Horizon Interviews Venerable Aggacitta
|Eastern Horizon: Can you tell us about the Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary which
you are planning to start? [Next
|Venerable Aggacitta: Sasanarakkha [Guardian of the Sasana] is a compound formed from the
Pali words sasana and arakkha. For Theravada Buddhists, Sasana is an abbreviation of
Buddhasasana [the Buddha's Teaching], which is basically three-fold: to study, practise
and realise the Dhammavinaya. Arakkha means guardian or protector.
The word "sanctuary" has very interesting connotations
that are appropriate to what we intend to do. Among its meanings are: a sacred place, any
place where refuge or protection is provided for the conservation of something original or
A Buddhist Sanctuary is more of a monks' training centre.
Its aim is to train monks on how to live as monks according to the original scriptural
tradition. Nowadays, many young Malaysians (except those of Thai, Burmese, or Sri Lankan
origin) ordain because of meditation. They go to Burma or Thailand to become monks. They
are taught how to meditate but not the Vinaya. When they finish their meditation courses
after a few months, they return to Malaysia. But they may not know how to conduct
themselves in accordance with the Vinaya. And since they do not have proper guidance they
may be prone to act according to their whims and fancies. This is detrimental to the
I feel there's a great need for a monks' training centre in Malaysia where our local monks
can come together in a place to be properly trained. Many of them were ordained in
different places. When they come back, there's going to be arguments because of different
interpretations and practices. The Malaysian Sangha is very young compared to those in
Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Each of the three countries is different and has its own
Buddhist culture and art. Often we Malaysians are copying them wholesale without
understanding the principles behind their Buddhist customs and traditions.
If, as young Theravada Buddhists, we Malaysians must copy
customs and traditions, we should do so at the very roots, rather than after several
centuries and generations of cultural adaptation and transformation. In other words, we
should go back to the scriptural traditions enshrined in the Pali Canon, Commentaries and
Sub-commentaries. When we understand the principles behind them, we can then evolve a
Malaysian Theravada Buddhist identity that accords with the original scriptures.
|EH: How big would the Sanctuary be, and where would it be located? [Next question]
|A: The Sanctuary will be planned along the lines of a forest monastery.
A main building incorporating a shrine-hall, library, classrooms, publication room, office
and other central facilities will be built. We also plan to construct a small water sima.
There will be kutis located in secluded places so as to allow for solitude for each monk.
The maximum capacity of the Sanctuary will be 21 monks at any one time. We have found a
suitable piece of land measuring 10.75 acres in the
outskirts of Taiping. It is situated on a hill, surrounded on three sides by state
forest reserve and accessible only through a cemetry and neighbouring orchards. Water
supply is obtainable from a spring up in the forest reserve as well as from springs and
brooks found within the site.
|EH: Would Bhante be the main teacher in the Sanctuary? [Next question]
|A: We will start off with a handful of monks. Then the older students
will help to teach what they know to the newer students. In the meantime I shall be the
main teacher. There may be other teachers if they are suitable, and available.
|EH: Would the courses in the Sanctuary be based along the lines of
some existing Buddhist institutes in Thailand such as Mahachulalongkorn or Mahamakut
Universities? [Next question]
|A: No. It will be more like a blend of the Lampang Pali College,
Yankin Forest Monastery and Wat Pah Nanachat of the Ajahn Chah tradition. Recently I
visited Wat Pah Nanachat in Thailand. I am impressed by the systematic way the monks there
|EH: What would be the main focus of the training in the sanctuary? [Next question]
|A: The basic course of training will offer teaching and guidance on the
theory and practice of the Vinaya, dhutangas and meditation. It will emphasise on strict
adherence to Vinaya rules while adopting a more liberal stance with regard to dhutanga
practice and meditation. In this way, each monk will have the liberty to experiment with
various options so that he may be able to find the most suitable practice for his own
Pali studies will also be offered
to those who have the interest and aptitude so that they can gain direct access to the
original scriptures. Hopefully, a new breed of learned Malaysian monks may be inspired to
produce innovative interpretations of the Vinaya that not only conform to the scriptural
tradition, but also contribute to the evolution of a Malaysian Theravada Buddhist
As part of a long-term plan, monks who have sufficiently
mastered the basic course will have the option of taking up dhammaduta courses. These
courses will survey the application of contemporary missionary skills in a Malaysian
Theravada Buddhist context. They will be more like post-graduate courses. Eventually, we
hope to produce competent local monks (bhikkhus) to serve the modern needs of our growing
Malaysian Buddhist community.
[See also Curriculum.]
|EH: What would be the initial capital to start the Sanctuary and
the subsequent operational costs to sustain it? [Next question]
|A: The land itself costs RM350,000. Taking into account the proposed
building works and infrastructural development, I'm told that we need around 2 million
ringgit to get this project moving. Although the project will officially be carried out
under the auspices of Taiping Insight Meditation Society, I want to make it clear that it
is a national project. We need the support of the Buddhist community in Malaysia and
elsewhere in order to evolve and establish a modern Malaysian Buddhist identity.
[See also Home page.]
|EH: Are your plans only for monks, or would lay people also be
trained in the Sanctuary? [Next
|A: For the time being it will be for monks only. The average duration
of the basic course is 5 vassas. The Buddha laid down a rule that a newly ordained bhikkhu
must stay with a competent teacher for at least 5 vassas in order to master the Vinaya and
fulfill other requirements for independence. If after 5 vassas he is unable to do so, he
must stay on until he qualifies for independence. In the future, if we have enough quorum
for higher ordination, we may take in laymen as postulants. They shall, of course, be
required to observe 8 precepts.
|EH: What is the target date to start operating the Sanctuary? [Next question]
|A: With the generous support of the Buddhist community in Malaysia and
elsewhere, we hope to start the first in-take of monks in January 2001.
|EH: Would bhante have any final words for our readers? [Bottom]
|A: This is a story that I would like to relate about Venerable
Mahamahinda who went from India to Sri Lanka to propagate the Buddha's teaching. After he
converted the Sri Lankan king Devanampiya Tissa to Buddhism, the king did a lot of things.
He built stupas and monasteries and planted a sapling of the original Bodhi tree. He
allowed the royalty to become monks and nuns while he generously supported the Sangha.
Through the sermons of the Venerable and his entourage, thousands of Sri Lankans attained
various stages of enlightenment.
The king then asked
Venerable Mahamahinda, "Is the Sasana now established in Sri Lanka?"
Venerable Mahamahinda answered, "It is established but
its roots have not yet descended."
"When will its roots descend?" asked the king.
Venerable Mahamahinda answered, "When a young man born
of Sri Lankan parents in Sri Lanka renounces the world and becomes a monk in Sri Lanka,
studies the Vinaya in Sri Lanka and teaches it in Sri Lanka, then will the roots of the
I hope that all Malaysian Buddhists will appreciate the
importance of teaching the Vinaya to Malaysian monks in order to firmly establish
Theravada Buddhism in our country. Then the Sasana will last not only for you but also for
your children and grandchildren. [See also a
|EH: Thank you.
Regarding the interviewers:
Mitra Chong is a trainer, public speaker and motivator and is currently employed as
a Training Manager with an insurance company.
Selena Chew, a lawyer by training, is a tutor and a Buddhist youth worker.
Adapted excerpt of an interview with Venerable Aggacitta
conducted by Mitra Chong and Selena Chew for Eastern Horizon in Klang on February 19,
[Only portions pertaining SBS is shown here. You can read
the whole interview in Eastern Horizon (April 2000 Issue No.1) available at YBAM and Sukhi
For more questions and answers, please read FAQ.