I have thought long and hard about it and have not been able to understand why people in America and Europe are insistent (often angrily) that the Thai Sangha or some other Asian Sangha needs to change and promote equality of women in the religious context as it limiting women in corresponding spiritual circles in America/Europe. They have some choice words for the traditional Asian societies and their supposed gender discrimination (please note that what you see in the religious context is hardly representative of the rights of women in these societies at large – look closely at Myanmar, for example).
I am not for one moment thinking that it’s a bad idea or in any way support unequal treatment in any context. Just…why not set up our own Sanghas in our own countries to be as we like?
So why can’t this be done in America or anywhere else? Any monk who wants to support bhikkhuni ordination can do so if their monastery can still be supported by enough local people. Any bhikkhuni group can form a monastery if they can be supported by local people. Asian religious organizations that receive support from Asian people or mother temples in Asian societies have to behave in a manner that concords with what the people of those societies hold in high regard.
Ajahn Brahm’s famous example is useful to ponder. In relation to the Bhikkhuni ordination incident, for going against the rules of the Ajahn Chah tradition, he was expelled from that tradition. But please note that he is still a Buddhist monk! And he is widely respected and supported by the people.
But such ordination and community created in America would not have validity, you say. To which, I say validity comes from the faith of followers. Would you say that a pastor of the protestant church is not valid or that an Imam is not valid? It is true that from the perspective of the Catholic church, the entire world of protestants is not “valid”. But that’s not how protestants see it, is it? Or consider the example of the Greek orthodox priest who shouted “heretic!” at the Pope on his visit to Greece. A meaningful statement in his own bubble, but hardly meaningful in the Catholic world. All validity for a religious figure comes from the respect and regard of some lay people. So the question is – are there enough people in America/Europe willing to provide sufficient support to a Bhikkhuni Sangha or to monks who support such a Sangha? If there are, there will be such groups and if there aren’t.
I contend that the roadblock is more the lack of sufficient generosity and commitment in our society than the intransigence of another society. Mary Talbot of Tricycle summarizes that part quite neatly in this little paragraph from her article in the references below.
We may lack the ingrained, centuries-old cultural habit of supporting monastics, but nevertheless we need to put our money, and our hearts, where our mouths are. Plenty of us have jumped on the bhikkhuni ordination bandwagon, but the attentive generosity required to support a monastic community—support in perpetuity—is not yet keeping pace with our feminist, and humanist, enthusiasm.https://tricycle.org/magazine/bhikkhuni-ordination-modern-buddhism/
As for those who claim they are agitating from the rights of Asian women … Asian women can take care of it themselves without your help, thank you. It may be news to some people that more Bhikkhuni ordination attempts happened in significant numbers by demand from Asian women, with the support of Asian male monastics before such events made their way to the Europe-descended world.
Am I oversimplifying the matter? Yes, I am, but only a little. I think it’s being overly complicated by those who express frustration with the Thai or Tibetan “central command”. If you think there is some example or argument about a local Sangha in America having ample local support from gender-equalists but not being able to operate in that way, please do leave that in the comments below.