'); // close the document, i.e. stop writing the HTML to the window WinNote.document.close(); WinNote.focus(); }
reserved space

Paramis for today:
A contemporary example



Some 2500 years ago a young man by the name of Siddharta Gotama emerged from the comfort zone of a sheltered life as a prince and received several shocks. As he ventured into the wider community, he encountered four disturbing realities: birth, old age, disease and death. He saw them everywhere - they were endemic - and he was so deeply touched that he was prompted to find a way to go permanently beyond what he later referred to as dukkha1, the perpetual suffering and unsatisfactoriness that these conditions ordinarily induce.

He went on to sacrifice everything during an intense spiritual journey of six years until he found deep in meditation what he sought, leaving him unshakeable with the certainty of his realisation: nibbana (or nirvana in Sanskrit), 'Enlightenment.' Furthermore, by accomplishing this unaided at that moment there had arisen in the world a human being with a very special title, the Buddha (Fully Awakened One). Henceforth he was to be known as Buddha Gotama.2

Insofar as dukkha was so prevalent, he realised also that deep within each one there was the potential to be fundamentally free as he had become. In due course, out of compassion, he embarked on helping others and started to teach "for the welfare of the many," always with a single goal in mind: true happiness through the cessation of dukkha. He taught at many levels, both to day-to-day society and to transcendent reality and they were universal teachings in that they addressed all beings, both now and in the future as much as then.

The Buddha had the ability to meet people at just the right level, addressing each one fully aware of their different backgrounds and inclinations, sometimes delivering long discourses, sometimes just making subtle gestures. He indicated that he could only offer this service since he had accumulated special qualities over many lifetimes, qualities that one needs to perfect to become a Buddha3. These qualities are the Ten Paramis (Perfections), whose cultivation is the ultimate form of service that his followers (Buddhists) can render.

The Buddha always pointed inwards to the mind, teaching that the effects of such practice could radiate outwards universally. Put succinctly, he taught world peace through inner peace. One can learn about the Ten Perfections by recounting the Buddha's life story, but the Buddha would always appeal to the contemporary situation and examples in order to explain his teachings. So illustrations are made here through the practice of one of his followers of recent times, Mrs Fuengsin Trafford.


It was around 1960 that a bright and inquisitive teacher of English, Fuengsin Sarayutpitag, was taken by a friend to visit one of the many temples in Thailand's sprawling capital, Bangkok. They made their way through the hustle and bustle to Wat Paknam, or Water gate temple, which owed its name to its particular location by a canal. At the temple, the young Miss Sarayutpitag was introduced to Ajahn Kaew (Ajahn is a Thai word, meaning teacher and Kaew means gem), disciple of the late Chao Khun Phra Mongkol Thepmuni, Wat Paknam's most famous abbot.

The Ajahn looked deeply into the new arrival and immediately there was rapport - the Ajahn was happy to accept her as a disciple and Fuengsin was happy to accept the Ajahn as her teacher. There was evidently something quite special that the Ajahn recognised for he declared "You have a big Buddha inside you!"

About three years later, in 1963, Fuengsin bid farewell to her family and an array of monastics who had assembled at Don Muang airport. She had a ticket to England, with an UNESCO grant to support her studies in teaching English as a foreign language. Whilst overseas she surprised many people when there were wedding bells and she married Tony Trafford. However, there were conditions attached to her grant so soon after she had to return to work in Thailand. Whilst there, Ajahn Kaew predicted, "You will spread the Buddha's teachings in the West!" Fuengsin was sceptical, but from 1964 onwards, right up until she passed away in 1995, she was to make the UK her home, thousands of miles from where she had been born and brought up, and gradually share her knowledge of Dhamma. Like quite a number of immigrants, she was to live in a mixed faith marriage - for her husband, Anthony Trafford, was English and a practising Roman Catholic. Britain was for her always destined to be multi-faith.


In the same way that the Buddha indicated that his Enlightenment had arisen after a great deal of preparation, so it is the case that resolution of conflict into genuine peace does not happen instantly. It takes many skilful steps, even though Buddhists readily join others in expressing that in essence the solution is simply to overcome hate by love.

Yet for most beings, a constant supply of love is not automatic, and requires cultivation. Indeed, when the Buddha recounted the Ten Perfections, he expressed them in a particular order and in such a way that the attention is initially focused on purifying our minds individually before we can offer something worthwhile collectively. Hence, the universal quality of metta (loving kindness) is the penultimate perfection. Evidently a lot of work is needed to get there and a process needs to be initiated, starting with the very first one, dana, which means generosity.

It is recounted how the Buddha gave quite detailed teachings about three components that improve the quality of giving: the spiritual purity of the donor, the quality of the gift, and the spiritual purity of the recipient. Fuengsin practiced according to such teachings with great sincerity and was particularly diligent in offerings to the Triple Gem - the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha - both in their day-to-day terms and in terms of their transcendent significance, for it is said that these gifts exceed all others.4

The Thais, in common with other South-East Asians, have developed a reputation for excellence in service and can be attributed to a large degree to the emphasis on dana. Fuengsin had been brought up to cherish the Buddha's teachings, where the ideal of generosity was considered very important and cultivated to a fine degree, especially in relation to the spiritual life and with people generally. This results in many instances in a fusion of practicality and spiritual intent: for instance, taking off shoes to enter a Wat, shows respect and helps keep a place clean and tidy.

A visit to a temple was seen as a wonderful chance in which to practice many kinds of dana: paying respects to the Buddha, prompted by the myriad of Buddha images; paying respects to the Dhamma, by listening to the chanting of the scriptures and the monks sermons; and paying respect to the Sangha by making offerings of food and funds to the temple to sustain its holy life. When offering, she would not restrict herself to a particular monk, but pay respects to many and not just those in residence. If there were visiting monks, then she would go especially to listen to their teachings, curious to see and hear not only what they taught but also how they taught. This brought Fuengsin much joy so she readily extended this appreciation whenever setting foot in other places of worship and meeting with holy people.

This spirit of dana gave energy to generosity in other activities, family and friends. In her family, she and her husband spent little on themselves, much of the income being saved for their son's education, even the savings in her will were left with the intention of supporting his higher education, to provide him the best opportunity for a fulfilled life.

Sila and Nekhamma

Sila means ethical conduct or morality, which usually means keeping 5 precepts: refraining from taking life, refraining from taking that which is not given, refraining from sexual misconduct, refraining from false speech, and refraining from taking intoxicants that lead to heedlessness.

Fuengsin had been brought up, as is traditional for a Thai family, to value discipline and morality. Her parents were strict but cared for the children dearly, instilling in them self-control and respect for others, especially elders. It didn't make life easy and sometimes felt constraining for Fuengsin, but encouraged her to take very seriously her responsibilities - at home, with friends, and at work. She tried very hard to keep to the spirit of the Buddha's teachings and maintain purity of intention. Her discipline in sila encouraged her to be careful in body, speech and mind. For example, although she was gregarious, she avoided social gatherings in which there was too much gossip, observing that such conversation was at best unhelpful.

Essential to her practice and well-being was the discipline of bringing her mind to stillness, particularly through sitting meditation, and especially using the dhammakaya methods that she had been taught. Her most valuable possessions were all designed to help her in the practice: Buddha images, pictures of her teachers, instructions on cassette tape, books, magazines and so on. Knowing that these were vital to her life, she naturally conveyed respect for religious objects of other faiths as life-sustaining for them.

The practice of sila at a more refined level requires further practice in the form of nekhamma, restraint of the six sense doors of eye (sight), ear (hearing), nose (smell), tongue (taste), body (touch) and mind (mental contact). Is it possible to "enjoy life" by doing this practise? Evidently so from Fuengsin's example - she was considered very lively and outgoing. There is often a misconception that Buddhists have to be calm, serene, unmoving, without character, but when reading the Buddhist scriptures it is evident that his Enlightened disciples had very markedly differing characters, some quiet and reserved, others very charismatic.5

The lay life can present many two edged swords, as Fuengsin was well aware. In her later years, she gave Buddhist teachings in schools, colleges, and various other public places, so she tried to draw on everyday examples to which people could relate. In preparation, she would settle down and watch television soap operas, such as 'Eastenders' and 'Take the High Road,' quite absorbed in the dramas of people's lives and what concerned them. She enjoyed these quite a lot, but had to watch even more carefully her attachment and later reduced her intake, allowing her more time for more meditation and study. In general, she expressed concern at the moral laxity in society and it was a topic that she discussed often with friends of faith.

Pannya, Viriya and Khanti

Buddhists respect the sanctity of life, and do not wish to cause any harm. However, it is not always immediately evident what causes harm. Pannya, which means wisdom, is needed in order to understand what is beneficial and what is injurious to beings.

The Buddha taught a balanced approach exemplified in study and cultivation. Although Fuengsin demonstrated a natural leaning to contemplation and practical investigation, she grounded herself in the authoritative texts of the Tripitaka, the 'three baskets' consisting of the suttas, the Buddha's discourses, the vinaya, the rules for bhikkhus (monks)6 and the Abhidhamma, higher teachings of Buddhism.

Although she could not join the monkhood, she realised their signal importance in maintaining the Buddha's lineage and being, as it were, the Buddha's official representation today. She was, for instance, able to support their observance of the vinaya and she was known to keep an eye on some of the Western monks to help them keep the 227 precepts. One bhikkhu recounted how one day he was following a line of practitioners of various Buddhist traditions and noticed a lady was handing items to everyone. A bhikkhu is not allowed to receive anything directly from a woman. Fuengsin observed this situation and afterwards she asked how he handled it? He replied that he had managed to find a piece of cloth on which the offering could be suitably placed, an answer that was no doubt met with happy approval!

Being well rooted in her own tradition, she could extend her investigations into other Buddhist traditions, including Mahayana and Vajrayana schools of Northern Asia. On exploring these, she observed some interesting similarities with her own dhammakaya lineage, particularly in aspects of Vajrayana transmission. She appreciated greatly the dynamic personalities and teachings of Tibetan lamas, and would join in pujas (devotional practices to the Buddha) which transformed difficulties and negativity into positive energies. She also listened intently to some taped lectures of Sangharakshita, founder of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, keen to hear how he conveyed teachings as he was able to appeal to many people seeking deeper meaning in life.

The fruits of her practice radiated naturally in wider spheres so she studied other religions and their cultural contexts, gaining a certificate in interfaith relations at Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham. However, what energised her study was the prospect of meeting and engaging with authentic practitioners. This kind of exchange would prompt her to remark at a three-day seminar on 'Christian, Buddhist and Hindu scriptures' at the College of the Ascension: "Heaven is like now, on a sunny morning, being with people like you of various faiths, on an exciting course like this!" [1]. Indeed, Fuengsin enjoyed seeing the diversity of cultural influences so that, for example, when she studied Hinduism, she could learn more about the Epic of Ramayana and delight others by relating its deep influence on Thai culture [3].

Events at the college were like hubs for further encounters: Fuengsin invariably wanted to learn more and would visit participants at houses, temples, nunneries, and so forth, to share more deeply, sometimes in spoken word, sometimes in silent meditation. In many cases, this led to friendship and she would develop this further to enquire well beyond formal boundaries, and learnt about cultural roots in Western Art and Philosophy. The breadth of study gave a good basis for understanding people and their contexts, and for relating to them with due consideration.

Fuengsin generally conducted herself with a great deal of viriya - energy and vigour. When she sought a Buddhist teacher, she would not settle for the first temple and Ajahn she met, but rather investigated from temple to temple, probing the monks and nuns until she found the right one. Thenceforth, she remained faithful even when physically separated by thousands of miles.

The basis of the energy was her continual bhavana or mental cultivation, developed through the discipline of sila. This gave her sufficient momentum to carry out duties even in difficult circumstances - in particular, she persevered with her interfaith work even when suffering from severe hay fever and, towards the end of her life, when she had cancer.

Viriya was abundant in her communication, an excellent networker! She would make great efforts to keep in touch with people so that she could know how they were getting on. This was particularly evident when she returned occasionally to Thailand: very soon after her arrival in Bangkok, she would be meeting up with friends and even former pupils from 25 years ago.

Fuengsin also experimented as a Buddhist teacher. Thus, she rather enjoyed smattering her generally formal English with a pot pourri of colloquialisms and jokes - her energy made her teaching a lot of fun. She knew that sometimes her language was unorthodox, but let that happen because it made the situation even more amusing! For example, she would tell college students of Buddhism that if they did not practise mindfulness, then they would end up walking like Mr Blobby7! Furthermore, her energy enabled her to switch almost instantly into dialogue at another level, which could sometimes be quite a challenge for others!

The effects of viriya are also noticeable in her written work - to supplement her translations from Thai into English for Ven Ajahn Sanong Katapunnyo, she produced with assistance from several English people, a concise glossary of Buddhist terms. Many of the definitions have several words to convey the flavour, to give a very vivid sense of a meaning, which may explain why when put on the Web, numerous sites provided hyperlinks to it [4].

It is taught that heroes require the utmost viriya, but "they are nevertheless full of forbearance (khanti) towards the manifold failure of beings."8 There was a deep sense of khanti that Fuengsin displayed regarding her family situation. She had met her husband-to-be in the early 60's, and was subject to the rules of the Catholic Church at that time. As part of her preparation for marriage a nun was give the task of force-feeding her with the rudiments of Catholic doctrine as per instructions from the Vatican.9

The marriage itself was in a Catholic Church, thousands of miles from home, with none of her close family in attendance. Nevertheless she was able to carry these, sustained by matters of the heart. However, she had to continue practising khanti for many years: in the late 60's, when she gave birth to a son, she had to promise that he would be brought up as Catholic. Yet she bore this dutifully, reassured by the contact she maintained with her teacher in Thailand, Ajahn Kaew.

Sacca, Adhittana, Metta and Upekkha

Fuengsin had a reputation for sacca, truthfulness, even in small things. In her work, she used to travel a lot by bus, to and from, and in and around Birmingham. She became quite an expert in navigation! As a part time worker, her pay was very modest indeed and she would be meticulous in keeping all the bus tickets to claim expenses. Even if she lost some tickets, she would only claim what she could produce as evidence.

Being honest and filled with integrity, people felt free to confide in her, young and old, of many backgrounds. They were very open in her presence, knowing that she was without artifice. To some extent this also allowed them to be more flexible in the help they received, so that Fuengsin could sometimes tell them directly in no uncertain terms that they were making a mistake and why. Through maintaining diligent practice, she could see the workings of kamma (volitional activities) and vipaka (effects or results). Her observations of people quickly gave her a shrewd idea of people's personalities and hence she could, for example, give friends advice on what to expect when associate with certain others.

Sacca is a virtue of purity and proved helpful in surprising ways. One of Fuengsin's favourite holiday destinations was Italy, and among the places she visited was the Tomb of St Francis of Assisi (Summer 1994). Whilst there she suffered from severe constipation, which was very painful, and so she made a request there to St Francis for assistance, aware that St Francis had suffered problems with the stomach during his life. Almost immediately, she suddenly found herself rushing to the toilets!

Whilst in Assisi, Fuengsin searched for a small statue of St Francis to put on the mantelpiece at home, but strangely she was unable to find anything suitable. A short while after her return to the UK, she visited a Jesuit Brother at Manresa House, Birmingham. He was not aware of her wish, but it so happened that on that day he had a present for her: a small statue of St. Francis!

It is evident from the great lengths to which Fuengsin was prepared to go, just physically, that she worked with tremendous adhitthana, resolution, in a way that would overcome normal limits. Accordingly, Fuengsin's practice flourished at very many levels, encouraging many people to persevere in their spiritual journeys.

Fuengsin was fulsome in metta (loving kindness). For a while she would lead a meditation class in the village, particularly to help pensioners. She mixed a lot with retired people and enjoyed very much the wealth of experience they could offer, regarding some like senior relations in her own family. She was pleased to see people advance in many ways: for instance, she was very successful in teaching English to other Asian immigrants, not just Thais. She was even more effective in teaching Thai to many British youngsters who were planning trips to Thailand!

Through such kindness she developed many friendships, touching deeply the lives of many people. In particular, such were her qualities that when people recollect her they invariably recall the context of the spiritual: so, for instance, one Christian friend recalls the inspiration he drew from an interfaith gathering at Selly Oak Colleges in which there was a dialogue on the Gospel of St. John.

Fuengsin demonstrated that metta is the basis of friendship and for her it flowed naturally at many levels: from supporting the Thai temples, next other Theravadin temples, and then centres in other traditions - in Birmingham, that encompassed many traditions: Thai, Sri Lankan, Burmese, Soto Zen, Pure Land, FWBO and so on. As perhaps befitting the daughter of a prison governor, she also acted as a chaplain for Angulimala, a Buddhist chaplaincy organization set up by Venerable Ajahn Khemadhammo at the Forest Hermitage.

She was particularly supportive of dialogue both between these groups and with the wider community as a whole. Hence, she was keen to assist in the work of Venerable Dr Rewata Dhamma, the Spiritual Director of the Birmingham Buddhist vihara, who has been instrumental in establishing the Dhamma Talaka (Reservoir of Truth) Peace Pagoda. The pagoda welcomes not only practitioners of different traditions, but actually anyone who is walking by. It is currently one of the venues used in a local interfaith contemplative group. This led naturally to more formal involvement in interfaith work, notably in the mid 80's at the Multi-Faith Resources Unit (MUFRU) in Harborne, the fruits of practice she had developed over many years.

Fuengsin encountered many ups and downs in people's lives, which could be very demanding in multiple ways, yet she remained calm through the virtue of upekkha (equanimity), another more subtle universal quality of love. In situations where others would not get on she had a pragmatic approach that could help diffuse tension. It was helpful that she was a strong character, so she naturally commanded respect, though it didn't come easily - for seldom was she able to speak in her native tongue.

As if to show how fitting was her training leading to upekkha, during her last months, weeks and days she had an aura of peace and letting go, she showed remarkable acceptance, the strength of which inspired Reverend Andrew Wingate's tribute in Theology [1]. If there is one thing that we might wish from our lives, then it could well be a peaceful passing and a legacy to inspire others of faith!


A Buddhist approach to improved understanding and harmony in community is one that directs attention to the inner life, which naturally leads to results in the outer life. Today's greatly amplifies the need to truly practice what one preaches. Few of us can live in complete isolation, so the qualities of relating and sharing with others are vitally important. The Ten Perfections provides an approach in stages of the highest form of service that can be offered. It is hoped that in Fuengsin it is clearly illustrated how Buddhists are putting this into practice today so that all may live in increased mutual love and understanding.


  1. In this essay the terms used are in Pali, which is said to be the language in which the Buddha's teachings were first committed to written form, some several hundred years after his passing.
  2. Gotama is the family name as used in the Southern schools (traditionally practised in South and South-East Asia); in the Northern Schools the reference is made more to his Sakya clan, hence Shakyamuni Buddha.
  3. Introduction to the Jatakas
  4. The Buddha is regarded both as a historical figure and one who embodies eternally the ideals of Enlightenment; the Dhamma is regarded both as his body of teachings and as normative truth; whilst the Sangha is regarded both as the community of ordained Buddhists and the community of all beings that have entered the stream and are assured of nibbana.
  5. There is a Buddhist term to describe this: atta patilabha, which means something like "surface personality."
  6. A bhikkhu is a man ordained into the homeless life, for which the nearest term we have is monk.
  7. A large inflated doll-like character first seen on a TV show with Noel Edmunds.
  8. Visuddhi Magga, IX
  9. Indeed, the marriage itself required special permission from the Vatican.


[1] Wingate, Andrew: A Woman of Faith Dies: Death of a Champion of Buddhism, in Theology Volume C No.795, 1997  ^
[2] Trafford, Feungsin: Buddhist students in the United Kingdom, in The Journal of International Education, Vol. 4, No. 1, March 1993.
http://www.chezpaul.org.uk/fuengsin/dhamma/article1.htm  ^
[3] Trafford, Feungsin: The Epic of Ramayana http://www.chezpaul.org.uk/fuengsin/dhamma/ramayana.htm  ^
[4] Trafford, Fuengsin et al, A Glossary of Pali and Thai Buddhist terms http://www.chezpaul.org.uk/buddhism/books/glossary.htm  ^

For a detailed and authoritative treatment, please read The Pursuit of the Perfections by Phrabhavanaviriyakhun

Related Article: The Brahmaviharas || Other pages: Fuengsin's Index | Index to articles | Main Index


- Paul Trafford
8 December 2001, updated 17 May 2013