Dec 10, 2009

Restoring Harmnony

I would like to attempt a reply to the very eloquent and heartfelt note left in the comments by a poster identifying himself as "EH."

This situation has unfolded like a Greek tragedy. The protagonist is a very good, upstanding monk, well known and respected internationally especially as a meditation teacher. Acting with the idea, no doubt, that he was doing something right and proper he committed one fatal act of hubris and the rest of the characters were forced to play out their roles. The original act came from a noble intention to make the holy life accessible to those who have previously been shut out. The opposition came from the equally noble intention to preserve intact a precious heritage.

I agree with the poster that the most important thing now is a restoration of harmony. Hopefully the passage of time will help. With Ajahn Brahm now outside the official circle of the WPP sangha it may be possible to gradually restore friendly relations with his group as with any other group of outside monks. In my experience, bhikkhus of quite different traditions and practices can almost always get together in a harmonious way. The Abhayagiri sangha has a very close and fruitful interchange with the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a Chinese Mahayana monastery with many bhikhshunis, for example.

The poster ends with a plea for me to do something. Unfortunately (or fortunately perhaps) my influence is limited. Arrow River Forest Hermitage is an associated monastery, not a branch of Wat Pah Pong; I don't have many contacts left in Thailand and in any case my Thai language skills are on the lean side of Nit Noy (very little.) I hope I can contribute just a little by this blog.

To return to the Greek tragedy metaphor, one thing that concerns me, and indeed brought me to the decision to offer my own thoughts, is what I perceive as a certain element of discord coming from the Chorus; the various blogs and fora.

Not everything being said is skillful or conducive to harmony. If any of my words come into that category, I humbly beg forgiveness. In some quarters, emotions are running high and we should all try our best to come from a place of equanimity and clear seeing.

Too often the discussion gets far away from the Dhamma and Vinaya and is couched in secular political or western psychological language. This kind of discourse is not helpful, it is divisive and in the circumstances inappropriate. It is also intellectually lazy, it is easier to label someone with a different point of view with a label like "misogynist" than to try and understand with wisdom and compassion the complex layers of community relations, tradition and Vinaya involved. See another excellent comment by LV which touches on some of the difficult aspects involved.

The Buddha cautioned many times against attachment to views and opinions. It is not that we shouldn't have an opinion, but that we should hold them lightly and be open to hearing other views. We should also remember what is most important, that the Dhammavinaya is about transcending this conditioned realm, not trying to make everything perfect here, which can never be.

16 comments:

yokie said...

In anjali, respectable Bhikku,

With due respect, may i be permitted to humbly comment unbiasly in your blog pertaining to the Bhikkhunis ordination in Perth.

Firstly, we should all play down this issue to maintain harmony as any unrest within the Sangha community would adversely affect the Buddhists community at large.

Secondly, blaming and arguing on the Vinaya would not mitigate the problem as both school of thoughts were not wrong and each has its basis of argument.

Thirdly, it would be too idealistic to expect a single uniformity practice in the Sangha without any variations and adaptability.

Like Yoga exercise, that originated from India has spread its wings to Asia and the West. The original Yoga has lost its original roots with now all types of exercises in the name of Yoga are being prevalent outside India eg Yoga modified to Pilate or some other trendy yoga pose that is a distortion of the original Yoga. Nevertheless, up todate, the original Yoga is still preserved and maintained and to be found in some Yoga centres but they had no problem or business with those who choose to modified it or deviated from the original and no harmony is compromised in the process.

Similarly, this can be applied in the Bhikkunis issue. The Thai theravada tradition is akin to the original Yoga tradition and the Perth tradition is akin to Pilate, so to speak, so harmony is restored. If one tries to bend others straight, it would break or weakened.

In this case, mutual respect is utmost importance in restoring harmony. Each side mutually respects each other's decision and policy and move on by "letting go" (it is no point harboring ill feelings as it would defeat our purpose of practicing Buddhism). Humble apology & seek forgiveness for any wrong speech or thought. Peace & Harmony be upon us.

LV said...

Ajahn,

Thanks for not deleting my comment and giving a balanced analysis of this issue. I posted the same information @ Sujato's blog and it was deleted.

felicia said...

Dear Bhikku

Don't understand why Ajarn Sujato is not attempting to restore harmony but fan the fire instead, as can be viewed from his blog, by posting those heated arguments btw commentors. It is very irresponsible.

Schism is becoming imminent. Ajahn Brahm was not at all wise in his act in ordaining the Bhikkunis for his own sake and agenda. Amongst the theravada sangha, he is considered a young inexperienced monk. If ever there was a Bhikkunis ordination under the theravada tradition,the final decision should come from Sri Lanka (the origin or birthplace of theravada tradition, after India)and not from Australia. Now Ajarn B had bypass Sri Lanka and Thailand who hold the theravada tradition in its original form.
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LV said...

I found a Q & A from Ajahn Suvaco about this issue. It illustrates that in the Thai leadership's eyes, the issue of gender and the spiritual capabilities of women are irrelevant. It stems more from a concern of Vinaya and erasing the boundaries between Theravada and Mahayana (a legitimate concern from my point of view):

"It's right here that I would like to express my sympathy. Why weren't the bhikkhunis able to maintain their lineage? If they had maintained their lineage, then women would be able to ordain just like men. No one would be able to stop them. After all, the Buddha gave his permission for women to ordain. This is why I feel sympathy for those who would like to ordain.

What I've said so far applies to the Theravadan tradition. The Theravadan Bhikkhuni Sangha no longer exists. The Mahayanists say that their bhikkhuni lineages still exist, but if you look at their behavior and practices, they've strayed very far from the vinaya. This is why the Theravadan tradition doesn't recognize them as bhikkhunis. The Mahayanists say their way is right, but we don't get involved in that discussion. If, on studying the matter, you feel conviction in the practice of the Mahayana bhikkhunis, that's one opportunity for ordination.

Actually, ordination is simply a formality, a customary procedure in line with the rules of the Sangha. In the area of meditation, the Buddha didn't forbid anyone — man or woman — from practicing. If you're really convinced of the value of the practice, you don't have to put on ochre robes in line with monastic customs. Once you've developed a correct understanding of the Buddha's teachings — when you have strong conviction and want to practice the noble eightfold path in full — I'm thoroughly convinced that you can practice without having to put on monastic robes. You can go off on your own and practice to the point of developing the mindfulness and discernment needed to gain release from suffering. It's said that if lay people reach arahantship, they can simply start wearing white, observing the eight precepts, and live apart from lay people in general. In this way, they can live out their full life span without any difficulty. Lay people can attain arahantship if they're really firmly convinced and courageous."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/suwat/fistful.html

Ayya Sobhana said...

This is a first reaction to the recent statement from World Abbots Meeting. (now up at Facebook, Women & the Forest Sangha) It's time for the women to move on.

I hope the bhikkhuni sangha may thrive, in a wholesome relationship to the bhikkhu sangha, that there will be opportunities for men and women to train together and opportunities for them to practice in their own spaces.

I hope the bhikkhunis and siladharas will not remain as strangers, but will have frequent meetings, and opportunities for cross-training. May each siladhara nun obtain her ideal practice situation, in whatever form is optimal.

I hope that lay persons will have the full spectrum of practice places, from being fully engaged in the world to full seclusion -- without necessarily taking on the traditional forms, and without being alienated from the ordained sangha.

In the Theravada, we put our faith in the early texts and grant them great authority, as if every chapter were really the word of the Buddha. By and large, this works for the harmony, fairness, and dignity of individuals and communities. That is part of the brilliance of the early texts.

So I pray that monastic communities will thrive, which respect Dhamma-Vinaya as stated in the earliest text. And those monastic communities that have drifted away will leave us alone.

I do not yet wish for multi-traditional monastic forms, but rather for friendship and frequent visitation among the traditions.

p.s. The training situations for bhikkhunis are still far from perfect. We really could use your talents and energy to make it happen. The perks are: lots of work, lunch every day, and hope.

Eh said...

Ajahn Punnadhammo, thank you for your reply. I too hope that the passage of time will help...

Thank you LV for the extract from Ajahn Suvaco's Q & A.

I would like to respectfully point out what seems like a discrepency...I quote:

"The Theravadan Bhikkhuni Sangha no longer exists. The Mahayanists say that their bhikkhuni lineages still exist, but if you look at their behavior and practices, they've strayed very far from the vinaya. This is why the Theravadan tradition doesn't recognize them as bhikkhunis."

I quote again:

"Actually, ordination is simply a formality, a customary procedure in line with the rules of the Sangha."

Forgive me, I cannot help but see that these two quotations, when arranged next to each other offer opposing positions; they also go a long way to supporting some of the hard work done by scholars who have sought to see if there is a way of reviving the Bhikkuni Sangha in the Theravada tradition.

I offer what I have learned:

While the practices of the Mahayana nuns may be different to Theravada nuns, the ordination procedure of the original Dharmagupta (the school of early Buddhism which led to the Theravada and the Mahayana) lineage is still intact. Thus, to quote Ajahn Suvaco again 'ordination is simply a formality, a customary procedure in line with the rules of the Sangha'. ONE of the main arguments for the validity of reviving the nuns ordination is that it is the technical/legal procedure that is required; not the purity of the preceptors practise. If the preceptor's purity were paramount then many Theravada monks' ordinations would be invalid right now.

My understanding is that research shows that in Vinaya, the list of things that invalidate an ordination are few and quite specifically stated. The practise of the Mahayana path, therefore, does not invalidate the ordinations of nuns who wish to practise within the Theravada tradition.

Eh said...

Respectfully, and I am sorry to disagree and possibly cause hurt...

I refer to the following quotation which was part of LV's post and is from a text by Ajahn Suvaco:

'Once you've developed a correct understanding of the Buddha's teachings — when you have strong conviction and want to practice the noble eightfold path in full — I'm thoroughly convinced that you can practice without having to put on monastic robes. You can go off on your own and practice to the point of developing the mindfulness and discernment needed to gain release from suffering.'

Respectfully, and with special respect towards Ajahn Suvaco, if the robes are not necessary, then perhaps all the monks should disrobe! If the robes weren't necessary, then the Buddha wouldn't have instituted the Bhikku and Bhikkuni Sanghas.

Further from the perspectives of many lay people (whom I have spoken to) it is extremely difficult to (here I paraphrase from the beautiful Suttas) practise the Holy Life, pure and perfect like a polished shell while one is living the household life. It is difficult when conditions hinder the means of livelihood that one can obtain; when even the methods of gaining access to livelihood are stressful; when one'companions at home and work do not necessarily live in concord with one's goals; when one may have family that one has to support; when one's meals are not offered but have to be produced through time spent either in gardening, shopping, preparing, washing up and in maintenance of one's kitchen; when one's house has to be maintained and time taken to organise said maintence; when one lives far away from either family one has to support or work that one has to go to in order to live, then one's time is also taken up with driving...the list may well go on...

The body, tired from its labours and the mind not necessarily supported by kayaviveka, does not easily gain those liberations of mind spoken off by the Buddha. Without these, ie without the last Path Factor of Samma Samadhi, no need to even talk of lay people becoming Arahants; without these liberations and the supportive conditions to attain them, there will be no Arahants.

Sincerest apologies if I have caused offense of any sort. I am most anxious to to have dialogue, not to have debate.

I am happy to change my mind through dialogue and indeed I have... Someone...actually I think it was LV...posted a link to an article by Ajahn Thanissaro which stated that the relationship between the Forest Tradition and other dominant traditions in Thailand was somewhat fragile. I did not know about this and I am very very grateful for this extra information. It helps to understand fully the context that we are all operating in. Thank you very much LV, you helped me to understand where others were coming from and this helped me to have a softer sense of understanding, of acceptance of things; it helped my heart, which was aching somewhat.

May we all be well and happy.

Ayya Sobhana said...

@LV The passage you quote from Ajahn Suvaco was spoken in 1989. Since that time, the Bhikkhuni ordination has been established in Sri Lanka. The largest order (Dambulla) is based on Theravada monk-only ordination, not on the Mahayana. In addition, The International Conference on Women's Role in the Sangha was a seminal event bringing out new vinaya scholarship. Many virtuous elder bhikkhus have changed their mind about bhikkhuni ordination since 1989. The statement of the World Abbots Meeting, a few days ago, indicates they are no longer certain that bhikkhuni ordination is impossible.

LV said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LV said...

"@LV The passage you quote from Ajahn Suvaco was spoken in 1989."

You missed the point. I have no idea whether Ajahn Suvaco's viewpoint on the validity of Bhikkhuni ordination is correct or not. The point is to show that the Thais and those people who are screaming "MISOGYNY!!!" and "SEXISM!!!" are approaching this topic from very different reference points.

"Further from the perspectives of many lay people (whom I have spoken to) it is extremely difficult to (here I paraphrase from the beautiful Suttas) practise the Holy Life, pure and perfect like a polished shell while one is living the household life."

Actually, the conditions of the average monk probably aren't that much better. Personally, I don't really understand what the point is of reinstating the bhikkhuni order when for all practical purposes a woman can get the same benefits as a nun. Granted, they might not get the same respect and support as the bhikkhu order but the people who succeed here tend to have to do it on their own anyway. You can see this in the reform movements. Ajahn Mun and his disciples pretty much had to do it all on their own without much, if any, support from the mainstream Sangha. Ven. Thanissaro basically admits that you have to part ways with the mainstream Sangha if you want to succeed:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/kee/dynamic.html

yokie said...

Dear,

shouldn't SEXISM/SEXIST apply to both sides of gender. If the Bhikkunis Sangha regards those Bhikkus Sangha (esp the Thai Forest Sangha)as sexist, then it should be vice-versa, right?

Both are sexists if each is comprised of the same gender.

Please correct me, if i am wrong on this view. Please accept my Metta.

Ayya Sobhana said...

@yokie, I have hardly heard any monastics, either bhikkhu or bhikkhuni complaining about sexism. It is not possible to thrive in monastic life with any obsession about status. The only one I know of who writes openly about the problem is Ajahn Sujato, and he has a unique approach. The complaints about sexism are coming from the Western lay community. It's still an important problem for the sangha. When our (monastic) words and actions cause lay people to lose faith in Buddhism ... well, it's a problem. These lay women are forcing me to reflect about status concerns that did not previously seem that important.

LV said...

"The only one I know of who writes openly about the problem is Ajahn Sujato, and he has a unique approach. The complaints about sexism are coming from the Western lay community."

Sujato's perspective is valuable and dialectical thinking is important for any topic, but I have to say that most of his posts are oversimplifications. As I've pointed out, very few Westerners have any good understanding of the history of the Forest Tradition and the hard fought attempt to get accepted by the mainstream (Ajahn Mun was never really accepted as a "proper" teacher in his lifetime and there were all sorts of prejudices against him and his followers which exist even today). There are extremely complex layers within the Thai Sangha that outsiders wouldn't really understand and that folks like Sujato don't tell you about.

LV said...

RobertK (Ven. Dhammanando) brings up the point that it is entirely plausible that the revival of the Bhikkhuni order might actually be more detrimental to women's practice than its supporters realize (2nd post):

http://www.abhidhamma.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=59&pid=377&mode=threaded&show=&st=&#entry377

LV said...

"...but I have to say that most of his posts are oversimplifications."

Having said that, I feel like I do have to offer some support to Aj. Brahm and Aj. Sujato. They're probably the most faithful(visible) Western members of Aj. Chah's lineage when it comes to the content of his teaching and they have been attacked for that. For instance, you will often hear that Aj. Chah didn't teach rebirth from Aj. Sumedho and Aj. Amaro and their supporters(it is often claimed that Aj. Chah subscribed to Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's highly idiosyncratic interpretation of paticca samuppada; Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, by the way, wasn't a member of the Forest Tradition...another claim that is often made). They deserve credit for exposing this highly erroneous notion.

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