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Buddhism in the News


Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thai Buddhism and Ordaining Women as Nuns.

The Bangkok Post, Dec 30, 2009

Bangkok, Thailand -- The forest monks of Wat Nong Pah Pong want the Council of Elders and the Office of National Buddhism to impose stricter controls on Western monks to stop them from ordaining women. They also want the properties of Thai temples in the West to come under the ownership of the Thai Sangha to ensure complete control. The monks are seeking the changes after the recent ordination of two women at Bodhinyana Temple, a branch of Wat Nong Pah Pong in Perth, Australia. The Ecclesiastic Council is opposed to female ordination. The Wat Nong Pah Pong clergy have excommunicated the dharma teacher Phra Brahmavamso, popularly known as Ajahn Brahm, for sponsoring the ordination.

They are also unhappy about alleged negative comments Ajahn Brahm has made about Thai clergy and Thai Buddhism in his talks overseas. 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," said Phra Kru Opaswuthikorn. 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. It would be difficult for the Thai public and the clergy to accept the Siladhara order, he said, because the presence of women creates unnecessary problems for the monks' vow of chastity.

James: I'm not a Theravada Buddhist or an ordained monk or teacher, nor am I a Thai. So I'll try to step lightly here and I hope I do not offend anyone. That said, I need to say something about this issue because it has bothered me for some time that there is still a taboo about ordaining women to be nuns in some Buddhist schools. Perhaps it's my western cultural influence but it seems antithetical to the accepting and open minded nature of Buddhism to deny women monastic status. One of the excuses used in this article and heard elsewhere is that having nuns around would tempt the monks too much. Well, monks need to learn how to master their desires regardless of whether women are physically present or not.

They can just as easily engage in sexual misconduct by masturbation or even sex with another monk. In addition, they are tempted with various other desires in their current situation with the temptation to lie or speak ill of a fellow monk or teacher. The desire for theft, anger or even murder can brew in any environment. And what do they do when they have to go out for their alms rounds and happen to see women? Do they run the other way? I'm not trying to mock these monks but I'm just really perplexed. Couldn't they see a women on their rounds and then go back to the monastery and masturbate while thinking about that woman?

We lay practitioners are surrounded much more by the opposite sex than monks and yet most of us are able to avoid sexual misconduct. So why can't monks resist? Isn't that part of their intensive training to learn how to avoid desire? Isn't it kind of impractical and discriminatory to basically say that the only way that this can be achieved is by denying women entrance to monasteries? In a way, it's a statement that men can't control themselves when around women and so women must be denied access to a deeper understanding of the Dharma. Why should women have to sacrifice a chance to learn the Dharma in a monastery simply because they were born with female body parts? And what does it say of men -- That we can't control ourselves enough to live around women without raping them or whatever the case may be? Isn't that kind of blaming the women for existing? Because if monks can't even resist sexual misconduct by even the sight of women then isn't that kind of a false sense of mastery of your desires? If the only way you can resist attaching to desire is to close yourself up in a box and avoid any contact with women then is that real mastery or one that was created by self-imposed isolation alone?

Another point is that despite some initial reluctance the Buddha himself set up orders for nuns (Bhikkunis). Also, other traditions have allowed the ordination for nuns (such as in my tradition of Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh) without any major, systemic problems. As well as Catholic nuns. The sexual temptation excuse seems to be a thin layer of justification covering a deeper issue of sexism. At least from my western perspective. As I said before, I'm not use to Thai culture so perhaps I'm missing something but if the Buddha himself established female orders then I have to question this reluctance by some in the Thai sangha.

What about setting up monasteries that are just for women? Wouldn't that work if the monks aren't willing to share a monastery with women? The only male could be the abbot and if he's older then his chances for a rampant sexual desire would be low. It just seems like there's another way than to just simply ban women from a chance for deeper study that is found in monastic settings. I hope I haven't offended anybody and if I have I sincerely apologize. I am honestly trying to figure out in my mind why this is happening and how we can achieve some kind of middle-ground. After all, Isn't treading the middle-ground the core of much of the Buddha's teachings?

If I'm missing something here please let me know. All thoughts and comments are welcome so long as you remain respectful of others.

---End of Transmission---

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The Griot said...


It is my truth that to "ban" women from becoming monks would - or rather is - considered sexist and that if one needs to adhere to the "out of sight out of mind" cliche, then one has not truly mastered the desires of the Self. In actuality, the desire that gravitates the Self to commit a particular act is the true Master while the Self is still a slave unto to the mind. Your thoughts and perspective(s) are beautifully written. Keep the mind attuned to a positive frequency!

Ekam Sat (Truth is One)

mentalzenn said...

It also seems a form of control issue. Maybe they feel in one way or another by allowing the oppisite sex to practice, then eventually they would also be apart of the leaders. This was just a thought, I am also not understanding why? Even the Holy Dali Lhama stated last year that he thinks that he should be reicarnated as a female.

nine said...

I think you think with Western perception. My understanding would be that their order do not accept women as nuns, but that does not mean necessarly that they are against ordination of women in general.

They choose the Theravada path, thus they do not teach Mahayana in their temple, but this does not mean that they are against Mahayana.

Women can be ordained as nuns in other Buddhist traditions, or somebody can create a new buddhist tradition in the West which accepts nuns. Buddhism is not a centralized religion like Catholicism.

Tao1776 said...

I wonder about how much of this is related to Thai culture. In the West, where things have been so neatly packaged under the Judeo-Christian sphere it has taken generation after generation to break past the many levels of inequality....for us it seems an ongoing quest. I suspect that the Thai monks would be rather puzzled by our puzzlement. For those orders which prize celibacy it has often been a problem. Just look at the Catholic church in the U.S.

They call him James Ure said...

Yeah, maybe it is just a cultural difference because I think that women's rights are very important to respect as a Buddhist.

May Duangkhae Srikun said...

I don't think that having female monks is a threaten to Buddhism practice. But personally I don't like the idea of having female monk either. It's true that the Buddha has ordained female monks before, but with hesitation. The Buddha teaches about gender equality. However, the monastic code of Theravada monks is not suitable for female. I'm worry about the safety of female monks when they have to go out in the morning to take the alms. Even in the time when the Buddha was still alive, we know about female monk got rape during her pligrim. If there will be Theravada Bhikuni, who will ensure their well-being and safety? Isn't it a burden for others? I think that you don't need to shave your head and live in some particular place to get enlighten. By the way, I'm a Thai female.

Was Once said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Was Once said...

The west is far more advanced in this concept of a female monk, and the Thai Sangha that rules on this is quite old and this would be a huge fundamental change for the novices being educated and monks at thousands of temples in Thailand. They are really a not a coed place. It is about change, and it is always hard. Brahm's linage is governed by Thai Sangha, and they fear for female monks there. This is be resolved in time, and it won't happen overnight. Meanwhile we have to support these Nuns here in US, because they are needed and have been requested. Personally I have met them and they are in a limbo of sorts...but isn't life always like this...really? Pure intention will see this through.

André said...

In my opinion it's very close-minded of the Thai Monks. I sincerely support Ajahn Brahm in his efforts to make ordination for females available and accepted.

But I wonder how much of this that is cultural, and how much of it that actually has some support in the scriptures.
And I thought that the Vinaya Pitaka dealt with such kind of issues. Have I missed something?

"It would be difficult for the Thai public and the clergy to accept the Siladhara order, he said, because the presence of women creates unnecessary problems for the monks' vow of chastity."
That only means you have to work harder. The one who creates the urge is the monk! It's not the woman! Self-control is of the essence. Rather than being all negative about it, they should see it as a challenge, as a way of perfecting their self-control and renunciation of urges.

And finally, if it's really such a big issue, why not start all-female monasteries? That would solve the issue once and for all. However, I hope it won't have to go to such an extent.

Wilc said...

Your comments show much wisdom and mirror my own thoughts.

As an aside and as is see that you are a follower of Thich Nhat Ha.

I would like to recount a conversation I had with an American guy when i visited Plum Village in July 2009. He left me with the distinct impression that women monks while accepted by Thich Nhat Ha were second class citizens within the community and further mentioned that the great man himself had said at a evening talk a few days before that the 'women " would not be allowed to control his organisation and that control would remain firmly in the hands of "Men"

It seems that many teachers from asian cultures seem to have a problem with women!

David said...

First off, I want to say I support the reinstitution of Bikkhuni (nuns).

The subject isn't quite a clear-cut sexist one, unfortunately. It's more beuracratic in nature, which is just as unneccessary from a Buddhist perspective to many, but important to the lineage based Theravadan monastic orders.

In the Theravadan tradition, the first Bikkhuni's were formed before Buddhism even had a seat in China or Japan. The issue is that with the death of Buddhism in India and the fracturing of it in other parts of southern Asia, the bikkhuni lineages failed, while the bikkhu (monks). Traditionally bikkhuni and bikkhu practiced in different monasteries, but not always. They followed similar rules though there were many differences - the rules for Bikkhuni monasticism in the Tripitaka - the official text of Theravadin Buddhism - rules for both orders are laid out.

While the Bikkhuni lineages died out, the Bikkhu ones continued on and for a long time only monks existed in the Theravada tradition. Even now, lineage is important to Theravadin orders, as tracing the teachings back to Siddartha is critical. The issue is that these bikkhuni are forming without a bikkhuni lineage behind them - they are being formed under bikkhu lineages.

This, even though I'm sympathetic most to Theravada Buddhism, stinks of beuracracy. Hopefully the Thai order, as the western ones have, will learn to accept this break of lineage in order to expand the teachings of Buddha and allow a new tradition to form.

Buddhist Journalist said...

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Buddhist Journalist said...

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Where Tsunami is due
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To whom Tsunami is due

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To whom Tsunami is due
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Where Tsunami is due.

Buddhist Journalist said...


Thailand is a major hub for international trafficking of girls and women to other parts of South East Asia.

From Bangkok, foreign and Thai women are sent to other countries, including Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Germany, Australia and the United States.

Thai women are frequently trafficked to Japan to work in domestic service and the “entertainment” industry.

The Thai Embassy in Tokyo estimated that there were between 80,000 and 100,000 Thai women
working in Japan’s sex industry.

The U.S. State Department stated that 50,000 people were trafficked annually to the U.S. and that the highest percentage of these were women from Thailand.

These women are kept hidden and often moved from state to state.

The trafficking of Burmese women and children into brothels in Thailand is also a critical problem.

Human Rights Watch documented over
50 cases of Burmese women and children being lured by Thai recruiters with promises of
good jobs and a cash advance, usually paid directly to the girl’s parents. The girls are
forced to work off their debt, often with 100 percent interest, in sweatshops or through
prostitution. The girls live in debt bondage, confined to their brothel or factory, and generally
experience some level of rape or violence to keep them subdued.

Burmese women working in
low-class brothels work 10-18 hours per day, 25 days per month, and serve anywhere from
5-15 clients per day.

In most brothels that have been raided, between 50 and 70 percent of the women tested HIV positive.

Thai NGOs estimate that over 20,000
Burmese women and children are currently in Thai brothels, with 10,000 new recruits entering the country each year.

Women are also trafficked from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and the Unnan Province to Thai prostitution hell.

What You Can Do:

Contact and help:

The Foundation for Women (FFW)

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW)

United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

State Department Trafficking in Persons Report:

Collection of resource & links on initiatives against trafficking in persons:

Human Rights Watch

UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific

Trafficking Watch

The International Rescue Committee

UNESCO Trafficking Statistics Project


Coalition Against Trafficking of Women, (CATW)


Palaverer said...

Well said James. It makes me sad to see this kind of attitude tarnishing Buddhism.

Terry Hooker said...

just another example of males assuming authority over the Truth. This has gone on in every Patriarchical society for thousands of years. It all stems from our concept of God, which during a patriarchical age is of course, a man. Another level of ignorance. God is one, or all that is depending on your beliefs. That means that God encompasses both man and woman.

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Anonymous said...

My beloved sister was ordained in the Theravada Buddhist entity in Virginia, Bhavna Society in the early 1990's. She was sexually and emotionally abused by the famous Monk that is beloved by many. Her life is ruined.

They call him James Ure said...

@Anonymous. That's horrible what your sister went through. No one should ever be put in that position and treated that way regardless of religion. That monk may be famous but he caused a lot of harm and will have a lot of bad karma to deal with. I hope your sister is doing better. For all Buddhists; I apologize.

Anonymous said...

i would say that there is a similar culture in islam. the women are wearing the hoods because of the higher sexual drive of men.

Anonymous said...

See this issue discussed in another related blog Women Evolution and Enlightenment in 2010.

Alexander Duncan said...

Most Western Buddhist scholars do not accept that the Buddha was as reluctant to ordain nuns as the suttas suggest. The account of the conversation in which Ananda "convinced" the Buddha to ordain women is theologically absurd and doubted by many scholars. The Buddha instructs nuns and women in many suttas with apparently no distinction between them and men, and declares that both men and women can attain enlightenment. If he waited a few years to ordain women, it was probably because of social prejudice rather than any prejudice of his. However, it was clear that the Buddha's radical act of ordaining women, at a time when the attitude of Indians toward women was probably even more discriminatory than it is today, clearly created a lot of social prejudice, that surfaced during the First Buddhist Council, when the male monastics attacked Ananda for convincing the Buddha to ordain women, and the extra 8 extra rules of the bhikkhunisangha were set up to force women into a secondary role, perhaps as a compromise. I have discussed this in my book of talks, Fundamental View. The Theravada sect is a misogynistic and extreme ascetic cult that follows its own Abhidhamma and neglects the suttas while claiming falsely to be identical with original Buddhism. It is clear that the Buddha believed in the equality of men and women, ordained women, taught women, and declared that enlightenment is equally available to women. The Buddha's rejection of discrimination against women is no different from his rejection of caste. Many Western scholars believe that the intensely misogynistic passages in the Pali Canon were inserted by Sri Lankan male monastics and are forgeries. The alternative is to believe that the Buddha was a misogynist and to label our religion as misogynistic forever. Were that true, Buddhism should be tossed into the dustbin of history. But it is not true.

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