Appreciation and Dialogue with Ajahn Chandako

by Jill Rayna, DharmaCreek Sangha, Jenner, CA, The Buddhist Channel, November 13, 2009

As a lay supporter of the bhikkhunis, I very much appreciate your thoughtful analysis of the troubles that have beset the greater sangha as a result of the recent bhikkhuni ordination in Perth.

Your perspective helped me understand the context in which all this occurred, and gave me a wider view which (of course) is more complex than I had imagined when I was first informed of the end result. So I have much appreciation for your having taken the time to flesh this out so fully.

In reflecting upon the entire situation, in my humble opinion, I see that both sides did not act with the most skillful of means, despite the fact that all involved are quite excellent in their embodiment of the Dhamma. Your critique of Ajahn Brahm's haste and secrecy, as well as his un-remorseful insistence upon the ordination going forward at his monastery and under his authority, rather than being held elsewhere, makes sense to me for the reasons you set forth.

As a patient supporter of full monastic rights for women, I am deeply grateful to Ajahn Brahm for taking this daring action to bring this matter to a head, at great personal cost to him. Had he been more cautious and more deferential to Thai authority, the question of women's ordination may likely have remained on the back burner for the elders, as it has long been so relegated. While I appreciated the perspicacity of your advice before the ordination took place, and share your concern that the nuns may have become pawns in a greater game than they understood at the time, it seems to me that the bhikkhunis actually attempted to heed your advice, and to protect Ajahn Brahm from the consequences that you accurately predicted. At that point they were placed between a rock and a hard place. Ajahn Brahm was their strongest advocate and supporter, and like you when you formally trained the nuns, was willing to push the envelope on their behalf. How could they then refuse to go
forward with the ordination at his monastery, as he seems to have insisted upon? Had they rejected his authority then, how could they have expected him to whole-heartedly carry their cause to the WAM later?

It seems to me that the gathering of elders of the Ajahn Chah Sangha following the ordination were primarily focused on the issue of Ajahn Brahm's exceeding the authority of the lineage, which was a legitimate internal concern. However, the decision to deal with it by placing Ajahn Brahm in the untenable position of either entirely nullifying the bhikkhuni ordination or facing expulsion, was in my meek opinion, somewhat heavy-handed, and unnecessarily punitive. Surely, there could have been a more skillful way to engage with Ajahn Brahm than to give him such an impossible ultimatum that would have had very mean-spirited consequences to the nuns whose only fault was sincerely dedicating their lives to walking in the footsteps of the Buddha.

Unfamiliar as I am with the internal governance of the Ajahn Chah Sangha, I cannot believe that Ajahn Brahm could not have been reprimanded in some other way than forcing him to nullify the ordination of these dedicated women. It appears from all accounts that had he done so, he would still be a member in good standing of the Thai sangha. Can you really see the wisdom in this? That stabbing the women in the back would somehow redeem his sins against authority? How about a sincere apology? Or a mea culpa? Or some other form of discipline? Why was he required to make the bhikkhunis the sacrificial lambs that would purge him of his errors? And how come, in the midst of these wise and dedicated monks gathered there, no one had any sympathy for the bhikkhunis who had voted unanimously and respectfully to hold their ordination at Dhammasara without Ajahn Brahm playing an official role? It seems that given all the wisdom that was in that meeting, that there could have been found a
more truly compassionate way to deal with the situation. Something more enlightened and less polarizing than the ultimatum presented to Ajahn Brahm.

And, if as you predict, the bhikkhunis may no longer be welcomed at Ajahn Chah's monasteries because of this, then, I cannot see that this is not solely about Ajahn Brahm's alleged abuse of authority, but is—simply put—sexism at play once again. From my limited perspective it seems that Theravadan monks respect the legitimacy of ordinations outside their own monasteries, such as the non-traditional Grand Ordination of several monks in several traditions held by Ven. Dr Karuna Dharma of the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles, California.

If peace within the sangha, and between the genders, was truly a virtuous and desired objective, it seems that the ordinations could have been recognized in some form, rather than ordering Ajahn Brahm to totally and harshly nullify them. Perhaps the ordinations could have been recognized in some way, without extending formal membership in the Ajahn Chah Thai sangha to these bhikkhunis. As I said, I honestly believe that there could have been a less harsh and punitive way for this respected body to have proceeded, had they put their substantial intelligence and compassion into preserving good relations with the bhikkhunis. But as you imply, the nuns seem to have gotten caught between two competing male forces, with no possible non-suffering outcome available to them. Such a shame since, like you, I have only the deepest respect for many who participated in this meeting, and would have hoped for a more Solomon-ic resolution given the amount of collective and individual deep wisdom
present there. But it seems, at least to this outside observer, that re-establishing male authority trumped peaceful gender relations within the greater monastic community.

I would hope that now that Ajahn Brahm's voice will not be heard championing the ordination of women within the Thai sangha, that others, like you, will take up the issue and do so with as much clarity, commitment, and wisdom as you command. Rather than letting this set back the cause, perhaps the forces of progress will see it as a challenge to come forward and continue wearing away the stone of resistance to the equality of women within the monastic sangha. To shrink back now when your support is so dearly needed, would imply that indeed the inclusion of women is not a true priority with the “sympathetic” monks after all.

Again, thank you for sharing your valuable perspective on this with those of us on the outside looking in. I humbly ask your forgiveness for any errors in understanding that I may have demonstrated as a sincere but monastically illiterate lay supporter. My deepest hope is for the peaceful and continued spread of the Dhamma in the West for the benefit of all beings, which is what underlies my dedication to the bhikkhunis.

Much metta, Jill Rayna / DharmaCreek Sangha
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