Dad married Tippy a few years after my conversion to Vajrayana Buddhist philosophy. One of the many reasons I was happy about the marriage, was that there was another Buddhist in the family. Tippy was a transplant from northern Thailand, so her native religion was Theraveda Buddhism.
Living in rural Nebraska allows very few, if any, opportunities for regular one to one discussions about any sort of Buddhism. Even though we approached the Buddha’s teachings from different schools of discipline, Tippy and I found much common ground and were able to support or give refuge to one another.
Although she was brought up as a Thai Theravedan, Tippy tempered her philosophy with the wisdom of Buddhadasa Bikkhu. She was a very devout Buddhist who understood early on the value of the practice and teachings of her native philosophy. On the other hand, Tippy was put off by the corrupt nature of many Thai monks. One day, as a teen, Tippy was given a pamphlet by a follower of Buddhadasa’s thinking. This gift was a turning point in Tippy’s life.
Buddhadasa was born Nguam Panitch in the South part of Siam, on May 27, 1906. This was several years before the fascist revolution and the country’s name change from Siam to Thailand. As has been the tradition, in 1926, young Nguam renounced civilian life to take up the life of a monk. He discovered that the wats (temples) were crowded and corrupt. Very few of his fellow monks were sincerely interested in the highest ideals of Buddhism. The wats placed emphasis on hierarchy, and comfort. This was contrary to basic Buddhist Dharma.
The young monk returned to his native district and began to live in a part of the forest near his childhood village. He avoided the orthodox Thai clerical politics and ritualism. Instead, he worked on practicing the Buddha’s core teachings. His motto became, “Do good, avoid bad, and purify the mind.”
At the same time, Siam was transforming away from the absolute monarchy in the 1930s which culminated in the fascist revolt in 1939. At this time the nation’s name was changed to Thailand. Because Buddhadasa did not follow any political dogma, the right-wing regime falsly accused him of having communist sympathies.
This slander did not discourage people from seeking out Buddhadasa for spiritual guidance and wisdom. Followers were attracted to his forest retreat because Buddhadasa was able to explain complicated philosophical concepts and practices in common vernacular terms.
“Those who read books cannot understand the teachings and, what’s more, may even go astray. But those who try to observe the things going on in the mind, and always take that which is true in their own minds as their standard, never get muddled. They are able to comprehend suffering, and ultimately will understand Dharma. Then, they will understand the books they read.”–Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
His teachings encompassed many religious traditions. He deeply understood the doctrines of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, and the Natural Sciences. This understanding enabled a world-view that went beyond exclusive religious identification. His non-political, non-sectarian approach also transcended the various Buddhist schools, as well.
“Be lamps unto yourselves.
Be refuges unto yourselves.
Take yourself no external refuge.
Hold fast to the truth as a lamp.
Hold fast to the truth as a refuge.
Look not for a refuge in anyone besides yourselves.”
Buddhadasa came to use the comparative method and was able to explain wisdom through the idea of “no religion”. He sometimes repeated this view, “In advanced perspectives, there is no religious identification whatsoever.” He held several talks with leading clergy and scholars of various Western religions. His goal was to investigate the similarities at the hearts of all of the major world religions.
Much of Buddhadasa’s teachings focused upon how people create their own unhappiness by clinging to egoism and the ways in which we cling to I, me, mine. He taught that people need to return to the basic teachings regarding the letting go of this conceited concoction of the mind.
Through my regular walks and talks with Tippy, I began to understand more about Thai Buddhism and how some of it has been influenced by the philosophy of Buddhadasa. I was also able to understand how Tippy came to be a graceful, compassionate, and truly elegant woman. Her life was a testament to the value of inclusive philosophy, open-mindedness, and compassionate wisdom.
The Blue Jay of Happiness passes along this favorite quote:
“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle,
and the life of the candle will not be shortened.
Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
— Shakyamuni Buddha