Most religious organizations have some kind of seminary program through which
a student may negotiate the training and become ordained. Even though the
dictionary does not recognize the Pali sources for this term, it might be worth
pointing out that the term “seminary” actually comes from the Pali term
“saminaria,” which means novice monk.
Seminary n., pl. Seminaries Abbr. sem.
1.a. A school, especially a theological school for the training of priests,
ministers, or rabbis. b. A school of higher education, especially a private
school for girls.
2. A place or environment in which something is developed or nurtured.
[Middle English, seed plot, from Latin seminarium, from seminarius, of seed, from
semen, semin-, seed.
American Heritage Dictionary, 1991
Many of you may know that I have been working for years on a way of
negotiating empowerment within the Western Dharma. Unfortunately however there are
very few methods through which a Western contemplative can become ordained or
empowered within the Western dhamma.
There are of course Buddhist seminaries in Asia, where a Western
contemplative can most assuredly attend, and through negotiating typically 4 year training
program one can become ordained. The greatest difficulty to me in
negotiating an Asian Buddhist seminary is they are not at all interested in debate. A
monk must accept and teach their dogma, even if one points out that dogma is
not consistent with the published teachings of the Buddha.
Beyond the lack of open dialog, I find the greatest difficulty in attending
an Asian Buddhist seminary, is a student must have absolutely no possessions or
assets of any kind. That means that one becomes solely dependent upon the
seminary for everything. If one finds that the seminary does not teach a
philosophy and practice strategy that is consistent with the Buddha’s teaching, then
one has no alternative, but to submit to that seminary’s training, or leave.
And, with no assets where is one going to go in Asia? Since I have already
found myself in conflict with the three Vehicles of Buddhism, I doubted whether
I would have much of a chance of success in attending a seminary in Asia.
Another difficult hurtle to negotiate in Theravadan Buddhism is no matter how
much one has invested in Theravadan monastic Buddhism, as soon as one leaves
the monastery one must relinquish one’s ordination. If one wishes to return
to the USA to teach as an ordained Theravadan monk, then a monastery must be
established to sustain that monk. Theravadan monks cannot live by themselves.
There are in fact so many restrictions upon a Theravadan monk that it takes a
community to support one monk.
And, finally, the last and most difficult obstacle to my ordination within
Theravadan Buddhism is if my teaching diverges at all from the dogma of the
orthodoxy, which it does, then how will I find the necessary support within the
Theravadan community for my monastery? I simply will not.
Therefore with these various restrictions I found myself somewhat frustrated
in not finding a means of empowerment within Theravadan Buddhism or the
Western dharma. With a desire to figure out a way through this complex dilemma of
empowerment and ordination I emailed every dharma center in North America, I
also posted a message to about 400 Yahoo groups that are dedicated to Buddhism
and meditation. I asked them all for any leads they may have for ordination or
empowerment. Out of about 1200 emails sent I received about 150 replies.
Most of those replies said they did not know of an ordination programs. Of the
ones who had a constructive suggestion, I had already contacted the centers
they suggested and I had my application rejected.
In the May Issue of the SWI E’letter editorial I said the following:
“I spent about a day in disappointment at finding my last and greatest hope
of finding a dhamma teacher in the Theravadan Sangha who understood the
absorption states. In fact I had been searching the web and literature for several
years for teachers with an authentic understanding of the absorption states. I
had even explored outside of Theravadan Buddhism, however I quickly rejected
the various Mahayanist schools for a number of reasons. Zen tends to demonize
the absorption states by calling them "makyo" which translates as the
"devil's cave." Pure Land rejects meditation practice altogether, so there was no
hope of finding a teacher or preceptor in those traditions that could help me.“
“In Theravadan Buddhism for the most part there is a complete denial of, and
resistance to, speaking about the absorption states. Considering their
central practice regimen is called 'dry' insight, because it rejects the absorption
states, it is no surprise there are few teachers, if any, in that tradition
who would know anything about the ecstasies (jhanas).” Of the few Theravadans
who do teach jhana I have found they all have rather unrealistic views or do
not speak from personal experience, but from the Visuddhimagga, which I found to
be wholly incorrect.
“In Vajrayana I have found they do not deny, or demonize, the absorption
states instead I found they have such an extravagantly romantic view of the
absorption states, that they are seen as something too lofty even for a great
contemplative to attain, not to mention a simple Western lay contemplative, such as
myself and the nearly 450 member of the Jhana Support Group.”
Christianity, Judaism and Islam have nothing to offer on the subject of a
contemplative life that leads to fruition attainment. While Hinduism has
numerous gurus who claim to have personal knowledge of the ecstasies, these gurus are
too often in service for themselves, and very rarely empower or enable others
to make a contribution.
“Considering that there has been a boycott of my work, locally and
regionally, by the Insight Meditation Community, I decided to move from Tucson. It does
not seem to make sense to stay in a region where, as a consequence of this
boycott, I can hardly get 3 people to show up for one of my daily meditation
sits, weekly classes or monthly one day retreats.”
“In March I was invited to lead a 100-day meditation retreat in Mendicino
County California. I planned on using this long retreat as a means of motivating
me out of Tucson. Two weeks after the retreat was announced the local
Theravadan monastery, who had had a 15 year relationship with that center, requested
that all references to their monastery be removed from the retreat center's
website, presumably due to their interest in having Jeff Brooks lead a retreat
for them. Consequently the board of that center canceled the retreat I was to
“The irony is, that Theravadan monastery was my next choice to seek a
cooperative relationship with, and maybe even ordination. They have of course
ignored my requests for ordination through them. So, it seems I am all "dressed
with no where to go." Still I will follow through with relinquishing my
possessions and heading out of town to lead a retreat in Santa Monica, California, and
to give a series of public talks elsewhere in California. Perhaps other
opportunities to teach the obscure field of meditation that I have become expert
in, the absorption states (jhanas), will open up to me.”
“In between time, since none of the vehicles of Buddhism will consider
developing a relationship with me and my growing community of ecstatic
contemplatives on the Jhana Support Group (which now numbers over 460 members) I have
decided to work toward building a new Vehicle of Buddhism. It is after all really
time for a new vehicles of Buddhism to emerge anyway. The needs of the West
have really not been met by the Asian Buddhist community. The three vehicles of
Buddhism believe women cannot become enlightened, and they either actively or
passively resist the ordination of women. Why would I, or anyone in the
West, even consider being a participant in a religion that does not accept women
as equal participants anyway? I certainly do not want to be in service to a
With the first half of this life spent in search of empowerment within the
contemplative world of the West I have spent 3 decades endeavoring to meet the
requirements of several contemplative Eastern traditions. With a considerable
expense of time, money and effort there has been no such validation from any
of these traditions I worked within. It has also become ever so clear that
Eastern traditions will rarely, if ever, accept Western people as peers in their
Given also that none of the vehicles of Buddhism seem to know much about an
authentic contemplative life, and the consequences of such a life, I have
decided to ordain myself and to begin building a Western Vehicle of Buddhism, which
will of course be dedicated to leading an authentic contemplative life and
the fruits of that contemplative life.
In Buddhism lineage is often claimed by the various schools of Buddhism.
This lineage is often claimed to extend all of the way back to the Buddha
himself. This however cannot be supported by history. It is a historic fact that
Buddhism went through several periods of collapse. And, of those traditions
that claim to link to the Buddha through Boddhidarma, we can know that they
cannot possibly be linked to the Buddha, because Boddhidharma was self ordained.
Boddhidarma emerged in India during the 6th century. He wandered all over
India seeking validation and empowerment and found no school of Buddhism that
would have him. So, he took the slow boat to China (literally) and began to
teach there. He must have made somewhat of a name for himself because he soon
gained an audience with the Emperor. During that audience the Emperor boasted of
his many contributions to Buddhism and how much merit he must have accrued.
Boddhidarma’s response was, “No merit.” The emperor was so incensed by
Boddhidarma’s response that he banished Boddhidarma to the provinces, where he
languished in a silent retreat for 6 years. He lived the rest of his life in
obscurity. If it was not for one of the two students he had late in his life we
would probably not even know of him.
The seminary programs in Buddhism today tend to parallel the Buddha’s
original training program. Originally Sidharta Gotama instituted a 4-year training
program that included at least one summer rains retreat, which was basically a
100-day retreat. Unfortunately, since my teaching diverges from the orthodox
opinion of the three vehicles of Buddhism it is unlikely any school of
Buddhism will recognize my authority as a teacher of the Buddha’s philosophy or
practice strategy (dhamma).
Therefore this Sunday, September 6, I will have completed a 4 year personal
retreat, in which I observed monastic vows, while providing for my child and
completing 3 degrees. During that time I also made a study of the 3 published
volumes of the Discourses of the Buddha; I also published via the web well over
300 articles on and about Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice
(A portion of these articles are available on Ecstatic_Buddhism at:
During the 4 years of this self imposed seminary I also served the community
of Western contemplatives through membership in various local sanghas, where I
provided leadership, consistent sit leadership, taught classes, and offering
personal counseling in meditation techniques. I also published this
newsletter. And, finally this summer I will have also completed a solo summer100 day
wilderness retreat. Therefore, I believe I have adequately fulfilled the
requirements of an ordained priest in any tradition, let alone Buddhism. Thus, this
Sunday I will ordain myself, like Boddhidarma (and Sidharta Gotama before
him), since I have found no one qualified to do so.
Since so few authentic contemplative traditions exist today, and so few
Buddhist traditions will ordain Western students or treat them with the respect
they deserve, then I will begin accepting students who are interested in
ordination in the Great Western Vehicle. I hope to find a community of sincere and
dedicated contemplatives who want to lead a contemplative life and fulfill the
requirements to qualify themselves as worthy heirs of the Buddha’s philosophy
and practice strategy (dhamma). Together we will work to build an authentic
Western Vehicle of Buddhism.
If you are interested in ordination in the Great Western Vehicle, then please
Dhamma_Teacher, A site for peer-level Dharma Teacher empowerment and
ordination in the Great Western Vehicle
May you all become enlightened in this very lifetime.
Please join Jhanananda and the Great Western Vehicle for the ordination
ceremony for those who successfully completed the First Annual Great Western
Vehicle Summer Rains Retreat. The ordinations will take place over the Memorial Day
weekend, this September 3-6, 2004 in the Inyo National Forest. Please RSVP
if you plan to come.
For further details go to Wilderness_Retreats at:
and look into the file section of that list for files
called Inyo Retreat Details.pdf and Getting to the Inyo .pdf
May you become enlightened in this very life-time,
the Great Western Vehicle
PO Box 41795
Tucson, AZ 85717-1795
A Photo Essay of this summer’s Wilderness Retreat:
A web page for Jhanananda (Jeff Brooks):
the Great Western Vehicle
Ecstatic Buddhism http://www.geocities.com/jhanananda/ecstaticbuddhism.html