A great legacy for Buddhists

national October 26, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

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His holiness was instrumental in spreading the word of Dharma not Just in Thailand, but also overseas

His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, Somdet Phra Sangharaja Sakolmahasang-haparinayaka, the 19th Supreme Patriarch of Rattanakosin, passed away at the age of 100 on Thursday night, leaving behind an impressive legacy for Buddhists worldwide.

Born on October 3, 1913, His Holiness was initially known as Charoen Gajavatra, and grew up in Kanchanaburi. The boy was familiar with monks, their morning alms rounds and services at the local temple.

When he was only two, the 10th Supreme Patriarch visited the nearby temple – giving him a rare opportunity to meet the top monastic chief of the Kingdom during that period.

It is unclear whether the meeting had an impact on Charoen, but as he grew up, he began dressing up like a monk and delivering sermons.

Charoen proved to be a bright student, despite poor health. At one time, he became so ill that his mother prayed to “sacred beings” – promising to ordain her son as a novice, if he survived. He did, and at the age of 14, Charoen was ordained. Since then – 86 years ago – he has only ever donned saffron robes.

Although he initially studied Dharma at a local temple, he later moved to Bangkok to further his religious education at Wat Bowonnives Vihara.

A ceremony was held in 1933, when he was of age, to ordain him as a monk. His preceptor was a high-ranking monk, who would later become the 13th Supreme Patriarch.

The younger monk studied hard and by 1941, he had already completed Pali Scholar Level 9 and developed a good command of many foreign languages, including English, French, German, Mandarin, and Sanskrit. Guided by his preceptor, he also mastered meditation.

As a Mahathera – knowledgeable of both Dharma studies and practices – he was entrusted with the important mission of mentoring His Majesty the King when he was ordained Wat Bowonnives Vihara in 1956.

Later, when His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was ordained in 1978, His Holiness was also the Crown Prince’s instructor and adviser on monastic codes and Buddhist teachings.

By then, the great monk had been promoted to the higher ecclesiastical Rajagana title at ordinary Raja and Deva levels respectively, with the same titular name, Phra Sobhonganaphorn. After that, he was promoted to a higher ecclesiastical Dharma rank and became “Phra Dhammavaraphon”, before being given the title of Phra Sasanasophon. Later on, he was bestowed with the special titular name, Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, and finally consecrated as the Supreme Patriarch (Sangharaja) with the special titular name, His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, Somdet Phra Sangharaja Sakolmahasangha-parinayaka on April 21, 1989.

His Holiness regularly delivered sermons and led meditation sessions in the Kingdom. He also travelled to various provinces to promote Buddhism, including the violence-plagued deep South.

His Holiness had a far-sighted view of education and was involved in founding Thailand’s first Buddhist University, “Mahamakut Buddhist University”, and also the Training Institute for Dhammaduta Bhikkhus Going Abroad.

He was also the first senior monk to play a vital role in the propagation of Buddhism overseas, and was the first monk to preside over the opening ceremony of the first Thai temple in Europe.

His Holiness also took Theravada Buddhism to Australia by establishing Buddharangsee Temple in Sydney. He paid an official visit to Nepal to be the preceptor for Nepalese novices in the Sakyan clan, which led to a revival of the ordination ceremony in modern Nepal.

The Supreme Patriarch also had religious ties with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and they met on many occasions. In addition, he was the first Sangharaja to be officially invited to China.

Written works of His Holiness include more than 100 articles, both in Thai and English as well as Buddhism for beginners, intermediate and advanced levels, and a number of religious articles.

In recognition of the exceptional abilities of His Holiness – his written compositions, and the multiple tasks he has performed – many well-known national universities bestowed upon him honorary doctorates in various fields.

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