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Ajahn Brahm

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Ajahn Brahm
Ajahn Brahmavamso Mahathera.jpg
Religion Buddhist
School Theravada
Education Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Dharma names Brahmavamso
Personal
Nationality Australian
Born (1951-08-07) 7 August 1951 (age 67)
London, England
Senior posting
Based in Bodhinyana Monastery
Title Phra Visuddhisamvarathera
Religious career
Teacher Ajahn Chah Bodhinyana
Website bswa.org/teachers/ajahn-brahm/

Ajahn Brahm, also known as Ajahn Brahmavamso or Phra Visuddhisamvarathera (born Peter Betts[1] on 7 August 1951), is a British Theravada Buddhist monk. Born in London, he was ordained in the Thai Theravada tradition at the age of twenty-three. He currently resides in Australia, where he is the abbot of the Bodhinyana Monastery. He is the author of sereral books on Buddhism and meditation.

Ajahn Brahm is also the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Spiritual Adviser to the Buddhist Society of Victoria, Spiritual Adviser to the Buddhist Society of South Australia, Spiritual Patron of the Buddhist Fellowship in Singapore, Patron of the Brahm Centre in Singapore, Spiritual Patron of the Bodhikusuma Centre in Sydney, and most recently, Spiritual Adviser to the Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project in the UK.

Early life

Peter Betts was born in London.[1] He came from a working-class background and went to Latymer Upper School. He won a scholarship to study theoretical physics[2] at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge in the late 1960s.[3] After graduating from Cambridge, he taught in high school for one year before traveling to Thailand to become a monk and train with the Ajahn Chah Bodhinyana Mahathera.[1] Ajahn Brahm was ordained in Bangkok at the age of twenty-three by Somdet Kiaw, the late Abbot of Wat Saket. He subsequently spent nine years studying and training in the forest meditation tradition under Ajahn Chah.

Bhikkhuni ordination

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On 22 October 2009, Ajahn Brahm along with Bhante Sujato facilitated an ordination ceremony for bhikkhunis where four female Buddhists were ordained into the Western Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha.[4] The names of the four ordained woman are: Venerable Ajahn Vayama, and Venerables Nirodha, Seri, and Hasapañña.[4] The ordination ceremony took place at Ajahn Brahm's Bodhinyana Monastery at Serpentine (near Perth, WA), Australia.

Although bhikkhuni ordinations had previously been held in California USA and Sri Lanka,[5] this was the first modern bhikkhuni ordination in the Thai Forest Tradition and it proved highly controversial. There is no consensus in the wider tradition that bhikkhuni ordinations could be valid, having last been performed in Thailand over 1,000 years ago, though the matter has been under active discussion for some time. Ajahn Brahm claims that there is no valid historical basis for denying ordination to bhikkunis.

I thought too when I was a young monk in Thailand that the problem was a legal problem, that the bhikkhuni order couldn’t be revived. But having investigated and studied, I’ve found out that many of the obstacles we thought were there aren’t there at all. Someone like Bhikkhu Bodhi [a respected Theravada scholar-monk] has researched the Pali Vinaya and his paper is one of the most eloquent I’ve seen – fair, balanced, comes out on the side of “It’s possible, why don’t we do this?”[6]

Thailand has a system of state-approved preceptors that was introduced in the twentieth century. In this system, all preceptors who preform monastic ordinations must be officially approved by the Thai government, and the ordination of female monasitcs (bhikkhunis) is illegal. After performing the ordination for female monastics in Australia, Ajahn Brahm had his preceptor status revoked by the Thai government.[7]

In addition, for his actions of 22 October 2009, on 1 November 2009, at a meeting of senior members of the Thai forest monastic Sangha in the Ajahn Chah lineage, held at Wat Pah Pong, Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand, Brahm was removed from the Ajahn Chah Forest Sangha lineage and is no longer associated with the main monastery in Thailand, Wat Pah Pong, nor with any of the other Western Forest Sangha branch monasteries of the Ajahn Chah tradition.[8]

They did this after he was asked to say that the four nuns he ordained were not bhikhinnis and he stayed silent. Ajahn Brahm stated at the time:

However, some senior monks raised the question of the status of the four women who had received Bhikkhuni Ordination. I accepted that they would not be regarded as Bhikkhunis in Thailand under the present climate, but the ordination was legitimate and they were Bhikkhunis. A senior monk then claimed that the ordination was invalid because of “ditthi vipatti”, which he explained as meaning without the approval of the Sangha of Wat Pah Pong. As anyone with a basic knowledge of sanghakamma knows, this is nonsense. However, that unfounded view held sway and the meeting came down to a single clear choice: If Ajahn Brahm would state in the midst of the Sangha that the four women were not Bhikkhunis then there would be no penalty, otherwise Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery would be removed from the list of branch monasteries of Wat Pah Pong. I paused for a minute to reflect and, considering that I could not go against the Vinaya and state the Bhikkhunis were not properly ordained, nor could I go against the wishes of the Sangha of Bodhinyana and the thousands of lay Buddhists that support the Bhikkhuni Ordination, I refused to recant.

As a result, Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery was removed as a branch monastery of Wat Pah Pong. I emphasise that this decision had nothing to do with the process, secretive or otherwise, through which the ordination took place. The decision to excommunicate Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery rested solely on my refusal to state that the Bhikkhuni Ordination was invalid.

After the meeting formally concluded I paid my respects to many of the senior monks who reminded me of their continued friendship. For example, one old friend said to me “meuan derm” (meaning “just as before”). I hope that a similar attitude will prevail among all my friends in the Western Sangha.[9]

He continues as a Bhikkhu preceptor under the Vinaya which makes no provision for need for state approval.[7]

The statement from Wat Pa Nanachat, explaining their reasons for the expulsion of Ajahn Brahmavamso from the Wat Pa Phong Sangha ends: [10]

For most of the Wat Pa Phong theras, the intellectual argument over the validity of bhikkhuni ordination is not the point. Their lack of knowledge of the latest studies on the subject is, in their eyes, irrelevant.

To them the issue is that Ajahn Brahmavamso reneged on commitments implicit in his ownership of a Thai monastic passport, his role as abbot of a Wat Pa Phong branch monastery, his position as an officially sanctioned preceptor, and his acceptance of the Jow Khun title (formalizing his membership in the elite strata of the Thai monastic order).

In the meeting of the 1st November it was the perception that Ajahn Brahmavamso had acted disrespectfully to his teachers and lineage that aroused emotions, not his wish to elevate the status of women.

Time only will tell if the bhikkhuni ordination at Bodhinyana monastery in October 2009 will be seen as a key breakthrough in the acceptance of a Theravada bhikkhuni order, or as an overly hasty and confrontational move that alienated many of those it was intended to persuade.

Projects

Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project

In October 2015 Ajahn Brahm asked Venerable Candā of Dhammasara Nun's Monastery, Perth, Australia, to take steps towards establishing a monastery in the UK. In response to this, Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project was born. Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project aims to promote the teachings and practices of Early Buddhism, through establishing a Bhikkhuni presence in the UK. Its long term aspiration is to develop a monastery with a harmonious and meditative atmosphere, for women who wish to train towards full ordination. [11] [12]

“This monastery is going to happen . . . it’s just a matter of time. . . . [The bhikkhuni sangha] is the fourth leg of the chair of Buddhism, this is what the Buddha kept on saying. After he became enlightened under the banyan tree, Mara came to him and said, ‘Okay, you’re enlightened, I admit it. Now don’t go teaching, it’s just too burdensome. Just enter parinibbana now, just disappear.’ The Buddha said, ‘No, I will not enter parinibbana. I will not leave this life until I have established the bhikkhu sangha, bhikkhuni sangha, laymen, and laywomen Buddhists: the four pillars of Buddhism.’ Forty-five years later, at the Capala Shrine, Mara came again and said, ‘You’ve done it! There are lots and lots of bhikkhunis enlightened, lots of bhikkhus enlightened, great laymen and laywomen Buddhists . . . so keep your promise,’ and [the Buddha] said, ‘Okay, in three months, I’ll enter parinibbana.’

What those two passages from the suttas demonstrate is that it was the Buddha’s mission; it was why he taught—to establish those four pillars of the sangha. We have lost one, so every Buddhist who has faith in the Buddha should actually help the Buddha re-establish the bhikkhuni sangha. It was his mission, [but] because of history his mission has been thwarted.”[13]

LGBTIQ support

Ajahn Brahm openly spoke about his support towards same sex marriages and at a conference in Singapore in 2014 said he was very proud to have been able to perform a same-sex marriage blessing for a couple in Norway, and stressed that Buddhist teachings don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.[14] [15]

Kindfulness

In an effort to reclaim the "mindfulness" practice from being overrun by secular industries and a recent claim that it is not owned by Buddhism, Ajahn Brahm clarifies that mindfulness is a practice within the rest of the supporting factors of Buddhism (the Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right motivation, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, and right stillness). Mindfulness is part of a great training which is called Buddhism, and to actually take away mindfulness from Buddhism is unhelpful, inaccurate, and deceiving — mindfulness is a cultural heritage of Buddhism. Practicing mindfulness without wisdom and compassing is not enough. Therefore, drawing from the Pāli Suttas [16], Ajahn Brahm created the term "Kindfulness", meaning mindfulness combined with wisdom and compassion — mindfulness with also knowing the ethical and moral compassionate consequences of the reactions to what is happening (a.k.a. satisampajañña). [17]

Monastic code (vinaya)

Whilst still a junior monk, Ajahn Brahm was asked to undertake the compilation of an English-language guide to the Buddhist monastic code - the vinaya [18] - which later became the basis for monastic discipline in many Theravadan monasteries in Western countries.

Current activities

Currently Brahm is the Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery, in Serpentine, Western Australia,[19] the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Spiritual Adviser to the Buddhist Society of Victoria, Spiritual Adviser to the Buddhist Society of South Australia, Spiritual Patron of the Buddhist Fellowship in Singapore, Spiritual Patron of the Bodhikusuma Centre in Sydney and most recently, Spiritual Adviser to the Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project in the UK.

Honors and titles

In October 2004, Ajahn Brahm was awarded the John Curtin Medal for his vision, leadership and service to the Australian community by Curtin University. He is currently working with monks and nuns of all Buddhist traditions in the Australian Sangha Association.

Under the auspices of the Diamond Jubilee of King Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej, in June 2006, Ajahn Brahm was given the title of Phra Visuddhisamvarathera,[20] a Royal Grade Thai ecclesiastical title once held by Ajahn Liem, the current abbot of Wat Nong Pah Pong.

Publications


External links

Videos

Search for videos:


Selected videos:

  • Learn to be at peace with yourself
    Description: Too many people are trying to improve themselves, and underlying this attitude is a non-acceptance towards ourselves, and relentless perfectionism that tends towards makes ourselves miserable. Whilst it may be counter-intuitive to people in the West, the path to self improvement begins with accepting ourselves just as we are. Through learning to be at peace with ourselves, we heal the inner conflicts and begin to grow.
  • Four Ways of Letting Go
    Description: Straight from teaching a meditation retreat, Ajahn Brahm reveals ways of letting go. Ajahn offers a teaching on how to train your mind to let go, to be peaceful and happy. And reflects upon why we find it so hard to let go of our hurts and difficulties and how beneficial letting go is for us and others.
  • Guided Meditation - Ajahn Brahm - 1 December 2018

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "I Kidnapped a Monk!". Buddhistdoor International. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  2. "Buddhism, the only real science". Daily News (Sri Lanka). Archived from the original on 28 July 2012. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  3. Chan, Dunstan (2013). Sound and Silence. TraffordSG. p. 189. ISBN 9781466998759. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "History in the Making?". Go Beyond Words: Wisdom Publications blog. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  5. Zoltnick & McCarthy. "2600 Year Hourney History of Bhikkhunis". Present Magazine. Alliance for Bhikkhunis. Retrieved 29 December 2017. 
  6. "An Interview with Ajahn Brahm". Alliance for Bhikkhunis. Archived from the original on July 26, 2010. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ajahn Brahm’s preceptor status, Sujato’s Blog
  8. "news". Forestsangha.org. Archived from the original on 12 January 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2010. 
  9. Ajahn Brahm on why he was excommunicated
  10. Why Ajahn Brahmavamso was excluded from the Wat Pa Phong Sangha statement from Wat Pa Nanachat, explaining their reasons for the expulsion of Ajahn Brahmavamso from the Wat Pa Phong Sangha
  11. Anukampa Bhikkuni Project [1]
  12. Buddhistdoor Article [2]
  13. Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project Nun's Monastery Set to Become a Reality [3]
  14. "Buddhist abbot Ajahn Brahm in Singapore: 'Unacceptable' that religion has been so cruel to LGBTIs". Gay Star News. 26 July 2014. 
  15. Religion has been Cruel to LGBTIQ[4]
  16. Maṇibaddha Sutta, Saṃyutta Nikāya (SN) 10.4 [5]
  17. Interview with Ajahn Brahm 6 Nov 2017 Tough Questions to Ajahn Brahm
  18. [6] "Pāli/Theravada Vinaya"
  19. "Operated by the Buddhist Society of Western Australia". bodhinyana.org.au. Retrieved 1 October 2011. 
  20. "ราชกิจจานุเบกษา เล่ม 123 ตอนที่ 15 ข" (PDF). สำนักนายกรัฐมนตรี. Retrieved October 26, 2016. 


Further reading

Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso

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