Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The paradoxical issue of recognizing new Bhikkhuni in Thailand

There was a Thai article in Matichon newspaper website about the un-recognized status of Bhikkhuni (female monks) in Thailand. The article mentioned of finding a way to overcome the deadlock.  The author in that article cited someone who suggested that legislature as a possibility. I want to make it clear in my post here that this is monk's business and not for laypersons, who are lustful, having greeds, angers, illusions, to mess with Buddha's decrees by means of any legislation. Legislation can not be used against Buddha's decrees. It is ethically and morally unacceptable.

As a former Buddhist monk, I 'd like to write out my opinion here in my blog.  I think I could feel unspoken feeling of some senior monks, some of which I believe are Arahat, or at least in an Ariya level. Their developed minds don't have biases like those of lay people.  I also have heard opinions of Buddhist scholars. The problem is complicated and is a paradox, pretty much like a chicken-egg problem. How can one have a chicken if there is no egg.

First of all, I must say that I sympathize with the current 'Bhikkhuni' in Thailand. I admired them for their determination for life-long dedication to monasteric life. I am a family man now and have no problem respecting the 'female monks', or Luang Mae (Mother).  

Around 26 centuries ago, Buddha was formost in his time in recognizing the right of people of any caste, to be ordained as monks of equal status yet with seniority order. Females were also given a chance to become monks as well, not simply nuns, very much progressive practice of Buddhism was far ahead of other religions at that time. In addition to Bhikkhuni, there was Sikkhamana (one who prepared to be Bhikkhuni), and Samaneri (female novice) as well.  

As I am aware of the Vinaya (the doctrine) specified that Bhikkhuni must be ordained in two successive Sangkhas (congregations of male and female monks, respectively). The problem is that, for hundreds of years, Thailand's Theravada monks have had no Bhikkhuni. Part of the problems might be centuries of wars, but a big problem was  tougher rules that female monks had to obey, in order to survive the then male-dominated society 2500 years ago. As a consequence, number of female Theravada monks dwindled and then no more.  As a consequence, now how can we find a congregation of Bhikkhunis to ordain new Bhikkuni, or how to start a new congregation of Theravada Bhikkhuni ? The problem I understand is mainly at the matter of recognition of a new Bhikkuni Sangkha. If there had been an existing Bhikkhuni Sangkha, this problem would not exit. Now how can one start a new Bhikkhuni Sangkha now that Buddha passed away ?  Most monks do not dare to do that, although I believe, deep in the minds of many senior monks, they sympathize the female 'monks'. Individidually, they could not do anything beyond giving sympathetic feeling.  Admittedly there might be some senior monks who might think that nowaday no one can amend rules of the Buddha and the no-amendment decree of the Sangkha of the 500 Arahans (Arahats) at the first rehearsal in 5 century BC. By strong tradition and their gentle minds, good Buddhist monks don't normally say anything against their elder monks (those ordained before him), even if they don't agree on some debatable issues they would let go of bad feeling and felt complacent. And that 's why it has been relatively quiet among monks.

In theory, however, a congregation of male Sangkha in total, esp. that of senior (Arahan / Arahat) monks could do something about it, or at least have full discussion of the issue rather than leaving this issue unsettled in the public agenda. Surely they don't want the issue to be messed by politicians in the future, the option of which I deem inappropriate.  As specified in Tipitaka, the Buddhist scripture, Buddha had given permission that, after his pass away, any minor regulations of monks could be amended by future Sangkhas to suit changing situations.  However, at the first rehearsal of the Tipitaka in India after the cremation of Buddha's body,  Phra Bhikkhu Mahakasapa Thera, who presided at the rehearsal seeked a consensus opinion of 500 Arahat monks and issued a decree that there would not be amendment of Buddha's decrees ever in the future.  Now THAT is a problem to be interpreted nowadays whether the present Sangkha could revoke the decree of non-revoking first congregation or not. Personally I think only Sangkha has a power to do it: and preferably, a Sangkha of Arahats only, not just any Sangkha of non Ariya monks, although Arahats might feel that they don't want to change the Buddha 's decree and the first congregation 's decree.  (There is a major complication for that matter, for a lay person who is not an Arahat and without well-trained sixth sense, how could one tell if a monk is an Arahat or not. That is beyond the point here. I can't tell. Besides, an Arahat would not tell laypersons that he is one either.)

I think, if all the senior monks across Thailand, some of them surely must be Arahat and other levels of Ariya (developed persons), could convene in a convention and have a full discussion on this issue, the issue might be solved one way or another.  At least that is the only way to go for. But whether or not the outcome would reconcile with the feminist trend of the post-modernism era, I can not tell. The only thing we laypersons in the society can do is to invite them to have a big meeting and start the dicussion. And after the discussion, perhaps we might have good reasons to explain to the Thai society to understand.

update: I just rediscovered that there is a PDF version of a book, in Thai, (translatedly) entitled "Answer Dr. Martin: Buddhavinaya to Bhikkhuni", by the Venerable Phra Bhromkunaporn (PA Payutto) in my MBP notebook. I have yet to re-read it. Ven. Payutto has been regarded as a (if not The) great living Theravada Buddhist scholar, perhaps as great as Bhikkhu Buddhakosa who wrote several scriptures around 1500 years ago. Perhaps I might update this blog later if I find something useful.

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