SuttaCentral

Democracy or immobilism in the Sangha based on EBT?

There are benefits of developing consensus but the Sangha is also provided with the 7 methods of overcoming disputes, the Adhikarana-samathas, in the Vinaya, which function as mechanisms to overcome an obstinate individual who is creating obstruction to harmony by holding on to wrong views, or misconduct, or bad behaviour.

Disputes, dissent and disagreement was obviously a thing at the time of the Buddha and should not be unexpected in a community. But what those differences arise from and how they are conducted and resolved also matter.

In the Sāmagāma Sutta MN 104
we have a discussion about community disharmony that includes the standard pericope about argument and disagreement about Dhamma and Vinaya:

“You do not understand this Dhamma and Discipline. I understand this Dhamma and Discipline. How could you understand this Dhamma and Discipline? Your way is wrong. My way is right. I am consistent. You are inconsistent. What should have been said first you said last. What should have been said last you said first. What you had so carefully thought up has been turned inside out. Your assertion has been shown up. You are refuted. Go and learn better, or disentangle yourself if you can…”

Such disagreement has a social impact, felt throughout the world system, not just in the monastery:

"Such a dispute would be for the harm and unhappiness of many, for the loss, harm, and suffering of gods and humans.”

These disputes arise from unwholesome roots like being irritable, contemptuous, jealous and stingy, being devious and decietful, having wicked motivations and holding wrong views which they refuse to give up. The intentions of people causing disharmony is something that matters a great deal, and needs to be examined by the individual—are they truly motivated by good intentions or merely holding on to a view out of greed hatred and delusion? In the case of things like status, precedence, or superiority, it would seem that this is not a wholesome motivation.

The Buddha then describes the seven kinds of settling disputes, which include:

… removal of litigation by confrontation … removal of litigation on account of memory… removal of litigation on account of past insanity… the effecting of acknowledgement of an offence, the opinion of the majority, the pronouncement of bad character against someone, and covering over with grass…"

The principle of majority is pertinent in this discussion:

“And how is there the opinion of a majority? If those bhikkhus cannot settle that litigation in that dwelling place, they should go to a dwelling place where there is a greater number of bhikkhus. There they should all meet together in concord. Then, having met together, the guideline of the Dhamma should be drawn out. Once the guideline of the Dhamma has been drawn out, that litigation should be settled in a way that accords with it. Such is the opinion of a majority. And so there comes to be the settlement of some litigations here by the opinion of a majority."

The Buddha then describes the Six Principles of Cordiality that “that create love and respect, and conduce to cohesion, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.”

  1. Bodily acts of loving kindness in private and public
  2. Verbal acts of loving kindness in private and public
  3. Mental acts of loving kindness in private and public
  4. Generosity and sharing
  5. Shared ethical values (Sila)
  6. Right View " that is noble and emancipating, and leads the one who practises in accordance with it to the complete destruction of suffering"

Both bhikkhunis and bhikkhus are members of the Sangha and are colleagues in the holy life. If monks practice unkindly actions, speech and thoughts towards bhikkhunis, or refuse to share and so on, merely on the basis of gender, then it seems a pretty poor standard of social harmony in a world where 50% of the population are women.

These six principles are also given in the famous Kosambiya Sutta MN 48.
In a related sutta, the equally famous Cūḷagosiṅga Sutta MN 31, the principle of going along with others to create harmony is similarly expressed in the wise approach of Anuruddha, Kimbila and Nandiya who blend like milk and water by thinking:

'Why don’t I set aside my own ideas and just go along with these venerables’ ideas?’

Why not indeed!

Monks are on the path to work on reducing their ego and sense of self. It would be a shame if hanging on to a view that being male is something special gets left out of this process, and even worse if it becomes a reason for an inflated sense of superiority. For too long the burden of overcoming gender bias has fallen on the shoulders of women, who are told to get over their attachment to self and practice humility by not seeking equal status whilst men cling to their own status, refusing to acknowledge their conceit and having no intention of doing what they expect others to do.

Personally I am very happy to take my alms food in order of Rains behind a Bhikkhuni and have done so on many occasions. It’s easy and didn’t hurt a bit.

18 Likes

Thank you for all these valuable insights and information. :pray:

When the Buddha was around, did he have more authority than the other monks, so that he was the one making all the decisions? Or were things even then based on absolute (or relative) majority, so that he could be outvoted? :astonished: If so has he ever been outvoted?

Indeed yes. It is something I saw at the Hamburg conference on bhikkhunis, that some monks are very willing to invoke consensus decision making when it comes to relinquishing their gender-based privilege, although somehow it fails to come up in a lot of other contexts.

Vinaya is nuanced and contextual, and the Sangha has a lot of freedom in how it applies the principles of decision-making. Chasing an ideal of consensus should not hinder us from changing our behaviour when it is demonstrably causing harm right now.

9 Likes

I think we can all agree on this, but, as they say, the devil is in the detail. The word Vinaya means so many different things to different people. It is commonly understood as encompassing regulations laid down in all sorts works, including both ancient and modern commentaries, and sometimes even traditions bound to a particular culture. But if we take the Canonical literature as our guide, we find specific injunctions that monastics should follow the rules laid down by the Buddha and should not lay down new rules. In practice this means we should be careful to distinguish between early and later texts. Vinaya then becomes much more narrow. Taking this perspective, it is by no means clear, for instance, that all bhikkhunīs need to follow after the most junior monk. In fact, I would argue that doing things according to seniority is what is appropriate.

Personally I would err on the side of caution since we can never be 100% sure which rules are late additions.

But what are religious affairs? Should religions be allowed to flout human rights? If I create a new religion in which anyone who does not worship at my feet must be exterminated, should my rights to exterminate others be protected? I am choosing an extreme example merely to make a point: human rights need to come first. Religious people cannot be allowed to oppress others simply because that’s their religion. Any religion worthy of its name should be based on compassion and kindness, not oppression.

I did say in my post that “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.” If the Catholic Church was forced to perform gay marriages that would be a violation of their human rights, as it violates their freedom of religion and conscience. The Catholic Church believing that homosexuality is a sin and that marriage is only between a man and a woman does not violate anyone’s rights. In a free society people are free to believe what they wish, express their ideas and beliefs as they see fit and are free to assemble and organise themselves as they see fit. That applies to homosexuals like I and gay pride parades and gay bars as much as it applies to Catholics and their Church, although incidentally I’m not a fan myself of western gay pride marches or gay bars.

The Catholic Church will never accept gay marriage, nor should they be forced to do so. That is their belief. By them holding that belief I am not denied my human right to marriage, if i ever did wish to marry a man, as I can still be married in a civil ceremony (or i can join a religion that does acknowledge gay marriage). Catholics would only be violating my right in this area if they tried to change the law to prevent me from marrying. That would be as wrong as the law being changed to force Catholics to perform religious services that they morally oppose, due to their faith. As I said earlier, the state has no business in religious affairs as long as the religion is not violating the rights of others and the religion has no business in state affairs. This is why monasteries which take a more conservative view on such matters regarding Bikkhunis should be exempt from any equality and diversity legislation. They have a right to hold that position, as it does not directly violate the rights of other citizens.

The UK has got this balance between rights correct IMO, which is why Amaravati (my local monastery) does not face prosecution as they do not recognise Bikkhuni ordination. As you are likely aware Bhante they offer siladhara instead for women, with that order being junior to the male monastic community there. From a conservative/traditionalist perspective, which I share, this is a sensible position to take as it includes women as much as possible whilst strictly adhering to a conservative view of the Vinaya.

If a neo-Nazi is forced to sign the wedding certificate of a gay couple because his job, say as a government clerk, happens to be that, would that be an identical violation of rights? Ideology and religion are arguably only artificially separate, hency why for example under Canadian law a “religion” is softly defined as deeply held personal beliefs or opinions. I only use Canadian law as an example because I work in that field, not to suggest it’s better than other laws.

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☺️

We have just had a discussion about how the suttas state that it is impossible for a woman to become a Buddha, whilst some modern readers have opted for women being able to become Buddhas. The suttas do contains teachings that by the standards of some modern progressives would be considered to be “problematic” be that in relation to gender roles or even sex and celibacy. As to your other point, Amaravati in the UK does not recognise Bikkhuni ordinations yet there are still women there practicing for nibbana (Siladhara Order).

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.

That is my main concern here.

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.

I did say that religious freedom does not extend to violating the rights of others. Obviously this means that FGM should not be allowed. There is even an argument that circumcision should not be allowed either, but lets not get into that debate. To go back to my point, religious groups have the right to believe what they wish and organise themselves as they wish as long as they do not violate the rights of others. What is true for homosexuals like I and gay pride events, gay bars and gay organisations is also true for religious groups. The Catholic Church, to go back to them as an example, has the fundamental human right not to perform gay marriages because their faith is opposed to it. By them holding that belief my rights as a gay man are in no way violated, unless the Church actively tries to change the law so that I cannot be married at all. That would be a violation, which would be as wrong as the state forcing the Catholics to marry me.

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.

That is a very good thing to teach them. Tolerance is good to teach as it is necessary for the free society. Of course, tolerance does not mean acceptance. All I require and indeed want from other fellow citizens is tolerance, not acceptance. Acceptance is just a bonus. I don’t accept the Catholic Church’s theology. I don’t agree that homosexuality is a sin and that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but I tolerate that they exist as an organisation and have those views. Its not so different to how I tolerate the existence of the Labour Party and left wing people/progressives and their ideas whilst not accepting their views or beliefs, mostly. As a citizen I only require other citizens to be tolerant of my sexuality and religion, both of which places me in a minority. I do not require that they accept either. This of course can be applied to monasteries which take a more traditionalist line when it comes to the Vinaya and women monastics. Tolerate that they exist even if you do not accept and agree, like how I tolerate more modern Theravadin monasteries without necessarily accepting their practices and interpretations.

This is slightly different as we are dealing with employers and not religious organisations. Its a difficult one, as if I say yes then does that mean a Buddhist doctor should be forced to perform an abortion? I tend to always side with the individual over the collective on most matters of civil life, which is my default position when faced with such challenging situations. However, the individual in this case has signed a contract with an employer, which is the secular state. By not performing the marriage he would be in violation of his contract, unless he had already established clauses with his employer. As for the Buddhist doctor, perhaps avoiding specialisms where he would be required to perform an abortion, or negotiate get out clauses for such situations.

The Catholic Church is not a homogenous body and many many many people within the church disagrees with this stance. And I would argue it is very much a harmful belief… look at all the Christian gay teens who end up killing themselves. The statistics alone should be enough to make one question whether this is a healthy belief on the part of the Catholic Church.

Yes I’m well aware and I think that in time we will see some kind of Catholic break away sect, the theology of which will be fine with homosexuals and gay marriage. This of course being aided by the Bible being so contradictory, thus making it easier for sects to form and break away. Those Catholics should be free to form their own churches and perform gay marriages if they so wish, as that is their right. The same with orthodox Catholics who disagree.

And I would argue it is very much a harmful belief… look at all the Christian gay teens who end up killing themselves. The statistics alone should be enough to make one question whether this is a healthy belief on the part of the Catholic Church.

Which is a terrible thing, but is not grounds to erode human rights. The idea of harm can never be used to abolish our rights and freedoms, IMO. I realise that left wingers tend to take a different view, one that is more in line with their consequentialist ethics.

The tricky thing is when people define themselves according to a collective, like the religious in your example. Why can’t the Buddhist doctor perform the abortion? “He” is a collective, that collective determines what he believes according to his own conviction, in this case Buddhist, much like the neo-Nazi, or to use an equally extreme example, the similarly malignantly identitarian on the left. When we take “our values,” be them Catholic, Buddhist, or something vile, to be “my values,” then it becomes an issue of individual rights and all sorts of double-standards can apply.

Not to be a pop-up mole with regards to points I find questionable, but what about when the right of the Church to freely conduct its affairs conflicts with the right of homosexuals to have their marriages legally recognized? I am now directly referencing Kim Davis. The “Church” is a collective of Christians, nothing more nothing less.

1 Like

What about the rights of citizens belonging to the particular Church, or in this case a Sangha? I am not sure what you mean by ‘other citizens’: members outside the group or including?

1 Like

The tricky thing is when people define themselves according to a collective, like the religious in your example. Why can’t the Buddhist doctor perform the abortion? “He” is a collective, that collective determines what he believes according to his own conviction, in this case Buddhist, much like the neo-Nazi, or to use an equally extreme example, the similarly malignantly identitarian on the left. When we take “our values,” be them Catholic, Buddhist, or something vile, to be “my values,” then it becomes an issue of individual rights and all sorts of double-standards can apply.

It need not even be identification with a collective. It applies even if its one man with his own religion he constructed last weekend. For most of us though we will share values in common with other people and will identify with that group of people, as they share our beliefs. You and I are Buddhists because we share the same values as each other.

Not to be a pop-up mole with regards to points I find questionable, but what about when the right of the Church to freely conduct its affairs conflicts with the right of homosexuals to have their marriages legally recognized? I am now directly referencing Kim Davis. The “Church” is a collective of Christians, nothing more nothing less.

Kim Davies, as far as I understand the situation, signed an employment contract with the secular state. Within that contract she was bound to perform marriage ceremonies on an equal basis. This is very different from the state infringing upon the rights of others to enforce a particular world view.

I understood your earlier position as “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.” What is the Church if not its members? Kim Davis was a member of an “apostolic” oneness pentecostal church. She wanted to enforce her worldview as an individual.

What about their rights? The Catholic Church refusing to perform gay marriages does not violate anyone’s rights, nor monasteries which do not recognise bikkhuni ordination. If the Catholic Church tried to make gay marriage illegal, that is to say to use the state to enforce their beliefs on others, then that would be a violation of human rights. The same if traditionalist Theravadins tried to use the state to outlaw Bikkhuni ordination. I think this was tried in Thailand and then was struck down on the basis that it violated freedom of religion, since if monasteries want to ordain women they have the freedom to do so just like how traditionalist monasteries have the freedom not to do so, or how the Catholic Church has the freedom not to have women bishops or to not perform gay weddings.

To be fair, that’s Thailand for you.

1 Like

I understood your earlier position as “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.” What is the Church if not its members? Kim Davis was a member of an “apostolic” oneness pentecostal church. She wanted to enforce her worldview as an individual.

By Church I was referring to the Catholic Church as an organisation. Christians in general are not an organisation, but a diverse group of people with a common belief. When I sign a contract with an employer I enter into a free arrangement with them where I agree to perform certain duties within set hours at certain locations in return for a wage. If I enter into that contract and then refuse to work those days or perform those duties then I have violated the terms and conditions of my contract and so the employer can fire me. This is a different situation to the state enforcing a set of values upon an organisation of freely associating individuals.

Indeed. In a free society monasteries should be free to either ordain or decline to ordain women as they see fit, in line with their interpretation of their religion and its laws. The key to any free society is tolerance, which as I said earlier is not the same as acceptance. I don’t want to live in a society where women are banned from becoming monastics. I don’t want to live in a society where the Catholic Church is forced to marry me either, or where traditionalist monasteries are prosecuted and so are essentially outlawed.

I just realised that I missed this. Rather than edit, which you may miss, I will answer it here. By “other citizens” I simply mean other citizens of the country of which we are also a member of.

@Akaliko Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu Bhante :pray:t3::pray:t3::pray:t3::+1:t3::wheel_of_dharma:

Also, glad you came out alive! ( sorry if I am being a bit cheeky here ).

@Ceisiwr In lay life, there is still gender bias, both outwardly and subtle. just ask any woman in an engineering or male dominated vocation. Seems like patriarchy is ingrained genetically! but most kids these days are encouraged in a different way : not just to ‘tolerate’ others, but understand, show kindness and find common ground.
That said, no ten year old girl would ever accept being told to go to the back of the line just because a kindergartener boy came late to the line up! That’s my experience anyway :rofl::rofl:
Tolerance can be ‘forced’, that’s why harmonious agreement is important ( so eloquently put by @Viveka🙏🏼).
Not everyone is going to go that way, but as a Dhamma practitioner , kindness and treating others as I would like to be treated is how I hope to operate in the world :smile:

I hope these vestigial practices meet the modern age someday and the true spirit of the Buddha’s teachings are available to help all beings equally.

1 Like

A very wholesome way to live. I agree.