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Ajahn Brahm Sanctioned, Monastery Loses Wat Nong Pa Pong Branch Status

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Monk's expulsion may lead to new era for Buddhist women

November 7, 2009 6:04 PM

Buddhism Examiner

Emily Breder

On October 22nd, Ajahn Brahmavamso (or Ajahn Brahm) ordained four women at his monastery in Perth, Western Australia. They are the first women that have been ordained into the Thai Forest (Theravadan) tradition. Women monks are called Bhikkhunis. The ceremony was planned and purposely kept quiet so that it could proceed without interference.

Despite the fact that the Australian Sangha supported this act, the Thai monastery who ordained him after instruction by famed monk Ajahn Chah did not and called him to Thailand to answer for his actions at the Wat Pah Nanachat Forest Monastery.

He refused to declare the ordination is invalid before the council, and as a result he and his monastery have been expelled from the parent sangha.

Predictably, the modern world is backing his decision to rebel. Even Western Theravadan monks from other branches of the Theravadan tradition, such as New York-born Bhikkhu Bodhi who has translated masses of texts into English, have come out to support his action. Theravadan bhikkhunis have previously attempted set up orders in 2007, at the "1st International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha: Bhikshuni Vinaya and Ordination Lineages”. in Sri Lanka. Women find it difficult to gain acceptance in these traditions.

Human nature being what it is, however, with the support of the public outside of Thailand it is likely that more Theravadan Bhikkhunis will be ordained in the future. Theravadan Buddhism is enjoying tremendous popularity. There is even a Theravadan forest monastery in West Virginia, Bhavana Society. The Buddha originally did not want to have women ordained as monks because he anticipated that they would not be safe in the social climate of the world at that time, though he eventually relented. The original order of Bhikkhunis in the forest tradition died out more than a thousand years ago.

Times have changed for women since then, thankfully. The actions of Ajahn Brahm in Australia have ushered in a new kind of Western Theravadan Buddhism- the co-ed kind.

http://www.examiner.com/x-16501-Buddhism-E...Buddhist-women#

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Notification of the Wat Nong Pah Pong Sangha decision to revoke the status of a branch monastery

The Buddhist Channel, Nov 5, 2009

The following is the official statement issued by Wat Nong Pah Pong with regards to the excommunication of Ajahn Brahmavamso from its Sangha (Editor's note: The statement was slightly edited for grammatical errors)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Regarding Phra Visuddhisamvarathera (Ajahn Brahmavamso), abbot of Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery, Perth, Australia, performing a Bhikkhuni ordination on October 22nd, 2009 at Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery with himself as Chanting Acariya and Bhikkhuni Ayya Tathaloka as preceptor.

Ajahn Brahmavamso had thoroughly planned and prepared, and intentionally concealed, not allowing the Sangha of Wat Nong Pah Pong and its branches in Thailand and abroad to know, fearing the objection of the Sangha, (and proceeding) even though the Sangha of Wat Nong Pah Pong and its branches in Thailand and abroad had made a decision against ordaining Bhikkhunis, which was restated many times – the Sangha does not accept the act of ordaining Bhikkhunis on this occasion and holds it as void.

The individuals concerned cannot be considered Theravada Bhikkhunis, as this status contradicts the law of the Mahatherasamakhom, the Sangha administration of the Theravada order in Thailand. Ajahn Brahmavamso had been continually informed of this law, however in violation he went ahead without consulting the Sangha of Wat Nong Pah Pong and its branches in Thailand and abroad.

His actions may cause wrong understanding amongst Buddhists throughout the world, and division of views regarding this issue. For the sake of preventing further problems from arising, and for the unity of the Sangha of Wat Nong Pah Pong and its branches in Thailand and abroad, a meeting was held on November 1st, 2009 at 18:00 hours with Phra Rachapavanavikrom as the presiding monk, together with 160 monks including senior Theras from Thailand and abroad, members of the Sangha committee, and abbots of branch monasteries of Wat Nong Pah Pong both in Thailand and abroad, to have Ajahn Brahmavamso acknowledge his fault in ordaining Bhikkhunis unilaterally.

He would not admit the wrongness of his actions, which contravene the standard kept by the Sangha of Wat Nong Pah Pong to uphold the principles of Dhamma-Vinaya practiced by the Theravada Sangha of Thailand. As a consequence the following unanimous decision was passed:

Bodhinyana Monastery, Perth, Australia, with its abbot Phra Visuddhisamvarathera (Brahmavamso Bhikkhu), is revoked of its status of being a branch monastery of Wat Nong Pah Pong. Wat Nong Pah Pong and its branch monasteries both in Thailand and abroad are not in any way related to or responsible for any of the actions of Bodhinyana Monastery, Perth, Australia, lead by Phra Visuddhisamvarathera (Brahmavamso Bhikkhu), (such as) the ordination of Bhikkhunis that has taken place, and any other activity that may occur in the future.

We therefore make this information available for general distribution, for the notification of whomever may be concerned.

Respectfully yours,

* Phra Rachapavanavikrom, (Liem Thitadhammo, abbot of Wat Nong Pah Pong),

* Phrakruh Pattanakitvisal (Kam Nissoko),

* Phrakru Bodhisarakhunavat (Boonchoo Thitaguno),

* Phrakru Ophasavudhigarn (Sophon Obhaso),

* Phrakru Pavanaudomakhun (Sopha Uttamo),

* Phrakru Suthammaprachot (Kamphong Thitapuñño),

* Phra Adhigarn Jundee Kantasaro,

* Phra Ajahn Paithun Khantiko,

* Phrakru Udomvanahnurak (Sommay Piyadhammo),

* Phrakru Palat Anan (Anan Akincano),

* Phrakru Nimitviriyanugun (Subin Uttamo),

* Phrakru Pavanahnugit (Lai Dipadhammo),

* Phra Ajahn Philip Ñanadhammo,

* Phrakru Bovornsilavat (Prasert Rakkhitadhammo),

* Phrakru Bodhivanahnurak (Vannachit Jitamaro),

* Phrakru Vijarasuphavat (Bandit Tejapañño),

* Phrakru Santithammaviset (Preechar Jutindharo),

* Phra Adhigarn Vichit Adhipuñño,

* Phra Adhigarn Henning Kevali.

http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=70,8660,0,0,1,0

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Official statement from Ajahn Brahm's monastery:

Bhikkhuni Ordination at Bodhinyana Monastery, a Response to Ajahn Chandako and Others

By Ajhan Brahmali and the Bodhinyana Sangha

It is a good thing that the issue of bhikkhuni ordination, particularly within the Western Sangha connected with Ajahn Chah’s monastery Wat Pah Pong, is finally being discussed openly. I welcome Ajahn Chandako’s contribution, which is clearly well-intended, and I have no doubt that he is telling the truth as he sees it.

Unfortunately, the issues are quite complex, and there is a long historical process that has led to the present developments. It is only by understanding this process that one can fully appreciate why Ajahn Brahm and the Sangha at Bodhinyana Monastery decided to go ahead with bhikkhuni ordination on October 22nd. Below I will directly respond to most of the points raised by Ajahn Chandako and others.

Ajahn Chandako says he supports bhikkhuni ordination, and I have no doubt that he is sincere. He then mentions that he taught monastic training to bhikkhunis in California (in June 2009). What he does not mention is that during an interview in conjunction with the training he stated that “There are no serious obstacles coming from Western bhikkhus, as long as the bhikkhunis are independent. If you talk about having bhikkhunis in the Ajahn Chah sangha, that is another matter.” That ordaining bhikkhunis in the Ajahn Chah Sangha is “another matter” is identical to the conclusion I had reached, and it is the main reason why it seemed necessary to do the ordination in Perth without first consulting the monks of the Wat Pah Pong tradition, including those in the West.

Ajahn Chandako next brings up the ‘secrecy’ with which the ordination was planned and performed, and then says that this has damaged the sense of trust within the Wat Pah Pong Sangha. I feel that the discretion we felt compelled to exercise was unfortunate but necessary, and I wish it could have been otherwise. It is important to realize, however, that ‘secrecy’ with regard to women renunciates, of whatever kind, has been the norm in many of the monasteries connected to Wat Pah Pong. In Bodhinyana Monastery, for example, we have been almost completely in the dark as to the developments in some of these monasteries, developments that were important in regard to the monastic training for women. More importantly discretion, regrettably, appeared unavoidable when the opposition to what we were proposing seemed so strong. Again, Ajahn Chandako himself had implied that bhikkhuni ordination within the Wat Pah Pong Sangha would be difficult and this was also my view.

Of course, I agree wholeheartedly with Ajahn Chandako that openness and consultation is preferable to doing things quietly. But when we perceived that openness and consultation could only hamper bhikkhuni ordination – most likely making it impossible – then there was little choice but to keep it quiet, regardless of how that might be viewed by others.

To understand how difficult it is to get bhikkhuni ordination taken seriously, some background information is useful. Some monks have tried to raise the issue of bhikkhunis within the Wat Pah Pong Sangha for many years, but have essentially been ignored. The Wat Pah Pong Sangha has itself stated, in minuted meetings, that it does “not agree” with bhikkhuni ordination. In at least one monastery the women were told that they would no longer get the support of the bhikkhu Sangha, including no future ordinations, unless they agreed that the practice they were undertaking does not lead to bhikkhuni ordination. Given all this, and other things that I have not mentioned, is it not quite obvious why we did not choose to consult with the greater Wat Pah Pong Sangha? From our perspective any such consultation could only lead to an outright ban on performing bhikkhuni ordinations, and thus make it virtually impossible for us to go ahead. I do not see how we can be blamed for ‘secrecy’ when, as Ajahn Chandako himself has admitted, the conservative forces within the Wat Pah Pong Sangha are so strong.

Ajahn Chandako states that Ajahn Brahm was given the choice of either considering the bhikkhuni ordination performed at Bodhinyana Monastery as null and void or being cut off as a Wat Pah Pong branch monastery. It is important to realize, however, that not even a handful of monks were pushing for such a cutting off. I have been told that the vast majority of monks were quite placid and would probably have settled for a guarantee that Ajahn Brahm would not conduct any further bhikkhuni ordinations. Significantly, Ajahn Brahm was willing to give such a commitment for the sake of ending the disharmony. The large majority of monks at the Wat Pah Pong meeting seemed quite amenable to a compromise solution, but this was not enough for the small number of monks pushing for a complete cut-off.

In any case, and regardless of what actually happened at that Wat Pah Pong meeting, it would have been impossible for Ajahn Brahm to declare the ordination as null and void. An ordination properly performed cannot in retrospect be rendered void; this is a fundamental principle of the monastic Vinaya. In fact, according to pacittiya rule 63 of the bhikkhu Patimokkha it is an offense to agitate for the reopening of Sanghakamma (in this case an ordination) that has been properly performed. The simple fact is that Ajahn Brahm did not have the option to act in this way.

Another charge levelled against Ajahn Brahm is that, although he has lived in Australia for the past 26 years, he is expected to abide by Thai Sangha Law. As far as I know, this is simply not true. I have never seen any document or law to this effect, nor even heard of any verbal agreement of this sort. The reality is that most Western monasteries, including Bodhinyana Monastery, have adapted to local requirements, often in direct opposition to the practices followed in Thailand. One example is the use of jackets, which I understand the Western monasteries were specifically told by the Thai Sangha hierarchy they could not use. Moreover, what the Thai Sangha Laws actually say seems to be shrouded in myth. It is often stated that such laws prohibit bhikkhuni ordination, but the information I possess is that no such law actually exists. Nor does one agree to uphold Thai law by accepting the Chao Khun status, and no such thing is written on the Chao Khun certificate.

Ajahn Chandako claims that all the Western abbots of the Ajahn Chah lineage condemned Ajahn Brahm’s actions. This is too simplistic. I have personally been present when Ajahn Brahm has received phone calls from other Western abbots saying that this was no cause for breaking the bonds of friendship. Ajahn Brahm replied that as far as he was concerned no bonds of friendship were broken. Moreover, a number of senior members of the Western Sangha were saddened by the sequence of events, evidently not supporting the expulsion of Bodhinyana Monastery from the Wat Pah Pong group of monasteries. In sum, there seems to be much diversity of opinion among the Western Sangha about this issue.

There is also the idea that the ordination in Perth will make the bhikkhunis pariahs in certain places and that they will therefore become more isolated. Apart from a few monasteries, particularly in Thailand, I very much doubt that this will be the case. I think the opposite is much more likely, since bhikkhuni ordination is something many in the West and elsewhere have been striving for.

Then there is the claim that Ajahn Brahm did this to go down in history as the reviver of the Theravada bhikkhuni Sangha. Firstly, the Theravada bhikkhuni order is already thriving in certain places, notably in Sri Lanka. Secondly, the reason Ajahn Brahm chose to be part of the ordination is that some of the nuns who were ordained were his direct disciples. It would be an abrogation of his responsibility to these nuns to hand over the ordination to a bhikkhu Sangha located somewhere else. Further, it is hardly likely that there would have been no reactions from other monks simply because the ordination was performed in this way. Ajahn Brahm would still have been regarded as having played a central part, and it is quite possible that the subsequent sequence of events would have been the same, or similar.

Ajahn Chandako states that if each monastery in the Ajahn Chah tradition had simply decided to go its own way this would have led to a much weaker and disjointed lineage. But our true lineage goes back to the Buddha, not just to Ajahn Chah. And according to the Buddha’s instructions, which must take precedence over any other instructions followed by Buddhist monks, all monasteries are independent in their governance. Indeed, it may legitimately be asked how a strong centralized decision making body at Wat Pah Pong is in line with this principle. The weakness or strength of the lineage is ultimately related to the degree to which one follows the Buddha’s Dhamma and Vinaya, not the degree to which one follows the rules laid down by a small subsection of the Sangha.

To summarize, the ordination of bhikkhunis at Bodhinyana Monastery happened as it did because it seemed clear that any consultation with the Wat Pah Pong Sangha would have led to it being blocked. It is indeed regrettable that the ordination had to happen in this way, but sometimes, as in the present case, there is no good alternative. However, I do not believe that any irreparable rift in the Sangha has been created. There is a storm right now, but like all storms it will pass. I firmly believe that in the long run this decision to ordain bhikkhunis will be regarded as appropriate given the difficult circumstances. Now we all need to act for conciliation and understanding, to look to the future good of Buddhism and let go of any remaining bad feelings.

Source.

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If you have to do something in secret aganist the organization you are associated with speaks volumns about you and them. Ajan Brahm should have resigned fron the sanga and then preformed his ordination.

What has he accomplished?

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I, of course, applaud Ajahn Brahm's actions which should bring a breath of fresh air into Thai Buddhism, especially in the West where it is flourishing.

Personally, I would love to have a truckload of female forest monks chanting in my next home blessing.

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The best of Thailand all seem to be living outside of Thailand ...

Does that include a certain ex P.M? LOL!

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I, of course, applaud Ajahn Brahm's actions which should bring a breath of fresh air into Thai Buddhism, especially in the West where it is flourishing.

Personally, I would love to have a truckload of female forest monks chanting in my next home blessing.

Other attempts to reform aspects of Thai Buddhism have led to arrests of the reformers. At least Arjarn Brahm and his community are safe in Perth. The same leaders of the Thai Sangha who have cautioned the "development monks" in the north and northeast and persecuted the Santi Asoke community have condoned Phra Kitti Wutto's remark in the 70s that "killing a Communist is OK, because it's not like killing a person". (He's now Director of a college in Chonburi and an abbot.) They also seem to have no qualms about temples marketing amulets, like the jatukharms of a couple of years ago - profiting on the confusion of ordinary Thais between Buddhism and magic.

You could ask for a truckload of sikkhamats (nuns) from Santi Asoke to come to your home blessing, but they won't chant. Santi Asoke clergy (samanas and sikkhamats) don't do chanting.

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Open Letter To All From Ajahn Brahm On His Exclusion by Wat Pah Pong

The Buddhist Channel, November 8, 2009

Perth, Australia -- A Theravada Bhikkhuni Ordination was held in Perth on Thursday 22nd October. The decision to proceed with the Bhikkhuni Ordination was finalised only on 20th September 2009, when the Committee of The Buddhist Society of Western Australia unanimously gave their support.

We did realise this was a sensitive matter and resolved to keep it in-house for the next month as we finalised the preparations. On Wednesday 13th October, 24 days after the decision was finalised, I informed Ajahn Sumedho in Amaravati, as a matter of courtesy, during my brief visit to the UK to see my mother (who has severe dementia).

The matter of Bhikkhuni Ordination had been discussed in Wat Pah Pong about two years ago and, as I recall, they resolved to follow the lead of the Mahatherasamakom (the supreme Monks’ Council of Thailand).

I was and remain under the impression that the ordination of Bhikkhunis outside of Thailand was not contravening the rulings of the Mahatherasamakom. This is because I had consulted with the acting Sangharaja, Somdej Phra Pootajarn, well beforehand to ask him precisely his opinion on the ordination of Bhikkhunis outside of Thailand. His response, which I have circulated amongst the Western Sangha for a long time now, was "Thai Sangha law does not extend outside of Thailand". He repeated this another two times to make his intention clear.

Even though my ordination as a monk was in Thailand, I understood that my obligations were to the Dhamma and Vinaya, not to the Thai state. Nor was allegiance to Thailand part of the advice given to me by the Acting Sangharaja who presented me with the Thai ecclesiastical honour of Tan Chao Khun. The certificate that I received at the ceremony merely states that “Phra Brahmavamso of Bodhinyana Monastery in Australia is a monk of Royal Grade with the title of Phra Visuddhisamvarathera. May he accept the duty in the Buddha’s dispensation of teaching, settling Sangha business and looking after the monks and novices in his monastery in an appropriate manner. And to develop happiness and well being in the Buddha’s Dispensation.”

At the meeting in Wat Pah Pong on Sunday 1st November 2009, to which I was summoned at very short notice, it was apparent that the senior Thai monks had a poor understanding of the Vinaya rules concerning sanghakamma (formal acts of Sangha governance). For example, it took a long time to convince them that a Bhikkhuni Ordination is a double sanghakamma.The first part being performed by a gathering of Bhikkhunis presided over by the Preceptor (“Upajjhaya” or “Pavattini” -Ayya Tathaaloka from the USA) and the second part where the new Bhikkhunis approach the Bhikkhu Sangha to have their ordination confirmed by a ñatticatutthakamma (a formal motion followed by 3 announcements). I was one of the two Bhikkhus who chanted the ñatticatutthakamma in the Bhikkhu Sangha.

Once the senior Thai monks understood that I was not the Upajjhaya, they were willing to let the matter drop, provided I would promise in the midst of the Sangha not to participate in the ordination of any more Bhikkhunis. Remembering the example of Venerable Ananda at the First Council, I made that promise to the assembled Sangha three times. It looked as if harmony would be restored.

However, some senior monks raised the question of the status of the four women who had received Bhikkhuni Ordination. I accepted that they would not be regarded as Bhikkhunis in Thailand under the present climate, but the ordination was legitimate and they were Bhikkhunis. A senior monk then claimed that the ordination was invalid because of "ditthi vipatti", which he explained as meaning without the approval of the Sangha of Wat Pah Pong. As anyone with a basic knowledge of sanghakamma knows, this is nonsense. However, that unfounded view held sway and the meeting came down to a single clear choice: If Ajahn Brahm would state in the midst of the Sangha that the four women were not Bhikkhunis then there would be no penalty, otherwise Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery would be removed from the list of branch monasteries of Wat Pah Pong. I paused for a minute to reflect and, considering that I could not go against the Vinaya and state the Bhikkhunis were not properly ordained, nor could I go against the wishes of the Sangha of Bodhinyana and the thousands of lay Buddhists that support the Bhikkhuni Ordination, I refused to recant.

As a result, Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery was removed as a branch monastery of Wat Pah Pong. I emphasise that this decision had nothing to do with the process, secretive or otherwise, through which the ordination took place. The decision to excommunicate Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery rested solely on my refusal to state that the Bhikkhuni Ordination was invalid.

After the meeting formally concluded I paid my respects to many of the senior monks who reminded me of their continued friendship. For example, one old friend said to me "meuan derm" (meaning "just as before"). I hope that a similar attitude will prevail among all my friends in the Western Sangha.

Source.

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I, of course, applaud Ajahn Brahm's actions which should bring a breath of fresh air into Thai Buddhism, especially in the West where it is flourishing.

Personally, I would love to have a truckload of female forest monks chanting in my next home blessing.

Forest monks tend to avoid the more mundane social tasks asked of the Sangha which are not related to Buddhism.

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The best of Thailand all seem to be living outside of Thailand ...

Does that include a certain ex P.M? LOL!

Yes........ nearly all politicians worldwide are corrupt.....power corrupts remember...so instead of choosing the best candidate we are forced to choose the least worst.....

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There's an interesting commentary on the problem by Phra Cittasamvaro here. According to him, Ajahn and his monks have not been expelled from the Thai Sangha, they've just been expelled from the Ajahn Chah group of temples.

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Official statement from Ajahn Brahm's monastery:

Bhikkhuni Ordination at Bodhinyana Monastery, a Response to Ajahn Chandako and Others

By Ajhan Brahmali and the Bodhinyana Sangha

It is a good thing that the issue of bhikkhuni ordination, particularly within the Western Sangha connected with Ajahn Chah's monastery Wat Pah Pong, is finally being discussed openly. I welcome Ajahn Chandako's contribution, which is clearly well-intended, and I have no doubt that he is telling the truth as he sees it.

Ajahn Brahm has caused the Sangha to argue & or possibly split according to an earlier post by fabianfred, he is in danger of being blocked from nirvana for an aeon.

Having said that, it's very worrying to see the Sangha being controlled by ego & politics rather than the spirit of Buddhism.

Unless the Buddha forbade women to ordain for any reason other than being in danger due the environment of the times then blocking their ordination is wrong.

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A detailed analysis of the problem:

Monastic lineages and the Vinaya: Which is Buddhist?

by Kester Ratcliff, The Buddhist Channel, Nov 10, 2009

Kester Ratcliff used to be a monk (known as Bhikkhu Santi) in the Thai Forest Tradition. Here he gives his insight into why it is essential for monks and nuns to be guided by the Dhamma-Vinaya, not monastic lineages

http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=8,8676,0,0,1,0

A summary of the same article is available here.

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