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Is there a "place" in the west for a monastery that is home to Bhikkhus AND Bhikkhunis?

I was initially going to PM this to Bhante @sujato but then I remembered there are multiple monastics on here, including Ayye @Vimala and Ajahn @brahmali, so I figured maybe I could get a larger pool of wisdom on the topic.

I was recently having a conversation with a fellow junior monastic here at Bhavana about it’s past, where for over a decade back in the 90s it was home to both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis(and both were ordained here by Bhante Gunaratana). In the end, due to a variety of reasons, it stopped being both and is now only for Bhikkhu ordination and residence.

We were speaking of the future, a decade or two down the line, when we would be senior monastics and the idea of trying it again, a place where the fourfold assembly can be together. Are there even places like this in existence today? I see even over there in Australia there are two separate monasteries. Is it feasible to try and live together, is it WISE? or is it prone to trouble? As far as I can tell it was not even tried at the time of the Buddha, or much in history, was it?

Today when people come for retreats, it’s not uncommon to be asked " where are the Bhikkhunis?". I’ve also fielded some comments regarding women not feeling fully comfortable coming to a place with 10 men and things of this nature. I think it’s really nearly expected in modern society today that equality and availability be there.

Do you think both is truly viable and long lasting? can it be pulled off in the west without influences from the old world? Would said community living together and ignoring the 8 garudhammas so that seniority is equal , make it easier to coexist?

So thoughts? comments? I’m not much for social issues and these kinds of things but within Theravada, in the west, I feel very strongly in the flourishing of the fourfold assembly and doing whatever I can to aid in it’s growth.

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Thank you for bringing this up and sharing your thoughts.
This is an issue I was also trying to raise a few days ago here: An old story
I’m interested to hear what @sujato and @brahmali have to say about this too.

Personally I have always had good friendships with men, without any problems. I feel that it would be better for spiritual development to be able to live together (at least for myself). In the Mahayana traditions, monasteries with both monks and nuns seem to be far more common. In Theravada I don’t actually know if there are monasteries like that. I know that monks and nuns used to live in Santi Forest Monastery in Australia, but now it is just for nuns. Monks and nuns live together in Amaravati, but this is far from an equal relationship.

But I can also see the disadvantage and I think it needs a certain amount of wisdom and spiritual growth from both sides to be able to do this. Feelings might always come up and we need to have the wisdom to deal with these in a constructive way and to learn from them, using the Buddha’s teachings.

The Garudhammas is a whole big topic on it’s own. Bhante Analayo wrote a book about it recently: The Foundation History of the Nuns’ Order. But maybe @sujato can say a bit more about this too.

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Thank you so much for bringing up this conversation, @Jayantha. I look forward to hearing other people’s thoughts and ideas.

The only monastery in the West (to my knowledge) that accommodates both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis is the fairly recently created Newbury Buddhist Monastery near Melbourne, Australia.

I once spoke with a bhikkhuni who was at one time a resident of Bhavana, who expressed concerns that fit into this paradigm. She noted that there was a discrepancy between the equality of the monks and nuns, and that it was very difficult to create a space of equanimity.

I think this is the primary question when deciding whether or not monks and nuns should live in the same monastery, not whether it can be done, but whether the space that is created is beneficial and compassionate for all people involved.

I think it’s also a matter of not fully trusting women to behave ‘correctly’ or in a proper manner. Women have lived in male-dominated environments for hundreds of years, and though some women may feel uncomfortable in a male-dominated monastic environment, I think women are at least partially still viewed as potential hindrances to male spiritual practice.

I think so. So long as there are people like Bhante G, Ajahn Brahm, Bhante Sujato, Bhante Analayo, and you (;)) who are willing to try and live communally with women in safe, productive spaces – I don’t see why it should fail; unless, of course, a member of the community becomes uncomfortable or violates the terms of the space.

Most of the bhikkhunis in the West that I’m aware of do not keep the Eight Garudhammas, because, as you mentioned, it creates inequality.

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Many monasteries in traditional Buddhist countries have monks and nuns on the same property. It’s not unusual.

In my experience, there are some monks or lay people who are opposed to the idea in principle and think it will spell the end of the Dhamma. Good riddance. On the other hand, there are many, both monastic and lay, who love the idea of shared monasteries, and even could not think of living any other way.

The real issue is power. In traditional monasteries, the males assume absolute power and deny women any voice. This is the model that is followed in Amaravati. If we want to develop a model that is based on the Vinaya virtues of democracy and equality, then we are going to have to do things differently.

The difficulty is that it’s hard to deflect power from it’s normal course. In Buddhism, it flows upwards to the man in charge. You can’t just say, let’s do it differently, you have to figure out a way to make it work. People tend to automatically defer to the patriarchy. As Carol Gilligan said, patriarchy works by dividing men against women, and dividing women against each other. And this has to be reconciled with the very necessary preservation of respect for seniority and respect for the teacher.

Having independent communities is a sink-or-swim option. It forces the nuns’ communities out of the umbrella of the monks, where they must develop their own decision making processes, i.e. their own ways of dealing with power.

The problem then is that many of the nuns have either poor models of power—based on dysfunctional patriarchal monasteries that they’ve seen or been part of—or they have none at all. So many of the things that are simply picked up as part of a tradition in a male community are lost, baby and bathwater.

I don’t think there’s any easy solution to this, and probably we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing. Try and see! Fail, and fail again. We shouldn’t imagine that there is just one model for how modern monastic communities can be; on the contrary, there have always been many different kinds of monasteries, and we should encourage diversity as part of a healthy community.

One thing that we might bear in mind is that within the Buddhist world, the most successful cultures for developing strong, well educated bhikkhuni communities are in Taiwan and Korea. Differences of culture and sect notwithstanding, I think it would be useful to spend time learning how they do it.

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I just wanted to clarify though that in both of these situations we are not talking about Bhikkhunis when we say nuns, but 8/10 preceptors no? so there is from the start a divide in position, where as at least Bhikkhunis( I really dislike to call them nuns, because coming from a catholic background nuns are not equal to priests/monks) are on much more even ground vinaya wise, garudhammas not withstanding.

I can only imagine some sort of situation working where One person is not in charge. Perhaps a group with one Bhikkhu and one Bhikkhuni as the head monastics and “tie breakers” of voting. The only problem I see is trying to find a balance between fairness and too much bureaucracy, because sometimes one person to make decisions is easier then 10, especially when it comes to the million day to day decisions needed for the upkeep of a facility. I also think the two head monastics would really need to be able to discuss openly and straightforwardly.

This is good to know and a good avenue of future inquiry, thanks for taking time to respond Bhante.

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This would be perfect; but it’s hard enough to find one monastic to do this, good luck finding two! When I was running Santi, I found that many people had great ideas for how it should be done, but what I, as the actual leader, had to do was deal with how it actually was. Leadership is messy, unrewarding, and a hassle. You want to be a cool leader who listens and inspires people; an Obama if you will. But in the back of your mind, you’re always questioning, have I become a Trump?

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obviously as a samanera I have no experience running a monastery, but I do have experience in leadership/management in a few different organizations and it’s always felt a bit like trying to juggle 15 balls while riding a unicycle across a rope over a vat of lava lol. It would for sure take two people VERY dedicated to the ideal of making it work and willing to put what is best for the survival of the monastery over ego.

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That’s it! That’s exactly what it’s like!

If we want to build healthy communities, we need to pay a lot more attention to leadership. Currently it’s mostly based on either inherited medieval top-down patriarchies, or else the charisma of extraordinary individuals. Neither of these is going to work.

The thing is, the Vinaya provides the most extraordinary lessons in leadership. Like seriously, the Buddha exemplifies the most incredible leadership skills at every turn. If only he was our teacher! Oh, wait …

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Since the Vinaya appears exceptionally detailed in terms of monastic behaviours, what exactly do the women need to “voice”?

Vinaya requires that in every issue that affects the Sangha, all monastics must be present, that they all have an equal say, that all decisions be made in the light of the Dhamma-Vinaya, and that no decision may be made without the consensus of the Sangha. This is the single most fundamental principle of Vinaya, called sammukhavinya.

Unfortunately, almost no-one follows these principles, since they don’t know the Vinaya, but only follow the patriarchal models of traditional Buddhism.

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This view may be common however I doubt the reality is something exclusively from the male side (as the statement appears to infer).

My experience of living in monasteries is that women can certainly be hindrances to male practise from the aspect of women psychologically attaching themselves to a male figure when they start to live in the monastery. In other words, men seem to (at times) ‘carry women’ psychology in the monastery (similar to the Zen story about the monk carrying the lady over the stream).

I once lived in a monastery (as a layman), where there was a 10-precept nun who was “useful” to the place. The nun appeared to be getting lonely because her co-Western monastics had departed. The Thai Abbott approached me & said: “Both of you are Australian; I expect you would be friends”. I looked at the Abbott incredulously & silently walked away. A few months later, the nun disrobed.

I recall listening to an audio talk by a recently ordained bhikkhuni (about sex & love), where the bhikkhuni shared her experience as a new nun at Amaravati. The bhikkhuni said a monk helped her with some significant problem & the immediate thought that arose in her mind was: “Marry me”. I was pleased to know the bhikkhuni got through that transitional phase with the monk’s compassionate help.

In summary, the problems related to monastic practitioners that have not yet reached a state of psychological independence (‘viveka’) is a two-way street; just like worldly sexual activity is a two-way street. The natural urges & weaknesses arise from both sides, that is, from both the male & female sides.

[quote=“Brenna, post:3, topic:3209”]
Most of the bhikkhunis in the West that I’m aware of do not keep the Eight Garudhammas, because, as you mentioned, it creates inequality.[/quote]
I personally believe (however it is mere belief since I have no evidence) the Buddha spoke the Eight Garudhammas because, in general, men & women can have different tendencies, which can be observed in the secular workplace.

In my experience, in the secular workplace, the minority of female bosses are considered competent and the majority of female workers prefer male bosses because female bosses have a tendency to act very personally. I (as a ‘male’) have had female bosses and generally have felt they behave towards me subjectively as though I am their husband (since I am Mr Reliable) rather than as though I am an employee.

My impression of the suttas is they state ‘a woman’s ideal is domination’ (AN 6.52) and 'a husband is to give his wife authority in the home’ (DN 31). My mother & father, although not being Buddhists, certainly had this dynamic. Given women are (generally) designed by nature to bear children & nest-build, I have no doubts what the suttas say is accurate for the household life. If I was a married man, I would certainly be prepared to serve my wife with the attitude that the family life of children, money, sex, etc, revolve more around her rather than around me.

But, alas, the monastery is not the household. At least to me, the monastery is not the place for women to domineer and treat the monks like their sons, lecturing them about their minor or major faults.

Personally, I find most of the Eight Garudhammas to make perfect sense. Bhikkhunis are not to teach monks or criticise them because these are inherent characteristics of worldly women who are searching for the best quality mate or, otherwise, expressing motherly tendencies. I suppose if a bhikkhuni was a confirmed arahant, there could be an exception.

The above sexist rant spoken, personally, I have no personal issues about monks & nuns living in the same monastery. Those that have the natural urges simply pair-up & disrobe, as they probably should. Nothing like a novel monastic romance story to share with the grandchildren. :slight_smile:

I never heard about this monastery before. As a householder, I just provided a donation.

Thank you for the reply Sujato but it did not really answer my question. I imagine, maybe naively, the monastic life should ideally be one of simplicity & the Vinaya should ensure the conduct is straightforward.

I have lived for extended periods in monasteries & still maintain a ‘less than ideal’ view about monastics. In my monastic experience, I saw (or otherwise ‘imagined’) lots of squabbles about very worldly things. I used to think to myself: “What are they squabbling about?” Often, the squabbles were about ‘doctrine that must the taught’ or ‘work duties’.

:neutral_face:

I did not mean to infer that women’s roles in monasteries are exclusively negotiated by men – but historically and in the present day they often are; to imply that women have a valued and equal voice in proportion to men would be simplistic and unrealistic.

Though I cannot discount your experience, one cannot take multiple experiences of female attachment as indicative of the larger female population as a whole. Women (in general) are not more prone to clinging to men, in the same way that men are not necessarily more prone to clinging to women.

I don’t understand why useful is in quotation marks. Was she not useful?

Again, why is this relevant? Are you suggesting the nun’s sentimentality led to her disrobing?

This is a great oversimplification of women’s relationship to men in the workplace. You’re also establishing a somewhat degrading paradigm in which women are exclusively clingy and/or nurturing.

These ideals were prominent 2600 years ago, but as a modern practice are greatly un-beneficial. Merely because the suttas state women’s ‘intentions’ does not suggest that they are correct. Also, be mindful of the fact that these ideals were vocalized and written down by men who potentially had very little direct experience and interaction with women.

Are you suggesting that it is ok for a bhikkhu to criticize an bhikkhuni even if he is not an arahant? Communication is, from a Vinaya perspective, a necessary part of communal living. Establishing a one-way stream of bhikkhus criticizing bhikkhunis and not vice-versa further removes the bhikkhunis voices and leaves them silent, further stifling their roles as conveyers of the Dhamma, and placing them as inferior to bhikkhus.

Furthermore, why are (in your purview) women inherently worldly or searching for a mate? Is there no in-between in which women are overcoming an androcentric framework in order to teach and practice the Dhamma? Are they not inspiring, wise human beings? Are they only subject to the opinions of men?

Thank you for acknowledging this.

This assumes that they ordained in the first place to have a novel monastic romance story. Instead of you know…the Dhamma.

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I highly recommend the book Ayya Vimala recommended:
https://www.amazon.com/Foundation-History-Nuns-Order/dp/3897333872/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473567260&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Foundation+History+of+the+Nuns%27+Order.

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Just as a brief note on AN 6.52…

I am no Pali expert (so perhaps one can help out), but the term often translated as “dominion” or “overpowering” in the case of women is, in Pali, I think “issa­riya­pari­yosānā”.

This is the exact same Pali term used in the case of the khattiya, but for him it is translated as “rulership” “supremacy” or “sovereignty”. Why is this?

:pray:

Dear Bhante @Jayantha,

Great post! Really appreciate it. I am one of those who support this idea. Firstly, because i was born from a woman and I am a follower of the ever awesome Buddha. However, realistically with the current conditions, because of old trends in the past, specifically as Bhante Sujato mentioned (patriarchy), Bhikkhunis must grow first. What I mean is that they have to establish themselves as reliable and strong on their own with minimal assistance from the bhikkhus. Sadly, a lot of people have been conditioned to think that bhikkhunis can’t hack it on their own and must rely on the bhikkhus so much :grimacing:.

For both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis to live in the some compound, a great number on both sides must have reached a certain level of practice so that the rest of the new mendicants can absorb through osmosis. Coarse tendencies are much easier to let go, it’s those refined and subtle tendencies that must be constantly checked.

We have to remind ourselves that no one is born as a mendicant, but trains to be a mendicant. All of us have habits and certain ones take a long time to relinquish. Most often than not, a lot of people over estimate their practice as a mendicant and that’s where things go wrong especially when it comes to the other gender. (The funny thing really is that male and female are the same embryo in the womb at first, only when the chromosomes manifest that the body changes appearance. So really, what is the difference between a male and female other than hormones and bodily appearance? We’re ally duped by illusion. But the Buddha came and have shared his wisdom to us so that we may make that wisdom our own :heart_eyes:).

Good or bad, bhikkhunis must show their strength. They must be ready for the long haul and it will take a long time. But its worth it for future generations, no just for women, but for the sasana as well.

I say, if a person claims s/he is a Buddhist and don’t support the bhikkhunis, they’re a doughnut LOL. I expect scalawag males but for a woman to oppose the growth is really appalling. I mean are you really helping the spread of the Dhamma by not supporting it? It’s more that you’re helping destroy the Dhamma. Honestly!

Down with old time patriarchy!! I can say that because I am a father who employs Dhamma in raising my son. From my own experience as a father, kindness and gentleness works far better than being rough and being a man’s man. It’s far better to teach with wisdom and compassion, rather than by outright physical discipline. Yes, it make take more time but the long term effects are far better for the child/person. I remember those days as a young boy I used to get whipped by my grandfather or man handled by my uncles for making mistakes or for just being a kid just having fun playing with friends. Aren’t kids supposed to just have fun? They’re just kids for crying out loud! But most people forget that at one time they were just kids.

Honestly I’d rather have a motherly bhikkhuni :heart_eyes: rather than an “ayya-tollah” of a spiritual guide LMFAO if you get my drift :wink: Speaking of motherly, I think Ajahn Brahm is motherly in a way since he is full of gentleness and compassion! BTW, from my own observation, women are more stronger and wiser than men because they can deal with a lot. (My mother was a single mother who raised two pre-teenage kids in a foreign land with new culture and so many other challenges. I think most men wouldn’t handle that well, but instead would go into boozing and all other shitty vices. It’s rare that a man would raise his children on his own, but would often find a new partner because he can’t handle it).

May the bhikkhuni saṅgha flourish and may more women remove the old shackles of outdated expectations and labels.

Like always, thinking out loud and may offend some hardliners hee hee hee…(flying objects are expected to come whizzing by LOLOL)

Have a jolly vassa!

in mettā,
russ

:pray:

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@Brenna thanks for picking up on some of those observations by @Deeele. Well spoken and responded to.

Hi @Deeele I think we need to work together. As you know, many leaders are not born as such but learn to lead. Perhaps your workplace needs to start setting up more support mechanisms for this majority of female bosses that you and your colleagues have identified and assessed as being ‘incompetent’, if indeed they are. I would be interested to look at the metrics your company has to identify ‘incompetency’ and what programs it has in place to address these issues. Does your company provide training? Is mentoring offered? Perhaps you could suggest this to your company: http://leanin.org. It’s something we do in our workplace and it’s having positive effects, not just for our female employees but our male employees as well.

We need to help each other grow and develop. Simply implying that women cannot be competent bosses is not a good solution and makes us men look weak. Whilst some companies fail to diversify there are many that do and those that do are richer in so many ways for it.

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my observation is that successful female managers and leaders in fact have a rather m.a.n.l.y way of thinking, at least while discharging their duties and making decisions

men and women are different by nature, they must have equal rights and opportunities but a good share of their abilities and propensities diverge and for this reason some rights and opportunities may not be available to some of them

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I know many women who are manlier than most men and many men that are womanlier than most women. While biology does play it’s part in both men and women, it mostly seems to come down to the past conditioning of their minds.

I think the best thing we can do is to see every person as a unique being, not define them by their gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation etc. If we see someone through the prism of ‘man’ or ‘woman’ or ‘black’ or ‘gay’ we inadvertently attribute certain characteristics to the person, which that person might not have at all. We see what we believe is there, not what’s really there.

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As someone who worked in a female dominated career(child protective services, worked in an office where I was one of about 6 guys among 100 women), I can confirm that many of my co-workers despised the female supervisors and preferred the male ones. While on my end the female supervisors treated me very nicely. I was told a few times by my fellow female unit-mates that this or that supervisor was two different people depending on if she was dealing with me or them. She was supposedly petty and vicious, but I never saw that once.

I don’t feel like I was ever treated like a husband, a brother maybe.

I have been around women all my life, two sisters and the majority of my friends throughout life were/are women. In a variety of ways I’ve always felt more comfortable around women then men. I’ve seen the best and the worst of what a woman can do, but I don’t see it as much different then the best and worst of what a man can do, it’s all greed, hatred, and delusion, Maybe expressed differently because of genetics and culture, but as we know it’s all the three roots at it’s core.

in the beginning it blew me away how little people use the Nikayas as their guide, and then the vinaya dominated by commentarial interpretations etc, now I nearly expect it, I feel it is a sad state of affairs, but on the other hand as such a newcomer to this arena I don’t want to fall into this " i’m a westerner and I know better" attitude. I kind of view part of a new “western/american theravada” as having the ability to cut through previous cultural and commentarial dominations and a return to the nikayas and vinaya. I remember listening to a talk by Ajahn @brahmali where he stated something similar.

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