A guest post by Wisdom editor David Kittelstrom.
The first Theravada bhikkhuni (nun) ordination in Australia, and the first in the Thai Forest Tradition anywhere in the world, was performed in Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia on October 22nd. Four nuns from the nearby Dhammasara Nuns Monastery took ordination: Vayama, Nirodha, Seri, and Hassapañña. The second half of the ordination ceremony was performed by Ajahn Brahm—the abbot of Bodhinyana—along with other monks from the monastery.
Many feel reestablishing the full ordination of nuns, which was first established by the Buddha himself is vital for ensuring the respect and vitality of the Buddhist Sangha in the modern world and accords with the essential message of the Buddha. As with monks, well-trained and observant nuns are a wonderful field of merit, wonderful exemplars, and a wonderful source of teachings for all who seek to live life according to the Dharma, and seeds of peace for the world as a whole.
While the Chinese tradition has preserved female ordination, the lineage died out in the Tibetan and Theravada traditions. In recent years, women within these traditions have been taking full ordination nonetheless, but the practice has not yet been endorsed by a consensus of senior lineage holders, the resistance coming primarily from older monks in Asia. The Dalai Lama has been vocal in his support and an important international conference to advance the issue was held in Hamburg, Germany in 2007. Proceedings from this conference will appear soon in Wisdom’s forthcoming book Dignity and Discipline: Reviving Full Ordination for Buddhist Nuns.
The ordination drew a severe reaction from conservative lineage holders in Thailand. The monks of the Ajahn Chah tradition headed at Wat Pa Pong complained that they had not been consulted and called Ajahn Brahm to a meeting in Northeast Thailand this past Sunday, November 1st, where they voted to expel him from the Wat Pa Pong community.
Ajahn Sujato, another central figure in the ceremony, has been posting regular updates on his blog as events unfold. Ajahn Brahm’s comments from the time of the ordination can be heard here. There is also apparently a group on Facebook with lively discussion of the event and its ramifications.
Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a Buddhist nun and a professor of Religious Studies at the University of San Diego, says in Dignity and Discipline, “Just as countries who refuse women the right to vote are considered backward today, Buddhists will certainly go down on the wrong side of history if they deny fundamental rights and freedoms to women…Recognizing full ordination for women is not only a matter of social justice, it is also simply a matter of common sense.”
Dignity and Discipline goes into these issues in great detail. I would highly suggest reading it when it comes out. The analyses of scripture presented in that book would indicate that the means exist to pursue bhikkhuni ordination in keeping with the Vinaya, but that what is missing is the will to do so.