Brave Hearts-Ajahn Brahmavamso Ordains Women Monks

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.

Ajahn Brahmavamso

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.

Ajahn Sumedho

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:

http://www.ajahnbrahm.org/

The Buddhist Society of Western Australia:

http://www.bswa.org/

(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)

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About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

6 Responses to “Brave Hearts-Ajahn Brahmavamso Ordains Women Monks”

  1. EVERY Thai man is allowed a three-month paid leave if he is to take up monkhood. That’s how important studying buddhism was to the society. I had always wanted to benefit from this facility. Alas, my wish was never to realise for the simple reason; I am a woman.

    I would be dishonest if I pretended that I am not delighted by Ajahn Brahm’s courageious act which affects me personally, as a woman, Including women as teachers of buddhism means giving a fair chance to half of humanity.

    In this 21st century, there is no other way, if buddhism is to stay alive and healthy.

    I share your compassion for both Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sumedho and all other monks of the Nong Pa Pong tradition as well as the courageous women who are now bhikkhunis. I truly respect their sincere wish to do what they believe to be right. I can also appreciate the wish to remain true to tradtion. But tradition, like all things, change with times. As buddhists, we are constantly reminded of that. Ironically, this change- the ordination of bhikkhunis- may bring us closer to the practice that the Buddha himself approved- will bring us closer to the Buddha’s way.

    As for the bhikkhunis, I am grateful for their honesty and courage for wanting to dedicate their lives to help spreading buddhism. On a practical level, they add to the much needed good buddhist teahers.

    What should matter for lay buddhists like us is that Ajahn Brahm has reinstituted the equitable practice of Buddha’s time of respecting women’s place in the buddhist community. I welcome the bikkhunis ordination which gives women option, and the right, as never before in my life time , to benefit from and contribute to the deep life-changing learning and teaching of buddhism which could ultimately cause life-changing learning in others, too.

    Finally, I know in my heart that compassion will overcome all and that all the great buddhist teachers will work together,men and women, to ensure that the world benefit from the dharma.

    Many thanks for giving me a chance to express myself on this important issue.

    May you be well, may you be happy.

    Namtip

  2. I do not understand the opposition against women being ordinated either? Lots of women, including the Buddha’s former step mother and wife became enlightened. They were ordinated as the first nuns after 2 refusals were they not? Even at a time of severe discrimination against women, the buddha took steps to ensure there was a community of nuns. Buddhism is a free religion, universal and not only meant for men. And if you believe in reincarnation, they surely you would have been born as a women about the same number of times that you were born as a man? If the argument is based on the fact that there were no completely ordinated women in the Buddha’s time (which I’m not sure about, I was pretty sure there were) it should be understood that this was a time when women were completely discriminated and this discrimination was widely accepted. The steps Ajahn Brahm took in this day and age to fully ordinate women can be compared to the steps the Buddha took to start a community of nuns in the ancient times, who were also respected and cared for by lay people, even if not to the same extent of the monks. And I am sure he faced major opposition in his time also. I do not understand the opposition. I have been browsing the internet for a satisfying argument for why this was such a big deal, and I can not find one. Ajahn Brahm was my first true teacher, although I was born a buddhist, the first monk who made me understand the true beauty of the teachings, and Ajahn Sumedho has reinforced these teachings and both monks have introduced me, through their dhamma talks, to the the great teacher Ajahn Chah. It breaks my heart to see all this opposition against my teachers, but like Ajahn Sumedho says ‘this is how it is’ and we should just make peace! :)

  3. As a non-Buddhist who admires Buddhist teachings, I have this to say:

    In my opinion, this kind of nonsense [women monks! oh noes!] is going to drive people [especially young people] further away from organized religion. But maybe that’s not a bad thing.

    • Lol! Buddhism is not very organised as a religion which is why I love it! It is free and inspiring. It can be very chaotic at times (present situation, for example), but man, its good to be free.. lol… Hopefully, this will pass away. I am a female and I’ve been thinking about ordination, but now I’m going to have to travel all the way to Australia (from Britain) to join Ajahn Brahm’s monestary. Sigh! lol :)

  4. Quote
    “The ordination of Theravada Bhikkhunis in Australia was fully supported by the Australian Buddhist community.”
    Unquote

    The use of “The Australia Buddhist community” is a LIE.
    I for one is an Australian Buddhist and many of my fellow Australian Buddhists DO NOT SUPPORT this AT ALL.

    Is this the beginning of modification of True Theravada Buddhism in the West where Christianity was divided into over 38,000 denomination ?

    • Hello James. You clearly have strong feelings on this subject. (My own impression is that this ordination did have wide, if not universal support, but that’s just my impression from my own research.)

      Why do you see ordination as such a disaster? I’m wondering if you have the same view if your were a Catholic? Are women themselves the problem for you? I’m genuinely curious. Do you believe a woman can become enlightened? A Buddha? Do you believe there’s something about being a woman that makes them intrinsically unable to teach the dhamma? I heard all the rationales from conservative Catholics on their version of this; I’m fascinated to see if the same arguments can be couched in Buddhist form and terms.

      Please enlighten me! :)

      Steve

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