The Most Venerable Phramonkolthepmuni
Luang Pu Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen
The Founder of Dhammakaya Meditation
The most venerable Luang Pu Wat Paknam was born Sod Meekaewnoi. According to the lunar calendar, he was born on Friday the sixth day of the waning moon of the eleventh month in the year of monkey. This date coincides with the 10th month of the year 1884. His father Ngern and mother Soodjai Meekaewnoi had their own rice trading business Amphoe (District) Song Phi Nong, Suphan Buri Province.
He was educated in nearby temples, which was a Thai tradition at that time. He was fluent in reading and writing the Khmer and Thai languages, and, as a result of a serious and dedicated attitude, he was very successful in his studies. When his studies were complete, he went back to help his parents run the family rice business. His father passed away when he was only fourteen years old. As the eldest son, he was obliged to support his family and had to quickly learn the rice trade. Because of his diligence, the business was successful and he became well known for his skill, which would prove indispensable to him later.
Desire for Ordination:
Around the age of 19, he came to realize just how much people suffered due to the fact that everyone had to dedicate their lives to earning a living. This aroused great sorrow and compassion in him. Out of this inspiration came the will to ordain as a monk and to seek a way to extinguish desire. However, he could not relinquish responsibility for his family at that time. Instead he prayed to Lord Buddha, asking, “Lord, may I not die before I am able to ordain, an ordination that will last throughout my whole life”. Thereafter he put more effort into his work, accumulating a fund that was enough to sustain his mother throughout the rest of her life. He then entered the Buddhist Sangha as a monk.
In July 1906, at the age of 22 he joined the monastic order at Wat Song Phi Nong, Suphanburi Province. The Venerable Dee from Wat Pratoo Sarn was his preceptor. The venerable Phra Kru Vinayamuyoga (Niang Indajoto) of Wat Song Phi Nong was the Act-announcing teacher and the Venerable Noong Indasuwanno was his ordination-proclaiming teacher. He received the Pali monastic name Candasaro as recognition of his status as a monk.
The aim of this ordination was to attain Nibbana (“Nirvana” in Sanskrit). He had started the Vinaya or 'monastic discipline' and other studies in monastic regulation as a Naga (novice monk), during which he spent 10 days as an applicant for ordination in the temple so that he could practice correctly from the very beginning. Thus, Luang Pu Wat Paknam conducted his life virtuously from the first day of his ordination.
He practiced Dhamma as he had hoped to do when he was studying the Pali scriptures, especially the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, the scripture dedicated to the practice of meditation. He also sought the expertise of established teachers and studied in many well know meditation schools, for instance, with Phramonkolthipmuni (Mui) the ex-abbot of War Chakrawat, and with Phrakruvirat (Po) Wat Kao Yai. They were all virtuous teachers in meditation and scripture study, who demonstrated wholesome ethical practice and impeccable manners. Each of them had numerous students. Luang Pu enthusiastically practiced to a certain level with which the teachers were satisfied; indeed, they asked him to stay and instruct the other students. However, he felt that what he had learned was not sufficient for the extinction of all suffering.
While practicing Dhamma, he kept on studying the scriptures, so that he could translate and understand the content of the Mahasatipatthana manuscript. Then he ceased his scriptural studies and devoted himself to meditation, as recommended in the Visuddhimagga, the path to purity for the practice of Dhamma.
Rediscovery of Vijja Dhammakaya:
In the 12th year of his monkhood 1917, Luang Pu had his rainy season retreat at Wat Boat-Bon Bangkuvieng, Nonthaburi. By doing this he was able to return a favor of the Venerable Abbot, who had given him books for his study. Moreover, he could acquire merit by giving sermons to the lay people while he was there.
In the middle of the Lenten season, on the full moon night of the 11th lunar month, he considered his age and the length of his monkhood, and the fact that he still did not fully understand the Dhamma that Lord Buddha had attained. He made a determination, using his life as a wager: "Upon this sitting, if I cannot attain the Dhamma that the Lord Buddha acquired, then I shall not stand up until the end of my life". He was able to attain Dhammakaya in the middle of that night.
That night, Luang Pu realized that "the Lord Buddha's Dhamma is too profound to be conceived or pondered; if we keep on just thinking we will surely never attain it. The way to attainment is to bring the whole mind - conceiving, pondering and thinking - to a standstill. Once it is still, the hindrances which obstruct enlightenment will cease to be. And once that happens, enlightenment will arise." Later on, he gave a brief statement that “stopping the mind is the key to success.” After that he practiced and studied more and more, gaining internal experience in order to achieve the utmost level of Dhamma; the more he studied, the more skillful he became.
The method by which Luang Pu attained Dhammakaya, is the great rediscovery. It is not merely a practice that followed the content or memory of any scripture, but rather the attainment and perception of the Dhamma within oneself. It can happen by introducing the mind into the middle path, which is the best way to go beyond suffering. One who is able to accomplish this is able to extinguish all sources of defilement and suffering, obtaining eternal happiness which is surely the highest aim of all beings. Therefore, his rediscovery of this ancient knowledge system is of advantage to all humankind. Most of all, his attainment of Dhammakaya can be understood as a fine example of the Lord Buddha's words - given to novice monks: “Dhammakaya Itipi” or “Dhammakaya is my name.” Experts in contemplative practices usually claim that a person can attain Dhamma in-depth by simply understanding and by following directions. The reality is that a person one must develop and transform himself/herself through merit, wisdom and perfection. Luang Pu's attainment of Dhammakaya is a demonstration of such a development of perfection and of the accumulation of merit.
“Stopping the mind is the key to success.”
Propagating Vijja Dhammakaya:
After his attainment, Luang Pu initially decided to withdraw to the countryside and to the forest in order to find personal tranquility, as practicing monks tended to do at that time. However, for the sake of suffering human beings who could find no refuge, he reconsidered the idea of teaching in order to help them. This seems to have been a deeply ingrained habit with Luang Pu: to make the welfare of others a foremost priority.
At the end of the rainy season retreat period and the Katina ceremony to give new monastic robes to the monks, he took the opportunity to go to Wat Banglain, Nakkhon Pathom Province, for further meditation and teaching. After four months, three monks and another four lay people attained Dhammakaya. This was the starting point for the propagation of Vijja Dhammakaya. Later he went on to teach in various other places where many came to practice and to achieve results.
Around the middle of 1916, Luang Pu was appointed Abbot of Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen. In order to accept this appointment, he had to take his leave of Wat Phra Chetuphon and take up residence at Wat Paknam, which had been partly abandoned and which was in desperate need of renovation.
Renovation and Development:
At first, the management and development of the temple did not go smoothly as people resisted all attempts at the restoration of order. Luang Pu, however, was not discouraged. On the contrary, he gradually but persistently encouraged the monks and novices, upasakas, upasikas (laymen and laywomen committed to directly serving the monastic order) and lay people. As more and more people attained good results, Luang Pu's reputation grew and the name ”Luang Pu Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen” became famous throughout the region.
Subsequently, Luang Pu set up a community school and provided free education to the children living around the temple. School affairs were successfully carried out with the aid of faithful donors and with the support of the district administrative board. The number of pupils rapidly increased from an original ten to around three hundred. The local people were deeply impressed by this unprecedented educational patronage that was being given to their children. However, when the introduction of the Primary Education Act led to public schools being established throughout the country, Luang Pu decided to terminate primary teaching activities in order to concentrate on Pali and Dhamma Studies.
Although primarily a religious leader, Luang Pu also had the disposition of the developer; he loved to see things in progress and so he encouraged himself to be productive. He used to say ”at all times we should be creative; if there is nothing else to do we can always assist the children by teaching then.” As the Abbot of Wat Paknam, he put his best effort into developing all aspects of the monastery to the best of his ability. In principle, Luang Pu would give priority to human development, yet he always devoted some time to construction projects and improving public utilities, which he saw supportive of human development. His strategy was to develop intelligence by encouraging scholarship in parallel with the development of wisdom and insight through meditation and self-discipline.
He set up Dhamma study and Pali study in the monastery by providing teachers and by constructing a three story building for the school. The building was designed to cater to 1,000 students and was fully outfitted with equipment and educational media. The upper floor of this modern building was arranged as a meditation hall. The Prime Minister, Field Marshal Po. Pibulsongkram, acted as chairman of the inauguration ceremony and supervised the laying of the foundation stone. Construction was finally completed in 1950. This school building provided many advantages for the lay community and the Sangha. Since the time of its inauguration, it has been used every year as a Dhamma-study examination center for Bhasicharoen District. It also served as a dining hall during examinations, being capable of offering alms foods to the student monks and novices. Luang Pu later assigned responsibility for the school to a disciple skillful in scriptural study. The school soon developed into a first-class educational institute which has consistently produced the highest number of level-nine Pali graduates (highest level of achievement in Pali language study) in the educational history of Thailand.
It became a long-standing tradition that Luang Pu would himself teach the propagation and practice of Dhamma every Sunday and quarter-moon day. Yet every Thursday, at two o'clock in the afternoon, he would personally supervise the meditation training of all monks, novices, upasakas and upasikas staying in the monastery, as well as those from neighboring monasteries and all other interested people. In addition, a rite for Dhamma beginners - for people starting their first lessons in Dhamma practice - was customarily performed on Thursdays.
Because of his dexterity or "skill" in both scripture and practice, and because of the Dhamma he had attained so thoroughly, Luang Pu's teaching was clear and straightforward, not obscure or overly-colorful. The lessons would begin with a saying of the Lord Buddha in Pali, followed by a precise translation in Thai and then by a wise explanation which would signify clearly the correct way of practicing. This process made the explanations quite easy to follow while encouraging people to perform the actual practices. It is estimated that a total of around ten thousand practitioners came for his instruction and reported that they had obtained excellent results.
The Most Venerable Luang Pu Wat Paknam took great care of, and paid close attention to, the monks and novices of the monastery. He led the chanting and would then give advice in the main chapel every morning and evening. Adequate residential space was provided to monks and novices, with appropriate facilities being dedicated to ascetic practices. Moreover, a main kitchen and dining hall were established to take charge of daily meals. This resulted in more time being available for monks and novices to study and practice Dhamma. For these reasons - as well as the excellent teaching of the master - the number of monks and novices residing at Wat Paknam increased substantially, from 20 - 30 in the beginning, to over 500 in the year when the Venerable Abbot passed away.
Luang Pu spent his life time both frugally and worthily. He would not usually go out at all, except to fulfill his monastic duties. When invitations to midday meals came to him - which would presumably involve chanting, a short sermon, counseling, and the opportunity to socialize - he would ask another monk to go in his place. Even when he had a good reason to go outside, he would leave just for a short time and return as quickly as possible. He set aside time for visitors after the midday meal and once again at seven o’clock in the evening, with one hour alloted for each period. He dedicated all his remaining time to work and meditation.
Meditation was the major enterprise of Luang Pu's life and he made it his first priority, dedicating most of his time and effort to it. Each day he would practice medication in a particular place, the Meditation Workshop (Rong Ngan Tham Vijja). Many monks, novices and upasakas/upasikas would take turns as a group, meditating around the clock in the same place in order to learn from Luang Pu the higher Vijja Dhammakaya or "Tham Vijja". The main mental and spiritual quest in the Rong Ngan Tham Vijja was the extinction of all defilements, the source of all suffering and torment as well the major impediment to the attainment of enlightenment. It was understood that extinction of the defilements could rescue a soul from troubles, difficulties and even potential pains.
Deep in Luang Pu's heart, there was only one purpose and that was to eradicate the roots of the defilements that control humans (and other beings) in their thinking, speaking, and deep seated unwholesome habits. All beings are caught up in a never-ending cycle of death, reincarnation and karmic punishment. If the origins of defilements could only be eradicated, dissatisfaction and ill-will would be gone forever and happiness and goodness would prevail on earth; real world peace would be the result. For this reason, Luang Pu devoted his whole life to meditation and the study and propogation of Vijja Dhammakaya.
Luang Pu's pure conduct and self-development were resources produced by his remarkable sovereignty over self, his disciplined virtues and his innate strength. It attracted people to come to him for instruction over the years, a phenomenon which has continued up to the present day.
Perpetuation of his Determination:
One day in 1955, Luang Pu called a meeting of his disciples during which he prophesied his death within five years. He bequeathed to them the task of propagating Vijja Dhammakaya throughout the world. He reminded them that the tradition was important in that it could deliver many people from their suffering. After his death in 1959, one of his most faithful practicing disciples, Khun Yay Maharatana Upasika Chandra Kohn Nok Yoong, devoted her entire life to the propagation of the movement. This was the beginning of Wat Phra Dhammakaya.