A revered monk who had the ear of the people

by Thanong Khanthong, The Nation, October 12, 2007

Bangkok, Thailand -- The death on Wednesday of 96-year-old Phra Panyanandha Bhikkhu, one of Thailand's most revered monks, reminded me of a recent incident.

About two weeks ago I had a brief conversation with the coffee shop manager near my office. She told me she had just received a Jatukham Ramathep amulet. But she was not very excited about it.

"How did you get it?" I asked curiously.

"Well, I went to place an order for one at a booth over there. The guy told me, 'Just bring me a cup of ice tea and you may take this Jatukham in exchange'," she said.

What a big fall from grace for the Jatukham amulet after all the craze and rumours over the past two years about its miracle ability to create instant supernatural power. Some of them used to sell for several hundred thousand baht, others tens of thousands of baht. Now, apparently, one is worth the price of a cup of tea.

Throughout his long and active life in the monk-hood, Phra Panyanandha witnessed, and fought against, all kinds of claims about supernatural powers, sacred amulets, auspicious stars, spirit houses and fortune-telling. Although he could not remove all the ignorance and the superstitious beliefs from Thai society, he helped revive wisdom among millions of Thais through his basic Dhamma teaching.

Unlike his mentor the late Phra Buddhadhas Bhikkhu, who focused on Dhamma teaching at the metaphysical level, Phra Panyanandha sought to educate common Thais about Buddhism at a community level through his oral teaching. He used easy language and his exceptional wit to both edify and enliven his audience.

Phra Buddhadhas, who passed away in 1993, was a reformist who interpreted Buddhism in its strictest and purest form. He studied thoroughly the Pali text of the Buddhist canon, the Tripitaka, and based his Buddhist teaching on its real essence. He advised Phra Panyanandha to follow suit by studying Pali and approaching the Buddhist canon in its original text.

While Phra Buddhadhas taught Buddhism at the highest level, Phra Panyanandha elected to focus on Buddhism as a community service. One needs to rely on the highest wisdom to understand Phra Buddhadhas's metaphysical teaching. But Phra Panyanandha's teaching was always straight to the point, easy to understand and never ambiguous.

He was the first monk to break the tradition of preaching on an elevated chair. He preferred to stand on a bench to preach before his audience and get closer to them.

Traditionally, a sermon is conducted with rich rituals. A monk will climb up to sit on a huge, beautifully crafted chair, which looks like a throne. He will hold a leaf, on which Buddhist texts are written, with both hands. A Thai orchestra will perform an overture. Before the real sermon takes place, a leader from the audience will say a prayer in Pali. Then the monk will start his sermon, beginning with several phrases or sentences in Pali. The monk will not hesitate to use a lot of difficult Pali words during the sermon.

Phra Panyanandha did away with all of this ritual. During the early period of his monkhood in Nakhon Si Thammarat, he organised a sermon behind the railway station there. He stood on a bench, dispensed with special rituals and spoke out loud to his audience in the ordinary language that they immediately understood. He continued this style of preaching and he quickly gained fame.

Phra Buddhadhas and Phra Panyanandha were not interested in rituals or traditional practices associated with Buddhism. They went right to the heart of Buddhism, interpreted the original text in its pure form and practised the Buddha's teaching with the highest discipline.

Phra Panyanandha had a unique style of preaching that at times offended some of his audience. When he preached to a village where there were a lot of owners of fighting bulls, he said: "They look after the bulls much better than they take care of their parents. They take the bulls for a bath and give them everything. But to their parents they never give anything at all."

Some of his audience was offended. They felt that Phra Panyanandha had lambasted them and did not spare their face. Yet Phra Panyanandha preached in line with Buddhism, which teaches people to look after their parents.

Phra Panyanandha's aim was not to lead Thais to redemption or nirvana. That would be too ambitious as well as impractical. While Phra Buddhadhas spoke to the learned, Phra Panyanandha spoke to the common people. Throughout his life he concentrated on restoring peace to society through the Buddha's teaching and correcting misunderstanding about Buddhism. Most important of all, he wanted to eradicate ignorance and superstition among Thais.

For this reason, Phra Panyanandha was a popular monk, who aimed for community service. His death has left a big vacuum in Buddhism in Thai society as Thais appear to be moving away from the essence of Buddhism to embrace superstitious beliefs and icons they believe will provide them with a quick fix to their present problems.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv