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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  1. Bhikkhuni Sobhana10:04 PM

    Thank you Bhante. Yes, I think the order of events is to find a good training place where the women have their own separate territory, then get the ordination in the most expeditious way possible, and go on from there. The ordination can be done in Sri Lanka, Australia, USA; all descended from Sri Lanka. Or they can be ordained in the Dharmagupta, convert, and practice in Theravada form. In any case there will be plenty of problems to deal with.
    However, if you check your Vinaya, you will find the bhikkhu is obliged to assist the bhikkhuni from time to time. That responsibility normally falls to a virtuous senior bhikkhu, who should be beyond temptation.
    I appreciate the evolution of your thinking.
    with metta, Bhikkhuni Sobhana

  2. PuritySweetwater6:08 PM

    An article about how Buddhism and the Thai Sex Industry are interconnected in ways they demean and degrade women:

  3. PuritySweetwater6:31 PM

    I have been watching CNN Heroes online and I think since I'm not going to be able to ordain as a nun, I am going to have to do something else with my life. Maybe I can help the world and it doesn't have to do anything with Buddhism. Because I feel that a lot of the same reasons that there... See More is no higher ordination for women in Thailand (they are only allowed 8 precepts) is also linked to the same attitudes that cause the sex trade in Thailand to be so prevalent. Women are seen as worthless in Thai society, they aren't allowed to be real nuns, only given the 8 precepts of a layperson, and women and young girls are bought and sold there like cattle.
    Monks in Thailand smoke cigarettes and are still allowed to stay in monasteries and get housed for free and waited on by the nuns, just because they have male bodies they are seen as superior to women. A male body is very convenient for meditation, but it is the mind that matters. A male body is stronger and doesn't go through suffering and emotional distress, but in the end both males and females die and get burned in the cremation pile or shoved in a ditch, and it only matters what you did with your life... it doesn't matter what kind of body you had.

  4. anything4:14 PM

    A man, O Brahmin, is a woman's aim, her quest is for adnornments, her mainstay is sons, her desire is to be without a co-wife and her ideal is domination.

    Anguttara Nikaya 6.52

  5. I really like your blog and work. However, after reading your post "Just Be-kkhuni" I could not help making some comments:

    1) You say that "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" -- judging by this comment women are not welcomed/allowed in the holy life?
    2) If ascetic life is so "wholly stainless" and "purified," monks should not fear the presence of women. Desire is a creation of the mind like all the rest, it does not need the physical presence of a woman to arise. Whether close to a woman or not, it is HOW a monk deals with the question of desire that will prove his "stainless and purified" intentions/will.
    3) You seem to have a patronizing attitude towards the ordination of nuns when you say: "If this means sending them to Sri Lanka, then send them to Sri Lanka". Reading between the lines it is like: "OK let them ordinate and have their way, in a far away, remote place, preferably.
    4) If "ordination is a paltry thing in comparison to meditation" why have you become a monk? You could only meditate and be a layperson then. And if ordination is not a big deal, why not allowing women to ordinate?

    Please, don't take it personally, but I think that the world has changed a lot since the beginning of Buddhism. and if we think about the question of Impermanence, it is constantly changing. So why continue to maintain patriarchal, misogynist attitudes toward women (like seems to be the case in Thailand)?
    If women had been given the power that men have, the world would be DEFINITELY a better place.

  6. A few more comments

    -- Women were (maybe they still are) considered to be the source of evil in the world in many religious traditions. But rape, bank robbery, drug trafficking, corruption in politics and using/buying of pornography -- to name a few -- are actions performed mostly by MEN.
    -- In Thailand, especially in the north, gay and transgender men are allowed to ordinate (see in Men seem to be privileged in all aspects. I wonder what they would say to a lesbian who wanted to ordinate.
    -- I think a great deal of Compassion should be the ability to walk in someone else's shoes. Men seem not to be capable of doing that when it comes to women. Men have always had the power so they are unable to conceive the world outside that power. Compassion should be extended to any living creature in fact. Animals should be under this umbrella as well. In my opinion, Buddhism and Vegetarianism (Veganism even better) should definitely walk hand in hand. There is nothing that prevents it in the West (OK, I know that in Asia monks have to accept whatever laypeople give to them during their alms round). Anyway, animals are sentient beings and they SUFFER as well.

  7. dear Noah
    sorry if I sounded harsh or pushy -- we might have different opinions but I admire you a lot

  8. Bhikkhuni Sobhana4:29 PM

    The power of children is crying. ruṇṇabalā dārakā
    The power of women-kind is anger. kodhabalo mātugāmo
    The power of thieves is weaponry. āvudhabalā corā
    The power of kings is dominion. issariyabalā rājāno
    The power of fools is irritation. ujjhattibalā bālā
    The power of wise men is persuasion. nijjhattibalā paṇḍitā
    The power of the learned is scrutiny. paṭisaṅkhānabalā bahussutā
    The power of the recluse and brahmin is patience. khantibalā samaṇabrāhmaṇā

    AN is unique in its detailed and poignant descriptions of the misery of samsara, analyzing the discontents of the old social arrangements. To the extent that we still have these qualities, I assume they are pretty hard-wired by evolution. But our goal is to transcend all that, and our training to see these patterns for what they are, to find the skillful means to suppress whatever is not useful until the fetters are cut for good. I remember the verse cited whenever I'm tempted to use the power of scolding.
    With metta.