Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Just Be-kkhuni

More fun with Buddhist Monasticism.

So I really did think a bit about the whole woman ordination thing while in the forests of Thailand... here's some more thoughts:

  • It seems pretty clear in my mind that we (men monks) shouldn't be eager to ordain women; it doesn't say much of an ascetic that he turns around and invites the objects of his desire to join him in the holy life.  This should not be up for debate.  The problem we encounter, then, is what to do when women approach the male ascetics themselves, wanting to join the fun (or lack thereof, one should say).  We should be clear about the distinction between these two affairs, so as to not become too stiff, saying that the Buddha rejected female monks - he didn't in fact.  He said basically what I've said here, that we should not be keen on it.  "mā te rucci mātugāmassa tathāgatappavedite dhammavinaye agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajjā" (Culavagga X.I)  But we should also detach ourselves from the group of modernists who seek to "liberate" women from the sexist Buddhist patriarchy.  I honestly don't see inequality as the problem; the problem is the fact that men honestly have enough trouble keeping their hands folded on their laps without women around.

  • When a woman wants to ordain, then, it should be treated with great care, but also with an acknowledgement that women do indeed have the same right to practice the Buddha's teaching and the same potential for enlightenment.  I've always argued that these are the most important to keep in mind and that ordination should not be seen as an end in any way, shape, or form.  It is one means to the end we all strive for, and certainly not the only means by which to reach that end.

  • In the past I've argued that, given the great kafuffle surrounding official female ordination, the path of least resistance would be for interested persons to take on an informal ordination and try their best to live the life of an ordained monk without the status.  This idea still holds great appeal in my mind, mostly because it takes the least time away from my own work in terms of studying about it, arguing about it, enforcing it, etc.  The past month in Thailand, however, has changed my mind, simply for the fact that Buddhism is in pretty bad shape, and most monks are not up to par anymore.  Seeing that again made me loosen my stiff grip on the idea that everything had to be a certain way; that a female ordination would be too questionable and improper to be of any value.  Once I began to look at the issue with a more open mind, I realized that the same problems I was citing against the Bhikkhuni ordination, viz. difficulty, controversy, and impropriety, could all be found in a pseudo-ordination as well.  That's when it hit me that impropriety is not the same as impossibility, and that simply because a choice is not perfect does not negate it entirely as an option.

  • When I look at it in this light, I think the best thing to do is to ordain women as bhikkhunis.  If this means sending them to Sri Lanka, then send them to Sri Lanka.  It seems to work, for the most part, and give women the opportunity to try "to fulfill point by point the wholly stainless, wholly purified ascetic life."  It is, in short, the path of least resistance.  Let them ordain, so we can all get back to what we came here to do.  So what if it's not perfect?  None of us are.  So what if they make fools of themselves?  They will be known for it themselves.  I think it will benefit my work to have this avenue available, and I am convinced that the ordination of a bhikkhuni in this way does not contravene the dhamma vinaya of the Buddha... it may not be the perfect solution, but I guarantee there isn't a perfect solution available.

  • The most important point to remember is that ordination is a paltry thing in comparison to meditation.  Many a lay person I know is more pure than many of the monks I have met in my travels.  We should all always keep this in mind, and especially the Buddha's words:


sabbaso nāmarūpasmiṃ, yassa natthi mamāyitaṃ,asatā ca na socati, sa ve "bhikkhū"ti vuccati.

In all mental and physical reality, for whom there is no thought of "mine"
who grieves not for what is not — such a one is truly called a monk.

-- The Buddha (Dhp 367)

So, there you have it.  More monkism.  It's been interesting, indeed, how eye-opening this has been; monks and nuns crawling out of the woodwork, so to speak, with all sorts of interesting tidbits, most of which they have asked that I don't share with you here.  I am at liberty to share these, though, without any opinion attached to them:

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