From Humble Beginnings…
Ajahn Brahm (formerly Peter Betts) was born in London in 1951. He came from a working-class background and upon graduating high school was awarded a scholarship to study theoretical physics at Cambridge University. While studying at Cambridge, Peter met a number of young Buddhists through the university’s Buddhist Society. Peter resonated strongly with the Buddha’s teachings on loving-kindness and compassion and became a dedicated student of the Dhamma. At the age of 18, he saw a monk for the first time and knew then and there that he would leave behind the life he had known and live a life of renunciation and service.
A few years later, Peter traveled to Bangkok, Thailand in 1974 where he was ordained as a Buddhist monk (bhikkhu). Leaving behind the life he had lived, renouncing all his possessions including the clothes on his back, he gave up the name Peter Betts and became Brahmavaṃso.
The Spiritual Path
As Ajahn Brahm stepped out into the world as a homeless monastic, his journey took him to the Wat Pah Pong monastery in north-east Thailand, where he became a student of the meditation master Ajahn Chah Bodhinyana. Studying under Ajahn Chah was no easy task. In order to leave behind his attachments to western life, his master would instruct him to live and practice in the forest for days at a time, with only a blanket and his food bowl. Over many years learning from his teacher, Ajahn Brahm began to realise profound insights into the nature of reality as well as the causes of unhappiness in people’s lives.
After nine years, Ajahn Brahm was instructed by Ajahn Chah to leave the Wat Pah Pong monastery and travel to Perth, Australia to assist fellow monk Ajahn Jagaro in teaching the Dhamma. With the support of donations from the lay Buddhist community, Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Jagaro were able to purchase 97 acres of rural forest land in Serpentine (South of Perth) which was to become the Bodhinyana Monastery, named after their beloved teacher Ajahn Chah.
Working alongside other monastics, Ajahn Brahm built many of the structures for the monastery himself, laying bricks and installing plumbing facilities by hand. With Ajahn Brahm as co-founder and deputy-abbot, Bodhinyana became the first monastery of the Thai Theravada lineage in the Southern Hemisphere and is now the largest community of Buddhist monastics in Australia.
Becoming A Spiritual Leader
In 1994, Ajahn Brahm took over as abbot after Ajahn Jagaro made the decision to disrobe and leave monastic life. In 1995, Ajahn Brahm also became the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, the largest Theravadan Buddhist organisation in Australia. As the new spiritual leader of the Thai Theravada lineage in Australia, Ajahn Brahm became a respected teacher to the wider Buddhist community in Australia. Whether talking to one-on-one or one-on-many, Ajahn Brahm traveled across Australia and South-East Asia giving Dhamma talks and offering hope and inspiration to people of all walks of life.
In 1995, he became the Spiritual Advisor and Patron of the Buddhist Society of Victoria. He is also the Spiritual Director of Santi Forest Monastery in New South Wales, a monastery for Buddhist nuns (bhikkhunis), the Spiritual Patron of the Buddhist Fellowship of Singapore, and the Spiritual Patron of the Ehipassiko Foundation of Indonesia. In 2006, he led the fundraising and development of Jhana Grove Meditation Retreat Centre, a world class meditation retreat facility in Western Australia with 60 guest rooms hosting year round meditation retreats.
Gender Equality & the Revival of A Long Lost Lineage
Ajahn Brahm was instrumental in reviving the lineage of Theravada nuns (bhikkhunis) after the order had died out around 1,000 years ago. It had long been thought that the bhikkhuni order could not be revived as there were no longer any Theravadan bhikkhunis to continue the transmission of ordination.
However, Ajahn Brahm was part of a growing group of leaders within the global Buddhist community who asserted that the rules allowed for the revival of the bhikkhuni order. In late 2009, Ajahn Brahm facilitated the ordination of four bhikkhunis. Speaking about his reasons for taking part in the revival of the bhikkhuni order, Ajahn Brahm had said in an interview;
“Why did the Buddha establish the bhikkhuni order if it wasn’t going to help further the dharma or give more possibility for women to become enlightened? We always say the Buddha knows better than us. If the Buddha thought it was a good idea, then why can’t we?”
Ajahn Brahm’s actions were applauded by many for giving women the same opportunity as men to enter the holy life as a monastic. However, the revival of the Theravada bhikkhuni order was not without opposition, which came at a cost for Ajahn Brahm. On 1st November 2009, Ajahn Brahm left the monastic order of Wat Pah Pong.
Since the first ordination of nuns in 2009, Australia now has a thriving order of bhikkhunis who have been able to enter monastic life thanks to the courage and compassion of leaders like Ajahn Brahm.
The First Monastery of Its Kind
After the revival of the bhikkhuni order, Ajahn Brahm and a number of monks and nuns had been formulating the concept of establishing a “fourfold assembly” based monastery in Australia. This would be the first Theravadan monastery in the world where bhikkhu’s, bhikkhuni’s, laymen and laywomen could live together and practice the dhamma. These four pillars of the Buddhist community represent the fourfold assembly of the Buddha’s disciples.
Ajahn Brahm, together with other senior monastics including Venerable Jaganatha, Ajahn Sujato, Bhikkhuni Ayya Tathaaloka and Bhikkhuni Ayya Upekkha formulated the concept of the fourfold assembly in Victoria which became the Newbury Buddhist Monastery. Ajahn Brahm envisioned an opportunity for lay and monastic disciples to practice together, and to offer a chance for men and women in the Eastern States to become ordained should they choose to leave behind household life.
Today, the Newbury Buddhist Monastery is thriving, but much work still remains. Ajahn Brahm continues to devote his support as Spiritual Advisor to the monastery, and encourages the ongoing financial support of the lay community to continue its development. Many devoted lay Buddhists from all over the world have offered their support to the project, sharing in the merit of this unique project.
The Work is Only Just Beginning…
Today, Ajahn Brahm continues his tireless work in service of mankind. He has become a renowned leader in the global Buddhist community and continues to teach the Dhamma to all who will listen. Whether speaking to a small village in Sri Lanka or at Google’s headquarters in the United States, his wit, humour and wisdom has brought hope and inspiration to people of all walks of life.
He continues to advocate for social justice, speaking out against homophobia and offering counsel to refugees who have experienced loss and trauma while fleeing war. He has been a strong advocate of marriage equality, multiculturalism, social equity and equal opportunity.
Though he turns 70 years old this year, in many ways his work has only just begun. In the words of our beloved teacher;
“Most people retire when they turn 70, but a monk’s working life doesn’t start until 70, so I’ve barely started.” – Ajahn Brahm