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.

Dec 8, 2009

More on the Bhikkhuni Controversy

My recent post on the Bhikkhuni controversy (see below) has generated a fair bit of feed-back, in private correspondence as well as in the comments, both here at at the Women's Sangha Facebook page.

I would just like to add a couple of points; one correction and one explanation.

First, the correction. I had imagined I was fairly well read on Thai history and on the history of Buddhism in general. But like most people, I had been following the conventional wisdom that there never were bhikkhunis in Thailand. This turns out to be quite wrong. Some research by Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni has been brought to my attention by several parties, including the author. A more accurate conclusion would be, (in Tathaaloka's words;)

Within the domains of the current Chakri dynasty of Rama kings, since its
foundation; that is, in the Ratanakosin Era from the Ayutthaya Period through the
Bangkok period (1782 CE -present), Thailand has not yet had a royally- or State-
sanctioned and supported Bhikkhuni Sangha with dual ordination.

Her essay can be found here - The main body is a paper presented at the recent Hamburg conference but the historical information about Thai bhikkhunis is to found near the end, in an appendix. This appendix at least should be read by everyone who wants to have an informed opinion.

Unfortunately, this information will have little immediate effect on the issue of bhikkhuni ordination in the Thai tradition because the great majority of Thai and also western Buddhists remain, like I was last week, ignorant of it. Has it been translated into Thai yet?

Now for the explanation. Some respondents have thought I was too hard in my appraisal of Ajahn Brahmavamso's actions and even accused me of just "repeating talking points." On second consideration I realize I wasn't really clear in stating my objections. Let me try again. Hopefully without recourse to "talking points."

Bodhinyana Forest Monastery was a branch monastery of Wat Pah Pong. Membership in a group entails both privileges and responsibilities. A member of the group should do his best to follow the rules of the group, sometimes surrendering his own views and opinions to those of the larger collective, or its leadership. This is especially true in a sangha grouping where harmony is a very important quality.

If in all good conscience a member of a larger group believes that a ruling by the leadership or the collective is wrong, then he has two proper courses of action open to him. He can either work within established channels to change the policy in question, or failing that, he can secede from the group and carry on independently.

Even in a case where the individual is right according to either first priciples or Vinaya or both, it is disrespectful to take a deliberate action contrary to the policies of the group while still expecting the privileges of group membership. It is especially disruptive when this is a very public action which puts the leadership and other members in a difficult position.