In Memoriam : the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand

opinion October 26, 2013 00:00

By Story and photos : Bovornnives

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His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand (Suvaḍḍhana Mahāthera) whose birth name is Charoen Gajavatra was born in Kanchanaburi Province, on October 3, 1913.

His Holiness was ordained as a novice when he was 14 years old at Wat Devasangharam in Kanchanaburi. Then he enrolled for Dhamma study at Wat Bovoranives Vihara until he aged fully for the monkhood.

His Holiness was ordained as a Buddhist monk at Wat Bovoranives Vihara on February 15, 1933 by His Holiness Prince Kromma Luang Vajiranyanavamsa, and stayed there until he passed the ninth grade, the highest level of Pali examination as constituted by the Thai Sangha in 1941.

His Holiness had been moved through the lines of ecclesiastical promotion.

Firstly, he was promoted to higher ecclesiastical Rajagana title in ordinary, Raja and Deva levels respectively with the same titular name of Phra Sobhonganaphorn. After that, he was promoted to the higher ecclesiastical rank in the Dhamma level with the name of “Phra Dhammavaraphon,” before being appointed to the title of  Phra Sasanasophon.

Later on, he was bestowed with the special titular name of Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, and finally was consecrated as the Supreme Patriarch (Sangharaja) with the special titular name of His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, Somdet Phra Sangharaja Sakolmahasanghaparinayaka on April 21, 1989. His Holiness is the 19th Supreme Patriarch of the Rattanakosin Period.

An enthusiastic learner, His Holiness has been keenly interested in education, especially the language studies, since he was a Pali scholar. He had learned and mastered several languages, such as English, French, German, Chinese, and Sanskrit.

His Holiness Prince Kromma Luang Vajiranyanavamsa, his preceptor, was concerned that he would overindulge in secular education, and therefore had reminded him to allocate his time for meditation.  As a result, His Holiness had started practicing meditation ever since, and kept doing it consistently, making him a Mahathera who has been knowledgeable in both the Dhamma studies and practice.
As His Holiness is an expert in foreign languages, particularly English, he has obtained modern knowledge through reading English books, of both secular and religious subjects, thus making him a visionary person who always catches up with the country’s   situations.  That is a great benefit to his teaching and propagation of Buddhism. The religious books authored by His Holiness are up to date, and timely for people and the circumstances in modern days. Apart from that, he also has played a vital role in teaching the Dhamma to Thais and foreigners. 
His Holiness has a far-sighted view on education. He was involved in the founding of Thailand’s first Buddhist University, “Mahamakut Buddhist University”, and for the first time initiated the Training Institute for Dhammaduta Bhikkhus Going Abroad.
His Holiness is the first senior monk who plays a vital role for the propagation of Buddhism overseas. He was once the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Training Institute for Dhammaduta Bhikkhus Going Abroad, and was the first to preside over the opening ceremony of the first Thai temple in Europe, that is Wat Buddhapadipa in London, the United Kingdom.  To Australia, His Holiness brought Theravada Buddhism there for the first time by establishing Wat Buddharangsee Temple in Sydney. He paid an official visit to Nepal to be the preceptor for Nepalese Novices in the Sakyan clan. This has revived the ordination ceremony in modern Nepal. The Supreme Patriarch also developed a religious tie with His Holiness the Dalai Lama until they are familiar with each other, and have met many times for Dhamma exchanges.  Besides, he is the first Sangharaja who was officially invited to China for the first time in its history.
His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara has performed several tasks locally and internationally. He is both academic and Dhamma analyst, or what is called “Dhamma-vicaya”, to demonstrate that the Buddha Dhamma is applicable to all levels of life activities, from the basic to ultimate ones.  His Holiness has composed more than 100 articles, both in Thai and English. His written works involve the teachings of Buddhism at the beginning,   intermediate and advanced levels, as well as a number of religious essays, all with great educational value.   In recognition of His Holiness’ exceptional capabilities, the value of his written compositions, and the multiple tasks he has performed, many well-known national universities have bestowed upon him honorary doctorate degrees in various fields of education.
Apart from the duties associated to his titles, His Holiness was offered special tasks in many occasions. One of them was to be the advisor and guardian of the present monarch, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, when he was ordained as a Bhikkhu at Wat Bovoranives Vihara in 1956 (B.E. 2499).  Later on, when H.R.H. Crown Prince Mahavajiralongkorn was ordained as a Bhikkhu in 1978 (B.E.2521), His Holiness was also the Crown Prince Bhikkhu’s instructor and advisor in monastic codes of disciplines and the Buddha’s teaching.



Having held important ecclesiastical titles from past to present, His Holiness has performed duties that are of great benefits to the religion, the nation and its people. Thus, he is a great monk who has achieved both his own good and the practice for the good of others. That makes him a highly respectable person both for Buddhist realm and the national kingdom.

His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara is highly revered even among Buddhists in foreign countries. As such, the Myanmar Government has bestowed upon him the title of “Abhidhaja Maharattha Guru, which is the highest ecclesiastical title of the Myanmar Sangha, and the World Buddhist Supreme Conference, Buddhist Summit along with the Supreme Buddhist leaders of 32 countries of the world in 2012 also bestowed the title of “Supreme Holiness of World Buddhism” on him.