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Venerable Ajaan Paññavaddho was for 41 years the senior-most Western bhikkhu following Ajaan Mun’s path of practice. Ajaan Panya, as he was called, was a man of intellectual brilliance who, through his own efforts in meditation, was able to establish a strong spiritual foundation in his heart. While showing a selfless devotion to the task of presenting Ajaan Mun’s Dhamma to his many disciples, his calm and purposeful presence touched the lives of so many people. He became a pioneer of the Western Sangha whose leadership influenced countless monks and laypeople to practice Ajaan Mun’s teachings; and whose translations and interpretations of Ajaan Maha Boowa’s teachings introduced generations of Buddhists to the Thai forest tradition.
Ajaan Panya was born Peter John Morgan of Welsh parents in 1925. His birth took place in Mysore state in South India at Kolar Gold Fields, where his father was working as a mining engineer. At the age of 7 he was sent to the United Kingdom by his parents to begin his formal education. He lived with his grandparents in Wales until the rest of his family returned from India several years later.
His family then settled in the English midlands where he completed his primary education. Because of the Second World War his family was forced to move several times before he finally completed his secondary education. In his mid-teens young Peter contracted bovine tuberculosis in his right foot, probably due to drinking contaminated milk. He underwent several unsuccessful treatments before having the infected bone surgically removed from his foot, resulting in his ankle bones being fused together. This resulted in a lifelong disability which, though a misfortune in one way, was a blessing in another—he was not required to serve in the military during the war, and thus avoided making a lot of bad kamma for himself. Peter was then free to further his education at Faraday House in London, where he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering just as the war ended.
Following graduation, he spent 2 years in India working as an electrical engineer in the Kolar gold mines. Upon his return to England, he continued working as an engineer for a further 7 years—first in Stafford, then in London. It was during this period of his life that Peter became deeply interested in Buddhism. He began to contemplate the value and purpose of birth and life in this world in light of its inevitable march toward sickness, old age and death. He began to question the very nature of existence and concluded that popular religious and scientific explanations were seriously flawed. In his quest for the truth, he discovered that the Buddha’s teaching provided a firm basis in theory and practice, which could serve as a platform for thoroughly investigating these issues. He read Buddhist doctrine extensively and joined several Buddhist organizations. Finally, inspired by the example of Bhikkhu Kapilavaddho, who had ordained in Thailand, Peter decided to renounce the worldly life in order to fully pursue his search for the truth unhindered by the burden of worldly concerns. He was ordained as a samanera at the London Buddhist Vihara on the 31st of October 1955. He was given the name Pannãvaddho.
He selflessly devoted himself to the task of teaching the Dhamma to the best of his ability, not only at the vihara, but also in giving lectures and on in organizing retreats. At the same time, he fulfilled his obligation to the monk’s life of meditation, practicing it as thoroughly and strictly as possible.