Dear David, Stuart, Jerrod and All,
Just to make the obvious clear: it is of course perfectly fine to question whether what Ajahn Brahm is doing is appropriate or even in accordance with the vinaya. In fact, reasonable questioning or criticism should always be welcome.
Let me try to respond to some of the concerns, starting with the question of whether this auction might contravene the vinaya. I have had a look at the posts on Dhamma Wheel that David is referring to and, frankly, some of them are misleading. One poster quotes the following from the monastic vinaya:
... but by no means do I say that money may be consented to or sought for in any way at all.
18. Should any bhikkhu accept gold and silver, or have it accepted, or consent to its being deposited (near him), it is to be forfeited and confessed.
What the poster does not mention is that this concerns becoming the owner of money oneself. Clearly, this is not what Ajahn Brahm is doing.
The same poster then quotes the following, again from the vinaya:
19. Should any bhikkhu engage in various types of monetary exchange, it (the income) is to be forfeited and confessed.
20. Should any bhikkhu engage in various types of trade, it (the article obtained) is to be forfeited and confessed.
The first of these rules, number 19, again concerns becoming the owner of money. The second one, number 20, is defined in the vinaya as “one's own goods gone to the hand of another, the goods of another gone to one’s own hands; this is a nissaggiya offence”. For those who are interested, let me also quote the Pali:
attano bhaṇḍaṃ parahatthagataṃ parabhaṇḍaṃ attano hatthagataṃ, nissaggiyaṃ hoti.
What Ajahn Brahm is doing is giving up some of his time for anyone willing to support the nuns' monastery. He is not receiving anything in return himself and thus the conditions for "trade" are not fulfilled. There is no problem here from a vinaya point of view. From my perspective, Ajahn Brahm is simply doing charity work, and charity work is an important part of monastic life: any talk or teaching is essentially just that.
Whenever Ajahn Brahm travels somewhere, especially in Asia, he normally gets substantial donations. His main motivation in teaching is certainly not the donations, but when you have a large Buddhist organisation to run it obviously matters whether people support you financially or not. If you know that you are likely to get a significant donation in a particular location, then you will probably be more willing to accept an invitation from there, all other things being equal. It is the unfortunate reality that money matters, and this is true of all Buddhist monasteries.
I have no doubt that the outcome of this auction will be entirely positive. It is a way of raising people's awareness and getting them to contribute to an important project. It may involve Ajahn Brahm having to teach the Dhamma in a place he otherwise wouldn't have visited, but more likely it will simply mean that he will go to a place that he would have visited anyway, and then the whole thing is hardly different from just giving a donation. In the end, to me this is just a clever and fun way of raising money. That it is clever is clear from the level of interest, even controversy, that the idea has already created.
Lastly, for those who think this may be a precedent for things to come, I am pretty sure this will be the one and only time he does such a thing.
With very best wishes and metta to everyone,