Prayut, the fortune teller and the ghost of the guru
Warin Buawiratlert’s predictions might not be perfect, but that doesn’t stop the military’s top brass from lining up for psychic sessions.
In what turned out to be a tumultuous week for Thai politics, Warin Buawiratlert, the prime minister’s fortune teller, is doing so-so with his predictions. It’s Sept 2, and Spectrum is meeting with the tall, affable 58-year-old at the shrine he built for his ancient Indian spiritual guide in the northern province of Chiang Mai.
Good friends: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was guest of honour when fortune teller Warin Buawiratlert opened a site to highlight the old Lanna lifestyle in Chiang Mai.
We ask if former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be stripped of his police rank. “Nothing lasts forever, does it?” he replies, with a certainty perhaps beyond his mere soothsaying skills. The next day his long-time client, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, signs the order revoking Thaksin’s rank.
When asked what will happen to the draft charter at the weekend, Mr Warin incorrectly suggests it will pass the first vote but run into trouble at the referendum stage.
But then in a spectacular turnabout — a full four days before the National Reform Council votes down the draft and the Prayut administration says the new drafting measures will take 20 months — he makes an astounding prediction on when elections will be staged.
“The election can be held sometime after 2017, not any time soon,” he says, pre-empting the junta’s revised charter strategy. He adds that the government’s roadmap timeframe “will be extended” and that any government assuming power after the current one will be a “national government”.
“I don’t see any particular side winning after the election. Any government that comes after that will be a national government, not a coalition.
“I also see Thailand being a country of peace. Colour-coded politics is dissolved; the only colours that are allowed to stay are the ones on our national flag.”
Mr Warin started offering his fortune-telling services to the public in 1994, but he gained widespread public recognition during the 2006 coup when he was identified as the psychic behind Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin’s decision to stage the coup that overthrew Thaksin. It was Mr Warin who years earlier advised the former army chief, then a mere officer, to aim high in his career by making more merit in order to increase his “blessings and charisma”.
Fast forward to May 2014 and the coup staged by Gen Prayut, and it was Mr Warin who told the premier, to his disbelief, that he could run the country.
“I had said since 2010 that a general whose name began with the letter ‘P’ would come in and bring peace to Thailand,” he explained.
“People speculated and Gen Prayut always denied it, but it came true.
"He would rather live in peace after retirement, but he is set to be in the position for at least the next couple of years.”
THE CLOSE ENCOUNTER
Once a week, usually in the morning, Mr Warin offers his services to a number of people who have booked 15-minute psychic sessions with him long in advance.
On that Wednesday, visitors to the Wiharn Laung Pu (Holy Father Shrine) in Mae Rim district, Chiang Mai, included men in uniform, women in their twenties, housewives and a Buddhist nun. All the guests had prepared a set of five fruits and other items, such as betel nuts, as offerings for the Holy Father Kewalan. Mr Warin said Kewalan is the spirit of an Indian guru who lived in the Himalayan Mountains prior to the birth of Buddhism. It is Kewalan’s spirit that Mr Warin channels.
“When I was nine years old, I was sleeping inside my house when I slowly walked out of my body,” he said matter-of-factly.
“I turned around and saw myself lying on the bed. I was so scared at the time when I saw a figure, a man in white in his eighties or nineties, walking towards me. He told me to go back into my body.
“I did and I woke up. Later on I learned that the man was the Holy Father Kewalan who has been a teacher of my family for many generations.”
Mr Warin was born in the Chang Klan area of Chiang Mai, which is now famous for its night bazaar. He was a teacher for 16 years before deciding to offer his fortune-telling services, working in remote areas of the province, which provided him the chance to hone his supernatural skills.
“I had the opportunity to learn from one of the monks who came to meditate near the village where I worked, so I learned the art of magic from him, apart from some astrology I learned from my family,” Mr Warin said of his esoteric education.
Mr Warin is tall and lean and usually wears white as a sign of sanctity. He believes he is the physical representation of Kewalan and sees what Kewalan wants him to see.
After receiving offerings from his visitors, Mr Warin, seated behind a small wooden table, turns to the black statue behind him that is Kewalan, lights a joss stick and starts to mumble.
He turns back to the visitors who wait to find out whether Kewalan will allow Mr Warin to see their future. It is only with Kewalan’s permission that a vision, sometimes appearing in dreams, sometimes in daylight, is seen, translated and disseminated by Mr Warin.
“In 2013, I saw the vision that Gen Prayut would be the prime minister of this country. I did not take his side. I saw the vision.”
As Mr Warin’s predictions are often about military people and their roles serving the nation, his predictions are seen by many to have a political purpose. At times, Mr Warin’s forecasts for the country closely resemble those of Gen Prayut.
During the interview with Spectrum it is plain to see Mr Warin’s traditional views are rooted in the hierarchical structure of the North's Lanna culture. His views on the relationship between the military and the nation are in line with Gen Prayut’s.
“My duty is to advise the military because the military’s role is to uphold the country,” Mr Warin said.
“Before the recent coup, in 2013, I told Gen Prayut, then army chief, that within a year the situation in the country will get better. From now on, Thailand will move to a period known as ‘an age of civilisation’. The country will improve in every way and the nation, the monarchy and religion will prevail.”
Mr Warin refused to expand on why so many of his clients are military officers, but does say he first met many of them when they were in the junior ranks.
He gave them predictions about their promotions, which in many cases proved to be true. This led to them coming back for more consultations along with their friends and family.
He declined to say when he first met Gen Prayut. But his assistant Suklit Apisitlertjanyarak, 56, who has worked with Mr Warin since 1999, said they had a long history.
“Some current generals have visited this place since they were majors,” Mr Suklit said. “Gen Prayut, Gen Sonthi and Gen Prawit [Wongsuwon] have been here. They usually come in a group. They are very friendly and not as fierce as you might think.
“Before Gen Sonthi was promoted to army chief, Mr Warin advised him to organise a Buddhist fundraising event called a katin so that his goal would be met and his virtues attainable.”
In 2005, to the surprise of many, Gen Sonthi, who wasn’t considered a front-runner, became the first Muslim promoted to the top army job.
“Sometimes, in some cases, Mr Warin advises clients to make merit at a particular temple, not the general temple, as a way to clear up their karma,” Mr Suklit said.
“Other fortune tellers use astrology to predict the future, but Mr Warin just sees the future. He can predict how high up the ranks a military officer can go because his visions show the decorations on their uniforms.”
Mr Warin’s skills go beyond that of fortune teller, due to his ability to advise clients on how to “clear up their karma”. This stands in contrast to the Buddhist belief that karma is fixed and irreversible.
Mr Warin does not charge his clients for his service. However, donations can be made during the merit-making events he holds several times a year.
“During the merit-making event on July 26 this year I said some bad things would be happening shortly, and I advised everyone to pray for Thailand,” Mr Warin said. “Then on Aug 17, there was a bomb blast in Bangkok.”
Asked about the success of the Erawan Shrine investigation, Mr Warin said “things will be clear by the end of September”.
In April, Gen Prayut travelled to Chiang Mai with his younger brother, assistant army chief Preecha Chan-o-cha, Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda and the then-Natural Resources and Environment Minister Gen Dapong Ratanasuwan. The occasion was the opening of a tourist attraction built by Mr Warin.
Baan Heed Hoi is intended as a place for young people to learn about Lanna culture. It is situated on the same site as Khuang Phra Jao Lanna, a Buddhist shrine Mr Warin started building in 2008 and completed in 2013.
“That year, the country suffered from a lot of karma so I intended to build a place to release the country from karma,” Mr Warin said.
“After it was finished, I handed the place to the nation through the military in 2013 and the situation was better.”
The khuang, meaning lawn in the Lanna dialect, is located near Huay Tung Tao reservoir, a tourist attraction overseen by the army. Gen Anupong, when he was the army chief, gave Mr Warin the plot of land to build the shrine.
Juraiporn Tumpasuwan, an assistant professor of architecture at Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna, designed the shrine.
She said Mr Warin was born to help the nation so Kewalan advised him to build the shrine to house the Buddhist statue of Phra Jao Lanna.
“When Mr Warin first went to the site, he said it was like in his vision; beautiful scenery with the Doi Suthep [mountain] in the background. The shrine needed a lawn for religious and community activities. At first, Mr Warin donated 200 million baht before more donations came in from around Thailand.”
VISION OF COMFORT
Mr Warin’s home and the Wiharn Laung Pu temple to honour Kewalan are located in the same structure at the Sukhito housing estate. The building is large and Mr Warin's land takes up more than half the estate; 10 other residences occupy the remaining space.
In his 2008 autobiography Open the Vision, Mr Warin said he thought the dilapidated estate resembled a cemetery in 2002 when a client recommended he build the temple on 20 rai of land there, worth 100 million baht.
During the construction period over the next year, workers complained of supernatural events. One night they were woken by the sound of horse’s hooves. Getting out of bed, they saw a horse with a human head running around the site. But Mr Warin said Kewalan assured him this meant the site had spiritual qualities which made it an appropriate place for him to build his home and shrine.
But not all residents of the estate are happy with Mr Warin’s presence. In May, Pramote Samakkarn, a local administrative official and Sukhito resident, petitioned the Department of Special Investigation to look into Mr Warin’s assets. Mr Pramote accused Mr Warin of using stories about religion and karma to earn donations. He claimed many temples have not received donations Mr Warin promised from the fundraising events he holds.
“Many red shirts in Chiang Mai are my followers,” Mr Warin said in response to the allegations. “But some people aim to discredit me, citing politics, and they work in a team to create mistrust among my followers.”
Mr Warin has two daughters in their twenties who manage a real estate business involved in boutique hotels and housing estates in Chiang Mai.
Mr Warin said he is not involved in their work, adding that his main business is his duty to the nation.
Although Mr Warin was certain the draft charter would be passed by the reform council, his prediction that Thailand will see an extension of Gen Prayut’s tenure as PM seemed increasingly accurate as events unfolded in the past week.
“In the next 20-30 years, Thailand will march on. Gen Prayut’s government is successful in reducing corruption. It will depend on the following government; whether they are selfish or selfless.”
Asked whether the 2014 coup will be the last, Mr Warin does not pause to think or review his vision from Kewalan.
“No,” he said.
visionary: Warin Buawiratlert sits in front of his shrine, which he says is inhabited by the spirit of Indian guru Kewalan, where he meets guests looking for insights into their future.
headquarters: Above and above right, Warin Buawiratlert’s home in the Sukhito housing estate.