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Spiritual Teabreak
with Chief Ven. Dr K Sri Dhammananda

Kuala Lumpur
This spiritual tea break session is brought to you exclusively by the Buddhist News Network. Spiritual teabreak is a monthly series bringing to you thoughts of Chief Ven. Dhammananda via the Internet.

"Women have already become presidents of countries. Why can't they become nuns?!"

Those words came out softly, but the tone was firm. Chief Venerable Dr K Sri Dhammananda was not about to be polite this morning. The Maha Vihara complex today looked pale against a backdrop of gloom and grey. The day have begun on a wet note, with heavy showers making its presence felt well before dawn.

Chief was commenting on a series of articles which highlighted Thai nuns leaving their home country for Sri Lanka so that they could be ordained.

According to a Bangkok Post report on July 5, 2001 Jamnian Rattaburi became only the second Thai woman to seek ordination. The first was Buddhist scholar Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, and it has brought her under fierce attack by conservative Thai monks and laypeople. Chatsumarn, now samaneri Dhammananda, will become a full bhikkhuni after completing her two-year novicehood.

"Instead of advancing efforts to enhance understanding of the Dhamma, and extoling courage to control their minds, some Buddhists seem to be held back by outdated traditions and beliefs", explained the 82 year old venerable. "And we shouldn't blame others for saying Buddhism is backwards because we have not helped ourselves to be forward thinking."

Having born early in the last century, it is hard to believe that his thinking and mental outlook remain extremely realistic, pragmatic and relevant. Modern even. An embodiment of the timeless Dhamma perhaps, but it does say something about his ability to view contemporary issues effecting the Sangha in ways which is uncommon for members of the Buddhist clerics.

"Two months ago, at the doctorate award ceremony at the Mahachulalongkorn University, I gave a short speech to about 5,000 graduate monks", his tone mellowed as he began to emphasise his key point. "I said, other religion always say that the Buddha is not a god, but a man. So why do we Buddhist worship him? How can He bless us? Save us? They say all we worship are just idols. Now how can we counter such questions?"

He has a point. Most monks today tend to deliver mostly "book knowledge". But how many teaches their followers to face the challenges of the modern world? It is not just religious knowledge that matters, but as he says "the courage to learn how to control our own minds, so that we are not timid or scared in facing any difficulties." And then he sounded the clarion call:

"If we know what is right, there is no reason to surrender."

In not so many words, Chief highlighted what plagues the Dhammaduta (Buddhist missionary) movements all over the world. In embracing the tenets of the Dhamma, devout Buddhists have turned it into an "exclusive" religion, not realising that the Dhamma is not a dogma, maxim, doctrine, theocratic philosophy or any connotations that suggests the "closing of the mind."


"If we know what is right, there is no reason to surrender."

Book knowledge undeciphered remain just that - theoretical information which contains high sounding words but brings only fuzzy meanings. That is why the Buddha skillfully engaged the usage of metaphors to deliver his message. As Chief explains, "during the Buddha's time, education was low and rural farming was a way of life. Given the environment as such, using stories to convey a certain discourse was the most effective method at that time." And he certainly demonstrated what he meant when he delivered this story. 

"All religion teaches peace, harmony and friendship. They always talk about love, but they always find it difficult to love one another. Instead they condemm each other, treating the other party like a disease."

"One day," he continued, "our neighbour (i.e. the church just beside the vihara) wanted to organise a Christian seminar. But they had a problem. They didn't have enough place to stay for their delegates. They came to see me and asked if I could help. I said 'yes', your delegates can use the vihara classrooms as guests' accomodation for the duration of the seminar."

As the analogy goes, it doesn't matter if it is Indian sandals or Chinese clogs or American shoes, as long as it fits, just wear it. When it comes to matching deeds with words, there is no shortage of examples to showcase the depth of wisdom of this highly revered Venerable.

But the examples doesn't stop here. The next story he told was well known amongst those who were involved in establishing Buddhist hymms way back in the early eighties. For some, it even bordered on legendary scales.

"When Victor (Wee) and the Wayfarers came to see me about their wish to commence a hymm singing group, I gave them my blessings. But when they first began singing their first hymm, the orthodox elders and some members of the Sangha made a lot of noise, saying that the group was turning the vihara into a church," he reminisced. "But I stood my ground. I said, let them say what they want. If you think you are right, just go ahead."

A few years later, those simple Dhamma based hymms inspired a whole new generation of young, committed Buddhists. It also became  impetus in re-igniting and rejuvenating the Buddhist youth movements all over Malaysia.

As the morning wore on, it became apparent that the sun was not going to be shining brightly. The overcast skies and the soft drizzle continue to contribute to a damp and soggy atmosphere. But that's outside.

Inside, in here, right here in the seat of this "Mahathera", the glow of Dhamma was shining brightly. The glory of the saffron robe was brightly inflamed with deep wisdom. The heat of compassion from this Venerable was giving warmth to future hopes.

And therein lies the message of today's morning teabreak:

Buddhists need to break out from their conservative shell. As we learn, we should also not close the minds to the fluid happenings of the world around us. Whether be it women seeking to become nuns, whether emphatising with other religionists "so that they could understand their religion better", whether encouraging youngsters to explore new ways to promote Buddhism, Buddhist growth can only happen with an open mind.

Let us all hope that Chief's morning teabreak message will reverbrate loud and clear through this grey and gloomy morning. And it'll only be to our benefit, for if we Buddhists know we are right, there is no reason to surrender. 


Updated: 23-7-2001

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