by Rafi Santo, Director of the Interdependence Project‘s Integral Activism Program

Women_In_Buddhism.jpgIn an unprecedented historical act, Ajahn Brahm (full name: Ajahn Brahmavamso), a senior monk in the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravadin Buddhism, conducted a full ordination at his Australian monastery for a
group of four nuns to make them Bhikkunis, the highest level of
Buddhist monastics that women can attain. The ordination is undoubtedly
a huge move towards re-establishing the extinguished lineage of full
female monastics in the oldest of the Buddhist traditions, but at the
same time the controversy that it has sparked has served to illuminate
how much work remains to be done within the fight for gender equity in
Theravadin monastic communities.

The ordination, planned without consultation with the governing
body of the Thai Forest tradition who were only given notice a couple
of weeks before it took place, resulted in the Ajahn being given a
choice: state that the ordination was null and void, or have his
monastery revoked of its status as a branch monastery of the Thai
Forest Tradition.  He bravely chose the latter, and the resulting
expulsion of his monastery has made clear the position of the
establishment: the revival of the Bhikkuni order and granting of full
rights to women in the tradition is of less value than preserving the
protocols and “harmony” of a monastic institution that while producing
some of the most awakened teachers and practitioners of the dhamma that
the West has known, has also been dominated by oppressive patriarchal
practices for many hundreds of years.

As I’ve looked into the happenings surrounding the ordination,
there’s no doubt that there are many complexities.  The canonical and
contemporary laws regarding female ordination are debated.  The sovereignty the central
authority of the Thai Forest tradition’s governing body over
monasteries outside of Thailand is unclear.  The process by which Ajahn Brahm and his colleagues at Bodinyana undertook the ordination is not fully supported even by those in the Western
monastic community that have voiced that they wish to see the Bhikkuni
order re-established.

But one thing is clear: these are all formalities. Laws, even
canonical ones if need be, can be changed. Indeed, it’s a core tenet of
Buddhism that all things are impermanent, nothing is immutable. Ajahn
Brahm made a choice, to make the institutions of the dhamma fall more
in line with the core values of the dhamma, and now many of his
monastic and lay counterparts that are Buddhist leaders both here in
the West and in Thailand have that same choice.  Some have
unfortunately already made the wrong one.  If the others stand idly
by as this happens, it’s clear where they stand.  If you support what
Ajahn Brahm is doing, make your voice heard on this petition, and let dharma teachers you
have relationships with know that you believe that they should put in
their two cents in on the issue.  May all beings have the same
opportunity for practice and awakening, no matter their gender or
anything else.

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