Friday, 25 July 2014

Nuns in Burma



Progress on the Meditator Guidebook to Burma continues. As the guide gets closer to publication, we will begin to share excerpts of what yogis may expect... some sneak previews of what is to come. Here is an excerpt from the the section describing nuns in Burma:

In the 20th century, several attempts by well-respected Burmese monks were made to formally reinstate the bhikkhuni order in Myanmar, but none were successful. U Adicca first tried in the 1930s. The monk used a creative strategy to make his case. When the first 500 bhikkhunis were ordained by the Buddha, they were asked the essential questions demanded by protocol by senior monks. But when increasing numbers of women came to ordain later on, there was a concern that some of these questions were of a private nature, and it was more appropriate for bhikkhunis to question them. The Buddha thus made a new ruling that these questions were to be administered by bhikkhunis, rather than the senior monks. In most cases, when the Buddha gave a new ruling, he explicitly voided the previous ruling. But in this case, he did not do so. A primary reason for not being able to establish a bhikkhuni order in modern times is related to this second ruling: if only bhikkhunis can ordain women, and there are no bhikkhunis remaining, then it follows that no new ones may be recognized. The line is broken. However, U Addica argued that because the Buddha never explicitly canceled the initial rule in which monks played the role of questioner, then contemporary Burmese monks may be able to play this role today still today. However, his attempt was not accepted by others in the Order.

Later, the Mingun Jetawun Sayadaw U Narada (the teacher of Mahasi Sayadaw) attempted again in the 1950s, with the consequence being censured and the banning of some of his works. The Burmese government itself advocated a “Bhikkhuni Sasana” in the 1970s, but this also did not turn out. Theravadin efforts to re-establish the bhikkhuni order can be found outside of Burma as well. In 2007, a pan-Buddhist meeting called the International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha convened to find a way to encourage world-wide legitimacy of the bhikkhuni order in all Buddhist traditions, a move favored by the current Dalai Lama. Then, in 2009, Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso, an English monk in the Thai tradition who resides in Australia, ordained four women in Perth, for which he was removed from the Ajahn Chah Forest Sangha lineage tradition. 

There was one well-known case from the 1980s in which a famous Burmese nun went to Sri Lanka to ordain as a full bhikkhuni. (Sri Lanka has a recognized bhikkhuni order that comes from the Theravadin sect Dharmaguptika, whereas in Burma it is traced to Vibhajjavada. Towards the end of the 20th century, an international bhikkhuni ordination took place in India, conducted by various monks from around the world, and ordaining Dharmaguptika bhikkhunis into the Vibhajjavada order, based on an argument put forward by Bhikkhu Bodhi.)  Before doing so, she sent a letter stating her intentions to the Burmese State Sangha, who responded that this was, in their opinion, not in accordance with Burmese Buddhism. When she returned to Myanmar on a visit, she was forced to disrobe, which she did. 

One may also read inspiring testimonials by a German nun at Pa Auk, a Japanese-Australian nun in Mandalay, and a Spanish nun deep in the forest.