Buddhadasa

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Phra Dharmakosacarya
(Nguam Indapañño)
"Buddhadasa Bhikkhu"
BuddhadasaAsiti60.jpg
Religion Buddhism
School Theravada, Maha Nikaya
Other names Buddhadasa
Dharma names Indapañño
Personal
Nationality Thai
Born (1906-05-27)May 27, 1906
Phumriang, Chaiya, Chaiya Province(Now Surat Thani), Thailand
Died May 25, 1993(1993-05-25) (aged 86)
Wat Thannamlai, Chaiya, Surat Thani, Thailand
Senior posting
Title Phra Khru Indapaññacariya (1946)
Phra Ariyanandamuni (1950)
Phra Rajajayakavi (1957)
Phra Debvisuddhimedhi (1971)
Phra Dharmakosacarya (1987)

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (Thai: พุทธทาสภิกขุ, May 27, 1906 – May 25, 1993) was a famous and influential ascetic-philosopher of the 20th century. Known as an innovative reinterpreter of Buddhist doctrine and Thai folk beliefs, Buddhadasa fostered a reformation in conventional religious perceptions in his home country, Thailand, as well as abroad. Although he was a formally ordained ascetic, or "monk," having at the age of twenty years submitted to mandatory government religious controls, Buddhadasa developed a personal view that rejected specific religious identification and considered all faiths as principally one. His ground-breaking thought inspired such persons as French schooled Pridi Phanomyong, leader of Siam's 1932 revolution, and a group of Thai social activists and artists of the 1960s and 70s.

Early years[edit]

He was born Nguam Panitch (Thai: เงื่อม พานิช) in 1906 in Ban Phumriang (Chaiya district), southern Siam. His father, Sieng Panitch, was a shopkeeper of second generation Sino-Thai (Hokkien) ancestry and his mother, Klaun, was Siamese.[1] He renounced civilian life in 1926. Typical of young monks during the time, he traveled to the Siamese capital of Bangkok for doctrinal training. But he found the wats (or temples) there dirty, crowded, and, most troubling to him, the Sangha corrupt, 'preoccupied with prestige, position, and comfort with little interest in the highest ideals of Buddhism.'[2] As a result, he returned to his native rural district and occupied a forest tract near to his village. He named it Suan Mokkh, from Thai suan, 'garden' and Vedic moksha, 'release, liberation.'[3] He strove for a simple, pristine practice in attempt to emulate the Buddha's core teaching, "Do good, avoid bad, and purify the mind." He therefore avoided the customary ritualism and internal politics that dominated Siamese clerical life. His ability to explain complex philosophical and religious ideas in his native southern "Pak Tai" vernacular (Southern Thai language) attracted many people to his wooded retreat. However, Buddhadasa was skeptical of his fame; when reflecting on the busloads of visitors to Suan Mokkh he would say "sometimes I think many of these people just stop here because they have to visit the bathroom."[4]

Social activist[edit]

'Buddhadasa is regarded as a radical vector and narrator of Siamese religious culture through the crucial period when Siam moved away from an absolute monarchy in 1932 and then underwent a fascist revolution in 1939 when it changed its name to Thailand. In the 1960s Buddhadasa became a great inspiration for a certain circle of Thai social activists and artists, some of whom – most notably the painter-poet K. Khemananda[5] – were like Buddhadasa himself branded as communists. In the case of some students, they were forced to flee the country while the teacher was nearly made to cease wearing robes' (Harris, Buddhadasa, a narrative note, 2007).[6]

Belief in "no religion"[edit]

From the earliest period of his religious studies, Buddhadasa utilized a comparative approach and sought to be able to explain "Buddhist's teachings through other doctrines such as Tao, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Natural Science."[7] Through such a methodology he came to adopt a religious world-view that rejected exclusionary religious identification. In his No Religion (1993) Buddhadasa famously remarked, "in advanced perspectives there is no religious identification whatsoever."[8]

...those who have penetrated to the highest understanding will feel that the thing called 'religion' doesn't exist after all. There is no Buddhism; there is no Christianity; there is no Islam. How can they be the same or in conflict when they don't even exist?[9]

Religious scholar D.K. Swearer has compared Buddhadasa to the early Indian philosopher Nagarjuna.[10]

Wat Thannamlai[edit]

Cremation of Buddhadasa in 1993

In 1932, Buddhadasa founded his forest hermitage Suan Mokkh ('garden of release'), a center for study and serious practice in the Chaiya district, Surat Thani Province of southern Thailand. His primary teaching mainly focused on the quiet awareness of one's breathing pattern called anapanasati. But his personal practice was very much grounded in advanced research and interpretation of early Pali texts on the one hand, and on his radical private experimentation on the other hand.

In later years, Buddhadasa's teachings attracted many international seekers to his hermitage. He held talks with leading scholars and clergy of various faiths. His aim in these discussions was to probe the similarities at the heart of each of the major world religions. Before his death in 1993, he established an International Dhamma Hermitage Center across the highway from his own retreat to aid in the teaching of Buddhism and other yogic practices to international students.

Works[edit]

Buddhadasa's works literally take up an entire room in the National Library of Thailand. The following are some of his well-known books in English translation.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Suchira Payulpitack, Buddhadasa's Movement: An Analysis of Its Origins, Development, and Social Impact, a Doctorate dissertation, faculty of Sociology, Universität Bielefeld, 1992: 72-3.
  2. ^ Payulpitack, 1992: 123.
  3. ^ Moksha holds the sense of 'shedding ones skin.' See Harris, Moksha: an etymological note, Bauddhamata, 15.6.2009.
  4. ^ Bhikkhu, Buddhadasa (1994). "Foreword". In Bhikkhu, Santikaro. Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree. Wisdom Publication. pp. ix. ISBN 0-86171-035-5. 
  5. ^ Achan K. Khemananda, n.d., baus.org/sati/achan_khemananda.htm
  6. ^ Troy Harris, Buddhadasa (a narrative note), Bauddhamata 16.1.2007.
  7. ^ Payulpitack, 1992: 97.
  8. ^ Harris, 2007.
  9. ^ Buddhadasa, No Religion, trans. Punno, 1996.
  10. ^ D.K. Swearer, Dhammic Socialism. Bangkok: Thai Inter-Religious Commission for Development, 1986: 14. Cited in Payulpitack, 1992: 103, n. 2.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]