December 10, 2011

THAILAND: Enlightenment in Bangkok

BANGKOK, Thailand / Bangkok Post / Religion / December 10, 2011

By Nauvarat Suksamran, Reporter

A Buddhist novice who could not speak Thai when he arrived in the country is now showing the importance of compassion with his practical mission to help flood victims

More than four decades ago, a young Buddhist novice from Nepal began a spiritual journey to self-discovery.
Phra Anilman explains how to address religious issues and deliver debates on some of the contents in the Tripitaka (Buddhist canon). NAUVARAT SUKSAMRAN

The journey eventually took him in 1970 to a temple in Bangkok, where he found a source of inspiration to dedicate himself to helping those in distress.
At Wat Bowon Niwet in Phra Nakhon, the novice studied Buddhism and was later ordained as a monk by the Supreme Patriarch, who has since become both his teacher and mentor.
Phra Anilman Thammasakiyo, also known as Phra Anil Sakya, 51, is determined to follow the footsteps of the Lord Buddha and the Supreme Patriarch in spreading Buddhist teachings to guide humanity on a spiritual path to inner peace and enlightenment.
The senior monk searches for
information from the computer
in his living quarters.

Phra Anilman has been recognised as a ''modern monk'' who is able to adjust the monastic role of a monk to suit the changing circumstances of the modern world.
He has also been actively involved in charity to help people in trouble regardless of their religious beliefs.
Since the country was hit by the flood crisis, Phra Anilman has been keen to help its victims.
Alongside other volunteers at Wat Bowon Niwet, the monk has kept busy packing relief supplies for flood victims before setting off to distribute the bags in flooded areas every day for more than a month.
Phra Anilman was ordained by the Supreme Patriarch when he reached the age of monkhood and then received scholarships from His Majesty the King to pursue his masters and doctoral degrees in Britain.
He is now assistant secretary to His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, deputy dean of the faculty of social sciences at Mahamakut Buddhist University and a visiting professor at Mahidol and Kasetsart universities as well as Santa Clara University in California and Oxford, England.
Born in Nepal, the monk claimed descent of the ancient noble family of Sakya, Nepal, of which the Lord Buddha was a prominent member.
Phra Anilman Thammasakiyo speaks at 
an international forum on cultural diversity 
in Britain three years ago.
Fluent in Thai, English and Hindi, Phra Anilman said that when he turned 14, he was ordained as a novice at the behest of his father, who was a devout Buddhist.
His father had long wished to see one of his sons ordained as a novice or a monk, so when his elder brother entered university, the onus fell on young Anilman to become a novice.
''Initially, I agreed because I thought I would live more comfortably being a novice. It was just a childish thought,'' Phra Anilman said.
The monk said Nepalese Buddhists actually regard ordination as the ultimate point and the greatest opportunity in life. When one is ordained, they are supposed to remain in the novicehood or monkhood for life.
''If you leave the monkhood, people will have a low opinion of you and consider you unworthy of their respect,'' the monk said.
When the Supreme Patriarch visited Nepal in 1970, he arranged for Phra Anilman, then a novice, to come and study in Bangkok later that year.
He earned a bachelor's degree in religious studies from Mahamakut Buddhist University and pursued a master's degree in anthropology at Tribhuvan University in Nepal.
He went on to obtain a master of philosophy degree in anthropology from Christ's College of Cambridge University in England and a PhD in social anthropology from Brunel University in London.
Phra Anilman distributes relief supplies
to flood victims who are Burmese migrant
workers in Phetkasem
In 2005, Phra Anilman initiated a new curriculum on Buddhism and globalisation at Santa Clara University. He said that when he was freshly ordained as a monk, he was invited to give a lecture for prisoners at the tough Bang Kwang Prison in Nonthaburi. He admitted he was frightened to stand before the convicts and, when he finished his lecture, the inmates moved close to him, scaring him even more.
But he realised later that the prisoners had appreciated his sermon so much that they had been trying to get close to him to pay their respects.
The monk said this experience prompted him to write an article titled ''When I was in jail'', which won acclaim in Nepal.
Phra Anilman is a prolific writer, penning many books and articles which have gained worldwide recognition.
He said he has been inspired by the example of the Supreme Patriarch, who has been a model for virtues and an austere monastic life, and a leading authority on Buddhist teachings.
Years of observing the Supreme Patriarch practise Buddhism and stay true to the kernel of religious teaching gave Phra Anilman the drive to be a teacher himself.
He recalled an occasion many years ago when the Supreme Patriarch exchanged views with His Majesty the King on the subject of Buddhist wisdom.
During the conversation, the Supreme Patriarch highlighted the details which he was uncertain about and then conducted private research on them to bring back to further discussions with the King.
Phra Anilman said his observations of the Supreme Patriarch and the King helped mould him in terms of being being able to soak up new knowledge and pass it on to others.
During the flood crisis, the secretariat of the Supreme Patriarch at Wat Bowon Niwet launched a flood relief project under the patronage of the Supreme Patriarch.
The project was inspired by the actions of the Supreme Patriarch, who himself has long been involved in providing relief and humanitarian assistance to disaster victims both at home and abroad.
When students and followers of Phra Anilman in other countries learned of the flood crisis in Thailand, they readily sent aid and provisions through the Supreme Patriarch's flood relief project.
They confirmed that they will continue to send assistance until all flooded areas in Thailand are dry.
''When I visit flood victims at shelters or in their communities, I will give them moral support and words of encouragement to raise their spirits so they can continue to battle the hardship,'' Phra Anilman said.
He stressed that compassion is key to ease people's suffering during times of crisis.
''Compassion means that the givers must be ready to devote themselves to ending the sufferings of others. They must sacrifice their happiness to help others,'' he said.
''Compassion does not mean you give so that you can wield influence on others or that you give so you can feel superior to others. That is a corruption of compassion.''
The monk recounted his days as a novice at Wat Bowon Niwet.
''When I arrived in Thailand, I missed my home very much. I couldn't speak a word of Thai. Sometimes I missed my parents so much that I cried. The Supreme Patriarch was very kind to comfort me and took me along with him on his visits to other temples,'' he said.
''This is the kindness and compassion he has given to me.''
A lifetime of study has taught Phra Anilman to also be a teacher who applies religion to daily life.
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