Nyanaponika Thera

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Nyanaponika Maha Thera
Nyanaponika Maha Thera.jpg
Religion Theravada
Born Siegmund Feniger
(1901-07-21)July 21, 1901
Hanau, German Empire
Died October 19, 1994(1994-10-19) (aged 93)
Forest Hermitage, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Senior posting
Based in Forest Hermitage
Title Mahathera (Great Elder)
Predecessor U Nārada
Successor Bhikkhu Bodhi (at BPS)

Nyanaponika Thera or Nyanaponika Mahathera (July 21, 1901 – 19 October 1994) was a German-born Sri-Lanka-ordained Theravada monk, co-founder of the Buddhist Publication Society[1], contemporary author of numerous seminal Theravada books, and teacher of contemporary Western Buddhist leaders such as Bhikkhu Bodhi.[1]


Ven. Nyanaponika Thera (Siegmund Feniger) was born in Hanau, Germany on July 21, 1901 as Siegmund Feniger, the only child of a Jewish family.[2]

In 1921, he moved with his parents to Berlin, where he met with German Buddhists and also had access to Buddhist literature in the German language.[3] He first came across the writings of Ven. Nyanatiloka Thera (1878–1957), the former German violin virtuoso Anton Gueth, which had already been published in Germany.[3] Young Siegmund had learned that Ven. Nyanatiloka Thera had established a monastery for Western monks on an island lagoon (opposite the Railway station) Polgasduwa, Dodanduwa named Island Hermitage. This news stirred his conscience to go to Asia and become a Buddhist monk.[3]

However, circumstances prevented him from acting on this plan for quite some time. In 1932 his father died, and he did not wish to leave his widowed mother in the lurch. Then, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany.

In November 1935 he and his mother left Germany and moved to Vienna, where they had relatives. Having arranged for his mother to stay in Vienna, in early 1936 he finally was able to leave Europe for Sri Lanka, where he joined Ven. Nyanatiloka Thera at the Island Hermitage, Polgasduwa, Dodanduwa.[4]

After several months of studies, in June 1936 he was ordained as a novice and was given the name Nyanaponika.[2] In 1937 he received Upasampada (Higher Ordination) under the tutelage of Nyanatiloka Thera.

In 1939, after the Nazis invaded Poland, Ven. Nyanaponika Thera arranged for his mother and other relatives to move to Sri Lanka. Through the influence of her son and the generous hosts, she embraced Buddha Dhamma and became a devoted Buddhist. She died in Colombo in 1956.

When World War II broke out in 1939, the British Government had all German males resident in their colonies consigned to internment camps, suspecting them to be German spies. Nyanaponika's and Nyanatiloka's internment was first at Diyatalawa Army Cantonment in Sri Lanka, and later at Dehra Dun in northern India.[5]

Despite these traumatic experiences as a prisoner of war, during this period Ven. Nyanaponika Thera completed German translations of the Sutta Nipata, the Dhammasangani (the first book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka), and its commentary. He also compiled an anthology of texts on Satipatthana Meditation.[5] This work was begun at Diyatalawa, and it was finished while he was interned at Dehra Dun.

With the cessation of war, the two bhikkhus were released from internment at Dehra Dun. They returned to Sri Lanka in 1946 and resided at the Island Hermitage, Dodanduwa. In early 1951 Sri Lanka granted citizenship to both of them.

In 1946, Ven. Nyanatiloka Thera was offered a hermitage in the Udawattekelle Forest Reserve, but being advanced in age he preferred the cooler climate of Kandy to the hot and stuffy sea-coast climate of Dodanduwa. In 1947, Ven. Nyanaponika Thera joined him at the new Kandy Hermitage.

In 1952, both Venerable Nyanatiloka Thera and Nyanaponika Thera were invited by the Burmese (Myanmar) Government to be consultants to the Sixth Buddhist Council, to be convened in 1954 to re-edit and reprint the entire Pali Canon and its commentaries.[5] After their work with the Council was completed, Ven. Nyanaponika Thera stayed in Burma for a period of training in Vipassana (Insight Meditation) under the renowned meditation teacher Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw Thera.[6]

The experience he gathered motivated him to write his best-known work, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, published by the Buddhist Publication Society. This work was reprinted in many editions, and was translated into more than seven languages.[6]

In 1954, the teacher and the pupil returned to Burma for the opening ceremonies of the Sixth Buddhist Council,[6] which was held in a cave-like structure built similar to the Sattaprani Caves in Rajagaha (Rajgir), India, where the First Buddhist Council had been held. For the closing ceremonies in 1956 Ven. Nyanaponika Thera went to Burma alone, as his teacher Nyanatiloka was indisposed at that time.[6]

In 1957, the health of Ven. Nyanatiloka Thera deteriorated, and he moved to Colombo for easy and ready medical attention. Finally, on May 28, 1957, the great pioneering scholar monk died, and he was accorded a State Funeral at Independence Square, Colombo, attended by the Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, many State officials, and both the laity and religious dignitaries and prelates of all Nikayas.

His ashes were enshrined at the Polgasduwa Island Hermitage, Dodanduwa, and a tombstone was built to perpetuate his memory. Ven. Nyanaponika Thera, thereafter dutifully honoring the request of his teacher, revised Ven. Nyanatiloka Thera's German translation of the complete Anguttara Nikaya, retyping the five volumes in full by himself, and also compiling a forty-page Index to the work.

Six months after the death of his teacher, the career of Ven. Nyanaponika Thera was to be launched in a new direction, a permanent contribution to the spread of Buddhism worldwide. A.S. Karunaratne (a prominent lawyer in Kandy, who was Mayor of Kandy in 1945) suggested to his friend Richard Abeysekera (d. August 1982) (Trinity College teacher in retirement), that they start a society for the publication of Buddhist literature in English, mainly to be distributed abroad. The unanimous decision was that Ven. Nyanaponika Thera, in the Udawattekelle Forest Reserve Aramaya, would be the best director of the institution. Thus, on January 1, 1958, the Buddhist Publication Society (BPS) was born.

Devoting his entire time and energy to the publications of the BPS, Nyanaponika Thera wrote tracts, encouraged others to write, collated and translated important suttas, and had them published. In addition to his own writings, 200 Wheel titles and 100 Bodhi Leaves (booklets) - authored by numerous scholars - were issued during his editorship at the BPS.

Ven. Nyanaponika Thera's biography is completely submerged in his writings. With advancing age having a heavy toll on his strength, in 1984 Ven. Nyanaponika Thera retired as editor of BPS, and in 1988 he retired as President, ending his career there with recognition as a Distinguished Patron of BPS. His fame as an exponent of authentic Theravada Buddhism reached all corners of the globe.

In 1978, the German Oriental Society appointed him an honorary member, in recognition of his combination of objective scholarship with religious practice as a Buddhist monk. In 1987, the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka at its first convocation, conferred on him its first ever Honoris Causa Degree of Doctor of Literature.

In 1990, he received the Honoris Causa Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Peradeniya. In 1993, The Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha, to which he belonged for 56 years, conferred on him the honorary title of Amarapura Maha Mahopadhyaya Sasana Sobhana (The Great Mentor of the Amarapura Maha Sasana Sabha, Ornament of Teaching).

His last birthday (which fell on July 21, 1994) was celebrated by his friends and the BPS staff with the release of the BPS edition of his book The Vision of Dhamma, a collection of his writings from the Wheel and Bodhi Leaves series. On October 19, 1994, the last day of his 58th Rains Retreat as a bhikkhu, he breathed his last in the pre-dawn quietude of the Udawattekelle forest hermitage.

Selected publications


  1. In the Preface of the posthumously published Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya (1999, co-authored with Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, CA), p. xv, Bodhi writes: "The original version of this anthology was compiled by my personal mentor, the eminent German scholar-monk Venerable Nyanaponika Thera...."
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Buddhism and Judaism: Exploring the phenomenon of the JuBu". Thubten Chodron. March 19, 2010. Retrieved September 11, 2015. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Thera 1986, p. xv.
  4. "Contributing Authors and Translators Biographical Notes". Access to Insight. Retrieved September 11, 2015. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Thera 1986, p. xvi.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Thera 1986, p. xvii.
  7. Shrader, Douglas W. (2000), Review: Abhidhamma Studies: Buddhist Explorations of Consciousness and Time by Venerable Nyanaponika Thera, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Philosophy East and West 50 (4), 637-640
  8. Scaligero, Massimo (1959), Review: Satipaṭṭhāna. The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika Thera, East and West 10 (3), 230-231


External links

Historical people list

Historical people

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Masao Abe Robert Baker Aitken Ron Allen (playwright) B. R. Ambedkar Ananda
Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thero Angulimala Aniruddha Mahathera Anuruddha Nauyane Ariyadhamma Mahathera
Aryadeva Asai Ryōi Assaji Atiśa Nisthananda Bajracharya
Benimadhab Barua Joko Beck Sanjaya Belatthiputta Charles Henry Allan Bennett Hubert Benoit (psychotherapist)
John Blofeld Bodhidharma Edward Espe Brown Polwatte Buddhadatta Thera Buddhaghosa
Acharya Buddharakkhita Marie Byles Ajahn Chah Rerukane Chandawimala Thero Channa
Chokgyur Lingpa Edward Conze L. S. Cousins Brian Cutillo 1st Dalai Lama
2nd Dalai Lama 3rd Dalai Lama 4th Dalai Lama 5th Dalai Lama 6th Dalai Lama
7th Dalai Lama 8th Dalai Lama 9th Dalai Lama 10th Dalai Lama 11th Dalai Lama
12th Dalai Lama 13th Dalai Lama Bidia Dandaron Alexandra David-Néel Marian Derby
Devadatta U Dhammaloka K. Sri Dhammananda Dharmaditya Dharmacharya Dharmakirti
Dharmapala of Nalanda Anagarika Dharmapala Dharmottara Dignāga Dōgen
Dongchu Dongshan Liangjie Khakyab Dorje, 15th Karmapa Lama Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 16th Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa Lama
Heinrich Dumoulin Düsum Khyenpa, 1st Karmapa Lama Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö Walter Evans-Wentz Family of Gautama Buddha
Frederick Franck Gampopa Gelek Rimpoche Gö Lotsawa Zhönnu-pel Gorampa
Maha Pajapati Mahapajapati Mahapajapati Gotami Rita Gross Gurulugomi
Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo Tsangpa Gyare Gendun Gyatso Palzangpo Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso Dolpopa
Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen Gyeongbong Han Yong-un Thich Nhat Hanh Walisinghe Harischandra
Eugen Herrigel Ernő Hetényi Marie Musaeus Higgins Raicho Hiratsuka Shin'ichi Hisamatsu
Hsuan Hua Huiyuan (Buddhist) Christmas Humphreys K. N. Jayatilleke 2nd Jebtsundamba Khutughtu
9th Jebtsundamba Khutughtu Jeongang Kadawedduwe Jinavamsa Mahathera Ken Jones (Buddhist) David Kalupahana
Dainin Katagiri Katyayana (Buddhist) Bob Kaufman Kaundinya Jack Kerouac
Bogd Khan Khema Ayya Khema Dilgo Khentse Dilgo Khyentse
King Suppabuddha Jamgon Kongtrul Kukkuripa Kumar Kashyap Mahasthavir Kunkhyen Pema Karpo
Drukpa Kunley Trevor Leggett Arthur Lillie Karma Lingpa Robert Linssen
Longchenpa John Daido Loori Albert Low Luipa Taizan Maezumi
Mahakasyapa Mahākāśyapa Mahamoggallana Mahasi Sayadaw Jyotipala Mahathera
Nagasena Mahathera S. Mahinda Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera Marpa Lotsawa Peter Matthiessen
Maudgalyayana Maya (mother of Buddha) Maya (mother of the Buddha) Gustav Meyrink Edward Salim Michael
Milarepa Mingun Sayadaw Sōkō Morinaga Hiroshi Motoyama Mun Bhuridatta
Myokyo-ni Nagarjuna Nagasena Soen Nakagawa Bhikkhu Nanamoli
Matara Sri Nanarama Mahathera Nanavira Thera Nanda Naropa Nichiren
Kitaro Nishida Gudō Wafu Nishijima Nyanaponika Nyanaponika Thera Nyanatiloka
Thothori Nyantsen Ōbaku Toni Packer Padmasambhava Sakya Pandita
Paramanuchitchinorot Pema Lingpa Prajñāvarman Punna Rāhula
Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera Walpola Rahula Paul Reps Caroline Rhys Davids Sonam Rinchen (Buddhist geshe)
Hammalawa Saddhatissa Kazi Dawa Samdup Chatral Sangye Dorje Ajahn Sao Kantasīlo Sariputta
Sayadaw U Tejaniya Seongcheol Seungsahn Shantideva Shavaripa
Sheng-yen Zenkei Shibayama Takamaro Shigaraki Silabhadra Sīlācāra
Shin Maha Silavamsa Śrāvaka Subhashitaratnanidhi Subhuti Suddhodana
Śuddhodana D. T. Suzuki Shunryū Suzuki Taklung Thangpa Tashi Pal The ten principal disciples
Tiantong Rujing Tilopa Chögyam Trungpa Tsangnyön Heruka Yeshe Tsogyal
Upali Uppalavanna Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo Xuanzang Yasa
Yashodhara Yasodharā Linji Yixuan Zanabazar Śāriputra

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