On the passing of Bhante Santitthito

Bhante Santitthito at Santi Monastery

Dear friends,

This is to let you know that one of our dear Sangha friends in Sydney, Bhante Santitthito, has passed away.

Bhante Santi has been a friend and mentor of mine for the past ten years or so, since I arrived in Sydney. He was one of those monks who lives quietly and simply, and who inspires by their presence as much as anything else. I remember him for his warmth, and his big, big heart.

I don’t know too much about his history—so please feel free to correct me or to add your own stories of him—but he was a German monk, who ordained in Thailand over 40 years ago. He was a student in the tradition of Ajahn Buddhadasa and Luang Por Paññananda. When I was in Thailand he was living at Wat U Mong, a secluded monastery on the outskirts of Chieng Mai.

Wat U Mong, Chieng Mai, where Bhante Santitthtito stayed for many years

But I didn’t meet him until later, when I came to Australia in 2003. At that time he was living with the Lao Sangha at Wat Buddhalavarn on the outskirts of Sydney, where he stayed until his death.

Bhante Santi was not someone to get hung up on petty differences. He had a big, philosophical, mind, and would always be looking to what drew people together. His Dhamma, while firmly rooted in the Theravadin traditions within which he practiced, reminded me of universalist flavor of the German Romantic tradition. In his Dhamma talks he would always be challenging us to raise our sights beyond our own little stories and sufferings, and see the grander vision that was so clear to him.

There’s an incident I remember in a book I read as a child; I can’t remember the author or title. There was a family, with children who lived with their mother, and one day they were visited by their aunt from the city. They all busied themselves with preparations for their special guest, cleaning and making everything nice. Then someone said, “Why is it that we do this for a visitor, but we don’t show the same love and respect for our own mother, who looks after us every day?”

Looking back, I feel so much gratitude for Bhante Santi, for his presence and his quiet support for us in all that we did. He visited Santi Monastery many times, and was especially supportive of the nuns. In fact we discussed several times the possibility of building a hut for him there, although events overtook us and it never happened. I wish I had taken more time to let him know that he was indeed special. Times have moved on, and we won’t have another like him.

Bhante was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer, and stayed in his monk’s hut, where he continued to inspire people with his peaceful acceptance of his coming death. He was cared for by the monks and community at the monastery.

Bhante Santitthito passed away in Campbelltown hospital on 29-08-2014 at 4.40am, at the age of 74.

The public is invited to his funeral, which is being organized by Wat Buddhalavarn.

Date: Thursday, 4-9-2014
Time: 2.00pm–4.00pm
Place: Leppington Crematorium, Camden Valley Way, Leppington.


33 thoughts on “On the passing of Bhante Santitthito

  1. I’m always a bit sad to learn of these great farang and Thai monks only at the time of their passing. I wonder if there is a website that lists some of the excellent Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis who, while perhaps not being famous or prominent on Facebook, would be teachers that people should know about. I wish Bhante Santi a very fortunate rebirth.

    • That’s a good point. You’d be surprised how many we have hidden around, here and there. Especially in places like Sri lanka, there are quite a few Western monks who just live quietly for many years and you never hear of them. Of course, they probably like it that way…

    • Thanks, Bhante, for the kind reply. Yes, you’re right, for some Bhikkkhus/Bhikkhunis, they’d likely want to be left to their quiet life at their wat. Still, I have a thought to create a subpage at a belated website I’m writing on eight precept life that would have a list of Theravada monks and nuns people new to, or developing, Buddhist practice should know about. I might poll sites like DhammaWheel to get some inside info on teachers that members have found in their travels, either on foot or via internet. It took me years of stumbling on the internet to find brilliant and dynamic young teachers, for example, like Ajahns Sujato and Brahmali (thank you Ajahn Brahm for the Friday internet Dhamma talks)….maybe others new to this practice needn’t spend so much time on trial and error and can have some resource to find younger teachers that can really inspire people to this practice. Maybe have special focus, too, on emerging Bhikkhunis that are breathing life into the Dhamma in Asia and the west. I’d love to see more female voices on these Theravada internet forums.

  2. Sadhu Bhante. Well said. I met Bhante Santitittho over 20 years ago and always felt marveled by his huge personality and great friendliness. We continued to bump paths every few years and always recounted our friendship of when we had first met and how long we had known each other. The last few years had been a challenging time for Bhante ‘Santi’ with health issues but he ways always upbeat and welcoming of everyone he crossed paths with. Many in the Lao community in the western suburbs are sorry to hear the news like my mother-in-law who has been a long time member of Wat Buddhalavarn in Wedderburn. The temple will be a little a little quieter without his booming voice encouraging and inspiring us and bringing so many smiles.

  3. Dear Bhante, Thank you very much for a beautiful account on Bhante Santitittho. We are thinking of him and sharing merits with him. May he attain Nibbana.

  4. Sorry to hear. Bhante, you’re quite right that there are many great bhikkhus and bhikkhunis who lead quiet but inspirational lives that we never hear about.

    Aniccā vata saṇkhārā!

  5. Bhante Santi was living dhamma – he was a great friend and lived a very simple and humble life. He was a great inspiration for me.

  6. He was at the BSV in East Malvern for about 6 months in the early to mid 90’s. He wanted to set up a monastery.
    I actually have a question on an unrelated topic: I understand that you know who has done research into Buddhist writings in Syriac and Aramaic. I’m helping a PhD student who’s interested in them. Can you help?

    • Hi Russell,

      Sorry, I don’t know anything, but I would love it if you found anything out.

      The most that I know is some vague references to Buddhist texts that were translated into Arabic. Now, we know that the Upanishads were translated into Arabic, and that is how they first arrived in the West. It would be quite likely that some Buddhist texts were also translated, even though we know that most of them were burnt by the first waves of Muslim invaders. We hear references to Arabic translations of some Jatakas (perhaps the text known as the Jatakamala). The only case I know for certain is the Life of the Buddha (Buddhacarita), which was translated into Arabic along its journey to the West.

      There’s a good general introduction to the topic of Buddhism in Iran here: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/buddhism-i

      Fun fact: The Pali text that we use on SuttaCentral was edited by the Dhamma Scoiety of Thailand, which was founded by members of the Bunnag family, which originated in Iran.

    • Hi Victoria,

      Sorry I didn’t answer earlier, sometimes things escape me so you are very kind to remind me!

      But I have to admit, I’m not sure how to answer your question. It’s very broad: can you be more specific?

    • it can be answered with a quote from Dhammapada

      3. “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,”–in those
      who harbor such thoughts hatred will never cease.
      4. “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,”–in those
      who do not harbor such thoughts hatred will cease.

      by not reacting emotionally you maintain calm, dispassion, detachment
      one one hand it severs clinging to your egotistic personality which gets insulted and feeds the notion of “I am”, one the other hand it conditions and prepares mind/heart to jhana by making it serene, steady, not carried away by emotions

  7. Ув. Баян,
    Благодарю за разъяснение. Are you sure that “personality which gets insulted and feeds “I am” ” is always egoistic and the essence of the Buddhist practice lies in a release from emotions and depersonalisation?

    • the essence of the Dhamma is stress and cessation of stress

      attachment to the notion of “I am” due to ignorance is the driving force of stress, since mentally stress can only be experienced once there’s an experiencer, which is constantly being recreated in real time by clinging to the notion of “I am”

      emotions are ok as long as they’re not attached to, which is only possible for arahants and buddhas, so ordinary people are better off disengaging with emotions to maintain inner peace and clarity of mind

      i’m convinced that personality is always egotistic and emotion of being insulted is a perfect manifestation of that

    • People are intent on the idea of
      and attached to the idea of
      Some don’t realize this,
      nor do they see it as an arrow.
      But to one who,
      having extracted this arrow,
      [the thought] ‘I am doing,’
      doesn’t occur;
      ‘Another is doing,’ doesn’t occur.
      This human race is possessed by conceit
      bound by conceit,
      tied down by conceit.
      Speaking hurtfully because of their views
      they don’t go beyond
      the wandering-on.

      Tittha Sutta (KN : Ud 6.6)

    • Dear Victoria,

      I want to make a point here. I suffer from dp/dr (depersonalization and derealization disorder) and this is not awakening. It’s a distorted way of perceiving things, due to Shizophrenia in my case. You perceive things like to be in a dream. Many westerners believe that this is what buddhist wants, but it’s no. The goal is is emotional detachment in the sense that there is no more clinging.

      Metta to all.

    • Dear Jorge,

      Thank you for your very topical comment. This is exactly what I was talking about: anatta must not be taken out of context and must be considered along with other Dhamma aspects. According to ahimsa described in the Suttas, a human being and his personality as his part need to be treated delicately and the latter can’t be forcibly rejected or ignored without consequences for a buddhist in particular. I hope you will get well soon, your experience in dealing with dp/dr is very important, especially given that you are also a buddhist.

      I only want to add that the misconception about depersonalisation as a Buddhist goal is not only Western, it is global. I know many Non-Westerners, who think precisely the same and perceive human individuality as an evil, regardless of its qualities. Sometimes it helps some of them justify their dictatorship tendencies.

  8. Dear Bhante,

    I’m wondering whether the Buddha uses this term (some Pali analogue) in the suttas on not, and if so, in what context? I used to hear about it from numerous Mahayana and New Age thinkers, with their emphasis on non-dual spirituality and ethics, but don’t know how this relates to more or less early Buddhism. In the above mentioned discourses the Buddha insists precisely on the psychological non-acceptiveness towards the insulter.

    • Do you mean the term “acceptance”? If so, it is a fairly precise analogue of the Pali word khanti. This is a very interesting word, which is usually mistranslated in both modern times and ancient translations, by treating it as “patience” or even “endurance”. It is used as an ordinary greeting like “hello”; “khamaniyam, avuso…”, which means “Are things acceptable”, “Are you getting by okay?” It is used in the sense of “accepting” unpleasant experiences, like hot and cold, etc. But it also has an intellectual component: ditthinijjhanakkhanti means “a reflective acceptance of a view”. This refers to the time when you assent to an idea after reflecting on it, but have yet to confirm it with experience. Of course there are many ways these ideas are treated in the Suttas, but this should give you an idea of the main scope of the term.

  9. Баян,
    “so ordinary people are better off disengaging with emotions to maintain inner peace and clarity of mind”
    And who decides whether a person is ordinary or not? Frankly speaking, I don’t like such statements at all.

    “dispute which has been beaten to death for example on http://dhammawheel.com ))))”
    Well well, someone seems to feel emotions here. What a surprise.

    “it’s a gigantic topic”, “i’d rather avoid it”
    Even so, let me to speak out.
    Obviously, different people need different kinds of practices, sometimes quite strict, but human personality and emotions don’t consist of only something unwholesome and may be very helpful in the practice, as the Attavago and some other suttas mention. So I believe mere ignoring one’s personality and all emotions is just unhealthy and not a wise decision. Vast experience in the field of psychiatry confirm this: any psychiatrist will tell you that suppressed emotions give rise to monsters and emotional dullness is definitely not an achivement. Atta rather needs to be studied first and then worked out, refined, polished till its very last sign. The whole process should be gradual and without violence towards self, according to the Middle Path conception. By just ignoring atta one will gain nothing but temporary oblivion.

    • Dhamma is not a psychiatry but a spiritual discipline
      i did notice that in the West many tend to view the Dhamma as a kind of psychotherapy, which i consider a huge misconception, therefore for me reference to psychiatry isn’t a valid argument
      a real spiritual discipline inevitably involves what the Hindus call ‘tapas’ or ‘tapasya’, that is self-denial, what Buddha rejected was self-mortification, harming and tormenting the body, but ‘mortification’ of the self-view he actually encouraged, just one example is Girimananda sutta (AN 10.60)

      one does not ignore the self, but sees through its fabricated nature, inconstancy and falsehood and grows detached therefrom by not indulging and entertaining it

      BTW i don’t think you need to get personal to get your point across

    • Little thoughts, subtle thoughts,
      when followed, stir up the heart.
      Not comprehending the thoughts of the heart,
      one runs here & there,
      the mind out of control.
      But comprehending the thoughts of the heart,
      one who is ardent, mindful,
      restrains them.
      When, followed, they stir up the heart,
      one awakened
      lets them go without trace.

      Meghiya sutta (KN : Ud 4.1)

  10. Dear Bhante,
    Thank you for the useful answer.

    “It is used in the sense of “accepting” unpleasant experiences, like hot and cold, etc.”
    And besides “accepting”, what other English word would you choose to translate khanti in this context? Сan it be understood as humility?

  11. Баян,
    “BTW i don’t think you need to get personal to get your point across”
    I haven’t even started, just pointed out your own inconsistency. But I have to notice you are too sensitive as for so anti-personal and anti-emotional follower.

    “Dhamma is not a psychiatry but a spiritual discipline”
    if you were more attentive, you would see that I used the word “confirms” regarding psychiatry and nowhere claimed that the Buddhist Dhamma is equivalent to it. It is all your own retrograde and anti-western fears.

    “but ‘mortification’ of the self-view he actually encouraged”
    Once again, you haven’t even notice that I support the idea of ​​anatta and was describing the process of liberation from personal aggregates, ie atta.

    “one does not ignore the self, but sees through its fabricated nature”
    Please, don’t quote me Suttas now, we discussed not them, but your personal attitude, which is quite harsh and don’t conform to the logic of the Middle Path and the principle of ahimsa in its psychological aspect.

    Actually, I don’t see any sense in this conversation since you just don’t listen to me. Thank you for your time.

    • good, neither am I interested in getting into argument with you, which i did indicate in an earlier response, especially in such an aggressive manner, this is not something the Buddha recommended or would encourage
      but i will still quote the suttas as long as they support my own point of view, which i do tend to align with them
      to disprove me you would need to provide alternative quotations
      so here goes

      “From where have there arisen
      quarrels, disputes,
      lamentation, sorrows, along with selfishness,
      conceit & pride, along with divisiveness?
      From where have they arisen?
      Please tell me.”
      “From what is dear
      there have arisen
      quarrels, disputes,
      lamentation, sorrows, along with selfishness,
      conceit & pride, along with divisiveness.
      Tied up with selfishness
      are quarrels & disputes.
      In the arising of disputes
      is divisiveness.”

      so long

  12. Dear Bhante, Thank you for sharing a little on Bhante Santi. I am always sad when a light goes out. I remember an Asian friend monk in Canada sharing that his teacher back in Burma had died. It really made me cry and cry, as he had so wanted to get back to spend a little time studying with him, but a wandering monk as he was, he did not have the means. Thay came close to passing recently as you know, and I still have so much work to do for that threshold when he does, or the Ajahns and Bhikkhunis I have “grown up” with. Our teachers and friends on the path are so rare and precious, and even a short time with them can have a profound impact on our lives. I know deeply what a miracle it is to actually walk the path – how many conditions have to come together to actually go forth- and for most of us such conditions will not come together. So what a great blessing and celebration of joy when it does come together for someone like Bhante Santi. May we be inspired by his life well lived, the Dharma rain he shared, and continue in his gentle footsteps. A deep bow for you, Bhante Sujato _/_

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