Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (1906 – 1993) is one of the founders of modern socially engaged Buddhism, and was a key person in the reformation of 20th century Thai Buddhism.
Born in Thailand (then called Siam), Buddhadasa became a monk in 1926. However, he soon became very concerned by the corruption of the monastic sangha and its preoccupation with money, politics, and comfort. He returned to the rural area of his birth and founded the forest monastery Suan Mokkh, which means “Garden of Liberation.”
Through Suan Mokkh, his talks, and his books, Buddhadasa strove to practice a Buddhism that was closer to the spirit of its original source. He once wrote, “People…have become attached to and view Buddha as a god instead of seeing him as a human being who attained enlightenment and had great compassion for others. They are not aware that Buddha teaches that anyone can follow his path and find the way out of suffering by and for themselves.”
He was very ecumenical in his understanding of Buddhism, and also reached out to members of other religions including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs.
Buddhadasa’s teachings, and especially his emphasis on interdependence, inspired a generation of Thai social activists and artists, including Sulak Sivaraksa and many of the monks who have protected Thai forests.
This week’s quote from Buddhadasa comes from Donald K. Swearer’s essay “The Three Legacies of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu” (in The quest for a just society: the legacy and challenge of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, ed. by Sulak Sivaraksa).
The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees and soil. Our bodily parts function as a cooperative. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise, that human beings are all mutual friends in the process of birth, old age, suffering and death, then we can build a noble, even heavenly environment. If our lives are not based in this truth, then we shall all perish.
To learn more about Buddhadasa and his legacy, visit this website.