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A Trojan horse: thanissaro bhikkhus response to Analayo


#122

Thanissaro’s number one concern seems to be the “Trojan Horse” issue. It’s a slippery slope argument. He seems to be saying that once one begins to accept modern text critical approaches to the early texts in deciding what parts of the discipline to accept as authentic and what parts to reject, or for disentangling pragmatic and provisional rules tied to historical context from more important and timeless rules, or for making educated guesses about the intention behind disciplinary rules whose origins are murky, who can say where this interpretive liberality will lead. Well, who indeed.

But he also seems to rely on what seems to me a dubious principle based an a specific religious view about the Buddha himself: namely that if a rule established by the Buddha has some later result - even many, many centuries after the fact - that can only be because the Buddha foresaw that result and intended it. But don’t the origin stories suggest a somewhat more haphazard process of making up rules in real time to deal with specific problems that had arisen in the specific circumstances the Buddha was dealing with? And wasn’t the Buddha ambivalent about those rules, suggesting that unspecified “minor” rules could be jettisoned? That doesn’t sound like the attitude of a person who thought that he had already foreseen all of the consequences of the disciplinary rules he established.


#123

Thanks for bringing up that perspective.

However one relates to it, Ajahn Thanissaro’s concern is to clearly articulate and uphold the nature of the (or at least some sense of) tradition. I believe that’s a worthwhile endeavor – clarifies one, if perhaps extreme, terminus on the spectrum of interpretations. Wherever one chooses to position oneself on that spectrum, AT’s position can help inform one’s awareness of the bigger picture.


#124

I’ve followed the legal briefs that Than Geoff has filed through the years on this subject, and remain convinced that part of what drives him to take these positions is his fealty to the Asian sangharajas and his self appointed role as a protector attorney general for these traditional positions on issues that maintain the status quo and subordinate the interests of women in the Sangha.

I’m a lawyer, and I read his briefs the same way that I have read for many years the briefs in opposition that are filed by some very smart appellate lawyers. The arguments are well fashioned and authoritative. Yet, in many legal cases, the appellate opinions or briefs filed are really political in nature. Many appellate court judges write opinions with an eye toward serving their political overlords, or appeasing certain policial interests. I promise you, given the chance, there are lawyers that can write briefs in opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation that would sound reasonable and authoritative.

I’ve also spent a lot of time at Wat Metta in my earlier days of study and practice, and it’s a very strong wat, but a very tense one. Ven. T is an imposing figure, like my 1L Real Property prof in law school…ie, don’t raise your hand unless you were ready to get your head cut off. The younger monks at Wat Metta, to me, seemed too tightly wound and afraid to speak openly. I moved on to try to find wats like Abhayagiri, where there was an abundance of a Metta vibe, a smart, accomplished, but very kind/thoughtful abbot, and a group of younger monks and lay men and women that were equally smart and kind.

When these kinds of questions come up, as they have through the years, I always come back to a recollection of the Sutta (sorry, I don’t remember the citation) where the village toilet cleaner sees the Buddha, and hides out of shame. The Buddha encounters him, and ordains him. The Metta and heartfelt compassion in this Sutta, and others like it, remind me of what is at the core of the Dhamma, and in the hearts of meditators. At the core is not strict legalese and sharp debates, but wise and informed insight into the Dhamma, and applying it to our lives and world. To me, when we really infuse ourselves with both the words and the heart of the Dhamma, the choice is clear: we support and advocate in favor of Bhikkhuni ordination, and support for Bhikkhunis as equals and necessary to the modern Sangha.


#125

This has a been a long standing issue. It’s necessary for those who have been negatively affected by this debate to move on emotionally or the damage is perpetuated. I thought your post was reasonable. I believe the Buddha promoted pragmatism. I appreciate Ven. Thanissaro as a teacher but I also support the ordination of bhikkhunis.


#126

This debate and reading the comments on this post reminds me of the discourse about how the True Dhamma declines.

saṃyutta nikāya 16 - connected discourses with kassapa - 13. The Counterfeit of the True Dhamma

“The true Dhamma does not disappear all at once in the way a ship sinks. There are, Kassapa, five detrimental things that lead to the decay and disappearance of the true Dhamma. What are the five? Here the bhikkhus, the bhikkhunīs, the male lay followers, and the female lay followers dwell without reverence and deference towards the Teacher; they dwell without reverence and deference towards the Dhamma; they dwell without reverence and deference towards the Saṅgha; they dwell without reverence and deference towards the training; they dwell without reverence and deference towards concentration. These, Kassapa, are the five detrimental things that lead to the decay and disappearance of the true Dhamma.

“There are five things, Kassapa, that lead to the longevity of the true Dhamma, to its nondecay and nondisappearance. What are the five? Here the bhikkhus, the bhikkhunīs, the male lay followers, and the female lay followers dwell with reverence and deference towards the Teacher; they dwell with reverence and deference towards the Dhamma; they dwell with reverence and deference towards the Saṅgha; they dwell with reverence and deference towards the training; they dwell with reverence and deference towards concentration. These, Kassapa, are the five things that lead to the longevity of the true Dhamma, to its nondecay and nondisappearance.”


#127

@Mkoll I am not sure I would recognize celebrity Buddhists aside from the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere but if I did, I hope I would not hesitate to question or speak with them, if my impulse was learning. I think that’s the best way not to feed celebrity cult thinking. And as a student, perhaps my questions might not be dramatic or devastating or very significant to anyone but me - but I hope were significant to me or that I wouldn’t bother.

Relevant speech isn’t gossip imo.

Everybody dies. Respecting that seems enough.


#128

Very interesting thread, illuminating of priorities, tensions, world views. Thanks to all, none is useless to me.


#129

here is a snippet of what the Buddha said regarding how the Dhamma declines due to lack of comprehensive training.

translation and notes by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
aṅguttara nikāya - 5. book of the fives - 79. The Discourse on Future Dangers (3)

“Monks, these five future dangers, unarisen at present, will arise in the future. Be alert to them and, being alert, work to get rid of them. Which five?

“There will be, in the course of the future, monks undeveloped in body [1], undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind [2], undeveloped in discernment. They—being undeveloped in body, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment—will give full ordination to others and will not be able to discipline them in heightened virtue, heightened mind, heightened discernment. These too will then be undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment. They—being undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment—will give full ordination to still others and will not be able to discipline them in heightened virtue, heightened mind, heightened discernment. These too will then be undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt Vinaya; from corrupt Vinaya, corrupt Dhamma.

“This, monks, is the first future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.

“And further, there will be in the course of the future monks undeveloped in body, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment. They—being undeveloped in body, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment—will take on others as students and won’t be able to discipline them in heightened virtue, heightened mind, heightened discernment. These too will then be undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment. They—being undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment—will take on still others as students and won’t be able to discipline them in heightened virtue, heightened mind, heightened discernment. These too will then be undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt Vinaya; from corrupt Vinaya, corrupt Dhamma.

“This, monks, is the second future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.

“And further, there will be in the course of the future monks undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment. They—being undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment—when giving a talk on higher Dhamma or a talk composed of questions & answers, will alight on a dark mental quality without realizing it. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt Vinaya; from corrupt Vinaya, corrupt Dhamma.

“This, monks, is the third future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.

“And further, there will be in the course of the future monks undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment. They—being undeveloped in body… virtue.… mind… discernment—will not listen when discourses that are words of the Tathāgata—deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness—are being recited. They will not lend ear, will not set their hearts on knowing them, will not regard these teachings as worth grasping or mastering. But they will listen when discourses that are literary works—the works of poets, artful in sound, artful in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples—are recited. They will lend ear and set their hearts on knowing them. They will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt Vinaya; from corrupt Vinaya, corrupt Dhamma.

“This, monks, is the fourth future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.

“And further, there will be in the course of the future monks undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment. They—being undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment—will become elders living in luxury, lethargic, foremost in falling back, shirking the duties of solitude. They will not make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. They will become an example for later generations, who will become luxurious in their living, lethargic, foremost in falling back, shirking the duties of solitude, and who will not make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt Vinaya; from corrupt Vinaya, corrupt Dhamma.

“This, monks, is the fifth future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.

“These, monks, are the five future dangers, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to them and, being alert, work to get rid of them.

Notes
[1]. According to MN 36, this means that pleasure can invade their minds and remain there.
[2]. Again according to MN 36, this means that pain can invade their minds and remain there.


#130

@Chevita would you elaborate on how this relates to thread or Ajahn Thanissaro’s work or women’s ordination as bhikkhunis, or refusal of their full ordination in the forms the Buddha established?

Or is that better left unarticulated?


#132

The Buddha’s words are self-explanatory. Sutta Central is a treasure in that we can cross-reference the translations of the Buddha’s words to guide us in understanding the Dhamma.


#133

oh! I thought perhaps he was talking about the bad education of monks. Because sexism is obviously harmful, to me. To individuals, community, Dhamma, Sangha.

added: for example, monks using women denied full ordination to do their laundry; monks encouraging lay people to be stingy with support for women renunciates, monks abusing women’s minds bodies and status thoughout their lifetimes, aspiration for renunciate living extinguished. Those sorts of things. Plus knife fights, chemsex parties, rape. Or genecidal demagoguery.


#134

are they self explanitory? Then why any teachers, or anything but solitary practice, or any forums?

added even if the Buddha’s words might be self explanitory… if someone uses them to try to make a point, that isn’t.


#135

I am curious how #7 below is to be understood as it applies to welcoming female mendicants?

Bhikkhu-aparihāniya Sutta (AN 7:21)

Conditions for No Decline Among the Monks

"I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Rājagaha on Vulture Peak Mountain. There he addressed the monks: “Monks, I will teach you the seven conditions that lead to no decline. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said: “And which seven are the conditions that lead to no decline?

[1] “As long as the monks meet often, meet a great deal, their growth can be expected, not their decline.

[2] “_As long as the monks meet in harmony, adjourn from their meetings in harmony, and conduct Saṅgha business in harmony _, their growth can be expected, not their decline.

[3] “As long as the monks neither decree what has been undecreed nor repeal what has been decreed, but practice undertaking the training rules as they have been decreed, their growth can be expected, not their decline.

[4] “As long as the monks honor, respect, venerate, and do homage to the elder monks—those with seniority who have long been ordained, the fathers of the Saṅgha, leaders of the Saṅgha—regarding them as worth listening to, their growth can be expected, not their decline.

[5] “As long as the monks do not submit to the power of any arisen craving that leads to further becoming, their growth can be expected, not their decline.

[6] “As long as the monks see their own benefit in wilderness dwellings, their growth can be expected, not their decline.

[7] “As long as the monks each keep firmly in mind: ‘If there are any well-behaved companions in the holy life who have yet to come, may they come; and may the well-behaved companions in the holy life who have come live in comfort,’ their growth can be expected, not their decline.

“As long as the monks remain steadfast in these seven conditions, and as long as these seven conditions endure among the monks, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.”


#136

There is an alternate reading…

I personally have come to abide in and live in comfort sheltered within the hospitality of nun Dhammadinna , who by her very own teaching, as verified by the Buddha in MN44, has brought light into my life. In fact, I really wonder why Visākha had to even go ask the Buddha to verify. What she said was perfectly clear and helpful.


#137

Much of the document does read very much like a long supreme court judgment (hopefully this post isn’t too long either :slight_smile: ).

IMO Bhikkhus Analayo and Thanissaro are two fine scholars and writers and have made big contributions to Buddhism. Thanissaro definitely comes across here very strongly as a traditionalist and Dhamma purist. Such a conservative approach is not without it advantages. It is, after all, one of the factors in Buddhism that has ensured we actually can still read the EBTs 2,500 years later. His core principle seems to be to preserve the purity of dhamma at all costs. The gangrenous elephant leg metaphor is certain memorable if nothing else (the “Trojan horse” metaphor is in a similar vein). He seems very much concerned with Dhamma contamination and purity (opinions will differ on whether that’s proportionate or not).

In terms of pure legalistic Vinaya argumentation, IMO he’s probably doing a better job than Analayo. If this was a court, Analayo comes across as a more pleasant jury pleaser, though with Thanissaro hammering away with heavy-weight point after point in courtroom bruiser fashion.

However, I reckon some of his arguments aren’t all that solid. I suspect a debater going for the jugular more could pick a fair few holes in some of them and put him under more pressure.

@DKervick made a great point earlier about MN146. The events there seem innocuous enough. It’s interesting how very different are the two pictures Thanissaro and Analayo read into this same set of events (from being an inappropriate mass protest against the garudhamma rules that the Buddha kept from getting out of hand to disrespectful, and therefore implausible, treatment by the Buddha of Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī). IMO that’s indicative that both Thanissaro and Analayo are stretching as far as they can with the underlying material (perhaps to an extent some of both their arguments are a bit weak because of that).

Thanissaro’s general compassion argument rests on two foundations. One leg is based on lineage/training and a rather idealized and perhaps somewhat unrealistic picture of how all that works. I’d suspect if there was a more explicit rule allowing “unilateral female ordination” this would probably not even be an issue. I won’t say the training argument is without merit. It’s quite a weak argument though (as has been discussed a lot earlier). I suppose there is the Dharmagupta lineage approach, but I’d suspect that wouldn’t meet his Dhamma purity standards (believing in Mahayana sutras etc.).

The other leg of this argument is a rather circular catch-22 one: that interpreting the Vinaya to allow female ordination just doesn’t work, that doing this is getting off to a bad start (the slipperly slope as @DKervick says earlier. e.g. where will we end up at all if we start down this road?). So the compassion argument primarily (aside from weaker lineage argument) boils down to the same legalistic Vinaya arguments that form most of this paper (does one rule supersede another, are the garudhammas rules or not rules etc. etc.).

The Buddhist prophecy argument, that the Buddha knew what was going to happen, is weak. For example, why did the Buddha, when heading towards his parinibbna, talk about the possibly of the Sangha dispensing with some of the minor training rules, and then not lay out more detailed instructions about how to do that? That would certainly have solved a lot of later disagreement and confusion. Thanissaro does talk about this in section 5. His counter to this is:

“The principle not to abolish any rule and not to promulgate new rules comes up again with positive connotations in the Theravāda Vinaya in the narrative introduction to nissaggiya pācittiya no. 15, according to which the Buddha praised Upasena for having precisely this attitude; cf. Vin III 231, 14.” (Saṅgīti, 210, note 29)

He also theorizes that perhaps the Buddha suggested this possibility only just so that the Sangha could then later refuse that option and reaffirm their strict commitment to the rules. Possible, but generally a weak argument. Also, his counter to this (one of the final suggestions of the Buddha in the Nikayas) is just a Vinaya origin story. Thanissaro even says that it’s possible that this is a later addition but then just says this is no way to interpret the Vinaya.

Thanissaro, unsurprisingly, accepts as true the prophecy (coming after the garudhammas) about the disappearance of the true Dhamma after 500 rather than 1000 years. I suppose not to accept this would also throw doubt on the authenticity of the garudhammas themselves (an important assumption in his argument). He has a certain interpretation of true Dhamma, which would be weak except for SN16.13, which talks about this in terms of the arising of a counterfeit Dhamma. He associates this with the arising of the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras around that period. Again, there’s a certain arbitrariness to all this. If the Buddha had placed this period earlier or later, then there likely would have been other events (splintering into sectarian schools etc.), which could have fitted the bill.

Something else that doesn’t add up about the garadhamma passages is that (as Analayo pointed out earlier in this exchange) there are suttas saying that four-fold sanghas (with female monastics) were key parts of earlier dispensations of past Buddhas. But if this passage is anything to go by our Buddha was none too enthusiastic about founding one (to go back to elephant metaphors: considered sacrificing one of the elephant’s limbs from the very start so it could amble around a bit longer). There’s certainly a bit of dissonance between the garudhamma passages and these suttas.

Also why does the Buddha after laying out these garudhamma rules, then shortly later have to amend them with a rule for the case when there isn’t yet a female monastic Sangha. Seems rather ad hoc, lacking in foresight, and wouldn’t lend support to the notion of prophetic powers of the Buddha (or alternatively the authenticity of the garudhammas).

His definition of disappearance of the true Dhamma is a convenient one for his argument: he can have his cake and eat it too. For him, it has in a sense both disappeared and not disappeared. There’s still real gold worth defending, though also counterfeit gold. Perhaps something really was lost around 500 years after the Buddha’s death (maybe the lineages failed in a sense in that maybe there wasn’t an unbroken line of noble ones anymore, or in spite of texts surviving some of what’s not in them didn’t), which would make much of this argument moot. Anyway, it’s long past even the optimistic thousand year mark (let alone the 500 year mark). The proposed rationale of the garudhammas (even assuming the Buddha had prophetic vision) was to prevent or delay an event that’s already two thousand years in the past.

Overall, in terms of pure legalistic Vinaya argumentation, Thanissaro is coming out somewhat ahead when working rigidly within the traditional system and rules of the game. You’d have to wonder how entirely solid are all those established conventions and rules though. Of course, that opens up the slippery slope issue. I can’t say that’s not an issue.

I can remember watching a TV interview years here years ago here with Ian Paisley (a major figure in the Northern Ireland troubles, who was a Free Presbyterian minister of a rather fundamentalist hue). The interviewer was probing him on some issue (some point about fossils or creationism or something similar, can’t quite remember) and forcing him to defend something that sounded quite ridiculous, seemingly even to himself judging by his body language. He was a biblical literalist. He smiled ruefully and shrugged and said, well, if I concede on this point, then where will it all end (I might as well throw out the entire bible). Now, I’m not really likening Thanissaro to Paisley (that would be somewhat disrespectful and I’d say he’s more flexible about such things than that) but the Paisley point did come to mind in this context.

I suppose this “slippery slope” moment happened to the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation (the monopoly of one central approach/authority was broken). Sure, for some sects that went to some weird and extreme places, but centuries later we still have a large conservative “one true church” core, moderate “reformed” churches, and some more wacky fringes too. I know there’s a strong aversion to “schism” in Buddhism, but I’m not so sure the slope is as slippery as Thanissaro views it. Different groups will probably just go and do their own thing anyway, and there will still likely be a large traditionalist “pure Dhamma” core within Buddhism for those with conservative inclinations.


#138

A very good point. The dharma decline either a) didn’t happen, or b) is already here. But are we sure that the “reason” they were allegedly taught was specifically to “prevent” the 500-year degeneration?

It seems the Buddha presents the 500-year degeneration as a done deal.


#139

It doesn’t seem to be as big a deal in Buddhism. Excommunication, I mean, since schism and excommunication are synonymous IMO.

Ajax Brahm was pseudo-excommunicated or disassociated by the Thai Supreme Sangha (EDIT: I think it was actually an organization representing the Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chan?) for this very issue. Other than having a paper of his blocked for very petty political hatreds by the Thai presence at a large Buddhist academic conference, he doesn’t seem to be quaking in his boots.

Most Buddhist teachers I know don’t have any issue with him. For instance the monks at the Toronto Mahāvihāra in Scarborough have no issue with him, and some of his texts are available in their library. And this is what one would call a “traditional Theravāda establishment”.

Perhaps it’s because they aren’t Thai? Who knows.


#140

I suppose it’s nigh impossible to prove it isn’t true (for those who one want to hold that it is). Even if it couldn’t be linked to some event or other, one could always hypothesize that something ineffable had been lost at the 500 year point (the end of some golden age).

That prophecy passage has been read in other ways too. Some have interpreted it to mean the garudhammas are there to prevent the true dhamma’s 500 or 1000 year disappearance entirely (supposedly delaying it to 5000 years or whatever in some traditions). Not a very convincing reading to me since the implication seems to be a thousand years no matter what. It’s a bit like the passage in the Christian bible in Matthew where Jesus predicts his second coming before this generation passes away. That bit is usually ignored or there are also some rather unconvincing explanations. The fact was that early Christians were indeed expecting his imminent return. The fact that it’s in the bible means that it really has to originate early (certainly before that generation had actually all died out, so to within a few decades after his death). The same, no doubt, holds for the garudhamma predictions. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee the Buddha actually uttered them, but it does strongly indicate they originated well before the 500 years had elapsed.

I suppose one generally has to take what other circumstantial evidence is there elsewhere regarding the Buddha’s foresight powers. As someone else said earlier, the Vinaya itself has formed in a piece-by-piece, ad hoc and rather reactive fashion (seemingly not written from scratch in one go according to an overarching prophetic masterplan).


#141

Also I suspect one possible reason why the Buddha may not have given that much thought to revival of orders in the rules is that survival of the Dhamma and survival of the monastic lineages must have seemed like essentially one and the same thing at the time (given the mechanism of oral transmission primarily by monastics). The assumption probably was that if the order(s) were dying out the oral teachings would be getting extinguished too with them: so what would be the point?


#142

Well yea, why would they care if a thai Nikaya they have nothing to do with has beef with him?

Theravada is not a single institution like the Catholic church.