From time to time, I’m going to highlight some individual or group that shows remarkable courage in the face of adversity or in standing up against injustice. I call them brave hearts.
Today I want to call attention to the courage of Ajahn Brahmavamso, or Ajahn Brahm (as he is affectionately known) for taking the courageous step of ordinating women monks in his tradition.
Ajahn Brahm is the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia and was (until very recently) affiliated with the Theravadan forest monks of Wat Nong Pah Pong in Thailand.
According to new reports from Thailand in The Bangkok Post:
“The forest monks of Wat Nong Pah Pong want the Council of Elders and the Office of National Buddhism to impose stricter controls on Western monks to stop them from ordaining women.
They also want the properties of Thai temples in the West to come under the ownership of the Thai Sangha to ensure complete control.
The monks are seeking the changes after the recent ordination of two women at Bodhinyana Temple, a branch of Wat Nong Pah Pong in Perth, Australia.
The Ecclesiastic Council is opposed to female ordination. The Wat Nong Pah Pong clergy have excommunicated the dharma teacher Phra Brahmavamso, popularly known as Ajahn Brahm, for sponsoring the ordination.
His temple has also been stripped of its status as a Nong Pah Pong branch monastery.
Bitterness and animosity among the Wat Pah Pong monks against Ajahn Brahm is running high and they have accused him of mismanaging temples in Australia. They complain he has changed by-laws and appointed his supporters to run temples.
They are also unhappy about alleged negative comments Ajahn Brahm has made about Thai clergy and Thai Buddhism in his talks overseas.
If action is not taken, the council fears that more women could be ordained in the West.
[According to a spokesperson for the Ecclesiastical Council] ‘the introduction of the Siladhara order, or 10-Precept nuns, which was set up by the most senior Western monk, Ajahn Sumedho, as an alternative to female monks in Thailand was also unthinkable.’
And from the Buddhist Channel:
“The ordination of Theravada Bhikkhunis in Australia was fully supported by the Australian Buddhist community.
However, no such support came from the Western monks in Europe associated with Thailand. Indeed, the leading Western monks in England, together with the Western monks in Thailand, formally requested Ajahn Brahm to be excommunicated from Wat Pah Pong, which is the monastery where he was trained under Ajahn Chah.
Anjahn Brahm was summoned to a meeting in Thailand on Sunday November 1st where, after much harsh discussion, he was given the choice of publicly stating that the ordination was invalid or else be excommunicated from the Wat Pah Pong community.
He refused to recant, as he was not willing to disavow an ordination procedure which was valid according to the Vinaya (the monastic rules established by the Buddha), nor was he willing to go against the wishes of the Australian Sangha Association and the thousands of lay Buddhists from around the world who supported the full integration of women into Theravada Buddhism.”
Over many years I’ve listened to and read dozens of wonderful dhamma talks by both these monks. Knowing that both Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sumedho have given their whole lives to living and teaching pure Buddha dharma, I find these events appalling and sad. Clearly, what I call “cultural Buddhism” is no more free of ancient prejudices against women than “cultural Christianity” and many other religions that refuse full rights to women, not only in society, but in the church, synagogue, mosque, and priesthood.
My support and metta go out not only to Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sumedho, but to the two women who ordained and the people who supported this ordination. And since this is the Buddha’s metta, loving-kindness can’t be just for the people we like or care about.
Metta for “the bad guys”
If you have your own metta practice, or have explored this blog, you know that the discipline of metta calls on one to expand that radiant love beyond one’s immediate circle of affection. This means sending well-wishes to the so-called “neutral person”—someone you have no particular feeling about one way or the other—and then, even those we don’t like, including wrongdoers and people who may have harmed us.
This feeling of goodwill and aspiration that others have good can’t be forced or faked. Our loving-kindness isn’t a personal tour de force or self-hypnosis; true loving-kindness comes from mindfulness and from looking deeply into the causes of suffering and into what alleviates suffering. It means opening up the narrowness of our hearts to something more universal and less self-centered.
Looking at our own prejudices and cultural conditioning, we can have compassion for the those who are governed by powerful cultural beliefs that we may easily see through. This compassion doesn’t mean we condone, excuse, or justify what is clearly wrong and ignorant. But perhaps we can humbly realize that had we been raised in that society, we might believe the same things, with all our hearts and with a passionate sense that our beliefs are good.
Understanding fosters love without condoning wrong-doing
My teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, always emphasizes that with understanding comes love, and that there is no love without some understanding of the other. (And again, understanding doesn’t mean agree with, condoning, or excusing wrong-doing.) It means, among other things, to stop objecting people as all “evil” or all “good” and to see with clear eyes the very human being that is there, warts and all, and to have compassion for how flawed and wounded we all are.
With these kind of understandings in mind, I offer my metta to all those “bitter,” angry monks. May they be happy and find the causes of happiness! (In their angry reactions and unthinking expression of cultural prejudices, they surely have lost sight of those causes.) May they look deeply into their anger and bitterness and honestly and courageously see what’s there to be seen.
May these men truly see women as they are, in the light of the Buddha’s wish that all beings find liberation, with no exceptions, no exclusions, and no bias for one group or individual over another. May we all remember the Buddha’s wisdom: “Hate never overcomes hate. Only love overcomes hate. Cultivate boundless love toward all beings.”
If you would like to offer direct support to these two courageous monks or contact them, they can be reached at:
Ajahn Brahm’s website:
The Buddhist Society of Western Australia:
(I had to smile, when I went to Ajahn Brahm’s site, to see this new banner on the opening page. It’s so like this joyous, funny monk to do this!)
They drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout!
But love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took them in.
(Edwin Markham 1852-1940)