Friday, 20 August 2010

Ajahn Sucitto on the Nuns’ Situation

The following is taken from the Cittaviveka Newsletter August 2010 and is Ajahn Sucitto's thoughts on the Nuns’ situation at Chithurst and within the wider "Western" forest tradition.

"The unfortunate news regarding the nuns is that our two senior nuns have left or will be leaving the community. Ajahn Thitamedha revised her plan to live as a nun outside this community to one of disrobing altogether. Ajahn Kovida has decided to leave Cittaviveka in November, spend some time in Burma and then take up life as a solitary nun in Britain. Many of you will have read their farewell letters and are understandably shocked or saddened by this news, especially as they point to perceived problems in the community dynamic. It’s a sensitive area, and because rumours and interpretations abound, I offer a few thoughts for consideration. To speak in general terms, each of us requests permission for the Going Forth and entrance to this lineage after careful consideration, and many choose to leave it after a similar process. The sense of how needs, aims and directions change is part of the changing nature of spiritual life. This is nothing new; nor is the sense of loss and disappointment that occurs, especially when a monk or nun of long-standing leaves the group. To my knowledge, even amongst senior monks, more have left our group than now remain. To address the nuns’ situation more specifically, I will speak from my own limited understanding of the situation. It seems to me that at this time our lineage sits at the edge where a conservative Asian tradition meets
a liberal Western one, and that brings with it the crunch point of gender equality - which is the aspired aim of the West, but which is in direct contradiction to the fact that in all Buddhist monastic lineages, the male line is held to be ‘senior’ to the female. Seniority is a way of forming line-ups and protocols within a group, to avoid competition or jealousy - so that who goes first is not a matter of who’s wisest, but who’s senior. This too is nothing new here, and it is so much the standard that to change that would require broad Sangha consent.

Another crucial point is that men and women experience and relate to the world in distinctly different ways. Over time, these differences can bring with them a frustration that we’re not on the same wave-length, and interpretations that so-and-so is not following the agreed-upon norms, or that so and-so isn’t listening or is out of touch. In situations when a man and a woman live together, I’d imagine that these issues can get sorted out (though not always), because of the intimacy that is part of the commitment to live with a chosen partner. When such issues occur amongst 25 people, who haven’t chosen to live in a close relationship, and who are in many ways barred from forming one, and who incline towards silence and solitude, resolving these differences is a major challenge. Some feel that more dialogue is needed; greater separation is also a considered option - either through
creating another vihara, or, regrettably, through a more complete leave-taking. At Cittaviveka we have attempted to give the Rocana Vihara a good degree of autonomy, with the nuns being in charge of their routines and internal governance. Recently this has extended to having meal offerings for the sisters down at Rocana on the last Friday of each month (you are all very welcome to make offerings there to the sisters). We are also establishing an inter-monastic committee to look into how sharing these wonderful places can become smoother. Naturally after all the time and effort that’s gone into establishing a training for women in the west, I’m keen to find a satisfactory resolution."


  1. A voice of reason and compassion! Thank you Ajahn Sucitto!

  2. you have to allow Bhikkunni status to be accepted. Please find a space in your trainning to do this. I am Thai and I support Bhikkunni.