While Thailand and much of Asia share a rich Buddhist tradition, its philosophy and perspectives have only made stronger inroads in the West over the last century. One of the driving forces behind its growth is Ajahn Brahmavamso Mahathera, better known as Ajahn Brahm, a British monk whose journey led him from the study of theoretical physics to the establishment of the first dedicated Buddhist monastery in the Southern Hemisphere. On 17 February his travels brought him to NIST, where he spoke to students, parents and staff on the importance of mindfulness and service. Interspersed with humor and personal anecdotes, his talks served as a reminder of the universal importance of empathy and reflection.
Born in London in 1951, Peter Betts was a bright student who earned a scholarship to Cambridge, where he studied theoretical physics. With a passion for understanding the universe and our place in it, he followed his formal education with an unusual choice: traveling to Thailand to study Buddhism. Ordained as Ajahm Brahm, he quickly became recognized for his sharp mind and was invited to to Australia to teach. Within a few years he had co-founded Bodhinyana Monastery, now the largest Buddhist community in Australia. Over the past three decades Ajahm Brahm has spoken to crowds around the globe, and in 2004 received the John Curtin Medal, granted by Curtin University to those who demonstrate “vision, leadership and community service”.
During his visit to NIST, he drew upon his wide range of experiences in speaking to students, emphasizing how service plays a crucial role in bettering society. On an individual level he described how mindfulness, an awareness of one’s thoughts on a moment-by-moment basis, can help us become more balanced and reflective. During a smaller session with environmental science students, he focused on their question of the value of nature from a religious perspective. NIST parents also had the opportunity to engage with Ajahm Brahm in an evening session, where he touched on his personal experiences and answered questions from the audience.
Like most other not-for-profit schools in Thailand, NIST does not adhere to any one creed or philosophy. However, our community respects the many rich traditions our shared cultures have passed down for generations, and also recognizes the value they offer. In a world that increasingly faces conflict within cultures, being compassionate toward others and reflecting on choices are critical for students as they move on to universities and careers. Only through mindful awareness and a willingness to grow will they be capable of meeting the many challenges of the 21st century.