Asokananda – No Night in Freedom
Asokananda, originally from Germany, is the founding member of the Sunshine Network, a group of connected friends from around the world who teach and practice a spiritual life by means of Thai massage, yoga, Tai Chi Chuan and meditation.
The early years
Asokananda (Harald Brust) was born in 1955 in West Germany. His first studies were on community development and he worked in the field of social work. He started to travel at an early age and in 1978 he began spending long periods of time in Asia, until he permanently lived there from 1982 onwards, moving mostly between India, Sri Lanka and Thailand – studying and teaching Yoga, Vipassana meditation and Thai massage.
He was blessed with the opportunity to live with the late Kubel Babu, a Krishnaite Hindu saint in West Bengal, to be introduced to Vipassana meditation by Sayadaw U Janaka in Burma and to study Yoga with Yogavacara Rahula in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka he was temporarily ordained as a Buddhist monk and he undertook intensive Vipassana meditation retreats in Myanmar and Nepal. He started to study Thai massage at the Old Medicine Hospital of the “Shivago Komarapaj” foundation in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, continuing a deeper research study with two of the best Thai massage masters, Chaiyuth Priyasith and Pichest Boonthumme.
Introduction to Thai Massage
This is how Asokananda describes his first meeting with Thai Massage in Thailand in 1986: (from an interview he gave to Bob Haddad, director of THAI, on 12th February 2004 at Asoka’s house in Chiang Mai)
“ …I was teaching yoga to a friend on the beach of Ko Samet and two Dutch people came over and asked if they could join our morning yoga session. They were the ones who first told me about Thai Massage back in 1986…I was primarily doing meditation in Burma and had spent quite a bit of time in Sri Lanka and India, and I would occasionally visit Thailand. I had met an old meditation student of mine in Burma at my teacher’s monastery and I was doing this yoga session with him at the beach. I had absolutely no idea that serious Yoga Massage was practiced in Thailand. It was virtually unknown back in the mid 80’s. Even in Thailand few people knew about it and there were practically no schools where you could learn it. The Dutch people told me that there were still 2 places, where one could learn Thai Massage, and that one was at Wat Pho in Bangkok and the other was at the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai. I didn’t really want to spend much time in Bangkok, so on my next trip to Chiang Mai, I went to have a look at what they were doing at the Old Medicine Hospital. Back then there were no regularly structured classes; it was simply ongoing study. I think for the first half year there were only 2 or 3 students in the school. Anyway, I saw these two teachers working there, and what they were doing was amazing. I knew immediately that I want to learn it, so I asked them and they said I could start right away. And that was my introduction to Thai massage… My teachers were Pichet Boonthumme and Chaiyuth Priyasith…”
“.. Nobody was really teaching there actually, they were just both working there, practicing there as therapists. The teaching consisted of being around them, observing them, working with them and getting feedback from them…”
You can read the whole interview here https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/48257130/an-interview-with-asokananda-thai-healing-alliance
The Lahu Village
Asokananda’s heart led him to a Lahu hill tribe village in northern Thailand. There he married and lived with his Lahu wife and son and adopted sons until the end of his days at aged 50. In the rolling, peaceful hills of sleepy northern Thailand, he founded a center for teaching and research, where, still to this day, the study and practice of the different techniques of Thai massage continues. He taught Thai massage and built the Sunshine Network (now a huge network of teachers around the world) from this base. So, through him, this village became a center for Thai massage, and the school continues to operate there.
For years it felt as if time simply stood still in this place. Lahu people would do their daily lives and stop to look and smile at the foreigners coming there and often receive some massage! There are now teachers from all continents that come through Asokananda’s lineage and teach in the same unique format of morning meditation, movement class, massage practice and chanting. This magic village created a solid network of friends who still look back and cherish those precious moments in Lahu village with him. Senior teachers of Asokananda, such as, Laurino, Andrea, Arno, Kaline, Itzak, Krishnatakis, Prabhat, Kira, Amy, Nikki and Ralf and many others are still today spreading Asokananda’s teachings and honouring this sacred work in various corners of the world.
Once a year he would take a group of a dozen people deep into the jungle to set up a one month silent meditation camp. He would hold the space for everyone to go through their cravings and aversions in the very simplistic nature of the jungle with a rigid daily programme of vipassana meditation and pali chanting. When this group would come back from their jungle silence the light in their eyes would shine.
Asokananda encouraged this mass spreading worldwide of Thai massage and the healing pot of massage, meditation and yoga and he also spent time travelling to a school he founded in New Zealand and when invited he would travel to teach in Europe.
His book “The Art of Traditional Thai Massage”, published in Bangkok in 1990, was the first publication on Thai massage in any language other than Thai. It was translated into many languages and it is still a reference for many Thai massage students. Often known as “The Red Book”.
He also wrote the books: “The Yoga of Mindfulness”, “Thai Traditional Massage for Advanced Practitioners”, “Thai Traditional Massage in the Side Position”, “Thus Have I Heard, Meditations in Babylon”, “Thai Chi Chuan, Mindfulness in Motion”.
Check more books at https://asokananda.com/books.html
Asokananda also has audio cds, where he sings many of the songs we still sing today in our Thai massage courses – No Night in Freedom, Buddha Dhamma Sangha, There is a jewel in a Lotus Flower and a few more…
Asokananda died on Friday 24th June 2005 from pancreatic cancer, having dedicated his adult life to spreading the gift of Thai massage to the rest of the world. His adopted son, Chatchoi, teaches massage in the Lahu village. His son, Santi, was then raised by his dear friend and colleague, Kaline, in USA. Santi, now a young adult, is close to many of his father’s students and shows a real gift in touch and bodywork and has begun assisting some of the basic courses.
It was Asokananda’s vision that inspired the creation of Sunshine House. The Sunshine House of his Sunshine Network. This daily format of morning meditation, yoga and Thai massage that we use on all our Thai massage courses was inspired completely by him. It works all by itself. It creates magic all around.
Asokananda was a very focused man. His spiritual practice became the main focus in his life and he understood on a deep level Buddhist teachings and simple life. He used this understanding to generate compassion and through Thai massage was able to apply it. He was more than our teacher and more than our friend and with each massage we give and every student we teach, we simply try to remain thankful for his message and the light that he brought to this world.
“There is a jewel in a lotus flower unfolding deep within my soul,
To be the jewel in a lotus flower unfolding is the Highest Goal”
Om Mani Pame Hum.
When we apply the principals of Thai Massage and connect to our heart, here are some possible benefits of giving a Thai massage, however it is important to note that while the benefits are many on the structural body, Thai massage is beyond mind, form and matter and it is the spiritual awakening and transformation taking place which make this massage so sacred.