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Nina van Gorkom


International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI): 0000 0000 6398 0326

Biography 1928-2023

Nina van Gorkom was born in 1928 to a family of socialist intellectuals. Her father was a member of the Dutch parliament. She studied at Leyden University and during this time she became a Catholic. In 1952, she married Lodewijk van Gorkom, a Dutch diplomat.

In 1965, Lodewijk was posted to Thailand and Nina started learning the Thai language. She took a keen interest in Buddhism, attending classes for foreigners at Wat Mahathat. There she met, in the summer of 1966, Sujin Boriharnwanaket. Impressed by the profundity of the Buddhist teachings, she became convinced of the truth of the Buddha’s words and later assisted Khun Sujin in discussions about Buddhism for Thai radio stations. These talks were later published as Buddhism in Daily Life, her first book.

Nina and Lodewijk left Thailand in 1970 and lived in Japan, New York, Indonesia (where Lodewijk was the Dutch ambassador) and Austria. Lodewijk retired in 1990 and she now lives in The Hague in Holland.

Nina’s writings are well-known amongst English speaking Buddhists, and she is highly respected in Thailand where several of her books have been translated into the Thai language with (after many reprints) over one hundred thousand copies now. Her books have also been translated in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, China, Vietnam, Germany, France and Italy.

Nina died peacefully in her sleep on December 31st 2023 aged 95.

Prior Work:

Buddhism in Daily Life; The Buddha’s Path; Cetasikas; A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas (translator); The Perfections Leading to Enlightenment; Metta: Lovingkindness in Buddhism (translator); The Conditionality of life; The Buddhist Teaching on Physical Phenomena; Taking Refuge in Buddhism (translator); The World in the Buddhist Sense; Understanding Reality (translator); Introduction to Abhidhamma; Abhidhamma in Daily Life.

Location: The Hague, Holland.

Interview with Nina van Gorkom about Abhidhamma

Interview by Robert Kirkpatrick, 1999

In memory of Nina van Gorkom

by Sarah and Jonothan Abbott 6 January 2024

Summary by ChatGPT AI

Nina van Gorkom, born in 1928, is a respected Buddhist scholar and translator, particularly in the Pali tradition, known for her extensive writings on the Abhidhamma. She became engaged with Buddhism during her stay in Thailand, where she studied under Thai teachers and was notably influenced by Sujin Boriharnwanaket​​​​. Her works are valuable resources for understanding the deeper aspects of Theravada Buddhism and have been influential in the dissemination of these teachings in the West.

Key aspects of her teachings and writings include:

Abhidhamma in Daily Life: This book focuses on the Abhidhamma, the philosophical and psychological analysis of the Buddha’s teachings. It serves as a practical guide for incorporating the Abhidhamma’s complex teachings into daily life, making them accessible and relevant to contemporary practitioners​​.

The Cetasikas: In this work, van Gorkom explores the cetasikas, the mental factors in Theravada Buddhist psychology. These factors are key components in understanding the workings of the mind according to the Abhidhamma​​.

The Buddha’s Path: This book likely discusses the path taught by the Buddha, emphasizing core teachings and practices of Theravada Buddhism. It could provide insights into the Noble Eightfold Path and other foundational Buddhist concepts​​.

Introduction to the Abhidhamma: This introduction to the Abhidhamma offers a doorway into the complex and detailed teachings of Theravada Buddhism, aimed at readers who are new to these concepts​​.

The Buddhist Teaching on Physical Phenomena: This book provides an introduction to physical phenomena and their relation to mental phenomena, underlining the importance of studying both for the development of the Eightfold Path. It emphasizes the conditioned nature of physical phenomena and their role in daily life, helping readers understand the concept of non-self​​​​.

The Conditionality of Life: This publication likely delves into the principle of conditionality (paticca samuppada), a central concept in Buddhism that explains the interdependent nature of all phenomena​​.

Letters from Nina: This book might include personal reflections, experiences, and insights into Buddhist practice and philosophy, offering a more intimate view of van Gorkom’s journey and understanding of Buddhism​​.

The World in the Buddhist Sense: This work likely discusses the Buddhist perspective on the world and existence, offering insights into how Buddhism views reality and our place within it​​.

Clinging to Life: This title suggests a focus on the Buddhist understanding of attachment and clinging, fundamental concepts in Buddhist teachings about the causes of suffering and the path to liberation​​.

Van Gorkom’s works are characterized by a deep commitment to making complex Buddhist teachings accessible and relevant to modern practitioners. Her focus on the Abhidhamma, in particular, reflects an effort to bridge the gap between traditional Buddhist scholarship and practical application in daily life.