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Ngueam Phanit

(1906-05-27)27 May 1906
Chaiya, Chaiya (now Surat Thani), Thailand
Died25 May 1993(1993-05-25) (aged 86)
Chaiya, Surat Thani, Thailand
Dharma namesIndapañño
Monastic namePhra Dharmakosācārya
OrderMahā Nikāya
Senior posting
Based inSuan Mokkh
Ordination29 July 1926(1926-07-29) (aged 20)[1]

Buddhadasa (27 May 1906 – 25 May 1993) was a Thai Buddhist monk. Known as an innovative reinterpreter of Buddhist doctrine and Thai folk beliefs, he fostered a reformation in conventional religious perceptions in his home country, Thailand, as well as abroad. He developed a personal view that those who have penetrated the essential nature of religions consider "all religions to be inwardly the same", while those who have the highest understanding of dhamma feel "there is no religion".[2]


Buddhadasa was commonly known as Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu (Thai: พุทธทาสภิกขุ; RTGSPhutthathat Phikkhu). His birth name was Ngueam Phanit (Thai: เงื่อม พานิช), his Dhamma name (in the Pali language) was Indapañño (Thai: อินฺทปญฺโญ; RTGSInthapanyo), and his monastic title was Phra Dharmakosācārya (Thai: พระธรรมโกศาจารย์; RTGSPhra Thammakosachan).


Early years[edit]

Buddhadasa was born in 1906 in Ban Phumriang, Chaiya district, southern Thailand. His father, Siang Phanit (Thai: เซี้ยง พานิช), was a shopkeeper of second-generation Thai Chinese (Hokkien) ancestry and his mother, Khluean (Thai: เคลื่อน), was Southern Thai.[3]

Religious life[edit]

Cremation of Buddhadasa in 1993

Buddhadasa renounced civilian life in 1926. Typical of young monks during the time, he traveled to the capital, Bangkok, for doctrinal training but found the wats 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."[4] As a result, he returned to his native rural district and occupied a forest tract near to his village, founding Suan Mokkh[note 1] in 1932.

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.[5] The area of Suan Mokkh was expanded to approximately 120 acres of forest.[6]

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."[7]

Teachings and interpretations[edit]

Buddhadasa strove for a simple, pristine practice in attempt to emulate Gautama 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 Thai attracted many people to his wooded retreat.

His primary teaching mainly focused on the quiet awareness of one's breathing pattern called anapanasati. However, 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.

Rejection of rebirth[edit]

Buddhadasa rejected the traditional rebirth and karma doctrine, since he thought it to be incompatible with sunyata, and not conducive to the extinction of dukkha.[8]

Buddhadasa, states John Powers – a professor of Asian Studies and Buddhism, offered a "rationalist interpretation" and thought "the whole question of rebirth to be foolish".[9] According to Buddhadasa, the Buddha taught 'no-self' (Pali: anattā, Sanskrit: anātman), which denies any substantial, ongoing entity or soul.[9] Powers quotes Buddhadasa view as, "because there is no one born, there is no one who dies and is reborn". Therefore, states Buddhadasa, "the whole question of rebirth has nothing to do with Buddhism... in the sphere of the Buddhist teachings there is no question of rebirth or reincarnation". Its goal is nibbana, which Buddhadasa describes as a state "beyond all suffering that also transcends ordinary conceptions of happiness."[9]

Buddhadasa explains paticcasamupadda as the "birth" of "I" and mine through sense-contact with objects, and the resulting vedana ("feeling"), tanha ("thirst," craving) and upadana (clinging). In his words:

The real meaning of the word 'birth' as the Buddha meant it is not the birth from a mother's womb, that's too physical. The birth that the Buddha was pointing to was spiritual, the birth of clinging to 'I' and 'mine'. In one day there can be hundreds of births; the amount depends on a person's capacity, but in each birth the 'I' and 'mine' arises, slowly fades, and gradually disappears and dies. Shortly, on contact with a sense-object, another arises. Each birth generates a reaction that carries over to the next. This is what is called the kamma of a previous life ripening in the present birth. It is then transmitted further. Every birth is like this."[10]

It is by relinquishing the notion of "I" and "mine" that selfish clinging is abandoned, and Nirvana or true emptiness will be reached.[8] This can be done by "not allow[ing] the dependent arising to take place; to cut it off right at the moment of sense-contact."[8]

Buddhadasa's views have been "strongly criticized"[11] and rejected by many of his fellow Theravada Buddhist monks with a more orthodox view of the Buddhist Dhamma. For example, Bhikkhu Bodhi states that Buddhadasa's approach of jettisoning the rebirth doctrine "would virtually reduce the Dhamma to tatters [...] the conception of rebirth is an essential plank to its ethical theory, providing an incentive for avoiding all evil and doing good", summarizes Powers.[9]

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 thought systems such as Taoism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Jainism and Natural Science."[12] Through such a methodology he came to adopt a religious world-view wherein he stated, "those who have penetrated to the essential nature of religion will regard all religions as being the same. Although they may say there is Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, Islam, or whatever, they will also say that all religions are inwardly the same."[2]

In his No Religion (1993) Buddhadasa further famously remarked:

...those who have penetrated to the highest understanding of Dhamma 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? (...) Thus, the phrase "No religion!" is actually Dhamma language of the highest level.[2]


Meditation hall in Buddhadasa's Suan Mokkh (Garden of Liberation) monastery

Buddhadasa's interpretations of the Buddhist tradition inspired such persons as the French-schooled Pridi Banomyong, leader of the Siamese revolution of 1932, and a group of Thai social activists and artists of the 20th century.[13]

Religious scholar Donald K. Swearer has compared Buddhadasa to the early Indian philosopher Nagarjuna,[14] and the 5th-century south Indian scholar Buddhaghosa who has "overshadowed the development of Theravada Buddhist thought" in southeast Asia.[15] According to Swearer, the Thai teacher Buddhadasa "stands in polar opposition to such normative figures as Buddhaghosa" in several respects. Buddhadasa's writings, for example, decidedly contrast with the scholastic and highly influential Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosa.[15] Buddhadasa has been influential in the arannavasi (forest tradition) of Thai Buddhism, and his ideas have influenced the radical sectarian movement founder Santi Asoke, according to Swearer.[15]

According to scholars such as Peter A. Jackson and Daniel Lynch, Buddhadasa was heavily influenced by the ideas found in Zen Buddhism.[16][17] Buddhadasa considered the Zen ideas as a way to reconcile Theravada Buddhism with modern humanism, and thought them to be the reason for Japan's economic strength.[17]

It has been contended, that with the decline of Buddhism in Thailand after the 2020 pandemic, good luck blessings and various rituals are becoming once again more popular than the "rationalist perspective of spiritual growth" taught by Buddhadasa, whose teaching is disappearing from Thai pagodas.[18]

Translated works[edit]

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

Bodhi Leaf Publications (BPS)[edit]


  1. ^ From Thai สวน suan "garden" and Pali moksha "release, liberation". Moksha holds the sense of 'shedding ones skin.' See Harris, Moksha: an etymological note, Bauddhamata, 15.6.2009.


  1. ^ Tiyavanich, Kamala (2007). Sons of the Buddha: The Early Lives of Three Extraordinary Thai Masters. Boston: Wisdom Publications. p. 80. ISBN 9780861715367.
  2. ^ a b c Buddhadasa, No Religion Archived March 20, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, trans. Punno, 1996.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Payulpitack, 1992: 123.
  5. ^ "Ajahn Buddhadasa". suanmokkh.org. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  6. ^ Selin, Helaine (2013). Nature Across Cultures: Views of Nature and the Environment in Non-Western Cultures. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 360. ISBN 978-94-017-0149-5.
  7. ^ Bhikkhu, Buddhadasa (1994). "Foreword". In Bhikkhu, Santikaro (ed.). Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree. Wisdom Publication. pp. ix. ISBN 0-86171-035-5.
  8. ^ a b c Buddhadasa 1985a.
  9. ^ a b c d John Powers (2017). Steven M. Emmanuel (ed.). Buddhist Philosophy: A Comparative Approach. Wiley. pp. 221–237. ISBN 978-1-119-06825-9.
  10. ^ Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (1985), Heart-wood from the Bo Tree, Susan Usom Foundation, p. 26
  11. ^ Steve Odin (2011), Reviewed Work: Buddhadāsa: Theravada Buddhism and Modernist Reform in Thailand by Peter A. Jackson, Philosophy East and West, University of Hawai'i Press, Vol. 61, No. 1, pp. 221-231
  12. ^ Payulpitack, 1992: 97.
  13. ^ Daniel Lynch (2006). Rising China and Asian Democratization: Socialization to "Global Culture" in the Political Transformations of Thailand, China, and Taiwan. Stanford University Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-8047-5394-6.
  14. ^ D.K. Swearer, Dhammic Socialism. Bangkok: Thai Inter-Religious Commission for Development, 1986: 14. Cited in Payulpitack, 1992: 103, n. 2.
  15. ^ a b c Bhikku Buddhadasa (1991). Me and Mine: Selected Essays of Bhikkhu Buddhadasa. Translated by Donald K Swearer. State University of New York Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-1-4384-2166-7.
  16. ^ Peter A. Jackson (1988). Buddhadasa: A Buddhist Thinker for the Modern World. Siam Society. pp. 222–229. ISBN 978-974-8298-18-4.
  17. ^ a b Daniel Lynch (2006). Rising China and Asian Democratization: Socialization to "Global Culture" in the Political Transformations of Thailand, China, and Taiwan. Stanford University Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0-8047-7947-0.
  18. ^ Hunter, Murray (25 October 2022). "The Decline Of Buddhism In Thailand – Analysis". Eurasia Review. Retrieved 8 April 2024.
  19. ^ "Historical Ties India and Thailand".


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Works and teachings