Chapter 01: Welcome Speech
At the Annual Robe-Offering, Kathina, Ceremony
Good day everybody
Today I will talk about the activities for this year’s annual robe-offering ceremony at Wat Ambhavan. I never figured out how we could arrange today’s ceremony, even though I have often thought about it during these last three years.
This preaching hall has served us for sixty years. It is large enough to accommodate twenty-five monks and one hundred lay people who come here to offer food to the monks and to chant. But it is not large enough to accommodate seventy-five monks and novices who stay at this temple during the Rains Retreat.
When I first came here as an interim abbot in 1956, becoming the abbot in 1957, this temple was surrounded by forest. We renovated the original uposatha hall and found evidence that it was built by Chinese during the Meng Chu Period, several hundred years ago.
How do we know? We found engraved stones buried inside the original uposatha hall. They were written in Chinese. We also found seven buckets of Chinese coins, a lot of ceramic wares, jewelry, jade bracelets, dragon-horse sculpture and nine running-horse dolls. After inspection, everything was stored in a proper place.
I want to tell the history of this temple to you because you may not have heard it before. We have learned from the engraved stones that two Chinese men, named Kim Liang and Kim Cheu, came to trade with King Narai the Great of Ayudhya five hundred years ago, the Chao Phraya River was deep and Bangkok was a port. Ships could sail passed Bangkok through Bangpudsa Delta. People could trade at Lawo. The two Chinese men and their Dutch friend sailed passed Bangkok and anchored in front of this temple. They had conversation with the abbot of Wat Ambhavan, and their faith in him was soon established. The two Chinese men engraved on the stones the abbot’s name, Phra Khru Nanasangvorn, aged 99 years old, a master in vipassana meditation. The Hollander tradesman also had faith in this abbot even though he was a Christian.
I had the engraved stones translated by three different Chinese men from three different districts in Singhburi. All three translations were the same. The seven buckets of Chinese coins are here at this temple without even one coin missing. At the beginning, I was not sure what they were. Later, I had a chance to visit China and showed some of them to my Chinese hosts. They were very surprised to see such rare Meng Chu coins. These coins remain with me, so I have proof of this temple’s age.
I myself can calculate the age of this temple from the two ancient Tripitaka cabinets kept here. One was built in 1657; another in 1767. Since the final defeat of the Ayudhya army, everything has remained in good and complete condition.
We have learnt from the Chinese characters engraved on the stones that the builders had asked the permission of King Narai to offer two Buddha statues to this wat. The Buddha statues were named Nak Prok Huyan and Kamain Kang Khon Hutoom. I keep these two Buddha statues well protected in my residence. You are welcome to look at them. I also have the pictures of a long-braid Chinese man of the Meng Chu Period. Ms. Sunee Pansuporn had an artist copy these pictures for me.
I guarantee that the original uposatha hall was built by Chinese men, especially as it also had Chinese architectural characteristics. I sealed the ceramic ware inside the Buddha statues. Do you know why I cannot put them out for public exhibition? It is because they would soon disappear. I put some tiles on exhibition, they are all gone! One of my students who was from Lopburi told me that thieves stole the tiles and used them as raw materials to make miniature Buddha statues to sell. If I put the ceramic ware for exhibition, they would have disappeared too. It is better that I have buried them inside the temple, so they are very well protected.
There happened also a strange phenomena at this uposatha hall every morning. Six inches of water flooded the floor. We had to put away all the mats and carpet every evening in order to prepare for the flooding.
I smelled and tasted the water, and wondered where it came from. I kept some water in a bottle. Some time after that, I knew the answer. It had the same smell and taste as the holy water at Tai Ngan Ang Yee Temple of Tae Chiew City in China. How come it rose up at Wat Ambhavan uposatha hall? This is very strange.
As time went by, the uposatha hall got older and older. One day I heard a strange voice, “Your Holiness, the uposatha hall will collapse tomorrow after 9.45 a.m.” I did not pay much attention to the voice. But something happened on the following day. Some time after 9.00 a.m., the uposatha hall collapsed. It was exactly as the voice I heard. I felt I should have listened to this voice.
It was after the original uposatha hall collapsed that we found the engraved stones. I was sure that they were very valuable. To prevent damage, I sealed them inside the base of the main Buddha statue. We also found pictures of a long mustache man. Later we found that it looked exactly the same as the drawing inside the Night Pearl Cave in Kluay Lin City, China. I took the pictures from the cave and compared them to the one I had. From the inscription in the cave, we know that he was a great Chinese poet during some great Chinese Emperor’s reign.
A Chinese man told me, “Luang Poh, if you want to build a new uposatha hall, you should build it here at the same place.”
Later, I heard the strange voice again, “Your Holiness, the builders of the original uposatha hall will come here and re-build the uposatha hall.” Soon after that, three men visited and offered to re-build the temple. All three men had Chinese grandparents. The third man was Major General Wasan Panich. At that time he was a Colonel, and worked as the secretariat of the Cannon Division of Lopburi Army Base. The new uposatha hall was re-built and finished in one year and sixteen days. I did not have to ask for any donation or charity for this construction.
I have been working hard at developing this temple and as well as purifying people’s mind since I broke my neck in 1978. I knew six months in advance that I would die at age 49, from a broken neck in a car accident on October 14, 1978 at 12.45 p.m. I had to face death. There was no way I could remain in this world longer.
I was determined and made a vow that I had not yet paid all debts to human beings, I would ask for my life so that I could repay all these depts while I was alive. I did not want to return the flavor to human in my next rebirth. I was very tired of human existence, for it is full of jealous humans. I do not want to deal with humans any more in continued future births.
After making my vow, I recovered from that near fatal accident. Dr. Pradit, of Leardsin Hospital in Bangkok, said to me:
“There is only you, Luang Poh, who can survive such a fatal injury of a broken neck and can speak and breathe through the navel by concentrating on the “rising…” and “falling…” rhythm of your abdomen. This is unbelievable!”
One thing I could do to pay my debts, is to build a new pavilion. I would like to take this opportunity to inform Yom Boonyong Wongwanich that there are as many as two hundred thousand people who have used this all-purpose building since we built it in 1981. We have it on record. However, we may have underestimated the number because we did not record those who paid a short visit to listen to Dhamma teaching.
As for this preaching hall, I have always felt sad that there was not enough space to seat all seventy-five monks at the temple during meals. They have to sit on the floor among un-ordained people. How can I resolve this situation?
The second thing is the rotten pillars that have been eaten by termites. If I do not build a new building now, there will be nobody who will do it. I will die some day, and it is near the time that I have to leave you. I will have to build it while I am alive.
Therefore, I plan to build a new big preaching hall. Its dimension should be 50 meters long and 20 meters wide. It should be large enough to accommodate a thousand people and suitable for vipassana training, sitting and sleeping. The old preaching hall is not large enough because it is only 14 meters wide.
The new preaching hall will economically built in the cheapest and best way. The sound system must be loud and clear. I do not want to build a two or three story building with a fourteen or fifteen million Baht budget. It must be built with a lower budget than that.
I will put a fifty-meter long platform for seating two hundred monks, and put screen on the windows to block insects and mosquitoes. There should also be at least twenty five toilets because they are one of the most important facilities on the earth. It is the best way to release suffering. We should also keep them clean. The Buddha taught us that it is great virtue to clean toilets. Monks who find a dirty toilet and walk away without cleaning it, are considered as having broken the Sarigha discipline.
If you want your children to be wise, you should make them take good care of the toilets. There are two places that nobody wants to go, unless it is necessary. They are the hospital and the toilet. These places are tiresome. This is the reason why these two places potential to acquire a high level of virtue.
I have had the experience myself while I was staying in the hospital. A nurse said to me,
“Please come here again, Luang Poh, we will take good care of you”
“Oh! I have had enough! Do you want me to have another broken neck?” I will not be admitted to the hospital unless it is really necessary.
Like the toilet, nobody wants to go there unless it is necessary to do so. These kinds of necessities are opportunities to develop great virtue, but nobody realizes it. It’s like a hair that obscures the view of the mountain.
Dear fellows, please contribute to the job of “making good people”. I am now waking up people and letting them know how to work. If you want your children to be able to work, first, you should wake them up so that they have faith and understanding. If they are still sleepy, they cannot work.
Please wake the children up and teach them how to work. Do not let them be idle, and be away from adult guidance because they can easily get lost. I am working hard both day and night without sleeping in order to make people good.
If I have to stay at somebody’s hourse, I guarantee that I eat very little. Only one spoonful is enough. But I work hard all day and all night.
There are no holidays at this temple. We do not stop working on Saturday or Sunday like the government. We work day and night and we earn 30 days salary, no raise. There is only 28 days in one month and that is not enough.
Life that is full of work is a happy life. Enjoy your work. Some people do not want to work. Some have high education but escape from work. They will have misfortune.
I have to build three kinds of hospitals here. The big hospital provides meals for people from all over the country. For example, I provided meals for two thousand people who visited us at dawn two days ago. The mid-size hospital is for taking care of people who visit our temple and join activities at the pavilion. The last kind of hospital is an I.C.U. in front of my residence. Sometimes people show up at 1 or 2 a.m. Some have had accidents. Some are very hungry. I provide some food for them before starting the conversation. This is an emergency unit for people who arrive here accidentally and are hungry. These people normally come from far away provinces, such as Chiangrai, Lampang, Chiangmai, Udorn or Nongkai, and arrive here at 1 or 2 a.m. They look bad, so I have to provide some coffee, Ovaltine, boiled rice or boiled sweet potatoes to ease their hunger. They are sad and suffer. We have to help them get rid of their suffering and make them happy, so they can go back to their work happily.
Why do they come to a temple but learn nothing? If they come here they must gain something. They are suffering, so we must help them solve their problems and be happy again. We willingly provide food for them, so they like to come here. There is no problem with us in providing food for these people.
According to Thai custom, we treat guests with food and water. But there are some people who do not have manners in welcoming their guests. This is why I always greet my guests with this greeting.
“You are welcome to have a meal here. Please go to the dining hall and help yourself.”
This is why there is a need for a big preaching hall or pavilion, but I do not know how I am going to raise the funds. However, I made up my mind three years ago that I must have it built. My time is approaching. If I do not build it now, then who will do it?
The new pavilion should be built in the Thai style with five beautiful verandahs, wall to wall carpets and wire screens to block insects. We need screens on the windows and the doors because there are a lot of insects and flies in the upcountry area. This building should be built along the Chao Phraya River bank. It provides a nice cool breeze. Pattaya can not beat it!
According to the architect who designed this new pavilion, the budget should be six million Baht. However, I think it can be built at a lesser cost because we can save cost for pillars and labor. We can get help from our villagers. I want to have it well built, look good, with glass windows. It must be equipped with good toilets.
I have not decided when to have it built. However, Yom Sunee Pansuporn came and discussed with me about this year’s rope-offering ceremony.
“What is your project for Wat Ambhavan this year? What do you want to build?, she asked.
We finally came to the same answer, that we want to build a new pavilion for training, merit making and Buddhist activities. It should be big enough to accommodate one thousand people. The front space will be reserved for sitting on the floor. The back space will be for chairs. We will put many chairs there.
Buddhists in Sri Lanka do not sit while they are listening to Buddhist Dhamma, they lie down because their tummies are so big that they cannot sit for a long period of time. But they are better listeners than Thai people. They listen carefully and nobody talks to each other during the preaching. I used to ask them some questions, but nobody answered me.
On the other hand, Thai people sit down and put their palms together at the chest level to show respect while they are listening to the preaching, but they talk to each other. The Sri Lankan do not talk; they either lie down or stand. They will not talk to us. This is how they show their respect. They pay very good attention to the preaching, have faith, review the teaching and practice the Dhamma. They can achieve good results.
As for the fund raising, Yom Sunee Pansuporn and her relatives and friends donated money for the construction of this new pavilion. She also informed Colonel Thongkam Sriyothin, the president of the Yound Buddhist Association, about the project. He and the association helped with fund raising.
Yom Boonyong Wongwanich was the benefactor of the building in the front of this temple. It is used for housing vipassana meditation trainees. You can see fences separating the building and the rest of the temple. We built fifty small cottages for meditators. We grew five hundred Payoong trees. These cottages are situated among a man-made forest. Sunlight can shine to the flowers on the ground of this forest. It will be an isolated area with a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. I will have more toilets built there. I will make this forest resemble the International Forest Monastery of Luang Poh Jah.
I have had the northern road expanded by two meters so buses can enter via this road. I will have a beautiful fence built so that people outside cannot see through it. With peace and isolation, vipassana meditators can reach fruitful results.
The trainees may be a little confused because we will teach here but will utilize the isolated man-made forest for the practice sessions. The training will be held at this side of the temple. The 3-story library building will be finished soon. There will be two large rooms on each floor. These rooms are for guest monks who come here to learn vipassana meditation. Thirty to forty monks can stay on each floor where there are plenty of toilets on each floor.
Somdet Phra Nyannasamvara has agreed to preside over the opening ceremony of this new labrary building. I invited him when he came here for the opening of the Boontin Attakorn Building.
For this year’s rope-offering ceremony, your donations will be spent to build this new pavilion that will be built along the Chao Phraya River bank. We have to tear down the old building in order to make space. The new pavilion will be bigger, that is fifty meters long and twenly meters wide. It will have a Thai-style, five-tiered roof and wire screens and glass windows. Inside the building, there will be two rows of columns along the two long sides. The middle space will be an open area. The roof will be made of steel. The cost will be kept as low as possible.
Today, many groups of people who donated money join this annual rope-offering ceremony. They are the Talan Buddhist group, the president, the instructors and the students from teacher colleges, the officers from the Department of Live Stock Development and the meditation students. This is a very good relation that shows unity.
I have an uneasy feeling talking about fund raising for this new pavilion. But, please think that you are helping me in the task of making good people. We are educating good Thai citizens. If we do not help each other, our children will have a very tough time, and will have no land to live on within the next twenty years.
Nowadays, children of Singhburi do not remain here. They escape from farm work and go to work as laborers in Bangkok. Nobody returns home to help their parents grow rice. Some parents used to own several hundred acres of rice farm, but they had to sell the land and gave a share of the money to their children. Some parents carn ten thousand Baht daily from their local trade. However, no children help their parents because they move away to towns and work for others.
There are several big buildings in Singhburi, but they do not belong to Singhburi folks. People from other places have bought them. Why is it so? Here is the reason. Singhburi people may have five to six hundred rai of rice farm, but their children do not work on the farm. They have higher education than their parents and have earned vocational certificates and bachelor degrees. They go to other places to work as employees in big companies.
Some say that Thailand has problems with high unemployment. I would rather re-state this, there are many lazy people. We have a lot of farm work but children do not return home to help their parents.
Some even asked me to help their unemployed children look for jobs. I have gone to their houses and found out the truth, that they have their own business, i.e., fifty rai of harvested crops. The father loaded them onto their delivery truck and the mother drove it. How could they say that they have no job? This mean that the kids are lazy!
Do not say that they are unemployed. Better to say that they are lazy!
Dear kids, after you receive your bachelor degree, you do not have to ask for a job somewhere else. You just come home and help your parents do your family business. Do not sell your land. Please keep it. Last year Japanese bought thirty thousand rai of land in Thailand. Oh! Thai children do not know the value of their mother land. They prefer to be employees!
Some young women worked as a laundry maids in Bangkok, though she had eight hundred rai or rice farm. She dressed pretty, wearing high heel shoes, acting as if she were a lady. Actually she was but a laborer! It was ashamed! She did not work on her own land. Later, her old parents had to sell the land. Some have had to sell their houses.
“Why do you have to sell your building?” I asked.
“No one helps us in our business. Our children have gone to the south,” they answered. (“the south” here means Bangkok)
The children work for others and cannot keep their parents’ property. This is the reason why I must have this new pavilion built. Please understand me.
Do you know how much the monthly expenses of this temple are? It is forty-four thousand Baht! Why do they charge me a lot of money for electricity used at this temple? Don’t they feel sorry for me? If they bill me for a hundred thousand Baht, I will disconnect the electricity and use kerosene lamps.
The fact is we do not normally use that much electricity. I keep a record of all the receipts from the beginning of the year. They are ten thousand Baht, eight thousand Baht and nine thousand Baht. But I don’t know why last month it was forty-four thousand Baht. We also have to pay twenty thousand Baht a month for food. We have to share food modestly now. I will keep fighting with this expenses even though I have to fight alone.
I would like to ask all of you who help me in awakening people, making people work, teaching them to remember Thai custom, Thai manners, knowing the value of ancestor lands, to help your parents work. Dear sons and daughters, do not leave family business. Do not leave the rice farm if your family are farmers. Many people have left the rice farm and they do not know how to grow rice. Some do now know how to trade. The parents have small business. The children have master degrees but they do not know how to deal in trading and become employees in others’ companies. Please think about it.
Lunch time is approaching. I would like to invite you to have lunch here. Our food is very good, whoever eats today will later be rich and happy. One grain of my rice can grow to one hundred U.S. dollars. Only rice cooked at this temple can grow after you eat it. True or false? You must try to prove it. I have noticed that many people have become rich after they ate their meals here. Now, they have a lot of money!
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