One day I'll write an article about the Bhikkhuni situation... probably by then it will make me the black sheep of the international monastic community. But that is something about which I've never cared before, so why start now? Better to get started early so I can brace for the protests. Here's some of my thoughts on the matter, sort of as an outline:
Points of argumentation in favour of Bhikkhuni ordination, with points of rebuttal:
- First off, equality in terms of rank and position has no place in Buddhism - holding oneself as equal to another is a form of conceit.
- Equality of opportunity - what opportunities are lacking to a nun that are afforded by Bhikkhuni ordination? Intrinsically, none that are of any importance. The problem here has nothing to do with equality, it has to do with discrimination towards women, something that is probably karmic retribution for one's own prior discrimination towards women. I've never had any of my students complain of unfair treatment of the sexes on my watch; they are both locked in their rooms and forced to meditate for long hours of both day and night; when they come out, they look quite similar. Bhikkhunihood, like bhikkhuhood is a red herring. It is not "living the holy life as the Buddha wanted it", it is conforming to a set of rules for communal harmony so that our practice is not disturbed. I can only see the disruption of meditation as the inevitable result of this huge battle of the sexes - by the time equality is had, both sides will be equally out of wack and the path will be that much farther out of grasp. Kind of reminds one of the battle for gender equality in the modern world; a great idea, really, but the result now is that, instead of the man working and the woman staying at home, both work and the kids are raised by the microwave and the television. Okay, so it's not a perfect analogy, but the point is, as the Buddha told the first Bhikkhuni, "the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to self-aggrandizement, not to self-effacement; to overweaning ambition, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to activated persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome': You may definitely hold, 'This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher's instruction.'" (Gotami Sutta)
- One word: ego. I may have more to say here later.
- This argument makes more sense in my mind than the one on recognition, but it is seriously flawed as an argument in the case at hand. They want to be recognized as legitimate Theravada Bhikkhunis when their preceptors and ceremonies and the rules they keep are all illegitimate? Has any standard practice been set down for the neo-Bhikkhuni ordination yet? WIll the monks ordain them, as Bhikkhu Bodhi suggests; or, as Ajaan Brahm tells it, the Dharmagupta Bhikkhunis will be the real preceptors and the monks will just ratify it (or not, as Ajaan Brahm has promised for the future)? And what rules will they keep? Surely they don't want to keep the legitimate eight garu-dhamma? And are they going to keep ALL of the 311 Bhikkhuni rules, or just the ones that are in line with a sense of equality with the Bhikkhus? It seems that what is really being sought here is not a legitimate ordination at all, just a sense of legitimacy without any of the strings attached. If that is so, I think that is a great idea under the circumstances, but I don't think a Bhikkhuni ordination is the answer.
- See equality above.
- Betterment of Buddhism
- "If Buddhism is going to be a global religion..." Buddhism already is. It is the reality of the universe as understood by the Buddha. Monk ordination is not. Cripples, AIDS victims, homosexuals, and women are all barred from Bhikkhu ordination, not because Buddhism is sexist, but because the bhikkhuhood evolved as a support group for men trying to get away from sensual desire. I've seen cases of monks and nuns disrobing together, sleeping together, yelling like married couples at each other, getting involved like lay people together; I've seen cases of homosexual monks in all sorts of distressing relationships with each other. There is a problem with ordaining women, and it is not the women themselves, it is the men. This is difficult to reconcile with modern ethics; the solution I propose is to allow nun ordination but deny Bhikkhuni ordination. What, really is the difference? Besides bruised egos and cries of unfair treatment, the only real difference I can see is we avoid all of the controversy, keep the genders apart, and can get back to what is really important, meditation and enlightenment.
- "Good bhikkhunis will make the monks feel embarrassed and force them to shape up their act." Yes, I think it is such a view that got me kicked out of several monasteries in Thailand. Even if the monks don't retaliate, I am sure that in a few years, the confusion regarding deciding which Bhikkhunis are real and which are not will be enough to a) trigger a crackdown and jailtime for any professed bhikkhuni, b) lead to wholesale immorality on the part of both orders as they mix and match precepts to the lowest common denominator - oh, wait, they are already doing that... or c) realize that bhikkhuni ordinations didn't really help anyone become enlightened after all, and decide to stop all the fuss and just get back to meditating as monks, nuns, lay men and lay women, without any real distinction on a practical level.
Really, please be fair with me, I'm really looking for a good reason to accept the Bhikkhuni ordinations; having read all the arguments in favour, I can't find one yet. Let me know if I've missed a good one, and I'll be sure to rethink my position. Maybe one day I'll even support Bhikkhuni ordination as a result, so be kind and open up my eyes... I'm still dubious, but it's hard to ignore the support of monks like Bhikkhu Bodhi and the Mingun Jetavan Sayadaw. Hard, but there you go, I've done it.