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Ajahn Brahm, Monk Under Fire

January 2, 2010

It seems that the monks from Wat Nong Pah Pong in Thailand want the Council of Elders as well as the Office of National Buddhism to force the western sangha to stop ordaining woman after monk Ajahn Brahm ordains 10 woman into the monastic order. So much for progress eh?

The great thing about being here in the West is that, I can honestly say, we will not listen. As Buddhism ages, moves across the globe and gains followers, silly old Buddhist “blue laws” like not allowing woman to ordain, will disappear.

It is believed that the first Buddhist nun was Prajapati, the Buddha’s aunt who raised him after his mother passing. She asked the Buddha about ordaining and her interest in doing so, he flat out refused her. Back in those days, during his life as a prince, he was taught that woman were inferior, and that minds couldn’t understand things the way men could. You can’t blame someone for conditioning, and he did eventually change his mind on the subject when he ordained the order of bhikunnis. But, although he started the order, there were still many rules a nun had to follow, more so than monks. There were 250 rules a monk was to follow and 348 for a nun, you can find them by reading the Vinaya-pitaka.

The most lenient of traditions is Tibetan Buddhism which has really broken the mold on ordaining woman in the 1980’s, thanks to the work of Karma Lekshe Tsomo and Tenzin Palmo.  We now can learn from such great teachers as Ani Pema Chodron, Thubten Chodron, Robina Courtin and more.

Anyway, kudos to Ajahn Brahm for ordaining the woman he has so far and I wish him the best of luck going forward. It seems he may be in for quite a fight and possible smear campaign on his character as a Buddhist monk. There is no room for this kind of belief of inequality in todays age and he should be commended not ostracized.

Original article from the Bangkok post found here.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2010 5:43 pm

    Some of your numbers are a bit off. I believe it was 4 nuns, not 10 that Ajahn Brahm ordained. The Theravāda vinaya (probably the oldest surviving version) has 227 rules for bhikkhus and 235 (and additional 8 rules) for bhikkhuṇīs. I believe the Sarvastivādin vinaya has 250 ruled for bhikṣus.

    Also note that those women who you say were ordained in the Tibetan tradition actually travelled to China and took ordination in a Dharmaguptaka bhikṣuṇī lineage, perhaps the only unbroken bhikṣuṇī ordination lineage remaining. It is not a Tibetan lineage and as far as I know the Tibetans are as backward as the Theravādins on this score.

    I do agree with your final sentiment, though I think that most of his fellow bhikkhus think Ajahn Brahm has shot himself in the foot and that those women will never be accepted as ordained in Thailand, meaning that they are cut off from their Thai teachers and must rely on westerners and people from other organisations.

    My take on women’s ordinations in the Theravādin tradition, for what it is worth, is here :
    http://jayarava.blogspot.com/2007/01/women-and-ordination.html

    Best Wishes
    Jayarava

  2. January 2, 2010 7:11 pm

    If the history of religious institutions shows us anything, it’s that groups will stand firm to their views, and continue to break off into smaller pieces when those views are challenged too much. Look at the Catholic Church – which has had a lot of groups break from it over the past thousand + years. Even with all the priest scandals, dwindling numbers of members in North America and Europe, and fewer people interested in being celibate monks and nuns, they’re still sticking to their view, for example, that priests are celibate men, period. Maybe some “liberal” churches will break off because of this in the near future, but I don’t see any major changes coming to the institution of the Catholic church any time soon. In fact, with it’s more recent spread into Africa, it seems to have collected more followers of a conservative bent.

    I bring this example up because I think it’s not very likely that the movement of Buddhism into “Western” countries is going to be the linchpin that erases institutional sexism. I fully support Ajahn Brahm’s efforts to move past the limits of the Vinaya, and think his work is influencing others in Theravadan circles who may have been more conservative in view. But I think it’s more likely that a split will occur, than a full scale discarding of sexist approaches.

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