Australia's most senior western Buddhist monk Santitittho Mahathera farewelled at Wedderburn monastary

Australia’s most senior western monk the Venerable Santitittho Mahathera was remembered by friends and fellow monks at a funeral service on Thursday after he lost his battle with stomach cancer.

Santitittho, who lived and taught from the Buddhist Monastery in Wedderburn for the past 18 years, died in Campbelltown Hospital on August 29.

He was born Ronald Wagner on July 9, 1940 in North Germany, where he was first introduced to Buddhist teachings.

Santitittho travelled to Thailand to be ordained a monk in 1971, and he took on his buddhist name, which means ‘‘monk founded in peace’’.

He devoted the rest of his life living away from his home country, promoting the religion.

For 25 years Santitittho practiced meditation in a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand and developed a reputation as a teacher who would encourage students in English, Thai and German.

Santitittho stood firm with other monks in refugee camps dominated by the communist Khmer Rouge regime, which was trying to stamp out the religion in neighbouring Cambodia.

He first came to Australia in 1990 but did not settle at Wedderburn’s Wat Buddha Lavarn monastery until 1996.

He was made Vice-Abbot and became a strong advocate for the ordination of female monks.

Acharn Brahm from the Australian Sangha Association, a body that represents monks and nuns, described Santitittho as ‘‘kind, helpful and wise’’.

Fellow monk Bhante Sujato said his friend was ‘‘big-hearted’’.

‘‘He had the kind of mind that wasn’t caught up in the trivial, but would go straight to what was really meaningful and stay there,’’ Sujato said.

‘‘He ignored the petty differences that sometimes divide us, and focused on what holds us together. I will miss having him around; it will be as if something essential is gone.’’

Monks and Buddhists gathered at the Wedderburn monastery on Thursday to farewell Santitittho before his body was taken to Leppington Forest Cemetery for cremation.

Most of his ashes were installed in a memorial wall at the Wedderburn monastery but portions will be taken to monasteries in Western Australia and Thailand.