Prayudh Payutto

A Scholarly Monk, an Intellectual Prolific writer.

Prayudh Payutto's Writings

Prayudh assumed the post of Deputy Abbot of Wat Phra Piren in 1973, but resigned three years later to dedicate himself to academic work. He published a number of books and articles, and regularly attended academic seminars and conferences, surrounding himself with contemporary scholars and intellectuals. He authored Buddhadhamma, recognized as a masterpiece among Buddhist scholars. He received honorary degrees from more than ten universities, both domestic and foreign. When he received UNESCO's Prize for Peace Education, he to the Ministry of Education of Thailand for the establishing of Phra Dhampitaka Education for Peace Foundation.

Prayudh Payutto

In the 1970s, Prayudh Payutto was emerging as a major figure in Thai Buddhist scholarship. In 1971, the first edition of his condensation of Buddhist principles, entitled Buddhadhamma: Natural Laws and Values for Life, was published. About ten years later, this first edition would grow to almost five times its original length. This volume has come to be known as Prayudh Payutto’s masterpiece and holds a significant place in the history of Buddhist literature.

According to the current Thai calendar, Prayudh Arayangkun was born in the Year of the Tiger in 1939 in the Central Thai village of Si Prachan and entered the monkhood at the age of twelve. Some of his relatives thought, according to traditional beliefs, that the merit from ordination would help to relieve the chronic health problems that plagued him. He was given the ordination name of Payutto, meaning “yoked [to the Dhamma],” practiced, or committed. His ordination was not temporary, as it is for many Thai youth, instead he embarked on an ecclesiastical track of seeking education in the Thai temple system. After having passed the early levels of Pali and naktham studies, he was given the title Phra Maha Prayudh Payutto. In his youth, Maha Prayudh excelled at his studies; people claimed that all he had to do was pass his eyes over a text once and it was “inscribed” in his memory. Maha Prayudh was one of the few monks of his time to attain the highest level of Pali studies (prayok 9) while still a novice monk.

During the time that Maha Prayudh was living at Wat Ban Krang in the village of Si Prachan, there were two other novices there who had also been born in the Year of the Tiger. The local people noted that these three had been born in consecutive (lunar) months (ai, yi, sam). They became known as the Three Tigers, and people often wondered which of them would go the farthest. While the others eventually disrobed, Prayudh stayed on.

At the age of twenty, Prayudh Payutto, received higher ordination and eventually came to work as an administrator at the Buddhist institute of higher learning Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University at Wat Mahathat. As a dedicated administrator, he was known for sleeping where he worked. During this time he was invited to write a volume on Buddhist philosophy for a major textbook project. Select scholars had been asked to write statement pieces on various branches of knowledge that would later be used as textbooks in institutes of higher learning. Prayudh Payutto eventually called his work Buddhadhamma. In the mid-1970s, he resigned his post at the Buddhist university to dedicate himself to writing and scholarly endeavors.

Most people remember the emergence of Prayudh Payutto as part of a convergence of events in Thai history. In the late 1960s there was an increased amount of activism and awareness on the part of Thai students, which culminated in 1973 with unprecedented student protests and violence. There was a rise in public seminars or teach-ins. At this time, Sulak Sivaraksa had just returned from England and was also making a name for himself as a writer and social critic. Sulak had begun to get involved with The Siam Society and its journal.

In 1969, The Siam Society held a conference entitled Buddhism and Modern Thai Society. Maha Prayudh delivered an insightful paper on the changing role of the monkhood in Thai society. After some heated debate, Maha Prayudh closed the meeting with a very diplomatic and objective summary of the various points made. His attendance at this conference, and the exposure gained from its subsequent publication, is deemed a turning point in his scholarly career. In 1971, the first edition of Buddhadhamma was published. Shortly after its publication, Buddhadhamma caught the attention of a science professor at Chulalongkorn University, Ravi Bhavilai. Impressed by the beauty of this systematic exposition of the Dhamma, Ravi invited Maha Prayudh to expand the book for further publication and offered to sponsor its publication. This expansion took over ten years and added some seven hundred pages to the original.

In the Thai tradition, Buddhadhamma is unique in its use of modern, philosophical questions as major divisions of the text. Most previous books on Buddhism tended to focus on principles and concepts. The first part of the book poses grander pholosophical questions: What is Life?; What is the Nature of Existence?; and What is the Life Process? Part two, however, goes beyond these questions to emphasize how philosophical notions should be put into practice in daily life.

While it has been the hope of young activists that Prayudh Payutto would one day assist as an advisor to their various visions of alternative development, this monk has engaged primarily in scholarly activities. Prayudh Payutto has summarized his approach as a rediscovery of Buddhist values based on a clear understanding and wise use of traditions and the most progressive sciences. To this end, he has published numerous titles dealing with, for example, quality of education, national development, economics, and world peace — all from a Buddhist perspective. Prayudh Payutto has received honorary degrees from universities in Thailand, has been a Nobel Prize nominee, and in 1994 was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education.

Buddhadhamma and his Dictionary of Buddhism demonstrate his love for encyclopedic knowledge. These works can also be seen as an attempt to improve upon the works of previous monk-scholars such as Prince-Patriarch Wachirayanwarorot. A good share of his later books, however, are the result of well-researched, marathon-length talks that have been transcribed and then edited and revised by himself. Many of his publications have been formatted by monk assistants using a computerized desktop publishing system, and some people feel that Prayudh Payutto’s meticulous proofreading is a demonstration of his mindfulness.

In the early 1990s, this monk-scholar began to publish his works using his given first name and his ordained name — Prayudh Payutto — a name that would remain constant despite any changes in his name-rank within the Buddhist order. While many monks who know him still refer to him as Maha Prayudh, he has held the following ranks: Phra Srivisuddhimoli (1969); Phra Rajavaramuni (1973); Phra Debvedi (1987); Phra Dhammapitaka (1993); and Phra Brahmagunabhorn (2004). These changes in rank and the various systems of romanization of the Thai language can pose a real challenge to researchers.

Scroll to Top