Santi Asoke, founder, Ven. Samana Bhodirak dies in Thailand at the age of 89

- through Henry Oudin

Published on

Fri. Samana Bhodirak. At

Venerable Samana Bhodirak, founder and spiritual leader of the Santi Asoke Buddhist community in Thailand, has died. A social media post by an organization representing Santi Asoke said Ven. Samana Bhodirak died early Thursday morning of natural causes. He was 89 years old.

Santi Asoke (meaning "Peaceful Asoka") is a Theravada Buddhist movement that established a number of ascetic communities and autonomous monasteries across Thailand. The movement also founded a series of social projects, including thrift stores, farmers' markets and a restaurant that provides free meals to those in need.

According to media reports, Ven. Samana Bhodirak had been hospitalized with pneumonia in the northeastern province of Ubon Ratchathani before returning to Ratchathani Asok village of Santi Asoke in early February this year.

Born Mongkhon Rakphong in Thailand's agrarian northeast in 1934, Ven. Samana Bhodirak carved out a well-established television career under the moniker Rak Rakphong, focusing on educational and children's programs before being ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1970, taking the name Dhamma Bodhirak. As a monk, Bhodirak was very critical of contemporary monastic life and publicly denounced other monks who ate meat, smoked cigarettes, and engaged in superstitious activities.

Fri. Samana Bhodirak established his own monastery in Nakhon Pathom province, aiming to reflect the ideals of simplicity and self-sufficiency of the Thai forest tradition, and in 1975 declared the independence of Santi Asoke from the Supreme Council of the Sangha from Thailand. Bodhirak later adopted the Pali prefix Samanaused to describe traveling ascetics.

Members of Santi Asoke are strict vegetarians and lead simple lives of abstinence, striving to help people achieve peace without suffering through Buddhist study and practice, and seeking to return society to the foundations of Buddhist teaching. Over a period of approximately three decades, the Santi Asoke Buddhist community has been hailed by its members and many observers as an example of the practical application of the Buddha's teachings in the modern world, seeking to renounce greed, away from hatred and delusion and to cultivate spiritual growth in a sustainable community that nourishes human life and the environment. Despite numerous obstacles and criticism from the Buddhist establishment, Santi Asoke sought to demonstrate that it is possible to live cultivating wisdom and spiritual development in harmony with other living beings and with nature.

Fri. Samana Bhodirak. From

In response to the news, Professor Sulak Sivaraksa, founder of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), wrote an open message in memory of Ven. Samana Bhodirak, which was shared with BDG, and has been reproduced in translated and edited form below:

I would like to express my sincere condolences on the passing of Samana Bodhirak (formerly known as Rak Rakphong). He was once esteemed in the mass media industry, but later found it superficial. Instead, he turned to spirituality, first interested in the rituals of Brahmanism, and eventually finding his calling in Buddhist monasticism. He sought ordination at Wat Asokaram under the Thammayut Nikaya.

He believed that the monastic sangha needed to modernize. However, he overlooked the fact that newly ordained monks must adhere to certain rules for at least five years, including following the advice of senior monks and teachers without deviation. Samana Bodhirak refused to accept this reality and attempted to reform the tradition he was a part of, but his efforts were in vain. He later ordained in the Maha Nikaya sect but was unable to effect any significant changes.

It is unfortunate that Samana Bodhirak did not adapt to the influence of esteemed monks such as Phra Ajahn Buddhadasa. . . and Phra Ajahn Chah. . . . Had he done so, he might have aligned himself better with contemporary Buddhist practices.

When he lacked qualified mentors, Samana Bodhirak took on this role himself, which was dangerous because he sometimes acted in areas beyond his knowledge and abilities, for example by claiming to know Pali without formal education in the material.

Nonetheless, the Buddhist movement he created emphasized anti-capitalism and consumerism by promoting sustainable agriculture and non-profit production. . . . They grew organic produce and prioritized charity and compassion over profit, providing a real challenge and alternative to capitalist consumerism. . . .

I advised Samana Bodhirak to focus on the good he was doing and refrain from attacking the dominant monastic sangha, but he could not resist. As a result, the Thai Sangha issued a joint statement disavowing Samana Bodhirak and denying his status as a monk. . . .

Although Santi Asoke is an independent organization that opposes consumer capitalism, it is unfortunate that this group has not worked to better align its activities with the mainstream Buddhist community, instead of relying solely on Samana Bodhirak for its advice and authority.

Now that he is gone, it remains uncertain whether Santi Asoke will persist. If he manages to continue his activities against capitalism, it will be worth investigating.

Nonetheless, I commend Samana Bodhirak for her unique and ambitious vision and dedication to the betterment of society.

(Facebook of Sulak Sivaraksa)

INEB is a global network of organizations and individuals committed to actively tackling pressing global issues such as human rights, conflict resolution and environmental crises. INEB emphasizes the importance of developing an ethical and Dharma-based approach to its work and encourages its members to work collaboratively and respectfully with organizations and individuals based on a foundation of values ​​and shared aspirations.

Professor Sulak Sivaraksa. Image courtesy of INEB

Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 93,5% of the country's 69 million people identifying as Buddhist, according to 2018 government census data. The Southeast Asian kingdom has some 40 000 temples and around 300 Buddhist monks. Although there are also communities of renunciates, including fully ordained female monks, monastic authorities in Thailand have never officially recognized the ordination of women and bhikkhunis do not yet enjoy the same level of societal acceptance as their male counterparts.

See more
International network of committed Buddhists
INEB – International Network of Engaged Buddhists (Facebook)
Sulak Sivaraksa (Facebook)
Samana Phothirak: Remembering the revolutionary spirit and legacy of the founder of Santi Asoke at 89 (THAI.NEWS)
The founder of Santi Asoke died at 89 (Bangkok Post)
Samana Bhodirak, founder of Santi Asoke, died at the age of 89 (The nation)

Related news reports from BDG

Thailand takes historic step toward legalizing same-sex marriage
Engaged Buddhism: INEB supports young leaders with young bodhisattva program in Taiwan
Engaged Buddhism: INEB organizes historic interfaith rally in Bangkok for gender equality and social justice
INEB celebrates the 90th birthday of Sulak Sivaraksa, example of committed Buddhism
Thai Santi Asoke thrives on promoting simplicity

BDG Related Features

Bowing to Ajahn Sulak at 90
Compassion and Kalyana Mittata: The engaged Buddhism of Sulak Sivaraksa

The message from the founder of Santi Asoke, Ven. Samana Bhodirak dies in Thailand at age 89 appeared first on Buddhadoor Global.

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

Leave comments