[Foreward By Phra Dusadee Medhankuro]
This lecture "Some Marvellous Aspects of Theravada Buddhism" was delivered by Than Achan Buddhadasa in the second session conference of the Sixth Sangayana at Maha-pasanaguha, Rangoon, Burma, on December 6, 1950. The conference was attended by learned people of Theravada Buddhism. The lecture is another very interesting one which shows learnedness of the lecturer, who was so much honored while being so young. Since it is hardly available for people to read, the Vuddhidhamma Fund for Dhamma Study and Practice republishes it once more to preserve the original manuscript and to benefit dhamma-studying people in general.
The lecture published here was translated from the Thai by Prof. Sanya Dhammasak, who was at one time Thailand's Prime Minister and the President of the Buddhist Association of Thailand and, at present, is the Chairman of the Privy Council and the President of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WEB). We publish this English translation in a separate book from the Thai version so that interested people can study from either of them.
Regarding that it has been 45 years since this lecture was delivered, the readers should keep in mind that some of the lecturer's views have changed. Examples are the following:
(1) Attachment to the salient aspects of Theravada Buddhism should be abandoned. We should transcend the perception of being Theravada, Mahayana, Vajjarayana, or any other sects of Buddhism, and any other pertinent religions besides Buddhism, with the reasoning that the essences of the sects or religions are inducive to abandonment of selfishness, to elimination of grasping and clinging with attachment, and to true cessation of suffering.
(2) The lecturer still maintains his viewpoint regarding the Noble Eightfold Path but adds much more explanation on this teaching, especially recently (1988-1989). His discourses in the Atammayata (Unconditionability) series can be regarded as a contribution to research and study on the essence of the ultimate teaching and practice in Buddhism that, very remarkably, can be applied to life on both the mundane and the supramundane levels, although it is not so well-know among Buddhists, including the Theravada. His assemblage of the nine related -tas, namely, aniccata (impermanence), dukkhata (stress), anatta (not-self), dhammatthitatta (natural orderliness), dhammaniyamata (natural law), idappaccayata (the law of Specific Conditionality), sunnata (voidness of the meaning of self), tathata (as-suchness), and atammayata (unconditionability), shows his characteristic originality, which greatly helps enhance insight of dhamma and facilitate its study and practice.
(3) About "God", the lecturer's viewpoint has developed further from what he used to refer to as the Creator-Controller-Destroyer, which is translated into the stress-causing trio in Buddhism: avijja (ignorance) - kamma (action) - tanha (craving). The trio conditions one's self but can be overcome by attainment of nibbana. At present, the lecturer sees an ingenious strategy of having God as a tool for elimination of selfishness. This is achieved by giving up one's self to God in exchange for the "eternal self." In Buddhism, however, a practitioner with the right mind must train himself toward complete elimination of self in order to attain nibbana, which is the "eternal voidness." The lecturer's interpretation of God as the ultimate dhamma for elimination of selfishness is conducive to good mutual understanding among religions, cooperation for world peace, and happiness for the followers of all religions.
(4) About the Triple Gem, which is the symbolization of Buddhism and the objective of Buddhists, the lecturer pointed out that this Buddhist Trinity is none other than the state of cleanness-clarity-calmness (the three C's), which, when attained, is perceived as the true Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. Otherwise, the Gem will not be a true refuge but can be a critical obstacle against attainment of the Buddha-dhamma. He specifically emphasized this point in his recent (1989-1990) lectures. For example, he talked about the real Buddha, the false Buddha, the personal Buddha, the dhamma Buddha, and the spiritual Buddha. He also talked about the representative Buddhas, namely, the Buddha's relics, the Buddha images, and various Buddha shrines, all of which are just symbols, not idols. But many Buddhists still practice their beliefs with an attitude inclining more to superstitions that to Buddhism: They emphasize rituals more than methods; they pursue merits rather than righteousness; they are satisfied more with heavens than with nibbana; they have more faith than wisdom, etc. With this attitude, how can they get cleanness, clarity, and calmness as a result of their practice?
Those who keep track of the Than Achan's teachings would have seen origination, change, and continuity of his viewpoints all along, it is important to understand the development from the beginning up to the present. One cannot grasp at only a segment or a portion of his teachings as the definite representative of the whole, for this will prevent right and complete understanding of his true teachings. This point is also applicable even to such matters as vegetarianism and meditation (vipassana).
This present publication uses the manuscript from the first edition, which was published on the Visakhapuja Day of 1955 by the Dhammadana Group. For the Thai version, the original spelling and punctuation are preserved, but some words are bold-faced for emphasis. For the English version, Samanera Natthakaro, who is an American Buddhist novice at Suan Mokkh, and Prof. Mongkol Dejnakarintra helped edit the manuscript and added footnotes for foreigners to better understand some of the religious terms. We would like to thank both of them here for their help.
On the auspicious occasion of the Than Achan's 84th birthday anniversary, all of us who take part in the publication of this work of dhamma gift humbly dedicate the merits as a tribute to the Than Achan's graciousness. May this wish benefit all beings.