Sayalays banned from using almsbowl

I heard from a Sayalay-friend that a recent decision by the Sangha Nayaka Committee of Myanmar has prohibited Sayalays from having or using an almsbowl and that Pa Auk Sayadaw has also told his Sayalays not to use it.

For Sayalays in Myanmar, where food is provided in the monasteries, this is not a big problem. But for those who live abroad and are not allowed to use money, nor have a Kappiya, going on almsround is often their only way to provide a living.

Does anybody know any more about this issue and why it was instated and how they can even enforce such a law on Sayalays beyond the borders of Myanmar? It reminds me a bit of what happened in Wat Pa Nanachat when the Mae Chee were told they were no longer allowed to use an almsbowl.

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I won’t :hearts: this, I’ll give a :disappointed: face instead.

Hopefully, this gets corrected; I assume the Mae Chee almsbowl issue did eventually?

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for example by a threat of some sort of punishment upon their return or defrocking and prohibition to conduct a mendicant lifestyle

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Not so far as I know. This happened when I was at Nanachat, so about 20 years ago. It was the first sign that the progressive reforms introduced by Ajahn Chah were being undone.

One time at Chithurst, one of a group of Anglican priests who were visiting commented to Ajahn Sumedho his sense of outrage at seeing us on our knees serving him orange juice! Whereas for me, this had become completely normal – a pleasure to be able to serve my teacher in that way.

From Ajahn Candasirī’s article in Alliance for Bhikkhunis. http://present.bhikkhuni.net/going-forth-liberation/

I found this part of her article a bit heartbreaking. I’ve not read all of the Suttas, nor the entire Therigatha, but I’ve never had the sense that the Buddha would have even envisioned a moment where he’d request or require the Bhikkhunis to serve him juice, on their knees.

I recall also a Dhamma talk, and I’m sorry I don’t recall now the author of the talk (maybe LP Pasanno), but the talk described Ajahn Chah’s encounter with a lay disciple that would bring food for the monks at the meal dana, but not for the nuns. This persisted, and one day after the monks had their food, and the nuns clearly did not have enough, he had one of the nuns give the Dhamma talk, so as to emphasize in a subtle way (perhaps as subtle as a hammer) LP Chah’s views on the substandard treatment of women at WPP.

Maybe it will take the West, over time, lead by the example of Bodinyana, to blow the doors off this kind of continuing inequitable and harsh treatment of women in the East, and allow in time (even through shaming) the normalization of Bhikkhunis in the life of the Sangha in Thailand, Myanmar, et al.

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In my most recent trip(s) to Thailand I saw mae chees collecting alms with bowls in the marketplace. So of course, perhaps not everyone follows the ‘Ajahn Chah’ system, or it’s become more acceptable again over time.

I wonder if there is something we can do. Tell our Buddhist leaders we want female renunciates to offer to.

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Yes, of course the Ajahn Chah rules only apply to those monasteries. As for the wider practices, I don’t know what the legal situation in this regard is in Thailand, and in any case such Sangha rules are enforced arbitrarily.

For example, in the eighties, the Thai Sangha Council apparently made a rule forbidding gay men from ordaining. But no-one I know of, including the Wat Pa Pong Sangha, pays any attention to this. In fact, the Ajahn Chah tradition has a number of openly gay monks, and Luang Por Liem has personally supported ordaining gay monks with AIDS. This is as it should be, but I wish they would show the same openness and flexibility when it comes to women’s ordination.

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I have received a bit more information.
Apparently the rule is only about the type of alms-bowls that monks use. Sayalays can still use any other type of bowl.

My source felt that although Pa Auk Sayadaw probably does not agree with the rule, he is now also too old and lacking the strength to fight it. Therefore, out of respect and kindness for Sayadaw, the Sayalays are told to just keep the peace, not make a fuss and focus on what is really important i.e. practicing the Dhamma. If anybody uses the monk’s bowl outside of Myanmar, it will of course not be checked.

I have a lot of respect for Pa Auk Sayadaw and also Ajahn Candasirī, who have both been fighting for nun’s rights and have paved the way for many nuns. But I think there is a grave danger when we are asked to “not make a fuss” and when oppression becomes to be regarded as “normal”.

Not to mention any specific country here, but what would happen if we were asked to just follow the president and not make a fuss, when racism and sexism become the norm?

The argument that the practice of the Dhamma is more important than the outside form, of “who you are”, I have heard a lot. But to me the practice of the Dhamma is not just sitting in meditation. It is all part of the Dhamma. Without great nuns like Ayya Khema, who forged an opening for other women to follow, women would never have had the opportunity to practice the Dhamma. Without some equality between monks and nuns, Buddhism can never really flourish and grow in the west.

I think Bhante @Sujato would be appalled if I did that to him. :slight_smile:

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This is so True that it I had to do more than just “like” it!

Yes!!! When is this utterly obvious truth, going to become obvious to those blinded by a lack of Dhamma perspective?!

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I really appreciate this response, Ayya.

One of the grave dangers is, of course, foreclosing women like Mae Chee Kaew from being able to reach fruition as practitioners, teachers, and potentially, Arahants. I had a little time yesterday and following your OP here, I began to do a little informal research on the status of Sayalays / Thilashin in Burma. Eventually, I found this article, https://snfwrenms.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/thailand-maechee-kaew/, discussing the life of a Thai nun, Mae Chee Kaew.

The point of my post is that, with the subordination of women in Thailand and Myanmar, for example, the Buddhist world loses, potentially, Arahants. For male monastics to play a role in denigrating and subordinating women is not only misogynist, aversive, and unskillful, but highly foolish. LP Mun recognized Mae Chee Kaew’s potential early on " Ajahn Mun could see that she possessed uncommon psychic abilities and had great spiritual potential. Even as a beginner, her mind easily went into deep absorption for many hours." Later, LP Maha Bua recognized her attainments:

Ajahn Maha Boowa, at her eulogy, declared that there was no need for any funeral chanting because as an Arahant, there was nothing more they could add for her. He also said that whether we were man or woman, we were equally capable of attaining enlightenment, no matter what lineage or tradition we were practising, so do it well. He had a stupa erected in her memory.

So, with the thought in mind that women and men stand equally with the potential for Arahantship, it is in the nature of a crime, an act against the Buddha, to forestall the full and complete training and development of a woman in this Path and Practice. Knowing this, as so many of the male Bhikkhus must know from their studies and training, how do they then, ethically and intellectually, see fit to act otherwise, or to defy the example set by LP Mun or LP Maha Bua?

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You mean, monks who were openly gay before ordaining?
I mean, after all, the importance of sexual orientation falls away after ordination, doesn’t it?

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We don’t know the circumstances of how that came to be.
The Ajahn herself says it had become a pleasure to be able to serve her teacher in that way.
No need to feel heartbroken about that part unless we get more information and how it came to be.

I’m all for equal rights for men and women, 100%, but let’s not carry it that far as -for example- to “prohibit” individuals (male and female) paying respect to their teacher in the way they (themselves) chose.

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I think that is true, Ayya, that goes for all of us, but this should not be turned into a weapon to deny female monastics their rights or to tell them to shut up.

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Sure, if there’s no imbalance of power, and women are treated equally, then all adults may act as they choose. The argument that I am making is that there was a severe imbalance of power, a subordination of women that caused harm, and a general environment that defies the standards set by the Buddha. To me, that’s a bit heartbreaking, but hey, that’s just me.

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In this particular case, with Ajahn Sumedho?

Sorry for bringing my five cents into the discussion, but if you look at the history of the Siladhara order, it is indeed quite heartbreaking, and the imbalance of power there was rather obvious, I’m afraid. The problems ran much more deeper than serving a glass of juice on one’s knees.

@AnagarikaMichael I remember how shocked I was when I read for the first time about a Bhikkhu fanning the Buddha. To some extent I think this shock came about because of my cultural expectations and societal norms I am accustomed to. So, on the one hand, as long as the monks have to stand on their knees handing a glass of juice to the Venerable, it is okay. On the other hand, it may be a good reason to discuss whether certain norms of the monastic etiquette could be changed because of the different social environment in the Western countries and modern Asian countries: what should be left untouched, what could be revised and what should be a matter of communal or personal choice. In some respect, this discussion will be closely connected to a possible discussion about the Vinaya in general and how strict and which Vinaya rules should and can be applied in what contexts.

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Please allow me to contrast this with what Sister Candasirī says:

"Among people who speak with me, there are a number for whom the question of whether or not we should become bhikkhunīs is a matter of concern. For some of the sīladharā it’s a non-issue, it being clear that both the spiritual and material support we receive as nuns is perfectly adequate for our practice of Dhamma. For others, including me, it continues to be a matter of some interest. Should, at any time, there be the blessing of the elders of our community, together with a satisfactory agreement on how the numerous rules of the bhikkhunī pātimokkha would be interpreted, I could well be among the first to make the request. However, I’m not in a hurry, I’m glad that I can continue as I am – until it becomes clear, if or when, that is to be the next step in this extraordinary unfolding."

@Vstakan This is not about what you or I or even bhante Sujato might find heartbreaking.
This is about adult, intelligent women who chose to continue to live in this order even while they have other options nowadays.
There is absolutely nothing heartbreaking about it for me.
Does that mean I support this practice? No, not at all, but should it be a basis for quarrels or conflicts between the different sangha’s? I don’t believe so. Not at this time (when full bhikkhuni ordination is taking flight) and in this place (Europe, Australia).

Just my five cents.

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I think this is a really important sentiment. When I went to Amaravati for the first time, I went in with the mindset that the Siladhara were deeply discriminated against and had no power or voice in their community. While part of this idea may indeed be true, I was surprised to realize (through conversations with a senior Siladhara) that they do not necessarily feel the same way. The Ajahn I spoke with felt supported and content within the community. Thus, as Leon says, it’s important to remember that no one is forcing them to stay Siladhara, and that they very well could leave (as many others have done) if they choose to.

I also realized while I was there that the Siladhara who remain have an incredible amount of power. Their ability to remain in a patriarchal sangha despite the tremendous challenges – and to practice well in spite of this – is incredible. It’s very easy to pass blame or judgement, to say that by staying in the community they are encouraging the discrimination placed upon them. However, It’s necessary to realize that they never have and never will be at blame for the actions of the monks in their community. They deserve, at the very least, our tremendous and unwavering support.

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It is heartbreaking for me that adult, intelligent and compassionate men were fully aware of the options they had in defining the status of the Siladharas and opted for the Five Point Declaration. Sure, it is Sister Candasirī’s conscious decision to stay within her tradition despite her being not really very happy about some of its aspects - something she repeatedly mentions in the article - but it is also the Amaravati elder monks’ conscious decision to treat the Siladharas the way they did. I just can’t help noticing some resemblance to what Putin and Medvedev repeatedly said about people unhappy with the current Russian political system: ‘If you don’t like it, you can always emigrate.’ Not that the Amaravati bhikkhus are tyrants or anything like this, but the way of reasoning used here is quite similar. Without going into further detail here (like whether emigration from Russia or leaving the Amaravati community can always be considered feasible), I’ll just say that going into homelessnes was already a decision drastic enough not to put the Siladharas before a second choice that could be even more drastic. The decisions that the senior Amaravati monks made were unskilful in my opinion, and I think that this is the most heartbreaking thing about the whole situation.

Of course, things like this one can influence my perception of the Amaravati and Chithurst monks, but I am personally, hopefully, very careful in distinguishing between monks and the Sangha or even local monastic community as a whole. Ultimately, this discussion, just as any other among the Buddhists, should revolve around whether an action or idea is true or false, right or wrong, skilful or unskilful, and not about condemning the dissenters. If you don’t feel about the situation around the Siladharas the way I do and you have a clear idea why the decision of the bhikkhu community to compose the Five Point Declaration was alright, it’s fine :slight_smile:

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This is tremendously sad for me as well. On one hand the Five Points seem to indicate a kind of power play, where the bhikkhus maintain their authority through the implementation of the rules. But on the other hand, could it be possible that the monks didn’t know how destabilizing the Five Points would be? This is perhaps the most terrifying aspect for me, that the senior Theravada male authorities are not aware of the consequences of their actions.

Now I’m tempted to go to every Thai Forest Monastery in the West and teach a class entitled “Women in Buddhism – and What You Can Do As an Ally.” :grin:

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