Nov 19, 2009


 Always nice to see that we Catholics are not alone in dealing with prejudice and  the renewal of a rigid spiritual tradition.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ajahn Brahm Expelled for Ordaining Nuns

The popular monk Ajahn Brahm has been disciplined by the Thai forest monastery sangha founded by the Venerable Ajahn Chah because he was involved in ordaining four women as nuns, or bhikkunis, in a ceremony on October 22 at his Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery in Perth, Australia. The Wat Pah Pong Sangha's action of excommunication (revoking Bodhinyana's status as a branch monastery) has resulted in a firestorm of controversy in the Theravada Buddhist world.

The ordination of nuns is illegal under Thai Buddhist law because the order of nuns became extinct sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries, after which, the argument goes, no new bhikkhunis could be ordained since there were none left to preside over an ordination. However, nuns currently may be ordained in the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka, and also in Mahayana Buddhist countries, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam and China where the religious authorities are not so conservative. According to an official statement from the Thai forest sangha, Ajahn Brahm's decision to ordain nuns without permission "may cause wrong understanding among Buddhists throughout the world, and division of views regarding this issue." Called to Wat Pah Pong a week after the ordination, Ajahn Brahm was told the ordination at his monastery was invalid and the senior monks asked him to recant. He refused.

Born in London, Ajahn Brahm went to study with Ajahn Chah in Thailand after graduating from Cambridge and remained for nine years. He has published numerous books and is extremely popular here in Bankok where his talks draw large crowds. His ordination as a monk was presided over by the abbot of Wat Saket who is now acting Sangharaja of the supreme Monks’ Council of Thailand. In his online statement of "why he was excommunicated," Ajahn Brahm said he had consulted his preceptor "to ask him precisely his opinion on the ordination of Bhikkhunis outside of Thailand. His response, which I have circulated amongst the Western Sangha for a long time now, was 'Thai Sangha law does not extend outside of Thailand.'" The conflict over ordaining nuns is complex, involving Buddhist traditions and lineages, the formal Vinaya rules established by the Buddha and national sangha regulations which often reflect cultural prejudices. I have written before about how the Thai Sangha treats women as untouchable. Ajahn Brahm discussed his support for bhikkunis in an interview in the Bangkok Post last April (a complete transcript of the edited interview can be found here).

The fallout from this controversy is particularly intense because many western Buddhist monks have been trained in the forest tradition and owe allegiance to Ajahn Chah's lineage based at Wat Pah Pong. Although he is not in that tradition, the influential Bhikku Bodhi initially supported the ordination ceremony in Perth, but later issued a retraction. Ajahn Chandako, an American monk now at Vimutti Monastery in New Zealand, wrote that "this particular ordination was a serious mistake." His criticism was answered by Ajahn Brahmali and the Bodhinyana Sangha who reminded Ajahn Chandako of his previous view that, while there are no serious obstacles to ordaining nuns in the west, ordaining bhikkhunis in the Ajahn Chah Sangha "is another matter." It was this resistance that prompted Bodhinyana to proceed in secrecy. When informed by Ajahn Brahm, Luang Por Ajahn Sumedho, abbot of Amaravati Monastery in England and the most senior western representative of the Ajahn Chah tradition, advised him not to proceed with the ordination. A meeting of monks was to be held at Bodhinyana Monastery in December and bhikkhuni ordination was on the table. Many objected that Ajahn Brahm's action was premature. The contrary view is that it might have been more difficult to push the issue after the expected negative response was received.
Taken from: Religion, Sex & politics