Five years ago, when we began as The Easier Softer Way, we used to have a Person of the Month every month. Somewhere along our journey, we stopped doing this. However, we enjoyed it, and people seemed to like it. So here we are starting it up again here in November of 2016!
Ajahn Brahm is a monk in the lineage of Ajahn Chah’s Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism. Born in London, Ajahn Brahm studied theoretical physics at Cambridge University. He went to Thailand in his early twenties to study Buddhism, ordaining at age 23. He spent a decade after his ordination studying with Ajahn Chah before moving to Perth, Australia. In the early 1980’s, they purchased a plot of land to become Bodhinyana Monastery. Bodhinyana is now the largest cohort of Buddhist monks in Australia, and was the first Thai Theravada monastery in the Southern Hemisphere. Because they didn’t have very much money to work with, the monks worked to construct the buildings themselves. In 1994, Ajahn Brahm took over as head of the monastery, where he has been since. He has written many books, with my favorite being Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?: Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life’s Difficulties.
Ajahn Brahm is a wonderful teacher who dedicates his life to the dharma. He has done years of work in prisons, with terminally ill people, and those new to meditation practice. However, we picked Ajahn Brahm as our Person of the Month for a more specific reason. Our lineage of Buddhism has done a lot of good in the world, but there are major harms being caused. Over the past decade, one specific issue has come to the surface (finally) and is being addressed, and that’s the issue of the bhikkhuni (nun) order. I highly recommend reading THIS PIECE from The Lion’s Roar to further understand this issue, but here is a brief explanation:
According to Buddhist scripture, a Buddhist nun must be ordained by her teacher. Hundreds of years ago, the bhikkhuni lineage died out due to war and famine. Hence, there are no nuns with continual lineages to the Buddha. Furthermore, the rules of nuns dictate a second-class ordainment. A nun that has been ordained for 50 years is ranked below in the hierarchy than a male monk who ordained 15 minutes ago. The seating arrangements, order of alms receiving, and order of asking questions to the teacher are all influenced by these ancient rules. When a male monk is present (even if very newly ordained), the nun is not to be teaching. This has caused a lot of harm to bhikkhunis across the world. They’re not being respected in their roles and practice, they aren’t able to be treated as fully ordained Buddhists, and they are simply treated as “lesser than” because of their gender.
Back to Ajahn Brahm. Ajahn Brahm, along with Bhante Sujato, helped facilitate the ordination of four nuns in late 2009. These nuns were Venerable Ajahn Vayama, and Venerables Nirodha, Seri and Hasapanna, and were recognized at fully ordained, equal nuns. A week later, the international order of monks in his lineage met at Wat Pah Pong in Thailand and asked Ajahn Brahm to denounce the ordination as it was not valid in the eyes of the larger international community. Ajahn Brahm politely refused to denounce the ordination. His lineage essentially excommunicated him. They delisted him and Bodhinyana from their official literature and websites regarding associated monasteries, and Ajahn Brahm lost all support from them. Nonetheless, Ajahn Brahm took a stand and did what he felt was right.
It isn’t easy to go up against an institution on which you partly depend. Ajahn Brahm didn’t do it alone by any means, but he helped pave the way for the full ordination of a bhikkhuni lineage. In addition, he stood by his practice of noticing what is causing harm and what is creating the conditions for freedom. He has continued to support the bhikkhunis as they travel and start new refuges, has spoken out in favor of same-sex marriage (performing some himself), and speaks frequently about doing what you find to be most skillful. His books are wonderful, his teachings are wonderful, but the way he has lived his life is perhaps the best teaching he has offered. He’s an example of walking the path, using discernment, and caring for the wellness of all beings. I don’t believe the Buddha would disagree with Ajahn Brahm. The Buddha encouraged his students to question the teachings for ourselves. Ajahn Brahm has done this, offering himself to those around him.