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Paul Debes, engl.

Researcher and disseminator of Buddhism in Germany.

* September 8, 1906  Wuppertal Elberfeld.

† June 6, 2004  Bindlach.

1906-1932 As the fourth of eight children, from a poor and uneducated family home, Paul Debes already went his way of inner collection in adolescence and during his commercial training. He wrote poetry, took Latin lessons on his own initiative and searched for answers to his questions in the writings of ancient philosophers and Christian mystics. During a bike ride with friends, they came across a second-hand bookstore, here P.D. discovered a book by Hans Much of 1920, which is almost forgotten today: “Die Heimkehr des Vollendeten [The Homecoming of the Perfect One]”. The contents of this book would decisively determine the course of his life. Through this book he learnt about Karl Eugen Neumann’s German translations of the original texts of the Pali Canon, and soon after, decided to devote his life to the teachings of the Buddha.

In 1931, with his brother Heinrich, P.D. boarded a freighter from Trieste to Ceylon; The goal was the >Island Hermitage< on Polgasduwa near Dodanduwa, which was headed, as abbot, by the monk and scholar Nyanatiloka Mahathera. This monk was from Germany and had been ordained in Myanmar. But the extremely strict meditation practice, which is focused on perishing and death, in complete seclusion in huts and caves in the jungle, caused problems for P.D. and so the two brothers travel back to Germany, after a good six months, with a new wealth of experience.

1932-1945 In 1932, as a 26-year-old, he rented from a lady in Groß Flottbek (Hamburg) and met her daughter Ina Forster. The two got married in 1936.  Ina Foerster-Debes and P.D. went on to have five children, the first of which was born in 1938 (Monika Debes). It is two quite different milieus that met between Ina Foerster and P.D.: she from a wealthy, liberal and academically educated bourgeoise family, he initially autodidactically searching for the truth without any bourgeois background. The young couple began a life in a trailer, with P.D. selling natural products to health food stores in Germany. When Monika Debes was born, Ina Forster moved back to her mother, while P.D. started working in Berlin and was soon then after called up as a soldier. The war took him to both Ukraine and France. He was taken prisoner by the British and was released in 1945.
1945-1966 From 1943 Ina Debes lived with her children as well as her mother Ilse Foerster in a house in Großhansdorf (Villa am Hopfenbach) that her family had bought. After the end of the war, P.D. became a district youth worker, but his decision to devote his life only to Buddhist teachings and dissemination had already been made; at home he was only an occasional guest. He gave well-attended lectures on topics such as Buddhism as a bridge between religion and science; Christianity or Buddhism?; From appearance to being; Fate arises from the nature of man. In addition, P.D. held 14-day seminars, called “Non-controversial round table disputes” with Catholic priests, Protestant pastors and those interested in philosophy.

In 1950 P.D. founded the publication organ “Circular letters for orientation in reality”, which from 1955 bore the title “Wissen und Wandel – Buddhistische Anschauung und Lebensführung [Knowledge and Change – Buddhist Philosophy and Way of Life]” and would appear for over 60 years. When Konrad Adenauer directed his German policy against Russia, it was done one-sidedly towards the USA and thus sealed the division of Germany for a long time, P.D. decided to initiate the publishing of the “Streitlose Blätter [Peaceful Pages]“. He did this from 1951 to 1954, travelling throughout Germany with a small group of supporters under the motto “Peace through negotiation”.

His real concern, however, was not a political one. For three decades, P.D. held 14-day to 3-week research and reflection seminars at various locations in Northern Germany. Here he gave several lectures every day, all conducted in a low voice, always without a manuscript, highly concentrated and so thoughtful while speaking that the listeners were not only spellbound but also directly involved in the thought process, participating in it. Recordings of some of his lectures were later digitized by friends and followers and posted on the internet on youtube (see list of publications below).

As early as 1948, P.D. founded the “Buddhist Seminar“. It was at first based in Großhansdorf, north of Hamburg, but was later moved to the Berliner Tor in Hamburg. In this context, P.D. conveyed and profoundly explained the teachings of the Buddha to thousands of people. In 1959 the “Buddhist Seminar” moved to Rohlfshagen near Bad Oldesloe, as a more exclusive research facility, at which his daughter Monika Debes and Irma Lübcke collaborated until 1966 alongside his future wife Inge Anders. P.D. had meanwhile developed not only a philosophy but also the psychology of Buddhism as a system. In cooperation and in parallel with him, learned friends and companions began researching and disseminating the original teachings of the Buddha in Germany, most significantly Helmut Hecker and Fritz Schäfer.

1963/64 P.D. travelled to Myanmar and Ceylon and returned to the >Island Hermitage< monastery, where he had meditated more than 30 years ago.

In 1966 P.D., and with him the Buddhist Seminar, moved to Neugraben (south of Hamburg), and in 1974 to Bindlach/Beng in Bavaria.

1966-2004 1968 death of his wife Ina Debes, née Foerster.

From 1976 P.D., largely withdrawn from public life, first lived in Wangen on Lake Constance, then on a farm in Bindlach (Bavaria).

1994 Marriage to Inge Anders, who had worked with him for decades and who manages and publishes his writings. 


Publications by Paul Debes (selected):

1952 Debes antwortet dem Stoßtrupp gegen Bolschewistische Zersetzung. Gesellschaft für Gewaltfreie Zusammenarbeit. Die Streitlosen.
1955 ff. Wissen und Wandel. Rundbriefe zur Orientierung in der Wirklichkeit (later with the subtitle Anschauung und Lebensführung nach Wegweisung des Buddha). Appeares 2-monthly, 6 issues per year. Edited by Buddhistisches Seminar.
1963 Das Dasein und seine Meisterung nach der Lehre des Buddha.
1979 Begriffe der Buddha-Reden mit Erklärung. = Wissen und Wandel, volumes 1-8, Buddhistisches Seminar.
1982 Meisterung der Existenz durch die Lehre des Buddha (2 volumes).
1987 Meditation nach dem Buddha – warum und was.
1999 Das zeitlose Wort vom Dasein (with Hellmuth Hecker and Fritz Schäfer). Beyerlein u. Steinschulte, Herrnschrot/Stammbach.
2005 Paul Debes beantwortet Fragen zu buddhistischer Anschauung und Lebensführung (2 volumes).

Recordings of lectures in Ethik-Hörbuch (youtube):                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Publications on Paul Debes (selected):

L. Nestler: Das buddhistische Seminar. Biographische Fragmente. 22019.
Volker Köppke (editor): Die BGH (Buddhist Society Hamburg). 2019.
Paul Debes – Swiss Buddhist Society:                                                                                                                                                                                Paul Debes – Wikipedia: