In Appreciation

16 September 2550

In Appreciation1

The appearance of the writings contained herein in book form as they now do, I can say without reservation, was brought to fruition in a spirit of goodwill by Associate Professor Dr. Somseen Chanawangsa, Fellow of the Royal Institute of Thailand. Not only did he initiate the idea, but he also gathered the materials, managed the project and saw the book through the press.

The writing of these essays occurred on different occasions widely distributed over a very long span of up to 25 years (1969–1994). Nevertheless, they were mostly written when I was giving lectures in the United States during some parts of the nine-year period from 1969 to 1981. Once having served the given purposes, these writings were seemingly left behind. Even though some of them got published at all, it was the initiative of other people. For instance, the essay “Foundations of Buddhist Social Ethics,” included in Ethics, Wealth and Salvation: A Study in Buddhist Social Ethics, was published by the University of South Carolina Press in 1999. (The same essay was also disseminated to a certain extent by Thammasat University’s Thai Khadi Research Institute in 1983.) The majority of them, however, lay dormant and scattered until Dr. Somseen Chanawangsa gathered them for this publication.

In fact, it was not the case that I had never paid any attention to these writings. From the very outset there was an idea that they should be revised and put to use, or published. Time elapsed quickly with other work going on so that there was no time left for me to think about them. The longer the time passed, the more they tended to sink into oblivion, as if abandoned altogether. Fortunately, they were all properly filed and therefore remained intact.

It was only natural for me to leave these writings behind, as I was primarily focused on some previously conceived book projects on the Dhamma. In particular, after some time into the project to compile an Encyclopedia of Buddhism, when I realized that it would be too lengthy to be completed, I switched to a new format and started from scratch. I had done this off and on for three times already, yet not a single volume had been finished. Due to this project alone, all other work, including giving lectures abroad, had to take a back seat, becoming a sideline to be taken care of on each particular occasion.

Even during my invitation visits to give lectures abroad, it turned out that I kept looking for free time there to work on the major projects left unfinished in Thailand. Eventually, the work still outstanding in Thailand itself could only be half-finished. A case in point was The Encyclopedia of Buddhism, which has been left in limbo until now. (The first version covered up to the end of the letter “บ,” the second version ended with the letter “ต,” and the third version ended with the letter “ก.”) Only a couple of sideline projects came out, which were presumably adequate for provisional use. They were the bilingual Dictionary of Buddhism with Numerical Dhammas and the monolingual Dictionary of Buddhist Terms. As for the book Buddhadhamma, I have now been waiting for over twenty years just to add four more chapters to the existing volume.

The projects still outstanding in Thailand not only distracted my attention from the work abroad, but eventually they even made me cut off all my work on the foreign front. After the trip to Harvard in 1981, when I was contacted for another invitation from the University the following year, my excuse was that I had so much unfinished work to do that I could not make the trip. Two more contacts for invitations came in 1983 and 1984, yet the work in Thailand remained outstanding. It was therefore agreed in advance that I should be able to make it in 1987. When the time actually came, I could but tell them that the work here was still unfinished. Even until now—twenty years later—in 2007, my work in Thailand has not yet been finished.

A group of lay devotees joined hands in building Wat Nyanavesakavan for my rehabilitation so that I would have the energy and time as well as a favorable ambience to devote all my effort to the unfinished projects as I wished. However, as time went by, there arose more and more petty chores. I could only remind everybody not to get sidetracked like the proverbial Sukhrip [in Ramakian, the Thai version of Ramayana] exhausting himself pulling out a big tree. Even so, there was still not enough time.

As for work on the foreign front, not only did I quit everything, but I did not even have the time to tell or talk about what I had seen and experienced there, despite bearing in mind that there was a lot of food for thought that was worth telling the lay devotees and Thai people in general. Nevertheless, there were only two specific occasions when I had to break my public silence. On the first occasion, Dr. Chai Podhisita interviewed me for publication in the monthly magazine Buddhacakra under the title “Reflections on the Buddhist affairs I have witnessed” (1972). On the other occasion, the Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University, invited me to give a lecture, which culminated in a book entitled Looking to America to Solve Thailand’s Problems (a special lecture given on the 25th anniversary of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Education, July 10, 1982, first published 1983.)

One collateral casualty of my preoccupation with the work in Thailand was staying in touch. Once back in Thailand, I turned my attention to working full time on the unfinished projects, in effect as if severing my foreign ties abruptly and for good. Moreover, even here in Thailand, since 1997, when I underwent surgery on the left carotid artery, I have declined all invitations to give sermons or lectures outside my monastery.

In fact, during my residence abroad, apart from the religious duties, i.e. the work itself, the other front I had something to do with in tandem was the human front—the persons from Thailand accompanying me on the trips to serve as my lay companions, and the people residing over there who might be called the local hosts, both Thai and American.

The so-called lay companions from Thailand were Mr. Boonlert Bodhini, on the trip to Swarthmore in 1976, and Ajahn Soam Dairat, on the trip to Swarthmore in 1981. (On the first trip, to Pennsylvania in 1972, the host assigned Michael [whose last name I have regrettably forgotten], a returned Peace Corps volunteer from Thailand, to be the escort so that no lay companion from Thailand was needed. Mr. Boonlert is a bit older than me, while Ajahn Soam was some twenty years my senior.

As for my first trip, to Philadelphia in 1972, all I can now recall is that I was handpicked by the senior monks [at my Buddhist University]. Nonetheless, what I know for certain is that the person playing a crucial part in the entire process was Mr. William J. Klausner, of the Asia Foundation, the organization lending support to the Buddhist University over a long period when the University had not yet been legally recognized by the Thai government authorities.

Throughout the time spent on my religious duties in America, it was a period of generosity and support, and an ambience of thoughtfulness and friendliness, which I can recall in bright and cheerful mood, in cool and comfort, as well as with warm feelings in my heart.

The closest person was Professor Dr. Donald K. Swearer, who was wondrously thoughtful. Apart from taking care in arranging favorable living conditions in general, he was attentive to providing all the convenience. Not only did he show the monk’s lay companion where to shop at the outset, but he regularly took him to buy what was needed later on. Even in trivial matters, when I resumed work on an unfinished project from Thailand, Dr. Swearer took his American students to the Harvard University Library to check out almost the entire set of the Royal Siamese Version of the Pali Tipitaka and left them at my residence just for convenience of use.

On the academic front, Dr. Swearer, one of the best known figures in Buddhist studies in the United States (currently Director of Harvard University’s Center for the Study of World Religions) expressed his goodwill by introducing me to other people, which aroused their interest and led to the invitations for me to give lectures at such institutions as Oberlin College in Ohio, Haverford College in Philadelphia and the Asia Society in New York City.

Extramurally, in the environs of the college and the universities, a number of Thai devotees and students paid me a visit on a regular basis, making food offerings. When it was a holiday, some came over to pick up my lay companion and show him around so that he could get to know the various places and means of transportation. Some were very enthusiastic in lending their support. When I was to travel a long distance, plane tickets would be sent not only to me but also to my lay companion.

When I went to stay in the monasteries, both at Wat Vajiradhammapadip in New York and at Wat Dhammaram in Chicago, the monks were willing to assist me in my work, and the lay devotees were also very supportive. Even though I was staying quite a long way away from them, they never failed to go all out to bring me to their place for a sermon, especially on major Buddhist holidays.

Despite such a high degree of faith, thoughtfulness, friendliness and support, when I got an invitation, I kept postponing it until they finally gave up the idea. As mentioned above, all this was due to my focus on waiting to finish up the projects still outstanding in Thailand—for which the date of completion is nowhere in sight. Even so, I can say that I am in fact well aware of the thoughtfulness and appreciate the goodwill of everybody.

When everything remained dormant, it would seem all right to let them be the way they were. But once something was done on the work front, which emerged in the form of a book, as if to break the silence, what was originally related, namely the human front, should also be given expression at the same time.

It was therefore deemed that this book would not be complete without referring to the people involved and the ambience in which the work took place. I would like to express my apologies for all the hesitancy and disruptions, and also my appreciation for the thoughtfulness, and enthusiastic support and assistance. May all prosper in their merit and be blessed with the four boons of life—longevity, radiance, happiness and strength.

Phra Brahmagunabhorn (P. A. Payutto)
September 16, 2007

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  1. Translated from the Thai by Somseen Chanawangsa.

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