Rights on Hold for Bangladeshi Buddhists

In case you forgot about the Buddhists in Bangladesh, IANS reports on the current status of the dragged out Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.

A prominent Buddhist tribal leader of Bangladesh escaped an attack on his motorcade Monday, a day after he discussed with the government a peace agreement signed in 1997, which is yet to be implemented. […] The accord that proposes autonomy for the Buddhist tribals has been delayed because of protests from the Muslims. They were settled in the Buddhist majority region since Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) became part of the erstwhile East Pakistan during the India-Pakistan partition in 1947.

I previously blogged about violence against Buddhists in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Bangladesh’s uneven concern for its ancient Buddhist heritage. You can learn more at the Chittagong Hill Tracts Comission website.

Buddhist Politics Left & Right

There’s a good post up at The Big Old Oak Tree on the politics of “engaged Buddhists” involved in the discussion of abortion reform in Thailand. The whole post is very much worth reading, but I felt obliged to copy over the last paragraph:

The point I am trying to make is that there is no “Buddhist” politics. As long as there is more than one Buddhist in the world, there will be a multiplicity of political views within the Buddhist community. Let’s say there is an elderly Buddhist Chinese gentleman living down the street from me. There’s a good chance that he and I don’t really see eye to eye on certain political issues, and that my views might be more in line with the BPF than his views. Does this mean that he’s not quite Buddhist, or that my Buddhism is more vital than his? I don’t think so.

Many thanks for his link-back as well!

Why Are Thai Monks Protesting?

According to Phra Cittasamvaro, it’s because Thai monks are, after all, mere mortals.

In fact monks are like any other Thai – they have opinions too. The reason Thailand keeps them away from politics is to stop popular teaching monks using their ‘moral credentials’ to sway voters for one party or another. It is probably a good idea.


Monks feel that even if they should not be involved in party politics, they are quite free to take a moral stance, which is why so many have joined the Red Shirt rally over the last few weeks. Naturally, where the line is drawn between politics and morality is very flexible…

I encourage you to read his thoughts in full. For the perspective of a couple academics on this issue, check out Danny Fisher’s interview on Shambhala SunSpace.

Unsolicited Plug

Wandering Dhamma is the hands down favorite blog that I hardly ever read. Brooke Schedneck writes wonderfully thorough (and very long) posts about her dissertation research in Thailand. (I vow to read them all.) Her exploration of the Thai meditation traditions is relevant and illuminating on many levels. Most prominently, meditation is one of the primary “Dharma gates” through which many non-heritage Buddhists come to Buddhism. So how is meditation in Thailand presented to Westerners? Her research also touches on the role the Theravada in modernity. Through investigation of particular histories, she reveals how the increasing diversity and dialogue within the Theravada community manifests itself within contemporary Buddhism in Thailand. Not to mention that the recent Australian bhikkhuni ordination and institutional backlash have shoved the Thai forest traditions into the spotlight of the Buddhist media. (Check out her post on visiting a bhikkhuni meditation center.) These are traditions that are often romanticized and poorly understood in the broader Buddhist community. Honestly, I would know hardly anything if one of my dearest friends weren’t a monk at a Wat Pah Pong branch temple in Thailand. If you’d like a more intimate perspective on Buddhist meditative traditions in Thailand, Wandering Dhamma is certainly a great place to go.

Nun Est Facta

The controversy surrounding the Australian bhikkhuni ordination has provoked quite a bit of discussion and ad-hominem attacks towards various Buddhists. (Other developments include the globalization of WPP as an acronym for Wat Nong Pa Pong!) I’ve provided below a selection of related posts I’ve found interesting.

  • Shravasti Dhammika opines that “Theravada Buddhism in its traditional homelands is, for the most part, spiritually moribund, tradition-bound and retrograde”—and provides his own ideas of what a “Buddhism relevant to the West” (Buddhayana) would look like. [November 7, 2009]
  • Lim Kooi Fong at the Buddhist Channel explains the editorial decision to place a hold on discussion of the controversy surrounding the Australian bhikkhuni ordination. [November 8, 2009]
  • You can find Bhikkhu Bodhi’s revised response on Ajahn Sujato’s eponymous blog. [November 8, 2009]
  • Ajahn Sujato also discusses what the 1928 Bhikkhuni Ban really said, and what it amounted to. [November 9, 2009]
  • Phra Cittasamvaro gives his own two cents regarding the events and context. [November 10, 2009]
  • For the youthful Kester Ratcliff, recent events further demonstrate that Thai Buddhism actually isn’t Buddhist and that “the time has come to let go of our Thai heritage.” He writes well, and I look forward to seeing what sort of work he’ll produce when he grows up. [November 10, 2009]

Several pieces from the key actors are cross-posted at multiple locations, including the Buddhist Channel, the Buddhist Society of Western Australiaand Ajahn Sujato’s blog. I must note that although I always refer to this in the context of the bhikkhuni ordination… whatever the nuns involved have to say has gotten barely any publicity at all—at least on the sites that I’ve been reading. A bit sad.

Bhikkhuni Legality

Ajahn Sujato blogs on the Thai legal claims surrounding bhikkhuni ordination.

While it is often said that bhikkhuni ordination is illegal or banned in Thailand, this claim rests on a very slender thread. There have been no formal pronouncements on the matter by the current Mahatherasamakhom, the governing body of Thai Buddhism, whose authority stems from the Sangha Act of 1962. Those seeking an ‘official’ position must fall back on a ruling issued in 1928.


The legal status of the ruling is obscure. No-one, so far as I know, has tried to test this in court. When Voramai Kabilsingh was accused before the Mahatherasamakhom in 1956, her ‘crime’ was allegedly imitating a bhikkhu(!), not the fact that she had ordained as a samaneri. She was excused because her preceptor was a member of the Mahatherasamakhom(!) The same monk, Phra Prommuni, was also the teacher of the current king when he was ordained(!) Phra Prommuni argued that her light-yellow robe was a different color to that of the bhikkhus, so she was excused(!)

As usual, he has gone out of his way to provide reference and context. Read it in full.

This Is Not A Schism

I was stunned to view the Buddhist Channel headline: “Ajahn Brahm excommunicated for performing Bhikkhuni Ordination in Australia.”

Then on Phra Noah Yuttadhammo’s blog, he writes: “An interesting topic, and indeed history in the making; new Bhikkhunis in Australia and a schism in the Thai forest sangha… I’m not sure which is of more significance.” What schism?

The Australian bhikkhuni ordination has generated some hard feelings in the many different corners of the Wat Nong Pa Pong lineage. There’s also quite a bit of hand-wringing on the sidelines. But use of the terms excommunication and schism constitute a reckless characterization of recent events.

These words embody very serious religious implications. While Ajahn Brahm (and the world) has been notified that he is now a persona non grata in the Wat Nong Pa Pong network, he has not been excommunicated. They neither formally disputed his status as a Theravada monk nor his authority to officiate and participate in religious ceremonies—they rather informed him that he is not welcome in their club. It’s not playing nice, but it’s not excommunication.

Phra Noah’s use of schism should likewise be avoided. Anyone raised on stories of Lord Buddha is well aware that schism is often a direct reference to the Bhagavan’s scriptural antagonist Devadatta. This word ought to be used with caution. The expulsion of Bodhinyana monastery from the WPP network is no more a schism than the suspension of a nation from the Commonwealth.

This post is not meant to trivialize current events. The bhikkhuni ordination and subsequent backlash are both significant and newsworthy events. But they shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.

The gravity of this situation is more political than religious. This fracas is very much a Buddhist issue, but we mustn’t confuse it as being a spiritual quarrel. I can expect more bitter words and much awkward silence to ensue. A formal schism of the Theravada sangha, however, is unlikely.

Bhikkhuni Ordination in Australia

Wisdom Publications’ recent blog post on the bhikkhuni ordination at Bodhinyana monastery sent me off reading through Ajahn Sujato’s blog account.

22nd October 2009: remember that date. That’s when it all changed. That’s when the Sangha of Bodhinyana Monastery and Dhammasara Nun’s monastery, with the support of an international group of bhikkhunis, performed the first Theravada bhikkhuni ordination in Australia, and the first bhikkhuni ordination in the Thai Forest Tradition anywhere in the world. Here’s how it all came about.

This ordination has been on the order of a small earthquake. There are quite a few senior Thai monks who weren’t at all happy to see this come to pass. Ajahn Sujato providesupdatesonthesituationonhisblog. You can learn more about the contemporary bhikkhuni lineage at the Alliance for Bhikkhunis and the Australian Sangha Association Bhikkhuni ordination committee. If you are interested in expressing your support, you can do so here.

Dragging Buddhism into Political Fights

A post title on Danny Fisher’s blog caught my attention yesterday: “Buddhist Teacher Shot Dead in Southern Thailand.” What makes this Buddhist news? The teacher’s religion is of note only because she was killed by individuals who are Muslim, who are terrorizing southern Thailand for ethno-nationalist reasons

The predominantly ethnic Malay, Muslim region was an independent sultanate known as Patani before it was annexed by Buddhist Thailand in 1909 as part of a treaty with Britain.

More importantly, as Erick D. White has pointed out in comments that Danny Fisher has also posted:

The majority of those who have died in the South are Muslims at the hands of the insurgency. While there are inklings of the conflict taking on a Buddhist vs. Muslim character – and this is a meme that the insurgency would like to spread – it is mostly just a poor, easy hook that the international press employs. The insurgents attack all who are opposed to their project, Muslim or Buddhist. It remains, as far as we can tell, a very local affair (i.e. no international jihad) and primarily an ethno-nationalist insurgency.

The Buddhist vs. Muslim theme also plays well into the hands of Thai nationalists, who would like to tie these insurgents to global terrorist networks (i.e. Al-Qa‘ida). The story becomes “Muslim terrorists vs. peaceful Buddhists” thus legitimizing the government’s policies on the international stage. Thai authorities can accordingly marginalize Southerners’ complaints of discrimination and historical injustice, casting the struggle in terms of Buddhist and Muslim Thais. But the Muslims of Pattani are about as Thai as Tibetans are Chinese. So are we still talking about a Buddhist issue?