Buddhadasa Bhikkhu and Rebirth


Sorry I don’t understand this sentence. Who does ‘they’ refer to? Does it refer to the forest monks themselves, or is it the Bangkok monks who rejected any attempt to reconcile the forest monks teachings with the suttas?


Perhaps Bhikkhu @Sujato is referring to comments such as this one by Ajahn Maha Boowa at the conclusion of “Kammatthana, the path of practice”:

This Dhamma has been discussed partly in accordance with theory, Pariyatti, and partly in accodance with the views of Forest Dhamma. Some are probably correct, and some incorrect. This is because it has been discussed out of the understanding of Forest Dhamma that has been experienced from practice. The writer asks forgiveness from all readers, and is alway ready to listen to any logical criticism.


If one understands what Buddha taught to a good extent, he would know, firsthand experience is the only way to understand the Dhamma.
In the Brahmajālasuttaṃ, and several other suutas, to explain views such as sassatavāda etc. Buddha declared, the people who had attained deep samādhi, due to their firsthand experience, but without full understanding, got hold of the wrong view due to their own experience of knowing the previous births.
So, with whatever academic or otherwise presentation one always would submit only 'maññanā and not experiential truth.
Until one experiences tilakkhaṇa under samādhi he would not understand birth/rebirth and saṃsāra.


Sorry I was unclear!

Thanks, that’s exactly what I was thinking of, too lazy to look it up!


Thank you for your answer. In this case I am a bit puzzled about the ‘raison d’être’ of his authoritarism (which is described at any rate in a number of books I’ve read). I mean, if he could not be sure that his teachings were correct, what was the basis for the authority with which he was running the monastery (in such a way that people feared him as the Tiger) and imparted these teachings?


I presume it was the renunciation, morality, samadhi, wisdom and the leadership qualities, seniority and personality that he displayed.


If you believe that the Buddha had true wisdom and if the Ajahn’s views are not those of the Buddha, then I can’t see how the Ajahn can be said to have wisdom. And seniority seems to have value only in an organisation based on the views of the Buddha, not a universal value (for example in a corporation seniority in itself hardly has any value).


Well I’m trying to say it’s not all about views. They were monks with little unwholesome qualities and probably many wholesome qualities. Any monk who is a renunciate and sticks to the vinaya is widely respected and loved. Their number of years as a monk matters in terms of experience and quality as a renunciate monk.

It not ‘all or nothing’ when it comes to wisdom - anyone who has practiced the path knows that right view develops with time. If all you had was your confidence in the triple gem you would still be considered a follower of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.


I’m not an expert on this, and have not been involved with that tradition. Also, the text has been translated from Thai and may have lost some nuance. The extract I quoted is on P138 of "Kammatthana, the path of practice”.

However, my impression is that that Ajahn Maha Boowa is saying that his use of terminology is not always traditional (see the entries for terms such as citta in the Glossary of the above book, for example), and also that he is relying on practice over theory.


PS: We recently re-edited the English translation of Kammatthana. You can find the updated edition here:



Thank you. That’s a much better version, which is actually searchable! The extract I quoted is on page 178 of that version.


Hi Ryan. My guess is Bhikkhu Buddhadasa would not personally regard himself as having a wrong or conflicting view here because, similar to his interpretation of ‘birth’ (‘jati’), his interpretation of the word ‘world’ (‘loka’) would be different to yours and consistent with his personal interpretations (which are explained in his book called Two Kinds of Language).

Kind regards :slightly_smiling_face:

From: Under the Bodhi Tree: The Buddha’s Original Vision of Dependent Co-Arising .


I believe you have choosen a wrong Sutta for the comparative. Better if we choose any Sutta in where anatta and nibbana means the end of rebirth. There are many.

He was fully right in that phrase. You can check how he was explaining anatta and its consequences. If somebody discover anatta he will know there is not rebirth.

Buddhadasa never rejected the conventional physical rebirth. Just he avoided that talking. He was very focused in rescuing anatta for the Thai common people, who were very traped in clericalism and rebirth while forgetting anatta and the Buddha solution. Buddadhasa suffered a rejection in his own land because his direct teaching addresed to common people. And also he suffered the manipulation of his thought by the secular academic device in the West.

There is no error in what he said.


Hello Puerh. Are you certain the above is true? For example, in the book I included in my post is the following quote by Buddhadasa:

Now, going a little higher, we come to the word “birth”. In everyday language, the word “birth” refers to physically coming into the world from the mother’s womb. A person is the born physically only once. Having been born, one lives in the world until one dies and enters the coffin. Physical birth happens to each of us only once. This birth from the mother’s womb is what is meant by “birth” in everyday language.


He is talking on birth and this person. Where do you find the contradiction?.

Probably in your text, later you will find how he explain “birth” in an ultimate sense, regarding dependent origination and anatta.

It was his style of “two teachings”.

This style is not unique to Buddhadasa. When he discovered the mahayana teaching of Chinese masters from the Tang dinasty, he was atonished to check how that people used a similar thing. His surprise was very high, and later he translated some texts from the chinese master Huang-Po.

Physical birth happens to each of us only once

of course. In a next physical rebirth it will be another person instead this. Remember the Nagasena talk:

“Give me a simile!”

“If a man were to light a lamp, could it give light throughout the whole night?”

“Yes, it could.”

“Is now the flame which burns in the first watch of the night the same as the one which burns in the second?”

“It is not the same.”

“Or is the flame which burns in the second watch the same as the one which burns in the last one?”

“It is not the same.”

“Do we then take it that there is one lamp in the first watch of the night, another in the second, and another again in the third?”

“No, it is just because of the light of the lamp shines throughout the night.”

“Even so must we understand the collocation of a series of successive dharmas. At rebirth one dharma arises, while another stops; but the two processes take place almost simultaneously (i.e. they are continous). Therefore, the first act of consciousness in the new existence is neither the same as the last act of consciousness in the previous existence, nor it is the another.”

this person only experience one birth. Rebirth is a succesion of dhammas, and then of persons, each one experiencing one birth.

PS: well I have read a lot of Buddhadasa texts and never find any claim denying rebirth in the conventional sense, apart from anatta.

His readings are deep to catch this point of “two languages”. Hope it can thelp :slightly_smiling_face:


To clarify better the point, I have located the text you are using. In that same text, in the section “WOEFUL STATES” (down link provided) he accepted rebirth in a very clear way:

“…Again, if we avoid being stupid like the beasts, ravenous like the hungry ghosts, and frightened like the asura, then we are free of the kinds of unskillful attitudes that might cause us to be reborn after death as beasts, hungry ghosts, or asura.”


In my reading of this talk with what Bhante Sujato pointed out in mind, it appears to me that Buddhadasa was saying that rebirth as those listening understood it, wasn’t what the Buddha taught. They were the ones with wrong view, misrepresenting what the Buddha taught and, as in that wrong context, rebirth didn’t exist. He didn’t say that rebirth with right view didn’t exist.


An interesting point. Yes, one day I’m going to heard north into central Wisconsin and ask Santikaro about some of this.


Thanks for that but I think the above is not saying what Bhikkhu Buddhadasa believed but rather is reflecting what others might believe. The whole quote is:

They are the four woeful states as understood in Dhamma language. They are rather different from the woeful states of everyday language. Now there is a point worth thinking about in connection with this. If we don’t fall into the woeful states of Dhamma language, then we are sure not to fall into the woeful states of everyday language. For instance, if we avoid making the mistakes that lead to affliction with anxiety, then we avoid falling into hell in this life. At the same time, we need have no fear of falling into hell in some later lifetime after death. Again, if we avoid being stupid like the beasts, ravenous like the hungry ghosts, and frightened like the asura, then we are free of the kinds of unskillful attitudes that might cause us to be reborn after death as beasts, hungry ghosts, or asura.

Bhikkhu Buddhadasa’s statement above is very common and typical of any moral atheist who says they do not need to believe in ‘God’ when they live a moral life (because if God does actually exist then they will not be punished by God).

Regards :slightly_smiling_face:


Ahh, I never thought about it that light. That’s a thoughtful way of holding these words he said. It’s easy to forget talks like these are given in Thailand to Thai people with a Buddhist culture, pre-internet where talks weren’t really meant to be broadcasted to Westerners with completely different reservations about Buddhism.