Suan Mokkh 'mark II' planned for Bangkok
Bangkok Post, 25.5.2007
The 87 years that Buddhadasa Bhikkhu spent in this world were a lot more productive than many could have guessed. When he passed away in May, 1993, the reformist monk had written or tape-recorded nearly 30,000 sermons, interpretations and translations of the teachings of the Buddha. Two years from now, this impressive legacy will be gathered together under one roof at the Buddhadasa Inthapanyo Religious Archive Centre in the city's Chatuchak district.
Due to be completed in 2009 to coincide with the 103rd anniversary of the monk's birth, it will be the Kingdom's first full-scale digital archive, a permanent repository for Buddhadasa's manuscripts, letters, reel-to-reel and cassette tapes, plus photos of him with various dignitaries and some of his personal belongings - all systematically catalogued to ensure ease of reference.
Born in 1906 in Surat Thani, Buddhadasa established Suan Mokkhabalarama (Grove of the Powers of Liberation) in 1932 near his hometown of Phum Riang (now in that province's Chaiya district). At the time it was the only forest dharma centre and one of the few places dedicated to Vipassana meditation in southern Thailand. Today Wat Suan Mokkh is a world-famous place of retreat and contemplation.
Buddhadasa's teachings focused on the importance of being in the present moment and of understanding the natural laws on interconnectedness and non-self. He also stressed the need for followers of all religions to understand the essence of their beliefs, to promote inter-faith understanding and to free themselves from materialism.
In late 2005, Unesco added the centenary of his birth (May 27, 2006) to its Calendar of Anniversaries of Great Personalities and Historic Events.
The task of overseeing the library project is being handled by Privy Councillor Dr Kasem Watanachai.
"There are more than 27,347 items - documents of his, other material in print, recordings and personal belongings from Suan Mokkh - and they need urgent preservation," said Dr Kasem. "Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's works are a guiding light on how to apply dharma in daily life and create peace for mankind."
The digitising of this vast amount of information is being carried out by volunteers with expertise in the fields of archive, database and web site design.
Of the estimated total costs of 140 million baht, a budget of 90 million has been earmarked for the actual building work. Several well-known architects and engineers have volunteered their services for the design and construction of the centre. Dr Buncha Pongpanich, a key member of the archive project committee, said the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has set aside a three rai plot of land at Wachirabenjathas (Rodfai) Park in Chatuchak for the building.
The idea, he said, is to recreate some of the look and ambience of the forest monastery which Buddhadasa founded. The structure has been designed to resemble the "Theatre of the Soul" - a hall at Suan Mokkh where enigmatic Zen and other paintings imbued with spiritual messages are on display - but on a bigger scale. A large open area at the front will evoke the feel of Larn Hin Kong and, similar to that crescent-shaped stone court at Suan Mokkh, will be used for meditation practices and various outdoor activities. An expanse of water with a coconut tree growing on an islet at its centre will represent Sa Nalikae, the pond at Suan Mokkh which Buddhadasa often used as a symbol of nirvana.
While the database at the archive centre won't be up and running for another two years, Buddhadasa's writings are already available online at http://www.bia.or.th/, http://www.buddhadasa-archives.com/ and http://www.buddhadasa-archives.org/.
Another web site specially designed to attract teenagers will open at the end of this month, Dr Buncha said. It will offer a variety of "spiritual games" and a chat room where visitors can seek advice on their problems from experts on dharma.
Judging from the plans and artists' impressions unveiled at a recent press conference, the Buddhadasa Inthapanyo Religious Archive Centre will be a most aesthetically pleasing addition to the park. But then that is probably as it should be.
Thanachai Utchin, better know as Pod, singer with local group Moderndog, often incorporates aspects of dharma into his music. He said he particularly admires Buddhadasa's teachings on dharma and art.
"As a matter of fact, Buddhism is itself a form of art - the very sophisticated art of living," he said. "No other science in this world is better than the science of ending lust and sorrow."
The archive project is still in need of more volunteers and additional financial assistance. Donations can be sent to the Ratchadaphisek branch of Kasikornbank (savings account number 089-2-56025-2) or to the Buddhadasa Inthapanyo Archive Foundation, Floor 11, Muangthai-Patara Building 1, Ratchadaphisek Road (telephone 02-305-9589/90).
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