Update: Wat Buddha Dhamma history

Thanks for the interest, Dhamma friends, in the history of WBD. I am the author of a thirty-year history of Wat Buddha Dhamma, with Constance Ellwood. It is good to see the project is being followed by well-wishers.

As an update, the writing is complete and we are looking for a suitable publisher. There is more information at a webpage at [jamc.com.au] which has a detailed chapter synopsis at (http://www.jamc.com.au/WBD_History_Chapter_Synopsis.pdf). The synopsis gives a good overview of the complex and compelling story of the Wat from its foundation by Phra Khantipalo and Ayya Khema (Ilse Ledermann) in 1978 to its absorption into the Ajahn Chah forest monastery network in 2008.

It is intended to make available some short essays on various subjects drawing on the historical narrative, with the first on ‘What Khantipalo taught’ Those who had some connection to the Wat are especially welcome to contact the writer. John


Welcome to the Discuss and Discover community John. I hope you’ll find material to interest you in the Forum: do look around now that you’ve signed on.

I lived at Wat Buddha Dhamma for six months during 2001, and I knew Constance well. I also remember your name. Sadly I can’t put a face to it atm. But I’ll be at your webpage soon. :pray: I’m so happy that this book is being written.

:pray: :pray: :pray:

PS: My comment, having read the synopsis is to wonder if the title of the last chapter is a little iconoclastic. A Fateful Loss of Meaning 1999 - 2008 includes the period during which I discovered Buddhist practice, first went to the Wat, and lived there. Being there exposed me to different meanings and set me on a meaningful path. I was overseas 2003-8 and was the recipient of a number of emails that made big announcements. Meanings scattering? New meanings developing? New lay paths to discover? New monastics to support? … changing meanings, anicca certainly … but Fateful Loss?

PPS: Please give my love to Constance. :pray:


Hi John, nice to meet you the other day. I ended up spending the rains 2020 there after being inspired by the opportunities for practice the lockdown enabled and Bhante Suddhasso’s sutta class from Buddhist Insights daily, and some of the 717 sits (Thanks Bhante Akaliko and Sujato!) gave me an appetite for practice so I signed up for my local forest monastery. There’s some very opinionated and geeky gen y folk here (dhamma papanca!?!) We just got phones back. I am sorry to say I am not sure if Ajahn had a chance to read the history as I saw some pages of it on the back side of some pali chants. I read what I could from the pages I found :wink: Feel free to ask me to retrieve anything you want from the library and files (e.g. the old newsletters etc) I will be here at least another week (haven’t finalized plans beyond that) (PS: interesting find… i didn’t realize there was a second monastery in Sydney with Ayya Khema as director?20201003_174338|281x500


I stayed at Wat Buddha Dhamma for a week or so in 1991. No dhamma talks by Phra Khantipalo made an impression, but several small events remain in the memory. One morning we were doing work outside and he remarked he had been meditating the night before and “a lot of rubbish had been coming up in the mind.” At that time I was only familiar with the interrupting thoughts when trying to focus on the meditation subject as a superficial inner dialogue, but now have a deeper understanding of the mechanical nature of the mind and how it will recycle events if new material is not placed before it, so the precision of the word “rubbish” as part of a cyclic process has come home over time.

Each day at lunch time he would go up to a small mezzanine floor built above the eating room where he would eat, and as he went up would remark that he was “ going up to heaven.” I suppose this was to make a connection between food and the level of mundane right view.

On the Sunday there was an event where many Thais from Sydney visited to hear a dhamma talk. I was delegated with the duty of keeping the front door of the hall open, and as he entered he stopped and looked at the door, then moved it more open a small distance. This was a symbolic gesture related to increase in awakening.


Hi @Dan, hope you had a great retreat at WBD.

The centre you mentioned above, Buddha Dhamma Hermitage, was the first incarnation of what would eventually become Santi Monastery.

The last time I stayed at the Wat I went through the boxes of archives there—photos, pamphlets, letters and odds and ends etc. Such a fascinating history. I especially loved the Wat newsletter which was lovingly made by hand, written on a type writer, with hand-drawn illustrations and definitely captured the spirit of the various phases of the Wat.

I “grew up” as a Buddhist hearing about Wat Buddha Dhamma, or Wat Bloody Drama as some people still call it! Change was always happening there :laughing: What always struck me is the differences in how people remember the same things, depending on their views of it. There are always so many sides to stories, and histories must aim to provide as much of a balanced view as possible to do justice to all those people whose very differences created those changes that occured over time.

I love archives, so, going though the dusty forgotten archives at places like WBD, Santi and Bodhinyana really gives a connection to the past, which is great, to see how much has changed, and how little! And it also helps to create an appreciative sense of indebtedness to all those who came before us today, towsrds those who built the places I take for granted, those who helped to truly establish Buddhism here in Australia so that we who came after could practice so easily. Sadhu :pray:


Hello Gillian, thanks for your welcome and post-script. You might know me from Blue Mtns Insight Meditation Centre over they years. Constance remembers you and sends her love.

Regarding ‘A fateful loss of meaning’ as a title for the last phase of the narrative, it does reflect what was essentially a struggle for the meaning of the Wat. Those of traditionalist persuasion work to preserve monastic influence while those of modernist inclination tyr to reshape the Wat as a non-sectarian insight meditation centre. The original ‘loss’ is the loss of the early Wat that occurred when Phra Khantipalo gave up his authority, turned to Dzogchen and disrobed. This loss is ‘fateful’ because it represents a meaning that can never be recovered, though somehow a continuing meaning must be found. (The phrase ‘fateful loss of meaning’ refers to Weber’s theory that modernity brings the secularisation of religious authority). I hope this helps! Metta, John

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Well, in that case, it’s time for a PM … :smiley:

It does, thank you. :slight_smile: … especially after checking on Weber in the Stanford Dictionary. It’s such a regret to me that I never met Ayya Khema and only met Khantipalo once later, at the Buddhist Library. Such a shame considering that I spent a lot of my pre-Buddhist years passing by Wat Buddharangsee.

Do you remember what year that was?

Reading in the library that Khantipalo left behind, was such a privilege: a great collection of Dhamma books with copious marginal notes in his light pencilled handwriting.

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Dear Dan It was good to meet you at the Wat and find that you are interested in the history. I hope the retreat went well for you. Regarding the ‘Buddha Dhamma Hermitage’ pamphlet you discovered in the newsletters, its date is about October 1990. Ven Analiko has explained its connection to Santi. I would add that the brochure marks Ayya Khema’s break with Phra Khantipalo resulting from his turn to Dzogchen and his desire to make the Wat a non-sectarian and pan-Buddhist place. You will see the brochure offers courses with teachings according to the Theravada. The idea did not seem to get very far and AK in 1991 certainly set about trying to save the Wat by organising supporters, adopting as new constitution that affirmed the Theravada heritage and reshaped the organisation. A new management committee organised the 1992 course schedule, opening a new era after Khantipalo. Please keep in touch. Metta John