Revered monk promotes peace and harmony

Bangkok Post, Jan 11, 2007

Bangkok, Thailand -- A revered monk in the Mekong region performs a ritual to restore morale and ward off evil.

Phra Kru Ba Boonchum Yansangwaro, one of the most revered monks of the Mekong region, hammered home his spiritual message of social harmony and peace before multinational Buddhist followers in a traditional rite called "Phi Tee Sueb Chata" on the occasion of his 44th birthday in Chiang Rai.

Thousands of Buddhists from China, Laos, Burma and Thailand flocked to a 40-rai land plot dedicated to the religious ceremony in Mae Rua village in Mae Chan district on Tuesday.

Phi Tee Sueb Chata, in local dialect, is the northern time-honoured ritual to boost longevity and commonly held on birthdays or recovery periods from illness in a bid to restore morale and ward off evil.

Most Chinese and Burmese Buddhists were allowed to travel through Mae Sai and Chiang Saen border checkpoints, but the Burmese authorities limited the influx of its own nationals to Thailand to not over 5,000 and their stay in Thailand for no longer than three days.

During the crowded longevity-boosting ceremony, Phra Kru Ba Boonchum said: "I give great blessing to His Majesty the King and wish him good health. Moreover, I wish all world citizens to be safe from disasters, especially Thai people. I wish the Thai people would put aside their differences and help foster harmony for the sake of the nation," the
well-regarded monk said.

Phra Kru Ba Boonchum acquired his name from impeccable Dharma practices and propagated Lord Buddha's teaching in many countries, including Burma, China, Laos and Bhutan.

He entered the monkhood at the age of 11 and has promoted his Vipassana meditation practice since then.

The revered monk attracted a mass following among people in the Mekong region, including Thailand's high-ranking officials and veteran politicians such as former prime ministers Chatichai Choonhavan and Chuan Leekpai.

Besides, former army brass such as Gen Wattanachai Chaimuanwong, Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr and Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh were also said to be zealous disciples of the monk.

In the future, the religious ground close to Chiang Saen lake would be cleared for construction of a spiritual centre dedicated to the monk.

The cold spell has not deterred disciples from catching a glimpse of Phra Kru Ba Boonchum, feeling the experience was well worth the wait.

Some hilltribe people from Burma said they boarded a boat in the Mekong River to see the monk in Chiang Saen district, a trip that took them two days.

Phra Thammapanya Yansampanno, a close aide to the revered monk, said Phra Kru Ba Boonchum went into spiritual hiatus in a cave somewhere during the three-month Buddhist Lent and ate only fruit.

In the past three years, Phra Kru Ba Boonchum had spent time mostly in Thailand and he once propagated religious instructions in Bhutan where he received special holy offerings from Bhutan's then Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck on a yearly basis, the monk added.