual and true, he is the best. And why? Because his timing is admirable.” (A.II.100)
-
You Merlin, choose to attribute my and Sujato’s comments on the Thai Sangha with hate. I reject this. I cannot speak for Sujato’s motives but I think they are similar to my own – an affection for individuals in the Thai Sangha but a dismay with the generally indolence and corruption of the whole, and a fear that it is holding back the growth of the Dhamma in the West.

Tazzie said...

If the reader(particularly Merlin) is offended by comments not necessarily supporting his or her opinions about these matters, please look away now! No matter what legalistic or vinaya rules(a storm in a teacup!) were or were not infringed by facilitating the Bikkhuni ordination at Perth's Bodhinyana forest monastery, Ven Brahmavamso's faction has managed to split the Buddhist community both here(in Perth) and also abroad. No small matter! Far from remaining aloof and refraining from further comments about these matters he(Ven Brahm) has been featured in at least one article in the local daiy "West Australian" newspaper and two other weekly publications here in just the last couple of weeks. Not to mention his weekly BSWA talks and their release on the internet. The spin that was put on these articles was to the effect, that he and the newly ordained Bikkhunis were hapless victims of the "fundamentalist" Thai Sangha Council and the uneducated and non westernized Thai community both here and in Thailand itself! No mention about the concerns and warnings that were raised by The Sangha council for at least 2 years prior to the ordination, no mention of the ordination taking place in secret,no mention of a hand written reply to one of the Sangha council who raised this matter with him (Brahm)in April 07
in which Ven Brahm catagorically denies his intention to ordain Bikkunis and that he was somewhat offended by that very presumption about him. There have been some concerns by the Sangha council about Ven Brahm mismanaging the affairs(monetarily?) of Buddhist Soc of western Australia including Bodhinyana monastery ,Dhammasara Nun's Monastery and the newly launched $5 million Jhana Grove retreat centre. The ever expanding holdings of BSWA leave it in a potentially precarious financial position should even one of its usual income streams(From abroad) dries up. BSWA cannot internally raise the funds for the upkeep on this exponentially expanding portfolio of holdings, nor can it liquidate(voluntarily at least) any of its equity. This reqires Ven Brahm to go on ever greater fund raising ventures overseas, so much so that he spends less and less of his time at home base.
Below is an exerpt from a transcript of the Sangha Council meeting in November09 at which Ven Brahm was dissafilliated from the Wat Pa Pong forest tradition.

A Thera (senior Monk) says to Ven Brahm...

"You actually have good principles, but you have applied them in a way that is, (excuse me for saying this), corrupted by gain and corrupted by fame, or corrupted by whatever. Being in the world, if it turns out this way, i’m telling you that the Thai Monastic Committee cannot accept it. Neither can Wat Nong Pah Pong. If you think you can do whatever you were planning by yourself, then you can do it alone"

The interesting part of the statement is the assertion that, Ven Brahm,-and I agree- although otherwise well motivated has fallen pray to the uppa kilesas that only emerge in an individual when he or she becomes famous and so his faculties have become less reliable than they were previously, at a guess prior to 1998 .Please read Ven Dhammika's "Broken Buddha" for greater insight into just such a phenomenon and more.

Not wishing to pull rank, so to speak, I can confidently inform the reader that I have been at the hub of the development of Buddhism in Australia since the mid 1980's and I am uniquely placed in commenting on these issues having been in the past aquainted with Ven Nyanadhammo (australian Bikkhu) and Ajaan Liem, both members of the Sangha Council that gave Ven Brahm the thumbs down. I also know Ven Brahm, Ven Sujato Ven Vyama and many more from Bodhinyana monastery and from BSWA.
Further, I should say that I have seen exactly that phenomenon emerging in Ven Bram ie,seduced by fame over the last decade or so and I can assure you it wins you no friends when you try to raise awarenes of this with your fellow Buddhists.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Tazzie,
Mmmm. Interesting observations indeed. However, how about we take Merlin’s advice and call a ‘truce’, at least for a while, and see how things work out.

aah-haa said...

Like it or not, the rift is worldwide, a minor schism had occurred and the raft is broken. The river banks are not likely to converge as WPP and BM are on opposite sides. Calling a truce while noble and desirable is like chemotherapy, not a cure. The tone of the multitude of comments is not exactly free from hatred, distain, slander, and untruth.
The way I see the episode: WPP and the Thai Sangha believed that Theravada bhikkhuni Order had died and cannot be revived. There is nothing wrong technically because what is dead cannot become alive. But whether this belief is right or wrong is another matter because if we argue on this point, then many beliefs of Buddhists are also not right. Ajahn Brahm and other Theravada monks believed otherwise. They see no reason why Theravada nuns cannot be ordained if not in Thailand, then outside. The WPP Elders don’t see it this way. Ajahn Brahm was instrumental and participated actively in the Ordination. And AB is of the WPP tradition and Thai lineage. Since the Group was not consulted and the matter could be discussed at the WAM in Perth due in a couple of months, the Elders were obviously upset and rightly so. Why would I not be if a member of my group wants to do his own things?
That AB was given a chance to explain, to recant or declare the Ordination invalid, or face expulsion follows the rule of natural justice. The point is: AB is of the WPP tradition and his Preceptor was of the Thai lineage. They expect AB to be one of them. And WPP uphold the 1928 ruling which obligated monks from WPP to follow. The issue was not about discrimination, sexism, unconstitutionality, legality, Vinaya-lity, compassion, enlightenment, whether AB was the Preceptor or not, blah, blah, blah.
The abbot of WPP said: “So our meeting here has reached an agreement ….. finally agreed in the form of divorce.”
Divorce is seldom without acrimony. One party has to pay alimony. Harmony is unlikely for now as relatives are still gossiping. Hopefully, the cacophony will give way to a symphony of concerted efforts to mend the rift.

yuri said...

Dear S.Dhammika, I do not doubt the seriousness of your intention to oppose negative tendencies in Buddhism, but they can be found not only in Thailand or in the USA... Buddhist religion goes the way of all religions. I do not think it is necessary to go into details here, but even using the Buddha's quotations by both sides in a debate is nothing new or typically Buddhist. Some Buddhists (mostly Western converts) more and more relish criticising and finding faults with other Buddhists, but it is another barrier to spiritual development. And one small thing — you refer to some text in Scriptures where the Buddha called his Brahmanistic opponents — dogs. There are two possibilities — either the Buddha contradicted his own Teaching on the right speech and criticism, or the text had got corrupted before it was put to writing. I am more than sure it was the latter.

panchenlama said...

Panegyrium in Bangkok.

Eh said...

It's extraordinary but unsurprising to here tazzie's comments about Ajahn Brahm.

Extraordinary because I've known this monk a long time and have seen nothing but integrity, compassion and tireless service. Further i know somebody who lived with him for 8 years and this person states AB to be the most ethical person he has ever known. Moreover, having experienced and tried out his teaching methods, I have had a massive increase in faith and confidence in the Buddha's teaching as well as having experienced some of what he says will happen in meditation....that is, it did happen. I've also experienced him to be a man who is open to questions and criticisms and will have dialogue about these.

Now I am also unsurprised by Tazzie's comments as i do know of a few others who few the matter in a similar manner. Two others in fact. One is a kind but somewhat bitter man who had the wisdom to bluntly question and critiscise AB over the years. In time I noticed a change in this man. He became kinder, more peaceful and more pleasant to more than just his elite circle. He never stopped going to offer Dana at Bodhinyana monastary. Through his questioning and investigations he came to understanding and even greater respect and love for AB.

The other is a man who is also kind but has not the heart to bear criticism himself though he will freely criticise those who don't agree with his views in full. This is a man who didn't come to peace through his criticisims because he never investigated properly nor did he ever (unlike the previous man) go and listen to AB's serious (retreats and monastary talks) teachings and check them out for himself over a long time. This man was recently heard to say that he had no ill will towards a particular person but when said person was present, gave a sour face and bitter remarks...to me this behaviour demonsrated a lack of meditation power/wisdom power.

My point is that you are going to see AB through your own eyes. And if your eyes have little wisdom, then you won't notice his. So it doesn't surprise me that some people can be around him but not notice his loving kindness or wisdom.

This kindness and wisdom are what draws people to him. This is the 'fame'. His need to serve and give and help are what causes him to accept invitations to teach.

It may well be true that without overseas help the BSWA may falter. But most of us know a good thing and want to support it and hear it. That's why people from overseas support Jhana Grove for instance. Some of these good people then come to JGrove for retreats. Some of the overseas groups actually get first chance at retreat bookings alongside BSWA members. They may not live here but it's there retreat centre too. Indeed some of them see it more often than do some BSWA members in Perth!! The Dhamma and Buddhism isn't about boundaries and overseas donations. Such things will fall because of annica. But the causes that faithful and energetic people create....of investigation, meditation, dana, metta...these will fruit and they'll find themselves born somewhere else that is just as well, if not better supported.

Eh said...

It's extraordinary but unsurprising to here tazzie's comments about Ajahn Brahm.

Extraordinary because I've known this monk a long time and have seen nothing but integrity, compassion and tireless service. Further i know somebody who lived with him for 8 years and this person states AB to be the most ethical person he has ever known. Moreover, having experienced and tried out his teaching methods, I have had a massive increase in faith and confidence in the Buddha's teaching as well as having experienced some of what he says will happen in meditation....that is, it did happen. I've also experienced him to be a man who is open to questions and criticisms and will have dialogue about these.

Now I am also unsurprised by Tazzie's comments as i do know of a few others who few the matter in a similar manner. Two others in fact. One is a kind but somewhat bitter man who had the wisdom to bluntly question and critiscise AB over the years. In time I noticed a change in this man. He became kinder, more peaceful and more pleasant to more than just his elite circle. He never stopped going to offer Dana at Bodhinyana monastary. Through his questioning and investigations he came to understanding and even greater respect and love for AB.

The other is a man who is also kind but has not the heart to bear criticism himself though he will freely criticise those who don't agree with his views in full. This is a man who didn't come to peace through his criticisims because he never investigated properly nor did he ever (unlike the previous man) go and listen to AB's serious (retreats and monastary talks) teachings and check them out for himself over a long time. This man was recently heard to say that he had no ill will towards a particular person but when said person was present, gave a sour face and bitter remarks...to me this behaviour demonsrated a lack of meditation power/wisdom power.

My point is that you are going to see AB through your own eyes. And if your eyes have little wisdom, then you won't notice his. So it doesn't surprise me that some people can be around him but not notice his loving kindness or wisdom.

This kindness and wisdom are what draws people to him. This is the 'fame'. His need to serve and give and help are what causes him to accept invitations to teach.

It may well be true that without overseas help the BSWA may falter. But most of us know a good thing and want to support it and hear it. That's why people from overseas support Jhana Grove for instance. Some of these good people then come to JGrove for retreats. Some of the overseas groups actually get first chance at retreat bookings alongside BSWA members. They may not live here but it's there retreat centre too. Indeed some of them see it more often than do some BSWA members in Perth!! The Dhamma and Buddhism isn't about boundaries and overseas donations. Such things will fall because of annica. But the causes that faithful and energetic people create....of investigation, meditation, dana, metta...these will fruit and they'll find themselves born somewhere else that is just as well, if not better supported.