Friday, April 25, 2008

The movement of Buddhism to the U.S.A.

The idea to establish a temple for the Buddhist residents in the United States began when several Thai communities in the big cities such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and neighboring states recognized that although their material needs were being met in this country, there was a spiritual void that only a Buddhist temple could fill. A temple for the Thai people would provide a place for the people to come to cultivate themselves by listening to the teachings of Lord Buddha in a familiar spiritual environment and language.

I. The First Thai Theravada Temples in the United States
The early Thai temples in the United States were all Mahānikāya. The
first Dhammayuttika Thai temples opened in the 1980s.
A. Wat Thai of Los Angeles, was the first Thai Theravada temple to be established in the United States. On December 22, 1971, the temple was set up as a nonprofit organization under the law of the state of California. Wat Thai Los Angeles was designed to be a full-fledged monastery according to Thai tradition (monk’s living area, temple court, main ordination hall, etc.) The Thai-style ordination hall was completed and dedicated in 1979. The Wat Thai of Los Angeles publishes a Dhamma magazine, offers Sunday School and meditation classes, features a vocational school for Thai crafts, and has done a research project in conjunction with the Faculty of Education of Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.

B. Wat Thai Washington, D.C. (1974). The Wat Thai of Washington, D.C., began in July of 1974 when two Thai monks moved into a house in Silver Spring, Maryland The Buddhist Association of Washington, D.C., had been in existence since 1971. On February 11, 1975, Phra Maha Surasak Jivanando (Luang Ta Chi) of Wat Vajiradhammasadhit, Prakanong, Bangkok, became abbot of the Wat Thai. A beloved and important teacher and writer, he has served as abbot ever since.

In 1986 the Wat Thai moved to its current location, 13440 Lay hill Road, Silver Spring, Maryland 20906. In 1995 an ordination hall was constructed at the location. In June of 2005, the eightieth birthday celebration for Luang Ta Chi was held at the Wat Thai. During this celebration the twenty-ninth annual meeting of the Council of the Thai monks in the United States also took place at the temple. The Wat Thai has close ties with the diplomatic corps at the Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C.

C. Vajiradhammapadip Temple, the Bronx, New York City (1975).
The Vajiradhammapadip Temple originated with the Buddhist Study Center, started by a group of Thai and American Buddhists in New York and given legal status in
1975. The temple was originally located in the Bronx on 179th Street. However,
on July 17, 1983, because of space limitations, it was relocated to the existing site
on two acres in Mount Vernon, a city in
Westchester County, New York, bordering
the northern side of the Bronx. Buddhist Sunday School classes have played an
important role at the temple. In November of 2006, the construction of another
Vajiradhammapadip Temple was completed on Rustic Road in Centerreach in the
middle of Long Island. The same abbot is in charge of both temples.

D. Wat Buddhawararam, Denver, Colorado (1976). Compared to the other Thai
temples already mentioned, the Wat Buddhawararam came into existence rather
quickly. (Trips of Thai monks to the United States were no longer rare; and
founders of temples could learn from the experiences of monks in temples already
established.) On March 25, 1976, the temple was incorporated, and on April 13
(Thai New Year’s) the monks began to reside at a previous Salvation Army
church. Because of the relatively small population involved in the temple, the
place is a rather quiet one, and the monks focus on meditation training and
propagating the Buddha’s teachings to native Americans.

E. Wat Dhammaram, Chicago, Illinois (1976). The Wat Dhammaram (The Thai
Buddhist Temple) takes its origins in the middle of 1972 from Thai monks using
Chicago as a stopping point while traveling across the United States. In
September of 1974 the Thai Buddhist Center was incorporated to manage and fund
Buddhist activities in Chicago. The Thai Buddhist Center became the Thai
Buddhist Temple in 1976. At the end of 1976, the Apostolic Assembly Church
building was purchased, and this became the main hall of the temple. The Wat
Dhammaram is similar to the Vajiradhammapadip Temple in New York. Both are
in a big city with a large Thai population. Sunday school classes were begun at the
Wat Dhammaram, as were Thai language and culture classes. At the end of 1977
the Temple Library was established (emphasis on Buddhist and Thai studies), and
Dhamma classes and meditation retreats began for any adults who were interested.
At the end of 1983, the Wat Dahmmaram moved to a former public school building on 75th Street, its present location.

II. The Council of Thai Bhikkhus in the U. S. A.
In June, 1976, monks from the five existing Thai temples in the United States
gathered in Denver at the Wat Buddhawararam. At their meeting the establishment
of The Council of Thai Bhikkhus in the U. S. A., Inc., was approved. The
organization was incorporated in Colorado in October of the same year. The
purpose of the organization is to keep the monastic practices of the members unified
and uniform, to promote the exchange of information, and to promote cooperation in
in the United States and between monks in the U.S. and the Buddhist Order of
Thailand, to establish policy, and to support the propagation of Buddhism in
America. The organization meets yearly in June.
A. The Dhammayutti Order in the USA, which oversees the Dhammayutti sect, did
not get registered until 1993.

VIII. The Role of the Thai Theravada Temple in the Community

A. The Traditional Role of the Temple in Promoting Thai Religion and Culture.
B. Parallel Congregations. “The mixing of Asian and native-born American
Theravada Buddhist practioners was first pointed out by Paul Numrich in his
study of Wat Dhammaram . . . and Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara, a temple
started by Sri Lankans in Los Angeles [Old Wisdom in the New World].
Numrich found that groups of white people were involved with each of these
temples in addition to the Thai and Sri Lankans. While white people most
often attended Asian temples, particularly Thai temples, as the spouses and
family members of Asians, the white people involved in these two temples
were involved without a familial connection. At Wat Dhammaram, for,
example, Thai people came to participate in ceremonies on weekends, while
white people came to meditation classes and retreats often on weekday
evenings. The two groups rarely interacted, though they met in the same
spaces under the guidance of the same monks at different times during the
week . . . Interestingly, the majority of non-Asians who attended these two
parallel congregations were men, in comparison to IMS [Insight Meditation
Society], where the majority of practitioners have been women. Many more
Thais and Sri Lankans were involved in these two temples than white
Americans, and there was little evidence that the white Americans had much
say in the leadership of the temple” (Cadge, Heartwood, pp. 40-41).

1. The Demographics of the Wat Thai Washington, D.C. Traditional merit making, rituals, and holy days. Involvement of white Americans. The Wat Thai Washington, D.C., offers numerous services to the people of the metropolitan area. 1) The most important thing the temple does is provide instruction in the Buddhist religion. This might take the form of one-on-one teaching; talks on Buddhism to groups of people; or information in the monthly publication, the Saeng Dhamma, which includes the writings of Luang Ta Chi, actually a well known author. 2) The temple also offers meditation training and three-day retreats. Instruction is given in sitting meditation (both concentration and insight meditation) as well as in walking meditation. Classes are held in Thai and in English every week. (Along similar lines, there is also a yoga class on Wednesday evenings.) 3) The Wat Thai is a center for religious ceremonies: all the important religious events relating to the life of the Buddha are celebrated. Furthermore, all the customary Buddhist rituals are performed (blessings of homes and businesses, commemorations of the passing away of loved ones, marriage and funeral ceremonies, and so on). 4) Our temple has celebrations and festivals on national and Buddhist holidays. The biggest festival of the year, one that draws large crowds, is the Thai New Year’s celebration every April. 5) The Wat Thai is a place to share and preserve Thai culture, traditions, and language. Thai music and dance events are held frequently. Classes are given in traditional dancing and in playing native musical instruments. Thai language classes take place every Thursday. Sunday school classes are held regularly, and every summer teachers come from Thailand to conduct summer school. 6) The temple is an information center for Thais, Asians, and Americans in general both locally and nationally. Missionary monks from Thailand learn English-language skills, for example, and computer skills. Thai lay people can take English classes if they desire. There is even a weekly class in Mandarin Chinese. Books and other information on Buddhism in Thai, Chinese, and English are available to people who are interested. The temple is a kind of communication center for Buddhist monks throughout the United States and for that matter, across the globe.

IX. Conclusions.
A. Overview. (Cf. Cadge, Heartwood, pp. 44-48.) Ways of Describing Theravada
Buddhist America.
1. Where the founders came from.
2. Where the people who attend were born.
3. Where the teachings come from.
B. The Challenge for the Future.
1. The Role of Thai Theravada Buddhism in the Future of American Buddhism.
a. The possibility/impossibility, e.g., for a “new and modern ethical literature”
(adapting the Vinaya, etc.) (cf. Prebish, Luminous Passage, pp. 68-69).

Bringing Buddhism to the New Lands

The George Washington University Department of Religion,
Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, and Melvin Gelman Library Present: Bringing Buddhism to Varied Lands: Three Major Buddhist-Studies Events at the George Washington University.

This paper was presented by Ven. Dr. Thanat Inthisan, Wat Thai, D.C. on the topic of “The Development of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism in Thailand and it’s Movement to the United States” on Monday, April 14, 2008 at Marvin Center Room 405. These events sponsored by The Yeshe Dorje Foundation.

Ven. Dr. Ane Kunga Chodron

Part One: The Development of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism in Thailand

I. Introduction of Buddhism to Thailand.
A. King Asoka and the Beginning of Thai Buddhism.
1. “According to tradition, Buddhism was introduced into Thailand more than two
thousand years ago, when this territory was known as Suvarnabhūmi and was still inhabited by the Mons and Lawas. At that time, one of the nine missions sent by King Asoka of India [ruled 270-232 B.C., the third of the Mauryan emperors] to spread Buddhism in different countries came to Suvarnabhūmi. This mission was headed by two Arahants named Sona and Uttara and they succeeded in converting the ruler and people of the Thai kingdom to Buddhism. / Nakorn Pathom was then the capital or one of the most important cities of Suvarnabhūmi and became an active center for the propagation of the Buddha’s teachings. A great stupa was erected there to commemorate this great historic event, the adoption of Buddhism, and it was called Phra Pathom Chedi, which means the first Chedi built in this eastern country”

B. Conversion to Buddhism of the Thai People in the South of China in the Yunnan Province.
1. In the first century of the Christian era, the Thai people were still living in the
South of China. During the reign of the Chinese emperor Mingti, they converted to Buddhism. King Khun Luang Mao, ruler of the kingdom of Ailao, was the first Thai professed Buddhist ruler and promoter of the religion. It is not clear
exactly what brand of Buddhism existed here in this period. Presumably, this
was Theravada Buddhism as opposed to Mahayana Buddhism. However, it is
uncertain which of the original eighteen Buddhist sects it was.

C. Mahayana Buddhism in the Nanchao Period.
1. In 651 A.D. the Thai people in the Yunnan province revolted against the Chinese and set up the Nanchao kingdom (with the capital at Ta-Li-Foo), independent
until the invasion of the Khmers in 1253. It seems the prevalent form of
Buddhism in the Nanchao kingdom was Mahayana Buddhism, introduced from
China during the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.).
a. The Thai people migrated south out of China at two different times, some first
in 255 A.D. when the kingdom of Ailao was conquered by the Chinese, and a
great number the second time in 1253, when the kingdom of Nanchao was
conquered by the Mongol Kublai Khan.

D. The Influx of Mahayana Buddhism from Sumatra into Southern Thailand.
1. About 757 A.D. the Srivijaya king in the capital city of Sumatra began
expanding his empire to include part of southern Thailand. The kings of
Srivijaya were supporters of Mahayana Buddhism, which had been brought to
Sumatra by missionaries from Kashmir in northern India beginning in the fifth
E. The Influence of Mahayana Buddhism upon Thailand in the Khmer Period
(Lopburi Period, about 1002 to 1082).
1. “To the east of Thailand, the Khmer kings became powerful in Kambuja [the
ancient name of Cambodia] from about 1002 to 1082 . . . During this period
(usually called the Lopburi period), the Khmer empire covered the whole of
northeastern and central Thailand. The Khmers were adherents of Mahayana
Buddhism, which came from Sumatra and became mixed with their older faith, Brahmanism. But the Mahayana both of the Srivijaya and of the Lopburi
periods did not succeed in replacing the Theravada, and the two schools
flourished side by side. However, it was during these periods that Brahminism
and the Mahayana had strong influences on Thai culture. Sanskrit, the sacred
language of the Hindus and the Mahayana, took deep root in Thai language and
literature, while the Brahmanic influence can be seen even today in many Thai
customs and public ceremonies”.
F. The Influence of Theravada Buddhism in Northern and Central Thailand during
the Rule of Burma.
1. “In 1057 A.D. King Anuruddha (Anawratha) became powerful in the whole of
Burma, having his capital at Pagan (Central Burma). Anuruddha extended his
kingdom right up to Thailand, especially the Northern and Central parts,
covering areas now known as Chiengmai [Chiang Mai], Lopburi, and Nakon
Pathom. Being a Theravada Buddhist, Anuruddha ardently supported the cause
of Theravada which Burma, like Thailand, at first received directly from India
through missionaries sent by Emperor Asoka. However, at the time under
consideration, Buddhism in India was already in a state of decline, and as
contact between Burma and India was then faint, Theravada Buddhism, as
prevalent in Burma at that time, underwent some changes and assumed a form
somewhat different from the original doctrine. This, at a later stage, became
what is known in Thailand as Burma (Pagan [Pukam]) Buddhism. During this
period of King Anuruddha’s suzerainty [rule of a feudal lord] over Thailand,
Burmese Buddhism exercised great influence over the country, especially in the
North where, owing to proximity, the impact of Burma was more felt”

G. The Movement of Theravada Buddhism from Sri Lanka into Thailand
1. This is a significant movement, since it is responsible for the existence of the
most dominant form of Buddhism in Thailand today. About 1153 A.D.
Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186) ascended to the throne in Ceylon
(ancient Lanka, Sri Lanka today). He strongly supported Theravada
Buddhism. Because of the consolidation of Theravada Buddhism in Ceylon,
monks from various neighboring countries, including Thailand, began to go
there to relearn the Dhamma. About 1257 Thai monks obtained the ordination rite (upasampadā vidhi) from Ceylon; this was the origin of the Lankavamsa sect. It seems that early groups of monks returning from Ceylon first gathered together at Nakon Sri Thammarath in the South of present-day Thailand.
Eventually King Ram Kamhaeng of Sukhothai, the capital of Thailand at the
time, invited monks from Nakon Sri Thammarath to his capital and supported
them. The latter source mentions that King Ram Kamhaeng invited the great monk Mahasamgharaja from Nakon Sri Thammarath to Sukhothai. This monk and the group with him stayed at the Mango Forest (Araññika) Temple.)

II. The Role of the Sangha.
A. The Status of the Sangha in Modern Times.
1. The Sangha Administration Act (1902): a separate government was established
for the Sangha.
2. Additional acts, notably, the Sangha Act of 1962, reestablishing the Sangha
Supreme Council, with the Supreme Patriarch as President.
B. The Sangha Administration Today His Holiness Somdej Phra Nyānasamvara, President of the Sangha Supreme Council and the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand.

D. Two Kinds of Monks (cf. Kamala Tiyavanich, Forest Recollections; Wandering
Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand, pp. 172-97).
1. The Monastery Monks of the City.
2. The Forest Monks.
a. Ajahn Chah. About 1900 Ajahn Mun and Ajahn Sao reestablished in
Thailand the tradition of forest meditation. The most famous and influential
of the many monks trained by Ajahn Mun was Ajahn Chah. In 1975 Ajahn
Chah began the Wat Pah Nanachat forest monastery in Thailand in order to
train Western Monks. His most important students were Ajahn Sumedo
(important for the development of Theravada Buddhism in England, and
influential worldwide) as well as Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein
(important for the development in the United States of Vipassanā).
b. Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu. In 1943 Buddadāsa Bhikkhu, the great reformist
monk, Buddhist scholar and interpreter, and teacher, started his forest
monastery, Suan Mokkh (Garden of Liberation) near Chaiya, Thailand.
Rejecting superstition, useless ritual, and materialism, his interpretations of
Buddhism attempted to get back to the original meaning of the Buddha’s
message. Buddhadāsa wrote numerous books and gave countless talks and
speeches. He had a great influence not only in Thailand but also abroad.
His students included Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein as well as
Varasak Varadhammo, all of whom became important on the American
E. Government Support of the Sangha.
1. Administrative facilities are provided to the Sangha today through the Minister
of Education. The Department of Religious Affairs is the liaison between the
Sangha and the State. This department is responsible for taking care of the
monks and the monasteries, promoting religious projects, overseeing the
Sangha budget and providing financial support, publishing Buddhist books and
other material, and promoting Buddhist culture in Thailand

III. Buddhist Education.
A. Buddhist Education Program. The education of monks involves three levels of
Dhamma studies and nine levels of Pāli studies. The highest level of
achievement in Pāli studies is equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree. At the behest
of the Thai Sangha, the Ministry of Education established a mandate that
Buddhism be taught to all children in from the first through the twelfth grades.
B. Two Key Universities. Both of these universities are state institutions that get
financial support from the government of Thailand. Both have B.A. and Ph.D.
programs open to both monks and the laity.
1. Mahamakutrajavidyalaya Buddhist University (MBU). This university was
established in the reign of Rama V in memory of his father. It was intended
for the higher education of Buddhist monks.
2. Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU). This university,
established by Rama V in his own memory, was also intended for the higher
education of Buddhist monks. MCU has ten campuses across the country and
four Sangha colleges. There are four faculties: Buddhism, Education,
Humanities, and Social Sciences. There is an advanced postgraduate
International Program taught in English for Buddhist Studies and Buddhist

IV. The Role of the Monarchy in the Development of Theravada Buddhism.
A. Rattanakosin Period.
1. King Rama I (1767-1808). Ten monks were sent to Sri Lanka. Pra Ajahn Dee
was in charge of them.
2. King Rama II (1809-1824). Eight Thai monks were sent to Sri Lanka. They
stayed three and a half years, returning to Thailand in 1817.
3. King Rama III (1824-1850). “King Rama III sent Thai monks to Sri Lanka
twice. Firstly, Thai monks were sent to search for the Buddhist Scriptures.
They stayed there for one year and returned to Thailand in 1843. Secondly,
Thai monks were sent to return Buddhist scriptures to Sri Lanka in 1844 and
came back to Thailand in the same year with more scriptures and Sri Lankan
monks, novices and laymen” (250th Anniversary of Syamvamsa, p. 47).
4. Rama IV, King Mongkut (1851-1867). “In 1852, King IV sent 10 monks to
Sri Lanka, headed by the Elder who later became Simdej [?] Phrabutthajarn
(Si), Wat Patumgonkga. The king also gave his permission to the delegations
to ordain some Sri Lankans in the Dhammayuttika Nikāya. The Elder
Anomasirimuni could be the preceptor and run the religious activities as he
liked. In the end, the Elder Anomasirimuni did not ordain any Sri Lankans.
The Elder Anomasirimuni and his party came back to Thailand in 1853”
(250th Anniversary, p. 48).
King Mongkut was a monk for twenty-seven years before becoming king.
Because he thought discipline among the monks was lax, he started a new
movement in the Sangha called the Dhammayuttika [Dhammayutti Nikāya]
sect; the original Sangha was subsequently called the Mahānikāya [Maha
Nikāya] sect. Over time there were minor changes in both sects, but today the
two are substantially the same. (Cf. Payutto, Thai Buddhism, p. 28.)
5. Rama V, King Chulalongkorn (1869-1910). Rama V provided financial
assistance to Sri Lankan monks so that a printing house could be established in
Galle in 1862. In 1863 a newspaper, Lankaloka, was published. Rama V
visited Sri Lanka twice, in 1897 and in 1907. In 1907 he made a trip to
In 1878 the third Thai Buddhist Council was held. At the council copies of the
Tipitaka were made using the Thai alphabet rather than the modified Khmer
script. At the command of Rama V, the revised Tipitaka was published for the
first time in the form of books (thirty-nine volumes). (See Payutto, Thai
Buddhism, p. 28; Payutto, The Pali Canon; What a Buddhist Must Know, p.
6. King Rama VII (1925-1934). In 1926 Rama VII gave financial assistance to
Sri Lankan monks. The Supreme Council of Thailand took a deep interest in
the state of affairs in Sri Lanka. The Council, headed by the Supreme
Patriarch Kromluang Chinawornsiriwat of Wat Rajabopit, wanted to be sure
The Siamopala Niakaya (Syamvamsa) was established.
“In B. E. 2468 [1925] during the reign of King Rama VII, the Pali Canon was
reprinted by royal command to dedicate the merit to the late King Rama VI.
Known in Thai as phra traipidok chabap sayamrat or ‘the Siamese official
version of the Tipitaka,’ the new impression came in a complete set of 45
volumes, and has ever since served as the standard for volume division of any
Thai-script version in Thailand” (Payutto, The Pali Canon, p. 32).
7. King Rama VIII. Rama VIII made a royal visit to Sri Lanka in 1928 along
with the present king of Thailand.
8. Rama IX, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (1946 to the present). King Rama IX
made a visit to Sri Lanka in 1950. He was ordained a monk on October 22,
1961, and disrobed on November 5, 1961.

พระธรรมทูตวัดไทยกรุงวอชิงตัน, ดี.ซี. เผยแผ่พระพุทธศาสนาเชิงวิชาการ
ที่ George Washington University ในกรุงวอชิงตัน ดี.ซี.
๑๔ เมษายน ๒๕๕๑ คณาจารย์ของคณะการศาสนา แห่งมหาวิทยาลัย ยอร์จ วอชิงตัน นำโดย Professor Reverend Ane Kunga Chodron ได้จัดให้มีการบรรยาย เรื่อง “การนำพระพุทธศาสนาสู่ดินแดนใหม่” และการจัดนิทรรศการเกี่ยวกับอุปกรณ์ประกอบพิธีกรรมในทางพระพุทธศาสนาฝ่ายทิเบต และนิทรรศการเกี่ยวกับพระไตรปิฎก ภาคภาษาอังกฤษ โดย Dr. Deborah B. Gaspar จากคณะ Instruction and Collection Development Librarian, the Marvin Gelman Library, GWU.
ได้นิมนต์ดร.พระมหาถนัด อตฺถจารี พระธรรมทูตวัดไทยกรุงวอชิงตัน, ดี.ซี. และกรรมการอำนวยการ สมัชชาสงฆ์ไทยในสหรัฐอเมริกา ไปบรรยาย เรื่อง The Development of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism in Thailand and its movement to the United State of America. รายระเอียดขอให้ติดตามอ่านในคอร์ลัมน์พิเศษในหนังสือวารสารแสงธรรมประจำเดือนพฤษภาคม ๕๑ หรือ เข้าเยี่ยมชมเวปไซด์ที่ ในโอกาสนี้ได้มอบหนังสือ Walking on the Path of the Buddha และ หนังสือ The Concise principle of Buddhism และ ดีวีดี Basic Meditation Instruction & Practice ให้ห้องสมุดประจำมหาวิทยาลัย GW. อีกจำนวน ๑ ชุด ด้วย

Bringing Buddhism to the New Lands

Ven.Dr.Thanat Inthisan Wat Thai,D.C.

คณาจารย์ และนักศึกษาฟังการบรรยาย

Dr. Deborah B. Gaspar จากคณะ Instruction and Collection Development Librarian, the Marvin Gelman Library, GWU.