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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
spring 2 0 1 7 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 43 T he work of Ajahn Buddhadasa (1906– 1993) in Theravada Buddhism has been to recover the core perspectives that have been ignored, lost, or obscured as bud- dhadhamma was encumbered with the trappings of religious rituals, moralistic beliefs, afterlife speculations, donation-seeking rationalizations, and quick-fix meditation techniques. As a clerical caste emerged over the centuries following the Buddha’s passing, Dhamma was segregated into Dhamma for those identified as renunciate wanderers (bhikkhus) and Dhamma for householders (upasakas). Further, a moralizing tone crept in, and emphasis began to shift from liberation in this life to earning a better life after death. While such developments may have their place, something crucial was muddled in the process. Ajahn Buddhadasa did not accept the seg- regation of practice and the bias underlying it, nor the superficial moralizing that overlooked the sub- tler perspectives found throughout the Pali suttas. After intentionally flunking out of the Thai monastic education system—he never wanted a position in a big Bangkok monastery anyway—Ajahn Buddhadasa moved to an aban- doned temple near his natal village, dug deep into the suttas, and refined his studies in the crucible of his own practice. Along the way, he discovered dependent co-arising (paticcasamuppada or “depen- dent origination,” the conditioned process through which suffering arises from ignorance, craving, and clinging) as he thought the Buddha intended rather than how traditional, pedantic orthodoxy has inter- preted it. This required exploring dependent co-aris- ing in light of other core teachings: “only suffering (dukkha) and the quenching of suffering,” “nothing is worth clinging to (as me or mine),” voidness, thusness, and the middle way. Most of all, he found, one’s understanding must be practical rather than metaphysical, ontological, or cosmological; a mat- ter of experience rather than merely accepting the assertions of authorities; and must lead to liberation in this life. To aid his investigation, he compiled over eight hundred pages of passages translated from the Pali suttas that concern dependent co-arising in one way or another. These were published as How Can No-Self Be Reborn? ajahn Buddhadasa challenged the Buddhist establishment with his unconventional interpretation of dependent co-arising. as his student santikaro explains, he called into question the very notion of rebirth. (Opposite) Ajahn Buddhadasa at Wat Suan Mokkh, ca 1980s