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To live and let live, one must let go

by Sanitsuda Ekachai, The Bangkok Post, Jan 28, 2010

Bangkok, Thailand -- Is it just for show, a ritualistic action one must perform to assert authority and to contain future female ordination? Or is it sheer vindictiveness?

<< Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Australia. The ordination of Bhikkhunis have led to a fallout between the monastery and Wat Pah Pong.

The question arose when I was reading a news report on the ongoing pursuit by Wat Pa Pong forest monks to extract punitive measures from the Council of Elders for its former member Ajahn Brahm and to pressure the Office of National Buddhism to help them take over his monastery (see http://bit.ly/ax4ZUV).

Given the Council of Elders' fierce opposition to ordination of bhikkhuni or female monks, it was understandable that the Wat Pa Pong monks must do something to show their disapproval of Ajahn Brahm's support for female ordination in Perth, Australia.

The decision to expel him from the Wat Pa Pong clergy and to revoke Bodhinyana's status as a branch monastery ensued. Rightly or wrongly, this move is more than enough to distance Wat Pa Pong from the Perth ordination controversy. The matter could have ended there. Sadly, this has not been the case.

Things turned ugly when Wat Pa Pong accused Ajahn Brahm of temple mismanagement, followed by an attempt to retake ownership of Bodhinyana, claiming that the property was primarily built by Thai donations and initially offered to the late master Ajahn Chah and Wat Pa Pong.

Why not let the Council of Elders decide on their own what to do with Ajahn Brahm? Why initiate the moves which do not make Wat Pa Pong look good? The questions clearly annoyed the luang por's at a recent press conference. Their stern answer: they were just giving information to the elders. Nothing more and nothing less.

Yet, Dr Amnart Buasiri of the Office of National Buddhism revealed that Wat Pa Pong had tendered a letter asking for a more effective measure from the elders to revoke Ajahn Brahm's preceptor status. He said he would discuss this issue with an assembly of Thai monks in Australia and New Zealand, as well as Wat Pa Pong's request to take back the land of Bodhinyana.

Apparently, he had not read the official statement from the Buddhist Society of Western Australia (see http://bit.ly/4qVs6U) refuting Wat Pa Pong's ownership claim and mismanagement allegations. Bodhinyana Monastery was built with money from different sources and was never given to Ajahn Chah, nor to Wat Pa Pong, says the statement. Moreover, Australian law requires that all donations and payments must be audited by a professional outside accountant. And the audited statements are presented to the society members every year.

"No temple in Thailand has to undergo such meticulous scrutiny," it adds.

The society is puzzled by the strong reaction from the Thai clergy. To start with, Ajahn Brahm was not the preceptor at the Perth ordination. Ayya Thathaaloka, an American-born Theravada bhikkhuni was. In addition, the four newly-ordained bhikkhunis belong to the Syam Nikaya of Sri Lanka, following their preceptor's affiliation, and not to the Thai clergy. "Therefore, they should be of no concern to the Thai Buddhist authorities."

Indeed, their status is similar to many bhikkhunis living and practising in Thailand. Live and let live has always been the Council of Elders' policy with foreign orders. So why the big fuss about this?

Actually, many Thai monks have given blessings to these bhikkhunis without any punitive measures from the Council of Elders. This has made Wat Pa Pong's earnest quest to punish a monk who no longer belongs to their order, mind-boggling.

Whatever the motives, many have become disillusioned by the unskilful reactions from the Wat Pa Pong hardliners who are unknowingly undermining the saintly reputation of their lineage. But it is never too late to turn things around.

Conflicts arise, and pass away, eventually leaving no traces of the commotion.

The monastics should be the ones who know this best. Now that Wat Pa Pong has parted with Ajahn Brahm, make it a civilised divorce which allows oneself to retain dignity while going their separate ways.

Live and let live. Let go.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor (Outlook), Bangkok Post.

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