Dec 17, 2009

Questions Raised

Yokie, in the comments, asks

What we want to know (as the verdict is not conclusive) whether those 4 Bhikkhunis are still valid under the theravada tradition and is Bodhiyana monastery still valid under the theravada tradition (as we find that it is
"business" as usual for the Dhammasara Bhikkhunis and AB in Bodhiyana as though oblivious of the issue).There is still a lot of obscurity in this area...The other thing we lay people want to know is, does this tantamount to a schism in the Sangha

The first question is easy to answer; Ajahn Brahmavamso is still a Theravada bhikkhu and Bodhinyana is still a legitimate Theravada monastery. No one disputes this.

As for a schism, I do not think this reaches to the technical definition of schism because no one has questioned Ajahn Brahm's legitimacy as a bhikkhu. All that has occurred is that Bodhinyana is no longer accepted as a branch monastery of Wat Pah Pong, nothing more.

As for the status of the new bhikkhunis, alas there is not the same level of agreement here. To state my own opinion upfront, I do believe these women were properly ordained and are legitimate bhikkhunis and should be treated as such.

Not everyone agrees with this position. There is a view, still widely held in Thailand, that no Theravada bhikkhuni ordination anywhere is valid because the Theravada ordination line was broken. The continuity via the Dharmaguptika is questioned either because of their Mahayana provenance or because the ordinations in China were invalid on account of being done by the bhikkhu sangha only in many cases.

In my opinion, Bhikkhu Bodhi's essay on bhikkhuni ordination has dealt with these issues definitively. It does seem like there is an emerging consensus among those who have studied the issue that the revival of Theravada bhikkhuni ordination via the Dharmaguptika line is proper and valid.

Even among those who accept the possibility of bhikkhuni ordination in theory, a question has been raised by Ajahn Thanissaro as to whether the Perth ordinations were valid according to proper Vinaya procedure. Again, speaking only for myself, I do not find his argument at all convincing. Bhikkhu Bodhi and others have dealt with this particular in some detail; the arguments are very technical and I won't reproduce them here.

I am sorry that I can't give you the certainty that you want, Yokie. But remember Ajahn Chah's "MY NEH" ("whatever"). As a rule, certainty is not to be had in this samsara. The proper practice is not to seek certainty but to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty.

For example, I said above that no one questions Ajahn Brahmavamso's status as a bhikkhu. This is not quite true. The conservative wing of the Dhammayut ordination line in Thailand does not accept any of us Mahanikaya monks as valid; visiting a strict Dhammayut monastery we are treated as sameneras (novices) only.

The reality is that any ordination lineage must be traced back to the Buddha. In twenty-five centuries and maybe half a dozen countries along the way there is plenty of room for anyone's ordination to be uncertain. Who is to say that every single ordination along the line was properly conducted in every particular? To let that stand in the way of practice would be very foolish.


Unknown said...

All of this has made me give up on any kind of organization. For every tree that grows there will be a million splinters. I follow my own path now. More proof to me that the buddhist trip is only chasing after another experience.

Metta for that.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Bhikku, respectfully,

Thank you for your clarifications and verifications, as we lay people are in a dilemma.

On one hand, we were told that the Thai Forest Sangha declared that the Perth Bhikkhunis are now Mahayana, but on the other hand AB & his Bhikkunis still believe they belong to Theravada after the so called unilateral ordination.

So,as laypeople, who do we listen to?

Are they now Mahayana tradition or theravada tradition?

That is our concern amidst all the confusion and we need a certainty of fact on this distinction to enable us to move on and respect the differences in each traditions.

Nevertheless, we do support AB & his bhikkunis regardless of whether they are now regarded as Mahayana or Theravada. - With metta & peace.

LV said...

Actually, I think there might be an upside to Aj. Brahmavamso's independence in that it might offer the perfect localized experiment to see how the bhikkhuni revival might work. Inevitably and predictably, the same people who are clamoring for bhikkhuni revival are going to start asking that changes be made to the bhikkhuni Vinaya. Will Bodhinyana succumb to the pressure to change the Vinaya?

Unknown said...

From Facebook, a post from another person, refering to a statement from x president carter and other western leaders - called - 'the Elders'........
What a beautiful statement from the Elders, and how fitting that it appears just at the time that the bhikkhuni controversy has erupted in the Western Theravada Sangha. When I first saw the headline "Equality for Women & Girls," signed by "The Elders," I thought it must be a statement from the Theras of the Theravada tradition. Fat chance of that! As I read the article itself, I did not even have to see the signatories' names to realize that this statement was coming mainly from elders of Western religious traditions. It is conspicuous that there is no signature from any Theravadin monk, or any Buddhist monk for that matter.
When I compare this statement, so lucid, wise, and compassionate, with Ajahn Punnadhammo's blogpost on "Enlightenment and The Enlightenment," in which he discusses the status of women in Buddhism, I am struck dumb at the difference in tone and attitude. I find it bewildering that an educated and intelligent Western monk could so thoroughly imbibe the traditionalist biases of Asian Buddhism that he can cast his whole Western worldview into the trash can and sputter out the offensive, discriminatory platitudes of a patriarchal culture, even going so far as to confuse them with the realizations of a Buddha's enlightenment (or awakening, if you prefer).
From the tone of his post, I can easily understand the neglect and oppression that you women must endure in the Western Theravadin monasteries. This only increases my reverence for you all.
... See More
With respects and admiration,
Ed Black

Unknown said...

From Lama Tsewang

First I will tell about my self. I am Lama Tsewang . You can read my website, My first teacher was Jyotidhamma who was one of Kema Ananda's teachers. And both were students of Namgyal Rinpoche. I first became a SaMANERA IN 1977 AND LATER A bHIKKHU after three year retreat, in 1955
Right now my preceptor for my samanera precepts is a lao monk , and my upajjhaya for the higher bhikhu precepts is the Vinaya master for Taiwan and perhaps all of China. His name is Venerable Tao Hai.

Your notion that the Chinese and Vietnamese and East Asian sanghas are Dharmagupta is not fully accurate. The Chinese Tripitaka is the most complete one, and in it , side by side are five difeerent Vinayas . This includesthe Theravada, Sarvastivada, dharmagupta , and others . They have all been translated into Chinese. For hundreds and hundreds of years in China they never identified their ordinations as being Dharmagupta. They reffered to all five Vinaya scriptures. Ater a long long period of time one master pushed the idea that they should work more with one version, the Dharmagupta.
According to his teaching to me,the going forth that we take, isnt limited to one of these translations.
Therefore when we do the twice montly renewals of precepts , and other Sangha activities any monks should be able to attend, not limit it to Theravadins or mahayanas, etc. Some Chinese monks in Taiwan who want follow the Tibetan styles of meditation , then go to India to get re-ordained by Tibetans, he said this was wrong , too, its not needed.
what meditation one does and the Vinaya are different things.
He never told me to wear Chinese robes. One of his main students present at my ordination , now only wears thai style robes and also was a monk in Thailand for some time and was a teacher for Goenkas system.

Im, not good at typing so how can i phone you????

Lama Tsewang

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to Ed Black,
I would disagree with a number of things in your post.

The 'Whole Western worldview' you praise is the one that has brought us the industrial-military complex, climate change, the rape of the environment for the sake of profit, the culture of celebrity and consumerism, the phenomenon of self-hatred (unknown in traditional Asian society), and a loss of reverence for the sacred. In our cities huge billboards of near naked women advertising objects of material desire have replaced spires, stupas and minarets. The visual semantics of this are obvious - worship what 'I can get' rather than what is truly sacred in the human heart.

In the West we have a different kind of disrespect for women - that of valuing them primarily for how their bodies look. The effect of this on the psyche of young women is what leads to anorexia and a lifetime of body-hatred. The extreme examples of this are the pornography industry, and the realm of silicone implants and plastic surgery. This is the natural outcome of a purely materialistic, self-centered worldview.

Or perhaps look at the brutal and violent history of the Native American or Australian Aboriginal genocide as a result of the 'Western worldview'. Or how about the drone attacks on civilians in Afghanistan currently being carried out by the 'leader of the free world'? To me it's really not that inspiring.

Something I hear again and again in the West is 'how can we create a sense of community?'. The culture of the individual has so infiltrated our hearts that even though we're surrounded by people we have to think about creating community.

While in the West we grow up with a sense of 'me, me ,me', in traditional Buddhist cultures people grow up with a real sense of community and sharing. Generosity flows naturally in these cultures. It is said that in Thai villages you could never go hungry. Someone will always take it upon themselves to look after you. What a far cry from our big cities, where thousands of people smugly walk past homeless people every day. Something that is often said by Westerners who go to the Issan province in Thailand (a poor, agrarian society) is how radiantly happy people look - for apparently no reason. I think there are some clues in that happiness!

Perhaps you could check more clearly the view of 'traditionalist Asia' you have in your mind, before setting up a straw-man to knock down.

I would recommend reading 'Forest Recollections' by Kamala Tiyavanich to get a sense of what I mean.

Personally I support full equality for women in the sangha, but I also want to hold this feeling with wisdom, so as not to be jumping on 'bandwagon mind' and thereby losing perspective in the process.

Best wishes,

Ken and Visakha said...

Why should we give credence to the Thai Dhammayut sect school's understanding of Vinaya, when they treat all non-Dhammayut monks as novices?

Visakha Kawasaki

Unknown said...

With all due respect to B0, is that why families in Thailand and Cambodia sell their daughters into prostitution - where is the good ole community spirit then? I've lived in Thailand and I wouldn't get too romantic about it. Sorry, I know that nowhere is perfect, but we strive towards better things by democracy, equality, liberty and value of each individual and their rights. Other facets of civilised society such as the provision of social welfare, free education, medication and the rule of law for each individual ensures that we are not dependent on the hand outs of people who are rich and may feel like contributing to our welfare if we do as they say. Just to balance your dark picture of the west..... with respect, C

Anonymous said...

Hi C,

Thank for your courteous and kind response to my comments.

You raise some interesting points, which are well worth considering!

I am reminded once again of the folly of taking refuge in any view of any sort :)

Wishing you all the very best,

Jayarava said...

"Who is to say that every single ordination along the line was properly conducted in every particular?"

To adopt this view is to open quite a can of worms. There are other reasons why ordinations might not be valid as well. I know of at least one case where bhikkhus with unconfessed pārājika offences were involved in an upasampadā ceremony - thereby invalidating the ordination. If every single ordination is potentially invalid by virtue of having not followed the rules to the letter, then you have to ask if any ordination is valid. What are the chances? 50:50? It only takes one small slip or one unconfessed offence.

If you accept the uncertainty of valid ordination and highlight getting on with practice as the primary thing (which I fully accept) then this calls into question the necessity of ordination. Why not just get on with your practice?

A few weeks ago I was ready to celebrate the commitment and faith of four women - even though I'm puzzled why any woman would want to be a Theravādin bhikkuṇī. I suppose the negativity towards them and Brahmavamso was predictable, but somehow the fact of it is depressing. Four women commit themselves to the Buddhadhamma and the talk is all of organisational and gender politics, and details of vinaya law. It's all a bit sad really.

I think Bhante, that you have fudged the schism issue. If the Wat Pah Pong monks will not conduct a paṭimokkha ceremony with anyone who considers themselves to be ordained (you, Ajhan Brahm or the new bhikkuṇīs) then that is technically a sanghabheda - isn't it? Isn't that the very definition of sanghabheda? They may be wrong in their opinions, but it is axiomatic that the two sides of a schism fail to agree on some point of the vinaya.

I suppose a lot of people will be despairing like christianbonanno and give up on organised religion altogether. I won't, but it does confirm for me the need for a radical approach to being Buddhist and creating Buddhist institutions.

mettāya mayā
Dharmacārin Jayarava

Unknown said...

"""In twenty-five centuries and maybe half a dozen countries along the way there is plenty of room for anyone's ordination to be uncertain. Who is to say that every single ordination along the line was properly conducted in every particular? To let that stand in the way of practice would be very foolish."""- Bhikku's blog

Dear Bhikku,so how are we lay people going to know which monks/nuns were properly conducted/ordained as all wearing robes according to own traditions (it is hard to tell who is valid and who is invalid). It is very disturbing and leading to lost of faith in the proper ordination.

Bankei said...


I think a sanghabedha only occurs when monks within the same siima conduct patimokkha separately.

This may technically be a nikayabedha if the 2 groups refuse to join Patimokkha recitation, but they will probably avoid this by not being in the same temples together.


Jayarava said...

Bankei: "This may technically be a nikayabedha if the 2 groups refuse to join Patimokkha recitation, but they will probably avoid this by not being in the same temples together."

@Bankei If they refuse to join the recitation then that is de facto a nikayabedha. Yes? Why not acknowledge it? Why hide it?

If they avoid being in the same temples together then that raises wider and deeper questions about the integrity of the bhikkhu Sangha.

I simply do not understand the divisions and the politics. My sympathies are even more with Brahmavamso now than they were - he is exposing hypocrisy, even if he did not mean to.

Bankei said...

Yes I agree.

For a long time WPP monks have refused to conduct ceremonies, sanghakamma, without outside monks, including those of the same Nikaya, the Mahanikaya.

This is supposedly because they question the purity of those monks.


Unknown said...


Though this is unrelated to your post, I do not know where else to communicate with you.

I would like to ask that you enable the RSS feed on your blog so as to make it more accessible and easier to keep up to date with. This can be done from within the blogger options menu. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Indian Buddhism is my lineage.
Thanks for your blog.
I am very happy to have found you in Internet.

Buddha bless you.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised to read that Mara desk is

"From Mara’s Desk
By Cindy Mettika Hoffman

'... The media industry is mine ...'

Abhayagiri Monastery Newsletter Winter 2009"

Unknown said...

To quote BSWA:

“This is a staple part of the Forest Tradition, which is why the Forest Tradition monks set up such strong boundaries between themselves and other monks. Outsider monks are treated as if they are only semi-ordained, since it is assumed that if monks do not come from the forest tradition, they are probably guilty of many Vinaya offences.”

First of all, as someone who was not born yesterday I know that neither Ajarn Mun nor Ajarn Chah taught of the forest tradition, simply because there never was one. Some monks do stay in the forest, either by themselves or at a branch Wat, but the idea of a forest tradition is simply Western fiction, like the above childish view on holding rules, which by the way would mean that around 99.999% of the Thai Sangha are inferior.

This latest bhikkhuni fiasco is simply an extension of the Westerners can do it better idea as we are far superior to Thais.

Are the bhikkhunis presently in Thailand being persecuted by The Sangha? No because no one is against them being bhikkhunis, just as long as they don’t try and change 1,300 years of tradition.

This latest fiasco takes the occasion away from the bhikkhunis, and now we have these ridiculous discourses on rules and regulations, it’s pure madness. If these Western monks spent their time practicing instead of haggling over rules they might be worthy of respect. I can only assume that people who support such monks just because they profess to be superior to others are very naive indeed. What next, a new sect where the monks follow 10,000 rules? This has nothing to do with Buddhism, just a bunch of Westerners going nuts because they can’t get their own way.

Anonymous said...

The present Thai Forest Sangha appeared out of a schism in the Old Thai Forest Sangha, immediately after the present Royal House usurped the Throne of Siam.

Ajahn Punnadhammo said...

Regarding the request for RSS feed, I thought this was already enabled, I must be doing something wrong then

Jayarava said...

The RSS is enabled.

Works fine for me.

Anonymous said...

"Happy Joyful Peaceful to Ajahn Chah Remembrance Day on 16/1/10 in honour of our late Ajahn Chah who has inspired the many to walk the Buddha's 8-fold Noble Path. "May Ajahn Chah be in Nibbanic Bliss" - Disciple

Sathira said...

Is sticking to one's view consider as extreme path? If we practise "extremism", can we consider ourselves as Buddhists?

I do not know what's the real reason for the big fuss over the ordination of the bhikhuni? Is it a cardinal sin?

Anyway, all these issues will be a "PAST" one day!

Marie said...

I know I'm (more than a little) late to the discussion, but I just wanted to say that I've just begun reading your blog Bhikku, and I'll definitely be looking forward to your future posts.

As for the subject of this particular post; I am a complete beginner in all Buddhism, let alone Theravada Buddhism. I'm a young woman who has found Theravada after considering the other sects, and I feel as if I have finally found a path. I'm a complete novice at meditation and have only just begun to begin studying and practicing the Dhamma. And this post came as a surprise to me. Having only read translated suttas from the Pali canon (via Access to Insight), I did not know that there were no longer any Bhikkunis.

All the text I have read speaks of the Sangha as both Bhikkus and Bhikkunis and it never occurred to me that may not be the case in modern practice. As such, it was a shock for me to hear that "conservative elders," who I would assume were also very traditional and adherent to the Pali texts (and perhaps that is where I'm in error), were condemning the ordination of females. It strikes me as hypocritical in a way similar to those that cite the Bible, which preaches love for your neighbor, in defense of violent acts.

Am I missing an important piece of information that would help define the situation? Or am I correct in what I've discerned? As I said, I'm an earnest beginner and I am interested in learning more-- especially about something that could deeply affect me (considering my gender). What if I had hoped to perhaps one day be ordained?

Respectfully and with thanks,

Jayarava said...

Hi Marie

No doubt the good bhikkhu will have his own answers (though he seldom seems to answer comments), but I think the thing you're are missing is 2000 years of history since the Pāli texts were written down, and another 400 years of oral tradition before that. The Theravāda views on women are not out of place in the countries were Theravāda finds it's home, except in the West. And even here the attitude would not have been so different 40 years ago - when there were no women priests, for instance. So you have the clash of modern Western values versus 20+ centuries of Asia cultural norms. The cultural shifts that occurred in Western countries have yet to occur in Asia, or yet to be completed where they have started.

The books are just a picture of how some of the people during those 24 odd centuries wanted to portray their religion. There is considerable evidence now that the Pāli texts are almost useless as historical sources.

One might be an advocatus diabolus for a while and ask why we arrogant Westerners insist in imposing our value system on a centuries old tradition. It's not working in the other places that we are doing it, even when accompanied by brute force. There is nothing to suggest that Westerners are happier than Asian people, and plenty to suggest that our individualism and permissiveness have resulted in a lot more unhappiness. As I look around at the places on which we have imposed our values, I don't see one that has been improved, and several that have been wrecked beyond repair.

That said, I see no strong reason not to have bhikkhunis, and the arguments against Ajahn Brahm all seem to rest on Sangha politics rather than Buddhist values or ideals. It begs the question of why women would want to be ordained by these men in the first place...

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