Thursday, 31 December 2009

What is it With Perth?

Now here's a bit of synchronicity, not only are there Bhikkhunis just outside Perth, Australia but also near to Perth, Canada.

Ayya Medhanandi is a Theravada Buddhist nun who has opened Canada's first monastic residence exclusively for women, just west of Perth. As a bhikkhuni, or nun ordained on an equal footing with Buddhist monks, she hopes to offer women the same full ordination she attained after decades of training. If she succeeds, it will be the first time a woman has been ordained in her order in Canada.

As to a U.K. Buddhist Perth connection, Perth in Scotland, has an FWBO Buddhist centre.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Wat Pah Pong moves to Punish Western Monks!

The latest move by Wat Pah Pong sees a move away from just a "parting of the ways" between themselves and Ajahn Brahm over the issue of female ordination. Now they are accusing Ajahn Brahm of temple mismanagement with a view to "reclaiming" Bodhinyana, "in order to return the land and temple to the Thai Buddhists and to ensure that the temple management is in line with Dhamma Vinaya." As the land also houses Dhammasara Nuns Monastery, this would obviously mean bringing them "back into line!"

Bodhinyana was founded on the 1st of December 1983 near the small town of Serpentine, located 55 kilometres south of Perth, the capital of Western Australia. Donations to support and grow the monastery have come from all directions, much of it Australian and Singaporean in origin, so any claims from Thailand are now extremely tenuous.

These moves come in a statement from Phra Kru Opaswuthikorn who presided at a press conference on Monday where he urged the Office of National Buddhism and the Council of Elders to issue rules and regulations to empower the Thai Sangha to punish monks overseas who violate the Sangha's mandates.

Read more here.....

"Sooner or later, we'll see female monks everywhere!" said Phra Kru Opaswuthikorn. He added that the introduction of the Siladhara order, or 10-precept nuns, which was set up by the most senior Western monk, Ajahn Sumedho, as an alternative to female monks in Thailand was also unthinkable.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Bhikkhuni Ordination - the Propaganda War Hots Up

The Administrative Committee of the Wat Nong Pah Pong Sangha have launched their own website, called Dhamma light, "in order to paint a much clearer picture on the events leading up to the bhikkhuni ordination and why its secrecy and the manner it was conducted was unacceptable". It's interesting to notice, however, that on Wat Nong Pah Pong's main website, Bodhinyana Monastery and Dhammasara Nuns' monastery are still listed as being "International branch monasteries of Wat Nong Pah Pong Monasteries of the Ajahn Chah tradition".

For other "takes" on the issue I would recommend Ajahn Sujato's Blog and, on Facebook, the Women and the Forest Sangha Group. Also Ajahn Punnadhammo's Bhikkhu's Blog for a balanced view.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Resignations Over Gender Discrimination Against Bhikkhunis

Two trustees of the "English Sangha Trust" have resigned over the issue of nuns being denied full Bhikkhuni ordination (as monks and nuns cannot handle money, the English Sangha Trust acts as their steward). - likewise the Chithurst Treasurer who has also taken this decision after 15 years loyal service - stating this 'as one of the  saddest decisions' of his life - stating his decision is entirely due to the fact that:

"The general attitude of the male Sanhga seems, sadly, to be one of denial, of total disinterest in changing the status quo that maintains the position of the monks comfortably above that of the nuns. Compassion is conspicuous by its absence."

Friday, 18 December 2009

Vietnamese Buddhists seek asylum in France

Hundreds of Vietnamese followers of Thich Nhat Hanh have called on the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to grant them temporary asylum, a week after they were attacked by vigilantes allegedly hired by the Vietnamese authorities.

Mob pressure last week forced the head of Phuoc Hue pagoda in central Vietnam to promise that devotees of the French-based Zen monk would leave by December 31, the abbot said.

About 380 young monks and nuns were forced to flee Bat Nha monastery in central Lam Dong province at the end of September after the authorities reacted angrily to a call by their exiled spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh (who was nominated for the Noble Peace Prize by Martin Luther King), to end religious intolerance and disband the country's notorious A41 religious police.

Supporters say that several monks were beaten and four were sexually assaulted, while two others were held under house arrest without charge.

France "is following this matter with the greatest attention" in close liaison with European Union partners, French foreign affairs ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said on Thursday.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Compassionate Eating

One of our Sangha members, who is a vegan, sent me this link to a video by Rev. Heng Sure who gave a talk at the VegSource Conference in 2003 entitled "Why eat a vegan, a plant-based, diet?" In it he explains in very concise terms the Buddhist take on "Compassionate Eating".

Vegetarianism in Buddhism

Monday, 14 December 2009

WAM statement on Bhikkhuni Ordination

Here is the statement from the latest gathering of Western elders of the Ajahn Chah Sangha (referred to informally as WAM) which took place from the 7-9th December 2009 at Wat Pah Nanachat, in Ubon, Northeast Thailand. The gathering was attended by some twenty-eight elders, including Ven. Ajahn Sumedho, abbot of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in England, the senior Western disciple of Ajahn Chah. Luang Por Liem, the abbot of Wat Pah Pong, (Ajahn Chah's monastery) gave the opening address.

The gathering this year was dominated by discussion of the "unfortunate" events surrounding the delisting of Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Western Australia from the Ajahn Chah Sangha, and the estrangement of an old friend and erstwhile member of the group, Ajahn Brahmavamso (for ordaining women).

The events of the last two months have caused an unprecedented storm in our communities, both monastic and lay, and feelings of division have run high throughout the wider Buddhist world. Evidence of this was clear in a petition and various letters presented to the gathering. Several elders noted how many familiar names appeared in the documents. Sympathy with the feelings expressed in them was mixed with a regret that they were often based on an interpretation of events that differed markedly from our own. There was a sense of frustration that we had not as yet been able to adequately transmit our understanding of the various issues raised, accompanied by an acknowledgment that it was hard to see how it could have been any other way. Our commitment to the principle of consultation and consensus meant that we had no choice but to delay crafting a coherent response until we could come together as a group and discuss the matter face to face.

It might be worthwhile at this point to give a brief overview of the nature of our Sangha. The first thing that must be said is that the Ajahn Chah Sangha is far from being the monolithic Vatican-like entity that some have portrayed it as.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Buddhist Bells on the Beeb

Tonight (Saturday) at 10pm on BBC Radio 3 there is a programme entitled: "Between the Ears: The Great Bell"

Using stories, poems and sounds, Stephen Gill presents a portrait of bonshou - Japanese Buddhist temple bells - which are considered essential to the country's national identity.

Bonshou are housed in an open wooden tower instead of in a belfry. They do not have clappers and are struck by huge tree trunks, suspended from ropes, swung against them from outside. Each Old Year is rung out with 108 booms from every the bell throughout the land. Every Japanese person has the right to one strike, in order to consume the sins of the old year and purify them for the new.

The Gion bonshou, at 80 tonnes (six times the weight of Big Ben), is the heaviest in the land and it takes 20 monks to swing the beam in order for it to sound. Ikko Iwasawa, who runs the foundry that cast the largest bell in Japan, explains the mystery of creating such huge bells as one is being cast. The Rev Eishou Kawahara, the head priest of Rengein, whose bell can be heard for 40 kilometres, reveals their spiritual meaning and the impact they have on people.

Stephen Gill has lived in Japan for many years and speaks the language fluently. He weaves into the recordings stories of famous bells, haiku poems about them and, most importantly, the sounds of all these bonshou, each of which has its unique voice.

If you miss it or are elsewhere on the planet it is available on the BBC iPlayer.

(Sorry, it's no longer available)

Friday, 11 December 2009

Another "Quote That I Like"

One of our Sangha members sent me an email which contains a great passage. This one's the famous "washing up" quote by Thich Nhat Hanh. So, continuing our occasional series "Quotes that I Like" here it is......

"To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren't doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity,for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!"

-Thich Nhat Hanh
Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Tibetan Nun Dies in Custody

On 24 March, Yangkyi Dolma and Sonam Yangchen, two nuns from the monastery of Lamdrag (Karze, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province) protested peacefully in the market square of Karze asking for "the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet" and " human rights and religious freedom for Tibetans. " At least 50 policemen and security personnel surrounded the two nuns, and after having beaten them with electric batons and bars, dragged them to prison. The next day Yangkyi Dolma’s family suffered searches and interrogations.

Three days ago the family was advised of the seriousness of her health, but on arrival at the hospital, they learned of her death. The family was unable to recover the body of the deceased for autopsy, nothing is known about the fate of Sonam Yangchen.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Chithurst Visit and the Bhikkhuni Issue

Today, Sunday, the West Wight Sangha and the Newport Soto Zen group had planned another visit to Chithurst monastery. Unfortunately we had to cancel as we couldn't get enough people together to share out the ferry cost for the mini bus and make it individually affordable. That said there was some concern as to what the "atmosphere" at the monastery would be like given the on-going "Bhikkhuni Ordination" controversy.

Yesterday the subject was raised. I have joined the Facebook group "Women and the Forest Sangha" and Patrick Butler posted to it.......

"THAT" issue was finally broached at Chithurst Puja tonight. Ajahn Upekka, on a visit from her life out of the monastery was allowed to give the Dhamma talk by Aj Karuniko (sorry if I spell wrongly).

Never mind the subject matter, it was THE most moving talk I've ever heard from that chair. And the subject matter made it all the more powerful. Simply, after heartfelt thanks to the Sangha for her 24 years of learning and practice,the plea "please don't waste your time dividing people into men/women, us/them. Seek TRUE Dhamma, not adherence to superficial form. Strive for compassionate loving kindness for ourselves and all others.
Sadly some monks could not bring themselves to chant "Sadhu" . But there was electricity among the small and (coincidentally) mainly male lay audience.
Thank you to wonderful Aj Karuniko, for allowing this speech at a difficult time for the whole Sangha.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Copenhagen, Climate and Population

Well it's the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference on Monday and maybe this time they won't be missing the point totally. In my lifetime World population has almost trebled, 2.6 billion to 6.8 billion and rising at the rate of 1.5 million extra human beings every week! All these extra people and the teeming billions of poor already here will want the same comforts and life style we in the West currently enjoy but the sad fact is more polluters equals more pollution. As a Buddhist it's impossible to ignore the suffering that this will cause not only for humanity but for huge numbers of other sentient beings and our planet.

Research from the Optimum Population Trust estimates that every £4 spent on providing unmet demand for family planning saves one tonne of CO2. A similar reduction would require an £8 investment in tree planting, £15 in wind power, £31 in solar energy and £56 in hybrid vehicle technology.

But the potential impact on climate change of a planet teaming with up to ten billion souls has again forced the issue into the open ahead of the December 7-18 UN climate conference in Copenhagen.

In a sign of change, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has declared that braking the rise in Earth's population would be a major contribution to fighting greenhouse gases.

"Slower population growth... would help build social resilience to climate change's impacts and would contribute to a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions in the future," the agency said in report in November.

If, by 2050, Earth's population stood at eight billion rather than nine billion, that would save between one and two gigatonnes of carbon per year, buying precious time for cleaner technology and other policies, its report said.

Actually reducing our population would be even better!

Read More.....

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Response to the Bhikkhuni Ordination at Perth

A two part comment has just been added to the post "More on Ajahn Brahm and Nun Ordination". As this post is dropping off the page, and as the comments are particularly good, I am replicating them here. They quote Bhikkhuni Yifa from Fo Guang Shan, Taiwan who is now based at Hsi Lai Temple, Los Angeles.

Ven. Dr. Yifa’s Response to the Bhikkhuni Ordination at Perth.....

Thirty years ago, I visited a Buddhist monastery for the first time in my life. Two weeks later, I decided to shave my head and become a nun. At the time, I was a student at the law school of National Taiwan University, and wanted to be a lawyer or even a politician. I had felt, since I was a child, great sympathy toward the suppressed classes in society and was attracted to fairness and justice. These have been the guiding values in my life.

The monastery I visited is called Buddha Light Mountain (Fo Guang Shan). Three decades ago, most of Fo Guang Shan’s members were women and most of them were young, in their twenties and thirties, and with a college education. The whole community was very dynamic and energetic, full of hope and life. The founder of the order, Venerable Master Hsing Yun, called for young and educated people to join the Sangha. During those two weeks, I myself had a personal transformation, and changed my path as a lawyer into that of a monastic.

I was very dedicated to learning and practicing the precepts (the Vinaya). One day, we students were invited by a devotee to stay in a hotel, where the bed in the room was high-up and large. One of the ten precepts is to restrain oneself from sleeping on such a bed. I asked the Venerable Master what I should do. “You need be able to sleep on either the small one or the big one,” he said. “Both are fine.” That was a wonderful lesson, because the reason I came to Buddhism was to look for liberation and not bondage, for the ultimate truth, and not just rules—and some rules in the Vinaya seemed to be unfair, especially the many ones for women.

Later, Venerable Master Hsing Yun encouraged me to go to abroad for my advanced education. With his support and Fo Guang Shan’s sponsorship, I finished a Master’s degree in philosophy from Hawaii University and the Ph.D. in Religion from Yale within eight years. For my dissertation, I decided to study the Vinaya and the monastic codes of India and China. When I finished my dissertation, I cried out, “Gotama! This old man was so wise and kind.” I felt this to be so, because the Buddha left so much flexibility with the rules, so there were exceptions to particular rules whenever they created inconvenience in the Sangha.

The Buddha set up the rules after he attained enlightenment, and then proclaimed one after another; but he also responded to the thoughts of the benefactors of monks and nuns, and modified the rules he initiated. He was so wise, because as he kept reminding monastics to adapt to local customs, something that is repeated in the Vinaya texts again and again.

The Buddha’s most precious teaching concerned “causes and conditions.” Every day, I am aware that the temporal and special conditions where I live are different. The Internet, media, and transportation have reshaped the world and the younger generation is different from my time. As the Buddha taught, the world is changing.
It is hard for us to imagine today that a spiritual institution such as the Church initiated the Christian Inquisition beyond; it’s hard to believe now that suicide bombers carry out their brutality in the name of religion. Buddhism has been viewed as nonviolent; however, its suppression of women’s rights has caught Westerners’ attention. I believe that Buddha left his palace intending to find a solution to the suffering of all human/sentient beings, and not to build a religion called “Buddhism.”

In the twentieth century, Buddhism came to the West. Now, in the twenty-first, it is flourishing. But Buddhism is still strange to the West; those Westerners who leave their native faith to step into an Asian culture must have courage and face tremendous challenges. The system of sponsorship has yet to be built for the Western Sangha; many Westerners who seek the monastic life are still like orphans, with no parents (few teachers who understand they are different) and no home (few monasteries fit their culture). We need to adopt a forgiving and inclusive attitude to welcome them to the Sangha.

I attended a lecture given by one of my best friends, William Ury, co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project and author of the bestseller Getting to Yes. At the end of his talk, he quoted the American Poet Edwin Markham. I think there are no better words to fit this situation:

They drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout!
But love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took them in.

There is a simplistic impression that all Theravada monks are against women’s ordination. That is not true. Fo Guang Shan has given several international ordinations; they were all supported by different groups of Theravada monks. Is it possible to use a “humane” way to reconsider this issue rather than focusing on the letter of the law?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Buddhism and Evolution, a "Thought for Today"

I nearly missed this one, on Wednesday 24th of November Vishvapani gave yet another "Thought for Today" on BBC Radio Four's Today program. As a non-theistic "religion", Buddhism has a completely different take on Darwin's great insight into the workings of nature.