Thursday, March 10, 2011

Atha Nibbindati Dukkhe

Being a monk, being this monk anyway, is a funny thing. You leave the world, and then you turn around and try to help others do the same. Then you realize the result is you're just bringing the world with you. What do you do?

I make some videos for YouTube, trying to answer questions people have about Buddhism, meditation and the monastic life. Sometimes people ask easy questions, sometimes difficult ones. I try to answer as best I can; I'm probably not the best for the job, but I do try. I think the biggest problem is the distance between myself and the people who watch my videos. Not saying that one of us is above the other, just that we live generally very different lives.

Recently I posted a video about ordaining women that seems to have crossed some line somewhere. It's since appeared in several places on the web, and has elicited more response than my post on Brahmavamso's Jhanas. As usual, I was speaking off-the-cuff, and made some comments that seem to have insulted more than one person.

Honestly, honestly, honestly, whether there is anyone who believes it or not, I didn't expect and didn't want that any of my videos receive this much attention. It seems that quite a few people found even this video helpful; that is all I hope for from these videos. If they are solely harmful, I will remove them.

That being said, my views are my views. What are my views?

1) That putting heterosexual women and men together makes celibacy more difficult. I have never expressed the view that men or women of any inclination are more or less sexually active than another.

2) That putting homosexual men or women together with others of the same gender (homosexual or not) makes celibacy more difficult. My comment about men in skirts was a joke; a politically incorrect one, it seems, but what do you want? I live in a cave.

3) I am not against the ordination of either women or homosexual men. The former seems to pose little problem, given that it is done according to the Buddha's words. The latter is split into two categories; those who ordain to overcome their desires and those who ordain to indulge in them. The former type of man is welcome, the latter is not. Whether you believe there exist those people who ordain for perverse reasons or not is up to you. It has to be noted, too, that the checks that exist between monks of different gender do not exist between monks of the same gender. This should be cause for caution in this regard.

4) Ordaining women is not equivalent to causing a schism in the sangha, no matter what anyone says. If some monks are against ordaining women, power to them. If some monks are for it, power to them. It is when we say either that refusing to ordain women is wrong or that agreeing to ordain women is wrong that we begin the process of schism. As far as I know, I have done neither. The funny thing about this all is that I am being attacked by both sides of the debate. Well fine, attack away. The earth returns to the earth, the air to air, the water to water, the fire to fire.

5) After spending ten years in and out of more Buddhist monasteries than I can count, I have enough direct experience supporting the above views to make me feel comfortable dismissing more-or-less out-of-hand comments from people who have never lived in a monastic environment for any length of time.

So, for now, that's what I'm doing. Dismissing. Our focus should not be bickering and name-calling. It seems that the anger directed towards my video has spilled over into bickering and in-fighting among my detractors. I am sorry for this, but it should serve to remind us that anger, like desire, is a fire that knows no boundaries.

Something people don't realize is that monks teach out of kindness, not obligation. Ordaining others, be they men or women, is likewise an act of kindness, not an obligation. If you have never been involved in the process, it is easy to forget the incredible burden involved in raising a fledgling monk. This is explicit in the ordination act itself:

"Ajjataggedāni thero mayhaṃ bhāro; ahampi therassa bhāro."

"From this day forth, the elder will be my burden; I also will be the elder's burden.

If a monk, or group of monks, decide not to ordain this or that person or even type of person, who are we to judge? Perhaps they wish to live in peace and practice meditation alone according to the Buddha's instruction; perhaps they are mean, lazy, or ignorant, in which case better to go elsewhere anyway. Demanding ordination from anyone is a good way to chase away potential preceptors, or worse, cause a schism in the sangha.

Likewise, if a monk, or group of monks, decide to ordain women, who are we to judge? This whole thing is reminiscent of the problems Ven. Sirivijaya (ครูบาศรีวิชัย) had just trying to ordain men without permission from a group of monks in Bangkok; he was even arrested for it. Suffice to say, I'm happy in Sri Lanka :)

As always, I am not looking for debate. I'm trying to meditate; helping others is a part-time job :) If these words help to cool emotions, well and good. If they do not, feel free to go talk about it on your own blog. Commenting here, as always, is subject to moderation.


  1. Dear Ven.

    I saw the video, but I must say I have not seen the comments you discbribe.
    It seems that if one really want to make that particulat video an issue, one has to somehow deliberately misunderstand (wether this is recognized or not) the intention of the video.
    It is for sure easier to misunderstand and follow after anger etc. than to sit down, and listen mindfully and approach ones expierience of that as the issue.

    Power to YOU dear venerable : )And thank you for this platform !

    May all find peace and freedom from suffering

  2. fgimelli7:53 PM

    Dear Bhante,

    Thank you for your post and your clarifications. My intention was not to attack you, but to challenge some of your views, as I hope mine will continue to be challenged. I apologise if you felt attacked by me, but my judgment was reserved for your views, rather than for you as a person. I appreciate your willingness to engage and clarify, rather than just let misunderstandings continue.

    You make clear the limitations of communicating via the web, the biggest one being the distance and lack of communication between the producer and the consumer.

    Thank you once again and I hope to be able to communicate more in the future.

    With metta,

  3. venadhi6:32 PM

    I'd like to share my response to the perception of women being backbiting and mean, and to the idea that this can make it difficult for them to live in monastic communities

    I think that everyone comes to these issues with different life experiences, and that this obviously influences and shapes their response to these issues. so, i think that we all have a piece to the puzzle, and i'd like to add some pieces from my own life.

    For a start, i'd like to say that i've often heard women characterised as being back-biting and nasty etc. etc. And, I've often been puzzled - i have to honestly say that i've always had very positive and wonderful relationships with my sisters, my mother, my grandmothers, (as well as with the very many wonderful men in my family). And I've always had wonderful female friends, and female teachers, and do not fight with them. So, I think perhaps it would be more accurate to say that some women in some situations are nasty and turn against each other, but certainly not all women or even most women in my experience.

    Also, I've been a female monastic for some years now and have spent time in a number of different monastic communities. I was a mae chee in Thailand and have lived as an anagarika, a samaneri and now as a bhikkhuni in the West, and have also spent some time in a nuns community in Malaysia, and a small amount of time as a monastic in Cambodia and in Vietnam. I have to say, that overall if I look back over my time as a female monastic I have a good feeling about the relationships with my fellow Dhamma sisters. I have found my older sisters and mentors to be encouraging and nurturing, and often incredibly inspiring, and have generally found those my age to be very good friends and companions.

    In Vietnam especially where the Bhikkhuni Sangha is well established and runs in the thousands i felt deeply the sheer power and inspiration of women's sangha. I found the bhikkhunis elegant, eloquent, grounded and confident - which was refreshing and strengthening. At the moment I live in a fledgling bhikkhuni community in America and feel very at home, and harmonious with my sisters in this life here. And have been very inspired by the open-heartedness, courage, perseverance and generosity of my fellow monastics, even in very difficult and trying circumstances.

    I would also say that I have lived in different situations that vary widely in the spectrum of health. And that I have certainly observed and experienced negative dynamics also. According to my observation, when I've been in nuns' communities where the women monastics don't have the ability to make decisions about their own community interractions, or ability to arrange their own lives, when they don't have proper structures and training (as are provided by the Vinaya) and when they have to mediate all their decisions through a male leader, i've seen how often competition and jealousy can develop.

    So, I feel that overall context, feeling of psychological belonging and connection to a tradition, groundedness and strength (that leads to joy, relaxation of boundaries and generosity), good solid training and community structures all really help to build positive monastic environments for women as well as men. I would like to add this link from a woman in Thailand who ordained as a samaneri which describes the positive impact these factors have on community life:

  4. phalanyani12:21 AM

    What a pity that I haven't had the chance to see the video.

    Anyway - may the power be with you. be well in your cave. Hope you have a lot time to meditate yourself!

    Phalanyani Bhikkhuni

  5. Thanks for your words. I've removed the comment you refer to; I apologize for letting it through, I don't agree with the views expressed therein.

  6. b_o_b_b_y_48:49 PM

    It seems like a lot of people on the internet are very closed-minded and often just argue for the sake of arguing. I have to say, I've been watching ask a monk frequently since October and in fact, I even asked the last question about motivation! Watching your videos has definitely been inspiring to me and I have been really trying hard. I'm in school, I'm only 20 but when I finally get out this summer I wanna try some kind of meditation coarse. I feel like I've matured a lot this year thanks to meditating and getting more into Buddhism. I think you really are qualified to answer these questions and you've certainly inspired me. Many thanks Yuttadhammo. From, Bobby.