By Jaruwan Supolrai, English and Communication student, Ubon Ratchathani University
Venerable Ajahn Nyanadhammo was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1955. He became interested in Buddhism by being inspired from reading the Buddha’s message while a biology student. And in 1978 he then stayed at Wat Buddhadhamma near Sydney before traveling to Thailand to ordain.
He received his novice ordination from Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara at Wat Bowon Niwet Wiharn in Bangkok. And in 1979 at the age of 24 he received full ordination with the late Venerable Ajahn Chah at Wat Nong Pah Pong, a forest monastery in Ubon Ratchathani, the northeastern Thailand.
He then spent many years wandering on ‘tudong’ in the forest, staying in secluded monasteries and seeking out great meditation teachers and following their footsteps especially the late Venerable Ajahn Chah’s. From 1994 to 2002 he stayed at Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery in Western Australia as deputy to Ajahn Brahmavamso.
In 2002 when Venerable Ajahn Jayasaro left Wat Pah Nanachat Venerable Ajahn Nyanadhammo took over his duties and become the abbot of Wat Pah Nanachat, a branch monastery of Wat Nong Pah Pong with an international community of English speaking monks, which run by the late Venerable Ajahn Chah.
Since then he diligently has worked training ‘anagarikas’ and ‘novices’ and guides the monks at the Wah Pah Nanachat. Always he gives a talk to Buddhists and people who come to give the offerings in every morning, which the talk can be counselling to those in need. And on the religion day he gives the Dhamma talks at Wah Pah Nanachat and other branch monasteries of the late Venerable Ajahn Chah in Thailand and sometimes in other countries around the world.
His First Contact with Buddhism
According to his biology background while in a university, he studied both life of animals and plants. So those things led him to be interested in studying the life of human beings and discovering what life was about, what was the true happiness and what we people were searching for.
One day when he went back home he had a chance to read a Theravada Buddhism book that his friends left at his home.
“I did not intentionally read it, I was just reading for killing the time” said the Venerable Ajahn Nyanadhammo. Then he could not put it down, reading it all the night until finishing, becoming more interested in Buddhism, his faith had arisen.
He said, “I appreciated of the Buddha’s teaching, because it was about the Four Noble Truths,” Since he did not find a true happiness, nobody found “paqqa” wisdom.
He began asking himself; Where is the person who has the true happiness? Where is the person who has the ‘paqqa’ ? Where is the ‘paqqa’? All the answer goes to the Buddha. The Buddha is the person who has the “paqqa”, he see through the sufferings, he pointed the cause of suffering and a path out of suffering that we can be free from sufferings getting the real happiness.
His Turning Points
With his curiosity in Buddhism, in the morning, he did not hesitated to go to the bookstore to buy Buddhism books. The result from reading a second book and seeing the picture of a monk on the cover of the book, which was the first monk he had ever seen in his life, had inspired him to want to be a monk.
“Having never ever seen any temples or any monks before, but I wanted to be a monk like him in the picture, it is because of my faith in Buddha, said the Venerable Ajahn Nyanadhammo.
After that, he went to the Buddhist Society in his hometown. When getting inside the temple. He said, “I had long hair and was dressing up in hippie style” and he did not know how to behave himself there. He did not take his shoes off until someone told him to take them off.
And there was a sign with the word, ‘Observe the Five Precepts’ written on a label inside the temple.
After reading the Five Precepts on that label, he felt it was the right thing for him at that time, so he decided to observe those precepts for the sake of himself and other people to be safe from any other harmful things all around. And later on, he began to practice meditation from reading many books.
Finally he met Ajahn Kantaparo, who used to stay at Wat Bowon Niwet Wiharn in Bangkok and came to teach Vibbassana (insight meditation) in Australia recommended him to come to Thailand.
Flying to Thailand
Not like any other farangs visiting many interesting tourist attractions when first coming, when arriving Bangkok he told a taxi driver to go to Wat Boworn Nivath Vihan where he became ordained a novice monk.
“From the first day that I came to Thailand until this day, I spend my time at the monastery I did not go to any other place”, said the Venerable Ajahn Nyanadhammo. And when asking why he chose to come to Thailand, “Because Thailand has a lot of Westerners and a lot of the old traditions” he said.
Training Under Ajahn Chah
A monastic life after having a chance to meet Ajahn Chah at Wat Nong Pah Pong and having him as a preceptor, he had spiritually trained with many Dhamma materials among many other training monks.
“I needed to change everything, I needed to speak Thai, I needed to eat Thai food and etc.” said the Venerable Nyanadhammo. It was tough with the change of food, language, weather and cultures. The food was extremely basic: sticky rice, leaves, curries – which were all put in one pot together – and a few bananas.
And what is more important was that the change of his manner to be suitable as the make him a good monk that he had to behave correctly. ” I felt like I was a new person, I was born again I was died from a farang and was born to be a Thai, “he added.
As Ajahn Chah’s way of teaching, he usually left his monks pretty much alone to practice and to learn the Vinaya or monastic codes of conduct; he would take them aside only occasionally if he sensed there were some problems need to be solved.
Ajahn Chah Gave Him a Kick
One day Ajahn Nyanadhammo and his monk-friends went on the same alms-round together into the village, and, as they were coming back to the dining-hall, there was one monk started complaining about the monks who hand out the food.
Self-righteous anger came up in him, and he said to him, “Instead of complaining about the other monks, why don’t you get up and help us?” And then he stormed off in a huff.
As Ajahn Nyanadhammo was walking, he heard Ajahn Chah’s voice saying, “Good morning” in English. (The only words he knew in English were ‘Good morning’ and ‘Cup of tea’.) He turned to see him standing only three feet away with a big radiant smile on his face. And he said, “Oh, good morning, Luang Por.” And he radiated loving kindness to Ajahn Nyanadhammo, and the aversion completely disappeared and he was really happy.
That evening he decided, “As Ajahn Chah was very friendly to him, he would go over and offer him a foot massage”: that was a way to do some service for him, and he often would teach Dhamma at that time. So he was sitting on a cane seat with Ajahn Nyanadhammo sitting on the floor and massaging his foot.
When the bell rang for evening chanting. Ajahn Chah told the other monks to go to the chanting and Ajahn Nyanadhammo was left together with Ajahn Chah; it was a beautiful cool evening, with the moon coming out full, and the sound of some seventy monks chanting, he said “It was just wonderful. Ajahn Chah sat in meditation as I was massaging his foot – and my mind was on cloud nine, uplifted with joy”.
At that point Ajahn Chah kicked him in the chest and knocked him flat on his back! He looked up in shock, and Ajahn Chah pointed at him saying, “See? In the morning someone says something you don’t like and you’re upset. Then someone else just says, ‘Good morning’ and you’re uplifted all day. Don’t get caught up in moods and emotions of like and dislike at what other people say.” That is one of the lessons that he still remembers to this day.
Staying And Teaching in Western Australia
After his fifteenth year as a monastic life in Thailand, he was requested to stay and teach the Dhamma in Western Australia. “I did not want to go there, I needed to go, because people there they were hungry for the Dhamma”, said the Venerable Nyanadhammo.
When he and his monk-friends first came there. They had to stay in a small house. Some days they did not have any meal, because nobody came to give them the offerings.
Not for long someone gave them a land in forest to build a monastery. Before they built a ‘sala’ and a ‘kuti’, they needed to stay in the hut for a while and had to bathe in the stream with cold water. He said, “I was living with kangaroos in the forest”.
“Some did not know Buddhism, some did not know gathering the alms-food”, he said, teaching Dhamma to Westerners is not easy like teaching Thais who were born in the land of Buddhism – basically have the faith in Buddha.
It is necessary for them to cultivate faith in the Buddha to them so that we can teach them how to meditate which is what the Westerners are interested in.
Teaching the Dhamma to Westerners might take a long time until it works. ” It was difficult at first but it worked and was useful in the end” said Venerable Ajahn Nyanadhammo.
The Family’s Thought
Asking what his family thinks about his ordination, when they heard about Buddhism, they did not understand. “And when I had became ordained wandering to meditate in the forest, they thought that I was crazy.”
But nowadays the family heard about Buddhism and have some knowledge and understanding the history of Buddhism. “They maybe see a picture on the television or documentary about Buddhism or Buddhist monks, because of that they understand” he added.
Things have changed quite a lot since he first came but generally he thinks most western people’s parents want their children to be happy and want their sons to be happy people to be peaceful themselves in the world. And generally the parents found it acceptable.
Being of one monks here who follows the Buddha’s footstep and other great venerables, he has been seriously doing the Dharma propagation activities in Thailand and overseas – for the sake of making the world a peaceful place. ” Nowadays there are many interested Westerners coming to in Buddhism in Thailand” added the Venerable Ajahn Nyanadhammo.
“Tudong” – taking a bowl and robes and walk seeking out secluded places to meditate in the forest
“Anagarika” – a person in preparation to be in yellow robe and observe the Eight Precepts
“sala” a place where people gather making merits
“kuti” a place where monks stay in
“Luang Por” an old venerable
Wat Nong Pah Pong” – a forest monastery of marsh and pong” (pong is a type of high grass).