November 26, 2009

Letter from Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Thanissaro Bhikkhu is a prominent translator and scholar of Theravada Buddhism in the West, having paid particular attention to the Vinaya. Ajahn Nyanadhammo, former abbot of Wat Pah Nanachat, apparently asked Ajahn Thanissaro for a judgment on the transaction statements used at the bhikkhuni ordination ceremony in Australia. The response has therefore attracted significant interest. The letter focuses on “the use of a form in which two candidates are mentioned in a single proclamation.” The following points are made towards the end in section 11.
  1. Bhi Pc 83 does not allow a bhikkhuni to act as a sponsor for more than one candidate for ordination in a year. This rule is in force regardless of the number of residences available for bhikkhunis.
  2. There are no examples of transaction statements authorized in the Canon where the sheer form of the statement would intrinsically entail the breaking of a rule
  3. Thus the allowance at Mv.I.74.3—allowing a single proclamation to mention two or three candidates for bhikkhu ordination—cannot be extended to bhikkhunis, for such a statement would intrinsically be “apart from the Vinaya… apart from the Teacher’s instruction.”
  4. As Mv.X.3.2 states, any transaction using this sort of statement would be “not a transaction.”
  5. There are no cases where the Canon explicitly states that an unauthorized form of a transaction statement might be used for an Acceptance transaction and yet the candidate would count as validly accepted. In other words, there are no exemptions for the ruling at Mv.X.3.2.
  6. Thus a bhikkhuni ordination in which the transaction statements mentioned more than one candidate per statement would not be considered valid, and the candidates would not count as bhikkhunis.
He goes on to discuss his opinions on the importance of following the Vinaya with relation to the integrity, even if only the perceived integrity, of one’s conduct.
Of course, not everyone takes even the most authoritative Vinaya texts in the Canon as totally authoritative, but there are those who do. Any Community that wanted its transactions to receive universal recognition from other Communities would be well advised to give these points serious consideration and stick strictly to the authorized forms.

[…]

Admittedly, the fact that a group follows the authorized forms when conducting Community transactions may provide only a minimal guarantee of its trustworthiness, but it is at least an outward sign that the members of the Community know something of the Buddha’s teachings, respect what they know, and are behaving in good faith. If a Community were to deviate from the authorized forms, that fact would immediately call their knowledge and motives—their fitness to carry on the Dhamma and Vinaya—into question. This is why the forms are so important for mutual respect, harmony, and trust—all qualities of the heart—in the Community at large.

As usual, I found out about this over at Ajahn Sujato’s blog. He mentioned several follow up responses from the likes of Ayya Tathaaloka, Ayya Suddhamma, Ajahn Brahm, Bhikkhu Bodhi and more. I found on most of these articles on Facebook, and I’m happy to repost them here.

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