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Supreme Patriarch | 1913-2013

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A century ago, a baby boy name Charoen embarked on a 100-year voyage that would lead him to inspire a nation with his Buddhist teachers and stouthearted guidance. 

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The Supreme Patriarch continued his modest habits even after he was appointed the head of all Buddhist monks. Photos courtesy of the Office of the Supreme Patriarch' s Secretary and Wat Bowon Niwet.

His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera, died at Chulalongkorn Hospital Thursday evening at the age of 100. The following is from an obituary that appeared on a special cover to today's Bangkok Post.

Luminous journey comes to an end

Usnisa Sukhsvasti

His holiness was ordained as a novice when he was 14 years old and he never left the monastic life.

His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch, was born on Oct 3, 1913 in Kanchanaburi province. He was formerly known as Charoen Gajavatra.

The young Charoen grew up in a community that embraced the traditional Buddhist lifestyle, giving alms to monks every morning and attending temple services on religious days.

His father, Noi Gajavatra, died at the age of 38, leaving his three sons — Charoen, Chamnian and Samut (deceased) — to be raised by their mother Kimnoi.

One of Charoen’s favourite games as a child was to dress up as a monk and give sermons to family members.

Charoen was a good student but very frail of health. During a particularly serious health scare, his mother prayed for the chance to let her son be ordained if he recovered.

When he completed Prathom 5, at the age of 14, he was ordained as a novice at Wat Devasangaram (Wat Nua), Kanchanaburi.

Within the first year, he was giving sermons under the guidance of Luang Por Dee, his spiritual mentor.

A year later, Novice Charoen was accepted by Somdet Phra Vajirananavong, the abbot of Wat Bowon Niwet, Bangkok, to undertake Buddhist studies, completing the basic curriculum as well as learning the Pali language.

Sixteen years after that first meeting, Somdet Phra Vajirananavong would be appointed the 13th Supreme Patriarch in 1945.

When Novice Charoen came of age in 1933, he was ordained as a monk in his hometown of Kanchanaburi. A few months after that, he underwent a second ordination into the Dhammayukti Order. The former abbot of Wat Bowon Niwet, Somdet Phra Vajirananavong, was his preceptor.

His Holiness was given the monastic name of Suwatano, a derivative of his name, Charoen, which means ‘‘to prosper’’.

With his learned nature, he rose quickly through the Sangha ranks, also becoming the private secretary to the Supreme Patriarch, Somdet Kromma Luang Vajirananavong, in 1946.

1956, His Holiness was appointed guardian and adviser to His Majesty the King during his traditional ordination

In 1956, as Phra Sobhaganabhorn, he was entrusted with the highest task any monk could have been given. He was appointed guardian and adviser to His Majesty the King during his traditional ordination.

Five years later, in 1961, he was named the 6th abbot of Wat Bowon Niwet while holding the title of Phra Sasanasobhon. In that capacity, he also served as head of the Dhammayukti Order in the country.

His Majesty the King bestowed the title of Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara — a special honour in the Thai monastic hierarchy reserved for monks who excelled in Vipassana meditation that had not been granted in over 150 years — to Phra Sasanasobhon in 1972.

His holiness's compassion and generosity were renowed. He sponsored campaings to build schools, hospitals and temples in rural communities.

In 1989, he was named Supreme Patriarch or Sangharaja by His Majesty the King.
The Supreme Patriarch served as head of the Sangha Supreme Council which oversees all Buddhist monks in Thailand.

Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara did much to further the studies of Buddhism, not only at Wat Bowon Niwet where Buddhist studies are offered to foreigners, but also at Wat Yanasangwararam, Chon Buri province, which places an emphasis on meditation techniques of the forest monastery tradition.

He sponsored campaigns to build schools, hospitals and temples in rural communities, as well as temples abroad for Thai emigrants.

After making his alms rounds in the morning, His Holiness would often stop some of the novices and place some of his food into their alms bowls.

His compassion and generosity is renowned. After making his alms rounds in the morning, he would often stop some of the novices and place some of his food into their alms bowls, knowing that they were often ignored by lay merit-makers and would often receive very little food.

Not only would he refrain from touching cash according to the Theravada rules, he would usually give donations back to the donor, saying that he wished to make contributions to the merit pool as well.

His books and talks have been compiled, translated and distributed widely.

The Supreme Patriarch continued to conduct his ecclesiastical duties until 1999, when deteriorating health prevented him from attending meetings of the Sangha Council.

He had been receiving treatment at Chulalongkorn Hospital since 2002, and underwent surgery for an internal bacterial infection on Oct 14.

In 2003, a special committee was appointed by the government to fulfill the duties of the Supreme Patriarch during his absence.

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Vocabulary:

abbot: the head monk at a temple - เจ้าอาวาส

abroad: in or to a foreign country - ในต่างประเทศ

absence: a period of time when a person is not present at work, at school, at home, etc. - ช่วงเวลาที่ไม่อยู่, ช่วงการขาดงาน

advisor: a person who gives advice, especially somebody who knows a lot about a particular subject - ที่ปรึกษา

alms: food, money, and other items that are given to Buddhist monks; money, clothes and food that are given to poor people - ของทำบุญ ของบริจาค

appoint: to choose someone officially for a job or responsibility - แต่งตั้ง,ตั้งให้เป็น

bacterial: related to bacteria, coming from bacteria - เกี่ยวกับแบ็กทีเรีย, ซึ่งเกิดจากแบ็กทีเรีย

bestowed: (of something valuable or important) given - มอบให้

campaign: a series of actions intended to produce political or social change - การรณรงค์

capacity: a particular position or job - ฐานะ

cash: money in the form of notes or coins - เงินสด

community: the people living in one particular area - ชุมชน

compassion: a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them - ความเห็นใจ, ความรู้สึกเศร้าใจไปกับความทุกข์ของผู้อื่น

compile: to collect information from different places and arrange it in a book, report or list - รวบรวม

contribution: a sum of money, supplies, etc. that is given to a person or an organisation in order to help pay for something - การบริจาค

curriculum: the group of subjects studied in a school, college, etc - หลักสูตร

deceased: dead - ซึ่งตายแล้ว

derivative: a word or thing that has been developed or produced from another word or thing - คำที่สร้างจากคำอื่น (ทางภาษาศาสตร์); สิ่งที่พัฒนามาจากสิ่งอื่น

deteriorating: becoming worse - ทรุดโทรม, เสื่อมโทรม, เลวลง, ชำรุด

distribute: to give something out to many different places - แจกจ่าย

donation: money or goods that you give to an organisation, especially one that helps people - เงินหรือสิ่งของบริจาค

donor: a person who gives money or goods to an organisation, especially one that helps people - ผู้บริจาค

ecclesiastical: connected with religious activities - เกี่ยวกับนักบวช,

embrace: to accept something such as a belief, idea, or way of life - ยอมรับ น้อมนำมา

emigrant: a person who leaves their country to live in another - ผู้ย้ายถิ่นออก, ผู้ย้ายถิ่นออกนอกประเทศ

emphasis: special importance or attention that is given to one thing in particular - การเน้นย้ำ

entrusted: given the responsibility for  an important job or activity -

excel: to be very good at doing something - ดีเยี่ยม, ยอดเยี่ยม, เก่ง, มีพรสวรรค์

frail: physically weak and thin - อ่อนแอ

generosity: kindness, especially in giving things to people - ความกรุณา

grant: to officially give something - ให้

guardian: someone who protects something - ผู้คุ้มครอง, ผู้พิทักษ์, ผู้คุ้มกัน

guidance: help and advice about how to do something or about how to deal with problems - การแนะแนว, การแนะนำ

hierarchy: a system, especially in a society or an organization, in which people are organized into different levels of importance from highest to lowest - การจัดระบบตามลำดับขั้น

ignore: to fail to pay attention to; to pretend that you have not noticed or do not know about something - เพิกเฉย

infection: a disease or medical condition that is caused by a bacteria or by a virus or a parasite - การติดเชื้อ

internal: existing or happening inside a person, object, organisation, place or country - ภายใน

lay person: a person who is a member of a Church but is not a priest or member of the clergy - ฆราวาส

learned: having a lot of knowledge because you have studied and read a lot - ซึ่งคงแก่เรียน, ซึ่งมีความรู้มาก

meditation: the practice of thinking deeply in silence, especially for religious reasons or in order to make your mind calm - การทำสมาธิ, วิปัสสนา

mentor: an experienced person who helps someone who has less experience, especially in their job - ผู้ให้คำปรึกษา

merit-making: doing good things according to religious beliefs - การทำบุญ

modest: tending not to talk about or make obvious your own abilities and achievements - ถ่อมตัว, ไม่คุยโม้โอ้อวด

monastery: a building or series of buildings in which monks live, worship and work together - วัด, ที่อยู่อาศัยของพร

monastic: having to do with monks - เกี่ยวกับพระหรือที่อยู่ของพระ

novice: someone who has entered a religious community but is not yet a full member - สามเณร

obituary: an article about somebody's life and achievements, that is printed in a newspaper soon after they have died - ข่าวมรณะกรรม

ordain: to officially make someone a monk or priest in a religious ceremony - บวช อุปสมบท

order: a group of people living in a religious community, especially monks or nuns - นิกาย

oversee: to watch or organise a job or an activity to make certain that it is being done correctly - คุมงาน,ควบคุม

preceptor: a teacher; a mentor - ครู, ผู้สอน, ผู้ให้ความรู้

prosper: to develop in a successful way; to be successful, especially in making money - เจริญก้าวหน้า, เจริญรุ่งเรือง

raise: to take care of children while they are growing up - เลี้ยงดู

recovered: became fit and healthy again - ฟื้นฟูร่างกาย

refrain: to stop yourself from doing something - ระงับ เลิก

rural: connected with the countryside outside big towns and cities  - ในชนบท, บ้านนอก

Sangha: ordained Buddhist monks or nuns - สงฆ์

scare: a situation that makes people suddenly feel worried or frightened about something - ความหวาดกลัว, ความตื่นตระหนก

sermon: a talk on a moral or religious subject, usually given by a religious leader during a service - การเทศนา

spiritual: religious, or related to religious issues - เกี่ยวกับศาสนา

Supreme Patriarch: the head of the Buddhist monks in Thailand - พระสังฆราช

surgery: medical treatment in which a doctor cuts open someone’s body - การทำศัลยกรรม

task: something that you have to do - งาน, หน้าที่; ภารกิจ

technique: a method of doing something using a special skill that you have developed - เทคนิค, กลวิธี (เฉพาะด้าน)

traditional: of a custom, a way of life or a way of doing things that has not changed for a long time - เป็นประเพณี, ตามธรรมเนียม, ตามที่ปฏิบัติกันมา

translate: to express the meaning of speech or writing in a different language - แปล

treatment: the process of providing medical care - การรักษา

undertake: to do - รับภาระ

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