A GLIMPSE OF THE LIFE
AND TEACHING OFBUDDHADASA BHIKKU
BY VENARABLEVIVEKANANDA, PH.IX
SPONDSOR BYMR. SAARD KONGSUWAN
In 1958 Venerable Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû was the leader of a group consisting of Mr. Chuen Siroros (Founder of Buddha Nigom Association and Buddha Dharma Grove in Chiangmai), Mrs. Surichai Siroros, Miss Penchai Siroros, Mr. Rabil Bunnak, Mr. Wichian Indrakusin, Ven. Silananda and myself. We went to India on pilgrimage to the most holy and sacred places of the Lord Buddha for three months in order to shoot a film studying the life and teaching of Lord Buddha. We went almost everywhere to examine the history, the teaching, the stone carvings, the sculpture, the Indian traditions and way of life. All of us considered Ven. Buddhadâsa to be the most learned scholar, full of erudition and experience in Buddhist scripture and philosophy. Mr. Chuen Siroros, his wife and daughterbelieved in Ven. Buddhadâsa as a most perfect guru. The film, called “Visit to the Land of the Buddha”(“Soo Daen Buddha Bhoom”), became enormously popular and ranked first among films of its kind in Siam. Even now it has not been surpassed.
This book is intended to serve as a gift in honor of the cremation of the late Ven. Buddhadâsa. It is from my thesis describing all those meditation masters present in Thailand and Burma written under the super-vision of Professor Dr. Mahesh Tiwary, Ph.D.
The sponsor of this book is Mr. Sa-ard Kongsuwan who is publishing it for free distribution in honor of the late Venerable Ajarn and to transfer the merit to his beloved wife, Mrs. Sompong (Daeng) Kongsuwan. Both wife and husband respected and regarded Ven. Buddhadâsa as the supreme teacher of our time. I must be thankful to Mrs. Kim Harris and Mr. William Baumgardt for typing the manuscript and also to Joan Hero for improving my Thai-Indian English.
The essence of Ven. Buddhadâsa teaching is Sunnata : voidness. There is nobody, no-self, no soul, no proprietor, no owner, no I, no my, no nationality, no race, and no color. Because of feeling and attachment the aggregates exist-yet when one attachment disappears completely. There is no longer anything to attach to! Only the foolish, blinded as they are by craving and egoism and thus clinging to the five aggregates, will argue with this.
Anybody wanting to know more about emptiness must read the Sunnata Sutta and the Mahasunnata Sutta in the Majjhima-nikaya, preached by the Buddha and explained by the late Ven. Buddhadâsa; and also the doctoral dissertation on Sunyata (Sunnata) written by Ven. Phra Maha Thongyod Bhuripalo (Phra Shri-sudharmamuni), Abbot of Thai Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India.
From my experiences of having met many teachers at different places in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and India, and also from my own study and research, I would say that the best form of meditation practice is mindfulness with breathing (Anapanasati). Through it, one can develop both serenity and awareness. Both Samadhi and Sati are needed for insight and liberation. Scholarship and erudition alone will not lead to Saniadhi. In fact, too much analytical thought will block the way. For meditation one needs quietness of mind: no thought, no criticism, no analyzing. Let Samadhi and Sati work, like two hands together. When both Sati and Samadhi are in operation, the transience of all things will become apparent to the meditation practitioner. When one realizes this great truth of unceasing change, the impermanence of everything in the universe-that realization is called Vipassana, insight. That is the goal of Buddhism.
A Glimpse of the Life
And Teaching of Venerable
By Venerable Vivekananda, Ph.D.
Venerable Buddhadâsa was a famous meditation master in Thailand. He is well known among both Buddhists and non-Buddhists for his lessons in meditation. He was a practical man who taught a very clear method of practicing meditation. There were no barriers of caste, creed or color in the practice he taught.
It is said that Ven. Buddhadâsa was born on May 27, 1906 (2449 B.E.) at Pumriang in Chaiya, Province of Surat Thani, South Thailand. His father’sgiven name was Siang and his mother’s was Kleuan. At birth he was given the name Mgeuam. The family name was Panich. He was the eldest son and had a younger brother, Yee Key, later changed to Dharma-dasa, and a sister, Kimsoy.
The area where master Mgeuam was born has a rich cultural heritage. It was previously known as Sri Vijaya. It is said that Buddhism came to Sri Vijay from Sri Lanka. A group of monks came from Sri Lanka and propagated Buddhism. For a long period it was renowned as a center for Buddhist education. An old pagoda stands now telling its history of cultural activities. The area preserves a very congenial and harmonious atmosphere conducive to the teachings of the Buddha. This was an important influence on the mind of the child Mgeuam.
Master Ngeuam’s father, Siang Parnich, was a merchant. His parents did not consider education important at first Ngeuam completed his secondary education, the highest then available in Chaiya, at age 14. There was no university in Thailand at the time.
While in worldly affairs, Mgeuam performed his domestic duties with sincerity though he had no real interest in or attachment to the domestic life. This was his background on reaching the age of 20.
His ordination ceremony was held at Wat Ubolin Pumriang, Chaiya. He was given the monastic name,”Indapanno”. After his ordination he passed the advanced Dharma examination while at the monastery. He went to Wat Pathum Kongkha in Bangkok for further study. He learned Pâli, but intentionally failed the fourth grade examination in 1931.
A turning point had come. He had realized that the study of Pâli and other academic subjects was not sufficient in leading the real life. Believing mere theoretical knowledge to be useless, he balanced his theoretical studies with practical training in the teaching of Buddha. He developed an immense interest in this and gained profound knowledge through insight meditation.
After his practical training, he returned home and decided to serve Buddhasana with his practical know-ledge. At first, in 19^2, he established his center at Pumriang which he called “Suan Mokkhabalarama. “Mo ! Suan Mokkh came first! When it became too small, he relocated to Wat Dhannamlais which was also called “Suan Mokkhabalarartu” where he taught and propagated Buddhism until his death. He also trained many disciples.
His center is located at the foot of riang A Hillin Chaiya. He guided his younger brother, Dharmadasa, in bringing out a quarterly journal named “Buddhasasana” and in running a private school for children. His journal, “Buddhasasana,” is still read among learned Buddhists in Thailand. The private school he founded developed into a higher secondary school with a large number of students. His school is renowned for study and discipline.
His own life as a monk was strict and austere. He observed strictly the monastic rules (Patimokkh).He slept on the floor without a mattress using a coconut shell as a pillow He observed Dhutahgas. He took one meal a day (Ekasanikahga). He used only three robes (Te–ciuarakahga). He slept for only a few hours at night (Jagariyanuyoga).
Ven. Buddhadâsa became a famous meditation master, author, and Pâli scholar. He wrote many book son Buddhism and translated many books from Pâli and English into Thai. Under the pen-name, “Sirivayas,” he composed a number of Buddhist poems.
Ven. Buddhadâsa was a man of wide-ranging interests. His activities were not focused in just one direction but along many paths. He had a fine imagination. He included paintings, sculpture, photography, and a special theater in his center for Buddhist studies. Besides numerous books, he also wrote many articles for general readers interested in Buddhism. He was not a man of blind faith. He criticized even the scriptures whenever he found them unsuitable to the people. For this reason he is sometimes condemned by orthodlox Buddhists. Those who believe in rational thinking, however, praise him. He became famous for his rational, practical, natural approach.
Ven. Buddhadâsa was honored by being given the opportunity to train judges in the hall of the Ministry of Justice. He delivered a series of lectures to officers of the Ministry of Education as well as to students of universities in their auditory halls. He gave sermons to the learned in Bangkok.
The other aspect of Ven. Buddhadâsa that was very much appreciated by the people was his practical training in meditation. After the establishment of the meditation center, he gave lessons in insight meditation encouraging Buddhists, young and old alike, to taste the bliss of Niibbana in this present life. He believed that spiritual stages such as Sotapannahood, Sakada-gam\hoo6, Anagamihood and Arahathood can be realized in this life, nibbana is not far away but near at hand.
He teaches in Sunnata. His Sunnata consists of voidness of Niccam, Dukkham and Atta. He believed that where there is no Atta, there is no craving(Tanha). When there is no craving (Tantia) there is no attachment (Upadana). When there is no attachment(Upadana), there is complete extinction (Nirodha).This is the state of deliverance, emancipation orNibbana
Technique of Insight Meditation According to Buddhadâsa
- As was pointed out, Ven. Buddhadâsa was marked in all fields of life. He did not believe that the spiritual life need be confined to the forest or some lonely place. Rather, it can be led by a man amidst worldly activities, that which is complete in the realization. Therefore, he emphasized that the best life is the spiritual life in which there is fulfillment of worldly responsibilities along with achievement of spirituality. He would train a man and make him physically and mentally fit so that he could lead the household life while remaining quite detached from worldly affairs.
A man desiring to be trained in this method of insight meditation approaches the teacher and expresses his willingness. The teacher does not require any formality. If the practitioner desires, he is advised to take refuge in the Triple Gem. He generally observes the five precepts (Panca-sila) or eight precepts (Atthasila)during the period of learning the technique.
There are no hard and fast rules for staying for so many days or months. The length of stay is deter-mined by the mental development of the person concerned. Generally, one lives there for three months.
The mind is naturally very fickle, restless and unsteady. In order to arrest the mind and develop concentration in it, one is required to focus it on the breath. One counts the breath as it comes in and goes out. One does so in a very mindful and watchful way, such as inhaling one, exhaling one; inhaling two, exhaling two ; inhaling three, exhaling three ; inhaling four, exhaling four; inhaling five, exhaling five. One does this type of counting from one to five and repeats the process several times. After some time, develops the count up to ten. After continuous practice ones mind learns to concentrate on breathing. The mind does not wander but remains alert to the breath coming in and going out. This endeavor of concentrating the mind may be called Samantha.
The practice of Vipassana as prescribed by Ven. Buddhadâsa is based on the teaching of the Buddha. When he said “Ditthe Ditthamattam Bhauissati, SuteSutamattam Bhavissati,” he meant that one should not to develop attachment to objects that appear through the six sense organs : eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Each sense organ has an object of its own. This means that there are six types objects these sense organs. They are the visible, audible, odorous, gustatory, tangible and ideational objects. It is the nature of the sense organs to catch their respective objects. The objects appearing before the sense organs are grasped by them, but a practitioner has to avoid developing attachment to the objects. When one develops attachment to an object, there arises the feeling of “I” and “mine.” When “I” develops there is suffering. Therefore, one must be careful not to allow the “I” to enter the mind.
When the eye sees forms or the ear hears sounds, and so on, the practitioner should be alert and have the wisdom to know what to do with them. One should remain unperturbed. The acts of seeing and hearing are quite all right provided that one never allows the “I” to be constructed out of desire or feeling connected with the objects which one sees or hears. If it is done thus, then it can be said that the “1” is not born. When it is not born it does not die and therefore there’s no suffering at all. Accordingly, one should train the mind in such a way as to remain unattached when the various types of objects appear to the sense organs.
One emphasizes that we should make our lives such that there be no birth again because birth results in suffering. One may be born in any form and he will experience suffering. For example, if one is born as as on, one suffers as a son. If one is born as a rich, one suffers as a rich man. If one is born as a poor man, one suffers as a poor. If one is born as a good man, one suffers as a good man. If one is born as a bad man, one suffers as a bad man. If one is born as a fortunate man, one suffers as a fortunate man. If one is born as an unfortunate man, one suffers as an unfortunate man. Therefore, where there is birth, there is suffering. The best state, according to one is not to be born in any form. By this, he means “The Extinction without Remainder.”
Further, by “birth” Ven. Buddhadâsa does not mean only the birth from a mother’s womb. “Birth” also means the birth in the mind. What is that ? The birth of the idea “I am such” and “I am such and such.” I am a son; I am a father; I am a rich man ; I am a poor man ; I am a good man; I am a bad man ;I am a fortunate man; I am an unfortunate man ;etc. Where there is “1” and “mine,” that is called grasping (Upadana). This “I” born the mind due to ignorance (Avijja). It is born thousands of times everyday and when it is born, suffering (Dukkha) is the unavoidable result.
This may be understood more clearly with an example. Whenever the eye sees a form, or the ear hears a sound, or the nose smells or the tongue tastes or the body touches through the skin, or the mind thinks of past events, is developed. In each case, there arises attachment (Upadana). This gives birth to the “I” and where there is “I” there is suffering. (Dukkha).Therefore, one advises the practitioner to be careful, conscious, and aware when objects appear to the senses. He should remain unaffected and not develop any type of attachment. He can perform all his activities while remaining unattached to the objects. This leads to a happy life.
One concludes by reminding the practitioner to practice constantly the art of non-attachment. He advises that to know it clearly, “One must constantly have a clear understanding of non-attachment. Every day and night, awake or asleep, one should maintain intelligent wisdom all the time. Never let grasping by way of me or ‘This is mine’ occur. Even if one dies during sleep, one still has the possibility of not being born again. Reminder, “in other words, the state “not self” having only the Dharma in a mind which is void of self. “This practice should be done early in the morning and again at bed time.
There is another method of practice which is done when one is about to die. In it one is advised to make the mind free from clinging (Upadana) before one dies. Suppose, for instance, one is injured by a fierce animal, or run over by a car, or crushed by a falling building, or murdered and so on, if there is consciousness left for even a second, one should “at that moment direct one’s mind towards Extinction without Remainder.” One should have neither hope nor desire nor anything to cling to (Upadana). Other-wise there will be birth again because fuel is left behind for another birth.
The two methods simply teach how to train the mind so that there is no clinging (Upadana) to any-thing. One must understand Extinction without Remainder in two categories, namely : one must have a mind really filled with wisdom, and clearly under-stand that “there is nothing to hold onto or to grasp at,” (Sabbê Dharma Malam Abhiniuesaya). In this mind that is completely void of clinging and attachment there is no “I” or “This is mine.” There is only Dharma, the absolute deliverance also known as Extinction without Remainder, or Mirodha. In its full sense, “Hi” means without a remainder, and “bana” means going, or blowing out (as a candle). Mibbana, therefore, means going without any remainder. As described it has the characteristics of a meaning, a practice. Men these days search for a way through the clouds, but the cloud way is dark and without sign, The Mountains are high and often steep and rocky ;in the broadest valleys the sun seldom shines. Green crests before you and behind, White clouds to east and west-Do you want to know where the cloud way lies ?There it is, in the midst of the Void !
From : “Cold Mountain : 100 poems by the T’ang poet
Burton Watson, Translator
LIFE & SOCIETY
THE NATURAL EYES OFVOIDNESS
Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû is a Thai Buddhist monk(Bhikkhû) whose dedication in service to the Lord Buddha has produced the largest and most innovative body of work of any Bhikkhû in recent Thai history. He has been a pioneer in the application of Buddha-Dhammâ to the realities of the modern world during the recent decades of rampant modernization and economic growth and has forthrightly criticized the immorality and selfishness of many modern social structures. Further, he has been Thailand’s most vocal proponent of open-mindedness toward other religions.
“Buddhadâsa” means “Servant of the Buddha” (Dasa can also be translated “slave.”) and “Bhikkhû” refers to a person who has left home in order to fully undertake Buddhist spiritual training(Dhamma-Vinaya). While Buddhadâsa itself is a generic term, a certain young Thai Bhikkhû took it as his name when he began a unique experiment within Thai Buddhism called “Suan Mokkh” (The Garden of Liberation). In the more than sixty years since, he has initiated and inspired many innovations in the teaching and application of Buddha-Dhammâ. Primarily, as he sees it, his life’s work has been to restore the Buddha’s teaching to its pristine state. Over the centuries many cultural practices and superstitions inevitably ‘have obscured the essential Dhammâ. Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû has dedicated his life to distinguishing the one from the other, that which leads to absolute liberation from self and its suffering, and that which does not, without limiting himself to traditionally narrow religious concerns or orthodox Theravada. His truly radical reform has been to go back to the original source of all Buddhism, that which is even more original than the scriptures or the Buddha himself, something he has come to call “the natural religion of non-selfishness.”
Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû has interpreted the Pâli Tipitaka of Theravada Buddhism in light of its primary principles — noble truths (ariya-sacca), not-self (anatta)or voidness (sunnata), and dependent origination(paticca-samuppada) – so that all of the core teachings fit together and are more deeply understood through each other. In doing so, he moved away from some cherished, albeit secondary, dogmas of orthodox Theravada belief. The consequences of this radical reappraisal have been many, including, an emphasis on the here and now, rediscovery of the spiritual dimension of everyday life, a bridging of the lay-monastic fracture, greater compatibility with science, greater intellectual rigor, and the re-integration of political and social issues within a Dhammâ world view. The last achievement is the focus of this chapter.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF
BUDDHADASA BHIKKHU AND
Six hundred kilometers south of Bangkok, where the Malay Peninsula suddenly widens, are found ruins belonging to the Sri Vijaya Empire, which dominated the sea-lanes of Southeast Asia between India and China1200 to 1500 years ago. Although Siam has been a Theravada Buddhist country for centuries, the archeological evidence shows that Mahayana Buddhism came to what is now Southern Thailand first.3 Among the Sri Vijaya ruins, numerous and beautiful images of Mahayana Bodhisatvas have been found. Thus, the Buddhist roots of the Chaiya area are ancient and diverse.
At the turn of the century,4 the rubber economy and electricity had not yet come to Chaiya. Life followed the old traditions, which were centered in Buddhism, the effects of which were pervasive and profound. The customs and values of the people still showed the Buddhist roots of their culture. Life was simple and family oriented. Sharing was common and crime rare. The seasons and cycles of rice planting passed on along with the festivals of the people. This was the climate in which Mgeuam Panich (later Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû),his brother Yikey (later Dhammadasa), and their sister Kimsoi were born and raised.
In 1906/2449, Ngeuam Panich was born at Pum Riang, then the provincial seat of Chaiya Province,5 into a small merchant family. Guam’s father was second-generation Chinese (Hokkien) and his mother a native Thai. Their relatives were spread up and down the local seaboard. Many of his relatives were and had been Bhikkhû & even Abbots. The family kept a small store in the Pum Riang market.
In speaking of his childhood, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû emphasizes three primary influences: his mother, the Wat (“temple”), and Mature. His mother was Buddhadasa’s first “spiritual guide.” She taught the morality and values which have underpinned all of his later insights and accomplishments. Her home was firmly based in the five sila and there was daily contact with Buddhism through offering food to the monk son their daily alms round and other activities. The family economy was thrifty and hard working. Even at a young age, Mgeuam and his brother learned to shred coconut meat more carefully so that more coconut milk, a staple in traditional Thai cooking, could be extracted. In a recent Mothers’ Day talk, Buddhadâsa . Bhikkhû said that his mother’s influence was crucial in the formation of his character.” Whatever abilities, knowledge, and such which I have now, where do they come from ? Let me say that they come from my mother most of all.”6
At the age of eight, Mgeuam was taken by his parents to stay at Wat Pum Riang, where he was a temple boy for the .next three years. This is where he learned to read and write, had his introduction to Buddhist ceremonies, heard many traditional stories, and made frequent forays into the forest to collect medicinal herbs for the abbot. Ajarn Buddhadâsa speaks fondly of his experiences among the temple boys, with whom he learned discipline, hard work, cooperation, punctuality, responsibility, humor, cleverness, and, most importantly, unselfishness. In “A Single Solution for All the World’s problem” he suggests this temple boy education as a way of overcoming the immorality and selfishness which is destroying the world.7
The influence of Nature was experienced while taking his father’s cows into the fields to forage and in collecting herbs for his abbot from the forest. Thesea was always nearby, along with the mangrove forests that then covered much of the shore. The forest then was still primal, full of trees more than a meter wide. Rural life followed the natural cycles of the seasons and animal birth and death. Ajarn Buddhadâsa also tells of a young passion for Siamese fighting fish, which much later developed into a hobby of raising exotic fish at Suan Mokkh. His study of the fish and other animals, as well as plants, especially orchids, provided many insights into nature and the instincts, which has been an important source of material in his teaching.
Mgeuam left the Wat in 1911/2460 to enter Wat Potharam School where he completed the four year primary school curriculum. In 1921/2464, his father opened a second store in Chaiya; near the new railroad station. Ngeuam went to stay with him there and began secondary school. The following year his father died, compelling Ngeuam to leave school in order to help his mother run the family stores. He was now the head of the family at the age of sixteen.
Besides the obvious effects of running a store for four years, there were other important influences on Ngeuam during his late teens. First, he had access to a large number of new books, including many concerning Dhammâ, which were sold in the store. This was a period when writers and thinkers like Krom Phraya Vajirananavarorasa and Luang Wichit Wattakarnwere challenging many traditional Thai beliefs and beginning to demythologize Thai Buddhism. He also had daily opportunities to discuss and debate Dhamma and other issues with local officials, the educated elite of rural Siam. By the time he ordained as a monk, Ngeuam had read and discussed all the basic Dhamma books, and much more, that a young monk would be expected to learn. And these contacts and responsibilities gave him some understanding of the wider world.
EARLY DAYS IN THE SANGHA
At the age of twenty, in line with Thai custom, Ngeuam undertook upasampada (the higher training)as a Bhikkhû for the annual Rains Retreat (Pansa).8He was given the Pâli name Indapanno, which he still uses on official documents. At first, his motivation was simply to express gratitude to his parents and ancestors; he had no intention to remain a monk longer than the customary three months of the Rains Retreat. Phra Mgeuam took to the Bhikkhû life, however, and had an easy time of his studies.9 He also became a popular preacher from the very start. Taking what he learned in his daily Dhammâ classes, he gave nightly sermons which explained the Buddha’s teachings in simple, straightforward terms.
Enjoying the Bhikkhû life, Phra Mgeuam decided not to disrobe after the initial Rains Retreat was over. This made it necessary for his brother to leave University in Bangkok and come home to run the family business. Phra Ngeuam continued his Dhammâ studies and began to teach newly robed Bhikkhû. He had a natural facility for teaching and greatly enjoyed the responsibilities. Eventually, older Bhikkhû and relatives noticed his intellectual abilities and sent him to Bangkok to further his studies and “career.”
At that time, the only way to advance within the institutional Sangha was to study Pâli in Bangkok. Such studied were the opportunity to prove oneself to senior monks and obtain patrons and positions within the ecclesiastical hierarchy. An uncle, who had been Bhikkhû at an influential Bangkok Wat (Wat Pathum Kongkha) for many years, arranged for him to live and study there, but Phra Mgeuam found Bangkok to be noisy and dirty (even sixty years ago !). Worse, the lifestyle and behavior of many monks made a bad impression on him. After only two months, he returned home dismayed, intending to disrobe. At the last minute, he decided to stick out a third Rains Retreat(1928/2471) and passed the third and final level of Dhamma studies. Afterwards, he forgot his plan todisrobe. The following year he taught at the Dhamma School of the royally sponsored Wat Boromathat Chaiya.
In 1930/2473, Phra Mgeuam’s relatives and friends convinced him to try Bangkok again. There he was more interested in visiting Wats, attending lectures, and experimenting with photography, than the rote learning of Pâli. Still, he passed the first Pâli examination(Parien 3, Third Level). He also made his first attempts at writing, in which he showed a modern perspective and expressed the conviction that the highest levels of Buddhist realization are still possible today.
Nonetheless, Bangkok still did not suit PhraWgeuam. He was increasingly put off by the noise, crowding, busyness, and pollution, and his health suffered. He missed the calm and simplicity of his hometown. As he continued his studies, be began to do more outside reading. The Pâli curriculum itself did not include readings from the Tipitaka, but Phra Ngeuam began to read it anyway. The contradiction between the lifestyles, behavior, and practices of the monks around him in Bangkok and the lifestyle and practices of the original Sangha gradually became obvious to him. He began to think that Bangkok was not the path and doubted that peace could be found there.
We have decided that Bangkok certainly is not the place to find purity. Our stumbling into the academic Dhammâ studies (pariyat-tidhamma) has had the good result of making us aware that it was a mis-step. If we didn’t realize this in time, we would take many more steps until it would be hard to extricate ourselves, as has happened with some people. From just this awareness of going astray has come a hint of how we are to take the right step.10
Dissatisfied with and suspicious of the rote translations expected in the Pâli schools, he deliberately failed the next year’s examination by giving answers he believed in but which were not what the examiners wanted. For now, he had something better to do than climbing the ecclesiastical ladder. We have walked according to the world from the moment of birth up until the moment of this insight. From now on, we won’t follow the world anymore and will give up the world to search for that which is pure as the Nobles Ones did until finding it.11
FOUNDING OF SUAN MOKKH12
Phra rigeuam left Bangkok and returned to Pum Riang with the intention of living in a natural setting conducive to the practice of Dhammâ as taught by the Buddha. This move had already been prepared through letters to his brother, who also was keenly interested in the problem of adapting the timeless Buddha-Dhammâ to modern realities and who now called himself “Dhammadasa.” A group of his friends called the “Dhammadana Group” helped. Phra Ngeuam returned home and on May 12th, 2475/1932 moved into Wat Trapang Jik, an abandoned temple about a kilometer from the Pum Riang market. Here, just one month before Thailand switched to “democracy” in the form of a constitutional monarchy, Phra Ngeuam began his experiment, Suan Mokkhabalarama, “The Garden of the Power of Liberation” (for short, Suan Mokkh, “The Garden of Liberation”), the most radical attempt to reform Thai Buddhism in recent Siamese history. In making this move, he went beyond the official and politically controlled religious institution without breaking with it. There were no harsh words,. judgments, or condemnations, unlike some later “reformers.”
Alone in an abandoned Wat, where he had to confront socially conditioned fears of spirits, Phra Ngeuam set about his intention to dedicate his life to the practice of Dhammâ. He already knew, however, that his understanding of exactly what and how to practice was insufficient. Thus, for the sake of practicing Dhammâ, he went back to the Pâli texts for guidance. Unlike the forest Wats built around famous teachers, Suan Mokkh turned directly to the Dhammâ and Vinaya (discipline) of the Buddha as the teacher.13 During that first Rains Retreat of Suan Mokkh, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû began to compile the Dhammâ principles that would guide him. At first he thought this would only take five or six months, after which he would live a wandering life, perhaps in India. Circumstances turned out other-wise and he never left Suan Mokkh.
As Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû pursued these studies, he also experimented with them, which is the Buddhist understanding of “research.” Along with his Dhammâ studies and practice, he was kept busy speaking at other Wats and functions set up by the Dhammadana Group. From the start, we see the three central components of life at Suan Mokkh : study, practice, and Dhamma teaching.
In the second year of Suan Mokkh, the two brothers began to publish the quarterly journal Buddha-Sasana, which was then the only Buddhist magazine in Siam coming from outside of Bangkok and has been the longest running Buddhist periodical in this country for many years. It soon developed a reputation for new ideas, readability, and insight. In the third Rains Retreat of Suan Mokkh (1934/2477), Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû lived the entire three months in silence14 and recorded his experiences in the form of a Dhammâ Log Book. He treated his life as a kind of Dhammâ laboratory experiment ; for example, investigating the effect of different foods on his body and mind, as well as keeping careful track of mental states. He kept a meticulous record of experiences and wrote many short essays based on observations of Mature and insights into the workings of the human mind.15
In his writings, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû began to explore the connection between study and practice, arguing for their complementariness, rather than an either-or dichotomy. It should be noted that young Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû approach was unique in Siam. For at least a millennium, going way back to the Sri Lankan commentators, there had been a strict separation between city monks (gamavasin) who studied and performed ceremonies and forest monks (arannavasin)who lived a simple meditative life. Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû integrated both strands of monastic life, something which had not been seen in Siam for centuries, if ever. Here was a forest monk who kept many of the traditional ascetic practices (dhutanga)16 , ate one meal a day, lived alone, yet was a diligent scholar, and prolific writer and speaker. Rather than emphasizing to an extreme one or two element of traditional Buddhism, such as the moral precepts or meditation practices, as has been done with more recent “reform groups,” he tried to integrate everything genuine into a balanced Middle Way.
GROWTH OF SUAN MOKKH
Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû lived alone for most of the first four years, but the quality and innovation of the writing and ideas in Buddha-Sasana inevitably attracted increasing attention. After five years some monks began to stay with him. Visitors included high ranking monks such as the Somdet of Wat Thepsirinda, who was then administering the Thai Sangha on behalf of the Supreme Patriarch, and influential civil servants, who were to provide important support and recognition. Later, they were also to provide protection against those threatened by Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû ideas.
Beginning in 1940/2483, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhu gave a series of lectures at the Buddha-Dhamma Association in Bangkok. Until this point, he had been teaching on the fringes of Thai intellectual society and lacked the podiums supplied by rich Bangkok Wats and royal patronage. In this first Bangkok lecture, he spoke for over two hours concerning the way to realize Buddha-Dhammâ. In this and subsequent lectures we can see the primary features of Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû mature teaching style. His presentations were in plain language, rational, clear, and unencumbered by literary profuseness and old-fashioned monkish phrases. He left out accounts of miracles and divine beings and focussed directly on the Dhammâ, trying to show that anyone of average intelligence could study, understand, practice, and realize its truth for themselves. In this first lecture, he even dared to suggest meditation to the Bangkok intellectuals.
In subsequent years, he gave lectures titled “Peaceas Being Being the Fruits of Realizing Buddha-Dhammâ”(1942), “Buddha-Dhammâ & Peace” (1946), and “Buddha-Dhammâ & The Spirit of Democracy” (1947). The series concluded with his first major controversy in June1948/2491 after speaking about “The Mountains of the Buddha-Dhammâ Way,” in which he asserted that the Buddha, Dhammâ, and Sangha of most Buddhists were obstacles obstructing their way to nibbana. Because of their egoistic attachments to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, they did not have the true Buddha, Dhammâ, and Sangha which alone can liberate us from dukkha. The idea that all aspects of Buddhism must be cleansed of attachment to “I” and “mine” has been hard for many to swallow. Through these lectures and Buddha-Sasana, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû was firmly established as an innovative free-thinker who was unafraid to express views which were not acceptable to the majority, when he thought the old way of understanding hindered people’s spiritual insight and growth.
By the early 1940’s, the original site of Suan Mokkh had become crowded and so a large tract of land was purchased around long abandoned Wat Tarn Mam Lai (Temple of the Flowing Water) through which ran a beautiful stream. In the center of this Wat was Golden Buddha Hill on which were scattered remnants of an ancient temple or stupa. In 1944/2487, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû moved there permanently and others followed.
At this point in the story, Suan Mokkh and Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû had become well-known to educated Buddhist’s throughout the century. It is time we considered the Dhammâ teaching that led to this recognition; however, a final comment is necessary as we conclude this biographical sketch. Buddhadasa17Bhikkhu feels that his person and its biographical details are not very important. Personal stories too easily distract us from the Dhammâ and strengthen the illusion of self. “The person doesn’t really exist. Who are you talking about ?” he asks. So may the foregoing be forgiven, and taken with a grain of salt. Let us now turn our attention to the Dhammâ which he has served for the sake of liberating humanity from dukkha and making world peace possible.
2Primary resources for this section are Lao Wai Meua WaiSondhaya : Atajiuaprawat kong Tan Puttatat (As Told In the Twilight Years : The Memories of Venerable Buddhadâsa), interviewed and edited by Phra Pracha Pasannadhammo (Komol KimtongFoundation, Bangkok : 1986); Phap Jivit 80 Pi Puttatat Phikkhu(Pictorial Life of Buddhadâsa Bhikkhu‘s 80 Years), ed. PhraPracha Pasannadhammo and Santisuk Sophonsiri (Komol Kimtongfoundation, Bangkok : 1986); and the author’s personal con-versations with Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû. In this chapter, works for which no translator is given have not yet been published in English and translations are this writer’s own.
3There is a traditional belief that two of Emperor Asoka’s missionaries — the monks Sona and Uttara – came to Suvamabhumi, the capital of which is now Nakorn Pathom, in the third century(B.E.).
4Christian Era. 1900 C.E. corresponds to 2443 Buddhist Era (Thai reckoning) and 2500 B.E. corresponds to 1957 C.E.. Thais count 1 B.E. as the year following the Lord Buddha’s parinibbana, whereas the Singhalese and Burmese count 1 B.E. as the year of the parinibbana.
5In 1909, the provincial seat moved to Ban Don, at the mouth of the Tapee River, and was renamed Surat Thani, “City of Good people.” Pum Riang remained the district seat until1921, when it moved to the Chaiya market
6Phra Khun kong Mae keu Santipap kong Lok (The Virtue of Motherhood is Peace for the World), (Atammmayo, Bangkok :date unknown, original talk given on Mother’s Day 12 August1989).
7“A Single Solution to the World’s Problems” (Mam PrikTuay Diow) in Messages of Truth from Suan Mokkh, (Saccasarajak Suan Mokkh) published in Thai and English (The Dhamma Study & Practice Group, Bangkok : 1990), translators unknown.
8The Pansa (Pâli, Vassa) literally means “rain” and refers to the three month period when bhikkhus temporarily cease their wanderings. It is also the traditional way of counting .years and seniority within the Bhikkhû Sangha.
9Phra is the common Thai term for monks. It is derived from the Pâli uara, (excellent, splendid, noble)
“0 80 Years Life Pictures of Buddhadâsa BMkkhu, p. 55.
12Two valuable books concerning the early years of Suan Mokkh are The First Ten Years of Suan Mokkh (Sip Pi Mai Suan Mokkh), tr. Mongkol Dejnakarintra (Dhamma Study & Practice Group, Bangkok : 1990) and The Style of Practice at Suan Mokkh(Naew Patipat Thamm Nai Suan Mokkh) tr. Santikaro Bhikkhû(not yet published).
15Cf. Mahaparinibbana Sutta, Digha-nikaya (EXii.lOO & 154).
l4ChiIdren in the neighboring Muslim village liked to make fun of him, “Crazy Monk, Crazy Monk.”
l5Anutin Patibat Tham : Suksa Jiuit Yang Pen Witayasat(Dhamma Practice Diary : Scientific Study of Life), (Pacarayasarn, Bangkok : 2529/1986).
I6Not to be confused with the more extreme forms of asceticism and mortification found in other religions.
Non-Returner; one established in the Fruition of Non- Returning.
Mindfulness on breathing; mindfulness regarding breathing.
Attaining nirvana; being perfected one; the Holy One.
Self; ego ; personal entity ; soul.
Eight precepts; eight kinds of moral conduct.
Ignorance ; lack of knowledge ; delusion ; nescience.
The teachings of Lord Buddha; Buddha-Dharma.
Buddhism ; religion of the Buddha ; teachings of Lord Buddha.
A district of South Thailand; ancient city of Siam (Thailand).
The teachings of Lord Buddha.
The younger brother of late Ven. Buddhadâsa; the slave of the Dharma.
Practices of ascetic; practice to remove defilements ;austere practices (thirteen).
Suffering; sorrow; misery ; pain.DukkhamSuffering.
One who eats only one meal a day; one-sessioner’s practice.
Extinction Without Remainder
nirvana; Mibbana; Arahathood ; final stage of saint-hood.
The name of late Ven. Buddhadâsa when he became a monk.
Avoidance of sleep; practice of watchfulness; wake-fullness.
Nang A Hills
The name of hills in the vicinity of Suan Mokkhabalaram.
Nirvana; the extinction of all defilements and suffering ; the Unconditioned ; the supreme goal of Buddhism.
The Extinction of suffering; the Cessation of sorrow and pain.
The language of three Canons spoken and preached
by the Buddha.
Five precepts; five moral conduct.
Monastic disciplinary code; monastic moral discipline.
Bowl-food-eater’s practice; eating food in the begging
The name of a village in Chaiya District, South Thailand.
The second stage of sanctity; a Once-Returner; one
who has attained the second stage of Sainthood.
Tranquility; serenity ; peace ; calm ; quietude.
The Process of Birth and Death; Rebirth Process; the Round of Existence.
House-to-house seeker’s practice; practice of begging from house to house respectively.
The name of the poet, the late Ven. Buddhadâsa.
A Stream Winner; Stream-Enterer; one who has attained
the first stage of holiness.
The ancient city of Siam, South Thailand.
A temple and meditation center founded and established
by the late Ven. Buddhadâsa.
Surasdhani (Surat Thani)
A name of a province in South Thailand.
Craving; desire ; thirst.
Triple-robe-wearer’s practice; one who wears only three
The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Attachment; clinging; grasping.
Insight; realizing and experiencing the truth of life.
Another name of Suan Mokkhabalaram.
Wat Pathum Konga
A royal temple in Bangkok where the late Ven. Buddha-dasa studied Pâli.
A temple at Pumriang village in Chaiya District, Surat Thani Province, South Thailand, where the late Ven. Buddhadâsa took his ordination.