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.
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