Ajahn Brahmavamso Mahathera (lovingly known to most as Ajahn Brahm) was born Peter Betts in London, United Kingdom in August 7, 1951. He came from a working-class background, and won a scholarship to study Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University in the late 1960s. After graduating from Cambridge he taught in high school for one year before travelling to Thailand to become a monk and train with the Venerable Ajahn Chah Bodhinyana Mahathera. Whilst still in his years as a junior monk, he was asked to undertake the compilation of an English-language guide to the Buddhist monastic code – the Vinaya – which later became the basis for monastic discipline in many Theravadan monasteries in Western countries.
Coming to Australia
The then Venerable Brahm was invited to Perth, Australia by the Buddhist Society of Western Australia to assist Ajahn Jagaro in teaching duties. Initially they both lived in an old house in the suburb of North Perth, but in late 1983 purchased 97 acres (393,000 square metres) of rural and forested land in the hills of Serpentine south of Perth. The land was to become Bodhinyana Monastery (named after their teacher, Ajahn Chah Bodhinyana). Bodhinyana was to become the first dedicated Buddhist monastery in the Southern Hemisphere and is today the largest community of Theravadan Buddhist monks in Australia. Initially there were no buildings on the land, and as there were only a few Buddhists in Perth at this time, and little funding, the monks themselves began building to save money. So it was that Ajahn Brahm learnt plumbing and brick-laying and built many of the current buildings there himself.
Becoming a Leader
In 1994, Ajahn Jagaro took a sabbatical leave from Western Australia and disrobed a year later, abruptly leaving Ajahn Brahm in charge. Despite initial reservations, Ajahn Brahm took on the role with gusto and was soon being invited to provide his humorous and uplifting teachings in other parts of Australia and South-East Asia. He has been a speaker at the International Buddhist Summit in Phnom Penh in 2002, and at four Global Conferences on Buddhism. He was the convener of the Fourth Global Conference on Buddhism, held in Perth, in June 2006. But such recognition has not stopped him from dedicating time and attention to the sick and dying, those in prison or ill with cancer, people wanting to learn to meditate, and of course his own Sangha of monks at Bodhinyana.
Currently Ajahn Brahm is the Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery, in Serpentine, Western Australia, the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Spiritual Adviser to the Buddhist Society of Victoria, Spiritual Adviser to the Buddhist Society of South Australia, Spiritual Patron of the Buddhist Fellowship in Singapore, and is currently working with monks and nuns of all Buddhist traditions to establish the Australian Sangha Association In October 2004, Ajahn Brahm was awarded the John Curtin Medal for his vision, leadership and service to the Australian community by Curtin University Ajahn Brahm has also written two books including Opening the Door of Your Heart (fromerly published as ‘Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?’) and Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond: A Meditator’s Handbook. Hundreds of Ajahn Brahm’s Dhamma talks are now available for free download in both digital audio and video format. These are downloaded millions of times a year and it’s now true to say that barely a second passes when there isn’t someone, somewhere in the world downloading and listening to a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahm. Ajahn Brahm has also been influential in establishing Dhammasara Nuns’ Monastery at Gidgegannup in the hills north-east of Perth to be a wholly independent monastery for nuns, where the Sri Lankan trained, Australian nun Ajahn Vayama is currently abbess. In October 2009 he was instrumental in facilitating Bhikkhuni ordinations at this monastery. The selfless action of providing an authentic pathway for women to lead the Holy Life led to a reaction from fundamentalist monks within his original training Sangha who ‘excommunicated’ him. Large parts of the international Buddhist community have since rallied and campaigned in support of him.