A Short Biography of His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand

A Short Biography of His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand

H. H. Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch (Suvaddhana Mahathera) was in his early days known as Charen, his family name being Gajavatra, the first son of the three children, he was a native of Kanchanaburi, a province bordering Burma, 130 km. to the west of Bangkok. He was born on the third of October 1913. (B.E. 2456). His father's name was Noi Gajavatra, his mother's Kimnoi.

It is said that H.H. Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara became distinguished for his serenity of spirit and very high intelligence early on, showing sign of his future profession. Even as a child, his favorite playthings were centered around the monk hood. Sometimes he dressed himself like a monk and imitated monk's activities: carrying an alms-bowl, reciting Pali verses after alms-collecting, preaching a sermon and so.

His secular education began when he was 8 years old. Admitted to an elementary school located in Wat Devasangharama in the city of Kanchanaburi near his home, he completed Pratham 5 (5th grade), equivalent to Madhyama of the present national education curriculum.

Upon completing his elementary education, he was ordained a Samanera (novice) at Wat Devasangharama in Kanchanaburi at the age of his fourteen, with Phragru Adulsamanakit, the abbot of Wat Devasangharama, as his preceptor.

In the second year of his novitiate, he began his higher Buddhist education. At that time, Pali language instructors were not available in the province of Kanchanaburi; therefore, with his preceptor's consent and help, he journeyed to Wat Saneha in Nakhon Pathom, a province 77 km. east of Kanchanaburi, to study Pali. He spent two years there, then, to further his Pali and Dhamma studies while still a Samanera, he moved to Wat Bovoranives, the most important centre of the Gana Dhammayuttika and the royal residence of three past Supreme Patriarchs. There in 1941 (B.E. 2484) he completed his Pali language study and passed the 9th grade, the highest level of Pali examination as constituted by the Thai Sangha.

In 1933 (B.E. 2476), at the age of twenty, he returned home to Kanchanaburi and was ordained as a bhikkhu (monk) at his former monastery, Wat Devasangharama, a temple of Mahanikaya sect. He passed one rains retreat there; at the end of the rains retreat, in the same year, he returned to Wat Bovoranives and was re-ordained as a monk of the Dhammayuttiaka order. His re-ordination ceremony was presided over by Somdet Phrasangharaja ChaoKrom Luang Vajirananavansa, the thirteenth Supreme Patriarch and the fourth lord abbot of Wat Bovoranives.

His Holiness' exceptional ability moved him rapidly through the stages of ecclesiastical promotion. First the title of Phrasobhanaganabharana (Rajagana) was bestowed upon him at the age of thirty-four in 1947 (B.E. 2490); he was later promoted to a higher rank of the same titular name in 1952 (B.E. 2495) at the age of thirty-nine. His third hierarchical promotion, bearing the same titular name, took place in 1955 (B.E. 2498) when he was forty-two years old. A year later, in 1956 (2499) he received fourth hierarchical promotion entitled Phradhammavarabharana when he reached his forty-third year. This auspicious event coincided with the royal ordination of H. M. King Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the present monarch of Thailand. On this occasion, Phradhammavarabharana was chosen to act as the guardian bhikkhu to His Majesty the King during the period of royal ordination. At the age of forty-eight, he was appointed to the position of Phrasasanasobhana, next in rank only to the seven top ecclesiastical administration leaders who hold the title of Somdet.

The special titular name of Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, which was not given to any bhikkhu for one hundred and fifty years since the reign of King Rama II, was bestowed upon His Holiness in 1972 (B.E. 2515) when he was fifty-nine years of age. In 1989 His Holiness was invested by Their Majesty the King and Queen as the Supreme Patriarch (Sangharaja) with the special titular name of H.H. Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, Somdet Phra Sangharaja Sakalamahasanghaparinayaka. In short, he rose rapidly through the ecclesiastical ranks.

In 1956 (B. E. 2499) the present monarch, H.M.King Bhumibol Adulyadej, chose to be ordained as a bhikkhu for a period of fifteen days from October 22, 1956 to November 5, 1956, during which he resided in Wat Bovoranives. Krom Luang Vajirananavansa, the then Supreme Patriarch, acted as Upajjhaya"Royal Preceptor" to His Majesty. His Holiness, then holding the title of Phrasobhanaganabharana, was chosen to be an adviser and guardian to the royal Bhikkhu. This special and important occurrence added precious memories to His Holiness' life history.

In 1978, a special assignment was entrusted to His Holiness when the Crown Prince chose to become a monk for fifteen days, residing in Wat Bovoranives, from November 6 to 20, 1978. His Holiness became the Crown Prince Bhikkhu's instructor and adviser in monastic codes of discipline and the Buddha's teachings.

Hierarchical and ecclesiastical responsibilities in various departments, from the bottom to he highest positions and ranks, were also assigned to Somdet, and the burden in increased in proportions to his hierarchical promotion.

His Holiness has had a remarkable record of ecclesiastical administration, which can be summed up as follows.

When the Buddhist order was still under the Sangha Act of 1941, in which the Gana Sangha was molded on the civil system under the National Constitution. His Holiness was appointed acting Chief of the Administration Department, Dhammayuttika Affairs only.

In 1962, the 1941 Act was replaced by a new low entitled "Act on the Administration of the Sangha, Buddhist Era 2505(1962); His Holiness became a member of Mahathera Samagama (The Elders' Council) on the very day that the new act became effective. He was also Chief Administrative Authority of the Bangkok-Samutprakan municipality dealing with Dhammayuttika affairs only.

In the field of ecclesiastical education, His Holiness was Chairman of the Ecclesiastical Education Board of the Thai Sangha and Chairman of Executive Committee of the Training Institute for Dhammaduta Bhikkhus Going Abroad. He was also Chairman of the Executive Board of Mahamakuta Buddhist University, the First Buddhist University established in Thailand, under the Patronage of Dhammayuttika Administration.

After the passing away of Phrabrahmamuni (Suvacathera), the fifth abbot of Wat Bovoranives in1961, His Holiness was appointed the sixth abbot of Wat Bovoranives, while holding the title of Phrathammavarabharana. The renovation and decoration of the aged and decayed buildings and residential quarters in monastery took place immediately after his appointment. The one hundred year-old Uposatha Hall (Main Assembly Hall), originally made of brick and plaster, was restored by fitting beautiful white marble slabs over the outside columns and wall. The old doors and windows of the Uposatha Hall were replaced with new and beautifully covered teak ones. Other buildings throughout the monastery were renovated and remodeled. The construction of the new buildings to accommodate and support new activities was undertaken. The compound of the monastery was furnished with a variety of shrubs and trees. At this time, the whole of Wat Bovoranives was renovated, reshaped, and beautified.

Concerning monks and novices in the monastery, His Holiness support and encourages monastic education in every possible way. He continually selects instructors and tutors in Dhamma and Pali studies for new bhikkhus and novices, and scholarships for higher studies, both at home and abroad, are granted every year. Necessary facilities such libraries. etc. have been provided by His Holiness for resident monks and novices.

Regarding education outside Wat Bovoranives, through His Holiness' initiation and guidance more new schools and institutions are constructed to meet the needs and requirements of the Thai people.

04/05 2013 A Short Biography of His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand Print Email Written by Dipendra deshar Category: about Hits: 2203 H. H. Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch (Suvaddhana Mahathera) was in his early days known as Charen, his family name being Gajavatra, the first son of the three children, he was a native of Kanchanaburi, a province bordering Burma, 130 km. to the west of Bangkok. He was born on the third of October 1913. (B.E. 2456). His father's name was Noi Gajavatra, his mother's Kimnoi. It is said that H.H. Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara became distinguished for his serenity of spirit and very high intelligence early on, showing sign of his future profession. Even as a child, his favorite playthings were centered around the monk hood. Sometimes he dressed himself like a monk and imitated monk's activities: carrying an alms-bowl, reciting Pali verses after alms-collecting, preaching a sermon and so. His secular education began when he was 8 years old. Admitted to an elementary school located in Wat Devasangharama in the city of Kanchanaburi near his home, he completed Pratham 5 (5th grade), equivalent to Madhyama of the present national education curriculum. Upon completing his elementary education, he was ordained a Samanera (novice) at Wat Devasangharama in Kanchanaburi at the age of his fourteen, with Phragru Adulsamanakit, the abbot of Wat Devasangharama, as his preceptor. In the second year of his novitiate, he began his higher Buddhist education. At that time, Pali language instructors were not available in the province of Kanchanaburi; therefore, with his preceptor's consent and help, he journeyed to Wat Saneha in Nakhon Pathom, a province 77 km. east of Kanchanaburi, to study Pali. He spent two years there, then, to further his Pali and Dhamma studies while still a Samanera, he moved to Wat Bovoranives, the most important centre of the Gana Dhammayuttika and the royal residence of three past Supreme Patriarchs. There in 1941 (B.E. 2484) he completed his Pali language study and passed the 9th grade, the highest level of Pali examination as constituted by the Thai Sangha. In 1933 (B.E. 2476), at the age of twenty, he returned home to Kanchanaburi and was ordained as a bhikkhu (monk) at his former monastery, Wat Devasangharama, a temple of Mahanikaya sect. He passed one rains retreat there; at the end of the rains retreat, in the same year, he returned to Wat Bovoranives and was re-ordained as a monk of the Dhammayuttiaka order. His re-ordination ceremony was presided over by Somdet Phrasangharaja ChaoKrom Luang Vajirananavansa, the thirteenth Supreme Patriarch and the fourth lord abbot of Wat Bovoranives. His Holiness' exceptional ability moved him rapidly through the stages of ecclesiastical promotion. First the title of Phrasobhanaganabharana (Rajagana) was bestowed upon him at the age of thirty-four in 1947 (B.E. 2490); he was later promoted to a higher rank of the same titular name in 1952 (B.E. 2495) at the age of thirty-nine. His third hierarchical promotion, bearing the same titular name, took place in 1955 (B.E. 2498) when he was forty-two years old. A year later, in 1956 (2499) he received fourth hierarchical promotion entitled Phradhammavarabharana when he reached his forty-third year. This auspicious event coincided with the royal ordination of H. M. King Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the present monarch of Thailand. On this occasion, Phradhammavarabharana was chosen to act as the guardian bhikkhu to His Majesty the King during the period of royal ordination. At the age of forty-eight, he was appointed to the position of Phrasasanasobhana, next in rank only to the seven top ecclesiastical administration leaders who hold the title of Somdet. The special titular name of Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, which was not given to any bhikkhu for one hundred and fifty years since the reign of King Rama II, was bestowed upon His Holiness in 1972 (B.E. 2515) when he was fifty-nine years of age. In 1989 His Holiness was invested by Their Majesty the King and Queen as the Supreme Patriarch (Sangharaja) with the special titular name of H.H. Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, Somdet Phra Sangharaja Sakalamahasanghaparinayaka. In short, he rose rapidly through the ecclesiastical ranks. In 1956 (B. E. 2499) the present monarch, H.M.King Bhumibol Adulyadej, chose to be ordained as a bhikkhu for a period of fifteen days from October 22, 1956 to November 5, 1956, during which he resided in Wat Bovoranives. Krom Luang Vajirananavansa, the then Supreme Patriarch, acted as Upajjhaya"Royal Preceptor" to His Majesty. His Holiness, then holding the title of Phrasobhanaganabharana, was chosen to be an adviser and guardian to the royal Bhikkhu. This special and important occurrence added precious memories to His Holiness' life history. In 1978, a special assignment was entrusted to His Holiness when the Crown Prince chose to become a monk for fifteen days, residing in Wat Bovoranives, from November 6 to 20, 1978. His Holiness became the Crown Prince Bhikkhu's instructor and adviser in monastic codes of discipline and the Buddha's teachings. Hierarchical and ecclesiastical responsibilities in various departments, from the bottom to he highest positions and ranks, were also assigned to Somdet, and the burden in increased in proportions to his hierarchical promotion. His Holiness has had a remarkable record of ecclesiastical administration, which can be summed up as follows. When the Buddhist order was still under the Sangha Act of 1941, in which the Gana Sangha was molded on the civil system under the National Constitution. His Holiness was appointed acting Chief of the Administration Department, Dhammayuttika Affairs only. In 1962, the 1941 Act was replaced by a new low entitled "Act on the Administration of the Sangha, Buddhist Era 2505(1962); His Holiness became a member of Mahathera Samagama (The Elders' Council) on the very day that the new act became effective. He was also Chief Administrative Authority of the Bangkok-Samutprakan municipality dealing with Dhammayuttika affairs only. In the field of ecclesiastical education, His Holiness was Chairman of the Ecclesiastical Education Board of the Thai Sangha and Chairman of Executive Committee of the Training Institute for Dhammaduta Bhikkhus Going Abroad. He was also Chairman of the Executive Board of Mahamakuta Buddhist University, the First Buddhist University established in Thailand, under the Patronage of Dhammayuttika Administration. After the passing away of Phrabrahmamuni (Suvacathera), the fifth abbot of Wat Bovoranives in1961, His Holiness was appointed the sixth abbot of Wat Bovoranives, while holding the title of Phrathammavarabharana. The renovation and decoration of the aged and decayed buildings and residential quarters in monastery took place immediately after his appointment. The one hundred year-old Uposatha Hall (Main Assembly Hall), originally made of brick and plaster, was restored by fitting beautiful white marble slabs over the outside columns and wall. The old doors and windows of the Uposatha Hall were replaced with new and beautifully covered teak ones. Other buildings throughout the monastery were renovated and remodeled. The construction of the new buildings to accommodate and support new activities was undertaken. The compound of the monastery was furnished with a variety of shrubs and trees. At this time, the whole of Wat Bovoranives was renovated, reshaped, and beautified. Concerning monks and novices in the monastery, His Holiness support and encourages monastic education in every possible way. He continually selects instructors and tutors in Dhamma and Pali studies for new bhikkhus and novices, and scholarships for higher studies, both at home and abroad, are granted every year. Necessary facilities such libraries. etc. have been provided by His Holiness for resident monks and novices. Regarding education outside Wat Bovoranives, through His Holiness' initiation and guidance more new schools and institutions are constructed to meet the needs and requirements of the Thai people. The construction of Wat Nyanasamvararama in Bang Lamung District near Pattaya, Chonburi Privince, is a most significant event. Its majestic beauty and beautiful buildings are known far and wide. The significance and importance of this monastery is demonstrated by their Majestie's royal patronage. Their Majesties the King and Queen graciously accepted it and placed it in the first grade (top grade) of Royal Monasteries under royal patronage. Moreover, His Holiness is called upon by people from all walks of life to assist in establishing public place such as schools, college, hospitals and so on. The Bhikkhus annex and new 24 story-out-patient building in Chulalongkorn Hospital are the best example of His Holiness' patronage and generosity given to the public

His Holiness support for education is rooted in his own inner live of learning, which he has had since his childhood. His unceasing and energetic striving for knowledge has resulted in outstandingly success in his studies. His Holiness is not only well-versed in Sanskrit and Pali, which are the classical Buddhist languages, but he has also studied Chinese, French and German and English. Although monastic responsibilities and administrative duties caused him to put aside further study, His Holiness did not abandon his study of English. His fluency in English has led him to encourage extensive exchange of religious dialogue and ideas in Wat Bovoranives. He himself used to give lectures in Dhamma in English to foreigners.

Apart from his secular and religious proficiency, His Holiness is keenly interested in meditating and concentration practices. When he was a young monk he went to visit many forest meditation centres up-country staying there for two to three months a year to devote himself to spiritual practice. Later the burden of ecclesiastical administrative duties were so great that he was unable to find time to enter forest-meditation centres as before. His Holiness does not surrender to the situation. He creates his own forest like seclusion in his own shelter in the city, because he is of the view that one should practice meditation and concentration wherever one dwells by creating forest-like seclusion in one's own mind.

It can therefore be said that His Holiness is endowed with three unique qualifications: administrative skill, academic duties, and meditation and concentration. He balances all three harmoniously in his day-today life. His Holiness closely follows the example of his royal predecessors at Wat Bovoranives, the late Somdet Phramahasamanachao KormPhraya Vajirananavarorasa who was a master of Buddhist studies and reformer of an ecclesiastical administration. He wisely emulates the meditation and concentration practice of his preceptor, the late Somdet Phrasangharaja Chao Krom Luang Vajirananavamsa.

Because they arise from his scholarly and meditative nature, His Holiness' teachings attracts Buddhists from all walks of life, since he can properly apply the Dhamma to the everyday world and its problems. His teachings or sermons are therefore relevant and his audience is beneficial by his explanations of theory and practice. His Holiness gives sermons in the Uposatha Hall every fortnight and lectures on meditation and concentration. Wat Bovoranives is therefore known as an important meditation centre in metropolis and in Thailand.

Apart from the sermon and meditation lessons mentioned above, His Holiness has written many books on Dhamma, explaining the Buddha's teachings and meditation practice, such as principle of Buddhism, Forty-Five Years of the Buddha, Solas Panha, (Sixteen Questions), A Guide to Awareness, etc. His books arouse interest among readers and are well known.

In connection with the propagation and dissemination of Buddhism abroad, His Holiness was once Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Training Institute for Dhammaduta Bhikkhus Going Abroad. He himself had often been to foreign countries in Asia, Europe, America and Australia to observe religious practices and to meet people. Since His Holiness support Dhammaduta Bhikkhus in Indonesia and Australia, he has visited those countries several times.

In 1993, from 20 June to 2 July His Holiness visited China at the invitation of the government. During his thirteen-day tour, he met the President of China, the President of the Buddhist Association of China, various officials, and Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay followers. He visited Buddhist monasteries and important historical and cultural sites, and exchanged ideas with Chinese Buddhists, in Beijing, Xian, Kunming, and Sipsongpanna. This historical visit- the first ever by a Thailand to China- should bring the two countries together through their common religious heritage.

During His Holiness' tenure as abbot Wat Bovoranives has became a centre of foreign relations and is well known to foreigners who are interested in Buddhist studies. Many foreigners from both East and West come to Wat Bovoranives to study Buddhism. Some become ordained as bhikkhus or Samaneras for a time. It is no exaggeration to say that His Holiness has re-established Wat Bovoranives in its former magnificent and dynamic role of spreading the Dhamma, in the time of King Mongkut, the first abbot, and of Somdet Phramahasamana Chao Krom Phraya Vajirananavarorasa, the Third abbot.

His Holiness continued his effort in all aspects of activities for welfare of religion and society in the country and abroad. Traditionally he bears highest position in Thai Sangha and a being a spiritual leader he receives high respect by all government agencies of Thailand and public. He inspires large number of adherents to be active in everyday life. He made numerous visits either official and non-official to the land of Buddha that is India and Nepal, even in his ripe age of over 80s. This shows his passion for welfare of religion and society there. His such effort resulted some notable Buddhist activities in those countries and development of Wat Muni Vihara in Nepal is a humble example.