Bhikkhuni Ordination and Digital Activism

Thursday, 14 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Anna HALAFOFF, Deakin University, Australia
Emma TOMALIN, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Gender discrepancies, supported by religious traditions, continue to have negative effects on women’s wellbeing. Such gender disparities persist in Buddhist societies and institutions, linked to cultural and religious beliefs and practices, which allocate a lower status to women by stating that female rebirth is a result of bad karma due to negative acts committed in previous lives. In some Buddhist traditions, in Asian as well as Western settings, nuns cannot ordain to the same level as monks, most Buddhist archetypes of enlightenment remain male and men hold positions of power and privilege within the majority of Buddhist organisations. Since the 1980s a global Buddhist women’s network, Sakyadhita, has campaigned for gender equity and full ordination for women as Bhikkunis. This paper will focus on recent controversy surrounding British born Theravada monk,  Ajahn Brahmavamso Mahathera's, the Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia (WA), advocacy for equal rights for women within Buddhism. In 2009 Ajahn Brahm, as he is known, helped ordain four Bhikkhunis in WA, as a result of which Bodhinyana Monastery was excommunicated. In 2014, Ajahn Brahm’s planned speech on Gender Equality at the United Nations Day of Vesak (UNDV) convention in Vietnam was withdrawn by the UNDV’s International Committee. Both events generated significant online activity in Bhante Sujato’s Blog, on the Bodhinyana Monastery website and in an online petition to invite Ajahn Brahm to deliver his paper on Gender Equity at the 2015 UNDV convention. This paper argues that Buddhist women and men, nuns, monks and lay people including scholars, are uniting globally to campaign for gender equality in Buddhism, drawing on both traditional Buddhist social theory and modern digital activism to further their aims.