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Democracy or immobilism in the Sangha based on EBT?

I have just watched a video on the Anukampa project and I learnt that at Bodhinyana monastery Ven. Canda last year had to stand at the back of the queue because of her gender. Ajahn Brahm said that this year another nun will stay at the monastery and the rule might change in order to have more equality. However, this depends on whether one of the monks opposing this will be convinced to allow the change to be made to the usual customs. If one single monk is against it, apparently the rule (promoting gender equality) cannot be implemented.


So I have understood that decisions in the Sangha are not made on the basis of a majority vote (as in democracy), but that you need to have 100% agreement with an issue. If that is not achieved, then you keep the status quo.
Is that generally the case? Could someone provide the relevant EBT texts on this issue please? And if this is the case, would there not be a risk of immobilism, for example in situations that are at odds with the way modern society has come to think about equality?

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That is all correct :slightly_smiling_face:
I was there last year. The question you have regards the monks vinaya, and would best be answered by an expert.

To this end I tag Ajahn @brahmali

I urge you to be cautious in forming views… it is more subtle than it may appear.

BTW
The talk that is linked is extra excellent. :smile:Some very deep answers to ‘Hard questions to a soft Monk’

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Yes, this is how Sangha decisions should be made according to the Vinaya. For instance, if a single monk or nun objects to someone’s ordination, then the Sangha cannot proceed. Ideally, all Sangha decisions should be made in this way.

You might think this would lead to gridlock, and occasionally it does. But the marvellous thing about this kind of decision-making is that you avoid the classical problem of the “tyranny of the majority”. If anyone is opposed to a particular decision, you have to find out why and take their concerns into account. In effect, you have to be really good at finding compromise solutions. This is an excellent way of maintaining harmony in a diverse community. It is also a great way to learn to let go of your own preferences. The upshot is a much better functioning community.

It is true, however, that sometimes this leads to a degree of conservatism. It can take time before the majority gets a decision passed. But when it eventually does get passed, there is a strong likelihood the decision will stand. It will require another absolute majority to revert to the earlier state of affairs.

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I do just have to say though… In spite of all the rational :sweat_smile:

that the day that a Bhikkhuni takes her place in alms round according to seniority at Bodhinyana, my heart will be rejoicing

:tada: :sparkling_heart: :tada:

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I’m not sure why the Sangha or Buddhism in general should have to change to fit modern values. Seems to be the wrong approach to me. IMO we should be changing our views and beliefs to fit the Vinaya and the Dhamma rather than making the Vinaya and the Dhamma fit our worldly political views, which come from a mind influenced by the taints. I’m reminded of this Anglican quote:

“Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” William Inge.

Perhaps something to bear in mind before people rush to make Buddhism perfectly fit modern “progressive” values.

For example in the video I refer to, Ajahn Brahm says that in the suttas they say that the Buddha had to be a man, but that this was because in that society a woman would not have had as much authority to teach. In our society, there’s no reason why a Buddha could not be a woman. So those statements in the suttas (about gender) are no longer valid. I hope I resumed it correctly, it’s in the video in my OP.

Hmm I’m not so sure the Venerable’s argument holds much weight. This is the sutta passage in question:

They understand: ‘It’s impossible for two perfected ones, fully awakened Buddhas to arise in the same solar system at the same time. But it is possible for just one perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha, to arise in one solar system.’ They understand: ‘It’s impossible for two wheel-turning monarchs to arise in the same solar system at the same time. But it is possible for just one wheel-turning monarch to arise in one solar system.’

They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a woman to be a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha. But it is possible for a man to be a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha.’ They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a woman to be a wheel-turning monarch. But it is possible for a man to be a wheel-turning monarch.’ They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a woman to perform the role of Sakka, Māra, or Brahmā. But it is possible for a man to perform the role of Sakka, Māra, or Brahmā.’

They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a likable, desirable, agreeable result to come from bad conduct of body, speech, and mind. But it is possible for an unlikable, undesirable, disagreeable result to come from bad conduct of body, speech, and mind.’

They understand: ‘It’s impossible for an unlikable, undesirable, disagreeable result to come from good conduct of body, speech, and mind. But it is possible for a likable, desirable, agreeable result to come from good conduct of body, speech, and mind.’

They understand: ‘It’s impossible that someone who has engaged in bad conduct of body, speech, and mind, could for that reason alone, when their body breaks up, after death, be reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm. But it is possible that someone who has engaged in bad conduct of body, speech, and mind could, for that reason alone, when their body breaks up, after death, be reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.’

The first thing to point out is that a woman could not be a Buddha in our age, nor could another man, since another Buddha can not arise when the teachings of another are still remembered and practiced. We still have the Dhamma and Sangha. However, apart from that, the sutta is listing several impossible things. Its states that it is impossible for a woman to become a Buddha, just like how it is impossible for there to be 2 Buddhas at the same time or for a bad result to come from good conduct in body, speech and mind. Based off this sutta it is then impossible for a woman to become a Buddha in any age/culture. If this is so, which based off this sutta alone seems likely, we then have 3 options. We can either change our views to fit the Dhamma, we can change the Dhamma and this sutta to fit our modern views or we can simply ignore it. I would say its better to change our views rather than to change the Dhamma or to simply ignore it.

With all that said, personally I don’t think this matters much if we avoid identifying too much with our gender. We have all been men and women at some point in our past lives. Arahantship is open to all. Based on this sutta only men can be Buddhas, but i don’t see why that matters much. Seems to be a minor detail.

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That’s pretty categorical, I didn’t know that passage; the Ajahn said that he may get in trouble for saying that but that he thinks that future Buddhas can be female. Perhaps it could also be a later addition to the suttas, I am not a scholar so it’s difficult to judge.

That’s pretty categorical, I didn’t know that passage; the Ajahn said that he may get in trouble for saying that but that he thinks that future Buddhas can be female. Perhaps it could also be a later addition to the suttas, I am not a scholar so it’s difficult to judge.

Ajahn Brahm is a self identified heretic (his words, not mine), so its not surprising that he would come out with unorthodox views. As to his argument, i can’t see how it is justified by the texts alone. In relation to the dating of MN 115 Pande in his “Studies in the Origin of Buddhism” has it marked down as being uncertain when it comes to being late or early. Of course, even it is late it doesn’t necessarily mean much. If a sutta is later when compared to other suttas that does not necessarily mean it is not buddhavacana.

http://www.ahandfulofleaves.org/documents/Studies%20in%20the%20Origins%20of%20Buddhism_Pande.pdf

ok all this is quite complicated scholarly material. To go back to my original query, @brahmali said that to take a decision all the Sangha needs to be in agreement, so they have absolute majority. How is the Sangha defined? For example when there was the first Bhikkhuni ordination, the Sangha in Thailand did not agree yet they were able to go ahead anyway. So does it depend on each individual monastery?
Finally, do they say which monk(s) are against certain decisions? For example does the monk who is opposed to nuns standing in the queue according to seniority make his opinion known publicly? Or is he allowed to oppose this, but do so secretly?

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Look at the number of monastics who use modern technology, such as mobile phones. The reality is that the Sangha is adapting to modern values all the time, except in certain areas. So long as the Sangha does not breach the regulations laid down in the Vinaya, there should be no problem. In fact, if we do not adapt to the prevailing culture, it won’t be long before we become an ancient and irrelevant relic that no-one can relate to and that no-one takes seriously.

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The extent of a single monastic community is defined by a boundary, a sīmā. The boundary is normally established by the local community and would normally relate to a single monastery. All monks or nuns within the boundary need to attend any business of the Sangha and the business needs to be dispatched in unanimity.

If you oppose a certain motion, you have to make it known at the Sangha meeting. It’s done openly, not by secret ballot.

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Bhante, How would the Sangha or monastic community deal with a discrimination challenge in a court of law (secular)? Or are they exempt from anti discrimination legislation? (!!)

As we all know, in most Western countries, discrimination based on race, gender or being differently abled is against the law.
Monastic rules such as simply standing in a queue parallel the ‘go to the back of the bus’ or ‘ use the colored entrance’ that give rise to the Civil Rights movement in the US. Of course, this is pertaining to a religious group and there are misogynistic practices in nearly all the main religions.
I am just not sure how the particular Buddhist Sangha would handle a complaint made in a secular setting.

Forgive me if I am off topic, but it seems that at some point a court challenge may arise, especially in western Sanghas.

Hear, hear!! @Viveka After all, this is the 21st century. One needs to live in India to see how women are frequently discriminated against (India's top court delays ruling on ban on women entering Hindu temple - Reuters) in religious settings even today and there have been court challenges.

Frankly, IMHO, a first come-first serve approach would save everyone a lot of grief :pray:t3: :slightly_smiling_face:

There is some indication in the monastic Vinaya that monastics are expected to abide by the law. In so far as the laws do not compel us to act immorally, I would say we should be live in accordance with them.

Now the Australian laws are such that there are a number of exemptions for religious organisations, especially in the area of gender and LGBTI discrimination. Personally I think this is misguided, but the outcome is that we may very well get away with some degree of gender discrimination, if we can show that this is part of the Buddhist way of doing things.

But really, it would be embarrassing for Buddhism if we were ever taken to court because of gender discrimination. Jeepers, we need to get our house in order!

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Look at the number of monastics who use modern technology, such as mobile phones. The reality is that the Sangha is adapting to modern values all the time, except in certain areas. So long as the Sangha does not breach the regulations laid down in the Vinaya, there should be no problem. In fact, if we do not adapt to the prevailing culture, it won’t be long before we become an ancient and irrelevant relic that no-one can relate to and that no-one takes seriously.

I don’t think using new technology is a problem Bhante, as long as it does not violate the Vinaya. That being said i’m not so sure about monks owning mobile phones. However, my main point was that we should not change the Vinaya or Dhamma to suit modern times. That is to say we should not change our religion to fit a tainted world. I don’t think traditionalism and strict adherence to eternal truths will put people off, there are plenty of conservative/traditionalist Buddhists like I, but if it does then so be it. The Dhamma will be ignored and forgotten at some point, be that through people thinking it outdated or through it being modified beyond all recognition.

There is some indication in the monastic Vinaya that monastics are expected to abide by the law. In so far as the laws do not compel us to act immorally, I would say we should be live in accordance with them…But really, it would be embarrassing for Buddhism if we were ever taken to court because of gender discrimination. Jeepers, we need to get our house in order!

I don’t think we should be changing our internal affairs for fear of the state.

Now the Australian laws are such that there are a number of exemptions for religious organisations, especially in the area of gender and LGBTI discrimination. Personally I think this is misguided, but the outcome is that we may very well get away with some degree of gender discrimination, if we can show that this is part of the Buddhist way of doing things.

I’m not sure about the legislation in Australia but in the UK religious groups are exempt from the Equalities Act 2010. I think this is a good decision. Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience are fundamental human rights. Its not right for the State to violate those human rights, say by forcing the Catholic Church to perform gay marriages. Homosexuality is a sin within the Catholic Church. I don’t agree with that myself, but then again i’m not a Christian. The Church should be free to conduct its affairs as it sees fit, so long as they do not violate the rights of other citizens. The same for our religion. The state has no business in religious affairs and religion has no business in state affairs IMO. Its not for the state to tell us how our religion should be.

In the UK religious organisations are exempt from the Equalities Act 2010, which means they are protected from being forced to perform religious services that they morally do not agree with (such as gay marriage) nor are they forced to have female clergy (in terms of the Catholics). I think this is right, since the state should not violate the human right to freedom of religion and conscience.

Bhante, Thank you for your explanation🙏🏼

It is very sad indeed to be showing these particular practices as part of the Buddhist way! A holdover from Indian/Hindu cultural practices (still prevalent in many quarters there). Many conservative voices wanting to preserve these rules need to learn a bit of Indian social and cultural history.

Ajahn Brahm jokes that Buddhism is a religion for tax purposes, but sadly gender discrimination is getting thrown in by some. :confused:

I am thankful to monks like you, Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sujato ( and many more). Please keep voicing your support for nuns and to bring some Buddhist monastic rules in line with the society today.

—-

Eternal truths? I don’t see anyone trying to change the Dhamma, not in this instance. If the Dhamma means women are somehow inferior and should be subservient to men, how could they aspire for Nibbana? Even if they do, men( in most cases) are certainly not making it easy☺️

I see your point in holding onto the teachings to preserve it. Even today, as someone with Hindu relatives and friends, they matter-of-fact state that Buddha is an avatar of Vishnu. It is in fact taught as such in textbooks as part of Dashavatara.

Discriminatory practices usually lead to abuse of power and breaking the law of the land. But because of the special ‘ status’ awarded to religious organizations, many think they can cover it up or ‘deal with it’ their own way because ‘they know best’.

Or else, imported cultural practices are branded as ‘religious’ and Are imposed on their own followers even in western countries ( Eg. on the far extreme- female genital mutilation, honour killings, forced/child marriages) we see mostly women and children on the receiving end of these practices.

I, personally, do not like religious exemptions for this very reason.

The sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is an instance where the this separation broke down. [Catholics are losing many followers.] (Catholics are losing faith in clergy and church after sexual abuse scandal, Gallup survey says - CNN)

I am not a scholar, but a Buddha Dhamma practitioner and parent. I teach my kids not to judge people by their gender, race or appearance but by their actions. Even in school ( public) they are constantly encouraged to be inclusive and kind to everyone. I am not sure in 20 years or so what their generation will think of these practices.

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The Buddha Dhamma is exactly the same - outward appearances are just that.

I think the important thing to remember is that the Buddha said that there is no difference in spiritual potential between males and females - indeed this would be quite illogical, given that the spiritual path is a path of the purification of Mind… So much effort is dedicated to seeing the body as not self, or me or mine…

BUT, we all live in societies, with un-perfected Beings… In those circumstances Laws (for lay folk) and the Vinaya for monastics, is what lays down expectations about behaviour - the PURPOSE of these is to promote harmonious co-existence. They are not an expression of right and wrong, or some kind of Truth… they are a simple and imperfect system for social cohesion - many aspects are simply arbitrary… but that is ok… they are needed to preserve harmony and order. That is all.

If one somehow elevates them beyond their intent and purpose one looses proper perspective and starts attributing additional meaning. The Buddha himself said that there were many that were to be considered minor and could be altered. However, there is no ‘need’ to do so, but by the same token, one needs to remember that they are simply a means to an end and not the end in themselves…

In this case we are not talking about changing rules, but about habits of implementation… It comes down to questions of interpretation… Just like what are ‘allowable’ foods or drinks in the evening… No-one is in uproar that some monasteries allow dark chocolate and others allow sunflower seeds…
Why should there be this uproar - or over-rated adherence to how one qeues for alms food…

But to purposefully and doggedly refuse to interpret some of these rules in the ‘spirit’ of the Dhamma, now that circumstances in the world have changed with regards to gender equality, is contrary to the very practice itself. In my eyes - it simply points to remaining (and publicly displayed) hindrances within those communities.

And that is why my heart will be re-joicing when the time comes for a Bhikkhuni to simply participate as a human - a monastic- (not as a ‘woman’) in the normal day to day practice of alms round. It will be rejoicing, because the fetters and hindrances of gender discrimination will have been weakened, and all those who participate or observe will be one step closer to relinquishing gendered self view.

May this come to take place, and may there be much relief as a result :pray:

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Ok sorry, I meant are the monks who are opposed to nuns standing in the queue according to seniority expected to make their wish known to the public at large (i.e. to us all) and justify it? Ajahn Brahm wrote, concerning bikkhuni ordination:

Now it is the time for those Western monks, and Thai monks who either live in the West or regularly travel there, to either show their support for Bhikkhuni ordination in the West,or justify their opposition to it.

here:

Shouldn’t the same principle be applied in this case? (since in both cases it is a question of discrimination based on gender, albeit perhaps in different degrees ).
Or is there a fundamental difference between the 2 situations that is eluding me?

I look forward to Ajahn Brahmalis answer, but offer this perspective in the meantime…
You know, many organisations and institutions don’t make the inner workings of their decisions public - a group decision is reached and the group abide by it and present it. Nothing unusual, nothing sinister.

I believe that the dynamic of open processes for those involved is necessary (internal transparency), but that by making it totally open to the public, it changes the internal dynamic of trust and support and common ownership of the process, it becomes less about the group and more about individuals…

By throwing the dissenting individuals under the ‘bus’ of public opinion, it opens the way to real pressure… Wrong speech, and even bullying…

Rather, if the focus is on teaching, by using kindness, understanding, patience and rational argument… in helping fellows to follow the Path and to refine practice, then real, permanent growth, change and progress can occur.

Winning a vote - is not the objective - having a sustainable Sangha (4 fold) as a crucial part of the Triple Gem is the objective…

So with this in mind, I’ve come to be much more appreciative of the subtle workings of the Vinaya… warts and all :smiley: :thaibuddha: :dharmawheel:

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