June 19, 1915-
Dec. 28, 1997
SCHOLAR/MONK BHIKKHU NANAJIVAKO DIES
Bhikkhu Nanajivako Thera died peacefully during the night of December 28, 1997 at his home at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Talmage, California.
A native of Yugoslavia, Bhikkhu (the title of a Buddhist monk) Nanajivako Cedomil Veljacic, Ph.D., arrived at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in the summer of 1989 as a refugee from war-torn Sri Lanka with one robe, his daughter, and a remarkable past.
Coming to America was Bhikkhu Nanajivako's fourth experience as a refugee. He was born in June 19, 1915 as a refugee. He became a refugee again during World War II, and was a refugee in another sense when he left his native country to become a Buddhist monk. At his birth, his mother fled with him from Bosnia, where World War I was beginning, to Zagreb. In 1944, after his daughter was born, he and his family were evacuated from an Italian province of Yugoslavia to southern Italy during the Anglo-American occupation of World War II.
Shortly before the evacuation, he happened to find some Buddhist literature in an Italian bookstore. In one of the Sutras (Buddhist scriptures), he found his own vegetarian convictions expressed by the Buddha's advice to the physician Jivako: "If you see, are told, or have doubts that food contains meat, don't eat it." Years later, he renounced his nationality, his property, his family, and his career as a professor to take the name of the physician as his own name and become a member of the Buddhist Sangha (monastic order) in Sri Lanka.
Because he had witnessed first-hand the devastation of war, Bhikkhu Nanajivako spent a lifetime devoted to the study, practice, and teaching of nonviolence. As a youth, he became interested in Buddhism through the teachings of the Theosophical Society, but traditional Buddhist organizations and the authentic Buddhist canon were unavailable to him. The newspapers, however, were filled with articles about Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings on Ahimsa - nonviolence. Influenced by Gandhi's example, Bhikkhu Nanajivako became a vegetarian and was an active member of the Vegetarian Society from the time he was nineteen. In 1935, at the age of twenty, he began to spread his ideas by writing and publishing various articles and essays in Yugoslavia on ethics, culture, and vegetarianism.
Through his writings and knowledge of eight languages (Serbo-Croat, English, German, Italian, French, Latin, Pall, Sanskrit) he established himself as an outstanding scholar. He received a prestigious literary award (Matica Hrvatska, Zagreb) for his first two volume book, Philosophies of the East, published in 1958. A bibliography of his writings since then lists approximately one hundred works in various languages, including articles, translations, and introductions to translations of books on Buddhism,
published both in Yugoslavia and abroad. Of the eleven books he published in Yugoslavia, his main work is Crossroads of Asian Philosophies, a two-volume book of over one thousand pages. His works in English included regular contributions to philosophical and Buddhist journals as well as two books: Schopenhauer and Buddhism (Kandy, 1970) and Studies in Comparative Philosophy (Colombo, 1983).
Bhikkhu Nanajivako's writings in the former Yugoslavia are particularly significant in that they introduced and spread Buddhism in a Communist country where religion was not tolerated. He referred to himself as "a dealer in prohibited fruit." His translation of the famous Pali poem "Rhinoceros" (Khaggavisana Sutta from the Suttanipata), published by friends of his without his knowledge, had such an impact on artists and intellectuals that it served as Yugoslavia's definition of Buddhism and Buddhist monks. Buddhism, acceptable because it is a religion without God, proved to be an appropriate way to spread morality and ethics from a non-Marxist point of view. The Buddhist emphasis on self-reliance appeals to a land with a tremendous thirst for religion, but whose people feel that God has not been good to them.
The gentle scholar took to heart and put into practice the principles taught by the Buddha. Of World War II, he says, "I would have killed myself rather than take the life of another." His knowledge of many languages helped him to find work in refugee centers in southern Italy along with his fellow conscientious objectors, the Quakers.
Following the war, Bhikkhu Nanajivako served in the Yugoslav Diplomatic Service in Rome, Italy, and in Bonn, West Germany. He received his Ph.D. and became an Associate Professor at the University of Zagreb. He was also a visiting professor in various universities in India. When his daughter received her own Ph.D., he felt that it was finally time for him to fulfill his greatest wish. In December,1966, he became ordained as a member of the Buddhist Sangha at Island Hermitage, Sri Lanka, and in 1968 he received higher ordination. He then cultivated as a hermit monk for twenty-three years.
Bhikkhu Nanajivako wished to spend the remainder of his life in Sri Lanka as a hermit-monk. But a terrorist revolution brought civil war to that country and, with the additional factor that he needed an eye operation, his daughter persuaded him to join her in California. When he arrived, he sought a monastery that was strictly vegetarian where he could continue his quiet life-style. At the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, he found a Way-place that firmly adhered to the Buddha's precepts and moral teachings and that fulfilled his requirements.
Although his life at the Sagely City may have been peaceful, it might not have been as quiet as he anticipated. A few weeks after his arrival, he participated in the summer Symposium on Ethics, often adding a Buddhist perspective to the talks by speakers from various fields. At the end of the summer, he was one of the Certifying Masters during the ordination ceremonies for Bhikshus (monks) and Bhikshunis (nuns). Although Chinese was not among the languages he understood, he regularly attended the Buddhist ceremonies and said that he "discovered the spiritual in Chinese music... In Sri Lanka, even young Bhikkhus have turned to terrorism... But here where it's so quiet, the music resounds in my ears, helping my concentration."
Bhikkhu Nanajivako spent the first five or six years of his stay at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas lecturing and serving as an elder monk, often presiding over special ceremonies. During that time, he published a translation of the Dhammapada into his native language and the book A Buddhist Philosophy of Religion in English.
He was forced to cut back on his activities following a series of strokes in 1993. During the last few years of his life, his health steadily deteriorated. Those who helped tend to his daily needs were strongly impressed by the dignity and politeness that he maintained up to the moment of death, even when in pain or prolonged discomfort; testimony to the strength of his cultivation.
He is survived by his daughter, Snjezana Akpinar, and two grandchildren, Bahadir and Maya.
Link to Bhikkhu Nanajivako's Web Page (In Croatian):