The United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation of Australia and New Zealand
as endorsed by the President of the Congregation.
The UVBCANZ is the umbrella organisation that represents many of the most significant Buddhist temples established by Vietnamese refugees and migrants in Australia and New Zealand. We are a non-sectarian congregation that seeks to reflect and transmit the highest ideals of Mahayana Buddhism.
In Australia, after a person dies they can elect to donate their organs and tissue for transplant operations or medical research. This is usually done by registering on the Australian Organ Donor Register. The operation to retrieve and transplant organs or tissue can only occur if surviving family members give their consent.
Deciding whether to donate or not can be difficult, and when the donor or their family is a Buddhist it can be unclear how this decision interacts with their religious beliefs. We have been asked to provide a Buddhists perspective on organ and tissue donation to assist in these situations.
This document reflects our best understanding of how Buddhist principles and practices apply to the donation of organs and tissue after death. We recommend speaking to a minister of religion if you have any questions or concerns that are not addressed by this document.
As a Buddhist, should I donate my organs or tissue to another person after I die?
During life a person’s body is a great blessing that abounds with potential, but once a person dies Buddhism does not consider the body of the deceased to be sacred. So from a Buddhist perspective, there is nothing objectionable about organ and tissue donation for the purposes of life-saving transplantation – in fact it should be seen as an act of great virtue.
For Buddhists the motivation in performing an action is of utmost importance and so if a person decides to donate their organs and tissue out of a genuine intention to benefit living beings – this intent characterises the action. read more…
It is with honour I would like to express my sincere thanks to all committee members and the host organisation for this year’s ASA AGM.
The ASA committee is not only made of highly dedicated sangha members in Australia, they have also brought with them many skills in a variety of areas in which I consider myself very fortunate to be able to work with.
Year 2014 presented the ASA with many opportunities and challenges.
The ASA was invited to be a part of the chaplaincy program for the Australian Defence force and the Venerable Sunim Bomhyon was appointed to be our representative; Venerable Sujato was involved with not only the Racial Discrimination Act, he has also helped with the formation of policy so that we could update ourselves on the Organ and Tissue Donation Commission’s new initiatives; the Most Venerable Thich Quang Ba participated in the C20 meeting in Brisbane; and Venerable Tenpa Bejanke investigated the Against Slavery Network. read more…
This is the official ASA statement about the demonstrations in Sydney and an excerpt from a letter about the New Kadampa Tradition ordination sent to the Australian Buddhist Councils and the World Buddhist Sangha Council: Australian Sangha Association statement regarding protests at the teachings of HH the
The ASA wishes to express its dismay at the conduct of robed members of the New Kadampa Tradition, Western Shugden Society and associated organisations during the teachings given by HH the Dalai Lama on 11-15 June 2008 at Olympic Stadium, Sydney, Australia.
The Dalai Lama’s teachings were attended by over 6000 people who came to be inspired by the peaceful
and harmonious message of Buddhism. Instead they were met by a large, organised group of protesters
dressed in monastic robes shouting slogans. Noisy public demonstrations such as these are not appropriate
behaviour for monks or nuns and have brought Buddhism in this country into disrepute.
Australian Sangha Association Conference and AGM
Date and Venue:
This year the ASA annual conference and AGM will be held on Tuesday March 24th 2015 at Chenrezig Institute, 33 Johnsons Road, Eudlo, Queensland 4554.
Sangha members are encouraged to arrive on the 23rd or earlier and register at 7.30am on the 24th.
About the Conference & AGM:
The ASA annual conference brings together Buddhist monastics of all traditions living in, or visiting Australia, for fellowship, dialogue and to address the issues facing Buddhism in Australia. The ASA has in previous years, and is still working with the Department of Immigration & Border Security to assist those monastic’s seeking Permanent Residency Visas through representations to the Federal Government. Where appropriate, the ASA has and continues to consult with state Buddhist Councils and Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils (FABC) for a solution to these ongoing issues. The ASA has arranged monastic education forums such as the 2010 Vinaya Conference, and represents the Australian Sangha community at various International Conferences, as well as consultations with various State & Federal Government agencies.
Venerable Bhante Santitthito (seated in fron) at the ASA Conference in Canberra 2013
The ASA would like to encourage asa-members to learn regular first aid and mental health first aid as a way for members to be capable of directly alleviating the suffering of others should such situations arise. To assist in this the ASA will cover the cost for members to attend such trainings in their local area.
Should members wish to take advantage of this the members in question need to submit a written statement of their intent to the secretary. This statement, which can be emailed, will then be submitted to the executive committee at the next monthly meeting for approval. It is therefore important that members wait for approval has been given before signing up for trainings. The payment for first aid or mental health first aid trainings will either be paid directly to the training provider or reimbursed to the member upon the submission of a tax invoice for the course.
For further information or to submit a statement of intent please email the secretary of the ASA via email@example.com .
The Australian Sangha Association (ASA) is a representative body of ordained Buddhist monks and nuns in all states of Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.
Andrew Forrest the founder of the Walk Free Foundation is dedicated to bringing to the world’s attention the tragedy of modern slavery. He states that the “economic exploitation of our fellow human beings causes almost 30 million people to be enslaved, and for every day that we let this situation continue it is an assault on our common humanity.” Forrest’s recognition of the abhorrent practice of slavery directed him to contact such public figures as, His Holiness Pope Francis I, the Most Reverend Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt. These leaders of religious and spiritual communities came together to lend their voices to the fight against slavery. His Holiness Pope Francis I describes modern slavery as a crime against humanity, the Most Reverend Justin Welby sees human trafficking as one of the great scandals and tragedies of our age and Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb explains that Islam prohibits the kidnapping of women and children. On 12 December 2013, a Fatwa was issued by the Al Azhar Al Sharif, Preaching and Opinion Committee in Alexandria, declaring modern slavery and human trafficking to be in contradiction to the teachings of the Qur’an. The Australian Sangha Association applauds the efforts of these Christian and Muslim leaders who bring to our attention these crimes against humanity. And even though there is an array of Buddhist traditions, it is to be hoped that at some time in the foreseeable future, so too will Buddhist leaders come together and add their voices to this worthwhile cause.
The size of the problem cannot be over-emphasised: the physical, economic and sexual exploitation of men, women and children condemns millions of people to dehumanisation and degradation. There are almost 30 million people currently enslaved and being trafficked and the trafficking of persons is understood as:
“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat, use of force or other means of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the receiving or giving of payment or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
(Article 3 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime).
In June 2014 the Australian Government released a media statement that supports action against forced labour, human trafficking and slavery. And so joins the international community in supporting the adoption of a new International Labour Organisation Protocol. The Government acknowledges that even though Australia has strong legal protections to prevent and prosecute forced labour on our shores, it continues to be a significant problem for many countries, including in the Asia-Pacific region.
An initiative by Andrew Forrest is the Walk Free Foundation, which has a mission to end modern slavery in our generation by mobilising a global activist movement that is enlisting business and working with government to drive change in those countries and industries bearing the greatest responsibility for slavery today. Just as the Walk Free Foundation wishes to engage business all around the world in the procurement of sustainable merchandise manufactured in an ethical manner, so too, can the Australian Buddhist community begin to identify what are the best practices for living in a balanced relationship with all of humanity.
“Australia to stamp out supply chain slavery” (15 March 2013), Supply Management: http://www.supplymanagement.com/news/2013/australia-to-stamp-out-supply-chain-slavery/
The Walk Free website provides a Global Slavery Index that provides a quantitative ranking of 162 countries around the world according to the estimated prevalence of slavery in the national population at a point in time. Australia ranks at 138 with an estimated 3,000 people being held in modern slavery as of 2013. For example, the Salvation Army reports that of 130 referrals received since their Safe House commenced, 34 have been for trafficking, sexual servitude, child trafficking or serious exploitation in the sex industry. “Submission No. 37, Inquiry into Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking.” http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_committees?url=jfadt/slavery_people_trafficking/subs/sub%2037.pdf
The Guardian online has launched a project on modern-day slavery, investigating root causes and potential solutions. The Guardian is committed to promoting social justice around the world, and to using its journalism and its platforms to expose and oppose oppression wherever it exists. Their intention is to create a global forum that investigates both the root causes and potential solutions to modern slavery, elevates global public dialogue, builds alliances on the front lines, and spurs the public, policymakers and corporate leaders to action. Journalists have interviewed victims of the slave trade and they portray graphically the cost of enslavement on the vulnerable. Their stories can be seen at:
The Guardian reports that slavery is a $32bn a year industry, it is a booming economy – a thriving business in human life that is difficult to trace and eradicate. So that we may know how many slaves work for us, the website Slavery Footprint has provided an easy questionnaire that gives a tally of slaves used in the production of the items we purchase. At the end of the questionnaire is a segment where a note can be sent to the provider of said goods.
With a combined communal effort, Forrest believes that modern slavery can be defeated. He and other world leaders have set the target for the elimination of slavery for the year 2020. With a global goal set for the elimination of slavery by 2020, the Australian Sangha Association would like to encourage Buddhist monasteries, monastics and lay members of Australia to show their support for this initiative.
By Venerable Tenpa Bejanke
Compiled by Brother Joe (Bhikkhu Dhamma-dāsa) ASA Sustainability Officer 2014
It is written that the Buddha taught the three roots, or poisons are: greed, hatred and confusion, thethird would be the most subtle and would underlie the other two. We are still seeing wars, the outcome of hatred (based on the “conceit ‘I am’”), but it seems we are seeing more and more the effects of greed on people’s healthand the health of the environment. Large corporations are profiting by exploiting people’s desire forcomfort and convenience. Making profit may not be a problem, but when making profit comes at the long-term detriment of ourselves and, or others, then this is a problem. It would be called “unwholesome” in the Buddha’s Teaching. Those focussed on (short-term) comfort and convenience often don’t consider the long-term effects on themselves and or others.
The Three Roots
Renunciation, part of Right Aspiration, part of wholesome thought. Different levels of renunciation would determine our type of Right Livelihood.
Compassion, part of Morality or Ethics (wholesome speech and bodily action) would come from the Right Aspiration of non-harm and non-ill-will.
Meditation and Wisdom
In the Buddha’s teaching, silence is agreement. So, those who do not speak against a corrupt practice are supporting it. Therefore we present here some simple and practical steps anyonecould take to counter this trend. (They can save one money too!)
The simple actions presented below can be seen as the consequence of Right Aspiration which incorporates renunciation, non-ill-will and non-harm. Most directly the actions would relate to renouncing some comfort and convenience for the sake of a longer-term or wider-ranging benefit and therefore deeper satisfaction. The actions are generallyfor people living in one place, either alone or in a community. They would be difficult to do, or notrelevant to one wandering around on foot, but useful for those such a one meets.
To be effective, the Buddha’s teaching would have to be translated into action in everyday life, livingwith wise reflection. We offer these actions as part of that process. By taking more care of ourhealth and the environment, we show compassion and wisdom for ourselves and others, current and futuregenerations. Often the Buddha is said to have changed his behaviour “out of compassion for future generations”.
The suggestions below may involve a bit more effort, but we can consider our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ lives. They worked harder, but had a more satisfying life. The type of work laypeople, supporters of monastics, tend to do now, has little direct relationship with their needs. It separates them from the ones they love, who they want to spend time with. That would be why those types of work are not satisfying. The work our forebears did, was directly related to supplying their needs and thus was very satisfying. The Zen saying goes, “before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water, after enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.” It would seem these days that it might be changed to: “before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water, after enlightenment: chop wood, carry water and organise the 1001 jobs on my smart phone that I never before needed to do.”
These three Rs are part of dealing with greed in our everyday lives, becoming more responsible rather than just opting for the most convenient or comfortable path, without considering consequences. Wise reflection, considering causes and effects, is spoken of in the early Buddhist texts as an important part of the Path to Enlightenment.
All of the Four Requisites: food, clothing, shelter and medicine are usually transported in some amount of plastic these days. Reducing single use plastic on a personal level, e.g. ultra-thin shopping bags, plastic water bottles and other drink and food containers, could possibly bring the highest benefit, regarding personal impact, to the environment. It’s possible to get fine mesh plastic bags for buying goods in shops (especially those goods that need to be weighed) e.g. at http://www.onyainnovations.com.au/. They can be washed, if necessary and reused.
Of course moderation in the Four Requisites themselves, is also a great way to reduce. This applies to everyone, not only monastics. The reflection of the monastics on food includes to eat the amount which is only needed to sustain the body in good health. This will differ for different body conditions, even in the same person over time. Simplicity (renunciation) and quality (compassion) would be the usual focus of the Buddha rather than quantity, but if we have good quality food, high in nutrients and not highly processed, then we often need less to sustain the body.
Sourcing the Four Requisites locally is another way to ensure better health and protect the environment. The most local is, in our back yards. So here reduce, changes to produce. Monasteries often have enough land to be able to grow their own food. It would also seem to be the duty of monastics to guide laity to develop wholesome and satisfying livelihoods. If they have such a life and still see there is more to be done, then they would be in a very good space to take on a higher training, that is, rather than from a negative mental state. It has been proven many times that with after implementing an ecological design, a community could produce its Four Requisites with only 10 work per person per week.
It might be contentious to some people for monastics to teach about ecological gardening, but if we keep in mind the current conditions, we might see that it is a wholesome thing to do and highly needed. Therefore in the spirit of the Dhamma Vinaya (the Teaching and Discipline of the Buddha), some might put aside a minor rule due to changed conditions, as the Buddha gave permission to do. Minor rules are ones that are not classed as Morality or Ethics (search “sīlavipatti” in Pāli Vinaya), but rather a good habit (search “ācāravipatti”) according to conditions at the time and place. If the conditions change the relevance of the rule changes. This requires wise reflection as to causes and conditions. This would be why the Buddha gave permission to put aside minor rules if a community (saṅgha) thought is wise.
Brother Joe (Bhikkhu Dhamma-dāsa) ASA Sustainability Officer 2014
Download the full essay by Brother Joe (Bhikkhu Dhamma-dāsa) containing instructions on:
Do It Yourself (DIY) Minimally Processed or Natural Household Products
-Multipurpose Household Cleaner
-Liquid Laundry Detergent/Dishwashing Liquid
-Homemade Citrus Fabric Softener (and Natural Scenter)
-Chemical Free and Humane Cockroach Trap
-Essential Oil Bug Spray
-Dried or Fresh Herbs Bug Spray
-Super Strong Insect Repellent Recipe (Vinegar of the Four Thieves)
-Other Simple Insect Repelling Ideas
Self-watering Planter Boxes (Portable Raised Garden Beds)
On Tuesday, June 24th and Friday, July 4th respectively Venerables Tenzin Drolma and Shih Jingang graduated with a first basic unit in the sixteen week programme offered by the Tasmanian Association of Supervised Pastoral Education (TASPE). As well as these two monastics, two Buddhist lay women, Mukula McKenzie and Dr Elizabeth Giles, also graduated in the Royal Hobart Hospital Centre for CPE.
Venerable Drolma worked as the Buddhist chaplain in the Risdon Women’s Prison, Venerable Jingang worked in the chaplaincy department of the Burnie Hospital while both Mukula and Elizabeth worked in the Royal Hobart Hospital.
This has been quite a remarkable year for the multifaith dimension of CPE in Tasmania because of the nine students who have graduated this semester four have been Buddhists while one has drawn her inspiration from the teachings of both the Buddha and Jesus. As well as this fact, one of the three supervisors in TASPE is Venerable Thích Trúc Thông Pháp, the Buddhist representative chaplain at the University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay Campus.
All of this follows on from the establishment at our Summer Gathering in February of Buddhist Contemplative Care Tasmania, a group of Tasmanian Buddhists working hard to establish Buddhist Contemplative Care in this state. One of our long term goals is to establish a Buddhist CPE centre in Tasmania that aims to provide CPE training to people of all faiths and none.
Photos above include both Venerables Drolma and Jingang on the day of their graduations while Venerable Thích Trúc Thông Pháp is shown adressing the gathering on the global significance of the contribution TASPE is making by taking seriously the multifaith developments within CPE in this state, on the mainland and in New Zealand. Although Venerable Thông Pháp is standing in the shadow of a cross, Mr David Gould, a Buddhist Social Worker in the RHH, had established a beautiful Buddhist Shrine to the left of the cross.
It remains to us to thank the 2013-2014 committee of the Australian Sangha Association for their great financial generosity to both of the venerables who graduated. These offerings made it possible for both to participate in their respective programmes. Buddhist Contemplative Care Tasmania thanks you sincerely.
Note: This paper was submitted for the United Day of Vesak conference in Vietnam, 2014. It was accepted, but on arrival at the conference Ajahn Brahm was told he could not deliver it.
On December 1 1955, in Montgomery Alabama, an African-American woman refused to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. That simple act of defiance for the cause of social justice became one of the most important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movements in the USA. That woman was Rosa Parks. The United States Congress called her “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”. December 1 is commemorated in the US states of California and Ohio as “Rosa Parks Day”.
Rosa Parks became a Buddhist before she passed away in 2005 aged 92. One can speculate that this female icon against discrimination chose Buddhism because it is well suited to advancing social justice issues.
In this paper, I will discuss how Buddhism may advance the particular social justice issue of Millennium Development Goal No. 3: Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. I will focus on the need for Theravāda Buddhism’s current male leadership to clearly demonstrate its own commitment to MDG 3 through acceptance of the bhikkhunī ordination. Only then can it use its considerable influence to make our world more fair, one where people are judged on their character and not on their gender.
Gender Inequality in Australia and the Contributions of Buddhist Leaders
In a report on gender equity issued by the Council of Australian Governments on Tuesday 19 November 2013, the median salary of new female graduates in Australia was found to be 10% less than that of male graduates. Even though they were equally qualified, women received less pay than men. Thus even in a developed country such as Australia, gender inequality still persists. In less developed countries it is far worse.
My colleague, Ajahn Sujato, recently attended the 2013 Religions for Peace World Assembly in Vienna, sponsored by the king of Saudi Arabia. He reported in his blog:
One panel was devoted to the role of women in religion, and that was, predictably, powerful and moving. Rape, domestic violence, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, maternal mortality: these are all-too-painful realities for many women; and meanwhile male-dominated religious morality obsesses about correct doctrine and stopping gays. The suffering of women is rarely featured in religious discourse, and as one of the delegates said, when it is mentioned it is tepid and equivocal. Yet as those working in development know well, empowerment of women is the single most effective means of lifting countries out of poverty.
As Buddhists who espouse the ideal of unconditional loving kindness and respect, judging people on their behavior instead of their birth, we should be well positioned to show leadership on the development of gender equality in the modern world and the consequent reduction of suffering for half the world’s population. Moreover, if Buddhism is to remain relevant and grow, we must address these issues head on. But how can we speak about gender equality when some of our own Theravāda Buddhist organizations are gender biased?
In Australia, the Anglican Christian Church represents 17.1% of the population (2011 National Census) and is maintaining its relevance by ordaining female bishops. In May 2008, in Perth, I was invited to attend the ordination of the world’s first female bishop in the Anglican Christian Church, Rev. Kay Goldsworthy. The media response to the recognition of women in the Anglican Church was overwhelmingly positive. Such initiatives shine a damming spotlight on other religions in Australia that still discriminate on the basis of gender. But it shone a positive light on Theravāda Buddhism in Perth that has fully ordained nuns.
Unfortunately, other Theravāda Buddhist temples and monasteries in Australia and in other parts of the world still adhere to excluding women from full membership of the Saṅgha. I will later argue that there is no legal basis in the Vinaya, the ancient Buddhist Monastic Code, to deny women full ordination. Moreover, when parts of Theravāda Buddhism are generally considered to unreasonably prevent women from full membership of the Saṅgha, then they have no moral authority to speak on gender equality. They have lost the opportunity to speak for the empowerment of women in other parts of society and advance the Third Millennium Development Goal.
When Mahatma Gandhi was a law student in London, the landlady of his boarding house asked him to have a talk with her son. Her boy was eating too much sugar and would not listen to his mother when she told him to stop. Yet the boy had a fondness for the young Mr. Gandhi. She suggested that if Mr. Gandhi advised her son not to eat so much sugar then he might follow the good advice. A week or two went by and the landlady’s son was still eating lots of sugar. So she took Mr. Gandhi aside and asked him why he had not kept his promise to talk with her son. “But I did talk with your son” Mr. Gandhi replied, “but only this morning.” “So why did you wait so long?” “Because it was only yesterday that I gave up eating sugar”. Such was the reply of the great man.
Religious leaders, above all others, must practice what they preach to be taken seriously and for their advice to be effective.
The Power of Leading by Example
According to the latest figures from Wikipedia, there are between 506 million to 1,146 million Buddhists in our world. Even at the lower estimate that is a significant proportion of the global population. The vast majority of these look to their monks and lamas for inspiration, guidance and moral leadership. Moreover, many of these Buddhists are in undeveloped or developing countries where the empowerment of women is crucial for those countries’ economic development and social progress. In today’s highly connected world, words are not enough. Actions are demanded.
Master Cheng Yen, the female founder of the International Tzu Chi Foundation, is an example of the power of an ordained Buddhist Nun. Ordained in Taiwan in 1962, at a time when women had little influence in social policy, she is now regarded as an icon throughout her homeland as well as internationally. She has built state-of-the-art earthquake-proof hospitals in Taiwan, led the way in encouraging recycling of waste in her country, and established the largest Buddhist Relief Organization in our world. When I visited Tzu Chi Foundation in Taiwan in May 2013, I was shown how discarded plastic bottles were turned into blankets to be sent to natural disaster zones, such as the areas devastated by the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Much of the work was done by retired men and women who gained meaning in their lives together with the considerable emotional and health benefitsthat such a social activity provides. They were enjoying their twilight years instead of wasting away at home. No monk or lama has done anything comparable.
For Buddhism to grow in our modern world, we need to do more than teach meditation, preach inspiring sermons, and make the Sutras available over the internet. We are good at studying, publishing and spreading the word of Buddhism. What we have not been very successful at is showcasing the compassion and selflessness of the Dharma by our actions. We have written many more words in our books than what few kind words we have spoken to the poor, lonely and desperate. We have built so many more temples than orphanages.
Female Leadership in Theravāda Buddhist Countries.
Sri Lanka, a majority Theravāda Buddhist country, can be proud of having the modern world’s first female Prime Minister, Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, in 1960. Myanmar would have had its first female head of government in 1990 when Aung San Su Kyi and her NLD party won 59% of the popular vote in the national election, but the election result was not accepted. In 2013, Thailand elected their first female Prime Minister, Yingluk Shinawatara.
This shows that Theravāda Buddhist laypeople can accept women in leadership roles. Why, then, can’t the Saṅgha?
Theravāda Buddhist monks, generally speaking, are very conservative. They often claim that they are the guardians of “Original Buddhism” from the time of the Lord Buddha Himself. They consider that one of their most important duties is to preserve these precious and authentic early teachings. In this context, what was the tradition in the time of The Lord Buddha with regard to women in the Saṅgha?
All monks of all traditions in all countries, and all Buddhist lay scholars as well, fully accept that there were fully ordained women, called Bhikkhunī, in the lifetime of the Buddha. Moreover, it is clearly stated in these early teachings that one of the goals of the Lord Buddha’s mission was to give the full ordination to women:
Ananda, once I was staying at Uruvela on the bank of the river Neranjara (present day Bodh Gaya) under the Goatherd’s Banyan tree, when I had just attained supreme enlightenment. And Mara the Evil One had come to me, stood to one side and said “May the Blessed One now attain final Nibbāna, may the Sugata now attain final Nibbāna. Now is the time for the Blessed Lord’s final Nibbāna.”
At this, I said to Mara: “Evil One, I will not take final Nibbāna until I have bhikkhus, bhikkhunīs, lay men and lay women followers, who are accomplished, trained, skilled, learned, knowers of the Dhamma, trained in conformity with the Dhamma, correctly trained and walking in the path of the Dhamma, who will pass on what they have gained from their Teacher, teach it, declare it, establish it, expound it, analyse it, make it clear, until they shall be able by means of the Dhamma to refute false teachings that have arisen, and teach the Dhamma of wondrous effect.
Theravāda Buddhists should have an advantage over other major world religions because their tradition explicitly gives such equity to women. Christianity has no tradition of gender equality in their priesthood. Nor does Islam, Judaism or the various schools of Hinduism. Buddhism stands apart and ahead of its time in granting such status to women from “when I (the Lord Buddha) had just attained supreme enlightenment” at Bodh Gaya.
Therefore, full ordination of women is part of the earliest tradition. It is also the declared wish of the Lord Buddha
Obstacles to Gender Equality in the Theravāda Saṅgha
There are two main obstacles to the acceptance of the Bhikkhunī Ordination in Theravāda Buddhism: 1) Ignorance about who makes the decisions that govern the Saṅgha, and 2) Ignorance of the Vinaya, the rules established by the Lord Buddha that restrict what decisions may be made.
1. Many monks in Thailand argue that a ruling from the Saṅgharājā of Thailand in 1928 bans the ordination of female monks:
“It is unallowable for any Bhikkhu to give the Going-Forth to Women.
Any woman who wishes to ordain as a Sāmaṇerī, in accordance with the Buddha’s allowances, has to be ordained by a fully ordained Bhikkhunī. The Buddha laid down the rule that only a Bhikkhunī over 12 vassas is eligible to be a Preceptor (pavattinī).
The Buddha did not allow for a Bhikkhu to be the preceptor in this ceremony. Unfortunately, the Bhikkhunī lineage has since faded and died out. Since there is no more fully-fledged Bhikkhunīs to pass on the lineage, there is henceforth no Sāmaṇerīs who have obtained a proper ordination from a fully-fledged Bhikkhunī.
Therefore both the Bhikkhunī and Sāmaṇerī lineage has died out. So any Bhikkhu who gives the going forth to a woman to become a Sāmaṇerī, it can be said that the Bhikkhu is not acting in accordance with the regulations the Buddha laid down. In essence, he is following his own guidelines and diverging from the guidelines that the Buddha laid down. This is something that will jeopardize the Buddhist Religion and is not a good example for other Bhikkhus.
Therefore, all monks and novices in both Nikayas are forbidden to ordain any woman as a Bhikkhunī, Sikkhamānā, or Sāmaṇerī from this day forth.”
Phra Bancha Somdet Phra Saṅgharacha Jiao Gromluang Jinawarn Siriwad (18 June 2471)
Official announcement from the Saṅgha Committee Meeting minutes, Book 16 p. 157.
As well as noting the antiquity of this ruling, it should also be pointed out that the Saṅgharājā of Thailand, together with the Thai Council of Elders (Mahatherasamakom), are only permitted by their legally binding constitution to rule on matters directly concerning the monks and novices of the main two Thai Buddhist sects, Mahānikāya and Dhammayuttanikāya. They are legally not empowered to rule on the affairs of other monastic groups, such as Chinese Mahāyāna monks in Thailand, nor on nuns. For those well meaning monks waiting for the Thai Council of Elders to decide on the legitimacy of Theravāda Bhikkhunīs, they will need to wait forever. The Thai Council of Elders is not legally entitled to rule on matters beyond its remit.
As the Late Somdet Phra Pootajarn, the then acting leader of the Thai Council of Elders, told me in 2009 regarding the question of Bhikkhunī ordination “Thai law does not extend beyond Thailand”. In essence, a Saṅgha in Thailand cannot rule on the proceedings of a Saṅgha in Sri Lanka, nor in Australia.
Indeed, the Buddha established that all Saṅghakamma (monastic acts), such as the ordination of Bhikkhunīs, are to be decided on by the local monastic community, defined as those monks or nuns within the same monastic boundary. Decisions or opinions of other monastic communities are not binding. Governance of the Saṅgha is devolved to each monastic community. This is the ruling of the Lord Buddha.
2. However, each monastic community is bound to act within the rules called the Vinaya. So are these rules an obstacle to Bhikkhunī Ordination?
The Thai Saṅgharājā’s 1928 ruling judged that a bhikkhu Saṅgha cannot give ordination to a bhikkhunī, because one needs other bhikkhunīs to ordain a bhikkhunī. This is a moot point. In a recent publication “The Revival of the Bhikkhunī Order and the Decline of the Sasana” by the renowned scholar monk Bhikkhu Anālayo (Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Vol. 20, 2013), the author argues that such an ordination isvalid. In short, he argues that at first the Lord Buddha gave the bhikkhus authority to ordain bhikkhunīs. Later, the Buddha gave authority for bhikkhunīs to be ordained by a dual ordination ceremony; first in a Saṅgha of bhikkhunīs and then in a Saṅgha of bhikkhus.
However, in contrast with the history of the bhikkhu ordination, where one finds that whenever a new ordination is allowed by the Lord Buddha then the previous method is immediately abolished, the original ordination of bhikkhunīs by bhikkhus was not abolished by the Lord Buddha.
It is a general principle of Theravāda Buddhism “Not to abolish what has been authorized by the Buddha” (one of the seven causes for the longevity of the Buddhist religion, Aṅguttara Nikāya 7.23, Dīgha Nikāya 16). This, then, is a strong argument for the legitimacy of ordination of bhikkhunīs by bhikkhus alone.
It is generally regarded that the first bhikkhunī ordination of modern times was that which occurred in 1998 in Bodh Gaya. This was a dual ordination performed first by Chinese bhikkhunīs following the “Dharmagupta” Vinaya and then by an international Theravāda Saṅgha of bhikkhus. Was this legitimate?
There are four, and only four, ways that an ordination may be judged illegitimate:
- 1. Sīmavipatti: when there is a monk or nun within the monastic boundary who should be present but is absent.
- 2. Parisāvipatti: when there is not an adequate quorum.
- 3. Vatthuvipatti: (for ordinations) when the candidate is disqualified from ordination such as being underage.
- 4. Kammavācāvipatti: when the procedure is chanted incorrectly, e.g. an ordination ceremony being chanted without a motion and three announcements.
In regard to the Bodh Gaya ordination, there is no doubt that:
- 1. All the monks and nuns within the monastic boundary were present,
- 3. The candidates were well qualified, and
- 4. The procedure was chanted correctly.
But was there a quorum? May Mahāyāna bhikkhunīs qualify as a quorum?
There are no reasonable grounds to suspect that the Chinese Mahāyāna nuns who performed the Bodh Gaya ordination are not legitimate bhikkhunīs. The records show that their lineage came from Sri Lanka. Their own ordination procedure does not fail for any of the four reasons given above. They perform the ceremony with all present within a boundary (which they call a “platform”). There is always a quorum. They ensure that the candidate is qualified. And the ceremony is enacted by the same motion and three announcements as in Theravāda, albeit chanted in Chinese. They are bhikkhunīs according to the Vinaya and so can ordain other bhikkhunīs.
But what about a quorum of one sect (Mahāyāna) ordaining nuns of another sect (Theravāda)?
Sects in Buddhism
The different sects of Theravāda are called nānāsaṁvāsa in the Vinaya. They are separate communities each performing their own acts of governance (saṅghakamma), even within the same monastic boundary. The Vinaya states that there are only two origins of separate communities (nānāsaṁvāsabhūmi):
- A monk decides for himself to belong to a community separate from others, or
- The Saṅgha forces a monk out of their community by enacting the severe penalty of Ukkhepaniyakamma by a motion and three announcements.
The second cause for a separate community is not used these days. This leaves only the first, that of personal choice. Put simply, according to Vinaya, a monk may choose to perform Saṅghakamma with any group of monks he feels comfortable with. There is no legal impediment preventing a Theravāda bhikkhu from performing a Saṅghakamma with a Mahāyāna bhikksu. Indeed, it may be accurately said that there are no Theravāda or Mahāyāna bhikkhus, there are just bhikkhus, according to the Vinaya, who happen to follow Theravāda customs or Mahāyāna practices. Thus, a monk ordained in a Theravāda ceremony may join a Mahāyāna monastery without needing to be re-ordained.
Thus, according to the Vinaya, Mahāyāna bhikkhunīs may perform the first part of the ordination ceremony for a new bhikkhunī, and then she may take the second part of the dual ordination in a gathering of Theravāda bhikkhus. This is what happened in Bodh Gaya. There is no reasonable argument based on the Vinaya to invalidate this. And what sect to those bhikkhunīs ordained at Bodh Gaya belong to? They choose!
The Perth Bhikkhunī Ordination in 2009
Once there were Theravāda bhikkhunīs, it was relatively easy to arrange for the ordination of four women as bhikkhunīs in Perth in October 2009. Even though it caused some trouble at the time, the bhikkhunīs that were ordained are now recognized by all as bhikkhunīs according to the Vinaya. As the old saying goes: “One cannot make an omelette without cracking eggs”.
The Bhikkhunī Saṅgha is growing. In Perth, the Dhammasara Nuns Monastery currently has 11 members of the Saṅgha with a waiting list of women from around the world wanting to ordain. Recently, a Thai TV channel visited Dhammasara and interviewed the bhikkhunīs. In Thailand there are around 100 bhikkhunīs (Murray Hunter, ANU, 2/1/2014) and in Sri Lanka around 800 bhikkhunīs (The Sunday Leader, Sri Lanka, 3 March 2013). They may not be respected by all monks but they are becoming ever more respected by the lay Buddhist community, especially in Western countries. The Perth bhikkhunīs are giving talks and teaching meditation. They are taking their place in the fourfold assembly of Buddhism as the Lord Buddha wanted. They are getting ample support.
The Need for the Current Leadership of Theravāda to Embrace Bhikkhunī Ordination
It may be of interest to Thai monks to know that the Preceptor (pavattinī) at the Perth Bhikkhunī ordination, Ayya Tathhaaloka, had visited Ajahn Maha Boowa at Wat Bahn That in Udon before the Perth Bhikkhunī ordination. Ajahn Maha Boowa invited her to stay in the female quarters overnight, and gave her ordination recognition by inviting her up onto the monks’ platform and then addressing her as a bhikkhunī, in front of the Saṅgha together with the assembled laity.
Many influential leaders in Thailand respect Ajahn Maha Boowa to such an extent that this incident may encourage other senior monks to accept the existence of Theravāda bhikkhunīs in Thailand. Such acceptance by Buddhist monk leaders will result in greater respect for the status of bhikkhunīs among the lay Buddhist followers. Then those women will be empowered to lead in many other areas for the benefit and progress of their nation.
The Relevance of Bhikkhunī Ordination for the Third Millennium Development Goal
In a recently published paper by Emma Tomalin and Caroline Starkey (Sakyadhita newsletter, Winter 2012), the authors explored the role that Buddhism in Thailand and Cambodia plays in maintaining gender disparity in education and, “ultimately ask what is the relationship between the reassertion of women’s traditional ordination rights and female empowerment through education?” They noted that “Several scholars, both Thai and Western, have implicated Buddhism as one explanatory factor for the historical inequality between genders, particularly in the poorest areas.” Also that “Many advocates of the bhikkhunī ordination consider that that there is a direct relationship between the low status of women in many Buddhist traditions and the inferior status of women within Buddhist societies.
Thus, by restoring equity to women in the Theravāda Saṅgha through the reinstating of the bhikkhunī ordination, we will be addressing the inferior status of women in many Theravāda countries, promoting gender equity in education and, thereby, making a strong statement in support of the Third UN Millennium Development Goal.
By fixing our own house first, we have the considerable opportunity and moral authority through our books and sermons to inspire and encourage our Buddhist followers to also work towards gender equality in spheres other than religion. That will lead to a world with less violence, better health and more prosperity.
Ajahn Brahm, Perth, January 2014