Forest Sangha Newsletter October 1993

Gnosis and Non-Dualism, Ajahn Sucitto
Servant of the Buddha, Buddhadasa Bhikku
The Long Path to Peace - Cambodia
Turning the Wheel in the West; Ven. Sobhano interviews Aj. Amaro
Gone on Tudong; Monastic experiences
The Road and the Path; Ajahn Sucitto
Signs of Change:


Servant of the Buddha
1901 - Buddhadasa Bhikkhu - 1993

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, one of the most influential Thai Dhamma teachers of this century, died on the 8th of July this year. His life was a reflection of his personal philosophy: he believed that one should follow a simple lifestyle close to nature, and make the best use of one's potential to serve society through the teachings of the Buddha.

He was deeply aware of the problems of the modern world, believing that people were becoming slaves to their belongings, fighting, exploiting and hurting one another in order to gain more wealth. He believed that it was possible for modern societies to learn to live in balance and peace, if Buddhist teachings could be applied through social policy, with individuals dedicating their energy to their community. His use of Buddhist thinking to approach modern social problems made him one of the most progressive and original thinkers in Thailand.

He had an inspiring ability to disseminate sophisticated teachings in a contemporary language (many of his books have been translated into English.) He revitalised Buddhism, challenging many long-held rituals and popular beliefs, which at times led him to be opposed by the more superstitious and orthodox wings of the Sangha. His studies, deep into the heart of Dhamma, liberated him from blind attachment to his own tradition: he was conversant with the teachings and practitioners of diverse religions, while at the same time leading the ordinary life of a bhikkhu.

Ajahn Buddhadasa suffered great pain in the last years of his life, and his acceptance of this demonstrated his teaching that 'every illness should make us wiser.' He had prepared himself to serve as Buddhadasa, 'the servant of the Buddha', until the very end of his life.

The following is an extract from Heart Wood from the Bo-Tree, a series of talks on emptiness given to medical students in 1961 by Ajahn Buddhadasa.

We don't have to do anything very much to make ourselves happy, we don't have to go to any great trouble. All we have to do is to empty our minds of greed, aversion and delusion, or in other words to make it empty of grasping at and clinging to '1' and 'mine'. When the mind is empty of greed, aversion and delusion then it's truly empty and all Dukkha comes to an end. Even kamma will of itself come to an end.

He was referring to the stopping of 'I' and 'mine', to the stopping of grasping and clinging, or in other words to emptiness. So it is emptiness that is 'stopping'...

In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha states that when the mind is empty of greed, aversion and delusion, empty of 'I' and 'mine', then kamma ends by itself. This means that kamma vipaka (its result), and the mental defilements which are the cause for the creation of kamma, spontaneously and simultaneously come to an end. So we don't have to be afraid of kamma, to fear that we must be ruled by our kamma. We don't have to be too interested in kamma. Rather, we should take an interest in emptiness. If we have created emptiness with regard to 'I' and 'mine', kamma will utterly disintegrate and there will be no way that we will have to follow its dictates.

It's due to this very point that someone like Angulimala could become an arahant. Don't explain wrongly, as is often done, the Buddha's reply to Angulimala, 'I have already stopped. It is you that have not stopped'. Don't explain that 'not stopped' means that he will stop killing people and that Angulimala became an arahant because he stopped murdering. Anyone who explains like that is badly misrepresenting the Buddha because when the Buddha used the word 'stop' here, He was referring to the stopping of 'I' and 'mine', to the stopping of grasping and clinging, or in other words to emptiness. So it is emptiness that is 'stopping' and it is the only kind of stopping that could have made Angulimala an arahant. If it was stopping murdering, why aren't all people who don't kill arahants? It is because cessation, the true stopping, is the emptiness where there is no self to dwell anywhere, to come or go anywhere or to do anything. That is true stopping. If there is still a self, then you can't stop.

So, we should understand that the word 'empty' is the same word as 'stop', the single word by which the Buddha was able to enlighten Angulimala, even though the killer's hand was still red with blood and around his neck hung 999 finger bones of his victims. For kamma to end by itself, to reach the stopping, we must rely on this single term; empty of 'I' and 'mine', not grasping at or clinging to dhammas.

When the Buddhist teachings spread to China, the Chinese of those days were intelligent and wise enough to accept it, and there arose teachings such as those of Hui Neng and Huang Po in which explanations of mind and Dhamma, of Buddha, the Way and emptiness were extremely terse. There emerged the key sentence that the mind, Buddha, Dhamma, the Way and the emptiness are all just one thing. This one sentence is enough; there is no need to say anything more. It is equivalent to all the scriptures. Now, that is a statement that particularly those of us studying and practising in the old style have no way at all of understanding. It might be beneficial for us to feel a little ashamed on this account. The Chinese went on to say that, 'emptiness is by nature always present, but we don't see it.' I may prove this by saying once again that at this moment everyone sitting here has a mind that is by nature empty but not only do you not see it, but what's more, you will not accept that this is emptiness.

Huang Po scolded that this is to be like someone having a diamond attached to their forehead without knowing it, who goes searching all around the world -or perhaps outside the world in hell, heaven or the Brahma worlds, making an offering of a penny and expecting to go to heaven and satisfy every desire. Not seeing that which is stuck to our forehead, we seek all around the world, or if that is not enough, in other realms. So please, just for a while, look very closely to see what is there at your forehead, and how to go about putting your hands on it.

When speaking of the way to take hold of the diamond, the Chinese teachers spoke even more profoundly, 'There's no need to do anything. Just be still and the mind will become empty by itself'. This phrase, 'Just be still. There's no need to do anything', has many meanings. Our minds are naughty and playful. The mind wanders out of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body, gathering sense objects, and having accepted them within, is stupid enough to allow the dhammas of ignorance to 'climb into the driver's seat', so that there is nothing but grasping and clinging to '1' and 'mine'. This is called being naughty, refusing to be still.

We must look for this emptiness that is truly worthy of our aspiration. To say that there is a kind of emptiness that gives rise to cessation, purity, clarity and peace is still to be speaking in the realm of convention. Truly speaking, there is nothing other than emptiness, there is only this one thing. It is not the cause of anything else. It is Buddha, it is Dhamma, it is Sangha, it is the Way. It is purity, clarity and peace. All these things are present in emptiness. If we still say that emptiness is the cause of this or that, it shows that we haven't yet reached the supreme emptiness because if we have reached the supreme, then we don't have to do anything. By being still the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, purity, clarity, peace, Nibbana, everything will be present in that very immutable state.

An extremely simple method that Huang Po used to teach dull people how to recognize emptiness was to give them a riddle, 'Look at the mind of a child before its conception'. I would like to present all of you with this riddle. Look at the child's mind. Before it is conceived in the womb, where is it? If you can find it, you will easily be able to find emptiness, just, as if taking hold of that which is already there at your forehead.

This one subject of emptiness covers all of the Buddhist Teachings, for the Buddha breathed with emptiness. Emptiness is the theoretical knowledge, it is the practice, and it is the fruit of the practice. If one studies, one must study emptiness; if one practises, it must be for the fruit of emptiness, and if one receives the fruit, it must be emptiness, so that finally one attains that thing that is supremely desirable. There is nothing beyond emptiness. When it is realized, all problems end. It is not above, it is not below, it is not anywhere -I don't know what to say about it, better to shut up! Suffice to say that emptiness is supreme happiness.

A Life of Dhamma

  • 27 May 1906- Born at Phumriang village, Chaiya, South Thailand, and named Nguem.
  • 1914 - Became a temple boy at Wat Nork, Phumriang, where he lived for three years.
  • 1922 - Father died, and he took over the family business while supporting his brother's -education.
  • 1926 - Brother took over the family business, allowing Buddhadasa to become a bhikkhu, aged twenty-one, at Wat Nork on the 29th July. Given the name Indapanno.
  • 1928 - Went to Bangkok to study Buddhist theology; returned after two months to Chaiya, his home town.
  • 1929 - Wrote his first book, Giving Alms.
  • 1929 - Invited to be the instructor at a school for scriptural studies at Wat Phratat in Chaiya.
  • 1930 - Returned to study in Bangkok.
  • 1932 - Left Bangkok to live and practise at a ruined temple near Phumriang, later re-named Suan Mokkhabalaram, 'The garden of the power of liberation.'
  • 1932 - Took the name Buddhadasa, 'servant of the Buddha'.
  • 1932-34 - Spent two years alone at Suan Mokkh, taking on a demanding and ascetic lifestyle.
  • 1933 - Supported his brother, Dhammadasa, in establishing Buddhasasana, a nationally distributed magazine.
  • 1935 - Dhammadasa and Buddhadasa established The Society of the Gift of Truth.
  • During the 1940's, began to make national impact through his publications and talks, engaging in discussion with government ministers and giving controversial talks to the Buddhist Society of Thailand.
  • July 1940 - Gave his first talk at the Buddha-Dhamma Society in Bangkok, giving teachings for lay people.
  • During the Second World War, met with cabinet ministers and the ex-prime minister for discussions.
  • Began to give talks publicly criticising current practices in Thai Buddhism. His books, relevant to the newly emerging society began to make a national impact.
  • 1947 - Received the title of upajjhaya, preceptor.
  • 1949 - Appointed chief of the Southern Disseminating Unit.
  • Appointed abbot of the royal monastery Wat Phraparamadhatu.
  • Translated teachings of two prominent Zen masters, Wei Lang Huang Po.
  • 1962 - Built a 'spiritual theatre' to present the Dhamma to visitors through multi-media presentations, painting, ceramics and toys.
  • 1967 - Appearance and Reality, a review of Christianity and Buddhism, published; worked actively to lessen religious sectarianism in India, Sri Lanka and the Middle East.
  • 1971-1991 - initiated a Saturday Dhamma Talk programme Suan Mokkh, giving the talks himself until his health began to fail.
  • 1973-1976 - Got nationwide coverage debating on television and radio.
  • 1980 - The Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University conferred an Hononary Doctorate of Buddhism on him, the first it had offered in its ninety years of existence.
  • Became the first monk to be made an honorary member of the widely recognised research body, The Siam Society.
  • Died on 8th July 1993, aged eighty-seven.

  • Some of his better known books translated into English include:
    Handbook for Mankind (1961)
    Towards Buddha-Dhamma (1964)
    Heartwood from the Bo-tree (1984)
    Dhammic Socialism (1986)
    Mindfulness with Breathing (1988)
    The Prison of Life (1988)
    Key to Natural Truth (1988)
    Buddha-Dhamma for Students (1988)
    A Buddhist Charter (1990)
    Practical Dependent Origination (1992)

    See poem
    For further information on publications contact Suan Mokkh,
    Amper Chaiya, Surat Thani,
    84110, Thailand.