Thai monks oppose WA nun ordination

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Back in Oct 2009 the BCWA had sent a letter of support to the recently ordained nuns of Dhammasara Monastery. On Dec 22nd an article about the controversy around this matter appeared in The West and on 30 Dec 2009 a sector of Thai clergy in Bangkok have made an audacious claim on the sovereignty, property and affairs of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia.

The West Australian Buddhist community is pleased that an order of Theravadan Bhikkhuni nuns has been established in Western Australia with the help of the unbroken linage of ordinations of Bhikkhuni nuns and the Bhikkhus (monks) of the Bodhinyana Monastery, WA and Santi Forrest Monastery, Victoria.

BCWA STATEMENT of 31 Oct 2009:

Dear Ajahn Vayama and Bhikkhunis of Dhammasara Monastery,


The Buddhist Council of Western Australia would like to express our happiness about the ordination of the four Bhikkhunis of Dhammasara monastery on 22nd Oct 2009 at Bodhinyana Monastery, Western Australia.

We are inspired that the lineage of Theravadan Buddhist nuns has been established In Western Australia. It shows that Buddhism is establishing itself firmly in Australia. Australian Buddhists especially uphold the fact that Buddha Gotama is the first founder of a religion to ordain women. This is testimony of the wisdom, compassion and greatness of the Buddha.

We note the wonderful support the lay community has shown to the nuns of Dhammasara Monastery since its inception in 1998. No doubt this is due to the high standard of conduct of yourselves as ten-precept nuns of Dhammasara despite the many obstacles and hurdles.

We are most grateful to Ajahn Brahm and the Bhikkhus of Bodhinyana and Ajahn Sujato, Abbott of Santi Forrest monastery for making the ordination possible. We are also most grateful to the Bhikkhunis who took part in the ordination. It is remarkable that the ordination of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis span a lineage of more than twenty-five centuries; and goes back in a series of ordinations to the Buddha Himself.

In Australian society the principle of fairness and equality are paramount. Theravadan Buddhism would find it difficult to establish itself in Australian society if there was no complementary true monastic order for women in Australia. For these reasons we see it fitting and are proud that the re-kindling of the lineage of Theravada Bhikkhunis, which was long overdue, has happened here in Western Australia. This has also placed the practice of Theravadan Buddhism in accordance with the laws and norms of Australian society.

We wish you every success.

(signed by President BCWA – Dr Jake Mitra)

On December 22nd 2009 the following news article appeared on The West (online version):

A Perth Buddhist monastery has been expelled by its temple community in Thailand after ordaining four women but remains defiant, saying it was very likely it would continue the practice. Thai Buddhist religious authorities backed eastern Thailand-based group Wat Nong Pah Pong’s move to revoke Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery’s membership because it allowed the female ordinations.
Thai Buddhist leaders took exception to the Serpentine monastery carrying out the first full ordinations of female Buddhist monks, or Bhikkhunis, in Australia. The monastery has ordained four women from the Dhammasara Nuns’ Monastery in Gidgegannup since October.

Ajahn Brahmali, from the Bodhinyana Monastery, said they were surprised at the controversy generated by the female ordinations and the reactions from Thailand which resulted in the monastery’s expulsion and its abbot’s excommunication. “I think it was unnecessary,” he said. “The important thing is the way these things look in Thailand compared to the way they look in the West are very different.

“In the West it’s required that you have equality between men and women and because of that we thought if we are going to be taken seriously in the West, we are going to have to have fully ordained women as well as men,” he said.
“If they had been wise, they would have sat back and said, ‘you know this is in the West, we have to do things differently to the way they are done in Thailand and be open-minded’.”

The most senior Buddhist religious body in Thailand, the Sangha Supreme Council, said it upheld the Ubon Ratchathani temple’s decision to exclude the Australian monastery from its community. Somdet Phutthacham, an adviser to the head of the Buddhist faith in Thailand, said women could not be ordained into the Thai Theravada sector of Buddhism, even though they could be in Buddhist sects in other countries.
Bodhinyana Monastery was set up as a branch of Wat Nong Pah Pong, a forest-based monastery community in the eastern province of Ubon Ratchathani, 630km from Bangkok, 26 years ago.

WA Buddhists expelled over women ANGELA POWNALL, The West Australian
December 22, 2009, 6:58 am
WA News / Greg Burke ©


4 January 2010

To Members of the Perth Thai Community,

It has come to my attention that a senior Thai monk from Wat Pah Pong has been phoning some of the Thai people here in Perth with the intention of trying to get them to ask Ajahn Brahmawamso to resign. Following this action I have heard that three Thai ladies have started a petition for this purpose and are waiting around outside Nollamara on the weekends urging our Thai community to sign.

The allegations of misconduct made against Ajahn Brahm include the incorrect statements that Bodhinyana was built primarily with money donated by the Thai disciples of the late Ajahn Chah, and that Ajahn Chah had visited Perth, and further, that Bodhinyana had once been given to Wat Pah Pong or to Ajahn Chah. The allegations also include falsehoods that relate to the recent Bhikkuni ordinations.

I intend to set out below a response to all the allegations that have been made, so our members and the community in general will know the truth of all these matters. There has been some mischief perpetrated by some members of the Wat Pah Pong community in order to try and weaken our Nuns’ fully ordained status. My intention is not to be scornful of the Thai community or to belittle any aspect of Thai culture. The truth is that I and the committee have the greatest respect for Thai culture and the fact that Ajahn Chah has had such a wonderful influence on us all here in Perth, is a blessing for us all. My intention is to be truthful in the hope that I will not offend, but clarify the issues for us all.

Firstly, and by way of setting the scene, a Press Conference was held in Bangkok recently by the “Wat Pah Pong Executive Council”. For the first time, these WPP elder monks revealed officially and publicly that their problem with us was not with any secrecy or lack of consultation but with the Bhikkhuni Ordination itself. They are implacably opposed to the reintroduction of the Bhikkuni order. Phra Khru Opaswuthikon said:

“If action is not taken, the council fears that more women could be ordained in the West. Sooner or later, we’ll see female monks everywhere”.

He added that the introduction of the Siladhara order, or 10-precept nuns which was set up by the most senior western monk, Ajahn Sumedho, as an alternative to female monks in Thailand was also “unthinkable”.

I along with our committee believe this unbending stance has justified our decision not to consult with Wat Pah Pong before the Bhikkhuni Ordination, as such consultation would have been not only a waste of time, but also may have led to the Bhikkhuni Ordination being blocked.

The following points will set the record straight with the allegations that have been made.

Bodhinyana Monastery was never given to Ajahn Chah, nor to Wat Pa Pong. Ajahn Chah had a stroke during the Rains Retreat of 1983 and was subsequently unable to speak or travel. A few months later, on December 1st 1983, the vacant land for Bodhinyana Monastery was purchased. It is not possible that Bodhinyana Monastery could have been given to Ajahn Chah because he was incapacitated before the land was purchased. Nor was Bodhinyana Monastery ever given to Wat Pah Pong. From the very beginning, Bodhinyana Monastery remained the property of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, not of any monk. According to Australian Law, it would be illegal to give Bodhinyana Monastery to Wat Pah Pong or to any other organisation.

Bodhinyana Monastery was not “built primarily with money donated by the Thai disciples of Ajahn Chah”. It was built with donations coming mostly from within Australia, from Sri Lankan, Burmese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Thai and Australian members of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, out of faith in the monks at Bodhinyana. Significant overseas funds came early on from Chao Khun Pannyananda of Bangkok, Somchai’s “Esso Buddhist Group”, Khun Prayoonsri of Bangkok, and later from Malaysia and Singapore. These were given out of faith in Ajahn Jagaro, and later in Ajahn Brahm.

Bodhinyana Monastery is not a Thai Temple, it is a Theravada Buddhist Monastery open to all nationalities. It has a wide support base consisting of Buddhists of many nationalities. Nevertheless, most Thai Buddhists in Perth go to Bodhinyana Monastery, and the associated Dhammaloka Centre in Perth, out of faith in the teachings, compassion and conduct, that they have observed in the monks of Bodhinyana for over 26 years.

Ajahn Brahm has never been accused of Temple mismanagement. Because of Australian Law, all donations and payments are audited by a professional outside accountant and the audited statements are presented to the members of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia every year at the annual AGM. No Temple in Thailand has to undergo such meticulous scrutiny.

Ajahn Brahm has never changed the Temple bylaws. According to Australian Law, it is impossible for a monk or any one person to change the bylaws in the Constitution of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. Such changes can only be done at an Annual General Meeting, or at a Special General Meeting, with a two thirds majority of members agreeing to the change. Consequently, Ajahn Brahm has not made such changes “in his own interest”, nor “despite any disagreement from the Bodhinyana Sangha”. The Bodhinyana Sangha has always supported Ajahn Brahm.

Temple Ownership has not “greatly troubled the Thai Buddhists in Australia”. There have been no problems in this area.

The Bhikkhuni Ordination was fully supported by the members of The Buddhist Society of Western Australia, and most Thai Buddhists in Perth have no problem with supporting the new Bhikkhunis. Some senior Thai Buddhists living in Perth attended the Ordination ceremony to show their support.

Ajahn Brahm did not ordain the four Bhikkhunis. The preceptor was the American born Theravada Bhikkhuni, Ayya Tathaloka. Another American born Theravada Bhikkhuni, Ayya Sobhana, together with a German born Theravada Bhikkhuni, Ayya Sucinta, chanted the “Kammavaca”. The four women were ordained by Bhikkhunis. Ajahn Brahm participated in the “Confirming” ceremony performed by the Bhikkhu Sangha that followed the ordination, as required by the Vinaya.

Since the lineage follows that of the preceptor, the four Bhikkhunis in Australia belong to the “Nikaya” of their preceptor, which is the Syam Nikaya of Sri Lanka. Therefore, they should be of no concern to the Thai Buddhist authorities.

Vinaya Masters are clear that Ajahn Brahm did not break any rule of Vinaya. Moreover, as he was not the Preceptor, or Upajjhaya, he did not transgress long established Thai Sangha Law.

Ajahn Brahm did not receive any invitation to the meeting of monks at Wat Pah Pong on 16th January 2010. Having not been invited, he cannot have refused any invitation.

As current and a past President of the Buddhist Society I know that the above account of the issues involved is correct, but as you will see I have asked those past Presidents that are currently available to counter sign this letter. I personally have not had any contact, in any way, with anyone, who has had any issues with the way our Buddhist Society has handled the Bhikkuni ordination, apart from people being disappointed that they could not attend. If you do have any further concerns, I would be happy to receive your question or queries directly. My telephone number is (08) 9367 3918.

I am disappointed that Ajahn Brahm is being treated with such disrespect, and I know that most people reading this letter will concur. However, I also know that Ajahn Brahm has very broad shoulders and will let this issue flow away “like water off a ducks back”. Having said this I call on all of our members to come together with good will and show support for Ajahn Brahm and the Buddhist Society of WA.

Yours very respectfully,

Dennis Sheppard
President BSWA

Counter signed by Past Presidents
Rachel Green
Don Weerakody
Sol Hanna
James Pinakus
Binh Anson

download pdf document by Ven Bikkhu Bodhi who discusses in detail the cases for and against the reordination of nuns in the Theravadan tradition

read the analysis by Ajahn Sujato (Santi Monastery, Victoria) on his weblog