Meddling monastics?

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

I remember ‘Ajahn Brahm’ talking about his monastic precept to not make physical contact with females. He talked about a situation - it may have happened - where there was a traffic accident and females had been injured. He said, in that situation that precept would not be a wise and compassionate response. He said, he would have no hesitation in comforting and supporting someone who was not male - helping in any way he could. There is a time and place where restraint is appropriate and there are times when not-acting would be grossly irresponsible.

‘Ajahn Brahm’ was also moved to speak-out against the terrible war in ‘Iraq’ when it was invaded on the pretext that it was in possession of dangerous chemical weapons. It has since been demonstrated that the reason for the invasion was a fabrication - a justification that was completely untrue - an act of deception.

‘Ajahn Brahm’ also took on a proactive role when it came to bhikkuni ordination because he was convinced it was the right thing do - he was being true to his values and responsibilities with regard to wonderful Buddhist women who had a sincere wish to train as fully-ordained bhikkunis.

There are more than a few monastics who feel compelled to act for the benefit of others due to a heart-felt concern for the many forms of injustice and stupidity that take place in the world.

I have heard indignation being expressed by some when it comes to the efforts of many good monks and nuns in trying to educate and change people to help them to avoid unnecessary suffering for no good reason.

I don’t believe this is the result of a desire to be involved in worldly issues and concerns, confusion about the Dhamma, the Discipline or, for egotistical reasons. Therefore, I feel no need to criticise these monastics. However, it makes me ask important questions. If these kalyana-mittas are prepared to be criticised and derided for their commitments then, perhaps this is a signal that we need to pay closer attention to what it is they are trying to say to us. What it is they are trying to contribute to and, change.

These renunciate’s would prefer to live quiet lives devoted to meditation and/or more commonplace monastic pursuits. Fortunately - for us - they go beyond their personal wishes and try to educate and inspire us to look further and help others in any way we can.

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

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


Everyone makes their own personal choice on how they deal with this issue of expressing their metta. In my opinion if it starts affecting their practice ie craving, aversion and delusion grows and doesn’t reduce, it is better to withdraw from such activities, be it lay person or monk. I thinks monks do have more of a duty to being seen as symbolic of seclusion in their actions, so joining political parties and delivering fiery speeches, I’m not a fan of, but social change for the good, utilising appropriate skilful means, yes.

With metta


The 3 poisons can proliferate in most every situation! There might be reclusive types that are making good use of their time and others who are mostly wasting it. There may be others who are more socially engaged that are benefitting and, are a great blessing to others and vice versa. Its not up to us to be telling monastics what they need to be doing with their time IMO.


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If you look at the Vinaya- it was formed by layity complaining to the Buddha about their behaviour. All functional teams take feedback from their stakeholders.

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Yes, how unfortunate that the Buddha and his monastic disciples ended up with so many ‘redundant’ rules - that was made ‘clear’ just before the Buddha passed away. Rules that were established as a consequence of the views of lay-puttujanas. You definitely need a sense of humour in Buddhism - don’t you think?

As for your first example you attribute to Ajahn Brahm; the vinaya says that a monastic must not touch someone of the opposite gender with lust in their heart. In the situation of a car accident there would more likely be compassion in someone’s heart. Most monastics will avoid contact with the other gender entirely because it’s easier for them and the laity. In Thailand this has turned into the whole receiving cloth thing. Which is not vinaya, but Thai custom.

Here’s the vinaya rule as it applies to the monks (sanghadisesa 2):

‘If a lustful monk makes physical contact with a woman— holding her hand or hair, or touching any part of her body— he commits an offense entailing suspension.’”

Here is the rule as it relates to the bhikkhunis (parajika 5)

“Whatever nun, filled with desire, should consent to rubbing, or rubbing up against, or taking hold of or touching or pressing against a male person below the collar-bone, above the circle of the knees, if he is filled with desire, she also becomes one who is defeated, she is not in communion, she is one who touches above the circle of the knees.”


Keep it simple.
Stick to the Vinaya even though it is 2500 years old.
If you want to break it, please feel free do so, but you bare the consequences.

Let’s be clear here.
The way I understand Bhikkhunis ordained under Ajahn Brahm linage do not accept eight Garu Dhamma. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Like I said, I don’t think its appropriate to criticise monastics for ‘actions’ they perform for the benefit of others - that are kind and compassionate and, clearly explained. We need to take a look at the effect on people that these kinds of actions produce.

In the case of female practitioners - those who undertake the monastic way of life - I support them completely. Having seen with my own eyes - and listened with my own heart - to the bhikkhuni-sangha, it is clear to me, whatever they are doing they should continue with it. We need to decide for ourselves how we practice - and why - don’t you think?

We should all continue to practice in ways we find beneficial - and encourage each other! The fully ordained bhikkhuni’s are a great blessing - a field of merit - for those directly involved and, in the lives of those who support them.

I realise there are people who do not celebrate the existence of the bhikkhuni’s - that’s their choice. I have no problem with coexistence and people acting in accord with their own values and convictions - when it comes to this matter. I don’t find this problematic!

I listen to teachings given by Ajahns - that do not support the bhikkhuni’s - I love and respect many of them. They may have various reasons for why they have taken the stand they have - some out of their belief system and others, out of ‘fraternal bonds and commitments’ - may have decided to keep silent. This may change as time goes by - the fact that so many remain silent tells us nothing of what they actually feel and think - its up to them.

Many monks move freely between monasteries - fraternities - that have different views on this issue. A younger Ajahn once said to me: this is an old-mans argument! Clearly, it isn’t, but I appreciated the sentiment - people are entitled to make up their own minds. Nothing is going to prevent the bhikkhunis living the life they have chosen for themselves and, this is how it should be in a liberal democracy. May all beings be well and happy!

@Pasanna, thank you for that clarification! I had always assumed making intentional physical contact for any reason was best avoided - a vinaya-training rule. I have never read the Vinaya-discipline - or heard teachings on it - in its entirety. Some of the things I have heard sound skilful and I can clearly see how they are helpful. Other rules seem to be a bit silly - and/or amusing. I am probably not the only one who has this impression? Ajahn Sujato said he believes he knows what the essential monastic precepts are IHO. The ones the Buddha suggested his ordained followers should keep - while the rest were optional. Do you know what those training rules are: according to @sujato? Is this discussed somewhere on this site?

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Like the rule about not taking more than 2 or 3 bowlfuls of cake? The rules might seem silly but it’s useful to read the back stories. It’s almost always the case that the lay people complained to the Buddha about the conduct of the monks or nuns.

From listening to Ajahn Brahmali’s vinaya talks I have gathered the minor rules that are only an offence when broken out of disrespect are the sekhiyas. Which are like rules of etiquette. I’m a bit of an etiquette-nerd so I quite like them.

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@Pasanna, where do I find a list of the non-minor rules - please post a link? Perhaps some of the major-rules are more peripheral and others clearly essential - could this be the case? I would like to see an example of a paired-down monastic community - I would support an initiative of this kind - it might help Buddhism in various ways. Though, I am sure the pedants among us - along with a few etiquette-nerds - may feel some degree of trepidation? It would still be a curious experiment in Buddhist practice - one that nobody seems willing to try or, is it (or has it) ever happened -an intentional-community of this kind? :slightly_smiling_face:

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Here is the Bhikkhu Patimokkha in English as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. We don’t seem to have an English Bu. Patimokha here. We do have a Bi. Patimokha. These are the rules chanted, usually in Pali on the uposatha days. They form the basis for the monastic discipline. You can then read the back stories and explaination for each rule by clicking on the Vinaya section of SC, then Bhikkhu/Bhikkhuni Vibhaṅga.

What you need to understand is there are different classes of rules. The Parajikas are rules of defeat. You’re no longer a monastic if you break them. The Sanghadisesas require a meeting of 20 monks/nuns to help rehabilitate you. Then there are rules which require confession and forfeiture, confession only and those which don’t require even confession but are training rules of conduct.

I hope I’ve represented this somewhat correctly! I’m still learning.


This information is incorrect. When I visited Dhammasara about 3-4 years ago, the nuns there kept the garudhammas.


Did they keep all the eight?


These were also kept at Newburry when I visited. I had several lay people ask me questions about it.


Okay, let’s be clear :slight_smile:

Ajahn Brahm nor any other monk, can technically ordain a Bhikkuni. A Bhikkhuni of 12 years standing is required - that’s the whole point upon which the modern revival rests. He was part of the monks’ Sangha that participated in the confirmation part - which is part of the dual ordination ceremony (which is still done…) and of course, he was just incredibly kind and supportive.

I know even Ajahn Brahm himself uses phrases suggesting he did ordain them but I guess he’s just using “common language usage” instead of technical language.

You are the first person that I have come across that has used this phrase. It is not made much of here in Perth. People seem to care more about whether the monks and nuns are kind, peaceful and living together harmoniously…they don’t seem to care about who they were ordained under.

@vimalanyani Thanks for your answer. Even though I’m Perth based, this was something I suspected but never bothered checking for sure because frankly it’s mostly, not my business.

I’m more concerned about whether it’s a kind, harmonious and peaceful community. Which it is. I would fully support the Dhammasara nuns if they chose not to follow these silly 8, later add ons.


They are also kept by the resident bhikkhuni at Santi, Ayya Nirodha. Seems like pretty much all the bhikkhuni monasteries under Ajahn Brahm’s spiritual guidance keep them…


At the risk of being a loud mouthed anagarika who’ll never get ordained… I think it is the lay-community’s business. If the laity don’t think it’s fair then they should speak about it. There is a fair amount of scholarly work regarding the garudhammas.

I believe that food is collected in order of ordination. Not Bhikkhus then Bhikkhunis. I don’t know about other aspects of the rules. I think it’s also up to the monks to participate in this conversation.


When I stayed there for 6 months, it was monks first, and Ayya Nirodha bowed to junior monks. I would be surprised if it had changed but it’s of course possible…

I agree. Nuns often are not in a position to make their own choices about this, because they are dependent on the monks. And laypeople did play a large part in convincing Ajahn Brahm to do the bhikkhuni ordination in the first place. They have a lot of influence.

I relate very much. :blush: But shutting up is not really a good option either.