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In 1983, he obtained permission from the Sangha in Thailand, to give a ten-precept pabbajjā to women, giving them official recognition as female renunciants trained in the Ajahn Chah lineage. The reasons for its establishment are due to the historical loss of the bhikkhunī (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 recognition from modern-day Theravada Buddhists as genuine renunciants.
Ajahn Sumedho enlisted Ajahn Sucitto to train the nuns from 1984 to 1991. By 2008, sīladharās were trained in the discipline of more than one hundred precepts, including rules based on the pāṭimokkha of the bhikkhunī order. The order waxed and waned throughout its brief history, peaking at around 14, mostly living at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery.
In order to not violate national laws governing religious ordinations in predominantly Theravāda countries, with the notable exception of Sri Lanka, the Sīladharā Order is formally considered junior to that of bhikkhus or fully ordained men. Over the last twenty years, many siladhāras have therefore sought full bhikkhunī ordination with commensurate privileges, recognition and responsibilities enjoyed by male monastics. Making full ordination available to women a 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." Such ordinations, however, are according to Buddhism itself motivated by wrong view; in particular, by careerism or economism, rather than by a sense of saṁvega and genuine renunciation.
After years of thorough discussion, Ajahn Sumedho issued a "Five-Point Declaration" concerning women's roles and rights in the Amaravati monastic community. This affirmed the status quo of seniority of male over female monastics. The declaration 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 by the very world (kāmaloka) renounced by monastics 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. In addition, the violations of national law that had been sought to avoid were distinct from the vinaya itself, as argued by Ajahn Brahmavaṁso on the same matter.
Despite Ajahn Sumedho's best efforts at balancing contending interests, many female monastics living at Amaravati at the time left the monastery citing discrimination and lack of compassion on the part of Amravati leadership. Subsequently, two sīladharās from this group founded a community in the United States. Along with numerous other women in recent years, these former Sīladharās have taken full bhikkhunī ordination.
- Ajahn Sucitto 2007.
- Diab 2012, p. 62. sfn error: no target: CITEREFDiab2012 (help)
- Hybels, Lynne. "Protecting the Innocent". Sojourners.
- Greenspoon, N. H. (2011, October 2). Good reason to ordain. Ask a Monk. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEbaJbui8ao.
- "Where We Are Now". Forest Sangha News. 19 November 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
- Betts, P. (2009, November 8). Open letter to all from Ajahn Brahm on his exclusion by Wat Pah Pong. The Buddhist Channel. Retrieved from http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=70,8667,0,0,1,0.
- Weinberg, Thannisara Mary. "Ground Between" (PDF). Present Magazine. Alliance for Bhikkhunis. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-26. 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.