Anniversaries and Milestones

I had a note in my diary for tomorrow that it’s the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis which is a nice coincidence as the West Wight Sangha is also ten years old this year.

While looking at their website I noticed that it was the 7th International Bhikkhuni Day on Wednesday, so a slightly belated congratulations on this auspicious event which marks the end of a significant year — the 2600th year of the Bhikkhuni Sangha.

Between the full moon of September 2016 and the full moon of September 2017 there were worldwide commemorations of the 2600th anniversary of the bhikkhuni sangha.

In the fifth year of his ministry, the Buddha was staying at Vesali when he heard that his father, King Suddhodana, was ill. He decided to visit him again at Kapilavatthu to teach him the Dharma, and made the long journey. After hearing the Dharma, the king immediately attained arahantship and passed away peacefully seven days later. It was in this year that the order of nuns was founded at the request of Maha Pajapati Gotami, the aunt and foster mother of the Buddha.

Three times she approached the Buddha and asked him to ordain her into the Sangha, but each time the Buddha refused, giving no reason at all. After the Buddha had stayed at Kapilavatthu a while, he journeyed back to Vesali.

Pajapati Gotami was a determined lady, and would not be so easily discouraged. She had a plan to get her way. She cut her hair, put on yellow garments and, surrounded by a large number of Sakyan ladies, walked 150 miles from Kapilavatthu to Vesali. When she arrived at Vesali, her feet were swollen and her body was covered with dust. She stood outside the hall where the Buddha was staying with tears on her face, still hoping that the Buddha would ordain her as a nun.

Ananda was surprised to see her in this condition. “Gotami, why are you standing here like this?” he asked.

“Venerable Ananda, it is because the Blessed One does not give permission for women to become nuns,” she replied.

“Wait here, Gotami, I’ll ask the Blessed One about this,” Ananda told her. When Ananda asked the Buddha to admit Maha Pajapati Gotami as a nun, the Buddha refused. Ananda asked three times and three times the Buddha refused.

So Ananda put the request in a different way. Respectfully he questioned the Buddha, “Lord, are women capable of realising the various stages of sainthood as nuns?”

“They are, Ananda,” said the Buddha.

“If that is so, Lord, then it would be good if women could be ordained as nuns,” said Ananda, encouraged by the Buddha’s reply.

“If, Ananda, Maha Pajapati Gotami would accept the Eight Conditions* it would be regarded that she has been ordained already as a nun.”

When Ananda mentioned the conditions to Maha Pajapati Gotami, she gladly agreed to abide by those conditions and automatically became a nun. Before long she attained arahantship. The other Sakyan ladies who were ordained with her also attained Arahantship.

based on Anguttara Nikaya 8.51

The establishment of an order of nuns with rules and regulations was an opportunity for women that the Buddha offered for the first time in the history of the world. No other spiritual leader had given such high religious status to women.

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Ajahn Brahm’s UK Dhamma Talks Tour

I’ve just had news of Ajahn Brahm’s upcoming “Real Dhamma” UK Tour, starting in October this year. Details are as follows:-

TUE, 10 OCTOBER 7:00 PM –
9:00 PM
Dhamma Talk: “Cultivating Ethics in a Cybernetic Age”
Venue TBA, London, UK.

WED, 11 OCTOBER 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Dhamma talk: “A Path With a Laugh”
Cross Street Chapel, Manchester, UK.

WED, 11 OCTOBER 7:00 PM – 9:00PM
Dhamma Talk: “Courage and Authenticity at Work”
Friends Meeting House, Manchester, UK.

THUR, 12 OCTOBER 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Dhamma talk: “At Peace With Uncertainty”
Kagyu Samye Dzong, London, UK.

Starting: FRI, 13 OCTOBER 7:00 PM
Non-Residential Weekend Retreat: “Unconditional Mindfulness”
Mary Ward House, London, UK.

The tour is in support of the Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project which aims to promote the teachings and practices of Early Buddhism, through establishing a Bhikkhuni presence in the UK.

Their long term aspiration is to develop a monastery for women who wish to train towards full ordination.

Here is an abstract from their latest newsletter……………………

ENCOURAGING BEGINNINGS

Since the inspired conception of Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project in Perth, November 2015, joyful steps – often taken in leaps and bounds – are paving the way to make Britain’s first bhikkhuni monastery a reality!

Bhikkhuni Canda and and her team are currently organising Ajahn Brahm’s second teaching trip to England in consecutive years – a benefit event to build on the significant funds already raised and to further awareness of Anukampa’s mission. The tour is entitled “Real Dhamma,” because spreading the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha and preserved by the four-fold assembly of bhikkhunis, bhikkhus, laywomen and laymen, lies at the heart of our aspiration and manifests in the compassionate endeavour to increase training opportunities for female monastics.

One of the most uplifting benefits of the project so far has been to witness a dynamic new spiritual community taking shape! People of all nationalifies and from all walks of life have participated, helping us find firm footing. Thanks to them, here are some of our main accomplishments to date:

• February 2016: website (www.anukampaproject.org) gets up and running
• April 2016: ABP becomes a legal entity
• June 2016: ABP’s highly active facebook page is born
• October 2016: Ajahn Brahm’s unprecedented sell-out UK tour raises around £50,000
• November 2016: Anukampa receives a large, anonymous donation from an overseas supporter, which brings us up to around half the required funds for a modest property.

Fundraising enterprises such as book-selling in Thailand and sponsored head-shaving in Perth (any more takers?!) are ongoing and particularly welcome, as are the increasing number of teaching invitations being extended to Bhikkhuni Canda, by existing Buddhist groups. We are also establishing an “Anukampa Friend’s” Dhamma group in London and recently held the second meeting.

On April 12th 2017, Anukampa reached a major milestone, becoming registered as both a religious and an educational charity, which attests to the dedication and commitment of our trustees and key volunteers.

Our immediate next steps focus on building up our team. We recently welcomed a new volunteer book-keeper to assist in our treasury department and are now looking for a webmaster. The services of a lawyer would undoubtedly be very helpful going forward too. We will continue to organise benefit events and also retreats with various monastic teachers. After Ajahn Brahm’s 2017 teaching tour, will be looking for more people to help manage the online tour registration system and general administration, working closely with our outreach team.

In the coming year or two, we will experiment with having a temporary base in England for Bhikkhuni Canda and one or two lay guests who will look after her monastic needs. This will enable us to suss out the level of interest in a chosen area, as well as provide a much-needed space from where regular Dhamma talks and discussion groups can be held. When our core team (and accounts!) are mature enough, we will look for suitable properties for the monastery, in a beautiful natural setting. This should be secluded yet not isolated; private yet accessible by public transport. At present, intuition guides us south of and up to an hour and a half from London….but if the right place comes up elsewhere we are open!

(I wonder what they think of the Isle of Wight?)

Women’s Day & Bhikkhunis

Today is International Women’s Day and the theme for this year is “Be Bold for Change” so it seems appropriate to have a look at the current situation for Buddhist nuns or Bhikkhunis who in many traditions are denied the same level of ordination as male monks.

The excuse that is usually offered is that to be fully ordained as a nun you need, according to the Vinaya, the rules governing the monastic community within Buddhism, to be ordained by an existing ordained nun.

As the nun’s lineage died out in all areas of the Theravada school, traditionally women’s roles as renunciates were limited to taking eight or ten Precepts. Such women appear as maechi in Thai Buddhism, dasa sil mata in Sri Lanka, thilashin in Burma and siladharas at Amaravati and Chithurst Buddhist Monasteries in England.

However, back in October 2009, Sisters Vayama, Nirodha, Seri and Hassapañña were ordained as Theravada Bhikkhunis, or nuns, in a dual ordination ceremony held at Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery in Perth, Western Australia. Ayya Tathaaloka, from the United States, was the Preceptor. Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sujato performed the certifying acariya chanting in the bhikkhu’s (monks) part of the ceremony.

But, despite this, change has been very slow in traditional Theravada countries such as Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand died at the age of 88, on 13 October 2016, after a long illness. A year-long period of mourning was subsequently announced.

As millions of people across Thailand mourned the passing of the widely beloved King and Thais flocked to pay their respects at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, where the late monarch lies in state, one segment of society in this Buddhist kingdom has been blocked from visiting the royal funeral ceremony — bhikkhunis, or fully ordained female monastics.

A recent commentary in the Bangkok Post notes that in December, a group of bhikkhunis from the central province of Nakhon Pathom were turned away from the Grand Palace and reprimanded for wearing the saffron robes of Theravada monks. In a similar incident in November, a party of bhikkhunis from the southern province of Songkhla were also denied entry. Both groups were confronted by officials from the National Office of Buddhism and Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya, a Buddhist university, who are in charge of screening monastic visitors.

It is still illegal for women to take full ordination as a Buddhist nun (Bhikkhuni) in Thailand because of a 1928 law created by the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand.

Good News but NOT the First

Now here’s a good one to end the year on. His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees yesterday at a ceremony at Drepung monastery in Mundgod, South India last Thursday, the 22nd of December. (Geshema is simply the feminine version of Geshe). 

According to the Tibetan government in exile the nuns are the first female monastics to complete the necessary training and examinations to earn the degree.

However, what about Venerable Kelsang Wangmo? In April 2011, His Holiness advised the renowned Institute for Buddhist Dialectical Studies (IBD) in Dharamsala, India, to confer the degree of “Geshe” to Venerable Kelsang Wangmo, a German nun (formerly Kerstin Brunnenbaum).

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, and could previously only be earned by men. In July, the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration announced that all 20 candidates for the degree had passed the examination process. The exams take a total of four years to complete, with one 12-day exam period per year each May that tests the knowledge gained in a 17-year course of study.

Comment on “Watered down Buddhism”

Further to the previous post “Watered Down Buddhism” I received an email from a long time correspondent, A.W. (Jack) Kennedy who runs the Bowerchalke Buddhist Meditation Group over in Wiltshire on the Dorset, Hampshire border.

He had tried to post a comment on the article but it exceeded the permitted word count. It is an excellent take on the subject so I am posting the entire piece here……….

Stephen, 

Thanks for this post. You point to an interesting article by Funie Hsu (accessible with a bit of searching on the ‘Lions Roar’ website). It is plucky of you to venture into the thorny arena of Buddhist hermeneutics: the way in which Buddhism has been, and is being, re-interpreted to suit contemporary western (American and European) social life, and precisely who claims authority to perform those acts of hermeneutics. 

Your post is brief, so please allow me to make a few comments by way of expansion: 

1. American and British Buddhism are not identical. Historical conditions have affected them in different ways they cannot be conflated. Certainly, there are two forms of Buddhism (indigenous immigrant and white convert) on both sides of the Atlantic, but in Britain there has generally been respect and interaction between the two. Hsu, and others, are concerned that the majority of white convert Buddhists should show respect and solidarity towards Japanese, Black, and LBGT minority Buddhists, in the face of neglect and oppression from the wider community, in the past and under Trump’s new world order. We should listen up, and make sure that neglect and oppression of marginalised communities doesn’t happen over here. 

2. Yet, any person, whatever their origin, has the right to inform themselves about the vast gamut of Buddhist teaching and practice, and the right to decide for themselves what’s meaningful and what’s meaningless in the light of their own cultural circumstances, which these days are usually scientifically-informed and liberal about human rights. Authority can, of course, be claimed by Buddhist teachers, but in the final analysis authority is only provisionally granted by those that decide to accept a teacher. My point is that white convert Buddhists can’t be expected to rely on indigenous immigrant teachers, or on traditional texts, without any right to apply their own forms of interpretation. 

3. You mention the ‘cultural appropriation’ and the ‘translation’ of Buddhism into western contexts. Whenever these terms are used, I think it only fair to reference my old PhD. supervisor, Philip Mellor, because he was the first person to use these terms and address these issues, and because subsequent commentators tend to forget his original contribution: Mellor, P.A. 1989, The Cultural Translation of Buddhism: problems of method in the study of Buddhism in England (University of Manchester, unpublished PhD thesis); Mellor, P.A. 1991, ‘Protestant Buddhism? The Cultural Translation of Buddhism in England’, in Religious Studies, 29, pp.111-127. Coming from an ‘outsider’ Catholic perspective, Mellor had a rather biased view of western Buddhism, but he made three interesting points: that Buddhism is being translated into Protestant forms of religious behaviour; that Buddhist practitioners are not particularly aware of this alteration, and that it is difficult for ‘the analyst’ (the academic observer) to disentangle western Buddhist discourse and practice from western psychotherapeutic discourse and practice.
You note that the Robert Ellis’s ‘Middle Way Society’ is independent of Buddhism; could that also be said of the Mindfulness movement? Robert Ellis, as is his right, has made up his own mind on the basis of his own interpretation of Buddhism, and in the light of his sceptical philosophy. He has generated an impressive website but has few followers, therefore, not much effect on the progress of Buddhism in Britain. Might not the Mindfulness movement prove more damaging? Is today’s Mindfulness movement not an outcome of the entanglement of Buddhism with psychotherapeutic discourse, and is there not a risk that the Mindfulness movement might go on to largely replace Buddhism in Britain?

4. I want to defend the memory of the Secular Buddhist UK website. It was established by Anantacitta Tunnell, a thoroughly decent Birmingham social-worker who used to be a member of the FWBO/Triratna Community. He worked hard to create an open forum for the discussion of secular Buddhist ideas and practice, with Stephen Batchelor’s blessing but without the benefit of his involvement. Nobody was willing to take over the site when it became too much for Anantacitta. Since I was a contributor, I must share some of the blame for that misfortune. Regrettably, it went into abeyance, WordPress closed it down, and the archives vanished into digital oblivion. But I remain dependent on Buddhism, as does the American Secular Buddhist website, as (I think) does Stephen Batchelor. Nobody can wholly escape the influence of their (white, western, contemporary, protestant, scientific) upbringing, but, of course, we can be Buddhists nonetheless, if Buddhist practice is truly applicable to all sentient beings.

Thank you Jack. As you note the original post was somewhat brief when touching on this subject but it was prompted by the demise of the UK secular Buddhist website and the rest sort of just followed as background context.

I feel that secular Buddhism is a genuinely Western response to the Dharma and although I have the greatest respect for the various Eastern schools into which the Buddha’s teachings have evolved that evolution has taken place within the context of cultures other than my own. It can feel somewhat of an affectation when performing, for example, Japanese or Tibetan rites and rituals when one is not Japanese or Tibetan. Secular Buddhism addresses this by removing the cultural accoutrements but then also jettisons anything “mythological”. The question then arises as to what is myth or just a good story loaded with parable, allegory and fable that teaches the Dharma in the succinctly skillful way the Buddha had of pitching his message.

That said, I cannot but agree with your comment about “there (being) a risk that the Mindfulness movement might go on to largely replace Buddhism in Britain.” 

I know that there is a counter argument that Mindfulness practise is in fact inculcating the Buddha’s teachings “by the back door” but various mindfulness teachers that I know who are Buddhists say that apart from a brief comment that these practises are derived from ancient Buddhist ones Buddhism itself is never mentioned.

But, ultimately, despite all of the challenges that Buddhism faces in the West it will, in time, develop into a truly Western practise. A while back I ran a series of stories on the plight of Buddhist nuns in various traditions who are denied full ordination. Many have now achieved this, “illegally” according to their parent traditions. But they have done this by side stepping the established protocols of the purely Asian schools of Buddhism. They have separated and moved away and formed their own monastic settlements here in the West where they can enjoy the liberal, progressive freedoms denied them within the traditional, Asian context of Buddhism.

More Theravada Bhikkhunis Ordained, this time in Indonesia

At a ceremony held at Wisma Kusalayani in Lembang, Bandung on Sunday, June 21, nine prospective bhikkhunis, two from Indonesia and seven from other countries, underwent full ordination . The lineage of Theravada bhikkhunis had been dormant for over a thousand years after having died out in Indonesia in the 11th century.

This represents yet another step forward in the development of the International Bhikkhuni Sangha – despite the continued opposition of traditionalists.

International Conference on Buddhist Women Starts Today

The 14th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women starts today in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, running until June 30. Its theme will be “Compassion and -DSC_8331Social Justice.”
The organization was founded in 1987 in Bodhgaya, India. Sakyadhita is an alliance of women and men founded at the conclusion of the first International Conference on Buddhist Women, held in Bodh Gaya, where the 14th Dalai Lama was the keynote speaker. The term Sakyadhita means “daughters of the Buddha” and was first used at the conference. The initiative for creating the organization came from Ayya Khema, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh (now Dhammananda Bhikkhuni) and Carola Roloff (now Bhikṣuni Jampa Tsedroen). Currently, Sakyadhita has almost 2000 members in 45 countries around the world. National branches of Sakyadhita have been established in Canada, France, Germany, Korea, Nepal, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. New branches are currently being formed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Russia, Spain, and Vietnam.

The conferences are held every two years. This year there will be Scheduled dharma talks by

Ajahn Brahm on “Buddhism with Compassion, Buddhism with Justice” on June the 24

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo on “The Six Paramitas” on June the 26

and Venerable Thubten Chodron on “Open Heart, Clear Mind” on June the 28.