Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More On Brahm's Bhikkhunis

For most of the Wat Pa Phong theras, the intellectual argument over the validity of bhikkhuni ordination is not the point. Their lack of knowledge of the latest studies on the subject is, in their eyes, irrelevant. To them the issue is that Ajahn Brahmavamso reneged on commitments implicit in his ownership of a Thai monastic passport, his role as abbot of a Wat Pa Phong branch monastery, his position as an officially sanctioned preceptor, and his acceptance of the Jow Khun title (formalizing his membership in the elite strata of the Thai monastic order). In the meeting of the 1st November, it was the perception that Ajahn Brahmavamso had acted disrespectfully to his teachers and lineage, that aroused emotions, not his wish to elevate the status of women.

Time only will tell if the bhikkhuni ordination at Bodhinyana monastery in October 2009 will be seen as a key breakthrough in the acceptance of a Theravada bhikkhuni order, or as an overly hasty and confrontational move that alienated many of those it was intended to persuade.


Ajaan Brahmavamso tells it a bit different:
At the meeting in Wat Pah Pong on Sunday 1st November 2009, to which I was summoned at very short notice, it was apparent that the senior Thai monks had a poor understanding of the Vinaya rules concerning sanghakamma (formal acts of Sangha governance). For example, it took a long time to convince them that a Bhikkhuni Ordination is a double sanghakamma.The first part being performed by a gathering of Bhikkhunis presided over by the Preceptor (“Upajjhaya” or “Pavattini” -Ayya Tathaaloka from the USA) and the second part where the new Bhikkhunis approach the Bhikkhu Sangha to have their ordination confirmed by a ├▒atticatutthakamma (a formal motion followed by 3 announcements). I was one of the two Bhikkhus who chanted the ├▒atticatutthakamma in the Bhikkhu Sangha.

Once the senior Thai monks understood that I was not the Upajjhaya, they were willing to let the matter drop, provided I would promise in the midst of the Sangha not to participate in the ordination of any more Bhikkhunis. Remembering the example of Venerable Ananda at the First Council, I made that promise to the assembled Sangha three times. It looked as if harmony would be restored.

However, some senior monks raised the question of the status of the four women who had received Bhikkhuni Ordination. I accepted that they would not be regarded as Bhikkhunis in Thailand under the present climate, but the ordination was legitimate and they were Bhikkhunis. A senior monk then claimed that the ordination was invalid because of "ditthi vipatti", which he explained as meaning without the approval of the Sangha of Wat Pah Pong. As anyone with a basic knowledge of sanghakamma knows, this is nonsense. However, that unfounded view held sway and the meeting came down to a single clear choice: If Ajahn Brahm would state in the midst of the Sangha that the four women were not Bhikkhunis then there would be no penalty, otherwise Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery would be removed from the list of branch monasteries of Wat Pah Pong. I paused for a minute to reflect and, considering that I could not go against the Vinaya and state the Bhikkhunis were not properly ordained, nor could I go against the wishes of the Sangha of Bodhinyana and the thousands of lay Buddhists that support the Bhikkhuni Ordination, I refused to recant.

As a result, Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery was removed as a branch monastery of Wat Pah Pong. I emphasise that this decision had nothing to do with the process, secretive or otherwise, through which the ordination took place. The decision to excommunicate Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery rested solely on my refusal to state that the Bhikkhuni Ordination was invalid.


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