The initial draft of the ASA constitution was submitted by Ajahn Brahm in 2004. After considerable discussion at a series of state-based meetings around Australia, this draft was presented to the National Sangha Conference on the 8-9 June, 2005 in Sydney. The Sangha members present at the Conference agreed unanimously to adopt this constitution after making several important changes.
It was agreed that the initial draft should be revised by Ajahn Brahm, Venerable Sujato, and Rahu Sarath-Chandra. This has been done, and we have circulated the constitution more widely for feedback from our members. There has been no substantive disagreement in the formation of this constitution. All changes have been made in line with the decisions of the Sangha at the National Conference. In a few cases, such as the make-up of the Council of Elders, issues left unresolved at the National Conference have been clarified.
A meeting was held at Phap Bao Temple on in Sydney on December 16, 2005 to formally adopt the constitution. This was then submitted to the Office of Fair Trading for incorporation. This was approved on 13 February 2006, with the incorporation number INC9885116. Following is a summary of the main features of the constitution.
Representation: The ASA’s prime aim is ‘to serve as the representative organisation for the Sangha in Australia.’ (section 1a) It can do this through liasing with Governments (1c) and media. (1d)
All traditions: The constitution treats all traditions of Buddhism equally, and guarantees representation by Sangha from all three main traditions – Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. (4a, 25c) By serving as a forum for discussion (1g), the ASA will promote respect and harmony among the traditions. (1i)
Membership: ‘Membership of the incorporation shall be open to any monk or nun ordained in the Theravada, Mahayana, or Vajrayana traditions, or any other Buddhist tradition recognized by the Management Committee, who live a celibate life and who have resided in Australia for one year or longer.’ (4a) ‘Candidates for membership of the incorporation will be admitted to membership only after examination and approval of the credentials of the candidate by the Management Committee.’ (4b) All members have equal voting rights. (6a) Members are not liable for debts of the ASA,(8) and there are no membership fees. (11)
Balance of power: The ASA has two governing bodies, the Council of Elders and the Management Committee. Each of these is elected for a limited term, and has a defined role. This is to prevent any one person or group from assuming absolute power.
Management Committee: The Management Committee ‘is solely responsible for the administration and management of the affairs of the incorporation.’ (12a) The Management Committee (and also the Council of Elders – see 13d, 13e, 13k) must have a fair distribution among the traditions, (12d) and must include both monks and nuns. (12e) No one may serve as the same office bearer on the Management Committee for more than two consecutive years. (12g) The Management Committee should meet at least every three months (14a), with a quorum of four. (14b)
Limits of power: ‘The Management Committee shall in no way interfere in the administration or internal affairs of any Buddhist organisation, group, or temple.’ (17b)
Council of Elders: There shall be a Council of Elders who will provide guidance on ‘matters bearing on peace and harmony, the honour and integrity of the Sangha, and the good name of Buddhism.’ (13a) ‘The term of appointment to the Council of Elders shall be six years. After serving a six year term, members of the Council of Elders may stand for re-election at a General Meeting.’ (13j) ‘To carry out the functions of the Council of Elders, the Council shall nominate a Working Group from among the Elders.’ (13g1) ‘The Working Group shall consist of six Elders, one monk and one nun from each of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.’ (13g2) The Council of Elders and its Working Group shall determine their own rules and scope of activities (including frequency of meetings, etc.) (13c, 13g4)
Teleconferencing: Given that the Australian Sangha is spread across such a distance, it is acceptable to participate in all meetings via telephone or video conferencing. (14b, 18d)
Definition of ‘Sangha’: All celibate monks and nuns ordained in a recognized tradition. (25d)
Lay people: May participate as ‘Friends of the ASA’, but do not have voting rights. (5, 6c, d)
Amendment: The constitution may be amended at a General Meeting. (25a)
Non-profit: Members may not receive any income from the ASA. (12k, 12l, 23)
Non-political: ‘The ASA must be non-political, ethnically neutral, and non-sexist in the determination of policy and in all activities.’ (1j)