as a young boy growing up in Australia, Lawrence Maund had an
inquiring mind and felt the pull of things spiritual. He read
about Buddhism, and it “struck a chord” with him. He was
especially impressed with the role of the individual in
designing his or her own life and in accepting and living with
the consequences of that design.
As a teenager, he began to study and
meditate, and by the time he was in his early twenties he was
seriously practicing the faith. In 1972, he left Australia and
came abroad to make a pilgrimage to the sacred places of
Buddhism, spending several months in India. Then he came to
Thailand and was eventually ordained as a monk in a rural area
of Isaan. There, as a monk, ever mindful of the impact of his
behavior on others in the village, he learned to speak Thai
fluently and soon taught himself to read and write the language.
And there he lived among the villagers, the only foreigner for
After the rains, he did a wandering practice
for nine months, going all over the Northeast, eating only
sticky rice, sleeping in the forest and in caves, meditating and
walking. He walked between 30 and 40 kilometers a day, one step
at a time, practicing being in the moment. He calls it “the
most precious experience of my life”. He had his robes, his
alms bowl, and his water container. He needed nothing else. He
lived in the moment. He was totally supported by Thai people and
culture in his development. But sticky rice is not a balanced
diet, and nutritional deficiencies soon took their toll. He
returned to his monastery, focused on the teachings of the
In some ways he was more at home in Thailand
than in Australia. As a practicing Buddhist in Australia, he was
strange, different. In Thailand, despite being a foreigner,
Buddhism was the way of life. He was a monk for two years,
leaving after the second rainy season to study and learn more.
He went to India, but the political situation made it impossible
for him to stay there. He went to Nalanda University and studied
for four years. In 1979 he came “home” to Thailand, and
worked at the Buddhist University in Bangkok. But Bangkok was
changing and growing, and it soon became too congested for his
comfort. On a visit to Australia, he took the international
examinations and achieved United Nations accreditation in
translation and interpretation. Then he visited a friend in
Chiang Mai, a respite from Bangkok, and was offered a position
by Chiang Mai University teaching language translation courses
and developing a master’s level translation curriculum. And
this is where he began to notice just how much Thailand was
changing, and the special place it held for him.
Originally, he had translated documents
related to preserving and promoting Thai culture in the face of
growing tourism. Then the documents gradually changed to reflect
the promotion of economic exchanges and development. Finally he
began to see HIV-related information – statistics, research,
education and prevention. That was when he knew that there was a
problem in the way international organizations were trying to
treat HIV-related issues in Thailand. Without truly
understanding the culture, they were taking the western approach
of going through the medical establishment to address problems
related to the virus. They should be going through the monks and
monasteries, he realized, utilizing their role in Thai culture.
Lawrence began to teach as a volunteer at
Mahamakut Buddhist University at Wat Chedi Luang, and one day he
gave an assignment to his students: using the teachings of the
Buddha, describe the role of the monk in the community. The
results were astounding. With his help, his students had gone
straight to the heart of the problem. They defined that role,
and I describe this as a layperson. Monks must remove suffering.
They must remove their own suffering first by removing their own
lack of knowledge. Then they must remove the suffering of the
community by removing its ignorance, and finally they were to
provide support in times of suffering. The basic idea of the
Sangha Metta Project was born, and Lawrence worked for almost
two years refining the proposal. He finally presented it to
UNICEF, and it was born as a pilot project.
The Sangha Metta Project is a model of
community care. The monks are educated about HIV, and in turn
educate the community. They provide information and care from
infection to symptomatic HIV to full-blown AIDS and finally
death. And because the state of a person’s mind is so
important at the moment of death, they do all that they can do
to make that death peaceful. Many things have changed along the
way. More people in Thailand who are infected now have access to
modern health care. Hospitals now work with the project. Outside
organizations from all over the world have noticed this UNICEF
model of care that was inspired by an insightful man whose class
researched how ancient precepts could impact a modern syndrome.
The Sangha Metta Project has spread to every Buddhist country in
Southeast Asia, and been recognized by organizations all over
the world. It has trained over 5,000 people, and developed many
additional programs. One focuses on novices as peer educators
and youth spiritual leaders.
Laurence Maund has traveled the world, sharing his knowledge
and experiences. He met with the Global Health Council and Faith
in Action. His model of care now crosses religious barriers and
has become interfaith in many parts of the world. He met with
the Press Club and testified on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
And now he is phasing himself out. As a good parent, the
response to human suffering that he worked so hard to develop is
now an adult organization capable of carrying on without him.
With joy, he looks forward to returning to what was started 30
years ago. He will return to Bhutan and again enter the monastic
life. Well done, Laurie.