23 April, 2024

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Story Of Hasse – Worth Probing Through A Qualitative Research

By Vipula Wanigasekera

Dr. Vipula Wanigasekera

I was taken aback in the first encounter with Hasse Krystad by his fluency in Sinhala language and thereafter his knowledge in buddhist philosophy specially the teachings of the Theravada tradition. A handsome young man then in 1999, whom I thought would fit into the role of Norwegian James Bond!

The story of Hasse Krystad is worth recording if not probing. A Buddhist university could do qualitative research on him which may reveal where the Theravada tradition stands in Sri Lanka in the eyes of the international spiritual seekers.

The question that troubled me often was why Hasse disrobed. His knowledge on Buddhist philosophy and Tipitaka is remarkable. His discourses were flawless. I invited him to all Vesak and Poya day programs organized by the diplomatic mission in Oslo where he conducted dhamma discourses and meditation sessions as a layman.

Hasse when ordained first

He finally revealed his story prior to my departure from Oslo in 2004 which had many gray patches to investigate including why Sri Lanka in modern times has failed to attract foreign visitors for Buddhist related studies and practice. I pen down this note after nearly two decades with consent from Hasse as nothing has improved since then except more fanaticism.

Hasse, as a young lad first moved to “Amaravati” (a Thai Theravada monastery) in England, and followed the teachings in the tradition of Ajahn Cha’s senior western monks; who had been trained at Wat Pah Nanachat in Thailand. Hasse’s enthusiasm was oozing to learn and practice and see what Buddhist philosophy offers to humanity.

Instead of learning dhamma, he was cleaning, doing chores, attending to seniors, washing clothes, organizing ceremonies in the temple etc. He didn’t mind but was anxious to know when he was going to learn and practice Dhamma. Just completing the first year, and having read Michael Carrithers “The Forest Monks of Sri Lanka”, Hasse thought Sri Lanka was a better choice for what he was seeking.

Pindapatha from Forest Monastery

He first ordained with one Nikaya in Colombo, and his ceremony was graced by the erudites in Sasana viz most Venerable Piyadassi Thera, Most Ven Madhie Paññasīha Mahanayaka and Most Ven Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thero. He then embarked on the second journey only to realize that his temple was too busy with political visitors, rituals and ceremonies. Hasse once again felt he was going nowhere.

The ‘Sudu-hamoduruwo’ as he was fondly called and unlike a Sri Lankan, has never been taken to a temple by his parents. While his parents were thinking that he might have lost his mind, or that he could be bitten by a snake, get trampled by an elephant, or even get in the line of fire in the war, most of the buddhist mothers and fathers in Sri Lanka saw him as an ideal son bringing a bagful of merits to be taken to the next life.

Having gained nothing, he decided to leave the Nikaya and join the Sri Lankan forest monk order that he’d read about. He left the Nikaya after some internal entanglements because he wanted to live with the stricter forest monks at the Kalyana Yogashramaya Samsthava order.

He was finally accepted for re-ordination under Kadawadduve Jinavamsa as preceptor, and Nauyane Ariyadhamma as Achariya, and went on to follow the forest traditions; a life supported by Pindapatha and Bhavana.

According to Hasse it’s the poor village people that kept him going. It was a great opportunity for them if a solitary arañya monk came walking by their humble shack and stood there silently for a while. For him to be on the receiving end of such pure devotion, trust and giving – was both humbling and committing’.

He said “I wasn’t a tourist here. Every day, rain or shine, walking for an hour to a new street, and to new houses on rotation, they never let me down, and I couldn’t let them down either. And besides having to discover the path to freedom offered by the Lord Buddha, I needed to eat”.

He didn’t mind the tough living conditions as long as he felt a progres in his journey. Contrary to his expectations he was once again forced to memorize literature and adhere to strict Theravada orthodoxy where he had no freedom to do his own analysis which is fundamental to Buddha-Dhamma. It was like – out of the frying pan into the fire.

By this time Hasse (then Pemaratana Bhikkhu) had spent nearly 3 years in Sri Lanka. With mixed and disgruntled feelings, he opted to leave the island with the intention of continuing his search and Dhamma practice in his home country – Norway. The Monk – Hasse was a popular figure in Oslo. Seeing a Norwegian monk wandering around with a begging bowl was a fascinating sight for the Oslo community.

Then came that year’s winter bringing the temperature down to minus 30 degrees in the City. Hasse was lost. No food, no job and no livelihood. Circumstances forced him to revert to civilian life and start working but he continued to share his knowledge in Buddhist philosophy among the interested people including those who were attached to the Norwegian Buddhist Federation. His communications skills in Sinhala language also made him marry a Sinhala lady from Sri Lanka and they had two children.

Hasse would have been a valuable asset to Sri Lanka, had he been given the freedom to continue with the Dhamma search as Pemaratana Bikku. Instead he saw what’s happening on the pretext of protecting theravada tradition specially how some of the leading monks were gathering wealth and comforts either by getting close to politicians or showing the audience carrot or stick viz heavenly pleasures or pains in hell.

This also opens a question as to what the Buddhist scholars in Universities are doing to dispel the fallacies, leave alone the slavery for politics. Amidst all that, Sri Lanka has set records in consumption of alcohol, rape cases and child abuse, suicides, sending out mothers and sisters to countries to be abused as domestic workers , increasing poverty, corruption, malpractices. The list is long.

Hasse, I believe, made the right decision to continue with his search elsewhere. He stood no chance in Sri Lanka with the complexity in which theravadaism is exhibited with no adequate supporting evidence for values in practice.

*Dr Wanigasekera is currently an Academic and was the first Sri Lankan Diplomatic envoy to Norway in 1999

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Latest comments

  • 2
    5

    Both Dr. Vipula Wanigasekera and Hasse Krystad should read the book; “Cold War Monks: Buddhism and America’s Secret Strategy in Southeast Asia’ (2017) published by Yale University , on how the CIA Weasponised Buddhism in Thailand, Sri Lanka and other Theravada countries, against Socialist and Communist, De-colonization and National independence movements in the Third World and destroyed them.
    So too the CIA weaponized Islam in Afghanistan to fight communism and keep its Dictators like the Shah of Iran safe in the Mid East.
    Also, read the book” Cold War Mandarin” by Seth Jacobs on the Vietnamese monks self-immolation in their struggle for independence.
    The CIA also set up the Taliban and the ISIS to do regime change in Syria after invading Iraq and now uses the IS story to destabilize South Asia as with the Easter Sunday 2015 IS attacks in Sri Lanka to cause a Cascade of Religious Violence.
    The US and UK and France colonize countries by Divide and Rule and Weaponizing Religions. Today they use Pentacostal charismatic Christianity like they did in Brazil.. to support defeated Bolsanaro who has now gone to the US as leftist President Lula da Silva takes over..

  • 4
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    No surprises.

  • 6
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    In the early 1980s, whilst a student, I was on a Sunday drive & found my self lost in rural Hampshire. By chance, I came across a sign with an arrow which said ‘Amaravati Buddhist Monastery’. I was surprised & curiosity led me up the dirt track which ended at a large house where I met a novice monk who was waiting to be collected for a meditation session at a nearby village hall. He told me how ‘Ajhan Chan’, an American, built the monastery & how the villagers in the area were suspicious initially & being mistaken for Hare Krishna cult but the word had got around about free meditation classes, which became very popular, & as the villagers became aware of Buddhism, the monks, all western, even went on ‘pindapatha’. Twenty years or so later, a branch of Amaravati was opened in Hemel Hempstead, close to where I live now. It was funded by the Thai Govt. & its congregation consists Thai, Sri Lanakan, as well as, English, the monks being predominately European. The ‘Retreats’ & Dhamma talks are very popular & the monastery grounds are beautifully laid out & maintained by a Trust of lay people as the monks do not handle money.
    Cont.

    • 2
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      Raj-UK,
      “The ‘Retreats’ & Dhamma talks are very popular & the monastery grounds are beautifully laid out & maintained by a Trust of lay people as the monks do not handle money”
      In Sri Lanka, these monks would claim that lay people have less allegiance and less religiously conscious to be ‘Bodhi Stavas’ to safeguard the Temple asstes and would hva the account in their name!!!
      As time goes, get habitual aggrandisement and over time they are the richest!!! Budhism, spells, that monks should forsake wealth and survive on donations, including daily food, it is observed to the contrary!!! So these Sinhala Buddhist monks haven’t forsaken the seeking of monetary wealth (Thannawa is predominant failure) which is the innermost failing of their religiousabiding!!
      HENCE GREATEST FAILURES!!!

      • 0
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        “In Sri Lanka, these monks would claim that lay people have less allegiance and less religiously conscious to be ‘Bodhi Stavas’ to safeguard the Temple asstes and would hva the account in their name!!!”
        As simple as that?
        *
        No religious establishment is above moral and financial corruption.
        Question the patrons of any religious establishment and you will get likewise answers.
        Have you been to Thirupathi?

    • 0
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      Perhaps his mistake was in learning Sinhala, because then he could understand that the mundane things that monks talk about in Sinhala are far from the high-flown subjects in Pali.

      • 0
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        oc
        Many foreigners attracted to Eastern religions also look for fast-track to nibbana or moksha or whatever you call it.
        Why could he not adhere to the aranya order, where he had satisfying experience.
        But the problem was here: “And besides having to discover the path to freedom offered by the Lord Buddha, I needed to eat.”
        I doubt if the man was quite cut out for renunciation. If he was he may have found the way amid the many options before him.
        That is not to pass judgment on him. Let us accept the man for what he is.
        But to use him to attack the Sangha is unfair. The Sangha here is no better no worse than elsewhere– bet it Myanmar or Thailand or the West. Religion has always walked hand in hand with politics.

  • 9
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    Cont.

    I have been to several Sri Lankan Buddhist temples in UK but none have that sense of serenity that prevails in Amaravati & the knowledge of these monks on Buddhism , I am sure, is far superior to the average Buddhist monks in SL, who are more concerned about rituals & myths than Buddhist philosophy. Amaravati is an example how a Buddhist temple should be & how monks should behave. They are the true Buddhists & saviours of Buddhism (from thugs like Gnanasara & a whole bunch robed yobs in SL)

    • 1
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      Raj,
      .
      Wish you a happy new year !
      .
      What you have added here is interesting, I have also been to several sinhala Buddhist temples in Berlin, Basel, Brussels, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and several other places in Europe. Unfortunately, every time I return home, I ask myself if Sri Lankan monks on missionary work are knowledgeable enough to preach something to a foreign audience. Like you, I lived in EU more than I lived in SL as of today because I left my homeland a long time ago for my education.

      It is wrong me to bear a low opinion about our people as some of our commenters always attack me. The fact is that most of the monks in Sri Lanka are not educated enough. I hope they can know about the Tripitaka and the Pali and Sanskrit narratives because we laymen have no idea about it.

  • 2
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    Sri Lanka is a textbook case of how even a supreme spiritual achievement of humanity like Theravada Buddhism can be ruined by mixing with politics.

    • 0
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      ASD
      Is that not true of other faiths as well?

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