Signs

Aurora just left. James has D&D night and Brandon’s out, so us girls escaped to do something very girlie.

We had garlicky and cheesy pizza and wine and watched Dreamgirls and that clip of Jake Gyllenhaal’s SNL intro and we chat about stuff. Next thing we know, it was 10 p.m.

Oh, and my god that Jennifer Hudson! What a voice! Good lawd! Seriously! She’s just AWESOME in this movie, totally deserves an Oscar. “Listen” is my favorite song.

Anyways. After Aurora left, I came here to finish my daily blog reading. On Thai-Blogs a few days ago, Steve Suphan ranted about the state of Buddhism in Thailand. Bhikkhu Pesala, a Buddhist monk from Essex, UK, stopped by to give some real answers. I figured I posted the burning question I never asked a monk before. And to my surprise, he came by to answer. (Serious Dhamma discussion over here, y’all. Feel free to skip the seriousness to the point of this post.)

OakMonster: Well, just in case Bhikkhu Pesala stopped by again, I would like to ask the big question. I was raised a Buddhist. I still consider myself one even though in the not strictest of sense. I believe in Buddha’s path to nirvana. I’m doing the best I can to “be good” and keeping things in balance. But there are things that bother me about Thailand’s Buddhism as I grow up.

With all the rules for women to follow at the temple, I felt alienated and uncomfortable. I’ve grown up to be scared of the temple, afraid to do the wrong thing or act improperly. And as I’ve grown up enough to question things, I did have an issue. I don’t like the fact that women don’t have equal footing in the religion. What do you mean, only a man can achieve nirvana?

I don’t like that at one point I was told that women are the “enemies of the religion because they are tempters” and yet we are expected to go to the temples in droves.

I don’t know if it’s just Thailand’s Buddhism or it’s across the board. Doesn’t India allow female monks? Am I going to hell for questioning the religion? And even with all of my questionings, if I follow the words of Buddha without ever setting foot in the temple again, does that make me less of a Buddhist?

I’m sorry. I had to ask. I would never dare to ask this question to a monk in Thailand. I’d get chased out of the temple, I should think.

Bhikkhu Pesala: Some monks are sexually repressed and so feel uncomfortable around women. They are the one’s who are sexist and treat women unjustly. Those who practise properly are comfortable with women, though they are still cautious and may seem rather aloof. It is harmful for all when monks and ladies become too intimate and friendly, therefore the Buddha laid down some rules such as not talking alone with women, not arranging to travel with woman, not touching women, etc.

It is difficult – on the one hand we wish to practise metta [kindness, goodwill, friendliness] but on the other hand metta easily turns to affection and lust.

There is no text that says women cannot attain nibbana [“nirvana”, end of suffering]. Judging from my observations in Burma, women are perhaps more likely to attain nibbana than men. Why do I say that? They seem to have better morality, they are more obedient, and they have more faith (saddha) in the Buddha’s teachings.

I might be totally wrong of course. Without the Buddha’s powers no one can tell who has attained nibbana or not; who is getting close to nibbana and who is still very far away from attaining it.

The Buddha did teach that it is impossible that a woman could be a Fully Enlightened Sammasambuddha. He did not teach that women could not attain the highest goal of Arahantship in this very life. It is no harder for woman than it is for men. Since women have to overcome a lot of prejudice, perhaps they will try a lot harder than men. To attain nibbana certainly requires courageous effort and keen wisdom.

The Buddha did permit the ordination of women as Bhikkhunis during his life. However, the Theravada lineage of the Bhikkhuni Sangha has died out and cannot be revived. That is the orthodox view in Thailand and Burma. In Sri Lanka, the monks have revived the Bhikkhuni Sasana from a Mahayana lineage. I believe that Thai and Burmese Sanghas are strongly opposed to Bhikkhuni ordination.

It would be better to travel to Burma or seek out tolerant monks in Thailand to practice with. My own meditation teacher, Chanmyay Sayadaw U Janaka has a centre in Thailand and travels there sometimes. His meditation centre in Rangoon is full of Buddhist thilashins (nuns), and women who practise meditation intensively with a view to realising nibbana in this very life.

P.S. The one’s who are going to hell are the one’s who don’t question the religion. The Buddha was clear that one should make a thorough investigation and ask questions. See the Kalama Sutta. Asking pertinent questions leads to being intelligent.

The only thing is to avoid fault-finding and skepticism that would prevent one from actually practising the religion.

Who knew I could break into a serious religious talk! But I got some answers for the first time. And that’s a good thing to be able to have a conversation with a monk without feeling uneasy about it. Just to start a religious conversation alone is already odd for me. Yet, it makes me feel like I’m one step closer to my mom who is quite religious.

Oh, and as I was finishing up reading the comment from the Bhikkhu, Jewel on the randomized MP3 player sang:

It’s gonna be all right, no matter what they say
It’s gonna be a good day, just wait and see
It’s gonna be alright, cause I’m alright with me
It’s gonna be, it’s gonna be, it’s gotta be [okay]

It’s gonna be all right.

Now I really know.

1 Comment

  1. Steve Suphan   •  

    Hi Oakley: Well, you are only right in asking (or saying) The modern state of Buddhism in Thailand is really sexist. A nun of 40 years has to sit below a novice boy who is only 11 years of age.

    “The only thing is to avoid fault-finding and skepticism that would prevent one from actually practising the religion”

    Is he trying to tell you something Oakley?

    I noticed that there were a lotta comments on that blog by devout Farang Buddhists, who were looking at Thai Buddhism with rose-tinted glasses. Let them stay at a real Thai temple for a year and perhaps they’ll really see what goes on.

Leave a Reply