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A siladhara was a Theravada Buddhist female monastic established by Ajahn Sumedho at Chithurst Buddhist Monastery, England. In 1983, he obtained permission from the Sangha in Thailand, to give a ten-precept pabbajja to the women, making them officially recognized female renunciants trained in the Ajahn Chah lineage. The reasons for its establishment are due to the historical loss of the bhikkhuni (nun's) ordination in Theravada Buddhism, limiting renunciation for female Theravadins to ad-hoc roles such as the thilashins and maechis, neither of which garner respect from the Theravada community as genuine renunciates.
Ajahn Sumedho enlisted Ajahn Sucitto to train the nuns from 1984 to 1991. By 2008, siladharas were trained in the discipline of more than one hundred precepts, including rules based on the patimokkha of the bhikkhuni order. The order waxed and waned throughout its brief history, peaking at around 14, mostly living at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery.
The siladhara order is formally considered a community junior to that of the bhikkhu order of fully ordained men. Over the last twenty years, many siladhara have therefore sought full bhikkhuni ordination with commensurate privileges, recognition and responsibilities enjoyed by male monastics. Making full ordination available to women is cultural issue with significant implications for the welfare of young girls living in poverty in Asian countries where Theravada Buddhism is prevalent, especially Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Sri Lanka. Speaking of Thailand, Lynne Hybels writes, "Young men in desperately poor families such as those in Chiang Rai can bring honor to their families by becoming monks, but girls are expected to provide financially. Traffickers understand this vulnerability, prey on it, and easily lure girls into life in the brothel."
The Five Point Declaration
After years of debate and dispute, Ajahn Sumedho issued a "Five Point Declaration" concerning women's roles and rights in the Amaravati monastic community. This affirmed the traditional privileges and seniority of bhikkhus over female monastics. The edict holds that while some teaching and management responsibilities are shared between the two orders according to capability, the siladhara order is unequivocally junior to that of the monks.
The "Five Point declaration" is considered to be discriminatory against women. Some monastics and scholars also consider it to be an inaccurate interpretation of the Vinaya and other texts similar to the Three-Fifths Compromise in the United States Constitution or other codified examples of discrimination such as coverture. Many female monastics living at Amaravati at the time left the monastery citing discrimination and an inaccurate understanding of compassion on the part of Amravati leadership.
- Ajahn Sucitto 2007.
- Diab 2012, p. 62.
- Hybels, Lynne. "Protecting the Innocent". Sojourners.
- "Where We Are Now". Forest Sangha News. 19 November 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
- Weinberg, Thannisara Mary. "Ground Between" (PDF). Present Magazine. Alliance for Bhikkhunis. Retrieved September 2010. Check date values in:
- Ajahn Sucitto (2007). "The Creation of the Order of Siladhara". Forest Sangha Newsletter. 81.
In this brief account Ajahn Sucitto offers an outline of the considerations that went into formulating a Rule for the nuns.
- Gross, Zehavit; Davies, Lynn; Diab, Al-Khansaa (2012). Gender, Religion and Education in a Chaotic Postmodern World. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-94-007-5270-2.