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Modern Thai Buddhism and Buddhadasa Bhikkhu: A Social History

Tomomi Ito

Publication Year: 2012

The Buddhist monk Buddhadasa Bhikku (1906-1993) injected fresh life into Thai Buddhism by exploring and teaching little known transcendent aspects of the religion. His investigations excited both monks and lay people, and gave rise to vigorous discussion in shops, temple and yards and newly founded Buddhist associations. While these discussions included serious exchanges on doctrine and practice, they also included jokes and light humour, criticisms of weak evidence for various positions, and rumours that Buddhadasa was a communist sympathizer. Some of this material was captured in Buddhist journals and in numerous "pocket books" aimed at a general audience. Departing from the classical method of studying Buddhism through philology, Tomomi Ito's account of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu draws on this popular literature and on detailed interviews with a very broad spectrum of the people involved in these exchanges. The result is a lively intellectual and social history of contemporary Thai Buddhism built around the life of an exceptional monk who captured the interest of Buddhists pursuing spiritual depth in the context of the ideologcial conflicts of the Cold War.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Half title, Full Title, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vi-vi

Notes on Romanization of Thai Words and Names

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pp. vii-vii

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pp. viii-x

The publication of this book marks the end of my long journey in Thailand and Australia, away from my home country, Japan. With no personal connection to either Thailand or the Western world, I embarked on the study of a Thai Buddhist monk, the report to be written in English. It was necessary to learn many things, in particular the languages, basic...

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pp. 1-12

Anyone who visits a bookstore in Bangkok and takes a look at the English book section may find a considerable number of books on Buddhism there. Because Bangkok is an important hub for international travelers exploring Asia, and because Buddhism is one of the most intriguing Asian spiritualities, bookstores in Bangkok plan their stock to meet the demand of...

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Chapter 1: A New Era in Thail Buddhism

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pp. 13-41

Buddhadāsa’s early 20th-century contribution to Buddhist teaching was lokuttara dhamma, the path to nibbāna. Lokuttara dhamma was not Buddhadāsa’s invention but a discovery from traditional scriptures which began to be more widely studied rather than being upheld as sacred. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, increasing numbers...

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Chapter 2: Early Development of Buddhadāsa's Work and Growing Influence

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pp. 42-71

After the establishment of Suan Mokkh in May 1932, Buddhadāsa committed himself fully to dhamma practice along with his study of the Tipiƫaka scriptures. However, his inner practice in the abandoned temple in the south Thailand forest never led to his total separation from secular society. Rather, it was an experiment to articulate his state of mind with

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Chapter 3: The Spread of Buddhadāsa's Dhamma

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pp. 72-106

Buddhadāsa's mission to spread the transcendent truth of lokuttara dhamma was taken on by many of his followers who had realized its benefits in their lives. In the dissemination of dhamma — by which Thai people usually mean the wisdom of lokuttara dhamma — both ordained and lay Buddhists played active roles, with the lay Buddhists’ involvement being particularly...

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Chapter 4: Debates on the Empty Mind

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pp. 107-136

As indicated in earlier chapters, reading the classical scriptures written in Pāli, Buddhadāsa was fascinated with the teaching of lokuttara dhamma, or the teaching of nibbāna, which many Thai Buddhists in the early 20th century tended to consider unrealistic or unpractical. Buddhadāsa's interest in lokuttara dhamma was its teaching about “overcoming suffering,” and...

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Chapter 5: Abhidhamma Controversies: The Supreme Doctrine in the Buddhist Public Sphere

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pp. 137-161

The period from the Second World War to the 14 October Students’ Uprising in 1973 was one of increasing liveliness in the Buddhist public sphere of Thailand. The expansion of education and the development of mass communication enhanced popular access and the sharing of new ideas transmitted by individuals to the public. Religious textbooks became available, enabling...

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Chapter 6: Buddhism Meets Marxism: Buddhadāsa and His Marxist Followers

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pp. 162-187

Thailand was once known as the fortress or pending “last domino” of communist penetration into mainland Southeast Asia. Even though Thailand allied with the United States and actually accomplished its commitment to block communism at its border on the international strategic map, Thailand could never remain unaffected by communism. The communist movement...

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Chapter 7: Dhammic Socialism and Engaged Buddhism: Development of Social Aspects in Thai Buddhism

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pp. 188-215

Throughout the period of political turmoil in the 1970s, the Thai word for justice, khwam-pen-tham, frequently appeared in the daily newspapers and in leftist journals. The word khwam-pen-tham, which literally translates dhamma-ness, is used as a general noun in non-religious, secular contexts, yet Thai people readily recall the Buddhist origin of the word, the...

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Chapter 8: Dhamma Mother: A New Female Practitioner Form Alternative to Bhikkhunī

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pp. 216-238

In his later years, Buddhadāsa attempted to improve social conditions for women practitioners’ ascetic practice. Buddhadāsa’s promotion of the transcendent state of nibbāna for everyone regardless of ordained status, gender, nationality or religious faith appeared to be encouraging for underprivileged women practitioners, yet it was not until Buddhadāsa was...

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pp. 239-246

Buddhadāsa passed away on 8 July 1993. His cremation ceremony was conducted in the simplest way, in accordance with the will of this revered monk who found little value in excessively decorative ceremonies. Considering the teacher’s preference for simplicity and afraid of the temple becoming overcrowded, Achan Pho (Phra Khru Palatsilawat, Candasaro Bhikkhu), who...


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pp. 247-337


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pp. 338-377


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pp. 378-390

E-ISBN-13: 9789971696092
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971695729

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 3 maps, 1 figure
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: New

OCLC Number: 830023729
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Modern Thai Buddhism and Buddhadasa Bhikkhu: A Social History

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Subject Headings

  • Phra Thēpwisutthimēthī (Ngư̄am), 1906-1993 -- Political and social views.
  • Buddhism -- Thailand.
  • Buddhism -- Social aspects -- Thailand.
  • Theravāda Buddhism -- Thailand.
  • Theravāda Buddhism -- Social aspects -- Thailand.
  • Buddhism and politics -- Thailand.
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