Walking the Path of Ecosattva: The Work of Thai Master Ajahn Pranom

- through Francois Leclercq

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Dhammapīti sukhaṁ seti, vippasannena cetasā
Ariyappavedite dhamme, sadā ramati paṇḍito

One who imbibes the Dhamma remains blissful with a peaceful mind;
the sage always delights in the Dhamma revealed by the Noble Ones.

(Verse 5, Paṇḍita Vagga, Dhammapada)

Phra Maha Ajarn Pranom Dhammālaṅkāra. Image courtesy of Khun Sermsook Patmastana (Toey)

Thailand is an important Theravada country in Southeast Asia. The population of the ancient kingdom of Siam is approximately 94% Buddhist. Because of this huge number of Buddhist followers, some foreigners call Thailand the land of yellow robes. Rooted in their faith in the Three Treasures, Thai devotees and practitioners continue to honor and cherish their Buddhist heritage, with its glorious culture and rich traditions of centuries past.

Venerable Chaokhun Ajahn Medhīvajirasobhaṇa or Ven. Phra Rājavajirapaṇḍita, widely known as Phra Maha Pranom Dhammālaṅkāra (or simply Ajahn Pranom), is a prominent monk in the Thai sangha. Ajahn Pranom is the abbot of Wat Chak Daeng, an important monastery in the province of Samut Prakan. Phra Pranom entered the monastic order early. He is not only committed to deepening the practice of vinaya (monastic rules), he also mastered Pali. pali bhāṣā (scriptural language) is the sacred language of Theravāda Buddhism. The basic text, the Tipiṭaka, is compiled in pali. Because of his deep understanding of Pāli, Ajahn Pranom is respected as an expert on the Tipiṭaka. He is skilled in the tripartite division of pariyatti (theory of Buddhist doctrines), paṭipatti (Dhamma practice), and paṭivedha (insightful exploration of the Dhamma).

The author and his mother, Ruma Barua Chowdhury, paying homage to Ajahn Pranom at Wat Chak Daeng in 2018. Image courtesy of the author

Ajahn Pranom tirelessly teaches the Buddhadhamma to monks and devotees. Its thoughtful movement inspired devotees to learn the Dhamma in the Pali language. At the request of his devotees, Ajahn Pranom used to come to the center of Bangkok to offer a unique course at the headquarters of Standard Chartered Bank every week, usually on Wednesday evenings. A group of Dhamma seekers from professional backgrounds came to these auspicious gatherings; who were known as the Visuddhimagga Group. Visuddhimagga is a Pali word meaning the path of purification. Buddhaghosa, one of the most important ancient scholars of Theravāda Buddhism, compiled a text of the same name, Visuddhimaggain the fifth century BC.

Before starting his regular Visuddhimagga session, Ajahn Pranom would lead the participants to begin the session with a recitation of the introductory verses from Buddhaghosa's work:

Anto jaṭā bahi jaṭā

jaṭāya jaṭitā pajā
Taṃ taṃ gotama pucchāmi
ko imaṃ vijaṭaye jaṭanti
Sīle patiṭṭhāya naro sapañño
cittaṃ pannañca bhavayaṃ
Ātāpi nipako bhikkhu
so imaṃ vijaṭaye jaṭanti

The inner entanglement and the outer entanglement

This generation is entangled in a tangle
And so I ask Gotama this question,
who succeeds in disentangling this entanglement?
When a wise man, well established in virtue
develop awareness and understanding
The ardent and sagacious monk,
he succeeds in disentangling this entanglement.

Instructions for making monastic robes from recycled plastic at Wat Chak Daeng. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the author
A volunteer makes dresses from recycled plastic at Wat Chak Daeng. At winnernews.tv
A group of volunteers make bathrobes from recycled plastic. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the author
A Buddha image on a recycled plastic dress. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the author
Ajahn Pranom inspects dresses made from recycled plastic. At winnernews.tv
Ajahn Pranom, accompanied by his translator, Sermsook Patmastana (Toey), talks about nature conservation and plastic waste recycling methodology on the occasion of the 73rd anniversary of the World Buddhist Fellowship in Bangkok. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the author

Besides regular Dhamma services in his monastery and beyond, Ajahn Pranom also raises awareness to protect Mother Earth from plastic pollution. In the name of reducing plastic waste and chemical pollution, he started a recycling program in which volunteers make monks' robes from recycled plastic bottles.

Every day, a large number of devotees and followers bring recycled plastic bottles to his monastery, Wat Chak Daeng. Like a bodhisattva, Ajahn Pranom works tirelessly to overcome the global ecological crisis by making a difference locally. Ajahn Pranom is not limited to scriptural knowledge and is socially committed to the protection of nature. That's why I like to call him an altruistic-hearted ecosattva, which is also a well-known word among the committed Western Buddhist movement. In his ecosattva movement to reduce plastic waste, Ajahn Pranom told his followers, “If we don't recycle plastic, it will end up in the ocean. Then it will be eaten by dugongs, dolphins, whales and other animals. And they will die!

I offer a deep salute of respect and gratitude to Ajahn Pranom for all his kind teachings and for continuing to support our sentient brothers and a green planet as a true ecosattva. Recognizing Ajahn Pranom's selfless contributions, the King of Thailand, Rama X, bestowed upon him two honorary titles: redhīvajirasobhaṇa et rājavajirapaṇḍita. I have no doubt that the legacy of this influential monk and his ecosattva movement will inspire local and global Buddhists, as well as non-Buddhist practitioners.

May Ajahn Pranom live long in good health. May he and his legacy inspire sentient beings on the path to individual and global liberation.

See moree

Phra Medhīvajirasobhaṇa, Abbot, Wat Chak-daeng, Samutprakarn, Thailand for VESAK 2021 วิสาขบูชา๒๕๖๔ (YouTube)
How a Buddhist monk turns plastic into robes (YouTube)
Buddhist monks recycle plastic bottles into robes (YouTube)
“จีวรรีไซเคิล” หนึ่งโครงการดีๆ แห่ง “วัดจากแ ดง” (Win News)
Meet the Buddhist monks who upcycle plastic bottles into robes (Yahoo! News)

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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