Somdej Phra Yannasangwon

Somdej Phra Yannasangwon

by Jun Wei

Somdej Phra Yannasangwon is the 19th monk since the reign of King Rama I to hold the title of Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Thailand. He was born on 3rd October BE 2456 in Kanchanaburi Province. Since young, Somdej Phra Yannasangwon was already interested in religion and monastic life. It is mentioned that as a young child, he often liked to wear like a monk and would give 'sermons' to his friends and family. On top of that, he received his education and completed the equivalent of the 5th grade at a temple school near his home. Afterwards, at the age of 14 he was ordained as a novice. 

One thing to note is that the instruction in Pali and other fundamentals of Buddhist education were not available in his home province (Note that : It was a common issue in Thailand during the early 20th century). Hence, he would be required to travel to a temple at Nakhon Pathom, 70 km away, where he spent the next two years studying Pali and Dharma. Afterwards, he then went to Wat Bovoranives which was located at Bangkok, an important temple in the emergent Dhammayut Order (Thai: Thammayuttika) reform movement, where he completed his basic studies and completed the highest level of Pali studies then available.

In BE 2476, he went back to the old temple in Kanchanaburi Province to be ordained as a monk. After staying at the old temple for a period of time, he then again traveled to Wat Bovoranives, where he was re-ordained into the Dhammayut Order, under the supervision of the 13th Supreme Patriarch. During this period in Thailand, it was not uncommon for monks to seek re-ordination under the Dhammayut Order if their initial ordination had been through a Mahanikaya lineage; the Dhammayut Order was considered by many to be more careful in its observance of disciplinary rules, and enjoyed great support from the Thai monarchy.

Following his ordination, Somdej Phra Yannasangwon rose quickly through the ranks of the Thai Sangha. As the titles often take the form of additions or alterations to monastic names, this necessitated a variety of changes of name and title during the next several years. In BE 2499, while Somdej Phra Yannasangwon was at the age of 43 and under the name Phra Dhammavarabhorn, he was appointed as the guardian and advisor to King Rama IX (Bhumibol Adulyadej) during his royal ordination. Five years later, Somdej Phra Yannasangwon was named as the abbot of Wat Bovoranives.

In BE 2515, he was given the title Somdej Phra Yannasangwon. This was a special monastic title that had not been granted to any monks in over 150 years. The granting of this title placed Somdej Phra Yannasangwon in the top tier of the Thai monastic establishment, and set the stage for his being named Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Thailand (Sangharaja) in BE 2532 by King Rama IX. 

During his more than seventy years as a monk and novice, Somdej Phra Yannasangwon has held a variety of posts in the Thai ecclesiastic hierarchy. In these roles, he has always been concerned with promoting education, both religious and secular. He has assisted in the founding and construction of numerous schools, as well as sponsoring campaigns to build schools, temples, and hospitals in rural areas.

Being the abbot of Wat Bovoranives, he also oversaw the renovation and expansion of this century-old monastery. Long interested in the meditation techniques of the forest monks, Somdej Phra Yannasangwon has helped make his temple residence a center for meditation study and instruction in Bangkok, he would deliver lectures on meditation and Dharma on two Uposatha days each month.

Somdej Phra Yannasangwon was also active in teaching to both the Thais and the international emigrant community. His recorded sermons and teachings are distributed among Thais living outside Thailand, particularly in areas where there is no access to temples or monks. Those that are not Thai are also encouraged to study Buddhism. Therefore Wat Bovoranives is known as one of several temples in Thailand where Westerners can not only study, but also ordain either as a monk or a novice. Some of his books and talks have also been translated into English and he is known to be  involved in sponsoring the establishment of temples outside of Thailand as well. 

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