A well-respected former Theravada monk, Phra Khantipalo originally from Norfolk, England, died aged 89 in a care home in Melbourne, Australia on 5 July 2021,
In his early 20s, he joined the British Army referred to as national conscription. In 1956, soldiers in the British, French and Israel army attacked Egypt to regain control over the Suez Canal.
During this period, Lawrence Mills (later Venerable Khantipalo), a tall, gaunt figure, read a book on Buddhism. The book changed his life.
After military service, he travelled to Kalimpong, two hours on the road from Darjeeling in the Himalayas of north-east India. He spent time there with Venerable Sangharakshita, an English monk of the same generation. From there, Khantipalo travelled to Thailand to take full ordination as a Buddhist monk in the Theravada tradition.
Starting in the 1960s, Phra Khantipalo wrote books and booklets on the Buddha’s teachings .including Buddhism Explained, Buddhist Monks Discipline and Travels of a Buddhist monk.
I first met him in 1970 in his room in Wat Borwonives in Bangkok. Aged around 40, he came across as a serious minded individual emphasising the importance of observing all 227 rules of the monk and a strict daily discipline. I left after an hour remembering that he did not smile remaining polite and aloof. Highly intelligent and a natural scholar, he also displayed at times an intimidating persona. In the early 1970s in Thailand, (former Bhikkhu) Vimalo, 89, from Germany famously described him as “Britain’s last remaining Victorian.” Vimalo abides in a home for the aged in Germany.
Years later, Khantipalo went to live in Australia and disrobed several years later. It came as a surprise to many of his students. He co-founded Wat Buddha Dharma Monastery, near Sydney and also the Bodhicitta Buddhist Centre in Queensland. He lived for years in Cairns offering teachings and retreats in New South Wales and Queensland.
Australian culture, Western Buddhists and those living in communities in Northern Rivers in NSW softened his austere persona. He starting sharing his personal experiences, grew a ponytail and offered precious teachings grounded in the Buddha-Dharma.
In Australia, Khantipalo underwent a kind of conversion experience to Dzog Chen, a Tibetan tradition emphasising clear awareness and the radiant light of being. He moved away from the strict forms and constructs of the Theravada Buddhism to the expansive awareness of Dzog Chen. In Buddhist language, he changed his priority from form to the formless and with this change came much appreciation from many who witnessed a much warmer persona in Khantipalo.
Despite major health issues for years, he continued to write Buddhist texts and receive guests when health permitted.
We appreciate his important contribution to the Buddha-Dharma in the West and his dedication to making significant changes in his life when necessary.
A life well-lived.
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