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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Buddhists mourn revered monk

Luang Phor Panya achieved fame for teaching a pure faith

The death of 96-year-old Luang Phor Panya Nantha Bhikku, one of the foremost monks and spiritual leaders, has left a big vacuum in Thai Buddhism.

Luang Phor Panya was considered a towering figure in Buddhism because he, like his mentor the late Than Buddhadas Bhikku, strictly followed the teaching of Lord Buddha in its original form, without any embellishments. He adhered to Buddhism in its purest form and went about to propagate Buddhism, at home and abroad, in the most practical sense.

His wisdom grew out of his association with Than Buddhadas of Wat Suan Mokkhapalaram in Chaiya, Surat Thani. Than Buddhadas recommended that he thoroughly study Pali, the language that Lord Buddha used to give his sermons, so he could read the original version of the "Tripaka", which represents a compilation of the Buddha's teaching in his own words.

He served as abbot of Wat Cholprathan Rangsarit in Pakkred, Nonthaburi, for 20 years until his death yesterday. Before he had served at Wat U-mong in Chiang Mai for 38 years. Under his guidance, Wat Cholprathan Rangsarit has become a source of spiritual inspiration and learning for millions of Thais, who like his hard-hitting and easy-to-understand style of preaching.

As Thai monks are the spiritual or opinion leaders in society, politicians flock to them to get support and, by association, hope to win votes from the people.

The Democrats, particular Sanan Khachornprasat as well as Chuan Leekpai, have found a sanctuary at Wat Cholprathan Rangsarit.

Wat Thammakai of Thamma Chaiyo in Pathum Thani has become a political base for the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai.

Lung Phor Khoon of Wat Ban Rai in Nakhon Ratchasima is the rendezvous for the Northeastern politicians, who come to let him knock on their heads as a blessing. Luangta Mahabua of Wat Pa Ban Tad in Udon Thani has also earned respect from the Northeastern politicians, as well as media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul.

All of these opinion-leader monks are in their eighties, while the Supreme Patriarch is in his early nineties.

Luang Phor Panya's last wish was that he would like to live until 100 so that he could witness the completion of a temple built in the middle of a pond in Wang Noi, Ayutthaya, which would serve as a religious centre for the propagation of Buddhism.

Luang Phor Panya was a monk of real action, relying on his sermons to win over the hearts of millions of Thais. He never produced amulets or got involved in any business-like activities to raise money for his temples. The money he got came solely from those who had faith in him and in his teaching.

He was the first monk to mingle with his people by standing in front of them and preach the language and content that they could understand and apply immediately to their daily lives. Traditionally, Thai monks sit in an elevated chair, hold a long leaf with the Buddha's teaching written onto it and preach to their followers.

The most frequently asked question posed to him was: "Where will we go after we die?" Luang Phor Panya would reply tersely: "You go to the graveyard after your death." His followers would laugh.

But he explained: "We should not pay attention to where we go after our death. We only need to pay more attention to how good we are at the present moment. If we do good deeds now, we will be better off after our death."

He was not afraid to speak against the authorities or his fellow monks if he felt that they were wrong. On one occasion, he criticised some monks who did nothing but eat and sleep. "They eat in the morning and then go to sleep. Then they eat before noon and then go back to sleep again," he said.

His comment caused a stir in the hierarchy of Thai monks, most of whom were more interested in pursuing worldly gains than spiritual enlightenment.

Reporters liked to flock to his temple to get his opinions on the political situation. He criticised corruption among politicians. Some generals, who entered politics, got mad at him and tried to censor his comments on air. But they could not touch him because he spoke live on air without any prepared script.

Luang Phor Panya began his brilliant career as a monk in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Behind the railway station in Nakhon Si Thammarat, he stood on a beach and preached to the common people. What he aimed to do was to remove the misunderstanding about Buddhism among the common people, most of whom were preoccupied with the issues of life after death, Heaven and Hell.

He, along with 40 other monks, pioneered a programme to propagate Buddhism abroad. He was accompanied by Phra Lokanart, an Italian who became a Buddhist monk in Thailand, on the foreign trips to conduct sermons and attended seminars.

In 1949, he moved up north to stay in Chiang Mai. He was asked by Than Buddhadhas and Chao Chuen Siroros to help revive Buddhism in Chiang Mai and served at Wat U-mong, near Doi Suthep and Chiang Mai University.

His fame began to spread quickly until he was well-known throughout the North. He was known as a Dharma Warrior, who was bold to combat ignorance and other wrong beliefs in religious matters among the Thais.

It was not until 1987 that he moved down to Nonthaburi at the invitation of ML Chuchart Kamphu, the director-general of the Irrigation Department, to establish the Wat Cholprathan Rangsarit.

Lung Phor Panya's death has made it very difficult for other monks to follow suit to keep Thai Buddhism vibrant.

An era has ended.

The Nation

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