Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Ordination - Defining and Defectiveness

Perhaps before comparing ordination or the lack of ordination (yet still recognition), we should look at what is involved in ordination.

To do this, one might consider ordination in both Christianity and Buddhism, given that these practices are structural in both even if they are described in each from within separately.

Ordination in Christianity comes as a part of that continuous community with its birth day at Pentecost that is continuous with those believing in Jesus Christ and his resurrection.

Those who are ordained, and who practice ministry, are a focus of unity in the claims of the Christian community. The individual feels a call to exercise ministry, and this is recognised by the Church as a group. From the earliest times the Church has ordained by the laying on of hands.

The person so ordained then builds up that community through service. He or she acts as a guide and celebrant, offers care and acts prophetically. These abilities suggest gifts, first considered by the individual (even vaguely) and then the ordination is recognition of the receipt of that charism. So there is (usually) something of the supernatural in the notion of gift and charism.

The minister, however, does not act alone, but is given active support and indeed shared participation by the community. So the minister becomes a focus that is a focus. But it still needs the person who is, to some extent, set apart.

A great deal of this may be functional, and much is rational. But if the body and material world is affirmed, then talking about people is to talk about the sacredness in the material. The gift is not some spiritual higher ether but of and in the person him or herself.

All ministry is sacramental, but only most Christian ministries exercise the celebration of sacraments. Those that do have rules about these set aside people, ordained, who celebrate the sacraments. In some cases these imply a proper order in dynamic with the gift of charism being made active, in a supernatural sense, but some take the power and charism conferred at ordination to imply some sort of power in the priesthood, which is a magical or esoteric interpretation.

Presbyters are such set apart servers, the focus of unity, but there is a further need for Elders who even further co-ordinate all these people, including the Presbyters.

These Elders are in many cases Bishops. The Bishop in some traditions is the representative presbyter (focus requires one person) and then the other presbyters are his (or her, sometimes) representatives. This is a top-down view, but many presbyteries retain a bottom-up view.

For all presbyters, the test of the Church is the judgment made by other presbyters at ordination, so all ministers are ordained by others down the ages. However, some make a closer rule of this, that the chief focus of unity in an area should be named, that he (or sometimes she) was ordained by another named person, or better a gathering of chiefs of different areas, and this has to be done by proper rite. There is a fine line here between supernatural gift and order, and magic by power of initiation.

Most such ordinations by Presbyters or named Elders/ Bishops include the examination of doctrinal correctness as well as the good standing of the individual.

For some the charism is taken on trust as freely offered and cannot be mechanical, and the stress is on the correctness of belief.

Where there is diversity of belief, the function of ordination is seen as an approval by the Church regarding charism and gift, and does lay hope that the person is of good character. No ministry, however, relies on good character: ministry can take place even where character is found to be defective. Nevertheless, that very diversity causes ordination itself to be questioned, and the notion of being set apart is challenged.

In some cases of diversity of belief, however, there has run with it a more magical view of ordination, still conferred on the person. A curious situation can arise here where all the procedures are highly traditional at the same time as intellectual freedom exists. Presumably a more supernatural alternative would allow these charisms and gifts to come about in a liturgical freedom as well as belief freedom. Magic demands method demands propriety.

Much of this derives from Liberal Catholic Bishop Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854-1934), a one time Anglican priest who became an occultist and Theosophist, and connecting himself in part to Hinduism and Buddhism, and produced Christian liturgy.

He had such creative ideas and impact, and yet was a questionable character in how he handled his homosexual relationships.

Another person of questionable character is Dennis Lingwood (1925-) because of the nature of his homosexual relationships that were with some people looking to him as a teacher. It also raised questions about an ideology of single sex living that has been interpreted as anti-family. I myself met a person married who lived in a single sex house, and who followed the view that the nuclear family was less important than in Western ideology. Yet these places were sometimes the place of sexual activity within the sexes - and when it gets mixed up with religion and teaching and mutual pastoral care it gets problematic.

Huge damage has been done to his own creation as a result of revelations regarding his sexual activity (the pyschological damage and worse to the 18 and 19 year olds involved) despite the Buddhism that was launched in the FWBO/ WBO that has since, not unsurprisingly, changed its name to Triratna since Sangharakshita gave up all active involvement.

One of the claims of Lingwood/ Sangharakshita is his ordinations across different Buddhist traditions prior to creating a Western Buddhism.

Each ordination is recognition by a community, but they can mean a beginning of spiritual activity (as a Theravadan Bhikku, for example, and Mahayana ordinations) as much as an achievement of spiritual activity. Buddhism is about deep learning into specifics in order to transcend the stickiness of personality and to become more clearly aware. Yet an emphasis is found in Buddhism on the connections between named persons, of masters, as ordinations take place.

Sangharakshita wrote 43 Years Ago -Reflections on My Bhikkhu Ordination published in 1993 by Windhorse. In it is the claim that six years after his ordination in 1950, Sangharakshita discovered a technical irregularity which rendered the ordination invalid. It was because one of the six monks who officiated at his ordination had actually transgressed his monastic vows..

This is itself questionable but it seems odd that after this discovery the public position was that the ordination was valid, when he must have thought differently. WBO member Punyaraja was expelled when he questioned this order's standing in 1987.

Other Buddhists do question the depth and rightness of the Triratna Buddhist Community as an expression of Buddhism. As an individual, I warmed to what I encountered and the people I met. They seemed to focus on the essentials, and did it through classes, though criticism that ethical businesses were in effect partly financed by people being on the dole also seems valid in the sense that they didn't have monks and laity but the WBO people seemed to live on the dole. Well I live on the dole now and that means looking for a job. You can volunteer (the rules have only recently been relaxed) but you are looking to get paid and off the dole!

The result of recent revelations is that the movement is sorting itself out, and not simply by the pronouncements of the leaders. Perhaps this is a good thing, and charges of a sectarian Buddhism won't continue.

In the end, what difference does ordination make if the ideas are still valid (assuming they are valid)? Indeed, an argument can be made that defective orders are part of the way of religion, even part of the way of creative religion. The notion that an ordination is not valid because of some misconduct, or because some technicality is breached, seems to shift to the magical. Honesty is important and so is character, but perfection isn't, and nor is transmission of known dishonesty on to the unknowing (unless the dishonesty is widespread and a further recognition is needed).

I am in favour of ordination - ordination is about recognition and about service, and the fact is that it is conferred by people in the thrust of the religious path to someone beginning that religious path. I am against magic, so when there is a charism or gift, it isn't the transformation of a person to become ontologically different. For me, the line between the supernatural and magic is so narrow that magic is the better explanation - the priest has power to bring the presence of Christ into the elements. Otherwise anyone can do it, if this happens at all. But then I'm against the supernatural and magic. Magic is done by people with skill and props, and there is nothing beyond or outside, and the same is so with the supernatural. Charism and gift is a talent that can be developed. You can still have ministry and faith without the supernatural and magic, you can still have ordinations, and talent with education and training, but what you don't have is sacred deposits and instant elevations of individuals.

There is little value, then, in ordinations that claim to be of Roman, Old Catholic, Syro-Chaldean lines in the multiple, or in multiple Buddhist traditions, unless there is real recognition, intent and study.

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