A genuinely progressive Buddhism?

I agree, people are not duty-bound to act! Its entirely up to them what they decide to do. As to who gets to decide what a wise course of action is, that is a matter of opinion. We tend to think that a course of action is unwise if it does not reflect our own values. I am interested in talking to people who wish to exercise their right to free speech and envision progressive change - if this is not your interest then that’s fine. Your support or interest is not obligatory - you are not duty-bound in any way whatsoever. I hope that is a comforting thought for all those who are happy with the status quo?

If some mittas do feel the need to foster and support progressive change - and we network - we could explore alternatives to the status quo. We may be spread ‘far and wide’ but we could work together to provide a meaningful support-base so others could ‘see’ what is possible. We could then invite monastics to consider their options - continue to practice in a way or, contribute to a mode of practice, that they don’t really agree with or, think outside the box and, make a difference? Let everyone do as they see fit - maybe we should support meaningful change? I wonder (is it possible)?

Maybe this thread (now closed) on a Genderless Vinaya is along the lines of what you were thinking?

Are there issues of concern regarding the structure of the laity which I might not understand?


I am at the stage in this inquiry of finding out if anything can be done to get the ball-rolling. I am pleased that I had the opportunity to learn about discriminatory practices in the monastic discipline - male and female. There does appear to be a number of practices that many seem unhappy about. I think its time to go beyond discontent and actually get-rid-of discriminatory practices against women in Buddhism. Those mittas who would like to go beyond valid complaints and begin to build a support-base for change are welcome to contact me. We don’t need to wait any longer to make a real difference and create a genuinely progressive Buddhism for present and future practitioners. This is an opportunity to take a major step forward - lets create a genderless Vinaya and a community who will support those who wish to practice it - why not? My email address is: sanghadassa@gmail.com

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Although I’m not against reform per se, IMHO any changes should be introduced extremely carefully and proceed slowly, as is happening now. Theravada is known for it’s Conservativeness and is even called fundamentalist and even in the West the Fourfold Sangha is composed of many different nationalities all with their own traditions.
To get Concensus and “unanimous agreement” is called for in the Vinaya so any changes will take a lot of study, debate and discussion before convincing the whole Sangha. This will not happen overnight and each Monastery is an independent Sangha so getting international agreement is even more difficult.
The Buddha was a trailblazer in his time by ordaining Bhikkhunis, ignoring the caste system, etc. There seems to be an assumption that everyone is on the same page regarding reforms but if we look at the history of the Christian reformation we find numerous disagreements and therefore different schools/branches/sects, eg., Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc. The same is likely to happen if people like Lawrence get their way. At present we are like the Coalition, a “broad church”, any reform will result in a splintering of numerous sects.
We already have many schools, is further dilution called for?


First of all I wish you the best for this endeavor @laurence, and I would personally like to see a progressive or reformed Buddhist on the landscape. I’m skeptical for some reasons, and maybe it is of interest to put them into words…

I don’t think that a democratic, consensus- or compromise-based process would create a spiritual movement aimed at liberation. There is too much social and political input in it to begin with.

The alternative is a kick-off by an inspired authority figure. And we have this in small in Buddhism if I see correctly. There is Brahm in many aspects e.g. Bhikkhuni ordination, Mahasi reformed meditation, Maha Boowa started a discourse of proclaiming arahantship, Bachelor has his secular thing going on, the Tibetans have their separate movements, Ole Nydahl as a European guru, Zen has their teachers as well (I’m not too familiar with Tibetan and Zen though).

But actually India with its gurus is the broader canvas that is more promising. Guided by their divine inspiration the Indian gurus have more liberty to set up a more independent system with their own monastics, rules etc. We don’t have such a Buddhist figure yet, a self-proclaimed and (more-or-less) accepted arahant issuing a contemporary Buddhism free of historical clutter and yet purely salvation oriented.

When it comes to grass root movements it seems to me that the time for organized reforms is over - as much as I like reform movements. People and topics nowadays are negotiated in micro-processes over the internet, without centers, ideologies, fixed norms. There are subtle changes in discourse happening on-the-fly all the time, society figuring out itself as it goes along - especially for the young, educated, progressive (swarm-theories provide a good descriptive model). We do it here on SC too, our discussions are a proof of that…

So why exactly would you like to fix a new set of norms? It would be necessary for a reformed vinaya, as monastics live essentially by a set of explicit norms (in contrast to us people who live by non-explicit ones). Is this what you have in mind?


“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein

All Buddhists in the four-fold assembly are my spiritual family. In many ways our spiritual family is the most important family we will ever have. If, we saw the female members of our immediate family being treated unjustly, being discriminated against, being treated as second-class citizens, we would be ‘instantly’ moved to right-the-wrong. We would do everything we could without delay to act out of love and a sense of responsibility. I would anyway - what others choose to do or, not do, is something that they will have to live with.

Everyone of us needs to decide for ourselves whether we are for honouring-fully the human rights of females in the four-fold assembly or, we feel its OK to drag our feet indefinitely - a reformist approach. Frankly, I am not convinced that human-rights are something that is embraced by traditionalists. Many of them do seem to be openly antagonistic when it comes to ending discriminatory practices. The chances of meaningful collective reform may never actually happen. At some point, those who are not prepared to play this discriminatory game any longer are going to have to accept the ‘given’ or give it back and, create something that genuinely reflects their progressive values.

We would never encourage anyone to remain in a relationship where their human rights are not being respected. Especially, if the other party refused to change what it is in the relationship, that is discriminatory and, by implication, harmful! It would be harmful to the perpetrator and the victim to maintain that kind of relationship - in reality, they are both victims of the injustice. I don’t see how anyone could argue with this, if there is a refusal to embrace change then, you need to be realistic? How much time do you think it will take for discrimination to end in the four-fold assembly? You can hasten-slowly ‘till the cows come home’ if you like? Its time to wake-up today, not in another 2600 years. Then, change becomes a joke, it shows a lack of seriousness about a serious issue.

My motivation here - on this site - has been to cut-through the 10,000 reasons for procrastination, indifference, complacency, and worst of all - pragmatism. I am happy to be pragmatic about things of little consequence. The rights - human rights - of females in the four-fold assembly (as in my family) is not something I wish to be ‘pragmatic’ about. I will negotiate many differences - and celebrate many - but not when it comes to patriarchy, the oppression of minorities, environmental vandalism and, the rights of those who have nothing, to have the basic requisites - and more. You can all make up your own minds and I hope you come up with the right decisions for your practice and, for the benefit of all sentient beings.

We need to create healthy relationships within the four-fold assembly. How is this possible if our paragon of ideal conduct - the Sangha - is perpetuating a dysfunctional discriminatory relationship? That does not make sense!


“But to be sure that heterogeneity wasn’t going to screw up my results, I set stringent criteria for validating that statistical associations we found between genes and medical conditions were not flukes. Validation had to be done in an independent cohort that was not part of the discovery set. In other words, if a lab had more than one data set published, I made each data set either a discovery or a validation cohort a priori.” - Purvesh Khatri

Its a health issue - some victims end up blaming themselves for the abuse they receive in dysfunctional relationships. Lets fix this unseemly state of affairs once and for all?

There seems to a bit of doublespeak* going on? It may not be intentional? I believe there is a standard party-line that is repeated by the in-group? It appears, that many of us have not taken the trouble to unpack this issue - completely. Instead, there is the adoption of an in-group mentality - in the interest of keeping things quiet. A tribalism is operating that is more concerned with communal harmony than it is with ethical dilemmas.

Its important that we say what we mean and mean what we say in order to avoid hopeless compromise. If we speak the truth without compromise we may be ‘systematically’ ignored. Its usually the case so I am not surprised what I am meeting with on this site - indifference, inertia … As the saying goes: you make the bed you lie in - good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.

I think you are being extremely unfair to people given that you have not really made any concrete proposals about actions.


I am sorry you feel that way Dan - it is probably better if people speak for themselves - IMO. It might be just you who feels that way - for reasons unknown.

I have made concrete proposals. What have I proposed: 1) acknowledge the issue, 2) network if we see the need to change, 3) come up with an action-plan ie. actually do something about it and; 4) build a community of support.

Obviously, there would be the need to think carefully about the discriminatory practices that need to be removed and various other matters that could be aimed at mitigating the inertia and indifference that is apparent in the tradition.

If you don’t see the need for any of this then that is your decision. If you feel the need to discourage others with genuinely progressive inclinations then we probably don’t share a lot of common ground.

By Progressive are you meaning to refer to the political ideology?
That is what comes quickly to my mind.

The idea of something being “genuinely progressive” fails from the outset for me, speaking to a lack of clarity. If just being “progressive” isn’t enough then qualifying it as genuine or not genuine doesn’t improve things. If “genuinely progressive” is a meaningful phrase then so should “truly progressive”, “actually progressive”, “really progressive”, "truly genuine progressive, and more genuinely progressive than the merely genuinely progressive.
And let us not speak of the merely Buddhist or the your-label-here Buddhist.

In general qualifiers such as genuinely, truly, actually, really and clearly often signal that if the speaker was being honest they would say “I hope or believe this is true, but to be honest and speak with right speach, I guess I’m not sure”.

I stated my reasons, laurence. It is unfair for you to find fault with people for not responding as strongly as you would like to your lectures, given that you have not really proposed concrete actions, and are mainly just emoting. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I don’t really see what you are proposing beyond personal outrage.

You are aware that Ajahn Brahm has already paid a heavy price for his efforts in making actual historic progress in this area, aren’t you? You are aware that there are brave bhikkhunis who contribute to this site who are working, right now, on getting their order built up and reestablished despite the fact that there are many Buddhists who don’t recognize the validity of their ordination? Instead of telling everyone what they should be doing, given that you seem to have only vague ideas yourself about what should be done, maybe you should focus first asking them what to do? They’re the experts, and the people who have been walking this walk for a long time.


You are being presumptuous in the extreme about my views.

Am I still on your christmas-card list? :thinking:
Your still on mine! :dove:

Ajahn Brahm has not suffered from a lack of positive regard as a consequence of his stance against discrimination - among the people whose interests he ‘is’ serving. Did he meet with resistance - yes - has there been fall-out - yes - has there been progress - yes - this is what we would expect. Are there other monastics - and lay people - who have made a significant contribution - yes - is this process ongoing - yes - is there further progress that needs to be made - yes! Do I appreciate and admire the contributions of all these progressive activists - yes!

You said I was being presumptuous about your views? You seem to be saying that I said - or presumed - something about you (or others). If my comments are not relevant to you - personally - then that is good-news. Likewise, with regard to anyone else that frequents this site! I did not name anybody, I simply provided a perspective on the issue - one that is not commonplace. You do seem to have got the wrong impression about my feelings about ‘Ajahn Brahm’ and other progressives again, for reasons unknown or, of your own making.

All I have proposed is a process of sharing to be undertaken by those with a common interest. I am sorry if this is effecting your equanimity.

I will hazard a guess and say that some ‘Secular Buddhists’ may find my reflections fair and reasonable but others may find them troubling. I believe your reaction is misplaced criticism. That’s OK - its not the first time I have been in this or, a similar situation in our ongoing conversation.

I am sorry if you feel you are being lectured-to when I give expression to my Buddhist convictions on this site. However, it is only a lecture - to you - if you attend to what is being said (in that way). I am simply engaging in freedom of expression - apparently within the guidelines. I take it you don’t like what you are reading? Therefore, you call it a lecture - correct? The answer to this predicament is to not pay attention to what I have to say. This could be a win/win situation for both of us (its possible).

“I guess I’m not sure” - stick with that one! :sunglasses:

It’s hilarious how the word ‘progressive’ can cause consternation and ring alarm bells - especially in your neighbourhood. In order to understand the way it is being used by me it might be worth considering what kind of change is being discussed. Those in favor of the motion, say aye. [Pausing for response,] Those opposed, say no. Take comfort Feynman - nobody is interested.

A form of collective behaviour that has been around for over 2 millennia and is mostly intact is not going to change unless people are willing to think differently. The old-school Buddhism is a fait accompli - signed sealed and delivered - the cultural reproduction is fixed. In Thailand it became a bit wild and woolly as a consequence of losing contact with the living tradition. Once the tradition is back in town everybody resumes their seats - its like musical-chairs!

The possibility of conscious and intentional change for the better is very difficult to realise - apart from window-dressing. Don’t look inside the house and if you do find yourself indoors be careful not to touch anything! Those who do tinker will be treated with suspicion. If someone has the audacity to call everyone’s bluff they are definitely a cause for concern - or derision. Talking about change in this outfit is like trying to sell ice cubes to eskimos! :rofl:

There is nothing at all wrong or needing of change in the Buddhism taught by the Buddha. The lack of Bhikkhuni ordination is a form of modern revisionism based on an incorrect interpretation of the Vinaya.

The Dhamma is timeless. To change it is a grave misdeed & the Buddha predicted it is exactly this attitude that will lead to its demise.

The scariest thing I can think of is willful ignorance. My teacher taught me to say boo to anything that scares you. I have seen many ways in which fear is used to control people. I have seen what it does to people - good people. What I have said here does not give rise to fear within me. I genuinely believe that what I have said is accurate and no one has given me reason to think otherwise. I am not prepared to lie - that is important to me. I am always open to the fact that I could be wrong about everything. It makes no difference anyway - you can lead a horse to water and, so it goes …


It seems as if the idea of ending discriminatory practices in Buddhism - quickly and decisively - is unpopular, judging from most of the comments on this thread. More than a few participants saw no need at all! Therefore, it appears that discrimination is deeply entrenched in the Buddhist mind-set to the point of being an indelible aspect of the teaching - as practiced here. As I have been the only practitioner to speak out in an uncompromising way about this issue I will have to stand alone as the only genuinely progressive advocate for meaningful change - change that is required to fully commit to the millenium goals promoted by the U.N.

I think the unpopularity more has to do with your communication, which in my opinion, has been difficult to understand and off putting.
For instance I asked if “Progressive Buddhism” was a reference to the political meaning of progressive. Your response consisted of what might be heard as a discriminatory remark that avoided answering the question.

I think that many a reasonable person would take note of the self congratulatory tone and decide that genuine progress is more likely to be found elsewhere.

The goal is noble. Progress can be made on the communication. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.


I said: ‘the idea of ending discriminatory practices in Buddhism - quickly and decisively - is unpopular judging from most of the comments on this thread.’ I don’t understand how anyone could conclude otherwise? With the exception of ‘one’ respondent everyone was against the idea that discrimination should be acknowledged and got-rid-of - post haste. In your comment (above) you pointed out something that is ‘accurate’ but unrelated to what I said i.e. ‘I think the unpopularity more has to do with your communication.’

I know the way I communicate is unpopular but it has nothing to do with the unpopularity of rapid change with regard to discrimination in Theravada Buddhism.

At no point was I making a political statement with my use of the term ‘progressive’. By progressive, all I meant was progress from the status-quo that involves discrimination against women to a situation where that was no longer practiced. At least, by a group of Buddhists who refused to do so - for any reason - at all. There is discrimination ‘embedded’ in the rules of discipline - nobody seems to deny this? I was suggesting that a change should be made to make this discrimination obsolete. My intention and the meaning I wished to convey in my use of the word ‘progressive’ was never a ‘mystery’ but somehow, you read something into it that was never actually implied or stated.

I apologise ‘Feynman’ if you found my answer abrasive or discriminatory.

It is my belief that Buddhism would be in a better situation than it is today if it moved away from discrimination against female practitioners. I also believe that should happen sooner rather than later. I don’t see anything ‘political’ about this belief. Whether we are political conservatives or we identify with the ideology of the left, we can have different views about sexual discrimination. I hope this goes some way to clarify what I was trying to convey.

It is unfortunate when people take my words ‘personally’ as if I am intending to upset them! I have to be honest in my responses and there is a lot of ‘projection’ that has been going on. Particularly, when it comes to those who have taken-issue with what I have had to say. I am not sure what more I can do but point out when this is taking place. This seems to annoy people - or upset them - and that is unfortunate.

I don’t congratulate myself for being the only one to believe in non-cooperation when it comes to discrimination. It just happens to be the case that nobody else seems to agree with my point of view. I cannot help that fact - it is just the way it is - plain and simple.

I do see - but fail to understand - why Buddhist’s feel something terrible might happen if they remove discriminatory rules from the monastic discipline. This is an irrational fear!

I believe this fear is unfounded although there is a prohibition against change that is built into the tradition.

I am happy to question any tradition - Buddhist or otherwise. It is clear to me that removing sexual discrimination is a good idea and religious taboos need to be broken if they are not kind, fair and, just! To me, Buddhism should be a kind, fair and, just body of teachings. Therefore, if we discover something in it that does not reflect kindness and compassion we should openly acknowledge that fact and, do something about it!

There is no usual development - that I am aware of. There is a lot of confusion about the meaning of the Buddha’s teachings on not-self. Its not surprising that we get it wrong - to one degree or another. With regard to many other teachings found in the Suttas, they are less difficult to understand. I have in mind the ‘four noble truths’. For many of us - non-Buddhists as well - the four noble truths ring true! I don’t think we need to have a pessimistic attitude when it comes to change - if change is needed and justified. To say that everything should always remain the same as any kind of change may invite unwanted repercussions is not an attitude - a perspective - that I would endorse. It seems like a good strategy for stopping-the-clock when it comes to meaningful progress. I don’t believe the Buddha encouraged this kind of attitude. He wanted us to question ‘everything’ deeply - it goes with the territory.

There is no discrimination or oppression in the Sangha.

There is discrimination in Thailand, everywhere, in some Thai people, in some monks or nuns, in some incorrect world views; one might say, those “things” are in some people at this time.

Those persons however do not really exist! And what they protect lol exists even less!

I hope that Buddhists and beings everywhere are sustained and encouraged in their lives. I hope the grouchiest most conservative Buddhists practice the 8 Fold Path.

But if they wish to stay in hell, it is their right to do so. They cannot keep you here, or anyone else. They cannot be liberated except by Mind, and their own efforts.

There is no ultimate justice, or big correction of sexism. No dramatic miracles coming, except perhaps the truly extraordinary usual ones, of Buddhists actually practicing.

It sucks. But I tell you this because you have to understand better for your own happiness and liberation, and you can be a better activist with clarity.

Yeah, don’t stop your own best practices, your own right views,… If you ever get the grudging acceptance, or enthusiastic good practice of all the monks and nuns and lay we can ever know, it still cannot undo the wrongs, the suffering. But :slight_smile: your efforts matter, and are deeply respected, here.