Ajahn Brahm will be remembered as the Theravada master who brought the human touch to what some once thought a forbidding and austere religion. His British sense of wry jest (who can forget about his quip about those who approach him about relationships, when he became a monk to escape all that rubbish), along with his mastery of the common person’s tongue, has helped him to match the charisma and pedagogical power of his senior, Ajahn Sumedho. It has also set quite a high bar for future generations of Dharma teachers. For others like me, who are interested in how Buddhism responds to development alongside contemporary problems like the environment or gay rights, he will be remembered as one of the most daring monks in modern Buddhism. In this and so many other ways, he is an extraordinary monastic and man.
No one can know Ajahn Brahm well and be unaware of the controversy he has courted with some of the highest authorities in Buddhism. In October and November 2009, he risked and eventually suffered ostracization by his Thai forest community by questioning the one last orthodoxy of Buddhist monastic patriarchy: without a living bhikkhuni master, there can be no revival of the bhikkhuni lineage. This was the refrain, the mantra of the male orders of the Southern tradition, which has provided the rationale and justification for prohibiting nuns’ ordination for generations. While it has remained possible for nuns to be ordained in the Dharmaguptaka and Mulasarvastivada bhikkhuni codes in East Asia, Ajahn Brahm’s challenge to Theravada orthodoxy (and his ordination of the four nuns) led to his expulsion from the Ajahn Chah Forest Sangha lineage. Thanks to his efforts, we have continued to see a slow but surely growing tide of questions that press for greater egalitarianism: Why should there not be more female leaders in Buddhism? How can we rebuild the bhikkhuni lineages so they can truly flourish alongside those of the monks’?
Whether you agree or disagree with his interpretation of the Theravada Vinaya, Ajahn Brahm casts an inspiring silhouette over his audiences and readers: liberal, adaptable, courageous, devoted to his convictions while remaining moderate in their expression. It is the depth and diversity of his strengths – honesty, humour, mirth, tenderness, and determination – that have continued to nurture an admiring audience in the global Buddhist community. And he will find the warm welcome he rightly expects in Hong Kong, which is no stranger to his laughter and Dharma talks. This is an excellent start to 2013, and we look forward to hosting his program.
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