New Bhikkhuni Special Report from VOA Thai (English, Thai subtitle)

Just sharing this amazing video, kindly shared by Ayya Tathaloka.

https://www.voathai.com/a/in-ordination-bhikkhunis-seek-equality-documentary/6288747.html

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Thanks for that amazing videos, Venerable! The monologue about how the bhikkhusangha is afraid of competition by the female order made me cringe a little, but other than that I found the video really inspiring!

In Jan-Feb 2022, I will hopefully travel through Thailand, and I am in fact planning to visit Wat Songdhammakalyani. I am not sure whether it is going to happen since the exact details of how we farangs can visit Thailand are very much liable to change, and my schedule will be quite packed, but hopefully it will be possible to find an hour or two to visit the wat and express my veneration, support, and gratitude to the venerable nuns. If anyone is planning to go the Land of Smiles, here’s the link go the Google Maps location of the wat: https://maps.app.goo.gl/4SMvPaLHUfdRui949

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Yeah, I’m not sure how much evidence there is for the proposition that monks are or ever have been afraid of competition now or historically, as AFAIK no study of social attitudes has been conducted in this area.

All that can really be said about the Pali canon is that it has more than one attitude to women, sometimes in the same text, and information about the social context involved can only be inferred (or rather speculated). Maybe she was thinking of something like the statement in the MA (objection to the garudhamma of bowing) that nuns teach kings, and therefore shouldn’t bow to a junior monk.

I mean, my local bus has a sign, “all children must stand for all adults,” (no reason given, you are expected to just know) but although I think the explanation is that they pay reduced fare and should respect adults, who knows what the real original explanation is, it’s just something we do & if you asked people why, their reasons may vary. The sign itself also doesn’t really give a lot of info about what it means in real life, who enforces it, what the penalties are, or what the exceptions might be (you never “learn” it as much as “live” it). Social custom is a bit like that…it’s precisely the obscurity of the origins that drives people to invent and ascribe origins. Speculating about the origins of origins (yes, cringeworthy) still says very little about actual customs.

I like to listen to what the bhikkhunis themselves are saying. Also: there are monks in Thailand who support bhikkhunis, but it’s always the hardliners who end up in the videos.

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The one time I heard this argument presented, it was with the theory that it wasn’t competition, insomuch as that it was that women (in Thailand) generally tend to be more religious than men and thus provide a larger share of the dana/fiscal support to the monastic institutions.

I have no idea if that’s actually true, I just thought it sounded like a plausible theory.

Are things actually getting better for the Bhikkunis is Thailand?

Did anyone else get a creepy vibe from him? Everyone in the video was warm, articulate, reasonable, except that Thai monk.

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Not at all, I’m actually quite inspired by this venerable, I want to go to his place to do “easy social welfare work” as a maechi, totes what I gave up my medical and law degrees for. Actually, it might even be good for me, I was at so much risk of messing up everything with wild behaviour, but perhaps it’s not too late.

Maybe I will finally be safe from the “out of control” bhikhunis there, that would make me feel so warm and fuzzy inside, in the last corner of Thailand…that is truly safe.

:laughing:

This is sarcasm BTW. Sorry for finding this so funny. Not all Thai monks are like this, although disturbingly, to a degree, all of the sentiments he has expressed are things I have actually heard in some permutation, sometimes directed at me. munches popcorn

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I definitely got creepy vibes from that monk! I almost hoped I was proliferating but the vibe was palpable.

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I think the scary thing is howong he spent trying to make “Bhikkhunis gone wild!” a thing.

It’s bringing me back to my historical studies, namely medieval european religious attitudes, in that women have no control over their emotions and were of little capability in spiritual concerns.

Yeah, I got the impression that this was intentional on the part of the director.

Notice how the Bhikkhunis and the Sri Lankan-American monk supporting them were all filmed with stupas or nature or a shrine in the background, while the Thai “hardliner” was filmed in a comfortable chair with a dirty wall and a boombox behind him :radio: Notice also how he was the only interviewee wearing a mask, which further helped otherize him. The camera angle (close and a bit underneath) also helped make him look imposing and dangerous. All good clues to the audience that we’re not supposed to trust this guy.

#cinematography

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True, but if they had Ajahn Jayasaro calmly explaining why we can’t have bhikkhunis in front of a nice tree*, it still wouldn’t be any more inspiring.

*such a video in fact exists.

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unsurprising-disappointment.jpg

Yeah, to be clear the view is genuinely repugnant and I support the director underlining that in their editorial choices.

My quibble isn’t with the cinematography but with the casting. There’s already a meme among conservatives that Bhikkhuni ordination is a Western import undermining (“authentic, true, Asian”) Buddhism. This VOA video somewhat reinforces that meme by showing mostly American supporters and a Thai hardliner. I believe this is in service of their own political agenda: VOA is literally the propaganda arm of US foreign policy, after all, so it is their purpose to make Americans look good. But it might have been more helpful to the Bhikkhuni’s cause if they had highlighted an American hardliner like Ajahn Geoff and found Thai monks to support, to show that this isn’t an “East vs West” thing. What do you think?

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I agree. But most anti-bhikkhuni monks prefer to stay away from any media where they might face scrutiny.

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I’ve noticed that RE the Ajahn Chah lineage, but when has Ajahn Geoff ever been shy about defending his beliefs in the media? :joy:

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Could you link it please? I suspect that Ven. Jayasaro must have some other arguments than ‘nuns going wild’, so that would be something I would be interested in watching. It won’t change my own opinion, but at least it would allow me a glimpse into the mindset opposite to mine that I wokld care to investigate.

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No, I can’t link it sorry, it would be awkward for me, as a bhikkhuni. But it undoubtedly exists.

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I’d like to preface the following outpouring, by declaring my respect, gratitude and admiration for all those who have worked so tirelessly for the Rights of Female ordination and reinstating the Bhikkhuni order.

On the one hand I find all these debates (about whether it is right/possible to have Bhikkhunis) disheartening (to say the least) and on the other hand quite ridiculous.

I find the ENTIRE issue of gender irrelevant - in every permutation and in every sense.

At an even more fundamental level it just feels surreal to continually be reminded about my ‘body’, my current rupa khanda… It is temporary… it alters between re-births … it is something to be seen for what it is and any attachments to form are to be let go of… it is completely irrelevant to practice, to attaining liberation. It is a hindrance.

Am I a woman? YOU may conceptualise me as a woman! I do not do so myself. I don’t conceptualise my bodily form as representing anything beyond a particular arrangement of elements, flesh, blood, bone and sinews. Form is not me or mine.

Why construct this incredible hell like edifice of fabrication around it – why subjugate the 50% of humans who are in this form to a ridiculous set of rites and rituals, expectations, constraints and limitations???

The REALLY disappointing thing about this issue is that it keeps attaching us to form - to mundane conceptualisations - it traps us and binds us to Samsara.

Sure the ‘wordlings’ may choose to keep being bound by and attaching to these fetters…

– but the whole aim and purpose of the Buddhist path is to leave that behind! To move beyond it! It is ironic and tragic beyond belief that these things are so clung to by so many monastics… If I indulge in a little bit of fantasy I can’t help wondering what the Buddha would make of it all :rofl: :joy: SAMSARA

Now, those of you who know me a little, know that in spite of this empassioned outpouring I am a complete realist and understand all the many layers of complications that exist in this quagmire and cesspit of an issue, but I would just like to remind people that it is just a samsaric tangle and that the aim is to rise above them all.

I’ve been by nature quite conservative, but recently it was pointed out to me how utterly ridiculous some of these rules are. It was like a slap in the face – wake up!

I’ve avoided all these issues by by-passing them - simply by emulating the earliest of the Buddhas disciples. By declaring in my deepest being that “from this moment forth I am a disciple of the Buddha for life”… I actually don’t need anyone at all to give me permission to do this. As long as I don’t expect to be recognised or treated in any particular way by others – it is an internal matter.

Quite frankly nothing else matters. Ordained or not ordained

However, one must put up with living in the midst of those who will continually discriminate and who will treat ‘me’ according to their perceptions of who/what I am :rofl:. So naturally it is more pleasant to be secluded from all that crazy delusion.

Really, a worry about offending some people who in my view have missed what the Buddha was teaching, and to let this actually hinder those of us who are currently inhabiting a female form (or any form perceived as lesser), from progressing on the path, is a criminal waste of the precious opportunity we have to practice in this life. Mara is laughing his head off.

I’m not surprised at the little gardens that pop up of spiritual communities.

This isn’t a scholarly presentation – it is just an outpouring from the heart. I won’t be responding to any ‘arguments or debates’ about whether it is ‘correct’. Correct doesn’t even apply at this level… ‘Correct’ (in this sense) is part of all the fabrications I no longer want to have any part of …

I’m not advocating abandoning the Vinaya, or not continuing to work hard to reinstate a full and complete dual sangha… but that the issue actually goes much deeper than that.

The words I heard recently, have had quite a profound effect, and leave me questioning many things.

In the Buddhas day he had to deal with the prevalent conditions – those made equality among human forms impossible. That is no longer the case 2500 years later. It is possible to have equality across all bodily forms. I would say that it is time to have a single Vinaya.

While sexual attraction among bodily forms is a huge issue for many – that’s fine… Groups of forms can practice the Path in communities without this presence – to enable sense restraint until it is let go of (male communities or female communities etc).
But the PRACTICE is the same. The Path is the same. The conditions leading to beneficial states are the same. It’s time for the rules to be the same.

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Well said @Viveka , thank you :anjal:

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:joy: :rofl: :laughing: This made me laugh

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Dear Venerables and Dhamma friends,

My inbox yesterday let me know about the discussion started here by Ayyā Suvirā – thank you Ayyā!

A few points in response to what i’ve read -

I was approached by VOA documenter, Khun Waan (Warangkana Chomchuen), with VOA news back this last spring. Waan had grown up in Thailand and then moved to the US, and recently come to learn about the progression of the Theravāda bhikkhunī revival. She was interested, and then thought there might be quite a lot of other young Thai people who didn’t know much either, and might be interested like her to learn more. The idea of making a documentary that would be accessible to them and give a short introduction was born. A vision write-up was prepared and an application was submitted for a grant to make this documentary for VOA. Amazingly, out of so many great applications, this documentary concept won the grant.

Khun Waan came to visit our Dhammadharini Monastery and Aranya Bodhi Hermitage in North America over a two day period to learn about our bhikkhunīs’ community’s way of life. We had two interviews, (1) at the simple little pavilion in the forest where i normally meet visitors during these Covid years (no special work to make that a great scene, it’s just like that), and (2) at my meditation platform at my kuti (a bit more rarified and private, but really where i spend much of my time {none of that footage was included}). We also walked around our forest hermitage to several of my other favorite meditation spots (meditation footage was not much included), including the simple, little beach just at the gulch bottom of our hermitage’s creek, that we often go to for sitting and walking meditation. So, it might seems special and rarified, but it’s just our real hermitage environment.

Likewise, for the filming with venerable Thai bhikkhunī Loung Mae Dhammanandā Therī – the environs are just her normal temple place and life, where she normally meets and greets people. What she said, she’s said in many interviews before, as also true for me and my interview – so what we are sharing, i can say, is for us, very true to form.

For Susan Pembroke, founder of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis, i was so impressed that she was willing to come out of the woodwork and share some of her precious archival footage from the extremely many hours of interviews that she conducted back in the earlier days of the Thai bhikkhuni revival, and as that spread through Southeast Asia.

I was also glad to see another American bhikkhuni, Ayyā Santussikā, and her interview, and the interview with her friends and supporters. During this time of Covid, with the pandemic still at large in California, we meet people in-person outside to be safe. It looked like an ordinary real San Francisco Bay Area Dhamma scene to me, not staged or unnatural. For her supporters willingness to speak – Western women talking about their support is much much easier, socially, than for a Thai woman, or man, or monk to do so. The context is so different. The impact on that supporter’s life for having been filmed speaking their thoughts is going to be much, much less, than for a South or Southeast Asian woman, man, or monk to do so. The repercussions much, much less. This is important to understand. There are many Thai people, and monks, who are supportive; but to be filmed speaking supportively in a documentary like this – that would require a level of self-sacrifice of one’s reputation that not so many people are willing to make. Quietly supporting behind the scenes, is something else.

I could have got it wrong, but my understanding is that the Thai monk who spoke was a spokesman from the Thai Dept of Buddhism who was invited to speak to the topic. This was his personal space he invited the interview into (he wore a mask because they were indoors together and the pandemic was raging), and the angle has to do with it being appropriate for the interviewer, as a layperson, to be in a respectful position down lower, while the monk sits up higher – this is normal in Thai culture. I don’t think the camera angle was meant to be demonizing. Also what the monk chose to say in his position is, in some or many ways, the official party line. Whether that seems appropriate and proper, or seems awful, depends on the lens through which the viewer is seeing and hearing what is said. Here in the United States, it’s common for an interview to sit on chairs together, to the angle might be different for that reason. Bhante Piyananda (Aggamahāpandita Dr. Walpola Piyananda Nāyaka Mahāthero), the Sri Lankan senior monk who was interviewed, has lived in the US for a long time, and is used to American culture in this regard.

Thai VOA on Facebook has 52K views this past week, and there are many Thai comments. Many people are supportive and appreciative, and express just the sentiments that the film-maker thought they might if they had this opportunity to be introduced and learn more, including surprise that the Theravāda Bhikkhuni Sangha revival had gotten so big and so diverse, and that there are senior western bhikkhunīs, and appreciation to learn more that they did not know. Others express thoughts through words very similar to the Thai monk interviewed – sometimes even stronger. Just noting, there is much more than that, and some viewers appreciated what was said as needed, necessary and highly appropriate. I am just acknowledging this; that is, the diversity of responses. I’m glad to see that Thai people are watching, and sharing their thoughts and feelings about it. I also note that although there are lots of comments, mostly they don’t speak to or respond directly to one another. This is an important aspect of Thai culture, to not be directly confrontational. The diversity of views shown in the documentary mirrors in many ways the diversity of responses and their presentation. That is, they all have their moment to speak, but none are speaking directly to one another – so, a little different than this forum here, where there can be more somewhat more direct engagement in a way that may be more comfortable and familiar for many of other cultures.

I deeply appreciate the sensitivity of the documentary filmmaker – the respect, consideration, and aim to portray our bhikkhunis lives, our environments, and our shared words truly.

What i missed to see:

→ The title, in Thai, mentions “bhikkhunīs on two continents.” Buddhism on this North American continent is incredibly diverse. The majority of Buddhists in America are not white. And the majority of the Theravāda Buddhist monastic Sangha in North America is not white. Theravāda bhikkhunīs here in North America are nearly half of Euro-heritage, and a bit more than half of Asian-heritage. I missed seeing an interview with any Asian-American bhikkhunīs in the Theravāda tradition. I know this may have to do with two things: (1) budget (the US portion of the documentary was filmed only in California), and (2) wishing to show a simple contrast between groundbreaking American-born bhikkhunīs in America, and a groundbreaking Thai bhikkhuni in Thailand.

→ I want to acknowledge that in South and Southeast Asia also, the Theravāda bhikkhunīs are diverse, from Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, as well as in Thailand. There are also Theravāda bhikkhunis from Korea, Japan, Taiwan and mainland China. In Thailand as well, the bhikkhunīs are quite diverse. The bhikkhunī leaders and bhikkhunīs’ communities do not all look the same or share the same views. Other bhikkhunīs communities that have grown greatly include that of Nirotharam led by bhikkhuni Phra Ajahn Nanthayani, and the Buddha Catu Parisa community, as well as others. I missed to see and hear a counterbalancing Thai bhikkhunī leader speak, to share this diversity of approaches. But this in part may have to do again with limited budget, and with Ven. Dhammananda’s accessibility. She regularly makes herself available for English-language interviews; many of the other bhikkhunīs do not engage with the media and spotlight in the same kind of way; or they might prefer their engagement to be only through sharing Dhamma.

I acknowledge that acknowledging diversity is necessarily complex; and to make something accessible for the masses often calls for simplification and being brief - amidst the great deluge of diverse media. Even what i’ve written here is far too long :blush: .

Thank you if you’ve read this far ~ I appreciate it.

P.S. There really are fears of competition with bhikkhunīs for support and patronage in the Bhikkhu Sangha and of the best laywomen supporters becoming bhikkhunīs if they could, but i’m not sure how widespread these concerns are–i know there are many bhikkhus who did not see and frame things in this way at all. In the US, with the interest in Buddhism, there are bhikkhus who look at bhikkhuni as important allies and partners in their work of effectively sharing the Buddha’s teaching and practice with vast populations with interest and who are suffering, in need. In Thailand as well, i’ve heard some bhikkhus say, there are so many temples, especially in rural areas, falling empty, and the number of monks ordaining from a young age to get an education or have a better materially supported life is on the decline, not to mention those who ordain out of sincere dedication to the Buddha’s Path well lived purely in the monastic life; they ask: wouldn’t it be good if those capable women with such sincere dedication where allowed and empowered to serve the Buddha Sāsana, to fill this need and gap?

There do seem to have been at least some such concerns from long ago – Gregory Schopen has written an interesting article largely translated from the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, as translated into and recorded in Tibetan, which includes bhikkhunī precepts that bhikkhunīs cannot accept an offering from a lay supporter until ascertaining that this supporter has first made an offering–of whatever size small or large–to the Bhikkhu Sangha. Our Pāli-text Bhikkhunī Vinaya does not have such a precept. The presence of the precept in the MSV shows that for some monks at some time somewhere, this issue of bhikkhunīs actually superseding the bhikkhus in support was enough of a concern and issue that it was felt a precept was needed. The Pāli texts express a diversity of views on this topic, some texts recording bhikkhunīs saying that support and requisites are hard to come by for bhikkhunīs as compared to bhikkhus, other bhikkhunīs expressing the abundant support that they received–so there may have been variety of views and experiences in this regard.

P.P.S. I’m not sure, but Ayyā Suvira might have been referring to the earlier “Buddha’s Forgotten Nuns” documentary by Wiriya Sati, in which Ajahn Jayasāro was interviewed. It’s what came to mind when reading this thread anyway.

Much mettā to all! ~ thank you for watching, discussing, and caring.

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Dear Ayya T,

Thank you for always providing a beautiful, well rounded and spacious perspective, that is also inclusive and kind!

:butterfly: :tulip: :pray:t5: Acala Bhikkhuni

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