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Discrimination against nuns

Hi all,

I know I haven’t been participating much recently, but I wonder if you can help me with an enquiry. I’m aware that some (most?) Thai Forest lineages exclude nuns from full ordination, and that Ajahn Brahm was famously excommunicated for performing such ordinations.

Does anybody know if this discrimination is present in Ajahn Chah’s lineage, and in particular the Amaravati sangha (which is its branch in Britain)?

With thanks for any knowledge you can offer,

Adam

Comments

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I see that there is a female monastic community at Amaravati, and that there are a number of nuns titled as Ajahn, so I assume they practice full ordination.

    https://www.amaravati.org/about/female-monastic-community/

    adamcrossley
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Just as a curiosity, what are you asking, @adamcrossley ...? :)

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran Veteran
    edited January 23

    I guess I’m asking, can nuns in the Amaravati sangha take full bikkhuni ordination?

    This is from Wikipedia on Ajahn Brahm’s ordination of four bikkhunis in 2009:

    The ordination ceremony took place at Ajahn Brahm's Bodhinyana Monastery at Serpentine (near Perth, WA), Australia. Although there had been bhikkhuni ordination in California USA and Sri Lanka, this was the first in the Thai Forest Tradition and proved highly controversial in Thailand. There is no consensus in the wider tradition that bhikkhuni ordinations could be valid

    So the Amaravati sangha is part of the Thai Forest Tradition, right? Can their nuns take full ordination?

  • BunksBunks Veteran Australia Veteran

    I have written to a nun I know who ordained under Ajahn Brahm as I suspect she will be able to answer your question.

    Please be patient as it may take her a few days to respond.

    adamcrossleyDavid
  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran Veteran

    @Bunks That’s super helpful, thanks! 🙏

  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran

    Last time I was at Amravarti a nun was being ordained.
    All of the monks and nuns tend to be white, western and middle class and have a less sexist attitude than many of the visiting and financially supporting Thais. This is cultural sexism.

    In the early days of the first forest monastics, the nuns had to hide in the loft whenever visitors were present, as to live in the same building as the monks was considered scandalous. Again this is cultural/traditional ...

    The nuns eat after the monks as per tradition. Then the lay community.

    In a similar way the abbott is not necessarily the most advanced monastic. These are archaic conventions. The rules and precepts are strict but also realistic/malleable ...

    What is worth considering is our own attitudes and loopings and how we interact. There is great deal of value in visiting Amravarti, Chithurst and the other associated UK Sangha for a retreat ...

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chithurst_Buddhist_Monastery

    Bunks
  • BunksBunks Veteran Australia Veteran

    @lobster said:
    Last time I was at Amravarti a nun was being ordained.
    All of the monks and nuns tend to be white, western and middle class and have a less sexist attitude than many of the visiting and financially supporting Thais. This is cultural sexism.

    In the early days of the first forest monastics, the nuns had to hide in the loft whenever visitors were present, as to live in the same building as the monks was considered scandalous. Again this is cultural/traditional ...

    The nuns eat after the monks as per tradition. Then the lay community.

    In a similar way the abbott is not necessarily the most advanced monastic. These are archaic conventions. The rules and precepts are strict but also realistic/malleable ...

    What is worth considering is our own attitudes and loopings and how we interact. There is great deal of value in visiting Amravarti, Chithurst and the other associated UK Sangha for a retreat ...

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chithurst_Buddhist_Monastery

    Nice @lobster - your experience sounds almost identical to my experiences at Ajahn Brahm's monasteries here in Australia.

    In fact at Newbury Buddhist Monsastery (my local) there is usually 5 to 6 nuns and only 2 or 3 monks.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 7

    @adamcrossley said:
    Hi all,

    I know I haven’t been participating much recently, but I wonder if you can help me with an enquiry. I’m aware that some (most?) Thai Forest lineages exclude nuns from full ordination, and that Ajahn Brahm was famously excommunicated for performing such ordinations.

    Does anybody know if this discrimination is present in Ajahn Chah’s lineage, and in particular the Amaravati sangha (which is its branch in Britain)?

    Unfortunately, it was the Ajahn Chah lineage of the Thai Forest Tradition in Thailand that disassociated from Ajahn Brahm. This "excommunication" is hardly as serious as it would be in Christianity though.

    The Amaravati saṇgha does not support the ordination of nuns or the reinstatement of the Theravāda order of nuns, and opts for ordaining siladhāras instead AFAIK. Does anyone else know any different?

  • BunksBunks Veteran Australia Veteran

    @Vimalajāti said:

    @adamcrossley said:
    Hi all,

    I know I haven’t been participating much recently, but I wonder if you can help me with an enquiry. I’m aware that some (most?) Thai Forest lineages exclude nuns from full ordination, and that Ajahn Brahm was famously excommunicated for performing such ordinations.

    Does anybody know if this discrimination is present in Ajahn Chah’s lineage, and in particular the Amaravati sangha (which is its branch in Britain)?

    Unfortunately, it was the Ajahn Chah lineage of the Thai Forest Tradition in Thailand that disassociated from Ajahn Brahm. This "excommunication" is hardly as serious as it would be in Christianity though.

    The Amaravati saṇgha does not support the ordination of nuns or the reinstatement of the Theravāda order of nuns, and opts for ordaining siladhāras instead AFAIK. Does anyone else know any different?

    My bhikkhuni friend at Ajahn Brahm's monastery stated:

    "As far as I know, Bhikkhuni ordination is not given in Amavarati...not sure whether things have changed since the last info given."

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 7

    Yes, it's siladhāra ordination, an attempt at a halfway-point between women who wish to ordain and the institutional saṁghas of the Theravāda world who want nothing to do with women's ordination. They are 10-precept novices, like nuns, but also not. This was Ajahn Sumedho's middle ground between the two sides of Ajahns Brahm & Sujāto et al. and the Theravāda establishment against them.

    Bunks
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    And all just because we don't have a penis. FFS.

    lobsterBunks
  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran Veteran

    A quick Wikipedia search for siladhara ordination and I’m really disappointed. I was considering visiting Amaravati for a personal retreat this year, but I’m not so sure now.

    After years of debate and dispute, Ajahn Sumedho issued a "Five Point Declaration" concerning women's roles and rights in the Amaravati monastic community. This affirmed the traditional privileges and seniority of bhikkhus over female monastics. The edict holds that while some teaching and management responsibilities are shared between the two orders according to capability, the Siladhara Order is unequivocally junior to that of the monks.

    [...]

    Many female monastics living at Amaravati at the time left the monastery citing discrimination and an inaccurate understanding of compassion on the part of Amravati leadership.

    [...]

    Making full ordination available to women is a cultural issue with significant implications for the welfare of young girls living in poverty in Asian countries where Theravada Buddhism is prevalent, especially Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Sri Lanka. Speaking of Thailand, Lynne Hybels writes, "Young men in desperately poor families such as those in Chiang Rai can bring honor to their families by becoming monks, but girls are expected to provide financially. Traffickers understand this vulnerability, prey on it, and easily lure girls into life in the brothel."

  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran

    I was considering visiting Amaravati for a personal retreat this year, but I’m not so sure now.

    Be sure to go. I have been on Christian retreats, even when not believing any of their ethos. It was very useful/transformative ... o:)

    What you are describing is nothing to do with potential benefit to you. B) Cultural dukkha does not interfere, in fact it often enhances the qualities of nuns.

    A proud Amaravarti monk was rather disappointed that I did not bow to his pride ... that would have been a disservice o:) [One of my advanced Bodhisattva services - sangha ego deflation] ;)

    You can if you wish arrange to talk to a senior nun (she may need a chaperone) about sexism. I am sure you will be accommodated ... and maybe educated ...

    adamcrossleyJason
  • BunksBunks Veteran Australia Veteran

    I am not trying to excuse their disappointing behaviour but @lobster makes a fair point.

    If we took the moral high ground on every issue we’d never leave the bloody house!

    adamcrossleylobster
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited February 7

    @adamcrossley said:
    Hi all,

    I know I haven’t been participating much recently, but I wonder if you can help me with an enquiry. I’m aware that some (most?) Thai Forest lineages exclude nuns from full ordination, and that Ajahn Brahm was famously excommunicated for performing such ordinations.

    Does anybody know if this discrimination is present in Ajahn Chah’s lineage, and in particular the Amaravati sangha (which is its branch in Britain)?

    With thanks for any knowledge you can offer,

    Adam

    The Thai Buddhist hierarchy, along with many others, is quite patriarchal. Part of this is due to many societies being patriarchal, and this kind of male-dominated power structure is reproduced within any existing social structure, whether political, cultural, religious, etc. In addition, the lineage of fully ordained nuns (bhikkhunis) died out for a variety of reasons many generations ago, so for a very long time, only the male lineages were left. I think many monks are ok with the idea of nuns, but others may not want to give away their status and power and privilege.

    As for the Ajahn Chah tradition, as well as the Thai Forest Tradition in general, the exclusion of fully ordained nuns is predominately due to technical/procedural issues. Most monks don't argue against the spiritual abilities of women (although I'm sure some are just outright sexist), but because they believe that since the lineage of fully ordained nuns died out generations ago, they can't properly ordain nuns today. The reason is, the rules require a quorum of both monks and nuns to ordain women into the monastic order, and with that lineage gone, they believe it would be a violation of the rules and a violence to tradition to do so.

    When it comes to Ajahn Brahm, he wasn't excommunicated, at least not in the way that that term is used in Christianity. He was basically kicked out of the Wat Pah Pong sangha, though, which is the ecclesiastic body known as the Ajahn Chah tradition for participating in the ordination of bhikkhunis before the planned World Abbots Meeting and without the permission of his lineage, who see such ordinations as invalid. In essence, he's out of their cliche, but still very much a highly respect Theravdin monk.

    In the end, there are three main perspectives/groups when it comes to fully ordained nuns. The first are just ultra patriarchal and don't like women or want to share their spiritual status and privilege, which I think are the minority. The second are those trying to uphold tradition and be as faithful to the rules as possible while trying to include women as much as possible, which is making space for communities of 10 precept nuns (e.g., Amaravati). And the third is the more radical group who believes in full ordination and is willing to reintroduce it regardless of the technicalities because they believe that the spirit trumps the letter of the law in this case, such as Ajahn Brahm.

    Personally, I am more supportive of the third group/position and think the Vinaya rules stipulating the ordination process can be circumvented in extreme cases, and women should most certainly have the same monastic opportunities. That said, Amaravati is a great community with great teachers trying to do their best to honour and respect both sides of the issue. I would definitely recommend visiting them. Luang Por Sumedho is as close to an arahant as I've ever met, and I love Ajahn Amaro deeply. Ajahn Sundara is also a great teacher. There's a lot of wisdom there.

    My advice, don't miss the forest for the trees.

    adamcrossleylobster
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited February 7

    @adamcrossley said:
    I guess I’m asking, can nuns in the Amaravati sangha take full bikkhuni ordination?

    This is from Wikipedia on Ajahn Brahm’s ordination of four bikkhunis in 2009:

    The ordination ceremony took place at Ajahn Brahm's Bodhinyana Monastery at Serpentine (near Perth, WA), Australia. Although there had been bhikkhuni ordination in California USA and Sri Lanka, this was the first in the Thai Forest Tradition and proved highly controversial in Thailand. There is no consensus in the wider tradition that bhikkhuni ordinations could be valid

    So the Amaravati sangha is part of the Thai Forest Tradition, right? Can their nuns take full ordination?

    The short answer to this is, yes they can. But they can't currently do so at Amaravati.

    adamcrossley
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    We can always trust @Jason to put the educated, knowledgeable well-informed, intelligent and sensible side of things forward. @adamcrossley , you would be well-advised and recommended to take heed. He's a good source of uber-reliable information...

    Me? I'm just a bit of a hot-head....

    Bunkslobster
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